Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Report

As I write this, there is a sleepover going on in my home. It's only 7:40 p.m., so no sleeping is taking place, nor will there be any sleep for, oh, another 12 hours or so. No, scratch that. I will be sleeping. The Man, who gave the thumbs up to this gathering, will be supervising the activities from 10 p.m. on. If I'd had my way, there would be no sleepover. There would never be any sleepovers. But I so rarely have my way.

So far mostly it has been noisy, but no fisticuffs have broken out, so that's good news. Is Caleb (see last post) one of the kids? Yes, he is. How's he doing? Okay. He's a delightful kid in a lot of ways, but you can see him getting overeager for attention, and you can see how his eagerness could lead him into the abyss of boorish and downright antisocial behavior.

My strategy so far is to be loving and affectionate toward him. You're welcome here, is the vibe I'm trying to give out. No need to flush the dog down the toilet in an effort to be acknowledged.


I had a mammogram yesterday. There is something so outlandish about having a stranger pulling and pushing your breasts around in order to take a picture of them. It has the feel of a seedy photo shoot. "Just lean a little closer in, dear, good, now put your arm there, no, there, yes, that's right, now hold it right there, don't move, don't breathe, that's perfect!" And then the photographer manipulates the machine in a way that brings tears to your eyes and you don't dare look down for fear of what you might see. Gives new meaning to "flat as a pancake," is all I'm saying.


So remember back in March, when I participated in a yarn swap and was matched up with someone in Israel? Well, my package made it to Israel, but my partner's package never made it here. She is very concerned and wants to send another one. But that seems sort of wasteful to me. I mean, it was only a $10 swap, and, really, I don't care all that much.

Anyway, this is what always happens to me. When I was in 9th grade, we had a teacher new to the school, a young guy named Mr. Mott, who was quite cool and groovy and told us if you read a Bible printed a hundred years ago, it would be completely different from the Bibles printed in 1978, which is how you knew the Bible wasn't true. Anyway, he decided to set up a pen pal deal between his students back at his old school and us, his freshman English students. He had someone extra special for me, he promised, a boy who was a good writer, just like me, and who was super cool and funny. We were the perfect pen pal match.

Of course, I spent hours composing a perfect letter to this boy, a funny, clever letter, a charming, cool letter. I mailed it off and waited for what I was sure would be his equally funny, clever, charming and cool reply.

And of course, it never came.

Pen pal letters, swap packages, the Donny Osmond's Very Personal Scrapbook I found advertised in back of Tiger Beat when I was in third grade and sent away for (I gave my mom the money and she wrote a check--it was never cashed). Why do I even get involved in these ventures when they only serve to break my heart?


The Man is sitting across the room from me, at a loss as to what to do. You can tell he's regretting his decision. We are prisoners in our own home, he's thinking. How soon can we get these kids to sleep?

No one ever listens to me. Never, ever, ever.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lolling About in the Nebulous Unknown

I have decided I would prefer a life without problems.

Or: if I must have problems, I would like those problems to be along the lines of "Oh dear, we've got cut worms on the broccoli; whatever shall we do?"

Actually, I don't mind big problems, problems that call for a stiff upper lip, elbow grease and a can-do spirit. Garage falls down in a wind storm? We'll build ourselves a new one, by golly! No money for food? I'll take on a second job sewing the buttons back on businessmen's shirts. We will survive!

It's the nebulous problems that totally stress me out. Problems that have no solutions. Problems that may not even be problems. Or aren't problems now, but might become problems later.

And problems that concern my children drive me absolutely nuts.

So Jack has this friend named (let's pretend) Caleb. They've been friends for awhile, not close, not play-date friends, but hang out during recess friends. Caleb is bright and funny and a bit of a trouble maker. At least that's been my take on him. He's clearly a high energy kid, and I know he's had problems with other kids, being too physical with them. He's a big guy. But I don't get a bad vibe from him at all.

Other moms have other opinions, it turns out. One mom, who I don't know that well, but whose son is one of Jack's best friends at school, essentially thinks Caleb is a psychopath. She claims he's told kids at school he hurts his cat for fun, that last year (third grade) he shaved his head because he wanted to be a goth. He apparently plowed down her son last year on the playground for no reason whatsoever while she and Caleb's mother were standing there watching. Caleb's mom didn't say anything.

My inclination is to worry this to death. We're coming up on middle school after all. Is Jack buddying up with a future Jeffrey Dahmer? Will he join Caleb in a life of crime? If it were even possible to separate Jack from this kid, would it be wise? Are there actual grounds for doing so? The mom who's been telling me this stuff has only one child; could she be overprotective and paranoid? Misinterpreting?

