Sunday, December 21, 2008

Magical Christmas


The fast approaching Christmas interrupted my regularly scheduled blogging, I’m afraid. Every December, no matter how well I prepare, I reach a point where I freak out about getting everything purchased, wrapped, boxed, and shipped out. This happened last week for me. Oh, and also the boys and I visited the dentist (each at different times), Henry had a double ear infection and had to go to the doctor, and Craig and I had an appointment with Luke’s new psychologist (who is wonderful so far!!!). So we’ve been a bit busy. But now everything seems to be done and I’m really looking forward to Christmas. My only concern is the fact that Henry keeps asking for outrageous gifts from Santa. He gave up on the robot with a remote that controls the world, but now he wants a crocodile key chain that can turn into a real, full-sized crocodile when submerged in water. We read about it in a children’s book.

That Henry. He really doesn’t seem to have much of an understanding of the difference between reality, fantasy, and dream. A few weeks ago he woke up insisting that we used to live in a little yellow house.

“Remember, Mama? The little yellow house? With the porch? Remember?” he kept asking me over and over. I finally had to answer him in the affirmative because he wouldn’t stop with the constant badgering.

Henry also has the charming tendency to make the most bizarre statements regarding his past.

“Remember when I was a teenage girl, Mama?” he’ll ask.

Last week he was talking about the birthday party he would be attending. Henry has never gone to anything other than a family birthday party, and this one was extra special because it was Henry’s first social invitation that was his and not his and Luke’s.

Stretching out on the floor, he said, “I might take a nap at Adam’s birthday party, Mama.”

“Oh really?” I asked. “Well, usually people don’t take naps at parties.”

“Well,” he responded in a condescending voice, “When I lived in North America, before you or Daddy or Luke were born, back when I was a boy that went to high school, I went to a party and we took a nap.”

Okay then. Maybe in North America when you were a teenage girl, Santa can give you a magical crocodile key chain. It's Christmas, right? Anything could happen.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

My Little Sister

My sister Mara has been living with us for a month. I keep meaning to write about her, but somehow, I find this hard. She is just so much a part of me that I have a hard time saying anything about her. I can’t really remember when she wasn’t here. I forget to ask people if she can come with me to various events because I forget that she isn’t, say, my left arm.

My husband cannot understand this in the slightest. Mara is ten years younger than I am. We have rarely lived around one another since she hit puberty. And yet, somehow, we know each other inside and out. We have many similar mannerisms and gestures.

I think I understand, just a little, what it must feel like for twins who have been separated to be around one another for the first time. You begin to understand genetics in a more profound way.

My boys say that we have five people in our family now, Mom, Dad, Luke, Henry, and Auntie.

Auntie is going to Vietnam at the end of the month. Though she will likely be back, it is clear that Columbus, Ohio will not be her permanent home.

I am having phantom pains already.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Amazing, Bizarre, and Lovely


We had a lovely weekend. On Friday night, we went to church to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas. On the car ride there, Henry was in a particularly curious and chatty mood.

“Mom, why can we swallow food but we can’t swallow our fingers?” he asked.

“Well, our fingers are attached to our hands,” I answered.

“No, I mean, why do our fingers make us throw up a little and our food does not?” Henry pressed further.

“I guess that is because we chew up our food before we swallow it, but most people, if they choose to stick their fingers down their throats, do not choose to chew up their fingers first,” I said.

“Hey, Mom,” Henry went on, moving on to another topic. “God made us, right?”

“Yes, Henry.”

“So God made OUR POOP???” he asked, laughing uproariously.

A brief lesson on the digestive process followed.

After church, a service that reminded me why we very rarely choose to take our boys to church in the evenings, we went upstairs to eat cookies. Luke’s class had made a booklet on St. Nicholas to distribute to all of the parishioners, a booklet entitled, “What St. Nicholas Means to Me.”

There were some lovely drawings and writings by these first through third graders. Many of the girls wrote, “I love St. Nicholas.” Many of the boys stuck more to the facts, writing things like, “St. Nicholas was a Bishop.”

Luke drew the picture featured above. In case you can’t see it clearly, it is a drawing of a head with wings with this caption: “St. Nicholas is a Spirit.”

Ahh, my Luke, so spiritually advanced.

The next morning, the kids ran shrieking around the house, very impressed that St. Nicholas knew to give them Bakugan battle brawlers and cheetos in their shoes.

It snowed gently all day, adding to the festive atmosphere, and Craig kept the fire stoked against the cold.

That afternoon, we ventured out carefully in the car to attend a Tae Kwon Do belt ceremony for Craig and Luke. They have been taking class together and both recently earned their yellow belts. Luke took the ceremony seriously, clearly very proud as his instructor tied the belt around his waist.

Feeling like we should celebrate, we drove the car home, bundled up and found Auntie Mara, and ventured out to the local pub by foot. Along the way, the boys made snow angels in the smooth, new blanket of snow.

Monday, December 01, 2008

My Children, Amazing and Bizarre


I write so often about Luke and his difficult temperament, breaking for funny stories of his wild antics, but I don’t usually talk about his many gifts. There are a lot that I find rather astounding—like his amazing memory or his musical ability—but right now, at this moment, I want to remember his first grade school year, and how totally average he is. This, for my oldest son, is wonderful. He is reading right where he should be, writing like a slightly above average first grader. He is extra good at math, he likes gym, he has several good friends. His teacher reports that he is a good classmate, that he doesn’t get into trouble, that he doesn’t do anything unusual in class. He rarely protests going to school.

Luke seems to be a free spirit learning to follow the rules.

Henry, on the other hand, is a rule follower who is learning to rebel. He recently has been defying our every instruction, baiting and teasing Luke to no end. I think this is all a play for power, in this family where the dynamic has so often been that Luke commands and Henry worshipfully follows.

Henry has asked Santa to bring him a remote control robot for Christmas. Except that the remote control is a universal remote. And by universal, Henry means that “it can control everyone and everything in the world.”

Can I find it at Target?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Love Letter to My Readers

I rarely respond to comments. Somehow it always seems a little arrogant, like I’m assuming that my readers are checking back in on my blog every five minutes. Although I LOVE it when other bloggers respond to my comments, and I myself often check in on the blogs I read (very nearly) every five minutes. So that is something I probably need to start doing. Responding to comments on my blog, I mean. Not checking blogs more often.

But until I start responding to comments, I want to send out a general thank you: I love all of you wonderful people that comment on my blog. You make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, because you say such nice things and because this space here is the only place where just about everyone I love gets together.

My friend Jenny recently wrote a lovely post about moving around and how she wants to gather everyone she has ever known into one place. Now some people are not like this. My husband, for instance, probably thinks that this is a possible version of hell, everyone he has ever known gathered in one place, yammering at him and distracting him. For me, though, this is what my heart yearns for: a place where everyone I love and have ever loved—and I’m using the term love quite freely here—is gathered together, getting acquainted, sharing food and drinking coffee until about three in the afternoon and wine after.

There have been a few times in my life where I have experienced just a hint of this. When we were visiting our families in Alaska and our good friends Troy and So Yung came up to visit, for instance. All of my family and all of Craig’s family and these dear friends all were gathered together for a few days. Or when my friend Jenny moved into the same condo building as my friend Marji in Chicago, and we began to have afternoon kid free-for-alls in their backyard, often including other close friends of mine like Nancy or Molly. Really, to me, these experiences have been a taste of perfection.

And this space here, too, is a glimpse of how I think things should be. Everyone I want in my life meeting in one place. So yes, here’s what I’m saying, cheesy though it may be: my blog is, to me, a little bit of heaven on earth. Until the day that I can convince everyone that I hold near and dear to move onto a big farm somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, this is as good as it gets.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

VIPs for a Night


So on Thursday night, Craig and I got to go to the grand opening party at Martini Park courtesy of Dawn, who, thanks to her work in blog marketing and web strategizing, was asked to invite some Columbus bloggers. You can see some pictures of the evening at Pepper Paints and Doobleh-Vay. I unfortunately forgot my camera, so I only have this wonderful picture of us crashed out on the futon at the end of the night. Don’t we look hip?

I was somewhat mistaken when I said it was a trendy bar for hipsters. It is more a club for those thirty and up. But still, when I looked on the website, most of the people in the photos looked pretty hip to me: let's call them midsters. Really, Martini Park seems to be geared toward those thirty and over people that actually go out and also that pay ten dollars for a drink. We are more of the take the kids to happy hour at the local pub for the half off pints sort of folks. But my sister just arrived to stay with us for a while, so we got to leave the kids with her for the night.

I had a very busy and somewhat stressful day, and Craig and I had to go straight from Luke’s school conference to the party. I don’t know if his teacher even recognized me as Luke’s mom, since I was wearing makeup and (cheap fake leather) awesome black boots, while she usually sees me in workout clothes and a headscarf.

