Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Everything in its Place

I’m organized, I swear!

This picture is proof for all the world that all of our new toys have a home.

Sadly, the home is in a corner of my dining room, taking up the space that, before children, was well-occupied by my own personal library. My books, and those of David, have been slowly but surely forced up onto higher shelves or even forced to move on to other accommodations entirely.

But here you can see: There is a bin for the Matchbox cars, a bin for non-Matchbox things with wheels, a bin for things without wheels, a bin for precious things that want to be kept separate, a bin for “Bad Guys,” a bin for art supplies.

There is a drawer for completed art projects, a drawer for eighteen different varieties of paper and forty-seven activity and/or coloring books. A drawer for Jabber’s treasures and a drawer for Monkey’s treasures.

There is a drawer set aside for playing cards.

There is another drawer which holds only purses, satchels, and other finery.

There are two bins of Little People. (Amy, I asked them if they would rather call their Little People “Chuckies,” as per your suggestion/plan for worldwide name change. They were enthusiastic about a name change; however, Jabber preferred the name “Robin Gobbins,” while Monkey was quite insistent that they should only be referred to as “Pee-Poo.”)

There is a toolbox for all tools and flashlights, including chainsaws, of which they have two.

There are bags, too, and hooks to hang them: for the train set, for the Legos, for the Knight Costume…

And of course, there are books.

So this moment, in this photo, there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. It will probably never happen again.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dear Diary Blog-a-Rama

Ah, vacation. Where I get a little glimpse into just how much I can actually get done when I don’t have to spend like sixty hours of each week working. Speaking of which…the two bags full of papers that must be graded this week glare at me from the corner of the couch. “It’s Tuesday,” they say. They have a pretty menacing aura about them, to be honest.

Writing. TDBB is novel #2, and I just passed the 25 K mark yesterday evening. Or maybe it was early this morning. When I don’t have to get to work in the morning, I can stay up until my late night creative streak wanes. I’ve always been a night person. Anyway, in the loosest of senses, TDBB is about two girls who go on a road trip after graduating from high school, and at 23 K, I finally got them to leave for the road trip. I am enjoying my characters and their overall journey, but I was a little curious if they were ever going to actually go on this mythical road trip.

I still have no clue if what I’m writing is YA or adult fiction or what, but I think I’m aiming closer to the 90-100 K mark, so it’s all sort of slow and steady. They are in the Badlands right now, and one of my main characters just pulled a gun on some creepy guys. David had fun filling me in on all the details I might need for that scene.

Writing my secret santa story was a fun detour from the seriousness of TDBB. My prompt was that I had to write fantasy (I don’t think I’ve ever honestly finished a story that was fantasy, at least not since elementary school…although I’ve read a fair amount of fantasy, I haven’t really ever written it.) The other requirements were that it needed to have a strong male character, and there wasn’t supposed to be any romance. That’s sort of an anti-requirement, actually. I had no clue what to write about.

So I started writing about a seventh grade boy named Drew who was a faerie going through puberty. Except that he doesn’t know he’s a faerie. And he has zits that explode all over bullies, turning them into enormous green tadpoles. All in all, pretty silly. As usual, I have a terrible time writing an actual SHORT story. Everything I write seems to want to expand into its own book. I read the story, called “When Puberty Hits,” to my seventh grade homebase, and they laughed at it and asked me when I was going to write the next chapter. And so I have a middle-grade fantasy novel in the works.

And, as though I need more unfinished works-in-progress, I can’t stop working on another little idea, also fantasy, strangely enough. This one takes place in Duluth (or at least, one of the universes resembles Duluth) and has seagulls who can talk. Sort of.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I need to get my new iPod working, figure out my internet challenges, and find something to cook the kids for lunch. It sure would help if I had actually gone grocery shopping last night as I was supposed to, but I did have fun seeing M and L at the Irish Pub! I can’t help it that my car didn’t want to stop at the grocery store on the way home!

A moment ago.

Me: Hey guys, how about, before we pull out all the Little People shit, I mean stuff, how about if we pick up some more of this other shit, I mean stuff.

Jabber: Okay. (sits in same position, playing with other shit. I mean stuff.)

Me: Like this wooden knife. Where's the little pink basket of food that this goes with?

Jabber: I don't know. (sits there, playing. hasn't looked up from toy.)

Me: Well, is it in the fort? Is it in your ear? Is it up in your room? Someone had it out, and I'm just wondering where the rest of it is, so I can put it away.

Jabber: I DON'T KNOW where it is.

Me: I know. I don't either. Will you help me look for it, please?

Jabber: I can't look for it. I don't know where it is. (has not looked up yet from the toy.)

Me: Well, I don't know where it is, either. That's why it's called looking. Searching. Seeking. The basket of fake food is hiding. It is awaiting discovery. Make a treasure map. I don't care. But will you please help me look for it?

Jabber: But I wanted to take out the Little People! (collapses in a sullen heap of fake crying)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Down-Sizing

We’re having a discussion about taking down the Christmas tree so that we can roll up the old living room rug and replace it with the beautiful new living room rug David’s parents bought us.

“Jabber,” I say, trying out my latest tactic--playing up the “responsible big brother helper-type person” role, “would you like to use your new vacuum cleaner on the old rug before we roll it up?” My parents bought each of our children a small vacuum cleaner for Christmas, a sort of “for the love of God, will somebody clean something in that house?” move, I guess. So far I love it.

“Sure!” he says, full of enthusiasm for the job. “I will!”

Monkey very helpfully delivers “The Big Boss,” which is how we’re referring to the rug sweeper, versus “The Little Boss,” which is how we indicate the Dustbuster. I cringe as the handle very nearly misses several breakable entities around the house.

“Great! Now that Daddy took the Christmas tree down, we can get started."

“Wait.” Jabber fixes me with a serious look.

He stands up beside his spot at the table as though he is answering a question for an old-fashioned school-teacher. “What will you be doing to my Fort?” he asks.

The Fort has taken over the living room in the past few weeks. It started as the old play pen (that I’m not sure has ever, in the course of two boys, been successfully utilized in its intended manner) tipped on its side in front of the fireplace. In this capacity, it serves two purposes: with a couple of blankets draped over it and some pillows inside, it is a comfy little cubby for one or two boys to enjoy some quiet time, and also: it keeps the Monkey out of the fireplace.

Beneath the fort, an old yoga mat cut to fit covers the mess of the hearth, with the bricks that come loose under Monkey’s inquisitive fingers. A crate of books and a little table made out of a spool complete the little play area.

Except lately. It started with the addition of a sort of antechamber or perhaps just a mudroom. An old suitcase, tipped on its side, added a functional door. The rocking chair, along with the procuring of another old bed comforter, provided a separate wing for entertaining each other with feats of Monster Truck daring and other such amusements.

Two dining room chairs also occasionally sneak into the construction, forming "tunnels" with a private deck for each boy. On several occasions we have eaten dinner in shifts in order to preserve this fine architecture.

“You’re not going to take it apart, are you, Mom?” asks Jabber now, still standing earnestly beside his chair.

“Just a little down-sizing.”

“Down-sizing? What’s that?”

“Sizing down, basically,” offers David.

“It sounds like getting smaller!” says Jabber, his voice gaining volume. “I don’t like that sound! It sounds like you mean you’re going to take it apart! Are you taking my Fort apart???”

“Think of it as streamlining,” I say.


“Narrowing down your Fort to the bulk of peak efficiency.”


“Well, only temporarily. A little post-holiday down-sizing.”

“A-HA! So you ARE going to take it apart!”

And he storms off to throw his little body in front of the bulldozers.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'm Late! I'm Late! For a Very Important Date!

I'm one of those people who really doesn't like to be running late all the time. Really really. Like, it stresses me out terribly to have several things scheduled close enough together so that there is a slight chance I might not be able to make it exactly on time. Prior to having children, I was able to deal with this okay, and I usually arrived a few minutes early for most events, just as I liked it.

I know, everybody knows those people, that family, who are always late. Doesn't matter what time they say they will be somewhere, you can count on them showing up a half an hour later, an hour later, whatever. It becomes a kind of joke; if they actually show up on time somewhere it's a monumental event. People start telling them a time that is earlier than usual in hopes that they will maybe arrive by the real time. I have always vowed never to be those people.

And then we had kids. Suddenly everything slowed down. This week alone, I was late for work every single day. Not LATE late, you understand, but late enough. Late enough so that I had to rush, to skip steps, to snap at the kids about a billion times (which just makes them move more slowly, but ack! what am I supposed to do?)

I do everything I can to facilitate a smooth morning. I pick out the kids' clothes the night before--hunting down little matching socks and clean underwear and onesies and lying them all neatly on the changing table for the next morning. I arrange the boots and snowpants and hats and mittens and lunches and backpacks all carefully by the door. I make lunch the night before, fill my water bottle, bring up the laundry from the basement. Every single thing is set to jump into it the moment we are awake. And still, we are continuously running late.

