Monday, September 28, 2009

The Writing on the Wall

You might wonder what two geeky mommy bloggers would do if given a few hours on the campus of their alma mater. Or, maybe you wouldn’t, but I have decided to tell you anyway.

We had lunch at Legal Seafood in Kendall Square - a predictable conclusion.

We then wandered over to the new building 20. I should mention that everything at MIT has an affectionate numerical identification. I have heard people, particularly in course 15 (management), complain that even the people at MIT are reduced to numbers. And, the fact that my freshman dorm room number and course 2 were more meaningful in my introducing myself as a freshman than my own name, might lead you to the same unfortunate conclusion.

An MIT conversation might sound like this:

“So, where is the freshman in 501?”

“The one in course 2?”


“She’s in 26-100, but I’m meeting her in lobby 10 at 2 after 8.01.”

“Great. 2.70 isn’t until 3.”

At MIT, people are not reduced to numbers, but elevated by them. Let me offer that the preciseness of numbers offers a common understanding on a campus otherwise so diverse and so unique that, well, understanding may even be beyond the grasp of those in course 16 (that would be rocket science).
I am sure you are terribly impressed.

And so we toured the new building 20, built in the place of the beloved old building 20 (creative, no?) that had seen the birth of radar, and so many other revolutionary technologies. Old building 20 had shaky walls and an excessively warped floor and an incredible history. In its place is a fascinating and unique building built by the very same architect who built the Peter B. Lewis building in Cleveland. This new building is named after someone too, but being an MIT alumn I have already forgotten (proof left to the student), preferring to call it building 20 anyhow.

Building 20 sports a great number of blackboards. Feeling creative, we decided to write our names on the wall. And then, we had a much, much better idea.

Unlike the 8.01 (physics) problem sets of yesteryear, the next step was in fact obvious: 26-100.

And so, we did, we wandered over to our beloved freshman lecture hall, where every MIT student for decades has studied freshman physics, among the core freshman requirements of physics, calculus, and chemistry. We call the room 26-100.

Like so many alumni and students before us, we wrote on the wall.

And, unlike 8.01, it was really, really fun.

Thank you Mommy bytes! I had a great time – and appreciate the ride to the airport.

This is probably not the greatest picture, but had to post it for Jess. If you ever walked along the Charles in the morning, (or ran, as I often did) you know what I mean.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

MIT Mommy goes to MIT

This must be the year of revisiting memories. I will call it that because I would hate to think that it is simply age – that I have finally taken enough of the journey that one can’t help but repeat a few scenes.

No, that certainly isn’t the case here.

Due to my career choice , I haven’t had many occasions to travel alone in recent years – the past decade, for example. But, I’m finding that decades are sort of quick nowadays and even that seems a small matter.

Anyway, it is not the same. The places may be the same, but I am not. The coveted ten dollars that I owed my girlfriend today – that I made a special trip to the bank to get – would have been lost on the bottom of my purse years ago. Ironically, I cared more about money in those years. Life is funny.

And, I have to laugh. My packing skills have deteriorated. My ability to extricate myself from the daily routine could be likened only to removing overcooked rice from a shag carpet. There is always another little something – the right shirt for spirit day tomorrow, extra diapers, a snack for soccer, an overdue letter.

As if the children could nary survive without homemade banana muffins.

They’ll be fine. They need me differently now, and that will be different again next year too.

Yesterday, I had a morning conversation with my husband in the driveway. Just a minute really, just about the normal stuff, the daily grind. The minute turned into five and looked up to see the neighbor kids assembled at the bus stop. I had left my children a sticky mess at the breakfast table. We would never make it.

I flew into the house to find Andrew and Gladys dressed, ready, and putting on their shoes on in the front hall.

Don’t they need me to cajole them, harp on them, push them forward?

They need me in different ways.

They are not all grown up. I still kiss their boo boos and scare away the monsters and make them do it one more time, correctly, because I know they can do better.