Driving from the school to the party, I did what all glamorous folks do: I dried out my armpits by blasting the heating vents in the car. I sometimes have a little bit of a sweating problem, especially when I’ve had a stressful day. At this point, I wasn’t feeling particularly enthusiastic about the evening.

After we got there and each had a martini, however, we both began to have a lot more fun. Craig, usually a beer and whiskey kind of guy, surprised me by ordering a pomegranate martini, which he maintains, even today while sober, was delicious. I had something called the Martini Park #10, which was fabulous. Craig also had one of those. And a cosmopolitan, at which point I knew he was getting a little tipsy. I mean, come on, a cosmo? I ran off to talk to Amy and the PR guy hosting the party for a few minutes, and by the time I got back Craig giddily informed me that he had sampled the mango martini and another cosmo.

So really, we had a great time at Martini Park. It was a different sort of evening than we would normally have. We got to have free food (also quite good) and drinks. And apparently my husband likes fruity mixed drinks. “I love that place!” he told my sister when we returned home. “I want to go back!”

Maybe I ought to take him there for a cosmo on Valentine’s Day.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Happy Second Anniversary, Blog!

I’ve been feeling a little discouraged about my writing lately. Ever since our summer vacation, I can’t get back into any kind of rhythm. I thought that with both of the boys in school I would have more time to write, but the opposite has happened. I honestly don’t know how anyone can be a soccer mom because it is all I can do to get Luke to and from school, get Henry to and from a different school, stay moderately on top of the household chores, and exercise enough so I’m not a sad crazy lady.

To be honest, I’ve been feeling a bit like giving up on the writing. Because this spring, when I was going out of the house in the evenings to write several nights per week, I might only have gotten one piece published, but I felt like I was making some progress. Now I just barely maintain my blog, my small following of mostly friends and family being my current motivation. I put up a post once per week, whether I feel like it or not.

Today is the second anniversary of Just Another Mama Blog. I started it on a sleep-deprived whim, and I’ve plugged along for two years now. I’ve been thinking about this date for a week or two, knowing that it was approaching, wondering what I could say. Because I didn’t feel like there was a whole lot to celebrate with my writing.

But it is shaping up to be a sort of magical bloggiversary. Last night, a couple of new neighborhood blogging friends that I have mentioned before, American Family and That Patti, invited me to go out with a group of local blogging mamas: Milkweed, Amy, Karen, and even the fabled, well-connnected Dawn. Not only did I get some great tips and leads, I also scored my first free blogging perk! Craig and I get to go to a swanky (free!) party at a hip new bar tonight. I’ll write more about it tomorrow, since I’m sure it will provide me a great deal of material. You know, since Craig and I will fit in so well, being the posh hipsters that we are.

And today, my story is one featured on the new Highlights site celebrating former contributors. A poem of mine was featured in the magazine when I was six years old, which was my first publishing experience.

So all in all, I would say that it is shaping up to be a not-too-shabby bloggiversary. Not too shabby at all.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Weekend Update

It is not even seven in the morning and I am currently enjoying a “jam magnificent.” It is the drink I have ordered, having opted for this over the “blueberry surprise” at the internet café that I am at. I took a time machine here. The café is run by pirates. Two pirates named Luke and Henry. I have obtained the secret recipe from the chefs: it is a cupful of jam with sprinkles mixed in.

Craig is out of town with the car, and the weather is cold and rainy. I think this might be a long weekend.

This is a rather strange café. The options are so very limited in some ways, and yet the chefs/owners/operators are so very accommodating in other ways. While my main entrée must involve yogurt and there are no bowls available, I have my choice of a red, blue, pink, or green cup.

Ooooh! I’ve just been given a complimentary appetizer since my entrée is taking so long. Chips with a whole cup of Sriracha hot sauce. For those of you not familiar with Sriracha, it is basically the asian version of Tabasco sauce.

Last night I slept in Luke and Henry’s room. In the middle of the night, Henry sat up in bed and started crying and crying. I kept asking him what was wrong, but he wouldn’t answer me. Finally he said something that sounded like “Forgive me!” and promptly lay back down and was immediately asleep. And a few minutes later, Luke yelled out, “Slimy!”

Oh, I’ve just been informed that the kitchen is out of the yogurt entrée. I must now choose between nachos and “yuckness.” I went with the former. Chef Pirate Luke just told me that he needs a candle so he can roast the nachos.

Nothing like candle roasted nachos with Sriracha and jam to start the day off right.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Slasher Butterfly


I conducted several highly scientific experiments this weekend in pursuit of this elusive question: just what is the difference between the Snickers and the Baby Ruth? Wikipedia helpfully points out that the nougat found in the Baby Ruth is more fudge-like than that found in most American candy. So that is probably it.

I feel sort of awful today, and I was thinking that it was due to the time change, but it is probably more due to the 25 fun sized candy bars that I ate yesterday. Yes, the boys made out like bandits, what with trick-or-treating and class parties and secret happy phantoms delivering treats to our house. If you are reading this, Happy Phantom, thank you.

Henry decided, at the last minute, that he no longer wanted to dress up as Frankenstein’s monster, but instead dug around in the dress-ups bin and devised a costume that he dubbed “alien butterfly.” It was rather fetching if I could ignore the Jason mask part of his costume. (The boys bought the Jason mask for a dime at a thrift store. How could I say no when they have no idea what it is and it was only ten cents?)

I’m glad Henry still gravitates toward more “girly” things now and then, otherwise I would be simply overwhelmed by all of the masculinity floating around the house. The boys are currently preparing their fort outside, a fort designed, Luke says, for “eating, fighting war, and building contraptions.”

Luke tells me that my job will be cooking the food. I think I’ll make seven-candy stew.

Monday, October 27, 2008

And They Still Like Me

Here it’s Monday again and nearly a week has gone by since my last post. It seems that when things are going well and we are settled into our routine, I don’t have nearly as much to write about. I guess I like to write about drama and sadness. And I like to tell funny stories about my kids, and, I’m sorry to say, I think Luke is growing just a tad bit more conventional. Although he did yell this at Henry when he was angry with him for stealing off with a toy a few days ago: “Henreeek! Your stench is so bad I can smell you from 50 feet away!” You go with those metaphors, Luke! And word play, too! That’s my boy.

I can tell a funny story about myself, I guess. I told my two new-ish friends Tracy and Stacy this story the other day, knowing it could either make or break our friendship. I’m a risk-taker.

I was tidying up the yard the other day and I walked to the edge of the grass to pick up a few pieces of trash that had found their way onto our front lawn. I grabbed what I thought was a beer can, but found it was an unopened can of Bud Light. I brought it in so I could dump the beer and recycle the can, but then threw it in the fridge since I thought I could offer it to Craig as a joke. But then, later, when the afternoon stretched on and on and the boys were bickering and Craig still wasn’t home, I drank the beer. The beer I found in my yard. The Bud Light I found. Because I’m classy like that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Where I Come From

Wow, this election has really made me think a lot, and I don’t mean about the issues. I’m from Eagle River, Alaska, just a fifteen-minute drive south of Wasilla, the town Sarah Palin governs. And then I became a mother and lived for six years in Hyde Park, Obama’s neighborhood. Our first apartment there was only two blocks from Obama’s current home.

And it isn’t just that I have ties to these two places, Alaska and Hyde Park, but that I feel like these two places formed me as a person and a parent. Both places are very unique, viewpoint-shaping sorts of places, which has been made much of in this presidential race.

I’m hoping to write a whole long post about how I had to move to somewhere like Columbus--a more neutral sort of place--to truly find myself as a parent. But I really don’t have the energy for that today. So instead I’ll link to a few of my favorite articles and websites that do a wonderful job of explaining my geographical past and perspective.

First, here is a great op-ed piece about Sarah Palin from an Alaskan woman's perspective on Literary Mama. In this essay, Nicole Stellon O'Donnell pretty much sums up my Alaskan feelings on Palin.

And Hyde Park. There is so much to be said about this place, and I've never been able to exactly put my finger on everything that makes this neighborhood on Chicago's south side so wonderful and unique. But then I found this great article that appeared in the Washington Post last week that does it for me. And here's the website of a place called the Experimental Station on the edge of Hyde Park that embodies the spirit of the neighborhood quite nicely. The year before we moved, we attended a little boy's birthday party here that involved playing mini-golf in an interactive art installation of Rube Goldberg-esque golfing challenges made from scavenged materials.

