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May 2010
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July 2010

There are advantages to the parent's side, though

After dinner Clay trailed after Sophia, trying to keep her from abusing the air conditioner in the back yard. I was back there, trying to wrest my garden out of the grip of entropy. Since we were in the same general vicinity, we were able to tackle three tasks at once, always a happy thing (gardening, Sophia-wrangling, and talking to each other - SCORE).

I was tying up tomato plants and pulling weeds, while pausing in between to sneak snacks of parsley. I love tearing off hunks of soft parsley leaves and eating them right there. They taste fresh and spicy and intensely green. Clay claims that the fact that they turn my tongue bright neon green is not sexy. I don't understand how that could possibly be true.

While I pulled weeds and Clay pulled Sophia away from the air conditioner unit, we chatted. Eventually the conversation found its way to the fact that Tre is leaving for camp on Sunday. I've been intentionally ignoring this, but tonight I conceded that Sunday is, in fact, arriving soon.

"TWO WEEKS," I said. "He'll be gone for TWO WEEKS. What were WE THINKING?"

"He'll have a great time. No, Sophia," Clay responded, scooping her up and carrying her away from the air conditioner.

"I know. He can't wait to go."

"You'll be okay too."


We worked in silence for a moment. As Clay carried Sophia across the yard again, I sighed.

"You know what I've realized about the kids growing up and leaving?" I asked. "I actually thought it would feel like it felt from the kid side of things. You know, a little sad, a little scary, but mostly exciting." Clay gave me a dubious look over Sophia's head. "Yeah, I know. But I'm realizing it's not like that. From the parent's side it's exciting and a little scary, but mostly it just sucks."

"Yes, it does. But it's how it's supposed to work, too. No, Sophia."

"I know. You know what else I realized? You know how people tell you to cherish every moment, because they grow up so fast? Yeah, well, cherishing doesn't stop that. AND it doesn't make it any easier either."

"Hey," Clay walked over to me, Sophia sitting on the crook of his arm, her soft arm flung around his broad shoulder. He slipped the other arm around me. "You know it'll be okay, right?" He leaned in to kiss me. "And you know I love you and I'M not leaving."

I sighed again and let him kiss me. And again. Eventually Sophia squirmed down and trotted off, intending to molest the air conditioner again. For a moment though, Clay stayed there, holding onto me.

He does love me. I'm a lucky woman. And truly, how could he resist the green tongue?

On the one hand...

...doesn't it mean - definitively - that I'm REALLY a grown up now that I can eat a banana with a bruise?

And yet, on the other hand, does it negate the grownupedness of it if I have to call Clay over to watch me and admire how brave I am?

Not more important, just easier.

I took this series of pictures this afternoon in the kitchen. When I sat down to post them here, I paused. Do I write about her too much? Do I put her picture up too often and neglect the other kids?

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The thing is, it's harder to write about the rest of the kids these days. Their lives are more complicated, their issues bigger than scaling the kitchen table. Tonight, at dinner, Max looked at me, looked me right in the eye, and told me about the fist fight he got in right before dinner.

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"I told him I wasn't going to take any crap from him. And he wouldn't stop. He wouldn't quit pushing me and smacking me. So I punched him in the face." He said it in a tone, with a tilt of the jaw, that told us he wasn't wrong. Not even that he wasn't sorry, he just plain wasn't wrong.

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And Tre broke in, to say that the other kids started choking Max, and he was going to get in there, but someone else pushed him aside and hit the other kid first.

"I was going to punch him, but Jake just beat me to it," he insisted.

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And I wanted to tell Max that it was okay, I wasn't angry, and I wanted to tell Tre that it was okay, he didn't have to hit anyone, but mostly I wanted to tell everyone, in the whole world, to stop hurting people. But then Raphael looked at me and said, "he was choking Max and he could have made him pass out. He could have KILLED him."

"Was it scary?" I asked, because his eyes were overbright.

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And he crumpled, folded up into a weeping little boy on his chair. I pulled him into my side and wrapped my arms around him and whispered into his hair that it was okay, even though some angry little boy could wrap his hands around my Max's neck, and we both knew that was not, in fact, okay.

