Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How Many Days Till My Birthday?

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Jamie counted down the days until his birthday… starting two weeks ago.  Every other minute, he would either ask “How many days till my birthday, mommy?” or tell us all, loudly, “EIGHT days until my BIRTHDAY!!!” 

 

I like to think his birthday lived up to expectations, but it’s tough to tell.  It’s always tough to tell with Jamie.  With Charles, every emotion is writ large on his face.  He’s an open book and he hasn’t yet (and may never) learn the fine art of dissembling.  Jamie, on the other hand, is an enigma.

 

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When he’s happy and excited, he’s all smiles and has a zest for life unmatched by anyone I know – and I have always counted Charles among the most excitable people around.  Jamie is just over the top.  He is also crazy serious about things sometimes.  As he rode his bike to the park and I walked along beside him earlier this spring, he stopped me and in all seriousness said, “Mom, we need to stop.  I need a thumb break.”  He stuck his thumb in his mouth and his finger up his nose and took care of business for a few moments.  “Okay, we can go now.”  I died laughing inside.

 

He’s often quiet.  In fact, he seems to need the quiet in a way that the rest of us don’t.  After spending all day at daycare with lots of other loud kids, he likes to spend time playing all alone or just with me (not always possible with his baby brother in the picture).  He doesn’t like to participate in group activities.  When I asked him if he wanted to do soccer, he immediately said “no.”

 

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Sometimes, it appears that he is the one laughing at us.  Like the whole world is just absurd, and he’s the only one who has noticed.

 

A couple weeks ago, when my parents were here, Charles got in trouble for something and had to do some extra chores.  He was cleaning up the back yard while Jamie chilled on the couch.  Jamie frequently takes little “time-outs” from the world to suck his thumb, pick his nose, and contemplate… whatever it is that four-year-olds contemplate.  My mom walked over to him and said, in that sweet, encouraging voice we adults use when we want to coerce children into doing something by making it seem like an awesome idea, “Jamie, we could go help your brother pick up toys in the yard.”  I think she was figuring that it would be a nice thing to do and that the chore would get done faster, but Jamie just deadpanned, “Yeah.  But I don’t want to.”  And then my mom imploded from laughter.

 

The other day, as I was getting dressed, he said to me, “Mom, when you wear a shirt, I can’t see your big breasts!”  Thanks, I guess?

 

Now that it’s summer, he no longer wears footie pajamas all day.  Instead, he strips down to nothing and runs around the yard bare-ass naked.  In the evening, before bed, he does “naked laps” around the yard.

 

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He can raise one incredulous eyebrow.  I haven’t figured out what it means yet.

 

To Jamie, the “oo” in “poop” is pronounced the same as the “u” in “cute.”

 

He’s four years old now, a stage I called the “Fucking Fours” with Charles.  Indeed, we’ve seen a bit of the stubborn, fit-throwing behavior with Jamie in the past month or so, potentially ramping up to a year of being a little shit, but it’s okay.  We’ll weather the storms as they come, much like we did for his brother.

 

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He’s still more little boy than big boy, more sticky hands a sloppy kisses than scraped knees and baseballs.  I love him so much. 

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Bucket in my Shower

I’m bothered by what I see as a societal ill that no one is really addressing: we are, in our crazily-connected, paperless, modern lifestyle becoming ignorant and uninformed.  Nobody reads the news anymore.  Instead, people read links on FaceBook, or they think that the Yahoo! headlines for the day are “news.”  People are more informed about Caitlin Jenner than about the drought affecting everyone in the Pacific Northwest. 

 

In our house, we get the local newspaper, and I’m honestly considering subscribing to the Seattle paper in addition, just for better coverage on national or international issues.  Does it cost money?  Sure, about $15 a month (gasp!).  Does it use up paper?  Yes, paper that can be recycled or composted or made into hats.  Could I possibly get all my news online instead?  Sure.  But none of these affords me the opportunity to teach my children to be informed and think critically.  What I worry about far more than the expense and inconvenience of paper is raising uninformed and un-intellectual children

 

Tony and I often converse about things we read in the morning paper (modeling, I like to think, intellectual curiosity and critical reasoning, though it is inadvertent – we like to read the paper and talk about current events), and Charles is old enough to be drawn into conversations, such as the one we had this weekend about the shootings in Charleston.

