Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Checking in Before Checking Out Again

Today the tree goes down. Tomorrow we head for the mountains. On Monday, it's back to the school for the boys and off to the dentist for me to have my teeth cleaned.

Ah, the romance of the holidays. How have yours been? Mine have left me planning already for next year, how to simplify and streamline. Is it really possible to have a stress-free Christmas without abandoning Christmas altogether? I have my doubts.

The good news is, we've had no catastrophes. Presents were given and received, appreciated and admired. Many cookies have been devoured, as well as gallons of Christmas punch (non-alcoholic, mind you) and pounds of pimento cheese on crackers.

As usual, no matter how hard I try, Christmas continues to be for me one of the more spiritually out-of-tune times of the year. I try to get into the Advent vibe, keep at least one eye on the babe in the manger, but the closer it gets to Christmas day, the harder that is to do. That's what I like about Easter--no distractions. There are no Easter commercials, no Easter wrapping paper to be bought, no Easter presents to wrap. All the retailers can to do to attempt to profit off Easter is sell Easter trees draped with plastic eggs. So far I've been able to resist.

I've enjoyed sleeping in and hanging out in my pjs, perhaps my favorite part of the holidays (besides presents, of course). And I've been knitting and reading a lot,which I do all year long, but without the sense of entitlement I have right after Christmas.

So this is a pretty dull post, but with any luck I'll be back next week energized by the promise of a new year and new resolutions and new ideas. I hope you're recovering nicely from Christmas and have a fun New Year's Eve in store. We never go out, but stay at home and drink a glass of champagne, and that, my friends, is a happy New Year's Eve indeed.

See you next year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

True Believer

So it appears Jack still believes in Santa after all.

I was sure the gig was up, but didn't want to ask outright. So in my subtle, sly way I remarked, "It doesn't seem like you're talking about Santa much this year, Jack. What's up with that?" He hemmed and hawed a little bit, and at first I thought he was trying to buy time. Admit to disbelief and risk not getting presents? Or relieve himself of the burden of having to keep pretending?

Neither, it turns out. The sounds coming from his throat were the shocked noises of a boy who suddenly realizes he may be on Santa's bad side. He hasn't sent his Christmas e-mail, hasn't written, hasn't called. Time to get on the Santa stick!

Ever since, we've had a lot of Santa Claus talk around here. Now, I know that Jack is surrounded by loads of disbelievers in the fourth grade, and he's smart enough to ponder the physics and metaphysics of Santa's midnight ride. But Jack doesn't give up easily. Besides, he's my child, and I believed well into third grade--and, I might add, I believed even after my little brother told me Santa wasn't real (he was a kindergarten math genius with an agnostic bent, the enemy of all that is irrational and unscientific even then). I believed even after my mother confirmed that what my brother had said was true.

So Jack still believes, despite the doubts that surely have arisen in his mind, despite conflicting reports. Good for him!

It's funny, how completely consuming it is to have children, how it takes over your life until it's not your life anymore. Sometimes it makes me crazy, and sometimes I dream of the day when a day is mine to make of it what I will instead of running kids around in the van and arranging play dates and doctor visits. Still, when I think about this passage of childhood being over, when the magic of Christmas recedes behind the drama of middle school and high school, and the boys would rather spend the holidays running around with their friends instead of sitting in front of the Christmas tree, dreaming, it makes me sad. I'll miss the magic of living with true believers.

So dream on, Jack, and keep the faith. The world is out there waiting for you, but it's okay to stay inside a little longer, where it's warm and everyone loves you.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope that you find a few minutes of peace, a handful of joy, a little magic. Much love.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Report

Here are all the things I'm not doing right this very minute: I'm not cleaning Will's room, I'm not sweeping the stairs, I'm not cleaning the bathrooms. I'm not sweeping under the bookshelves in the living room. Not hanging garland on the staircase railing, not hanging tinsel in the upstairs hallway, not putting up more decorations on the mantel.

I am: drinking coffee. Later I will: finish the Christmas cards. Of all the Christmas chores that cause much duress during this festive season, this is actually one of my favorites. I write a silly one-page letter to stuff in the cards, and I add a tiny personal note, and I don't send them to anyone who doesn't appreciate silly Christmas letters and homemade cards. I like addressing the envelopes and putting on stamps.


I have decided the boys will finish the Christmas baking. I made about two pounds of Christmas cookie dough yesterday, which ought to hold us for the duration. Jack is capable of rolling it and cutting out cookies; Will is good at putting on the colored sugar.

On Monday, Jack can bake ginger snaps. The one baking chore I'll do is make the brownies, just because there's a lot of steps involved--I use the Joy of Cooking recipe (circa 1960) that calls for bringing the eggs to room temperature and melting the chocolate and butter and letting it cool--and Jack's a good baker, but there's a limit to how much a nine-year-old boy can get right.


Yesterday I mailed out the tips to our newspaper carriers. We get two papers, delivered by two different people, only one of whom consistently lands the paper on the driveway. The other carrier plops it in the grass in the middle of the yard almost everyday. Since the grass is almost always wet in the morning, my feet are almost always wet when I carry the paper into the house. I thought about calling to complain, but I don't want anyone to lose their job because I have wet feet.

I mentioned this dilemma to a friend, who suggested I might put a nice note with a Christmas tip asking the carrier to at least aim for the driveway. So I did. I tried to make the note very diplomatic and blameless and southern--"We sure do appreciate it when the paper is on the driveway--the grass is awfully wet in the morning!"

We'll see what happens. I forgot to tip last year, so making me tramp across the yard every morning may be the carrier's revenge. Let's hope twenty bucks sets things straight.


I think Jack has finally figured out there's no Santa Claus. He hasn't said anything, but he isn't talking about Santa, either. Usually he's full of speculation about what Santa Claus is going to bring him, but this year he's only talking about what my husband and I might get him. I also think he's been nosing about the closets.

You know, I was such a sneaky kid, always looking in drawers and reading things I shouldn't be reading, that it seems only fitting that Jack should be the same. Maybe it's just the nature of being nine, almost ten. You're figuring out that the world isn't quite what you thought it was. You're suspicious. You start keeping secrets. Hiding your DS under your pillow so you can play it when you're supposed to be sleeping.

I remember being that way when I was Jack's age. I don't know if my parents had a clue or not as to what I was up to, or if it didn't occur to them that I'd peek in their closet at Christmas time to see what I was going to get (I always regretted doing this, by the way--it's no fun not to be surprised Christmas morning!). I know Jack thinks we're clueless, but both my husband and I were such conniving little kids, we know all the tricks. Most of the tricks. Boy, I hope we remember at least a few of the tricks.

The teenage years are going to be the death of me.


Off to my mother-in-law's tomorrow. The Cousins are having a party for all the little kids, which they do every year. All sorts of inappropriate gifts will be handed out--guns for the boys, street walker dolls for the girls, PG-13 movies for the five-year-olds. I used to get peeved by this, but now I just laugh as I'm dumping it all into the trash. The Cousins mean well, they really do. These are my husband's oldest cousins (he has roughly 300 of them), who are in their sixties, their children long grown and gone. They've forgotten a lot about little kids. But as long as they don't forget the barbecue and the hot sauce, everything's cool.


Have a great weekend! When you find yourself feeling stressed, sit down and make a list of all the things you don't have to do right now. Start with not cleaning the bathrooms. I recommend it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In the Nick of Time

So despite all my wise words on Monday, I started to go into Christmas meltdown today. I had one errand piled on top of another, this present to buy, that present to buy, a trip to the library with overdue books, a trip to my favorite local bookstore which unfortunately only had a handful of the books on my list, and then to school to pick up Will, and then home to make banana bread for the boys' teachers and wonder when I was ever going to get the rest of the house decorated.

I'm sure you've been there.

In any event, while at the library I picked up a copy of a book called Simplify Your Christmas. After I put the loaves of banana bread in the oven, before I started doing all the cleaning and decorating and card-addressing I needed to do, I sat down and read it.

It's a short book with a message that's plain and clear: Chill out. Drop out. Quit spending so much money and time getting ready for Christmas. Think about what you're doing.

And I thought, You know what, I really don't have to decorate the living room. I just don't.

It helped that I'd gone to my annual bookclub Christmas party over at Liz's house last night. Liz does minimal Christmas decorating--a nice tree, cards on the mantle, a few little lit Christmas village-type houses on the table in the front room. That's it. It was nice.

Now, I've never been one of those people who does five Christmas trees and decorates all the bathrooms. But I always have big decorating dreams and then feel sort of let down when I don't get around to implementing them. But reading Simplify Your Christmas made me wonder if all the decorating is worth it (and when I think about having to put away all those decorations, the answer is definitely no). Why not keep it simple?

So anyway, I'm feeling much less stressed out. Who knows, maybe next year I'll do absolutely nothing for Christmas. Well, except unwrap presents. Lots and lots of presents. Because you know what? Unwrapping presents doesn't stress me out at all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent Fight Song

You know how sometimes you hear a reference to a book or a movie or an idea you've never come across before, and then all of the sudden it pops up everywhere you look--in an article in the newspaper, in a magazine, on a radio news show or a blog? Well, over the last week, this following lyric has been following me around--it's from Leonard Cohen's song "Anthem":

ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering
there is a crack in everything
that’s how the light gets in

I first came across it over on Milton's blog; since then I've come across it two or three times. Is it a coincidence, or is meaning afoot?

At this time of year, there are at least two ways of thinking about these words. For those of us who do the decorating and the present buying and wrapping, who bake the cookies and the cakes and the turkeys and the roasts, there is a tendency to shoot for perfection. Inevitably, we'll be disappointed. To turn down our efforts--and our expectations--a notch or two might not be a bad idea. Christmas will still be wonderful, or wonderful enough, even if we never get around to spray-painting the front windows with fake snow.

