Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas and James's Christmo-birthday

I don't think anything can summarize the past week better than this picture of an empty cinnamon roll pan on the living room floor beside a half-finished game of Battleship, some homemade croc stilts, and a family of denuded mice standing in front of their house.


Today was actually a huge improvement over Christmas Eve and Christmas, when I could barely function for all the sneezing and scratching and the sensation that my sinuses were attempting to escape through my forehead. In an exciting turn of events for Ryan, I basically slipped into a coma at eight o'clock on Christmas Eve. I muttered some hasty instructions as he tucked me into bed and when I awakened at two thirty feeling somehow much better, I went downstairs to find Santa's workshop in full swing in the garage and Ryan cheerfully making a breakfast strata in the kitchen. That, my friends, is a MAN.

It was then that I turned to face the living room and realized just how out of it I must have been because WOW. My contribution to Christmas 2018 was a VERY NECESSARY ten-minute tidy of the downstairs before realizing that I'd overestimated my recovery and got back in bed. Ryan deployed Christmas in its entirety sometime after that and then came to bed I don't even know when.

Man cold aside, it was Christmas! So I gathered my robe around myself and parked on the couch with my kleenex box to watch the magic unfold. The kids are the PERFECT ages and they were so, so cute and wonderful.

Santa brought James a box of sheets to use for fort-building (and a battery-powered lantern that he could use inside, so he would stop leaving his desk lamp turned on with a sheet draped over it in his room).


Wes and Mary are loving Mary's doll house.


My parents came over and stayed all day, which was great fun.


We had a feast! (that my parents orchestrated because I was still only semi-coherent)


They also brought owl pellets for the kids, which I'd never considered a holiday activity before but now will be sure to include in our festivities.


I've completely forgotten to mention James's eighth birthday, which was as it always is, cozy and sweet and tucked in the midst of a variety of holiday obligations and activities. His wish list was simple: books, a cozy blanket, and his own case of Topo Chico, and we were happy to fulfill it all.


(Before we could have his birthday dinner, tomato soup and breakfast tacos, we had to take Charley to a late swim practice that got moved across town because of a heater issue. #thirdbaby)


It's pretty hard to imagine him as anything other than a cute little toddler, but he is a pretty great kiddo, even playing "Away in a Manger" for the prelude at church on Christmas Eve.


We love our little guitar playing, skateboarding, topo chico-loving hipster baby.


Who built a xylophone with his empties tonight after bedtime.


And NOW, Ryan is back at work and we are just cooling our heels for the next ten or so days until I have to go to Phoenix for a conference. Today's theme was games and cinnamon rolls and I didn't put my shoes on or leave the house once, even to get something from the car.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

So we needed that.

On the spectrum that ranges from people who like holiday breaks because everything is shiny and festive and there are cookies everywhere on the left to people who like holiday breaks because every school day feels like the last thirty minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" on the right, sixth grade parents must be only slightly less close to the right hand side than sixth grade teachers and administrators.

I assume this is why it only took thirty seconds for my friend V to arrange for a sitter for our combined seven children when I texted her the other afternoon and asked if she would like to go to Beer n' Carols at a brewery near my house.

Like literally, thirty seconds after she said "I could try to find a sitter for all the kids," she texted back to say "My sitter is free! Your house or mine?"

Last night was the night. I arranged cookie decorating, coloring, and game stations in my house in hopes that if the babysitter (Whom I had never met) could divide the kids into smaller groups, it wouldn't be so overwhelming. And then Ryan arrived with the pizza, V and her family picked the swimmer kids up from practice and met me at our house, we handed off some hasty instructions and the Netflix password, and then screeched out of the driveway like the place was on fire (AFTER we made James and his buddy Cash, who we discovered eating pizza in the dark in the front yard, to go back inside and STAY inside, because, as I told him in a screechy tone, "Kelly is not here to chase you all over the neighborhood in the dark!").

(Me: Wes, have a great time! Love you!
Wes: Wait, where am I going?)

We met up with some other friends when we got there. J brought her daughter, who is Charley's age, who sat looking bored the whole time but did not destroy anything or get lost in the woods like my kids would have done. Raising a girl must be so different.

(Also I am just realizing that V and J and I all met in the church mom's group more than ten years ago when our oldest kids were just learning to WALK)

We raised a toast to sixth grade. There was some profanity.


Ryan was there too! And there were no kids!


There was beer, a cozy seating area, and a band of gingham-wearing hipsters playing banjos and mandolins and stand up basses.

I could tell that we all, um, needed this.

This was especially evident when the band finished up at the end of the night and no one moved.

The four of us arrived back at my house to find seven happy kids in their jammies watching TV. The sitter reported that every few minutes James and Cash exclaimed "This is the BEST NIGHT EVER! Let's HUG!" Charley put himself to bed with a book. They ate all the cookies and an entire batch of frosting. I don't really know what went on here, but the place was still standing, so we will probably hire her again. We plunked them all in bed and watched National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. It was perfect.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

It's a pierogie par-tay

When we last spoke, Ryan and I were up until one o'clock in the morning making pierogies, supervising a 6th grade project on Greece, and coaxing (forcing) unwilling children to engage in basic levels of personal hygiene. That DAY turned into a WEEK. Wednesday I had my choir concert, which was one of the highlights of the semester for me, except for the fact that on the way there, I had to pick the kids up at school, and was met in the school lobby by the assistant principal, who is awesome, but who gave me his cell phone number because things were THAT BAD. This was DISTRACTING.