But, MIT Mommy ought to remember how to pack a bag. I am a better person than I was ten years ago, but a few dusty traits ought to be re-polished to shine again. They need me to be a good example in that way too.

As I entered airport security, my cell phone rang. I assumed it must be about the kids. I checked the message immediately after security.

“I just dropped you off. You forgot to give me the money you owed me.”

My friend’s message went on.

“I just wanted to let you know that you shouldn’t fret about it. I mean, I thought you might because I know you were so specific about paying me back. But, I need you to do me a favor. I want you to take that little bit of money and as soon as you get this message go buy yourself a glass of cabernet. You do that as a favor for me. Have fun. Everyone is good here. I’ll see you when you get back.”

Yes, I got the message.

It is wonderful to visit MIT, especially knowing I am so blessed at home.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Day with Andrew

Andrew and I spent the day together today. My husband took the littler two with him to a family event. Andrew wanted to stay home to go to soccer practice, so we made the most of our day together. Besides oodles of projects, including cleaning out Jessie (the trailer), the pantry, and the bathroom, we made lasagna and went to an Italian restaurant together for an al fresco lunch. This conversation happened on the way to lunch.

“Mom, I’ve decided what to do when I grow up.”

“Oh? Terrific. What have you decided on?” I replied, willing to take almost any answer since he had pretty much decided on a ‘truck driver’ this summer.

“I’ve decided that when I’m old enough to buy a car, I’m going to buy one and, well, I’ll buy two because I’ll need one for my wife, and then I’ll take one of them and hide it until it is a classic car.”

“That is a very cool idea. What kind of car are you going to buy?” I ask, wondering off-handedly about the whole wife-thing, but deciding to leave it alone.

“A Ford Mustang.”

Later, getting ready for bed, he was reading a Classic Car magazine.

“Did you have a good day, Honey?”

“Yeah, I hope we have a lot like this one.”

“Yeah, me too,” I smiled, deeply. “Come on, up to bed, especially if you want to bake bread before school.”

“So, Mom, I found a classic car that I think we could fix up and it’s not even that expensive, at least not for an actual car.”

“How much is it?”


“Oh, well, that is quite a bit of money still. But, you have lots of time really. You won’t be 16 for nine years. So, that’s like $400 per year or $100 every three months or about $1 per day. Do you think you can save a $1 per day every day until you are sixteen?”


Yeah, maybe he could.

As I turned off his light, I realized that 3500 days just doesn’t seem like a long time. I wish I could make them all perfect, but I can’t.

They will be just like today, at least I hope so.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

George's Glory

It is SO hard being the littlest one some days. The big kids get to do this and that and go to school and come home and, and, and . . . . sigh.

Yesterday, George, who has barely cried more than a half-minute in his whole life, pitched a colossal fit. After having done a very big-boy job at preschool orientation, we dropped off his sister, and HE had to stay with Mom.

Insult to injury, I am sure that is how he felt.

Being a third child myself, I had a plan in place. Of course, I have explained to him that he will attend only every OTHER day, Wednesday and Friday, but that is a tricky concept at two. (Although he mentioned on Monday that we only go to gymnastics on Tuesday, which is correct, so who really knows?)

When we returned to the car yesterday, George and I had a conversation.

“George, you do start school tomorrow. I think you need your very own backpack.”

George nodded, but didn’t look up.

“Let’s go shopping now for a backpack, okay George?”

“A packpack AND a lunchbox.”

Two year olds are rather good negotiators.

“Of course, a lunchbox too, that is a great idea, George.”

So, this morning, George was more than ready to go to school. We did buy him a backpack, but could not find a suitable lunchbox. In mid-September, all that is left are Power Rangers and Barbie. I very rarely buy anything syndicated, even the “Thomas the Train” shirts we have were purchased by Grandma. So, with great fortune, Gladys offered up her favorite lunchbox (which is plain blue) and used her other one (which has Rosie the Riveter on it).

George happily put on a collared shirt and proper shorts and a belt. I even gelled his hair, just like his I do for his big brother before school. He is a very big boy on his first day of school.

