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September 2004
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November 2004

The Halloween Post

The boys just went out to trick or treat, followed closely by two doting grandparents. I HATE trick or treating, and tend to beg off with the excuses, “But SOMEONE has to hand out candy!” and, “Hey! I got the costumes.”
This year my weaseling was especially fortuitous. Right now it’s raining, drizzling icy drops on all those gorgeous children and their doting adults. This means that by staying home I have a) successfully avoided getting cold and wet and b) am here, alone with all the candy, on an extraordinarily low attendance Halloween.
Life is good.
Now, lest you think I’m a horrible human being, sending my parents out into the cold like that, my mom JUST came home to get a bag. It seems the boys’ buckets are getting too full, and they need something to empty them into so they can continue. She dug out a Wal-Mart bag, telling me over her shoulder, “OH MY GOODNESS, it’s so cold out there!”
“Um…yeah. Have fun!”
She turned back to me, eyes shining, cheeks bright red.
“IT IS fun!” Her coat glistened with raindrops, and she shook them out of her hair. “It’s a special experience, I’ll tell ya.”
And with that she was gone again, out the door to dote in the rain.
There are plenty of reasons for me to be grateful to my parents. The sacrifices they’ve made on the behalf of me and my boys tops that list. Plus the car they bought me when I turned 20 (even though I smashed it up two years later), and the whole giving me life deal. All good things, for which I’m grateful.
But tonight? Tonight they deserve a medal, trooping around out there in the rain.
To be here, warm and dry, pitching large fistfuls of candy into the bags of the few trick or treaters that stop by is a fine, fine way to spend your Halloween.
And now my favorite Halloween quotes!

Raphael (a solid and menacing dinosaur), stood with his chin sturdily raised so I could fasten his dinosaur head on, “Mama, yoo jus’ gotta be scared ok? But NOT YET. Because I’m jus’ Raphayell now. Jus’ wait.”

Max (a soldier, complete with tons of gear) was grimacing and posing with the knife from his costume, and I gave him my best mock shudder. “Oh, am I supposed to be scared of you, Honey?”
“Nah.” He gestured at his outfit, “I’m not a BAD guy. I’m a HERO.”
“Oh, good then.”
He turned on his heel to go.
“Well, I gotta go kill some guys now.”
Way to compartmentalize, Baby.

Tre offered me his blue gloved finger.
“Taste it!” I looked doubtful. “Go ON! Just lick it! Please? Please taste it?”
I touched my tongue gingerly to his finger tip and grimaced.
“I KNOW! Doesn’t it taste AWFUL? The whole COSTUME tastes gross!”
Thanks for sharing.

A perfect autumn

This has been the most beautiful fall. It stretches on and on, uninterrupted by the usual surprise snowstorm. The weather is perfect. The mornings are crisp, making me pull on a jacket. By afternoon the sun causes me to shrug the jacket off my shoulders, drape it over the nearest chair, and forget it. ‘Tis ideal jacket losing weather.
Our back yard is shaded by the neighbor’s tree. It’s a huge sweeping maple tree, and it loses its leaves late in the season. Most years that means its color changing cycle is short-circuited by an early blast of winter. The leaves, half green, half yellow, are frozen and sodden under an early October snowstorm. When the snow melts, the tree is left half full of brown leaves that cling to the branches for most of the winter. But this year, no snow has interrupted it. I stand in the back yard, marveling at its yellow ruffled leaves against the bright blue Colorado sky. This morning we discovered most of its leaves on the lawn and OH the joy. Instead of sopping wet mounds of icy leaves, there were mountains of crisp, light leaves in which to play.
Colorado tends to have ragged seasons. The early warm days of spring are not to be trusted, because you can be sure more snow and frost is to come. The warmest summer is punctuated by misty cold 60 degree days. It’s nice in winter, when a week of single digit weather is followed by a string of 70 degree days. But it does tend to undermine the joy of fall, when the air is warm one day, crisp the next, and freezing the next. Return to crisp, if you want, it’s impossible to enjoy then. The mood is broken.
But oh, not this year. This year has been an uninterrupted sweep of fall, complete with brilliant colors and moderate temperatures.
To sum up…

Continue reading "A perfect autumn" »

The problem with having a dog...

