Wednesday, May 30, 2012


To continue with our Tour of the Big 12 South, the kids and I tagged along with Ryan on a work trip to College Station, home of Texas A&M University, which is no longer part of the Big 12 South. As an alum of another major state university I am obligated to make lots of redneck jokes about Texas A&M, but it seems to be a nice place. Even Charlie commented about how green and nice everything is here. The food is good too. I haven't eaten a single green vegetable in almost three days. What I have eaten, however, is hushpuppies, barbeque, tacos, hamburgers, and a single guilt-induced bowl of oatmeal at the hotel breakfast bar. Also available at the hotel? Chocolate chip cookies in free and unlimited supply. It is kind of a problem.

While Ryan was at work yesterday I loaded up the kids and took them to the George Bush Presidential Library. Time to learn about your country, kiddies! We took this lovely picture on the way in. Despite averaging six hours of sleep per person the night before, we were all getting along well.


After a bit of a fiasco involving the 17 minute introductory movie and a dirty diaper situation, we headed into the main part of the museum. The first activity was to cast a straw vote for the 2012 presidential election. Charlie voted for Obama and Wes voted for the unnamed third-party candidate. This doesn't really surprise me. Later, when we were eating lunch in what can best be described as a roadhouse in the middle of an industrial park (delicious, by the way), Charlie loudly announced to Ryan "I VOTED FOR OBAMA". It was a scary moment, given the clientele, let me tell you.


The museum was fascinating and I really wish I could go back without the kids. I mean, I got the gist, but we spent a disproportionate amount of time at the flight simulator, the WWII bomber hanging from the ceiling, and the Gulf War exhibit. As we were leaving, I asked the kids "What did you like best about the museum?" Wes's favorite part was the kid-sized White House they got to crawl into and listen to Barbara Bush reading "Corduroy". That was my favorite part (for them) too. Charlie replied "What's a bomb?"

After the museum and lunch, we went to see the wind tunnel Ryan is working on. It wasn't turned on, so we got to walk right up to the fans. It was AWESOME. We got to see the model shop and all the instrumentation and the computers. We got to look at (WITH YOUR EYES DO NOT TOUCH THAT CHARLIE) Space Shuttle heat tiles!! Later when we went back to get Ryan the fan was going, but we didn't get to see that. It was so loud you could hear it from the parking lot. I might be a little jealous of Ryan this week. A lot.


After some quiet time we had a dip in the hotel pool then went back to the room to freshen up.


And watch some teeeee veeeeeee.


We'll go home today where I look forward to putting the kids to bed in their own beds and eating nothing but kale for the rest of the week.

Friday, May 25, 2012


A long time ago Charlie came home from school with a cute little worm named Wiggle Worm.  It lived in a cup of oats on my kitchen counter and was supposed to metamorphose into a beetle one day.  They only thing we had to do, according to Charlie, was give it a tiny piece of diced apple to eat every few days until it metamorphosed.

I thought this was fantastic!  What a cool way to observe the insect life cycle!

Charlie was diligent about feeding Wiggle Worm his apple pieces but when mold started to grow on his oatmeal bedding, Ryan and I were the ones to change it out.  That was about two weeks in and I was starting to get impatient, wondering when Wiggle Worm would turn into Wiggle Beetle and get released into the wild and out of my kitchen.  So I dug the instructions for Wiggle Worm's care out of Charlie's backpack.

Imagine my surprise to learn that Wiggle Worm was scheduled for metamorphose in THREE MONTHS.


Well, I thought smugly, I'm sure something will happen to him before that.  Three months in a plastic cup with a bunch of oatmeal and a piece of apple?  Psshhhht.

But Wiggle Worm held on.

And held on.  And held on.

Until one day when we thought he was dead.  Poor Wiggle Worm.  He wasn't moving and his back legs were missing.

Charlie was ecstatic.  HE'S IN HIS CHRYSALIS!!!!  I was dubious.

Wiggle Chrysalis remained on my kitchen counter because I did not know what else to do.  We did stop feeding him apple slices though, seeing as he wasn't moving at all.

And then one day I took a closer look and noticed that Wiggle Chrysalis, though apparently dead, had grown a pair of enormous eyes.  Creepy!

