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October 2010
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December 2010

Deep thoughts with Kira.

I don't understand gingerbread houses. I mean, are they supposed to be eaten? I'm not judging here, but rock-hard royal icing that's been chiselled off stale gingerbread doesn't say "treat" to me. I mean, I could totally see myself eating something like that in a PMS frenzy, but I would immediately proceed to be angry about it. Plus, I suspect that the type of people who really pour their hearts and soul into making these things are not the sorts to sit around, prying off old gumdrops with a butter knife and muttering darkly about a lack of proper chocolate on premises. So these things must be mostly decorative, right? So why are they made out of food? Do you people not have mice in your world?

Something else I don't understand - all the articles I see everywhere with tips for what to do with leftover mashed potatoes. Leftover. Mashed potatoes. They're all words I understand, but not together like that. Around here, if there are mashed potatoes left after the meal, when you retrieve them from the fridge, there is this...sound. Like the rumble of a faraway herd of feet, it buzzes in your ears, building in intensity, until your hand, still holding the tupperware container, is suddenly enveloped in a cloud of boys and mouths. "OH, are you eating that?" someone asks, and by the time you open your mouth to answer, the cloud is gone, leaving you holding an empty container. A single abandoned spoon spins on the floor. And your mashed potatoes are gone.

So I'm not really in the market for clever ways to use them up, is what I'm saying here.

Sophia has taken to saying, "What's this?" A lot. Sometimes it means "What's this?" Sometimes it means, "Oh, I see you are wearing a sparkly necklace that would look lovely draped over my head!" Sometimes it means, "Look! I see a brother, relaxing on the couch, thinking he can read his book in peace and quiet. Funny brother!" Sometimes it means, "I see that you are eating something yummy. Let's discuss." It's useful that way. So as you can imagine, she says it a lot. And although she's perfectly happy when she says it, something about her tweety intonation makes it sound like "What the-" to me, and I keep thinking she's about to launch into a profanity-laced diatribe. Fortunately, she hasn't. So far.

On Thanksgiving afternoon, Mom and I went with Tre and Max to see the new Harry Potter movie. On the way there, Mom and I were discussing a cough I can't seem to shake and whether or not it was caused by GERD(Mom's take: EVERYTHING is probably caused by GERD. Coughing, sleeplessness, sub-prime mortgage crisis. It's all GERD's fault. My take: Did you just call me old? I think you just called me old). From the back seat, Tre spoke up.

"Hey, you know, I'm not TWO," he said, putting on a perfectly annoyed teen tone. "You don't have to SPELL it around me. I know you're talking about gerd. Wait - what?"

I laughed so hard I nearly drove off the road. That kid, man. He cracks me up.


Besotted

One night last week, Sophia slept in our bed. Actually, it was somewhere between one and a million nights last week, I'm not sure. And "slept" should be in quotes there, implying the truth, which is that she slept, all sleep-splayed and satisfied, snorting snot-sloppy noises. Clay and I grimly clung to our respective edges of the mattress, feeling the roll edge pressing into our sides, catching brief moments of sleep, where we dreamed about being pushed off a cliff. Like that.

Anyhow, after one blissful night of "sleep," Sophia woke up about 6 AM. Clay was already up, getting ready for work. Sophia sat up and started frisking the pillows on his side of the bed, searching for him.

"He's in the kitchen, baby. Don't worry, he'll come in to say goodbye before he leaves."

Satisfied, she flopped back down and looked around. She spied the light above the bed and pointed at it.

"Daddy!"

"Yep, your daddy fixed that, didn't he?" A month or so ago, Sophia had climbed on our bed and grabbed the pull chain on the light, and gone all monkey on it. She'd broken the light, and left the globe dangling. It stayed like that for a few weeks before Clay had a day off and could climb up into the attic to fix it. He'd rewired it, too, so now it's turned on with a switch, removing the temptation of the pull cord for all monkeys concerned. This whole process was rather amazing to Sophia, and we talk about it a lot. Now she lolled there next to me, admiring the light and mulling it all over.

"Daddy...fissss."

"Yep, your daddy fixed that light."

"Mmmooooon."

