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!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Remember those SNL sketches about Hampshire College? Yeah.

One exciting thing about Fall Break is that the kids' Fall Break lasts an entire week while mine lasts only two days. Fortunately I don't have class on Wednesdays, so that only left Thursday and Friday as the weird days. Of course, yesterday was pretty weird too with PT for me, dentist for Charley, and then simultaneous therapy for Charley and tutoring for James. I also had a choir rehearsal, but something had to go and that was it. My parents came over so James could meet with his tutor and everything worked out in a slightly crazed, but doable pace.

Today we were all up bright and early for my statics class, which meets at 8:30. I can't tell you how relaxing it was for me to introduce first moments, cold, first thing in the morning, after not seeing the material for over a year, with four children staring at me from the back row. So relaxing.

On the way into the building I took this hopeful photo of them all looking extra loveable in their backpacks. They were super excited because to them college is a neverending funtown with unlimited pudding and macaroni and cheese, hammocks, bikes, pianos around every corner, and dozens of young women who think they are adorable.


They blew off some steam after class by hurling this beach ball at each other in the student lounge next door to my office. It sounded like a rave in there. I was attempting to talk to a student about their exam and tune it all out when another faculty member who works on my hallway walked in and stared at them, then deadpanned "I'm glad you are here! Is your presentation ready?" then turned around and walked out laughing.


When they started getting really out of control I declared it time to go for a walk and we headed across the campus to the music building to see my friend, the choir director, and to find an unattended piano to play. I had just intended to pop my head in and say a quick hello, but the kids invaded her office and played her piano and played with all the toys. I finally pried them away after they had played their entire repertoire and secured an invitation to choir rehearsal on Friday.

We saw a picture of Miss N!


On the way back to my office, they helped create an interactive art installation to celebrate Coming Out day (university president also pictured in navy blazer).


And that inspired them to create their own show of support on my office window.

I love it so much.

We had to go give an exam in my afternoon class. For this they were rewarded with a couch and unfettered access to Netflix. This cozy arrangement lasted for nearly an hour before James and Mary had a loud spat about couch territory. I heard Mary shriek with anger in my classroom (even though I have no doubt that this fight was her fault). When I came back out to fix them with a withering stare, James had helpfully moved to the window sill to give her more room.


And then, even though I usually like to power through an hour or so of grading after class, we packed up our stuff and GTF out of there. I bought them each a pack of gum and now we are home having unrestricted screen time.

My next class is at 8:30 tomorrow morning. And I've promised them the dining hall. So stay tuned.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Padre Island and poop holes

The kids have the entire week off for Fall Break and I was itching to get out of town, but I didn't want to spend any money because I'm saving up for a fancy water heater that heats water instead of draining it all over James's closet. Padre Island National Seashore is four hours away and since we have a fourth grader, we could all get in for free. AND, we could camp there for fourteen dollars a night. When I told Ryan that we could stop at our favorite Whataburger on the way, he was on board too.

On Saturday morning I called to see if they had any tent sites available and they told us that they had plenty of primitive beach campsites available. When James asked what a primitive campsite was, Charley's eyes lit up and he said "You get to poop in a hole, James!"

So after buying some biodegradable toilet paper, taking James to urgent care for a strep diagnosis, and swinging by the pharmacy for some amoxicillin, we were on our way.

(We didn't know James was sick until he told us offhandedly that his head hurt and his mouth hurt when he swallowed and his neck clicked when he turned his head. Apparently this had been going on for some time. I didn't want him to get worse while we were out of town, so I took him in just in case. Boy was I surprised when it was strep! We discussed briefly me staying home with him, but tonight he said "I knew there was a chance I would get better and you told me there would be s'mores, so. I'm glad I went.")