Charlie was jumping out of his skin with excitement.  He took Wiggle Chrysalis to school to show his science teacher, who reacted appropriately and with great enthusiasm.  Indeed, Wiggle Worm was undergoing metamorphosis!  The puberty of the invertibrate world!  This was great news!

Wiggle Chrysalis came home, where no doubt he would soon learn to roll his eyes and ignore my requests to clean up his room.

A week or so later, the changes seemed to be stagnating.  I was not optimistic.  I was starting to feel a little sad for Wiggle Chrysalis.  I thought of ways to let Charlie down easy.

But when I came back from my trip, Wiggle Chrysalis was gone and Wiggle Beetle had taken his place!  Hurray!

You can imagine Charlie's reaction.  Hoo boy.  Everyone we met heard the story of Wiggle Worm, now Wiggle Beetle.  Strangers!  Friends!  Teachers!  Grocery store checkers!  Wiggle Beetle went to school in Charlie's backpack and met all of his friends!  Charlie's science teacher was thrilled!  It was very exciting.

So Charlie, I said one day, do you think it might be time to let Wiggle Beetle out into the wild (and off my kitchen counter, I did not add)?

No!  I think we need to get him a bigger cup now!  Do we have a bigger, clear cup with a lid?

We don't, sorry.

And so he remains, a not so cute inch-long beetle.  On my kitchen counter in his little cup.  Eating oats and apples all the live long day.

Until today.  Today I was sitting at my desk when I heard a strange sound.


It sounded like an animal was in my junk mail pile.

I heard it again.  Scratch-scratch-scratch.  It was louder this time.

I checked Wiggle Beetle's cup.  To my horror, the lid was off.  And he was NOWHERE TO BE FOUND.


We found him in the junk mail pile.  Charlie got him back into the cup.  What a relief.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


My parents came over for dinner Saturday night and all day long Charlie was wired with excitement. So it was almost comically predictable when he flamed out in a most spectacular fashion five minutes into the meal.

He and Wes were sitting at the little plastic outdoor kids' table on the patio while the rest of us gathered around on chairs and benches.  He took one bite of his dinner and exclaimed "Oh MAN, this is SO GOOD!"  What a nice evening this was turning out to be!  But by bite five-ish, he and Wes had a shoving match with the table.  Shove-shove-shove, until Ryan put his foot in the way and warned him to knock it off.

Then he shoved it good and hard and sent his and Wes's plates sliding into his lap.

So I took the table away.  He and Wes sat on the patio barely nibbling at their food while the rest of us enjoyed the great (if I do say so myself) meal.  And then Charlie kicked an extra plate nearby his foot on the patio.

"Don't kick that, Buddy.  Pick it up and put it over there."

So he kicked it good and hard.  It slid across the porch and into the grass.

I got up close to his face and said "If you don't shape up you will be in your room for the rest of dinner."

He responded "THIS IS SO STUPID!"

Now.  My parents were sitting right there.  So instead of slinging him over my shoulders like a baby calf, I calmly put down my fork, picked him up, and carried him up to his bed.

"You stay here.  I will be back to check on you in a long time."

And I went back outside.  MINUTES later I was inside getting dessert ready when I heard a huge thump.  When I went up to investigate, I found him under his bed, mattress on the floor, and bunky board standing up at a crazy angle.  He was still pushing on it with his feet when he noticed me.

"Fix it." I said with eerie calm.  "Fix it, RIGHT NOW."

And then I went downstairs.

He appeared on the porch minutes later.

"Is the bed put back together?" I asked.

"Yes" he grunted.

"Then go up there and sit on it until I come and get you."

And then we finished our dinner.  And then Ryan got up to clear the plates.  And he stood there by the back door, loaded down with plates.  And he said "It's locked.  He locked us out of the house."

Now.  We do not have a key for the back door.  And the front door was double locked because I was afraid he was going to make a run for it when we were in the back yard.  We were good and locked out.  I pounded on the door.  My dad tried his front door key in the back door lock, with no luck.  Ryan went to go find an open window.

Shortly afterward Charlie appeared in the kitchen.  I yelled, very rationally, "Open this door right now or Phent will be sleeping in my room FOR THE NEXT SIX MONTHS!"  It was a proud moment, yelling that right in front of my parents.  And most of the neighborhood, actually.  I was pretty pissed off.

