Sunday, October 31, 2010

Daisy Picking

There's a gauzy haze over the memory of my pulling petals from a tiny white sundial shaped flower at the stream near our house.  Fourth grader yearnings, I think.  "He loves me, he loves me not...."

Please let the last petal be love.  Or at least like.  And let him be Chad, who leads the class in a rendition of Devo's "Whip It" every afternoon.  And not Kevin, who saves a seat for me on the bus everyday, but is in the wrong reading group.  My diary entries play out like a snagged record:

Chad was at school today.  Chad stood in line behind me on the way to specials today.  We had P.E. today.  I hate P.E.  Mrs. Sites is so mean and anceint [sic].  Chad wore a plaid shirt today.

Chad never did like me and he barely acknowledged my presence in his homeroom class.  Except for the one time I managed to sneak in a cup of sugar mixed with a Kool-Aid pack to dump on a paper towel for our cluster of desks to dip fingers in and suck on like inverted Pixy Sticks.  Jello was better, but all we had at home was instant pudding mix. 

These days, I've got another guy I'm eying, and he too, responds real well to sugar.  But he also shows me some sugar.  And I'm addicted.

He reaches for me in pale blue pajamas from the lower bunk on the rare day when I need to wake him up to get ready for preschool.  He pops out his thumb to give me a smile.

After just making it to the potty and abiding my instruction to "Wash hands!," he hugs my leg before running to get dressed.  I see his little bare bottom whiz down the hall and make the sharp right turn into his bedroom.

While buckling him into his car seat, I get two little hands cupping my cheeks.  I can feel each miniature finger pressing into my skin.  My face and the brain beyond, yield, like salt dough, hoping to capture the essence of him, my busy, hugging, three year old boy. The gesture stamps my soul in a way that makes me want to trace over the impression again and again.  He loves me, he loves me, he loves me.

Later, when he's home from preschool, there's a rim of red around his eyes and salty trails down his face from a not yet forgotten wrong.  T's grandparents are visiting and there was a kerfuffle in the car over sandwiches.  When a piece of his sandwich was torn off for the baby without his prior consent, T lost it.  My husband tells me they had to stop the car during the two minute drive home to address the screaming.

T wants to tell me about it.  He wants me to help him eat the rest of his sandwich.  And sit with him in the bathroom when he stops mid meal for a potty break.  I don't always do this kind of thing, rarely actually.  But today, I bring my own sandwich into the bathroom and sit on the edge of the tub to finish it.  It helps, I think.

T's too tired for the next activity, but he wants to be there because it's the Halloween party at music class and that's what three year olds do.  Dress up and sing.  So T finishes his sandwich and puts on a Spider Man costume that will still be too long when he's fifteen.  So I cut off six inches from each leg and arm, while he's wearing it, and help him with his coat.

When my husband, mother in law and I come in at the end of class for parent time, T is done.  He wants my lap and his thumb (admittedly, not necessarily in that order).  Turns out, food allergies made coordinating the snacks for partying too difficult, so the end of class party, beyond the costume wearing, is canceled.  T appears to lose hope when the promise of candy is yanked.

So he looks to me, for that respite between the rest of the world and his bed.  I hold him while we sit out the last song and then guide him back into the car seat where I'm gifted with kisses on my forehead.

Right now, there is no space for "love me nots."  T loves me and he shows it, so I don't ever go wandering in the woods for daisies.  I suspect, however, that sullen days may lie ahead, a decade or so from now, or even less, when establishing the bright lines of his identity will require T to pull away from me.  I suspect then too - and least on lonely afternoons - I'll return to the uncertainty of fourth grade love and the wishful assurances of petal pulling.  But at least then I'll know I'm working with the right guy and that I've got the sequence right.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Anything you can do I can do...

crappier.  Turns out.

In the musical, "Annie Get Your Gun," the romantic leads, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, bicker over target shooting skills before seemingly falling in love mid-song.  Frank, with official cowboy swagger, sets the challenge, "I'm gonna give you a lesson in marksmanship you'll never forget!"  With confidence, Annie declares,

"No you won't.  You couldn't give me a lesson in long distance spittin'!"  After a big guffaw from the audience, she (and eventually, Frank) break into song: 

Anything you can do
I can do better
I can do anything
Better than you.

No, you can't.
Yes, I can. No, you can't.
Yes, I can. No, you can't.
Yes, I can,

Yes, I can!  (and so on)

I just returned from three days of bliss on a girls' trip involving lots of wine and salami.  And singing.  When I got home, my kids weren't necessarily singing my praises, but they had plenty to tell me about, like the blobs they could make with glitter paint.  And while baby was too busy to sing, I knew that face of hers smooshed against the glass of the front window was all heart. 

