Friday, April 27, 2012

An Open Letter of Hope and Sorrow

Yesterday, a dear friend of mine from college passed away, leaving a young teen daughter. This is an open letter I wrote for her.

My dear Sarah,

My heart is breaking today. It is breaking for myself, for your father, for your grandparents, for all your aunts and uncles and cousins, and for everyone who knew and loved your mother, but most especially for you. It is never easy to lose your mother, but it is even harder when she is so young and when you are at an age where your mother is so important.

The first time I met your mother, nearly 25 years ago, she was only 8 or 9 years older than you are now. I was a shy college freshman, and she was a worldly senior who lived on the same floor of my dorm. And she had a car. I think it was probably only about the first week of school when she scooped up me, her roommate Kim, and another friend from the floor, Dorie, and we all hopped into her car and took off on some adventure, probably to get ice cream or burgers. I don’t think that any of us imagined that the four of us would become part of a circle of friends that would last for the rest of our lives. A few months later, a girl named Suzanne transferred in and we all piled into your mom’s car again, this time to go to Pizza Hut, and one more person was added to that circle of friends. We did a lot of laughing that night, and ever since.

That’s always how I think of your mom: laughing and smiling. Even in hard times, she was able to find laughter. The same year I met her, your Grandpa Gray was taken to the hospital in Boston, and your mom and Kim took off in the middle of the night to go visit him. They got lost in a very bad part of town, and when your mom told us the story of two white girls driving through Roxbury at 2am cranking Amy Grant music from the windows of an ancient green VW Beetle, she had us all in hysterical laughter. She was afraid because her dad was very sick, but she still managed to find something to smile about.

Two of the biggest smiles I remember seeing from her both happened in the same place. Your mom and I went to the same church, and I taught a Sunday School class for two-year-olds. We kept the door classroom door closed before class started so none of the little ones would escape, and one morning your mom opened the door just enough to stick her head through. She had a huge grin on her face and when I asked her what was up, she didn’t say a word, she just stuck her left hand through the crack of the door to show me the beautiful diamond and sapphire engagement ring your father had just given her when he asked her to marry him. Only a year or two later, she stuck her head in the door again, this time to tell me that she was pregnant with you. If it’s possible, her smile was even bigger that day.

Your mom had many accomplishments over her lifetime, but the one she was proudest of was you. The day I visited her in the hospital when you were born, she handed me the beautiful little bundle that was you and said to me with unmistakable love and pride in her voice, “Do you want to hold my daughter?” She announced your every milestone to her family and friends with great pride. When you performed in a dance recital, she was proud that you were graceful, but even prouder that you worked hard to do well. When you got a good grade on a test, she was proud that you were smart but ever prouder that you had the discipline to study for the test without her nagging you. When you had friends over, she was proud that you were such a good and loyal friend. She was so proud of the lovely young woman you have become.

It’s hard to understand why people sometimes die young. Part of me wants to be angry at God for taking your mom so soon. I don’t understand why He chose her. But what I do understand is that no mother could have set her daughter a better example, or set her daughter on a better path, than your mother did for you. I know that the woman you are, and the woman you will become, is a person who would make her proud. And I know that her spirit will continue to watch over you and to be with you.

I also want to share with you something that a very wise woman told me when I lost someone that I loved: When someone close to you dies, it leaves a hole in your heart that will never completely heal. But over time, memories of that loved one fill the hole until it’s just a tiny scar. I pray that your happy memories of your mom will quickly fill the hole in your heart. And if you ever need a few extra memories to help fill that hole, I will be more than happy to share some of mine with you.

In love and sorrow,

Aunt Sandy

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tooth or Dare

My husband has been mocking me for the past 5 months because I keep saying that our daughter is teething. And I keep insisting that one of these days I’ll be right. Well, yesterday afternoon, I finally was. There’s a sharp little tooth cutting through those shell-pink gums. It is officially the end of letting her chew on my face.

As excited as I am to finally be right, I’m also a little bit sad. There’s something incredibly charming about a gummy baby grin. When a tooth appears, it’s still adorable but it’s a different adorable. It’s slightly more grown up, slightly less innocent. And knowing that Katie is my last baby, it’s a bit bittersweet. Never again will I have a child of mine grinning at me with a toothless grin. My last baby has entered a new phase: teeth.

She’s shown a lot of interest in food lately, so this new tooth will come in very handy. Having an older brother definitely makes her different from her kind-of-only-child brother, who had no-one but adults around him. My son often eats his meals sitting on the floor in his footless high chair, so she is the perfect height to check out what he is eating, and she surely does. She is fascinated by what he eats, and usually tries to steal it. And the delightful thing is that he wants to share with her. He is thrilled at her admiration, and loves to offer her treats from his meals. If he has chunks of apples, of cantaloupe, or bananas, she steals a chunk or two to gnaw on. If he has pizza, he offers her the crusts. If he has a breakfast bar, he wants to give her a taste. I love how generous he is to her.

