Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Christmas Shrew

Beef and cheese is a whole lot better than what I smelled.

My throat is sore. Not from cold or flu, but from yelling.

A recent morning began with me entering The Redhead's room and saying, "My God! It smells like you've been farting in here all night!" A grunt was the only response I received as I retreated from his room. It doesn't typically smell good, but this smell was horrendous. It was way beyond the musty, body odor of a middle school teenager that usually wafted from behind his closed door. He, unlike me, was suffering from a cold and so couldn't smell anything.

Waking the boys up has gone from being a nice ritual to being something I dread. They are grumpy and whine and protest anything I say or do. It is no longer a pleasant way to start the day. But I have persisted because I felt it was my job, as their mom. As is making their lunches. And buying the groceries that go in those lunches.

Only since they've all joined middle school (Thing 1 and Thing 2 turned 12 this fall and The Redhead is 13) they've become moody. Sullen. Picky eaters. Complainers. Cry at the drop of a hat. Fight each other. Argue nonstop. Refuse to wear deodorant. Never want to bathe. Don't brush their teeth or clip their nails. They are, quite simply, pigs. I know of which I speak because we share one bathroom (but that's another story for another day).

So when you pair a sullen attitude with slovenly behavior, you have a recipe for mom repulsion. And irritation.

That's mostly how I feel towards them lately. Irritated and repulsed.

But I went about my school morning duties, making macaroni and cheese so they'd have something hot in their lunches (and because there were no other lunch fixings in the house), putting a load of laundry in the dryer that would probably not be dry in time for them to wear anything from it to school, and trying to check my work email with a faulty internet connection. You can see how this is shaping up, can't you?

It was around this time that one of the twins (searching for a missing shoe) was assaulted by the horrific smell coming from The Redhead's room and went to investigate. He discovered that Yellow Dog had pooped on the carpet, in two places. I don't know how I'd missed this. One pile was behind the door and had been smeared and dragged underneath the door when I opened it.

When he reported this to me in the kitchen, I said, "Well, I can't clean it up! I've got all this other stuff to do!" Just as quickly, Aquaman said, "Not it!"

It was then that the Christmas shrew arrived. And by shrew, I mean me.

I freaked out and started yelling. The Redhead fled the house with no notification, without lunch or his band instrument, to avoid being yelled at (and to avoid cleaning poop). He was at the bus stop thirty minutes early. Now we had a missing shoe and a missing boy, along with Aquaman attempting poop cleanup while retching. I finally got the internet connection working, made sure there were no urgent work emails, and went to finish shit detail before I had vomit detail as well.

Aquaman walked Thing 1 and Thing 2 to the bus stop. I might have screamed at him when he returned about how the boys needed real attitude adjustments and it was all his fault. Then I left to do my work from a coffee shop downtown. Not my proudest moment.

But here's what came of it: I now wake them up - one time - and do not return to their rooms. There are three alarm clocks wrapped and under the Christmas tree, so come December 26th I won't even be doing that. I stay out of the kitchen in the morning and let them make their own lunches. I instead bite my tongue to stop myself from reminding them to hurry and eat breakfast, brush their teeth, take their asthma medicine, put on their shoes and head to the bus stop. It is quite difficult.  I'm pretty sure not one of them brushed their teeth this morning. But my throat is not sore because I'm not yelling anymore.

I've been enforcing the chore chart schedule I began a year ago and have not returned their xBox since they lost the privilege of playing it a week ago because they constantly fight about whose turn it is. Life is just more pleasant without it. Because we're tired of finding towels on the floor after one use, Aquaman suggested we get rid of all towels and give each boy one of a different color. So I bought three plush, brightly colored towels. They are wrapped and under the tree. Each boy gets one. They can only use that one towel. If they leave it on the floor, we know the offender based on the color and they're stuck using it off the floor rather than claiming it is someone else's and getting a new one from the bathroom cabinet.

Instead of reaching down to pick up something on the floor while thinking, "If I don't pick it up, no one else will," I've begun waiting until there's a boy around. I make him do it.

I had a talk with The Redhead about how he can't run away from conflict (and certainly can't leave the house without telling a parent) and that the best thing for him to do when there's a crazy morning with someone yelling is to ask, "What can I do to help?" or even better, "I'll clean up the poop, Mom." I explained that if he didn't want to be yelled at, he should step up and do his chores, get ready for school on his own, and help around the house. I emphasized the point that I could do it all, but that it stressed me out and shouting would probably be involved. He seemed to understand this.

Raising three middle school boys at once is tough work. We visited my brother, who has two daughters of similar ages, recently. The differences that exist between girls and boys was glaringly obvious. My nieces are happy and talkative and animated. When a friend waves to them they smile and wave back. When a friend waves to the boys, they shrug their shoulders and look away. They are moody. They are rude. They are selfish. I know this is normal because I read The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D.