On Tuesday, I was ten minutes late. Yikes! I had a meeting at 7:30 that I totally didn't get to until almost 7:45! Everything had conspired against me--the road on the way to daycare was a sheet of pure ice (I do thank my lucky stars that I avoided the crash that happened moments after I got to work, however!), Monkey had one mitten go mysteriously AWOL, I got behind a school bus making its stops--anything that could possibly thwart me was there for the thwarting.

So Wednesday, I set the alarm ten minutes earlier. Everything seemed to be working; Jabber woke up without me needing to shake him and cajole him and drag him out of bed. Monkey stayed sleeping in my bed while I washed my hair and put on my make-up and got dressed in the bathroom. Every so often I called in to Jabber's room with a nice little, "How's it going in there, honey? Are you almost dressed?"

"Almost!" he called, each time. I trusted him.

After about ten minutes, I was showered, made up, and dressed. I was about ready to go in and dress the Monkey. I put the toothpaste on Jabber's toothbrush and poked my head in to his room to let him know he could brush at any time.

There he sat, on the edge of the bed, perfectly naked, with one sock in his hand, poised over the edge of one toe. He was lost in thought and looked as though he had been lost there for the last ten minutes. "I thought you were getting dressed!" I shouted. "You said you were almost ready to go!"

"Mom?" he said, looking up from his toe contemplation. "How do we really know about things? Like, really know?"


I feel awful about that. I mean, he's obviously having some incredible epiphany about the nature of true knowledge, and I'm shoving a piece of gum in his mouth and snapping at him that we don't have time to brush teeth today.

And don't even get me started about the next morning, when I had everyone dressed and ready to go, and then Monkey took off all his clothing while I was out starting the van and scraping the ice of the windshield. Or how he screamed bloody murder while simultaneously thrashing and maintaining an unnatural stiffness to every limb while I tried to re-clothe him.

Late. Running late. Sorry I'm late. Hurry, we're late. Come on, we're going to be late. I feel like the white rabbit.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Oh my, my Boy is Five! Happy Birthday, my Sweet Jabber!

Jabber is five. FIVE. It's funny because since he started talking, since he started asking us questions, like, "Can I drink coffee?" or "When will I be able to..." do whatever, David and I have always said, "Maybe when you're five." It seemed like an eternity from where we were. And now it's, well, now. Ever since the moment he first looked up at me, newborn eyes blurry and watery, he has struck me as an old soul, and at five, he seems sometimes just like a little old man--a philosopher old man at that--trapped in the uncoordinated and constantly-changing body of a preschooler. He can be strong and mature; he can be calm and wise; he can melt down like a toddler into a shrieking mass of tears. He can be as sassy as they come. And the next moment he is so sincere and sweet I just about squeeze him to death. He's my boy, my Jabberwock, and I wish him a happy, happy birthday!

The day I went into labor was so...absurd. I had been struggling with this horridly itchy rash for two weeks (PUPPP), and I had been unable to sleep for more than about ten minutes at a time. I had tried everything, and still the itch. I also had carpal tunnel in both hands so that they were almost completely numb, my feet were so swollen I could only fit them into slippers, and my blood pressure was high enough to make my doctor put me on bed rest for the last week. That Friday night was the worst for the itching, and I had spent the entire night in the tepid oatmeal-filled bath, literally screaming at the top of my lungs, wailing, and begging for it to stop. My neighbors probably thought I was having the baby in my bathroom.

Saturday morning, David said, "We're going to the hospital to get this taken care of. Now." So we went into the birth center at about 8:00 that morning. I explained the issue like fifty times to as many doctors, residents, nurses, janitors, whatever. I lay in bed in one of the rooms watching cable, which at least was an improvement over the television at my house, where I had been stuck lying on the couch all week.

All day we sat there, in that hospital room, while they were tracking down a dermatologist because nobody knew what I had. (But I had figured it out on the internet and knew I had PUPPP, though they didn't really believe me or hadn't heard of it or whatever.)

So at 6:00 that evening (!!) a dermatologist finally came to see me...he was really nice, checked me over, said I had PUPPP, made me cry by empathizing with me about how bad it was to itch like that (waaaay worse than pain!), and gave me a prescription for a tube of cream and some prescription-strength antihistamines. We filled the scrips, I took the meds, smeared on the cream, and AT LAST I felt normal. It was like heaven. We went out to eat, and I could concentrate on something besides itching for once. We got home, and I was lying on the couch at 10 pm. I said, "David, I am going to sleep SO GOOD tonight, FINALLY." I got up off the couch, and my water broke. And we went back to the hospital.

Labor was amazing and all-consuming. I admit, I have never felt so close to giving up, so full of doubt and despair, as when I was struggling to push--over and over and over pushing with every atom of my self, and still he did not advance, did not progress. I felt damned to do eternal sit-ups in hell, without even the dignity of wearing pants. People's fingers and probably their whole hands groped around inside me and affirmed that I was a failure, even as they shouted encouragement to me.

Laboring, I was silent, withdrawn, and weary. I had not slept for three weeks. My energy was a dark, murky pool within me, and I was terrified to reach the bottom. I had no idea when it would leave me, leave us, stranded, wheeled off to the mercy of drugs and scalpels. Fear crowded me.

My stomach muscles were so tired and sore from all the pushing, and still the clock ticked on--one hour, then two.

A thought fluttered through me to sit out for a couple of rounds, catch my breath, but each time the contraction would build, and then it was just a blur of breath and prayer. Breathe. Breathe. Breathing and counting and pushing, with him stuck there, moving forward with each push but getting stuck and slipping back each time.

The doctor came in, checked, looked nonplussed, took her lunch break.

"I can't do it," I said, hating the whine in my voice. There were whispered conversations at the foot of my bed, which I couldn't hear, but which I was sure were criticisms.

David was praising me, crying at my side and cheering me on. "You're doing such a good job, my love. You're doing everything right." He ran excitedly back and forth from the foot of my bed to my head, lying on the pillow sucking at the oxygen mask. I knew he was lying. I was doing an awful job for sure; otherwise I would be done right now, holding a beautiful baby instead of lying her stupidly struggling to get my breath.

"Slow...slow...breathe..." intoned the nurse, my tough-love Coach Nurse, who was the one calling the shots in here, pushing me harder than I thought I could be pushed.

"Keep it up, Elissa! You're doing so great!" said my Cheerleader Nurse, holding my hand. Her eyes were the kindest, steadiest blue beacons in the world, and I gazed into them as I forced myself to slow my ragged breathing, to stop swallowing the air in large gulps.

Then there was a moment, something curled right in my back maybe; a burst of energy spurring me into pushing my limits--I felt the baby move beyond that awful spot, that hang-up he'd been banging his head against for hours. I pushed without thinking of that murky pool, without thinking of the next round, and the next, and the next. He moved.

David was hyperventilating at the sight of Jabber's head. "It has hair! Lots of it!" he cried, and Cheerleader Nurse handed him a box of tissues.

"Yes!" shouted Coach Nurse; finally, I was pleasing her. "You're doing it! NOW I'm impressed!" It meant more to me than all the attagirls so far, gave me the strength to keep going.

In the end the room seemed to explode with the sound of cheering and my heart beating blood in my ears and everyone moving around so fast, and then the most tremendously wonderful feeling of him moving, slipping, swimming out like a happy little trout, and David cried, "My love! We have a Jabberwock!" and the realization of his reality, my son, and I looked down over my now-deflated belly and saw him, reached down and touched his head as they suctioned him and moved him and his mouth was working and his little limbs waving erratically and finally sound came out, but I don't remember the sound he made as much as the sound of David crying in wonder.

And then he was born--with blissful breath he was born, and into my world a little boy emerged. A little boy with a perfect smile, ancient eyes, and this joyful grip on life. This love emerged, and it captured me.

They raced him over to the infant warmer, muttering about distress, this and that. They worked on him intently, listening, wrapping, and Coach Nurse looking worried, which worried me; I wanted him back, but the doctor reassured me that he was fine. "Elissa, she's looking concerned because she's doing her job, but I assure you, if he wasn't okay, I'd be over there instead of here with you. He's a fine, fine, healthy boy."

They brought him to me, and the rest is a blur...hours and now years spent gazing into his little face, learning to nurse, feeling the tiny weight of him tugging so heavily at my heart.

Happy Birthday, my little Elliot McCarthy!

My Little Monkey, Happy Birthday!

~Monkey's Birth Story~

It’s 2:10 a.m., and I wake up knowing something is beginning.

“My water just broke,” I inform David, who sits up in bed like a shot. “I’m going to wash my hair.” The warm gush is unmistakable, familiar from my first birth, but instead of sending me into a shaky uncertainty like last time, I am enveloped in a calm, rational state.

