Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quotes I Love

"Why see the action when you can be the action?"

Andy Davis questioning my suggestion that we see all the live Shamu shows first and then, maybe, go to the Sea World water park later, maybe.

We went to the water park.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Explaining Marriage and Divorce to an Eight Year-Old Boy

"Why did Eric's mom and dad move to different houses?" Jake asks me. His second question was prompted by his first. He and I were in the car driving to church and Jake asked, "Will Eric be at church today?" My social Jake is thinking ahead to the buddy he can connect with and sit by at church. I answered the first question very easily. "Eric probably won't be at church because this is his weekend with his dad at his church. When you see him at our church that's his weekend with his mom," I rattled off. Jake asked the second question and the answer wasn't so easy.

I'd talked to Jake about our friends' divorce when it happened months ago but this was an opportunity to talk again. What's the simple answer to why do a mom and dad live in different houses? They can't stand each other? Seems harsh to say to an eight year old. They fell out of love? Sets my boy up for thinking love is something you randomly fall in and out of not something you decide. They aren't happy? Don't get me started on "happy".

So I begin. "When two people get married they decide to be together forever, like best friends forever, until they die. A very long time. Like when Dad and I got married we said we would be best friends and husband and wife forever, until we die and when we had you and then Bebe (Jake's name for Zach) we said we would be a family forever. Sometimes people who are married decide that forever is too long. Sometimes a mom and dad fight and they fight so much they don't want to be together anymore. When two people who are married decide they don't want to be together anymore they get a divorce and move apart. That's what a divorce is and that's why Eric's parents have two houses."

"But even though Eric's parents are divorced they still love Eric and his brother very much. They are still parents, just not husband and wife, just not a family like they were," I add. "Just so you know Daddy and I are not going to get a divorce and you will never live in two houses, ok? We will be married forever."

I take a breath and Jake asks, "Do I haft to get married?" That's not a typo, he said "haft". "No, you don't," I quickly reply, "but one day you might want to get married and that's why you have to choose very carefully who will be your wife. Very carefully because forever-until-you-die is a long time. Because even when you choose carefully things are still hard sometimes and you have to work to be best friends forever."

"So does that answer your question, Jake? Do you understand what I've said about divorce?" I probe. "Yeah, can I watch the monster trucks DVD now?" he replies. I turn on the car's DVD player and think to myself yeah you can watch monster trucks now just be aware that marriage happens and divorce happens and things are complicated and simple but you don't have to make sense of it all right now. Just be eight today watching monster trucks and knowing your mom and dad and brother live in one house and we are a family forever.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pick Your Battles

Zach put a big, new bottle of shampoo in his backpack this morning.

I let him take it to school.

But I did place it in a large Ziploc bag so it wouldn't leak inside that fancy Pottery Barn Kids monogrammed backpack. I wrote his name on the Ziploc because Zach likes to see his name on bags.

Good mother or enabler? Maybe both.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I'd heard about Facebook but I was resistant. My sisters started Facebook pages and then my mom did too. Still I resisted which caused my sister Amy to threaten, "If you don't start a Facebook page, I'm going to start one for you." Fine, whatever. A few days later I get an email from Amy letting me know my Facebook page is up and I should check it out. I click on the link and she has in fact started a Facebook page under the guise of being me.

I am anxious to read my info to see what "I" wrote. Hmmm, Amy's gotten most everything right, even my favorite foods. She's remembered my favorite song, too. My favorite song from 1982. Are there a few things I could change or add? Yes but then I would be doing my Facebook page and this is Amy's Facebook page of me. I scan down and see that I am a member of a few groups. Who knew? I click on photos and see that Amy has uploaded some random pictures from her collection to my page. She's also made an album called "My Sisters-My Best Friends" and filled it with photos of herself and Chantel. I then spend a few minutes clicking on my first, few friends, checking their "status"and perusing their photos.

