Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Big Easy Ain't So Easy

Consider this a Summer Dispatch from the Field.  Except I'm not in the field, I'm in New Orleans.  Also known as "The Big Easy".  Only it's not so easy with the Redhead, Thing 1, Thing 2, Aquaman and Yellow Dog.  Quite the cast of characters.

Aquaman is off on a shrimp boat for a few days.  There's a fishery down here in Louisiana, newly observed, that he is a part of.  Since the kidlets and I are free agents for the summer, we followed Aquaman down here to his post.  Unfortunately, I cannot report smooth sailing.

The first night on the road, we camped at Martin Dies, Jr. State Park in Jasper.  The mosquitoes almost carried us off.  There was literally a swarm of them at the lights by the fishing pier.  I do not use the term swarm lightly - I am a native Texan, after all.  So heed my warning.  They bit me on the butt through my clothes.  Now I find myself scratching my ass on the street in New Orleans.  Not the signal I'd like to be sending to the various characters in the French Quarter...

Breaking up the drive to New Orleans was smart, but really only prolonged the inevitable realization that travel with three boys and a large puppy is difficult.  This is especially true since the night before our departure, I got an ungodly sore throat accompanied by a swollen neck.  But I pressed on, knowing that one of our progeny was also sick with the same thing, for which I took him to the pediatrician for a diagnosis of double ear infections, an eye infection and bronchitis brought on by this summer bug.  So he has eye drops that must be administered three times a day, ear drops twice a day, and a large horse pill of an antibiotic that he heroically swallows morning and night.  He is on the mend after four days.  I am getting worse, eyeing his antibiotics as my throat swells nightly and I hack my way to dawn eating Fisherman's Friend to sustain me (Dear God those things are strong).  It's so bad that I am actually hacking up green goo and spitting it into the sink, a habit I abhor in others.  I have sunk to new levels here in the swamps.

The hotel we're staying in is old and charming and one of the few areas that did not flood during Hurricane Katrina (It was built long enough ago on high enough land).  It has restored hardwood floors and transom windows.  And I love me some transom windows.  Except at night.  When they let in all the light of the street lamps.  And it's really cool to be right off the street with our own private courtyard out back.  But there is a lot of street noise late at night in New Orleans.  People walking and talking right outside our door.  And Yellow Dog became a super vigilant guard dog, barking at each and every sound.  I finally moved her to the back room where she couldn't hear everything over the constantly running window A/C unit.  About the time I started to fall asleep, Thing 2 started coughing.  I gave him medicine and by the time it kicked in, I started coughing.  My Fisherman's Friend was in the car, which I walked to, in my nightgown, at 1:15 a.m.  I finally fell back asleep when Aquaman started snoring.  Kill me now.

There are some really neat things about staying so close to the French Quarter:  the walkability, especially with a puppy who has energy to burn, is wonderful.  I took the boys up to the banks of the Mississippi so they could stack rocks yesterday.  It's the second day in a row that they've passed the time creating rock towers.

Aquaman took them here the first day, while I laid in bed with a terrible headache, sore throat and - did I mention - my period?  The hits just keep coming...

Anyway, the breeze off of the Mississippi is delightful in the heat of the day.  Yellow Dog and I sat and panted in the shade.

We gazed at Jackson Brewery.

But I mostly wanted to shoot myself in the head while the calliope played on the Steamboat Natchez behind us.

The Redhead's pained expression.  From the Maniacal Calliope.

At the time, we didn't know it was a calliope.  We just knew it was bad.  I called it a "steam pipe organ thingy" and later, someone in the office of our hotel informed me of the proper name.  So my hatred could be informed, you know.  I looked up calliope on Wikipedia, and would you believe the description included this:  

A calliope is typically very loud. Even some small calliopes are audible for miles around. There is no provision for varying the tone or loudness. The only expression possible is the timing and duration of the notes.

A very apt description.  The Redhead, after being subjected to the cacophony for 10 minutes, observed, "It's like one whole octave too high.  If it was a little lower it might be less irritating."  Yes, indeed, son.  

Thing 1 and Thing 2 came trotting over, taking a break from stacking rocks.  "Was this thing playing yesterday?" I asked.  "How could you possibly stand it?"  

"No.  It wasn't here yesterday.  It was quiet."  

Of course.  Over the next several minutes, I fantasized about being a sniper capable of taking out the elderly woman hunched over the metal box adjacent to the steam pipes.  She was responsible for this assault.  At the conclusion of her "concert" she actually received applause and waved to the adoring crowd.  Finally, after several toots of the steamboat horn that were bone-rattlingly loud, scared the crap out of Yellow Dog, and were - by my estimation - completely unnecessary to maritime safety, the Steamboat Natchez departed on a tour.  Thank God.  

