Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Aquaman and his Aquanauts

We had a grand adventure this weekend. So grand, in fact, that it took me a few days after returning to be up for posting anything about it. I can now report that The Redhead, Thing 1, and Thing 2 are certified SCUBA divers. A milestone. Aquaman and I are so very proud.

Aquaman and his Aquanauts

When you're married to a marine biologist, SCUBA diving is required. Aquaman and I spent our honeymoon diving in Belize. The first vacation we ever took together was to go diving in Cozumel. 

A lot has changed since I was certified in 1992. I took SCUBA for a P.E. credit at Texas A&M. Aquaman was one of the Divemasters for the class. I might have been his favorite student. I haven't been diving in many years, so I was a little nervous about this trip. But the location, Balmorhea State Park, is perfect for a nervous diver. It is the world's largest spring-fed swimming pool and has amazingly clear water. San Solomon Springs is the source of this magic in the middle of the Texas desert.  

Because Aquaman took the lead on this certification business for the boys, they just assumed that I was clueless about the sport. And it's a fair assumption. I have certainly demonstrated my ineptitude concerning sailing. They remind me of this often, especially now that they are taking sailing classes (but that's another topic for another post). 

As the time for this trip approached, the boys had lots of questions - all of which they directed at Aquaman - considering me useless. 

"What will they make us do on our checkout dive?"
"Will we have to clear our masks?"
"Will we get to buddy breathe?"

I realized that of course these children o'mine had never seen me dive - how could I dive when someone had to be watching them???? My most recent dives (still several years ago when we lived on the Texas coast) involved getting babysitters for their much younger selves or farming them out on playdates so that I could get away for a few hours with Aquaman offshore. 

So it was with much surprise that the boys reacted when Aquaman casually mentioned that I had been "narked" while diving at depths over 120 feet in Belize's Blue Hole. Thing 1 and Thing 2 both asked, "What?" simultaneously. Incredulously. The Redhead looked at me and said, "Wait. You've been diving that deep?" 

So sweet. 

"Yep," I said proudly, puffing out my chest a little at my seat at the dining table. Finally...some respect!

"Wow. Y'all used to be cool."

Cue the deflate button.

Nothing like a comment from a teenager to keep you humble. 

Still, the boys were pretty impressed when I produced my dive card. Mostly because it's over 20 years old.

1992 was a very long time ago...

And I must provide more proof of my previously cool life.

That's called a "giant stride" entry, fellas.

Cozumel. 1993.
So glamorous. Belize. Honeymoon. 1996.

Aquaman makes it look easy. Belize. 1996.

Balmorhea (pronounced Bal-mor-ay) is no easy day trip from the metroplex - nor from anywhere, really. Even though we pulled the boys out of school early on Friday, we still didn't get on the road until 4:00 p.m. and didn't make it there until almost 1:00 a.m. You know what never got old? Listening to the navigation app periodically announce that we were however-many miles from Bal-mor-ee-ah (like diarrhea). Snorts and chuckles all around. Every. Time. 

We fell into bed and were shocked the next morning to look out the window and see the Davis Mountains. We were oblivious to their presence driving in the dark. 

The view from our room.

You can camp or stay in one of the really cool motel rooms, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I highly recommend staying in the rooms. Known as San Solomon Springs Courts, they are adobe-style and were built in the 1930s. Totally worth it.

Our suite.

Of course, our accommodations were still not adequate for The Wrecking Crew, who abhor sharing a bed. There were 3 queen-size beds in our suite. This was not enough. Thing 1 refused to share a bed with anyone and instead announced he would sleep on the floor. The concrete floor.

"You shared a womb for 9 months! You can't share a bed for two nights?" I screeched.

"I don't remember that! It doesn't count!" The boy was not giving in.

Aquaman took pity on him and helped him make a pallet in the closet. Seriously. That's where he slept.

Nincompoop accommodations.

But on to the diving. 

The main length of the pool.
The elusive Thing 1. Rarely photographed.

Parents thrilled to have made the drive without killing anyone.

Things went pretty smoothly. Other students in the class had to cancel at the last minute, so the boys ended up being the only ones on the checkout dive with three instructors. That's known as man-on-man defense in my book. A preferred strategy.

Getting the wetsuit on is your first challenge.

The zipper goes in the back, son.

I like to call this one "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Diver."

Aquaman and Thing 2.

Aquaman and Thing 1.

The one who shivers most is out first.

Aquanaut 1.

Aquanaut 2.

The original Aqualad.

