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April 2011
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June 2011

Joys of the waiting room

This morning Max had an orthodontist appointment (or, as Max calls him, the orcadontist, the only sea creature known to straighten teeth. Max wishes to take a harpoon with him, but I think that's just the sore teeth talking). Since each monthly appointment seems to require one million hours of waiting, and today he was getting his bottom braces on, I decided to leave the other children home.

Once upon a time that would have made me nervous, but puh-leeze. Tre is nearly 16. He can be in charge of two siblings. There's really only one issue that had to be addressed. I took ahold of his shoulder, looked him in the eye, and addressed him in my best mom-means-it voice.

"Look. You're in charge here. You need to be aware...there might be poop." He shuddered. "And if your baby sister poops, you will have to deal with it. And by 'deal with it' I mean change her diaper, not spray air freshener in her direction."

He agreed manfully - as manfully as one can when he is nearly crying at the thought of poop. Tre is not exactly my most earthy child. Raphael boinged around in the background, joyfully insisting that he intended to be a really, truly, very well behaved little child. Sophia repeatedly hugged my knees and insisted I say many loving goodbyes to her brothers.

Finally we were off. And we even got there in time, which was a good thing, because if we had gotten there any later, we might have missed out on some of the half hour of sitting in the waiting room. So. That was...fortuitous.

Finally Max was called back, and I settled into the dubious joy of the waiting room. I mean, yeah, uncomfortable chairs, and ornry adolescents everywhere, shooting glares around. But on the other hand, I get to sit there. And read. Uninterrupted. Frankly, a foot rest and a cool beverage would have made it kind of like a vacation.

But then it got better, because Tre called. My initial spike of concern that something was wrong was quickly assuaged by his greeting - "Mom? Everything's okay...NOW."

Let me put your minds at ease right here. There was no poop. However...

"She was playing with play-dough? And she starts yelling! 'Tre! Tre! Play-dough in my NOSE! TRE! IN MY NOSE DA PLAY-DOUGH!' She had stuffed this nugget of it right up her nose. And she was pointing at it and sniffing. She said, 'I sniff da play-dough, Tre!' So I got a tissue, and I told her to blow. And she starts sniffing again, so I'm all NO, DON'T SNIFF, BLOW! and she blows...and then sniffs. And then blows...and then sniffs. Finally, finally, she blows and this...this wad of play-dough, completely covered with SNOT, slowly slides out of her nose. IT WAS THE GROSSEST THING EVER. I AM COMPLETELY TRAUMATIZED."

At this point he paused in the tale to hear my reaction. Sadly, I couldn't respond, because I was busy gasping for air and wiping tears from my eyes.

"Are you...are you LAUGHING AT ME?"

"Ohhh, yes. I am laughing at you," I managed. He was silent for a moment.

"Well. I guess my only real comfort here is that everyone in the waiting room thinks you're insane."

Oh, my son. That is such a small price to pay.

I suspect I know why she always looks so guilty

Today I had to take our beloved, stupid, guilty dog, Carmi to the vet. I love that dog, I do, but LORD, do I hate taking her to the vet. First of all, it stresses her out, and she responds by ratcheting up the guilty look and slinking around behind my knees, head hanging, eyes soulful and sorry. She looks like I only take a break from beating her so I can starve her and taunt her with sub-quality treats. And then she employs her one and only defense, aggressive waves of shed hair. It's not much of a defense, but it does succeed in making my nose itch. I sincerely hope that if anyone ever decides to break into our house, they are severely allergic to dog hair and she happens to have flopped her useless body in a VERY inconvenient place. THAT will show them.

And then there's the veterinarians. I know they mean well. But those people are flat crazy.

Honestly, I didn't even need to take Carmi in - she isn't due for any vaccinations, and she's healthy (if guilty). But she takes a daily medication, and they won't refill it unless they run a series of tests to be sure that they aren't failing to make a profit.

No, no. I mean tests to make sure she's tolerating her medication.


Now, when I last called to refill her medication, and they informed me that she needed to be seen, I pitched a wee fitexpressed some dismay. The last check up ran us over $300 and sorry, but that's simply not in the budget right now. The very nice front desk lady talked to one of the vets, and assured me that the visit would only be $104. When I went in to pick up a two week's supply of the meds, she even gave me a card with the price written right on it.

Was that back story TOTALLY INTERESTING? Then let's push on, shall we?