Thursday night I was singing with the choir at our campus's candlelight Advent service, which was also SO COOL and something that is deserving of its own post because choir, has been great. I was in BAND. And not just band, but DRUMLINE, and choir is not something I ever considered for myself, but I needed SOMETHING FUN this semester and the director opened choir up to faculty and I just sort of signed up on a whim. A whim I am grateful for. But even though I was supposed to sing in two services, and even though I would have loved to sing in two services, I bowed out of the second one and went home where I put on my pajamas and turned on Father Brown with great intentionality because REST, it is a thing.

Friday we had four inches of rain and a cold front which dropped the temperature into the mid-thirties and Charley left after dark with a bunch of unfamiliar people for a Scout backpacking trip. You guys know I have NO CHILL about flash flooding. Too many awful stories around here and too much professional background in heavy precipitation. I was a MESS when he left. And then just sort of figured no news was good news all weekend. It was really wonderful to see his smiling face on Sunday at pickup.

But back to the original point of this post, which was the party we held on Saturday night called "Friend-gilia" based loosely on the Polish celebration of Christmas Eve that my aunt holds for us each year. My aunt was born in Poland and moved to the US as a teenager. She and her mother used to make us Pierogies and borcht and fish every Christmas Eve, starting when I was in high school. It was all so unfamiliar at first, but soon became a beloved part of our holiday. I took baby Charley to Wigilia, and then toddler Charley and baby Wes, carefully tying a dishtowel around fat little necks to keep their Christmas shirts free from borsct stains. James attended his first Wigilia at four days old and I ate my pierogies and sour cream one-handed over his head as he slept curled into my neck. The kids look forward to it each year. A couple of years ago Ryan learned to make pierogies and we hosted Wigilia for our family and my aunt and uncle. And this year, we wanted to host it for our friends. Which is why we had to make a hundred and fifty pierogies.

I took exactly ONE picture of the party, which is a bit of a bummer because I love going back through pictures, but I was having too much fun. The meal is meatless, and I was concerned about people being too hungry, so I made WAY TOO MUCH food: roasted veggies, roasted brussells sprouts, winter fruit salad with pomegranate seeds apples and pecans, chopped radishes and cucumbers and a yummy red dip, tilapia with parmesan and tomatoes, a double batch of potato leek soup, and a cheese plate. My friend Heather brought her amazing kugel, my friend Irina brought an incredible borcht. In the last minutes, I threw together a pot of Pioneer Woman mac and cheese for the kids. And then of course were the pierogies, which were the star of the show. I set Ryan up at his frying station on the island with an electric skillet, three sticks of butter, and a 3 quart Corningware full of diced onions. He fried pierogies for THREE HOURS, chatting and laughing with our friends. It paid off--my aunt, the pierogie expert, complimented his technique enthusiastically.

Dessert was a supermarket-sweep style raid of the Costco bakery area--cheese cake, a large cookie platter, a chocolate mousse cake, and tray of peppermint bark. This did not disappoint.

I should also note that the morning of the party we awakened reasonably certain that Ryan was suffering from the FLU, so I bundled the kids off to pick up all the groceries (at Curbside, thank god, though the woman who brought me my groceries seemed alarmed by the amount of alcohol and sour cream I required), then to Costco for dessert, as I SOSed my parents and asked them if they could come just a bit early and maybe help me put things together. They did ten times better than that, showing up at noon with an armload of pizza. My mom went to work in the kitchen, peeling and chopping a three foot tall pile of vegetables on my counter while I made soup and mac and cheese and we both fussed at and laughed with the kids.

Also the house was in shambles due to the chaos of the week, so I dealt with that. It was...alarming.

Ryan arrived back from urgent care with a diagnosis of a (non-contagious!!) sinus infection during this time and was ready to jump in, scrubbing the bathroom walls and hanging garland over the arch between our foyer and living room.

I was exhausted by the time friends started to come, but soon the adrenaline and wine took over and I settled into a comfortable flurry of activity (and twenty unsupervised children is a FLURRY). In the middle of the party a student from my school arrived to play the piano for the sing-a-long portion of the evening. My absolute favorite part of the party was so many loved ones crowded into our dining room, singing together with the candles and wine. The kids, who were all milling around upstairs, jumped in when we sang familiar songs like Jingle Bells. More friends arrived. A neighbor walked in to collect her daughter, James's friend, totally unaware of the chaos going on inside my house. I handed her a glass of wine and a song book and she had some dessert with us. James wandered into the dining room to sing clutching a pierogie in one fist and a Topo Chico in the other.

(I'm still finding Topo Chico bottles in my house. It's like a millenial Easter egg hunt. Indoors and out. Ryan found a bottle opener in our front yard a week after the party because we are classy AF)

Because everyone has middle-aged kids lots of people said their goodbyes by eight thirty and by nine there were just three families lingering in my kitchen. James came in and insisted we take a family-friend picture before it was time to go, and we were all happy to do it.