And now that she has a tooth – soon to be teeth – there is nothing she can’t try. As long as it’s not a choking hazard, I’m up for letting her take a crack at anything that grabs her attention. My son is not an especially picky eater, but it took him a long time to be willing to eat meat, and even vegetables (other than squash) are still not his “thing,” yet she is excited about everything right now. One of the benefits of being a second child, I suspect, is a willingness to try anything. And when her brother is around, he’s ready to offer her anything he has.

So far, she’s gnawed on pizza crusts, apple rings, and chicken nuggets. She attempts to steal her brother’s breakfast bars, toast, sippy cups of milk, and French fries. Pretty much anything that’s on his plate, she’ll take a crack at: cantaloupe, French toast, hot dog chunks. I think she’ll learn more about eating from what’s on her big brother’s plate than anything she’ll learn from mom & dad.

And since her big brother loves offering her samples from his plate, I have no doubt that her eating habits will be even better than his. Just one more of the benefits you don’t really realize you get from having a big brother. Not to mention the fact that he loves to help make chocolate chip cookies. That, if nothing else, guarantees him “Best Big Brother” status forever.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

CPS Will Be By Any Day Now

I love my children, and I’m a good mother, but I have a feeling that Child Protective Services will have me under surveillance before long. Why? Because my kid has a great imagination. I know, that doesn’t sound like a reason to call CPS. But the problem is that my kid with the great imagination likes to make up answers to questions. Sometimes very inappropriate answers. Let me give an example: My son takes a mom-and-me gymnastics class on Mondays and Fridays. Usually my husband is able to work from home and watch my daughter, but sometimes he has a meeting so I bring her with me. She had come to class on Friday, but yesterday she stayed at home with Daddy, so the gymnastics teacher asked my son where his sister was. He replied very matter-of-factly, “She’s in the car.” Fortunately, the teacher knows me well enough to know that I had NOT, in fact, left my baby alone in the car. But if my son announced that to someone who didn’t know me, I might very well be getting a call from CPS.

Now, I love the fact that my son has a very active and creative imagination. I love that he makes up stories on the spot. I love that he occasionally tells people that I’m a firefighter or a doctor. (I’m a little less thrilled at his choice of adjective, “big,” as in “Mama is a BIG firefighter” – emphasis his.) I love that he pretends to be a pirate, or a construction worker, or a racecar driver. But I can easily see how his pretending could be misinterpreted by a stranger. He likes to pretend that he’s a patient and someone else is the doctor, so I could well imagine him approaching a parent at the playground or the library and informing them, “I have a boo-boo,” and then listing 27 different places that he’s hurt. And then having that parent call CPS to come and make sure I’m not knocking him down the stairs on a regular basis.

I guess that’s a good fear to have – if I actually were knocking him down the stairs, it’s a good thing that other parents would be concerned enough to call for help. But it would be really embarrassing to have to explain to a social worker that my kid was just playing doctor and I’m sorry for wasting their time. Fortunately, I think it’d be pretty obvious pretty quickly that my kids are loved and well taken care of. And it would also be pretty obvious pretty quickly that my son makes up stories. By the time a social worker had been there for five minutes he or she would have undoubtedly already been asked to put on a fireman’s helmet and help rescue a cat stuck up a tree, or invited to listen to my son’s heartbeat with a stethoscope, or informed that we were going to build a house together.

Of course, he also might inform him or her that he hit his sister, which is probably the truth on most days. But that’s another story entirely.

Um, please don’t report us to CPS, okay?

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Friday, April 20, 2012

A Is Like B

I love seeing my son make connections between things. It amazes me how all of a sudden he figures out how something works, or the pattern that its shape makes, or how it relates to something else. Just this morning, he made a bunch of observations that something was like something else. He was bringing his folding stepstool over to the counter and he looked through the open square at the top and said with delight, “Hey! This looks like a window!” Then as the two of us sat at the kitchen table eating our breakfast, he told me, “This is just like a restaurant!” And then he noticed a bouquet of flowers in a vase on the table and announced, “Those flowers look like an umbrella.” When you think about those observations, they’re pretty profound for a 2-1/2 year old mind.