 

Now there was a tough subject to talk about with a six-year-old.

 

I mean, how do you even navigate that?

 

But perhaps a better question is, do you want your child to learn how to think critically and how to react to racism and tragedy by TEACHING him or do you want him to just “figure it out” based on whatever he might hear from the people around him?  Are you more worried about “burdening” your children with “worries” about the world, or about preparing them to deal with those issues and make the world a better place?

 

So we talked with Charles.  I don’t know the perfect things to say about race and racism in America, but I do know that I can have an honest conversation with my six-year-old about racism as I understand it and how we combat it.  I can talk to him about the bad people in the world and how they are so full of hatred for skin color that they do terrible things.  We can talk about how skin color does not determine what kind of person you are.  We can wonder about why a person might be so awful.  We can brainstorm ways to react to racist remarks.  We can talk about guns and violence.  We can talk about the value of human life.  We can talk about our friends who are minorities and some of the things they experience in their daily lives that are different than what we, as white people, experience.  And sadly, we can have these conversations often because in the past year, there’s been lots and lots in the news about racist violence.

 

We talk about sexual assault (my kids, at a young age, know that NO ONE is allowed to touch them if they don’t want them to and that they will NEVER get in trouble or get us in trouble if they tell us about a situation in which they felt uncomfortable or compromised – find the language to TALK to your kids about this!), gay marriage, equality of men and women, how we choose candidates for mayor or president, ecology of fish habitats, and sports.  Before you scoff, so much can be taught through sports and professional athletes about dedication, hard work, and sometimes, well, what not to do.

 

I don’t expect my children to grow up being crusaders (though if that’s what they want, fine), but I do expect them to grow up with an intellectual understanding of the challenges of our society and with compassion.  Also, I expect them to speak out and speak up when they see something that isn’t right.

 

It’s not all heavy news that we talk about over breakfast and dinner.  Sometimes, it’s useful stuff that merits widespread awareness.  For instance, the West Coast drought, snow pack at 0%, and a  PUD line repair conspiring to push us into a water crisis.  You’d better believe that my children know we need to conserve water right now – we are working on good conservation habits like turning off the faucet when we brush our teeth.  And poor Jamie, who wants nothing more than a “water” birthday party this weekend, will have to make do with the kiddie pool and the water table instead of the gushing slip-n-slide.  It’s going to be a long, hot summer.

 

I saw a local business pressure washing their parking lot this past week, so I called them and told them (nicely) about the drought and THEY HADN’T HEARD.  They were gracious about it, and turned off their pressure washer, but still.  How can you not know this?

 

As for me, I keep a bucket in my shower.  Every morning, when I wait for the hot water for my shower (which I keep trying to shorten and which I don’t take at all some days) to travel from the garage to the upstairs, I put the bucket under the faucet and fill it up.  Two-and-a-half gallons is how much water it takes to get the shower hot.  Two-and-a-half gallons when we aren’t supposed to wash our cars or water our lawns.  Two-and-a-half gallons that I then distribute between my outdoor plants.  Today, the front-yard roses.  Tomorrow, the hydrangea.  The next day, the rosemary bush.  You get the idea.

 

I do the same with my watering can at the sink.  I keep my watering can next to the kitchen sink and as I’m waiting for the water to get hot to wash dishes, I fill the can.  I also dump half-filled and abandoned glasses of water into the watering can or the dog dish or the water table outside. 

 

It’s water I already pay for that was doing nothing besides going down the drain.  I know this is a stupidly small act of conservation, and I know that conserving this amount of water each day instead of running the hose doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the fight to keep agriculture from losing crops this summer, but it makes me feel good.  Combine that with the fact that I don’t water my lawn or wash my car, and won’t for the whole summer, then maybe I am making an impact.

 

What if we all did little things like this?

 

What if we all subscribed to the newspaper and made an effort to be informed, hold conversations with our children about current events, and start viewing real-world issues not as “adult” issues, but as issues that children can and should learn about?