"Wha? Moon? No, that's not the moon, baby. That's a light. The moon is outside." She swivelled to look outside. All that could be seen was a morning gray sky, the gray of a weathered wooden trellis, and gray winter honeysuckle vines. Moon outside? As if. She pointed insistantly at the light again.

"Mmmmoooon! Daddy fissss mooooon!"

"I see. Let's go see your daddy, shall we?" She brightened considerably at that and flung both arms at me. I wrapped an arm around her and we rolled out of bed. Clay was standing at the stove, making his breakfast, and turned around when he heard me padding out of the bedroom. I told him about the conversation Sophia and I had just had.

"So basically what I'm telling you is that your daughter believes that you LITERALLY hung the moon. In our room."

And it's true, she does. She sat on my hip and beamed at him. And the way he grinned at her, I suspect the feeling is fairly mutual.


A tiny pink ogre

Have. Mercy.

You know what's more demanding than a toddler? A sick toddler.

You know what cranks that demanding dial up another seventeen gazillion notches? A sick toddler on steroids.

So let me back up a little here. For the past week or so, there has been a cold, crawling its relentless way through the family. It started with Tre, and then Clay fell, then Max, then Raphael. It was your standard cold, with sneezing and bleary eyes and coughing. Gar. I hate the coughing. So I have spent the last week washing my hands obsessively, swallowing every supplement I could think of to keep myself well, and thinking fiercely about how I didn't intend for Sophia or me to get sick.

And that worked. For a while. Sophia woke up somewhere in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, and when I scooped her out of her crib, she was radiating feverish heat. Through the day she persisted in peakedness, saving the very best for the middle of the next night, when she woke up wheezing and coughing that tell-tale bark of a cough.

Croup. Stinking croup.

Four AM found Sophia and I in the bathroom, her looking in bewilderment at the hot water running full blast in the shower. I held her and worked on uncrossing my eyes. None of the boys ever had croup, and yet I'm already an expert in it. Let me explain it in the most precise terms here: croup sucks.

So fine, the next day we were away to the doctor, and that day she got her medicine - two doses of steroids to take down the swelling in her throat. That stuff works, I'll give it that. By the time she went to bed last night, she was breathing clear again. She slept fairly well last night.

She needed her energy to be a tiny pink ogre.

All day today she was an insane little crazy child. Nothing made her happy. The first day she was sick, I was drinking some tea that she didn't like the taste of. So she sat on my lap, and every time I took a sip, she screamed. Today I wished I could have that gentle, reasonable child back.

She screamed if I tried to put her down. She screamed if her brothers stood too close to her. She screamed if I touched the newspaper. She screamed if I tried to eat something. And forget offering her anything to eat (although she was open to eating chunks of butter, and when I nixed that idea, she...screamed).

All day long she was little princess mood swing. At one point I picked her up, sighing a little that there was no way to cuddle her without bringing The Voice so close to my ears. Once she was up in my arms, she curled against my chest. She grabbed a strand of my hair with gentle fingertips and croaked "mm-hmmm, mm-hmmm, mm-hmmm," our favorite baby-soothing sound, in a squawky sweet voice. I melted. Poor little pumpkin. I stroked her hair and murmured, "Oh, sweetie, you just don't feel good, do you?"

And she sat up, screamed in rage, and smacked me in the face.

I was not, it seems, invited to speak.

So that was our day. And tonight, in leiu of going to sleep, Sophia started coughing until she gagged herself and threw up all over both me and Clay. Now she's staggering around, so tired. I'm so tired. Clay is tired, although he won't admit it.

I'm not sure which of us I feel most sorry for.

Okay, it's her.

But it's pretty darn close.


I know...too!

You know how children change your vocabulary? I'm not talking about how they tend to strip the best cuss words out of your mouth the first time your little cherub lets loose with with a chirpy rendition of what you just called the driver in front of you. I mean the way parents tend to adopt their children's mispronunciations and unique phrases make them into their own family language. For example, I will always think of an egg as "one white one," because that's what Raphael called them. Ha! Little punk! And at bedtime around here you can frequently hear people wish each other "weemies," which is how Max once said "sweet dreams." And you would be surprised how often one can use the phrase "slubby pee head." Truly.

