Sunday, August 31, 2008

And since I'm posting pictures...

Here's a few more from our trip two weeks ago up to Granny and Papa's house. Jabber and Cousin K had some fun shooting bows and arrows, and Monkey sampled the local flora while wearing his stylish ladies' bathing get-up.

Haircut Happenings

I have always cut Jabberwock's hair, ever since the very first cut when he was under a year old. He's always had a huge head full of hair, thick and glossy, just like his dad. I laugh to think of all the hair I cut off when he was a year old, comparing that to Monkey, who at 20 months is only now in possession of enough peach fuzz to actually be called hair. I imagine it will be several more years before Monkey needs a trim!

So it has been quite a while since Jabber's last cut, partly because he wanted his hair to grow out and partly because he had a meltdown about a month ago when I tried to cut it, and I just walked away and said forget it, you can just have long hair forever. (All right, maybe I had a meltdown too. Obviously that was a case of bad timing.)

Remember how I've mentioned Jabber's fears? Well, no big surprise, but one of them is that he's terrified of being cut by the scissors. Never mind that in almost four years of me cutting his hair, he has never gotten snipped in any way. The mere thought of the metal touching his skin will send him into a cascade of flinching that will drive me into a fit of yelling if I am not completely in my Zen Jabberwock Stylist Mode.

So yesterday we decided that the day had come to try again. Then my mom came over and made a comment about him looking like a girl, and I almost said forget it again, but today I realized that I need to stop being immature like that. So...haircut day!

Here is the sequence. Try not to look too closely at the kitchen floor, or my sad plants. Heh.

Before: Aww, look at the little waves and curls. I almost cannot bear to cut it.

Halfway through: one side is cut, and Jabber is amused by his reflection in the oven door. I didn't really intend to go as short as this, but I guess I only know how to cut one style of hair, and this is it. So, short it is.

After: Now you can briefly glance at my floor, but only to see the huge pile of hair lying there. I think that's the most I've ever taken off. He seems pretty happy with the results, though! And, bonus points for nobody losing an ear. Or their least, not much!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fever In, Fever Out

Just in time for the first week of school, I kissed Monkey's sleeping face two mornings ago and immediately thought, "Uh-oh."

A quick trip to the linen closet to fetch the ear thermometer confirmed what a mother's kiss had diagnosed: fever. A dose of tylenol, a call to David at work, and off we rushed to daycare, where Lovely DCP took Monkey in her arms and snuggled him in a way that made my broken heart heal up a little bit. There really was no way for me to stay home with him, not the first week of classes, and it's so nice to have someone like DCP to take care of him!

That night, his fever climbed up to a scary 104.2, which we have learned is just Monkey's way of dealing with sickness. He has been up over 105 more times than I can count, and it's just about the saddest thing on earth to see him like that, feeling so wretched.

My scariest parenting moment to date was fever-related, when Monkey had a febrile seizure in the Target parking lot, just after his first birthday. I can still see the way he looked, sitting there in the cart that night, with his little green fleece jacket and his red striped hat on. His hands were snug in little blue mittens, and we ran in for some post-Christmas necessities, late in the evening--past everyone's bedtime. He seemed normal the whole time we were piling diapers and pacifiers and whatever else in our cart, hurriedly sweeping the aisles to get out of there before the kids melted down.

Then I noticed him sort of staring blankly while we were checking out. He seemed like he was in a little zone, and even the cashier said something like, "Wow, he's about to fall asleep, isn't he?" I feel bad now because I laughed and thought it was so cute the way he had the dreamy stares, and because I had kept him all bundled up in his hat, coat, and mittens.

We got out to the van, and I remember that David loaded Jabber into his seat and gave him a Pop-Tart (yes, I know, no Parent-of-the-Year Award) while I dropped the cart into the corral and started tucking Monkey into his seat. I had his arms inside the straps when I noticed he was staring even more blankly than before. Somehow it just registered that he was not right, that he was not actually responding to his surroundings, and I began calling his name, trying to get him to look at me.

David was already in the driver's seat, and he knew something was wrong as my voice started getting more and more frantic, and Monkey didn't stop his fixed stare off to the left. Then, while I watched, his eyes rolled backwards and his whole body started convulsing stiffly. I screamed to David, "He's seizing! He's having a seizure!"

It was the scariest thing ever, the way his little face was instantly gray, like all the life was gone, and how little bits of foam frothed out of his mouth, and how his body was so stiff while it was jerking that we couldn't pick him up because we couldn't get his arms out of the straps of his seat.

David was so calm and reassuring the whole time, and I was crying and saying, "He's not breathing!" over and over again. It was terrible. I called 9-1-1 and told them my little baby was having a seizure, but by that time it was over and he was sort of sleeping in my arms in the front seat, making a little gasping cry with every breath. A fire truck came, and David talked to the paramedics so calmly, telling them exactly how long the seizure was and everything. I can't imagine what I would have done if he hadn't been there.

They wanted us to go the ER for a CT scan, so we had to put him back into his seat, and he woke up and cried so hard the entire way to the hospital. I rode the whole way standing next to his seat, trying to hold him and comfort Jabber at the same time. He cried nonstop the whole time we were getting him checked into the ER, until finally I jumped up on the examining table and nursed him. He would not stop nursing the whole time, so they drew blood, checked his temperature, everything--all while he was focused on nursing like his nummies were the only thing that existed in his universe. I was prepared for someone to make a stupid comment, but the doctor assured me that his wife had several children and nursed all of them, and obviously everyone preferred a baby happily suckling to a baby screaming like the world was over.

In the end, everything was fine and normal--it was "just" a febrile seizure and wasn't likely to do him any harm. I'm still certain that it was a reaction to his MMR vaccine, since it exactly fit into the timeline of the febrile seizure reaction in the paperwork from the CDC, but two doctors insisted it wasn't so. It's sad that doctors have become so afraid of vaccine criticism that they are pretty much unable to admit that a bad reaction could happen.

Luckily, though they said he will have a higher risk of having another seizure until he's like five or so, we haven't seen another one yet, even with about a zillion fevers in the meantime. I sure hope I never have to witness another one!

