Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"I a BIG BOY"

If you ask him, he's turning five.  But he's really turning three today.

He woke up at six and came into our room, looking for Smelly, who was back in his bed.  Then we snuggled up all together for a little while until he just couldn't stand it anymore.  It was his birthday!  He was turning five!

We had to hide our excitement for a little while longer while we waited for Charlie to wake up.  Sesame Street and bananas and secretive cupcake frosting.  Finally Charlie was up and it was time for the Big Moment.

He rounded the corner into the kitchen and exclaimed "A BIKE!  NO WAY!"

IMG_1268
Charlie was jealous, not surprisingly. We ignored him. He told us "Being a big brother makes me nauseous." But then he showed Wes how to tear around the culdesac on two (four) wheels, the best driveways to go up, how to ride over the bumpy manhole covers. "I'm a teacher!" he exclaimed.

Then we ate cupcakes for breakfast...

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...all of us...

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And for dessert tonight, Wes requested a digger cake.  It's fortunate there are so many foods that lend themselves so nicely to looking like dirt and mud!

IMG_1281 It's a good thing James is going to stay a baby forever because I fear Wes is about to start pronouncing "S's" and "F's" correctly and between that and the two-wheeler I just don't know what to do with myself.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Proposal Epilogue

So, the proposal didn't work out.

I got the news the other day, a week after the email was sent.  I was way behind on work email because of The Virus.  The kids were watching Curious George/Bob the Builder/Toy Story (the last week has been a blur of anthropomorphic fun) and I took a deep breath and waded into the sixty unread emails in my work account.  The first one I read was from the administrator who had helped me with the submission expressing her regret that it hadn't been funded.

My reaction surprised me.  I wasn't upset, or even that disappointed.  I thought something along the lines of "Huh", then went into the kitchen to switch the laundry over.  I could say that my subdued reaction was the result of maturity and professionalism gained from a few years of work experience, but I think it had much more to do with the enormous amount of Other Things on my mind at the time--two sick kids and the resulting heaps of dirty sheets, clothes, and towels endlessly cycling through the laundry, two missed days of work, missed preschool, nonexistant sleep, the fact that we're still hitting a hundred degrees regularly in late September, I need to start thinking about my spring class soon, The Office season premier is coming up...

In truth, I feel lucky just to have professional disappointments at all.  Struggling through the proposal process only to be turned down by the NSF means that I am in the game!  Hundreds of good, smart, talented people all over the country got the EXACT SAME EMAIL I DID!  It wasn't that long ago that I wondered if it was even possible for me to have a scientific career and still have the kind of home life I wanted.  I agonized over applying for post-docs, tenure-tracks, research associates, feeling deep down each time that it wouldn't work out, that I'd be working all the time, that it would put too much strain on the family.  But the thought of walking away hurt too.  Academics had been my goal for years!  I knew that still meant something.  I am in a very good position now and I couldn't be happier with the balance I've been able to create (Old Testament-style stomach viruses that mess it all up not-withstanding).

And shortly after the proposal email, I got some great news too!  An abstract I wrote was accepted to a conference in December.  I will be going to San Francisco to present the paper, make professional contacts, and visit the Ghirardelli factory.  And maybe meet some friends!  I am very excited about all of it, though I think I've forgotten how to be anywhere by myself.  My first thought when I booked my hotel three blocks from the conference center was "I can't walk three blocks ALL ALONE!" as if walking three blocks with three kids was somehow less intimidating than walking three blocks alone (it is!).  I guess it's all in what you're used to!  Something I am not used to?  Earthquakes.  We will address my seismophobia another time.

 I will be resubmitting the proposal in May.  All but one of the reviewers said that it was a good project and it would be great for my school in addition to my own career.  Their advice was very constructive and specific and I'm confident I can make some improvements before the next round (we'll see how those changes are received!) (if the office of institutional advancement hasn't disowned me after last time!).  There are other grants and opportunities that interest me in the meantime.  But I'm not going to lie, I'm a little relieved to not be committed to full-time work the summer before Charlie starts kindergarten.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's been a long week, I'm feeling punchy

We've spent a lot of time with Pediatrician Man this week, thanks the the virus I like to call "Maybe those obsessive pacifier-washers are on to something" and I've had a lot of time to reflect on how these visits have changed over the last five years. To summarize:

First Baby:
When the pediatrician comes in you are calmly nursing the baby.  You provide the doctor with a handwritten chart of the baby's temperature over the last thirty-six hours, annotated with notes on diaper consistency, fussiness, and ear tugging.  You listen to the doctor's advice with rapt attention, then follow it to at "t" after you get home.