As a parent, I am sometimes taken aback by how small our children still are. We so often fixate on how big they are getting - remarking that we can't believe they're teenagers or that they've already grown out of whatever clothes we bought them two months ago. But sometimes? I am struck by how small they still are. This picture of Thing 2 captures that. He is concentrating on his tank and regulator and properly detaching one from the other. But you know what I see? His little body. His little sunburned hands. How young he still is.

Little man.

Okay, okay. No crying!

Balmorhea is a special place. Aquaman and I were here once before in 1995 - recently engaged, still in graduate school. His major professor at Texas A&M and other grad students were involved in research with the two endangered species of fish that exist in the artesian springs: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. We camped all around this area and I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams while the rest of them did fishy things. This trip made me think of Kingsolver and her fantastic work. I fell in love with her on this trip and have read everything she has written since. It seemed fitting, then, that we returned here almost 20 years later with our own three children.

A nice little surprise was renting from the local diveshop, Funky Li'l Diveshop. It just so happens that it's Aggie owned and operated. Whoop!

An Aggie business.

It was a pleasure doing business here. The owner is friendly, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about diving. But perhaps most memorable was his Aggie ring. Take a look.

The most well-loved Aggie ring I've ever seen.

That's a ring, my friends. He never takes it off. Class of '76. I have seen Aggie rings that have a bit of wear, rounded and polished here and there. They are typical on old Ags in their 80s. Not a young'un like Darrel here. I had to document it. With his permission, of course. 

Darrel Rhyne, Owner - Funky Li'l Diveshop. Proud Aggie.

The drive back was torture and began with Aquaman getting a speeding ticket just before we cleared the Balmorhea city limits. Mind your speed if you ever go out to these parts. It's pretty flat - just you and the tumbleweeds (yes, we saw lots) so it's easy to go a lot faster than you think you are. This was ironic - Aquaman never speeds and I often complain about his Grandpa-esque driving habits. I will never complain again.  

After a whirlwind 48 hours, we have 3 certified SCUBA divers to call our very own. My dad would have referred to this as the Aggie Navy. An apt description, I'd say. 

Aggie Navy.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What's Your Playlist?

Image from

I love NPR for so very many reasons, but I have a fresh new reason to add to my list.

In January, NPR's Protojournalist requested this of listeners: Tell Us the Six Songs of Your Life.

The idea, they explained, is this:

If you could tell your life story — chronologically, up to now — in six songs, what would they be?

They just posted Part 1 of the responses, culled from over 1000 entries, on their website. You should really check it out.

NPR logo from

This idea of music transporting us back in time and place to the original imprint of song to circumstance fascinates me. My roommate and a very best friend from boarding school that I recently re-connected with after 24 years was in town again last night. I went to see her at work. Her work just happens to be Tour Manager for the Grammy-winning band Imagine Dragons. After experiencing the excitement of the band opening to a sold out crowd at the American Airlines center in Dallas, we ended up backstage in her office, reminiscing and listening to music from a tiny but powerful speaker connected to her laptop and her iTunes account. She would play a song, I would guess the artist and title, we would sing along, I would remember another song and that would lead to another. And another. There is a certain thrill to remembering all the lyrics to an obscure Run DMC rap or a George Michael song that you thought you'd long forgotten.

You know what's coming next, don't you? This idea that NPR floated so appealed to me that I couldn't even help myself from thinking about what my own playlist would look like and sharing it on this here blog. So here it is, a life story in 6 songs.

1) K-K-K-Katy by Billy Murray

This song was evidently very popular in World War I. It is the first song I remember anyone ever singing to me. My father's parents - especially my grandmother - would belt it out whenever they visited. Occasionally, my father and mother would sing it to me - I think at my request. Surprisingly, I don't remember ever feeling embarrassed about it. I was proud of my name. Somehow, in my young mind, I combined the line "When the moon shines, over the cow shed..." with this Mother Goose rhyme:

Hey Diddle Diddle
The Cat and the Fiddle
The Cow jumped over the moon
The little Dog laughed
To see such a sport
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon

Those closest to me still call me Katy. And I let them, in large part because of this song and the good memories it holds.

2) The Sting Theme (Joplin-The Entertainer)

One of my first memories is being a passenger in my dad's Cadillac, him driving and me getting to spend the day at work with him at his law office in Houston. He had an 8-track player in the car, and the soundtrack from the movie The Sting was on heavy rotation. I was all fancied up, in a polyester dress with a white pleated skirt and powder blue top with a neck scarf. Black patent Mary Janes and white bobby socks were involved. I was very happy to have my dad to myself for the day and to be going in to the big city. I would later play the music at my first piano recital in elementary school. I still own the soundtrack on CD.

