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.


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

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And these trees,

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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!!!!!!!

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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.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

And yet they can never remember what they've done with their shoes

There is what appears to be a new doctor's office under construction along a road we often take to get home.  We don't know what it is going to be, but it has the look of a medical practice or something along those lines.  Twice in the last week we have passed by it (usually when I am alone with the kids in the car because Ryan doesn't have quite the same appreciation for potty talk as I do, or at least he quashes it in an effort to support what he likely perceives to be my thoughts on the subject) the kids have announced as we passed the new building "There's the P*ENIS DOCTOR!"

The first time it happened I kind of snickered and let them have their fun.  Until we were a couple of miles down the road and still every other word out of their mouth was P*ENIS.

Drawing on knowledge gained from nearly eleven years of parenting, several parenting classes, and a variety of books on the subject, I said calmly and firmly "OK, everyone.  When I count to three you are all going to yell P*ENIS one last time and then I don't want to hear it again for the rest of the day."

I counted to three and you can imagine that all hell broke loose.  Mary was the loudest of them all.  But we were all happy and laughing when we got home.

Today we passed the same building.  I was, again, by myself with the kids.  Like clockwork, they started shrieking with laughter about the "p*enis doctor" as soon as we rounded the corner.

Trying not to giggle I asked the kids why on EARTH they thought that the new building was going to be a p*enis doctor.  "I don't even think that's a real thing!" I exclaimed (slash lied).

They dissolved into fits.  "YOU told us it is going to be a p*enis doctor!!"  It was more than they could bear.  James developed hiccups so violent I thought he might dry heave.

I expressed confusion and surprise.

And THEN, ALL OF THEM said in a mocking falsetto voice, TURNING MY OWN WORDS AGAINST ME "Oh, great, another doctor's office.  I swear, the only thing they will ever build on this road is banks, car washes, and p*enis doctors!  At least [adjacent neighborhood] gets a freaking McDonalds!"

James, completely missing the point, "And MOM, you don't even LIKE McDonalds!"

I think I remember that conversation now.  It was one of those, what we like to call, *front seat* conversations that NO MATTER WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON, they manage to hear and commit to memory with STARTLING ACCURACY.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fall break!

It is Fall Break this week, and it's strange because I have spent the first decade or so of parenting dreading school breaks because the disruption in routine used to turn the kids into total monsters. But this is a new bizarro parenting world in which I *look forward* to school breaks because DID YOU KNOW CHARLEY'S ONLY GOING TO BE MY WITTLE BOY FOR ANOTHER SEVEN YEARS??

Monday we sister wived it up starting around lunchtime when two of my friends brought their kids over and we made peanut butter and jellies and baked cookies and took turns running various errands while the kids totally destroyed my front yard/the entire culdesac.

How wholesome is THIS?

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And then yesterday was the day we had decided to take them to the bouldering gym, one of our favorite holiday break family outings. After checking in and getting our shoes (why do kids drop straight to the floor to put their shoes on directly in front of the counter instead of taking them to a bench? Cracks me up every time).

They started out in the little kids' room.

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Then moved on to the medium kids' room.

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And then everyone got hungry, so we ate our picnic in about five minutes then got back to climbing. They started to run out of gas after an hour in the big kids' room.

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We weren't supposed to go to the adult side because you have to have only two kids for every one adult, but they were really dying to try some of the harder routes, so I had them take turns going on the two routes that were right next to the kid section while the other two kids waited with me. We were hedging the rules like this when one of Charley's teachers walked up! After a few pleasantries I explained what we were doing and he offered to take the kids into the adult room with me and then spent an HOUR showing the kids around and teaching them things.

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Such a nice guy. And a great climber. We love our school.

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I gave Wes my camera to hold while I climbed up on top of one of the boulder top outs and he took a whole series of pictures and videos that SERIOUSLY tested my commitment to having the mom in front of the camera. I mean. I was already feeling QUITE self-conscious climbing in front of the super cool teacher guy, no matter how much I reminded myself that I was already pretty cool for taking the kids to a hipster bouldering gym on the east side in the first place. I really wanted to do some more climbing before we left, especially since I was finally allowed to be in the big people climbing room, so I went for it.

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Naturally I couldn't find the foot holds on the way down and had to dangle there like a helpless whale for a while before I figured out. So glad that was captured on film.