Second Baby:
When the pediatrician comes in, the toddler is playing on the floor with toys you brought.  A box of raisins is half spilled onto the exam room floor.  You are nursing the baby still, but also singing "Wheels on the Bus" with an edge to your voice that betrays how little sleep you've been getting, how much coffee you had, and your innate sense that the toddler is about to lose it.  You give the doctor a verbal rundown of the last forty-eight hours, mixing up the temperatures between the children and wondering aloud if it was the toddler or the baby that threw up in the night?

Third Baby*:
When the pediatrician comes in you are crouching on the floor sternly threatening to take away the post doctor's office donut if he doesn't stop slamming the middle's fingers in the cabinet door.  As you stand up to greet the doctor you belatedly tug the hem of your shirt back down to cover your stomach then notice the unhooked top of your nursing bra poking out of the neckline of your tank top.

When the doctor asks you what's been going on you stare at him blankly for several moments before retrieving the patient from underneath the examining table, where he has been happily chewing on a tongue depressor the toddler stole from the dispenser on the wall.

The doctor asks how long he's had the fever and you say "Well, let's see, we missed playgroup last week and that was Tuesday, so that's, what, ten days?"  You smile to hide your horror at yourself for letting it go on for that long.  The doctor looks very concerned.  Then you remember that it was a different kid's fever that caused the missed playgroup, but which one was it?

"OH YES," you exclaim, "The baby's fever started Saturday evening, that's why he couldn't go to the nursery at church Sunday."

The doctor's exam takes three times as long as normal because the middle kid is crawling back and forth on the table, ripping handfuls of paper off and throwing them.  Flustered, you shriek "DONUT!" and the behavior stops instantaneously.  The doctor stifles a giggle.

"Has he been pulling at his ears?"  You honestly don't know because the baby spends so much time crawling around the house half-supervised.  The doctor diagnoses him with an ear infection and gets up to leave the room.  You hastily pull the oldest's pants off and ask the doctor if he could just check this one thing on his leg really fast before he goes.  You resist the urge to also ask him if he could recheck the middle's ears as long as were there and figure you'll do it at the end of the week when you're back for whatever the kids picked up in the waiting room.

*Based on actual events.  I am so proud.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

It was a meaningful hour for everyone

Because James gave the whole family Ebola last week, and because he had, uh, symptoms, twenty-two hours before church this morning, we couldn't leave him in the nursery like we normally do. Spurred on by the promise of Sunday School for us and the older, healthy children at 9:30, we rallied and left the house for the 8:15 service, planning to take James into Big Church with us. It would be cozy! And sweet!

We are currently teaching Wes to sit through Big Church, instead of staying in the nursery, because Me and My Big Ideas About What Children Should Be Capable Of are admittedly, probably a little bit old skool. Today was his second day, so when he and Charlie wanted to sit ahead of us, together, in an empty pew, I had no problem with it.

Until Charlie started trying to climb over the back of the pew during the Introit. And the Wes started crawling down the length of the pew, laughing all the way, toward the aisle. I managed to get Charlie settled next to me and then Wes verrrrrry slowly slid down the pew onto the floor and briefly out of sight before scooting out near our feet QUITE proud of himself.

I grabbed him by the arms and tried to make him sit next to me, but then it was time for everyone to stand up for the Call to Worship.

Celebrant: May our lives witness to Christ's love.

Me: May our thoughts be of peace and our--CHARLIE, SIT UP.

 Celebrant: May our faith be a sign of hope.

Me: May our--WES, COME HERE.  COME HERE RIGHT NOW.  SIT DOWN.  CHARLIE, SIT UP.  I DON'T CARE IF YOU'RE TIRED WE DON'T SLEEP IN CHURCH.


Then we sang "God of Grace and God of Glory".

The grace and glory of God was not evident in our pew.

Bored with their game of "Page Through The Hymnal As If It Was an Eric Carle Board Book", Wes reached over and poked Charlie.  Charlie poked Wes harder.  Wes poked Charlie harder.  I grabbed Wes and sat him between me and Ryan, Charlie trying to get one last poke in all the way.  I acted on primal motherly instinct to grab Charlie's arm and hold it awkwardly up by his ear as I hissed at him to KNOCK IT OFF.