Chris wasn't as frazzled as I might of imagined by two in the afternoon following my three day sojourn.  Nor did he seem to mind that I had an immediate errand to run.   I'm not sure if I could, or have ever, greeted him after a few days away with such perkiness.  That was crappy.  At least in the grand tally in my head that measures whether I'm really making a successful career out of this mother gig.

As the evening unfolded and we shared bits and pieces of the weekend while progressing through the tasks of nightly child necessities, I got the feeling that Chris had lassoed a few wily broncos and brought them to their knees.  And he had some tips for his cowgirl, now back on the range:

C:  You know how you've been worried about the constant snot, fatigue and general crankiness BabyNar has endured for the past three weeks?  No time for a response.

C:  Well, I think the baby would feel better if you actually fed her.  Interesting concept.  Does he have any studies to back up this new therapy?  Also, no response necessary, don't you think?

C:  Also, you should give her a bottle eight times a day in small amounts, plus three or four ounces with every meal.  Have you tried giving her water?  I think she's dehydrated.  Shouldn't the empty diaper boxes that take up an entire car space in the garage speak to these issues?  Again, speechless.

With that, Chris placed the last of the dinner dishes in the dishwasher, reminded Dee and T to each bring a handful of toys up to their room on the way up for pajamas, and then he was gone, in one efficient, light-speed flash.  I was a little dumbstruck.  Maybe yogurt and a couple of bottles aren't enough for Nar.  Crap.  And maybe I shouldn't worry so much about sippy cup spills.  Crap.

I also learned that the big kids were pretty much angels.  Crappy jerks.

But as we neared the finish line of bedtime, I saw a couple cracks in his horse training.  The kids were definitely responding to some kind of "do it or else" stimulus.  One that just happened to be my  take away a toy and don't you worry about it, because it's forever gone at Goodwill, punishment.  The one used when T ran into the street and caused cars to swerve to avoid him (last recorded loss:  Favorite Birthday Present Buzz Lightyear remote control spaceship with accessories).  It is also the modified punishment used when the kids can't resist pushing or pulling or generally hurting the baby (last recorded losses: a black Matchbox truck and an orange flower necklace).  Needless to say, this punishment is used only when the big guns are necessary.  But Hub botched that.  Still, despite my damaged weaponry, I could feel my strength returning.  Maybe I started humming a little cowboy tune....

Also, did I mention that Chris didn't seem to notice that along with his football jersey, three year old T wore manpri pants all day, in the form of his fourteen month old sister's khakis?  Score!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Demographically Appropriate Pick Up Lines

Some sparks, in no particular order:

Wife to Hub:

1)  Let's swim through the sea of remotes for a kiss....
2)  Socks baby, take off your socks first....
3)  After you brush your teeth, can you turn off the baby monitor?
4)  We don't have to spoon all night, I promise.
5)  Did you just put more hot water from the teapot in the tub for me?  I guess I don't need to worry about a robe!
6)  The girls' trip is canceled.
7)  Did you just fold that laundry, that basket right there? 

Hub to Wife*:

1)  I'm game, if I don't have to worry about the alarm and waking you up for your blown-off-a-gazillion-times 5:45 a.m run tomorrow.
2)  Wow, you decided not to wear your woolly sweater to bed?
3)  The fantasy football picks are IN!

*Sorry for the unbalanced representation.  Ten years, and I'm still trying to get inside Hub's head (not just his pants).

Friday, October 15, 2010

You Wanna Piece of Me?!

The roofers at my neighbor's house must think I'm losing my mind.  Or, at the very least, they have pegged me as a bored housewife with a fetish for the feel of silk.  Emphasis on the feel of silk and not actual silk.  They've seen my house, they know better.  For the past three days, I kid you not, I have "tended" the fake spider web scene I am creating on my front porch.  All while hunky young men with loud music and cigarettes tear down and reconstruct the roof next door.

On Monday, a day when my children and I have only one scheduled activity - an hour at Soccer Tots -  I hauled up two storage bins of Halloween decorations in a weak attempt to provide meaningful entertainment for their impressionable, but never satisfied, young minds.  They were into it for awhile and then moved on to colored bendy straws with lunch and fights over who got which lane on the Matchbox car racetrack.  I however, did not.  Get over it, that is.

Like finishing a home improvement project for the tiniest room in the house, say, the broom closet, I was determined to really fix up the front porch fancy like.  Problem was, we didn't have enough fake spider web, or styrofoam tombstones, or flickering lights.

The next day, I found all of those things and that night, talked my Hub into playing the part of Igor to affix them all after the kids went to bed.  If there's any holiday that puts a skip in the step of my work-a-day Hub, it's Halloween.  He loves those corny (he-he, get it?) haunted mazes and laughing at the teenage ghouls behind the strobe lights at the local dead mall. He'll even pay good money for the experience, at least the experience of laughing to tears watching me scream in horror when the fifteen year old dressed as the angel of death gets within three feet of me at "Terror in the Corn!!!" or "Nightmare on Your Street!"  I'm always the scaredy cat target, dammit all.

