Friday, August 29, 2008

Superior Housekeeping

I never learned to keep house. In high school, I had a typical clean-up routine prior to my parents’ return from work: throw out old periodicals/newspapers, put dishes in dishwasher, vacuum living room, start dinner. I was a busy student with lots of activities. That routine managed to keep any additional demands at bay.

When I lived alone, I cleaned before I had visitors. Fortunately, I entertained frequently. No, I didn’t clean very well. Anyway, who needs fussy friends?

When I started this job as a SAHM, I bought or borrowed a few books on the subject. I paid some attention to commercials. (I learned a lot about cleaning from commercials). I hired a cleaning lady and tried to follow her around once. She didn’t like that. A friend gave me the “Flylady” book. I read it until I got to the part about CHAOS (can’t have anyone over syndrome). The premise was that my messy house was causing me a great deal of embarrassment and consternation. The book implied that I wasn’t willing to have people over because I was so dissatisfied. I wasn’t “loving myself.” Oh, I love myself. Unfortunately, I was never properly wired to be embarrassed about my house. I learned a few useful tricks, then I lost the book in a pile of other books, only to find it again about four years later.

I went to playgroup at homes that were very clean, and I interviewed my friends who lived in those homes. It would go something like:

“Oh, so you make your bed every morning, and then you clean the bathroom every week. Wow, that sounds like it takes a lot of time.”

“Yes, I guess. But, don’t you just feel so good when your house is sparkling clean?”

My answer was “no,” but I think the one time I actually said it, the rest of the playgroup didn’t go very well. I stopped talking to playgroup about cleaning.

I called my sister. Her house is pretty clean most of the time.

“A clean house is the sign of a sick mind. Isn’t that what Mom says?”

“Why is your house so clean?”

“My husband doesn’t think it’s a waste of time.”

Neither does mine, of course, except that he has a much different work schedule. He’s not home enough to clean much. He does help when he is home. And, my sister does a lot more than she is willing to admit.

I asked my mother-in-law. She is pretty conservative. Surely, she will hail the merits of cleaning house, and encourage me along the right path.

“Honey, your house is fine. Make it so you are comfortable. If anything, I should have spent LESS time cleaning when my kids were little.”

This was encouragement?

I called my mother. I didn’t grow up in a barn. Well, it wasn’t “Better Homes & Gardens, but it was clean.”

“Why can’t I clean my house?”

“Oh, I didn’t think it was worth my time to teach you kids to clean. Your grandmother didn’t teach us to clean either.”


“Your aunt asked her once how to clean a toilet. Your grandmother told her that she didn’t teach any of her kids to clean toilets, and by golly, she wasn’t going to start now!”

“That isn’t helpful.”

“She had a theory, Honey. She always told us that if your guests notice that your house isn’t perfect, it will give them the feeling of superiority. Of course, it is appropriate for a hostess to instill a feeling of superiority on her guests: proper humility.”


“And, of course, if your guests DON’T notice that your house isn’t perfect, then it really would have been a horrific waste of time to have fussed over it.”

My grandmother really said that.

So, I do clean my house, a little. Everyone has to, really. But, I maintain my strategy of showering my guests with good food and good conversation to distract them from noticing the details. But, if you happen to come over and do notice that my house isn’t perfect, please relish that feeling of superiority I have bestowed upon you.

(But please, don’t tell anyone else. I would like to maintain any psychological advantage I can over those unknowing guests. They won’t even know why they feel so happy!)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Parenting over-acheivement

It just has to be tough to have geeky parents (I hear my husband saying ‘speak for yourself’). No, really, we try so hard, too hard, and our poor children are doomed to geekhood. They need a dirty-rotten-uncle to keep things balanced.

The second day of 1st grade, I was having a pleasant dinner with my children. They were asking all sorts of questions, as usual, and we meandered over to the subject of poop. It is a weighty topic for the 3 to 6 year old set. They wanted to know where poop goes when you flush.

It is a good question, and not the first time that they asked. I explained the sewer system. I explained sewage treatment plants. I explained that, ultimately, it becomes earth again and is great fertilizer for plants.

“Plants eat poop?”

“Good thing you aren’t a tree, huh?” I said.

“Gross, Mom!” (Every once in awhile, you need to get a “Gross, Mom!” just to make sure you aren’t too much of a nerd).

We had covered all of this before. Finally, I told them that we also benefit from what the trees don’t need. They give of carbon dioxide . . . I went on . . . .

“So, I guess you could say that we breathe tree farts.” Yes, I really said that. Seems even more ridiculous to actually write it, trust me.

They looked at me. No laughter. No “Gross Mom!” I was thinking that I really missed the boat this time. Come on, that HAS to be funny to a six year old. I’m not that lame.

“What’s a fart, Mom?”

Factoid: Today would be my great aunt’s birthday. If she were still with us, she would be 110 years old.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Gladys caught me singing

When Andrew was at school and George was down for a nap, Gladys and I made tortilla dough. She was helping me.

"You scoop, I'll dump!" That's what she always says.

So, I was scoopng, she was dumping, and I started singing some made-up-tune about making dough. She started hugging me, right there standing on the chair next to me.

"Why are you hugging me, Sweetie? You are my sweet girl." I said giving her a squeeze back.

Then, as lovingly as ever and with a big squeeze, she said,

"You are my adult."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

First Day First Grade

Today was Andrew’s first day of full day school. He’s in first grade. He’s such a big boy and such a little boy all at the same time. Sigh. Okay. That’s quite enough of that.

I’ll give you one snapshot of my day.

