Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In Memoriam

Grandpa and rocking chair

David "Mike" Paulsen

April 16, 1923 to February 28, 2012

He loved boats. He told me stories of boyhood summers spent sailing around the Massachusetts coastline with total freedom. Occasionally sleeping on the beach next to the boat. Knowing this piece of his past, his fierce independence, his resourcefulness, and his encyclopedic knowledge of the ocean, the coastline, and boats makes perfect sense.

He taught his own children to love boats too.  My dad tells stories of spending the day out on the little Boston Whaler with his brothers, water skiing, fishing, and going really, really fast.

When I was a child, we would go on evening "cocktail cruises". Load up the boat with cheese and crackers and drinks and cruise around the bay enjoying the "luminous luminous", the way the evening light fell so that it lit up all the boats and the water just right. The prettiest time of the day. Cocktail cruises usually included a stern warning not to get too close to that ledge or that buoy or this side of that island no matter how small of a boat you are in. Or maybe a recounting of the time they had to get home from dinner in PEA SOUP FOG, using landmarks and navigation buoys and handwritten instructions prepared by him for just such an occasion.

Lobster Boats

Later, he would teach me to sail, first on a Sunfish, then on a sailing dinghy and a Rhodes 19 daysailer. I was the jib man, the centerboard attendant, and the one responsible for jumping from the bow of the boat to the dock, painter in hand, then turning around and grabbing the front of the boat to keep it from hitting the dock (not that it ever needed it, so expert at landing sailboats on dock was my grandpa). It was the only place I ever felt comfortable in my own skin as a teenager.

We spent countless afternoons sailing around the waters and islands near their summer cottage in Maine. When I struggled to tie the sailboat to the mooring, hanging over the side of the dinghy in choppy seas one blustery afternoon, and the boat started floating away toward the rocks, he expertly maneuvered the dinghy around, grabbed the painter, tied it up to the ball, and took us back to the dock. We walked in silence back to the house, me with hot, angry, embarrassed tears stinging my eyes. I sat down on the porch, a ticked off teenager, while he rummaged around in the basement. A few minutes later he appeared on the porch with a long piece of old rope. He looped it around the porch railing and said "Practice tying bowlines until you can do it with your eyes closed."

I will never forget how to tie a bowline. And yes I can do it with my eyes closed.

He also loved airplanes and used to look at the contrails crossing the sky over the ocean. "That's a 747 headed for Paris" he would say, with total confidence. Or "That's a DC-10 on it's way to New York". I don't know how he did it, but I have no doubt he was right. A tribute to the power of being still and observing the world around you. He didn't need GPS or Google to know things. He just knew.

Grandma and Grandpa

He was a loyal family man, married to my grandma for more than fifty years. Once, about a decade ago, I walked into the living room to find him gazing happily at a picture of them taken in a tender moment decades earlier. My grandma was smiling, my grandpa had his forehead against her cheek. They looked like they were laughing. I can't recall exactly what he said when he noticed me in the room, but it was something about how much he loved my grandma.

He used to feed a group of nearly a hundred wild ducks on his front lawn every morning and evening.  He carried a scoop of corn out to the trough saying "Come ducks!  Come ducks!  Come ducks!"  And the ducks came.  Dozens of them.  They would all try to get in the trough at once.  It was a flurry of feathers and quacking and fighting that left the lawn covered in feathers.  Later he switched to seagulls, which could be fed from the comfort of his rocking chair.  He taught the laughing gulls to fly in graceful loops around the flag pole by flinging a Cheez-it cracker into the air for them to catch as they approached the porch.  One huge fat grey-winged seagull he named Bubba (because he said "buh-buh-buh-bup") would come right up onto the porch for crackers.

Charlie remembers him fondly as "the Great-Grandpa who flew airplanes." I will forever treasure the memory of them sitting on the porch together, sharing a grilled cheese sandwich and talking about flying airplanes in World War II.

He passed away this morning, surrounded by my grandma and my aunt, his oldest daughter.  He leaves behind a legacy of family, independence, loyalty, and integrity.  And stories, so many wonderful (and familiar!) stories.  I feel grateful to have known him for so long and will miss him.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

This is how you know the children have won

At the Chick-fil-A drive through next door to the pediatrician's office:

THIS IS NOT A TREAT. We are here because I think you are hungry and that is why you were acting that way at the doctor's office and we are out of lunch stuff at home. THIS IS NOT A TREAT. We are getting nuggets and fries and NO TOYS. DOES EVERYONE UNDERSTAND ME? THAT WAS TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR. WE DO NOT LIE DOWN AND SCREAM WHEN WE ARE DISAPPOINTED. TOTALLY--

Eight piece nugget meal with an iced tea, chargrilled chicken wrap, one extra order of fries. Thank you!!!