“I ride the bus,” he said clearly from the front porch.

“No, not the bus, Gladys doesn’t ride the bus either.”

“I ride the red minivan.”

“That’s right.”

On the way to school, Gladys asked where we are going. She always does that.

“Preeeeschool!!” George replied, “I go to PREEEEEschool!”

“Yes, we are going to preschool.”

Gladys carried George’s backpack (he carried the lunchbox) and helped him find his classroom. She delighted in ‘showing him the ropes’ so much she was late to her own beloved classroom.

It was when he put his lunchbox up on the cart that he saw it.

“I have Lightning McQueen snack!”

“No, George, that belongs to another boy in your class. You have a blue snack.”

“I want Lightning McQueen snack,” he said it clearly, with passion, but no tears.

“We didn’t get a lunchbox yet. Should we find a Lightning McQueen lunchbox?”

“Yes, Lightning McQueen!” He said emphatically, of course, but without crying.

“Okay, we buy one,” I replied.

George took off his shoes, put them neatly next to each other, and ran into the gym.

“Preschool house you wear shoes?”

“Yes, George, you wear shoes in preschool.”

He put them back on.

“Love you, George. See you later, Buddy.”

As I headed for the door, one of his teachers touched my shoulder.

“Do you think he’ll be okay?”

“Oh, yeah, he’ll be fine, at least until I come to pick him up.”

And, I’ll be fine too, once I find a Lightning McQueen lunchbox.

Monday, September 14, 2009

It Takes a Village

I wake up in the morning knowing that I am in charge of my world. I am an island. I do not need any help.

I woke up this morning feeling that way.

I woke Andrew up at 6am to finish his homework. No problem.

At the bus stop, I met my friends Annie and Becky who brought two 3 year olds with them to my house to celebrate ‘D’ day. This is ‘D’ week for us. I planned to make homemade donuts. We made donuts. No problem.

During that time, my friend Cathy dropped off her 3 year old son for me to baby sit. He would enjoy ‘D’ day with us too. Five kids are at my house. And, though the fact that donut starts with ‘d’ might not stick with them, the pink frosting certainly would. No problem.

Annie and Becky left with their kids. Later, Cathy picked up her son and left with some donuts.

Diane dropped by unexpectedly to invite us to a birthday party. I gave her a donut too. This day was easy.

We had lunch. Played. And, then the bus came. After piano practice and reading, Annie and Becky came back, this time with two 8 year olds, a 7 year old and two three year olds to play in the backyard. No problem.

They offered to keep Gladys and George while I took Andrew to a parent-child meeting at church. Things were even looking up. I put my chicken dinner in the oven on a timer to start a little later, so it would be ready when we return.

And, feeling rather confident in my ability to tackle the day, I agreed to ride bikes to church with Andrew. We ride most days. No problem.

About half way to church, I was riding on rims. No problem.

I see Erica and Francis standing in Erica’s driveway. I ask to borrow her pump. It doesn’t work, so I switch my bike for Erica’s, and we are on our way again – now 20 minutes late for church.

I walk into the very nice mass for first communion kids and settle in sweaty and quietly in the back. I manage to sing songs while reading the religion class parent’s handbook. I wonder how I’m going to make it back to my house in time for everyone at my house to go home and my chicken to not burn. I wonder how, if I ride Erica’s bike all the way home, I will manage to collect my bike on just rims, which I carelessly left unlocked in Erica’s yard.

As I wonder this (and, of course, listen very carefully to whatever is being said) I realize that I could get a ride home and get my van with my bike rack and shuttle the bikes back in my van. I always keep my bike rack on my van in the summertime. If I wasn’t sitting in mass, I could walk home in 30 minutes. If I knew the combination to the bike lock that my son used, I could ride Erica’s bike home in 20 minutes.

If I can somehow catch the eye of my friend Georgia in the second row, I could get a ride home in her car.

And, just then, Georgia made a move for the door. I followed her. I accidentally brought the church songbook along with my son’s folder.

