Wednesday, September 30, 2009

U2 Recap

I saw U2 last night, and ohmygodyouguys I had so much fun.

First the cast of characters. You see, some of my friends are professionals and perhaps do not want their identities or feats of jackassery placed on the Interwebz for your fleeting pleasure. Thus, behold the pseudonyms and descriptors:

Me: Stay-at-home mother, mommyblogger, super-hero.
The Southern Belle (SB): also SAHM, beautiful, hilarious, wears great shoes.
Pittsburgh: also SAHM, possibly the funniest person in the universe
FeartheJ: also SAHM, beyond funny, has one of the best weaves I've ever seen, and she went to Maryland (I'm attempting a geographical thing with my pseudonyms)
Philly: husband of SB, very in touch with his feelings.
The Orthodontist: husband of FeartheJ. He's like The Edge (much more on him momentarily), except that he straightens teeth and isn't Irish. Or a rock star. Or old. 

The Evening

FeartheJ and The Orthodontist picked me up, and while we were waiting  in a church parking lot for the rest of our crew, she asked, "Is it too early to open the wine?" No, my friend, no it was not.

Once we were all in Philly and SB's SUV, we hit the road, buoyed by the dulcet tones of Def Leopard and the deliciousness of mozzarella sticks and Fastop fried chicken. Along the way, I was delighted to learn another fraternity brother handshake---I make it my goal to crack the Greek code as often as I can. (Alas, my brother-in-law WILL NOT share his Sigma Nu secret handshake with me. This doesn't bother me at all, DOUG.)

We arrived at FedEx field, home of your Washington Redskins, overpriced parking, and this evening, A LOT of white people. Older white people. People that graduated high school in the early nineties, before cell phones or high-speed internet. People who wore Guess? jeans and Flo-jo flip-flops back in the day. People who could recite every word of "Ice, Ice Baby." Those kind of people.

We tailgated, a first for me.  I had never eaten spicy shrimp, hummus, and a delicious concoction known as "Golden Balls" in a parking lot before this day. As I hoisted my Red Stripe and mentioned loudly how I like to hold "one golden ball in each hand and squeeze," I instantly decided that I am a huge fan of tailgating. Huge.

We decided to hoist on our oxygen masks and load up the yak to journey to our nosebleed seats. But, before we started, we heard Philly yell, "I need to find a BMW!" We couldn't figure out why, aside from his obvious love for fine German machinery. We realized that because he had smacked his nose, HARD, (as he attempted to move a seat in his own car), he was in need of first aid. Thus, Philly immediately jumped to the logical conclusion that if first aid is required, one must proceed directly to a luxary automobile, since they apparently come with first aid kids. Who knew?

Nose patched,  we walked heavenward, towards our seats. When we got to our seats, right below the ozone layer, Pittsburgh announced, with no small amount of glee in her voice, "They've got a FULL BAR over there!" The SAHMs squealed, as the husbands skulked several feet behind us.

We found our seats, my girlfriends holding two vodka tonics in each hand (they were getting an extra one for "their husbands.") In full disclosure, I must admit that I stuck to beer. I've been with these women enough to know that when it comes to mixed drinks, these girls don't play.

The opening act: Muse. Meh. The acoustics were so awful I couldn't tell you a thing about them.
While we were waiting for U2 to come on, I told everybody, repeatedly, how much I loved The Edge. How hot he was. So sexy. How much I enjoyed his guitar playing skills and his trademark stocking cap.

As the evening continued, and my beer became more and more delicious, I found myself acting more like a thirteen-year-old girl at a Jonas Brothers concert whenever the camera flashed to The Edge. Squealing. Pretending to zip open my jacket to expose my breasts. Yelling to my friends, "I love him! When he wears that hat he looks like a GIGANTIC PENIS!"

The evening progressed, and  I realized, rather quickly, that U2 was 100% a nostalgia band for me.  Yes, they were promoting a new album, but I had not listened to the album beforehand, and I'm not overwhelmed with a need to listen to it now, either. I know that the real U2 fans reading this are appalled and disgusted (sorry, Dana. sorry, Amy. sorry, Josh.) It's okay. I'm owning this feeling.

I wasn't the only one because the crowd got excited when they played the stuff we loved---"Where The Streets Have No Name," "Vertigo," "One," "With or Without You," etc. There were some new twists on old songs---but since the acoustics were so crappy, I really didn't quite get the main idea. For example he was saying something about Iran, and then he played "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," while some dude in a turban sang along and swung an American Flag around on stage. I could also see that he had a song about a politician in Burma, but that was only because I could read the information on the Jumbo-Tron.

Part of the problem is that Bono insisted on speaking Irish. I'm not fluent.

Perhaps the most surreal part of the evening was when they were playing a new song, and SB and I went to the restroom. She was telling me a story, and I responded, "Wow. Just Wow."

Some stranger in the next stall called out, "Wow, Wow, Wubzy." For those of you who are unaware, Wow, Wow Wubsy is a name from a show on Noggin, a children's television network. I found it disturbing and rather depressing that we were at a rock show, and yet again, I was hearing about children's television.

So, I said, protected by my stall doors, "We aren't talking about Wow, Wow Wubzy tonight, damnit!"

I stepped out to wash my hands, and found myself cornered by the Wow, Wow, Wubzy woman, who launched into a drunken digression about  children's television programs. She said, "And that Dora the Explorer. I HATE her!" She went on to call her a racial slur that often goes along with the phrase "and span."

I looked at her and said, "Wow."

As I walked away, I heard her yell at my retreating behind, "Wow, Wubzy!"

 U2 sang their songs on their stage that looked like, according to FeartheJ, "a Batman Jump-a-Roo."

We were all happy, we were all twenty-three, and we enjoyed the music of these four talented Irish lads.

 On the way home, Pittsburgh taught us two new phrases: 
BRP: Bread Related Products. These are essential to soak up the drinky-drinks. 
Steve: Also known as water, it is essential to drink lots of Steve, to be Even-Steven with the alcohol-water ratio.

We got home safely around two in the morning, fueled by BRP and Steve.

And alas, based on our weak messages and strained texts, it is clear to all that while it's fun to play like youngsters, it's far less enjoyable to watch after youngsters the next day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Working on it

I think Joel is fighting a cold. If this was Owen, I would shrug and accept that this is all part of life. But, since this is Joel, I always go to That Place and think about Those Things and I feel so helpless and terrified that my throat tightens up and tears come from nowhere.This isn't healthy, and I'm trying to work on it.

I was talking to Paul on the phone about it and I said, "Remember, when we were in the recovery room, after Joel's tubes were put in?" We were gazing down at Joel as he wore his little hospital gown, his duckling-fluff hair so bright and shiny against the dark-blue walls of the hospital crib. He was so still, and then, he slowly fought through the haze of the anesthesia. He gazed around, looking for his Mommy and Daddy, but all he saw were hazy, dark walls. He lifted up his hands, trusting that somebody, somewhere, would hold him.

Of course, I didn't say all of this to him, but when he said, "Of course I do," I knew that he understood the fears of That Place and Those Things, and knew exactly how I felt.


I've been such a disaster. Joel hasn't been sleeping as well, and everything falls apart when I'm tired. Today, for example, as I stepped into the lobby of the preschool, I realized that I had forgotten Owen's school bag. That is, the school bag with the apple in it.

The kids were supposed to bring in apples today for an activity. Over the weekend, we went to Wegman's, aka Owen's heaven, to pick out the best, most perfect apple. I, of course, put the apple in Owen's school bag so I wouldn't forget it.