We arrived after dark and had no idea how the park worked, so we found the beach, found a cozy nook between two giant RVs, and set up our tent, using our van to block the CONSIDERABLE amount of wind coming off the Gulf of Mexico. Like I always say, before you decide to marry someone, you should definitely try to assemble a dome tent in the dark in a twenty-five knot wind together. Preferably while trucks drive by in the darkness, kids run around willy nilly, and the picturesque, but deafeningly loud ocean is about fifty feet away. If you don't have such a setting available, you could also try to to a jigsaw puzzle on Mount Washington. While Ryan and I wrestled with the tent, the kids dug "emergency poop holes" in the sand for the next morning. And then we put the kids in their sleeping bags and cracked open a couple of Hopadillos because DAMN.

When it started raining lightly at midnight, Ryan and I both popped out of our sleeping bags and ran around outside in the sand to put the rainfly on. I slept fitfully in my slightly damp sleeping bag for the next couple of hours until the crazy wind started to collapse the tent around us. I ran outside in my jammies and socks and tried to stake the rainfly down in the upwind direction, but the stakes wouldn't hold in the sand. So I ran back inside and asked Ryan to help me drag this big bin of cooking utensils against the wall of the tent to shore it up. When he saw how bad the whole thing was leaning over, we decided to take the rainfly back off. That helped with the collapsing problem, but two hours later when it started legit pouring, that was a problem. So we were back outside again fumbling with the rainfly in the dark wind and rain. I stripped my saturated shirt off, put on a dry one, and then laid on my wet, sandy sleeping bag and wet, sandy pillow to help Mary get back to sleep for the third time of the evening. The rest of the details are hazy, but eventually the sun came up and Charley and Wes had already wandered out of their tent and were itching to explore, so we were off and running.


Since we had arrived after dark, the morning scene was completely magical. There were pelicans flying and swooping over the surf and a beautiful sunrise.



After an hour of frolicking it became apparent that we were not cut out for primitive camping. Mostly because of the water. We had, for the six of us, several ounces of water in the bottom of a topo chico bottle that James had last used, rendering it a biohazard for the rest of us. We couldn't make the pancakes we had planned on and we couldn't even make COFFEE for goodness sake. There was also no surface for twelve miles that was not completely covered in sand. Sand was everywhere, including my teeth. I couldn't go to the bathroom because there were no trees to hide behind, and THERE WAS NO COFFEE. Ryan and Wes went off in search of water (this sounds like Oregon Trail BECAUSE IT IS) and possibly a more civilized campsite. They came back having procured both water and a campsite, so we packed everything up and headed off.

New camp: less sand, more fresh water, and a picnic table. Sadly, we had to leave the poop holes behind.


The kids picked up where they left off.


We took the boys fishing and Mary fell asleep on the disgusting pier in the pretty Tea Collection dress she had carefully packed in her Barbie suitcase.


Made some smores after dinner.


This mornign we drill sargeanted everyone through the Packing Up of the Campsite then headed to the Laguna Madre for paddling, more fishing, and swimming.

James showed me his insane kayak entry technique.


He did perfectly four or five times in a row until the time when he showed Ryan, when he capsized and momentarily became stuck under the kayak before popping up on the other side and exclaiming. "WOAH."




Charley took this picture, which looks really sweet, but is actually a moment when Ryan was whispering a funny but rude remark about this guy who was windsurfing nearby who kept yelling rude things at the instructor.


The drive home was LONG and RAINY. Giant thunderstorms every few minutes. I slapped some breakfast tacos together for dinner while Ryan made everyone take a shower. When I got upstairs for family reading time all four of them were wrapped in blankets sitting together on the couch. They get so snuggly when they have been through an adventure together. And it was so good to get away to do something fun. We all needed it. Seeing the kids so happy doing things they love so much, relaxed and laughing and happy, was really really good. Schmoopiness aside: bedtime was early and now it is time for wine and "The Good Place" on the couch.


Monday, October 1, 2018

Serendipity Weekend. More relaxing than Spreadsheet Weekend.