--UNACCEPTABLE. When we get home, everyone is taking a nap. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?--

Yes, thank you. Out of twenty, please. You have a nice day now!

Now eat your lunch and NOT ANOTHER SOUND.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mud Fun

Big times around here. First of all, it rained for TWO DAYS, which is awesome because it never rains here anymore and we really need it. It's also awesome because when it rains we get all kinds of mud and new streams forming all over the place and the kids are now capable of entertaining themselves silly for hours and hours at a time. Case in point.

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You can sort of see the stroller in the background of this one. James didn't find this nearly as fun as the big kids. Mostly because he is not so smart about water these days. Ever seen a one year old do the high jump? Naked? Just put James down next to a full bathtub and watch him go!

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Wes didn't get the full experience because he was still wearing his church shoes and it was too cold to go barefoot. Unsurprisingly, regular reminders didn't stop him from trying to stick a foot in the water every time we turned around.

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This one is brought to you by some unsanctioned jumping from the riverbank to the rock pile/island in the middle. He had to take his pants and shoes off before I let him in the car. (This is before the real muddiness began)

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It is an honor for the oldest male child to gather the firewood for the family cookfire.

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Ryan took this one before we found the river when they were just doing somersaults down the hill. What makes a somersault even more fun than a somersault? VELOCITY.

Guess how long it took them to fall asleep that night? Less. No less. Even less than that. I ran downstairs to get Smelly and when I returned Wes was already snoring. We call that a win in our house.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Patience, kindness, and self control

The discussion topic from my church's moms' group this morning was the Fruits of the Spirit, among them "patience, kindness, and self control". We had a discussion about how we exhibit those Fruits in our daily interactions with our children. I did not have a lot to add because, while I *try* to demonstrate patience, kindness, and self-control sometimes I just need everyone to GET IN THE $#@$$#@ CAR ALREADY. What more is there to say? The woman I was sitting next to, my friend who has two three year olds, and I made many sarcastic remarks to one another. Many of them about wine.

All kidding aside, the conversation stuck with me as we left the classroom and picked everyone up at the nursery and made our way (PAINFULLY SLOWLY) out to the car to go home.

We had a delightful afternoon afterward. James took a long nap and Charlie and Wes played outside (INDEPENDENTLY!) for about an hour. I burned through a few loads of laundry then vacuumed the living room, swept the kitchen, and did all the dishes. I also spent a lot of time eating Valentine's candy and perusing Facebook to be perfectly honest, I'm not some kind of Stepford wife.

"I've got this Fruits of the Spirit thing LOCKED UP" I thought. But the real test was yet to come.

Charlie wanted to walk to the grocery store instead of driving, which was a great idea. The weather was nice and we only needed dinner ingredients, so we set out for the store. We got there fine, got all of our groceries with no trouble, and then headed back. That's when I *paid* for being such a snarky jerk during moms' group. Wes found something INCREDIBLY FASCINATING on the ground approximately every eighteen inches. The walk is only half a mile, but it took us about four hours just to get across the parking lot. He was really being adorable, dropping rocks into a puddle and laughing, but I had cheese and sour cream warming in the pus bag and I really wanted to get home before Wild Kratts, which is the backdrop for my thirty-minute daily check-out time. I need that time to gear up for the 4:30-6:00 ninety minutes of whining, fighting, dinner-making hell. So I prodded him along as gently as I could and tried not to get too flustered when Charlie ran ahead, leaving me on a dirt two-track in the middle of a field with a fully-loaded stroller and a good fifty yards of rocky ground between me and both big kids, in opposite directions. "Stay together, everyone!" I trilled. I am calm and patient! Look at me! "GET YOUR BOTTOM OVER HERE RIGHT NOW OR I SWEAR I WILL LEAVE YOU OUT HERE" I mean "Weeeesss! Precious, darling boy! Let's stay together, Cutiepie! Time to go!" Am calm, patient, and slightly schizophrenic.