Amy emails me to see if I like my page. Sure, I write back, but can you put some pictures of me and my family on my page? She tells me I can do it myself, easily. Never mind, I write back. Amy asks for my email password. "Why do you want my password?" I ask. "Are you saying you won't give me your password?" Amy questions back. "Maybe I won't. It's not safe to give out your password," I respond. "Why do you want it?" "So I can get into your address book and find more Facebook friends. It does a search and then makes requests for you!" she explains. I type my password and send it to her.

The friends start trickling in. Everyone I request to be my friend accepts me! This is all very nice. I click around and read my friends' updates and look at their photos. A few people send me messages and I respond to them. Clicking, clicking, reconnecting and remembering and then I realize I've been on the computer for 50 minutes. My how time flies when I'm doing "nothing". It surprises me how easy it is to spend nearly an hour reading that someone needs coffee, is packing, has a cold, just made cookies, ran 3 miles, can't find a decent plumber, wants his team to win, will be glad when the weather changes, etc. It takes a while to read the status updates of over 100 friends. Yeah that's right, 100 friends. I'm very popular.

So I find myself on Facebook infrequently and when I'm there it's usually a short visit. Maybe I'm not that into Facebook because I'm afraid. I admit it, I'm afraid. That blinking status cursor scares me. How do I sum up what I'm thinking, feeling or doing in just a few words? Can I be honest on Facebook or do I have to be funny and cheerful? Should I try to say something witty or clever or just keep it simple? The pressure is too much and that's why I type a status update in the box about every 2 months. There's something else I must admit and that is my inability to upload photos to the Facebook page. I know, I know it's "not that hard" but I can't/won't do it. The Facebook page is pressure for me which is why Amy had to start it in the first place.

I did check my Facebook page today and was thrilled to see a friend's status update saying her husband is still cancer-free! Recent blood tests gave a good report and she is rejoicing and thanking God for that good news. She will get lots of comments from friends congratulating her and I can imagine that will make her day even sweeter. I love this use of Facebook.

I check the request section of my page and see that I have 2 friend requests (one is from Gator Pit BarBQue), 1 page suggestion, 1 causes video invitation and 67 other requests. A quick scan of the other requests reveals someone has thrown a taco at me starting a Food Fling, I'm up for the nicest person award as well as the most lovable person award, my presence is requested for a game of Mafia Wars and if I accept some kind of flower, I can fight global warming. The list continues yet time's up for this visit to Facebook so I won't be getting to all those requests today, probably not tomorrow either.

Please don't take it personally if you tried to "request" me for something and I didn't respond. I'm not really sure how all of that works. Ditto for me sending you fun stuff too. I've heard I can send a cupcake to someone but I don't know how to do that or why I would do that. Even though I lack a passion for all those fun extras on Facebook, I do like to read your updates and see your family photos. It's nice to have a quick way to keep up with what's going on in my friends' lives.

Thanks for checking out the blog and I'll see you on Facebook, maybe.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Something's Missing

I rarely have bad dreams or nightmares but when I do there is a reoccurring theme, my teeth are falling out. There are variations on the theme such as the events leading up to my teeth falling out or the setting in which my teeth fall out but the bad dream culminates with me trying desperately to catch my falling teeth and put them back into place. Go ahead and analyze this if you'd like. My bet is that the teeth are symbolic of all the many pieces of my life that need to be in order yet keep falling apart. Cramming them back into position is my attempt to establish order. Another very plausible interpretation is that the many years I spent at the orthodontist as a teenage having my teeth manipulated by ungloved hands sporting long fingernails made a lasting impression. I don't really like to think too much about teeth.

Motherhood offers up plenty of opportunities to face my fears and to think about things I don't like to think about, namely losing teeth. A year ago the dentist mentioned to me that Jake had his first loose tooth and did I want to take a good look into his mouth and see it? No, not really but I did because moms need to know this type of stuff. Yes indeed there was a wiggle in a lower tooth. Here we go, I thought. Teeth falling out.