When he unlocked the door I swung it open, met his eyes and said "GO."  He ran up the stairs, barely touching them as he went.  He flopped down on his bare mattress (that he had stripped earlier, you remember).  I started yelling.

"You NEVER lock us out of the house, EVER!  DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?  Do you know how DANGEROUS THAT IS?!"

He started sobbing.  I stalked back down the stairs and angry-washed some dishes.  Then I put James to bed around 6:00 and poured another glass of wine.  He was still crying.  I went into his room, put his sheets back on, helped him change into jammies and told him it was bedtime.  I kissed him good night and told him I love him.  He was asleep by 6:20.

 This morning was also very special.  Wes had a 101.6 fever, James was inhabited by a loud, screamy poltergeist, and Charlie continued his reign of terror.  By 10:40 it became clear that there was no way anyone was going to get anything out of church, even if we could get half the family there by 11:00 and by some miracle, whichever parent was there managed to carry James and drag a screaming, belligerent, fifty-five pound child all the way in from the car. But yet, we pushed on.

I was reading "Pocket's Christmas Wish" to Wes in the living room when I heard Ryan say "WE DO NOT SPIT IN ANGER" to Charlie, who had just been asked to do the totally unexpected task of putting on his church pants and shoes.  And in that moment I realized that I could not continue down this path for a second day in a row.  My voice caught in my throat and my hands holding the book started shaking.

All I could think of were the pretty fruit pizzas I had made for dessert the night before.  How as I'd chopped the strawberries I was thinking of Charlie the whole time and how much he loved fruit pizzas.  How much I'd looked forward to having my parents over for dinner, to the whole family being together.  And how Charlie hadn't even eaten any of that dinner or dessert. Wes hadn't eaten anything either, since he was getting sick, unbeknownst to me.  I'd spent the whole meal angry and hurt and embarrassed.  It was so disappointing.

Charlie was lying face down on the stairs screeching about how awful his life is.

I told Ryan that we would not be making it to church today.  Then handed Charlie a grocery bag and carried him out the front door.  I deposited him in one of our front gardens and told him to start pulling weeds.

He halfheartedly picked a few and put them in the bag.  I sat down on the other side and helped.  He started fiddling with a leaf.

"If you stop, I stop, and you're not done until all of these weeds are gone."

He started ripping angry handfuls of plants out of the dirt.  Pausing to show me the roots here and there.  He complained about the hot sun.  He was thirsty.  He was tired.  This was boring.  I repeated myself.

"If you stop, I stop, and you're not done until all of these weeds are gone."

He was not a happy boy.


We had been working for thirty minutes when he stopped complaining and started talking to me.

"I didn't like it when you were gone. I had all bad days."

I stopped weeding. "But you knew I would come back, right? Just like Papa always comes back from work trips."

He pulled a long strand of bermuda grass out of the dirt and inspected it's roots.

"But you weren't around during the day. I MISSED you." It was not a statement. It was an accusation.

I told him that I had missed him very much too. That I would never leave and not come back. I made sure he understood. And I knew that a thousand little things that I do every day that I think go unnoticed, were Very Important Things. And I don't even know what those things are. But they are rituals to him. And I felt very, very sad.

He was so, breathtakingly angry with me for going on my trip. We weeded together in silence for a little while. I thought about the trip. "Was it worth it?" I wondered. And it was. Not worth his anger, but worth the disruption and the money and the time. It had been so, so good professionally, personally, all of those things. The boys were in excellent hands with our babysitter and my parents and Ryan and their teachers. I had no doubt about that. But I did not know what to do with his hurt and disappointment and anger. I still don't.

But the ninety minutes he spent weeding were just what he needed. I took Wes to a doctor's appointment and when I got home he ran out into the garage and gave me a huge hug. He was himself all afternoon and we had a lovely dinner together, including dessert, that we all got to enjoy. We read books and gave hugs and kisses and everything was as it should be. I haven't told him about my next trip, which is in July, but tonight? Was good.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Walking man walks!