I wash my hair, noting the absence of contractions. It doesn’t surprise me, after waiting almost twelve hours after my water broke last time for labor to begin. I begin sticking some stuff into my hospital bag while David makes some phone calls, most importantly to Papa R, who jumps into some clothes and starts the drive down to take care of three-year-old Jabber. Sixty miles and less than forty-five minutes later (you do the math; is it a coincidence the man enjoys watching NASCAR?) he arrives, quiet and nervous and grinning happily.

Right on cue, Jabber wakes up for a moment, and I am so happy that he does, because I am able to give him lots of hugs and explain to him that Mama is going to the hospital and that his little brother is coming, that Papa is here to take care of him and we’ll all see each other later today. He hugs me sleepily and says, “That baby is just gonna pop right out, Mama.”

Contractions have started up quickly and are now about four to five minutes apart. David, taking cues from my calm, is still leisurely gathering photography gear and such from upstairs and giving instructions to Papa about Jabber's allergies, etc. In the meantime, I have realized that I'm contracting every 3-4 minutes, so we pack it up and head out to the van, now breathing through the contractions to keep relaxed.

We park in front of the hospital, and I start to feel the shakiness set into my limbs, anticipation and a little anxiety building, building.... A contraction on the way to the door makes me pause, grip David’s hand, draw in a deep and jagged breath.

The emergency room attendant smiles to see me coming up the stairs and asks if she can have two guesses why I’m there.

“You won’t need the second one,” I say, smiling back. A nurse comes to bring us up to the birthing center on the sixth floor. Our first elevator won’t get moving, and I crack a joke about “Baby born in hospital elevator” that makes David nervous, but he says he was thinking the same thing. “No, no, no,” says the nurse firmly, guiding us into the second elevator.

We’re checked into our room, contracting in between each question, no big deal exactly but it’s after 4:00 a.m. when we arrive, and I’m beginning to think we won’t be making it until 8:00 when Dr. G. gets there.

The resident, Dr. A., comes in shortly to introduce herself and asks if I mind her checking me for progress. She’s very nice, easy to talk to with beautiful eyes, and she tells us she just finished delivering a baby who came so fast the dad didn’t even make it back up from parking the car!

“Wow! You’re already at 6 cm!” she says, and I start thinking about transition phase with a little nervousness. Dr. A. brings me a birthing ball and a hot water bottle for my back, and I labor there with my arm around David’s neck, my face pressed into his chest. Through the contractions, I breathe out Monkey's name, calling out to him in gentleness and love, willing my body to relax and let my womb work.

After maybe an hour, the nurse comes in to tell me I need to have an IV with antibiotics since I was GBS+ last time and there hasn’t been enough time for my test results to come back yet this time since my appt. was the day before. The IV saddens me a little, but by this time the contractions are coming fast and hard, taking most of my concentration and awareness. Monkey's name is my mantra, and I welcome him over and over.

The breathing isn’t working anymore, isn’t keeping up with the pain or overwhelming pressure. I feel the waves building up against me, within me, faster and faster, and each one leaves me wondering what position to move into for the next one because I can’t bear another one in the same way. I hold tightly to my mama beads and to the jade uglystone I picked up so many years ago on Rialto Beach.

Suddenly I feel a fluttery panic as one contraction hits me—how will I know when it’s time to push? What will I do if this gets worse? I think of the two and a half hours of pushing for Jabber--how difficult it was, and fear grips me. For a moment I can’t imagine why I would possibly want to do this without pain medication. I asked the staff not to give any interventions and only to give me pain relief if I ask for it.

But I realize suddenly that they haven’t intervened at all—I mean, nobody has even been in the room with us at all. What if I wanted some pain relief? Somehow my ideal of labor—that people would just leave me alone and trust me to do what I needed to do—somehow this makes me indignant and scared. Why are they all leaving me all alone, damn it?

This all occurs during one contraction, a spell of doubt, and then it’s over and I say to David, “Honey, I don’t know if I can do this much more. I mean, I know I have to, so it doesn’t even matter what I think, but I don’t...I don’t...I can’t...”

I’m looking helplessly into his kind eyes, and he holds me tightly. Moments later, Dr. A. walks in, smiling.

“You are doing so amazingly well with these contractions,” she says.

“You’re so composed. Can I check your progress?”

I make my way to the bed and sit down, work my way through another wave, her steady gaze holding mine through the pain, and then she quickly lowers the bed and does a cervix check. “You’ve had some heavy contracting in here, and you’re at about 7.5 or 8 cm right now. I’ll come back in a few minutes, and we’ll probably start pushing out a baby!”

So I am in transition! “This is the worst part, right?”

I sit on the edge of the bed and make it through about three or four more by growling and moaning a little but mostly by murmuring over and over, “Oh, my little one, my sweet Monkey, it’s okay, baby, it’s okay, my little one, my sweet one, it’s okay....”

Breathing techniques? I don’t remember them. I talk to my baby, holding his image in my heart, willing my body to open up to let him through.

Suddenly I have to pee really bad and I’m a little embarrassed because I think I can't hold it. David helps me into the tiny bathroom, navigating my IV “buddy.” As I’m sitting down, I suddenly know that I’m going to push the baby out right then and there.

My eyes get widen at the realization, and David knows. He knows, and he reaches over and pushes the call button. Instantly, Dr. A. and three nurses are there, all but carrying me back to the edge of the bed with their encouragement and their kind voices, “You’re doing great, just breathe, don’t push yet, please don’t push yet, honey.”

I can’t even believe how clear, how strong the urge to push comes over me—it’s nothing like the hours of sit-ups I did when Jabber was being born. Instead, the contraction builds and my body just sort of involuntarily begins to curve and tense and open up.

“Breathe it out! Don’t push yet! Get Dr. B. in here right away!” shouts Dr. A., checking my cervix quickly. “She’s complete! No lip at all! I just checked her a couple minutes ago and she was at 7.5! Don’t push yet, just breathe through it, sorry my hand is there, I’m holding the baby so he doesn’t come out too fast.

Dr. B. is in the background now, and I hear her say I can push, so I move closer to the edge, sitting close, and now I’m allowing my body to go with the contraction—pushing I guess, although it doesn’t feel like work or pain, just allowing my baby to move down the way he needs to.

One long push and then another short one on the same contraction and I feel so good—everyone is making cheering, excited sounds, and David is crying, trying to breathe. There’s a flurry of excited women and Dr. B. says, “One more and we’ll deliver the shoulders,” and I contract and push and slither-slip he’s out, he’s perfect, and David catches and they place him up on my stomach—he’s so amazing, his purple and red splotches and mouth working. A nurse massages him with a towel as I marvel at his tiny purple feet, running my fingers across his little toes, holding his tiny round head in my other palm, feeling the wet holy weight of his beautiful soul.

Avery James, welcome to the world!

Tears roll down my face, and he cries, a lusty little shout like an angry kitten. He’s so perfect, so lovely, his dark eyes searching my face in wonder as David cuts the cord and the placenta arrives. The nurses quickly wipe him, weigh him (7 lbs, 9 oz—just perfect!), wrap him and hand him back to us. We keep him in our room, nursing and cuddling and crying tears of happiness, for over two hours before they come to clean him up and check his vitals. He was born at 6:26 a.m., just four hours after my water broke!

David presents me with a beautiful string of pearls, and everyone in the room admires them, but nothing is as beautiful as the little boy I hold so tightly in my arms.

Happy birthday, little Monkey.

Birthday Birthday!

Today my little Monkey is a two-year-old!

My sons' birthdays are just one day apart, with the little one sneaking in on the day before his Big Brother. When I tell people this, I can instantly see them performing some mildly complicated math for a moment before their next question: "So, do you guys have, like, an anniversary in March or something?" Uh, no. But I did have a maternity leave to plan and pretty good luck with fertility, I guess. We basically decided both times that the period of time between December and March would be the best for utilizing my 12-week leave and minimizing the amount of time I was trying to work while nursing an infant. And, both times, ta-daaa! Baby due in late December, or early January, in Monkey's case! (He was born at 36.5 weeks, a little early maybe, but perfect, perfect, perfect!)

So, in honor of my boys' birthdays, I'm going to post their birth stories here, which I wrote in both cases about a month afterward, when I was starting to get used to the sleep deprivation and my brain started to make sense with words again! Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grow Fish!

This is the top of my stove (yeah, don't really look that closely, please!)

In the plastic dish, we are currently growing an orange dinosaur and two tropical fish. These are the little novelty items that you can put in water and they double, triple, NO! quadruple! in size before your very eyes!!!!

This, they have done. The package says that after 48 hours, you can take them out of the water and watch them shrink back down to normal, but Jabber doesn't think that sounds like a good idea. He swears that the creatures are still growing. So...there they sit. It's science, right?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Terrible Twos!

The Temper Tantrums have arrived!

This morning I committed a grievous error when attempting to dress my toddler. That is, I attempted to dress my toddler. In a shirt, which apparently was not the right shirt; in fact, it was the wrong shirt entirely.

