Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Falling into fall. Or not-falling into Fall for Wes.

It's been a while! How have you been? Kids doing well? And work? Can I get you some more coffee? Of course I have half and half!

The last little bit (lot bit) has been a collection of triumphant moments of family harmony (to wit, Friday, after the kids watched Peter Rabbit, Ryan and I turned on the Leonard Cohen special on PBS and listened to the beautiful music as the kids played contentedly at our feet. Mary and Wes built a village out of Duplos. All four kids climbed into my lap for a snuggle at some point in the evening. Yes all of them, even the one who weighs almost as much as me. It was like the universe was patting my hair and telling me everything is going to be OK) and public fights that would make your hair curl (I made Wes order off the kids' menu at a Thai place and no matter how much I told him that Lo Mein is NOODLES he insisted I order him the something something beef noodles, which cost twice as much, and I finally told him to just go sit down, ordered the damn Lo Mein and sat at the other end of the table with my friends while he radiated anger and refused to eat and picked fights with his siblings. TLDR: after much ignoring, he ate the damn Lo Mein and a handful of egg rolls and then pouted until we finally put him out of his misery with a melatonin and seven o'clock bedtime. God bless it).

Compound sentences aside, I sort of think Wes is on a slow upward trajectory and am cautiously optimistic that we have landed on the right combination of meds, therapy, and teacher placement. I noticed myself laughing with the kids the other day and thought "How long has it been since I had a genuine belly laugh with the kids?" A long, long time. It has been a stressful summer in many ways. And an absolutely magical summer in others. Family life is complicated. Family life with our unique combination of DNA and brain chemistry is extra complicated. But these kids; They are awesome. We will persevere.

(Yesterday morning, Wes went into Charley's room and crawled all over his bed meowing and beeping to get Charley to wake up. They were both giggling by the end. Ryan and I stood just outside the door and looked at each other, gesticulating wildly and mouthing "HE'S PLAYING! SPONTANEOUSLY! HE IS BEING SILLY AND GOOFY AND HAVING A GOOD TIME! THIS IS AMAZING!"

And that will conclude the vulnerability portion of the blog post! Let's look at some random pictures off my phone!

We had convocation. I went in with the appropriate amount of cynicism but found myself loving the speakers and getting a lot out of it. Also, it's one of two times a year I get to wear this awesome outfit.


The female child school uniform has been EXACTLY AS MUCH FUN AS I DREAMED IT WOULD BE. One word: Kneesocks. Dead.


And on weekends she super-glams it up. Fitting seven days worth of tulle and sparkle into two is a real challenge, but she's managed well. That's why god invented tiaras, kwim?


Here is an artsy photo someone took of a half-eaten cookie. We are so perceptive and hip.


I made parfaits for a friend's baby shower and needed to cut up four pounds of strawberries. I bet three pounds actually made it into the recipe.


James had a friend over and they spent most of their time sitting on this post in my neighbor's yard.


And! Six months later, Wes's arm is FIXED! He has been SO HAPPY to be back on his bike and SO NERVOUS about this happening again. He has said he will never go on monkey bars again. The trampoline at his buddy's house, OTOH. Hrmm.


So that's it? I've been spending most of my time rowing, cross-stitching, sitting in the front yard drinking wine with the neighbor, writing, Matlab coding, prepping class, snuggling, reminding, cooking, driving driving driving, and LET'S NOT FORGET THE CLEANING. School started for me on Monday. I have three lecture classes this semester, which is new for me, but they are all classes I know well and have taught multiple times before. We're going to spend a lot of time outside, a lot of time working on things together, and do a lot of reading. The students are cheerful and energetic and have not reached that angry slumpy stage that happens between Fall Break and Thanksgiving. TIME TO SEIZE THE DAY. On that note, Wednesdays are my research days and also one of the rehearsal days for the FACULTY CHOIR I joined, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Is there anybody out there?

After ten solid weeks of near constant noise the kids are now in school for approximately fourteen hours a day and I am starting to go a little nuts in the solitary confinement of my office. College campuses are pretty pretty quiet without the students.

