Wednesday, November 15, 2017

This is normal, right?

Some conversations we have had at my house today.

1. (As we were getting out of the car at church for children's choir, me)

This was the tail end of a light discussion I was having with the children during the drive about the relative merits of communism, socialism, democratic socialism, and democratic republicanism, and the spectrum on which these ideas all exist.  Because my life is just one long qualifying exam.

" you see, the debate over healthcare is about whether everyone deserves healthcare.  Some people think healthcare is like a Ferrari, you should only get one if you work hard and get a good job to pay for it yourself.  A Ferrari is an example of a privilege.  But you can choose whether to buy a Ferrari or not.  You can't choose whether you need antibiotics when you get strep throat.  That makes it seem like a right.  And the debate is mostly about whether healthcare is a right or a privilege."

2. (Getting ready for bed, Ryan)

"---No, Buddy, you cannot put your tooth into Charley's Have-A-Heart trap in your room tonight.  If you trap the Tooth Fairy think of all the other kids who have lost teeth today who won't get their dollar!"*

*The reason James has a tooth for the Tooth Fairy is because Charley helped along one of the particularly loose ones WITH A PAIR OF RUSTY PLIERS when the nanny went inside for a glass of water.

3. (Reading stories)

"Stop licking your armpit.  Stop.  Just stop it.  Because it's gross.  I said knock it off."

4. (In the car on the way home from choir.  Wes has been bickering with Mary for five miles over a blue playground ball he wants to hold)

"Mary and Wes!  Stop bickering over that ball!  There is no reason to fight over balls!  We have plenty of balls!!"

[hysterical laughter from the wayback.  Wes snorts with anger]

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Meditation on Suburbia

This morning Ryan went outside to get Mary's lunchbox from the car (she cannot remember to bring it inside no matter what. Also this one contained an entire uneaten "turkeydinner sandwich") and when he opened the door the neighbor kids who were shooting baskets in our driveway froze like deer in the headlights. He laughed and told them to keep having fun. Then he came back in and continued packing Mary's lunch.

Shortly after that we heard a commotion and Wes came thundering down the stairs, crashed through the kitchen (our house has lots of hard surfaces and everything sounds extra loud) and into the garage. He emerged seconds later holding several playground balls under his arms then wordlessly ran out the front door.

Wes does not miss an opportunity for some spontaneous neighborhood funtime.

Also his room overlooks the driveway.  So you know he was up there listening to the thump-thump-thump.

Apparently he got over his pique that I had asked him to change into some uniform-approved white socks (and take off the yellow soccer socks he had pulled up to his thighs) and decided a few minutes of basketball would be more fun than continuing to sulk in his room (after spending the first half hour of the day angrily eating a piece of cinnamon toast sitting on the rug in front of the sink.  He sure showed me).

 The other kids ran out of the house after him and soon I was drinking my coffee in the front yard, in my jammies, watching a pack of kids play a chaotic game of pick up basketball.

Our other neighbor, who has a one year old, walked out of her house dressed for work to find six children chasing playground balls all over the street. Mary politely waved and said "Good morning!"

And then Ryan came out of the house, briefcase slung over his shoulder, coffee in hand, and exclaimed "Time to go to school!" and everyone noisily climbed into the car.  They buckled in and closed the door just as the last straggler from the house scurried across the yard and jumped inside.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Happily Mundane

Sometime on Saturday, after a day spent going to church holiday craft fairs with Mary and my sister and my niece, I realized that it was the anniversary of mine and Ryan's first date. THE NINETEENTH anniversary to be exact. Which came as a bit of a surprise because despite all evidence to the contrary I still feel like I just tumbled out of grad school into a reasonably adult suburban existence.

The fact that I realized this in the middle of a wild Saturday night spent finally tackling the box of odd socks that has been accumulating in my utility room while drinking beer and binge watching The West Wing was very apropos for where we are in life right now.

I snapped this picture to commemorate the occasion.

Nineteenth anniversary, WOOO HOOOO! Ryan is alive here, believe it or not. And six people have a lot of socks.

It was a beautifully mundane weekend, actually.

Charley finally had a chance to take apart the Barbie power wheel he liberated from my sister's neighbor's trash while I was distracted watching Mary fling herself into the pool over and over again. He and the neighbor kid are turning it into a go cart.


James and Mary raked up the world's most pitiful leaf pile to jump in. I guess this is a "downside" to having live oaks?

Bless it's puny little leaf pile heart.

