Shut The Front (Garage) Door!

What the hell is going on lately?  I know that it is a full moon, but it seems like more than that.  The planets must be aligned in some extra kooky way because my kids are over the top bonkers right now.

Everybody is nursing a cold, so there’s that.  We finally ran out of Halloween candy, so maybe they are lamenting the loss.  Then there is general PMS-iness that seems to lurk in all of the teenage (and pre-menopausal, as I have been oft-reminded) cracks and corners of our household.  There are always tears coming from somebody… morning, noon, and night.  And it’s not about anything horrible or crazy or life-changing either.  It’s just stupid stuff.

Yesterday morning the bus stop tears stemmed from the weather, short-sleeved t-shirts, and fear of a new bus driver (but I’ll give them the last one… the new dude is O.L.D. and change is scary).  The other night’s dinnertime tears were about sweet potatoes (even though they taste like the recently departed HALLOWEEN CANDY, for cripes sake), and yesterday morning’s meltdown was over me not being able to come to school during the class’ allotted 6 minutes of book fair time.  Oh, and did I remember that I was late arriving last year too?  More tears.  More crazy.

Kid C hasn’t been crying so much, but she has been totally “off” for the past few weeks.  She is unfocused, scatter-brained, and ditzy.  That’s on a good day.  She is the last one to leave the house for school in the morning.  By the time she heads out the door, I am already upstairs doing chores and starting my day.  She leaves through the garage and she forgets to close the door every single time.  I have tried reminding her nicely.  I have tried threatening her.  I took away her phone for a week.  I took away television as well.  I have pleaded, coaxed, and cajoled.  I even said “pretty please.”  Nothing works.  I said I would ban the use of the door and she’d have to find another point of egress.  That didn’t work either.

Then one day I very calmly said, “Do you know that 117% of home invasions happen through open garage doors?  Do you want some criminal to walk into this house and shoot me dead while I am folding your mismatched socks and tiny bras?  Do you?  I could be lying in a pool of my own blood on the floor and it would be your fault because you couldn’t be bothered to close the door on your way to the bus stop.  Could you live with that responsibility?”  With wide, blue eyes, she shook her head no.

Yes, I said that to my overly-anxious, wildly imaginative, twelve year-old daughter, who is already scared of everything right now.  She doesn’t like to be home alone.  She won’t go down into the basement unless every single one of the lights are on.  Oh, and I said it whilst her little brothers were within earshot.  Not my shiniest parenting moment, I admit.  But at least she was on track to shut the stupid door now.

Or not.  It was totally wide open when I came downstairs yesterday morning.

I do not think that Kid C knows how the internet works.

I do not think that Kid C actually knows how the internet works

The other side of the coin with Kid C is that she is super creative lately.  She has been rocking her assignments in school, especially the ones that require something “extra.”  She made a very extensive booklet on cell biology for her science class.  She has been killing math, where they are studying linear, quadratic, and exponential functions.  She had a value drawing due for a Visual Arts class she is taking and it was really, really good.  Value drawing is all about light and shadows and shading, which creates depth and can bring a drawing to life.  She drew a guy lying in a pool of his own blood on a deserted island, along with a shark swimming menacingly nearby.  There is so much going on in the picture and she shaded it all beautifully… the sand, the setting sun in the sky, the water, a lone palm tree.  Then, on the back of the drawing she wrote “He wasn’t killed by the shark.”  And, if you examine the drawing closely, you will see the slightest shadow and the hint of a man hiding behind the palm tree, which isn’t really noticeable at first.  It was awesome!

But I’ll bet somebody left the garage door open at their house too.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

11/22/2013 Update: Guess who remembered to bring home her value drawing so her mother could scan and upload it to her blog?  It has changed a little since I saw it last, and the scan quality makes it look a bit different than it does in person, but you can definitely get the gist of it.  Enjoy!

"It wasn't the shark that killed him." - Kid C

“It wasn’t the shark that killed him.” – Kid C

Six Months

Hey, B.

Just checking in…

I’m sure you have lots and lots going on right now.  I figure that you are still going through an orientation kind of period, where you get to learn about all of the amazing options available to you in the afterlife.  Kid A likes to remind us about the things you planned to do after you were done being sick.  Did you learn to speak Arabic yet?  For some reason, the thought of that always makes me giggle.  السرطان لا يزال يمص حتى ولو يمكنك التحدث باللغة العربية الآن.  In case you haven’t gotten around to learning it yet (like me with my Pimsleur Spanish lessons), that says “Cancer still sucks even though you can now speak Arabic.”  At least according to Google Translate it does.  I sure hope I didn’t just write something offensive.