Georgia was able to give me the ride I needed. I returned in my van and re-entered the church meeting, grabbing a cup of coffee in the back to look natural, returning the songbook (and, I’m sure making a rather fine impression on the leader of this very nice church meeting). No problem.

All my problems are solved. In 15 minutes, I’ll get Andrew, load everything on the van, drop off Erica’s bike, pick up mine, and be home in plenty of time to relieve Annie and Becky and pull out the chicken. No problem.

Except, of course, potential new friend Hannah talks to me in the back of Andrew’s classroom, wanting to know more about the religion classes (which I know because I read the handbook while singing). And, my friend Isaac stops me in the parking lot to ask me more questions (because he thinks I actually went to that whole meeting). And, I might need his help next week for carpooling, who knows?

So, now I’m a little teensy weensy bit late, which is fine, until I realize that Erica’s bike does not fit on my bike rack.

Andrew and I abandon the van and ride his bike and Erica’s bike all the way to our house. Now, we are 40 minutes late. (Fortunately, Jay returned home before I did and not only checked on the chicken and the children, but was making fresh onion rings).

Somehow, without driving more than a mile the entire day, I manage to talk to nine friends. And, somehow, while eating dinner that night, I wondered how I could collect my flat tire bicycle from Erica’s, return her bike, and collect my van.

Although I do have many friends ‘Z’ who, like Cat in the Hat, keep ‘Voom’ at hand to clean up the mess I often make of my day, I couldn’t possibly have implicated friend #10. And, although I could ride my other bike with the bike trailer and pick up the van tomorrow, I didn’t want to leave my bike in Erica’s yard all night (or bother her further).

So, at 7:40 pm, I set off on Erica’s bike. I dropped it off, walked to the church, picked up my van, drove back to Erica’s house, paused to chat with Erica, picked up my bike and made it home after 10pm.

I will wake up tomorrow knowing that even though my 'problems' are truly 'no problem', I have help anyway.

That is my village.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Rocky Trip down Memory Lane

August 15th, 2009 - Diamond Creek Road, Yavapai Reservation, Arizona

One day, in Arizona, a type-A city girl careened down a dusty canyon in an F-150 to the Colorado River – to the base of the Grand Canyon. A young man sat at her side in white-knuckle anticipation. They were in love. She only broke the truck a little.

He fixed it without hesitation, somewhere outside of Peach Springs, Arizona.

They were in love.

Fifteen years later, a 40-something man drove sensibly down a dusty canyon in an F-150 to the Colorado River – to the base of the Grand Canyon. A young-at-heart woman sat at his side. The three children enjoyed the off-road adventure from the back of the white truck with mild anticipation.

“So, this was the road we were on fifteen years ago?”

“Oh, yes, this is the only road and I remember the turn off at Peach Springs vividly,” my husband replied. “This is the only road down here. I’m not surprised it is still unpaved. My first time down here was with you that night.”

I laughed to myself. I remember him being my ‘tour guide,’ an expert in the local area.
“Really? I thought you were just showing me places you had been before. I just remember you being quite nervous when I drove.”

“I let you drive?”

My laughter was no longer just to myself.

We drove down the canyon taking in the scenery. We stopped to show the kids different desert plants. We tried to remember what it had looked like, but it had been dark and dusty and I don’t remember noticing the desert plants fifteen years ago. The engineers were too busy noticing each other.

Our kids seem to notice everything. They see the different plants. They notice the change in rock color. Andrew hears the change in rpm when we ascend a hill. Gladys reminds her dad to put the truck in low gear to ease it down the other side. In a few short months George changed from simply clapping his hands and gleefully singing ‘Off-road Daddy!’ to pointing out specific birds.

We drove to the edge of the Colorado River and looked up the steep canyon walls. Although small compared to the grandeur further upstream, our children had not yet seen the canyon from the rim. My children reacted in their typical fashion.

Andrew stomped into the river with his boots on. After all, a cub scout wears full shoes to protect his feet.

Our attempts to ‘baptize’ George in the river will ill-received, although I did get his feet wet a little.