We spent the rest of the hot afternoon meandering back towards our hotel, stopping at toy stores and candy shops - the only shopping priorities of any self-respecting adolescent boy.  Yellow Dog and I mostly waited outside where she would drop onto the cool brick in the shade.  

"Just leave me here, Mom.  Really.  This is good."  

I figured if I had a cardboard sign to put around her neck - something like, "Raising three boys.  Please help" - we could've made some serious cash.  She got enough attention as it was.  When she found a puddle of water, she laid down and wallowed in it.

The best treat of the day was the chocolate-dipped marshmallows on a stick.  Made boys happy.  

I tried the creamy pecan pralines that took first place at the Atlanta Gourmet Show from Southern Candymakers.  Pralines were my dad's specialty, so I'm pretty picky and these held up to scrutiny.

We ended our sweaty afternoon tour with a stop by a dog park on the corners of Dauphine and Barracks.  This place is a safe zone for our Yellow Dog.  She can run and play with other dogs, swim in a wading pool, and pee and poop in grass that is scarce throughout the rest of downtown.  Grass is so hard to come by that she has taken to just pooping as she walks down the street, without warning, like a horse.  I'm waiting for her paws to start making clip-clop noises on the brick.  Maybe we'll get her a saddle.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

I thought we'd have a good time.  There's always lots going on in our historic district on the weekend - a Farmer's Market, an Ice Cream Crank Off (it's what we do in Texas when it's too damn hot for a Chili Cook Off) and the regular draw of downtown and all of its funky shops.  I only had the twins, as Aquaman and our oldest were off on Mustang Island in our old hamlet, Port Aransas.

So I didn't have to prod Thing 1 much to get out of his pajamas and get ready to go.  He didn't want to walk the few blocks to Chestnut Square where everything was happening, but I was insistent.  I did have to wake up Thing 2, even though it was already 10:00 a.m.  But he was agreeable enough to venturing out and seeing all the goings on.

And then we walked.  In the heat.  And they kept sniffing and wouldn't blow their noses, although I had tissues.  I got more annoyed with each step.  Then there was the crowd.  We don't do well in crowds.  People are annoyingly slow and in your way and keep bumping in to you. We bought some fantastic peaches and a few treats at the General Store and then Thing 2 was whining, "Let's go home!  I want to go!  It's hot.  I don't want to sit here for an hour and wait for the ice cream contest."

I tried to shake it off.  But he persisted in being negative and whiny while Thing 1 and I made our way around all the annoying people to look at all the fresh produce and handmade goods for sale.  "Can we go home?" Thing 2 whined for the fifth time.

"You can go home anytime you want," I snapped.  "Start walking.  See ya later.  Have a good time."

He stuck with us for a little while, but when he sniffed again and I told him to blow his nose or else, he peeled off from us and started in the direction of home.  Solo.

"We finally shook him!" is what I was thinking, triumphantly.  I am evil.

So Thing 1 and I walked downtown and had quite a pleasant time going from shop to shop and sitting on the sidewalk drinking old-fasioned sodas out of glass bottles.

Only once did it cross my mind that Thing 2 had no phone, no identification on him, and probably couldn't reliably recite my cell phone number.  If he was hit by a car or kidnapped, what would become of him?  I banished the thought and we kept browsing shops.

When we'd had enough, we walked through the park on our way home and I had the urge to grab Thing 1's hand as we crossed the street.  He jerked his hand away from mine as I reached for him.  As if I had stung him.  Then he looked at me like I was crazy.

"What?" I said, hoping I sounded wounded.  Which I was.  "I wanna hold your hand!"


And just like that, I realized that it had been a very long time that I had held one of their hands as we crossed the street.  It happens that way.  They slip away from you when you're not paying attention.  Or when you're overwhelmed and sick and tired of holding hands and wiping butts and picking them up.  Then you go from annoyed to nostalgic.  Like an idiot.

I knew that getting any of our three sons to hold my hand anymore was a long shot.  In fact, holding a boy's hand was now a punishment from a boy's point of view.  It's a new weapon in my arsenal of discipline.  If one of them is acting ridiculous in public, I make him hold my hand.  They absolutely hate it.  It is very effective at controlling unacceptable behavior.  I tell the offender, "If you're going to act like a fit-throwing toddler, I will hold your hand like a fit-throwing toddler."  Of course, when they were fit-throwing toddlers, I'd just walk away from them in the store, pretending to abandon them or that they were someone else's and they would usually quickly stop and follow me in silence -- all a mom can hope for sometimes.