He's been doing this off and on since the infamous head laceration of 2012, but I haven't gotten it on video until today because the camera is too big to put in my bra and carry around with me like I do my phone and also because I was an absentee mother for most of the last week.

So, without further ado, I present The Biped 3.0.

He had been doing some weeding, as you can see.

And as a special bonus, I will also show you this video, entitled "James Answers the Phone and Wes tells him 'Those aren't your talking lips'," because it cracks me up.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Breaking the rules

I used to be quite the rule follower. Authority freaked me out, even when imagined. I can't tell you how many times I dragged my infectious butt to a 8:00 class in thirty degree weather in the face of an intolerant attendance policy (A lot, because I had a lot of colds in college. Evidently your immune system needs more than caffeine and refined carbohydrates to function optimally). It served me well throughout K-12 and undergrad. Grad school pretty much beat it out of me, especially the hurricane chasing. I barely recognized the person who argued with an army commander for forty-five minutes on the phone until he gave me the gate code to an abandoned air field in North Carolina (you didn't see this) as me. And now that I'm on the other side I can pretty much be relied on to return library books late, eat donuts at the store before paying, and not take my cart all the way back to the cart corral.

Today I had to go to the machine shop at my old school for a tour. Ten years ago, I put on my hiking boots, jeans, pony tail, and safety badge before I even left my house on the way to this place. Today? Sandals and a skirt. And I don't remember anything from the gory safety video we had to watch as part of our training. I think someone got his arm cut off by a lathe? Possibly because he was wearing sandals and didn't have his hair pulled back?

I'm just glad they didn't call the cops.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Way to be me

Hey, friends, I'm back in my old town because I'm taking a week-long course in climate change with a little bit of schilling for a postdoc on the side.  It's been so much fun.  The class is fascinating and I've really enjoyed stretching my brain and talking about my research and new (very poorly defined and researched) research ideas.  I like it a lot.  I also miss the kids a lot, as evidenced by the compulsion I have to pick up all the children and babies I see. And I'm staying with friends who have a very cute and smiley little seven month old. The kids and Ryan are coming up tomorrow and JUST in time.

Today during the class we were instructed to draw a "picture or diagram" explaining how anthropogenic (human caused) climate change works.  I spent my five minutes carefully drawing a cow and a pig and some buildings and a coal fired power plant and a car and a truck and some chopped down trees. That all took kind of a long time so I had to hurry when I was drawing my carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere, but I think I did a good job of showing how radiation gets re-radiated from the molecules back to earth, causing warming. I was pretty proud of the finished product:


Imagine my surprise when the instructor asked us to switch papers with our neighbor and I learned that everyone else in the class had drawn a FLOW CHART.

Raise your hand if you teach at a liberal arts college!

Later I drove by the old homestead. It looked exactly the same and it felt good to be back in the old hood (and I do mean hood). I loved that house so much. I don't think we could do 1300 square feet now, but it was a really great house.


We brought Charlie home from the hospital to that house! We celebrated Ryan's defense in that house! We spent many happy hours with our wonderful friends in that house. I can still picture the very spot on the hallway carpet where Charlie spit up his 4 AM feeding EVERY SINGLE NIGHT when I carried him back to his crib in his sweet little blue bedroom.

This picture? In that house. DID THIS REALLY HAPPEN? I do not remember and Charlie is eight feet tall now.

Charlie Bath

Let's hear it for blue tile!! Sooo much blue tile. Also a wallpaper border. It was very stylish. In 1975.

The rest of the fam drives up tomorrow, which is terrifying but I am so incredibly excited to see them that I don't know how I'm going to wait until 3:00. But I have to because they're six hours away. But at 3:00? I'm going to hug the heck out of some kids.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Sunday when everyone was bleeding

Poor, poor little third-baby James.

We were all out in the backyard this afternoon, playing in the baby pools and goofing around, when all of the sudden he popped up onto two feet and started walking around.  It was really adorable--little dripping wet baby in a too-long swimsuit, WALKING!

So I ran inside to get my camera, hoping he would do it again.  And he did!  I whipped the camera out of my pocket and pushed the button and?  Nothing.  A kid had taken the batteries out.

So I ran inside AGAIN and frantically found some new batteries, jammed them into the camera, then ran back outside ready to capture the big moment (or at least the third iteration of the big moment).