Finally, a welcome diversion--Wes got to go to the front for the Birthday Prayer.  I stood behind him as the minister prayed and patted his head gently with his hand.  I smiled as I thought of how grown up he is and how proud I am of him.  Then it was over and he tried to walk back to our pew on his knees like a penitent walking the labyrinth at Chatres.

 I tried to maintain some dignity as we sang the Doxology, but right after it started James flung his pacifier two pews behind us and started squawking.

I acted quickly.

WES, I NEED YOUR HELP.  YOU SEE THAT PACI?  GO GET IT!

He dropped to his stomach and slithered the six feet back, got the paci, and returned it triumphantly to James.  James settled into his blanket in Ryan's arms.

For about ten seconds, then he started bucking and shrieking.  I was already on my feet, having chased Charlie back into our pew from a position several rows back, so I spirited him away to the aptly named "Cry Room" at the back of the church for some brunch.

Several sweet, grandmotherly types who had been enjoying our little side show gave me knowing smiles and patted James sweetly on the foot as we passed.

James fell asleep in my arms and it was once again peaceful and sweet.  I settled into the comfortable rocker and listened to the sermon.

Then Ryan, Charlie, and Wes came barreling through the cry room for a potty break.  First one, then the other had to take his turn at the potty AND the sink AND the paper towel dispenser AND the trash can and then they all had to try each of the rocking chairs and gliders.

They returned to the pew for the remainder of the sermon while I stayed with James.  When it was over Ryan dropped them off at Sunday School like a bad habit and joined me and James at our blissfully adult Sunday School class upstairs.

Where James continued his wiggly disruptive ways.

Everyone better be nursery-ready next week, is all I'm saying.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Into the woods

Last week's fifty-yard hike along the lake inspired us with it's simplicity, beautiful views, and the fact that it was free and made the kids take a long nap, all at the same time, so yesterday we set out for a more ambitious hike in a canyon near our town. Because everything has to be so freaking educational in our family, we brought along the kids journals and stopped several times so that they could record their observations. Charlie found his first subject in the cactus garden planted next to the parking lot. To say he was enthusiastic about my assignment would be an understatement.
IMG_3648 Wes played along during the first stop, but later got distracted by all the rocks there were to be thrown into ponds and off of cliffs (the picture on the bottom is the one he drew of the cliff we stopped to observe). IMG_3630
The kids were total troopers. Climbing up the rocky trails was their favorite part. IMG_3631
We paused when we reached the top of the cliff to draw this tree. IMG_3634
The view was beautiful from "the top" (of a hill approximately as tall as a large public high school's football stadium). IMG_3638
After that stop we walked for what felt like six miles along a two-foot-wide trail along the edge of a cliff. It was probably not even a quarter of a mile. The view was spectacular, but the kids were getting tired and my blood pressure was getting closer to the red zone every time we passed a slippery spot with no trees. We paused for an observation break along the skinny trail (The tennis racket bag is Charlie's baby carrier for Phent. You can see Phent's head sticking out of the handle end). IMG_3640
And then we had a picnic and cajoled everyone back to the car with the promise of a trip to a nearby outdoor restaurant for a Corona (or maybe that was just me) and some playground time. We think we went about a mile and a half in total. The kids were totally wiped. Happy, dirty, and very, very tired. IMG_3647 IMG_3646

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Potty Training WIN

This afternoon the boys and I headed out on our scooters/strollers to spend some time in the culdesac, hopefully not fighting with each other in the last couple of hours before Ryan's arrival home.  I was getting the scooters out of the car when I asked Wes if he had to go potty.  He said he did, but since I already had all the kids outside and the stroller all set up and the scooters ready to go I thought maybe the power of magical thinking might make him not have to go potty until we were all ready to go back inside, in about an hour.

So Charlie and Wes got on their scooters and I pushed James in the stroller and we headed for the culdesac, which is about a hundred yards away.  Around yard thirty, I told Charlie he could go ahead of us and he sped off along the sidewalk.  I could see my friend and her two girls down the street and had a good view of Charlie the whole way there.  I love letting him have that freedom.  It makes him so proud and happy.

Charlie had just reached the culdesac, well out of polite yelling range, and was starting his first loop when Wes stopped in his tracks.  (He stopped at the 50 yard line, just like Texas Tech's offense last year)  I passed him with the stroller and called him over my shoulder "Come on, Buddy!  Almost there!"

He wouldn't budge.

"I wanna go potty."