I talk to or text with your mom and dad now and then, and I also see their posts on Facebook.  They miss you something fierce.  Everybody does.  And your brothers and sisters are still figuring everything out, too.  Hell, I can’t even say this silly little prayer to you without crying.  And now I just said “hell” in a prayer.  I am not very good at this, dammit.

I loved, loved, loved when you gave us a tour of “your spots” when we drove through Washington, D.C. this summer.  We don’t normally even drive through the city (we go around), so I knew something was up.  And then Sheepdog got turned around in the same exact place that I got turned around when I was driving to my 25th high school reunion just a few weeks earlier.  Once was “whatever,” but twice couldn’t have been just coincidence.  Then I looked back from my seat and saw Kid A happy-crying as she whispered, “Braden is here.”

Thank you for that.  It was amazing.

Dear God,  That's a very important Kid you've got up there.  Please make sure he is adjusting okay... sometimes he like to play tough.  Oh, and thank you for beautiful orange sunsets.

Dear God, That’s a very important Kid you’ve got up there. Please make sure he is adjusting okay… sometimes he likes to play the tough guy.  Maybe you could give him some extra hugs or something.  Oh, and thank you for beautiful orange sunsets.

I worry about Kid A sometimes.  She still marks your symbol on her wrist every single day.  Then she traces “Come What May” in your handwriting over top of it.  She wants to get it tattooed, but I am making her wait until she turns 18 to do that.  Sheepdog offered to take her across state lines to Alabama (mostly because he is also campaigning for a new tattoo… you remember the biohazard one he wanted you to get because of all of the chemo?) but I put my foot down.  Yes, I am still a rule follower.  And yes, I am still putting my foot down about stuff.  Tattoos are FOREVER.  But I guess that you will be with her forever too, so I get it.

Over all, she has been handling everything pretty well.  She has the distractions of her senior year to keep her busy.  We hardly see her at home.  But I worry about her most when the busy stops.  And every once in a while she will say something that gives me pause.

Like when she said, “I am afraid to get close to anybody because the people I love die.”

And honestly, I didn’t know what to say back.  Because – technically – she is right.  You died.  Everybody dies.  Some die later and some die sooner, but we all die.  It is one of those yin/yang facts of life.  Yet, we can’t guard ourselves so closely that we never let anyone in, either.  So, I hugged her and let her cry about you and I reminded her that she can’t let fear dictate her choices in life.  We keep encouraging her to do more counseling and therapy.  And she has been trying hard to do fun things and meet new people this year, so I think she is going to be okay.  But I will continue to keep an eye on her just in case.

And maybe you can keep doing your surprise drop-ins, too.  In between your Arabic lessons, of course.

I miss you, Kid.

xo

Choices

Back when we were in college, Sheepdog and I (both separately before we met, and together after we knew one another better) contemplated joining the military.  We were both a little lost and confused and didn’t know what we wanted to be when we grew up and we saw something in that organization that appealed to our sense of order and honor and patriotism (oh, and Sheepdog wanted to shoot stuff for a living and I liked the idea of shaving my head, but the first few answers sounded a little less crazy when we said them out loud).  We could have furthered our education, learned real world skills and gotten some desperately needed direction and self-discipline, too.  We had a choice, but the Man With The Plan had different ideas for us, and neither of us ended up enlisting.

Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

It is an issue that weighs on me at times.  I know it weighs on Sheepdog too.  Should I have joined?  What would my life be like now if I had?  Why didn’t I make the choice to do it?  I could have made a tangible contribution to society.  Why wasn’t I more bold and courageous?  What if everybody made excuses like I am making?  What kind of America would we be living in today?

I have come up with different answers to those questions over the years.  I still meditate on the “what ifs” from time to time and harbor some guilt over it, but I am pretty comfortable with the decision I made to not join the military.  My reassurance primarily comes from believing that if I had made the choice to join, I likely would not have married Sheepdog and we wouldn’t have the family and life we have right now.  And we are still able to make positive contributions toward our community and society.  And even though we had to learn the hard way many of the life lessons that we would have learned early on during the course of our military training, this is the life that God intended for me to have.  And it is a very good one indeed.

So, right now I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to those who have made the choice to serve our country in the past and those who are still serving right now.  Your sacrifices are appreciated more than you’ll ever know.  You made I choice that I could and did not.  I am happy about the choice that I made, but I am also very grateful for the choice that you made.  God bless our veterans and God bless America.

images

Source: Google Images

Speaking of Wood…

Speaking of wood, Kid D is about due for The Talk.  Yes, I mean THE Talk.  He is in the third grade.  Too young, you say?  Seriously, have you ridden on a public school bus?  Have you watched a rerun of Friends on television?  Have you heard of a little thing called the internet?