His teacher said it was no big deal, and a thoughtful mom had brought in extra apples for all of the Loser Parents. Really, it worked out just fine.

But, probably because I'm tired and already nervous about Joel, I felt like crying. Over an apple. And a school bag.

And, when Owen came out, carrying his notes and crafts in a plastic grocery bag, he was smiling. His teacher, however, was concerned about Owen's habit of constantly touching himself. "Does he need to use the restroom?"  she asked.

"No, " I sighed. "That's just his thing. We're working on it."

 I know that the stress of these  various  workable problems was getting to me when a friend mentioned, concerned, that she could hear the irritation in my voice.

"I know," I said, "I'm working on it."

I just need to know where to start. Anyone?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Another Scrapper

This stick-wielding lad has found his voice.  Alas, it is not his "inside voice," or his "writing voice," or even his singing voice.  

No. He has tapped into his outside voice, otherwise known as his Barbaric Yawp, or his assertive voice, or, perhaps most aptly, his "I'm Angry as Hell and I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!" voice. 

I noticed it the first time on Thursday. We were waiting in the preschool lobby, and, as usual, I had nothing for him to play with. He had already made quick work of the Book of Saints, and was moving on to the various potted plants, when he saw my diaper bag. With a knowing lunge, he grabbed my keys and happily began chomping away. 

I usually  have no problem with key-chewing. Yes, keys are a bit germy, but I'm willing to build immunity if it means the baby is contained. Recently, I've been forced to change this view. 

Last week, he chewed with so much vigor that he managed to mess up the battery in the "clicker." Consequently, the Subaru went into full-fledged panic mode--flashing lights, honking horn, the full Monty. This happened at two in the morning. Then two thirty. Then three. Then five. As our neighbors cleaned their guns and set up their alibis, we finally figured out that we needed to remove the battery in order to get through the night without any more "panic attacks." Because we're really smart like that.

After that ordeal, we were down to one functioning clicker. A clicker that presently was in Joel's gaping maw. So, I made a snap decision and took away the keys. 

And Joel, my thirteen-month-old Dylan Thomas, decided to Rage, RAGE against the taking of the keys.  He flung himself towards the ground, and howled, a dark, piercing succubus of Hell noise. This noise wasn't human. It wasn't even baby. It was something very dark, very piercing, and very, very pissed off. 

I considered inching away,  pretending that he was somebody else's baby. It totally would have worked if all of the other occupants hadn't witnessed the whole key-snatching episode start to finish. I smiled awkwardly and said, "He really likes those keys." 

The other mothers smiled, thinking to themselves, "Pick the baby up, asshole." Of course, they thought this in the nicest possible way. I eventually picked Joel up, who immediately arched his back in resistance. "Hell no, I won't go!" he chanted in his mind as he attempted to break free of my tyrannical restraints. 

I wasn't terribly rattled, because one-years are easily distracted, and indeed, a trip to the bathroom mirror was enough to remove Joel from his angry world, and back to his happy place. He smiled at the mirror, and waved to that blond, bespectacled baby waving back at him. He was with his peeps, and the keys were forgotten. 

Although I  handled this episode, I knew, as you only know having done it once before, that Joel was only going to become more, not less unreasonable. I predict many disappointments will reduce my little boy to a flailing mess of emotion. This will happen often. It will be MORE FUN every single time.

I can't say I'm looking forward to it. I don't relish a future of dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge. Yet, I am grateful to see that Joel, like his brother, his parents, his grandparents, his aunts, and his uncles---is feisty.  

The world needs scrappers---and I've got one. Game on.  

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Witching Hour

It’s the witching hour. Four PM. Joel is clinging to my leg like a lamprey, as Owen is screeching from the bathroom, “Mommy! I need toilet paper. TOI-LET PA-PER! RIGHT NOW!” 
I scoop up Joel and walk towards the noise, only to see Owen emerge from the bathroom, his pants pulled up to his armpits, a la Urkel. I sigh deeply, dramatically, and say, “What are you doing?”

“I’m done, “ he puffs with the bravado that only an overtired three-year old can muster. 

“Did you wipe? Did you wash your hands? Did you FLUSH?” I ask these questions to the air, for Joel, Owen, and I know that none of these things, ONCE again, came close to happening. And, for the record, there was a full roll of toilet paper on sitting on the counter.

 “No.” he replies. “Too loud.” This from the boy who screams with such fervor and intensity that wine glasses shatter, and dogs in neighboring states stop dead in their tracks.

“Owen. Please go back inside, wipe your bottom, flush the toilet and wash your hands.” During this exchange, Joel has managed to whip his glasses off his face, and is once again, scratching them up. They look like a window on the Green Line after last call. Owen, meanwhile, walks away, suddenly deaf, dragging his filthy, germ-ridden hands across the kitchen table.

“That’s once,” I say, as my heart rate subtly increases. Owen continues to walk away, towards the living room. I set Joel down, and walk toward him.

“Owen,” I say, “Look at me.” Owen’s brown eyes twist to the left, than the right, than to the ceiling. “NOW!” I bark. He gazes at me, and I know he’s thinking, “Look, lady, I’ve got things to do, and germs to spread. I really don’t have time for your jibber-jabber.”
Before I had children, I didn’t know that toddlers knew about contempt. Once again, I stand corrected. “Owen,” I say, “you need to go in the bathroom and wipe your butt and flush the toilet, or, or…” Words fail me until I say a half-hearted, “you’ll be sorry.”
“Mommy, don’t panic,” he replies, and walks away, taking the time to give Joel a solid shove, knocking him onto the floor.

 To recap: The baby is howling, his older brother is a dirty, dirty child who will pass on Swine Flu while bullying all of the children in his preschool, which, of course, will come back to me, his terrible mother, for not raising him correctly. I will eventually visit him in a local penitentiary, where, I just imagine, he will STILL NOT WIPE HIS OWN BOTTOM (although his roommate may be up for the task).

The stress courses through my veins, like a fire hose in a water balloon. I cannot keep the calm, unflappable demeanor that SAHM are expected to have, and I find myself screaming in my preschooler’s face, “YOU GO UPSTAIRS RIGHT NOW!!!!!!”

Of course, Owen bursts into hysterical tears, meaning that all three of us are in some form of hysterics. He runs up to his room, crying.

 I pick up Joel, and rock him gently, and whisper the same prayer that I always whisper at times like this, “Please, Lord, don’t have Owen bring this up in therapy. And please, dear Lord, grant me wisdom. Please help, please help, please help, please.”

I take a big breath, feel my pulse decrease. And, from a distance, I hear my dear, sweet son say, “Mommy? My butt hurts.”

I take another deep breath, decide to smile, and say, "Why don't you go downstairs and try wiping? Everything will feel much better, I promise." 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

And now, for something completely different.

Okay, not completely different.

Actually, pretty much the same. Still me. Still writing. Still often writing about faith.

A few weeks back, my pastor and I were gabbing, and by the time the gabbing was over, I had volunteered to start a new adult class at the church.

The class is a ten-week experience to explore faith through the prism of the creative process. I call it "Writing Our Faith"

Every other Thursday, at St. Nicholas Lutheran Church, in Huntingtown, MD, we will meet to discuss faith and the writing process. We will read from Scripture and from assorted writers. We will have a good chunk of time to actually write. We will share our works, if and when the spirit moves us.

Yes, there will be snacks. If you're local, feel free to join us.

Additionally, there will be a companion blog.  On this blog, I will include a virtual version of the evening's activities. People are encouraged to post their own writings and/or comments about the texts and activities.