Our schedule is a bit different than it has been in years past because Charley is in middle school. This means that he gets out thirty minutes later than the primary kids, who wait for him in the cafeteria. At the end of Charley's school, he has to walk over to the primary school and gather all the siblings together to wait for my arrival. So they get dropped off early in the morning for the primary start time, but aren't ready to leave until shortly after the secondary dismissal time, which is FOUR O'CLOCK. And the pickup line the first week is extra slow, so we haven't been getting home until almost five.

Why is there no middle ground between twenty-nine hours a day of Special! Family! Funtime! on the one hand and a single angry hour of barking orders about signing folders and brushing teeth on the other?

At least I have this six-hour email chain about the university's helium supply to keep me company. And a rather demoralizing New York Times article about our missed opportunity for avoiding climate apocalypse.

Meat makes Charley angry.


After school one day the children came home and shucked corn together. This will be my first and only post in the new lifestyle blog I am writing about the wholesome, organic, screen free, and sustainable activities I provide my children after subjecting them to a long day of state-sponsored education.


Kindergarten is no joke, man.


Charley had a makeup swim practice on Saturday. I looked up from my phone at one point and tried to find him in the water. I looked and looked, but only saw this teenager talking to the coach. Oh.


This weekend we showed the kids The Princess Bride and we all laughed so hard for the entire two hours. And now the kids keep saying "Inconceivable!" to each other. James made two new neighborhood friends by climbing up another friend's tree, over his fence, and down into the new friend's yard. He was briefly concerned that he would not be able to climb back, but asked the other mom for help (!!) and made it over. Yesterday we tried to find the FRONT of the house he had visited and I think we figured it out, but they not home. Wes discovered Tuesday night that a school friend lives two blocks away and was so excited that he did not tell us where he was going. After a brief search, Ryan spotted him merrily skipping back toward our house. More comprehensive communication plans have been established. Mainly, Charley knows where the house is so he can go there as part of his nightly dinnertime sibling roundup. Also on the slightly unorthodox socialization front, I discovered that a high school friend (two friends actually, since they are now married) lives next door to where the kids take piano. On Monday after I dropped the piano kids off I figured "What the hell?" and knocked on their door. They invited me in to be amid their crazy evening family dinner prep time, gave the kids animal crackers, and let us help ourselves to their jungle gym while my groceries slowly warmed, forgotten in the trunk of my car. I had a blast catching up and the kids can't wait to go back. There will be another eighties-style unannounced drop in in the future, I can tell! I spoke about my research at a meeting with a state agency yesterday and afterword we went to lunch, me and seven men. After we ordered our sushi, three of the guys pulled out their phones and exchanged pictures of their kids. I joined in. That was weird and fun.

And now it is time for me to get back to that helium email and maybe possibly some class prep and figuring out what to make for dinner and then after all of that I have my needlecraft group at my friend Christina's house. A nice little afternoon, if you ask me!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

School: since we can't afford to just sail and fish all year

Yesterday was a classic seasonal mishmash, with the return to school in the morning, an afternoon spent reclining in the shallow end of the pool with a friend while our kids goofed around and blew off steam, and a chili dinner, which I hate to make when it is hot, but is sometimes necessary as it is inexpensive, easy to make, and enjoyed by all six of us.

We had planned for a last day of summer blowout, with a trip downtown to visit the big cold pool one more time, another trip to the library, one more pass by Voodoo Donuts, and the little train in the park, but were invited to a lunch picnic at a pool with some friends instead. It was a nice bookend to the summer, which began the same way, with the same friends, and the kids had a good time. We planned to stay until my grocery pickup order was ready at 4:00, but by 1:45 Mary had her head down on an innertube and her fingers in her mouth, James was wrapped in a towel on a deck chair looking droopy, and no one was in the pool. We said our goodbyes and I proposed we go home for a movie. The kids asked if we could put blankets all over the floor and make it cozy. Mary immediately jammied up when we arrived.

We bought the kids alarm clocks this year after finally coming to realize that spending forty-five minutes dragging their lifeless forms from bed was a stressful way for all of us to begin our day. At 6:05 there was a chorus of beeping from all corners of the house, but only one kid actually managed to get out of bed and get dressed. Fortunately it was the one with the most Hulk-like morning mood, so even if no one else figures it out it is still an improvement. After I completely freaked Mary out by threatening to move to Canada when in quick succession Charley declared his brand new school shoes too small and Mary casually mentioned to Ryan that one of her new school shoes was missing, I made everyone some guilt-scrambled eggs and then we went outside for the requisite pictures in front of the house.