Oh.  I checked on Charlie, happily doing laps on the curved sidewalk.  "OK, no one is here, let's just go in the grass!"  (It is a wooded area next to our house, not someone's yard.  This is Central Texas, for goodness sake.)

"I wanna go in da HOUSE!"

He was hanging on by this point.  And dancing.

Charlie was still riding in circles.  James was happy in the stroller.

"Wes, come on!  No one's looking!  Let's just go right here!"  I briefly contemplated the absurdity of trying to convince a two year old boy that it's alright to take a leak in the grass for the sake of convenience.  Especially since school starts tomorrow.  I can only imagine THAT note from the teacher.

I feigned cheerfulness.  "Alright, Buddy!  Let's get these shorts off so you can go potty and then we'll all go to the culdesac to ride scooters!!"  I tugged his shorts down around his ankles.

He pulled his feet out of the shorts, kicking off his shoes, and ran down the sidewalk toward our house calling out "I wanna go potty inside!"  Percy, from Thomas the Tank Engine, looked back at me from Wes's undies, silently mocking me with his creepy eyes.

I looked at Charlie.  I looked at Wes.  I considered my options and finally called the friend who was out in the culdesac and asked her to keep an eye on Charlie for a moment.  Then James and I took off to join Wes, who went potty in the potty without further incident.  Then we walked back down the street to retrieve Wes's pants and shoes.

We'll call that a potty training success.

Wildfire

We started our long weekend with a trip out for breakfast tacos because we had no food in the house, a condition that has been happening more and more now that we have three food-eaters with us. Bananas don't stick around very long. Neither does bread, yogurt, milk, or jelly. Anyway, all the boys loved the handwashing machine,. IMG_3539 IMG_3541 And after that we were going to go walk and scooter across the dam like I used to like to do when I was in high school, but found it blocked with an iron gate and razor wire fence, which were apparently a post-9-11 addition. No breezy walk by the lake for you! The terrorists have won. We tried to make the best of it and find a park to play at and stumbled on a nice one down by the lake. People were fishing and letting their dogs play in the water. We let the kids "wade" which, predictably, turned into swimming, fully-clothed. IMG_3543 It was so nice and Ryan and I both commented how pretty the drive had been and how lucky the people who live there were to drive there every day.

Then came Sunday night. The nice neighborhood we had driven by to get to the lake had been evacuated because of a wildfire. Two families we know from church were displaced. No one could get any information about what was going on.  It seemed like every time I went back to Facebook someone was talking about another fire.  There was a new one to the west of us, then to the east.  Another, huge fire was burning further away, southeast of our town.  The fire was so large that we could see the giant plume of smoke from our upstairs windows, even though it was more than twenty miles away.  Neighborhoods were being evacuated, houses were burning, calls were going out for more firefighters and prayer and rain and miracles.  Ryan and I stayed glued to Facebook and Twitter, the only "news outlets" available.  Our friends were posting that they were safe, but that they didn't know if their house was still standing.

I packed a bag of clothes for all of us and put it in the car.  Ryan went out and watered the grass with the hose and knocked down the tall brush next to our fence with the lawnmower.  We joked that we were overcautious, but other friends were doing the same.  It seemed like the fires were popping up with no warning and anyone's neighborhood could be next.

Monday morning was beautiful and cool, the coolest it's been in months.  But instead of throwing open the windows and planning what I was going to bake first, I stepped out on the porch to an eerie pink sky and a strong smell of smoke.  I turned on the TV to see our city on the national news, the fire to the southeast had burned more than three-hundred homes.  The fire near the lake was still out of control and was burning through houses.  Someone posted a terrifying video to Facebook of a street with houses on fire on either side.  Another fire popped up about ten miles away last night and burned another half-dozen houses.  Two more family friends faced possible evacuation.

It has been the driest, hottest summer on record for our city.  We haven't had meaningful rainfall in months.  Once fires start, it is very difficult to put them out and they spread very quickly.  The suitcase of clothes is still in the car and I'm keeping a close eye on the location of all the loveys in case we are threatened by a fire and need to evacuate.  So far we've been so, so lucky and the weather is changing to cooler and less windy.  Hopefully this will give the firefighters a chance to gain some ground against the two major fires that have been burning since Sunday afternoon.  Hopefully it will keep new fires from starting that would threaten new areas.  We all have to be incredibly careful.  No grilling is allowed.  People who flick cigarettes out of car windows face being arrested.  When Ryan was mowing the brush the other night he carefully watered with the hose afterward to make sure the grass didn't get too hot.