So that's where I was today, waiting in a little room with my guilty dog, trying to brush the dog hair out of my face without actually touching myself, because I was entirely coated in the stuff. The vet came in to peek in Carmi's ears and eyes and mouth, and then got to the truly important part of the exam, wherin he urged me to consider that cardiologist's appointment, so we could root out the cause of her slight irregular heartbeat (initial visit - BEFORE treatment - a cool grand). Because she didn't need her teeth cleaned yet, but she would soon, and they would simply not feel comfortableputting her under anesthesia without at least an echo cardiogram and blah blah blah give us all the money in the world, what, do you HATE your dog?

Tralala, said I. Not gonna happen. Sorry! Isn't she a sweetie? Please give us our drugs and we can go home!

They were unable to get a urine sample, which meant I was on the hook to collect it at home. AGAIN. I find that fairly ironic, because the medication she takes? Yeah, it's so she doesn't leak urine all over my house. And yet? When she gets in the vet's office? The sheer force of her anxiety forces every drop of pee to retreat deep within her. Perhaps rather than medicating her I should just take her for a stroll through the vet's office every day.

I DID, in fact, get the sample later. I don't want to talk about it. Suffice to say I clearly DO love my dog, and sometimes Tupperware just needs to be thrown away. It's not like the experience was without merit, because now I know for sure that dog pee smells bad and collecting it is an unpleasant experience. What, you already knew that? Even without ever collecting a dog urine sample even once? Well. *sniff* How nice for you.

Anyhow, the vet handed me a specimen jar and sent me on my merry way with my dog and most of her hair and all of her guilt. I stopped at the front desk to pay my bill. Aaaaand, just as promised, it was $206.

*blink, blink*

I protested. I showed my price-quote card. And worst of all, I went all red-faced and moist-eyed. No dice.

I will say it again: I love my dog, but WOW, do I hate taking her to the vet.

Fitting together

Today Max and Raphael finished school for the year, complete with the ritual flinging-of-the-workbook down the stairs. Actually, Raphi ran downstairs and fetched his back up for at least three extra flings. The boy, he knows how to party.

Naturally, this contributed to a celebratory mood in the house. Tre has been lurking about, waiting for his brothers to FINISH, FINALLY, so we wouldn't all be trapped in the house anymore. Once the last book was flung, the three of them ricocheted around the house like so many pin-balls.

And of course, this led to friction. I keep telling myself that the bickering will end someday, but I'm beginning to suspect that it will be when they leave home. I tossed a random library trip into the afternoon, but there wasn't time to do much else, and by the time I settled into the kitchen to make dinner, the three of them were sullen and bored and utterly convicted of the wrongness of the others.

"Why don't you ride your bikes to the park?" I like to throw out suggestions like that, just to be sure I get my daily quota of eyeballs rolled at me. Tre had JUST THAT MINUTE figured out what he wanted to do (not go to the park with his brothers), Raphi was furious that Tre NEVER wants to do ANYTHING with him EVER (I wonder why?), and Max didn't want to ride his bike allll the way to the park, just to listen to them fight(insert sanctimonious shake of the head), when he could do that right here and watch an episode of Phinneus and Ferb that he'd only seen fifteen million twelvety eleven times.

"Yeah, yeah," I said in my sympathetic way, "go anyhow. You don't have to enjoy yourselves, you don't even have to stay and play. Just GO."

In case you are wondering, I am a horrible person who is ruining their lives.

 They stomped out the door. Just then Clay arrived home, and he mercifully whisked Sophia outside so she could stop "helping" me so much with dinner. As the noise and angst drained out of the house, I tell you the truth, I just lay down right there on the kitchen floor and stared at the ceiling.

Transitions are hard, and this summer is going to be chock full of them. In the next 10 weeks, Tre will be spending about 5 of them elsewhere. Camp, family visits, whatnot. All summer long he'll be coming and going, and I truly believe this is best for him. He seems to crave activity in a new way, and would be miserable hanging out at home with the neighborhood kids.

But when he does come home, I don't think he realizes how important he is to his brothers. Raphi, in particular, has been simply beside himself since Tre's school ended. He dogs his big brother, alternately fawning on him and bugging the ever living crap out of him. Tre just thinks his little brother is being annoying, and rarely recognizes how much he is being adored.

Our family computer, the desk top in the living room, is set up to scroll through pictures randomly for a screen saver. I love this, and spend more time than I'd like to admit watching the images roll by. There's one picture in particular that haunts me. It's from about three or four years ago, the day after Halloween. A squirrel was eating the jack-o-lanterns on the porch, and all three boys are kneeling backwards on the couch, watching. I remember being tickled by all their bare feet, lined up on the couch.

Now, when I see that picture, it tugs at me. For so long, our days were like that. It was me and the boys, and we surged our way through adventures together. We listened to the same books, we went to the same museums, we ate the same lunches. We were a team.