Mary, who let's not forget was four three days ago, suddenly became apprehensive about school after a year of begging to "go to school with James." Her biggest worry was that she wouldn't know when to raise her hand. But she gamely put on her uniform in the morning and strode into the building with her entourage (me, Ryan, James, and Charley--Wes gave us a quick hug when we arrived, then disappeared somewhere into the school). Once she was sitting in her tiny chair, after a hug from her teacher and some help opening the playdoh, she declared that she was ready to stay.


We dropped James off in his room, where he hung up his backpack and settled into his desk with little fanfare. He wrote his name on a little froggy nametag, got a quick hug and some brief instructions from his teacher and we were off. He was so worried about recess, since he was kicked out (his words) of the Boys' Team, a group he created (!) by some alpha boys. After a particularly tempestuous period of time Tuesday afternoon I finally asked, with exasperation, "JAMES! Are you worried about school tomorrow?!" and he spat back "YES!!!" before angrily sticking his thumb in his mouth and sucking vigorously. When I picked him up he reported cheerfully "I'm back on the Boys' Team!"


Charley, his locker combination scrawled on the palm of his hand in red sharpie, wanted to handle walking across the crosswalk from the primary to the secondary school by himself and I belatedly remembered to get a picture. He disappeared into the crowd and Ryan and I were left standing on the sidewalk alone, looking at each other like "Welp! That was that!"

IMG_6577 (2)

When I picked them up at 1:30 (after getting in the wrong color lane, naturally, five years at this school and I should really know to check and recheck the extremely complicated color coded pickup map before leaving the house. Also yellow is not the same as orange and I follow the yellow lane in the morning and the orange lane in the afternoon, DUH) they were full of stories and REALLY REVVED UP. I abandoned my plans for afternoon productivity and instead turned on PBS Kids and backed away slowly. Thank goodness for our pool plans. One kid was super pissed that he would not be able to spend the afternoon brooding in his room as planned and refused to put on a swimsuit. I acted casually and secretly tucked his swimsuit into the pool bag under some towels. He brought a book (a MUCH younger brother's book that he could read in about fifteen minutes) and sulked on a deck chair. As I was pulling the towels out of the bag I mentioned in an offhand way "Oh, looks like there's a suit your size in here if you change your mind" and walked into the pool with the other kids. After about twenty minutes of reading in the hundred degree weather, I saw him stand up, look around, slide the swimsuit out of the bag, and walk to the men's room. He joined us in the pool and we had a great talk about his day.

Dinner was light and filled with stories and everyone shared their "Amens and Aw-mans" (Wes's "aw-man" was that I served store-bought brownies, THE HORROR). The boys went off to angrily practice their instruments and Mary fell asleep on the couch in her bathing suit and school sweatshirt while I did the dishes. This morning was definitely crabbier and less exciting than yesterday and Ryan just texted to say that dropoff will make a great icebreaker for our evening conversation and that the short story is that he walked Mary inside again. He then texted simply "So much nervous energy. X4." I fully anticipate the verbal abuse that is coming my way this afternoon and will probably need to make something heavy with lots of cheese and carbs for dinner and also maybe will need to provide a half gallon of ice cream and six spoons.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Lots of puffy coat pics and a birthday and BACK TO SCHOOL

I only managed to stay home for a week before New England sucked me back in. This time I was travelling for a little girls' weekend called the School of Ice, where in addition to talking science over craft beers every night, you also spend the day at Dartmouth learning about extracting paleoclimate data from prehistoric ice.

I couldn't BELIEVE it when we got to try on the giant red coat on the first day!


You can't imagine how much I've complained about cold weather over the years (you: oh yes I can), but apparently I was just wearing the wrong coat all this time because I spent a good forty-five minutes in a freezer set to zero Fahrenheit and I was toasty warm in my giant coat (My legs, if I moved in such a way that they touched the fabric of my jeans, were FREEZING).

Ice from the Old Testament. LITERALLY.



We went on a hike through the woods to look at glacial formations and dig up sediment from the bottom of an ancient glacial lake. Our guide was the woman pictured below, M, hanging off the side of a muddy cliff face where she climbed to show us some really awesome varves, which are layers of sediment that show the passage of time on the lake bed. SHE WAS AMAZING.