But it's still hard. And you know what? I refuse to be the shrew. I refuse to be the mom who yells and nags and never lets up. I have taught them about personal hygiene - they just opt not to groom themselves. If it reaches the point that I can smell them, I will inform them that they won't be going anywhere or doing anything until they bathe. They know what chores to do and when, they just try to get out of it. So I'll use the same technique: go nowhere, do nothing until chores are done. On the agenda this afternoon is teaching The Redhead how to do his own laundry.

We'll see how it goes. But I'm done yelling.   

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Be gone...before someone drops a house on you!

I'm undertaking a new challenge. I challenged myself, but it requires family participation. Let me explain.

I finished my book club book, The Timekeeper by Mitch Albom (Don't waste your time. Ha.) and was looking through my bedroom bookshelves to find something new to read. Perhaps something more satisfying (I really didn't like that book.) I specify my bedroom bookshelves, because we have bookshelves in every room: the living room, every bedroom, the kitchen, the hall...even the bathroom. We are a family of book lovers. Right now, I'm reading The Hobbit aloud to the boys every night so that we can finish it before we go and see the movie. Cause that's how we roll.

So, back to my bedroom bookshelves. I came across a book that my father gave me when I was 16.

Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. You can probably guess that I never read it.

It sounds a bit dry, I'll give you that. But as I flipped through it, I came across this folded and tucked in between two pages.

It reads:


Dear Kate -

     Here is a book I have found to be very helpful to me. The title tells it all. This book will help you a lot.

Your Father-
Dan Ryan

How could I not read it? (This was typical of letters my dad wrote me.)

I dug in and was amazed that the biggest issues in education facing the country in 1987 are pretty much exactly the same as those in 2012. Namely, that student test scores are going down and their knowledge of the world around them has decreased dramatically. Hirsch calls "cultural literacy" that information that it is essential for us to maintain intelligent conversation with one another and have hope for any progress. He goes so far as to list those things in our culture that really deserve to be taught in our schools. But they aren't. They used to be, but they aren't anymore.

So what would any self-respecting former teacher and wanna be writer with three children do? She would challenge herself to teach her family these very things. She would vow to raise culturally literate children. She would do that by going down the list included in this book, item by item. From Aaron, Hank to Zurich.

I shared this idea with Aquaman who cautioned that it might be pretty hard to do and that the boys might balk at the notion of learning such things when they could be playing xBox. I was undeterred. Especially when I came across this article in The Atlantic. It references President Obama's recent ad lib "voting is the best revenge," a derivation of "Living well is the best revenge" that certain parties warped into a political battle cry of fear instead of the actual meaning.

This morning, a golden opportunity presented itself. As I packed lunches and toasted strudels and signed forms, I dismissed Thing 1(who was only lingering to harass his brothers) from the kitchen with these words: "Be gone. Before someone drops a house on you."

I saw in his eyes that he didn't get it. But The Redhead did - he chuckled. Mostly because he was just part of his middle school's production of "The Wizard of Oz". Thing 1 had already disappeared into the hall, but I called him back. With all three boys sitting at the kitchen table, I announced, "Here's what we're gonna do from now on. Every morning, we'll discuss something that is important for you to know as an American. It's called 'cultural literacy'. It means that you'll be able to speak intelligently about things. And it means that you'll recognize when someone else speaks intelligently and you'll know that they're smarter than the average bear which means they might be okay to hang around. Although not always."

Thing 1 asked, "Like what kinds of things?"

"Just things that you need to know that you probably won't learn in school," I explained.

"Like 'Don't eat yellow snow'?" he asked.

"Good one!" Aquaman yelled from the bedroom.

"Um, no. Not really. No." I was getting frustrated, but decided to press on.

"So let's start with this one. When I just said, 'Be gone before someone drops a house on you' what did I mean? Where does that come from?"

The Redhead jumped right in. "It's from 'The Wizard of Oz'. When the Wicked Witch of the West has found her sister has been killed by Dorothy's house landing on her. Glinda the Good Witch tells her that to get her to leave Munchkinland."

"Exactly," I told him. "The Wizard of Oz is a classic American movie. It is more well-known than the original series of books it was based on. It is part of our culture. And you should know it and be familiar with references to it."

No response. I looked at Thing 1. "Now," I said. "Be gone, before someone drops a house on you."

He scuttled away, unimpressed. Tomorrow? We'll tackle, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

It just might apply to this whole challenge.  

Truthfully, I don't yet know the origin of this saying - but I will tomorrow. My father kept a sticker like this one in the drawer of his Gerstner tool chest. This was where he stashed extra cash. When the cash was gone, the sticker greeted the seeker. Clever, no? 

*On a side note, an occasional reader of this blog remarked, "So, you have Aquaman, The Redhead, Thing 1, Thing 2, and Yellow Dog. Who are you?" To which I replied, "I'm no one. I'm me. The narrator. It's my blog. I don't need an alias." But now that I've had some time to think about it, I think I will be "She Who Must Be Obeyed." How's that?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Accidental Birder

I think I might be in love.

It snuck up on me, as love tends to do.