Finally, finally, late last spring Jake lost his first tooth and not a minute too soon as Zach was showing signs of his own first loose tooth. Oh the disappointment of having little brother lose a tooth first. Jake pulled the tooth himself which wasn't too difficult considering he had worked it over for days and the tooth finally surrendered. I had to look at the tooth and the spot it occupied but I didn't enjoy it. At the same time I'm teary eyed because my first born has lost his first tooth and he is so proud. We discussed the possibility of the Tooth Fairy coming that night and I suggested he put the tooth under his pillow and see what happens. I did think to ask what Jake knew about the Tooth Fairy ("she brings money, sometimes toys") and this helped me to know what his expectations were regarding her visit.

I really don't think Jake "believes" in the Tooth Fairy. In fact, if he actually believes that a fairy enters his room at night, checks for the tooth under the pillow and then leaves money, candy, prizes or toys then I have made some terrible parenting mistakes. He's too smart to fall for the fairy story but he is also too smart to miss an opportunity for money. The next morning Jake excitedly reports that the Tooth Fairy came by, left him a favorite toy AND didn't take his tooth! Now he can start a collection! The tooth is tucked into a tiny, plastic treasure chest and placed on a high shelf.

Jake begins work on loosening a second tooth and I make it a point to show Zach Jake's new space in his mouth and his old tooth in the treasure chest. I talk to Zach about his own loose tooth and ask him to wiggle it. Zach complies and I hope he understands that teeth will come out and new ones will fill in and that's all very normal.

Jake managed to lose his second tooth at school which means he took a victory walk to the nurse's office where he was checked over and provided with a tiny, tiny treasure chest for the tooth. Hats off to the elementary school teachers around the country who daily witness teeth being wiggled, twisted and pulled while they educate and to the nurses who give a pat on the back and offer a keepsake chest. The Tooth Fairy visits again and this time she leaves money.

The teeth just keep falling out. Jake loses his third and the fairy brings money again. Cha-ching! He starts to work on the neighboring tooth. Zach checks out Jake's latest loss and then wiggles his own two very loose teeth. A wiggling obsession grows and I fear I will have to pull the tooth myself if Zach can't manage to do it. But as I try to approach his mouth with my hand, he fends me off. I back away and then eventually leave him alone.

Zach pulls the tooth or at least wiggles it until it falls out. No one saw it happen and Zach's not telling the tale, but a tiny gap in my sweet Zach's mouth shows that he has lost his first tooth! My baby has lost his first tooth and it is nowhere to be found. We all excitedly congratulate Zach on this milestone and then comb the carpet for the tooth. No luck and I must let it go. Maybe he swallowed it? Ugh, I can't think about that. Later I manage to STEP WITH MY BARE FOOT on the lost tooth. I pick it up and place it in Zach's own treasure chest. Zach doesn't know there is (is not) a tooth fairy but Jake does so he makes sure Zach's tooth is under the pillow at bedtime.

The next morning Zach finds a Kit Kat under his pillow. How on earth did the Tooth Fairy know that is his favorite treat and means more to him than money? Before I know it the Kit Kat is eaten and his second tooth is missing. After a barefooted search, I conclude he really did eat the second tooth which prompts Jake to ask if the Tooth Fairy visits you after you lose a tooth but can't find it to put under the pillow. This make-believe stuff gets so complicated.

Losing teeth and getting new ones. All part of growing up. Soon those new teeth will be in, crooked no doubt, and we'll find ourselves at the orthodontist where beautiful smiles are created and nightmares are born. All part of growing up. Braces on, braces off. High school graduation then college. My boys will grow up and go away but later, not today. Today my Jake believes in a fairy with an endless supply of cash and my Zach believes Kit Kats grow under pillows.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Book Character Parade (or a good reason to wear a costume to school)

This week my boys' elementary school held its annual Book Character Parade. Students are encouraged to dress like their favorite story book characters and then file through the halls and gym carrying books to match. It is a greatly anticipated event in our house because wearing a costume to school is fun! This year's parade was held earlier than last year's which means I had to make a trip to Party City in early September versus late October. Jake had spent ample time researching Star Wars Clone Wars costumes on the Internet and decided Clone Trooper Cody was this year's choice for trick or treating. Slap a Star Wars book in his hand and presto Jake is ready for Book Character Parade. One costume, two events. Cost per wear is already down to $10.