Monday, August 25, 2008

And down will come Baby, cradle and all!

Well, it's official. Monkey has a big boy bed, or, as he refers to it, a "bid bid bid." It's really just his crib, which had been side-carred onto our queen size bed (an arrangement that allowed me to spend many nights curled around a sprawled sleeping toddler with enough of my body in the crib as to make me start worriedly calculating how close I was to exceeding the weight limit of the frame!), but which now has been scooted over like six feet to the foot of our bed.

I really enjoy having the kiddo in the bed with us, mostly because I'm so lazy. Ever since he was a newborn, I was able to nurse him most of the night without ever really waking up--just by rolling over and stuffing a boob in his mouth every time he squawked. I think back to the first couple of months with Jabber, when I lived in terror of nodding off during one of those late night nursing sessions and letting him slip from my grasp onto the cold hard floor.

It was the eczema that brought Jabber into our bed, in the end, which was the only good thing that ever came of those horrible itchers (except perhaps my children's story, "Prince Elliot and the Incredible Itch," which I still have some hope for publishing, once I'm a big hotshot author. hahaha.)

See, when Jabber was about two months old, he suddenly became covered with this itchy, oozing rash, and the only way we could keep him from scratching his face down to a bloody nasty mess is by plunking him in between us and falling asleep on either side of him, each one of us holding one of his little baby hands, with those little baby claws that were sharp no matter how we clipped and filed and clipped and filed.

So we started co-sleeping, although that term always strikes me as sounding somehow deviant. I read The Baby Book by Dr. Sears, who used the term "sharing sleep," and I felt a lot better about the fact that our infant had about as much use for the big fancy crib as he did for a steak knife or a quadratic equation.

Other books told me he should be crying it out, on a schedule, self-soothing, and other rigid ideas that hurt my heart. But in the end, we could blame it all on his eczema--sorry, but we just can't let him cry-it-out or he would gouge his cheeks off. It was a good excuse to do what our instincts told us he needed: cuddling and on-demand nursing. The best thing I ever learned how to do was to nurse him lying side-to-side, both of us sound asleep. Gone were my fears of falling babies. Gone were the exhausted midnight wakings...and one o' clock wakings...and three o'clock...and four-thirty...and six o'clock...and well, I guess I should just get up now 'cause otherwise I'm going to fall asleep and drop him again.

Other people warned us that we'd never get him out of our bed, and yet, when he was about sixteen months old, he began expressing a personal preference for sleeping all by himself in the toddler bed (the same crib converted into a bed that Monkey now sleeps in). At some point, we gradually moved him into the bed in our room, where he nodded off to bed peacefully for the most part, and then when we moved to our new home, he happily slept in his own bed in his new big boy room. He seemed to have little trouble "self-soothing." In fact, to this day, Jabber drops off to sleep without so much as a murmur, if he's truly tired.

So when we were preparing for Monkey's arrival, we just skipped the whole cradle and crib routine and set the bed up for, sharing sleep. Those first few nights, when he was so tiny and transparent and floppy, I tried to get him to sleep over on the crib mattress, with nothing fluffy or snuggly or otherwise unsafe. I placed him carefully on his little back. He would sleep. For five minutes. Then he'd wake, gagging on spit-up or startling himself out of his swaddling, bursting into a fit of crying that was sure to wake everyone in the house.

But if I curled him up close to me, within reach of the breast, with my breath on his downy little head and my hand curled around his little bottom, he would sleep soundly and sweetly. And so would everyone else.

He's 21 months, now, and although I'm pretty content with him in our bed, he seems ready for a bit more independence. So far, he's been napping happily in his bid bid bid, crawling up into it and snuggling into his own special blankets and pillows. He seems honored and pleased to be given his own space.

And so far, with a couple of exceptions (that I have to admit have probably been more my fault for not listening to his signals about being tired or not), he has nodded off in his new bed with very little trouble. He likes it.

He still comes into our bed at various times in the night--last night he was crying for nursing at 2:00 AM or so, and I scooped him up, but the night before it was 5:00 AM before we heard from him. I'm so happy with this arrangement, and I'm so glad to have the confidence to choose this sharing of sleep despite the fact that Monkey doesn't have any eczema!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Can't Buy Me Love

A couple of evenings ago, David came downstairs after tucking Jabberwock in bed with a sad look on his face. "Jabber wants to bring a car to daycare tomorrow to give it to Mister Big Kid Extraordinaire," he said.

"He wants to give away his cars?" I was incredulous. If there's anything Jabber loves more than toy cars, I haven't figured it out.

"Yeah. He said he wants to give it to Mr. BK, 'so he'll like me better.'"

This is the same kid who one day made fun of Jabber's "inja turtles" and his choice of clothing--not a mean kid, but a subtle one, with way more experience in the wide interpersonal world outside. He's in maybe fourth or fifth grade, and in the eyes of Jabber, a virtual god. At the very least a substantial hero.

I felt a stab of pain in my heart, thinking about this little boy wanting to give away his prized possessions in order to make some big kid like him better. Growing up is so hard.

So the next morning, he was all set with his car in hand. "Mom, I'm giving this car to Mr. BK," he said.

"Well, why do you want to do that, Jabber? I thought you liked that car."

He told me about how he wanted Mr. Big Kid Extraordinaire to like him, and he thought that maybe the way to do that would be to give him a car. I asked him if he would want someone to be his friend because he gives them things or to be his friend because he's fun to be around. We talked about how friendship was more than just things, and even though everything we talked about was a big heavy concept, I think he understood quite a bit of it. Then he said something that just breaks my heart, because I really wish I could take away all the rejection he'll ever feel, all the scorn of those horrible kids.

"Mom," he said. "I just like Mr. BKE so much. I go and stand by him all the time, and he says to me, 'Can I help you?'"

"And what do you say when he asks that?"

"Nothing. I just tell him that I like him, and I want to be by him because I like him so MUCH!"

I gave Jabber a big hug at this point, my heart aching for him with all his hopeful admiration, his big boy crush. "And what does he say to you then?" I asked.

Jabber shrugged then, like the matter was over, like he didn't really want to continue the conversation. "I dunno," he mumbled.