So there. Go forth and spend hours reading about the two weirdo places that I have lived so that you can understand my personality and background. I know you really want to.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Halloween, Round One


My kids LOVE Halloween. They enjoy dressing up all year round--although Luke's budding self-consiousness has prevented him from dressing up as spiderman for trips to the grocery lately. They also love all things creepy, crawly, and scary. On Friday night we hit the local community center's Halloween celebration, Luke going as a ninja and Henry as Frankenstein's monster. (Yes, my children DO know the difference between Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. I'm putting those degrees in English to good use, darn it!) These costumes are a great improvement over their original hopes to each go as the grim reaper.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

This and That


I think I may have misrepresented our experience with the psychologist just a little. I was trying to describe my emotional reaction to the visit, how unsettling it is to explain in detail the profoundly challenging and often upsetting experiences going on with my child. It was a fine visit, though. I like the guy well enough. He didn’t say, “Wow, you have one troubled little boy.” He basically just acknowledged that there are areas in our family life that are very challenging, and it has reached a point where we might benefit from someone helping us formulate a plan to deal with some of these difficulties.

* * *

When Henry and I were out walking the other day, he said, out of the blue, “When I am a teenager I am going to stay up all night watching horror movies and eating junk food.” Boy, I’m glad I have that to look forward to. I guess there are worse things he could do as a teenage boy.

* * *

Luke has brought a book home several times from his school library called Deadly Spiders and Scorpions. It is part of the Wild Predators! series, which is right up his ally. This is a kid, after all, who had the vast majority of a book called Animal Monsters memorized at age three. No wonder they didn’t seem to like him at his Waldorf preschool.

So the thing that I find a little disconcerting about this book is the fact that it goes into detail about the mating practices of each variety of spider and scorpion. I’m not a prude, and I will answer any questions that Luke or Henry asks me, but so far they just listen to the book. I guess what I find a little funny is cuddling down on the couch, sipping coffee, and reading aloud to my boys choice passages such as this:

As with giant trapdoor spiders, female funnel-web spiders rarely leave their burrows. But males, once they are fully-grown, abandon their burrows to look for a female. Males are attracted to a female’s burrow by the scent that she produces. When a male finds a female’s burrow he taps out a signal to the female. If she is ready to mate, she comes out and lifts up the front of her body, fangs ready to strike. If the male is not alert the female may make a meal of him. But he uses a pair of spurs (hooks) on his second pair of legs to hold on to the female’s fangs, stopping her from striking. He is then able to mate with the female.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Stripped Bare

I had a mole check with a dermatologist this week. It was something I have been wanting to do for a long time, since I have a lot of moles and very fair skin, and also because I had several really horrible sunburns as a child. I guess I knew that she would be examining my whole body, but wow, I was not prepared for the inch-by-inch scrutiny that my body would be subject to. It was a little hard to turn off the inner critic as she examined the fat roll around my stomach, my stubbly armpit, the sole of my foot darkened by walking barefoot on my dirty floors.

And then, the next day, Craig, Luke and I took a little visit to the psychologist. I have been not sure whether I should write about this on the blog, but here it is. I'll keep it general. It is something we have considered doing over the years with our creative, passionate, loving, but very intense and lately, increasingly angry eldest son. We finally decided to do it, because there is a warning bell that sounds in my head every time he gets angry, a small voice that sounds like this: we hear too much about angry boys in this society, and we don’t know what else to do to help you get a grip on these strong feelings.

And there was another quiet voice in the back of my head--a voice without words but more of a wish--that was hoping our visit with the psychologist would be like venting to a girlfriend. Deep down inside I was hoping that it would be all he is a boy, he is gradually gaining control, what great parents you are to him! (you know, basically like all of you wonderful people who comment on my blog) but I have to say that it was not so much visit with a girlfriend as I was subconsciously wanting. It was really much more wrenching and halting and difficult than I was hoping for.

I imagined what it would be like. I held a secret wish for what it would be like. But really, it was like stripping down naked and having a person we had just met look us over, inch by inch, examining every lump, every irregularity, every discoloration on our cold, exposed bodies.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Pooping and Palin


My throat is better now, although I haven’t been exactly steadfast with taking my antibiotics. I take half the prescribed amount half of the time, the full amount the rest of the time. That’s got to be better than nothing, right?

Henry is being a real pain right now. Every time we drive anywhere from mid-morning to lunchtime, he nearly falls asleep in the car. But as soon as I try to get him to sleep in his bed, it is a no go. At least he is pooping regularly again. I guess if I had to choose between regular napping and regular pooping, I would go with the latter.

And with that, on with politics! I don’t think I’ve ever talked politics on my blog. I don’t talk religion much either. I question why I’m shy about these topics, since I ramble on and on about pooping and nursing and other such subjects. Here’s the thing: I am a people pleaser. I hate to make people mad. I’m a mediator. So bringing up clearly controversial topics is hard for me. While poop might be personal, it isn’t exactly divisive.

But I swear there have been close to fifty people who have asked me about Sarah Palin, since I’m from Alaska and all. A few people have stopped by my yard, having noticed our Alaska plates on the Mercedes. I’ve gotten two emails from old friends back in Chicago asking for my special Alaskan viewpoint (hi Dina and Katie!). Really, I probably don’t have much to add to the general knowledge out there, especially since I haven’t lived in Alaska for a long time.

I do feel like being from Alaska gives me a bit more cultural perspective than most people, though, and at the beginning of Palin’s run this made me want to defend her in a few ways. Not politically, because I disagree with her politics. But I didn’t feel like she was so bizarre and extreme as some people had made her out to be—at least for an Alaskan. I know plenty of people who go hunting (many of whom, like my husband, do it purely for the outdoor experience and the free-range, delicious meat), plenty of people who don’t think it would be a bad idea for Alaska to secede from the union as it is purported that Todd Palin did many years ago. Alaskans in general pride themselves on being a bit “maverick” in spirit.

But I am sick of the word maverick. Because, at a certain point, I grew weary of Sarah Palin using this word to defend her bizarre statements. Perhaps it was when, during her interview with Katie Couric, she insisted on maintaining that Alaska’s proximity to Russia (and Canada, she added during the interview, as if to bolster the argument) constitutes foreign policy experience for her. Perhaps it was when, during the debate with Biden, she used her “maverick” spirit as an excuse not to answer the questions, but to “speak to the American people.”

Whatever. I know this has all been done to death by the political analysts. But there it is, the opinion of a former Alaskan (we are now Ohio residents!) and a “maverick” leaning Democrat.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Continuing a Theme

I have step throat.

Luke ran a fever again this weekend.

Henry is still constipated.

But did I ever mention that my sister is moving down here for at least six months starting in November? Really, that is what is keeping me going.

Now I'm off to sip soup and chant my little mantra: "Mara. Mara. Mara."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Regression All Around

I know my posts have been whiney and boring lately. I haven’t been telling very good stories. We’re struggling around here, and either my kids aren’t as fun and funny lately or I’m just not finding the story in it.

But here’s a quick one, before I launch into my complaints. Yesterday, knowing full well that this is not his parents’ choice for president, Luke told me that if he could vote, he would vote for John McCain.

“Why would you vote for him, Luke?” I asked.

“Because he is in the Republic, like in Star Wars.”

At least his reason is something besides rebelling against his parents.

So on to regression. It is happening around here. Big time. Both kids seem to be having a hard time adjusting to school. Luke is very angry these days. He used to be a biter and a hitter, and, although I sometimes have to get on him for being physically aggressive toward Henry, I haven’t had to deal with him being violent toward other kids in a long time. But remember how I was talking about my wonderful new town? How I finally fit in? How my web of friends is intertwining and overlapping and I’m weaving myself a wonderful, beautiful life? Well, yesterday at the park, Luke tried to throttle the son of one of my new acquaintances. Right in front of all the moms.

Not to sound like all I care about is what the other moms think. I’m quite concerned about Luke and his behavior, and I have just taken a couple of very good steps toward figuring out what is going on with him. But I have to admit, I also just felt very humiliated. I cried the whole way home.

And Henry. Henry had no trouble saying goodbye to me at school for the first few days. But yesterday, he pitched a full-on tantrum when we walked into school. I had to hand him, thrashing and kicking, over to his teachers. It might be because he hadn’t pooped since Sunday. We seem to have some sort of control issues going on. He appeared to be constipated, so I kept sitting him on the toilet yesterday morning. By yesterday afternoon, he refused to sit on the toilet even though he was writhing in pain. When he moaned and I looked at him, he said, “It’s nothing, Mom. I’m upset you are eating all the chips.”

He finally pooped in his pants. Now he’ll only go in a diaper.

And now I’m officially the author of a mommy blog, since all I can seem to do is rant about my kids and talk about poop.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In the Wake


Ever since the big storm, my kids like to walk around the neighborhood and take note of what they call “the destruction.”