She powered up an esker, which is a formation caused by a meltwater stream inside a glacier or can also be called a big-ass hill, like it was a walk in the park while I struggled to keep pace and not look like a total loser by comparison (I kept up, but later realized how ridiculous I looked in my black skinny jeans).



We walked to Vermont one night after dinner because it was like half a mile away. On the way back one of the workshop organizers casually mentioned how she and her family climbed Kilamanjaro.


The next day we went in an EVEN COLDER FREEZER. NEGATIVE THIRTY-TWO CELSIUS. I found this all fascinating. I saw ice from 60,000 years ago!



The Appalachian Trail runs right through town. You know this when you are there because there are signs and also because occasionally you are passed by a band of scruffy looking hipsters bearing backpacks the size of fourth graders. So I'm calling this a #lifegoal I can check off the list.

I hiked on the AT!

I was excited to get home on Wednesday night, but am already plotting my return. Someone told me it's pretty easy to work at Dartmouth if you offer to work for free, so that's one option (not really). I'm sure scenes like this have nothing to do with it.


Back at home, Charley asked for watercolors so he could paint birds and the rest of us have been enjoying them too.


Some of my handiwork.


The new big library downtown has Harry Potter stairs AND a roofdeck!


In other exciting news, TODAY IS MARY'S BIRTHDAY!



She had a lot of help with her new bike (which my sister handed down to her in almost perfect condition from my niece) from all the brothers, who have been keeping this a huge secret since Friday, when we met at the pool and Ryan and Charley snuck out to get it in our car. On Sunday I almost let her in the car before I remembered that the bike was still in there. Thinking quickly, I asked Charley to take Mary and go get the mail and then Wes hid it in the back of the garage. SO CLOSE.


Right after I took this she said "Now my knees don't have to hurt when I ride my bike!"

In true fourth child fashion, she spent her birthday being shuttled around to all of her siblings' appointments. We had two orthodontist appointments, therapy, two piano lessons, guitar, and sixth grade orientation for this guy.


Unlike the boys, who ask for the same chocolate cake with oreos and a digger on top EVERY year (which I adore making for them), Mary asked for a brown and pink cake. But a brown cake with pink spots. And then it was a brown cake with pink circles with brown spots inside. The idea was fairly fluid, so Wes and I rolled out some fondant and got creative. The result looks remarkably like a virus under magnification.


School starts on Wednesday. We will have a kindergartner, a sixth grader, and two in between. It's going to be an emotional dropoff but there isn't any time to dwell on it because I'll have to bang out three abstracts for the AMS meeting in the four hours we have (Wednesdays are early release). Just being in the building with Charley tonight, smelling the smells, finding all his classes on his schedule, checking out his locker, gave me MAJOR JEALOUSY. I LOVE BACK TO SCHOOL. Which is one reason I never left. But whereas he gets to have this totally new experience, my job will be largely the same as it always has been. This is why I have to sometimes go hold Old Testament ice and hike up glacial geomorphology features and hang out with really incredibly smart, accomplished people. Mary is so excited about school and also INCREDIBLY NERVOUS. Like, she is a WRECK. She practically BURROWS into my body every time I sit down and if Ryan is around she acts completely helpless. All day she is SUPER EXCITED but then as she is falling asleep she asks me "What if I don't know when to raise my hand?" It is sad and sweet and she will be an amazing kindergartner. James and Wes are both pleased with their teachers and the other kids in their classes and are looking forward to school starting again. Wes has the teacher Charley had for 4th grade and Mary has Wes's kindergarten teacher. It was an incredibly sweet moment when Charley showed Wes around his old classroom and then Wes showed Mary around his old classroom. James and his buddy William are in the same class which is good for us and TERRIFYING for the school because those kids are CUH-RAZY. For his part, Charley is READY too. Tonight I made him handle getting his own schedule and you guys, he was so relaxed and confident and polite and CHARMING OMG. He has a LOCKER and EIGHT DIFFERENT CLASSES and has to CHANGE FOR GYM. But he's ready. He is so, so ready. I honestly can't wait. But we still have one more day of summer and I plan to squeeze the LIFE out of it.