We finally made it home and got the TV going just in the nick of time when James began what turned out to be a two-hour, impossibly loud given the size of his body, meltdown.

"Patience, kindness, self control" I reminded myself as I bounced him on my hip. It's either teeth or another ear infection (join the James William ear tube placement surgery betting pool today!), or, in my experience, it is a more insidious problem called "One Year Old". Whatever the cause, nothing helped--not food, not milk, not water, not holding, not a diaper change, not Motrin. I thought maybe he'd like to go outside so we gathered the bikes and trooped down to the culdesac but all that did was move the party to my neighbor's driveway, where we could more effectively share the velociraptor noise he was making with the rest of the neighborhood. Special times!

We got in our mutually agreed upon walking order for the one-hundred yard walk home (Charlie first, then Wes, then me and James). Charlie sped off, as usual, then turned funny and crashed about halfway to the house. He was lying on the grass screaming and all tangled up in his bike, so I ran past Wes to get to him, which made Wes FREAK the FREAK OUT. He laid his tiny little thirty pound body on the sidewalk and refused to budge. Being full of patience, kindness, and self control as I was, I resisted the urge to drag him home under one arm and plunk him in the timeout chair indefinitely and instead patiently, kindly, and with great self control walked the rest of the way home with Charlie and James, then stood on the driveway watching him have a conniption on the sidewalk and hoping with my entire being that our neighbors would come out to walk their dog, thus distracting slash embarassing him into standing up and walking like a human.

After ten minutes it became clear that he was in it for the long haul. As you can imagine, by this point I was BRIMMING with patience, kindness, and self control, but James was ALSO freaking out and we needed to get inside, pronto, before someone called the police. Not wanting to back down, since this is one of our focus areas with Wes right now (freaking out and refusing to walk), I asked Charlie if he wanted to go help Wes. Charlie spent two minutes talking to him while I watched from afar, then Wes got on his bike and pedaled home like nothing had happened.

When Charlie got back, I hugged him and remarked how proud I was of him for being so kind and patient with Wes. It's not something that comes easily for him these days. I asked him what he had said to Wes and Charlie shrugged and said "A brother knows how to make a brother feel happy" then turned and walked into the garage.

The rest of the evening was not easy, James was miserable, but I was so happy to have a tiny peek into the reason we try (struggle) to maintain those Fruits of the Spirit. It's for the little eyes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Val Day

Something special was in order for our Tuesday, in addition to the already special morning which consisted of a living room FULL of construction paper hearts cut out for me by Charlie, Wes, and Ryan, cards all around, special coffee, flowers, and a box of candy on the driver's seat of my car, so when Charlie asked if we could go ride a train, I planned a super-secret trip downtown on the commuter train and secretly invited my dad to join us.

The kids got into the car with no idea where we were going. I asked for guesses.

"Are we going to the playground?"

"Are we going to see a statue?"

"Are we going to climb on rocks?"

No, no, and no. They were cautiously very excited when I turned into the parking lot for the train station. There were several minutes of silence while I looked for a parking spot. Then Charlie piped up.

Can we ride the train?!

YES! I told them. They were very happy. We bought our tickets and boarded the waiting train. My dad arrived shortly after and hopped onto the train with about a minute to spare. He is a seasoned "T" rider from way back and I had no worries.

The train ride was uneventful if you don't count James's refusal to be held in any kind of safe position for the duration of the ride or the fact that he chose to communicate using only frequent blood-curdling screeches that had many a commuter slamming his laptop in frustration. The big kids sat nicely in their seats and made cute (and appropriate!) comments about what they saw out the window. James did his best to perform an alligator's death roll in my arms as I struggled to keep him from sliding the length of the car at every station. On the plus side, I will not need to work out my arms anytime soon.

We arrived downtown and found a potty without incident then set off to find some lunch. I was headed for my favorite little brunch place when I spotted this sign and decided I could have huevos rancheros another time.

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We had some enormous hotdogs (mine had horseradish slaw on top, my dad's had onions and baked beans, the big kids? Mustard. Boring!) and bacon chocolate chip cookies, which sounded amazing but were really kind of strange until about the third bite when I started getting used to it.

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Then we walked around outside for a little while until the next train home. Charlie demanded to have his picture taken in several strange places. This one is my favorite.

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But this one is my new desktop.