“More destruction!” Henry will yell, although a week and a day after the storm, they are becoming more and more oblivious to the piles of tree limbs and branches stacked on the edges of nearly every yard. The city assures us that their two wood chipping trucks are slowly but surely making their way around our town.

The electric company gradually restored power throughout the city. Ours came back on Thursday night. My friend Stacy’s was finally reinstated on Saturday morning.

Luke set off to take some pictures of the destruction one evening and wound up with a few good ones—featured above—of the mess in our yard. He asked me to post them on my blog, so here they are.

As far as I’m concerned, the main problem with all of this was the disruption of our schedule. Yes, I’m happy that the kids were forced to do without movies and computer games for a few days, but the cancelled school was hard for everyone involved. Luke swore that he was thrilled to have four days off in a row, but his horrible mood proved otherwise.

We can’t seem to catch a break this school year. Luke’s first week was a day and a half. His second week was a four-day week—the best so far. The third week, Luke was sick and missed three days. Then there was last week, when school was in session only on Friday. Which was most convenient, since I had to spend the whole morning in the doctor’s office with Henry, who had an ear infection. Last night, Luke woke up with a fairly high fever and he missed school today.

I’ll just consider this the wake of the storm. Things will settle down eventually, right? Right? RIGHT???

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

That Ike


A "wind event" occurred here in Columbus on Sunday afternoon and evening, the tail end of Ike that no one expected would cause such mayhem. Our little town suffered many, many fallen trees and limbs, such as the one above from our yard. This is the same hackberry tree that dropped a huge limb over the winter. Once again, we were lucky that it didn't hit our cars or house. It did take down the power lines, though, and we expect to have power restored on Thursday. Thank goodness our landlord lent us a generator, so we have a working refrigerator and computer. What else do we need?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Our Town


All of a sudden, the whole last year of posts where I wrote about how I didn’t feel like I belonged in our new town—about how moving is so hard and how I’m the only mama around nursing a preschooler and I’m such a big hippy dippy parent—seem just silly. Because a sense of being settled, of this community becoming my own, has crept up on me. How does that happen? I think, for me, it has something to do with a critical mass of people that I must know before I feel as though I belong. And it isn’t that they all have to be like me. I just need to feel as though I have allies scattered around the neighborhood.

I have been getting to know more of the parents at Luke’s school, and I have begun to socialize with a few of them. And I have recently met and hung out with (both pre-arranged and accidentally) two people from my town whose blogs I have been reading, American Family and ThatPatti.

And there’s Milkweed, who I became friends with at the end of my graduate school career but was out of touch with for the whole six years that I was in Chicago, who lives ten minutes down the road from me now and who is a kindred spirit. She is a member of the book club that I belong to, another member of which is a different graduate school friend who has her own Henry, who gets along smashingly with my Henry.

I’m also getting to know some of the parents at Henry’s school, now that he is a big preschooler. His school is just a couple of blocks from our house and is named St. John’s, as was my parochial nursery and elementary school in Alaska. Craig, I have to say, hasn’t been helping much with first impressions there. He went with me to pick Henry up yesterday, and he wore a T-Shirt that says, in huge letters, EAT ME. Underneath EAT ME are tiny little letters, probably a tenth of the size of the larger letters, that say “closet,” because the “eat me closet” was a fundraiser for the dorm in which we were house parents for four years in Chicago. It was a closet full of snacks that the kids would sell for house profit. But anyway, Craig wore this shirt to preschool pick up, and I was a little embarrassed, Craig meeting the director of the school in such a shirt, but we have a long history of conflict over his semi-offensive T-shirts, and I decided to let this one go.

Last night, after a lovely afternoon of meeting up with a new acquaintance and her boys, just the ages of my boys, at the park—where we also randomly met up with my blog-turned-real friend of American Family—the boys and I sat on the porch eating strawberry sorbet cones. The evening was warm and the cicadas buzzed, and I waved at neighbors out for their evening strolls. The boys were humming some random, made-up song, creating harmony for music neither of them knew to begin with. I was just beginning to feel the bliss of the moment, when all of a sudden, after a long pause, both boys came in at the exact same time with the exact same note.

And this place felt like home.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sick Day

Luke has been quite sick, feverish and achy and congested. Last night he tossed and turned, moaning all night in his sleep. I didn’t even take his temperature, having learned my lesson long ago that I would rather not know. I just dozed and fed him Tylenol every four hours, water whenever he would take it.

He awoke this morning, the worst of the fever broken, when Henry came upstairs and climbed into my bed where Luke had joined me for the night.

“There isn’t room for five in this bed!” said Henry, not used to finding Luke in mom and dad’s bed.

“This is three, Henry, but if we added two more we would have five,” said Luke.

“Well, Daddy can’t come in because I love Mommy best,” said Henry.

“I love everyone in this family so much!” said Luke, in an uncharacteristically mushy mood. “I’m wonderful! I love myself! And I love Henry and Mom and Dad!”

I think Luke is learning a lot in school. Math word problems. Self-esteem catchphrases. Oh, and world religion.

A few nights ago at the dinner table, he said, “There is a holiday going on right now where people don’t eat anything all day and then they eat a huge meal at night.”

“What is the holiday called, Luke?” I asked.

“Hmm, rrrr, rrrr, Romeo?” he said uncertainly. Mrs. Romeo is his new teacher.

“Oh, is it Ramadan?” I asked.

“Yes! That’s it! People RIGHT NOW are eating a large meal to get ready for not eating all day tomorrow,” he said.

“Who has this holiday?” I asked.

“Anyone at all! Anyone who wants to know what it is like to be poor,” he answered. “But I don’t want to do it,” he added quickly, shoveling another bite of burrito into his mouth.

Luke is at home today, still running a low fever and recovering from his restless night. But hopefully he’ll be back to school tomorrow, back to learning all of the important things to be learned when one is in first grade.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The War on Crime


Well, Luke’s first week of first grade is now complete. All in all, it went really well. He seems to like it a lot. Last night I asked him to rate it on a scale from one to ten, and he gave it a 100.

I’m overwhelmed by the drop-off procedure, myself. Gone are the days of three neat and tidy kindergarten lines in the front of the school, patrolled by the crossing guard kids and at least one adult monitor. Now we walk to the back of the school to the huge concrete expanse and three large playgrounds, where all of the kids—I’m not sure how many, exactly, but it’s got to be hundreds—run around until the bell rings. Then they run and line up in the designated line spot for their class. I find it draining. And this is all before 8:15 in the morning.

So it is no wonder that Luke seems utterly exhausted when I pick him up six and a half hours later. It is hard for me to see him so tired and dazed. It usually takes him a snack, a video, and some cuddles and book reading before he can really tell me about his day.

Last night we went out to eat at a local pub, as is our custom on Thursday nights. We go during the happy hour so that the beer and appetizers are half price. The boys color and watch sports on TV while eating French fries, and we drink half price beer. We were all talking about the day, and Luke casually mentioned that one of his former kindergarten classmates, J, bit a boy—one of Luke’s friends and current classmates, H—on the back of the neck during recess.

“Did he get in trouble?” I asked.

“Yes, he had to sit on the thinking wall for all of recess, and he lost his Popsicle during the Popsicle party,” answered Luke.

“Oh,” I answered, relieved to hear that the recess monitors were doing their job. One of my fears is that recess is chaotic and all Lord of the Flies, although I really have no idea what it is like. And not that I’m scared Luke will be a victim. I’m more scared that Luke will be a bully.

“But before they took J to the thinking wall, we got in a fight!” Luke proclaimed.

“Oh,” I said, trying to remain calm and casual. “You got in a fight? What kind of a fight?”

“A bully tangle,” said Luke resolutely.

“A what?” I asked, visions of West Side Story dancing in my head.

“I told J, ‘You better stop it right now!’ and he said ‘No!’ and I said ‘Yes!’” explained Luke. “We said mean words.’”

“Oh, okay,” I answered, relieved. He was really just standing up for his friend H.

Henry is developing his own ideas these days about how to maintain order. As we were walking to pick up Luke from school, Henry said, “I wish I was in a video game with bad guys and I could chop them all up with a knife.”

Now, had I not gone through this very stage with Luke when he was just Henry’s age, I would have been disturbed. But Henry has the benefit of being the second child, and I know that Luke began speaking this way at age three in order to make sense of “good” and “bad.”

“Well, what if you could teach the bad guys to be good?” I asked.

“I told them and told them to be good,” said Henry, “but they didn’t listen.”

“Well, what if you just put them in jail instead of chopping them up?” I asked.

Henry paused, considering this alternative.

“Okay, I would chop them up then lock them in the zoo.”

Saturday, August 30, 2008

My Relational Process

I left academia because I worked myself silly, researched myself nearly into the ground. I slept for four hours per night. I was exhausted and not sure how our family would be able to sustain two academics.