It has inhabited my dreams.

And now, for the first time, I saw it.

Our owl.

A few nights ago as I was turning off lights in the kitchen and heading to bed, I heard something. I stopped to listen.


I cocked my head towards our big kitchen window.


"That's an owl," I announced.

"What?" Aquaman said from the bedroom.

"That's an owl!" I repeated. This was enough to get him out of bed. We opened the back door, but kept the storm door closed so as not to frighten anything away. We listened.

"Hoo-hoo-hoohoo." Again. Loud. Right in our own back yard.

"I've been hearing that," Aquaman said. "I thought it was a dog barking all this time!"

And I felt smart. Because I had recognized a bird's call before Aquaman. He is the birder. He is the naturalist. He led groups of people on birding trips for the Whooping Crane Festival when we lived along the Texas coast. He was the one out the road in Alaska for the annual Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival. We have lived along two major flyways: the Pacific Flyway and the Central Flyway. He owns the serious gear of bird nerds everywhere: the harness strap for his binoculars.

I make fun of him for this. Come on. How can I not?

He has even given this harness-thingy that eliminates neck strain to my older brother, a fellow birder. Aquaman and my mom used to talk birds as my eyes would glaze over. We went to hear David Sibley talk once and even I acknowledge the superiority and artistry of Sibley Guides. He talks of such things as "life lists" and other things that I have zero interest in. I have, on many occasions, declared wholeheartedly, "I hate birds." And I have always meant it.

This hatred has a source, of course. It has a reason. And it begins with this evil character:

Looks innocent enough - I'll give you that.

I was probably about four years old. My older sister and I were outside playing. And by playing I mean trying to break a plastic bowl on the sidewalk by taking turns throwing it down, over and over. Why? Because they were new bowls. My father had brought them home and declared to my mother, "They're unbreakable!" Like they'd finally outsmarted their five savage children. Only I heard his declaration. And naturally, I took it as a challenge.

My sister and I would hold that white plastic bowl over our heads and slam it as hard as we could on the concrete. Over and over. We were gonna beat this! Unbreakable. Ha!

Only my sister got sidetracked. She saw something, laying in the grass. A baby bird. Still alive. "Let's save it," she said. She started to pick it up, to place it in the bowl. And at that moment, came this:

Oh, there was more than one - I'm sure of it. And they swooped and landed on her head and pecked and pecked and pecked while she screamed and screamed and screamed, all the while clutching the bowl with the baby bird in it. Their baby bird. Until finally she dropped the damn unbreakable bowl and we ran into the house and went right to the window that looked out onto the sidewalk where we'd just been.

And then the blue jays flung themselves against the window. "Thunk!" Over and over again. And we watched their fury while my mother inspected my sister's scalp. There were bloody pricks along her crown of long hair that was now tangled so that it looked much like, well, a bird's nest.  I was in a real live version of Hitchcock's classic.

I have never forgotten that day. The terror on my sister's face, the fear in my stomach, and the horror as we realized they knew where we had gone to hide and were going to try and get us. I do not remember what became of the baby bird in the bowl.

But we had lots of cats. So there.

I grow up. For the rest of my life, I am cautious around winged creatures. If they fly too closely overhead, I duck and cringe. I hate it when people feed seagulls on the beach. I, at times, ridicule my husband for stopping on the side of the road to observe a hawk or Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (his favorite bird). The Roseate Spoonbill - one of the prettiest birds in the world - does not impress me. I hate birds. And yet I grew up with parents who were bird lovers, have at least one sibling who is still an avid birdwatcher, and married a bird nerd. I will not tell you how many bird field guides we own. I still hate birds.

You understand why, don't you? I was traumatized as a child.

So what's happening?

I was wooed by the hoot.

That first night that our owl made himself known, I suddenly remembered something else from my childhood. I stood, just after nightfall, on the rise above our hay barn. I held my father's hand. We were waiting. Watching. Quickly, my father pointed to the sky. "Look, Katy. There he is. Look look." The biggest bird I'd ever seen flew out from the highest opening in the barn, beneath the light that had just come on with the darkness. I could feel the presence of him as he flew over our heads, silently. He seemed huge -- too big for flight. And he was gone.

"He's going to hunt," my father explained. "It's good luck to have a barn owl. We are lucky, Katy-my-girl."

The farm where I grew up and the barn that was home to our barn owl.

So I have a good memory of a bird, all wrapped up with my father and nightfall on the farm where I grew up and the barn where he painted hex signs to ward off evil spirits and where an owl lived that brought us good luck. So I've been dreaming each night that I hear the owl. At least I thought I was dreaming.

I walk out this morning to let the dog out and I look up into the trees and I see him. Our owl. He is beautiful. My heart races and I am excited and I just stand, trying not to breathe. Trying not to scare him away. And I strain to see him but I can't - he is so high up. I picture my binoculars (a gift from my father decades ago) and pray they are still in my bedside table and I quietly retrieve them. He is still there. I bring him in to focus. Is it a hawk? A falcon? I don't know! I'm not the expert, remember? No ear tufts. Brown and white and gray and black feathers. He is facing the other way but he turns to the side. I can see his hooked beak. And then his head turns further - to look in my direction. This is when I know he is our owl. That 270 degree turn. It can be nothing else.