There is another way the words "forget your perfect offering" resonate for me, and that's spiritually. I try to observe the rituals of the church during Advent, light the candles, do the readings, take time for morning and evening prayer. But sometimes that's hard to pull off. I get sick, I get stressed, my calendar fills up. Sometimes a perfect offering, or much of an offering at all, is out of the question.

Whatever kind of Christmas we have, there will be cracks. And I really like the idea that in the big picture, the cracks end up being the most important part. That our failures leave us open to bigger things. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who bake the lopsided cakes and whose Christmas wreaths keep falling down. Blessed are those whose dogs eat all the fudge and throw it up on the carpet. Blessed are those who forget to remove the price tags. Ring the bells that still can ring. There is a crack in everything.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Report

Sorry to have been so quiet this week--I've been sick. Nothing terrible, just a bug that has made me deeply fatigued. I actually went the clinic yesterday to get a Strep test, since when I felt this way last summer that's what I had. The test came back negative, and the doctor was all "you'll just have to suck it up til you feel better' about it. This is why I don't go to doctors much. If they can't figure out what you've got, they make you feel dumb for even bothering them about it.


Despite being sick, I finished my revision this week. I was determined to have it done by today, and by golly, I did. Won't be surprised to learn that everything I typed was gibberish, and I won't care, either, as long as the check's in the mail.


Today was Dress Whacky Day in the fourth grade, only Jack and I both forgot. I feel guilty that I forgot--not that Jack is a big dresser-upper/whacky guy, but still--and I also feel profoundly irritated that I feel guilty for forgetting something that Jack should have remembered. Of all the feelings I hate to feel, guilt is the worst. Don't like being angry or sad, but I really, really hate feeling guilty.

Note to self: Jack will forget all about Dress Whacky Day by tomorrow afternoon. Or else he'll be plagued by horrible nightmares about it for the rest of his life.

My advice to him at drop-off: Turn your shirt inside out, put it on backwards, and switch your shoes to the wrong feet. Whacky!


Will is sick. After I dropped of Jack at school, I stopped by Target to buy popsicles (sore throat) and berry-flavored ibuprofin (fever). And I finally invested in an ear thermometer. Why I've waited until my youngest child is six to cough up the dough for a thermometer that actually works, I don't know. Well, I do know: I'm cheap. Also, I'm never sure if our thermometers work or not. We're a family whose average temperatures run to 97.4, so who knows what it means for one of us to run a fever? Will was burning up this morning, and the new thermometer registered 98.3. Fever? Or ice running through his veins? Or maybe I just don't know how to use a thermometer. Beats me.

Another guilt trip: My friend Meg decided to have a last minute birthday party for her son Matthew, one of Will's best friends. It will be a small gathering at their house, a group playdate sort of thing, and she planned it around our schedule. Now Will's sick and probably won't be able to go. My fault? Not at all. Still, I'll feel guilty about it and tempted to send Will if he's feeling at all better (and then he can give all the other kids what he's got--more guilt for moi!).

Someone somewhere wrote that guilt is a wasted emotion because it doesn't make anything happen. I don't know if that's true or not. If I ever felt guilty about things that I was actually at fault for, I'd have a better idea. But I like to save my guilt feelings for stuff I have little to no control over or that don't matter in the least.


I will return to you next week in the Christmas spirit (one hopes). We are decorating this weekend. For the first time, we're going to do some decorating in the boys' rooms; nothing fancy, just some tinsel and lights. Jack is a Christmas fanatic, a fourth grade believer in Santa, who can tell you to the hour how long it is until a) when we'll get our tree; b) Christmas Eve; and C) Christmas day.

And no, that never gets annoying.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Quick Note

Last night, upon our arrival home after Danielle's fabulous 40th birthday party (surprise, Danielle!), my husband opened the pantry door to check on the status of his mousetraps. And what do you know--in mousetrap number 3, a poor (and very dead) mousie was trapped.

I think our individual responses to this sad state of affairs say a lot about us. My husband, of course, let out a victory cry--No mouse is a match for him!

Jack was disgusted. Why couldn't we have used a humane trap, then taken the mouse out back and deposited him beyond our fence?

I refused to look, weenie that I am.

And Will--dear, sweet little Will, said, "Wait, let me go get my camera--I want to take a picture!"

Um, you know, I don't even know what to think about that.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I Am So Evolved

So remember earlier in the fall when I was talking about our car pool situation, with the terrible A? I haven't posted about it much since, simply because things quieted down. This is not to say they got better--Jack and A didn't suddenly become friends. They just stopped talking at all. It was weird at first, but after awhile I got used to it.

So on Monday, A gets in the car, turns to Jack, and says, "I'm tired of this feud. Let's call a truce, okay?" Jack said okay, and that was that.

I have mixed feelings about this truce. On the one hand, it's probably a good thing in general, nicer to be friends and what have you. On the other hand, as long as A and Jack weren't talking, A couldn't be a terrible influence on Jack's behavior.

But now they're talking. And today, when I picked them up for school, they asked if they could have a play date. At our house. Well, what's a girl supposed to do?

It's been a long time since A has been to our house, and it wasn't until he padded down the stairs halfway through the playdate that I remembered: When it comes to snacks, A is a self-helper.

I have discussed this with friends, and we've all agreed: There is nothing more annoying than the playdate guest who walks into your kitchen, opens the fridge or the pantry door without so much as a how-do-you-do (and you can be standing right there, it doesn't matter) and helps himself. Or herself. Could be cheese, could be chocolate. Could be the leftover chicken you're planning on reheating for dinner.

Or in the case of A, it's peppermints. He knows I've got 'em, and he wants 'em. So he takes them. Doesn't ask. Doesn't tell. Just grabs.

The thing is, I don't care about the peppermints--or the cookies or the crackers or what have you (it's never bananas or carrot sticks, have you noticed?). It's the principle of the thing. It's the horrible, terrible bad manners of it all.

In the past, I used to fume whenever A stuck his greedy paws into the Brach's Starlite Mint bag and grabbed a fistful. But today, for reasons I can't explain, I was so chill. Maybe today I finally realized it doesn't matter. The food doesn't matter. The etiquette violation doesn't matter.

All that matters is that A is not my kid.

I don't have to raise him, teach him manners or respect. I don't have to worry about whether or not he grows up to be a thief or a drug addict, a college student who cheats on take home exams, an adult who cheats on his wife and his taxes. My only job with A is to do whatever I can to make sure he doesn't break his leg while playing in my backyard. Easy enough.

So I didn't fuss or fume or feel the least bit resentful as I watched this child eat all of my peppermints (I'm pretty sure I saw him stuffing some into his pocket, too). Have as much as you'd like, I said, and smiled a big, benevolent smile. I have transcended. I am Buddha Mom.

At least for today.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Advent Connections

I have to write this morning (I'm working on draft #3 of a novel and feeling like a very bad writer who is just being tolerated by her editor), but I just read a great post over at Our Red House that I so very much want you to read. Aside from some interesting thoughts on being part of a consumer society, Kate has posted two amazing YouTube videos that are well worth watching as we enter into another Christmas season.

Yesterday I found a Web site called Advent Conspiracy (where I first saw one of the videos Kate has posted--it's brilliant), and I think it's well worth checking out if you want to get grounded about the real meaning of Christmas.

We lit the first candle in our Advent wreath on Sunday, and had a good family talk about Christmas, how Christmas has different meanings to different people. For most people it is a winter festival of lights and music and presents, and certainly that's what part of our family's Christmas is about. But that's not the whole story.

We talked about how strange the real Christmas story is--The son of God born in a stable, surrounded by cows? The king of kings born to poor parents who couldn't get a room at a decent hotel?

And, of course, we talked about how hopeful the Christmas story is--God is with us! Amazing.

I hope that each night when we light the candles on the Advent wreath that the boys will remember what's at the heart of Christmas. I love the rest of the Christmas hoopla and so do they, but if you don't remember the strange story that's the real reason for celebration, the rest of it starts to feel a little empty after awhile.

Okay, off to revise and tear my hair out. More soon!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Page 56 Meme

I've been memed! Here's the challenge, from Tracy over at Beyond My Picket Fence:

The rules:

Grab the book nearest you, turn to page 56 and go to the fifth sentence, typing that sentence and a few others around it.

The book closest to me is Objects of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith by James Romaine. Here's what we find on page 56:

"I witnessed the effect of absent parents on the lives of many of my college students. In Lord of the Flies, Golding seems to be reacting to Romanticism by showing our tendency to sin even in a pristine natural environment. I placed the boys in a perfectly controlled man-made garden to suggest that even if man were to have the absolute dominion he desires, the results would be the same."

This is from an interview with the painter Mary McCleary.

Now I'm supposed to meme a few unsuspecting victims of my own. Okay, then, Heather, Dulce and Angela, you're up!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Against Martyrdom

This Thanksgiving I wanted to help. I wanted to help my mother in the kitchen. I wanted to help the children have fun. I came supplied with ample quantities of elbow grease and arts and crafts supplies.

You'll be glad to hear that I did help my mother. I twisted crescent rolls and washed serving spoons. I ironed the table cloth. I also ironed the apron I gave her for her birthday, which she has been wearing and washing but not ironing (I took her to task for this, which for some reason made her laugh and laugh in a If only you could hear yourself kind of way).

Helping the children have fun, it turned out, meant sitting in the basement. My parents have a large, one-story house with a huge unfinished basement. It's perfect for hordes of cousins to run around in. My dad borrows razor scooters and trikes from his neighbors who have kids and sets up a soccer goal whenever his grandchildren come to town en masse, but mostly they like rolling each other around in office chairs (they used the goal to play "Jail") and jumping up and down on the exercise equipment. They're an easy-to-please crowd.