The blog is open to all. You don't have to be Lutheran, or belong to a specific faith community. This is an opportunity to explore faith and evolve as writers.

Thus, until I get this under control, I will put Writing Wednesdays on hold so I can prepare adequately for this class. Please check this out. I'm excited, and I'm sure great things will happen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Good Intentions

I had the best of intentions.

I took both boys to Giant this morning, because I think that sawdust and recycled newspapers are not the ingredients for a delicious dinner. And that was what we were having unless I bought groceries pronto.

We went to a different Giant than normal, and Owen practically did a jig when he saw that this store also had "kid carts"---miniature, kid-sized shopping carts, complete with the "Shopper in training" plastic flag.

I'm a big fan of these carts when its just O and me---it's an opportunity to talk about colors, sizes, nutrition, choices, etc. Owen loves to help, and it's really adorable to watch him scoot his little cart around, saying "Hi," to all of his fellow shoppers.

Now, when I have a grocery list longer than the Magna Carta and a hungry baby in the big cart, the inventors of the kid cart become nothing less than evil geniuses.

First of all, Owen hit me in the heels at least three times. Accidentally. But, still.

Secondly, he added all sorts of nonsense to the cart, such as to-go packs of Oreos or processed cheese spread. Despite explaining that the Oreos, "Would help [him] feeeeeeel better," I stated to him that he only puts things in the cart if I tell him it's okay.

As I removed the fruit snacks, dog toys, and KY jelly from his kid-cart, I realized that he wasn't quite grasping the concept. Fruit snacks are banned, thanks to this incident. We haven't had a dog for years. And, okay, he didn't really put KY jelly in his kid cart. It would be funny if he did, though, wouldn't it?


On the way home, I screeched the tires and turned around, because I saw a baby/toddler slide displayed outside of the local thrift shop. Eight dollars later, and it was mine. I had the best of intentions: good family fun.

I somehow forgot that Joel is a climber. As I watched him climb up the slide side, and attempt to whiz down the ladder, I could hear the helicopter blades chopping through the skies for his next emergency airlift.

Also, I didn't clean the thing before I brought it into the living room, so Paul will be getting out the carpet steam cleaner and I'm sure there will be much questioning of my common sense and general grumbling.

It's too bad that I never learned how to use the steam cleaner, and that I'm meeting two friends for drinks tonight. Just tragic.

I had the best of intentions in teaching my kids to be autonomous and independent. I didn't count on Joel using his skills to take off his diaper whenever possible.

I leave you with this, the results of my good intentions.And yes, I dressed Joel in Owen's shirt because I was too lazy to go upstairs. Wanna make something of it?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obligatory Owen's-First-Day-Of-Preschool Post

It was fantastic. Whenever I doubt that God is looking out for us, I'll remember this day.

On the way to school, after we had stopped at Starbucks (of course), Owen was giving me my marching orders:

"Mom, when you drop me off at preschool, make sure that you give me a kiss and a hug. Don't forget." He pointed his little finger at me, as if he was giving a lecture on quantum physics.

"I'm on it, Buddy," I replied. I swallowed hard, worrying for him. I truly felt, in my heart of hearts, that he would be fine. But yet, what if today was the day that everything was too scary, too much, too everything?

We went inside, and posed for slightly awkward pictures.

Then, he immediately went to the washer and dryer and started playing.

I said, "Okay, Owen, come here and give me a hug and kiss goodbye." Owen continued playing until I pressed the issue, "Owen, I'm leaving!"

"Okay, Mommy, here's your hug." He gave me a quick hug and immediately went back to work. Those imaginary clothes have stubborn stains, as you can imagine.

I left, and Joel and I did storytime and went to Panera with some other moms. I even squeezed a quick run in. This is the magic library-Panera-Starbucks-gym quad of awesome which made this preschool the front-runner.
When we returned to school, I learned that Owen's job of the day was "Cheerleader." He was given a sparkly wand, and he pointed to a chart that had the letters of his name on it. The teacher said, "Give me an O," and Owen pointed to the O with the wand. This was repeated with all of the letters, and then Miss Speck said, "What does that spell?" and the kids cried, "OWEN! YAY!" This is the chart:

If that isn't proof of a loving God, I don't know what is. My baby, on his first day of school, EVER, got an entire room of children to cheer for him. I didn't cry when I said goodbye to him, but I almost did when I heard this story.

In addition to cheerleading, Owen made silly putty, read a book called Silly Sally, ate cheese sticks and grapes, learned more about the letter "S," and had recess. Too wonderful.

When he came out, he ran to me, smiling ear to ear. Miss Speck said, "Owen is very polite. He's a fantastic kid."

Thank you, Lord, for this amazing first day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lively Crabs

I've already got $20 worth of comments on this post to support the American Cancer Society. Please stop by on Facebook or the blog to add a comment, and raise money in memory of Miguel. This campaign will run through Sunday, September 27th.

In the film Wedding Crashers, Flip, who is the villain and resident douchebag declares, "Yeah! Crabcakes and Football. That's what Maryland does!"

I laughed at that a little harder than necessary  because I always get excited when I know the setting of a film, song, or book. I feel like I'm in on the joke.

For example, the timeless and classic film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure was not, contrary to popular belief, filmed in San Dimas, California (where, if you were unawares, the high school football RULES!), but in the suburbs of Phoenix.

When Bill and Ted chased Abe Lincoln and Socrates around the mall, that was the Metrocenter, the very mall where I went ice skating with my fellow Brownies. The water park where Bill and Ted ditched Napoleon was in Mesa. I hung out with my first (but certainly not last) summer camp "boyfriend" there, and (gasp!) held his hand. 

No snogging. I was 13.

The only other film I can think of that took place in AZ was the Cohen brothers' masterpiece, Raising Arizona. I remember disliking this film with EXTREME PREJUDICE because it made people from Arizona look like idiots. Of course, this just shows that I was not ready for the Cohen brothers' unique style of writing and directing. Again, I was around 13.

There have been all sorts of films set in DC, which doesn't count in my mind as my hood. DC is powerful and urban and rife with backhanded political chicanery. I live in an area that still grows its own tobacco, drying it in sagging barns that date back to the Hoover administration. Our crime report primarily deals with the theft of ATVs and iPods.It's apples and oranges.

Wedding Crashers does have a Maryland vibe to it, though, having been filmed on the Eastern Shore. And yes, I must say that football and crabcakes are what Maryland "does."

Football? It's done, but just not so well. The Redskins won yesterday, but in a weaselly way, from what I understand. The colleges around here play football, but, much like Paul's alma mater, the University of AZ, the colleges get more press during March Madness than during January's Bowl season. Nevertheless, people like football here. There's a guy who religiously blows up his Redskins lawn ornament on any given Sunday, only to deflate it for the rest of the week. I almost wish Paul and I were football fans, just so we could get our hands on the Game Day Chili everybody's always making.

Crabcakes and crabs in general are done here, and done really well. There is a roadside produce stand/nursery that sells all sorts of stuff, including crabs. These are not just any crabs. Heavens, no. All of the stand's signs, posted up and down the main thoroughfare, declare that these crabs are "lively." On Sunday, as I was passing the blow-up Redskin, I noted that the crabs were not only lively, but they were $5 a dozen.

I couldn't pass that up. Owen and I walked up to the stand and ordered the crabs. "Make them extra lively, please!" I snarked.