Except now I wished for a hand to hold.  A sweaty boy's hand, sticky with peach juice and with fingernails that needed cutting.

I settled for draping my arm around Thing 1's shoulder the rest of the way home where we found Thing 2 safe and sound.            

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Thing 1 and Thing 2...Cuss 1 and Cuss 2

They've done it again.  Thing 1 and Thing 2 went and reached another milestone while I was busy making their lunches and cleaning the house and walking the dog and making dinner and helping with their homework and reading to them before bed.

They went and finished elementary school.  I swear, just the other day, they looked like this:


And this:

The school has a small ceremony for fifth graders as they finish up the year and prepare for big, bad middle school.  I was surprised when the boys brought home pictures of themselves - the making of which I'd never been informed of - in mortarboards, tassels, fake collared shirt and tie.  "When did they take these?" I asked.  Neither one of them remembered.  "The fake shirt was weird," one said.  Indeed.

We laid out nice clothes for them the night before:  dress pants and shoes was as far as we got before things turned up missing.  No belts.  No ties.  No black socks.  We all went to bed anyway, figuring we'd work it out in the morning.

As I lay in bed that night, I thought back to the last time I remembered the boys dressed up, wearing their ties.  It had been a family funeral, one we'd traveled for.  I suddenly remembered that I'd packed all of their ties in my husband's hanging garment bag - the one containing his own suit and tie.  It was still hanging in the hall closet.

So I felt smart the next morning as I woke the twins and went straight to the closet and pulled out their ties.  Belts proved more difficult to scrounge up.  They fought over the one nice one that was found on the floor of the black hole that is their closet:  Reid won.  As he put it on, the extra length was obvious.  "Go get me a pocket knife," I instructed.  I added another hole in the leather.  We found one hanging in the laundry room for Hayden.  It was more casual, but it worked with his khakis and black shirt.  They managed to get their *white* socks on with their dressy shoes.  This was after Reid asked, "What socks do I wear?"  As if there was a choice.  "Well, there's white.  So I guess you wear white," I told him.  I made a mental note to buy black socks.  And belts.  I realized, as I was making this mental note, that whatever I bought ahead of time - to avoid this last minute panic - would probably never be worn.  They grew so fast.  That was why we had this collection of mismatched, too big  or too small belts and shoes and pants.  They were leftover from their older brother.  Or ones that they had worn for the last special occasion, months earlier, that were now far too small.  Months pass.  Clothes - entire outfits - become miniscule on their bodies.  Shoes that felt perfectly fine are suddenly painful.  They just keep growing.  

Reid combed his freshly washed hair carefully and put on his tie in front of the bathroom mirror.  Hayden stuffed his tie in his pocket and asked me to comb his hair that hadn't been washed since the day before.  They are so different.  In every way.  

As they stood in the kitchen, finishing up their breakfast, I surveyed their outfits.  And noticed a small white thread hanging from Hayden's black shirt.  I grabbed it.  Pulled.  Off came the button that would attach the collar to enable him to put on his tie later.  As it tumbled to the floor and the dog scuttled after it as quickly as I did, the first "Goddamn!" left my lips (Cuss 1).  

I managed to get to the button first, as Hayden said, "Great!  Now no tie!"

First of all, the fact that they even wanted to wear ties - had asked to wear ties - was an anomaly.  I never expected this, given Aquaman's aversion to ties.  Second of all, that I'd managed to find said ties was a minor miracle.  So third of all, I should have expected something to go wrong. (And fourth of all, don't judge me for cussing.)  

And that is how I ended up with my sewing kit out at 7:12 a.m., standing in the bathroom, sewing a button on a collar attached to a nervous boy.  The needle came dangerously close to the boy's neck.  I turned him towards me - and away from the bathroom mirror - so he couldn't see how close.  The second stitch resulted in me stabbing myself in the finger.  Another "Goddamn!" left my lips (Cuss 2).  It was followed by a plea from the boy, "Don't stick me, Mom!  Please!"  And then I said something my own mother said to me, countless times as she hemmed or mended.  "I'll stick myself before I stick you."  Which I had just done.

At 7:16 a.m. I was shooing boys out the door to catch the bus, but making them pause long enough on the front sidewalk so that I could take a picture.

And then they were gone.  They look like they are businessmen on their way to catch the train to work with their slacks and collared shirts, dress shoes and lunch boxes.

But they aren't.  They're still boys.  For now.

Here's some perspective.

 Thing 1.  Pre-K graduation.  
Thing 1.  5th grade graduation.  

 Thing 2.  Pre-K graduation.  
Thing 2.  5th grade graduation.  

My how time flies.