The rule is, when the kids want to play in the basement, there has to be an adult to supervise. It's kind of a drag, but not entirely unreasonable. And in my role as Miss Helper of the Universe, I spent a good deal of time on Thursday supervising. I became the go-to adult when all the cousins wanted to play downstairs. Well, I did come ready to be of service, and so down the stairs I went, my knitting in hand. "Let the others enjoy themselves upstairs," I thought, full of kindness and unselfishness. "I'll tend to the children."

This worked the first three or four times. By the fifth trip downstairs, I could feel little tendrils of resentment beginning to form in my helpful, altruistic soul. I began to note who came down to join me and who never once showed their face in the basement. I began keeping score.

Now, I have known some martyrs in my time, God's little helpers who are the first to jump up from the table to begin clearing the plates (often before everyone is done eating) and who wave people out of the kitchen despite the hundreds of dishes piled up on the counters. As I sat in the basement feeling those little tendrils of resentment taking root and beginning to form little, black buds, I realized I was in danger of becoming one of those people who thinks they're helping but who in fact is ruining everyone else's good time. At any second, I was going to start getting snippy and irritable. I was going to start saying stuff like, "Boy, it must be nice sitting around and talking to other adults while someone else is keeping an eye on your children."

So I went upstairs. I poured myself a nice glass of wine and turned to the group chatting away at the table. "Time for someone else to watch the kids," I said, and one of my brothers popped up and said he'd go, and after that people seemed to do a pretty fair job of taking their turn downstairs. Well, not everyone, but most everyone, and that's about as much as you can hope for.

So it was a nice Thanksgiving. I'm fortunate to have a family that gets along, in-laws and out-laws and by-laws. On Friday, my aunts came over along with two of my cousins and their kids, so it was a big time. By Saturday, I was totally exhausted. My family is full of good will and good cheer and good health, but that doesn't mean that after three days I'm not ready to be shed of them (and them of me, to be perfectly fair). Which is to say, it's good to be home, feeling full and thankful, and ready to be of no help to anyone at all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quick Pix and Then I'm Gone

Oh, if only I could take pictures like Heather or Ali. But I can't. Still, I hope you will squint and think, "Nice job for a lefthander."

I didn't take pictures of the socks. Maybe later.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! See you next week.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Notes from Your Busy Little Bee

Sorry to have been so quiet lately. About a month ago it occurred to me that if I took my family's Christmas presents to my parents' house this Thanksgiving--presents for my parents and brothers and my brother's wives and children--then life would be a dream.

By delivering the presents in person instead of mailing them, I wouldn't have to find the right size box to pack them in and then have to write out two address labels for each box, one for the outside of the box and one for the inside of the box, in case the one on the outside of the box didn't stick for the whole trip (somehow the postal clerks would know to open the box to look for my inside of the box label; they're smart that way--this is my mom's theory, in any event).

I wouldn't have to mess around with the big packing tape dispenser, which I inevitably wound myself with sooner or later each Christmas season. And I wouldn't have to spend half of the Christmas holiday in line to mail the boxes. I wouldn't have to feel totally ripped off when I was told that in order to afford this mailing, I would not be able to send my children to college.

Taking the gifts is, you have to give it to me, a brilliant idea. And it's a once in a blue moon opportunity, since normally my family doesn't gather together at Thanksgiving. My parents live about ten hours from me, which is a long drive for a short visit. No, most Thanksgivings find us at my husband's Cousin Jane's, where we dine with his one thousand other cousins, paper plates in our laps, cutting our turkey with plastic utensils.

But this year, my brothers and I decided we needed to all meet up. It's been a couple of years since the whole family reunited, and some of us haven't met my youngest nephew, and that's not good. So off to Kentucky we all go, and I for one will be dragging my Christmas presents behind me.

Tomorrow, before I get the presents wrapped, I'm going to post pictures of the handbags I made my nieces (from Bend the Rules Sewing) and the sweater I knitted my mother. No, no ... let me rephrase that. The Sweater I Knit My Mother Where the Sleeves Actually Work. Hallelujah, I finally got some damn sleeves in a sweater without making them look like poofy princessy things. The sweater looks very nice and normal. It came out a bit on the small side, but that's neither here nor there, nor even my problem. It's my mom's problem. My problem was making the sleeves fit and I did and now I am off the hook.

So, in any event, as you might guess, the last couple of weeks have been a little intense, arts and crafts and Christmas shopping-wise, but now all that's left is the wrapping. Or, to put a finer point on it, shoving presents in those cute little gift bags and artfully crumpling up some tissue paper so no one can peek inside of the little bags. A gift tag here, a gift tag there, and honey, I'm done.

If I don't get a chance to post my pictures before we hit the road, then I'll be back next week, and with any luck I'll have lots of good stories about Thanksgiving and how everyone drove each other crazy and how I revert to being eleven when I'm with my Family of Origin. Something to look forward to!

Monday, November 17, 2008

An Underground Christmas

Let it be said that on this Monday, the 17th of November, 2008, I formally concede to the merchandisers and marketers and corporate execs. I now accept that they rule Christmas. It has been a long, hard battle, and I have fought the good fight, but it's over.

Those of us who love Christmas and don't want it ruined have ranted and raved every year about Christmas carols piped into the mall beginning in mid-October (remember how shocking it once was to see a Christmas commercial before Thanksgiving?), but to no avail. We've griped about Christmas commercials during the World Series, Christmas parades and parties the first weekend of December, before anyone's really in the spirit, we've moaned and groaned, but no one has listened to us.

The Big Christmas War is over, and we lost.

We all know it's only a matter of time before Target and Wal-Mart and all the Big Boxes have Christmas carols wailing out of the loudspeakers in July, and then ultimately it will be Christmas all year round. And a lot of people will love this. The clerk at the toy store told me today that she decorated for the holidays this weekend. I tried to act as though I didn't think she was insane.

(Rule one for us Christmas losers: Try to act like the Christmas in July people aren't insane. They have the power, and probably the guns. If you roll your eyes at them, they will never, every take their Christmas lights down--whoops! Too late on that one!)

I think it's time to take Christmas underground. I don't know what that means exactly, but the thought occurred to me as I was driving home this afternoon from downtown, where the Christmas lights are twinkling merrily away. To some extent it means resisting the lure of Christmas for as long as possible. At the very least, wait until December to put up your lights and tree.

Conversely, do your Christmas shopping as early as possible and then put a lid on it. My goal this year is to have presents bought, wrapped and mailed by December 19th, and then staying out of the marketplace for the week leading up to Christmas. The week before Christmas should be about baking and reading and observing Advent (if you're an observer) and lighting candles and making your house smell good.

I dream about taking Christmas back some day. It's a foolish dream, I know. But just imagine it: We all say no to the greed heads who have taken hostage things we hold special and even sacred, just to make a buck off of us.

You know there's only one way to stop them: Stop buying their stuff.

And then Christmas will be ours once again.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Keeping Up

I'm not doing a very good job of keeping up.

Keeping up with this blog. Keeping up with other blogs. Keeping up with the laundry. Keeping up with the Christmas knitting. Keeping up with the Christmas cards I swore I would have made and addressed in July.

I'm not doing a good job keeping up with the bathrooms, which I now enter with eyes shut. Keeping up with the copy I'm supposed to be writing for the Winter Auction fundraiser at school. Keeping up with my reading. Keeping up with the stuff I'm supposed to be sorting to take to Good Will. Keeping up with the attic. The pantry. The closets.

I'm not doing a good job of keeping up with the fridge, which needs a good scrub, or the floor, which needs a good mop, or the yard, which needs a good raking.

I'm not doing a good job of keeping up with my letter writing and package mailing. I'm not doing a good job of keeping up with my Christmas sewing.

So what am I keeping up with? Well, this weekend I went to a conference in Nashville and spent time with old friends, many of whose children have grown up or don't have children at all. It is an amazing thing to hang out with people who don't have kids. Their homes are filled with interesting pottery in low places. They use the good plates for brunch. They have brunch. They have lots and lots of hardback books, because their paychecks aren't going for private school or orthodontia. They look ten years younger than they actually are.

Oh, it was wonderful. But weird. And now that I'm home, I don't want to do housework. I want to read poetry and go look at art.

But instead, I'm cleaning Jack's room and contemplating braving the bathrooms to get that horrible mildew off the bathtub. Tonight I'm driving to Charlotte so I can get up early the next morning to watch Jack's choral performance, then rushing the two hours home to pick up Will. I need to get in a quick trip to the grocery store so there will be stuff for the boys' lunches tomorrow and Friday.

So mostly I'm keeping up with my dream of that day when I actually get caught up on everything and then will be able to keep up with it all and still make room for art and poetry.

I think this will require a paid staff, don't you?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

So We Held an Election and Everybody Came

This is not a space for political ramblings, and frankly, I'm too beat to ramble. I did a lot of baking this afternoon--cakes for the church bazaar, Snickerdoodle cookies shaped like S's for Will's kindergarten class tomorrow--and was on my feet for hours.

I won't even say who I voted for or how I felt about the outcome, just that when the election was called at 11 p.m. I wept and laughed and pulled Jack out of bed to make him come see. Whether you like Obama or not, voted for Obama or not, I think we can all agree it was an historical moment. A heart-lifting, hopeful moment--maybe even for folks who didn't vote for him. I heard people today say things to that effect--"I didn't vote for Obama, but I'm glad our country has gotten to the place where an African American can be elected president."

Anyway, they kept interviewing all these Civil Rights warhorses on the radio this afternoon while I was baking, people in their seventies and eighties talking about what Martin would have thought of this election and how they never dreamed they'd see a black man in the White House in their lifetime, and I kept having these three-second sobbing fits. I can't explain it.

How many people cried when George Bush beat John Kerry? Or when Bill Clinton beat the first George Bush? Nobody did. But last night on TV they kept showing pictures of people--black, white, Asian, Hispanic, old, young, male, female, the whole kit and kaboodle of humanity--everybody letting loose with the tears. It was beautiful. It made me proud to be an American. Now we know: Change is possible. I'd given up hope. Somebody gave it back.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Menu Plan Monday (etc.)

