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December 2013
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February 2014

Stair salt

It snowed last night, and this morning I was driving with Sophia and Max in the car. I fretted about the snowy roads, and Sophia hastened to assure me that the people who drive the snowplows had already put down salt, which was sand, which made it not slippery. Sophia is not entirely clear on the process, but she is entirely confident in the abilities of the people in charge to make the roads safe. 

This led to a conversation about salt being used to melt ice, and it jostled free a memory.

When Tre was two, we lived in an apartment. The second floor, actually, and the stairs up to our front door were outside. During snowy weather, the management company would send someone around to heavily salt the stairs, which were always in shade and so would never melt otherwise. Tre was fascinated by the salt, the large bluish-white crystals that looked nothing like the stuff in the shaker on the table. But we CALLED it salt, and he was possessed of a burning desire to taste it.

I was pregnant with Max at the time, so we would make our way up the stairs like this: I would grip the railing with one hand, dangling whatever had to be carried up from my wrist. The other hand gripped Tre's pudgy hand, and we each planted one foot on the stair in front of us and hauled the rest of ourselves up to meet it. 

It took a while. 

The whole way up, Tre leaned in toward the stair in front of him, his head cocked to the side so he could watch me with one eye and then reach energetically in the opposite direction with his tongue. 

"Tre." I said, for the one trillionth time, "Do not lick the stairs. That salt is not for eating. It will make you sick." And he knew I was going to say that and I knew he couldn't help it, he wanted SO BAD to taste the salt, and over and over we made our way up the stair, my hand tugging his hand back, keeping his tender pink tongue safe from the bite of the stair salt. 

And see? That was my job. It was what I was supposed to do, for multiple years. Not just the stair salt, but other things. I kept him from running out in the road and from eating things off the floor. I buckled him in his car seat and wiped off his face after he'd painted it with pudding. It was my job, and if I'd shrugged and let go of that soft hand, let him dive into the stair salt or whatever terrible idea he'd conceived of at the moment, I would have been a bad mother. 

But now he's pulling free anyhow, and somehow it's my job to let go. He didn't get into his first choice college, it turns out. But while he was waiting to hear, he figured out that his second choice was a better choice anyhow, and the fact that it's out of state doesn't change that for him.

I don't want him two states away. It feels wrong, on a cellular level. How can he go so far away? How can my hands be free of the job of keeping him alive? Everyone assures me that this is good and right, that he has to be free to make his own decisions, and that he probably won't go lick the stairs.

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I know it's true. It just doesn't feel true. 


An Epic Gerbil Tale - almost too terrible to tell.

A few months ago, at Raphael's Monday school, a family was giving away scads of gerbils. Apparently one of their group of females was...not female. And now they had scads. Raphael accosted me when I walked in the door, with a gerbil in his hand and hope in his eyes. He'd been talking about getting a rat for forever, and here was a gerbil! Ohbytheway, gerbils are very social and shouldn't be alone, so we need to get two.

Call me a sucker if you will, but we did. We took home a sleek charcoal girl and her energetic caramel colored sister. Raphael let Sophia name the dark gray one, and she dubbed her Sabrina.

Sabrina tube

 

The other one, the zingy lighter colored one, was named Pigwigeon. See her there, next to the toilet paper tube? 

Gerbil watching 2

That's a terrible picture. It will have to do.

So the whole gerbil info is just back story. Here's some more: Clay is not a huge fan of our cat, Melody. They get along okay, because Melody is smart enough to learn from being hissed at a few times that she's not welcome on Clay's side of the bed. They coexist fine, but it's not exactly an song of love and devotion between the two, is what I'm saying.

So you'll imagine my surprise when Clay came into the bathroom during my bath the other night, smiling broadly. 

"Melody is the BEST CAT EVER," he announced.

"What? Why?"

"She is just so SMART!"

"What happened?"

"She is just SUCH a good cat!"

"IS MELODY DEAD?"

"What? No! She killed a mouse."

Apparently she'd caught a mouse and delivered it, dead, to Max. For Clay, whose main objection to Melody was that she was useless, this meant she was now his favorite cat ever. He even pet her. Twice.