And now, as I guess it should be, our team is unravelling. If Tre isn't at school or a school function, Max is off at his chess club or youth group. Raphael sticks closer to home for now, since it isn't wrestling season, but he is already peeking over his brothers' shoulders to see what might be out there for him.

I know they're not gone yet, though, and I'm determined not to miss these times we have together. Sometimes it's hard, though, to fit back together into a whole.

Eventually I got up off the floor (it was, and is, sort of filthy), and finished making dinner. Tre burst in the door just as I was taking glasses out of the cupboard to set the table. I handed the glasses to him, and he took them and grinned at me.

"Yeah, you were right. We had fun." His cheeks were pink and his eyes were bright, and soon his brothers piled in behind him. There was much noise and laughing and jostling for position. Clay and Sophia came home, and we all settled into place around the table.

Sometimes it seems like all our edges no longer fit together, but sometimes...sometimes they do.

The toddler and the teen

Sophia was assaulting her Barney doll with hugs and kisses.


"I love Barney," she crooned. "MOM! I LOVE Barney! I LOVE you, Barney!"

"Yes, Sophia," Tre said, not turning around from the computer, "Barney loves you too." (Darkly, sotto voice) "For LUNCH."

"TRE!" I wasn't sure what to accuse him of, but I was pretty sure he was guilty of it.

"What? Mom, he's a DINOSAUR. A CARNIVORE. I'm just saying."

I think I'm in over my head here.


Progress report

Tomorrow Tre will have his final day as a freshman. I think it's only natural to pause and look back. Somehow, though, I can't seem to see past right now.

This weekend there was a dance at school. The theme was black and white.

Tre end of year 006 

Here he's cleaning his Converse and being irritated that I'm taking pictures of him.

Tre end of year 016 

He somehow convinced me that he needed a new black tie, ironed himself a crisp white shirt, and was pretty annoyed by me and my camera.

Tre end of year 024 

His dad was permitted to help him with the tie.

Tre end of year 021 

I was invited to stop calling him cute.

Tre end of year 032 

I think he and Sophia attended the same Someone-Is-Pinching-Me school of smiling.

Tre end of year 033 

This is more like the truth.

And then I was allowed to sit next to him in my van and let him drive to school. He's doing well with the driving, and he only nearly hit one parked car. That's practically not even his fault, because he was scanning a group of kids at the school entrance to see if his friends were among them. I think we've all fallen prey to THAT particular driving hazard.

I noticed that there were no other ties in the group of boys. I wondered if Tre should wear his, and if I should say anything or just shut up.

"Huh," he said, "I'm the only one dressed up."

"Well, if you feel uncomfortable, you can always just take the tie off and push up your sleeves."

"Yeah, I could. Or I could just go ahead and be the best looking one here, Mom."

And that's what he did. He hopped out of the car and trotted off to join the group. How did he become so self-possessed? When did that happen?

Take a look at these pictures. On the left is his school ID. That photo was taken the first month of school. On the right is his driver's permit, taken in March.

Tre end of year 036 
Somehow, over the course of this school year, he's morphed from that soft-cheeked boy into a near man with angles in his face and convictions about what he wears.

It's like a magic act, except those don't usually make me cry.

Evidence - one of the many bloggy benefits

The other day I was changing Sophia's diaper, and we were having a grand old conversation about poop.

"Daddy poops?" she chirped.

"Yep, your daddy poops."

"An' Tre poops? And Max poops? And Raphi poops? And Mommy poops?"

I swear, I've had this talk with all my children. The only thing that changes is that as the family grows, they have more names to associate with poop. I agreed that yes, everyone poops, we reiterated that Sophia also poops, and I shared the happy news that now she was ALL CLEAN.

"ALL CLEAN!" This is always a joyful occasion. This time she slung her knees up by her ears and waved her newly fresh backside in the air. "It is MY BUTT! ALL CLEAN MY BUTT! LOOKIT MY BUTT!"

Yes, I agreed, it's lovely. Let's put it away now, shall we? I managed to pin her down long enough to strap a fresh diaper on her, swung her down to the floor, and she was off. I followed her out, and was met by Raphael, who was waiting for me.

"Wow," he said, "THAT was an awkward conversation. Why does she have to TALK like THAT?"

And as ridiculous as the whole "LOOKIT MY BUTT" exchange was, it was Raphael's comment that really made me laugh. Because really, Raphael? Shall we stroll down memory lane?


She is oKAY!