All right, then: Here's the week--

Monday: Shrimp and Chorizo sausage with brown rice
Tuesday: Chicken Marsala and mashed taters
Wednesday: Black beans and rice
Thursday: Lasagne
Friday: Leftover lasagne


Yesterday I made cheese crackers. It is part of my renewed commitment to the homemade life. I went grocery shopping the other day and was appalled by how much packaged junk I had in my cart. Really, when you get too lazy to make chocolate chip cookies, you're in a bad way. I can make chocolate chip cookies in my sleep. I am the queen of chocolate chip cookies. So what are those dang Keebler's Fudge Stripes doing in my grocery bag?

I decided the very least I could do was scrap the Goldfish and make some cheddar crackers myself. Not a huge savings money-wise, butter and cheese costing what they do, but a severe reduction of chemicals and additives. Plus, little homemade cheddar biscuits taste better.

I've also recently dried big bunches of basil, thyme and oregano from the garden, and done some seed-saving. I'm feeling very much the thrifty farmer's wife. Somebody probably oughta give me an award.


Trick or treating Friday night: We went to a friend's neighborhood (our neighborhood consists of 122 retirees who all go to bed at 5:45) , and the boys made quite the haul. We have found the Good Candy Neighborhood of Little Children's Dreams. Snickers bars galore!

I had to dump out last year's candy to make room for this year's. There was plenty of old candy left, but it was mostly loose Skittles and blueberry Tootsie Rolls, candy that no self-respecting child would eat. Interestingly, despite the amazing lode of quality chocolate Will brought in Friday night, he seems to have forgotten it. Good news for the dentist (or the person paying the dental bills), bad news for moi, candy fiend who is trying very hard not to eat candy.

At what point can Will's candy mysteriously disappear by half? What is the etiquette of throwing away perfectly good candy that your kid's not going to eat but wants to possess nonetheless? Please advise.


Saturday, I went to the yarn store to buy yarn for two pairs of socks and two pairs of fingerless mittens. I will not tell you what I spent. Enormous amounts. For Christmas presents, mind you, but still. Small countries have operating budgets that are less than what I spent on yarn. But such yarn! Beautiful colorways, amazing to behold and hold. If I don't actually finish my knitting projects by Christmas, however, I'm toast.


I just did an e-mail interview for somebody's book blog. The interviewer's final question was, if I had unlimted funds, what would I buy? My answer: Art, books, quilts, yarn and a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright. Oh, yeah, and world peace. That, too.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I Emerge Victorious

Let it be said that a six-foot long Storm Trooper costume is no match for me. No matter that it is made from some fabric loosely defined as a rayon/polyester/nylon mix that resists a needle and thread like nobody's business. No matter that I had to remove foam rubber arm pads and epaulets and then reattach them later to the slippery, nightgown-like material. No matter that I was flying blind, making it up as I was going along, winging it big time.

Will it win an award at next year's National Tailor's Convention? No. There are few straight seams, the sleeves are not the same length, and the elastic waistband is connected with safety pins (for adjustment purposes). But it fits and does not look ridiculous, and that's all I was shooting for.


Next project: Painting. On getting the house ready to sell, the previous owners, on the advice of their realtor, no doubt, painted the upstairs hall, master bedroom, and both upstairs bathrooms. I assume the realtor did not advise them to buy cruddy paint brushes that shed all over the wet paint, but that is exactly what they did. I also assume the realtor did not advise them to paint the aforementioned areas in office greys and beiges, but they did that, too.

So I've been looking at paint chips--peaches and periwinkles, light, friendly colors that make a girl look a few years younger--and now I'm working up to actually painting. First, I will buy the paint. Then I will realize that my husband has taken all the paint gear to the mountain house, so I will go back and buy brushes and rollers and pans and tarps. Then, sometime around next March, I will actually start painting.

Today is Will's birthday! We celebrated last night, as tonight is trick-or-treating. We added more Legos to his collection (because that's what he wanted and because we are insane) and a baseball pitch-back net, and some arrowheads and cards my husband made with the dog's picture on them.

So Will is six. I know he has to grow up, and it will be interesting to watch as he grows, but it makes me sad that one day we will leave the little boy version of Will behind. He is a fine little boy, a lover of baseball and Legos and trucks and dogs. He makes friends easily, is open and generous and good natured. His feet are still cute. I'm glad we have him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vote Early, Vote Often

I voted today. I always get very emotional when I vote; really, I tear up. I am moved by seeing democracy in action. I'm proud of the folks who volunteer to work the polls, and I'm proud of how civil people are to each other in line, chatting about the weather and the cute baby waiting for his mom to vote, talking about all kinds of things except who we'll be voting for. That's as it should be, of course. A vote is a personal thing.

For the first time in our marriage, my husband and I will not be canceling out each other's votes. We keep shaking our heads over this. Something serious must be going on for us to cast our ballots for the same candidate. It is possibly a sign of the coming Apocalypse, which is to say this could be a good time to invest in an underground shelter and start stocking up on canned goods.


If you don't hear much from me for the rest of the week, it's because I'll be altering Jack's Storm Trooper costume for Halloween. This was his big birthday present when he turned nine. I swear to you I ordered the large child size costume, but what we got was man-sized. Of course, Jack put it on and got it dirty before I could return it, so we're stuck with it, and it wasn't cheap.

The good news is, Jack is a tall kid, and the bottom half of the suit actually fits reasonably well if you ignore a little bit of a droopy drawers effect. The bad news is, the bottom half is attached to the top half, and the top half is humongous. Jack's chest is twenty-two inches; the costume's, forty-four. The sleeves are half a foot too long.

Well, I complain a lot about Jack being oblivious, but here's where having an oblivious child comes in handy. As long as I don't totally mess it up, Jack probably won't notice how goofy my alterations are. I'm going to separate the top and the bottom, put an elastic waistband in the pants, and see if I can pull in the seams of the shirt. Wish me luck. If you don't hear from me again by next week, assume the worst.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

See You in a Few Days

We're off to the mountains for a long weekend. I'd meant to post something witty and true about the awfulness of packing for trips, how bad my family is at it, how we never leave when we say we're going to, how we always forget something important, how I feel like this may be the time we finally forget the fish.

But I don't have time. We're supposed to leave in thirty minutes. Little forward progress has been made. I must run in hopes that we'll only get left one hour instead of two behind schedule.

See you next week!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Artsy Fartsy Weekend

I said I was going to have an artsy weekend, and by golly, I did. Usually my weekend plans are in tatters by the time Friday afternoon rolls around, and I never, ever spend Sunday afternoons writing letters and reading, though this is my intention every single weekend. But this weekend, I made plans and I kept them.

Friday morning I went to see the El Greco/Velazquez exhibit at my local neighborhood museum (it is convenient in more ways than one to live near a major university). Much to my surprise--and dismay--it cost fifteen bucks to get in. Fifteen bucks! I guess that's to keep those pesky poor people out, I don't know.

The problem with major exhibits that cost fifteen bucks is that you feel like you better have a profound viewing experience, because a) you paid for it; and b) at those prices, you won't be going back a second time. The other problem is they're crowded with people who are also after profound viewing experiences. Many of them have rented the $3 headsets, so their viewing experience gets in the way of yours as they cluster in front of paintings and listen to the voices in their heads.

Me, I like to live with a painting. I personally think that the best sort of art exhibit would be the kind where they let you check out the paintings one at a time to take home (along with a security guard) so you could ponder them at different times of day, in different lights.

The next best thing is to be able to go back to a gallery or museum over a period of a few weeks (or a lifetime) and visit the paintings and think about them and revise your thoughts about them and just exist with them. Since I live only five minutes away from this museum, and most of its exhibits are free, I've been able to do that.

But not with El Greco. Instead, I got bandied about by crowds and pushed aside by senior citizens on tour, but by walking back and forth and around and about, I got to spend a little time with the paintings and appreciate them. At the very least, I got a good feel for what the fuss was all bout.

On Saturday, I went to see "The Secret Life of Bees" with my friend Bridgette. I am one of five people alive who hated the book, and guess what? I didn't like the movie either, though the acting is great. What I liked was grabbing a bite to eat with Bridgette afterwards and tearing the movie apart and then going to buy hand lotion. It was a very girly sort of thing to do, and I hardly ever do girly, so I enjoyed myself immensely.

Sunday--The Quilters' Guild Show. Fabulous. Genius. No headsets. Many of the quilts were true works of art and made me think of all those jerk boys in college who asked jerk questions like, "If women are equal to men, why are there no great women artists?" I would have liked to march all those boys--who hopefully have wised up on their own by now--in front of those quilts and said, "Here are your great women artists, you big jerks. Women make art everyday; you're just too stupid to see it."

But I would have said it in a kind, gentle voice, as to not bruise their egos and thus blind them to the beauty in front of their very eyes.

Oh, but there's beauty before our eyes all over the place, that's the good news. Children, flowers, the light playing its little games in the trees. I suppose life could be artsy fartsy all the time if we'd just let it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Can I Pay Someone to Do This?

It has started. The weeding. The back-breaking, bond-bending, soul-emaciating weeding.

I began on Monday. Thirty minutes in the attic. It was all I was mentally capable of. I honestly thought I'd been in there an hour and a half. "No more!" I cried, running into the hallway. "I can toil no longer in that dark and gloomy cavern!" Or something like that, only with more cussing. I haven't been back in since.

I've poked my nose into Will's room a time or two, but I can't work up the mental and psychological energy to commence. If someone would give me permission to simply fill up four or five large trashbags with every last thing Will's room contains, I could do it. It's the parsing and sorting and redistributing I can't stand the thought of.