So Carmelita is indeed the best dog. We love her. One of my favorite things about having a dog is narrating their thoughts. It’s just that their thoughts are so very OBVIOUS. It’s like they’re printed in a thought bubble that floats above their heads, and I simply can’t resist doing a dramatic reading.
For example, today, every time anyone walked in the general direction of the back door, Carmi hopped up to follow them.
She trotted over and put her nose to the door, then glanced back over her shoulder.
Someone opened the door and Carmi leaped through the gap, tail working double time.
Then the door closed behind her, and she turned around to find herself outside. Alone. She picked up the ball and looked back inside, eyes brimming with sorrow.
See? Here it is…the ball.
I used to love it so much, when you threw the ball. And I’d go chase it…

She trailed off sadly, and gazed out into the empty yard. After a moment or two, she heaved a sorrowful sigh and sank down to the ground. She fixed her eyes on the door.
Someone will come. They can’t resist the ball forever.
She’s usually right.
But the thing is, she does this many gazillion times a day, and I can’t resist narrating it EVERY SINGLE TIME.
Yeah. My family’s starting to think I’m nuts.
Dumb dog.

Election Year Thoughts

You wanna know what’s really irritating? When the phone rings, and I answer it with a cheery “hello,” thinking it’s a FRIEND or my MOTHER or someone I want to talk to, and INSTEAD of it being a PERSON, it’s a recorded ELECTION MESSAGE. “Hello, this is Some Local Politician, urging you to blah blah blah.”
That’s irritating.
You know what’s EVEN MORE IRRITATING? When it’s not some earnest politician’s recording, but the blaring voice of some actor, pretending to be a “BIG BUCKS DEVELOPER,” urging me NOT TO VOTE for some issue or other, because then he can continue stealing my money and building shabby homes and blah blah blah. That’s irritating. And loud.
You know what’s EVEN MORE IRRITATING? When it’s not a recording, but an achingly sincere volunteer, who is having trouble with his script, but rilly RILLY wants to urge me to blah blah blah, and because he’s so EARNEST and I’m such a SUCKER I end up listening to him.
That’s irritating.
You know what’s EVEN MORE IRRITATING? When I finally DO hang up, and minutes later the same earnest soul calls on my parent’s line and before I can interrupt his flow of sincerity he’s stumbled his way through half his speech, thereby wasting MORE OF MY TIME.
That’s irritating.
You know what’s EVEN MORE IRRITATING? When the other political party calls on MY PHONE, asking to speak to my ex. While I can see where you’d want him on your side, to complete your axis of evil, HE DOESN’T LIVE HERE. Like, in this STATE. And NO, I don’t want to talk to you. Don’t SPEAK HIS NAME TO ME, then expect me to LISTEN to you. Gah. Don’t you have some MUD to SLING?
That’s irritating.
But you know what’s REALLY IRRITATING?
People who are so ANNOYED by the whole process that they opt out of their American duty to vote, already.
Get over it and study up, people. Test day’s coming.

Living in hope

Last week I went to some friends’ house, to play dominos. There was a small group of us, and sitting to my left was a man, a new friend. It was a lively group, lots of laughing and conversation, but between he and I there was another, silent conversation all night long, consisting of casual touches. My fingers would brush his arm; his hand would rest on the back of my chair. Under the table our knees would bump, and we’d make quick eye contact. It was choreography of nonverbal messages.
I’m here.
I see you.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, I don’t have to tell you my heart was in my throat. Scary stuff. But there I was.