I again tiptoe into the house, this time to the bookshelves in the living room. I scan the field guides - there are many. Seahorses. Fishes. Insects. Snakes. Birds. That's the one - the one I thought I'd never touch. I grab it and return to the porch. I narrow down the choices, examining details through my binoculars. As I am reading about the characteristic call of the Barred Owl, he flies off. He looks just like I thought he would -- too big for flight. Majestic. It is thrilling.

And the irony is not lost on me. I sit with my binoculars around my neck, field guide in my hands, coffee on the table, alone in my house. Aquaman and the boys are all gone - camping for the weekend. I am home alone. I could be doing anything in the world - whatever I want. And I am keying out a bird.

And I'm enjoying myself.

I feel lucky. This owl has chosen us. I know throughout history, in many cultures, they are considered a harbinger of death. But in our "western" culture they have come to be known as a symbol of wisdom. In my own family culture, they were pronounced heralds of good luck. We were fortunate to have one, I was told.

I'll go with that. I will accept this change of heart I've had towards the avian world because of an owl that chose to reveal himself. I might even admit that I put up a humming bird feeder earlier this year and felt some satisfaction knowing that I am continuing my mother's tradition of doing so. My older brother does this as well. We have become our parents. Perhaps I might even confess that I took a peek at this and it made my heart go pitter patter:

Just keep those evil blue jays away from me.      

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Happy Blogiversary!

This blog is officially one year old!

No introspection. No re-cap of the year.

Just yay!

Yay me!

I needed that.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I miss Aquaman

He's coming home. I know he is. It won't be much longer. But I still miss him.

He gets one phone call a week. Twenty minutes. It's kind of like he's in jail. Only it's a floating jail in the Gulf of Mexico. And they keep changing how many days he'll be incarcerated. And he gets fed really great Mexican food. Until the fresh vegetables run out. Then it's mostly tough meat in sauce.

First they told him the trip would last 30 to 45 days. Then he figured out this particular captain was known for his frugal use of fuel - stretching it to last a really long time. Then the captain made jokes about having Thanksgiving aboard. Then it was 'a few more weeks'. I finally stopped asking, "How much longer?"

During our weekly phone call, the minutes quickly tick by. He has a satellite phone to make the call. The connection is usually crappy.

We have learned that it is better not to spend precious minutes letting the boys talk because they mostly don't. All of the goings on and exciting things fly right out of their minds when they hear his voice and all they can say is "Good" when he asks them how they are and "Fine" when he asks about school. "I miss you" and "I love you" are popular, as is "When are you coming home?" It is better for me to relay the excitement or drama he has missed.

So far, he has been gone 55 days. During today's call, he said they will come ashore in two more days. Election Day. He probably won't get home in time to vote because he is still a 13-hour-drive away.

We have grown accustomed to him not being here. To not having many outdoor adventures. To my nagging Thing 1 about his fish tank and its upkeep since Aquaman isn't here to oversee it. To me juggling two jobs (three for a few weeks) and getting the boys to drama practice and band practice and to and from friends' houses. I cook a minimal amount - mostly on the weekends. Our groceries are heavy on the convenience foods - things the boys can heat up themselves. The xBox is my nemesis. Sometimes it is my ally, when I need to finish work and the boys play contentedly. Sometimes it is my foe, when I need to finish work and they are fighting over whose turn it is to play alone or who threw down the controller or who screen cheated or, or, or...

I put on his socks the other day when my feet were cold. I wore his sweatshirt when the temperature dipped below 50 degrees. It smells like him. Like salt water and soap. Thing 1 steals his pillow when he is gone. Thing 2 snuck his polar fleece blanket out of our room. But I don't say anything. I understand.

I have to remember to empty all the trash cans and the recycle container the night before trash pickup and get the boys to take the cans to the curb. I have to remind/threaten The Redhead to mow the lawn. I had to change lightbulbs the other day. Sweep the porch. Clean the bathroom. Supervise archery in the back yard. Walk Yellow Dog. Every. Day. Plan solo for birthday parties and presents and cake. Go to the band concert alone. Supervise trick or treating and pumpkin carving. Grocery shop. Help with homework and projects. Algebra is kicking my butt. Make breakfast and pack lunches and make dinner. Read the boys a story at night and kiss them goodnight. There is no day off.

And I know some people - single parents - do this all the time. And they do it well. But it's hard.

It's so hard.

Two. More. Days.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hollow-een: How old is too old for trick-or-treating?