Instantly, he threw himself back on the changing table--weeping, screeching, gnashing his teeth, and, most dramatically, banging his head against the wall. The entire time, he tried to rip his clothes off, just as I tried to put them on him. Now, normally I would let him choose another shirt, but as it happens, all of the clean clothing is currently in laundry baskets on the living room floor, not folded neatly in his drawers, where I could access them. So...cruel, lazy woman that I am, I subjected my poor child to the evil of the dreaded Star Wars shirt (that he loved last time he wore it, by the way!).

Due to the dreadful tribulation of being forced into this garment, Monkey further decided that every article of clothing that I attempted to put him in was clearly an affront to his tiny toddler dignity. He tore at his jeans with desperate fingers, kicking his feet as quickly as he could to keep me from snaring them in the legs. Alas for him, I was speedy and strong--worse, I kept on singing this ridiculous version of "Old MacDonald" that distracted him from his wrath and sometimes even made him forget himself and laugh.

Downstairs, though, the trials continued with the horrors of jacket, hat, mittens, and boots. Monkey had had enough! Once again, the only reasonable solution seemed to be a complete and total collapse, accompanied by impressive sound effects.

After several unsuccessful rounds of silly songs and lots of sweet cajoling, I decided that I would capture the tantrum on video, for posterity. Wasn't I just saying that poor Monkey didn't get his share of the spotlight in terms of proper childhood documentation? This seems a little cruel and mocking, maybe--to videotape your child's obvious anguish--but the happy little side effect was that, when the video was done, I played it for the little Monkey, and he was fascinated! He held the camera tightly, staring at the video.

"Dat me? Dat baby? Me cry? Me cry oh no!" he said, absorbed in the pictures. Dutifully, he switched the camera to the other hand and held out his arm to be stuffed into his jacket.

"DAT ME!" he exclaimed, allowing me to strap the formerly hateful boots onto his feet.

"AGAIN!" he demanded, after holding out his hands to accept mittens and lifting his chin to let me tie his hat on.

"All done!" I said, putting the camera back up on the bookcase. "Baby all done crying! YAY!"

We clapped. We cheered. We got out the door on time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Language Love!

I was editing a friend's personal statement for her grad school admissions, and I laughed as I read this part of her statement: " life-long lust for language..." Laughed, not because I thought it was silly for someone to describe herself as lusting after language, but because not so very long ago I wrote a cover letter for a job that included the phrase, "I have always been in love with language." (Lust, I daresay, has more of a place in a MFA program than in a middle school teaching position!)

It's true, though...lust, love, passion, obsession...language is a huge part of my life. And possibly one of the most amazing parts of having children has been watching the language acquisition process firsthand.

Way back as an undergrad writing research papers for my linguistics classes, I was already fascinated enough to almost make linguistics my fifth major, if having five majors were allowed. (this would have been in addition to English, Spanish, philosophy, and women's studies, just to be clear...and I really only majored in English, teaching English at that, but with unlimited time and money, I would have gone for all five! Ooh, and Creative Writing, of course, though I don't think my university had that as a major....)

*wanders back to the topic at hand*

Yeah, so kids and language--fascinating! I remember that when Jabberwock was first learning to speak, which he did quite early, I kept very precise notes about his language development in this amazing, practically-daily journal I kept about his every dimple, every sigh, every sneeze or burp or bowel movement--the journal I can't ever show to him because then Monkey will ask where is *his* childhood recorded instant-by-instant, and then I will have to tell him that he just wasn't as interesting.

So I remember writing things like, "Today Jabber used coordinating conjunctions for the first time!!!!!" Yes, I was really that geeky. But really, how amazing is it when the little one who yesterday would point at a picture of a bowl of fruit and say, "Ap-Ap, Nana, Gapes!" suddenly comes out with, "Ap-Ap AND Nana AND Gapes!"

Or participles, oh for joy! The day I marched into Jabber's room and said, "What are you doing?" and he replied, "JumpING!" How exciting! Definite articles! Correct subject pronouns! Trust me, it's all in the journal.

Monkey has, in general, been much slower to speak than his older brother. Some have suggested it's because Jabber speaks for him/never shuts up. This may be partially true, although Monkey's personality is such that I've always been pretty sure that when he has something to say, he'll say it, regardless of who may be bigger or more articulate. I think the real reason he has been generally less verbal is that he has been expending an extraordinary amount of energy on keeping up with his brother (and surpassing him, on some fronts) physically. Already he climbs higher, runs faster, and fights with more passion than Jabber, the docile older child who didn't go to daycare until he was two years old, ever did.

Monkey also has some other, more intellectual, skills that Jabber didn't quite grasp as quickly, such as figuring out puzzles, even when he has to rotate a piece to make it fit properly. While Jabber would give up quickly and get frustrated when a piece didn't slide right in, Monkey seems to have a very strong sense spatially of how the piece needs to be turned before getting it close. He also seems to have a lot more enthusiasm for coloring and artwork than his older brother did at this age.

Suddenly, though, in the space of two weeks, both boys have made amazing language leaps. For Jabber, it's all about pronunciation. I have long been assuring people that his /w/ sound for the letters 'r' and 'l' is normal for a four-year-old and that he would learn how to say those sounds without intervention. Sure enough, in the last week or so, he has suddenly nailed both sounds in the middle of words and about half the time at the beginning of words, too. He'll be talking away, and then he'll say a word with an 'r' in it, and he'll take a little extra time to move his mouth and tongue just rrrrrrright. It's great!

And Monkey. He went from only using a few isolated words and a lot of pointing, grunting and physically pushing us toward what he wants to using three or four words together in a string, repeating everything we say, and singing his own adorable versions of his favorite songs. Just this morning, I watched him playing with two little action figures ("bad guys," he calls them), moving them around and making them talk to each other.

Badguy 1: looove you!
BG 2: no! fall down! (BG2 kicks BG1)
BG1: no fall down! kiss kiss! niiiiice baybee! (BG1 smooches BG2)

So I may not be keeping track of every grammatical advance of baybee number two, but I'm still just as fascinated by this process of language acquisition--maybe even moreso now that I'm seeing how it goes differently for different children!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


GAH. Only reason I'm posting this? Because my kiddo erupted like Mt. Vesuvius last night (five times) and forced me to concoct a sub plan at 11:30 p.m. in between dashes up the stairs to try to catch some of the mess in a plastic mixing bowl lined with a dish towel and then the alternating dashes down to the basement to shuffle our bedding, towels, and several sets of clothing from washer to dryer and then back upstairs to the bed, ready to take the next round. Then back downstairs with the new load of ick. Rinse and repeat. Until 2 AM.

So when I started this blog, my goal was to get writing again. I had finished my first novel, spent a couple months querying it to agents (with no positive responses, frustrating because the rejections aren't even based on someone reading the novel!) and then got sucked into the bog of motherhood and teacherdom and, well, real life. So mired was I that I didn't write a single thing other than stuff for work. Maybe an email or two, I'll admit. Oh, and okay, fine, maybe a post or a thousand on a certain natural family living forum. But writing on a regular basis--something that has been a part of me since I was in elementary school--had virtually disappeared from my life since having children.

This blog was my resolve to keep a journal, something I had tried eight thousand times since Jabber was born, with very sporadic results. I decided to write once a week about my kids and their shenanigans, my thoughts on being a parent in this crazy world, my process of becoming a writer/remaining a writer/succeeding as a writer, random bits of creative writing that I hoped might trickle out of me, and maintain some kind of regularity to the whole thing. All last spring and summer I had the most terrific routine, too. I had a gym membership, and I would go work out after the boys went to bed (David included, since he works suuuuuuper early in the morning and goes to bed, ideally, right around the time that Jabber and Monkey do), and while I jogged around the track or slogged along on the elliptical machine, I would think of things to write about. Then I came home and made them happen.

At the end of summer, my gym membership ran out. There was no money for a renewal, sadly, since we are all tightening our belts (haha, yeah, try loosening the drawstring on my sweatpants now!) and stuff since apparently the economoy is awful and times are tough. (This, so far, is not any different from my life before the economic crisis, but whatever. I have lost exactly zero dollars on the stock market. :P Still, it is nice that David and I are still both employed...knock on wood.) Oh, dear, I digress.

Since school started, I've been terrible about this blog, even though I'm doing a nice job at writing itself. The kids...what could I write about them? I feel like I barely see them, to be honest.

The holidays themselves are always sort of an invitation for my soul to freak out. We start with "Deer Camp," the three weekends in November that we all go to the in-laws' so David can hunt. We have a great time, although I think my children have just about worn out their welcome after two weekends. They are certainly energetic, to say the least. That's three weekends in a row that I don't get laundry done, groceries shopped, toys picked up, whatever needs to be done. Then we have Thanksgiving, a family get-together the weekend after that, and wow! That brings us to the boys' birthdays. Wow, it's so nice to have their birthdays only one day away from each other. And just two weeks from Christmas!