We scrambled everyone into bed and spent a pleasant hour boxing up leftovers, scrubbing serving dishes, and getting things back together. The next morning I laid in bed staring at the picture and reliving every moment and wishing I could somehow fit twice as many people into my house (can't exactly rely on the outside being hospitable in December, even here). I can't wait to do it ALL again. Because clearly I've forgotten what it's like to make a gross of pierogies. Brains are funny like that. Enjoy this charming picture of the kids at the Christmas lights last night.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

It was a DAY

I've heard more people use this expression lately and I noted to myself that I kind of liked it and then, well, yesterday, it was a DAY.

It was a DAY that started at 3:00 AM with a kid SCREAMING on the toilet because it hurt to pee. What I thought was run of the mill skin irritation did not improve with my halfhearted, middle of the night Aquaphor application, and we were awakened by this hysterical screaming approximately every forty five minutes for the rest of the night. Finally we put this child in bed with us, both because of proximity to the bathroom and because of a door that closed so that the kid didn't continue to wake up all the other kids. OMG. It was a long night.

In the morning it was clear that this child could not possibly go to school in this state, so we kept them home, which meant that Ryan and I had to blearily get everyone else ready. I dropped them off at school and went to teach a statics class on finding moments of inertia by integration, which went surprisingly well given the circumstances.

I then picked up another kid at school for a med check and drove to the doctor's office where Ryan was going to meet me with the sick kid (who by this point had been diagnosed by the on call pediatrician with a UTI). Ryan texted to say that there was no way this kid could sit through a med check what with the extremely urgent peeing every thirty minutes. So we did the appointment and then met him and the UTI kid at home.

Ryan took the med check kid back to school while I sat on the couch with the UTI kid and alternately worked, ran the kid to the bathroom (the screaming!!), arranged towels on the couch, and washed a load of undies.

Sometime that afternoon we drove to the pool to hand off Charley's swim equipment to the sitter, who had picked everyone up at school (And thank goodness, because there was no way the UTI kid could have made it through the carline).

And then we all drove home where I attempted to work on a paper holed up in my bedroom and sometimes had to run downstairs to talk someone through a screamy bathroom session.

Sometime around 5:30 I emerged from the haze to realize that we did not have any food for dinner. This was problematic.

I begged the sitter for an extra thirty minutes than usual, ordered a pizza, drove to CVS to buy PullUps (because DAMN), picked up the pizza, and went home. Ryan got Charley at swimming and met us at home, then left for his guys' night at the bowling alley. After pizza I forced everyone to take a shower. This sounds normal, except one other kid, who refuses to wear socks, gets these gross blisters on his feet. The shower was not negotiable at this point for a lot of reasons, but he was freaked out about the water hurting his blisters and LOST HIS DAMN MIND when it was time to get in.

So this is how I found myself standing in my master bathroom holding a child under the shower and washing his hair as he screamed at the top of his lungs "YOU ARE KILLING ME! I'M GOING TO DIE! I'M DYING! YOU'RE KILLING ME! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!" with plenty of extraneous blood curdling screams thrown in for good measure while a second child sat on the potty ALSO SCREAMING because it hurt to pee.

I was JUST WAITING for the SWAT team to show up.

Finally, the shower kid was satisfactorily clean (this took a grueling eight minutes) and I wrapped him in a towel, carried him to his room, dressed him in pajamas, and tucked him into bed. I instructed him to use some of his CBT calming techniques and take some deep breaths while I returned to the bathroom to make sure the other kid took a shower.

And THEN it was time for homework, where another kid who shall remain nameless but whom is having a bit of a TIME learning the ropes of time management required in middle school, announced casually that this large project was due on Thursday and that he hadn't exactly started working on it yet, AND that he chose not to work in a group so he was going to have to do the work of four students in the next two days.

And let's just say that this kids' research skills are in the developmental stage. I sketched out the headings he needed to research on eight pages of paper, handed him the Chromebook and told him to GET STEPPING. After much sighing and moaning and flouncing around and threatening and cajoling, I finally started having him read things out loud, summarizing them verbally, and then writing down the notes MY DAMN SELF just so we could build some forward momentum.

I was also supervising another kid's reading and handwriting specialist homework at the same time and submitting to an interview from a third kid about "my favorite idioms" so he could draw cartoons about them in his homework journal.

Also the UTI kid was there wearing a PullUp, which made my life about six million times easier.

I put the younger kids to bed as they got sleepy and at nine thirty I finally had to cut Mr. I Have To Understand The Entire History of Greece in Two Days off so he could get some sleep.

And then it was time to start making pierogies.

When Ryan got home at nine-forty-five and asked how many I had made, I calmly responded "One."

He opened a beer and rolled up his sleeves and by midnight we had banged out a hundred and five pierogies that are now carefully nestled in parchment paper in three of my baking pans in the fridge.

I went to bed at one AM still kind of wired. Only the knowledge that my choir concert was today kept me from taking a crack at our Christmas cards too.

Coffee time.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Right on schedule!

I was worried when James bounced out of the car after our hiking trip on Wednesday afternoon that he was actually not hurt when he botched the landing on an attempt to jump from one boulder to another, badly twisting his ankle as he landed, and we might not make our goal of a major orthopedic injury every six months. Between Charley's broken thumb (Advent 2016, Unto us a Son is Given!), Charley's broken ankle (Easter, 2017, Christ the Lord is Risen Today!), and big daddy of them all, Wes's wedding anniversary arm snappage of 2018 (not a liturgical holiday, but a special day nonetheless), we have been on track for two major injuries a year for quite some time.