When a woman in the PTA stopped by to pick up some materials for the meeting tonight, the following things were going on in my house: George was sleeping, Gladys was stopping around in dress-up clothes with cookie-dough hands, cookies were baking, vegetables were in my braising pot ready to burn, mail was falling off the island, ribbons and card stock were on the floor from a just-done project, laundry was piled on the couch, the dryer was beeping with more, ingredients were everywhere, bags from Target were still on the floor, extra school supplies were in the front hall, my phone was out of batteries, a sandy baby blanket was still on my porch, sixteen pairs of shoes were by the door, crayons were under the table, and my son’s bus was returning from school in less than five minutes.

I don’t really know her all that well.

I forgot to find one of the sheets she needed.

When I ran upstairs to print a new one, she stirred my vegetables.

I gave her the sheet. I put shoes on the feet for which I’m responsible (there were plenty of shoes to choose from). I turned off the braising vegetables, and ran out the door with my camera, just in time to get a HUGE hug from my son running off the bus.

Andrew was greeted with a very special cookie made by his sister.

We said prayers before dinner and ate a braised whole chicken in wine and herbs, on a clean table and over a (hastily) swept-clean floor.

I am pretty sure that is not how I expected Andrew’s first day of school to look on the day he was born.

I am glad I finally have things in perspective.

Monday, August 25, 2008

One-eyed Andy and the Vegetarian

On Sunday night, our family had dinner over at my vegetarian friend’s home. She prepared steak. Now, you might think that is a little odd (it is, isn’t it?) but she is the type of person who would make an expensive entrée for her friends with no intention of eating it herself. It was some fabulous dry-aged beef. Wow.

The event was significant for several reasons. Besides the fact that she was going out on of her way to make beef for us, she also has not had us over in years. The last time my husband was at her home, he had an allergic reaction to her cat. Anyway, she doesn’t host many formal dinner parties. People show up on her doorstep and she feeds them, it simply isn’t so planned. And, let’s see, the last time she had planned a formal dinner, they cancelled on her several times, until it just became awkward altogether. She was very excited about this momentous dinner party. She was very proud that she had overcome her self-described dinner-party anxieties.

No pressure.

Several things attempted to get in the way of being able to schedule this dinner party. We managed to dodge them.

I couldn’t believe she was making beef, but I told my husband that he would eat it and say it was wonderful if it killed him (of course, it actually was wonderful). Thank goodness, because my husband is a horrible liar. He’s painfully honest. (I love that.)

I hoped that my husband would stay away from her cat. She put the cat away somewhere and had most likely vacuumed ten times.

Our kids generally play very nicely together, but you never know. Andrew had been a little snippy last time they were together. Her son is sensitive, mine is sometimes a little insensitive.

Things were going well. We were all enjoying a drink. The kids were playing. The appetizers were delightful. The cat was nowhere to be seen. I relaxed, and I am not sure she was ever nervous.

Andrew and her son were having so much fun, they decided to go upstairs to be away from the girls. Fabulous!

“Mrs. E! Something is wrong with Andrew’s eye!”

Andrew appeared in the kitchen with his eye swollen shut.

His shirt was covered with cat hair. We didn’t know our son was allergic to cats for sure, but any question was now irrevocably cleared.

We administered Benadryl. He was so upset that he spit it out all over my dress. Finally, we succeeded with the medicine, stripped him down, and gave him a bubble bath. Andrew and I were both issued fresh clothes from our hostess. Dinner went on.

After dinner, Andrew appeared again, this time with one eye still swollen, but toting a pretend rifle. Jay and I are very much against play weaponry in general, but the sight of one-eyed-Andy toting a rifle was simply too much for me to bear. I laughed out loud.

Everyone was having such a nice time, we left a little later than planned. On our way out, my friend apologized again for my son’s eye.

“Are you kidding? When was the last time I had a half-bottle of wine and went home in someone else’s clothes? That HAS to be the definition of a successful party.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

She said 'goodbye' this week. I didn't know it.

She’s gone. I got the phone call today. My eyes are puffy, teary. I’ve been sobbing. No, really sobbing. I didn’t think I would do that. I guess I didn’t really think about it. She was ready. She told me she would go sometime. I knew she would. She’s just gone. She died Wednesday. It’s Friday night. I just got the phone call.

I asked if there is a memorial service planned.

“No, no memorial, nothing like that. She donated herself to science.”

She would do that. She never did anything the expected way. She didn’t follow the rules. She would do that. She would just leave. She was done, so why wouldn’t she just leave? I want to call her and ask her why.

She would say, “Honey, its not so fun getting old. Its uncomfortable, and you end up spending a lot of time with old people.”

She always told me that old people talk too much about their aches and pains. She would tell me about hers, if I asked. Mostly she wanted to see the kids. She wanted to touch their hands and read to them. She wanted to see them smile. It made her smile too.

She told me once that there was no way she could be a mother today. It was just too hard. She saw what I did and she just couldn’t do it. She told me that when she was a young mom, kids just went out and played. There weren’t so many expectations. She told me not to worry about cleaning my house. She told me I was doing the right thing spending my time with my kids. She told me not to worry. She told me I am young.

She liked to write. I wish I had her writings. She gave me one of her stories once. It was one of her favorite stories, I think. In her early 20’s, right out of college (probably 1946) she and her girlfriend drove across country. They didn’t pack much. They washed their panties in the sink. In Wyoming, they almost ran out of gas. They rolled into a gas station. The gas station attendant said,

“Ladies, you were flirtin’ with walkin’.”

She loved that line. She liked breaking the rules, just enough to keep people thinking. She liked flirting with trouble, almost getting there, but never quite. She was an unusual woman to be born in 1925. I think she was a lot like my grandmother, except younger.