But I didn’t leave academia because I didn’t like literary theory. I actually quite liked it. It was one of my focus areas for my M.A. exam.

Lately, while searching for places to submit my writing, I’ve stumbled upon some calls for papers in an area that wasn’t on my radar back when I was getting my Master’s in English: academic writing about mothering. And I’ve got to say, it’ s pretty interesting. But having gained eight years and two kids worth of perspective since I abandoned the proverbial ivory tower, the word play and jargon in this description made me laugh:

While much of Western thought has celebrated the splitting of women’s identity into “mother” or “other”—the perception that women cannot be both—re-thinking mothering from the perspective of “performativity” recognizes the relationality between mother and other. When mothering is conceived of as performative it becomes an active practice de-centering the notion that motherhood is passive and static. Performativity shifts our attention from motherhood as biological, selfless, and existing prior to culture, to a practice that is always incomplete, indeterminable, and vulnerable. A relational understanding of m/othering opens up the possibility of an ethical form of exchange between self and other and allows us to understand the maternal subject as engaged in a relational process which is never complete and which demands reiteration. M/othering as performance contains the potential for a disruption of dominant discourses on maternity and thereby makes room for maternal agency. This re-conceptualization of m/othering refuses to be split, while also remaining ambivalent.

Now that I’ve read it about four times, though—I’ve gotten slower with my advancing age and kid-riled brain—I’m starting to get pulled back in. Really, who can resist such a playful idea: the m/other. I might even submit something. Of course, there’s the little problem of my curriculum vitae. It isn’t exactly impressive. But hey, I’ve been busy. I’ve been engaged in a relational process which is never complete and which demands reiteration. Darn laundry.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Early Morning Run


Luke just found out who his teacher will be for first grade and who else will be in his class. He is pretty excited that four of the boys that he really liked in his class last year will be in his classroom this year. When I listed the four girls from his kindergarten class on this year's class roster, he mentioned that he considers two of them to be his friends.

Then he sighed. A long, deep sigh.

"But McKenzie isn't in my class," he said.

I vaguely remembered that McKenzie was the girl he called his girlfriend last year.

"She is sort of my girlfriend, Mom," he said. "Really."

"Oh, okay," I answered, as nonchalantly as possible.

"I want a girlfriend!" whined Henry.

"You can have one!" said Luke emphatically. "All boys need girlfriends."

"Can Spiderman be my girlfriend?" asked Henry.

“No, Henry. Spiderman is a boy. If you want him for a boyfriend, that means you are a girl,” said Luke.

“Do girls have vaginas?” asked Henry, abruptly.

“Yes,” I said.

“Girls don’t poop out of their butts?” he asked.

A rudimentary anatomy lesson ensued. Rudimentary because during all of this, I was running while pushing them both—over 80 pounds of kid—in the double jogging stroller.

After Henry was a little clearer on waste elimination, he told Luke, “Okay, I’ll have a big girl friend.”

Luke laughed—perhaps envisioning Henry and a giantess—but I told Luke that Henry was probably just thinking of a big girl who was his friend. On our trip, he considered his cousins, 10, 13 and 16, to be “big girls,” and he loved them. They played with him, painted his face, read him books, danced with him.

“No, Henry, you need a GIRLFRIEND,” said Luke.

“What do you mean by girlfriend, Luke?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

“A girl you are friends with?” I asked.

“No, Mom,” he answered, obviously impatient with me.

“A girl you like an extra lot?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “one you might marry.”

“Oh, so the other night when you said that you would never move out of the house, when you said you would live with Mom and Dad forever—that might not be true?” I asked as nonchalantly as possible, lest the excitement in my voice betray me.

“Yah, I guess I might move out some day,” he answered.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

That Luke, He's a Growin'


Luke turned six a couple of weeks ago while we were in Alaska. It was the perfect sort of birthday for him: a two-part celebration, taking the pressure off of any one night. Because we were doing it this way, we talked to him a lot about how he wouldn’t be getting many gifts on either night, and how at the second party, his birthday was only part of the focus. So he was sweet and grateful for his gifts and not too demanding of attention. (Okay, he did demand that my dad design a treasure hunt with a birthday present at the end.) On the day of the birthday itself, we made his favorites for dinner—boxed macaroni and cheese, cheese pizza, and a huge platter of berries, with chocolate cupcakes for dessert. It was just my family and a couple of presents—and the treasure hunt, in the clues of which my dad obligingly included the word poop. Then, a few days later, Craig’s parents had their usual summer “friends and family party,” where we also sang Luke happy birthday, ate cake, and watched Luke open a few more presents from the guests who knew he had recently turned six.

And next week—next week!—Luke starts first grade. Somehow this feels a little scarier to me than Kindergarten. He will be in school until three in the afternoon instead of until 11 am. He will probably have homework. Last night, Luke tearfully asked, “If I am in school all day, and if Daddy puts us to bed, when will I ever see you?” I tried to explain that “full day” school doesn’t mean “all day” school, but he is still anxious about the upcoming year.

But Luke is growing up. He is often calmer. He doesn’t scream and cry as much as he used to. He wants more independence. He climbed a whole mountain when we were in Alaska.

And he has big plans for the future. Last night while we were driving in the car, coming back from a canoe and swimming trip and listening to what the kids refer to as “rock and roll,” Luke said dreamily, “When I grow up I’ll have to get a job. And the job I will get is a player in a rock and roll band.”

Here he paused dramatically, making sure that we were all listening.

“And we will play INAPPROPRIATE MUSIC.”

Oh, yes, he is growing up. Climbing mountains, making plans for the future. He even recently commented on his past writing, noting how “babyish” a story that he wrote a year and a half ago is. At one point, the hero of the story is in big trouble, but then he finds a “radiation poner” which saves him. Luke laughed and laughed, and then said, “When I was four I said crazy stuff.”

This morning he spent an hour in his room, finally emerging with a contraption that he called the “bionitransmogulator.” Boy, good thing Luke is six now so he no longer invents crazy stuff.

I remain hopeful that his imagination will serve him well. The other day we were playing at the park and he wanted me to pretend to be his slave. I said no, that I would pretend to be his servant but not his slave.

“But WHY?” Luke whined.

“Well, Luke, in our country we used to do something very horrible. We made black people slaves and it was so awful, one of the worst things in the history of our country. And so the word slave makes a lot of people think of that,” I responded, thinking, as I talked, that I was saying too much.

Luke thought for a little while. Then he replied, “Okay, Mom. But who were the People of the Black?”

How I hope Luke can continue to invent bionitransmogulators, conquer mountains, imagine worlds in which race doesn’t exist. Happy Birthday, my big six-year-old boy. May it be a year of wild stories and big dreams.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Greetings From Alaska


So I’ve been neglecting the blog lately because we have been on the road (so to speak, since we abandoned our car in St. Louis) for the last week. We drove from Ohio to Illinois where we stayed for one night, and then over to St. Louis where we stayed for two nights. Then we flew from St. Louis to Dallas and from Dallas to Anchorage.

All of the traveling went beautifully. Really, two years ago I couldn’t have imagined that we could drive for hours and hours and fly for hours and hours and our kids would really just behave perfectly. They ate snacks and read books and drew pictures. They watched a part of a movie on my laptop, but stopped when the headphones weren’t working properly. When we told them to nap they closed their eyes and napped.

In central Illinois we stayed with Craig’s aunt and uncle and we visited Craig’s paternal grandmother. In St. Louis we stayed with Craig’s cousins, visited his maternal grandparents, and hung out with his sister. Here in Alaska, we have been busy visiting with the usual—Craig’s parents, my parents, all of my grandparents, various cousins and aunts and uncles, my brothers and sisters. And for the first time since my brother Joe’s wedding five years ago, we have gotten to spend time with my brother Joe, his wife, and his three step-daughters, all up from Utah.

Henry has been overwhelmed at times. “No more grandmas!” he sobbed when he woke up at his great-grandparents’ house in St. Louis. And when my parents, who picked us up from the airport, dropped us off at Craig’s parents’ house where we are currently staying, Henry moaned, “THIS grandma is worse than THAT one!”

But both of them, now that they have adjusted to the time difference and have caught up on their sleep, are acting like this is the thing they have been waiting for all of their lives. In the past, Luke has tried to create some extended family for himself. He recently began calling my good friend Nancy’s daughters, Emily and Hazel, his cousins. He played with them nearly every day from birth to age three, after all, and we meet up with them at least a few times a year.

But finally Luke and Henry have real cousins. All girls, ages 10, 13 and 16. It is a match made in heaven. They play and paint faces and dance and practice kung-fu and put on magic shows. The girls beg to take care of the boys and the boys adore the attention. Craig and I have gone out for walks, gone out to lunch, hung out for whole afternoons in the same house as our children without seeing them.