The man put a garbage bag in a  bucket, put on his thick gloves, and pulled out these terrific, prehistoric creatures. They flailed their claws and protested as he stuffed my thirteen (!) crabs into the bag. As we drove home, the bag moved and claws poked through the plastic. "What are they doing?" Owen kept asking. "Are they mad?"

"Well, yes, Owen. They're crabby." We went home, and Paul set up the boiling pot, with the Old Bay seasoning and vinegar (another weird Maryland sidebar--when you go to the movies, you have the option of getting Old Bay seasoning on your popcorn.)

"What are you doing, Daddy?" Owen asked, from a safe distance.

"Cooking the crabs, Owen." Paul replied, as he hit an escaping crab on the claw, forcing it back to its hot fate.

"Oh." He looked at the pot, watching the steam rise up, clouding the overhead microwave. "Do the crabs like it in there?"

Paul didn't mince his words. "Probably not, Buddy. We're cooking them."

Time passed, and Owen asked, "Why aren't they trying to get out?"

Paul replied, "Because they're dead. Circle of life, Buddy."

"Oh," Owen replied, so not a Buddhist. "Okay."

The crabs were done, and Paul placed them on the platter. He scooped out the errant claws. Owen asked, "How did those get there?"

Paul didn't miss a beat as he replied, "They probably came off in the struggle." Ah, looking death right in the eye. Yeah! That's what Paul does!

Again, Owen was nonplussed, but he declared that he likes crabs. He was especially partial to the hammering and pounding.

It's possible that Owen will someday see Wedding Crashers, perhaps on television, and he'll feel a spark of recognition. As a Maryland native, he'll have that same inside knowledge as a certain young girl, many years ago, as she watched Keanu Reeves (and that other guy) create imaginary worlds in her very real stomping grounds.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Beautiful Soul

Rule #1 of teaching: Make friends with the custodians.

I was thinking about this golden rule, because I heard some sad news yesterday. Miguel M, a former co-worker of mine from Arizona, passed on two weeks ago, after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was a delightful man, and yet another reason why Orange Grove Middle School remains a special place in my memory.

Miguel was the head custodian. He could fix or clean pretty much anything. He put up with all of my shenanigans, even when it involved extra-dirty chalkboards or  constantly evolving seating arrangements. He had an easy laugh, and an ever-present grin.

Miguel had a giving heart. He served in the military in some function. He had children who were quite successful, and he worked hard to support their endeavors. He coached after-school sports, including flag football, and his passion, soccer. He found the kids who were right on the perimeter, and subtly mentored them, giving them tasks, or letting them drive The Gator across the athletic fields.

One morning, I saw a kid throw a bag of chips on the floor. I asked him to pick it up, and reminded him that the janitors shouldn't have to clean up after him. He sneered and said, "Isn't that their job?"

I replied, "Would you say that to Coach Moreno's face?"

The bravado dropped from his face, as he realized that "the help" had cheered him from the sidelines, helped him with his kick, and had probably paid more attention to him than his workaholic parents. "No," he mumbled, and picked up the bag.

I won't say that I was close buddies with Miguel, but I will say that his whole presence taught me to work hard, care about people, and enjoy doing both.

One of my favorite memories of Miguel came when I took a part-time job after school as the Community Schools director. It was my job to keep all the after-school clubs running and help close the building each evening. I was always there until 6:00, so I saw more of Miguel and his crew then some.

One evening, I heard raucous Tejano music blasting from the cafeteria. I walked over, and saw Miguel and another custodian mopping the floors. They danced as they mopped, talking in Spanish over the horns and accordions. I waved, and Miguel waved his hand, beckoning me to join in the dance. I shook my head and smiled, letting him enjoy his moment.

What a beautiful soul.

I feel like I want to do something, so let's try this: For every comment made about this posting (either on this blog, or on Facebook), I will donate $2 to the American Cancer Society. Let's do some good for Miguel.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Indulge Me.

A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.
Carson, Rachel

Good grief, do I ever love these kids.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Paging Dr. Freud

This morning, Owen climbed into bed with me. He nestled his little head on my chest, flung an arm around, and immediately fell asleep.

This was very sweet, yes, but as I laid there, listening to his soft breaths, I wondered how much longer I could wait before my bladder ruptured. 

Eventually, I closed my eyes, and just when I was drifting off, I heard him whisper, "Mommy? I want some cottage cheese. And some money."


Later that morning, we were driving to a playgroup. Owen turned to his brother, then said, "Mommy, I'm going to marry Joel someday."

"You'll have to move to Vermont," I replied. I thought a little more, and realized that Vermont recognizes gay marriage, but hasn't warmed up to brother-brother partnerships. I reconsidered my response, "Make that West Virginia."

 I must confess, I've been very concerned that Owen learns how to cough in his elbow instead of in his hand, as directed by his teachers. Apparently, I'm not the only one. Today's Post reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave the smack-down to one Chuck Todd (a journalist, and presumably, and adult) for coughing in his hand. She said, "We'll have to have Elmo give Chuck a special briefing...Elmo knows how to sneeze."


Anyway, we've been working on proper sneezing and coughing practices, so Owen won't, if nothing else, be mocked by a member of cabinet someday.

You can imagine how delighted I was when we were at Wal-Mart, and we ran into Owen's teacher, Miss Speck. As she said "Hello," I needed to ask Owen to stop licking the shopping cart.


Owen was doing his usual half-hearted protests come naptime. "No, I'm  not taking a nap. I'm going to sleep in your bed, with Green Pillow and Big Teddy."

"Well, honey," I countered, "I sleep with Daddy."

Owen frowned. "No!" he protested, "Daddy can sleep outside in the playhouse. You sleep with me."

Paging Dr. Freud! My son has developed a disturbing Oedipus complex, and I'm not sure I want to be Jocasta.

While Owen and I were putting Joel down for his nap, Owen mused, "Joel sure is a special little guy."

He's not the only one.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bigger Fish to Fry?

The late Tim Russert  once prayed on-air that his beloved Buffalo Bills would win Super Bowl XXVIII. The Cowboys gave the Bills a royal boot-kicking. This proves, perhaps, that God is a Cowboys fan.

(The proceeding paragraph is all I know about football. I only know about it because I watched a lot of Meet the Press.)

I bring up this example because I believe that God does care who wins football games, or who wins a MTV Video Music Award. A lot of people argue that God has bigger fish to fry, but I assert that God fries the right fish at the exact right time. For maximum flavor. 

I think I've killed that metaphor, and  made no sense. Well played! Let me try a different angle, since sports clearly isn't my thing. Or cooking fish. 

I got a phone call today that Owen will be moved to the morning preschool class, if I still wanted the spot. Instantly, a twenty pound boulder dropped off my shoulders. Owen was in the afternoon class, despite the fact that I was there on the first day of sign up at an ungodly hour. We weren't alumni, we weren't parishioners. No dice. If we wanted to attend this preschool, we would have to settle for the afternoon class. 

This was problematic because it messed up Joel's naps two afternoons a week, making for a very crabby baby and  a very long afternoon. I value Joel's sleep, and I was prepared to hire a babysitter to sit in our living room and read magazines while I picked up Owen and Joel dozed away. This was a solution, but an expensive one. 

I was also mourning the opportunity to have one-on-one time with Joel. I had envisioned taking him to storytime, maybe doing playgroups with other babies. I was hoping for him to experience the one-on-one attention that Owen had as a matter of course. With the afternoon option, I would take Joel home, and squeeze out a nap. That would be it. 