 

What are we here for if not to make the world a little bit better?  Why did we have children if not to raise them to make the world a little bit better?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

We Camp; We Are Campers

We took our brood camping last weekend, and conned five other families with young children into joining us.  Oh, we didn’t go far: just 45 minutes away to Deception Pass State Park.  But it was far enough to completely remove ourselves from the stress of running businesses and households.

 

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I want my boys to grow up camping.  My family camped when I was young (my kids’ age), but it was not something we continued to do when we moved to Washington.  The family reunion was held in our hometown and my parents had a job (owning and managing a 50—room hotel) that kept them extremely busy.  When we did vacation, it was often to conferences so that they could learn how to improve their businesses and we could visit Disneyland.  As far as I know, Tony and his family never camped.

 

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Let me be clear: I am not complaining.  Those trips my parents took us on as kids were great, even when they were horrible (Hwy 1 in California will make you sick, every time, and sullen teenagers are THE WORST).  But the way Tony and I have structured our careers means that we can take more time off than our parents did.  My hope is that we will do the hotel trips to Disneyland, Williamsburg, D.C., Boston, New York, etc, and that we will also camp frequently.

 

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Camping is less expensive than the hotel trips and, to me, more relaxing.  When we “do” stuff camping, we go to the beach, hike, kayak, make s’mores, and spend hours talking with friends.  When we vacation to a destination like New York City, we spend our time going from place to place, tourist site to tourist site.

 

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It is a lot of work.  Packing, unpacking, cleaning, realizing halfway home that, no, you shouldn’t stop at Starbucks because you haven’t showered in three days and you couldn’t smell yourself back at the campsite, but now you can and, hoo boy, you stink.  However, I think it’s worth it for the time spent with friends, relaxing outside, and s’mores.  Damn, I love s’mores.

 

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Camping teaches us to make the best of things without all the sanitized conveniences of home (dropped your hotdog on the ground?  Give it another turn over the fire and eat it anyway).  You get dirty and there are no TVs, so you’re forced to hold conversations.  It’s a great opportunity for kids to learn new games and explore nature, even if it’s “state park nature.”  And I just LOVE group camping with friends.  Not much makes me happier in this life than a big group of people all hanging out together, sharing food and stories.  And s’mores.

 

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Come camping with us, for real.  We’re going again as soon as I can talk everyone into it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

My Evil Eye

The following is an actual text conversation between myself and Tony, the man who once went for a run to “clear his lungs” during allergy season and ended up with a trip to the hospital for allergy-induced asthma.  He scared the shit out of his roommate at the time, who told me when I got home from work that he “thought Tony was dying.”

 

Me (1:30 in the afternoon): I’m at the eye doc. Left eye so swollen and itchy and red I can’t wear my contacts.  The white of my eye is swollen, it’s so gross.  And painful.

 

Me (post-appointment): No major issues, just severely inflamed.  I’m supposed to take Benadryl before bed.

 

Tony: Yuck… you even do allergies better than I do.

 

Me: Not a contest I wanted to win

 

Tony: Fair enough

 

I assure you, I was fine yesterday morning.  I went to Rotary, I came home to walk Charles to school.  I was FINE.  And then somewhere along our walk, I (eye) got so overwhelmed with allergies that my eye started to swell and tear up.  I rubbed all the mascara off and had to completely re-do my eye makeup when I got back to the house with a sleeping Freddie strapped to my chest (I almost NEVER wear eye shadow.  Yesterday I did, so I had to re-do that, too).  By the time I got to work, it was all so much worse.  My under-eye area was swollen and red.  I was tearing up and wiping away all that makeup I’d just redone. 

 

Then my contact started to pop off.  My eyeball started to hurt, rather than just my eyelids itching.  I couldn’t see.  I couldn’t get my contact to stay centered.  I lost my contact under my eyelid.  I started to look like someone had beaten the left side of my face.  I went home, fished the contact out, and called my eye doctor.

 

After an exam, he said it was nothing more than allergies, thank God (you don’t mess around with eyes, you know?).  He put some steroids in and cautioned me to keep up on the allergy meds and the ibuprofen to reduce the swelling and to maybe pop a Benadryl before bed.

 

My eye was so swollen, you guys.  So swollen.  I could see fluid puffing out the membrane of my eyeball, moving and gooshing around every time I blinked.  It was gross and scary and painful.