I think I understand people having large families now. I could have six or seven kids, I think, if I had extended family around to help. To fill in some of the blanks. To keep me company and to enjoy my kids while I bear witness—preferably with my feet up and a drink in my hand.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Music to a Mama's Ears


Henry just came up to me while I was watching some videos on Youtube and said, "Come on! Turn that off and let's read some of our awesome library books!"

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Livin' Is Easy


I'm really too tired to write anything. It is summertime, you know. We are busy, busy, busy around here with lemonade, art and comic sales. I don't know if I'll make it for another week until we go on vacation.

Luke made 20 dollars in two hours, by the way. I think I should give up this writing thing. The money is in the lemonade, art and comics!

Friday, July 11, 2008

You Aren't In Alaska Anymore

To follow up on my last post, Craig spoke to Officer Fox on the phone this morning to clarify just what constitutes a "junk vehicle." Basically, our cars are fine so long as they have valid tags from some state and they move now and then. So since our Mercedes isn't insured and we don't intend to use it for transportation until we move or diesel prices go down, we are unders strict instructions to "turn the vehicle around in the driveway once per week" so the neighbors will know that the car runs. Officer Fox is going to be driving by our place later today to make sure the car is pointing out toward the street.

And, trying to be extra, extra helpful, Officer Fox said we might also want to check our valves now and then. You know, before we take the kids to the movies. Oh, and he said, "You aren't in Alaska anymore. You are in Worthington."

Just so we are clear.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Oh Worthington, Why Have You Forsaken Me?


Yesterday morning I was happily baking with my boys when a cop walked up to our door. I watched him walk up the driveway, looking at our two vehicles and peering into our garage. Our garage is a little sketchy looking, I must admit, and the garage door was opened. It is packed with old metal working and wood working equipment, and Craig is currently “spooging,” a word that makes me blush but apparently means cleaning rust and paint off of metal objects using a car battery and a large tub of some sort of liquid. I’m lucky the officer didn’t ask me about that, since it looks like someone is up to something sketchy.

The cop informed me that one of our neighbors called to report our vehicles because they don’t have Ohio license plates. I told the cop that we are Alaska residents since Craig has always been a student. The cop seemed to imply that we should be Ohio residents, that we shouldn’t live in Worthington, and that I’m a bad mother all in one conversation.

“You need Ohio plates and Ohio licenses in order to establish Ohio residency,” he said.

“Well, my husband is only doing a postdoc, sort of a temporary internship,” I told him, since he clearly didn’t know what I was talking about.

“So he has taken a job here and you have lived here for a year?” he asked.

“Yes, but we are Alaska residents and we intend to return to Alaska after he is done with his schooling,” I answered.

“Well, your tags are expired on the jeep,” he went on, “and Worthington has an ordinance against junk vehicles, even parked in your own yard,” he answered.

Okay, I understand that our Mercedes isn’t much to look at, but a junk vehicle? I just drove it to Target a few days ago! Of course, I didn’t want to tell the officer that because we aren’t carrying insurance on it since we try not to drive much. But it was a hot day—too hot for walking two miles there and two miles back—and Craig had taken the jeep somewhere, an unusual situation since we don’t drive much these days.

“Well, we don’t drive much which is why we forgot about the tags on the jeep, but we’ll take care of that as soon as possible,” I answered.

“Well what if you want to take your kids to the movies or on a trip?” he asked.

I was starting to get annoyed. I’m getting in trouble for trying to conserve gas and for having an ugly car? And what, I’m a bad mom because I don’t take my kids on road trips?

Going back to his residency speech, which I really don’t think is his business, he asked, “Do you work in Ohio?”

“No, I stay home with my kids,” I answered.

“Well, you have purchased a home,” he stated. There aren’t a lot of rental homes in this community.

“Actually, we just rent,” I replied.

Beyond the annoying police officer who made me feel like an awful, unsettled, poor, non-working mother, there is the whole issue of a neighbor reporting our vehicles. Why would anyone care? It must be someone who doesn’t like us for some reason. Someone who is annoyed by the junk in our yard—junk which, by the way, pales in comparison to junky yards in Alaska where we are from.

A month or so ago I met a woman at the park who had a big impact on my perception of Worthington. I was finally feeling a little settled here, recognizing the assets of our community, and then I met a woman named Margot who clinched my appreciation for this town. She is originally from Maine and then had moved to Boston, finally settling here. Her path, so similar to my Alaska, Chicago, Worthington path, made me feel automatically close to her. And then she said to me, “Worthington is just like a warm hug—it cradles you. People here are so nice and friendly.” And after she said that, I was beginning to believe that Worthington, Ohio was embracing my family and me.

And now I feel like Worthington is mad at us. It doesn’t like our lawn that is a little too long, our ugly (but functional!) car, or our garage that is jam-packed with crazy stuff. Oh, Worthington, you have betrayed me! Your embrace has become a sea of closed doors, nosy people peering through windows, self-righteous citizens who drive gas-guzzling vehicles to the farmer’s market to purchase expensive gourmet pies.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Weaning

Happy birthday to you, Henry! Your wonderful present is that you no longer get to do the one thing that you love more than anything, the one thing you ask for when you are afraid or hurt or lonely, the one thing that is only yours in this household where you wield so little power and control.

Don’t you know you are such a big boy? You are so big now! You use the big boy potty and ride a big boy bike! And you don’t get nursies any more! Yay!!!

To be fair to myself, I decided to try the cold turkey method out as a test. I figured that I could always go back to letting Henry nurse. But when I asked him if he wanted to stop nursing after his third birthday, he said yes. So I decided to go with it and give it a shot. So we talked it up, Craig and I.

With Luke, child-led weaning worked out. The philosophy worked with the child, and with a few gentle nudges from me, Luke weaned at two and a half.

But Henry wasn’t showing many signs of cutting back. And he persisted in waking up every morning at 4:45 a.m. with the hopes of scoring a hit off the nursies, even though I supposedly night weaned him a year and a half ago. I guess he has been hoping all this time to convince me that 4:45 is the morning. And the whining for nursies at any and all times of day was doing me in.

And, I’ll admit, part of my desire to wean has been that no one around here, from what I can tell, nurses a kid that can talk. And Henry can certainly talk.

“Mom, can I have my nursies?” he yelled across the library one day.

And, “Can I tell the nursies that I love them?” once when we had friends over for dinner.

The cold-turkey method has gone really well, actually, with only a few episodes of whining and begging. I have generally been able to distract Henry.

But part of me worries that I’m doing some sort of damage. He has started sucking his thumb a little bit—albeit halfheartedly and in imitation of Luke—and the other day, a month after his birthday, he looked earnestly into my eyes and asked to nurse.

“I have been waiting and waiting and waiting. Is it time for nursies YET?”

He is a persistent child.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

And This is the Reason I Was Feeling Nostalgic

For a little while—about fourteen hours or so—I thought I was pregnant. And this was surprising and overwhelming and also really wonderful. It made me think a lot about babies and toddlers and go back and look at a lot of old pictures of Luke and Henry when they were wee little things.

But let me go back and tell this like a proper story.

First of all—and I’ll be purposely vague here, since I know my dad reads this blog—let me just say that it is probably not a great idea to order free samples of birth control over the internet, especially if it is a type you have never used before, and then attempt to use it after drinking several celebratory glasses of birthday wine.

So in the back of my mind I knew that there was a slim possibility of pregnancy. And I’m okay with that. I have been very ambivalent for the past year about having another child. On the one hand, I appreciate the rhythm that we have found in our lives as of late. We are finally feeling somewhat settled here. And our two active, outgoing boys keep us on our toes, to put it mildly. But. But. As much as I fear morning sickness and the pushing stage and, well, newborns in general, I long for another child.

But Craig doesn’t. Oh no, not one bit. Whenever the topic of another child comes up, Craig states, unequivocally and without hesitation, that he does not want any more children. Period. End of discussion.

And you know, when I discovered that the free sample appeared to be partially malfunctioning a few weeks ago, I did mention it to Craig. But I mentioned it to him mildly, while thinking, “Hmm, this may be my chance for a little accident.”

But of course, I never really thought I would get pregnant. I didn’t begin noticing any signs of pregnancy in the weeks following the free sample incident. But then I hurt my toe.

On the day that I got pregnant with Henry three years and ten months ago, I stumbled and fell and bruised my little toe very badly. And then, a few days after the free sample episode, I dropped a coffee cup on my big toe and thought I might have broken it. I still can’t wiggle it properly. So I thought it might be an omen.

When I was telling a friend about all of this, she asked, “So what symptoms of pregnancy are you having?”