And then, for reasons I can not ascertain, I began on my study. The closet has been on my list for some time, but only in a sort of "ha ha, like that will ever happen" sort of way. Yet on Wednesday I began pulling out its contents and making piles of papers (it's all papers--school papers, church papers, publishing papers, stuff I've torn out of newspapers). I now have about ten pounds of paper that's headed straight for the recycling bin. The closet looks much better. My study, however, looks like I've been hosting Motocross races across the middle. Disaster. Another room I can no longer face.

Kitchen floor: still unmopped. Refrigerator: needs a good emptying out and scrubbing down. Boys bathroom: enter at your own risk.

However, I have been to see a lovely exhibit of El Greco paintings today, and tomorrow there's an exhibit of quilts downtown, and the boys are off camping with the Scouts, so I should get a lot of knitting done this weekend. Plus, I've been working on some nifty collages and reading Joan Acocella's Twenty-Seven Artists and Two Saints, which I highly recommend. What can I say? Yet again, Art triumphs over housework.

May it ever be thus.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Notes on a Tuesday

I spent most of the morning getting prepared for Jack's Southern Hot Lunch at school. I was in charge of fried chicken (buying it, not making it, thank goodness), green beans, mac and cheese and banana pudding. Normally I don't serve banana pudding after Labor Day, but this was a special occasion.

You would be proud of my organizational zest and zeal (especially those of you who know how unorganized I am most days). I called Hardee's yesterday to make sure they started serving chicken before noon and then later drove by Hardee's to see if they took credit cards in case I didn't have enough cash on hand to pay for the chicken (they did) (only wish I'd remembered to ask about that on the phone). This morning, while the mac and cheese was cooking and the beans were heating, I found a plastic bin to carry the serving platters and utensils in, and threw in some extra cups and spoons, just in case. I went out to the garage and got the coolers to carry the food and loaded them in the van.

At 10:45 I zipped over to Hardee's to pick up the chicken, only to learn it would take thirty minutes. No problem. Zipped back home. Got everything packed up in a neat and organized manner. Back to Hardee's to get the chicken. At school I went to the teacher's lounge to pick up the cart I knew was there because I'd asked the librarian this morning at drop-off if I could use a shelving cart to carry in my stuff (an idea that had come to me in the middle of the night) and she told me about the big cart in the teacher's lounge.

You're waiting for it, aren't you? The big mess up, the moment where I trip and launch banana pudding all over the principal? Didn't happen. Lunch was served on time, in an orderly fashion. The kids liked it. The teacher liked it. I sat with Jack and had a good conversation with his seatmates about books. I made it out in time to pick up Will from kindergarten.

Quite frankly, I am very impressed with myself. And totally, completely, wholeheartedly exhausted. Next time, I'm winging it.


The other day, Will watched the movie "Balto," about an Alaskan sled dog who saves a village by racing to get medicine and bringing it back just in the nick of time. Will has already listened to the audiobook, which we have, dozens of times, and that night he asked my husband to read him the book, which we also have. After my husband finished reading, Will looked up at him and asked, "What do you think Travis will do?" (Travis being our dog.)

"What do you mean, 'What will Travis do'?" my husband asked him.

"When he grows up?"

Boy, I don't know, but I sure hope Trav doesn't scootch across the floor on his bottom during his job interviews the way he enjoys doing around the house. Why does he do that, anyway? No, don't tell me. Let it remain one of life's little mysteries.

(But don't you love Will's question?)


This morning Will woke up covered in blue marker. He claims to have no idea how it happened. Face, hands, legs--and his white school tee shirt he changed into sometime in the middle of the night, the one he's supposed to wear at his music recital on Friday.


I really can't top that.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's Monday ...

... And I have no idea what to do with myself.

That's right: I finished my revision. It is done! Over with! Completed! That is, until my editor tells me to revise it again, which she will. The big hope is that it'll be a smaller revising job and won't so fully consume my life next time around.

So here I am, the proverbial turtle who's had her head tucked away in her shell for the last couple of months and is finally peering out into the light. And what do I see?

First, I see Will's room. It's impossible not to see it, since apparently a huge explosion has gone off inside it and now its contents are spilling into the hallway. In fact, Will's room appears to be waging a campaign to take over the entire house.

I've written about Will's room before. It is impossible to keep up with, no matter what game plan you put in place. You can invest in storage bins, divest of huge amounts of clutter, make it a daily requirement that he tidy up, it does not matter. Entropy rules in Will's room. Chaos is the word.

Here's my rationale for ignoring the bombsite that is Will's room: Constant clutter is the price we pay to have a boy so happily occupied. Nevertheless, at some point there are health code violations to be considered. Order must be imposed. Dried mucus must be peeled from the walls and Skittles unstuck from the floors. A girl can only take so much.

The other thing that won't get out of my sight-lines is the attic. Even though the door is shut, I can feel the mounting clutter pushing against it, just waiting to get out. The fact is, the attic needs a good weeding. It's become half storage space, half holding area. Don't know where something goes? Throw it in the attic. Think this toy/pair of pants/plastic thingy needs to go to Good Will? Throw it in the attic. Wrapping paper? Attic. Old magazines? Attic.

So, yes, it is time to go through the attic, stack storage bins, buy new bins to replace cardboard boxes, and fill the cardboard boxes with stuff for Good Will. I'm trying to motivate myself by remembering that Christmas is coming and we have lots of stuff that would make great Christmas presents ... for other people's kids. I'm sure Santa would appreciate it if I got this stuff to Good Will sooner rather than later.

Those are the two big things in my sights, problems I'd like to solve, mountains I need to climb. There are loads of other jobs, too--mopping and polishing the hardwoods, straightening out the mud room and the laundry room, and if I don't mop the kitchen floor soon, someone's going to get permanently stuck there.

So I have a list of things to do. Now, the question is, will anything actually get done? Or will I sit around reading and knitting, occasionally rising to throw a plate in the dishwasher, rehang a bath towel? My potential for utter laziness is great. Well, "laziness" isn't quite the right word. I guess "inertia" is better. I've been working, working, working, been a body in motion staying in motion ... and now I've stopped. Is it possible to get going again in another direction, the direction of a clean and orderly house?

If the past is any indicator, I will make attempts to get going, take trips to the Target to purchase cleaning products and organizational aids, and in the end, I will pull my head back into my shell, where it feels safe and warm, and nobody has stuck their effluvium to the walls.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tuesday Updates

You know you're getting old when you leave town for thirty-six hours and it takes seventy-two hours to recover.

For several years I've traveled without my family, usually for school visits or publishing events. I'm proud to report I've finally figured out how to ensure I return to a clean house: I get the boys so overscheduled while I'm gone that they're never actually inside the house except to brush their teeth and sleep. Works like a charm!

The children's school pictures came back on Friday. Can I just say that school pictures may be the biggest rip-off since Pssst Dry Shampoo? The worst: Now you have to pay extra for that blue or green "gemstone color" background. I assumed if I opted not to pay, I'd get a nice, cloudy sky blue like every other year--not "gemstone," but nice enough.

Big mistake. What came back are really weird-looking pictures--as though color pictures had been superimposed over a black and white photo. Both of my children have the gray pallor of coal miners.

Will's eyes are closed in his picture, by the way, and you can clearly see that his shirt is inside-out. For once, Jack doesn't have a sweaty-head and he's actually smiling (you can always tell the children of photographer parents--they've used up all their smiles by age four). Too bad he looks like the living dead.


I'm having a terrible time with Weight Watchers this go-round. It's not Weight Watchers' fault. They are offering the same old sensible advice, printing out the easy to follow guides, cheering me on with supportive cheers. No, the problem is me and my insistence on leaving the safety of my own kitchen.

In Boston, I went out to dinner at a place called Olives (not to be confused with the Olive Garden, thank you very much) on my publisher's dime. I'd had to give a speech earlier and then spent another hour or so chatting with many lovely and kind librarians. I was famished. And so when the opportunity came, I ate. I ate oysters and onion torte and the most marvelous greek salad and french fries (you can see I'm starting to get in trouble here) and half a turtle sundae. I drank two glasses of red wine. Oh, and there was the bread basket. Bread to die for, I swear to you.

I came home, hoping against hope that at the very least I hadn't gained weight. I'd done a lot of walking, right? Roamed Beacon Street and the Boston Commons and Boylston and St. James. I'd walked through airports and across hotel lobbies. Lotsa walking. Miles and miles.

In fact, I told myself after that wonderful spinach and feta omelet ... and homefries ... and toast ... that I'd probably lost weight on my little foray into the big world.

Nope. Gained three. Skipped my WW meeting last night. But I'm back on my program today and trying to be sane and eat enough but not too much. It helps that I'm not going out of town ... for two more weeks. And then three weeks after that, it's Thanksgiving. Then Christmas.

I'm doomed.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Vacation Typology

Have you ever taken a personality quiz where it asks you about what kind of vacation you prefer? Are you the type who likes to wander around historic tourist traps? Dump the kids off with the hotel babysitter while you and your hubby dance the night away? Do you have the inner ear stability and the fat wallet to weather Disney World? Or are you the type of vacationer who likes to go to scenic spots and just sit around?

Me, I'm a sit-around gal. In fact, I'm already planning the trip to Italy I plan to take for my fiftieth birthday: I want to rent a farmhouse somewhere in Umbria or Tuscany for a month and just sit there. Doesn't that sound grand?

Fortunately, my husband also likes to sit around. Our vacations take us to two spots: the beach and the mountains. We overpack the van with more food than we'll ever eat, more clothes than we'll ever wear, and more books than it is humanly possible to read in the course of a week. We always leave home at least two hours later than we planned on, and race like the wind to get to wherever we're going in time to pick up the key from the rental agency. We get there, we unpack, we sit. Occasionally someone looks out the window and says, "Wow, it's really nice here."