What we really need is rain and lots of it.  Days and weeks of steady rain are the only thing that will change the dangerous conditions created by the drought.  Unless a tropical storm brings us some rain, it doesn't appear that this will happen anytime soon.  For now all we can do is be careful, pray, and try to help each other as best we can.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

At least no one wet his pants (except possibly James)

Preschool orientation for Wes was today and I think, considering there are three kids I take everywhere I go, that the fact that they were all screaming as we left the building for home, is perfectly understandable. I mean, whose kids don't accidentally kick their brother in the face/have a sudden coming of age crisis in the lobby of their preschool/get their nap forgotten by their harried mother? That could happen to anybody, right?

We left the house with great enthusiasm. Charlie bounced out to the car, which was in the driveway instead of the garage because the garage door is not working (I can't imagine why), gleefully climbed into the way-back and buckled his seat belt. When I commented about the big, grown up boy he was being, he said "I am just so excited to meet my teacher!!" Then I had to tell him that we would be meeting Wes's teacher and that we wouldn't meet his teacher until tomorrow. You can imagine how that news was received.

All was forgotten once we reached the preschool, miraculously on time I might add, and we all climbed over each other and out of the car and bounced merrily into the school where Wes immediately ran to his teacher from last year, gave her a huge hug, and then walked into his old classroom, oblivious to the fact that he was twelve inches taller than the next tallest kid in there.

He was not so chipper and bouncy when they handed him back over the top of the dutch door. He melted into my body, completely heartbroken. It was a bad scene you guys. I tried to get him excited about meeting his new teacher, but he refused to take his face out of my shoulder. Fantastic.

As we made our way down the hall to Wes's! New! Room!, me pushing the temperamental stroller with one hand in wild zig-zags slamming into one wall then the other, Wes slung over my shoulder, Charlie getting distracted by the water fountain and the potty and the bulletin boards, I was performing a ritual of intercessory prayer for Wes.

"Dear just and loving God, please do not let this child wet his pants in the next twenty-five minutes, Amen." Prayer works, you guys.

So we finally made it down the long, LONG hallway to the classroom, waited behind some other parents, and somehow made it into the classroom only five minutes late and also tear- and urine-free. Wes was still clinging to my chest, but I figured I could coax him down with a dump truck or some PlayDoh once we got inside.

Then his teacher looked at me curiously and told me that the M-W-F kids' orientation was at TEN THIRTY, not NINE THIRTY.

OH MY GOODNESS.

Ha ha ha! Silly me! I must have gotten mixed up with Charlie's orientation tomorrow! We'll just go out to the playground and come back!

And then we got in the car to get breakfast tacos. Because I had not mentally prepared for that extra hour of public supervision. At least part of that hour needed to be spent with everyone strapped into their carseats.

And the taco place only had one of the tacos I usually get for the kids. And it was ten minutes until the other, non-drive-through, taco place stopped serving breakfast. So Wes got the last bean and cheese taco and Charlie and I each had a vegan black bean, avocado, and pico taco instead. Thank goodness the pico wasn't spicy. What was spicy, however, was the three tablespoons of salsa Charlie dumped onto his as soon as we sat down at the picnic table back at the school. I switched with him and we managed to get through breakfast without any further drama.

When we got to the orientation part, which was at TEN THIRTY, Wes was covered in black beans and mud, but it was lovely, with Charlie and Wes playing nicely with toys, participating in "circle time", and coloring at the table. Towards the end James was a little fussy and back-archy, but I knew he was tired and it was fairly manageable.

Then we had to stop by Charlie's old class on the way out. And James LOST it. Crying, arching, refusing to go into the stroller. It was special. He calmed down on the way out just in time for Wes to run back into his old room AGAIN and begin playing with his favorite toy from last year. And then James started crying again. And then Wes was crying because they were picking him up and giving him back to me, again. And then Wes accidentally kicked Charlie in the nose as I picked him up. And then, like some really loud, frustrating fireworks grand finale from hell, all three children were crying hysterically at the same time!

O.M.G.

So I laughed like a crazy person, slung my screaming four-year old over my shoulder and struggled back to the car, asking friends sarcastically, "So, do you guys have lunch plans?" Because while I wanted the number eight combo at Chick-fil-A very badly, I had just eaten a breakfast taco and our plans included going home and locking the door until next week when I can DROP EVERYBODY OFF and LEAVE.