Anyhoo, this year I channeled that energy into creating a mood.  It was dark by the time Chris and I got to fake silk stretching.  When we first started, he was on the phone with his mom and I recall him saying,

"Wow.  That is the biggest spider I have ever seen.  Wow."  Cool, I thought.  That big Walmart spider is really making an impression.  Even Mr. Halloween likes it.

When I actually got out there to help him, I learned different.  Turns out, the "spider" Hub was referring to was a real spider with a huge ominous spider butt not hanging on the front door to scare trick-or-treaters, but crawling across Chris' hand in retreat.  That big butt spider actually touched him!

Chris was in the unfortunate process of tearing down her real web in his attempt to put up the fake stuff.  Big Butt wasn't buying it.  She quickly scurried away from our fake web into places that were hard to see. I worried that Big Butt was a Hobo spider, a dangerous type found in the Northwest that can bite and create a sore like this:

(Not Chris' hand.)

My friend Megg, who's father is an entomologist, warned me of these creatures.  She even made the effort of sending a cautionary email early in Hobo season with detailed pictures of the dreaded beast and warned us of basement and front porch sightings.  At the time, I went all head-in-the-sand about it.  Last night, I begged Hub to cross reference what we were seeing on Wikipedia.  After some panicked research, we couldn't be sure about Big Butt.  She could be a Hobo.  The dangerous kind that goes from house to house with a handkerchief on a stick, biting people.

I was torn, my obsession with creating a realistic web scene was at odds with my genuine fear of Big Butt taking a bite outta me.  Chris decided it wasn't worth it and retired to the living room.  For me, the web's siren song was too much.  Like a fly drawn to gossamer, I hung on for a bit, gingerly pulling strands of fake web from nicks in the brick to a finial in the banister to the rose trellis just beyond the porch.  There was a genuine thrill to it.  Scary for sure, but not as humiliating as running from those costumed teenagers.

P.S.  Surprise, surprise.  We survived.

Monday, October 11, 2010

On love and hate and Oreos

Everything takes work, doesn't it?  Work to figure out what you want to do and then follow through for more than two weeks.  Work not to eat the whole bag of Halloween Oreos, which are simply regular Oreos with orange colored frosting.  I thought I could resist them this afternoon when I made the careful decision to buy them over any myriad of cookies that would not have survived the two block journey between the grocery store and my house.  Turns out no, I needed to consume the entire middle row tonight, despite the fact that I kind of hate those cookies.

I pushed back a family photography shoot set in late August under false pretenses.  I told the photographer we needed to reschedule in mid October because I so wanted to have the pictures taken outside with the fall leaves.  I lied.  I like the leaves and all, but I wanted to lose weight.  At the very least, I had to lose the extra six pounds I gained over the summer, saying yes to every pastry ever folded with butter and pumped full of vanilla cream.  I even turned other things into pastries.  While staying at my brother's house, I scrounged for something sweet late at night.  While everyone else was asleep, I dug deep in the basement storage shelves to find an economy size bag of animal crackers and grazed on them religiously all four nights we were visiting.  The crackers might have been stale, but I think I kind of loved them. 

Before the photo shoot, I needed to lose that dang summer weight and I had aspirations of more.  I imagined the weight flying off of me, whizzing away while I spun in a steady circle of moderation and diligence.  A Slimfast shake for breakfast, turkey and carrots for lunch, a Slimfast shake for dinner if I was really good.  No rice, no bread, no sweets, no snacks.  You get the picture.  The crumbling picture.

I lost a little summer weight.  But not enough.  I'm back to baseline and that means rolls of mother belly oozing over my too tight jeans and feeling bad about it.  I still love my one pair of skinny expensive 7 For All Mankind jeans, even if they hurt.  And I still hate my Valu Village comfortable jeans that wait patiently in the pants drawer, waiting for the day that always comes when I feel dejected and huge and must put them on in order to breathe.  I wore those stupid things on Saturday so I ran yesterday.  I didn't run today but I did squirt dish washing soap over the remaining orange Oreos.  Then I placed them at the bottom of the kitchen garbage and camouflaged them with a Land's End catalog, so Hub wouldn't have cause to ask about why I'm throwing money away in the form of an iconic American treat.

I also kept the photo shoot appointment.  The weather's supposed to be good and the baby's getting over her cold so I have no excuse.  I just have to suck it in and smile.  And I hate that.  Hopefully, when I look back in twenty years, I'll only see a relatively wrinkle free face and some little munchkins.  And I'll have to love that, right?!?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Armed and Dangerous

We're on the rebound from the Mother State and tonight, I find myself halfway home in my familiar, door laden suite.