This weekend DID NOT require a spreadsheet, you will be happy to know. In fact, it was so open we were able to have our regular Saturday morning Power Hour, in which we all mobilize and clean the house for an hour before we start our weekend in earnest. The kids are responsible for their rooms and only have to address four areas (trash, dirty clothes, toys, and books) and get it to the point where I can vacuum and they can safely evacuate in the event of an emergency. Maintaining some civility in the house that we (I) can live with (barely tolerate) during the week is much easier if we push it all back on weekends. While they did that I wiped down the entire kitchen with PineSol, including all the graying fingerprints and mysterious drips on the cabinetry. It looks amazing.

And when that was over, I heard about a car show at a church near us that we could go to for the cost of a can of food each. We gathered up as many unexpired cans as I could find and headed over to discover that NOT ONLY was the car show fun and free, there were ALSO bounce houses, snow cones, magic shows, Bingo, pony rides, a petting zoo, AND LUNCH. And the kids got free cupcakes. We got there about an hour before a massive thunderstorm and made sure to hit all the outside fun before it started pouring. I used my ticket to pick out a free plant, the kids tried all the bounce houses. Mary rode a pony. Ryan and Charley checked out all the cars. I didn't know where anyone was for much of the time. Classic.

It's gotta be some kind of milestone when your kid suddenly looks too big for the poor pony. Thank goodness James wasn't interested.


Ryan and I were lingering in the gym where we had lunch while the kids ran helter skelter and did things. When it was time to leave we couldn't find Charley anywhere. Ryan went to look for him and then came back smirking. "You have to see this" he said. He led me down the hallway to the Parish Hall where Charley was happily playing Bingo between a pair of elderly ladies.

After that we were all scheduled to go to a birthday party for two of the kids' friends. Only when we got there we discovered that it was actually a dropoff party and the hostess insisted we leave ALL FOUR OF THE CHILDREN there. FOR THREE HOURS. "Go have fun! You guys need it!" she said.

On the way out her husband reassured us that they can handle anything our kids can throw at them due to them having met working with kids with occasionally violent behavioral problems. "As long as one of them doesn't try to bite us, we should be good" he said.

We went straight to this bar we like where they had a live Polka band and ordered tacos and giant pretzels with beer cheese, and beer in souvenir steins. We sang Polka covers of "Sweet Caroline" and "Mama Don't Let your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys" and then sang a German toast IN GERMAN and now I can cross communal singing with my beer stein in the air off my list of life goals. I didn't know I could still have that much fun. Polka cover band.

After that we went to the library to replenish our supply of weighty YA novels (for Charley) and submarine non-fiction (for James) and then picked up the kids, who were all sticky and sugared up and definitely ready for showers and bedtime. After bedtime I refilled my souvenir beer stein and folded six loads of laundry while I watched Anchorman.

So I call Saturday a WILD SUCCESS.

But the real point of this post is that WES IS TEN! I don't know how or when that happened. He has had a tough year and has clawed his way back to health and he HUGS US AGAIN and not just hugs us, but hugs with his arms and his legs and holds on so tightly that you can let go and he will just hang there like an enormous barnacle. We love him so much and I will never again take his easy smiles and laughter and hugs for granted.

One thing I will always remember about his tenth birthday is that I hastily wrapped all his presents in scarves from my closet because we were in a hurry and the wrapping things were downstairs. He opened all his presents with great excitement and then admired the scarves for several minutes. Then he put on his favorite. Later when his friend Tommy came over Wes carefully selected a scarf for him to wear. He is so happy with all his new scarves. This was... not what I originally intended? But I am so happy to let it go on as long as he wants.




And we finished the day with a giant spaghetti dinner for Wes and his best friend Tommy's family. All ten of us squeezed into our breakfast nook eating and laughing. It was the best. I celebrate Wes every day. But it was especially nice to do things Wes's way for a day. He is a wonderful boy and we are so proud of him. Happy birthday to Wes. MANY happy returns.