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And then Clay and I tried to answer all the questions that weren't being asked, about when it's right to defend yourself and when you're just putting yourself in a bad situation. Clay, being a dad and I, being a mom, see these lines somewhat differently, as you can imagine. But we stumbled our way through this landscape, arriving together, emphatically, on the final word that Max should stay away from that particular situation. All of them should.

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There is also Jennie, who is 18 and figuring her life out. Clay and I lie in the dark and whisper over the choices she is making and what we want for her. We do not get to choose. We have to be careful how to offer suggestions, because it seems that there are seventeen different ways at each juncture that we could alienate her. It's scary and surreal at times, because it seems as though she must be too young for this sort of responsibility, but she is not.

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So if it seems that I dote overmuch on the baby, that I write about her and post her picture and focus on her too much, please understand that I'm not forgetting our others. Sophia's life is easier to explain. Her stories are light hearted and simple (this climbing issue, for instance, is solved by simply tipping the chairs over on their sides when they're not in use. Our house looks sort of like the scene of a recent bar brawl, but it keeps the baby off the table). Sometimes it is hard to know what to tell you about the older kids, but no matter what, no matter where, they are always in my heart and mind.

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All of my children's names are always on the tip of my tongue.

Say everything

Sophia has been a talker since...well, since she was born, I guess. But she's been using some words since she was about eight months old, calling for Mama when she's sad, for Dada the rest of the time. She calls the dog "DaDaw," which we think means "That dog." She says no. Emphatically. Repeatedly. Sometimes Tre likes to quiz her on the names she knows. "Can you say Amma?" he asks.

"Amma," she chirps.

"Can you say Appa?"


"Can you say Mama?"


"Can you say Daddy?"


It's not just louder and more enthusiastic, when she says Dada. Her voice holds heralds' trumpets and fluttering blue birds and rainbows and glitter. Her complete and total adoration of him is lovely. There is a tiny part of me, however, that hears her and thinks yeah, you're welcome for the uterine accommodations and life-giving milk and countless hours of care, especially during the night, but WHATEVER, DADADADA.

So anyhow, my point is that Sophia talks some. It might be more accurate to say that she has some words. But most of the time she chatters in a liquid tumble of syllables, a patois known only to Sophia and the angels. However, I suspect that she's right on the verge of crossing a developmental line into actual talking.

I suspect this because she's being a total pain in the butt.

She wants to use every word she knows all the time - and "knows" here is a fuzzy distinction. So she'll stand at the window, pointing at something and bellowing, "BAH!"

I don't know what she's saying, so I guess at things we've noticed from the window. Is it a bird? Is it a butterfly? Is it a bug? DOES SOMEONE HAVE A BALL? WHAT, DEAR GIRL, WHAT?

The whole time she's pointing and repeating in ever-more strident tones, "BAH! BAH! BAH!!!" I am fiercely frustrating to the child, but I'm certain that's just a stage.

Most of today she's been following me around, repeating her most well-worn word, "Mama." She has been Mama-ing me near to death. This is what makes me think she's about to sort out a developmental jump, because she has spent all day at my heels, demanding my attention. This is unlike her wildly independent little self. She also wanted to nurse all day, interrupting herself to announce random words. "MAMA!" *nurse, nurse, nurse* "NOOOOSE!" *nurse, nurse, nurse* "EYE!" *nurse, nurse, nurse* "UuuuP!"

And so on.

I will be glad, of course, when she gets over this transition. I am flat exhausted by the child today. But I'm also a little sad to think about what we're leaving here, on this side. Already her unique chatter, the language (as Max says) of the Sophician, is fading.

I'm sorry to see it go, but I don't suppose I can begrudge her language. After all, she is a girl with places to go...

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...and many things to say.

Forced family fun

I was inspired by the comments on my whiny post over at FFP, so today I rounded my children up and forced them to join me in a day at the zoo. I actually told them we were going last night, and within twenty minutes, both Max and Tre cornered me to mutter, "Do I have to go? Could I stay here? Because...the ZOO?"