I pressed him. "Honey, what does he say to you when you tell him that you like him?"

He cried then, and I was glad that I persisted because it's clear he needed to get some love and comfort. And what does Mr. BK say to my sensitive little kiddo when Jabber openly expressed his admiration for him?

"Back off, kid."

So heartbreaking, this business of growing up.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Feel my asparagus?

Okay, scene in my house yesterday evening:

Jabber, shouting loudly upstairs, right in front of open screen door:DAAAAAAAADDDDDD! I want you to feel my asparagus!!!!

(Sound effect: Elissa hysterically laughing from the computer chair)

Dad: You want me to feel your what?

Jabber: My asparagus!!! You HAVE TO feel my asparagus right NOW!!!

Dad: (laughing also) I don't really feel like feeling your asparagus, Jabber!

Jabber: (even louder) FEEL MY ASPARAGUS!


Jabber: But mine is WET!


(Elissa nearly pees her pants from laughing.)

The End.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

He has your eyes!

Ever since my first son was born, people have dissected his face--explaining the lineage of each of his features. "He has David's eyes!" they would exclaim. "Ooh, I think he has your mouth!" Possibly the strangest comment came from one of David's co-workers, who said, "Well, I was trying to figure out whose nose he has, but you guys have the same nose."

Uhhh...what, now? We have the same nose? Well, that's just weird. I mean, what do you even say to this person? I look at my husband's nose, and I mean, I think he's an attractive guy, but seriously? That is NOT what my nose looks like!

When a baby is born, people can be so excited to claim or assign credit for his/her features, they can be completely absurd. When my cousin C. (Or maybe K? Yeah, I think so.) saw Monkey for the first time, she announced to the whole room full of relatives, "Look at that! He's definitely got the (Lissnkids' Step-Father's Lastname) eyes! There was a little silence as everyone in the room (pretty much the whole step-side family, since it was at my grandma's funeral) tried to work that one out. Hmmm. My step-father leaned over, a sparkle in his blue eyes, and whispered, "Neat trick, hey?"

Sometimes I can see the resemblance to ourselves in our children. Both the boys have moments when they look like my husband, for sure. One friend insists that Monkey looks just like me. It's hard for me to see this, maybe because my mental image of myself is probably not exactly reality. More often than the physical features, I recognize our personalities or vocal cadences, phrases snatched from our vocabularies, the way Jabberwock's fists clench when he's upset.

Now, there are some who say that my boys' bull-headed and stubborn sides come from me, but I am not buying that. Clearly, this is a function of a genetic anomaly.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Moving from one thing to the next can be a bit tricky. Some of the hardest parts of writing--a novel, an essay, even a blog post--are the bits where you try to make one idea lead into the next, flow in smoothly with a minimum of fuss. My students learn transition words from a list, but you can't really just memorize a list of words and let them do all the work to move your writing from piece to piece.

Like a choppy paragraph break, we started school again today, and everything about the transition was crazy. I had to peel the boys off of their sheets this morning and stuff their floppy limbs into clothing while brushing my teeth hurriedly and making a grocery list for this morning's potluck, which I had forgotten. I stayed up well into the wee hours like usual last night, and by the middle of my leadership meeting this afternoon, I was all but comatose in my steamy classroom. It was a good thing the chairs are so uncomfortable.

After the children finally succumbed to sleep in their beds again this evening, David collapsed in his chair in the living room, looking like a refugee of war. His eyes darted and twitched; his hands shook.

"What's the matter?" I asked, from my slump on the couch. I sucked back a couple of aspirins with a whiskey shot.

"" His voice was thin and sounded a little deranged.

I thought about giving him a hug, but that would involve moving. So I just sent him telepathic thoughts of love instead. Upstairs, the alarm clocks ticked on, inexorably moving us toward tomorrow.

"Tomorrow," I whispered, "will be much easier."

"Tomorrow," he groaned, "we have to go grocery shopping."

Transitions are tough.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nothing Like a Good Cupcake!

Yesterday was one of those days where it rains pretty much constantly from morning until bedtime, and the kids spend the entire time bouncing off the walls like my house is an elaborate pinball machine with unlimited play.

As it is mid-August, I am nearly out of new and exciting ways to keep them from gouging each other's eyes out, and many activities I have found online take waaayy more time for the set-up and clean-up than my kiddos will actually spend on the activity. I mean, sure, they probably would have fun and learn things and have all their senses stimulated or whatever, but yikes. I may want to edit my novel or watch the Olympics or even something less productive than that.

My one idea that was actually kind of fun turned into a crazy mess. I put out a bunch of bowls, cups, and spoons, and then filled them with some old dried beans that have been in a jar in our cupboard for a couple of years now (don't ask me why they were there for that long because I really have no idea). This was great fun--pouring, scooping, stirring, sifting, and...flinging? Oh dear. Flinging.

In a matter of minutes, there is not a single square inch of my kitchen floor that is unoccupied by a little white bean. Monkey is squealing with glee. So I do what any good mother would do: I ignore it and let him continue. Then I initiate a contest to see who can put the most beans in his/her plastic cup in one minute. Then I try to ignore the fact that they are flinging again.

The sound of dried beans clattering around the kitchen floor--behind the stove, under the refrigerator--is like music to my sons' ears. Also? Dried beans actually hurt a little when stepped upon. Not necessarily as much as walking across the Matchbox Minefield of the living room, and of course it doesn't even begin to compare with stepping on a Lego at midnight on your way to the bathroom, but still. It is unpleasant.

An hour or so later, I finally have cleaned up the majority of the beans. The rest I'll leave alone until they sprout beneath the radiator. It will make for an interesting science lesson later.

So...we decided to bake cupcakes!

Both boys played a part in the making and decorating, and of course, the best part--eating!

Here is Jabber, who is showing his great maturity ("I am more than four and a half exactly," he informs anyone who says hello to him) by getting only minimal frosting on his face.

Monkey sporting a 'stache.
Funny stuff, this.

It was a long rainy day, but there's nothing like a good cupcake!

Fun Monday on...oh dude is it already Wednesday?

So I was blog-hopping and landed over at Sauntering Soul's post about a favorite photo, and I'm a little bit crazy about photos, so immediately I started thinking about which photos are my favorites.