But as I crossed the backyard to get a good angle on him, something strange caught my eye in Wes's hair.

Forgetting all about James's big milestone I ran over to Wes mentally cataloging everything we had eaten today and hoping against hope that one of those things was red.  But no, we hadn't had any ketchup, or jelly, or jello, or beets.


His hair was matted with blood.


Until this moment he'd been happily playing in the wading pool and going down the slide.  He seemed oblivious that a drop of blood was making its way down his left temple.

I carried him inside, laid him on the counter, and sprayed his head with the vegetable sprayer.  Sure enough, there was a half-inch long gash on the left side of the crown of his head.

I asked him again how it happened.

Charlie hit me with a Lego.

Charlie came inside, looking like he'd seen a ghost.  I was stuffing Wes into dry clothes and shoes in preparation for our mad dash to urgent care before they closed in twenty minutes.


 He was very sad that he couldn't join Wes at urgent care and instead had to stay home and help Ryan make dinner.  I was very sad that he'd lacerated his brother's head.  We were all sad together!

When the put my thirty-five pound child on a giant gurney in the "trauma" part of the urgent care clinic I started to feel very silly.  The "wound" had stopped bleeding and did not appear to be serious, other than being so beyond disgusting looking I will not attempt to describe it here.  Still, it was a lot of blood, certainly more than the time Ryan scratched his head on the playground and had come to this very urgent care clinic several months ago.

I licked my thumb and worked at getting the blood trail off his face and tried to keep him from injuring the rest of his head by fooling around with the bed and doctor's stool.  He was happy and goofy and totally wound up for the thirty minutes we waited--jumping on the bed off the bed on the bed off the bed, setting the brake on the bed turning the brake off setting the brake, climbing up the back of the bed, spinning on the stool--but when the doctor came in he collapsed against the pillow, looking as pitiful as possible.

He managed a smile when the doctor said "Hey Transformer, I'm Dr. Mike.  Did you bonk your head?"  He was diagnosed with a gash and declared to be in need of a staple (Yuck!  And also, so glad we didn't come here unnecessarily!).  The doctor showed me how the staple would work--you just get the skin like this and SNAP!  The staple holds the skin together so it can heal.  My day was getting more disgusting by the minute.

He advised against a numbing drug because he said it would hurt worse than the staple and he just. kept. talking about it and Wes's eyes got bigger and bigger every time he said shot! needle! sting! medicine! and I wanted to interrupt, "I've got a stapler right here, let's do this thing."

So I held Wes in my lap and felt his heart pounding in his chest.  The doctor put the stapler against his head and SQUEEZED and SNAP!  My kid's head was collated and stapled like a final exam.

Wes let out a ragged sigh and burrowed into my chest.

It looks exactly as disgusting as you might imagine.  Like a staple stuck in a bloody patch of hair.  You are welcome.

We arrived home to great "I want to see the staple" fanfare, which died down pretty quickly because GAG! and after the appropriate fussing over him we spent the evening teasing him that we were going to get out the electromagnet if he didn't come back to the table/brush his teeth/put on his jammies.

And then later, when I was washing the dinner dishes, James slipped and hit his gums on the edge of the bathtub, which caused his allllmost new tooth to pop through the gums which of course meant lots and LOTS of blood.  He was screaming like crazy as Ryan said to me "I don't want you to freak out, but James hurt himself."  He turned James around and sure enough, his mouth was full of blood and blood was dripping down his chin and onto his chest.

My first thought was "Dammit, urgent care if closed!"  My second thought was "SERIOUSLY?!!!"  After we ran some water over it it stopped bleeding quickly and he forgot all about it.  I couldn't identify any staple-worthy gashes in his mouth, so we stuffed him into his jammies and put him to bed not long after.

We still don't have a video of James walking.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Charlie and I stopped at the store on the way home from choir practice tonight to buy a couple of things we needed and to get a frozen pizza for my dinner.  He bounced along beside the cart, chatting happily about the fun time he'd had at the choir end of the year party.  He'd had ice cream!  With chocolate!  And a cherry!!  He was still talking when we got the milk case and his fingers got pinched in the door as I opened it.