3) American Pie - Don McLean

Another 8-track player in a car - this time my oldest brother's Mustang, painted Aggie maroon (of course). I got to ride with him to football practice a few times to get ready for the Homecoming halftime show and he played this and lots of other great music. But American Pie stuck with me because it was so long and told a story. I loved it. I knew all the words then and I know all the words now.

I was the little girl who carried the bouquet of roses out to the Homecoming Queen and posed for pictures with the Homecoming Court, probably because my brother was a captain of the football team and I was a cute 8-year-old. I remember the dress I wore - a black pinafore with a red heart on the chest and a white blouse underneath. It was a hand-me-down from my older sister. I felt like a star!

I asked my brother about this recently - this very significant memory for me - and he had no memory of it whatsoever. Ah, such is life.

4) She's So Good To Me - Luther Vandross

My teenage years were spent in the 1980s and this proves it. I was very into R&B throughout high school and a regular listener of the Houston radio station Majic 102.1 FM. Come on now - they spell magic with a j. Cause they got soul. (They are still on the air.) Luther Vandross is the father of soul - his voice is unmatched. There will never be another Luther. I can neither confirm nor deny that I lost my virginity while this song was playing. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

5) Simply - Sara Hickman

I adore this Texas musician. I went to see her in a very small venue in Austin shortly after moving there for grad school at UT. I had never heard of her before, but my oldest brother said she was awesome. So I went, not knowing what to expect. It was just her and her guitar. Her voice - oh my. And she tells the stories behind the songs she writes, which I love. Every concert is like an episode of VH1 Behind the Music. I've seen her half a dozen times.

Aquaman and I chose her song "Simply" as our first dance at our wedding. I love it still. It makes my heart beat a little quicker. And if you don't know Sara Hickman, you're really missing out.

6) Wildflowers - Tom Petty

There are so many Tom Petty songs that I could pick, but "Wildflowers" is my anthem. This album came out right before I finished grad school. Aquaman and I were each writing a thesis and planning our wedding. It was a bit stressful. But this album - it calmed me. He came and performed at Bass Hall on the UT campus and a dear friend hooked us up with tickets to the sold out show. It was lovely. We've seen him a few times since in concert, but it never compares to this first time. Tom Petty himself admitted to Wildflowers being his favorite album. I concur.

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
You belong with your love on your arm
You belong somewhere you feel free

And that's it - my life story in 6 songs.

What's yours?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Redheaded Stranger

There are things that separate me in my house of boys. I am the other. I am the girl. I do not concern myself with the inner workings of solar panels and recharging batteries and hydrogen. My eyes glaze over when they talk about Minecraft and I simply do not understand the frenzies they work themselves into over the xBox. We are so very different, my children and I.

Or are we?

Our oldest, The Redhead, has made me see things differently lately. I have written before about how we get each other. But as he becomes firmly planted in the world of teenager-ness, those moments of connection are fewer and far between. So I take notice when they happen. I don't want him to become a stranger to me. I want to acknowledge and recognize and shout from the rooftops: "We have something in common! We share an interest! My sweet firstborn child is not lost to me forever!"

Here's the secret formula:
Books + Music = Connection

1) Books

I am a huge reader. I used to teach middle school English and high school Social Studies, and while I haven't taught for two years now, I still keep up with the new and good in YA fiction. I wouldn't characterize The Redhead as a huge reader (I had plenty of students that always had their noses in books for comparison.), but he does enjoy a good book and is usually reading something. We've connected before with books - The Hunger Games, Ender's Game, The Book Thief - reading them aloud as a family and then going to see the movie. But a few months ago for my book club I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and loved it.

It wasn't going to be something we would read aloud with The Redhead's little brothers, who are in 7th grade. It involves kids dying from cancer. But I knew The Redhead was old enough to handle it. And I thought he'd like it. So I handed it over to him. He already knew the Green brothers from their Youtube channel, vlogbrothers, so he was willing to give it a try. I told him I cried through the last 30 pages. He smirked. I could see he was thinking I was just being a sentimental momma. Three days later, he came in to my room after everyone else had gone to bed. His eyes were wet. "I finished it. It was awesome."

And my heart was happy.

He got another John Green book from his English teacher at school: Looking for Alaska. When he was done, he pronounced it equally awesome and gave it to me to read. Do you see what's happening here? We are recommending books to one another. I started reading it and saw all the talk of teenage attraction and sex a bit differently knowing that my son had already read it. There is a pivotal scene involving oral sex - yep, oral sex - that embarrassed me for a moment. Only because I knew my 14-year-old had already read it. And yet he wasn't so embarrassed that he didn't recommend the book to me. So I got over my embarrassment and considered it a very good thing that we could "talk" openly - through reading - about a sensitive subject that most parents would avoid like the plague. We ended up having a great conversation about John Green and how he actually went to a boarding school (like the characters in the book) and how I also had gone to a boarding school. Which The Redhead knew but now sees in a whole new light.