Think about it: a window is made of glass, has panes in it, and is usually in the middle of a wall. But he was able to grasp the main points of it: it’s square and you can look through it. Therefore, even though his ladder had no glass, no panes, and no surrounding wall, he still could see that it had a big square hole that he could look through, which made it like a window. A restaurant is a place you go to that has a lot of people and tables where someone brings you your food. But it’s also a place where you sit at the table with your family to eat. So even with no waitress, no menus, no strangers at other tables, and no drive to get there, he recognized the commonalities. But the bouquet/umbrella connection was the most impressive to me. After all, an umbrella is made of fabric, it has a skinny handle, it’s used outdoors, and it’s nearly always being carried by someone. But it’s also wider and flared at the top, over a narrower base, so the vase of flowers, despite being indoors and sitting on a table, certainly fit that general shape description. What an abstract connection for a small mind to make!

I swear, I can practically see his brain forging new synapses. Every day – every hour, practically – he says or does something to show that he’s just learned a new relationship between objects, or he’s figured out how two objects can be used for the same purpose, or he understands what a word means in a different context than he’s ever heard it before. If I learned things as quickly as he’s learning them right now, I’d be smarter than Einstein by next Tuesday. The human brain is an amazing thing in any context, but in the developmental stage of the first few years of life, it’s absolutely – well, mind blowing.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's an Art, or, The Difference Between Good and Great

This weekend, my husband and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary as we have for the past two years, by spending a few days in Newport, Rhode Island. One of the highlights of the trip, for me, is the wonderful restaurants where we dine. The first year we had dinner at Castle Hill Inn, and immediately declared that to be an annual tradition. The food is magnificent, the ambiance and the ocean view are lovely, and the service is impeccable. This year, we had dinner at Castle Hill our first night, and then our second night we ate at a newer restaurant called The Muse, which is in the Vanderbilt Grace hotel. Like Castle Hill, the ambiance is charming, and the food is magnificent, but the service is…well, let’s say, “unpolished.” It was the difference between a good dining experience and a great one.
For example, at Castle Hill, we had an assistant server who seemed to be relatively new – she was very young and seemed slightly nervous, but she was pleasant, helpful, and knew her duties and did them well. She had obviously been well trained. She cleared plates unobtrusively, made sure our water glasses were filled, and made charming small talk with us as appropriate. At one point when she was clearing, she dropped a fork and was obviously unsure of how to handle it. Her hands were full and I could see her considering whether she should try to stoop down and retrieve the fork, but then I noticed her catch our regular waiter’s eye and he subtly tipped his head to indicate to her to leave it, and he came over and swept it up for her. It was a perfect example of a team working well together, silently communicating in such a way as to not disturb the guests, and efficiently fixing problems.

Castle Hill Inn

In contrast, our waiter at The Muse informed us that he had only been there for a few weeks. He was unfamiliar with many of the bar and menu items, and although he dutifully checked with the kitchen and came back with descriptions, his descriptions were mostly reiterations of the descriptions on the menu and repetitions of the word, “delicious.” I’m sure everything on the menu is delicious, but I was hoping for something more descriptive, like, “spicy” or “tangy” or “the sage in the polenta is very subtle” or “the peach glaze is a bit sweet but it’s a nice complement to the tartness of the cranberry coulis.” He was pleasant enough, and obviously eager to serve, but he was a bit disorganized and the service suffered for it. At one point we mentioned how much we were enjoying the pianist and asked if she had business cards on the piano. Our waiter offered to get us one from the office and even offered to give us one of her CDs, but neither card nor CD ever materialized. My husband’s napkin fell on the floor and the hostess offered to bring him a new one, but after she took the old one away, she forgot to bring the new. When our dessert soufflĂ© and ice cream was served, an assistant server removed our spoons and gave us forks. (To her credit, she later brought me an extra napkin to cover the drips I made on the tablecloth while trying to eat a dessert including ice cream and chocolate sauce with a fork.) There appeared to be no regular bartender on duty, and both the hostess and our waiter seemed to be covering the bar, sometimes to the neglect or at least delay of their own duties.
The Muse at the Vanderbilt Grace

Any one of those mistakes or glitches would have been understandable and forgivable, but the collection of all of them, including how they were handled (or, more importantly, not handled), made the difference between a good dining experience and a great one.

At both restaurants, the food was perfectly prepared and gorgeously plated. At both meals, the chef sent out delightful little amuse-bouches between courses that were creative, unusual, whimsical, and delicious. In both cases, the staff recommended wines that were ideal complements to our meals. In both restaurants, the linens, dishes, utensils, and glassware were lovely, beautifully presented, and appropriate for each course. At both locations, the restaurant was tastefully decorated, there was lovely background music, there was soft lighting, and there were interesting and complementary fixtures and artwork or architectural details. Truly, the only major difference between the two evenings was the polish of the service.

