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July 2007

Snack helper

This week the boys have been doing VBS at a nearby church. Tre is so very old and mature that he is a helper this year, instead of one of the rabble. His job is to help with snacks. On the ride home, he likes to use his newfound power to tattle on his brothers.

“Max came in to snack and he didn’t want what we were having, so he tried to tell me he’s allergic to peanuts, so he could get the fruit snacks. I told him, ‘Max, I KNOW you’re not allergic to peanuts,’ and he just looked at me and said, ‘Who are you?’”

In the back seat, Max snickered in appreciation of his own smart mouth. I suppressed a grin and said mildly,
“Max, if you don’t like what they’re offering for snack, don’t eat it. But you can’t take the snacks that aren’t for you. So don’t pester Tre about it.” Max shrugged, which I took as an indication of intent to comply.

“And then Raphael came in,” Tre continued, “and he kept HUGGING me even though I TOLD him to stop because I was trying to WORK.”

Raphael looked up from his attempts to fold his shirt hem over his head.

“What?” he bellowed. “I was just trying to LOVE MY BROTHER and besides, Tyler HIT ME, because he’s MEAN, and I’m going to punch him in his nose. Can we go out for lunch?”

I opened my mouth, then paused. Where to begin? How to answer all that?

“No, we can’t go out for lunch.”

It seems like more of the same, the endless chatter and friction of three boys. But if I watch closely, there are significant changes. Tre, with a world-weary chuckle, tells me the story of a little boy who tries every day to convince him to give him the fruit snacks.

“’I’m ALLERGIC,’ he tells me, and I tell him ‘no, I can see right there on your name tag that you’re NOT allergic, so you can’t have the fruit snacks.’ But he won’t give up. Every day it’s the same thing. Today, when he was leaving, he came and told me, ‘maybe tomorrow I’ll be allergic.’”

Together we laugh about the hopeful little boy. I glance at my firstborn in the rearview mirror and realize again how much he’s grown. He was with me when I collected Raphael out of his class. Raphael’s teacher was startled to see Tre tousle Raphael’s hair.

“Oh,” she said to me, “is HE your son too?” I nodded, while straining to catch Max as he ran circles around us. “I didn’t realize he was your son too. He’s such a great kid. Very responsible.”

I thanked her and finally snagged Max by the elbow and headed out the door.

As we headed home and I glanced back at Tre, I realized how true that is. He IS a great kid.

But then again, they’re all great kids. But Tre is crossing a line, growing up into something more.

He glanced up and saw me looking.

“Hey, CAN we go out to eat?”

Thankfully, he’s not there just yet.

How "real" do you want?

There is a small group of feral children in our neighborhood. Ok, not feral. They are sweet and polite, if in a slightly Eddie Haskel way. Somewhat ingratiating and needy. The reason I think of them as feral is because the three of them wander the streets for hours every day. They’re siblings, an eleven year old boy and 5 year old twins, a boy and a girl. The big brother shepherds the little ones, and they stay outside until they are summoned home by the cell phone he keeps in his pocket. Every afternoon and all day on the weekends. They drift into the yard, play with the kids, and make those startling statements that kids with sad lives make.

“Our dad isn’t allowed to see us, because he doesn’t pay his child support.”

“We’re not allowed to go home until the phone rings.”

“I’m hungry,” but, “we’re not allowed to eat at other people’s houses. But maybe just a granola bar…”

They eat dinner at about 8:30 at night, and yet they are at daycare by 6:00 in the morning. I find myself mentally tallying the sleep they get, and shaking my head in dismay.

I’m not accusing their parents of abuse, please understand. It just seems like a sad and stressed household. I wish I could give them more than a granola bar.

Tonight I was standing outside, as the culture sack swarmed with children and their noises. Max was playing catch with three other boys, while Raphael tried in vain to turn “catch” into a game that includes tackling. I stood in the neighbor’s driveway, feeling the day’s warmth radiate back to me through the cement that was pressing patterns into the soles of my bare feet. The air was cool, the drama was high (there had been a prairie dog in the neighbor’s garage – did it have RABIES?), and the gossip flowed.