The day before we left, the big kids and my mom browsed Goodwill while I hurriedly dashed to find the cheapest entertainment for the long drive ahead in the form of .29 picture books.  That's right, I said 29 CENTS, less my mom's senior discount.  Mama Dearheart is the bargain queen.  She's honed this skill for about sixty five years and there ain't no way, no how, you're going to get it cheaper than from her sewing machine, or from, as my kids' have come to call it, "Granny's Goodwill."

While waiting for me, just-three T, all boy in the stereotypical sense of the word, hunted the Halloween table at the store for the perfect item to grip while strapped in the cozy confines of his car seat.  He landed on a novelty plastic dagger adorned with skulls and featuring a retractable blade that makes a low and lingering scream-like sound when pressed against something. 

Dee, all girl in the stereotypical sense of the word, gravitated to a cheap fabric bat affixed to a glittered dowel, identified by Dee as a Halloween wand.  She fancied herself the inspired, "Halloween Fairy," while waving it.  Granny thought the name, "Bat Wanda" was a better fit.  We moved on from Goodwill to picking up real nail polish for Dee, as promised, in a pale princess pink.  The look was complete. 

The afternoon wound down with a viewing of the scarier-than-I-ever-remembered, Pinocchio, including dagger waving by T and spell casting by Dee at that nasty whale, and the men who brought little boys to "Pleasure Island."  Yikes. 

After a little more T.V. and an elaborate sequence of post dinner candy treats, we were fat with the spoils of an old school week with the G'rents.  From there, we packed up our troubles in my (twelve or so) kit bags and armed ourselves for the road ahead. 

I'm feeling pretty confident.  I've got fairy magic and knightly valor recharging on the other side of that door.  Very confident indeed.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


We linger over the dinner clean-up.  She's wiping the counters down with a hot soapy dishcloth, freeing the area of streaks, as she's done after every meal I've known in her home.  I follow her like a puppy, not necessarily doing anything to help, beyond putting the easy stuff away.  After I've placed the salt and pepper shakers in their place in the cabinet, we go back to a hard conversation we had a few months ago and I reassure her that, after some reflection, I think I understand.

She tells me that there were countless times she dreamed of a cruise vacation, or a week in Hawaii.  And not so long ago, she would have jumped at the opportunity and the fun anticipation that such a trip entails.  But not today, she says.  They are so grateful for the offer, she tells me, so very grateful, but not now.

Now, while the white blood cells in my father's body multiply erratically, and doggedly fill the remaining space in his lymph nodes, before moving on to new vessels, she needs to embrace the simple, quiet life that they find at home.

Now, she wants only to be with him.  Admittedly, to have him all to herself, shuffling about their three bedroom single level track home, attending furniture refinishing projects and grass cutting.  He's still as funny to her as ever, and as kind.  Gently agreeing to rebuild the back of a desk she found at Goodwill, and meticulously chopping the veggies and other necessities of the recipe he's chosen for dinner.  She's aching already, and us along with her, while the time bomb of his cancer ticks away.  Who knows how long life will still be good.  All she knows for sure is that home is generally free of the distractions and worry that catching planes and small talk with strangers bring about. 

I left my three kids with them three days ago.  Presumably for quality time and not to add to their stress.  Chris and I are in Aspen, Colorado attending a medical conference and enjoying yet another gift from my parents in the form of a weekend without our offspring. 

While alone yesterday, I ran, or walked mostly, along a narrow dirt path that followed a creek along the Rio Grande Trail. The warm autumn sun was warm on by back - too warm - and the warbled shade provided by the delicate flutter of aspen leaves allowed a respite from the task of running in the heat. It was then that I could appreciate some of the jewels of the Rockies.

I observed the dry grasses and wildflowers beyond their peak, arched over the edge of the path, creating a red carpet of sorts. The smell of fallen aspen leaves, earthy but somehow still bearing the sharp - and uplifting - smell of spring. Russet reds and oranges surrounded me in the rusty soil of the trail, the iron rails of the foot bridge, and in a good number of the rocks nested in the creek, smooth and rounded from the cover of rushing water. The creek was bordered by rustic, but meticulously maintained and upated, vacation homes. Complete with wooden pads built over the creek, upscale lawn furniture and canvas umbrellas still there, a reminder that true summer was not too long ago.

It was a lovely walk and one that I enjoyed, particularly because it involved some calorie burning.  All the same, I still longed to be back at our room at the conference resort, with the surprise of my Hub out early from his morning meetings and ready to join me.  There's something so sweet and comforting about having my man here with me, to walk among the aspen trees and to appreciate our now without distraction.