S-E-X is everywhere.  And it has basically been motor boating my son since he was born.  He just wasn’t aware that boobs could be used as anything but food or a soft pillow until now.  And he has questions… I can see them trying to escape from his little boy mouth.  Mostly I see them now when I am showering and he lingers for a fraction of a second too long in my bathroom.  Then he leaves quickly, muttering, “…nevermind…”  because his little boy brain doesn’t yet know the words he wants to use for the things he wants to ask.  And his body will be changing soon and his friends will be saying things.  And I don’t want him to feel like he is an alien growing a fifth limb.

"Erections sometimes don't know when they're not wanted." - from "What's Happening to Me, " written by Peter Mayle and illustrated by Arthur Robins

“Erections sometimes don’t know when they’re not wanted.” – from “What’s Happening to Me, ” written by Peter Mayle and illustrated by Arthur Robins

I have several options about how I can handle this.  I can leave some brochures and books on his nightstand for him to peruse at his leisure.  But that seems so isolating and scary, and likely the pages would get stuck together before long.  I could ignore the issue and let him find out on his own, in a more organic way.  But what if he gets the wrong information or has questions or it freaks him out?  At that point, he likely won’t feel comfortable enough to come to me with questions because I never approached him with the facts in the first place.  Then sex becomes a dirty little secret in our house.  And those are NOT feelings that I want my kids to associate with sex, ever (well, the dirty part can be acceptable, but that’s a much more advanced lesson for later).

I learned about sex in a combination of all of the ways listed above.  I regularly organized my mom’s walk-in-closet (honestly, she had a ton of clothes that always ended up on the floor, and it gave me tremendous peace to fold them or hang them back up), and she conveniently left a copy of “What’s Happening to Me?” on a shelf for me to “find” when I was about eleven or twelve.  Little did she know that my cousin, now a lesbian for what that’s worth, had told me all about the nitty gritty when I was at her house for a sleepover.  I was nine.  Any other facts about body development or intercourse or STDs trickled in over the years via sex education classes, Seventeen magazine quizzes, and my friend McWorm, who explained to me in the 7th grade that Dexy’s Midnight Runners most definitely did not want Eileen to hurry up.

Taking what I learned from my own experiences, I went into my own parenting wasteland wishing to make a complete 180 when it came to talking to and teaching my kids about sex.  I’m not judging my parents for not talking to me.  I know firsthand how hard it is to have The Talk, for both the parents AND the kids.  And honestly, my parents didn’t get The Talk from their parents either.  So the dirty little secret is all they knew.  But I was adamant that I would try to make it, if not easy, than at least a smidge easier for my kids to talk to me about all things related to sex.  I would start being open when they were very young and we could build trust from there.  I thought it was a good plan.

When the girls were little, I drove a minivan.  A silver Mazda MPV, pre-sliding doors, but it was still super convenient for the car seat-toting set.  It was also the place where we had some of our best sex talks when they were young.  I was laying the groundwork.  For example:

One morning on the way to carpool, Kid A, who was in 1st grade at the time, asked what I’d be doing while she and her sisters were in school all day.  I took a deep breath and said that I had a doctor’s appointment.

“A well visit, Mommy?  Do you have to get a shot?” asked a very curious Kid B, who was in preschool.  She was used to her own pediatrician.

“Um, no, actually.  I am going to a mommy doctor called an OB/GYN.”  I steadied my nerves and looked straight ahead at the road (talks in the car were most awesome because there was never any eye contact involved).  “The OB stands for ‘obstetrician,’ and that’s a doctor who delivers babies.  I am not pregnant, so I’m not going for that.”

“Whew,” said a smartass Kid A, “‘Cause you’re usually pregnant a lot.”

“No, I am not pregnant right now.  So I am going for the GYN part – the ‘gynecologist…’ ”  I took a very deep breath.  “…and that is a doctor who takes care of your vagina.”

If the girls had brake pedals, we would have skidded out right there in the middle of the road.

“Whaaaaaaaaaat?” squealed both of the older kids.  Kid C toddler-giggled at their reaction.

“There is a doctor just for your your cha-china?”  More giggles from the backseat.

“Yes, ” I answered, determined to be calm and cool and all NBD about sex.  “He will check my weight and my blood pressure and ask me medical questions and do a check to make sure my vagina is all healthy and good. ”

“Well, that’s just like a well visit, Mommy, ” Kid A pointed out.