One time, she was telling me about college. Being born in 1925, she had the unfortunate luck to go to college during WWII: no men. She said the dating was just awful. She was proud that I went to MIT, even though she didn’t know me then. I told her the dating was just fine, and she was pleased to hear that too.

I asked her once why she hadn’t remarried, why she didn’t have a boyfriend now. She had had a boyfriend for a little while, but that was over. She told me she didn’t want the trouble of dating someone her age. They all have aches and pains: too much trouble. I hadn’t really thought about that so much. It was as if she was still in high school when all of her friends went to college. She wanted to play. She wanted her friends back. Those times were gone. She was ready to graduate too. Why am I not ready for this?

I’m crying again. Does she know I’m crying?

She was with me on the phone when my water broke with Andrew. I sat there and continued talking to her, denying that my water broke. She was a part of that story. She shared hers with me too. After my daughter was born, she was cradling her in her arms and we were talking about my daughter’s name. The name I knew her by was not her real name; it was a nickname. Her last name was her married name. My daughter and she had the same initials at birth. I had no way of knowing. We pretended that I named my daughter after her. We both knew that I didn’t. I couldn’t have done it.

There is something about motherhood that transcends generations. We are all mothers. We are all part of a chain, bits of wisdom, buckets of love, hints and hopes. There is an understanding. We are all trying. We all love our children. To blame our mothers is to blame ourselves. There is no perfect mother. We just try. You can’t even write it down, you can’t make a handbook. For every generation motherhood is a little different; our children are as different as we are. We learn from each other, but it is never a perfect lesson. What is success? How can you improve upon love? What could she say to me to help me through? (I know she wanted so dearly to help me, to tell me a few things that would make it easy where her path was rough.)

She told me about some of her rough spots. Not to win my sympathy. Not to shock me. Think of the stories as parables. She had rough spots. There is no memorial for her. She leaves two children and two grandchildren behind. She loved to write. She wouldn’t want a stone in the ground. Stones are heavy and cold. They have no use. They sit there and follow the rules. She didn’t like rules like that. She questioned everything. She left a trail of breadcrumbs on a windy day. I can’t follow her path; she wouldn’t want me to follow. Her path is not a path to follow. I see her breadcrumbs rise up like a tornado: strong.

She gave me the greatest compliment a mother can give. To everyone we saw, she introduced me as her daughter. Well, not her real daughter, her pretend daughter. She explained that part too. She liked explaining it, how we were pretend mother and daughter.

I wore black today. I am wearing a short, black dress. Today was the first day I wore it. I don’t often wear black. I wore it to the park today. I didn’t know that I would find out that she died. She would be glad that I wore a short, black dress to the park today. I’ll pretend that she helped me pick it out, somehow. Its okay, even if I’m pretending, it’s still okay. Isn’t that what faith looks like from the outside?

This week was probably the best week of the summer for me, well, the best week that my husband didn’t take vacation. That was a gift from her. She would never call me because she didn’t want me to be sad when she wasn’t feeling well. She didn’t want to distract me from my kids. She wouldn’t have wanted me mourning this week. She was sad that she didn’t have the energy she used to have. She always reminded me how young I was. If she was my fairy godmother, she would have waved her magic wand and granted me her wish: energy.

I had asked her many times after she couldn’t drive any more if I could take her out with me. I would ask her if I could pick her up and take her somewhere. I would get a wheelchair. Could I just bring you to my house, just to be in a house and not the nursing home?

“No, honey, I can’t really travel anywhere. It just isn’t a good idea. You are so sweet for suggesting it, but I really can’t.”

It wasn’t like her to follow the rules. She would break convention. She wasn’t willing to make me responsible for her, but at least she knew I wanted her to visit. I wish she could have visited me to say goodbye.

Oh my Lord and my God. She rang my doorbell.

Casey said ‘goodbye.’

All Day Playdate

On Wednesday, when we were on our 12-mile bike ride on some local trails, a friend of mine convinced me to take a day trip to an island in the Great Lakes. The magic wand that was so prophetically waved at me on Monday in the park, must have been very powerful indeed.

We went. Three moms, seven kids, and packed lunches all shoved gracefully into two minivans. The day was beautiful. We had almost a straight flush of kids aged 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6, & 7.

We rode around the island. The 6 & 7 yr old boys led the pack. My barely six year old, Andrew, kept up in spite of his being both smaller and having a 16-inch bike (vs. his friend’s 20” bike with gears). He pedaled like a maniac. The magic wand must have given him special energy as well.

Did I mention the day was beautiful?

We stopped for lunch and the kids threw rocks into the lake. We stopped for ice cream and George was completely covered in vanilla. We stopped after 15 miles and the kids ran to play on the playground. (George and Gladys had been in the trailer, so of course they had a little energy left). Their mother who had been hauling them around was still going stronger than she should have . . . .

The older boys actually started fighting over playing with George on the playground. They all wanted to help the one-year-old. They were chasing him around to the stairs, helping him up, lifting him to the highest slide, then racing to the bottom of the slide to catch him. Over and over they did this. George was stumbling along, hardly able to stand up he was so tired. It was already after 4pm.

My two friends had been talking over by the vans, packing up, while I watch the kids at the playground. When they came over, I asked what seemed like an obvious question,

“So, did you call the hubbies? Are we grabbing a martini and watching the sun set?”

We all had the same thing on our minds. We decided to stay. By then, it was nearly 5pm but we decided to head down the beach anyway. One of my friends ran over and bought some refreshments for the adults. We didn’t bring extra clothes.

“Take off your shorts before jumping into the lake!”