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We got on the next train home and, impossibly, James's behavior was even worse than the ride down. He really upped the ante by pooping THREE TIMES during the forty-five minute train ride, requiring as many diaper changes on the train floor (no bathroom!), which was really not as much fun as it sounds. He and Wes were asleep when we got home and Charlie and I set to work making Valentine's cupcakes for after our Chinese food feast. A great Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Too much time in front of a computer will do this to you

Ryan took the big boys to church this morning and I stayed home with Sickie McFever. I put him down for a nap the second they left then settled into working on my (INFURIATING) work project (after the usual procrastinating things like making my bed, putting on a bra and changing my shirt, and putting in a load of laundry). If he was allowed to text on his work-provided cell phone, this is what he would be hearing from me.

Miss you, please make Wes go potty before Sunday School.

Hope it's going well... any thoughts on lunch?

Man this spectrum issue is SO FRUSTRATING. Also, we are out of cookies. Problem.

Have I mentioned how much I like the Thai Chicken Salad from Panera? We are out of lunchmeat.

If you see Sandy, please tell her thanks again for the hand-me-downs.

MATLAB IS THE DEVIL.

Did you know we are expecting sleet this afternoon? I'll go shopping right when you get home for bananas.

MATLAB IS SO STUPID. *I* AM SO STUPID. A Thai Chicken Salad and a bag of chocolate chip mini-cookies might make me feel smarter.

And a large iced tea.

I'm sorry for acting crazy. I hope the boys are acting nicely for you. Thanks for the work time.

SATAN INVENTED SPECTRAL ANALYSIS AND I WISH IT WOULD DIE.

YAY, I got it to work!!!

Crapcakes, the curves are switched. Wrong? Or GROUNDBREAKING. Probably wrong. COOKIES.

Aaaaannnd James is awake. Maybe he can help me figure out what to do.

He didn't have any advice, but he did get snot all over my shoulder.

Am laundering your undies, would like a salad please.

Love you, see you at home.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Boys, what are you gonna do?

You guys, I have discovered The Secret to Boys. I will share it with you here because I like you so much, but let's keep it between us, OK? Mostly because I don't want to get referred to the school counselor in a few years. Because, you guys? The secret to communicating with little boys who are angry or frustrated or sad? Or who cannot stop PICKING ON THEIR BROTHER FOR THE LOVE?

Is to act EXACTLY LIKE A FIVE YEAR OLD BOY.

I am telling you that I have spent half my life over the last few days calmly (and let's face it, not so calmly) attempting to explain to Charlie that he needs to stop picking on Wes all the stinkin' time. Stop poking him, stop calling him names, stop taking things from him, stop telling him what to do. But the thing that has best diffused the situation before it has escalated was to teach Wes to call him names right back.

Let me give you an example. They were exiled to the backyard for wild indoor behavior this afternoon (you'll see why they were behaving wildly inside in a moment). Charlie came to the back door to tell me that Wes had called him a (wait for it, it is quite awful, you might need to avert your eyes) "mimic-head".

So I said "You ARE a mimic-head", because he totally is a mimic-head, and went back to making dinner.

And HE LAUGHED and WENT BACK TO PLAYING.

I am a freaking genius people.

Earlier, when Charlie was consumed with rage because the paintbrush could not do what he wanted it to, and was yelling "STUPID!" over and over as he stomped around the living room? I calmed him down by yelling "STUPID!" in a silly voice and throwing a pillow at him. He stifled a giggle. I got another pillow.

"STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID ARRRRGGHHHH!!!!!"

I smashed my fists into the pillow, then threw it at him.

He was doubled over laughing.

Then Wes started yelling stupid and throwing pillows and five minutes later we were all breathless, pillows covered the living room floor, and no one could remember who was so mad he'd snapped a paintbrush in two just moments before.

I was not prepared for how competitive and physical boys are, though my life now is casting every negative elementary school gym class experience into a different light. Nothing makes Charlie happier than when you run past him, dribbling a ball, then execute a perfect lay-up just as he tries to take the ball away. Except possibly blocking him with my shoulder, but that seems a little rough for a five-year old. If he makes a basket on you he can talk smack like a five-year-old Chicago Bull playing street ball. "OH HO HO, YOU MISSED! BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME MOM!" as he whizzes past me hanging onto the ball so I can't get it (TRAVELING!!). Is it poor sportsmanship or a valuable life skill? I've seen boys playing basketball on the playground and it seems to be their version of girl-talk, so I'm hesitant to squash it, though I do point out that if someone's feelings get hurt then he's gone too far.