Between rounds we turned the dominos face down and shuffled them, sliding them around the table underneath our hands. They clicked softly against each other and as I listened to them and felt their smooth coolness beneath my fingers, I remembered the last time I played dominos.
When I was in collage, I used to go visit Mrs. Porter. She was in her eighties, and her short term memory was failing her, but due to a complicated support system, she was able to live on her own. She had a small, sunshine drenched apartment, filled with items that reminded her of stories from her past. She loved her home, and moved quietly through its rooms, touching her scraps of memory, dusting them and enjoying them again and again.
I would visit her for an hour or two, twice a week. Every week we would play dominos and she would tell me the same stories. I was supposedly helping her, but her calm presence in my life was a huge gift to me. The rest of the week I was like a ping pong ball, careening from event to event, all highs and lows and the passion of a college kid. But for a few hours, twice a week, I went and sat and listened to Mrs. Porter’s stories. It was like a tonic.
She would tell me about her kids, and about how the late Mr. Porter had proposed. She would serve me pudding or mango slices in a small bowl, and tell me I looked like I needed some sleep. And whenever I said I was hoping for something, like a good grade on a test, she would reply cheerfully,
“Well, live in hope, if you die in despair.”
It became one of my favorite phrases, not only because I understood the subtext she delivered it with (something like, oh lighten up, youngster), but because it was such a Mrs. Porter thing to say. She’d lost enough in her life to know the reality of despair, yet she chose daily to live in hope.
One day Mrs. Porter had a heart attack, and ended up in the hospital. Her family asked me to spend a few nights with her, to give them a break. I sat at her bedside, in a small pool of light, listening to the beep and murmur of machines all around her. Every so often she’d try to sit up, her fingers reaching for the oxygen tube across her face, scrabbling to remove the IV in her arm. I took her hands in mine, rubbing her cool, papery skin, and whispered reassurances.
“It’s ok, Mrs. Porter. Lie down. The IV is to help you feel better, and you need the oxygen right now. It’s ok, lie back.” Her red-rimmed eyes searched my face, as she struggled to understand. She was in pain from broken ribs she’d gotten during CPR, she was confused, and she wanted to go home. Tears slid down her cheeks and she turned away from me to sleep fitfully again.
After a while in the hospital, Mrs. Porter was moved to a nursing home. I saw her a few times after that, and she sat listlessly in a wheelchair, and told me she missed her home. Before too long she succumbed to congestive heart failure. Fluid gathered around her heart and in her lungs until it simply snuffed her out. For a long time I felt like those of us who loved Mrs. Porter had failed her, taking her out of her sunny home so she could die sadly in a place she hated. It would have been better, I thought, if the person who’d found her there on the floor of her apartment had simply sat down next to her, smoothed her hair back, and let her die where she was happy.
But now I know I was wrong about that. To have decided that her life was over would have been to deny the hope she filled her days with. And the end, her sad and quiet end, didn’t negate her life, but rather served as a contrast to highlight it. Against the darkness of her death, the joy of her life glowed like a jewel.
Mrs. Porter knew all along that the possibility of loss made the gift of life that much sweeter. She did live in hope, knowing that she might die in despair.
And now here I stand, looking out of my comfort zone, at this friend of mine. He is holding his hand out, inviting me into the tentative first steps of a new relationship. I look at him for a long moment, then slide my hand lightly into his.
Who knows what I’ll find?

bowling skills

Today was BOWLING DAY! Woo-hoo!
You know, I signed the boys up for bowling because it seemed like fun. Something for them to do with other kids, a dash of that “socialization” stuff people are always going on about.
It honestly never occurred to me that the other moms might care about the actual BOWLING. Like, they NOTICE the scores and everything. It’s too weird.
Here’s me, observing Max’s turn to bowl, “Ok Honey! Good luck! (pause) Way to go! You knocked some down! No, you can’t have a coke.”
Here’s another mom, observing her child’s turn, “Now REMEMBER to keep your wrist straight! Just how we did in practice! And your approach, remember the approach! Ok, good…good…aww. What was that? Why’d you swing your arm across your body like that? That’s not how you’re supposed to do it!”
I’m thinking, there’s a RIGHT way to bowl? Huh. I thought bowling sober was just about as high as you could aim. Who knew?
But the other moms know their kids averages, and their handicaps. I don’t even know what a handicap is. I mean, Tre tends to collect things, until his room is a morass of paper bits, rubber bands, and pop tabs. Is that what they mean?
No, it’s not.
I was watching Tre bowl is last game today. He’s in the 9-11 year old group, and the rest of his team is 11. Now, Tre’s not what you’d call a LARGE 9-year-old. He’s not even what you’d call an AVERAGE 9-year-old. He’s perfect. But perfect, in this particular case, falls just below the 10th percentile for height in his age group. So there he is, a tiny little 9-year-old, surrounded by hulking 11-year-olds. They take down the bumper guards for his age group, and he fearlessly bowls gutter ball after gutter ball. There’s a bowling pro working with the kids, and Tre is getting better and better. His average is up to something like 45 (ok, I do pay attention, a little).
I watched him stride up to take his place. The previous bowler had gotten an impressive spare, and Tre joggled the bowling ball around so he could give him a high five. Then he arranged himself, counted himself through his steps, and heaved the ball down the lane. He stood and watched it make its way toward the pins, and when it started to veer off to the left, Tre’s body involuntarily swayed to the right, a silent prayer for it to right its course. The ball traced the very edge of the gutter for an impossibly long time before it teetered and fell in.
Another gutter ball.
Tre turned around, laughing.
“Hey,” he called to his team mates, “I think that one got further down before it went in the gutter!” They shouted back encouraging things, and he bounded down to collect his ball for anther try.
I turned to the mom next to me, who was shaking her head.
“Too bad. Well, maybe he’ll do better next time.”
I looked from her to my shining-faced, indomitable boy. I don’t think we were watching the same game at all.