This past weekend we went to the mountains, which is a grand spot for sitting around. Oh, occasionally my husband will drag the boys down to the creek to go fishing, and we even pondered hiking up Roan Mountain, but the mere act of pondering wore us out, and back down we sat.

It will amaze you, then, to know that I returned home exhausted from our little vacation. This is because we went to the mountains with my mother-in-law, who is a wonderful woman in so many ways, but who is, shall we say, psychologically complex. She spends a whole lot of time trying to figure out what you want her to say and do, and about fifty percent of the time she gets it wrong, and the other fifty percent of the time she irritates you to death because you wish she'd just say what was on her mind or do what the spirit moved her to do. I know she's this way because of how she was raised. I know she means well and wants to please. But after thirty-six hours of it, I crack. I say things I regret. I grow sarcastic and flippant. I have a constant need to nap.

We got home on Tuesday night, and I didn't know whether to go directly to bed or turn on the stereo really, really loud and do some theraputic yelling. Yesterday, I walked around in a daze. Today I'm doing better, but I have to fly to Boston tomorrow, so it's hard to settle down, enjoy the little things in life that keep me sane--writing, my dog, my funny children, my doting husband. I'll be back on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday I plan to take a mini-vacation in my living room. I'm going to sit down in my favorite chair, look out the window, and think, "Wow, it's really nice here."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Off to the Mountains

It's the boys' fall break, so we're headed west and up. I'm hoping for some crisp, fall weather. What it sounds like we're getting is a lot of rain. That's okay; my big plan is to knit for hours, if not days, at a time. I'm in total knit mode right now. It's all those leaves outside my window about to pop out in glorious shades of red and orange and yellow any second now. Just makes a girl want to pick up her needles and have at it.

I hope to return to you next week refreshed, renewed, rejuvenated, or at least with half my Christmas knitting done. See you soon!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Blustery Thursday

Fall has shown up on time this year--shocking! Usually I'm complaining well into October about heat and humidity and other miseries of living south of the Mason-Dixon line, but the last week or so has been lovely. Today it's overcast and blustery and sixty degrees, perfect for all sorts of activities, but most perfect for drinking tea and knitting.

Which is what I'll be doing most of the day, since I have a cold. I will resist moaning and groaning about it, because a) it's not that bad of a cold; and b) there's nothing worse than someone moaning and groaning about how lousy they feel, especially when their condition allows them to take a day off of work and knit. I can't write when my head is stuffed, so I don't even try. Well, I'm writing this, but this is fun writing. The other kind of writing I do is fun sometimes, but most often is akin to picking out bubblegum from a shag carpet with a toothpick.

Anyway. Knitting. Mostly I knit socks, because socks are portable and fast and they almost always fit. But I must admit, sometimes I want more of a challenge (sock-knitting only looks hard because you're working on three needles; in fact, it's easy as pie), and most recently I took up the challenge of knitting a lace cowl, thanks to Heather, who modeled this cowl a few weeks ago on her blog.

I'm not sure that a woman such as myself, a left-handed woman with two sons and a puppy and a husband who likes it when I actually glance at him from time to time during our conversations, should be knitting lacy things. It's so easy to get thrown off a stitch, and one stitch is all it takes to throw off everything. Which is to say, I've cast on this cowl eleven times and frogged it ten times. I think I finally have it figured out and may finish it up today since I'm--cough cough--too sick to work. I'm telling you though, as soon as it's off the needles, I'm framing the sucker.

While I've been knitting and hacking away, I've been listening to the most lovely podcast, Sticks and Strings, by David Reidy, an Australian bloke, as he puts it, who likes to knit. He seems like the nicest guy in the world, and I love hearing him talk about wool (that's yarn, to us Yanks) and what he's working on, and the latest knitting books. If you're a knitter, or just someone who likes to listen to Australians talk (it's awfully pleasant), I highly recommend tuning in.

I was going to post about what's going on with Jack right now, but I think I'll wait til tomorrow. I'll say this: I had no idea boys got into those icky, mean triangles that girls do, where one kid gets left out by the others and is generally made to feel miserable. I thought boys just beat each other up, which seems to me a much more honest and sensible approach. Who knew?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Auto-Pilot Morning

The first five minutes of the day are my worst five minutes of the day. I have actually developed a coping mantra that I start chanting in my head the second my feet hit the floor. It goes: Don't think, don't think, don't think. Because for the first five minutes of my day, every thought thunk is a negative one. Full of anxiety, up to its ears in stress and dread.

Once I'm actually awake and have had a sip of coffee, I'm usually fine. This does not mean I'm functional, however, which is why I do all my morning preparations the night before. I make the boys' lunches while I'm making dinner. I lay out clothes, including mine, put socks with shoes and put the shoes on the mantle (otherwise the dog will eat them). I place the backpacks by the door and make sure homework folders are in the backpacks. If the boys have requested french toast for breakfast, I mix up the eggs and milk and cinnamon and put a pan on the stove.

I do this not because I'm the queen of organization. I do this as a favor to my morning self. My morning self is capable of very little given her own devices. Drinking coffee. Blinking slowly. Cajoling children out of bed. That's about it.

In fact, there is little evidence that I'm actually awake as I'm getting boys out of bed and pouring the coffee and saying, "Time to brush your teeth, yes, you do have to brush your teeth or else they'll all fall out before you're seven that's why."

Which is why it should come as no surprise that this particular morning Jack, my lovely fourth grader, my wonderful child who has the sense of inchoate lemur, who is even less of a morning person than I, managed to go to school in his pajamas.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. He did put on his shorts (underwear? I'm not going to even check), but the shirt? It's the one he slept in. Which actually happens to be the shirt he wore to school yesterday, which for some reason he did not change out of last night. That would explain the double set of toothpaste stains.

Oh, it is a wrinkled, dirty shirt--and worse, it's the shirt he wore yesterday afternoon when he got his hair cut. So it is wrinkled, dirty and hairy and most likely itchy.

And I didn't notice it until he was grabbing his back pack out of the front seat when I dropped him off this morning.

Fortunately he's a boy and he doesn't care, and he will spend his day surrounded by other fourth grade boys who won't notice and fourth grade girls who might notice but who are too busy wondering what Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers are doing right this very second to care. I suppose his teacher might feel compelled to call Social Services in the face of such blatant parental negligence, but if she did, I'd quit room parenting and she'd have to do all the little "it's your day to read at lunchtime" reminder e-mails, so she won't.

Still, it's pretty pathetic. I should probably get up a half hour early and have a cup of coffee before the boys get up, just to avoid mishaps such as this. But I won't. Because I hate morning, and I'm willing to sacrifice my children's social status and physical comfort (that shirt has just got to itch) for five more minutes of sleep. That's just the kind of mother I am.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just Checking In

I've been trying to take a picture of the apron I made my mother for her birthday. It is a full length apron (that is, chest to knees) and needs a proper draping job to show off its cute little skirt. Unfortunately, Will is too short to model it effectively for the camera and Jack is too dignified. I've tried draping it over a bush and hanging it from a tree, without impressive results.

Add to the draping issues the problem of its needing to be ironed. I was hoping if I got the right play of shadow and light, you might not notice how wrinkled the apron is. Who was I kidding? A blind man would have noticed. (Please note: I was planning on ironing it before sending it to my mother. Honest, I really was not going to pretend it got wrinkled during shipping.)

Tomorrow I will iron and try again. The nice thing about showing you a picture is that you'll never know that it hangs sort of funny when worn by an actual human being (as opposed to a tree), or that it will probably fall apart during its first washing. My mom won't care. She's a mom. She knows that when it comes to a gift from a child, it's the thought that counts, even when said child is 44.

Despite my difficulties sewing an apron a four-year-old with decent fine motor skills could make, I am still determined to learn how to sew, if for no other reason than to convince myself I just can't be as stupid as sewing makes me feel.

Which reminds me: The other day I flipped through a file of old papers and found some of my elementary school report cards. There's one from fourth grade, and I've received check-pluses in everything except math, in which I've received a check-minus. My father has written a note in the comment section: "We are concerned our daughter is having problems with math. Is this a soft spot for her?"

If only my teacher--Mrs. Daughtery, an elderly woman with powdery skin and a penchant for polyester--had written back, "Math is a gaping, black cavity of despair for your daughter, and it always will be. From your note, I predict you will waste hundreds if not thousands of dollars on tutors and SAT prep courses for her, and later regret every dime when it finally dawns on you that, mathematically-speaking, your daughter is as dumb as dirt."

Really, it would have saved everyone a lot of grief in the long run.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Menu Plan Monday (etc.)

Here's the week's menu, brought to you (mostly) by Weight Watchers!

Sunday: General Tsao's Chicken, Egg Rolls
Monday: Turkey Kielbasa with tomatoes and brown rice
Tuesday: Spaghetti
Wednesday: More spaghetti
Thursday: Chickpeas with pasta
Friday: Hot dogs and tater tots for the boys, Weight Watcher's dinner for moi


I'm writing this while taking a break from writing. I'm revising a novel,which I hope to have back to my editor by the beginning of October, at which point she will pronounce it perfect and let me go on my merry way (if only ... sigh).

Whenever I'm working on a book, everything around me goes to pot. I can't think of the last time I cleaned the upstairs bathrooms. The floors all need a good scrubbing. And I regret to inform you I'm falling behind on my room parenting duties. Last night I remembered I needed to reply to a parent inquiry which I seemed to recall coming into my e-mail box sometime around Thursday ... whoops! Make that Monday a week ago! Fortunately, time was not of the essence when it came to my reply, but nevertheless, at least one parent has lost all faith in my room parenting abilities, and it's only September!