Well, Sophia is simply a wealth of this sort of language these days. We're all saying "date doo" for "thank you," and ice cream has become "I meeen" forever and always, amen. But probably the favorite is how she says "I love you."

The boys in particular love this, and are forever getting in her face and saying, "Sophia? Hey, Sophia?" (Sophia is a busy girl, with many other things to attend to, and doesn't always have time for her brothers' tomfoolery.) "Sophia, I love you." If she feels like it, she croons back, "I know...too." Which MEANS "I love you too," but I swear to you, it sounds exactly like she's telling them DUH, of course you love me. I'm awesome. In a sweet little chirp of a voice, naturally.

So we all go around telling each other "I know!" and responding "I know, too!" and it's a little nauseating, but I discovered today that it also has its advantages.

This afternoon I was taking Tre to meet the rest of the family at the allergist's office. Clay and I were going to do a child shuffle and then on into the rest of the day and a million details that oh I wasn't going to bore you with, but look where we are now. Oops.

Anyhow, there we were, buzzing along, just me and Tre and Sophia, who was contentedly calling hellos at passing cars. Whenever I'm alone with Tre these days, I find myself driven to discuss important issues, just so I can be sure to get all the information to him. So I end up torturing him regularly with talks about sex and drugs and truly seedy things like politics. You can just imagine how much he cherishes this time.

Today he was telling me about a couple at school that broke up, and I was somehow compelled by that to launch into a lecture about relationships.

"You know, you don't HAVE to be dating someone to be normal, honey. You guys are still very young, and there's plenty of time for that." He gave me the sort of eye roll that required his entire head to loll around on his shoulders, so great was his appreciation for my insight.

"I KNOW, Mom."

"Awww, that's sweet, honey. I know too! But as I was saying, relationships are complicated things, and there's no need to rush into one. It's not some sort of trophy you need to get ahold of or something."

"Yes, Mother, I KNOW."

"Aren't you adorable? I know TOO! Just remember that girls aren't just, you know, GIRLS, they're people! And that's one of the fun things about this time in your life, getting to know lots of different people. Eventually you'll recognize the sort of person you like to be around, whether it's a friend or a girlfriend. There really is no rush."

By this point he was making this noise that suggested he might be choking on his tongue, which is a sign of a truly successful talk. I know, kid. I really do.


Entirely her own self

A few days ago I was getting Sophia dressed for the day. Everything was going fine until I grabbed her brown shoes and started fitting one onto her foot. She let out a shriek of protest and squirmed out of my grasp.

"No!" she bellowed, "NO! Hoose! HOOOOSE!" She pointed across the room.

"But...these ARE shoes," I said, confused. Then I looked over my shoulder where she was pointing.

She wanted her OTHER shoes. The black patent leather ones. Totally impractical, but as I told Clay later, she was right. They WERE the right shoes for the outfit. Plus, she was just so very CERTAIN.

So mark it. Nineteen months old and she's got shoe opinions. The boys have yet to care about which shoes they wear, except to always prefer ones that don't need to be tied. This means that flip-flops and snow boots are in the same category of footwear for them - "awesome" and "what do you MEAN I can't wear these to church?"

(That's not entirely true. Tre surprised me a few months ago by campaigning heavily for a pair of Converse. Not only did they have to be Converse, but NOT high tops. I don't understand. But then, I'm still surprised that he's fifteen too, and you'd think I'd have seen that one coming.)

That night, Clay was getting Sophia ready for bed, and I overheard them having a small skirmish. Actually, Sophia was waging a shrieked-earth campaign of sorts, and Clay was trying to reason with her. I poked my head around the corner to see what was happening.

Sophia had one pair of jammies on (the pink kitty ones), and was insisting - INSISTING that she needed a second pair on top. Clay pulled the second bottoms on, muttering, "you're not being reasonable, little girl." She was unpreturbed by his assessment and scooped up the purple flowered top and shoved it at him. She offered him her head, so he could pull the top over it. And he did.

She looked a little...padded, with both pairs of jammies on. But she could not have been more pleased with herself. She trotted away, and we watched her go. She is not, in fact, reasonable.

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But she is entirely her own self.


Where there is life, there is...another opportunity to do something stupid.