He was pronounced fine by my podiatrist friend over a taco lunch trailside the Friday after Thanksgiving and proceeded to spend the afternoon acting extremely fine. he scrambled over rocks and hills on our post-Thanksgiving hike Friday, jumping in the water and swimming across to the other side, running around apartment blocks, all the while only complaining a little when his foot would randomly twist as he walked across an uneven surface or if he was required to put his heel down.

I had started to forget all about it when he told me in passing on Tuesday that he has been sitting out at recess because it hurts to run, and that he wants to get out of PE too but he's terrified of Coach V, so he just deals with it.

After a second day of sitting out at recess and complaining because his friend William runs so fast and he wishes he could keep up I called and scheduled an appointment with a podiatrist. This was now a week after he hurt himself, which is the third kid equivalent of rushing him straight to the emergency room.

The doctor moved his foot around and up and down and back and forth. James complained of pain in a few key locations. The doctor made eye contact with me and said softly "I'm trying to get him to wince."

"I once saw him fly sideways off an exercise bike, head first into a wall, then get up and walk away like nothing had happened."

"OK, well let's get him some xrays then."

When James came back in he said "They made me put my heel down and I almost cried."

In the end he was pronounced to have a bad sprain and told that he has to wear a boot for four weeks.


This was very exciting news, as you might imagine, until I told him that he would need to play only with kids on our street since he would need to get himself there and back and he couldn't hobble over on the trail. I then dropped him at a friend's driveway as we passed their house and left him to his own devices. When I went to call him in for dinner I found him sitting on top of a six foot tall stone fence post. Headdesk.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Further attempts to exhaust the children

I know you're dying to know how my second day of Professoring while Parenting (TM) went down and I can answer that question by telling you that I told Ryan, my parents, and several strangers at the grocery store, that there is no way in hell I am ever taking those children to work with me again. I have softened somewhat on that position, now that I've got some distance from the actual experience, but you GUYS.

Here's a happy camper who has NO intention of quietly enjoying a book for an hour while I give an exam. Spoiler alert: BINGO!

One bright spot: James and Mary found these toolboxes a block away with a sign on them indicating that they were "Free! Tools included!" James spent half an hour inching the first one home six inches at a time before returning for the second one with a wagon. Treasure!


By the time I met Ryan at swimming to hand them off so I could go see Crimes of Grindelwald with my friend Rosa it was all I could do to not lay a patch in the parking lot.

Wednesday morning I had a PT appointment, which means they had to sit still in the waiting room for fifty minutes watching whatever they wanted on TV. It went marginally better but probably mostly because I was white knuckling through the day determined to not go to bed feeling like an unfun asshole for a third night in a row.

Things picked up after that because we stopped at a sub place for a picnic and then went for a hike.


Mary shared their bag of chips by eating one and then feeding one to James, whether he was ready for it or not.

On our next stop, which was a park next to a wide stream, Wes somehow apparated to the other side.


I told the kids "We can take off when Wes gets back" and then looked up to see him fifteen feet up the side of a limestone cliff, shimmying across to the other side of the park. The rest of us took an actual bridge to join him on the other side and found a giant, forty-foot wall of limestone. The kids ran behind the cliff and were goofing around. It had just occurred to me to go looking for them when I heard a tiny voice from above.

Look for tiny blue dots.

I climbed up there to demonstrate some measure of parental responsibility.

It was a little less scary from the other side.

After nearly an hour of climbing around on giant boulders and jumping around like goats, we were walking back to the car and James tried to jump between two landscaping boulders and severely twisted his foot. Wes and I helped him hop to the car where he rallied by the time we got home. He was still limping bad enough the next day that I texted my podiatrist friend who diagnosed him with a shrug and instructions to "watch it". It was much better today by the time we had lunch with the same podiatrist this afternoon, and after he watched him walk around a little at my request, James and his two kids spent thirty minutes running in screechy circles around an apartment building next to the restaurant. Phew, saved an unnecessary copay! And a broken foot!

Wednesday night we made pies and played board games. It was just as cozy as it sounds.


And Thursday we spent the day at my parents' house having a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner with mountains of food and wine, great company, and four kinds of pie (Once, in a small town newspaper in Maine, we read an advertisement for a church supper, which listed the menu as "Stew, cornbread, green salad, and of course, pie" so now we always say "Of course, pie."). After an afternoon eating and playing in the woods and paired with their inability to read analog clocks, the kids went straight to bed,as a matter of course, at six PM. Ryan and I had time to watch an entire movie before I fell into a pie coma.

I woke up early today for a row and then we spent the rest of the day hiking. We only intended to go for a couple of hours and then eat lunch at this taco place right by the trail head, but we ended up having so much fun, meeting friends for lunch, and then heading back to the trail afterward. We spent six hours and two of the kids were completely soaked from head to toe when it was time to go.

James was the first to fall in up to his shoulders.


It was so pretty.





I just Google Earth'ed our route so I could tell you our impressive total, but turns out that we spent four hours hiking a little bit more than two miles. Stopping for accidental swimming really cuts into the miles you can cover, but it wore out the kids all the same, so ALL THE BETTER.