They all did. The kids splashed and played. George played in the biggest sandbox he had probably ever seen. Have I not taken him to the beach before?? I was running through the water taking pictures when Andrew decided to get me quite wet with one of our empty cups.

All of the sudden, it was 7pm. Three moms and seven sand-caked kids took a shower in the camping area. My friend magically produced one towel per family. We raided the van and found mismatched clothes for all the kids. We went to dinner at a local joint on the island, serving “world-famous” beverages. We felt the experience would not be complete unless we tried them. After all, we must teach our children that it is fun to try new things. (My “breathable” athletic shorts were not breathing fast enough to dry my panties, so I ran out to the van during dinner and removed the wet, sandy, excessively uncomfortable garment - phew).

We left the restaurant in the dark. Our fearless leader had parked around the corner. When my other friend and I jumped in my van with the rest of the kids, we chose the wrong direction towards the ferry. We drove on and on. It isn’t a big island. I suggested that we pull out the kiddie menu from the restaurant that had a map – at which point my friend recognized that the water was, indeed, on the left instead of the right. We were going in the wrong direction.

We made it on the 9:30pm ferry. My kids were in bed just after midnight.

That, my friends, is how a play date should be.

Holy Police Cars

The night prior to writing about the “knock knock” jokes, there was a ‘tick-tacker’ at our door. That’s right, someone rang our doorbell between the hours of 12:30 and 5am and ran away. I was so tired that morning that I looked on the porch for a package, as if some PTA mom had decided to drop off brownies that night. Ha! I decided it was probably some stupid slumber-party dare. This is the suburbs.

Wednesday night was far more difficult to ignore. I was out babysitting for a friend (cool parents go to rock concerts) until midnight. I had dozed off and on, so I was a little foggy when I left their house. I passed some apartments on the main road and saw three or four police vehicles with their lights on. Wow, I thought. That looks like a pretty big deal.

Then a police vehicle turned on his lights right behind me.

I slowed down, practically swerved, looked at my speed, my heart raced. Then his lights turned off again. Okay, wasn’t for me. Anyway, I was barely doing 30 in a 35 zone.

I was awake now.

I noticed five more police cars on the other side of the intersection with their lights on. It looked a lot like that rock concert I had missed. On the other side of the street, there were four or five more cars parked with their lights off. People were milling around.

As I drove between the stopped cars, it became clear that the vehicles on both sides of the street were ALL police vehicles. There were probably 8 or 10. Officers were walking along the road with their nightsticks looking for something. There was no accident. There was no ambulance. There was just an incredible amount of interest in the side of the road.

After I drove through, two police officers whizzed by me. I was driving nice and carefully now, fully alert. Someone was tailgating. It was an SUV with its running lights on. I thought it was very odd that someone was tailgating right after a crime scene. I mean, doesn’t everyone act like a Nobel Peace Prize recipient right after passing a police car? Mother Teresa wouldn’t drive better than I do after such an event.

He was . . . right . . . on . . . my . . . tail.

I took the left towards my neighborhood. He followed.

I took the right into my neighborhood. He followed.

I took the left onto my street. Oh, my, he’s still back there! So, by now I had decided that I would just drive right by my house and, if he continued to follow me, drive right to the police station. I’m not getting out of my car, especially not anywhere near my kids.
(I used to walk home through the city after midnight by myself in my 20’s. It’s amazing what kids do to us).

Just then, the SUV pulled into my neighbor’s house. It didn’t look like my neighbor’s car, but they have a teenage son. He’s the right age to both drive and be a little foolish.

I pulled into my driveway and went to my front door to unlock it.

I never saw anyone get out of the SUV. And, as fast as he stopped at the neighbor’s house, he pulled away and was gone. It still felt like he had followed me.

I was up until 2:30am, comforting my daughter who was having leg cramps. I probably would have been up anyway.

What about the tailgater? Oh, probably just another teenager quickly dropping off the teenage boy down the street. It was just me, just being paranoid about my kids.

Just doing my job.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Knock knock

After writing a long and rambling post last night, I woke up this morning with only the car ride home echoing in my head.

"Knock knock" (Andrew)

"Who's there?" (Gladys)

"Lawn mower" (Andrew)

"Knock knock" (Andrew)

"Who's there?" (Gladys)

"Lawn mower" (Andrew)

"Knock knock" "Who's there?" "Lawn mower"

"Knock knock" (George)

"Knock knock" "Who's there?" "Aren't you glad I didn't say lawn mower?"

"Knock knock" (George)

"Pete and repeat were in a boat, Pete fell out, who was left?" (Andrew)

"Repeat" (Gladys)

"Knock knock" (George)

"Pete and repeat were in a boat, Pete fell out, who was left?" (Andrew)

"Repeat!" (Gladys)

"Knock knock" (George)

The truth is, I was joining in too. I used to think it was annoying. Okay, I still occasionally think its annoying. But, for some reason, yesterday it was okay. That is why they keep doing it. Because, every once in awhile, Mommy comes up with a knock knock joke"

"Knock knock" (Andrew)

"You are there" (Mommy)

"You are who?" (Andrew)

I'm your mother, didn't you know that by now??

Aww, Mom!

Do you have any good ones??

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A day in the life

We had your basic suburban day. I caught myself running down the driveway this morning, dressed in a brown baby-doll summer dress, barefoot, trying to give my husband the ice water he had poured for himself before he ran out the door. I caught up to him on the street. I gave him his water. He gave me a kiss, leaning out his open window.

I said, “Oh, my, this feels very suburban.”

He said, “I think I sort of like it.”