Random bits of...wisdom?

Here are a few random thoughts to brighten your day…uh…take up some of your time.

There is a keypad stuck to the lower left-hand side of my van’s dashboard. The previous owners of the van had some sort of alarm system, and although the system’s been disabled, the keypad remains. It’s lit up, and at times it flashes in random patterns. I end up staring at it, wondering what the heck it’s DOING, flashing like that. Is it communicating some sort of secret message? Is it transmitting information somewhere? Then I realize that I’m driving, and should really be looking at the road.
Alarm systems SEEM safe, but can be very dangerous.

I bought Raphael some new jammies recently. I got a few pairs, all soft and fluffy footy jammies. One of them I was excited to give him, because they had on the front a picture of a fire truck. We looooooves us some fire trucks around here. And indeed, he adored the fire truck jammies, and wore them immediately. However, this has led to a situation of sorts, wherein every night when I start to put him in his jammies, if the fire truck ones aren’t clean, he falls apart. There he is, already tired and emotionally strained from the horror of impending bedtime, and I impose some inferior, non fire truck sleepwear on him. It’s unspeakably cruel.
Buying new fire truck jammies can SEEM like a kind thing, but it’s not.

Max was really really annoyed with Tre this afternoon. I don’t know what started it, but I came into the living room to see Max advancing upon Tre’s turned back, fist raised. I gave him a standard, widely accepted parenting statement, “Max, it’s not ok to hit your brother. Please use your words.” He glared at me, then turned to Tre and said, “You are just a stupid brother and when Mama’s not looking I’m gonna hit you.” Then he looked at me and followed up with, “and you make me so mad I want to spit.”
Using your words SEEMS like the gentler choice than slugging someone, but it isn’t always.

Parenting Feng Shui

I don’t pretend to comprehend, or really believe in Feng Shui, but at its most simple level I understand it to be an effort to remove the clutter and poor organization that makes life more difficult than it needs be. For instance, recently it occurred to me that the lotion bottles sitting in my bathroom counter, between me and my toothbrush? Would be knocked over every time I reached for the toothbrush. So I moved the bottles, and now I don’t have to add that tiny little irritation to my day. Every day. Twice a day. Why the heck did it take me so long to figure that one out?
Anyhow, that’s the barest surface of the whole Feng Shui thing, and it gets far more complex from there, into stuff I can’t comprehend about angles and reflections and elements. Whatever. But arranging the little details so they fit? That makes sense to me.
I find that parenting works the same way. The kids have expectations of how I’ll act, of what I want from them, and what the consequences will be if they don’t meet those expectations. But much in the same way clutter accumulates on a counter, habits creep in. One day I’ll ask Tre to do something, and he’ll pause, turn away for a moment, and ignore me while he finishes this last little bit of something he’s working on. And I, rather than stopping what I’m doing, to deal with the fact that he’s not listening to me, will go on. Then I’ll holler at him a few minutes later to DO IT ALREADY. He jumps to, and it works.
Sort of. Because the next time he expects to be able to wait to obey until I raise my voice, and then it builds until I have to yell a few times before he even hears me. I suppose that would be ok, if I didn’t mind. If I could blithely holler at my children until they complied, I suppose I could run my home like that. But I can’t. After a day or two of walking around with my own shrill voice ringing in my ears, I’m ready to take someone’s head off. I’m irritated at the boys, who JUST DON’T LISTEN, they’re irritated with me for YELLING ALL THE TIME, and tempers flare.
Ok, my temper flares. Just as the annoyance of the knocked over lotion bottles wears on me after a time; the repeated effort to make myself heard wears on me.
It’s like housecleaning, drawing on my reserves of discipline to bring things back where they should be.
And when I’ve done my job, when I’ve calmly and emphatically put a stop to the behaviors I let creep in, I can sit back for just a moment and enjoy the peace. But then it’s usually time to put someone in time out again.

Childlike = odd.