So, we might have to put the coffee table away for a while and we might have to have our pediatrician on speed dial, but I can't imagine my life without this wonderful energy.



But I do hope his kindergarten teacher is a patient, STRONG, woman.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Big Men on Campus

Oh my goodness, where to begin? All it takes is one stray thought, one "I haven't had much to blog about lately" to unleash the fates of chaos on your life. It's happened before, so next time I run out of things to say I will be posting lots and lots of boring recipes.

Today the kids' school is closed so I had to take everyone with me to my school. This should not have been an issue, since we already have a wonderful babysitter in place who picks James up from my office twenty minutes before my class begins every day. But, like I said, fates of CHAOS.

It started on Saturday night, when my computer broke. The screen doesn't work, so I have to plug it into an external monitor if I want to use it. It is really cramping my style, as you might imagine. I was almost unable to make my lecture for today last night because I was forced to sit AT MY DESK and not lounge on the couch as is my custom.

And THEN, the printer at home broke Sunday night and I couldn't print my in-class assignment like I had planned. I would have printed it at school, but two other important things are also broken--my work computer, which won't log in ever since I rearranged the furniture, and my copier card, which has never worked (RAGE).

So to summarize, this morning I had three children in my office, a half-functioning computer, a totally defunct computer, an assignment still in electronic form, and no real idea how I would be giving my Powerpoint lecture given the current broke-ass state of the laptop I normally use. And it was thirty minutes to game time.

I took the (really, remarkably well-behaved, considering the last time we all came to school together) kids on a Really! Fun! Adventure up the elevator and into my classroom where I promised that if they just sat quietly for five minutes while I figured it out that I would take them to see the sucker fish in the biology department afterward. They sat nicely in two of the desks and asked me LOTS and LOTS of questions about the chalkboard, the projector, the computer, the lab tables, and what my students did while they were in class. I was able to finagle the computer and projector provided in the classroom and got my lecture up on the screen with no issues (YAY fabulous small-school IT department where everything works EVERY TIME and you never find the printer out of paper at two o'clock in the morning the day something is due. I heart you small school!!) and we spent five glorious minutes examining the sucker fish down the hall, as promised.

Then we went downstairs and asked around until someone was able to open a computer lab for me so I could print my assignment. Much easier than anticipated. Until Wes erased the bottom eight inches of a very complicated looking equation that took up the entire chalkboard. Yes it was marked "Please do not erase". Or at least it was until Wes erased part of that before I ripped the eraser out of his hand, grabbed my assignments off the printer, and got the heck out of Dodge.

After that we spent a happy fifteen minutes in my office, collating and stapling (me), weighing samples of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock on a triple beam balance (Charlie and Wes), and complaining wildly about being confined to the stroller (James). I reminded the kids forty-seven times to keep their coats on because the babysitter would be there any minute as I stole many, MANY glances out into the hall wondering where the heck she was.

At 9:57 I finally texted her. "Everything alright?"

"OMG MY ALARM DIDN'T GO OFF I AM SO SORRY!!! FIVE MINS!!!" was the response. So I texted her my room number and we ALL went back up to my classroom.

The boys froze when they saw all the students. I told them to find a seat and wait for Miss Kate while I got class started. Charlie chose a convenient seat all the way in the back and opposite the door. Wes sat closer to me and James stayed in the stroller next to the lectern. The brief rundown of my expectations for them to SIT QUIETLY AND LISTEN AND DON'T TALK TO ME WHILE I AM TALKING I had given them in the elevator was surprisingly effective.

"Good morning, everyone! There's been a bit of a mix-up so we have some guests today!" I smiled at them and took a deep breath. I introduced the boys to the students and then got started with my lecture about earthquakes.

I'm not gonna lie, I did like having them there, just a little bit.

Five minutes after class began, Miss Kate came running into the room, collected the kids, and took them back to her apartment.

The rest of the class was uneventful. I texted the babysitter when I got back to my office, "Please don't worry about it. I had fun and so did the kids." She responded "Charlie is STILL talking about earthquakes!" and also "SO SO SORRY!"

But in truth, I am a little bit glad it happened that way.