In the early, dark hours of the morning, I was startled awake by a sound downstairs. I sat up and listened, but there was nothing for a moment. Then I heard the scrabble and thump of a cat chasing prey. And I don't know how I knew, but my heart stopped, and this thought resounded in my head.

THE GERBILS.

I ran downstairs, where I found the gerbil cage, open. Beneath it Melody crouched, her eyes fixed on Sabrina. I shooed Melody away and rooted frantically through the bedding on the bottom of the cage. Pigwigeon wasn't there. She just wasn't there. I snapped the door shut, then sat down on the floor a few feet away to watch Melody. I figured if Pigwigeon had gotten out and taken refuge somewhere, Melody would smell her and show me where she is.

Every hunterly nerve in Melody was alight. She stalked around the room, paused to glare out the window, then returned to her spot under the cage, staring at it as though it were a treat dispenser. When she brushed past me, I reached out to stroke her, and she flinched and skittered sideways, before blinking and hurrying over to rub against me, as though she'd just remembered she knows me. 

Eventually I went back upstairs and told Clay. He and I searched under furniture with flashlights until the sun was up. There was no Pigwigeon. 

It was Sunday morning, and we had a few hours before leaving for Mass. We decided not to tell Raphael, because he had a concert that day, followed by a sleep over at a friend's house. It was too much. Plus, the absolute worst part of it all was that Raphael had left the cage open. The very last thing he'd done before bed was give them fresh water. I couldn't bear making him shoulder that burden just yet. So all morning long we kept distracting him from the gerbils the best we could. That went well enough, it seemed. I was upstairs, finishing my makeup, minutes from walking out the door, when I heard him call shakily, "Mom? Where's Pigwigeon? She's gone, Mom. SHE'S NOT HERE."

Clay and I exchanged quick but heartfelt OH SHOOT looks, then went downstairs to tell him. He took the news stoically, nodding and pinching his lips together. Immediately, he latched upon the idea that Pigwigeon was still alive, hiding somewhere in the house. He took handfuls of gerbil food and placed piles of it under every likely piece of furniture. "We'll know if it's Pigwigeon, because she likes the sunflower seeds best," he promised us. I went back upstairs to finish getting ready. A few minutes later, Raphael wandered in. It was sinking in, and it was awful. He called himself names, and barely allowed me to hug him. I said a variety of useless things, and my heart broke for him. He pulled free from me and went back downstairs.

I would have expected that to be the end of the story, I really would have. But just a few minutes later, I heard Clay call my name. He sounded so strange that I dashed down the stairs, which had apparently become my major activity in life.

Clay and Raphael were in the laundry room, and Clay was pulling the spare refrigerator away from the wall. Raphi was shaking all over. "I saw her, I saw her! It was Pig! She's under the freezer!" He'd been coming back from putting gerbil food in Tre's room when he saw her. 

Clay, Raphael, and I took strategic positions on the floor. Sophia hopped back and forth between us, asking questions. And Pigwigeon scurried back and forth behind the freezer, terrified. She would stick her nose out far enough to sniff Raphael's fingertips, but she seemed almost impossible to catch. Minutes ticked by and she just barely eluded us all.

Until Clay leapt up, one freaked out gerbil in his hands. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried. We returned her to the cage, where she was thoroughly groomed by Sabrina, and then the humans all hugged and repeated parts of the capture, as though we hadn't all been there the whole time. 

And now all is well, although it occurs to me that we've recently had at least one mouse in the house, and now there is rodent food scattered all over the downstairs floors. 

Ah well. Melody doesn't think that's a bad idea at all.

 


Random thoughts, college application edition

I'm looking at the day in front of me, and it's ridiculous. The driving! The scheduling! I need to be in four different places between 4 and 6 PM, and at least two of them are downtown, during rush hour. I'm thinking I really need a sister wife, but I'm trying to figure out how to word that personals ad. "Wanted, one sister wife to share driving and house care duties. Independently wealthy preferred. Keep your damn hands off my husband." It's possible I don't have the proper heart for that lifestyle. 