I arrive home from Party City with the correct clone trooper costume (there is more than one clone trooper) plus an Obi Wan Kenobi costume for Zach. Party City got me on the clone trooper blaster (illegal to carry in the parade but legal in the neighborhood) and clone trooper gloves plus two new candy pails to use later next month. Jake tries on his costume and gloves and tests out the blaster. He asks me if he can sleep in the costume and I say no because "if you get a tear in it I'm not buying another one and that fabric can't be washed so I don't want it to get dirty and this costume has to last until Halloween so you have to take good care of it". Sorry he asked, I'm sure. I didn't mention that the label clearly states in four different languages to "keep away from fire". I would be a terrible mother to let my child sleep in such hazardous apparel. I do let him keep the blaster by his bed.

Zach tries on the Obi Wan costume and is very complaint as I tie the sash around his tunic. I suspect the compliance is based on Zach seeing the new candy pails and thinking we are headed out for a big night. My suspicions are confirmed when he grabs his new pail and walks to the front door. Zach points to the lock he can't reach and says, "I want trick or treat, open it." Bless his little, live-in-the-moment heart. "Oh great," Jake says, "now he wants candy and you're going to have to get us some."

I explain to Zach that this is just practice, new costumes, practice. While explaining I remove the Obi Wan costume because it is too big on my boy and resembles a dress worn over pajama pants. The superman costume from last year, and the year before that, is pulled from the closet and I hope it still fits. Zach willingly steps into the costume even as I continue to say "just practice". Superman fits! Just barely. We can make it one more season in this costume and the cost per wear is down to $4. I'm feeling very proud of my recycling efforts. The boys take off their costumes and I hang them (costumes not boys) safely in the closet.

On Book Character Parade morning Jake gets dressed in a flash and I'm wondering why we can't have that kind of enthusiasm every morning but oh yeah, he is a clone today and most other days he is just a boy. Zach seems skeptical about the costume scene this morning, probably thinking that costumes and backpack don't go together, costumes and treat pails do. Reluctantly he suits up in the Superman costume as I promise there will be treats in the pails after school. "Really?" Jake asks. Really. I place the Superman book in Zach's backpack and that makes it official.

At school the boys go into their classrooms and I walk toward the gym to secure a prime viewing position for the parade. Camera in hand, I am ready to photograph my characters as they parade behind their teachers and with their classes. I was here last year too, camera in hand waiting for my kindergartner Zach to enter the gym. His teacher came in followed by his classmates but no Zach. Maybe I missed him? How would I miss him? Minutes later Jake comes by and I get a blurry picture of him because despite my yelling "Jake, over here, over here!" he couldn't find me and didn't want to hold up the line stopping to look.

After last year's parade I found Zach and another teacher in the hallway. He looked scared and nervous, overwhelmed too. The teacher said Zach saw the children and heard the music and didn't want to go with the class so she stayed in the room with him. Too much.

Maybe Zach will go with his class this year. Maybe he will just fall in line and walk proudly holding his book just like the hundreds of other kids this morning. But even if he doesn't that's OK, I can't base the value of today on if Zach participates or not. He does lots of things well and I'm reminding myself of this as the music begins playing over the loudspeaker signaling the start of the parade.

It is fun to see the principal dressed as Cat in the Hat and the assistant principal dressed as a doctor offering flu shots. It's interesting to see the P.E. teacher dressed like an elf right down to the striped tights. But it is thrilling to see my super man walk into the gym with his first grade class and look right at me. Zach has an unsure look on his face that tells me the crowd and the costumes and the music are a little much but he's there, he is parading with his class. Zach's class leaves the gym headed for the hallways and in minutes Jake and his second grade teacher and classmates come by and I watch him scan the crowd for me. "Jake, Jake!" I call. He finds me and I snap his picture. Easy does it, easily.