Of course, we would have made it work, and it would have been Just Fine. But, nevertheless, I decided to pray about it, asking God to put Owen in the right class. I didn't do it daily--just when I thought about it. 

And wouldn't you know, God answered that prayer, and He said "yes." I know that sometimes, God's answer is "no," and sometimes His answer is "wait." I don't pretend to understand His ways, because I'm not, all omniscient, and stuff. 

But, when you get a "yes" on something small, like a schedule change, it is a nice reminder that God notices everything, just like I notice the dirt under Owen's nails or the little dimples in Joel's knees. 

One time, I was talking to my mother on the phone, and during the conversation, she found a diamond that had fallen out of her wedding ring. This was possibly her mother's stone (I don't know for sure). As we talked, I heard her gasp, and then she cried tears of relief and gratitude. What was lost was found. She knew that God had answered a small, seemingly "meaningless prayer," and had given her a reminder of His grace. 

So, I guess, when a rock star thanks God for his Grammy or a baseball player looks upward after striking out his opponent, I don't think it's a bad thing. God understands, in ways we cannot, why certain games need to be won or why certain awards are earned or denied.

I would dare say that God was a Cowboys fan, not because he cares more about Dallas than Buffalo, but because he wanted to use Russert, a faithful man, to show that it is important to believe and have faith, even if "no" or "wait," is his answer. God uses all of these prayers, and His answers, even the difficult ones, are used for His glory. 

Go Bills.

(I don't know why this is doubled spaced. It bothers me greatly, and I'm working on it.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Simpatico (Writing Wednesday)

When you're stuck as a writer, sometimes the best thing to do is ask a question. I'm a big fan of questions. I've found that they can clarify, encourage elaboration, and/or send the writer on a new, unexpected journey.

I recently asked people to ask questions about  this post. People could ask any question they wanted. And, as always, the questions did their job.

Barbara asked, "Why do you take out your contacts before finding your glasses?" This is a clarification question. If I decided to revise the original piece, I could go back and explain that I removed my contacts because I assumed my glasses would be where they always were, and I wasn't expecting a hunt. This addition, if worded more eloquently, could add to the humor and/or build tension.

Several people asked about the children's sermon. If you want to know the specifics about that, I addressed it in yesterday's post. This is an elaboration question. People specifically wanted to know more about that point. Clearly, it stuck out, since several people asked about it (or, perhaps, I have a holy readership.) As a reader, I need to weigh the purpose of my piece---would it add to the overall mood if I elaborated on the sermon, or would it bog the piece down? I felt that it would bog the piece down, since my focus was Joel's tomfoolery. My next question should be: Should I cut the reference all together? Elaboration questions help the writer see what needs more information, but it also reveals what information distracts from the "big picture."

I received all sorts of wonderful questions, but one from Coby really stayed with me: "What are your kids' endearing habits?" This is a journey question, because it's related to the piece, but it is open-ended, designed to send me a new direction. I carried this question around with me, and I wrote a snapshot from my observations. The result is below. 

Your prompt: 

1) Take something you have written and ask a person, or several people, to ask some questions related to the piece. Don't give the questioners too many parameters--just let them ask what they ask. (If you don't have something written, tell a story out loud and ask for questions).

2) Choose the question or questions that strike your fancy. If they are eloboration or clarification questions, blend them into your orignial piece to make a second draft. If they are journey questions, complete a freewrite or draft a snapshot based on that new question. See where the query takes you.

3) Review-Revise-Share

4) For inspiration, check out Paul, Corrie, and Coby's work from last week. (Join the party! It's fun, I swear.)

Simpatico (My Example)
Inspiration Question: "What are your kids' endearing habits?" (I decided to focus just on Owen)

Joel is still a painting in process. There are certainly splashes of color on his canvas, and the strokes are bold and confident. There is lots of manic orange and vibrant splashes of yellow. He's happy. He's fearless. He makes me smile. But because of his age, he is more of a Jackson Pollack at this point---you have to look hard, and guess at the images.

Now, Owen's painting is incomplete at this point as well, but it like an Impressionist piece---up close, it's a lot of beautiful dots, but stepping back, a stunning image comes into view. Owen is coming into his own, and I could not be more delighted.

Looking at Owen, I'm looking at myself. He and I are simpatico. It might be a first-born thing. We're both bossy, convinced of the virtue of our worldviews. When I asked Owen for one of his chicken nuggets, he thought about it, and finally made his decree: "No, Mommy. Too much sugar."

He doesn't limit his micromanaging to his mother. I was getting dressed, while both boys were playing in the adjoining bathroom. I heard Owen say, "Joel! Enough with the tampons! Put them away." The pieces fell together, for Owen had specifically asked me all about tampons just two days earlier.

Owen likes to know what's coming. Today, at the park, he asked me to play on the spider web (a collection of ropes) with him. He then asked me to sit next to him, on a particular rope, sitting with my hands folded in a certain way. I've known dictators with more flexibility than this boy of mine.

While on the spider web, I started making monkey noises, scratching my head and my armpits. HILARIOUS. He frowned and said, "You're not a monkey, you're just Mommy."

I pressed on, "Am I allowed to dance?"


"Sing songs?"


I sighed. "What am I allowed to do then, Owen?"

His answer was quick, "You're allowed to hug me."

Oh, could I love this kid any more? Of course, I relate to his control issues---I lose my mind if naps end at 3:30, when I really want them to last until 4:00, at a minimum. If my coffee-paper-puttering routine is cut short, I'm breathing fire. So, I can relate to a kid who wants his family to run with the predictability of a Timex.

And, I relate to his need to get and give love. When I sat on a yellow jacket at the same playground, it stung me on the butt. It still hurts as I write this, sitting on an ice pack, over two hours later. Owen immediately walked over when he heard me yelp, held my hand and said, "It's okay, Mommy. Do you want me to kiss it?"

I considered it, an opportunity for my son to literally kiss my butt, but I just kissed him and said, "It's okay, sweetie." He nestled his head against me, kissed me on each (facial) cheek, and said, "I love you so much."

On the way home, Joel was saying "Da-Da," and Owen leaned over and said, "Joely? Can you say Owen instead?" This is Owen in a nutshell--wanting to control, yet looking for new ways to show his love.

He's a pleaser, like me. The start of preschool is bringing out my perfectionist tendencies. I already made my monthly play dough, and asked the teacher for more projects. I want her to know that I'm on-top-of-things, a helpful, resourceful mother in this educational team. I haven't quite figured out that she cares about Owen, and I'm not getting a grade. It's hard to accept this.

Owen is also trying to impress the teacher. He coughed in his elbow, like his teacher taught him. He smiled, eyes bright, and said, "Miss Speck (not her real name, but that's her blog name, as of now) will be so happy!"

Things are not always sunrises and roses. Two strong personalities are bound to butt heads. Just an hour ago, Owen declared, "Don't ruin my fun!" I'll try not to, Buddy, but it's bound to happen.

I look at my son--the leader, the thinker, the dreamer, the snugglebunny---and, like a painting, appreciate his beauty with each gaze, each perspective, each shifting of the light.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Q and A

In an earlier post, I asked people to write questions for a future writing prompt. I'll use a few of those questions tomorrow, but I thought I would answer some today. Just cause.

Game: Some questions are real and some I made up. Figure out what's what and win a fantastic prize: a bag of magic beans.

1. Do you get dressed/shower/do hair/put on make-up every day, or some combination of those things?

I get dressed, without fail, every day. I may be wearing the cut-off sweatpants of doom and a T-shirt advertising NAU Homecoming, circa 1994, but I am not wearing my pajamas. Just clothing that looks like pajamas.  