 

Perhaps scarier, though, is the thought that I might endure this every spring for the rest of my life.  I didn’t have seasonal allergies until I hit 30.  Now, I go through a box of tissues a day.  I don’t want my allergies to be more acute than Tony’s.  Allergies are his thing.  My thing is consuming mass quantities of chocolate.  If we switch roles in this, what next?  Tony takes over the ironing while I superglue kid toys (my fingers) back together?  Tony makes dinner while I study for a master’s degree in (gulp) taxation?  Tony obsesses over sunscreen while I lose my hair?  This could go downhill in a hurry.

 

I’m better today.  Still wearing my glasses in the hopes that the inflammation subsides enough for me to wear my contacts and go to my exercise class this evening.  Still looking a bit like a prizefighter.  My eye doctor, bless him and his Dr Oz hating ways (yes, my eye doc is a blogger), also prescribed wine and relaxation, so, you know, I got that going for me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hot/Puke

I’m being forced to slow down and do very little today.  It’s probably a good thing, as I am usually so busy that adding one more task to my weekly or daily to-do list is a recurring nightmare (honest, I dream about it), but slowing down this way is no good.  The baby is sick.

 

Charles spent most of the day Sunday vomiting.  I kept him and the littles home from school yesterday so he could fully recover and actually enjoy his last week (!) as a kindergartener (blah, blah, passage of time, I’ll probably cry on Friday, blah, blah…).  I have lots of work to do at the office.  It’s stinking hot so I am barely able to function during the day in my sweltering house and I STILL get things clean, meals created, shopping done (it’s like a field trip to air-conditioning land!), etc.  But now I’m stuck.  Freddie started vomiting this morning, so I know I’m in for 12 more hours of trying to keep a small human hydrated and not lose my shit thinking of all the ways this could end horribly.

 

Perhaps I’ll get a nap.  Considering that I maaaybe got four hours cumulative sleep last night, that could be a great thing for me.  And for everyone around me, come to that. 

 

The thing is, we Cooks, right down to the damned dog, don’t deal with heat very well.  It got into the mid-eighties yesterday and I thought we were all going to spontaneously combust.  Freddie got so tired of dragging his hot knees on the floor that he started to bear crawl.

 

 

Neither of the other boys did this as a precursor to walking, but now it’s all Freddie does.  I’ll admit, I can’t stop laughing at him.

 

When it finally cooled down last night, the dog wanted out to run and play, since he’d pretty much slept the day away.  And he barked.  And he made noise.  All night long.  And Jamie was up once to snuggle with us for 15 minutes.  And Freddie was up to nurse a bunch and then he plain WOKE UP at 3:45 am, ready to take on the world.  I laid down on the floor of his room and let him bear crawl all over me for an hour before he finally settled back into sleep beside me. 

 

I keep telling myself that I will SOMEDAY experience eight consecutive hours of sleep again, but I sure would appreciate it NOW.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Birfday

I was sort of selfish on my birthday.  I invited a few friends and their families over for “An Evening of French Cuisine” and didn’t tell them that it was my birthday.   People got a bit mad at me, but it was exactly what I wanted.

 

I feel blessed that I have friends who want to celebrate my birthday, but I honestly don’t feel like I deserve it (which is stupid bullshit, because I would NEVER think that my children don’t “deserve” to have their birthdays fĂȘted by one and all) and that telling people that it was my birthday would somehow be akin to asking them to bring me presents.  I guess I think that the only birthday parties that are legit are ones thrown by other people.  Just like you shouldn’t throw your own bridal shower, you shouldn’t throw your own birthday party.  So I didn’t.

 

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Jen is my birthday buddy – her birthday is May 31st!

 

Instead, I invited only friends who I thought would enjoy French cheese and escargots and then I cooked up a storm.  We had a huge cheese platter and three desserts and gallons of wine and beer.  It was heaven.

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They sang “Gagnam Style” REALLY LOUDLY AND WITH GREAT FREQUENCY

 

34 isn’t a milestone birthday and I really can’t handle getting all introspective about my life’s path this year.  Instead, I’m focusing on getting more sleep, being as kind as I possibly can to myself and others, and having fun.