Clay picked the boys up at Monday school today, so I didn't get the story until I got home later. Raphael approached me, with hands that were just a little too busy and eyes that wouldn't quite meet mine.

"Something happened today, and I have to tell you about it." I looked at him and knew this would require sitting and listening with feigned calm. So we adjourned to the kitchen and sat around the table, Raphael between Clay and me, fidgeting like mad.

Apparently he'd gotten in trouble, not two minutes after I hugged him goodbye. He'd been PLAYING, he said, and he didn't ever hear the other boy tell him to stop, and anyhow, he'd sort of...slapped this other boy - "LIGHTLY slapped him!" - and the slapped kid got mad and told on Raphi. And since it was at the end of assembly, before the kids went to class, the director of the program was there to talk to him. So was her boss, the regional director of these programs in the state. The big guy.

"Oooooo," Tre commented helpfully from the other room. And he was shushed but yeah. Ooooooo.

Anyhow, what they had to say to him was that what he'd done was bullying behavior, and wouldn't be tolerated at school. That if he did anything like that again, he'd be sent home, and if it happened again after that, he wouldn't be allowed back. Expelled.

I listened, thinking things very loudly in my head - bullying? Isn't that a bit of an overreaction? And yet, on the other hand, what the hell? Since when is slapping someone play? Why does he always have to be so over the top? But he isn't a BULLY, for heaven's sake. Is he? Holy cow, if he gets expelled, I will lose my mind.

I kept the voices on the inside of my head and merely said that I hoped he heard what he'd been told today and would take it to heart. Here's the part I really really don't want to tell you. He got in trouble for the very same thing just a month or so ago. I really thought he'd understood at the time. He was so sorry...

All evening I've been combing through my thoughts about Raphael and his situation. I know I have a tendency to...overlook Raphael's worst moments. He is my baby, and I can tell you a million reasons why his behavior isn't that bad and he's always deserving of another chance. I see his heart, and I know it's good.

You understand, don't you, that all the previous paragraph says to me is "Nice job, Kira. He's a monster and it's all your fault."

If there's one thing the voices in my head can agree on, it's that it's all my fault.

As I lay next to Raphi in his bed tonight, bestowing the nightly cuddle, I thought about him and his good heart and my endless desire to excuse him. Having goodness isn't any use if it's not what he shows the rest of the world. Just as much as he needs to try harder to show other people respect by keeping his dang hands off them, I need to try harder to require him to toe the line.

Again.

This is a lesson I keep learning, and keep having to learn. Things swing so very quickly from lighten up, already, Kira right around to HEY, who is in charge around here?

I don't want Raphael to look like he did today, a mixture of scared and embarrassed and misunderstood. I don't want him to find himself on the wrong side of the line, to look up and discover that he's screwed up again. The truth is (the problem is) that I really don't want him to hurt or struggle.

But he will, and he must.

And although he can't really understand this, I will be trying harder right alongside him.


Fear not

I got a call this morning from Tre's school. Actually, a robo-call, which I simply cannot get enough of - except, perhaps, for the time they accidentally set the call to go out at 1 AM, and I was jolted out of a deep sleep to hear the robotic voice urge me to make every effort to get my student to school on time. That was annoying.

This time, however, the call started with "Hello, [Tre's school] parents. Please do not be alarmed."

It immediately made me think of biblical stories of angels, urging the person they're appearing to not to be afraid. I've always thought opening with that would be, right off the bat, somewhat frightening. And maybe it's because it wasn't an angelic voice on the line, but a robot, but sure enough, I felt an automatic surge of anxiety.

Apparently there was a lockdown at the school today. A woman had wandered in off the street, made comments about killing herself, and then disappeared. Although all doors were locked as soon as the office was notified, and the police were called, she was gone before anyone got there. They did say she was found, safe, at home later. It made me wonder though...how do you find an unknown person's home? It sounds like the kind of happy ending you make up for a child to tie up a discomfiting story.

When the message was over, I pressed the button to hang the phone up, very softly, and sat still. I had a moment of anger at the poor woman for picking a school for her event. I mean, holy cry for help, batman. Couldn't she have picked the nearby Starbucks? Dairy Queen? Any other building that didn't have four hundred children in it?