Wes walked easily three times as far as the rest of us and spent most of the time running. Running up hills, running over the trail, running up rocks. And after all that, while the little kids and I waited at the trail head, after hours of this, he came jogging up the steep trail holding his sopping wet shirt in his hand. I do not know what fuels that kid, but I'm imagining some kind of nuclear power plant. Or maybe it was the two tacos he had for lunch. At any rate, keeping these kids inside now seems cruel and I'd do well to remember that the next time I need to take them to work with me, which will be never (this is not true). Ryan's thinking of a bike ride for tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Adventures in professionalism

The kids have the whole week off for Thanksgiving and because I'm the lucky one with the flexible job that means I get to take them with me to work Monday and Tuesday. This is when I get to cash in all the times other people bring their dogs to work by bringing a painfully loud pack of my own puppies. They take over the study lounge at the end of the hall, watch terrible TV, make literal reams of paper airplanes (yesterday I thought I would be the cool mom and let them release them from the third floor railing into the atrium; I was rewarded for this kindness by Mary having the loudest screaming tantrum in her LIFE and refusing to get out of the elevator. When I tried to pick her up and run away she did that sea cucumber thing and slunk to the floor. I finally fireman carried her back to my office, still screaming, as one of my department chairs watched with open amusement), go to the bathroom fourteen times a minute (the bathrooms on the first floor only have one stall and when James, who is on a *treatment*, we will say, had to GO, he ran in to find the only stall occupied (by another colleague), he shouted "Oh NO!!!!" before slamming the door and running back into the hallway), and bicker, constantly.

 (One more elevator anecdote I somehow forgot about: the boys ran out onto the second floor while Mary was screaming and then tried to get back in, but the doors closed automatically. From inside the elevator I could hear them pounding their fists on the door and screaming MARY!!!! MARY!!!)

We capped that relaxing experience with an attempt to find Mary a holiday dress at two different stores and a trip to pick up our curbside groceries and by the time we got home everyone was in trouble and I had made evening plans that required me to leave about eight seconds after Ryan arrived home.

We are back at school today because hope springs eternal and also all our babysitters are either home for the break or spending their time preparing thanksgiving for us. Both classes have an exam today, so the kids are camped out in an adjacent study lounge watching a movie while the husband of one of my students, a tall guy with a big beard, sits nearby and looks imposingly at them every few minutes.  I have also warned them that we will go home and eat peanut butter and jelly instead of visiting the dining hall, the very Shangri La of their existance, if they screw around.

So I am hopeful today will go better.

And if not, I have movie plans with a friend at 6:40.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Quick like a bandaid

I finally got my act together and called to schedule the kids' flu shots a couple of weeks ago and all they had available were some spots at a flu shot clinic in mid-November. I had them pencil us in, wrote it on the Google calendar, and then promptly forgot all about it until Tuesday night at dinner when Wes said something about a friend getting a flu shot and then I exclaimed "OH! THAT'S TODAY!" I quickly checked the clock and we still had a comfortable twenty minutes to get in the car and make it in plenty of time.

The kids were DUMBSTRUCK and ate the rest of their dinner in hostile silence. Having had two kids go through cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety, this is NOT HOW WE USUALLY HANDLE SCARY THINGS.

On the way there Charley riled everyone up by talking incessantly about how "this one time, my friend left school to get a flu shot and when he came back there was BLOOD RUNNING ALL THE WAY DOWN HIS ARM!"

James laughed maniacally and Wes screamed "STOP IT RIGHT NOW CHARLEY!" and trying to hit James from the third row.

The bickering reached a crescendo right as we got stuck in some traffic and Ryan barked at everyone to STOP TALKING NOW ALL OF YOU I MEAN IT!

Someone asked snottily what's so bad about getting the flu and I responded tersely as I tried to merge in front of an eighteen wheeler in the dark, "IT'S LIKE THE WORST COLD YOU'VE EVER HAD EXCEPT YOU ALSO HAVE A FEVER AND YOUR BODY HURTS SO MUCH YOU CAN'T MOVE."

Apparently, their memory of two years ago when THREE OF THEM PLUS RYAN got the flu includes lots of time off, watching TV and getting fussed over, and not feeling like death.

When we arrived they all slinked into the healthy kid waiting room and collapsed onto the tiny Ikea chairs. James separated himself from the pack, choosing a love seat on the end of the room. He just sat there with his coat on, staring into the middle distance, looking green.

They called us back quickly and all six of us crammed into this tiny exam room. "Who is going first?" the nurse asked, and Charley the tweenager climbed his tall body up onto the table. She unceremoniously swabbed his shoulder with alcohol and jabbed the shot in. He didn't even react. When she said "Next!" he looked at her incredulously and said "That's IT?! I didn't even feel that!"

After that show, Wes was ready to go for it. He climbed up, pulled up his sleeve, and got his shot. He was similarly unimpressed with how bad it didn't hurt. James did the same thing.

After the three boys reported the shot to be completely painless (in what was no doubt a competitive show of bravado because I've had a flu shot and it definitely hurts but no boy wants to be less tough than their older brother), Mary bounced chipperly over to the exam table and climbed up. Ryan rolled up her sleeve, the nurse swabbed her shoulder and jabbed the needle in (with little fanfare, because as she mentioned, "We have a hundred and forty of these things to do tonight"). I watched as Mary's excited smile collapsed and her lip started shaking. She looked at Ryan, totally betrayed. Like the little boy in The Emperor Has No Clothes, Mary knew that everyone else was full of it and she was CRUSHED.