We've got our own little book club. We are the only two members. So now we're on to Divergent by Veronica Roth. I read it and passed it on to The Redhead. I told him he has to finish it so we can go see the movie. And of course we are going to see The Fault in Our Stars when it comes out this summer - that goes without saying.

2) Music

As a mother who can impose my will on my children, I have insisted that they all learn to play an instrument. In this family, the band program offered as an elective at school is mandatory. The Redhead was the first to experience this tyranny, since he's the oldest. He started out taking piano lessons as a wee one. This helped him immensely when he joined band in middle school because he already knew how to read music. He suffered through a year of trying to play the french horn before he changed to the clarinet. He was so good he was asked to play the bass clarinet. This year has been his first year in marching band and it has been a success.

The Redhead after his winter concert.
That blurry thing is his bass clarinet.

Although my children may argue, my point is not forcing my will on them. I am hoping music will become something that they love and that brings them some enjoyment in life. But I can't make it happen. I can provide an environment that values music. I can make sure they have parents who listen to music at home and in the car. Parents who plan their entire day around the approaching Grammy awards and expect watching the show to be a family affair. I am a mom who turns it up and sings along. Aquaman is a dad who quizzes them when a song comes on the radio: "Who sings this?" he asks them and they scramble to answer correctly.

For Christmas, the boys requested things like laptops and iPhones and iPads - things we could not afford x3. This is in addition to the fact that we have successfully resisted giving our teenagers smartphones for many reasons. We tried to be creative with gifts - things that would encourage their interests. For The Redhead, I zeroed in on a record player as the perfect gift. At his high school's Open House in the fall, he had been most excited to introduce us to his English teacher because she had a record player in the classroom. It wasn't just an antique - she played it every day and displayed her collection of albums. She told us that she had to move The Redhead to a seat somewhat removed from the record player because he was mesmerized (read: distracted and unable to complete assignments) by it. This stuck in my head. I mentioned it to Aquaman as we did our Christmas shopping. He wasn't on board at first. "Do you really think he wants that?" he asked. "Are you sure? He didn't put it on his list, did he?"

I stood firm. "Yes. He'll love it. Trust me."

I did worry that I would be wrong -  that he would be disappointed when he opened the box Christmas morning and it wasn't a computer or a phone.

Only he wasn't. He was so surprised and pleased that he almost cried. He told me later it was the best present he had ever gotten.  

The best present ever.

We have had a great time hunting used bookstores for albums. Aquaman and I got him started with a few favorites of our own. We consider these essential to his music library.

The first album that was ever given to me.

A favorite of my parents.
We must have listened to this album a million times growing up. 

Only the best country album ever.

I am a child of the 80s. This proves it.

And while we guided him in the old wise ways of 80s pop, he introduced us to this:

His English teacher plays Daft Punk in class a lot - that's how he found out about them. I had never heard of them, but once I listened to the song Get Lucky, I had to scroll through Youtube and let The Redhead listen to Zapp and the S.O.S Band and Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder so that he could hear how 70s disco and 80s R&B had influenced this incredibly popular group of 2013. See what's happening here? We're recommending music to each other. And when Daft Punk won their Grammys this past weekend, I knew all about them. Which made me feel like a cool, hip momma - no easy task for a 43-year-old. Thank you, son. 

This past week, I heard the new song Say Something by A Great Big World on Pandora and was haunted by it. Have a listen. I challenge you not to cry. 

This song was playing one day when The Redhead came home from school and I asked him if he knew it. He did indeed. He was busy on the iPad, so I continued cleaning up the kitchen and washing clothes. And then, as I folded, I heard him picking out the notes to the song on his Casio keyboard. I paused in my work, straining to hear. He was playing the song. He searched it on Youtube and found a tutorial on the chords and now he was playing it. I had done the same thing countless times as a teenager (minus the Youtube part, since it didn't exist) - picking out a song from the radio on our piano. I almost cried. That was it. That was the moment that I knew exactly why I had insisted on piano lessons and band and music in our lives. It was for this. So that a person can connect with a piece of music on a level that makes them want to learn to play it themselves. 

I emerged from the laundry room and captured the moment.


We ended up moving to the living room where he played the keyboard and I played our out-of-tune piano, the music loud for us to follow and cover the sounds of our off key voices. We advanced to Coldplay and played Fix You and Clocks and The Scientist. It was a Partridge Family moment. We had fun together. 

And again, my heart was happy. 

This teenager thing isn't so bad.