*Elissa dies of overwhelmedness*

I've done my complaining about all of anyone who will listen, honestly. But I haven't really come to terms with exactly how lame of a person I really feel at the moment. My mom, trying to reassure me over the telephone, said something like, "Well, you know, you need to let things slide. Who cares if the house doesn't get dusted today."

Uh, Mom? I don't think it's been dusted since 2005. That's the least of my worries.

There are so many things I should be getting done at any given time; I get lost in all the little details. I should be doing a craft project with my children to make little gifts so that they can give something nice to everyone in the family. Instead, I can't even manage to find time to give Jabber a haircut and search through the winter gear in the basement to find Monkey some boots before there's actually snow on the ground. I should be baking cookies with them, writing out greeting cards, shopping for Santa, and I dunno...buying a turkey for Thanksgiving, since I am pretty sure we somehow agreed to having the in-laws over here for Turkey Day? I can't even manage to get the checkbook balanced or buy toothpaste for the baby or change all my clocks over from daylight savings time.

So I'm lame. And my blog is lame. And my house is messy. And my bedroom smells like sick baby. And I haven't said even a little hello to any of my friends in over a month. (Hello, friends! I really do love you, honest!) And...I complain too much. I promise, the next entry will be either witty or endearing or, at the very least, mildly interesting. :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Thoughts

As it looks like Senator Barack Obama will be our next president, I thought I'd share a conversation Jabberwock and I had earlier this evening while watching the votes come in.

Jabber: Wooo! Barack Obama!

Me: So if you were voting, who would you vote for?

J: Barack Obama!!!

Me: Why do you like him?

J: Because...he has a good name. He also just seems like a good guy. AND I like the way he looks.

Me: What do you like about the way he looks?

J: I like it that he has a black face. Isn't that just really interesting that some people have black faces and some people have white faces? (this is the first time I have heard him say a single thing about race, btw)

Me: You would like to see a black man become president.

J: Yes.

Me: Well, it's not really a good enough reason to vote for him, just because you like the color of his face, though, right?

J: Well, I also don't really agree with what John McCain stands on.

Me: What he stands on?

J: Yeah. Like, when he stands on a rock overlooking the river. That's like...weird. And he says he won't fall, but I don't know. He's awful old.


Monday, November 3, 2008


Our seventh wedding anniversary was on Saturday, so instead of being the kind of parents who sew homemade costumes and make Halloween cupcakes (thanks, M! we'll enjoy our party-in-a-box in January or so!) and take the children out trick-or-treating and hand out intricate little baggies full of special treats, we were the kind of parents who drop their children off at Grammy and Papa's house so we could go out.

And we did go out, something we haven't done in years and years. We dressed up in loosely organized costumes (I was the light; David was the dark), went to a bar, paid an enormous cover charge to listen to several bands play, even danced a little. Then, suddenly, in the middle of this slightly annoying band playing, the power went out. We were plunged into darkness. A while later, when it became apparent that the lights were out for real, we got a refund for the cover charge and continued on, settling for a while at a slightly excitement-challenged venue on the other side of the street.

This evening, we decided to look at some photos that David and I had taken with our webcam as we were getting dressed up. Jabber looked over my shoulder.

J: Ooh, Mama, is that a picture of you when you were...when you were a grown up?
Me: Yes, that is a picture of me taken just the other night, on Halloween, when you were at Grammy's house.
J: So. You just dressed up like yourself, then?
Me: No. See, I'm wearing a rainbow. I was the spectrum, like all the colors of light.
David: Mama went as light, and I went as dark.
(a bit of a pause)
J: You went as Dark? Dark what?
D: Just Dark. Like Darkness.
(longer pause)
J: Not much of a costume, really.
D: What? Just because you're scared of the dark, you don't think it's a good costume?
J: No.

(several minutes and conversations later, we are now discussing the power outage, which was caused by an exploding transformer several blocks from where we were)

D: So that transformer blowing up was really something. I guess there were pieces of sidewalk raining down and stuff.
J: A TRANSFORMER? (envisions exploding robots-that-turn-into-vehicles)
D: Well, yeah, but like an electrical transformer. It made the power go out, and all the lights went out. Mama and I were listening to a band play, but they had to stop because there was no more electricity.
J: And did they get mad at you for coming?
D: ...
J: (as though it is excruciatingly obvious) Because you were dressed up as DARKNESS???

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ben-Ben's Adventures in Sunny Florida

As I was getting ready to leave for a five day conference in Tampa, Jabber came in to tell me that his stuffed elephant Ben-Ben (alternately known as Bennie and Benjamin Elephant) would really like to accompany me in my suitcase. "He will keep you safe," he announced. In the airport, he told Mary and Lisa all about it, tossing in the reassurance, "But don't worry. He doesn't bite!"

So, although Ben-Ben's journeys are not quite over yet, I thought I would post some of the pictures from Bennie's adventures!

When he first checked into the hotel, Ben-Ben just spent some time chillin' with the T.V.
Bennie's next step was to hang by the Loch Ness Pool for a bit. Although the evening was quite chilly, Bennie found solace in the nice hot tub, and despite what the stupid guard at the front gate tried to tell him, there were no water mocassins nor alligators to be found in the pools, even after dark.
Then he found some energy for a spot of rock climbing and discovered this beautiful waterfall.
After the exertion of rock-climbing, Ben-Ben was ready to kick back and drink the lame beer that could only be procured via a long walk to a gas station outside the compound. (Good thing he wasn't wearing those high heels!)

But after that, he felt adventurous enough for a little palm tree climbing!

The next morning found Ben-Ben ready to go, but still very grateful for the coffee, which had been unavailable on the previous morning (about which there was much grumbling and some outright trumpeting!)

By the time his morning session was underway, Bennie was feeling much more awake, armed with chocolate and his shiny new binder.

On a side trip one evening to the Greek enclave of Tarpon Springs, Bennie is slightly frightened when approached by a shark at the sponge docks.

He compensates for this with some wine and ouzo at Hellas Greek Bakery and Restaurant.
And he finished off his evening with a nice cigar while watching the pelicans.

Until tomorrow, Ben-Ben says goodnight!

Monday, October 20, 2008

perfect without practice

Jabber is almost five, but it's only very recently that he has started making any kind of representational art.

I was never too worried that he wasn't really drawing any of those little blobs with legs and arms that might be my uncle's dog or they might be my Uncle Doug. Yes, he sometimes draws beautiful rainbows, especially after starting up at the new daycare that is mostly girls his age. There were also a couple of drawings that he claimed were "jets," but they mostly looked like intricate scribblings to the casual observer.

I knew he had no trouble with fine motor skills; he writes his name fairly legibly on small lined paper, operates complex tools, buttons and unbuttons his bib overalls even in the middle of some urgency at the potty.

Part of me just thought maybe he was more of a modern artist. After all, he painted this bizarre scene that hangs on our basement door, which he named "Schoolwork Bronco." He's brilliant, you see.

But no. His problem is that he's a perfectionist. He's afraid to try drawing something that is supposed to look like something else in case it doesn't look exactly like that something else.

I discovered this when he wrote his first book, "Monster's Helper." Great book, by the way, really scary and doesn't fall into the cliche of the big mean monster is really just a cuddly nice monster and they all live happily ever after. No, in Jabber's story the monster punches everyone in the world and then he and his helper (the boy) become really bad and they zoom away in their super-fast car.

So he was working on illustrations for his book. I set him up with some paper, some markers, a couple of pencils and erasers, the whole deal. He was happy, excited. A few minutes passed. He drew nothing.

"Well? Are you still thinking about what your picture is going to look like?" I asked.

"No. I know what it will look like," he said. "But I can't do it. You do it, Mom. I can't."

"Oh, nonsense, you just give it a try! No big deal if it doesn't come out quite the way you thought. That's how art is, honey, sometimes it's a surprise!"

He shook his head morosely. "Noooooooo," he wailed, collapsing into a puddle, face-down on the floor. "I'm going to mess up! I'm going to mess up!"

I reassured him a bunch of times and finally got him to make a tiny mark on the paper. "AUGHHHHHH!" he cried, collapsing to the floor again. "I ruined it, Mom! We'll have to print out the whole book all over again! I messed up!"

I peered at the tiny mark on the page. "What do you mean? How did you mess up?"

But he was crying too hard to even form coherent words, and all I could do was wrap him up in my arms and whisper, "Shhh, Jabber, baby, it's okay. That's the best part about drawing...sometimes it looks different when it comes out in the end than you thought it would in the beginning, but you can fix absolutely anything. You can fix anything."

Eventually, after assurances such as, "Hey! No big deal if one eye is bigger than the other! He's a monster; he can look any way you'd like!" ("NO! He doesn't look scary enough that way!!!") and "Sweetheart, it doesn't matter if you put an extra finger on his hand. Maybe monsters have seven or eight fingers, you know?" ("MOM! That's just SILLY! He's supposed to have five fingers JUST LIKE ME!") we did get the book illustrated. And the little perfectionist really did seem to be genuinely proud of his creations.