It just goes to show that there is a fine line between good and great, and as the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” Anticipating your guests’ needs makes you great. Knowing your menu inside and out and being able to describe it in a way that will convince your guests that they cannot possibly live without ordering that specific dish makes you great. Organization, communication, and teamwork make you great.

I hope that The Muse is able to improve their organization and their training. In their defense, they have only been open for not quite one year, so they are undoubtedly still learning and mastering their own systems. If they can do that, they have the potential to provide as fine a dining experience as Castle Hill does. But until they do, I’ll still be a strict devotee of Castle Hill. Because I know that there I will be treated like a queen. A queen with a very well-trained staff.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Perfect Wedding

Four years ago today, I married my Prince Charming in the perfect wedding. Well, MY perfect wedding, anyway. Looking back, I still wouldn’t change a thing. Because these are the things I remember most from my wedding day:

Waking up in my mom’s living room, where I’d slept on the floor on a camp mattress shared with my mom, in a house full of relatives who were nearly as excited as I was.

Getting ready at the church, with my matron of honor and my mom. Watching myself in the mirror as my mom pinned her headpiece in my hair and laughing as my matron of honor got all teary and then tucked an emergency Kleenex in her budge.

Hearing the beautiful music of a brass quintet wafting through the church.

The look on my husband-to-be’s face as the doors at the back of the church opened and he saw me in my wedding dress for the first time.

Holding his hand as I slipped the ring on his finger. Well, slipped the ring partway onto his finger, at which point it got stuck and he had to help me. (Nice symbolism of the years to come.)

Practicing our first dance in the gazebo behind the reception hall.

Racing onto the dance floor for our first dance when the music started a bit early. Dancing the traditional waltz clog with my new family. Watching my husband do the Superman dance with all the teenagers.

Being serenaded by my new brother-in-law and then a barbershop quartet. Sitting back-to-back with my husband playing the “who” game, courtesy of my sister-in-law.

Making the rounds of all our friends and family, chatting and accepting all their congratulations.

Falling asleep on my husband’s shoulder on the plane on the way to our honeymoon.

But most of all, I remember smiling. A lot. And laughing. A lot. And being so happy, not only that I would be spending my life with this wonderful man, but that all our family and friends were so genuinely happy for us. It was a day full of laughter and joy and family and friends, which is exactly what a wedding day should be.

Happy anniversary to my dearest friend and my dearest love. Here’s to four more, forty more, four hundred more! I love you.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pork Chops and Printers

I sometimes get into lifelong feuds with inanimate objects. I know it sounds ridiculous. It sounds ridiculous because it IS ridiculous. And yet, it’s true. Take pork chops, for example.
As I often remark to my husband, “Pork hates me.” I can cook pork chops that are all exactly the same weight and thickness, yet their cooking times vary by, oh, up to an hour. I’ll throw one in for 15 minutes and it’ll turn into shoe leather, yet another one exactly the same size and shape will still be raw an hour later. This never happens to my husband. I have never seen him cook a pork chop badly. And yet there are no noticeable differences between his cooking techniques and my cooking techniques (both techniques being, “slap on Shake N Bake, place in oven” – it’s not exactly rocket science). The only possible explanation I can come up with is that pork hates me.
Computers and their accessories are often the same way. They hate me. They MOCK me. I follow the directions on the screen to the letter and nothing happens. My husband comes over, does EXACTLY the same thing I just did and the damn machine purrs to life like an overexcited kitten.
This is even more embarrassing in this age of technology when things practically install themselves. I installed a new printer this morning that has a touch screen. It explains what to do, it shows you a cartoon diagram, it even has a little animated movie so you can watch the ink cartridges magically fly into place. And yet, when I “flew” the cartridges into place with my fat little fingers, all I got was a blinking instruction snidely telling me that it would go on to the next step when I’d done it right.
It’s a good thing I didn’t have a sledgehammer handy.
I popped all five cartridges out and back in again, I slid the little tray left and right, I opened and closed every door and tray and flap that I could find, but I still got the obnoxiously cheerful little message smugly telling me it would go on when I’d done it right. I was starting to think it was a lot less cheerful and a lot more obnoxious. I watched the animation three more times and reinstalled the cartridges. Nothing. Finally, I stomped out of the room like a petulant 2-year-old (I have a great example of that hanging around my house). When I came back, my husband calmly announced that I hadn’t seated the cartridges so they made a little “click.” “Click”? There was no “click” in the animated movie. There was no mention of a “click” in the cheery message on the screen. Seriously, how hard is it to animate a little bubble with the word “click” in it?
Did I mention how fortunate it was that I didn’t have a sledgehammer handy?
Anyway, with a bit of extra help from my live-in IT guru, I finally managed to install my printer. The last step of the installation was printing a test photo, which didn’t work because I got a paper jam that the “wizard” wasn’t aware of, so the “wizard” cheered that I’d done it right when, in fact, the printer was mocking me yet again with a flashing red light and a decided lack of actual, you know, printing. But I did make it print a regular document, and when it finished, it played a little “tah dah!” like it expected me to give it a round of applause or a cookie or something. Yeah, I’ll give it something, all right. Like a knuckle sandwich.