Ryan pulled her slumped body into a giant hug while the boys skipped off to the lobby to get stickers. It took two of us to thread her sad arm gingerly into her coat. She may never trust the brothers again.

Mary spent some time in the waiting room choosing her sticker and Charley approached me with a brochure in hand, "MOM. Did you know there's a flu MIST???" "What's a flu mist?!" Wes asked quickly. "Wait, did we not have to get a SHOT?!" James caught on "No shot? Why did we have to get a shot?! What's the mist?" I told him "The mist is just like the shot except they give it to you in your NOSE!" which is technically true but sufficiently unpleasant sounding to stop the argument.

The whole ride home was much happier than the ride there, with everyone clamoring to tell each other how much it didn't hurt. Mary sniffled.

Every time Mary has to move her arm she gives all of us MASSIVE side eye.

This morning they tried to go sledding on the frost using a pizza box.


Monday, November 12, 2018

That time I went to the South Pole

I'm sure one day I will look back and remember fondly the day Mary got a case of the sillies so severe that she fell down the stairs. And that later that same evening James tried to read a whole Curious George story in an over the top Gone With the Wind accent and they both started laughing so hard that James required two teaspoons of benadryl and four puffs of albuterol to get his breathing under control.

(Side note: "albuterol" auto-corrects to "butterball". James would probably love it if he could literally inhale turkey)

In other news, while at the Antarctic Ice workshop I attended in New Hampshire this summer, we filled out postcards that one of the scientists then took on an expedition to Antarctica and dropped in the mail. It was so cool to get the post card in the mail today. The kids were GOBSMACKED.

James noticed immediately how COLD the paper was (because it had been outside in the 40 degree mailbox). And Wes breathlessly asked me several questions about penguins before I stopped him and tried to explain. NO, he said, DO PENGUINS REALLY WALK UPRIGHT OR ARE THEY MORE LEANED OVER? James asked me earnestly if I got to see where Santa lives. I responded, you're thinking of the North Pole, this is from the South Pole, and he said OHH. You went to the South Pole.

Charley just stared at it. Then looked at me. Then looked back at the post card.




I say let 'em wonder.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Bowling Birthday and Winter Wonderland

Somehow Thanksgiving is next week and the weather is about to go all to hell in the morning. Ryan lit the pilot light for the gas fireplace and the students are becoming increasingly surly. It must be November.

Saturday we had a birthday party for Charley and Wes at a bowling alley and even though there were five sixth grade boys, four fourth grade boys, two second graders, and two kindergarteners, (and one three year old!), it was really fun and not that insane. When the bowling started everyone was so happy and cute that I thought "We could just bowl the whole two hours, this is awesome!" But around the fifty-five minute mark the sixth graders started getting punchy and bowling with two balls at once and it looked like a war was about to erupt in the fourth grade lane, I was super happy when the party helper came over to tell me the pizza was ready back in the party room. There are no pictures of this occasion partly because it was dark in the bowling alley, partly because I was trying to model not being on my phone all the time, and partly because it took us like fifteen minutes just to get everyone the right size shoes and mostly because there were a lot of moving parts.

But this was the first birthday party we have had in years that involved things like planning and entertainment and an actual Evite, rather than a frantic series of same-day texts and last minute transportation change request forms at the school. It felt delightfully easy (yes! Even easier than the pool pizza party we had for Mary and a couple of friends that ended with head staples for Mary's best friend Jones!) to show up half an hour ahead of time, Costco cake in hand, and then just walk away from the trashed party room at the end of the afternoon.

We gave the kids goody bags with a deck of cards and a pack of gum each, with a handwritten card Mary made for each one that said "Thanks for coming". I worried irrationally that it wasn't enough, but the kids were so excited. And I'm assuming the parents were grateful that I wasn't sending home another bag of candy a week after Halloween.

And then we went home to get ready for the friends who were coming for dinner. Because I know myself and because I didn't want to be anxious about dinner and let that make me into an impatient jerk at the end of the birthday party, I cleaned up the whole house and made two batches of chili Saturday morning, so that after the party we would have ninety minutes to just drive home and walk in. And it WORKED. All I had to do when I got home was a quick stir of the chili warming in the instant pot and dump the kids' chili into a pot and put it on the stove, shred up some cheese, and we were good to go. The friends brought some amazing cornbread and three kinds of beer selected to pair well with the chili (being friends with a brewmaster is fun this way) and three great kids that my kids have missed now that we no longer live across the street. There was much commotion and laughter and leftover cake and beer and chili. The kids had the run of the house while the adults lingered at the table and mitigated kid drama from afar. It was so cozy and fun.

And tonight we have leftover chili (though we did finish the cake with lunch) and corn bread and beer, so the party continues.

We went to church this morning and the boys all wore matching shirts, so I tried to get a picture on the prayer garden like we used to do.

Wes is ticked, Mary is adorable, James has to pee, and Charley wants to know why Wes is pissed.

I took everyone else to find a seat while Ryan tried to find out what was wrong with Wes. I looked back and saw them come in the back doors, but they didn't actually come to our seats until about twenty minutes into the service. Ryan leaned over and told me "He was mad because he couldn't bring a toy to church with us. I had almost calmed him down enough to come in here, but then he pulled away from me and accidentally body checked an elderly woman and we had to start all over again."