Until. Lately, he's been Star Wars obsessed. So one day I came home from work, and Jabber presented me with this amazing picture of the storm troopers and a bunch of X-wing fighters. I mean, for a boy who never draws representational art, this was seriously awesome! He took it to daycare to show it to all the kiddos who are likewise obsessed. Probably also his big-boy crush, Mr. Big Kid Extraordinaire, who plays into the story later.

A couple of days later, Jabber's got the markers out again, and after a brief tantrum experience resulting when Monkey attempts to add his unique artistic style to Jabber's paper, I get the boy settled in upstairs in his room while I'm packing for my upcoming trip. The markers are all laid out in a little plastic sandwich box, looking ready to go. The baby gate is in place at the top of the stairs, sealing out meddling little brothers. Inspiration is just a marker stroke away.

Jabber collapses in a heap of tears. "I'm messing it up!" he wails.

I am really close to losing patience at this point. I mean, I get frustrated trying to reassure him over and over, so I say something like, "Honey, maybe now isn't really the best time for coloring. You don't seem to be enjoying it, and that makes me sad."


Ahh. So the heart of the matter is that he has an audience in his head, and he can't stop himself from hearing their jeering comments? Hmm, sounds familiar, from a writing standpoint.

"Well, maybe you should just do this picture for yourself, and not worry about what the Big Kids are going to say about it," I say, rubbing his little shaking back.

"But I WANT to show the Big Kids my picture!"

"Well, how about if you plan on doing this picture for practice, just for yourself. Think about it as just a way to get better at drawing your Storm Troopers, and then, if it happens to turn out in a way that makes you proud, then you can show it to the Big Kids."

This seems to be a reasonable solution, except for one thing. "But, Mom," he insists, sitting up and taking the marker back up, but still not getting it anywhere near the page, "I already practiced drawing my Storm Troopers once. I should be able to do it PERFECT by now."

Oh, sweet one. How can I possibly convince you that sometimes Life requires more than one practice run?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Middle School Politics

So today my school taught an "Election Intensive," meaning that we spent all day teaching students things about the Presidential Election. Students played games, held mock presidential debates, read articles, did math relating to the Electoral College, and basically showed us everything they know about the current election.

Here are some highlights for you. According to my observations of students today:

Barack Obama wants to make gay people get married.

Oil comes from cows.

Governor Palin is cool because my dog came from Alaska.

John McCain wants to get rid of greenhouses.

John McCain is really, really, really, really ,really, really old, and he's going to have a heart attack the minute he gets into office.

We vote on November 4, and then they tell us who the winner is on January 20.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt served six terms before he was assassinated.

John F. Kennedy lost the election four years ago, despite the fact that the popular vote said he won. This was due to a mistake with the confederate college.

Monday, October 13, 2008

the prodigal blogger

Yeah, so things have been a little crazy, what with the teaching and the writing and the life stuff. My goal was always that I would blog at least once a week, but I sure do like it when I show up at this page more like once per day. But then I start to realize that I am really not all that interesting on a day to day basis, and when I sit down to compose something that at least makes a stab at being entertaining, I realize that oh, no, I have to make lunches for tomorrow, or my mother-in-law is coming to babysit and I really should clean the house a bit. I discover that the laundry has been sitting, clean and folded, in laundry baskets placed at odd intervals around the house in some kind of crazy, anti-feng shui design nowhere near the little dresser drawers that once I neatly labelled with little pictures of socks and trousers.

I've been sending the little novel out to agents, and my inbox has already seen its share of rejections reading "Dear Author" and even a couple with my name in them. I have had one request for a partial (rejected) and one request for a full manuscript (still in progress). I'm amazed by how much time I can spend tweaking my query letter, researching agents, formatting emails, and tracking everything in my pretty little color-coded spreadsheet. This, along with the other stuff, has made work on the new novel a little slow, but I'm still plodding away at it.

And now, before you fall asleep to my prosaic excuses and status updates, here's a funny little exchange the Jabberwock entertained us with when I got home from work this evening.

Jabber: Dad? Is Luke Skywalker really real, only he lives on the other side of the planet?

D: Well, no, Jabber. Luke Skywalker is a character. He's fictional. In addition, if he did exist, he would be not just on the other side of the planet, but in a whole different galaxy. That's like far, far away across outer space!

Jabber: Um, but Dad, what if people thought Luke Skywalker was just a character, but really, they just hadn't ever met him. And he was real.

D: Haha, no he's made up. He's fiction, a character in a movie.

Jabber: (big serious eyes) Well, I hate to tell you this, but I've seen him, Dad. Because, you know, I growed up on the other side of the planet, and he was there. And I saw him. And he's so real.

Me: When exactly did you grow up on the other side of the planet?

J: Right after I was born, somebody drived me there to the other side of the planet, and that's where I spent my time until I came back to you. And while I was gone, I saw Luke Skywalker.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Last weekend in pictures

So last weekend we went to our friend's wedding in the woods, and we also went camping for the first and only time this whole summer. It's pathetic, really, that we haven't been out camping the whole year, or last year either for that matter, but I guess that's what happens when a Monkey enters your life and suddenly you realize that everything is way more complicated with two munchkins instead of one. In any case, the whole trip first required a trial run of the great big Duluth Pack that we always carry all the gear in when we're car camping. So here's David testing out the load limits on both the bag and his own frame.

There's a funny story that goes with that pack, which David and I found in this little patch of woods next to the freeway; David climbed down this spooky embankment to find it, only to discover that there was something in it--something the size and shape of a head! He gingerly opened up the pack to find...a circular saw! We came up with lots of interesting ideas about the origin of the saw and the pack, and we also had an interesting adventure getting it back home to our apartment, many blocks away by foot.

Here's David taking photos at the wedding. He wasn't hired to do this, but he cannot help himself. He's cute, too!

David hugs the groom and gets a once-over by the happy couple's little cutie. Their wedding clothes were made of carhardt overalls--so cute.
The happy family...
David and I asked a random guy to take our picture.
And then he took our picture, too! This was the first time we were alone overnight, with the sickly kiddos at Grandma's house for the night. It was exciting to be free for the night, but I'll admit we both missed having the boys along to run with the other kids.Our tent has a wonderful skylight--the whole reason I fell in love with this tent years and years ago, when David first spent one month's rent on our new home for our summer of traveling.

Here's me, setting up our tent...

And a little later in the evening, relaxing in a huge chair by the fire.

Congratulations, newly wedded friends! We are honored to share such a joyful day with you!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Scary and Silent...

Post-bedtime conversation with Jabber...

J: So Daddy doesn't really like The Three Little Pigs.
Me: Why not?
J: He says it's awful scary and silent.
Me: Silent?
J: Yeah, like...silent, like when the wolf gets all burned up in the fire.
Me: Oh, you mean violent?
J: Yeah, but I'm not scared. I mean, I'm not even scared of monsters. 'Cause I'm so strong I can punch them.
Me: Oh?
J: (getting warmed up) Yeah, I can punch them right in the stomach! I'd punch them so hard their stomachs split right open! Their stomachs would split right open and all their organs would pop out! (gets a scary little gleam in his eyes) AND I would reach in and rip the monster's heart right out with my sharp fingernails, and then I'd throw the heart out right on the ground and...then I'd break it. I would just...break his heart. (smashes one tiny fist into the other palm)
Me: Now that sounds a little violent.
J: Yeah. But not as bad as The Three Little Pigs.

Thank you Produce-Fairy!

Just a shout out to the wonderful soul(s) who left the huge bag of garden fresh produce on our bear...I want you to know I totally love you.

We have had so many yummy meals with those beautiful red tomatoes!


Monday, September 29, 2008

Must be the second kid...

I remember reading an article when Jabber was a toddler about how some ridiculous number of parents of ten-month-olds stated that french fries were their child's main source of "vegetables." My jaw dropped. My precious baby's palate had never been even briefly exposed to such an abomination, of course! He ate finely minced bits of organic produce, drank juice that was watered within an inch of being, well...water, and all members of the extended family were given extensive instructions in the art of nurtitional label-reading.

There was a reason for this, beyond just new parent paranoia. Jabber came to us allergic to a plethora of foods, with his first reaction scaring the pants off us at 11 weeks. We already had to scour the labels for hints of dairy, soy, egg, and peanuts, so why not check for things like artificial coloring and partially hydrogenated anything? He was a healthy little bugger, that Jabberwock.

Fast forward to last night. Monkey came waltzing in to the living room with something in his mouth. "Whatcha got in your mouth, buddy?" I asked. He opened up his mouth happily but stayed out of my reach. I tried unsuccessfully to identify the odd white shapes in his mouth.