Eh, pork chops and printers. They might not agree with me much, but fortunately, neither of them is nearly as important as they think they are. And also, my husband is always willing to beat them into submission for me. And that’ll do rather nicely.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Dance for Joy"

My son loves to dance. So much so that he will often spontaneously break into dancing without warning. Yesterday at gymnastics, we had to wait a few minutes for someone to finish using the next apparatus, and he announced to me, “Mama, I need to dance!” and began gyrating wildly, much to the amusement of all the parents watching from the observation deck.

Coming from a dance family, as he does on his father’s side (his great-grandmother, Hazel Boone, opened a dance school over 100 years ago that was later run by his grandmother and is now run by his aunt), I’d love to say that his dancing is rhythmic and stylish and shows great potential for future training. But I’m afraid he looks more like a cross between a ferret being electrocuted and a frog in a blender. It’s not pretty. He stomps as loud as he can, he flails his arms, he waggles his head back and forth, he wiggles his backside, and he spins around like a whirling dervish. There is no grace, no beauty, no pattern, no rhythm. There is merely exuberance.

Apparently he inherited his dance skills from my side of the family.

But I am reminded of Hazel Boone’s motto: “Dance for joy!” And I am forced to admit that above all else, he dances for joy. He dances for the joy of the music, the joy of a healthy body, the joy of a big room to play in, the joy of entertaining those watching him, the joy of discovering control over his own body. I like to think that Hazel Boone would have appreciated his dancing despite its lack of training and form. She would have seen the joy shining through the awkwardness.

And after all, isn’t the best dancing the kind you don’t do for anyone else? When did you last experience joy while dancing? If you’re like me, it was probably back in junior high, when you turned up the radio, grabbed a hairbrush for a microphone, jumped up on your bed, and did your best Flashdance imitation in your bedroom mirror. My moves were more Joe Cocker than Janet Jackson, but I didn’t care. I was dancing, and I was joyous.

So the next time you feel a sudden urge to get up and dance, don’t look around to see if anyone else is watching. Just grab the nearest hairbrush, wooden spoon, water bottle, or whatever is handy, rock out, and dance for joy!!!

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Finishing the Hat

This weekend was an especially busy one. My husband left for a retreat at the crack of dawn on Friday morning and got home late Saturday night. We hosted the family for Easter dinner on Sunday, plus I was teaching the pre-school Sunday school class. I had a whole list of things to get done on Friday and Saturday: take both kids to gymnastics, shop for groceries, bake Easter dessert, clean the house for company, buy treats for the Easter baskets, dye Easter eggs, set the table, put together the family’s Easter baskets, plan my Sunday school lesson and find craft supplies for it, find a pair of white shoes that fit, cook the carrots for Easter dinner, sew pink ribbon and a flower onto my Easter hat, and amidst all that, keep the kids fed and bathed. Whew! There were a few things I was tempted to drop off the list, and one of the things that almost didn’t get done was to finish trimming my hat. Would it really matter all that much if my hat had a black ribbon instead of a pink one? Or if it didn’t have a flower to match my daughter’s hat? Was it really worth the time and effort to get all our outfits so coordinated or our hats to be matching?

At the end of the day, it turned out that it was. Not only did the whole family look lovely and festive,
but the three girls in our matching dresses and hats were absolutely the hit of coffee hour after church.

Three pretty girls in three pretty hats is not a sight you see every day, and we attracted our share of attention and compliments. And the boys in their handsome matching suits got nearly as much attention. It felt really nice, not just because it’s nice to get compliments, but because it really made us feel like a family. We worked together to make our outfits work together. We both complemented and complimented each other. It was really fun to make such a public announcement that we are a family. We go together, we live together, we work together.
Yup, it was definitely worth finishing the hat.
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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Occam's Razor: The Nap Corollary

The principle commonly referred to as “Occam’s Razor” states, basically, that the best explanation of a situation or the best solution to a problem is usually the simplest one. Occam’s Razor has a lot of applications in parenting. For example, if your 8-year-old is playing baseball in the yard and your window suddenly shatters, according to Occam’s Razor, the likeliest reason for the broken window is not a daytime prowler coming after your worldly goods, but your 8-year-old hitting a baseball through the window. Or if your 4-year-old comes to you in tears because his prized rock is missing from his pocket and there is a hole in said pocket, chances are the rock fell through the hole rather than being stolen by a marauding rock pickpocket. Today’s parenting example of Occam’s Razor is the Nap Corollary.