But hey, I suppose being angry at someone with obvious mental health issues for not looking around and making the best choices is like being angry at someone in a blindfold for not appreciating the sunrise. I hope she really was found at home, and is safe tonight.

About a week after Tre started school, an elementary school in town was locked down because of a guy with a gun. No one was hurt, as I remember, but I listened to the reports in a cold sweat, imagining Tre behind those locked doors. I wasn't sure I would survive the wait to know that he was okay. I was still getting used to the idea of my child living so much of his life out there, away from us. Everything seemed so very insecure, like the feeling of driving down the road with no seatbelt.

I waited, today, for thepanic to come. But although the situation sounded very strange and very sad, I believed that Tre was fine. I wanted to hear what he thought about it, but I doubted it was a terrible experience for him (as it turns out, he thought it was just a drill all along. His English teacher had refused to interrupt class and turn off the lights like he was supposed to, a sentiment I sort of sympathized with).

It's not like I believe the school to be unassailably safe. Even if it were, there is ample opportunity for disaster on the drive there and home every day. From every direction, in every situation, I can imagine a thousand forces that threaten the people I love. And there are a thousand more that I can't imagine.

But I choose not to devote too much time to the work of mentally fencing off the possibilities. Something terrible could happen, it's true. But if I capitulate to the fear, something terrible has already happened.

For tonight we are all here, and we are all okay. I am not alarmed.


Actual conversation I just had with my husband.

Him: Guess what I'm going to do tomorrow.

Me: What?

Him: GUESS!

Me: Um...run a marathon.

Him: No.

Me: Plant a tree.

Him: No.

Me: Bake a cake.

Him: Closer!

Me: Uh...bake a...pie?

Him: No...but closer!

Me: I give up.

Him: I'm going to throw away my underwear.

Me: How is that like baking a pie?

Him: Well, it's closer to it than PLANTING A TREE.

Me: I stand corrected.


Halloween 2010 - the report

I don't know why I believe you all want to see the costumes my children wore for Halloween. I do, though. I BELIEVE you want to know.

Plus, if I don't write it down, I'll never remember. And this is the only place I ever "write it down." So.

Tre just wasn't sure he could still get away with trick-or-treating. He's so very OLD you know. And mature. In the end he allowed as how he could probably skate by this year by taking Sophia on the rounds. I didn't notice until later that he somehow ended up staying out with the group long after Sophia had been returned to me at the house. Next year, he promises, he's staying home. Probably.

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Can you guess what his costume is? He's a chick magnet. Ha!

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We made the chicks ourselves.

Max, with characteristic quirky confidence, has known for months that he'd dress up as a rapper. He had almost everything he needed already (that's his dad's shirt, and his brother's pants. The attitude is all his). He just had to find the right bling - and he did. Best bling $14.95 can buy.

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He felt quite certain that the cup added to the look. Also - I did not realize this - rappers wear an OFFENSIVE amount of Axe. Gag.

I kept trying to convince Raphael that he wanted to make up his own costume. I hunted for good ideas and practically stalked him, struggling in vain to tempt him away from the bag-o-plastic crap costumes. "You could have a CLOCK and a BIG FAKE KNIFE and be 'killing time!' GET IT?" But he was unimpressed by my clever ideas. Finally I realized, with a jolt, that this might be the last year any child of mine wants to dress up as a Star Wars character. Better late than never, I let it go.

Here he's being Darth Vader, having a bad hair day.

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He says, "This is not he baby boy you are looking for." But his mind tricks do not work on me.

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Sophia is still my dress-up doll at times like this. I am enjoying it, and I'm not afraid to admit it. Clay brought home a lion costume for her that was lovely and plush and...whatever. Fine. But I pointed out that it was a BOY LION and I did not wait fifteen years to finally dress my daughter in a BOY'S COSTUME, as empowering and gender-role-challenging as that might be.

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Sophia was a ladybug.

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I like to think the hole in her tights gave her a sort of punk ladybug cred. Which is just as empowering as challenging any old gender roles.

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And there they are, my dangerous crew. Aren't they lovely? They scored an obscene amount of candy, which I am raiding unabashedly. Halloween 2010. It didn't suck.