Monkey is known for not always having the ability or desire to differentiate between food and non-food items when putting things in his mouth, so I of course acted real casual and stealthily pounced on him, pinching his cheeks together to force these little white pebbles out of his mouth.

One popped out, and the fragrant smell of artificial orange flavoring wafted up. The baby was chewing on a mouthful of Runts candy. Yeah, like an entire mouthful of sugar and colorings and wax and whatever...all condensed into these hard little spheres that make me so nervous about choking that I make the four-year-old eat them sitting perfectly still next to me. So what did I do? Well, I got the poor sugar-starved child a box of Nerds, of course. Much safer, you see.

Oops, gotta go. Monkey wants another piece of frozen pizza.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Silence is...not all it's cracked up to be.

I lost my voice. It sounds so negligent, like I should keep better track of my things. Like there's this big person somewhere who's gonna say, "Well, I'm not in charge of your voice, whaddaya expect me to do about it? Think about where you were when you last had it. Retrace your steps."

When I last had it, I was standing in front of a classroom full of unruly children, croaking out things like, "I have only a very little bit of voice left, guys, and I'd really appreciate it if I didn't have to talk over you." So much for that. My own kids are quite the same; they just view Mom's lack of a voice as permission to do all the things they have always wanted to do but kept getting yelled at whenever they tried. Now, they are free. And the only annoyance they may have to deal with is an occasional vision of their silent-movie mother jumping around, waving her arms frantically, making that little "pssst!" sound or maybe clucking her tongue. Sometimes she claps her hands or stomps her feet, pantomiming wildly. Easy to dismiss with a blank look and a shrug.

This is the second time in my life I've lost my voice completely, and it's so scary. In addition to my entire job (it's pretty hard to teach without a voice), there are so many things about having a voice that a person takes for granted. The ability, for instance, to shout a warning to your husband when the baby is about to tip over on his chair out of your reach. Or the ability to comfort your son when he wakes up in the night sick. Yesterday I had an appointment at the eye doctor, and even though I had my little notebook and pen with me, it was amazingly frustrating to try to communicate my concerns about my vision, and even to choose which view was sharper. And then I just felt rude when a woman said hello to me but then turned away. Or when David asked me questions from the other room, and I couldn't answer him.

I'm home sick with two sick kiddos today, but I sure hope by the time I have to go back to school on Monday, my voice is back. In the meantime, I'm going to look into some backup vocals.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I've never really found anything to love about the concept of "obedience," unless you are talking about an unruly puppy. Growing up, I was forever being grounded or otherwise punished for what basically amounts to insubordination--usually "talking back" or else using various passive resistance methods to avoid giving in to the authority, whether in the form of my parents or my school authority figures.

Although I'm sure at times it was just childish (like the time I engaged in something of a staring contest with a substitute teacher until she lost control of her temper and sank to levels of immaturity even I was above), I kind of see this trait of questioning authority as a strength of mine. I'm the authority. And that changes things.

Is it a little paradoxical for me to believe that it's wrong to blindly obey while insisting that my students never make a peep while I am talking? That I value my own rebellion but just about go ballistic every time my own children refuse to listen?

I have two very different children. Jabberwock never really gave me a moment of trouble until he was three-and-a-half. If I told him that crayons were only for paper, he would stare at me with those big, solemn eyes and nod gravely. He wouldn't even think of drawing on the wall, or the floor, or the table--not even if I wasn't there to supervise. To this day, he holds my hand...well, obediently...whenever I ask him to. He asks for permission before doing just about anything. He feels bad about getting in trouble, as though he has let everyone down.

I'm sure the day will come when he will try his hand at a little rebellion, and of course he tests us even now, occasionally pulling out a defiant little "NO!" when we ask him to do something, but he looks genuinely surprised at himself afterward, like he just doesn't know what came over him.

Monkey, on the other hand, really doesn't care so much about being obedient. He hears us telling him to stop, come back, don't touch, keep that out of your mouth, be gentle, color only on the paper, be nice to your brother. He hears us, and he gives us a nice smile to let us know he heard. And then he does whatever the hell he wants.

This makes most events in public worlds different than they were when Jabber was a baby. I never really understood before how children could keep people from attending events, eating at restaurants, entertaining guests. We brought Jabber with us everywhere--dinner parties, the theatre, concerts--he even regularly accompanied David on business meetings with brides who were looking for our photography services.

The thought of doing any of these things with the Monkey is just laughable. This afternoon we tried to eat McDonalds. We were there for approximately seventeen minutes, and Monkey not only ran behind the counter and tried to make himself a McFlurry but also retrieved a nasty napkin from a dark corner under a booth (it had a smashed fly on it) and played roller derby with all of the high chairs that had been neatly lined up along the wall.

I'm pretty sure it will be Monkey who has all the good ideas in middle school and high school, and he'll convince Jabber to play along with most of them. We already chose the bedroom for the boys whose window does not have access to the porch roof, thinking of future late-night sneaking out and about. I'm just a little bit frightened to think of the conflicts that are surely coming as this little willful one clashes with his mother, who may have a little bit of a willful streak as well. So it is rumored.

I don't want mindless sheep for children. I want them to be critical thinkers, and I want them to value their autonomy. At the same time, though, I want them to follow my very sensible rules. Like, please don't run into traffic. And please don't bludgeon each other with toy trucks.

And quit talking back to me, dammit!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

piercing ponderings

I rarely, if ever, think about my eyebrow piercing, though I've had it now for something like eight years. Usually, I do not even remember that it's there, until someone scrunches up her face in a certain way and asks, "Did that hurt?" Then, seeing my blank look, she adds, "When you got your eyebrow pierced."

Oh, that. I send my brain back on a long journey to Lincoln City, Oregon, where a sunny woman working at someplace that had a sunshiney name put tea bags over my eyes and said, "This might pinch a little bit." In my memory, that's all it did. A little pinch. But in my mind, childbirth didn't really hurt all that bad, either, so maybe I just don't have a good memory for pain.

I do remember that in the month or so afterward, while we lived in our tent in various campgrounds and whatever, when David had to put the bead back on with his Leatherman tool, that it got infected despite my daily dousing with Bactine. (I remember that David added "holes in yer head" to the list of indications on the front of the bottle with a black Sharpie.) I kind of remember that hurting a bit, and a slight amount of regret, honestly. It all healed up just fine, though, and now I like it.

One of my reasons for getting a piercing was that my ears started reacting badly to earrings. I don't really know why they were perfectly fine with earrings for over half my life (and I wore some amazing earrings in my time, too--both dangly and hoops the size of paper plates!) and then suddenly got so bad that they would start to itch and even bleed within minutes of putting in any kind of metal or even the nylon kind! I guess, to be fair, I've never tried pure gold, but that's simply because I'm poor, and that would be a big waste of money if it didn't work.

Things got really strange one night, though, when I was doing lights for a show of my Flutterby Sis. It was about 8:00 pm, and I was in the balcony squinting at the light cues scrawled on a yellow legal pad when my left earlobe began to burn and itch. I didn't think much of it, but I did rub it a little, and eventually I noticed that there was blood on my hand. Later on, in the bathroom at Taco Bell, I saw that the blood was coming from the hole where my ear had been pierced long ago when I was nine years old. I hadn't worn earrings in months, maybe longer. My entire ear was red and itchy, but I couldn't figure out any reasonable explanation. So I ignored it.

I got home late that night, and David was already sleeping. My ear continued to bother me all that night and all the next day while I was at work. When I got home, David said, "Hey, did you see my new earring?" and showed me the little stud in his left ear. My ear burned.

"Wow, that's weird," I said. "'Cause my left ear has been bothering me since last night. When did you get it?"

"Last night, about eight o'clock, right after I got off work."

In other words, exactly the same time my ear started bothering me.

David offered to take the earring out right away, but I told him that was silly. How could his earring bother my ear? I held out for one more night, and my ear got worse and worse. Finally, I told him to take the earring out.

My ear was completely better within a half an hour.

So he threw that earring away, and I've never been bothered by it again. Weird.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

But I Like All Kinds of Colors!

Here's Jabber, riding his new bike. Yes, he's also wearing a motorcycle helmet, but that's just because we forgot the bike helmets at home.

So Jabber got a pink bike from his grandparents, actually two pink bikes, one in this size and one a size larger. Both perfectly nice bikes picked up for free at a rummage sale. And both pink. No big deal. Jabber didn't even bat an eye. And why would he? I'm always trying to combat the messages about gender roles that come rolling in from all directions, trying to curb and define my kids based on what? Their genitalia?

So when Papa said, "It's too bad it's pink, but that can be painted," I just shrugged.

"Pink is fine," I said. "Jabber likes pink."

Jabberwock spoke up. "Yeah, I really like pink. I like ALL kinds of colors!" He went on admiring his new bike, which is the only bike he has, since I somehow can't seem to make myself either go to garage sales or buy a brand new bicycle that is like one foot tall.