I take showers, unless I don't feel like it. I would say I don't feel like it 2-3 times a week. However, I never go more than one day in a row without showering.

I rarely do my hair. Now that I have my new haircut, I've attempted to flat-iron it, but I'm sure this urge will quickly pass.

I always wear lipstick. I may have dirty hair and pajama-clothes, but my mouth is kissably soft and brilliant red.  

2. What did you teach  in the message for children? How old are the children listening to the sermon?

It was the first day of Sunday School, so I talked about spiritual gifts.  The kids got to open little bags that had different spiritual gifts--knowledge, music, skilled crafts, leadership, teaching---inside and we talked about these gifts and who has them in the church. We talked about how everybody has spiritual gifts and how we can use these gifts to love God, love each other, and serve the world.

I'm not sure how much they got, but they enjoyed opening the presents.

The kids are mostly kindergartners or younger. They are a fun group, but the kids in the second service (the "contemporary" service with the guitar band) are feisty. One girl told me that she gets presents for "Hatch Day." I immediately made a connection to the show Lost---the hatch? Dharma Initative?--and got a solid wall of silence. I feared that the clown from the Apollo Theater would come out with his broom and sweep me away.

With that same group, a girl was kind enough to tell me that Owen "Didn't have his eyes closed" during the prayer. I refrained from asking her how she knew that. (Confession: I'm approaching my mid-thirties and I still peek during prayers to see if anybody else has their eyes open.)

3. Who picked out these wonderful glasses?

Joel's ophthalmologist from Children's Medical Center recommended the MiraFlex frames because they are virtually indestructible.

We're happy with them, except that a lens will occasionally pop out. That's a lot of fun to find, as you can imagine.

4. How many cells are in an Excel document?

I just happen to know that because I'm taking an Excel class so I can teach English to middle schoolers again someday. I'm also paying 25 dollars for the privilege, along with the cost of babysitting.

The answer? 16,777,216.

5. Since this post is really boring, why don't you reveal a few embarrassing tidbits to shake it up a bit?


I have so much hair on my toes that Paul calls me "Bilbo Baggins." 

I miss having a dog, so I can blame the farts on her. 

My mother once tried to make me eat a beetle because I was "bugging her."

I once got into a stubborn snit and told my parents that I wouldn't go to bed until they said "Boogers." They wouldn't do it, and this was the most epic standoff of my eight-year life. Today, when I'm trying to prove a point, my mom or dad will sometimes cut me off with one word: "Boogers." 

My brother popped a hole in his waterbed with a butterfly knife. Twice. 

When my brother and I were supposed to share a bag of gummy worms, he would spit in the bag so I wouldn't eat any more. 

I always wash my hands after using the bathroom, but I hate doing it, and resent it silently, every time.


Monday, September 14, 2009

The Right Words

There are people in my life who are going through some hard things at the moment. I'm not going to share the specifics, because when they shared their issues with me, they weren't saying, "I'm sharing this confidence with you, but, by all means, broadcast it to the Internet for general comment and derision."

That's my guess, anyway.

It's times like this that I sometimes wish I was a man. There's the obvious---I would love to write my name in the snow just once (okay, full disclosure: I tried to do this once when I was in college, during a ski trip. Unsuccessful.) Additionally, I would like to be able to pass along words of wisdom, man-style.

It seems to me that men deal with tough issues one of the following ways:

1) "That sucks, man."
2) "Do you wanna get a drink?"
3) "I think Ice Road Truckers is on."

This is not to negate the helpfulness of these remarks. Men, as a general rule, acknowledge, avoid, deflect, and deal. There isn't a lot of "processing" or "emoting." That is, unless, you're Robert Smith of The Cure. Or these guys.

For most men, a hearty "That sucks, dude," is sufficient. 

Women, on the other hand, talk through their problems. It's hard to say the right words at the right time. 
My tendency, at times, is to share my own experiences to shed light on a specific problem or add a different perspective. I fear that this is not helpful, but yet another way to feed my narcissism.Yet, I know that I have had life experiences for a reason, and God has put people into my life specifically. So when do I share, and when do I shut up?
I offer prayers, but I do not take this time to evangelize. Should I? I don't want to add stress to a person, nor do I want to close the door on an opportunity. 

I listen, and listen, and nod my head, and cry with friends. But when it comes to words, I feel like the best I can do is, "That sucks," or a slightly kinder version, "I'm so, so sorry." 

So, what do you do? What are the right words when  friends deal with illness, disorders,  fear, death, miscarriage, divorce, abuse, infertility, broken relationships, hospitalization, accidents, or any other BIG THING in this sometimes cruel and relentless world?

Are there right words? How do you know what to say?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hide and Seek

Oh, you.

I know you think you're pretty cute, with your cool glasses and smirky little mouth.

I know that, up to this point, you have lived on a steady diet of cooing and smiles and kisses.

I know that you think the world is surrounded by good people who will bend over backwards to meet your every need.

Well, guess what kid....

...the party's almost over.

You see, dear child, you've developed a new, very annoying habit. You'll open the bathroom door, then proceed to open a cabinet. You'll take out the interesting contents, and then you'll walk away with them. Eventually, you'll be attracted to something else, like a shiny spatula or your father's used socks, and drop the comb or the container of floss onto the carpet.

No, love of my life, that by itself is not the annoying habit. The truly extra-annoying, bordering on evil habit of yours is when you decide to hide especially interesting objects from your parents. Like Mommy's glasses.

After a long day of tending to your every whim, Mommy's eyes were screaming for release. She removed her contacts and wandered around the house like the village idiot, running into walls and stubbing her toes, looking for her glasses. She looked (as best as a legally blind person can look) in the normal places--the toy kitchen, the laundry hamper, the recycle bin, the trash cans, under the couch, under the coffee table. She even dug through Mt. Lego, to no avail. She was faced with the difficult choice of going to bed at 8:30 PM or putting her contacts back in her bloodshot eyes. She choose the later, and it felt like 9,000 papercuts on lemon-soaked skin.

And yes, she found the glasses case the next day. In the dishwasher, naturally.

And today, once again, Mommy found something to be missing from her bathroom. Her makeup case. Normally, this isn't a huge deal, but today, your mother was planning on talking to actual adults. She was doing the children's sermon, and giving a talk about a writing workshop (more on this another day). She was also going to a meeting for your brother's preschool.

You, child of my heart, may wonder why your mother cared about impressing a bunch of preschool mothers with her lined eyes and blushed cheeks? Because, Roly Poly Joely, she would prefer to not TERRIFY her new drinking buddies, potential new friends with her ghoulish under eye circles. It's not her intention to be "Goth Mom," or, worse yet, "Tired Mom."

Give a girl some dignity. Give a mother her lipstick.

As of this writing, Joel-Joels, Mommy's makeup remains missing.

Do the right thing, Joel. Stop hiding your mother's toiletries. Otherwise, things could get very, very ugly.

(You would stay pretty cute, though.)

Somewhat related digression: For a future writing exercise, could you do me a favor and ask me a question about this post in the comments section? Ask anything you want.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A post that will be interesting to about five people

A few years back, when Owen was about fifteen months old, I decided to train for a "big race"--the Bolder Boulder 10K. I did a training schedule, dutifully putting in my miles. I cross-trained. I did tempo runs. I completed long runs. I felt good.

I was asserting my independence, separating my body from the baby-carrying, milk-producing vessel it had become over the last two years. Owen was weaned, Joel was just a blurry idea, and I was going to take my body back.