I'm so glad I did, because a few minutes later the teacher took them to this really hard purple route and after giving Charley some advice and encouragement, Charley DID IT and got all the way to the top. It was amazing. I was inspired, so I tried the same route and DANG IT WAS HARD. I was halfway up when I remembered the sign I'd seen on the way in that said "Floor mats will not protect you from serious injury and death." I was about to climb back down, but Charley was at the top encouraging me and I had some weird need to prove myself, so I gave it another try and made it. At the top Charley said to me "I was going to give up and get really mad and wreck everyone's day, but instead I tried again and I MADE IT."

After we left the kids talked me into going to this hipster Japanese-themed café nearby that we like (which was not very hard because it's one of my favorite places).

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And this is the scene I returned to after running inside to pick Mary up.

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Mission accomplished!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

You will never want to eat with us again

Saturday afternoon we were all sitting around a picnic table eating ice cream following an afternoon hike, when Wes reached over with his fingers and dug a mouthful of Mexican Vanilla with rainbow sprinkles out of my bowl.

I am used to such indignities, but Ryan was horrified. "NO!" he exclaimed. "Wes, you can't do that to other people's food!!"

It was pretty gross, considering we'd just spent an afternoon in the woods.

Tonight, over a dinner of Frito Pie, it came up again. Wes said with genuine confusion "Why was it OK when Mom took a French fry off my plate at lunch today?" I said sheepishly "I replaced it when my food came out a minute later, right?" Ryan responded "Mom PAID for your fries!" (#dadmove) but because I am a good X-ennial afraid of screwing my kid up for life I added "If you would rather not share your fries with me, that is OK. I will ask next time." But then because I want them to understand the difference between stealing a French fry from a family member's plate and DIGGING YOUR FINGERS IN YOUR NEIGHBOR'S ICE CREAM (for instance), I initiated a little guessing game.

"OK guys. I will say a food and you tell me whether it's OK to take it off the plate of your best friend or a family member or if you should leave it alone. Say 'Yes' if you can take it and 'No' when you can't."

All of the kids perked up because they think games like this are hilarious.

"French fries?" I began.

"Yes," James and Wes answered in unison.

"Half a sandwich?"

Wes said no, James wanted to know what kind of sandwich, and Charley wanted to know if it was alright to ask whether the other person was finished.

I gave them one I thought would be easy. "Broccoli."

Wes was an emphatic no and James cocked his head to one side like a Jack Russell Terrier then stared into the middle distance for several moments.

"Potato chips" got a yes from everyone and I thought we were getting somewhere, but then they also said yes to "Macaroni and cheese".

"Fork foods are ALWAYS a no, you guys!" I mumbled into my hands, which were pressed tightly against my face.

"Wes, what if you and Tommy [one of his best friends] each had a cupcake on your plate. He had chocolate and you had vanilla. And there were no more cupcakes available..."

He began making a cupcake-switching motion with his hands before I even finished speaking.

He laughed hysterically as I asked him how that would make his friend feel.

I thought we were done but James wanted to keep going. According to my children, you don't steal someone's carrot sticks, lettuce, or tomato soup, but chicken nuggets, garlic bread, and cantaloupe are all fair game. I tried to steer the conversation towards a sensible set of boundaries along the lines of "Occasionally, if it is a close friend or your family, it is OK to sneak one French fry or potato chip or similar item off someone's plate." but I think what they left the table with was "If you want it, grab it."

Maybe I'm the crazy one, though. In a house where they eat everything down to the Teflon on my institutional-size skillet and where they sit around staring at each other's plates like hyenas waiting for the lions to leave their zebra carcass unattended, stealing food is an evolutionarily favored skill.

They drank a gallon of milk in two hours today, you guys.

But we have some work to do before they start going on job interview dinners. Or dates.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Sleepy and it shows

I am typing this on my phone you guys because my computer is upstairs. And as my friend Andrea says, I am complete balls at typing on my phone so there is a high probability this will make no sense.

Also there is some kind of bug flying around the living room and occasionally landing on my arm. Or possibly I am hallucinating.  I did whack my head pretty soundly on a cabinet mounted above the toilet in the ladies' room at Trader Joe's earlier today.

Last night I went to Together Live with my progressive church ladies and it was everything I had hoped for and more. Gosh I love smart, funny women. Both the ones on stage and the ones in the seats around me. I am so lucky. I have been reliving parts of it in my mind today. It feels cheesy to say, but it really was inspiring to spend three hours listening to these stories about strong, successful women. So good.  I have been thinking in particular about one story where a woman talked about all the times she failed and kept going.  Hundreds and hundreds of times.  She finished with a slide show of photos taken on these crazy adventures she went on that she had been terrified to do alone.  I discovered a big mistake in one of my projects this morning and while that would usually send me into a fit of histrionics (usually via FB Messenger to some poor unsuspecting friend who's at the grocery store just trying to buy some bread without a lot of existential angst), I--just kept working on it!  Fascinating.