I think our boys are officially too old for Trick-or-Treat. It's a sad day, me realizing this. Kind of a hollow feeling (Hollow-een. Get it?) But I can't deny the evidence this year:

1) None of them were very excited or interested in costumes. In fact, only at my prompting did two of the three pick out minimal items at a Halloween superstore two days before Halloween. The Redhead chose an Indiana Jones hat and whip. Thing 1 chose a mask from the movie "Scream" - which he has never seen, to my knowledge. Thing 2 grabbed a Groucho Marx pair of glasses (complete with eyebrows, mustache and nose) as we headed out the door Halloween night. He had no idea who Groucho Marx was.

Half-ass costumes. 

2) They chose pillowcases for their treat bags. I'm not kidding. Although they appear jaded about the whole costume thing, they anticipate gobs of candy.

3) They didn't want to go downtown to "Scare on the Square".  They said it was for little kids. Instead, they wanted to wait until it was dusk before venturing out.

This is all so different from previous years. They'd have started knocking on doors as soon as the school bus dropped them off at 3:30, if I would have allowed it.

I know it's partly because we moved from a very small town to a very large one two years ago. The small town had the best Trick or Treating one could hope for. Everyone went to one subdivision that was accessible by one road - this makes for very safe conditions on Halloween night:  one way in, one way out. Most people parked and everyone walked the five cul-de-sac streets that made up the neighborhood.  You didn't have to knock on doors - everyone sat on lawn chairs in their driveway. Adults and children dressed up. The owner of the local BBQ joint handed out chopped BBQ sandwiches and beer to the adults. It was basically a ginormous block party. Even the fire truck parked and the firemen (I told you! Something for everyone! wink, wink!) handed out the holy grail of Halloween candy:  full size candy bars. The boys didn't know how lucky they were until it was gone.

But they're also growing up. I know that happens.  In fact, a real nice woman pointed it out to them while they trick-or-treated this year.  She answered the knock on her door with this question, "Aren't you too old to be trick or treating?"

Thanks a lot, lady.

But The Redhead stood his ground.  As she put a minuscule hard candy in his pillow case (perhaps indicative of the size of her heart, no?), he replied, "I'm 13. Have a nice day!" and beat a hasty retreat.

None of them would knock on any more doors after that. If someone wasn't out on their porch, they just kept walking.

So of course the haul of candy they expected was not realized. Which predicatably resulted in endless comparisons about how much better Halloween was where we lived before.

And I couldn't argue with them. Hell, somebody was actually handing out these:

Please. These belong in oatmeal cookies.

Who hands out RAISINS on Halloween?  What's this world coming to?

So I know I've got to embrace this change.  They're too old to trick-or-treat. But they're just about the perfect age to enjoy getting the crap scared out of them. Luckily, I'm kind of an expert at that.

The weekend before Halloween, I took them on a haunted walking tour of our new town - the one that doesn't compare to the old one, remember? We heard tales of public hangings and hauntings in the park next to our house. We toured restaurants and antique shops and listened to the owners describe plates flying off walls and crashing to the ground and ghostly sightings. The boys were mesmerized.

 Don't they look scared?

Smoke bubbles. Simple pleasures...

Yes, Thing 1 is trying to get away. Yes, I have a tight grip.

We took a similar tour this summer in New Orleans. And while this one in our little historic district didn't quite rise to the level of ghostly tales in the French Quarter, it was still pretty scary.

When we returned home from the less-than-stellar trick or treating this year, we plopped down in front of the TV and watched the movie "Silver Bullet".

This is one of my favorite scary movies from my teenage years. Based on the Stephen King short story, it has a great evil werewolf who must be defeated by two kids and their uncle. The boys loved it. I also picked up "Salem's Lot" on VHS at Goodwill - but it was defective and wouldn't play in our machine. Another Stephen King story, it is a truly terrifying vampire flick. I was subjected to it much younger than the ages my three boys are now and I still have nightmares about it. Maybe it didn't work in our machine for a reason?

I think it's time to introduce them to the world of "Halloween", "The Fog", and "An American Werewolf in London".

These movies were what I lived for in my pre-teen and teenage years. I loved them.  Couldn't get enough. Would stay up watching them with my brothers and sisters, all of us scared silly and sleeping in each other's rooms for days afterwards.

I also own copies of these:

I've already made them watch "The Thing" because John Carpenter is a genius, of course. I'm holding off on "The Exorcist". This is the only movie that can still reduce me to a scared little girl who is afraid to sleep alone. Merely searching Google Images for "The Exorcist" was almost too much for me. Which is why I'm not posting a picture of Reagan here. Because I might wet myself.

I think it's a great idea to introduce my growing-up children to this other side of Halloween by fostering an appreciation for the art form that is the horror movie. I'm a good mom like that.

And to the bitter woman who answered the door and tried to crush my child's spirit on Halloween night:

You are a dumbass. 

And furthermore:

Don't answer the door next time. It's a shame YOUR MOTHER didn't teach you, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."  Lucky for you, that's what I've taught my children.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Scaredy cat puts up a political sign

I'm sitting on our front porch with my coffee.

I am babysitting my "Aggies for Obama" sign in the front yard.