And because I am a loving and generous hearted mother, I listened closely to their concerns, and told them both the same thing. "Yes. And be happy about it. EH! [silencing hand gesture] ZIP IT."

Well now. How could they resist an offer like that?

So today found us at the zoo. Getting the boys in from their summer routine of running wild in the streets felt a little like halting a massive avalanche in its tracks and forcing it to turn around and flow uphill. But hey, I'm the mother of four. These controlling, harpy chops come in handy.

When we got there (after a few snags - WHY can't I ever find my zoo membership card? Do you have it? You should really give it back), we strapped Sophia in her stroller, took a bathroom break so Raphi could mop at the bleeding wound that had mysteriously bloomed on his ankle, slapped some sunscreen around, and we hit the zoo.

Sophia has been to the zoo a few times before. She likes it well enough, but today, something magical happened.

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Every time we approached an exhibit, she started squirming in her stroller, and she deployed the pointer finger. "OOOOH!" she said, "OOOOHHH!" It's a good thing Tre was there, to cater to her every viewing whim.

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It was also good, having both him and Max there for the smart-aleck remarks. I had to tell them to tone it down when Tre rolled Sophia over to look at a sleeping lion and he announced, "Oh, look! It died!" Sophia could not have cared less, but a little boy of about four looked up at him with great horror.

Max was a bit more subtle in the spread of his darkness. As we stood, cooing admiration for a pair of tiny Dall Sheep babies, Max sidled up to me and murmured, "Awww. Lookit the little guys. We should name that one...

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...Lamb Chop."

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Raphael did not want to admit how excited he was to be there, since his brothers had made it clear that it was not exactly cool. But he was quietly intense about everything, taking picture after picture. When he really wanted to linger at an exhibit, he insisted that Sophia REALLY LIKED these particular penguins. And he was usually right, too. It worked for everyone. Baby sisters are good for SOMETHING, after all.

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Before we were done, ice cream was eaten.

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And in the end, all I can say for sure is that we did have fun, and it was worth the effort. Never mind what Tre and Max might say.

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Wow, I love this motley crew.

Four thousand words

I am going to tell you a story from my yesterday, only I'm not allowing myself to be cranky anymore (if you are puzzled about what that means, you have not read my FFP post from yesterday. And if you haven't, don't. Seriously, what a cranky-pants I can be), so I'm going to tell you what happened in kind and positive terms, and then insert pictures of my children to illustrate my real feelings.

Yesterday was my gym day (if you don't schedule it IT DOESN'T HAPPEN), so I took my cranky-pants self to the gym. It was about 4:30 when I got there, so it was fairly packed. In a perfect world, I would always have an empty treadmill on either side of me, because I find sweating near someone I don't know to be uncomfortably boundary-nudging. But I'm also a grown up, and life is not like that, so I gamely took the empty treadmill between a quiet woman who was focused on her Kindle (WANT) and a man. He was tall and sweaty and had a tendency to swing his sweaty arms around, but God bless him, it's his gym too, right?


It soon became clear that Large Sweaty Man (LSM) was really enjoying the music on his iPod. I could tell because he would sing along. And maybe you and I would not be able to carry a tune when our ears are plugged up with ear buds and we can't hear what we sound like, but LSM was totally unconcerned about this possibility. As a matter of fact, the happier he was with the sound in his head, the louder he got with his approximation of what he was hearing. And friends, he was HAPPY. It's good to see people enjoying themselves, isn't it?


I settled into my workout and tuned out the musical celebrations of LSM after a few minutes. I was just getting into my zone when he decided to ramp up his experience by smacking a spirited rhythm on his treadmill's console. For the rest of our time together, this same pattern repeated itself. I would start to relax and get lost in the cadence of my steps, he would WHACK WHACK WHACK-A-WHACK, I would leap three feet in the air, and he would break out in singing another of his polyharmonic meanderings. What a great way to get your heart rate up, am I right? It's like high intensity interval training, without the sense of control!