Things got more exciting in the afternoon after I drove approximately fifty miles away for a Craigslist trail-a-bike for Mary. We've been wanting one for years and now that Charley is riding a man's bike and James and Wes can both go far and fast, we really needed one, instead of continuing to take turns taking the boys out (Mary is too big for the seat and the trailer, but too young to ride her tiny pink be-training wheeled bike very far on the trail). It took some creative hammering and WD40, but Ryan got it attached to his bike and it was an INSTANT HIT.


Watching her pedal that giant thing is ADORABLE. She is amazing and brave. She did not want to get off. So we took a big bike ride to a park a couple of miles away (neighborhood friend was very disappointed to stay home but we saw him out with his dad on the way back).


We played for a bit until it started to get dark and then rode home.

It was a TRIUMPH.

When we got home the kids watched a PBS documentary about airplanes they've been following while we made breakfast tacos for dinner. They ate EIGHTEEN EGGS, a pound each of cheese and sausage, like fifteen tortillas, and an entire pumpkin pie and then fell asleep for the night at 7:30.

Dinner was calm and happy (because the kids were calm and happy). It had been going downhill fast all week, probably because we had a string of overcommitted Scout/school program weekends and a bunch of busy afternoons and none of us had had the chance to Just Be. An entire Saturday of freetime was just what we all needed.

And then Sunday Charley acolyted at the traditional service, which meant he had to wear a robe (GOT TO wear a robe, he would say).


He and I went to breakfast and then met up with Ryan and the other kids back at church. I played hooky and saw a movie with a friend, then went grocery shopping and headed home to cook all afternoon while kids did homework and played and practiced piano. Finally I turned on the TV and then Mary sacked out on a chair at 3:45.


It was a good weekend.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Halloween and a birthday last week!

I asked for colder Halloween weather and BOY HOWDY DID TEXAS DELIVER. It was about fifty degrees when we set out for ToT, but at least it had stopped RAINING. I made veggie chili (homemade, only because I can slap it together with my eyes closed) and apple cobbler (from frozen) because this is how I mesh my Pinterest vision of how holidays should look with the realities of working until 4:30 in the afternoon and having to stop at the store for zombie makeup. No one was really interested in dinner anyway once the doorbell started ringing, so we slapped on their costumes and ran out. Charley was a centaur. This might be my favorite costume request of all time.



(Other than this one of course, which was taken just a few days before Charley was born. We were Brittany and K-Fed. It was very topical in 2006)

Brittany and K-Fed.  The winners!

We also had Elsa and a zombie doctor. They were out of zombie makeup kits at the store so James is wearing a Wet n'Wild shade called "Goth" on his lips and some black eyeshadow around his eyes. I used an eyeliner to draw scars, also came in handy for drawing a six pack on the centaur. I was quite proud of my handiwork given I haven't worn makeup since the first Obama administration, and only occasionally even then.


And Wes wore a size 5 racecar driver costume and his roller blades. He looked amazing.


Despite all of us being dressed for much warmer conditions, we stayed out for nearly two hours and hit every house in our corner of the neighborhood. It was a subdued affair, given some of our recent past Halloweens, after which we woke up to find mysterious upholstered furniture on our lawn and a car full of juice boxes and hot dogs, but I blame the weather and the fact that it was a Tuesday night. It started to rain right at the crack of 8:30, which meant no annoying kids ringing our doorbell while I nursed an ice cold Pumpkinhead in front of the fire while watching Call the Midwife. Perfect evening.


It was eighty-five the day after Halloween. Sigh.

Other exciting things that happened this week was Charley's birthday!!

Before we get to all the pearl clutching about the fact that I have AN ELEVEN YEAR OLD, behold the cake that sent my entire day into freefall. We're talking ACTUAL TEARS.

Stupid cake looks stupid. Looked much improved after I dumped a ton of half and half into the mixer and thinned out the remaining frosting, which somehow made enough to make it look sort of respectable.

LATER, I forgot to buy broccoli for the broccoli-cheddar turnovers I wanted to make him and I refused to pay ten bucks for a thing of puff pastry at Sprouts and instead bought some refrigerated pie crust, which turned out to be incredibly hard to work with.

But maybe what I was really freaking out about was that Charley. Is. ELEVEN.


He is so tall that Mary thinks he's an adult.


He is smart and clever and SO WITTY. It is sometimes hard not to laugh at some of the biting 35 year old sarcasm that comes out of his mouth. Sometimes I don't even try not to laugh, honestly.