Instantly, he went from happy and bouncy to sad and sobby.  It was so awful.  I held him and rubbed his back and kissed his fingers and told him what a good thing it was that Dr. Phent was waiting out in the car.  We only needed a couple more things, we'd be with Phent soon!

He recovered, eventually, and we headed to the checkout stand.  As I loaded the groceries onto the belt Charlie was peering around the check writing platform thing and looking at the cashier.  When he had her attention he extended his sore finger to show her the injury.

Since he had hurt his middle finger, he was flipping her the bird, so I rushed to explain that he was showing her his hurt finger.  She came around the counter and handed him a coupon for the kids' ball machine in the store and asked if that would make it feel better.  He smiled and ran off to play the game.

And then as she was scanning my food she said to me, very casually, "Is your son on the spectrum?"

The hell?

There was a long-ish silence.  And then I smiled and said "No, he's not."

She explained that she has two autistic sons and that the customer before me had been their teacher.  They would be graduating soon.  "How nice!" I said, and meant it.

She seemed flustered after that.  I picked up my groceries and we left.

I told Ryan (and Facebook, naturally) about it and we analyzed it--she may have thought he was nonverbal because of the way I explained the finger thing, but Charlie?  Nonverbal?  Seriously?  And it was kind of odd the way he was peering around the check writing platform at her, but it wasn't *that* weird.  The incredulous responses on Facebook were great.  My mom called, horrified, and we had a good laugh.

But we laughed the hardest when Charlie used sign language to tell us he wanted to get ready for bed.  And then when Ryan came downstairs after giving him his antihistamine for seasonal allergies (which he usually takes for excema) and said "Charlie tasted this and said it's his rash medicine, not his nose medicine."  In other words, the moment the cashier saw Charlie in the store was one of his *least* weird moments ALL DAY!  If only she'd seen him naming all of the candidates for president and vice president when he was two!

Baby talk

James hasn't started really talking yet, besides "bye bye", "thanks", "no", and "papapapapa", but I know it's coming.  And since small children, like macaws, learn words that they hear frequently, I have a few guesses about what might be the first thing we hear out of his sweet little mouth.  They are as follows:




Get in the car

Put on your shoes


Come back to the table

Close the door, I'm pooping

Good morning!

You just had a snack

Buckle up

Get down


No more snacks

Shoes! Now!



Where's the...

No screaming


TV off


Mama's coffee

Get down

Get down

Get down




Not snack time

Animals belong outside

Mama's bag

No stove


I need privacy in the bathroom

Which one of you had a fever again?

No hitting

No kicking

Hold my hand


...And maybe if I'm lucky, "I love you".


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Good morning!

Scene: Backyard, 8:30 AM, family is trying to kill an hour before a dentist appointment without killing each other or staring slack-jawed at the TV the whole time. Charlie is swinging, Wes is sitting on stationary swing, James is walking around with a walker, Rossby is acting like an idiot, as usual.

Charlie: After the dentist can we go to the Ikea Kids' Club?

Mom: I don't think we'll have time, buddy. Charlie: WHY NOT?!!

Mom: Because we will need to eat lunch while we are at Ikea.

Charlie: WE NEVER GET TO DO ANYTHING FUN (still swinging).




James: blood-curdling scream for no apparent reason.


Charlie: I know what we can do today. We can build a BOAT! I want to build a boat today, Mom! Can we build a boat?

Mom: Not today, Charlie. We could plan how to build a boat, but we can't build it today.



Charlie: I NEVER GET TO HAVE FUN!! (still swinging)



Charlie: I never get to build a boat! I never get to go to Kids' Club. I WANT TO START KINDERGARTEN RIGHT NOW!

Mom: Don't tempt me.

Charlie: What?

Mom: Nothing



Rossby resumes barking, Wes and Charlie are still complaining. James absentmindedly wanders behind Charlie's swing.


James gets clocked. Twice, before Charlie can get the swing stopped. James is screaming. Charlie is screaming. I pick up James. Charlie runs inside screaming. I inspect James for injuries. He is fine, but really pissed off.





Wes: Mama, I want you to PUSH ME ON THE FWING!!


And then I sent everyone to their rooms and wondered if 8:40 was too early for a drink.