This particular corollary of the principle is being applied to my son’s diminishing willingness to take naps. On one hand, when I finally get him to go down for a nap, he still sleeps for two hours 99% of the time, which indicates that he needs the extra sleep. But on the other hand, on days when he doesn’t take a nap, he doesn’t generally go to bed any earlier or wake up any later, so maybe he doesn't need the extra sleep. I have been exploring solutions to the one- to three-hour long nap battle for weeks, even months, without much success. I tried putting him down with music on and with no music on. I tried putting him down as early as noon and as late as 4pm. I tried sitting in his room without speaking. I tried sitting in his room and barking at him to “Lie down!” and “Lie still!” and “Stop talking!” I tried lying in the bed next to him. I tried lying in the bed next to him while pinning him in a half-Nelson. (That was the closest to successful; however, I think it was more exhausting for me than for him so I needed a two-hour nap afterwards as well.)

But I finally lit on a solution that I think is working. For the past week, when naptime comes, I put him in his room and tell him he doesn’t have to go to sleep, or even stay in his bed. But he does need to stay in his room and play quietly for two hours. No jumping on the bed, no stuffing toys or clothes in the diaper pail (oy, there’s another whole blog entry in THAT little gem), and no hiding in the closet (he gets stuck and panics). But he can read his books and play with his toys, and if he should happen to get tired, he can lie down and take a nap. He tells me every time that he won’t take a nap, but as of today, he’s got about a fifty percent record for ending up napping, either in his bed or on the floor somewhere.

I don’t know why it took me so long to come up with the simple solution of letting him (or his body) decide whether he needs a nap or not. As long as he’s not a cranky monster for the rest of the day, it doesn’t matter to me whether he sleeps or not so long as I get two hours of not having to hover over him. Other than the aforementioned diaper pail, his room is sufficiently DestructoBoy-proofed that he can’t do any permanent damage in two hours. It gives him good practice in keeping himself entertained, it gives me a bit of a break, and it lets us both ease into the transition from napping to not napping.

And you know what the best part is? When he’s safely in his room for two hours, Mama gets to take a nap even when he doesn’t take one. Thank you, Mr. Occam, wherever you are!

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Friday, April 6, 2012

April Is National Poetry Month

The word “poetry” immediately brings to mind Miss Kelly’s 7th grade class, and memorizing dozens of poems, most notably John Masefield’s poignant “Sea Fever,” most of which I can recite to this day. Thanks to her and many other teachers like her, I have learned to enjoy many types of poetry through the years.

The poet with the earliest influence on me was, of course, Dr. Seuss. From fox in socks and hop on Pop to green eggs and ham with Sam I am, his simple, memorable rhymes taught me poetry when I could barely read. Ogden Nash and Shel Silverstein were close behind, with poems like “A Wonderful Bird Is the Pelican” (one of my father’s favorites) and “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes.”

As I grew a bit older, I discovered that poems don’t always have to rhyme. My favorite example of a non-rhyming poem was haiku. I loved the predictable rhythm, the brevity, the tiny taste of description before the poem vanished. I could even write them myself! And I learned the beauty of other non-rhyming poems, with their glorious imagery. Some of my favorite lines of poetry are Carl Sandberg’s, “…the fog comes in on little cat feet” and ee cummings’ “…the moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy.” (Both, I may add, in my memory thanks to Miss Kelly.)

And then I discovered Shakespeare. Oh, Shakespeare! The vocabulary, the description, the pure loftiness of the words, the sly humor. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” “’Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but ‘tis enough, ‘twill serve.” “Full fathom five thy father lies: of his bones are coral made, those are pearls that were his eyes.” “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” “Hark! Hark! The lark at heaven’s gate sings!” And of course, my personal favorite, from “Much Ado About Nothing”: “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes; and moreover I will go with thee to thy uncle's.”

And so much glorious love poetry outside of Shakespeare! Robert Burns: “My luve’s like a red, red rose.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Lord Byron: “She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies.” Edna St. Vincent Millay: “I will permit my memory to recall the vision of you, by all my dreams attended.” Percy Bysshe Shelly: “Rose leaves, when the rose is dead, are heaped for the beloved’s bed; And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone, love itself shall slumber on.”

And our local poets. Robert Frost: “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence.” Emily Dickinson: “I’m nobody. Who are you? Are you nobody too?” Ralph Waldo Emerson: “My angel – his name is Freedom. Choose him to be your king.” Anne Sexton: “And what of the dead? They lie without shoes in the stone boats.” Robert Lowell: “Sleepless, you hold your pillow to your hollows like a child.” Anne Bradstreet: “The world no longer let me love, my hope and Treasure lies above.”