He's been riding the same bike (which was Ryan's childhood bike) for several years, so it was time for an upgrade.


We also gave him the next Heroes of Olympus book and a tea mug he adores that makes it look like the string of your teabag is Benjamin Franklin's kite. He is such a quirky lovebug.

This weekend was Charley's first campout with the Boy Scouts, who in contrast to Cub Scouts, set up their own tents, cook their own food, chop their own firewood, and start their own fires. This is a happy man-child.


Who is eleven. In other news, our porch still looks this janky.


And the kids made a Dio Des Los Muertos Offreta for our dog, Rossby, in my living room. I love them.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

When all the fall things feel like fall

It's been a bit quiet around here as I have been dividing my time between wading through a hundred years of precipitation data for the entire state of Texas, teaching my classes, half-assing dinner, and turning two pairs of ladies' workout pants and an ancient Banana Republic tshirt into Charley's Halloween costume. Let me tell you, you have not lived until you have shoved fourteen pounds of cotton-spandex blend, a large chicken wire cage, and an entire bag of cotton batting into a nineteen seventies sewing machine.

My evening.

The big reveal will be tomorrow except for the few people I have already texted pictures to because IT CAME OUT SO GOOD YOU GUYS I CAN'T STAND IT.

(We went to trick or treat in the dorms at my school last night. Each hall decorates with a theme and passes out candy to all the faculty kids. It is adorable on all sides. There was one hall they described as "pretty spooky" that all my kids ran towards with great enthusiasm. We were still in the VESTIBULE when a girl covered in blood crawled across the floor screaming "HELP ME!!" and another girl with a dog ran down the hall just SCREAMING when James, Charley, and Wes were all OUT OF THERE. Our guide told us that we could get more candy if we went down the hall, past the girl, but the kids were like "No thanks. All set!" and scurried back out to the stairwell. We went upstairs to the Scooby Doo themed hall, which was a much better fit. On the way back down the stairs the door to the scary hall popped open and the bloody girl was lying on the floor still yelling for help. The boys ran down the stairs but Mary started walking back inside like "Sure! What do you need?")

This weekend the boys all went camping (overnight low: 32 degrees F) and I rowed in the Pumpkinhead.



Just as exhausting as I remember, but so so fun. The course was a 4K this year, which was one K shorter than last year. I think that one kilometer was important because I really only thought I was going to die near the end.


We somehow got put into a bracket with a bunch of college women crews, but we came in tenth out of eleven boats, ahead of one college team! This seems highly improbable, but feels like an accomplishment nonetheless.

Mary and I had some friends over Friday night for pumpkin painting, brownie eating, and Halloween movies.


I love it when they crash into the house from playing outside and then sit down for dinner still wearing their helmets.

Come as you are!

Remember this time last year when I visited Miss N and Miss M in New York and on the way home lost a favorite jacket at the Baltimore airport? I've been on the hunt ever since--bought two jackets I liked but were not the same (each under twenty bucks on eBay, this is not an expensive quest). But I thought I would try just one more time and I WAS REWARDED. I couldn't believe my eyes when I opened the package last night. It is EXACTLY THE SAME.

What did we do before the internet? Also, it is possible that my searches were unsuccessful because I was searching for a gray jacket and this one was listed as brown. It totally looks gray to me, but in certain lights I see it as brown. Perhaps it is like that dress that was going around the internet for a while?

In other news, I can't believe it took this long for *this* to happen.


And now you are all caught up. HALLOWEEN IS TONIGHT. And YOU GUYS. You know how I complain every year about trick or treating in shirtsleeves and making pronouncements about how when I was a kid you came home from trick or treat with NUMB TOES and SNOT RUNNING DOWN YOUR CHIN (relevant information, many of my childhood memories are from upstate New York, so it is perhaps unfair to impose the same set of climatological expectations on Texas, but you like what you like). Imagine my excitement when I learned that tonight the forecast is for UPPER FORTIES AND DRIZZLE. BOOM. HALLOWEEN. I CAN'T WAIT. All I have to do is get through a meeting, two classes, and what promises to be an absolutely hellacious trip to the grocery store. MAMA'S GONNA MAKE CHILI.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Hashtag Boymom

I had a conversation with a friend last night over Facebook Messenger. Her son is one of Charley's good friends and this conversation was just the one I needed to have after a tough afternoon with a sulky child who seems to be surprised every time I point out that age 10 is very much still part of childhood and that that means I still get to say "no" to things sometimes.