David is a photographer; he always has at least two cameras on his person. Usually more. Sometimes he takes pictures with all of them at once, or at least that's how it looks to the naked eye. I guess if you run it through instant replay you can see the lightning-fast lens changes and such, but the end result is the same.

We have a lot of photos.

There are at least a million of them that are my favorites, too, for different reasons. There's an entire album full of photographs of the Lake, for instance, and each one thrills my soul in a different way. Then there are all the pictures of our kids. Each one is a precious memory. So I decided to choose my favorite photo of myself.

I am not a photogenic person. Take ten photos of me, and I'll be making a weird face in at least nine of them. I'm not just being self-deprecating and coy; really, I just take awkward photos.

There's a verse from the Ani diFranco song, "Evolve," that goes:

it took me too long to realize
that I don't take good pictures
cuz I have the kind of beauty
that moves

But it doesn't stop my husband from trying. And sometimes, he gets lucky.

He actually took two good pictures of me on this day--except the other one is actually a picture of me from behind, hugging a birch tree. I was having a good-looking ass day, and that made me think, for a long time, that when I became a highly successful author, I would use that tree-huggin' nice ass photo on the dust jacket.

The exciting thing about this photo is knowing now that I was about two weeks pregnant here with my first son. My good, good friend and pseudo-Sister "Flutterby" had come to stay with us all the way from Texas. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, and hadn't ever really been around snow. It was April, and when she got here, we were locked in ice. It was freezing cold, covered with snow, and the normal April melting had resulted in everything being coated in a thick icy film.

A couple of days later, the April sun shone down with all its might, and we went for a walk in the neighborhood. Flutterby was amazed at the sound of water running everywhere, underneath the ice, down the streets in rivulets, an exodus of ice, flowing downhill to the Lake.

We went on a drive up the Shore, doing a big circle, and this picture was taken at the Baptism River, where ice flows broke free and sailed off while we watched, wearing short sleeves and blowing bubbles. It was a perfect day, all around. Well, except for the inexplicable case of car sickness I thought I had. Ha!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Teacher of the Year, Foiled Again!

Jabberwock is full of questions. Some of them are annoying, some of them are completely bizarre, and a good deal of them are about trying to figure out the way things work in this world. I try to answer him.

The last couple of weeks, we have been going for short hikes at a river near our home, and the questions have tended toward the scientific. In just the last week, we have had pretty in-depth conversations about evaporation/condensation (and the three states of matter), erosion, and then yesterday it was all about animal classification. Now I have always enjoyed biology--from the microscopic level right up to the cat dissection we did in advanced bio in high school. But this was the subject that stumped me, that made me say, "Gosh, Jabber, I just don't know. I guess we'll have to look that up."

OK, so from an educational standpoint, I know it's actually better for us to explore resources and learn the answers together, rather than a sort of Biology 101 lecture from the voice of Mom. Still, it irks me that I couldn't pull the answer out of my brain.

So we're sitting in the sandbox, and he asks me, "Mom, humans are mammals, right? So what makes us mammals?"

Yes! Easy question! I rattle off a bunch of characteristics of mammals, excited beyond all normal parameters that just yesterday we had been talking about animals being warm or cold-blooded. We chat for a while about animals giving birth to live young and then move on to discuss how mammals all feed their babies "nummies." Monkey joins the discussion at this point, lifting two sandy hands from his mud pie to caress my breasts.

"Nummie-nummie-nummie-num," he says solemnly. My shirt will never be the same.

"So, Jabber, can you think of any animals besides humans that would fit those characteristics? What other mammals are there?" I must be getting ready for school after all, hopping into Bloom's Taxonomy Mode while hanging out in the sandbox with a four-year-old.

He thinks for a minute. "A polar bear!" he shouts. "And a deer!"

We all applaud. It is quite exciting, let me tell you. I feel like science teacher of the year. And then.

"Are worms mammals?"

No. No, they are not. I am sure of that. He doesn't ask the next question: well, then, what ARE they? But I do. Come on, Science Teacher of the Freaking Year, what is a worm? My brain starts throwing words around, like Kingdom Phylum Class Order, or...damn, was it Order Class? Yeah, yeah. I dredge up an idea about five different groups of animals, but my brain can't fit worms into any of them.

Even though I don't have any idea how to fit a worm into my classification system, I start talking, trusting my Intro to Bio knowledge to show up when it really counts. "There are other groups of animals, too, besides Mammals," I say. "Like reptiles." Yeah, I am absolutely sure that's one of the groups. Is it a Kingdom? A Phylum? A Class, no Order?

"Dinosaurs were reptiles," says Jabber, full of wisdom.

"Yes, they were, but there are other animals that are reptiles, too, like turtles and snakes." Oh, I can feel that Best Teacher Tiara settling back onto my head now.

"Snakes?" asks Jabber.

"Nakes?" asks Monkey.

"Well, that's kind of like a worm," says Jabberwock. "So is a worm a reptile?"

Damn! "What is with you and worms?" No, I don't think I actually said that. "Well, there's Birds," I continue. I'm sure of birds. Mammals, Reptiles, Birds, and..."And amphibians, like frogs, that live on both water and land." Yep, I know that's one. I search through my brain for the fifth category. I know there's five; that number is clear in my memory, although I still can't remember what level of the taxonomy I am babbling about. I mean, one category can't include insects, worms, fish, and oh! there's a category that's like things with shells...crustaceans! Shit, this is too many categories. Suddenly, in my head, two Latin words compete: Annelida and Arthropoda. Annelids? Worms are Annelids! But...what about fish? What about the five categories?

"What is a worm?" He is pretty insistent at this point.

"Wom?" asks Monkey.

I sigh. "I don't know." I am defeated, vanquished by the natural sciences.

Come on, kid, ask me about poetry, plot structure, a vocabulary word?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Who are you, again?