I was watching the boys today, just observing their interactions with the world at large. It was interesting, to say the least, and I wondered how my day would go if I took a leaf from their book. I pondered it a while. Just how would that work?
If I acted like my kids, whenever I got bored with a conversation, I’d simply walk away. Or pull up my shirt and start rubbing my belly absentmindedly. If I was trying really hard to be polite, I’d stand motionless, staring at the other person, then as SOON as there was a break in conversation, announce, “I’m gonna play now.”
At meal times I’d pick up my food and inspect it closely, with a look of pure dread on my face. Anything green would be picked out with the care of a neurosurgeon, and flicked toward the floor.
Any bodily functions would be announced loudly. The passing of gas in any form would be cause for riotous celebration, and the need to pee would be accompanied by an anxious dance, as I repeated in ever climbing decibel levels, “Ah gotta PEE. PEE! AH GOTTA PEE!” Then I’d remove all my clothing in the bathroom, and wander out stark naked. Ok, that one I’m definitely taking a pass on.
If I acted like my kids, I’d spend a large part of every car trip – of any length – trying to finagle my way out of actually wearing my seatbelt. I’d pull it down and loop it over my knees, slip it behind my head, and generally do my best to thwart its lifesaving abilities. When reminded to CUT IT OUT, ALREADY, I’d sigh as though I were being persecuted by the cult of the seatbelt.
The time required to brush my teeth would be ACHINGLY long, a horrible imposition on my day, and cause for tears. Yet I could spend twenty seven minutes, lying on the floor under the table, playing out a conversation between a straw and my foot.
If I felt I wasn’t heard the FIRST TIME I said something, I would REPEAT IT, louder and faster and louder until the intended object of my original statement was rendered unable to respond, due to bleeding ears and a distinct lack of will to live.
Bedtime would be cause for much foot dragging and obfuscation. I would bounce out of bed several times a night, rather than falling onto my bed as though I were being pressed there by a huge weight. Dreams would HAVE to be retold, in minute, shifting detail.
Hmm. It’s an interesting thought, acting like a kid for a day. But if I did, who would watch the boys, in all their inventive glory? And as much fun as it might be to personally climb every structure I come within 50 yards of, it’s more fun to watch them.

Vet office fun!

Well, we took Carmie (see how the nicknames start already?) to the vet today, and can I just TELL you how well I get along with vets? Like, not at all. Now, I love animals, I DO! I'm a sap. I cried when Tre's pet rat died. Yes I did. Her name was Rachael. Anyhow, clearly I care for our fuzzy friends. But VETS? I swear they worship at the altar of the almighty beast. People? Not so impressive.
When we got there for our appointment, it started off on the wrong foot when the receptionist ushered us into an exam room. The room was so hot that I stepped back at first, then turned to the receptionist and asked if she could turn down the thermostat. She looked puzzled by my request. Apparently that’s not her job. She shrugged, then said, “Now…it WILL be a few minutes until the doctor can see you, since you DON’T have an appointment.”
“But we DO! I called you!”
This earned me a frowny face, and she scurried out to the desk to double-check. She never came back, so I assume she DIDN’T find our appointment, thought I was LYING, and sentenced me to 45 minutes locked in a tiny, sweltering exam room with a sick dog and three bouncy boys.
By the time the vet deigned to poke her head in, I was…um…testy. I’d been up semi-frequently in the night to mop up dog puke. Now I was in a room that was lined with random animal hair and germs, and my children were bored and therefore wrestling. Among the hair/germ mélange on the floor. And did I MENTION it was hot in there? I made note of the heat to her, and this earned me the same puzzled look I’d gotten from the receptionist. Apparently this is not the vet’s job either.
Well, the vet looked at Carmelita, and announced she needs to take antibiotics twice a day. Guess who gets to wrestle those things down her throat? I'll give you a hint: IT'S ME. I heaved a sigh, and she shot me a dour look. "You know, if you ADOPT an animal, you COMMIT yourself to their care."
Ah. Thanks for clearing that up for me.
She told me the tech would be right in with the medicine and canned food for Carmelita, and left. After a few EONS the tech bopped in and handed me a case of canned food and two vials of pills.
“Ok, you can go!” She smiled. “Boy, it’s HOT in here! Let me turn that down!” And she did.
So I'm giving our dog twice daily medicine, and spooning out her special diet, but I'm muttering unkind things about her vet when I do it.