Should I trust that we've done a good job raising Jack, that he knows right from wrong, and ultimately will make wise choices when it comes to friends? I knew right from wrong growing up, and I still formed wildly inappropriate friendships whenever possible. They were so much more fun than the suitable girls.

Really, you could go crazy thinking about this stuff. Do we have a problem or not? Can you even define the problem discussed in this post? I'm not sure I can.

I'm beginning to think I'm an unfit mother and will not survive my children's adolescence. Stay tuned to find out!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Report

I'm working on a new book and having lots of fun with the mother in it. She gets notions--to bake all her own bread, sew her own clothes, buy all her stuff secondhand from now on ... Sound like anyone you know? It drives her daughter (who's the novel's main character) nuts, especially when the mom decides she's going to sew all the family's clothes from now on.

I get lots of notions. I can't decide if it's because I'm creative and imaginative, or if it's a sign of an unorganized, undisciplined mind.

Sometimes when I'm hit by a big idea, I imagine the experience is akin to what a manic-depressive goes through. Here's how it goes: I read an article in the paper about a family who's only eating local foods. What a great idea, I think! So green, so local farmer friendly, so tasty! I go to the library to see if I can find any books about eating locally, planting a kitchen garden, cooking seasonally. I go online to see if it's possible to buy flour locally--is there a mill around here some place? Are there any local groups supporting the locavore lifestyle?

I'm energized by this new idea. I organize my life around it. I look for the theological implications.

And then--always--I go one step too far.

Instead of just eating locally, I begin to think about doing everything locally. Is it possible to only buy locally made clothes? Can I buy throw pillows made by local artisans? Where can I find potting soil that's composed of entirely of locally dug dirt?

And pretty soon the energy rushes out of me like air out of a rapidly deflating balloon. My original notion, eating more locally produced food, was a good one, but I can't seem to stop with a small, simple plan. I always take my ideas to the point of exhaustion.

The great thing about being a writer is that all my notions are grist for the mill (but is it local grist, ground at a local mill?). Also, I get to write off all the books and magazines I buy in the middle of my manias. But it's always kind of sad when an idea that has energized me loses its appeal. It's like a boyfriend you used to be crazy about. You don't want the boy any more, but you miss the thrill of being in love.


Will's all set to go to a birthday party tomorrow. It's only the second one he's gone to this year. He's been invited to approximately 47, but we've been out of town for most of them, and a few we just bagged out of lack of interest on Will's part.

I want to say for the record that I am about done with birthday parties. Now that I've got the Easter Bunny off my plate, birthday parties are the next thing to go. Actually, I don't mind the parties Jack gets invited to--the kids are into sleepovers these days, so all I have to do is run Jack over to his friends' houses and throw his sleeping bag out of the car after him.

But Will's still getting invited to parties that take place in complicated venues--big inflatable jumping stuff! Fun Fake Gambling!--that are always at least thirty minutes away.

Tomorrow's party is actually in somebody's home (rarely done these days--they must have a huge house and hired help). When I RSVP'd yes, I didn't think it through clearly or I would have remembered that this particular house is 40 minutes away from our house. Think about it: there and back, there and back--my whole Saturday afternoon, shot! Plus, since the Man is away this weekend, there's the what to do with Jack problem.

I had a brainstorm last night, fortunately, and put out an e-mail to see if anyone wanted to carpool. The nicest mom in Will's class e-mailed back immediately; the relief in her e-mail was clear. Yes! Please! Let's carpool.

I feel like I've dodged a bullet. I've had several Saturdays in a row where I've been booked and haven't had a chance to do the fun Saturday afternoon stuff I love--sewing, gardening, taking long walks, napping.

You know what the real birthday party problem is? The inviting of every child in your child's class. When I was a kid, you got to invite maybe five of your friends. People understood that you couldn't invite everybody, and you understood that you wouldn't be invited to all the parties thrown by the kids in your class. It was cool. Some hurt feelings here and there, sure, but life's like that.

So maybe it's time for a moratorium to the Everybody's Invited Birthday Party. Be brave. Invite six. Who knows, maybe the parties would even feel a little bit special that way.

And, oh, yeah, let's dump the party favors, shall we? If I want more plastic in my life, I know where to get it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Bunny, R.I.P.

I came downstairs on Easter morning to find the boys hunting for eggs, Easter baskets in hands.

"How many did you hide, Mom?" Will asked. "We don't know if we found them all."

The Easter Bunny, it would appear, has become a thing of the past.

I guess we never pushed the magic rabbit aspect of Easter too hard; in fact, I'm not sure we ever made a big deal out of it to Will at all. We've always dyed eggs, and on Easter Eve, the Man and I fill plastic eggs with candy and hide them around the family room for the boys to find in the morning, but we've never rushed the children off to bed the night before Easter, exclaiming the imminent arrival of the Big Bunny. And now, perhaps as a result of our bunny laxity, the Easter Bunny no longer exists.