Before leaving the school, I locate Zach in the hallway and hug him, telling him how proud I am. The teachers are proud too. "He did great" they say over and over, remembering that last year Zach wouldn't leave the room. It would have been OK if Zach stayed behind this year but it was a sweet moment watching him move forward.

As promised, there were treats in those pails waiting for my boys after school. I told Jake he looked very, very cool in his clone trooper costume and then Jake and I both told Zach what a good job he did. Zach didn't have any response other than the smile he wore as he checked out the contents of his pail. "Worth it" he's probably saying to himself. Worth it for sure.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Quotes I Love

"It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it."

Lou Holtz

Friday, September 11, 2009

Urban Legend: The Skill Crane Story

Thanks to the miracle of DVR my boys are able to record and repeatedly watch episodes of Sponge Bob Square Pants. Every episode has its own unique story line so it's a little hard to pick a favorite but we all really enjoy the one called "Skill Crane". Zach is especially fond of this episode and is no slouch when working the DVR remote control. He is able to select a favorite part of the show and watch only that part many, many times. Irritating to anyone who actually wants to see the show in its entirety.

In "Skill Crane" Mr. Crabs has installed an arcade game in his restaurant in hopes it will bring in money. Skill crane is the name of the game and it involves a player using a joystick to position a crane above a toy prize, hit a button to release the crane's claw and then watch the claw possibly touch the prize but snap shut before it can grab the prize. Game over. No prize for the player but money in Mr. Crabs' pocket.

Ask any child about the skill crane game and he will know exactly what's you're talking about. He will probably share his own experience of the game with you. "Mom said I could play just once so then she gave me a dollar and I had a toy in the claw and I almost pulled it up but it was stuck so I didn't win anything but then I told Mom that I loosened it up and if I had one more dollar I know I could get it this time. Mom said no but my dad said to let him try and then he tried like eight times and couldn't get it and my mom said we'd wasted enough money and she could have bought a very nice toy with that money. My dad said that's not the point, the point is the skill and the challenge and the victory." Every story ends the same way. No prize.

Zach loves the part where Sponge Bob wins a toy on the first try. A stuffed bear he names Beary. Sponge Bob pulls the toy from the prize chute, holds it high in the air and says, "I'm a winner!" Sponge Bob continues to play and win, even getting two toys in the claw at once. There's no way that could happen in "real life". Squidward, an acquaintance of Sponge Bob's, tries his hand (tentacle) at skill crane but with no luck. He spends all his money, even his savings, and never wins a prize. Now that's more realistic.

Just a few days ago, Zach and I were leaving the grocery store and I notice a skill crane game near the soda machines. Zach sees it too. "Do you want to play skill crane?" I ask. "I want skill crane," he answers. Duh. Now it would seem that I am setting Zach up for disappointment except a quick glance at the machine before I offered a chance to play told me that Zach can play til he wins! As in, if the crane's claw doesn't pull up a toy, the player gets a chance at some cheap candy and the crane on that side always picks up a treat. So I figure we're good either way AND this machine is just fifty cents per game.

My small wonder, armed with two quarters and a memory of Sponge Bob winning every time, inserts the coins into the slot and the music starts. A stress-causing digital counter has started to tick off thirty seconds and I tell Zach go, go! He nimbly works the joystick, positioning it over a dog whose head just happens to be in the perfect, upright position. This compared to the other animals that are tossed about and packed down in a sure-to-lose manner. I glance at the counter. We've got enough time to really position the crane and make a play for that dog. I place my hand over Zach's thinking I'll just help a little and at that moment he hits the button that releases the claw. Gasp! We both watch as the open claw settles right on the dog's head, snaps shut and the crane begins to pull it up. Zach and I watch in silence but my mind isn't so quiet. The dog is coming! The dog is coming! Oh is his body going to be stuck? No it's coming! Oh the claw is swinging too much, it will drop the dog. Wait, wait....yes! The dog is released into the prize chute and Zach looks at me with big eyes. Fifty cents and fifteen seconds.

Zach takes the dog from the prize chute, holds it high in the air and says, "I'm a winner!" Then he hugs the dog and says, "I'll call you brown puppy." He tucks the brown puppy into a grocery bag and we go home. Nothing to it.