Wes and James and I visited an open house on our street and then walked home, where the kids found this big pile of "OMG FALL LEAVES!" that someone had presumably swept into the street with a leaf blower. Making leaf angels in a six foot long pile of brown leaves in the street is like peak Texan fall behavior, but they are so sincere and adorable (until they brought them home and were about to dump them in our yard).


We have spent the rest of the afternoon doing homework and practicing instruments (kids) and sitting by the fireplace wrapped in all the fleece things and under a blanket, even though it is fifty out right now and I should really leave myself some room for tomorrow when it is in the low forties and Tuesday when it is in the low thirties.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Written while supervising a 6th grade project

I think the best part of this weekend is that the entire family was in the same zipcode the whole time.  Sure we still had a parallel itinerary for much of Saturday, but at least we all woke up in the same house.  The previous few weekends were a blur.  I think they involved a few campouts and a trip to Minnesota.

As I mentioned, Friday was Charley's birthday, and in a refreshing turn of events, he requested something normal to eat for his birthday dinner.  Last year was an impossible collection of obscure vegetarian delicacies that I managed to put together with some grumbling, and this time around it was cheese quesadillas made with the really awesome shredded Mexican cheese from the grocery store.  PRAISE BE!

I was so excited by this that I went ALL IN on his cake, which he wanted to look like a fish.


There were a LOT of candles on that fish.


The kids watched a movie while we made dinner because dinner was a little late as I was busy having happy hour in the front yard with my neighbor.

Saturday morning we all slept late and then parted ways until the afternoon. Charley and I went to a swim meet while Ryan and the others went to a Scout workday at a nearby church. It was a two-hour long (rather than eight) unicorn of a meet with three evenly spaced events for Charley, clear skies, and highs in the mid-seventies. He even told me at the end "I'm so glad you forced me to stay and swim. That felt really good." Success all around. We headed straight to Taco Deli because it was conveniently on the way home.

Editorial Note: I am writing this while watching over Charley's shoulder as he attempts to complete six weeks of research on musical instruments around the world in a single evening. Yes I'm also having some wine, obviously.

Saturday night we went to a friend's fiftieth birthday party where the kids behaved so well for so long that we lost all track of time and kept everyone up for way, WAY past what would have been a respectable bedtime even with the time change. James and Wes didn't even eat dinner until 10:30 when it finally occurred to me that I hadn't seen them in quite some time. Mary had to be dragged, delirious, from the trampoline and carried to the car. The boys raided the kitchen on the way out and we left with enough taco makings for their lunch the following day, but somehow without James's shoes. Charley slept until ten o'clock Sunday morning before getting up for a piece of birthday cake. We were probably the only people to actually be late to church after the fall DST transition.

Sunday afternoon was lazy. Ryan made a pie with pecans the kids harvested from church. I made this white bean and mushroom gratin that took a satisfying two hours of puttering around in the kitchen.


The kids had to make videos of themselves playing Halloween music in their costumes for their piano teacher.

(Which is hard when you can't see)


Editorial Note 2: He is still working on India an HOUR LATER. Still have Greece, Egypt, and Brazil to go. SHOULD BE NO PROBLEM.

It was a truly bizarre and wonderful feeling to go back to work on Monday feeling refreshed instead of as if I had been shot out of a cannon. WHICH IS NOT HOW TOMORROW IS GOING TO FEEL OMG MUSIC AROUND THE WORLD PROJECT.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Pretty, pretty, pretty good

I should be revising my manuscript (and BOY does it need revising) but I cannot stop staring at this picture of my big huge grownup twelve year old kid.


He is awesome. Tall and strong and has grown into a leader for the younger kids, (largely) calmly working through his mountain of homework, reading increasingly great books (he is tearing through my collection of women's lobster fishing memoirs, as one does), working hard at swim practice, and camping at every opportunity. He's also witty and sarcastic and really great company, though you should probably build your tolerance for talk about fishing. One of his teachers remarked that some of his comments were inappropriate, but also "really hilarious and well timed, so it's hard not to laugh." He has great thoughts about people and helping the less fortunate. He loves going to Youth. He got a "hard worker" comment on his report card in MATH. MATH, you guys. He still wants to be a marine biologist but chafes at the high expectations of his science teacher (to which I say: JUST DO WHAT SHE SAYS IT'S NOT PERSONAL OMG). He is going to do great things.


Hi Charlie!



Halloween was also pretty great. They were as cuddly and laughy and jokey as they were in those old pictures I was obsessing over in my last post. We had a great time, even though there was one particularly close lightning strike that gave me pause; the kids were unimpressed and pressed on, determined to hit every street in our little section of the neighborhood. Even when the sprinkles picked up to a nice steady rain and Ryan and I were dripping and soaked while we followed the pack from house to house. They got quite a haul! Around eight, Mary and Charley were exhausted and cold, so I took them home where they promptly fell asleep, unexpectedly while I was cleaning up the kitchen. Ryan and the others came back shortly after that with a bag of candy the size of a beach ball. Wes has never been so excited.

They care about each other. Evidence!


I love their costumes so much. Mary took her pink witch costume very seriously. James was a cute little zombie. Charley was a "guy on a jetpack." Wes was a "red man" again.


I am feeling bereft in my fall homemaking duties since I spend most of my time reading my email and panicking about my various half-done projects and teaching three classes. I mean we haven't even made cookies yet. So the other night I slapped some pumpkin muffins together to go with our potato soup and last night we watched The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. And tonight we will eat a cake shaped like a fish and some quesadillas, per the request of my Napoleon Dynamite-loving almost-teenager.