I'm not against pagan rituals by any means; I put up mistletoe at Christmas, carve a jack-o-lantern at Halloween. Yet, in spite of the fact that I welcome chocolate into my home on the flimsiest of premises, the Easter Bunny just strikes me as silly. Yes, the rabbit is a symbol of fertility, eggs are a symbol of fertility, it all connects with springtime and resurrection; I get it. But where do the jelly beans fit in? The Cadbury cream eggs? Why is a rabbit coming into my house? Who gave him the keys?

So I'm glad to see the old guy go. Now I don't have to wait until midnight to put out the baskets and the eggs, just in case one of the boys wanders downstairs for a glass of water.

I suppose one day I'll be sad when the kids give up all their childhood rituals and beliefs; when Santa finally falls by the wayside, when coming up with a Halloween costume is no longer a month-long project and trick-or-treating a butterflies-in-the-stomach affair. It will be a little bit sad when they don't beg for birthday parties (in vain, for the most part, as throwing parties for children is all I need of Hell) or wonder how much dough the tooth fairy will drop under their pillows.

But will I miss it? The holiday hoopla? The staying until 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve putting out presents? The frenzy of getting the pumpkin carved before it's time to don costumes? Oh, maybe a little.

But I won't miss the bunny. And if I see him in my garden eating my peas, he's toast.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Crosses to Bear (the Lite Version)

Well, Good Friday seems like a good time to think about crosses, doesn't it? I'm working on a theory that the best way to learn how to deal with our big crosses is to practice by dealing with our small crosses. Right now I'm practicing on Max.

Max is a young man in Our Fine Church, and Max is not his real name, in case you're wondering. He's married, with two young children. He is clearly bright, which I suspect he is well aware of, and likes to perform. He has a nice alto voice, rather soulful. In fact, he seems to think he's Aretha Franklin, or at least Aretha Franklin's back-up singer.

At Our Fine Church, we sing a mix of traditional hymns and contemporary praise songs. It doesn't matter which kind of song we're singing, however; Max does his thing in either case. It goes like this: first verse, the congregation (or church family, as we like to say) sings as one. Then the second verse begins. The emotion starts to build, and Max can no longer hold in the love he feels for God. He starts with a bit of echoing ("Yeah, t'was Grace that taught, yeah, my heart to fear, yeah" and by the third verse moves on to moaning ("Whoah, ohhh, many dangers, yeah, toils, whoa, snares, I said, snares, whoaaaa ") and by the chorus has begun caterwauling (which I can in no way duplicate).

Here's the funny thing. If he weren't a good singer, this would be charming. There is a woman in our congregation (church family) who sings so loudly and off-key, it's glorious. She just seems really happy to be hanging out with the church family (congregation) praising the Lord.

Max, on the other hand, has a strong, clear voice. His moanings and caterwaulings are on key and really quite good. But, uncharitable as it is to think, sometimes one wonders, "Is Max praising God or just showing off?"

And, the fact is, when Max starts wailing, I find myself more focused on Max than the words I'm singing. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone, as there are always folks glancing back at Max with a kind of perplexed expression on their faces.

I think Max may be a cross for many of us at Our Fine Church. I have found myself wanting to corner him after the service and say, "Max, chill out on the singing, man. You're showing off. You're taking the glory away from God and putting it on yourself." But I don't have that kind of chutzpah, and besides, I'm not sure it would be appropriate. I have no idea what's in Max's heart, after all.

Instead, I've decided that Max's singing is a good opportunity for me to practice charity. It's easy to find the humor in the situation, and it's not like I've never been a show-off or determined to let others know what a wonderfully talented individual I am. And, in fact, when I'm singing well in church, I'm sort of hoping the people around me notice. We all have an inner five-year-old screaming for attention. I suspect that when Max gets a little older, he may even feel a bit chagrined about his earlier performances. He's a man, so we can't depend on that sort of personal growth, but you never know.

Being charitable is something I need to practice, particularly in light of larger crosses I see looming on the horizon, crosses I'll be lugging across the years to come. Max, he's a twig. I pick him up, throw him over my shoulder. Now and then, I hum along.

Monday, April 6, 2009

It's the City Life for Me

I've been having a lot of fun lately reading books about homesteading and country living. For years, I've thought about moving back to the land. It's a notion that appeals to me greatly. And then recently I had an amazing revelation.

I don't want to live in the country.

Reading about homesteading and country living will really kill your homesteading and country living buzz, let me tell you. And if you check out homesteading and farm blogs, you realize just how much mud is involved in that sort of lifestyle. Way too much for Miss Clean Hands over here.