I was so proud for being straightforward and honest and open about sex with my daughters.  They understood.  I was making progress.  Change is good!  And then Kid B broke me.

“But what about if you make a stinker out of your vagina when the doctor is checking you.  What happens then, Mommy?  If you make a stinker?  Out of your vagina?”

I slammed on the brakes at that point, both figuratively on the conversation and literally on the minivan.  Fortunately, we had just pulled in to the school drop off.  “Have a good day, girls!”  I fake-smiled and waved and completely ignored the final, utterly unnerving question about S-E-X.  I was actually shaking in my seat.  Where was that kid from?

Kids are evil.  They are ornery.  Kids are put on this earth to pulverize their parents’ best intentions into dust particles and then throw them into our faces.  Groundwork, shmoundwork.

Now that I think about it, I’ll wait just a little while longer before I give Kid D The Talk.  He can learn about S-E-X like everybody else, the old-fashioned way… from a Victoria’s Secret catalog.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Got Wood?

I can’t remember if I told you all this before, but in the 8th Grade I won the Industrial Arts Award.  Yes, I deserved it.  And yes, I went to a co-ed school.  At my school, the boys and the girls had to take both wood shop and home economics.  I was okay at the home economics stuff (much better at the cooking and baking than I was at the sewing).  But I was really good at the wood shop stuff, both in theory and practical application.  Plus, I really enjoyed the class.  When you pulled my elephant’s trunk, that light came ON!  Every time.

Here is a picture of me receiving the Award for Excellence in Industrial Arts at my 8th grade graduation ceremony.  I am the one dressed like an Amish girl.  What you can not see (or hear, actually) is my dad in the bleachers proudly exclaiming, "That's my SON!" when the award was announced.

Here is a picture of me receiving the Award for Excellence in Industrial Arts at my 8th grade graduation ceremony. I am the one dressed like an Amish girl. What you can not see (or hear, actually) is my dad in the bleachers proudly exclaiming, “That’s my SON!” when the award was announced.

I guess you can say I have had a life-long admiration for quality woodworking and beautiful things created from quality wood.  Maybe it comes from me being born so close to all of those Redwood trees in California.  I find wood to be amazing.  Wood is very pleasing to my senses.  Whether rough or smooth, natural or stained, I love the feel of it.  I love to touch it.  I love the smell of it.  I love it in all forms… raw and freshly cut, finished, or even as sawdust.  The lines and the swirls in the grains of each piece of wood, as unique as snowflakes, are incredibly interesting and I love imagining the stories of how they came to be.  Hard wood, soft wood, dark wood, light wood… it is all good.  Wood is very, very sexy.

But even more amazing to me is someone who has the ability to manipulate wood into something more, something functional.  A person who can take a piece of wood and build something beautiful and strong is a true artist in my mind.

That is one of the reasons why I love everything about the show “This Old House.”  I started watching Norm Abram on “The New Yankee Workshop” back when Sheepdog and I first got married.  I was in awe of what he could do with pieces of wood in that magical barn.  “This Old House” was a companion show for me… it took it up a notch by delving in to building and renovating entire homes, but it also strayed from the actual woodworking and furniture making components that got me hooked in the first place.  Together, these shows and the people on them (Kevin O’Connor, Norm Abram, Rich Trethewey, Tom Silva, and Roger Cook), have helped foster and intensify my love of all things wood.

I have been playing my favorite game of “Million Dollar Listing” again by perusing the local real estate market.  During my birthday week I went with my dad to see an 8.5 acre property that was on the market for $1.875 million, after having been dropped down from $2.3 million (that made it a really good deal in my mind).  It was spectacular for so many reasons… the privacy, the wooded land, the gunite-salt water-infinity pool out back, the gorgeously refinished kitchen and bathrooms, but mainly because of all of the wood inside of the house.  There is no drywall in this home.  All of the walls are made of wood.  It felt like a mountain cabin in Colorado.  It seriously took my breath away and made me all tingly.

Wood.  On.  The.  Walls.  And notice how the inlayed starburst pattern mirrors the beams on the ceiling.  How does this NOT turn everyone on?

Wood. On. The. Walls. And notice how the inlayed starburst pattern on the floor mirrors the beams on the ceiling.  How does this NOT turn everyone on?  P.S.  There is no way I can afford this otherworldly home.

So now you will totally understand just how freaking excited I was when I found out recently that one of my fun college peeps actually knows Kevin O’Connor, the host of “This Old House.”  They went to high school together and are still good friends.  When I told him how cool I thought that was, he was like, “Seriously, you actually watch PBS?  He’s no Ty Pennington.”