The world is a richer place because of poetry and the poets who write it. This month, let us all lift a glass to those who wield words through poetry to make us savor those words, to question them, to enjoy them, sometimes even to hate them. But above all, to think about them.


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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sniff, Snort, Slurp

I have the noisiest sleeping baby on the face of the earth.

You look at the sleeping angel face with the long lashes, soft skin, fluffy downy blond hair, and rosebud lips, and cannot even comprehend that those phlegmy, vulgar, unladylike sounds could possibly be coming from such a perfect cherub. It’s my own fault, I suppose. She seems to have inherited her snoring, sleep slurping, general sniffiness from me. It’s a bit less noticeable in an adult, but in a small baby, large noises like that are somewhat incongruous.

I was particularly aware of her sleep sounds last night, as she had yet another fussy night and I spent most of it sleeping on the couch downstairs with her in my arms. Or rather, NOT sleeping on the couch downstairs with her in my arms. I can sometimes get her to fall asleep just enough that as long as I don’t move (or breathe too deeply), she’ll stay asleep. But the slightest movement will cause her to wiggle or cough or cry. So I lie in the dark, wide awake, every muscle tensed, listening to her breathing to see when she might be sleeping deeply enough that I can move my arm which has currently fallen asleep pinned underneath my body. And instead of quiet, calm, measured breathing, I hear slurping, snoring, wheezing, and sniffling.

She’s not a pretty sleeper.

And yet, when she sounds so uncomfortable is when my mothering instinct kicks in the most. One tiny cough, and I’m propping her into a more comfortable spot to clear her congestion. A few slurps and my finger is in her mouth to ease those sore gums. A sniffle or two and I’m wiping her button nose with a tissue. A slight wheeze and I’m making sure her head isn’t cocked at an awkward angle. General wiggling will buy her rocking and a series of lullabies. And as much as I don’t like it, I like it. In fact, I love it.

How can you not love the chance to calm an uncomfortable baby? How little of a sacrifice is your own sleep when it means your baby is peacefully slumbering? And what is more wonderful than watching a beautiful sunrise with a finally sleeping baby breathing slowly and deeply on your shoulder? Those few moments of quiet serenity are worth every hour of wakefulness listening to gurgling and mewling and tired, sad whines.

And when that sleepy baby wakes up and looks at you with a big “good morning” smile? Priceless.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

You've Got a Friend in Me

Last night, my husband and I took both kids out to dinner with us. When we got to the restaurant, a mom with two kids around my son’s age was just going in. The little girl came right over to us and said hello to my baby daughter. My son said hello to her, then the little boy came over and showed off the toy car he had brought with him. The two boys immediately formed a mutual admiration society while the two girls were happily grinning at each other. As soon as we went inside the restaurant, the three mobile kids marched away in a little parade, leaving the waitstaff amused but completely confused as to who was in which party. We eventually got ourselves straightened out and seated at our own tables, but I have no doubt that if my son sees either of those two kids again, he’ll run to them with open arms. In those few moments, he had forged a lifelong friendship – in his mind, anyway.

That’s such a wonderful thing about social kids like my son. He doesn’t care if another kid is wearing designer jeans or a ripped T-shirt. It doesn’t matter to him whether the other kid lives in a gorgeous mansion or a seedy Section 8 apartment. He doesn’t even really care if the kid is into cars or Curious George or counting fire hydrants. If that other kid is willing to run around and chase him, or slide down a slide with him, or just look at ceiling fans with him, they’re friends. He can find some kind of commonality with anyone. “Willing to talk to me” is pretty much his friendship standard. Actually, he’ll take “willing to listen to me” in a pinch.

Wouldn’t it be nice if adult friendships were so easy to make? Instead of standards like, “Are you around my age? Do we have kids the same age? Did we go to college together? Do we share a hobby? Do you have the same political leanings as I do? Do you enjoy the same books and movies that I do?” we’d have standards like, “Are you breathing? Are you standing next to me right now? Do you speak English?” And even that last one would be negotiable. Instead of having to make small talk to find out where someone lives or what they do for a living, we could break right into, “You want to go to the mall with me?” or “How about we both go jump in that puddle?” Personally, I think that being willing to jump in a puddle with someone is a better basis for a friendship than the fact that you happen to have seen the same movie recently.

Anyone want to come jump in puddles with me?