Later I ask Jake, "Guess what?" "What?" he replies. "Zach won a stuffed dog playing skill crane at the grocery store," I report. "No way," Jake says. I show him the brown puppy to prove it. "First try," I add. "I can't believe it," he says, believing it.
Did you hear the story about the boy who won a skill crane prize
on his first try?
The legend is true.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Binding Binders

The start of a new school year brings new opportunities for organization. Backpacks and lunch boxes get labeled. Homework baskets are emptied of last year's leftovers and await new assignments. A bin overflowing with fresh socks and fancy new sneakers by the back door ready for duty. Times are good!

At the start of each school year I get a new binder for the boys' important school papers, progress reports, report cards, communication from the teachers, etc. This is not where I keep school work they bring home. That's stashed elsewhere. The binders are just for the really important papers.

So I'm hole punching papers and putting them into Zach's new first grade binder and then I do the same for Jake. Jake doesn't have a second grade binder, he just has a school binder. Jake's papers haven't filled the binder I started for him in preschool so I continue to add to it. Zach gets a new binder every year. This bit of organization leads me to pull out all the past binders and make sure I've got them labeled correctly. This leads me to pull out a big stack of papers that should be in a binder but I was overwhelmed with the pile and just stuck it under my desk. Now I've got binders and piles and stacks everywhere and I'm wondering why I just didn't slap a label on the new binder, put the papers in it and leave well enough alone.

I stack all the binders and papers related to Zach on the counter next to Jake's binder and it hits me. Hard. My beautiful first grader has accumulated a towering stack of papers and my beautiful second grader has a thin binder with room to spare. Jake's binder contains evidence of a typically developing child, doing well in school, reaching each academic milestone with ease. Not much to see here. Zach's stack contains evidence of a child who was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at age 3. His stack contains evaluations, tests, diagnoses, prognoses, educational goals to meet, educational goals met, classroom accommodations, behavior interventions, areas of concern, special challenges and I could keep going.

I am feeling bound by these binders. One small boy, so much information. He has come so far, according to the stack of papers, and he has so far to go, according to the same stack of papers. I glance back at Jake's binder. What if Zach's binder were the same as Jake's? What would it be like to have two boys who scamper through school days and check off the years with relative ease? What if, I wonder. But what if I didn't have these two amazing boys? No lunches to pack, no homework to do, no missing sneakers to find. No papers to file, no feelings to feel.

I place Zach's giant tower of evidence under the desk except for this year's binder. I put that one next to Jake's. We'll just take it one school year at a time, one semester at a time, one 9 weeks at a time, one week at a time, one day at a time, one morning at a time. There are some sad facts in our past and there are some scary unknowns in our future and I can't do anything to change that today.

There is no paperwork in either boy's binder that tells the truth. Sure the papers say quite a bit about reality but the truth is that I have two incredible children filled with love and curiosity and compassion and spunk. There are big plans for those little lives and I know that to be true even if I don't have a report to back it up.

I won't be bound by the binders.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Blogger's Pledge

Welcome to my blog! There is a very good reason I've started this blog but I'll save that story for another day. For now, I'll start with a preview of things not to come.

I will not be posting cute photos of my children just to show you their "cuteness". Trust me they are the most beautiful, talented, interesting people in the world, but so are yours.

I will not be posting photos of or recipes for delicious dishes I made for dinner. Also I will never recommend that your day will go smoother if you'll just start dinner in the crock pot early in the morning. Although it is a special surprise to suddenly remember, "Hey, dinner's in the crock pot!" this is the only time I will mention it.

I will never post anything about how to get into shape. No news about diets, exercising and fitness in general. I will not be training for any type of race, run or triathlon and I won't be achieving any fitness goals so this eliminates a need to tell you about them. Sure, being healthy and fit is important but the topic makes for a really boring read.

I won't be offering advice on how to be a super mom and super wife.

But I will share stories about a life that's not what I expected and exactly what I wanted.

Thanks for reading.