“The other day [the big brother] was playing in our yard and he got hit in the head with a bat. He got this knot on his head, you know? And I put ice on it and called his home?” The woman who lives next to us knows everything, and it doesn’t surprise me that she knew this kid’s home phone number. “And his step dad answered? So I started telling him what happened, and he said, ‘You know, I’m not their real dad. I’m just a step dad.’ And then he hung up!”

We both turned to look at the three of them, careening around the sidewalk on borrowed scooters, and sighed in stereo. What can you do?

I looked over to our driveway, to where Clay’s truck is usually parked. He was gone, off to baseball practice with Tre. I thought about how smug Tre is about having that time alone with Clay, and how glad Clay is to be there. I thought about the moment when they arrived home, how they would come inside, laughing about something, and Tre would rush over to me to tell me the stories of practice, and Max and Raphael would race over to pounce on Clay with giggling ferocity.

Just a step dad. I think someone needs a lesson in what a “real dad” is.

Dear Raphael,

“Just STOP,” I sighed. It was bedtime and while I was trying to tuck you in, you were bounding around on the bed on all fours, barking.

“RUFF!” you said, “RUFF! Hey, Mom, what if I was a dog, and you taught me how to fetch, only when you threw the stick in the next yard, instead of bringing you the stick, I brought back a TREASURE?”

Just. Stop.

You are an endless fountain of talk and ideas and action. The other day you fashioned for yourself a slingshot out of a forked stick, a rubber band, and lots of tape. You had showed me your supplies before you made it, and I didn’t think it would work. But it did. It’s experiences like that one that have taught me to keep my mouth shut about most of your ideas.

Most of them. You can’t have a pocket knife. Sorry, not gonna happen.

Not only are you constantly in thought, you are constantly in motion. The other day I tried to get you to show me the four-tooth gap in the front of your mouth, so I could take a picture, and I got a lot of this.


The morning of your birthday, you woke up and immediately spied the wrapped presents.

“Can I open them NOW?”

“No, you have to wait until after dinner,” I informed you. You studied them for a moment, then turned back to me.

“How many minutes until dinner?”


By the time people started arriving for dinner, you were climbing the walls.



Finally, present time arrived, and yes, thank God, you did like the telescope. It was not, however, your favorite present. No, that would be The Bike, your first two-wheeler. It was from your Amma and Appa, and it was just the thing. Right after breakfast the next day, you headed out to figure this out. Tre came along to help.

What could possibly be a better sight than a big brother helping his little brother learn how to ride a two-wheeler?


Not much.


And you did figure it out. In less than an hour, you shook off the helping hands and were on your way.

You spent most of that day circling and circling our cul-de-sac (or “culture sack” as you and Max call it) relentlessly. When I dragged you inside at the end of the day, you parked your bike in its rightful spot on the end of the tangle of family bikes. You took off your helmet and shoved your hand through your sweaty hair, making it stand up in damp spikes.

“I’ll just park here…with the other bike riders.”

And just as you’ve finally joined the ranks of the bike riders, you’ve vanquished the climbing tree.

P1010050 P1010040_2 P1010042

I thought for sure I had another year before I had to start worrying about you breaking your fool neck up there, but I failed to take into account the sheer force of your will.


Your dad is your partner in crime. Who else would help you make a dagger? There is no counting the balls he has thrown for you, the running and wrestling and jumping and joking you two share. The physicality of your relationship with him is like a foreign language to me. I can see that you love each other fiercely, though, and I’m so glad you have each other.

The other day he was downstairs, urging you and your brothers through your tooth brushing for bed. I heard much laughing, and you raced into Max’s room to share the news.

“Dad FARTED! It was LOUD!”

I always knew you’d love and respect him. I may not have realized all the reasons WHY.

Sometimes I’m frustrated by your tendency to be in motion. I can’t seem to catch your rhythm. You climb on the back of my chair, chattering at me while I try to read the newspaper in the morning. Your fingers catch in my hair and I wince in irritation. Get OFF me, I think. And then, later, I reach out for you as you run past, and you dodge my touch like a video game character saving his affection points.

I hope you know, baby boy of mine, how much I treasure you. I hope you can see that beyond the moments when I’m frustrated or tired. The truth is that I think you are amazing. I could watch you like a TV show, the way you think and create and move and do. So when I’m weary, don’t mind me. And don’t stop.