The altitude in Colorado is about 5,000 feet higher than my stomping grounds here in Maryland, so, suffice to say, I was feeling it  around mile five. I lurched my way up the final turn, heading into the stadium at the University of Colorado. As I ran around the track, towards the finishing corrals, I heard the hoots and hollers of the crowd, felt the beating of my heart, and surged my way towards the finish. I sunk my hands on my knees, and caught my breath.

I then stood up, and saw a large banner advertising Pearl Izumi shoes: "There is no such thing as a Jogger's High." I rolled my eyes, because this stunk of macho running whatever.  But then, I saw another T-shirt, advertising the same shoes. It said, "If you're running anything less than a 30 minute 5K, you are a jogger." And, I'll admit it, I felt a bit defeated.

I recognize that there is an elite, or at least, more elite group of runners that scoff at walk breaks and get frustrated by the hordes of slower runners. Even I've been in races where I've darted around the people leisurely chit-chatting or, Heaven forbid, texting, when they are supposed to be running. (Basic race etiquette--if this is you, head towards the back of the start.)

But I'm not going to tell anybody that they don't belong out there. Make no mistake--the advertisement is intended to mock joggers. I think if you're wearing sneakers, and you're moving your body, you're doing more than most of the population. You don't deserve to be derided---not by me, not by shoe corporations, not anybody.

Go on with your bad self. And remember---you are a runner.

By the way, if you're looking for a fantastic (and not-at-all mean spirited) ad campaign showing how runners are different, check out this campaign from Adidas.

I've seen Paul do this snot-rocket technique more times than I care to admit: 

Paul and I have both been liberal with the Vaseline/Body Glide to prevent chapping. I think we have a picture similar to this somewhere in the embarrassment files.

And, finally, I don't know who took this picture of me, but I'm still awaiting my compensation...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Send this to seven other friends or get seven years of bad luck

My blog-friend Corrie sent me a virtual blogging award. This is a chain-letter type deal, where you're supposed to:

Thank the person who has given you the award. (Thanks, Corrie!)

Copy the logo and place it on your blog. (I linked it, but I cannot post it in good conscience because it does two things that I consider borderline evil. First of all, it misspells the word "creative" as "Kreativ." Secondly, it uses a K when a C is supposed to do the job. Other perpetrators of this atrocity include: Kountry Kitchen, Kwik Sew, Krazy Glue, and Kool Aid. Krispy Kreme gets a pass because of sheer deliciousness).

Corrie, please don't be offended by my persnickety ranting.

Link to the person who has nominated you for the award. (Corrie)

Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.

1. When one of my children has a scab, I have to fight the urge to pick it.

2. The baby, in a terrifying new development, can open doors. My sacred BM time was interrupted this morning by the booming slam of the door, and a lumbering 13-month old approaching me, arms outstretched like Frankenstein.

3. When I was in high school, I wasn't cool and I wasn't a dork. People mostly didn't notice me at all. A common signature in my yearbook was, "You're so quiet, maybe I'll get to know you better next year."

4. When I read an editorial this morning suggesting that the representative from South Carolina heckled the president because he was black, I must admit that the thought never occurred to me. Does this make me a racist or not a racist? Am I color-blind or simply blind to the continued racial struggle? My white guilt suggests that I still have much to learn.

But then again, John McCain fell asleep during one of President Bush's speeches, and that just confirms my belief that as a senator, he is awesome, but when he runs for president, he loses his Maverick-y deliciousness. (That, by the way, is the closest I will ever get to a political posting).

5. I still judge a person by his or her taste in music. I judge silently, but I do judge.

6. I've lost count of the number of times people have said, "I know that you must cringe when you read my writing because of my bad grammar." (Not true).

7. When Owen and I were sorting out his toys for an upcoming garage sale (all proceeds go to adoption/foster care services--contact me if you're local and interested in donating!), I would donate two toys for every one he insisted on keeping, when his back was turned.

Nominate 7 other bloggers. I'm going to nominate bloggers I haven't already named. Here's the original link of additional writers I love. If I listed you before, consider yourself nominated as well.

Bloggers: The New Class

Paul is a friend from high school, who is now a pastor in California. I agree with some of his ideas, disagree with others, but I appreciate the intellectual discourse. He's very smart. Kinda scary smart. I'm not married to this Paul, and will henceforth refer to him as "California Paul."

My cousin, David, is good at everything he tries. He's also one of the kindest people I know. Check out his blog to learn more about welding and animal life, amongst other things.

My aunt, Alice, is so very thoughtful. I'm grateful for this window into her life.

Sarah is a friend from college. I'll always remember celebrating her 21st birthday in Hong Kong. She is a therapist and musician and mother of two, living in Bisbee, AZ. She's so incredibly funny and insightful.

I used to work with Brian, who is both humble and scary-intelligent. He's raised thousands of dollars running marathons to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma. He's also funny and notices absurd and beautiful details.

Jen is another friend from college, and I just recently re-connected with her via Facebook and her blog. She kinda lives my dream life---living in Montana, writing a local column for the newspaper. She gardens. She drinks coffee, quite snobbishly, I may add. She refuses to clean the deer her husband hauls home each season. She's my kind of girl.

Finally, I love reading Kim's blog because I'm looking for inspiration. She's half my age, and a better mother than I could ever hope to be. I wish, someday, to be as grown-up as Kim.

Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate. (Uhhhh, I just did that).

Leave a comment on each of the blogs to let them know they have been nominated.(I will do that at some point soon).

That's it for now. How to end this blog in a witty, thoughtful manner?

Forget it: I'll just do it the Owen way: WEASEL!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Building a Scene (Writing Wednesdays)

I step outside myself sometimes, and wonder what that deranged crackhead is doing with my face. I mean, there's no way that I, a reasonable, educated adult would pin my child on the ground and force him to try on a giraffe costume.

It's just not possible.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to this week's Writing Wednesday: Building a Scene.

A scene is made up of three elements: Snapshots, Thoughtshots, and Dialogue.

Snapshots are little pieces of description that set the tone or establish character. We've worked on snapshots when we discussed snapshots, setting, and zooming in. Snapshots can be long, but are often especially effective as short attachments to the dialogue.

Thoughtshots are a quick picture of the narrator's thoughts. These can be reactions, reflections, feelings, or commentary. Again, they work especially well when they are attached to dialogue.

Finally, dialogue, is what people say. I'm occasionally asked how I remember dialogue. If Owen or somebody else says something especially memorable, I try to jot it down on paper. I've been known to call myself and leave a voice-message so I don't forget.

However, much of my dialogue is re-created. Since I'm dealing with real people, I don't put words in their mouths that they wouldn't say. It's possible that I'll piece together several conversations into one. Also, since I'm writing, it's far more concise and focused than the rambling meanderings of real-life conversation.

Let me show you an example so that this makes more sense. I'll bold the snapshots and italicize the thoughtshots. Hopefully, the dialogue will be self-explanatory.

"Hey, Owen," I called, lifting the costume out of the box. "Come here, please."

Owen walked in the room, and looked curiously. "What is that?" he asked, inching closer towards me.

What that? I thought. That, my boy, is cuteness. One hundred percent bona-fide cuteness. A giraffe-print body, with a poochy little tummy, and a hood, complete with a mane and giraffe ears. "This, Owen," I answered, "is your Halloween costume."

He smiled nervously, touched it, than darted his finger away as if he had burnt it. "Is it a horse?"