The other morning I was taking a shower, so I was obviously being attended by Sophia, who likes to peek around the edge of the shower curtain and offer commentary. She doesn't understand why I don't wash my hair like she does, lying down in the tub. "Youtakeit a shower, Mommy? You washit you hair? I lie down right there in my bath. I touchit the soap? I takeit a bath, I don't takeit a shower."

Sometimes I think she really worries about my mental capacity.

But I can handle it, because I have two teenaged boys in the house. longer WORRY about my mental capacity. They just hope that I can manage to keep my heart beating long enough to fix supper. So I rocked on with my ablutions, responding to about a third of her questions. "Yes, my hair is wet. No, I don't want my towel yet. It's okay that my hair is wet, honey, really. Yes, I'm naked. Yes, I do have a vagina. Yes, you do too. Right, because we're girls. That's right, you take a bath."

And so on.

As she talked, Sophia leaned over the edge of the tub. She was so engrossed in the conversation (and so bad at physics, I guess), that she didn't realize she was leaning too far. Inevitably, the heft of her 98th percentile head overcame the anchoring effect of her 6th percentile weight, and she tumbled into the tub.

And then OH the wailing! OH the crying and accusing and lamenting and woe!

Eventually I got her calmed down and dried off and we went on with our day. For the rest of the day, however, wherever we went, she told people about her adventure. "Mommy takeit a shower! And I FALL IN da tub! [frowny face, pitiful voice] I cry and cry. Mommy pick me up! [thrilled face, squeaky voice of joy] I oKAY! [hands thrown up in a nearly evangelical expression of delight]"

The performance of her personal drama was almost exactly the same every time. She really couldn't get enough of the story. It had tension, it had drama, it had a satisfying conclusion, and most of all, it had a compelling star. It was GREAT. It was oKAY!

Today I was sitting at the table, reading the newspaper, when Sophia squirmed up into my lap and told me a story about her imaginary friend, Dodo (pronounced just like the extinct bird. She also has a friend, Lady, with whom she has very animated conversations with on the phone. Calculator. Whatever). You will NEVER guess what happened to Dodo! Apparently his mommy was taking a shower! And HE FALL IT IN THE TUB! I don't want to give away the whole story, but suffice to say, in the end he was oKAY!

And I don't really have a point here, except to tell you that this girl of mine? She is a rich natural resource in drama. And she delights me.

April&may11 049 

Yes, her fingernails are purple. I have no excuse for that, except we both like painting her fingernails. And the reason she is wearing that blue dress for 90% of her pictures is because she LIKES THAT BLUE DRESS. The blue dress is oKAY!


There is nothing - simply NOTHING - like the feeling of walking across campus after finishing your last final exam of the semester. Birds sing, the sunlight streams down upon you, and you are surrounded by people who are either grimacing in exhausted anxiety (not done) or grinning involuntarily (done!).

I, dear friends, am DONE! Done-ity-done-done! Finis! I am also pretty sure I ended up with an A in the class. I mean, I only got one grade all sememster that wasn't an A, and it was a B+, so...right? I mean, I know it's the English department, and averages aren't our strong suit, but...right? That's an A?

It's an A. Totally. Probably. If you're wondering why I'm fretting over this, well. It's like we don't even know each other AT ALL.

So anyhow, here we are, one more semester under my belt. I know I'm making too big of a deal about this, three measly credit hours, but I swear, I thought it was going to sink me. Remember how I was just fussing over whether or not I was going to take another class in the fall? Well, I still don't know for sure.

I mean, it really is hard. And it really is a strain on everyone, except possibly the dog, who lives her life in faintly guilty fog. And it seems unfair to upend everyone like that, just for my silly degree.

But. I also am impressed by my family and grateful for their willingness to step up. I'm proud of my silly self and my (probably) A. It feels good.

Details might conspire to make the next semester impossible (fall, not summer. I'm not even CONSIDERING the summer semester. The pace of those classes combined with the camp/vacation/summer plan madness around here...aaaahhhh...the thought of it...I have to put my head between my knees now...deep breaths....). And that's just life, if those details do stop me.

But here I am, having survived one semester, and I hope I can go back. I want to.

I think that's progress.

roses and thorns

The thing that bothers me about occasions such as Mother's Day is that they feel like a huge, multi-directional quiz. Is the affection and respect and thought fullness at sufficient levels? Are the children properly attentive? Did the husband orchestrate the correct levels of fuss? It stresses everyone out, and don't get me started on Mother's Day cards. Yikes.