I ran back into the house, straight into the kitchen, and was so distracted I made the worst pancakes I’ve ever made in my entire life (except for the ones I made over at a friend’s house, but I can’t tell you about it because she might read this). They looked weird (the pancakes, not my friend). Andrew cheerfully said that they looked like lily pad pancakes (no one should be so cheerful in the morning). George threw his entire 20-pound body forward far enough to grab one, took a bite, and promptly threw it further than I had ever seen him throw anything. Curious, I took a bite myself.

I forgot the sugar.

“That’s okay,” Andrew said just as cheerfully, “we dip them in syrup anyway.” (As a mother, I should have thought of that myself, but we all slip occasionally).

“Fabulous, I made lily-pad panbread! What a terrific breakfast!” They gobbled them up. I looked for that iced coffee I had stowed somewhere in the refrigerator. Where was that coffee?

I had a PTA meeting this morning. The subject of the PTA will provide a great deal of amusement for the rest of the school year, so I will leave that for later. We decided to ride our bikes, mostly because it is much easier to get the kids out of the house that way.

The kids were in “babysitting,” which meant that they were watching a movie with other children only slightly older than they are. I spent a brief moment talking to one of the faculty members. When I found my children, they were alone, completely glued to the television. Andrew was laughing out loud. They left happily. We rode home, stopping only briefly at my friend’s house because Andrew insisted. She wasn’t home anyhow.

After lunch, the piano teacher came for Andrew’s lesson. George napped. I played something with Gladys in the basement. What DID we do? I finally found my coffee. After his lesson, Andrew wanted to play Battleship and then Othello, so we played boys against girls. Andrew has finally gotten good enough to beat me in Othello if I let him sneak into all the corners. He won’t get more than three corners next time! Ha!

After George’s nap, we ran a few errands to prepare for tomorrow and the next day. The next two days we will go on long bike rides. I had lost the attachment pin for the bike trailer at the park the other day, so I drove back there to find it in the grass (I found it, can you believe that??) Then, we bought a bike lock. Finally, we went to the grocery store. Yes, I could have done all of this at Target. What did Gladys say?

“I am fine with Target, mostly, but I prefer Giant Eagle, Mommy. They have much nicer sandwich makings at Giant Eagle.” She was right, and I needed a few other groceries too.

By the time we reached the checkout lane at the grocery store, my children had consumed about a quarter pound of ham and cheese from the deli. They were picking at each other. I had politely explained to them our mission, laid down the vision, and given them an outline of incentives. For their part, they wanted to ensure that my leadership skills were fully honed.

I began to feel sorry for the woman behind me.

Then, the woman and her children behind HER stole the show.

“Mommy, can we get this candy, can we? Can WE? CAN WE??” It got worse. She was having a much worse day than I was. It was 5pm in the checkout line.

Then, the woman in the middle answered her cell phone.

I walked out, leaving yet another suburban nightmare in my wake.

After dinner, I bathed three children and put George to bed. I went to a babysitting co-op meeting. Probably ten or so women sat around trying to figure out how we could work out all of our schedules to ensure everyone makes it to every appointment, activity, and dinner date in September. It’s a circus that can’t be fully appreciated without attending.

When I came home, my dear husband had folded another load of laundry. He was asleep in the family room. I gave him a kiss. I sent him to bed. And, here I am.

It is the end of another suburban day.

Monday, August 18, 2008

This morning on the bikes

My kids and I have been doing a lot of biking lately. It has been fun, even liberating, to get on a bicycle again. That feeling of the wind in my hair racing down a hill just brings back proper perspective. Today, I even had the joy of hearing Gladys whooping it up in the trailer when we hit top speed.

“Whheeeeeeeee!!!! Let’s do it again!!!!”

I have been taking the kids to a long, pretty flat trail about 30 or so minutes away from our house. We’ve been taking a nearly 12-mile jaunt, stopping for lunch at the farthest point. I think Andrew has really done well finally being able to ‘let loose’ and ride without my constant yelling “watch for cars” and “look both ways before you cross.” The suburbs are nice and all, but they are a stifling in so many ways.

Today, we went to a closer trail that is only about a mile in one direction and has one fairly large hill at the far end. Andrew wasn’t too keen on the hill on the way up, but I had the foresight to park the car at the lowest point (I’m pretty clever that way, okay, lazy, but all they remember is the final stretch). When we stopped for a snack, an older woman passed by with her husband. She commented on how much energy I have. “You have a lot of energy,” she said. I thanked her, of course. After she walked away, I wasn’t sure if she was simply commenting on my athleticism, or if somehow she had bestowed energy upon me.

“You have a lot of energy.” It was as if she was waving a magic wand when she said it.

I was sitting at the picnic table with Andrew, Gladys, and George enjoying our fiber bars after our first two “laps” at the 2-mile trail, thinking about nature. I have read so many articles lately about how children don’t get outdoors enough anymore. And, when they do, there is always an adult directing the events. I try really hard to let my kids explore (see, I try really hard to NOT orchestrate the events . . . there is irony there somewhere). I do. I let them sit down in the river and search under rocks. I let them choose the trail whenever possible. We stop to investigate things. They take off their shoes and run through the grass. But, at the end of the day, we return to our little patch of grass in the suburbs. I can’t let them go off by themselves. I can’t tell them to “be home by dark.”

If you read this blog occasionally, you know that for my dad’s birthday I gave him a family blog. I checked it today and saw his very first comment. My dad grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin. He did run around and explore without adults. He went to school in a one-room schoolhouse. He remembers when his family got a toilet. So, what was his very first blog comment?

After his personal thank you’s (see the Brady Bunch poem I posted previously) . . .