 

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Another good night’s sleep destroyed by a cute baby

 

Also, I’m eating a TON of vegetables to counteract the massive amount of dessert I’ll be eating over the next six weeks: first my birthday, then two office birthdays, then Leland’s birthday, then Jamie’s birthday, then Independence Day (and a birthday celebration for Jamie, Freddie, and cousin Claire), then Freddie’s birthday.  Yum.

 

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Strawberry pie, a French-style fruit tart, and cream puff cake

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Memorial Day

Every day, on our walk to and from Charles’s school, we pass the local cemetery.  And we keep passing it, because it is by far the longest block on our walk.  Since the weather turned nice a couple of months ago, we have taken a detour through the cemetery to look at some of the seemingly ancient headstones (late 1800s, oh my!) and talk about death.

 

Cemeteries are excellent to walk, by the way – they can be right in the middle of a city and yet be nicely insulated from city noise, they’re well-groomed and unpopulated (except by the dead), and for my kids, it’s a good opportunity for them to talk with me about something different (not sports or magic or Transformers or Star Wars or any of the other little boy stuff they’re always yammering about) while simultaneously learning about respecting a place and not just trying to climb everything in site.  Often I challenge my kids with situations in which they MUST behave or else.  A friend of mine has said that she frequently does the grocery shopping without her kids because, well, you know how it is.  It’s like a goddamn vacation to go grocery shopping alone these days.  But then her kids don’t learn how to behave in a grocery store, so when they have to go with her, they act like wild animals.  In a cemetery, even if no one is looking, a person should be respectful, so we walk slowly, we look at the gravestones, we stick to the path, and we talk about what Mount Vernon might have been like when the people buried there were alive.

 

After our first jaunt through the gravestones, Jamie told everyone he could that cemeteries were “where people go to die.”  So obviously I had to correct that for him.

 

“No, honey, people don’t go to the cemetery to die.  Sometimes, after people die, we bury them in the cemetery.  Then we can visit their grave to talk to them and remember them.  Sometimes, instead of burying someone after they die, we cremate them, which means that we burn up their body.  Then we put the ashes in an urn, which is like a vase, and we can put that in a cemetery or on a shelf in our homes so that their remains can always be with us.  Or, if you’re like Grandpa Roger, you can put the remains of your parents in the garage.  Would you like to visit your Grandpa DeWiley and Grandma Lorna next time we go to the beach?  They’re in the garage.”

 

I think that might have confused him more.

 

I don’t want to shelter my children from death.  I mean, I certainly don’t wish for anyone to die, and it is my fervent hope that before they are adults, the only death they’ll have to deal with is that of our dog, but still.  They need to understand, right?  Death is plenty sad, it shouldn’t also be a scary unmentionable.

 

This morning, as we were walking by the cemetery, I told the kids that we would be attending a Memorial Day service there, like we do every year, on Monday.  There would be live music, prayers, speeches, and we could bring our little American flags.

 

“What’s Memorial Day, mom?” asked Charles.

 

“It’s our opportunity and our duty as Americans to honor and celebrate the soldiers who have died in battle.”

 

“Oh!  I remember!  I’m not going.”

 

“Yes, you are.”

 

“No.  I don’t want to.  It’s boring.”

 

When you’re six, EVERYTHING is all of a sudden booooring.

 

“Sweetheart, we’re all going.  It’s the least we can do to show respect for people who gave their lives so that we can live as free Americans today.”

 

“When I grow up, I’m never going to go.”

 

Sometimes, as parents, we force our children to do things they don’t want to do, like brush their teeth or go to bed at a reasonable hour.  We turn things like bathing into habits so that when they are adults, they don’t have to analyze why having good hygiene is a benefit and then decide to start a healthy habit.  In this case, I make my children attend a Memorial Day service every year because it’s good for them and I hope that by the time they are adults, they will view the annual tradition as an imperative, in addition to understanding the reasons behind it.  Sometimes teaching respect and honor is more about building the habit and modeling the way than it is about talking.  Someday, those insufferable children of mine will be touched by the sacrifices made by so many for others, for ideas, for a place.  But it starts now, when they think it is boring.