We threw caution to the wind and went out for food after it was over and I didn't go to sleep until one o'clock in the morning. And I had an 8:30 am meeting back downtown today (I left my house at 6:30 to avoid traffic). That was not enough rest.

The fact that I got about four hours of sleep led to some questionable decision making, like going on a Trader Joe's bender on my way back to my office in which I bought approximately seventy dollars of PERISHABLE food.  Since I hadn't planned on going home for another few hours, this was an obvious problem.  OK, I thought, I will just go get Mary, go home, and then I can work upstairs for a couple more hours before the nanny needs to leave.

But on the way, I got a text from Ryan that said the appointment he was taking Charley to was starting NINETY MINUTES late.  I offered to come take over, but the appointment was over long before I could have gotten there.  I went and picked Mary up and went home.  When I got home EVERY non-school adult responsible for the children's care was at my house.  Ryan, me, our wonderful tutor, our awesome nanny.  All in my kitchen.  It was like the monthly meeting of the children's committee.  It would have been a good opportunity to strategize, if I wasn't so deliriously tired.  To wit: I put the frozen peppers and potatoes mix from TJ's into my freezer, then a few minutes later opened the freezer to put something else in, and thought "Oh look!  I already had some frozen peppers and potatoes mix!"

So then I went upstairs to continue my work from the morning only to fall asleep with my head down on my desk so soundly that I could not feel one of my arms when I woke up in a puddle of drool fifteen minutes later.

And despite the fact that I'd bought enough convenience food to keep us in dinners for several nights, I still ended up taking the kids to P. Terry's for burgers on the way to children's choir because I couldn't relax enough even to microwave some bean and cheese taquitos.  Probably because Charley and his buddy from next door were using a rope to tow each other behind a bike on a skateboard and it was like a wreck I just couldn't look away from. 

They ate on the church playground because then it is a fun activity rather than a copout and also so they don't destroy my car.
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Two final things related to pictures that refuse to upload. One is that I moved a tea kettle that my mom unpacked and I haven't used since we moved in. There was a BULLET behind it in the cabinet. I can promise you that I have never in my life owned or eve TOUCHED a bullet, so it was odd to find one in my KITCHEN CABINET. I will have to call a less squeamish friend to come remove it. Probably someone who grew up in this state. For now I will continue to live with a bullet in my kitchen. And finally, I have decided that even though I live in Texas, it is OCTOBER and it is time to start wearing tights. YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST, MY FRIENDS. RCP 4.5 ISN'T GOING TO DETERMINE MY FASHION CHOICES.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

It was a weekend of fire

Wes turned NINE on Thursday.

I'll say it again because I don't believe it either. NINE.

Wes is a GREAT kid. He loves his friends and his brothers. He loves shepherding smaller kids around. He is enviably at ease in social situations. He adores watching TV and Legos and rollerblades. He is kind and sensitive and still cries sometimes when he thinks about our dog, who died two years ago. I heard through the grapevine that he caught a cockroach in his classroom while the rest of the class ran screaming in the other direction. I asked him about it and he calmly explained that there was a roach in the homework journal basket and that he had dumped it out onto the floor to get the roach. The roach crawled under a book, so he moved the book, it crawled under another book, so he moved that one. Then he picked it up and played with it for a minute before taking it outside. He adores graphic novels and stays up way too late reading. He is approximately seven feet tall but still crawls into my lap sometimes. He has a fiery temper and tonight hulked his mattress off his bed onto the floor because we scolded him for jumping off the windowsill in the family room and almost ripping the curtainrod off the wall. OMG.

He still wanted his digger cake, though. Tradition is tradition. I'll make him a digger cake when he's forty if he wants.

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Charley figured out you could make an eight inch long flame by sticking all nine candles right next to each other. Being an adolescent boy must be amazing.

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We brought a couple extra kids home with us on Friday after school and had a few more kids over later on for pizza and brownies. There were eleven kids in my house. They had such a good time trashing the upstairs together.

Today was Charley's first Sunday as acolyte. He has been looking forward to this forever, so I was pretty excited for him. He was terrified, but he was partnered with my friend's daughter, who he's been friends with since they were in the nursery together. They did SUCH a good job. He said the hardest part was holding the offering plate up in the air while we all sang the doxology. I was so nervous for them every time they had to walk up and down the stairs. But they did great! I've said it once and I'll say in again, watching kids do people things like this is SO COOL.