Sadly, all good things must come to an end. I finished my workout, wiped down my station, gathered up my keys and my water bottle, and left. What I wanted to do was linger a bit, and thank LSM for all the ways he'd brightened my dull exercise time.


Skid marks and sweet cars

Today I was driving to the pediatrician's office, because between well-baby checks and Max's breathing adventures and the random child illnesses that will come, the pediatrician's office is my home away from home. I'm considering asking them to paint the waiting room a pale yellow, because the mint green thing is totally not my color. Based upon the co-pays I have given them over the last few months alone, I'm certain they should say, "YES, Ms. Kira! May we bring you a latte, Ms. Kira?"

I may be wrong about that. But they should.

Anyhow, as we were sailing along the highway, I noticed it had an assortment of skid marks. I suppose these things happen whenever you get lots of people trying to get their way at 65 mph.

There were short, stuttering skid marks, and longer, curving ones. One spectacular set swooped across three lanes of traffic and stretched several car lengths down the shoulder before it shuddered to a stop. As I drove along, noting all the moments of panic laid down on the blacktop of the highway, I could imagine just how each one happened. It occurred to me that I could show them to Tre, explain how they could have happened. Tre will be old enough to get his driver's permit in a few months, and I would love to temper his enthusiasm about the idea with a little threatening reality.

I opened my mouth, but before I could say anything, Tre beat me to it.

"Mom! See that car up there? The red one? I want a car JUST like that someday."

I nodded and made convincingly interested sounds, but I was chuckling at both of us on the inside.

I suppose it is appropriate for me, a woman who has left her own share of skid marks and poor choices in the past, to be most aware of the perils on the road. And it is just as appropriate for my son, who is working up the necessary speed to break orbit, to only see the best of what lies ahead.

Trust me, it's the Chicken Dance

Back before Monday school abandoned me for the summer, they used to sponsor a monthly Treasure Day. This was an event where everyone would bring in their old stuff - toys, books, clothes, what have you - and leave it in the lobby. Then you poke around and take whatever tickles your fancy. It's not a bad deal, really. I unloaded lots of stuff and scored snowboots and coats in excellent condition, and stacks of baby girl clothes (which I think we can agree, one cannot have too much of).

However, there is a flaw in the whole Treasure Day plan. The stacks of stuff are laid out in plain sight of the children. Ne'er has a Treasure Day passed without at least one of my children staggering toward the van, clutching some gawd-awful toy. "LOOK, MOM! It shoots SLIME!"

A few months ago, at Treasure Day, Raphael discovered a...thing. How to explain this? It's a toy hamster. In a chicken costume. And when you press its foot, it plays The Chicken Dance and gyrates in a disturbing manner. Raphael is convinced that the song it plays is actually The Mexican Hat Dance, causing many a discussion between us. I tell him he should trust me, I've heard the stinking Chicken Dance before, and he insists it's the Mexican Hat Dance, he just knows. I ask him why, then, the hamster is dressed as a chicken, and he sighs and informs me I'm just. wrong. So I demonstrate The Chicken Dance, complete with arm-flapping and butt-wiggling, and he rolls his eyes and invites me to never do that again. I remind him that he's eight, not 16, and he points out that he's very nearly nine.

We're at an impasse, is what I'm saying.

The other day I was trying to get something done (story of my life) and Sophia was pitching a fit and pointing at the Hamster/Chicken thing. Raphi had left it in the living room, and she wanted it. The house rule is that if you don't want to share a toy, put it away in your room when you're done with it. If it's left in the common living area, I assume it's fair game. So I set it down on the floor at her feet and pushed the button to make it dance. She stared at it in shocked silence for a few seconds, then began winding up the "I'm freaked out" noise. "Eeeeeehhh," she said, "EEEEEEEEEHHHHHH!"

I totally concur.

I pushed the button again, to turn it off, and reached for the toy. She snatched it up and cradled it like it was a truly disturbing sort of baby. She patted its face and sighed and handed it to me.

Is it any wonder, I suppose, that a creature like that should inspire such a complicated relationship?

(BTW, it's my day to post over at FFP. Come see what I've learned about being a stepmother. I promise there's no chicken dancing over there.)