Gladys went swimming in her panties.

After we had all enjoyed the Colorado River in our own way, we headed back towards Peach Springs.

And, once again, a 40-something man drove sensibly down a dusty canyon in an F-150. A young-at-heart woman sat at his side. The three children enjoyed the off-road adventure from the back of the white truck with mild anticipation.

Until, of course, that sensible 40-something man got stuck behind a very slow moving F-750 loaded down with kayaks coming from the Colorado River. At that time, he decided to very sensibly (anyone would have done the same actually) pass them at the widest part of the dusty, rocky road. Before that young-at-heart woman could even think about white knuckles, they were beyond the kayak-bearing trucks and once again driving sensibly down a dusty canyon.

Until, of course, the very useful light on the dashboard went on - the very useful light that tells you about low tire pressure. As soon as the truck stopped, the very loud hissing sound coming from the back tire dispelled any notion of just a little ‘low pressure.’

Nope. That tire is busted.

And, once again, that man was fixing an F-150 on the dusty road outside of Peach Springs, Arizona. He only broke the truck a little.

And, anyway, they were still in love.

It might say 'flats fixed' but ours was not to be salvaged. We left it in the pile there behind Gladys.

Take only pictures. Leave only tires.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Summer's Last Rites

It is a rite of passage.

There is a moment in time when a child realizes that he is, without argument, taller than 48 inches.

He has grown. He is a BIG kid. The amusement park might as well have been designed for him and him alone.

Well, it certainly wasn’t designed for me exactly, or at least no one mentioned to me that you had to be 48 inches tall and younger than 38 years, give or take (at least for a few of those rides).

It started innocently enough. The park opened in the 1800s and many of the rides are quite old in design. The roller coaster debuted in 1938, at a time when people were not necessarily used to five-point harnesses and break-neck speeds.

The Merry-go-Round was beautiful. The Ferris Wheel was delightful. The bumper cars were Andrew’s dream come true. Crashing into Dad made his day.

George liked the airplanes and balloon ride and the train too. Gladys’ favorite was the Ferris Wheel, no the roller coaster, and the . . . “Can I give you my top five?”

While Jay enjoyed the under 48 inch rides with George and Gladys, I took Andrew to the other side so he could ‘introduce me’ to the bumper cars. After all, every seven-year-old ought to have the opportunity to crash into his mother. And, we decided to find the roller coaster too.

I am not a roller coaster fanatic, but I really enjoyed the roller coaster at Idlewild. It was that right mix of fast and curvy without shaking apart my joints. And, although it wasn’t break-neck speeds, there wasn’t any restraint per se, which left it appropriately exciting.

But, then my dear husband called me on the walkie-talkie to let me know that the little ones were having SO much fun that he would need some extra time. And, so, Andrew and I decided to go on a few extra rides.

I should have known better. The balloon ride had made me mildly dizzy. I had to find a stationary focal point while on the teacups. I went on the Spider anyway. Somehow, for some reason, our car decided to spin out of control.

I could no longer see. Everything moved so fast. My world became a blur.

We went aroundandaroundandaroundandaroundandaround. And. Stop.

Oh, my, my my my my pleeeeeasse stop. They let out the other riders soooo slowly.

I staggered off the ride like the town drunk.

“Let’s go find your father,” I said calmly.

“We have plenty of time, Mom. Let’s go on another ride.”

I looked around frantically for somewhere to sit. Every ride I saw seemed to spin.

“Let’s go find your father,” I heard myself say again. But, I knew he wouldn’t be ready yet and probably wouldn’t hear me where he was.

“Mom, how about the bumper cars?”

The bumper cars did not spin. I could drive myself. That would be fine. We stood in line. I held myself up on the railing, hoping the nausea would subside – wondering when I had ever felt so sick. The flu? The food poisoning in Greece? That unfortunate night with those Australians? Was it that bad?

I could barely stand.

I began to wonder if my face had actually turned green.