I'm losing my back-to-school energy, I can feel it. Do you get that back-to-school buzz, when you're on top of things, an organizational wizard, a brilliant maker of school lunches--you actually plan the lunches, make sure your grocery list is filled with delights that will send your children swooning at lunchtime--and then one day, the buzz is gone. Gotta get up, get the clothes, get the lunch (yogurt and a spoon! again!), drive the carpool, come home and clean up ... you do what you've got to get done, but without any pizzazz. School has become the new normal, and you've reverted to your same old self.

I had hoped being a room parent would stave off the entropy of mid-September, when it all starts to unravel. I will say that two weeks ago, when I was Miss Organized, I did a lot of advance work, because I know myself so well. I have learned over the years that when the mood to organize hits me, I should organize as much of the future as possible. I write dates down in the calendar through the following year, make appointments, sew buttons on shirts. Later, I thank myself for it. I really do.

Unfortunately, you can't respond to future e-mails. Ah, but that you could ...


This morning I went to Will's classroom to talk about being an author. I saw my friend the librarian beforehand, who handed me an Arthur book and asked me if I would please make the distinction for the kids between being an author and being an Arthur. Apparently, the two are one and the same for kindergarteners. So I did, but frankly, I don't think it cleared up much for them. If anything, they looked even more confused. Was I the arthur of the Arthur books? Did I know Arthur? Why is DW so mean?

I did my "I am an Author" talk four years ago, when Jack was in kindergarten. I even brought the same posters I'd made about my writing process, which Jack had illustrated for me. You know what's weird? He was a better drawer in kindergarten than he is now. How can that be?

The difference between this visit and the visit to Jack's kindergarten class? Well, when I visited Jack's class lo those many years ago, he immediately wanted to control everything. I brought a stack of my books for Jack to pass around, and he got very involved in that, giving everyone five seconds to look at a book before grabbing it and passing it on to the next kid. He told his classmates to be quiet when I was talking. He rode herd. In short, he acted like a typical first child.

Will, on the other hand, was totally laid back about the whole thing. He sat in a chair next to me (the other kids sat on the floor) and looked oh-so-nonchalant. 'Yeah,' his expression seemed to say, 'this is my mom, she's an arthur, no big deal.' He passed out the books, kept them moving, but otherwise, stayed out of things. Rolled his eyes a few times, especially when I suggested that to be a good writer you had to practice, the way that Will had to practice if he wanted to be a good baseball player. "Mom," he said. "I'm already a good baseball player." "But you want to be a great baseball player, and you'll have to practice really hard to be great." Deep intake of breath from Will. Roll of the eyes. As if to say, I believe we already know that I am great, okay?


Okay, back to the book. If you don't hear much from me in the next week or so, it's because I'm blowing all my creative energy on revising. But don't worry, if something really stupid happens to me--and it always does--I promise to tell you all about it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Two Quick Notes

According to Will, when someone whines in his kindergarten class, his teacher says, "Well, honey, put your big boy pants on and deal with it." That's my kind of woman.

Today was school picture day for both boys. I don't know why I even bother ordering the things; I know they'll end up at the bottom of a desk drawer. Both of my boys are nice-looking children, so why can't we get a decent school picture of them? In his four years at Our Fine School, Jack has always had his picture taken right after gym AND NOBODY HAS EVER TOLD HIM TO COMB HIS HAIR! Kindergarten through third grade, each and every picture features a sweaty-headed Jack with his hair willy-nilly.

I think his teachers think it's funny.

Today I laid out a nice shirt for Will, a red and white striped polo shirt, and when he came downstairs, I helped him adjust the collar so it was sitting just right, and then I shooed him off to school. It wasn't until he came home that I realized that the shirt was inside out.

The thought that someone could have told him to change it so it was inside-in didn't occur to me until dinner, that's how unlikely that possibility was.

I'm sure his hair was perfect.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

Here's what's up this week:

Monday: Smoked Cheese Pasta Bake
Tuesday: Ditto
Wednesday: Escarole with Bacon and White Beans
Thursday: Chicken with Broccoli and Garlic
Friday: Tacos (boys); Weight Watcher's Dinner (me)
Saturday: Pizza night


All the meals above with the exception of the pizza and tacos are either Weight Watcher's or Cooking Light recipes. Tonight I'm rejoining the ranks of Weight Watcher's International after a year away. Oh, the weight she do come back on. Not all of it, but enough to make me think it's time to get back on the wagon.

Really, I could do a whole blog about my life-long struggle with weight, dating back to the time of my first Twinkie, circa 1967. I fear it will always be a struggle. I've gotten to my goal weight and then skyrocketed back up too many times for me to think there is something at this late date--when my metabolism has more or less kicked back for the duration--that will put a halt to the cycle. Will power? Nope, that comes and goes. Triathalons? My knees are pretty shot already. Surgery? Doesn't work. Drugs? Don't like 'em.

No, the only thing to do is sign up for Weight Watchers, count points, exercise more, eat less, until I can't stand it any more. Then I'll take a break, gain back weight, panic, and begin the cycle again. I am the yo-yo diet poster girl, only when I do diet, it's in a healthy way. I don't starve myself, I eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, I never pass up dessert.

I will say, if you have to diet, Weight Watchers is the way to go. It's a very sane approach to eating and weight loss. Does it work in the long run? I think for a lot of people it does, in one way or another. I know a fellow WW vet who's lost over a hundred pounds and she struggles to keep the weight off, hits big, bad plateaus, gains. But she shows up every week and gets weighed, and I think that's the trick if there's any: showing up and getting on the scale. I always know I'm in trouble when I can't bring myself to step on the machine. That's how it's been all summer, and I'm paying for my lack of fortitude now with tight waistbands and flabby upper arms (who are we kidding? I could weigh 115 and still have flabby upper arms).

So expect skinnier menus in upcoming weeks. Fortunately, my husband's in the mood to lose, too. Of course, he'll drop ten pounds in two weeks, the way men do, and I'll have to grit my teeth through week after week of half-pound losses. Really, it's not fair. But at least he won't complain about eating mock shepherd's pie. The boys? Oh, they'll complain all right, but they'd complain anyway, and besides, they can eat whatever they want and not gain a pound. Talk about unfair!

Okay, off to rid the house of chocolate ...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wedding Report

I went to a wedding this weekend. My husband's young cousin was getting married to a beautiful girl from the mountains. My hope is that I would get some good stories to post here, tales of tackiness and horrible couture. Unfortunately, my husband's family is comprised of upstanding, well-dressed Southern Baptists who don't drink at weddings and therefore are not the least bit outrageous. It's disappointing, really.

But I held out hope that maybe the other family--the bride's family--would be a little bit awful. Mother in five-inch heels with tattooed ankles, gum chomping sisters for bridesmaids, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, they also were appropriately coiffed and clothed. Oh, some of the younger women wore too much make-up--this was true across both families--and I could have done without all the strapless dresses. It's not a look that I find generally appealing, mostly because dresses without straps fill me with anxiety. They are so poised to go very, very wrong.

The ceremony itself was lovely, and clocking in at eighteen minutes (my husband timed it), the exact right length for little boys who don't know how they can survive five minutes of all that froth and frippery, much less an hour. Music by Bach, Beethoven and Pachelbel. Bridesmaid's dresses complete with straps, and quite attractive. Handsome groomsmen, always a welcome addition to any wedding party.

At the reception, I sat at a table with my husband and sons and ten or so of my husband's two trillion cousins. I was seated next to Cousin Linda's husband George. I never call George "George" because I can never remember if that's actually his name (it is). Anyway, George has always been a reasonably friendly, laid-back kind of guy, and yesterday he was particularly talkative, telling me about his cameras and his job and how he told the Sears delivery people they better bring his new washer and dryer on Sunday unless they wanted to lose the sale.

It was a nice enough way to pass the time, though I would have rather been talking to Linda about children and clothes and family gossip. Then, today, I find out what the family gossip is: Linda and George have separated after their daughter found some of George's e-mails to another woman. George attended the wedding to put a good face on things. In retrospect, I wondered if I'd been put in a compromising position without knowing it. But life's too short to worry if you've been made an unwitting pawn in somebody's else's marital spat. And I suspect that George was just happy to have someone to talk to who didn't know the terrible truth about his marriage.

All in all, it was a good wedding. The bride was glowing, the groom was over the moon, and the roast beef was rare. I felt cute in my new dress and accessories. Nobody had a strapless dress emergency (I think my prayers held all the dresses up). Really, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon if you believe in everlasting love and extra servings of wedding cake, which I most certainly do.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Shopping News

As I write this I am wearing a necklace.

I know this doesn't sound like a big deal, except that this is, to the best of my knowledge, the second necklace I've purchased for myself since 1979.

I am not a shopper. There are reasons for this. One, my weight tends to fluctuate twenty pounds this way, then twenty pounds that way, so 50% of the time I can't abide the idea of trying on new clothes (or any clothes, for that matter). It's depressing. Add this to the fact that my mother is a notorious tightwad and as a result of her training it is nearly impossible for me to buy anything that isn't on sale, reduced by at least 40%, preferably 80%. Which means I'm forced to shop in the dregs.

Also: When left to my own devices, I will buy nothing but black vee neck tee shirts and khaki capris and black shoes. That's it. I don't, as a rule, accessorize.

But last year I had a somewhat transforming shopping experience, thanks to my friend Danielle. I had to buy outfits for upcoming author visits at various schools. Danielle, who is very stylish and always accessorizes, went with me to Kohl's, parked me in the dressing room, and began bringing in clothes for me to try on. She brought in shoes. She brought in jewelry. She picked things I never would have thought would look good on me, but they did. She picked things I never would have picked in a million years, but I really liked them once I tried them on. It was my own episode of "What Not to Wear."

I learned a lot shopping with Danielle. Have I applied what I learned to shopping sessions since? Well, I do make myself try on things that I might not normally try on, and I try on things even when they're not on sale (so many of the nicer garments never are). Those have been good lessons. A big lesson is, sometimes it pays to pay more. You pay for quality, and quality lasts. This is a hard truth for the daughter of a tightwad, but I'm trying to absorb it.