Me: Tonight I mentioned something about a fifteen passenger van to Ryan and Charley piped up, "Fifteen! That's how many kids Anne Hutchison had before Indians killed six of them!!" I can't stop laughing. #casualdinnertalk

Her: D keeps bringing home grubs. He's trying to breed beetles.

Me: Boys, man. Charley got really pissy because I wouldn't let him roast carrots over an open flame in a pot he made from a beer can. It looked like he was cooking meth in the driveway when I came home from work. When I shut it down he threw a lawn chair, wrestled a playground ball away from Wes, and threw it high up in a tree, where it got stuck.

Her: I caught D last week roasting marshmallows over a stove. Just holding the marshmallow... no stick. Just his fingers. Drawer full of skewers right next to him.

Me: Oh gosh. C once started a fire in our microwave because he was trying to microwave a pine cone. Someone told us that if you put microwaves in the oven it makes the house smell nice, but he knows he can't use the oven so...

Me, a moment later: I often wonder how evolution explains adolescent boys.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Midwest always makes me so wistful

Just back from a fabulous girs' weekend in a gorgeous college town in Minnesota where I was attending a workshop on teaching Matlab in the sciences (pushes glasses up nose with index finger).

It seems that every time I visit the midwest I fantasize about buying a ramshackle old house in town and filling it with be-sweatered children and possibly a golden retriever.  I imagine myself sipping a steaming cup of coffee from an earthenware mug, looking out a window as Wes winds a hand knit scarf around an adorably lopsided snowman before gathering my cardigan around myself and returning to my sunny alcove to work on my Very Important Academic Job.

Nowhere in this scenario is a foyer filled with freezing water melting off a haphazard pile of boots and mittens.  Or scraping off a car (in my fantasy we don't even need a car).  Or a child who can't possibly remember to bring a pair of mittens home from school each day.  Or month after month of dark, cold winter and the fact that "salsa" in that part of the world is mass produced and comes in jars and they've never heard of breakfast tacos.

The mitten thing is particularly daunting because we can't get through a summer without someone punching someone else over the good pair of goggles.

But it was nice to live my little fantasy for a few days.  I visited one cozy restaurant called "The Tavern" three times in two days.  Same for a coffee shop I enjoyed.  Went there four times.  HOT APPLE CIDER you guys.  It was MAGIC.


Other things that were so beautiful I wanted to eat them? This town square,


And these trees,


And then I realized I had to stop taking pictures of trees because I looked kind of ridiculous. Not as ridiculous as when I walked to the post office and MAILED THE KIDS AN ENVELOPE OF LEAVES though. The woman working the desk couldn't stop laughing, in a good natured way.

Ryan, also a scientific computing nerd like me, stood in the kitchen in the MATLAB hat I brought him (that he treasures) and looked a bit disappointed when I described the trip in terms of HOT APPLE CIDER, COZY PUBS AND SCIENTIFIC DISCUSSION OVER BEERS, TREES THAT ARE RED AND YELLOW, THE CAMPUS IS BEAUTIFUL, I BOUGHT SOME YARN AND STARTED KNITTING A COWL, THERE WAS A FREAKING *RIVER*, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN?

Then I remembered myself and talked about Live Scripting and how you scaffold Matlab instruction and interesting places to get datasets and the kinds of work other professors are doing with their students.

And then I fell asleep and we woke up over an hour late to a glorious fall morning in the mid-forties.

ALSO ALSO in Minnesota I got to see my college roommate and dear friend, S!!!!!!!


We spent several hours filling each other in on the last more than ten-ish years of our lives since we tearfully hugged on the front porch of the house we shared when she moved to an apartment just before Ryan and I got married (Ryan joked that she could live with us after the wedding, but she politely declined). We laughed about how it felt like an ugly breakup and wondered how often it would be appropriate to call each other. We reminisced about "crap food night" when we would sit on the couch with a tube of cookie dough and a one-pound bag of M&Ms and watch girly movies together and the times we borrowed her mom's Mustang convertable and drove around the city drinking Route 44s and listening to rap music as loud as we could stand #self-care. She has lived abroad and completed a masters degree, I finished grad school. We have a combined SIX children. But it was somehow, magically, as if no time at all had passed.

I could have moved right in to Minnesota (like literally, I found my dream house and a church I could walk to, made peace with the fact that I'd have to grow my own cilantro in some kind of indoor greenhouse), but I sure missed these jokers.