Sometimes I think I live under a rock. Celebrities--be they actors, politicians, news anchors, musicians--somehow they all blur together in my mind and become pretty much indistinguishable to me. News about famous people always kind of confuses me. "Wait, wait, don't tell me, now was he the one who played Batman, or was he the one who played Superman?" David and I went to see The Dark Knight on Friday, and it was almost ridiculous how many times I had to whisper to him, "So...who's Batman again?" I mean, no, I totally can remember that Batman is the guy in the big black suit, and I even know he's the slick millionaire Bruce Wayne, but what the hell was the actor's name?

"Christian Bale," whispers David, for the third time. And then, as though this will help me, "He's the one who got in trouble for beating up on his mother and someone else."

This added detail does not ring any bells. (I have since researched this alleged incident, and I am honestly less interested in it now than I was then, if that's possible.)

Obviously, there is a point when a person is so famous that they penetrate my cluelessness. I can pick the presidential candidates out of a line-up, for instance. Most of them, anyway. And although I may not have any clue who the anchor was who interviewed them, there are some celebs I can figure out. Oprah, for instance. I almost never mix her up with anyone else.

So I just always thought I didn't care about famous people. I kind of felt a little smug about it, even. As in, I am above the plebian crowd. Then I was talking to one of my co-workers, and she mentioned that she has difficulty with facial recognition. She was talking about it almost like a social disability. As she talked, I realized she was talking about me.

So pretty much, until I form some kind of emotional attachment to someone, I cannot recognize their face. And somehow, it mostly impacts me with men. They all look alike to me. This explained a lot about why, whenever we watch action-adventure type movies, especially if the people all dress alike, I'm always confused. "Was that the guy who shot all those people in the beginning?" I'll ask David, and he gives me this look like, "WTF? Where have you been?"

The dressing alike piece could also be why I can't for the life of me tell news anchors apart. They're just like a cookie cutter to me, a suit with a balding white head that tells me shit I'm supposed to know. Until I get some kind of emotion from them, or meet them in person, I have no clue who they are or what they look like. This frustrates David to no end, since he works in news. I mean, I can't even identify the reporters of our local news, the station he works for, the people he talks about in our daily lives. Just last night I went downstairs to tell him something I had seen on the news, and he asked me, "Was it so-and-so?" and I had to dig through my brain. "Uhmmmm, she was blond I think?"

So since realizing I have a social disability instead of just a huge-ass case of elitism, I've tried harder to differentiate among the beautiful people. After all, I figure if I can learn like a hundred names and faces of kids in my classes (who do dress pretty much identically, thanks to our uniform code), I can probably manage to recognize my state's governor or Maggie Gyllenhaal (even though I had to look it up twice to spell her last name right). Other people who have disabilities find ways to cope. Mine is that I have to find an emotional connection to these people. One way I can do it is to actually see their movies. For instance, I feel relatively certain I can now identify Christian Bale, provided that he is wearing a black bat suit. Oh, and as long as nobody ELSE tries to fool me by wearing the suit. Gyllenhaal is easier, for one because she's a woman, and for two, because I remember seeing photos of her nursing an older infant in public, and once you've seen a woman's breasts, it should follow that it's easier to remember her name. Although, not necessarily her face.

So I'm working on it. And in the meantime, let's just hope I am not ever the sole witness to a crime. "Uhhhh, I think he was wearing a suit? And...he might have been a white guy? Maybe?"

Friday, August 8, 2008

Got sunblock?

In a rare moment of planetary alignment this morning, my children allowed me the luxury of a bath long enough to shave my legs. This is rare indeed. Granted, by the end of the experience, Monkey had stripped naked and was attempting to join me by plunging in headfirst, and when I foiled that plan, he took his vengeance by scooping out my bath by the cupfull and depositing it onto the floor.

They also allowed me to use some of those whitening strips on my teeth, which was amazing, because that means that they actually went almost thirty minutes without me having to yell at them. But although this post may be about things that are blindingly white, it is not about my teeth.

I have ugly legs. Seriously. My friend M was recently drawing parallels between my shockingly pale legs and the creamy alabaster hues of Jane Austen heroines, but there is nothing creamy about these legs. I don't think Jane Fairfax's legs were so white they were actually blue. In any case, she never had to wear shorts in public.

So this morning while I was shaving, I also counted seven bruises on my right leg, and twelves bruises on my left leg. Did I mention that my children were being freakishly cooperative today? How does a person get NINETEEN bruises on her legs at one time? Am I dying or something? I've had blood tests; I've never been anemic or anything. I just bruise like crazy, and I never remember where any of them came from, so when people ask me about my bruising, I probably sound a bit dodgy and evasive, like a battered woman. (I am not a battered woman, for the record. Unless you count the various beatings given to me by my children, which are mostly accidental. Although yesterday I did get a fat lip from one child's head and what felt like a broken nose from the other child's head. Children's heads should come with a warning label.)

Under the bruises, on top of the gleaming white, you can trace my entire circulatory system without any special high-tech imaging systems. I remember before I got breasts, when I stepped out of a hot shower and looked in the mirror, I could pretty much see my own heart. My skin is see-through.

When I was in Mexico several years ago, I remember an older woman coming up to me and running her fingers down my arm shyly. "Me gusta la piel," she said. I like your skin. "Tan bonita, tan bonita." She would not let go of my arm, and she kept chanting softly, "So pretty, so pretty." Her own skin was rich and brown, golden in the sun. Meanwhile, her hand was turning chalky from the layers of sunblock she was chafing off of my arm.

I guess she was a Jane Austen fan.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Road Trips and Renovations!

So this is Jabberwock at the beach, on our trip last week to see my friend M. You wouldn't necessarily think, from looking at this photo, that he was screaming hysterically like fifteen minutes earlier, would you?

So I know I've talked about Jabber's fears, his hesitancies. Dogs, heights, the sound of the coffee grinder, public singing and/or doing hand motions. Well, you can add swimming to that list. Before this picture was taken, he was clinging to me with all of his limbs, screaming at the top of his lungs as I carried him out into the water. No, I wasn't throwing him off the end of a dock, and I wasn't even carrying him out where he couldn't touch. No. I was ON MY KNEES in the water, holding him, with his legs wrapped around my neck and his little razor toes (did I mention he's also afraid of the toenail clippers?) clawing for a toehold to launch himself up onto my shoulders, even as I soothed him and whispered to him and eventually even yelled at him a bit.