This weekend Max spent in a whirl of social activity. At least, it looked whirl-like to me. He went to the movies on Friday with a gaggle of boys, then back to one of their houses to play one of those vicious video games that are so very appealing to boy gaggles. There was food, and the hostess of the evening told me that Max informed her that we never feed him, the adorable little jackass. Then the next day another friend of his came over so they could work on making a forge. You know. Like, for melting metal. And we let them. Clay even gave them tools. I'm wondering if this was...wise. They didn't finish it, but they did spend a lovely afternoon huddled over various dangerous implements in the driveway, surrounded by the muck of melting snow. There are plans in place for finishing it.

And yet, despite all the movie watching and game playing and other people's food eating and forge building and air hockey playing, Max apparently has All The Things To Say to his friends, because he does nothing except text ever, world without end, amen. He's very polite about not pulling out his phone at the dinner table, but it sits in his pocket, vibrating evilly, and I'm sort of considering stabbing it with a wooden stake. Too much? 

Tre is in the thick of college application trauma. He's been accepted at his #2 choice, which...okay. It's not #2 on MY list, but apparently that's not the point? But he's still waiting to hear from his #1 choice, and it's going to kill us both dead. Every day I text him when the mail arrives, to tell him there's no letter yet. This weekend he's supposed to go out of state for a robotics competition, and if his letter arrives when he's gone, he wants me to Skype him so he can see it first. I don't think my heart can take all of this. On top of that, he keeps saying the strangest things, like, "I just realized this is my last semester of high school," which makes no sense at all, because he clearly has years and years and years of high school left, because he's my widdle boy, yes he is, shut up. 

Sophia is sort of obsessed with the idea of having a baby, and she frequently interrupts conversations to assure me that she'll call me after her baby comes out. There have been many questions about how that happens, can you tell? So here are the choices she's currently made for her life: she's going to have at least one child, she plans to have a home birth, and she's going to have her own phone. All of this sounds about as plausible and immediate as Tre going to college in the fall. It's possible someone here is in an eeeinsy bit of denial, but I couldn't imagine who it is. 


Random thoughts, college application edition

I'm looking at the day in front of me, and it's ridiculous. The driving! The scheduling! I need to be in four different places between 4 and 6 PM, and at least two of them are downtown, during rush hour. I'm thinking I really need a sister wife, but I'm trying to figure out how to word that personals ad. "Wanted, one sister wife to share driving and house care duties. Independently wealthy preferred. Keep your damn hands off my husband." It's possible I don't have the proper heart for that lifestyle. 

This weekend Max spent in a whirl of social activity. At least, it looked whirl-like to me. He went to the movies on Friday with a gaggle of boys, then back to one of their houses to play one of those vicious video games that are so very appealing to boy gaggles. There was food, and the hostess of the evening told me that Max informed her that we never feed him, the adorable little jackass. Then the next day another friend of his came over so they could work on making a forge. You know. Like, for melting metal. And we let them. Clay even gave them tools. I'm wondering if this was...wise. They didn't finish it, but they did spend a lovely afternoon huddled over various dangerous implements in the driveway, surrounded by the muck of melting snow. There are plans in place for finishing it.

And yet, despite all the movie watching and game playing and other people's food eating and forge building and air hockey playing, Max apparently has All The Things To Say to his friends, because he does nothing except text ever, world without end, amen. He's very polite about not pulling out his phone at the dinner table, but it sits in his pocket, vibrating evilly, and I'm sort of considering stabbing it with a wooden stake. Too much? 

Tre is in the thick of college application trauma. He's been accepted at his #2 choice, which...okay. It's not #2 on MY list, but apparently that's not the point? But he's still waiting to hear from his #1 choice, and it's going to kill us both dead. Every day I text him when the mail arrives, to tell him there's no letter yet. This weekend he's supposed to go out of state for a robotics competition, and if his letter arrives when he's gone, he wants me to Skype him so he can see it first. I don't think my heart can take all of this. On top of that, he keeps saying the strangest things, like, "I just realized this is my last semester of high school," which makes no sense at all, because he clearly has years and years and years of high school left, because he's my widdle boy, yes he is, shut up. 