It is glorious.  Beautiful maroon and white.  When I came back from dropping off The Redhead at school, I smiled when I saw it.  It made me happy.

It is so pretty - the white lettering on the maroon background, "Aggies" in script font, the rest in block lettering.

I am worried someone might vandalize it or steal it.  Crush it, perhaps - and leave it destroyed.
"That'll teach 'em!" they'll say as they dust off their hands and get back into their F150 crew cab with their "NOBAMA" bumper sticker.

As I put the boys to bed the first night the sign was displayed, I assured them that Yellow Dog would bark at any mischief in the front yard, but that if they heard anything, they should just run to my room and get me.

That scared them a little.  "Can she just sleep in here?" Thing 1 asked.

"It's probably better if she's on the couch," I said.  I wanted her as close as possible to the front door.

"Why?" Thing 1 asked.

And I realized I hadn't explained it to him yet.  I sometimes forget, in our household of three boys, to whom I've talked.  It is a confusing place.  I had explained to The Redhead and Thing 2 that I had ordered a political sign, that  I'd had to design it and have it custom made.  I wanted something unique that reflected my individual political views, but that also identified me as part of a larger group.
So I told him that people might try to steal our sign or vandalize it or maybe even drive by and yell or throw something.

"Why?' he asked again.

Cause people are fuckin' stupid.
Can't say that.

"Because some people hate Obama - our president - so much that they can't control themselves.  They have issues."

The boy still looked worried.  Less so when he saw Yellow Dog settle in to the crook of the couch for the night - steps from his bedroom door, but even less steps from the front door.

As I was explaining the potential for people to act crazy, I questioned my own sanity.  "If anything bad happens, I'll take the sign down," I added for reassurance.  But then what was the point?  The assholes have won.  I even thought about removing it every night, re-staking it every day.  No one would do anything in broad daylight, right?

The night passed uneventfully.  And so did the next.  And the next.

But I'm spending more time on the front porch - watching.  Like when I first put it up and brought Yellow Dog out with me and drank a beer in the swing.  I want people to be tickled by it.  I want someone to honk "Hullabaloo, Caneck Caneck!" (the first notes of the Aggie War Hymn) in solidarity.  That's what I would do.  I might even pull over and want to shake the hand of someone so clever. A kindred spirit.

And if you don't get chills watchin' that?  You're dead inside.  

A cat hopped up on the porch with me that first night.

"Meow," she said.  But what she meant was, "I like your sign.  Gig 'em!"  And then she was gone.

A scaredy cat.  Bold.  Only, not so much.

Is that what I am?  A scaredy cat?

I tell myself soothing things.  Have faith in people.  Trust that you live in a good neighborhood.  And by good, I mean diverse and tolerant.  There are two other Obama signs a few blocks away.  They have not been mangled or stolen, as far as I know.  They are dueling with a couple of Romney/Ryan signs.  Every time I drive down the street, I smile.  I like to think they're all friends - these neighbors with differing political views.

I am the first on our street to put up a presidential political sign.  In the last local election, there were a few - all for Republicans.  And I have heard the political opinions of the neighbors at various potlucks and impromptu block parties where the wine and beer are flowing.  "Anyone but Obama" is the majority mantra.  Seriously.  So I usually just keep quiet.  Keep the peace.

My earliest memory of politics is when my parents returned from voting for the president in 1980.  Carter - the Democratic incumbent - versus Reagan, the Republican challenger.  I was ten years old.  I knew they had gone to vote and so when they came home I asked, "Who did you vote for?"  I was excited.  All I had voted for up to that point was my favorite flavor of ice cream or where to go on vacation.

I remember my father chuckling and sitting down at the kitchen table and explaining to me that it was not polite to ask someone how they voted.  He issued edicts like that occasionally.  You do not ask a farmer how many acres he owns nor a rancher how many head of cattle he has.  And if someone was (gasp!) rude enough to ask such things of you, your reply might simply be, "A few."

So when I asked how he and my mother voted he replied, "We voted for the best man for the job."  Of course, since he was also using the moment to teach me something and not to hide anything from me, he also told me that my mother and he were independents and that last time they'd voted for Carter, but this time they voted for Reagan.

Some of that lesson has stuck with me.  I do not ask people how they vote.  Ever.  And I have never put a political sign of any kind in my yard nor a bumper sticker on my car.  I consider voting a private affair.

Until now.  There is just something about feeling like a minority voter that makes me want to speak out.  I don't like people assuming that I am a Republican.  I get the creepy feeling they're doing so because of the color of my skin.  And because I'm a fifth generation native Texan.  And because I went to Texas A&M.  An "Aggies for Obama" sign is kinda like a "Mormons for Obama" sign.  Texas A&M is home to the George Bush Presidential Library, for goodness sake!

And that's why I did it.  I want people to think twice when they see it.  I want it to challenge their stereotypes.  A friend of mine responded to the sign like this, "Way to make people feel conflicted about their interests!"  