“I used to play around in the bog, now I play around in the blog. I guess I gained an ‘l’ somewhere.”

I thought it was funny. And, maybe just a little too true.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My white skirt

I am a practical woman. I don’t put on airs, I rarely even put on make-up. I don’t particularly like shopping. (I DO like buying, of course, but not the shopping part). As the weather improved this spring, I noticed that none of my clothes fit. This was a happy occasion. For the past seven years I had been pregnant, or just post-pregnancy. For the first time, I finally had a one-year old and no plans for procreation. My body is mine again. I could buy clothes.

After searching through my closet for any worthwhile, unstained, unstretched threads, I decided I needed most everything. It was ugly. I absolutely had to go shopping.

My husband does very well and we are more than comfortable, but let’s just remind ourselves that I am at heart a fairly practical woman. I don’t like shopping; I like buying. I went to the outlet mall. My oldest was at school. I bribed my three-year-old with a promised trip to feed the ducks next door. George was just happy to be along.

I decided that I don’t like looking bad. That seems obvious, doesn’t it? Even more than that, I wanted to take advantage of my empty closet to only buy clothes that I actually like. Clothes that I feel good in. So I did. I bought three skirts, a handful of cotton/spandex tops, one pair of standard khaki shorts, and a couple summer dresses. That’s right, just one pair of shorts for the whole summer.

I wore skirts and dresses all summer. I didn’t own shorts in my 20’s either, I worked and lived in Japan. I always wore skirts and dresses, except when I was actually running or in the gym. I rode my bike to work every day in a suit skirt.

In the mix was one particular white cotton barely knee-length, gathered, skirt that I really hesitated to buy. After all, what kind of crazy person has three small, often muddy children and runs around in a white cotton skirt?

I wore it all summer. I wore it every week. I wore it hiking around Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. I wore it camping at Fort Niagara. I wore it to my son’s t-ball games and sat in the grass. I wore it to the playground, to the grocery store, my friend’s house. I just wore it like I wore everything else in my closet.

On Friday, I wore it to playgroup.

On my way there, every man walking his dog, every jogger, everyone was smiling and waving at me. They were looking at me, but I am used to people being friendly when I go out with my children. Then I walked into playgroup holding my one-year-old in one hand and my helmet in the other.

“You rode your bike here in a skirt?”

I wasn’t riding for exercise. I was just riding to get there. Why change?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The wheels on the bus swirl in my head

Less than two weeks before school starts: thirteen days and counting. For six years, yes, since my first was born, I have looked forward to sending them to school. I know for those first six months of his life I would have given my eyeteeth to just send him to school for one day. Please, please, just get me through the day I would think. Where did this child come from? Okay, I knew that part, but what craziness entrusted me with a child? I desperately wanted children. We had fertility issues, we tried “forever”, but those first sixth months were mind-boggling. I thought they would never end.

I was SO tired. I had only one friend in the new town (who is, remarkably, still my friend). I was SO alone with the child. I craved human interaction that didn’t involve having a human attached to me. I had lost myself a little. I missed me. Where was I in all of this mess?

My old self is still there, she is my friend, but she isn’t me. I love her, I think of her often, I even wonder what she would think if she could see me now. That woman had her heart all in one place. She made plans and moved forward, undaunted. Confident in a way that you can be when your heart is all yours.

I agreed to share my heart when I married. I cried about that. I knew that my decisions were still mine, but they were also ours. I became tangled up. It is a happy tangle. Then we had a baby. I thought postpartum was that short time right after birth. I didn’t realize that my heart would be running around in someone else’s body too. Then we had two more babies. Now my heart can run in five directions at once. It can be broken and filled with joy within the same moment. I’m so blessed. I can barely breathe.

School starts in 13 days. I am not ready. We have school supplies. My husband wants to take him clothes shopping. He has a lunchbox. My son is ready. He’s so ready. I am proud of him. I want him to go to school. I want to see his broad smile getting on that bus. I want to see the confidence he has running back down the street, asking if I made cookies today, just for a special surprise. I am even ready for the days when he is teased on the bus, when he is disappointed by the day. My heart is ready. His heart will grow stronger and so will mine. His heart will grow prouder and so will mine. My two little ones will be home; they will blossom with extra attention.

Please, can’t I just have a few more days?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

George learns a new word

There is constant conversation in my house. People are always talking. Most of the time, several people are talking at once. Even George, who only has a few words, talks all the time. We aren’t sure what he is saying, but I am sure he is sure what he is saying. His words now include: Mama, Dada, all done, ball, mine, and no. Since he only has about six words or so, he rarely asks very difficult questions. I rarely have time to think my own thoughts without being asked a question. George is always refreshing.

I thought I would have time to think today, but mostly I just talked to the kids while I rode my bike. We went over 11 miles on the bicycles, it was a beautiful ride in the fresh air. I said “oh really,” about 60 times per mile. In between, I had to think of reasonable answers to seemingly random questions.

I was amazed at how many comments I received from people I have never met too. I am a pretty friendly person. I tend to make eye contact and give a polite ‘hello.’ I’ll even make a pleasant remark now and then. Today, just having my children talk to me was not enough, everyone else talked to me too.

When I was putting the bicycles on the back of the van in my own driveway, a person jogging by told me that it was going to rain.

“Looks like you might get wet,” he said.

“Oooh, aren’t they so cute in the trailer??” I got a lot of that.

“You even have healthy snacks for them.”

“Looks like you have your hands full.”

“What a busy mommy!” I got something like that a few times.

My kids said things like:

“Look, Mom, a cardinal. What kind of animal is that one?”

“How much further until lunch?”

