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October 2007
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December 2007

Chicken is the new penguin

For a few years, Raphael was obsessed with penguins. I don’t know where this penguin deal came from, but for a while there, it was intense. There were days he wouldn’t answer, unless you addressed him as Penguin Martin. He signed his preschool papers “PM” for, of course, Penguin Martin. He told me, very seriously, many times, that he was MAD at God and was going to ASK HIM someday why he wasn’t born a penguin. He had a special penguin walk, and if you don’t think that’s too adorable for words, you haven’t seen a sleeping six year old boy stumble around the living room as a penguin, confused, trying to find the bathroom.

What was interesting about the penguin passion was that the movie “March of the Penguins” came out right at the zenith of it all. Remember that? And then the whole world was penguin mad. It’s as though Raphael had his finger on the pulse of that trend long before…well, before I noticed it, anyhow. Perhaps not all that amazing. Nonetheless.

He has since moved on from penguins – they’ll always be dear to him, and when he sees a picture of one, he sighs a happy, “Oh, it’s a penguino,” and no, I don’t know why the Spanish – but he has a new passion in life.


OH, the chickens.

Chicken noises, chicken pictures, long and detailed chicken stories. We start our homeschool days with ten minutes of writing time, and Raphael has been churning out the tales of chicken adventures like you wouldn’t believe. He refuses to believe me when I tell him that chickens do not, in fact, fart. Such is the power of the fiction writer.

At Monday school, his language arts teacher has forbidden him to write about chickens anymore. His art teacher has forbidden him to draw any more chickens. To me, this is the obvious advantage of Monday school. I, personally, am not going to stand between him and his chicken love. Fly your funky fowl flag, my son! But the truth is that YES, he does need to start learning how to set aside his obsessions and play by the rules when needed, otherwise he is going to get fired from his first real job when he turns in an important report to his boss, and the last seven pages of it are about the perfection of his girlfriend’s boobs.

So this weekend I was listening to the radio, and I heard two things that stuck with me. First of all, the theme of this weekend’s This American Life was “Poultry Slam” – with three of the four stories being about chickens. And I heard a few minutes of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony for this year, and do you KNOW what the theme was? Can you guess?


The chickens, they are hot.

But, then, Raphael already knew. Take a look at the turtle he drew at Monday school. Isn’t that nice?


Look closer.




Oh yes, Raphael already knew.


The night before the adoption hearing, Raphael got sick. He slept between Clay and me most of the night, elbows and knees wedged in our sides. I slept fitfully, waking to check him for signs of more vomiting. But he was peaceful, cool-skinned and asleep. I peered across him at Clay, thinking about the two of us laboring to clean up the carpet in Raphael’s room. I could see Clay, scrubbing at the floor with the ever-blessed Little Green Clean Machine, his face grimly set against the smell. Now he slept in the ten inches of space left for him on his side of the bed, Raphael curled against him.

How on earth could any judge deny him his as their father?

Morning came, as it does after a long night, unexpectedly early. The alarm went off and Clay and I lurched out of bed. He went downstairs to wake the boys, and I stumbled into the bathroom. There was a knock at the door, and I opened it to find Max, with hair like a squirrel had been attacking him for most of the night.

“It’s A-day,” he announced in a sleepy deep voice.

“It is indeed,” I answered, reaching out to attempt to smooth his hair. He ducked my hand and we stood and grinned at each other for a moment. Clay called him away to have breakfast and I watched him go. My heart squeezed, hard, and I thought, oh please, let this happen. Let it be today.

We were the first case on the docket, and if I was reading it correctly, we were allotted 15 minutes for three entire stepparent adoptions. Five minutes per kid. Or, perhaps, three minutes per kid, and six minutes to reflect. Could this possibly, after all the paperwork and phone calls and reports, could this actually be a simple process?

Well, no.

We filed in and waited, Clay and I sitting at the table in front, the boys squirming on chairs behind us, and my mom and dad, dear friend Amy and her two kids behind them in what looked to me like pews. 8:15, the time we were supposed to start, came and went. 8:30. 8:45. At this point someone came out from a door in the back, bustled around looking harried, and finally confessed to Clay that they couldn’t find some of the important paperwork he’d submitted. I panicked, while Clay calmly pulled out copies of everything they needed. We make such a good team.

With the paperwork in place, the hearing finally started. The judge was helpful and kindly and trying to kill us. He asked a few simple questions, then proceeded to shuffle and shuffle and shuffle the papers. He started sentences, then stopped in the middle to pull out thick books and frown over them. After an eon of this, he declared each boy in turn available for adoption, and then adopted by Clay – BUT. Then he declared those decisions to be held in abeyance, while he investigated a statute that might be a problem.

“Call my law clerk this afternoon, and she’ll tell you if it went through or not.”

And with that we wandered out into the morning sun, quiet and bemused. After a while we went to lunch with Mom and Dad, and from there we went bowling. It was fun, and we enjoyed the time together…but every thirty minutes Clay would slip away with his cell phone and return to give me a tiny headshake, no. No answer yet.

The afternoon slipped away, and the evening came, and still no answer. We called a few people to tell them we didn’t know yet, please keep praying. Evening became night and eventually we all were in bed, sleeping and wondering. I lay awake and sifted questions in my mind. What did it matter, what the judge decided? Here we were, the five of us, safe in this home. No one was throwing up, and even if they did, Clay and I would be there, together, to take care. No decree would change that. No lack of decree would, either.

And yet, when I finally slept, my dreams were of reaching out, straining, my fingertips brushing a treasure as it eluded me in the waves. I pawed through my purse, unable to find my wallet. A paper blew off the table next to me, and I raced across a field, my legs heavy and slow. Oh please, I wept in my dreams, oh please.

The morning came, and Clay got up with the boys while I slept, sullen at two night’s disrupted sleep. I woke up late in the morning, 9:30 or so. Clay crawled in next to me so we could read and pray and start our day. We were soon joined by Max, who tackled Clay. His giggles drew Raphael, and he threw himself into the fray. That’s where we were, me clinging to my side of the bed, to avoid their churning mass of testosterone play, when the phone rang. Clay disentangled himself to go answer it, and Tre raced into the room to watch with us. The boys and I sat, motionless, breathless, trying to decipher Clay’s expression.

“Oh,” he said, “ok, then. Thank you.”

He hung up and turned back to us slowly.


I WIN! I WIN! I WIN, I WIN, I WIN!” He launched into his “I won at Uno” dance, and we erupted into cheers. He swept all three boys up in his arms and threw them back on the bed, presenting me with a bouquet of his sons.

"And now, always, November 15 is a holiday," Tre announced. "And we will skip school."

In the day-to-day facts of our life, nothing has changed. And yet it matters. It just does.

One successful Halloween

I'm not great at this Halloween stuff. It's a lot of detail work, which I...can't be bothered about. Whatevah.

But this year, I think we got it.

We had spider webs.


We had pumpkins - AND we carved them.


And we had three adorable sugar-loaded ninjas.


Scary, huh? They'll kill ya as soon as look at you. That's Real Ultimate Power, right there.

Oh yeah. And we had one Ninja Mem.


Don't we all look deadly serious?

Thanks for all your help. Fun was had by all. Please send a candy intervention unit.