Sophia is sort of obsessed with the idea of having a baby, and she frequently interrupts conversations to assure me that she'll call me after her baby comes out. There have been many questions about how that happens, can you tell? So here are the choices she's currently made for her life: she's going to have at least one child, she plans to have a home birth, and she's going to have her own phone. All of this sounds about as plausible and immediate as Tre going to college in the fall. It's possible someone here is in an eeeinsy bit of denial, but I couldn't imagine who it is. 


Practice imperfect

Last night, after prayers, I told Sophia to scoot over to Amma and Appa's (my mom and dad) to say goodbye. They were leaving in the morning to drive out to California. Sophia trotted over there, before I changed my mind. Post prayer excursions next door are strictly verboten, because it is bedtime, and lo, let nothing interrupt bedtime lest Mama's head explodes.

I expected her to exploit the deviation, but she came back quickly. And then she burst into wails of sorrow, and flung herself at my chest. It took a few minutes to get her to calm down enough to explain that she was sad that Amma and Appa were leaving. She was going to miss them.

They're going to my Great Uncle Merrill's funeral. He was my Grandpa Max's brother. We knew he was dying, but somehow I convinced myself that everyone was wrong, and he wasn't going to die. Maybe ever. When Clay came to tell me he'd died, I fell apart and cried. People are dumb. 

I was actually taking a bath then, when Clay told me about Uncle Merrill, and Clay sat on the edge of the tub and patted my knee while I blubbered. He loves me, he does. 

"But that's it, right?" I asked him, finally. 

"What?"

"No more people we love are going to die? We're done now. Right?"

"Well...that's it for Uncle Merrill."

And I probably shouldn't admit this, but that made me laugh and laugh. I love him, I do.

The other day Raphael told me (in the midst of a never ending torrent of random thoughts) that he'd just picked up a piece of paper and, without measuring, folded it into perfect thirds. 

"PERFECT thirds!" he crowed.

This doesn't surprise me, actually, because Raphael folds paper somewhat compulsively. We actually have to swat his fingers away from the hymnals in church sometimes, because he just doesn't realize what he's doing. Every scrap of paper that crosses his path is nothing more (or less) than potential origami.

"See," I told him, irrepressibly imparting truth, "that's what practice does for you. It makes something that used to be hard feel effortless."

I thought of Raphel's perfect thirds as Sophia wept into my shirt, thought about her missing her grandparents and feeling that loss. I think I was wrong.

Practice doesn't always make things easier. Not always. 

 


Blue Christmas

There are two things about Max that you need to know here: 1) he's pretty much unafraid of being seen as weird. Actually, I think he finds it kind of appealing. And 2) he is physically incapable of looking at a camera and not making a strange face. Dork.

Oh, and I guess 3) he got a box of blue hair dye for Christmas. That Santa, man. He's SO on the kids' side. 

Actually, I don't mind one bit. I even helped him last night, because it's quite a process.

First we had to paint his hair with bleach, which stunk and apparently was very itchy.

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The best way to pass the HOUR while your hair processes here is to race around the house, complaining about the itching. Pause for a picture that makes you look insane and/or naked.

I can promise you he's not naked. 

When he finally washed out the bleach, his hair was a shade I described as assaulting. He sort of loved it though, and if there'd been enough bleach to do a more even job, he might have left his hair like this.

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He took seven bazillion selfies of his orange hair, and that is literally the most normal one. 

Next we slathered petroleum jelly on his forehead, ears, and neck in a (futile, as it turned out) attempt to keep the inky blue dye from staining his skin. Here are a few Max quotes from the actual dying experience:

"Petroleum jelly? What is THAT? Can I eat it on my toast?"

"Mmmmm. Toast."

(Upon seeing my blue-smeared glove) "OH NO, it looks like you SQUEEEZED an ALIEN until it POPPED!"

"Did you dye my forehead? DID YOU? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?"

"I can't believe you ruined my life by dying my forehead. Why did you make me do this?"

"I'm sorry, Mommy, please don't squeeze me like an alien!"

"Can I wash it off now?"

"How about now?"

"Now?"

"Now?"

"Now?"

(After an hour had passed, when I finally told him to go wash his hair) "Wait. I'm doing something."

Finally it was done, the floor of my shower was indelibly blue, and Max looked amazing.

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But still unable to take a normal picture.