And I am happy to report that the sign remains in our yard, unmolested.  The pizza delivery guy who came to our house Friday night shyly admitted, "I love your sign," as he handed over our order.  "I hope it's still here when I drive by next time."

So do I.  

Gig 'em.  WHOOP!


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pantry Shame

I recently received a text most parents would be ashamed to receive from their teenager - lucky for you I have no shame.  Here is the transcript for you to enjoy:

Sent from school at 12:36 p.m. (lunchtime)

The Redhead: My ceral had a bug in it 

Worst Mom Ever:  sweet!  now u&daddy have something in common.*

The Redhead:  It was sooo gross and I found its shed in the ceral!!!!!!!!!!!!

Worst Mom Ever:  awesome.  now i have material for my next blog!  thx, Red!

The Redhead:  And i was halfway through it

The Redhead:  It was sooooo nasty

I laughed so hard I snorted.  And please notice that I get extra points for not texting the correct spelling of the word cereal to my child in his time of distress.  And I was duly impressed at his use of the scientific term "shed". 

*Aquaman loves to tell the story of how I neglected to throw out sour milk from my dorm room's mini fridge in college so that he ended up, in the dark, unknowingly eating cereal with chunky, sour milk.  Yum. 

Happens to the best of us. 

The offending cereal. Notice I am careful to buy gluten free. Just not careful enough to throw it out when needed.

And it happened in this instance because it was the end of the month - also known as "That Time When We Have No Money Left to Go to the Grocery Store" or "Can't You Just Hold Out for 10 More Days?" or my favorite refrain, "Surely that cereal is still good that we bought 6 months ago?"   

Money is tight.  When the cash I've set aside for the month's groceries is gone, it's gone.  And every month I try and explain this to our three growing boys.  I warn them not to eat an entire bag of chips in one sitting.  I lecture them on how it might be smarter to parse out the granola bars in their lunches rather than trying to sneak two or three each day.  I remind them that when the applesauce and mandarin orange cups are gone, there won't be any until next month. 

They don't listen. 

They're just hungry.  All the time.   

So they instead eat with wild abandon at the beginning of the month and then we're left with pantry staples like rice and canned black beans.  Pasta and canned spaghetti sauce.  Pancakes for dinner.  Ramen.  Soup. 

I even feel a sense of pride when the pantry gets gradually more bare as the month progresses.  Waste not, want not! 

But one might argue that I took things a bit far.  In my quest to encourage the boys to eat the "pefectly good" things that are always in the pantry, I ended up feeding The Redhead bugs.  Or so he claims. 

When he came home from school after "the incident", he vowed that he would never again eat cereal.  "Good," I thought to myself.  "Cause you sure can't spell it."  He acted as if it was my fault.  A failing in my role as mother.  I am supposed to make sure and protect him from the world's ills, after all.  A bug.  In his cereal.  The horror. 

To make up for this lapse, I threw myself into making birthday cakes for Thing 1 and Thing 2.  Having twins is a lot of work when the birthday rolls around - especially when they request very specific, custom-made cakes.  This is no one's fault but my own for indulging them since infancy in any cake request they had.  But, in my defense, it was a necessity for me to make them myself to guarantee they were dairy-free, nut-free, and wheat-free.  Food allergies complicate matters. 

So I baked and I frosted and I came up with these: 

Birthday cakes with almost rancid icing. Okay, it was rancid. There. I said it. You happy? 

Pretty nice, huh?  Only when I tasted the icing, it seemed off.  Just slightly.  I couldn't put my finger on it at first.  The sleepover party went off without a hitch.  The cakes were mostly demolished.  I helped myself to a piece the next day.  Again, the taste was slightly off.  More of a smell, really.  And then I became suspicious.  I pulled out the enormous tub of shortening that I had used, opened the lid, and inhaled deeply. 


That was it.  That was the smell.  That shortening-that-is-just-starting-to-turn-rancid-smell.  I looked at the bottom of the tub for the expiration date.

July 11, 2011. 

Over a year expired. 

Oh, the shame of it all. 

I had now successfully poisoned all three of my children in less than 24 hours. 

I dove into the pantry, checking dates on every item.  I threw out expired cocoa, creamer, grits, cookies, more cereal, dried fruit and seeds, yeast, balsamic vinegar and a candy apple kit from 2008.  2008! 

Then I moved on to the refrigerator.  I was a woman possessed.  Out went salad dressings, salsas, jelly and mustard.  Mustard expires, people! 

I now feel cleansed.  I know that I could only have done this purging with Aquaman at sea.  He cannot see things go to waste.  Even if they are four years expired. 

So I'm on a clean pantry high.  It's a new month, and I've got a new budget for groceries.  I have vowed to never again let food stay around for so long.  We will only buy what we can eat within a few weeks.  We will not waste!  We will not overspend!  Waste not, want not! 

The Redhead and I went to the store last night and stocked up.  He even picked out some cereal.  And I bought some shortening.     