Don’t ever stop.



Just so you know I'm not dead. Just old.

I have lots to tell you, like about the birthday celebrations around here, and the baseball madness that is making our lives a living hell, and of course I get reminded daily that I still have to write Raphael's birthday blog, which, yes, thanks! I know!

But I just have a few minutes, so I wanted to tell you about a moment I had at the mall the other day. This was after my encounter with Crazed Telescope Man. I scurried out of there, and on my panicked way back to the car, I noticed a Sephora. I don't spend huge amounts of time in there, because it seems that money does not, in fact, grow on trees. Dammit. But there is one eensy little thing that I buy there. Yes, I read Amalah too. Anyhow.

As I stood in line with my overpriced, wee black box, two young women wandered in. They stood behind me, perusing and chatting. One of them picked up a container of the very same stuff I was holding, and started trying to explain to her friend how wonderful it is. The friend was failing to understand what could possibly be so special about it. Being a friendly sort of person, and caught up in the woman's-world atmosphere of the store, I turned around and brandished my box happily.

"Oh, she's right, it's great. I love the stuff," I said.

They froze. The expressions on their faces were a war between "horrified" and "OMG, don't make the old lady mad." After a moment's pained silence, they managed to murmur some sort of assent, slowly set down their boxes and bolted for the door.

I watched them go, my mouth agape. It seems I'm too old to have product cred. WHEN did that happen?

Oh, he'll LIKE it! And there will be WONDER and DELIGHT. Mama has SPOKEN.

So, you know what Wednesday is? Do ya? That would be Raphael’s sixth birthday. SIX! Insert expression of disbelief here!

For the past few months I’ve been periodically puzzling over what to get the child for his birthday. Clay is no help in this. Whenever I ask him, he suggests we buy ten more light sabers, because LORD KNOWS the child doesn’t have enough freaking light sabers.

But after enough puzzling, it finally came to me. A telescope. He’s fascinated by the moon and looking at the moon through his cheap spyglass that he bought last year in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the spyglass doesn’t render any view CLEARER, but instead tends to slightly enlargen and greatly enfuzzen objects. Not a lot of help. Raphael figures that’s ok, because *deep sigh* only REAL SCIENTISTS can look at the moon anyhow.

So when I realized that a telescope might very well make his heart leap with joy (or possibly cause his brows to knit in puzzled irritation – who can really know?), it was a mere five days until his birthday. A quick online search turned up several sturdy, serviceable models at reasonable prices. However, did I mention? Five days. No time to order from an online retailer at a reasonable price! But since the internets, they were positively RIDDLED with good choices, I was certain this would not be too hard.

In retrospect, I ought to have decided to purchase him a unicorn instead. And have it borne to him on fairy wings. While a dancing troupe of leprechauns spelled out his name. It would have been slightly easier.

The REASON all those telescopes are a great price online is because the brick and mortar stores only tend to carry them around Christmas. “Oh, we had a TON of them around Christmas,” I heard again and again and again.

And again.

Makes sense. I know that I, personally, am often struck by the desire to go outside after dark when there’s two feet of snow on the ground. Sub-zero temperatures just scream “ASTRONOMY!” to me.

Regardless, after a zillion tries, I ended up at an educational store, one that sort of rhymes with “oh spare me.” There I was in the Oh Spare Me Store, staring in bewildered amazement at a collection of insanely expensive telescopes. But! All 20% off! I was accosted by a salesperson who was eager to help me, as I’d been caught next to expensive items.

“Well, see,” I explained, “I’m looking for a telescope, but something more…entry-level than these here.”

My mistake. Apparently “entry-level” doesn’t mean “CHEAPER, HAVE MERCY” like I thought it did.

“Ok, well, here’s a nice one. It runs about $300 and it has-“

Sadly, I did not get to hear what it has, because I had choked on my tongue. Finally I managed to gasp,

“Actually, I was looking for something SMALLER.”

It must have been the choking on the tongue thing. Made me hard to understand. Because then he turned to a different telescope.

“Here’s a nice one here. I think you’ll really like it. It’s on sale and ONLY $600.” He started describing its various amenities, but I stopped him and tried again.

“See…this is for my son. He’s turning SIX. Do you have anything that would be appropriate for a SIX YEAR OLD?”