I'm not saying that to excuse a lackluster performance by my family, because they did beautifully. There were flowers and BBQ ribs and homemade cards, and at one point Raphael was inexplicably making me an ENORMOUS water balloon as a gift. That ended with him getting soaked, so I was going to say that it didn't work out as he planned, but then again, maybe it did.

But even better than being able to check off all the appropriate boxes for a successful day, the feeling was there. I spent the day awash in the knowledge of how blessed I am to be a mom, and how blessed I am to have my mom. I know, I know. Now I sound like one of those stinking cards. It just...let me show you some snapshots.

During church the priest asked all the moms to stand up to be prayed for. I appreciate the sentiment, but I always hate that. Awkward. But fine, I stood. And Clay reached up and enveloped my hand in both of his, and then from the other side of me, Tre reached up and put a hand on my shoulder. I stood there, feeling quite surrounded by my husband's tenderness, and my son, whose hand feels like a man's hand, heavy on my shoulder.

In his card, Max wrote, "Here is a list of the things that wouldn't be if you were never a mother. The Z would never be silent, but the T, M, R, and S would be." It went on, and it was an amazing card, but I just loved that first line.

Nearly every time he caught sight of me today, Raphael trotted over and nuzzled me like a baby cat. "Happy Mother's Day!" he said. "Happy Mother's Day! I hope your Mother's Day is happy!" What he meant was, "what am I supposed to do here, exactly?" and also, "I love you."

When I was getting out of the bath tonight, Sophia barged into the bathroom. She stood at the side of the tub and told me imperiously that it was time to get out. I sat up to let the water out, and she grabbed my elbow and tried to help me stand up. "Get OUT time now! Get OUT time! Okay now time GET OUT! You can HOLD the BABY! Hold the BIG GIRL! And get OUT TIME NOW!" And I did get out and I did hold the baby/big girl, and it was just the right time.

Mom came over for lunch, and we sat and talked while the guys got lunch done. We remembered a time in our lives, 33 years ago, and it was good to hear it from her side, to know now what it's like to be a worried mother and look back then and recognize. I am grateful to have a mom who loved me when I was growing up, but I am blown away to have her as my friend today.

I am glad whenever a holiday falls on a day when our family is peaceful. Clay always says the best thing about having five kids is that you're almost always going to have at least a 20% approval rating. I, being somewhat less positive of a human, tend to mentally follow that statement up with an Eeyore-like shake of the head. Because obviously that also means that it's pretty rare for everyone to be happy at any given time, and that's all I ask. That everyone be happy all the time. That's not so much to ask, is it?

Yeah, I know.

Right now it seems that we're estranged from Jennie. I don't even know how it happened, or what wecould do to fix things. I am haunted by explanations I invent to explain this rift, but all that really achieves, give me a minute...

She is an adult now, and a mother herself. Clay and I pray for her every day, but she's got to find her own road, and that sort of sucks. I mean, yes, it's right and good that she lives her own life, but it sucks that we can't save her, can't protect her. Can't smell that baby boy's neck and tell her how perfect he is. I have nightmares sometimes, where I can hear Quenten crying, but I can't find him. Somehow if I can just find him, he and Jennie will be safe, but I just can't.

And although I am just Jennie's stepmom, watching her simply slip away from us has been excruciating. To tell you the truth, I used to be afraid that someday, when she did grow up and stop visitation, I would be secretly relieved. It's hard, this stepparent deal, and I was afraid that I would be ready to wash my hands of it.

It is no consolation to find that I am not relieved.

Any of our kids could disappear from us in the same way, someday. They are all growing into their right to do that. And even if they don't, there are a thousand different ways we could lose them, or see them hurt. Sometimes motherhood is just too hard.

In church, they handed out roses to the moms. Sophia promptly appropriated mine and swung it around with delight, like the scepter she's been waiting for. She whacked Clay in the face and I checked to see if he was okay.

"I'm fine. It doesn't have thorns."

The roses were lovely, I thought, but if they were meant to really represent motherhood, they should have thorns.

Case in point

Today Sophia was playing in the bubbles at the kitchen sink when I realized A) that we had to leave and B) that she was drenched with sink water. Now, I'm not really one to argue with a two year old. Never negotiate with terrorists or toddlers, that's my policy. Lay out the choices and the consequences, and get 'er done. But I had to get her actual clothes off her actual body, and one doesn't wish to be a bully either.

So there I was, discussing the merits of dry clothes vs. continuing to play at the sink with a very angry little girl, who writhed and shrieked and fleshed out her point of view, which was "NO NO NO NO WA-WA NO DRESS NO!"

"Oh, my girlie," I sighed, "how old are you, again?"

"NO! I am NOT TWO!"

And really, doesn't that say it all?