“Hmm, well,” I paused. “There’s the hurt toe.”

Neither she nor Craig thought the toe was a clear indicator of my pregnancy, but I was growing increasingly convinced.

I finally took a pregnancy test a few days later. For some reason, the urine didn’t seep properly into the testing windows. I don’t think I held it flat. But I couldn’t waste ten whole dollars! So I pulled it apart and spread the urine onto the testing area. Hygienic, I know. By this point I was annoyed and convinced that I had ruined the test, so I threw it away. But a few hours later, I dug it out of the trashcan.

And I saw two lines.

Granted, the whole test was disassembled and the lines did look a little unusual. Thinner than I remember the lines on a pregnancy test. But two lines.

And I cried. A lot. Because even though I thought I wanted another child, I knew, in that crystalline instant, that I didn’t really want another child NOW. Because the thoughts that filled my head were of all the things I wished I had done before getting pregnant again. I wished I had gone to the dentist. I wished I had gotten myself established more firmly in my writing. I wished that I had gone to Hawaii to visit my friend Jenny. I wished I knew more about the homebirth climate in Ohio. I wished we had a little more money. I wished I had spent more time with Craig before the crazy hormones kicked in. And oh, how I could feel those hormones ALREADY. Of course I was pregnant! I was feeling extra hungry, very weepy, just a bit nauseous.

And then I heard Craig puttering around the house, whistling to himself. He sounded so happy. And I knew that he would not be terribly pleased to find out we were having another child. And that made me really sad.

Finally I got up the nerve to tell him, and he was kind and excited and also very worried.

It is funny how we form our identities. How we begin to believe something about ourselves and are then able to make it so. Not that I made myself pregnant that night, but I truly believed for that one night that I was pregnant. I cradled my little belly, which is really just leftover padding from the last two, but for that night was my third child. I couldn’t sleep at all—those pregnancy hormones, you know—and I was up often to use the bathroom. I snacked on crackers at midnight when I started feeling queasy. I read up online about various midwives in the area, and, after reading about one in particular that seemed very good and also affordable, I chanted her name as a mantra to the rhythm of my breath to ease my nerves and help myself finally fall asleep: “Kathy, Kathy, Kathy, Kathy.”

Well, I’ve already given away this punch line: I was not—am not—pregnant. I bought a multi-pack of pregnancy tests the next morning that have since confirmed several times that we are not expecting another baby.

It was an emotionally draining night, certainly. But it helped me to clarify what I want for our future. I think it also helped Craig open his mind, just a little bit, to the idea of another child.

But what it did, more than anything, was awake in both of us the possibility that our life together could dramatically change at any moment. Much more, really, than the addition of another child. But to us that felt huge, because for the most part, we have always made plans and they have worked out. As Craig so charmingly put it in his stunned ramblings right after I told him I thought I was pregnant: “We aren’t the kind of people who have accidents like this.” But we could be. I would go so far as to say that we are, because there are certainly accidents and surprises in store for us in our life. Not because we are any particular kind of people, but because we are people. We are human.

So for now I’m just looking at old pictures of Luke and Henry and thinking again about the softness of newborn skin and the satisfying weight of a baby in my arms.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Taking Care of Each Other


Sunday, June 15 was my birthday, which coincided with Father’s Day. I was born on Father’s day, and so every once and a while this overlap occurs.

When I woke up, I wanted to be nice to Craig, it being Father’s Day and all. And I knew he would be nice to me since it was my birthday. I told him that I would take care of the kids for the morning and I would cook him a nice dinner. I asked Craig if he would watch the boys while I went for a pedicure and if he would help the boys bake me a cake. He pleasantly agreed.

Mid-morning, Craig sat with the boys outside for an hour—not even his scheduled child time!—while they all made me birthday cards.

As I started making dinner that evening, I told Craig that I had a surprise for him—a large and fancy beer from Whole Foods. And Craig reached up onto the top of the fridge and pulled down some expensive tequila that he had gotten for me.

Later that evening when we were talking to Craig’s parents, I heard him say, “Well, it is Ser’s birthday, too, so we took care of each other,” apparently in answer to the question about what we had done to celebrate Father’s Day.

His answer really struck me to the core, because I realized that so often we don’t take care of each other. We usually don’t start each day wondering what we can do for one another. I start the day scheming about what I can get Craig to do so that my day will be pleasant, and he starts the day staring into space and thinking about who knows what he thinks about in that spacey yet excessively rational mathematician’s head of his.

And so often, we get stuck in the same circular arguments that all come down to this: who works harder, whose work is worth more, and whether each hour staying at home with the kids is equal to each hour spent outside the home earning income for the family. And when I write this down we sound so petty and ridiculous—which we are, sometimes, but also we both care about living in a way that is mutually satisfying.

In all of my long-term friendships, the dynamic has been much more what can I give rather than what can I get. But sadly, too often I find myself wondering what I can get from Craig.

I’m sure that much of this is normal and natural. Craig and I feel the need to be more careful with each other, I suppose, to work out patterns that are sustainable, while with friends we can be more carefree with our generosity. We leave friends at the end of the day. But with one another we must work out a rhythm that is repeatable again and again for the rest of our lives.

But if we were to take care of one another a little more, engage in carefree generosity more often, this forbearance might just become joy. Think of that. The moments of happiness and flickers of delight might just settle in and take up residence here in this, our shared life.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Collectables

Luke and Henry are obsessed with collectables. I’m not sure of the origin of this term as they use it. The first time I remember hearing it was in reference to the half of a very large marble—the size of half a small apple—that Luke found in a stream bed one day over the winter. Luke obviously found this particular collectable, but Henry begged for it and then cried bitterly on and off for hours—hours!—when Luke refused to give it to him.

From what I remember, this ushered in the era of collectables in our house. And what an era it has been.

The boys are always on the prowl for collectables. For a while, the sought-after collectables were tiny plastic spheres that we kept finding all over our neighborhood. These spheres, about the size of half a raisin, have no holes and so cannot be beads. I really have no idea what they could be. But the boys wanted them, and wanted them bad. They each have about ten in their collections.

Ahh, these collections. I bought each of the boys a basket to set at his place at the table, since this is where the collectables always wind up. These compartmentalized baskets are now full, bursting with small sticks, unidentified plastic disks, shreds of colorful rubber and rusty hunks of metal.

I am not a saver. Craig is. In fact, I would go so far as to call him a closet packrat. This must be his fault.

The era of the collectables seems to be coming to an end. But I must admit, as much as I hate the mess and the rubble, as much as I long to sweep the overflowing baskets into a waiting trash bag, my boys’ habit of collecting has opened my eyes to some of the hidden riches just lying on the ground. Where I would have seen just asphalt, I now see colorful bits of potential; where once there was only grass there is now a hidden realm of undiscovered treasure.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Do We Look Alike?

Okay, here's a random blog post, and I actually do hope to write something about my amazing little sister some day, but until then, I just have a question: Do we look that much alike?

All her life, my sister--ten years younger than me--has been told she looks SO MUCH like me. People in the small community where we grew up are always accidentally calling her Ser. It has alway bugged her, but whenever we are out together and people tell us we look alike (or even, on occassion, ask us if we are twins!!!) I feel hugely flattered. Because I'm getting old and she's not.

But I have a theory that it is more related to mannerisms and striking family resemblance than anything. And also, we used to wear similar glasses.

So what do you think?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why a Mommy Blog?


Before I started this blog, I didn’t fancy myself a writer. I mean, I knew I could write—I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages of literary analysis in graduate school—but I thought of myself as an academic writer. A literary critic, perhaps. But since I decided not to get my PhD or become a professor, I basically figured that I was done with writing.

I started this blog a year and a half ago after my friend Jenny kept telling me that I should. I was always telling her stories about my boys’ shenanigans, and she thought I should write them down. Maybe she thought they were good, or maybe she just wanted me to stop talking so much so she could get a word in edgewise. I didn’t really take her seriously, but I did have one little problem: Jenny is a night person and I am a morning person. And so one morning at, oh, about 4:45 a.m. when I got up for the day with Henry (after waking to nurse him 11 times) when I really wanted to tell some stories about my horrible children, I started the blog.

I’m glad now to have a record of my kids’ lives. Especially because I am not much of a photographer. But what I have found remarkable is the amazing way in which writing these stories has helped me to see my children more clearly. As I write, I analyze their actions and turn our every day life together into narrative.

And what is really interesting to me is how telling these stories has actually changed my perception of my life with Luke and Henry. When we are having a horrible day—or when it isn’t even so bad but I’m sick and tired of watching their puppet shows and cutting crusts off of sandwiches and reading books—I begin to make meaning of it all. I see the moments of humor, the hilarity in the absurd, the way Luke hitting his brother fits into the theme of the day or the way that Henry’s confusing story demonstrates his interesting use of language.