Again, we seemed to have some sort of a language barrier, because he moved on to an $800 telescope, reasoning that it would make the most sense for my little guy because it has a solid steel casing.

Now, here’s where the problem really became my fault. I have this programming glitch of sorts. A recessive gene that harkens back to my mother’s roots in Minnesota, perhaps. But I have the hardest time telling salespeople no. I stood there, feeling guilty because here was this nice guy who was taking time out of his busy day so he could not listen to me and show me things I don’t want. And I wasn’t even going to buy any of the things I don’t want from him. I stood there, listening to him describe the shapes of different lenses and watched him demonstrate the wonder of the latch RIGHT HERE, and nodded and made noises like I cared. Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out how I could fake my own death so I could escape.

Eventually I did escape, and I found a telescope at a reasonable price. I will wrap it up and present it to him with much excitement and joy. After all, it may have been difficult to find, and it may have required much driving and searching and talking to insane people, but at least I’m not sure if it’s something he wants at all.

So. That was a good choice.

Our firstborns make the world unsafe

Cousin It has a name, and he is Julian Rand. I highly recommend checking out the comments on the last post, to read Josh’s announcement of the naming.


“When do you get over that thing, where you have to watch him to be sure he’s breathing?” Josh asked.

I had to think about that. I admit that I still sneak into the boys’ rooms at night and check.

That sounds like a joke, but it’s not. When do you get over that? How on earth would you get over that?

Yesterday Tre got stung while looking in his hive. This is no big deal, happens all the time around here. But then he had an allergic reaction. His fingers swelled up, his eyes went puffy, and welts bloomed on his torso. His breathing tightened up, just slightly. It was mild and easily knocked out by an antihistamine. Not a bad reaction, as reactions go.

However, it complicates things enormously. Allergic reactions tend to escalate, which means the next sting could be serious. Or the one after that. Or, then again, it could have been an anomalous reaction, and he’s not actually allergic. No matter what, he’ll have to undergo allergy testing, and possibly get shots. Lots of shots.

As I peered at his skin and studied his fingers and listened to him breathe and announced that I was pretty sure this was an allergic reaction, Tre’s first comment was, “I’ll take the shots. I’m not giving up my hives. Max can’t have them.”

Right now I’m waiting for a call back from his pediatrician, to see if I can get an Epi-Pen to keep on hand, just in case.

Just in case.

It was not a big deal, I remind myself. This can be dealt with. He will be fine.

Last night I stood in the dark, by his bed, as he slept. He’d been fine for hours and hours by then, breathing freely, his skin clear, his fingers down to their normal shape. I was still coming down off my own reactions, though, and I stood in the dark and cried the tears I wouldn’t let him see when he was figuring out if he should be scared or not.

And I watched him, to be sure he was breathing.

The world is one whole baby better tonight

My nephew was born at 6:22 pm, weighing in at 6lb., 12oz. Baby was having some slight breathing problems, but seems fine. Beautifully squished, I hear. Terri (mom) is well, and is my hero tonight.

They still haven't named him.

No, seriously.

I thought stuff like that only happened in sitcoms, but no. Josh has final naming decision, and he's just not quite sure yet. The sentimental fool keeps referring to his son as "it."

Ah well. Whatever his name, he's here. And since he's not named, Clay pointed out, that means the boys now have a Cousin It.

Summersweet interlude

It must be summer, at long last, because it's mid-morning, and we're not doing school. Instead, a friend has generously lent me 3/5ths of her children, and all six (hers and mine) are wandering around outside, caught up in a complex game of make believe. Their voices, explaining the plot points in tones earnest and thrilled, float in through the open windows on warm, velvet breezes. I love this bouquet of kids fiercely, and one of the reasons is that when they play together they are very unlikely to wander in, bored and discontented, to ask if they can watch TV or play on the computer.

There are lots of things I could be doing - plenty I SHOULD be doing, but I am distracted. My sister-in-law is going to give birth any minute...or hour... and Josh promised to call me when it's done. I keep wandering fitfully by my phone and picking it up. Talk to me. Tell me what's happening, I silently beg. It remains coy.

I sit here at the computer, the sound of playing kids washing over me.

And I wait.