After buckling myself into the bumper car next to Andrew, I noticed that the building had begun spinning. I only had a few seconds before the operator would check our belts.

“Andrew, I might hurl. You go ahead. I’ll watch from the side.”

I carefully got up from my car and headed out of the bumper pavilion. I had made it. I leaned up against the soda machine, assuming that I would lose my lunch at any moment. I thanked myself for refraining from any funnel cakes. I had had a good lunch.

I might even be fine. Maybe.

And, sure enough, I was fine, (although it would take nearly two hours and lots of water before I could even go on the Ferris Wheel). Andrew jumped happily off the bumper cars and we went, slowly and deliberately, to find Jay.

It was only later, during the late-night departure from the park, that I realized my son had experienced another rite of passage. He learned a new word. And, I am so proud that he learned it from his mother.

“So, Mom, what does ‘hurl’ mean?”

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fabricating Dreams could be a Reality

I have a proposal. Pull out your cocktail napkins for a moment and follow along.


The local school district might be losing a big chunk of funding due to changes in Ohio policy, and might be looking for ways to maintain their cutting edge education.

The local schools are among the top ranked in the state and especially proud of their science program (and academics in general).

A large portion of people in the community would gladly tell you that they moved to the area for the schools.

The individual schools only do a small amount of fundraising to cover their basic expenses including things like assemblies, the annual family picnic, etc.

Are you still with me?

The whole community, including the elementary schools, comes together for a very large and successful fundraiser that makes over $30K. (The money goes to $1000 scholarships to graduating seniors).

There is a very active, and amazing group of people in the PTA who volunteer a lot of time and money (and care a trememdous amount about education).

There are more amazing people in the community who might just volunteer more time and money if there was a project that sparked their interest – particularly one that would further their child’s education in a concrete way.

There are even more engineering and manufacturing firms in the community who might rally around a concrete education initiative focused on science and engineering.

Still have that cocktail napkin handy?


MIT had specifications for a FAB Lab to allow students to fabricate almost anything they could design on a computer – everything from ultra thin computers to furniture to toys to whatever.

The basic equipment for such a lab cost $60K (okay, plus a little more to make the space ready somewhere in the community).

Training and technical support exists through MIT and also the FAB Lab network of users throughout the world.

Two such labs already exist successfully in the Cleveland area and might even be open for a tour if someone were to ask.


The PTA and the school system and some local businesses were to work together to establish such a lab in the school system.

High school students could be using high tech equipment to create, well, almost anything. Maybe they could even create science experiments for the elementary schools to use for education? Or, maybe they could do some research for those local businesses? Maybe.

My cocktail napkin says that it is worth taking a closer look.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dreams of the Open Road

I wake slowly from my long summer dreams,
My thoughts still wand’ring down the open road,
Merely two weeks since our return it seems,
Two thousand mornings since those red rocks glowed.
My mem’ries collect into this small ode.

Twelve thousand miles on an edu-vacation,
Our family adopted the traveling mode,
We stopped at every Ranger Station,
Hot springs and canyons our children we showed,
No hesitation to go off the road.

Our journeys took us to locations where,
We saw the mem’ries of where water flowed,
And when the rain threatened us to fill the air,
The beautiful desert became land forbode,
We scurried quickly to that well-paved road.

We drove through vibrant towns left in despair,
Empty shells of cars, last century towed,
Left outside to rust no one seemed to care,
I cared often to find a clean commode.
We found Route 66 – the Mother Road.

We send our kids off now to school with walls,
They must learn to read and write and follow code,
But as they follow those straight, narrow halls,
They dream of mountain meadows never mowed,
Their mind’s eyes made rich from the open road.

Hold close your babies, let the big ones free,
Imagine rain puddle tadpoles grown into toads.
They must get dirty before we can see
One day we reap from what we sowed,
The dreams made real along life’s open road.

I welcome September, knowing that not a single moment of summer with my children (and husband too) was squandered. And yet, while one might say that the children need to read and write - I have found that reading and writing is a very basic need in my life as well.

I am glad to be back.