But I still haven't gotten the knack for accessorizing. Mostly, it's laziness. Who has time to pore over the racks of jewelry, all of it looking pretty much the same? I have all kinds of loopy and hoopy earrings, dangling earrings don't work with my hair, and all the rest of the earrings look like earrings I already have.

But today I had to buy a dress to wear to a wedding this weekend. It's a church wedding followed by a parish hall reception. People will dress nicely, but not city-fancy-nice. Many of the younger women in attendance will wear dresses that are too slinky and tight and only one or two of them at most will get away with it.

I found a simple dress, black and gray and pink, scoop necked, just below the knee hemline. Pretty, but not too formal for this kind of wedding. It fit,it looked nice. But with that scoop neck, I knew--because I have been tutored by Danielle--that I needed a necklace. And probably some earrings to go with the necklace. So I went to the jewelry counter and begin sorting through strand after strand of necklaces until I found some black pearls (fake) strung at one-inch intervals on a silver chain. Pretty. I found some pink pearl (fake) earrings that matched the pink in the dress.

In short, Reader, I accessorized. I bought two black vee neck tee shirts to celebrate, and when I got home, I put on my necklace, which I've been wearing all day. I wore it to pick up Will from school and suddenly felt at home among all those chic kindergarten mothers I see everyday and up til now have always felt apart from.

Who knows, maybe tomorrow I'll go out and buy a bracelet. I am swooning at the very thought.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Close Encounters of an Imaginary Kind


Today Will had a playdate with Matthew, his best friend. It was decided that I would drop off Will at the pool, where Will and Matthew would swim under the supervision of Meg, Matthew's mom and my good pal. Will taught himself to swim this summer, and has become a strong but cautious swimmer, sticking to the shallow end and the slide.

It wasn't until I got home that panic seized me. What was I doing letting Will go to the pool without me? What if Meg began chatting with a friend, lost sight of Will, and he got tangled up with some other boys and was held under without anyone realizing what was happening? What if he drowned? It was all I could do not to yell to Jack and his friend Aidan to jump in the car; we were going back to the pool to save Will.

It's hard to explain how visceral this all was, how scared I suddenly felt. I went deep into my imagination. You're having a perfectly normal day, better than some, because the weather is lovely and it's a holiday, so there's not all that driving around to do. And then the phone call comes, and your whole life changes because you were stupid and neglectful...

It is nearly impossible for me to imagine life without Will. A future without Will. Will not growing up, becoming a man. But this afternoon, I let myself feel it. And I knew I couldn't survive it.

I kept an eye on the clock. I'd dropped Will off at 12:30, and Meg's plan was to take the boys to her house around 2. Every minute that passed was a minute closer to that time when Will would be out of the water and safe. Meg won't lose sight of Will, I kept telling myself. There are lifeguards there. Will is strong and won't let himself get in harm's way.

Slowly, the imaginary grief of losing Will left me and I went about the business of my afternoon. When the phone rang at 4, I knew it would be Meg reporting in (we do this, just to keep the other updated on the ongoing successes and failures of the boys' playdates). "We just got back from the pool!" she said. "I couldn't get the boys to leave!"

Ever since he's been home, I've kept my eye on him. Not because I think anything's going to happen to him here (except that if he keeps practicing his slides across the family room carpet he's either going to break a leg or get a serious rug burn). No, I just want to keep him in my sights, pay attention, commit his lovely and wild five-year-old self to memory

How strange to feel like I almost lost him today.


My husband met a bear today. In the woods. By himself. A million miles from nowhere.

I'm sure it's a story he'll be telling the rest of his life: The Time I Almost Got Eaten by a Bear. He's a good story teller, and he'll embellish and exaggerate and make it funny. And there are funny parts to it, like when he thought about getting his camera out and taking a picture of the bear, but then thought better of it. He imagined his mauled body lying across the trail, his camera in his hand, the park rangers shaking their heads at his idiocy. "Shoulda run," they'd be saying. "Idiot shoulda run instead of taking pictures."

He didn't run when he saw the bear crossing the trail in front of him. He backed up slowly, and then a little faster. The bear was distracted by the sound of branches breaking up the hill, and my husband hoped she'd follow that noise instead of his scent, but she turned back to him and approached. He backed up, she walked toward him. Finally he scrambled up an embankment so he'd look bigger to the bear. He continued to move away from her, picking up a big stick as he did. She didn't scramble after him, and must have lost interest, because after a few minutes she let my husband go on his way.

What an exciting story! What an adventure! How close my husband came to being eaten by a bear and I didn't even know it! What a fun phone call that would have been--when it finally came; how many days would I have waited until they found him?

Now that I've written this story down, I don't want to think about it anymore. I don't want to wrap my overactive imagination around it, sift through alternate endings. I think instead I will let the story mellow a bit and soften around the edges, until it's nothing but funny.

That should be in about a hundred years.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Thoughts at the End of the Week

While walking the dog:

Which is worse: Having a dog poop in your yard on occasion or having "Please Scoop Your Dog's Poop" signs posted every twenty feet of your property 24/7?

I watched the old lady scoop her dog's poop into a plastic bag. I watched her deposit the bag into a neighbor's trashcan by the side of the road. The trash had already been picked up by the garbage truck earlier that morning, so I knew it would be a week before that poop would be hauled away. Would the neighbor wonder why her empty trashcan smelled so foul? Did the old lady stop to ponder the ethics of scooping poop and then popping it in an innocent stranger's waste receptacle?

No. No, she probably didn't. You get to a certain age, you think the rules don't apply to you anymore.


At Kindergarten Open House, Thursday night:

When the teacher says, "I want to get through this as quickly as possible, because I know we're all ready to get home," you know you're in for a long night.

Once, for Show and Tell, a kid brought in a goat in a cat carrier. That's when Mrs. B., Will's teacher, started making rules about what you could bring in for Show and Tell. It has to fit in a paper bag, she informed us last night. I don't know, though. I can think of a lot of trouble that's small enough to fit in a paper bag.


On the First Two Weeks of School:

The dream of the first day of school is the dream of order and routine. Except there really is no order or routine for two to three weeks. The first few weeks of school are a chaotic mess of permission slips and enrichment program sign-ups and teacher-parent mini-conferences and Open House nights. Throw in a three-day weekend and weather that feels like mid-July, and you ensure that everyone will spend the first three weeks of school walking around in a state of mild panic. The parents, that is. The kids are fine. They roll with the punches. But we adults are like small, wounded animals. Please help me, we cry out in weak, pitiful voices. I don't think I can hold on to the edge of this cliff much longer ...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Valley of the Room Parents

Yesterday we had our first Gathering of the Room Parents. Thirty-six women--because room parents are always women, it is the law of the land, men need not apply--sat in a circle and displayed an impressive range of pedicures and strappy sandals as we discussed budgets for Valentine's Day parties and strategies for encouraging working parents to make the time to volunteer in their children's classrooms.

Our Fine School is all about parental involvement. It is also apparently all about really great footware. You should have seen some of these sandals! And the toes on these women! Fuscia! Lilac! Fire Engine Red! A foot fetishist would have gone mad, I tell you, mad.

Have I mentioned Our Fine School is a private school? Sometimes being around so many rich people leaves you gasping for breath. Every year at the beginning of the fall semester, I look around for my tribe, those women whose strappy sandals came from Kohls, whose capris are Issac Mizrahi for Target. We are the parents who can only afford the tuition if we squint at our bank accounts while standing on our heads. But there are people who could afford to pay tuition for the entire student body. You better believe they have great shoes.

Anyway, I'm sitting in this circle of women, and I'm trying not to be wildly self-conscious about the fact that the right side of my face is swollen up like the Elephant Man's after a trip to the dentist on Monday (long story; not fun; you don't want to hear it; involved stitches; etc.). I mean, my face is seriously distorted. And I don't even have a pedicure to distract people from noticing it.

I sat next to my fellow room parent, Mrs. L. After the ruckus and fuss of the first week of school (I still haven't recovered), she has stopped talking about a class party. It was good of her to think it would be a nice thing for the children, and it was an even better thing for her to drop the whole idea when it became clearly untenable.

But you know how I really knew I was going to like Mrs. L.? When she pointed out I had several bagel crumbs plastered to the corner of my mouth with cream cheese. She said, "I figure you'd rather know now than realize it when you got home." As someone who feels morally obligated to point out open flies and undone buttons on the same grounds--a tiny bit of private embarrassment beats a whole boatload of public mortification--I appreciated her frankness. And that she wore a jean jacket and kept whispering, "Wow, I can't believe they expect us to do all this!"

Of course, I could explain to her about my dental work, and she was appropriately sympathetic. But when it was time to go around the circle and introduce ourselves (like anyone was going to remember that the woman with the Chanel sandals and the really great highlights is the mother of third grader Josh and first grader Stasia and is a room parent for Mrs. J's class), I resisted the temptation to say, "I don't always look like this." It was too pathetic. I just let them stare.

The meeting was run at a good clip by Mrs. B., one of the richest women in town, who is irritatingly nice and down to earth. Her kids are polite, her husband is friendly. Not to mention she has the best sandals of all. Really, it's too much to bear. At the end, as I was filing out behind all the other room parents, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Thanks so much for coming!" When I turned the right side of my face to her, the chipmunk side, the temporary freak of nature side, she didn't even flinch.

Today my face is still swollen, but not quite so badly. I have several public appearances to make (pick up Will from school, meet with Jack's teacher after school on room parent business, take Jack to tae kwon do), and am trying to get in a spiritual frame of mind about it. Millions of people walk around every day of their lives without looking the least bit cute. If they can do it, so can I. And the next time I see someone who looks like the Elephant Man on a bad day, I will not flinch. I will put my hand on their shoulder and smile and say, Thanks for being here.