When I’m on the lookout for stories, everything becomes more interesting. I can see our life through the eyes of someone else.

You know the way that time softens the edges of experience? The way that once our babies are walking we can’t quite remember how tiring it was to lug them around all day? Writing about my children and my husband and myself helps me to see us all through this softened lens a little sooner.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Stuff of Imagination


Henry is entering the age of fantasy. He creates worlds inside his own imagination. He can often be found playing in a corner of the house with whatever objects happen to be lying around. The other morning, he held two cheerios in his hands, using them as puppets.

“Are you my mama?” one Cheerio asked of the other.

“Yes, you are my little boy,” answered Mama Cheerio.

As the conversation between baby and Mama Cheerio continued, I remembered Luke, around the age Henry is now, telling long and fantastical stories. But Luke’s imaginary world always seemed more anchored in big, mythological narrative. Luke’s plot lines involved good and bad guys, rescues, the slaying of dragons. Greek myth.

Henry’s imagination is sometimes just bizarre.

The other day I asked Henry to please stop kicking me. Without missing a beat and without a hint of a smile on his face, he asked, “Or you will throw me into a lake?”

He often comes up with ideas whose origins I can’t imagine. While we were driving a couple of weeks ago, Henry saw a man in his yard using a weed whacker.

“What is that man doing?” Henry asked.

“He is using a machine to cut weeds in his yard, but it is not for children to use,” I answered.

“I used that once when I was a man,” Henry replied.

“Oh, you were a man?” I asked.

Again, without so much as a pause, Henry explained, “One day a fairy turned me—poof!—into a man. And then I used that machine.”

While Henry’s fantasy world is often confusing and seemingly random, it has occurred to me that it reflects Henry’s personality in the same way that Luke’s narratives reflect his. Henry has always been riveted by details, personal interactions, tone of voice. Henry focuses on people, often so intently that he runs into walls, tumbles down stairs, trips on his own feet. His legs are covered with bruises.

This morning, the boys each put on a puppet show. Luke’s involved knights slaying dragons, then conquering the Cerberus to enter the underworld. (Yes, Luke owns a plastic Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of the underworld of Greek Mythology. It was at the top of his Christmas list the year he was four.)

Henry’s show featured three dragons. And yet there was no slaying.

“Green dragon, will you be on my team?” one green dragon asked another.

“Yes. We are two mans on the same team,” the other green dragon replied.

Then a red dragon stepped in: “Can I be on your team?”

“Yes,” the first dragon replied. “We are a team with two green mans and one red woman dragon.”

And that was the show, folks.

I think that Henry’s focus on human interaction and nuance might be why he has been so much more interested in princesses and clothing than Luke ever was. Henry is intrigued by gender. He sees the differences between girls and boys and men and women. He is interested in teams, in what kinds of people are friends, in what type of people do what types of things.

How wonderful that I have one child to help me focus on the vistas, the overarching narratives, the archetypes, the myth, and another child who will turn my gaze toward the nuances of individual human emotion and interaction, toward the butterfly on the flower right before my very eyes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memorial


I visited Chicago a couple of weekends ago, and it was bittersweet. Bittersweet, but less so than when I visited last fall. Because gradually, with the pace of the year that has unfolded behind us in this slow town, I have come to feel a sense of belonging in Worthington, Ohio. Our family has found a new rhythm that works in this new town.

When I was in Chicago, I took a walk down to Lake Michigan. And I walked to the beach where I often took my little boys to swim in polluted water. My heart ached because there were pieces of them left in that sand, pieces of their younger selves. I looked for sea glass to bring home to them to add to their collection that they built from this very beach. Each wave that crashed to the shore erased a little more of their younger selves.

It isn’t Chicago that I miss so much anymore, but that time in our lives. I don’t want it back, but I ache for its passing. I don’t miss this view—a beautiful lake whose polluted water stretches toward skyscrapers on one side and factories on another—but for what happened here, which was nothing much. We splashed in the water while I barked orders for the boys to keep their mouths shut so as not to ingest the water. We scooped sand into buckets. We looked for treasures. I cradle the sea glass in my palm and will my memories into the blue, the green, the creamy white.

Last Monday we took the boys to a Memorial Day parade in our new town. As we were leaving the house, one of Luke’s good friends from school was passing our yard on his bike. He and his mom and sister decided to park their bikes in our yard and walk to the parade with us. Along the way, we met up with our neighbors and their three boys.

That pack of boys sat perched on the curb, jostling one another and joking and dancing when they discovered that they were sitting on an anthill. With ants in their pants, they wiggled and laughed and the sun shone down upon their heads. They unabashedly held hands, still young enough for this little boy gesture of friendship. They cheered for the horses, the fire trucks, the old men dressed in clown costumes.

And I stood behind them, holding my own private memorial. For one day, even next year, perhaps, I will stand in this same place and my heart will ache for this day. When Luke won’t hold hands with anyone anymore or Henry becomes terrified of clowns, I will miss this very spot on the side of the road, not a beautiful vista, but an everyday plot of dirt and pavement and grass and ants that holds a part of my boys’ childhood.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Queen of the Park


Henry likes “pretty” things. Sparkly. Pink and purple. Shiny. Multi-colored and polka dotted. I find this trait quite charming. I let him wear a dress when he was 13 months old and he took a fancy to one in a pile of hand-me-downs. I bought him the polka-dotted flare leggings that he wanted from Target in the fall, and he has worn them at least once a week since.

But Henry also loves to play “like a boy.” He loves to wrestle and swordfight and play heroes and villains and run around the yard. He climbs like a maniac and rides a bike with no training wheels. He covets Luke’s bin of “special” superhero toys.

So I was somewhat taken aback when I returned home from Chicago and I presented him with the Bionicle that I brought him and he rejected it. Yes, these Lego toys are too old for him, what with their weapons and clear emphasis on fighting—not to mention small and easily lost parts—but he is obsessed with Luke’s Bionicles, and so I bought them each one at the Lego store while on my trip. But Henry wanted none of it, and since I had to stop at the grocery store on my way home from the airport, I told him I would give the Bionicle to a bigger boy and he could pick his own present.

I was happy to see that Kroger was having a big closeout on many of their toys, and I directed Henry toward some that I thought he might like (and that were conveniently marked down.) I pointed him to some Lego sets, a game or two, a talking Elmo (I was magnetically drawn toward the $9.99 price tag, down from $45.99). But Henry was not interested in my suggestions. He wanted the furry princess phone. It is pink and covered in sparkles and each button has a coordinating princess who speaks when her button is pushed. It cost the same as the Elmo, so I didn’t say no based on cost. I didn’t say no because it is a huge hunk of plastic electronic junk. No, I refused to buy this toy for Henry because he has had one previously. Yes, that’s right, Henry fell in love with this particular toy last fall when we were visiting my friend Jenny, and—imagine this!—she was all too willing to send it home with us when her daughter wasn’t looking. But after Henry played with it for a few weeks he forgot about it and I was able to sneak it away to donate to the thrift store.

After much discussion and negotiation in the toy aisle, Henry finally settled on the sparkly princess crown and earrings. I suggested many other options, ones that I thought he would play with more, but he was insistent that he needed the crown, and for five bucks I decided it was fine by me.

I find Henry’s love of “pretty” things so sweet and innocent. I also think this trait is a beautiful sign of his own personality, something that he doesn’t get from Luke, he certainly doesn’t get from Craig, and he doesn’t even really get from me (I’m more into cords and clogs than rhinestones and polka dots). But here’s the thing that worries me a bit: I also cling to Henry’s sometimes-unusual taste in clothing and toys because I don’t want to turn into every other person around me in this town. And the reason this worries me is that I don’t want to use my kid as my counter cultural mascot. So I try, I really try, to remain as neutral as possible about these things.

I almost got rid of Henry’s polka dot flares yesterday. I almost sent them to a friend who has a little girl. But Henry saw them sitting in a pile and said, “I want to wear those pants today!” So he did wear them to his gym class at the local community center, and there I heard a woman correcting her grandson who called Henry a boy: “No, I think that is a girl. She’s wearing little girl pants.”

And later, that same day, Henry rode his aqua and purple bike, the Huffy Sea Star that used to be Luke’s, to the park. And a young girl, probably nine years old, said, “Your little girl is so pretty!” So I said, “Oh, he’s a boy, but thanks!”

Once all the other kids left the park, I told Luke, “Now you are the king of the park!” And Henry said, “And I am the queen of the park!”

Oh Henry, my darling queen of the park, may you always wear whatever you like and ride your Sea Star with abandon, the wind in your hair and joy on your face. May you never be the mascot for anything but yourself.