“Why are those cinder blocks there? Maybe they had a pig roast?”

“On our left is the such-and-such river. The river is over there, why is this bridge here over the bulrushes?”

“How many different kinds of trees do you need to have a mixed forest?”

“I think Uranus’ East pole is hot. Well, if it’s going around with the sun on its left side. If it’s going around the other way, I guess it would be the West pole. Which way does Uranus go around the sun?” (We weren’t talking about astronomy. Where do these things come from?)

“Baba gla da ba! Mama.” Ah, yes, sweet, sweet George. He always has some words of wisdom for me.

When we arrived home, we were all a little tired. I am used to being with the kids all day. I love them all dearly. I often describe being with them as the feeling of standing in a stiff wind. It’s not so much that it is really tiring, it was just in your face all day long and it feels good when the wind stops for a moment. If it stops for too long, you go looking for a fresh breeze again. My husband typically puts the older two to bed and I take George. He enjoys talking to the older kids. I enjoy having a little quiet time with my sweet one-year-old.

But, then it happened. We were getting ready for bed.

“No, no, George, not now,” I said.

He looked at me with those sweet eyes . . . “Why?”

Why?? Already?? Oh, oh, dear, sweet George, not yet.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A messy flashback

There is something about vomit that brings us all together as humans. As a mother, I see it all too frequently. No matter how impressive it is, my mind always wanders back to my favorite vomit story. Don't have a favorite vomit story? Feel free to borrow mine.

It was Christmas in Japan 1994. I worked for a Fortune 500 company, but there were only three of us (plus a shared secretary) in our division’s office: a British manager, a Japanese engineer, and a young American female engineer (yours truly).

Saying it that way sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Maybe it is. But it’s true.

The three of us, my boss’s wife, and our shared secretary went out to dinner for our Christmas party. We then met back at my apartment for drinks and dessert. I had a lovely three-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor, overlooking the river. The living/dining area was a large room with two sliding glass doors onto a wrap-around balcony. The place was very nicely furnished. We were all dressed nicely. I played delightful Christmas music such as Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. We sat around and talked. Suzuki-san, the Japanese engineer, took an occasional smoke break out on the balcony. A bit after midnight, everyone went home.

The next morning, my very quiet American neighbor on the seventh floor called me.

“Quite the party last night, eh?”

“Party last night?” I asked. “I had a few people over. I’m sorry, were we loud?” I was very confused. Why is this man calling?? Sure, I enjoy entertaining, but certainly we couldn’t have disturbed HIM on the seventh floor? Huh?

“I can’t get to work.”

“What?” I asked, even more confused now.

“Have you looked outside?”

“Well, no, what are you talking about, exactly?” I wasn’t quite dressed yet, so didn’t want to go running out to my balcony.

“I’m sorry, there simply aren’t words to describe it. You’ll just have to go look.”

I quickly dressed and peeked out my sliding glass door. Nothing. Ha! Wasn’t my party.

I went down the elevator and out the front door.

“Oh my. Oh my. Oh my!!!”

Yes, it was certainly my party. From the outside of my fifth floor balcony there was a clear path of vomit. It hit every balcony on its way down. It must have spread into the largest cone imaginable. It completely and totally COVERED my neighbor’s car: THICKLY. It even splashed onto the car of my 4th floor neighbor. He was right. There was just no description for such a large amount of vomit.

Oh my.

My neighbor took the train. By the time I arrived at the office, my boss had already broken the news to Suzuki-san, who was anticipating whose car had been victimized. He left immediately with a friend in tow.

How did it end?

Apparently car washes in Japan do not take too kindly to such filthy disasters. He was denied access. He had to go back to the apartment building and clean most of it off himself before they allowed him into the car wash. He cleaned the inside too, and filled it with gas.

They were my quiet neighbors. I didn’t know them well myself. I went up to their apartment that evening with a small gift and apologized. That is how I heard the rest of the story.

When Suzuki-san went to return the keys to the 7th floor neighbor’s wife, he bowed so deeply and so long that she said she finally had to just shut the door on him. She didn’t really care so much about the car, but she felt a little awkward about having shut the door on a man bowing. He didn’t speak English fabulously well and she didn’t speak Japanese at all. I can imagine it was quite the scene.

The truth is that Suzuki-san didn’t really feel that badly about it either. It just happened. He did what he felt he was supposed to do. I bet my 7th floor neighbors still think it was funny too.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Andrew's 6th Birthday

“Mrs. E! Mrs. E! The camper is going to catch on fire!!”

I love parties. Yes, there are preparations to make and there is never enough time. But, somehow, when the first guest arrives all of that melts away. All that is left is me in my cotton dress, a mint julep in my hand, the smell of smoked meat infusing my home with a mood of celebration . . . and friends, hopefully lots of them.

That was how my son’s 6th birthday began, much like many of our parties. People arriving, kids excited, happiness, hugs, “Can I get you something?” “Oh, what lovely wrapping, yes, put it over there, dear.” The weather was beautiful. The party started.

Andrew had given me precise specifications for his cake. He wanted a homemade (by mom) devil’s food sheet cake. On top should be a pick-up truck (Ford F-250) towing a fifth wheel trailer. They should be at their campsite, still hitched, but with the stabilizers down. It should all be made out of cake, icing, and candy.

“Mom, that’s pretty much what I meant!”

That’s what Andrew told me when he saw the cake the morning of his party. I felt the warm, happy feeling of success.

After dinner, the kids were running around the backyard as kids do. The hula hoop had managed to get up in a tree. The boys and girls were threatening to turn to tribal warfare (okay, not really), but either way it was time for cake.