"Relax, honey, you can put your feet right down on the ground, and the water is only going to come up to your tummy. I won't let you go, Jabber, I've got you, I've got you, I've got you..." Rinse and repeat. Still he screamed. Loudly.

Friend M. smiled and dove in, leaving us to our own devices, while a couple watching the sailboats sat on the bench and looked slightly worried. Jeez, this lady is forcing that poor child into the water when he is clearly terrified. It looks a little like she might be scarring him for life.

They weren't there last week, though, when we did the same song and dance, almost exactly, at the indoor waterpark pool. That was a little more embarrassing because there was a waayyy bigger audience, though. The thing is, it seems like no matter how many times I take him into the water, his first reaction is just pure panic. If I let him be, he will remain panicky, unable to relax for even one minute next to the water. If the water touches his shoes, he will be afraid that a wave is coming to sweep him off and carry him away. I don't know where this fear comes from, really; I just know that if I hold him long enough and soothe him and keep on trying to make a game out of it until he forgets to be afraid for a little while, eventually he gets comfortable enough to have a little fun!

Like this picture, where he and SuperGirl were making an inland sea or something like that. (Notice, E, there are no pictures of you in or almost out of your bikini top...)
Here is a moment of silliness with friend E and well, let's call him HeroBoy, because he is clearly Jabberwock's Hero!
M has this really awesome guest book that is really a slice of a tree trunk that you sign with a woodburner, and here are E and HeroBoy signing in. Even Jabber got to write his name on the book, although we did have him do it on the practice side, since he still writes it awfully HUGE!
And here's a cute one of SuperGirl, just looking so cute. I mean, I can totally see why Jabber clear forgot about his peanut allergy when this lovely one handed him a cookie. He was under her spell!

Jabber's mad photography skillz...apparently I am breaking up a pretty intense fight. Just for the record, when confronted with a situation in which punches are being thrown, I am not all that likely to be in the middle of it. Especially if the punchers/punchees are girls. Luckily, even in the middle school, I am not in this situation all that often.

OKAY. End of fun road trip pictures. However, NOT quite the end of this picture post extraordinaire! The next two shots are perhaps not quite as cute as kids frolicking at the beach and teachers throwing punches, but they make me just as happy. Probably happier.

See, about two years ago, actually a little more, my dad called from Topeka to ask me some questions about my fireplace, which at the time we had been using sporadically for the ambience. Nothing like sitting in front of a crackling fire in the middle of winter. Cozy stuff. Anyway, he was asking for things like measurements and I forget what else. A week or so later, he came to visit us and bought us this fireplace insert thing. Well, it was the middle of winter, and the roof was all covered in ice, and David didn't really know how to install the thing anyway, so we just set it on two 2x4's about five feet to the side of the fireplace.

And there it sat. There were a number of issues, one of them being the fact that we had a second child, and life got decidedly more full. Another was the fact that the insert itself didn't really FIT into the fireplace, without substantial alterations to the chimney or whatever. Everyone had their theories. Grind away at the inside of the firebox and take out such and such. No, just bend the sides of the stove in to match the dimensions. Well, and then there's the fact that the stovepipe thing was coming off at such a weird angle that the insert was going to have to stick out of the fireplace like ten or twelve inches. So then before we could do that, the hearth needed to be torn out and replaced. Did I mention we had another kid?

Okay. So basically we had this really heavy, really expensive, sharp-edged end table sitting about five feet to the right of our fireplace. Enough is enough. I almost put an ad in the paper last fall--"Come and get it and it's yours!" But life was too busy for me to even get around to that. And plus, it was a gift, a spendy gift, and I didn't want to hurt Dad's feelings, you know?

So, Father-in-law to the rescue! Here is David and his dad going over the plans for the project this afternoon.

And here, TA-DA!!! Is the fireplace insert ACTUALLY INSERTED! Hurray!!! Of course, it's still not connected to the chimney, but we've got a while before the roof is covered with ice. Maybe it will happen? I don't really care; I've got a little more room in my living room now!

(Room to dance with happiness, that is!)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

iPod Envy and Teacher Talk

I have iPod envy, I admit it. Tonight I was at the gym, working out extra hard because I haven't been there in over a week and my diet has been a pretty steady stream of pizza and candy, and everyone around me was plugged into one. Me, I don't even have a portable CD player. What is my problem. Also, I can't read on the elliptical--too bouncy. So instead of doing anything entertaining to my brain during that half hour (or forty-five minutes, if I can convince myself to keep going) I settle for watching the display on the machine and coveting my neighbors' technology.

Ooh, look, I burned another calorie! Only 17 minutes and 45 seconds left on this joyride. No, wait, 35 seconds. Hey, maybe I should see how many steps per minute I'm doing. Oh, 158. No, 144. No, 152. Huh. Fascinating. All right. Two more calories for the win! Ooh, Ooh, I should check my heartrate!

Yeah, I need some music, or a nice classic being read to me off of, a podcast of This American Life, c'mon, anything but this. OOH, look! It said my workout was 10% complete! Wheeee!

So anyway, in the absence of entertainment, my brain uses this time to mull over ideas (when it's not watching digital numbers slowly flipping). Sometimes I write my blog post while pretend jogging away. Sometimes I work through a plot hole in my novel. Lately, I have also been spending quite a bit of time working over ways to increase my patience with the two little ones. With very little success, but you know. Last night I actually spent a good portion of my workout making a mental list of things that need to be cleaned in my home because they have surpassed my own low standards of disgustability. (So today I staged a mini-nervous-breakdown and asked my daycare provider to watch both boys for the morning while I cleaned my bathroom and organized all of the boys' clothes...damn, it's amazing how fast they outgrow stuff, and I've got to stay on top of the organizational system or I'll miss a whole box of second-hand clothing until it's too late and it's already too small!)

Tonight, though, something unprecedented for the summer happened, and although it made me a little bit excited, it also made me very much sad. While I was bouncing along, my brain landed on an idea for my 7th graders to do as a writing assignment. Can you believe it? SCHOOL THOUGHTS. And this wasn't only like, "Hey, I think when we read A Day No Pigs Would Die, I think I'll have them do this rite of passage assignment, only a little different than I did last year. NO. This was like, planning out groups and arranging for the use of the video editing iMacs, and putting together a faux reality television show in my classroom. This was true inspiration.