Last week a package arrived for me in the mail.  When I opened it, I could not contain myself.  I was giggling and laughing and smiling and could not wait to put on my new t-shirt and read my very own signed copy of The Best Homes from “This Old House.”  I was ecstatic.  I was over the moon.  I was so excited.

I got wood.

This is some good SWAG

Now this is some good SWAG.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

I Don’t Know How To Do ANYTHING!

Kid E came home from school in early October and unloaded his backpack.  Inside his folder was a piece of paper.  He happily announced in my direction, “This is for you.  From my teacher.  I will put it in your bin.”

I was excited that he had already mastered my rules established to conquer school-related entropy (for a quick ENTROPY primer, click here) by unpacking and sorting immediately upon entry.  I like to train them young around here.  Early independence of my kids is always a long-term goal.

So I let him do his jobs… his shoes get put in the shoe basket, his lunchbox gets emptied of any trash and leftovers and put on the kitchen table, important papers go in the bin on my desk.  He is always so proud when he completes these simple tasks.  And then he inevitably asks if he can watch videos.

Meanwhile, this kid has been glued to electronics since birth.  My bad.  I wish I was exaggerating, but I am not.  I have been such a slacker parent with him.  I always say yes when he asks if he can watch the video/ play the game/ download the app.  I get more done that way.  I mean, he’s my FIFTH kid.  But I think I am wrecking him.  He talks in a language I partly do not understand (“Mom, can you type in ‘skylanders swap force girl and boy super evil chaos?'”) and I partly am super worried about (see previous example).  In the beginning, I would always say things like, “Apple products are truly user-friendly!  Even my baby can use this iMac, and he can’t even sit up!”  I guess we’ll just see how my little experiment turns out.  Here’s hoping for the best.

Anyway, he gave me the paper from his kindergarten teacher and went off to watch YouTube videos of other people playing video games (I know, I know… Mother of the Year over here.  But he knows to turn it off if there are curse words worse than what I drop on the daily).  About a half hour later, I got around to browsing through my in-bin.

Kid E had been given a project.  Dun-dun-dun.  Well, crap.

The October kindergarten project (Man, I really hope this is not setting some sort of precedent for a new project each month, because that would be some bullshit.  It’s kindergarten, not grad school.) was to find a book that you liked, write some things about the main character and a short summary of what they did in the book, and then decorate a small pumpkin to resemble that character.  He had to bring it all in by Monday, October 28th.

OK, we had some time.  And the assignment wasn’t overwhelming or impossible or even that much of a pain in the ass.  So I presented the project to Kid E with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.

“Hey, buddy?  Can you take off the headphones and press pause for a sec (and, yes, I made the universal gesture for taking off headphones).  This paper you said was from your teacher for me… actually, it is a fun project for you!”  I went on to explain the assignment with gusto.  But the kid was not buying it.  He was not excited.  He was not even happy.  He started to cry uncontrollably.

“But, MOM!  It is supposed to be for YOU, not ME!  What am I gonna do?  How am I gonna do it?  I can’t do it.  I don’t know how to do ANYTHING!”

I gave him a big, fat hug and helped him to bring it down a notch.  I explained that he most certainly knew how to do lots of things… like putting his shoes in the bin, and emptying his lunchbox and backpack, and putting important papers on my desk.  I reminded him that he also dressed and undressed himself, put his clothes in the hamper, and put the silverware and napkins on the table for dinner.  I pointed out that he can read now, and his writing was getting really good, and he knew how to do math problems.  Kid D heard the commotion at this point and (helpfully?) added that Kid E also cleaned up his toys, but only when I made him.  He also suggested a book for the project, The Runaway Bunny.  That part was actually pretty helpful.

“Perfect, ” I said.  “You like that book.  You can write about the little bunny and all of his shenanigans when he tries to run away from his mother.  And we could buy a pet-sized bunny costume and glue the ears on your tiny pumpkin!”  I continued to reassure him. “You know how to do lots of things.  Don’t you worry about a thing.  We’ve got this.”  Kid E stopped crying.

Then he asked if he could go back to watching the YouTube.  Of course I let him.  I had stuff to do.

I glued the ears, nose and tail on (yes, I own a glue gun!), and Kid E drew the eyes and mouth.  Plus, he wrote out the book report all on his own (I helped him construct some of the sentences).  He did so well that he's on his own from now on...

I glued the ears, nose and tail on (yes, I own a glue gun, smartasses), but Kid E drew the eyes and mouth. Plus, he wrote out the book report all on his own (even though I helped him construct one or two of the sentences).                              He did so well that next time, he’s on his own.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…