The kids swarmed like wasps at a pig roast. Before I could snap two digital pictures, my husband lit the candles.

“Mrs. E! Mrs. E! The camper is going to catch on fire!!” The oohs and ahhs, the giggles and screams, it was unbelievable.

Per my husband’s brilliant suggestion, I used an entire box of candles in the ‘campfire’ I had put on the cake. The campfire was surrounded by ‘rocks’ of chocolate covered peanuts. By the time we managed to put out the fire some of the peanuts had their chocolate melted off. Wax was running down the cake. My “warm, happy” feeling of success had turned into a “hot, explosive” feeling of success. You just can’t buy a cake like that.

After the cake, we digressed to the piñata, and then my husband planted a few cans of silly string, my friend brought some blinking necklaces for everyone, we had glow in the dark bracelets and flashlights were issued. The kids ran around like so many lightening bugs. By 10pm they were universally begging to go to bed.

The next morning, the kids were cheerful and playing in the dewy backyard in their pajamas. My husband made a full breakfast on the deck, including smoked breakfast sausage he had slipped in the smoker while the rest of us were still snoozing. We drank our coffee, finally opened gifts, and enjoyed a glorious summer morning.

My feeling of success had mellowed back to the “warm, happy” variety. By noon, our friends had all departed and we were left with one more fabulous set of memories.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Three raspberries

It is summertime. I did not set an agenda today. The kids played. I cleaned, a little. Andrew played the piano; we listened. I vacuumed, the kids dusted. They asked me to read, we finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We imagined meeting Mr. Wonka. They fought. They practiced making-up, again. We played in the backyard. The kids watered the raspberries and picked the only three red juicy ones. They ran to me and showed me their harvest. Andrew carefully washed them with the hose. He saved one for George, who was napping. Later, he ate it for him. We played in the front yard. I got to pretend to be the baby this time. I took a nap under the tree. Gladys tucked me in, then joined me. A minute later, Andrew was there too, lying under the tree. There we were, three people lying under the tree in the front yard. Cars drove by. They must have been going somewhere; doing something.

We didn't. We did nothing.

I was lying there with my children thinking about motherhood. I am a well-educated person. I have never seen a study that shows any specific positive result derived from lying under a tree with your children. I have never seen it. I wondered if I made more of an impact today on my world than the soul who drove by. Can you study that? What is the net present value of a woman lying in the grass with her children?

I have found recently I can tell better by what things are not, than what they are. The value of motherhood is not in this one particular day. The value is in the fact that today was not particularly special.

I wondered if 60 years from now my children will be having dinner together. They will remember the harvest.

"Remember all those raspberries?"

"Oh, yeah, they were so sweet!"

"I wonder why Mom never made jam . . . " Will they say that?

As mothers, we think we need to make jam out of three raspberries. The children know how to just eat them and remember their sweetness.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

His actual sixth birthday

Today was my son Andrew’s sixth birthday. As he would be quick to tell you “the party is really on Friday.” Yes, but he was still six today. It was an unusual day.

Gladys and I were sick, so my husband took off work. That alone is highly unusual. Not that he isn’t caring and helpful, but taking off work is a very big deal.

My husband took Andrew to the grocery store. That isn’t unusual, not as unusual as the fact that we had very little food in the house. Since it was his birthday, Andrew picked dinner: fresh fried calamari and penne alfredo. They had gone to the meat market and Andrew saw squid, one of his favorite foods. My husband deep fried it and whipped up two dipping sauces that were mayonnaise based. I despise the taste of mayonnaise. I loved both of his sauces. None of that was unusual.

Since the party isn’t until Friday, we didn’t have cake tonight. After dinner, my husband and I decided we would offer the kids ice cream and then give Andrew a gift. All we had in the house was “Spumoni” ice cream. It’s another story where the ice cream came from, but it had been in there for a few weeks. My husband and I had never tried it, nor had the kids. Pistachio-cherry-chocolate ice cream is now a new family favorite. Everyone loved it. They were excited to try it. Andrew said “Mom, it’s a crazy thing, you think its cherry and then, POW, its pistachio and then all of the sudden chocolate walks right in!” He really said that. I think that was unusual.

Andrew was very surprised when we handed him a gift. “Where did this come from?” he asked bewildered. He was really surprised. We gave him a gift last year. Giving a gift to a kid on their birthday probably isn’t that unusual. He seemed to think it was unusual.

“Its from us. Its just something little because today is actually your birthday.”

“Oh, cool.” He opened the card first, with a big smile. I could seem him smile bigger when he read the part that said “We love you.” He took awhile to open the gift. He didn’t tear it apart. I guess that’s the difference between five and six.

It was extra track for the Thomas the Train set.

“Wow, just what I wanted,” he smiled sincerely. He was very happy. He asked if we could work on the track right now, so we did. Gladys wanted some track too, so he gave her some to build. They didn’t have time to finish.

“Well, that’s okay, we’ll finish tomorrow.” He really said that too. Was this all really unusual, or have I just not noticed him growing up?

He had squid, spumoni ice cream, and was surprised that he got a gift. He went to bed happier than ever. Maybe that is a typical sixth birthday and I just don’t remember.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Pig Roast - A photo essay

But first, a "classy" head-shot for Ohmommy whose invitation got lost in the mail.

The Most Honored Guest

Deluxe Accomodations

Experienced Bartending

Gourmet Cooking
Hot! Hot! Hot!

Future Vegetarian

Shameless Violence

Sweet Booty

Contact Sport
Great legs!!!

Spa-like Mud Treatment

The late-night show.

Watch for the Executive Summary tomorrow . . . .