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Journey of 1,000 Cranes

I got to see Chicago for the first time a few weeks back.  It was a beautiful city - full of old trees and old buildings.  Right up my alley.

It was a journey of almost 1,000 miles.  Nine hundred, actually.  From Texas to Illinois.  We drove. We survived.  Wanna know our secret?  (I know you do!)

Prior to our spring trip to Iowa (800 miles), Aquaman had a stroke of genius.  He went to the bank and withdrew $60.00 in $1.00 bills.  He divided them up among three little bank envelopes.  Twenty dollars in each envelope.  One for the Redhead, one for Thing 1 and one for Thing 2.  As we settled into the car, he announced:

"Look at this, boys!"  He whipped out the money and dragged it across his face and chest.  He fanned it out for effect.  "See all this?"  Three sets of eyes were riveted.  " yours."  Three sets of jaws dropped.    

"What?" they all shrieked.  "Give it to us!"

Aquaman held fast to the money.  "Now here's the deal," he explained.  "You each get $20.00 now, at the start of the trip, but I will hold it.  Every time there is an argument, a fight, a 'Shut up!' or a 'Stop touching me!' you lose one dollar." He pulled one crisp dollar  dramatically out of the fanned deck.  "No fights?  No money lost.  You decide if you end up with $20.00 at the end of the trip.  Or with nothing.  Fair enough?"

"Awesome!" Thing 1 screamed.  "Can I hold it?" Thing 2 asked.

"You're not even going to know I'm here," the Redhead declared.  He meant it.

It worked like a charm.  There were no conflicts all the way there.  Eight hundred miles.

So Aquaman again prepared this bribe (ahem!) reward for our three well-behaved sons as we embarked on this trip to Chicago.

I am happy to report that it worked again.  I think we're on to something.  Of course, it might also be the fact that we leave in the evening and drive all night long, so the boys eventually pass out and sleep most of the way.  And the iPad.  And the iPod touch.  And the iPhone.  But really, even when we had all of those things, they still fought.  Hard, cold cash is what motivates our crew.

What would make us drive 900 miles?

A wedding.

Not just any wedding, Aquaman's little brother's wedding.

Uncle is pretty much the boys' most favorite uncle in the world ever.  He is brave.  He was our nanny in Alaska the summer after he graduated from college.  He lived with us and took care of the boys - all of whom were still in diapers.  Thing 1 and Thing 2 greeted him on his first day on the job (I was working, Aquaman was commercial fishing) by removing said diapers and smearing the contents all over the walls, then holding out both arms wide for hugs from their respective cribs.

I told you he was brave.

So it was without hesitation that we made this journey.  We were thrilled when he announced his engagement and tickled to be part of the long-distance planning.  The man he married is now officially the boys' second favorite uncle.  He is a kind and charming soul that adds something wonderful to our extended family dynamic.  What can I say?  Favorite Uncle has good taste. 

I am not sure how it transpired, but somewhere in the planning Thing 2 was enlisted for his origami expertise.  Favorite Uncle must have seen one of his creations.  Words were exchanged between the menfolk.  Next thing I knew, packages of beautiful origami paper were arriving in the mail for Thing 2.  And he was busy folding. 

The plan was to manufacture 1,000 cranes to be displayed at the wedding reception.  In Japanese culture, the crane is a mystical creature and said to live for 1,000 years.  It is believed that anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes will be granted one wish by a crane.  Other legend says that it guarantees long life and happiness for the giver and receiver.   

So Thing 2 folded.  He folded while he watched TV.  He folded and listened to music.  He folded in church.  He spent most of the summer folding.  As the countdown to the wedding approached, he calculated that he needed to make 30 cranes per day to get them all done.  Then he missed a few days.  He needed to make 60 per day to catch up. 

My bed became an origami sweatshop of one.  He would hunker down in front of the TV and fold.  When a buddy from school called to invite him over for a sleepover he explained, "I'm making cranes for my Uncle's wedding in Chicago.  I've got 30 more to go for the day.  I can come when I'm done." 

Wow.  Such dedication. 

When he completed 100, they were mailed off to Favorite Uncle.  With one month of summer left, 400 more were tucked into a box and mailed.  The rest we hand delivered. 

Truth be told, Aquaman and Thing 2 were still folding in the back seat of the car on the drive to Chicago. 

Then the real work began.  All those folded cranes had to be fluffed.  And hung from the ceiling of the reception area.  This is how we spent the morning of the wedding:


If that's not a group effort, I don't know what is. 

Actually, I think all couples should have an activity like this that brings together the guests so that they know each other a little better before the ceremony.  By the time the wedding and reception rolled around that night, we all felt like old friends. 

And that was another great thing about Favorite Uncle and Second Favorite Uncle's wedding:  all of their friends and family from so many different parts of their lives came together and they fit.  Like a jigsaw puzzle.  We all got along.  We were all brimming over with happiness for them.  No one argued.  No drama.  Just fun.  And love.  There was lots of love. 

And cranes. Lots and lots of cranes.