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Thanks to Miss N's mom, our friend M, for taking this awesome picture. It helps to have friends in high places. Like the stage.

Mary asked to go to the bathroom during church, so Wes walked her out there and when they came back, they came back with THE OTHER UH OH.

Recall that we lost the second of two Uh Oh's at church in June and Mary wanted to BURN IT DOWN. Ryan and I canvassed the whole upstairs on hands and knees with flashlights one night trying to find the FIRST Uh Oh that went missing several months before. I swore it was in the house somewhere, but we never came across it. Then our friend who works at church, did an exhaustive search of his own and found the NEW UH OH, Ryan went to get it, Mary started sleeping again, and we figured we had lost the first Uh Oh for good.

This is tedious and confusing.

My point is that today Wes found the First Uh Oh sitting on a shelf of toys in the cry room. There is no way it was there when our friend was searching for the other one. I think it took a little vacation at someone else's house. SO WEIRD. Mary came home and immediately took a three hour couch nap with the "good" Uh oh while the other one stayed in my purse.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hail Holy Queen

I feel amazing today and while I think it's mostly because the whole family accidentally slept until almost seven this morning (they have to be at school at 7:30, yikes), meaning I got almost a extra hour of sleep, it's also because my highly anticipated Amazon purchase arrived yesterday evening. In addition to the new fridge door bins I was eagerly anticipating, I had also ordered the soundtrack to Sister Act, the 1992 blockbuster in which Whoopie Goldberg plays a Las Vegas lounge singer who gets placed into an inner city* convent as part of the witness protection program.

*This was pre-Friends 90s when cities were still crumbling and dangerous and filled with crack instead of young professionals who hang out in cozy coffee shops after their enviable jobs at fashion companies.

After some adjustment, Whoopie Goldberg's character is assigned the job of conducting the choir. My absolute favorite part of the movie is when, in her debut as director during mass, she leads the choir in the song "Hail Holy Queen." She starts them off singing it in the traditional way and then the choir, composed mostly of elderly nuns, breaks into a rousing Gospel-style version. The nuns in charge, led by Professor McGonnegal, do not approve but are ultimately over-ridden by the priest in charge of the parish.

It's not just the music that I love, though I *LOVE* the music. It's the part when some community members (dressed in leather jackets and non-traditional hairstyles, ooohhhh scary) hear the music and come in to the back of the church to see what is going on. The priest smiles at them from his pulpit and motions for them to come in. Later in the movie, the nuns, led by Whoopie Goldberg, go out into the community and start fixing things up. They plant a garden, they play with local kids, they paint over graffiti in their habits. At the end of the movie, the camera pans around from the choir to the congregation and we see that where only a handful of old people in suits and dresses were sitting before, the sanctuary is packed with people of all walks of life.

When I first saw the movie, I enjoyed the music and the funny story of a lounge singer who became a nun. I think I thought the rest of it was an interesting feel-good, but ultimately forgettable, part of the story (The movie came out when I was thirteen. We had just moved to Texas and I was in eighth grade. It's not a particularly reflective phase of life).

I see it differently now and I think that is why I was singing so loud I made myself hoarse as I drove into work this morning.

Now I see a church who dared to do things differently. Who let go of their stogy, comfortable, status quo and went out into the "dangerous" world. They met the people around them. They engaged. They met the needs of their neighbors. They HAD FUN. They presented the church as joyful and inclusive and welcomed everyone into their sanctuary.

I think what has been bringing me down for the last year since the election is that the church (the whole church, not my particular congregation) has been perceived as a bunch of fun-hating, difference-hating, cake-refusing, science-hating, insurance denying, sexually repressed, judging, insular body. I have been party to a couple of conversations in which people wonder why attendance at churches is so low. In one, I couldn't stand it anymore and blurted out "Because we [again, the whole church, not my particular congregation] look like a bunch of assholes to the rest of the country!"

This has been so, so hard. I love the church. It has always been a home for me (and my real home, both my home of origin and my current home, have been wonderful). I have felt nothing but support and warmth from the people I know there, and during the hard time we went through with Charley several years ago, it was a LIFELINE. People brought meals and fixed toilets and held babies and invited all the kids over to their house so Ryan and I could go out ad have some fun together.

I hate to see what is happening now. I have wondered if it's something I can continue to be a part of.

Whoopie Goldberg's joyful music and jump roping and baby holding, THAT is the church that I know. There are lots of good people doing just this. I am so proud to call many of them my friends. I want to keep singing. If we all keep singing and going out and loving our friends (and chilling the eff out, OMG), maybe we will also be known as joyful and inclusive one day. That is my hope.