Ugh. Oh, well. This is one of the stranger mysteries of summer vacation, I guess. Every year, well except my second year, when honestly I was still burned out from the first one, I find myself actually getting interested in the idea of education once again, even though I hardly believed it was possible a month ago. Inspiration creeps up on me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm very loathe to go back to work right now. I am in the middle of a very exciting round of edits on my novel, feeling really happy about it, loving my routine of late nights and coffee in the morning, and mostly even enjoying being around my children and my husband. I am really, REALLY not looking forward to that part of teaching that leaves me constantly feeling like I'll never get caught up, always racing to get seven thousand things done in four minutes, standing half my life away in front of the copy machine, and grading those goddamn papers. My life is nice right now without homework.

BUT. It's nice to see that I do still like the thought of teaching. That I still have some of my old enthusiasm for the process of learning. That the creative teacher I like to think I am is starting to stir inside me. I'll let her out a little later next week, I think.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

You Think This Is Funny? HUH???

Ack, I feel like the worst mom ever today. So yeah, if you looked at the last post, you probably have figured out that it's been a bit of a challenging weekend with the two little ones.

So this evening, an hour or so before bedtime, which is always the worst time because everyone is at their limit and tired and cranky but there is still like a half hour before the routine is set into motion and things start their smooth wind-down to sleeping, Monkey decides he wants to nurse. Actually, he climbs up on my lap while screeching and trying to pull off my shirt. Tears, snot, the works. Not really endearing, you understand.

So Jabber, I suppose because he wanted some of my disgruntled attention, too, comes over and starts climbing on top of Monkey and I, which I hate. Not only does it hurt, it distracts Monkey from the nursing business and makes the whole process uncomfortable and like I kind of just want to run screaming into the hills. So. There you have us, an hour before bedtime.

In the process of scaling Mt. Mama, Jabber "accidentally" kicks me in the back, hard. My back has been sore all freaking day, and I just go right over the edge. I scream at him about how he hurt me and this is why I don't want you climbing on me blahblahblah.

He laughs. Laughs. Right in my face.

So I teach middle school. Kids laugh all the freaking time when they get in trouble. Does it push my buttons when they do it? Not usually, not unless there were a lot of extenuating circumstances, including but not limited to a certain monthly experience that causes a slight lowering of my tolerance for crap like that. No. Usually, I will say something in a calm tone of voice, something like, "I know you're just laughing because you're uncomfortable right now, but..." and go on with my talk about respect or whatever. I don't take it personally, and life goes on as scheduled.

But my son? For some reason, I am completely and utterly unable to be rational when he is involved. We're like...oil and water, but a better simile, something that has a flash point and oxygen touches it and everything explodes. That's us. Anyway, so he laughs, and out of my mouth comes that line from everyone's mother. "You think this is funny? Huh?" And he's shaking his little head no but laughing harder all the time.

"You kick me in my sore back, and now you think it's funny? You're going to sit there and laugh at me because you hurt me?"

Monkey joins in now, doing the dreaded finger wag and the "NONONONO!" David comes in from the other room, says, "I've heard enough," and scoops up Jabber from the chair and carries him up to bed. No story, no love. Just bed.

The three of us hang out for a while longer, and finally I can't stand it. I tell David that I have to go upstairs and say goodnight to my little Jabberwock, even though I'm afraid he must already be asleep.

So David takes Monkey from me, and I go upstairs to find that Jabber is already sleeping, but I can't help it. I crawl into bed and snuggle up next to him. "Can I snuggle with you?" I whisper. Jabber shakes his head a little, but I'm not sure if it's yes or no.

"Please, can I just cuddle you a little?" He shakes his head, again ambiguously.

"Well, I want you to know I love you. And I'm sorry that things got out of hand down there. I felt hurt that you would kick me in my sore back and then laugh about it. Then I got angry. But I shouldn't have yelled at you."

He whispers something, in a tiny little tired voice, and I have to lean in and ask him to repeat himself.

"I said, I laugh when I get scared," he says. "Not because it was funny."

My heart breaks in fifteen thousand pieces. "You were laughing because you were scared, honey?"

He nods, this time clearly a yes. "I laughed because I was nervous. That you would be mad at me. I was scared that you were going to be mad because I kicked you."

God. And that's exactly what I was, too. Mad and scary.

I squeeze him tight and pray that the next time he laughs at me I will check with him if it's scared laughter or funny laughter. And I hope that someday I actually get the hang of this being a mom thing.

Don't worry, Mom. We're just battering each other!

OK, this is insane. All they do is fight. Fight, fight, fight.

"OK, boys, that's enough. Let's take a break from each other."

"NOOOOO! I can't LIVE without my BROTHER!!!!!! He's like half of my SOULLLLLLL!!!!!"

Five minute hugfest ensues. "Fine. But play together nicely."

Hugfest degenerates into wrestling. Wrestling degenerates into screaming.


"Don't worry, Mom. We're just trying to batter each other!"

Jabberwock offers this sincerely, as though it is the most reasonable thing in the world to say to your mother. When did he learn the word battering, anyway? And should I be worried?

I finally got around to the end of Playful Parenting. Yeah, this is the part about siblings. "Play Your Way Through Sibling Rivalry" is the title of the chapter, and my lip turns up in a sneer. I admit, a quivering mess of a sneer.

So he starts the chapter by going back to his empty cup metaphor, which I like and can totally see the reasoning behind. Both kiddos are running around trying to get their "cup" filled--with affection, love, attention, connection. And if they can't get some from me, they try to steal some out of their brother's cup. Sure. Yeah.

Cohen gives a list of possible things that parents can do when siblings are at each other's't getting along. He says that we may do one or two of these things, but we need to try out the others. So I thought I'd go through these choices and write about whether I've done them and what I think.