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

ACM Awards: The Fashion Review

Let me preface this entry by saying that I did not actually watch the American Country Music Awards – although I do enjoy country music. And I didn’t intend to post a fashion review of the red carpet. However, having seen a few hits – and misses – all over the internet, my curiosity was piqued and I decided to do a review of as many gowns as I could find, using my usual self-created categories. Congratulations to all (OK, most of) the nominees and winners!

Basic Black
Nicole Kidman, in a knee-length sleeveless sheath with a prim peekaboo panel at the neck and fabulous bright red strappy sandals

Hillary Scott, in a simple but stunning floor-length black wrap dress with a simple clasp at the waist
Katie Armiger, in a fitted, strapless, black lace cocktail dress
WINNER: Hillary Scott

What Were You Thinking
LeAnn Rimes, in a one-shouldered, mid-thigh length oddity of multi-sized red polka dots and a white swirl with a white mesh panel over the ribs on one side

Karen Fairchild, in a drop-waisted white-, black-, and gold-striped dress with a deep V-neck and curved frilly hemline

Beth Behrs, in a champagne-colored gown with a giant, flat bow covering the bust

WINNER (LOSER!): Karen Fairchild

Greek Goddess
Jennifer Nettles in a simple coral pink draped gown with a bright yellow belt
Cherrill Green, in a deep purple, sleeveless, V-necked gown deepening to charcoal at the train
Miranda Lambert, in a metallic gold snakeskin halter dress with a short train
WINNER: Jennifer Nettles

Basically Boring
Kimberly Perry, in a strapless skin-toned mermaid gown with beige bugle beading
Martina McBride, in a white, knee-length, sleeveless, boat-neck sheath with globs of peach pom-poms up and down each side
Sara Evans, in a wrinkled, one-shouldered, rose taffeta gown with a thigh-high slit and rhinestone accents
WINNER (LOSER!): Kimberly Perry

Snow White
Taylor Swift in a draped ivory column with demure cut-outs at each side of the waist and a few narrow metallic gold swaths
Carrie Underwood, in a strapless white, softly gathered column with subtle beading, and a thigh-high slit
Meghan Lindsay, in a strapless white chiffon empire gown with a fluffy feather-covered bodice
WINNER: Carrie Underwood

I think it's a sign of the general level of class of this particular awards ceremony that there weren't any horrifically over-the-top gowns. Although there were quite a few "gentlemen" in T-shirts and jeans more suited to a barbecue than a red carpet event, so I guess they cancelled each other out. But on the whole, I have to say that this particular group of celebrities cleans up purty good.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

The Defiant Child

My son is, I admit it, not the most obedient child. Up until now, I’ve chalked it up mainly to the fact that he is a complete spaz with the attention span of a gnat. Generally, the reason he disobeys is that in the nanosecond since you told him not to do something, he’s completely forgotten that you told him not to do it because his attention is already on some other shiny object. But today I got my first taste of absolute, clear, deliberate defiance.

We were at his gymnastics class, going through a circuit of various apparatuses. He finished one skill and instead of going on to the next, wandered over to the tumble track (kind of like a long, narrow trampoline). He got close to the track and I told him very sternly, “Do not go on the tumble track!” He looked me right in the eye, thought about it for a second, then very deliberately and determinedly stretched out one toe and stepped onto the track.
Nemo touches the "butt"

I scooped him up and frog-marched him right up the steps to the changing room to put his sneakers back on. As soon as he realized what was up, he began sobbing and apologizing and begging not to go home. But (and my husband will be very proud of me for this) I stuck to my guns and told him no. I reminded him that he needs to obey me and when he disobeys he loses out on things like playing with the toys at gymnastics and looking at the construction trucks in the parking lot (his treat after class when he behaves himself). He looked a bit ashamed of himself as we marched out, and despite a few more tears when I refused once again to let him stop and look at the trucks, he climbed into the car relatively obediently.

Not being a particularly strong-willed person myself, it is not easy for me to be the parent of a strong-willed child. However, it is also extremely humiliating to lose a battle of wills to a 2-year-old. I have no doubt that my taking my son out of class today was strongly influenced by the teacher’s comment as he was running rampant at the beginning of class: “Yup, today is Mommy Day. I can tell the difference.” My son takes two classes a week; husband takes him to one and I take him to the other. Apparently, his father manages him much better than I do. That’s just plain embarrassing. Not to mention frustrating. It’s not like I’m a pushover. I’m not one of those parents who say “no” a hundred times and then never follow through. He loses his chance to look at the trucks on a regular basis. We’ve left class for a few minutes and had either a little chat or a spanking on more than one occasion. But like a dog, he can smell weakness and he takes advantage of it.

So today marks the beginning of both his awareness that he can choose to be openly defiant and my choice to draw a very hard line at that defiance.

God help us all (but mostly me).

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