"Jabber knows that his manliness isn't made up of a color," I said, for good measure. I'm pretty sure the bike will be painted by the next time we see it.

I get so frustrated by gender roles and stereotypes, and I'd like to see my kiddos able to transcend them, or, if that's improbable, to at least have them meet these unwritten rules aware and critical. I sort of thought, before having kids, that I would be able to balance so-called masculine and feminine influences, that I could adjust for society and all its stupid expectations.

Alas, there are moments almost every day that challenge this notion. Several days ago, Jabber came in from outside playing and said, "Mom, next time I see Cutie Neighbor Girl, I'm going to protect her with my big strong arms." What?? Where does this come from?

"Oh," I said, thinking fast. "That's all right. Then you can play again, and she can protect you with her big strong arms."

"Okay," he said, agreeing whole-heartedly.

This is the kind of thing that makes me hopeful, but what of the rest? What about the obsession with cars and monster trucks? Does it really balance out simply because he also likes to carry a purse and keeps his chapstick ("chappy") in a darling little lipstick case with a mirror?

We were driving along on our way up north this weekend, and out of nowhere he shouts, "Whoa! Look at that awesome car!"

It's a Camaro, and sure enough, all three boys are instantly enthralled with the magic of this awesome car. I feel certain that if my husband got ecstatic about, say, a pair of high heels or a new knitting pattern, the boys would follow suit; they are his disciples, after all. If we had daughters would they be as excited about the car? Possibly. Does it all have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with role modeling? (Never mind that the role model has been trained up with gender expectations...) Still, I notice Jabber doesn't bring his purse to daycare as much anymore. Did the big boys explain to him that this is not the way of the boy?

There are just so many subtle ways that boys get reinforcement one way or the other about what it is to be boy, to become a man. (Oops, now I've got the Violent Femmes running through my head!)

The other night, Jabber asked me to get him some nail polish when I went shopping. The next morning I was showing him my sparkly purple nails, and he said, "Mom, I changed my mind. I don't want to wear nail polish. That's for girls."

And that bummed me out. I mean, I don't really care if he does or does not wear sparkly purple nail polish. I want him to be able to do his own thing. But it bugs me that he has absorbed enough of society's instructions on being a boy as to find himself too self-conscious in the light of day to wear it, at least to daycare.

A little later, though, he seriously cracked me up when his earnest little voice piped up from the back seat of the van. "Mom, I think I'll try it out a little when I go to college, okay? I'm just going to try things out then." Hahaha!

The Sunday Summary

Well, a weekend in pictures...or at least a little bit of a weekend. We went up on Friday to check on the in-laws' cat and go to some kind of Finnish festival on an old homestead with my parents and my cousin. While there:

1. We saw a lot of people that at first glance I thought were my grandparents, but really they were just old.

2. We ate a lunch that disagreed with all four of our stomachs (but not enough to keep us from devouring my mom's homemade cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip five thousand calories' worth of them!)

3. We watched demonstrations of blacksmithing, spinning and carding of wool, accordion playing, dancing, carving, and some other things, most of which I assume were either Finnish or things that homesteaders in the late 1800s tended to do.

4. We looked at lots of pretty things for sale but didn't buy anything. There was a wire-wrapped stone that I really liked, made of what the artisan said was a local stone...something about hematite and fossilized algae. It was gorgeous, but I resisted asking David to buy it for me.

5. I carried Monkey on my back using the sling (we forgot our Ergo pack at home, silly), and he loved it. Although, one woman came running up to me, laughing, but in a slightly freaked-out way, and said, "Oh dear, oh dear, I really thought you had a python wrapped around your body, hon!" To be fair, this was at a point where Monkey was running around playing with bean bags and ring tosses, so the sling was just hanging on me, empty. It was still amusing. I'm not sure what my step-dad is doing in this picture, but I'm thinking he was playing with Monkey?

6. Jabberwock learned how to milk a (fake) cow, and then he got a certificate with his name on it saying that he is now an official milk maid. Or possibly I made that part up. But he did get a certificate!

7. We all got the opportunity to climb inside a small wooden pen that was overrun with small animals, such as five hundred baby chicks, a twenty-five pound rabbit, some ducklings, and a couple of regular-sized rabbits. Also like sixty children, of various sizes--all intent on petting the animals and frighteningly unaware of the damage their darling shoes would cause to the tiny chickens. Monkey was ecstatic, but he was very careful and followed the instructions of, "Pet with one finger, please," and, "Don't step on them, honey." These were my instructions, by the way. The boy in charge of the petting area, who was about fifteen maybe, seemed pretty cheerful and unconcerned for the safety of the livestock. He was overheard to have offered a pretty girl one of the ducklings by saying, "Just take one. There's plenty more where that came from."

8. We tried to house-sit, or at least cat-sit, but the poor cat has some anxiety issues, and being alone seems to have aggravated them. Poor guy had torn out almost all the fur off his one side, and there were tufts and piles of it all over. It wasn't going to be an ideal situation for David and his allergies, so we let him out, made sure everything was taken care of, and stayed at my parents' house instead. I did receive a fun skull scarf from my mother-in-law, and then I made a funny little face and got my picture taken with it. The skulls have little heart eyes, which is silly and funny.

9. I graded like five billion essays, or at least that's what it felt like. I complained the whole time, of course.

10. I should have finished grading the other billion, but instead I decided to upload pictures onto the internet and write goofy little blog entries.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Undying Curiosity about the Human Condition Elissa is incredibly nosy. All in the name of being a writer, of course.

Two times today, I found myself admitting to two different people that I am an incredibly nosy person. If you leave your journal out, I will read it. And by leave it lying out, I mean locked in that secret compartment (the key slipped carefully between the mattress and the sheet) with seven of your hairs knotted intricately across the pages.

I am an incorrigible snoop.

Maybe this is why I like blogs--political and feminist blogs but also the ones where people just tell stories about their lives and things that they are thinking about. I admit that I am most intrigued by the secrets of people who have a way with words, who can weave a story and captivate me or make me laugh. But really, I'll read just about anything once or twice.

I'm curious. I want to know all about what makes people tick, what makes them freak out, and mostly what their idiosyncrasies are. I keep the secrets to myself mostly; I don't think I'm a busybody really. But I just can't help my curiosity.

Tonight at dinner, Jabberwock said, "Mom, don't I ask a lot of questions? Why do I even ask so many questions? It's because I just GOTTA KNOW THINGS!"

I don't know where he gets it from. :)

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Good Life...a Miscellany.

I have all these little jumbled bits of things to write about.

...the way Monkey has had a communication explosion that leads us all to raucous laughter at the dinner table as he tells stories using only single-syllabic words, hysterical facial expressions, and a piece of pizza.

...the way Jabber always tells me what he's dreaming about when I go in to kiss him on my way to bed, and how it's always something fast-paced and intense. Too bad my brain can't pull out any specifics.

...the way I feel sending out query letter after query letter for my little novel, waiting for a word--yes, or no. It's so difficult to surrender my creation to this process of scuffs and kicks and elbow jabs. So difficult, yet so necessary. I think maybe the hardest thing is sending out another round of queries after the first round is soundly rejected. I understand that agents are looking at upwards of one hundred queries a week, and I understand that they may ask for three partials out of that whole mess, if that. Still, it's hard to not take it as a judgement of doom. YOUR NOVEL IS WORTHLESS. GIVE UP NOW.

...the way it feels to be starting a new project, another YA novel, while starting the school year. This is unprecedented, folks. I never write while teaching. The blog is a stretch, and as you can tell, it's a tough one. It was like as soon as school got close, my blogging went from faithfully once a day to once a week? Anyway, though, I feel like I finally have the support and outlet for my writing, and I'm on a roll.

My kids are cute, my job is interesting, my writing is moving along. What fascinating reading. ;)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

On Being Inept At Life

I like telling stories. I like teaching people things, and I love writing about things...thinking about things. I like hiking at my own pace down a quiet woodsy trail all alone, and I like tramping along a woodsy trail at a child's pace, answering questions about erosion and evaporation and why we cannot put ants in our mouths.

I like reading books that captivate me. I like painting on nice canvass.

I do not like paying bills.

I do not like making phone calls, setting up appointments, writing things on a calendar.

Also, I do not like spending too much time each day on cleaning. Some people get a kick out of cleaning because they like the results they see, but to me it is just a lesson in futility.

I know it's part of being a grown-up to do things you don't want to do simply because they need to be done, so I try to keep up on the checkbook, do the dishes and clean the kitchen most nights, and generally be a good, responsible human. With moderate success.

Still, I have the hardest time with keeping up on the little details of life. Like making a dentist appointment. Getting a haircut more than twice a year. Keeping the house clean. Fixing stuff, hanging pictures, filing semi-important things like my teaching license or maybe the deed to our car. You know, dumb stuff like that.

Oh, well. I think right now I'll just spend a little while singing and dancing around the living room with Monkey, and I'll worry about that stuff later. Much later.