No, what finally occurred to me is that I want to live right where I am--with the addition of chickens. I don't need acres and acres. I need homegrown tomatoes--and chickens. Throw in a few potatoes and onions growing in my own backyard, and I'm all set. And maybe some corn, if I could get The Man to let me plough the frontyard.

Oh, yes, and strawberries.

Clearly, you don't have to live in the country to have a homemade life, which is my true interest. The questions I've been pondering recently include: Just how much food can we produce ourselves? How much of what we wear can we make? What makes sense in terms of time/

That last one's not an easy question to answer. For instance, you can buy socks cheap at Target. To knit socks takes a day or two of solid knitting and the yarn is expensive. And yet, the quality of homemade socks and the sheer pleasure of wearing them (and making them yourself) is worth the time and expense, in my opinion. I'd say the same is true for homemade pasta, which can also be bought cheaply at the store. But what about, say, homemade underwear? Is it really worth it to spend the time and the effort, when you know you're going to end up with sagging panties?

I've been reading a wonderful book called Made from Scratch: The Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich. In it she discusses raising chickens and beekeeping and sewing and baking bread. She tells you how you can make your own butter as well. You put cream in a clean Mason jar and leave it out overnight. The next day you put a cold marble in the jar, put the lid on, and start shaking, about one shake per minute. Do this for forty minutes or so and you'll have yourself a lump of butter that you can then put in a butter mold and chill.

Now, I have to say that on the face of it, I find this idea quite charming. Homemade butter! All you need is cream, a jar, and a marble!

And forty minutes of shaking time.

I'll spend two days knitting a pair of socks. I believe I'll continue shopping at the grocery store for my butter. (Having said that, I recommend Made from Scratch, which will inspire you in all sorts of ways, if not in terms of your homemade dairy production.)

One book I've got my eye on is The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. Clearly, I'll never use half the information in it (no composting toilets for me, thank you very much), but I like the idea that I could, if I wanted to. Browsing around its pages on Amazon (via the Search Inside tool), I found the following, which I think is appropos no matter where you live:

Helpful Habits [for getting done everything you need to get done]

1. Don't discuss the obvious.

2. Don't own a television.

3. Quit a job when you're losing efficiency.

4. Get more sleep.

5. Eat less salt and sugar and use less heat.

6. Keep a list of things to do and things to buy.

7. Then get somebody to do as many of those things as possible.

8. Don't drink coffee, tea, cola or alcohol; smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco or use illegal drugs.

9. Sing a lot.

10. Pray a lot.

My favorites are 6/7 and 9/10, but I think it's all pretty good advice.


English Tea Party Update: Mrs. B, who never updates her page on the Our Fine School web site, of course chose to post pictures of the tea party. Will is by far the most casually dressed, but there are several other boys who lack ties or tucked-in shirt tails. And in Will's picture, he's got his hands shoved in his pockets and has his head lowered but is still looking directly at the camera, and he's clearly the coolest kid at the tea party. So all's well that ends.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

It's Another Ordinary Day at Our Fine School ...

... which means there's another Very Special Event. At Our Fine School, every day is a special day. Today in Will's class, it's English Tea Party day. They've been studying England for a month now, and today is where it all culminates in a feast of strawberries and clotted cream. Pity the child dressed in white.

The children dress up for their English Tea Party. Well, some of them do. I laid out a very nice button-up shirt and khakis for Will last night. This morning he came down wearing the khakis ... and a striped rugby shirt. It has a collar, which apparently Mrs. B said was the main criteria. "Kids don't have to dress up!" her e-mail said, so when Will came downstairs looking casual but observing the letter of the law, I let it go, knowing full well that today the kindergarten hallways would be filled with mini-Ralph Laurens.

Of course, the minute we pulled up in the drop-off lane at school this morning, I regretted my decision. Tiny Cinderellas in poofy pink crinolines with diamond tiaras on their heads were tripping out of minivans; little boys dressed as though off for their Oxford tutorial gallantly exited SUVs. Will, on the other hand, looked as though he were headed to the corner bar for a beer.

I know he won't care when he gets to his classroom and is surrounded by the future members of the Harvard Law Review in their navy jackets and red ties. So why do I care? I don't know. I guess I worry Mrs. B will take one look at Will and consider calling social services. He's a neglected child! His mom didn't make him wear a tie to the tea party.

Listen, I barely made my husband wear a tie to our wedding. But that being the case, I still often regret my lack of effort at times. I have arrived underdressed to more than one dress-up occasion. I have too often treated lightly things that should have been approached with dignity and respect.

I guess the question is, does the Kindergarten English Tea Party count as such an occasion? Should I have wrestled Will into a button-down shirt and a tie?

I don't know. I've got a life to live, man. And a lot of that life is dedicated to the health, well-being and happiness of my children. I just wish a little less were devoted to costuming them.