"No, Buddy. It's a giraffe. Come here, let's try it on." Inwardly, I quivered with excitement. One of the greatest things about parenthood is dressing your children in ridiculously cute Halloween costumes. The late nights, the tantrums, the verbal abuse---it's all forgiven when your child is wearing something fluffy and hooded.

Owen, however, did not share my excitement. He curled himself into a ball, and said, "I don't like it! Take it away, Mommy! Now!"

This was the moment that a sane person would put the costume away, perhaps trying again after with a full tummy and a good nap. Of course, I had proven, time and time again, that I lacked sanity, or even basic common sense.

"Owen, if you try on the costume, I'll take a video of you." There's nothing my narcissist loved more than watching himself on TV.

Owen chewed him lip thoughtfully, and said, "NO!"

"But honey," I answered, "Grandma Judy got you that, and she really wants to see you in it." Yes, I attempted to exploit the pure love between grandmother and grandson. I did.

Owen turned away and mumbled, "I don't like it."

A surge of anger flashed through me. Good grief, this child thanked God for Trick or Treating and Trick or Treating bags EVERY NIGHT FOR A YEAR, and yet, he won't give his mother the small pleasure of wearing a stupid giraffe costume?

I sighed and said, "Owen, just try it on. It will be so cute." And yes, I was now whining.

Owen laughed to himself, clearly reveling in this new-found power. What would this crazy woman say next?

I cursed my terrible parenting,yet forged ahead with it, saying, "Owen, I'll give you a marshmallow if you put on the costume."

He gave it a moment's thought, his eyes bright with scheming, and retorted, "Two marshmallows."

"Owen," I replied, eyes narrowed. "This is not a negotiation."

"NEGOTIATION," Owen screamed. The walls shook. The fixtures rocked in the ceiling. Babies in a five-mile radius awoke prematurely.

"STOP SCREAMING," I screamed, my jaw clenched, teeth grinding yet new valleys in my molars, "And please, please, please, put on the costume."


At that point, I tackled him. I started to stuff one leg into the costume, and looked down at Owen. His face was red, and his eyes were glassy and near tears. He puffed out hot, terrified gasps.

I put the costume down, gave him a hug, and said, "You don't have to wear the costume."

After I put him to bed, a guilty affair involving extra snuggling and lots of stories, I picked up the phone and called my husband.

"Paul," I said, wearing my shame like a lead blanket, "I really need to get a grip."


I am concerned that people will think I'm a bad mother by publishing this. I know that we're all imperfect, but I'm not proud of this. It could be somewhat funny, if I just knew when to quit. I crossed that line, and I need to learn from this experience.

Writing wise, I think this was heavier on the thoughtshots than the snapshots, which is a tick of my writing. I find that I try to focus thoughtshots on just one character, to avoid confusion. Overall, I think it has promise as a piece.

The Prompt
1) Think about a conversation you've had recently.
2) First write the dialogue.
3) Then, add in the appropriate thoughtshots and snapshots as needed.
4) (Or, do what I do and write it all at the same time, being mindful of the snapshot/thoughtshot balance).
5) Revise-Share-Publish

*If you like, you can use this sample dialogue and create snapshots and thoughtshots around it.

1) We're going to stop here.
2) What are you doing?
1) I'm stopping for gas.
2) Why?
1) Why do you think?
2) What are we doing next?
1) Going to the gym.
2) Why are we going to the gym?
1) Why do you think?

Writing Wednesday Hall of Fame!

Check out these awesome selections from last week's zooming in Writing Wednesday.
Thanks, Coby, Paul, and Corrie!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

End of Story

I woke up this morning, and there wasn't a drop of coffee in the house. No grounds. No leftover swill in the bottom of the carafe. No-thing.

This made me very testy.

I told Owen he was eating his grapes too loudly. I muttered mild swear words under my breath when I couldn't find Joel's brand new shoe. (Which, by the way, I finally found in the recycle bin. Joel apparently thinks this bin is made of magic and moonbeams, so I will look there first from this point forward.) And, in a moment that makes me especially proud, I stood in a parking lot and told my preschooler to stop "flapping his gums and get [his] butt out of the car."

Perhaps Owen will learn better language and behavior at preschool. The bad influence, I fear, is looking right at me in the bathroom mirror.

Anyway, I got my coffee, and we went to the library. These are two things that never fail to improve my mood. At the library, I ran into a friend of mine. She is awesome times infinity. Her son has autism, and she was telling me about his experiences and some of the things that teachers have done to help him out.

One of the things a teacher did was mark squares on the carpet with tape for "circle time." This provided a boundary for kids, a safety zone for those who needed it. The teacher also used this strategy so that kids with ADHD were close to the teacher, and kids who needed space were towards the back of the room. Here's the key to this strategy: it was easy, and she used it for everybody.

And this-this-is what kills me about some teachers--the basic lack of creativity and problem-solving. I'm not talking about the teacher in this example--quite the opposite. She found a way to meet the needs of her entire class, without singling kids out or making things harder than they needed to be. She didn't do something "special" for the kids with IEPs, or 504s, or whatever acronym you wish to use. She helped out every kid, simply by using some creative thinking.

One of the things that frustrated me about teaching were the annual meetings with the special education teachers to discuss accommodations. Accommodations, for those not in education-land, are the steps or practices teachers are asked to do to help certain students be successful. They include things like, "seat student towards the front of the room," "repeat directions, if asked," or "extra time on tests, as needed."

These are not unreasonable demands. But, OH! the grumbles and howls from these teachers! The whining! The excuses! You would think these were the most ridiculous requests ever. These meetings made me so depressed and frustrated. I couldn't believe that people found it so difficult to show a little empathy or, God Forbid, think outside of the box a bit.

And incidentally--these accommodations are LEGALLY MANDATED. They aren't up for discussion.

I'm not here to teacher-bash. For every bad teacher, there are many more caring, wonderful ones. And, I know that there are accommodations that are either outdated or just plain abused. In particular, I once had a student with sensory issues that had a "Take a break" pass. The idea was that he was to use the pass, no questions asked, whenever the environment became too stimulating for him. This was to prevent meltdowns.

As a concept, it's wonderful. Kids, especially students with these kinds of issues, need to learn healthy self-regulation strategies to be successful in school, and in life. This kid, however, was not over-stimulated by anything, except for, perhaps, his girlfriend. He attempted to use his pass each day, coincidentally during her lunch period.

One call to his very cool, with-it mother, and he no longer felt so overwhelmed in my class.

But, you see, I didn't blame this issue on his IEP. I looked at the larger issue and figured out a solution. That is what I see good teachers do.

They teach in different ways---using visuals, lists, music, movement, and conversation---not because it helps the kids with IEPS or 504s, but because it helps everybody.

They employ subtle strategies---grouping certain kids together because it is a mutually beneficial arrangement, seating charts, general vs. specific checks for understanding---not because it helps the kids with IEPS or 504s, but because it helps everybody.

They work with the special educators, and learn strategies, such as ways to make a worksheet less overwhelming---not because it helps the kids with IEPS or 504s, but because it helps everybody.

And finally, good teachers just get it. I mean, any person who has ever learned to ski, or dance, or play an instrument, or speak another language, has encountered a suffocating, powerless frustration. (If you've never felt this feeling, then you're too perfect to be reading this blog--away with you and your perfection!) Good teachers never forget that power of frustration, and take it as a moral and personal responsibility to temper this frustration, and make it more manageable.

I may be ranting here, but this really touches my core. People need to be cared for. And if the caring comes in different ways for different people, than that's just what needs to happen. End of story.