This is pretty nice.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Earlier this week I submitted a proposal for internal summer research funding. The project is great and interesting and I do look forward to digging into the data and teaching students the satisfying feeling of coding up a publication quality graphic in MATLAB like I have done in the past. I do love data and numbers and analysis and finding the signal in the noise. The discussions and the frustration and the random cupcake runs on Friday afternoons, you know, science stuff.

But I must admit to feeling very ambivalent about working this summer. Last summer, I was home with the kids. We did swim team, which in retrospect was a very very good thing because the unstructured time I was so looking forward to was kind of a shitshow. The aftermath of Wes's third grade year followed us into the summer, and even all the way to Maine, our happy place. Wes and James could not be within three feet of each other without a loud, irrational fight breaking out. We went to therapy, we went to the psychiatrist, we tried meds, we had porch beers at night while they duked it out inside because DAMN. But swim team practice mornings were quiet and happy. We all had friends to hang out with, including me, and sometimes those mornings bled into the afternoon when we moved to one friend's neighborhood pool or another, armed with a couple of pizzas and a few bottles of sunscreen. Those parts were nice.

Now that Charley is in sixth grade I can feel the passage of time in a new and visceral way. Facebook memory posts of chubby little baby Toy Story characters in strollers take my breath away. That same kid wants to be a "zombie with bloody fangs" which is good and normal. But what really gets me is how relaxed and happy they are. Huge, easy smiles, arms casually slung over each other's shoulders. We lost that last year. And even though the kids can now be in the same room without literal bloodshed, that easy brother harmony has not come back. Is this part of growing up? Or is this just one more thing?

So I guess the reason I'm ambivalent about working this summer is because it is in conflict with my desire to pack all the kids up and go hike the Appalachian Trail, or sail from Texas to Nova Scotia, or throw on backpacks and visit every castle in Ireland, or otherwise RUN THE EFF AWAY from whatever is causing this, THING, this growing up, this fighting, this irritability, this third grade monster that has been chasing us for so long.

I'm really very tired.

But at least we can still paint kitty cat faces on ourselves with pudding.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Minnesota, Beer, Hymns, and Pigtails

When we last talked I had just taken the kids to my school for the day so that I could teach two classes and try to get a modest amount of work done, which I'm sure you already know did not happen. The best part of they in James's words was "THAT PICNIC!" which was literally them sitting on porch swings eating the same lunch they normally have at school out of their lunch boxes. I am absolutely charmed that James loved this so much.

Friday morning they stayed with Ryan for my first class, which meets at our ecological field site, because they are not allowed out there for insurance reasons. This was probably the most relaxing hour of my week. Ryan and I met up after my class and then the kids were all mine for the rest of the day.

I had a bunch of literal actual work to do on Friday so imagine my excitement when the children learned that the TV in the student lounge gets CABLE. Later we destroyed the dining hall and then they came to choir with me, which was hilarious. All in all a good day, even if I did have to make actual dinner on a Friday because they all had pizza, ice cream, pie, and cookies for lunch.

Friday night our friend Peter came to stay with us! We've known Peter since Ryan was six years older than Charley, which blew my mind. He is a great friend, and not just because he endured the children's more spirited behavior with a smile.


Saturday morning I left bright and early for the airport on my way to my second annual spa weekend in Minnesota at a MATLAB workshop. I made it with few issues except an incredibly creepy shuttle driver who asked me in quick succession what I thought about Tr*mp (multiple times, since, as he pointed out, I was from "one of those liberal places") and if I had grown children . I didn't even bother to mumble "Oh, sorry, looks like I don't have any cash" when I shot out of that car without leaving a tip. The first morning of the meeting I went to this coffeeshop I love and sat down with the paper and an almond croissant. The weather outside was cold and drizzly and it was so cozy. When it was time to leave, I got up and turned around AND IT WAS SNOWING. I RAN out onto the sidewalk and began making a fool of myself taking pictures and sending videos to the kids. The review session I was working on took hourly breaks so all the Texans and Californians could go outside and look.


The workshop was productive (especially when measured in cups of hot apple cider consumed), but it was even better to get home.


Monday night we threw caution to the wind in a most uncharacteristic way and took the whole family with us to Beer and Hymns. There was a large contingent from our church, my friends Mary Beth and Kelly and Jen, and many more, and delicious beer on tap. We had so much fun and it was gratifying to see the kids begrudgingly singing along to the Doxology because it's just ingrained in their psyches (I'm surprised they didn't stand up!).


Everyone started fading by the end of the first set and we left a bit early, but BOY did they perk up in the car. One thing I hope I always remember is that when one of them announces that he or she has to go to the bathroom in the car, the others all start yelling all of the water-related words they can think up. On the way home last night, Charley exclaimed "I call the downstairs bathroom when we get home!" And the other kids were OFF TO THE RACES. James was the best "Clouds make RAIN! OOHH NICE WET RAIN!!!" This went on for several nonsensical minutes while Charley tried not to laugh or wet his pants. The other part of the game is that the kid who has to pee yells out dry things, so Charley yelled "GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE!" Wes responded with "Melting glacial ice! Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip." Finally we pulled into a fast food restaurant three miles from home and let him out.

And finally, pigtails.


Back to proposal writing!