"Offer a solution." Here he talks about how a parent can offer ways to make the conflict go away: go outside, take a break from each other, invite friends over, wrestle, have a snack. He says that we can't always be offering solutions, though, because children need to find their own, too. He also says that our solutions often aren't all that creative ("split it...take turns...say you're sorry"), but I'm not sure what other solutions I'm supposed to offer. Personally, I usually can't do things like drop everything and go outside to play. For one thing, like this morning, I was trying to sweep and mop the floors. Sure, I realize they probably were trying to get my attention because I was sweeping instead of playing with them, but hello? My feet are sticking to the floor. Or, I could involve them in the cleaning, but I can't figure out how to involve a four-year-old and a one-year-old in sweeping and mopping and still actually get something cleaned.

"Give encouragement and inspire their confidence" This advice makes sense because he goes into why parents can't just tell their kids "work it out" and then leave. But it's so difficult to work this into the one-year-old realm, you know? Saying things like, "I'm sure you guys can work this out, so what are your ideas about how you can keep playing with this toy without ripping each other's arms off?" works for Jabber. If sufficiently encouraged, I'm sure he could come up with a really nice way to take turns and share and play nicely. But then Monkey will just do whatever the hell he wants anyway. Because he can.

In this section, Cohen also talks about forced apologies, and how it's better to say something like, "Monkey seems really hurt by that. What can you do to make it right?" Again, this may work when they're older, but right now I'm not so sure. It always seems like a one way street, and I don't want to perpetuate the "You're older and should know better" kind of thing, either.

Next advice: "Flood children with love and affection": Sure, sometimes they're fighting because they really want more of me or Dad; this may have been the case as I was sweeping today. So, okay, I stop doing everything I need to do and have story time, play time, take them outside at the drop of a hat, do everything to keep them feeling like they aren't lacking my attention. Now what? When does dinner get cooked? Sure, I know. I'm writing a novel and blogging and reading and soon enough correcting papers all while I could be paying them undivided attention. Not everything is necessary, I suppose. I just don't know if it will stop them from freaking out on each other when a toy is snatched, though.

"Protect": Okay, yes, I do this all the time. It's just not okay for Jabber to use his bigger body and strength to push around Monkey. I will step in any time I feel someone is getting hurt, and I can't imagine not doing so.

"Provide Perspective": This is kind of like being a thoughtful listener and then a narrator for their conflict. You listen to them, and then calmly restate each perspective. "Oh, sounds like you got upset because you weren't being included in the game, and it sounds like you two wanted to include her in the game but got mad when she was cheating. What can you do to make it work out?" God, I just feel like so much of this will be easier when Monkey is more verbal, more logical.

"Promote win-win outcomes" He urges parents to look beyond fairness and equality and instead try to find out what each sibling wants. My thing? What if they really do both want the same thing?

So a key problem we have is with, say, playing with blocks/Legos/Lincoln Logs. They both love playing with them. They want to play together, but of course Jabber is really into building intricate structures, carefully and lovingly making them exactly the way he wants them. Monkey is into ruthless destruction, and fast. Every time we take out such a toy, I begin by reminding Jabber that he's going to have to be flexible about this, about how he can rebuild things and that taking things apart is part of the fun. For a while, things work great. Jabber gets excited about building things specifically for Monkey to wreck.

Eventually, though, Jabber's creativity gets a hold of him, and he gets an idea of what he really wants to build. I notice him huddling up around his creation, kicking out his legs or arms furiously toward Monkey if he gets too close. Soon, he is hoarding all of the pieces inside this little circle of his arms, screeching at the top of his lungs any time Monkey even looks at him funny. And of course, this makes Monkey want to get at it even more. Pretty soon there is chaos.

So I think, well, what Jabber wants is the freedom to build without his brother breaking his stuff, right? I offer him the option of going out on the back deck to play with the Legos by himself--an offer that is even cooler because he is the only one who is old enough and responsible enough to be able to go out unsupervised. Monkey plays pretty happily by himself, but Jabber comes in after just few minutes. What's wrong? He misses playing with Monkey. I start to pull my hair out. So, he misses fighting Monkey off with a stick? He misses screeching at the top of his lungs? He misses seeing Mama freaking out and losing her cool?

I can't go out there and play with him. 'Cause, then Monkey is unsupervised, which is just a recipe for disaster. Already, we have several times each week that are one-on-one free play time for each boy and me, at least in the summer we do. They get to call the shots, decide what we do and what we play.

Sigh. I know there's no solution, exactly, no matter how many parenting books I read. I know there's no secret way to make siblings never fight. I just wish I could make them...not batter each other.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Get Rich via Baby Tornado

So I've decided to embark on a promising, if short-lived, new source of revenue for the Lissnkids family. See, I'm going to rent out my son to people who have a baby or will soon have a baby and are in that process of trying to minimize the bazillion different ways their precious bundle of joy could be injured or killed. He's going to be a Babyproofing Consultant.

Seriously, ten minutes in your home, backyard, or office, and Monkey will have identified all possible and probable risks in the area so that you can barricade, strap down, and dispose of these dangers before your own little one begins exploring.

For a low fee, Monkey will identify all appliance buttons that can be removed and eaten. He will demonstrate the ease with which your marigolds can be removed from their pots. He will show you the easiest method to scale the bookshelves, and then, just to show you he's up for the challenge, he will shove together some impromptu implements such as a stuffed rocking horse and several diaper boxes, clearly pointing out all of the second story windows that need protective bars on them. He'll demonstrate any number of items that will fit easily down each of your drains, with special attention on the toilets. He will help you determine which surfaces in your home will repel various spills and inks, and which hiding places for writing utensils are absolutely useless. He will find that needle you think you may have dropped behind the chair. He will test your abilities to clear the table after a meal in a single trip, since anything left behind is certain to be spilled, broken, or eaten in the fifteen seconds it takes you to deliver your first trip to the kitchen. He will kindly disconnect all speaker wires from their speakers, making it much less likely for your progeny to suffer any hearing loss from the music you may be blaring to drown out the sound of them screaming. He'll also show you all of the ways your hard-earned CD and DVD collections can be scratched, mauled, and devoured, even though you have stored them out of reach and locked up. He will correctly identify all books in need of binding reinforcement. And, as a bonus service, he will enhance your speed-seeking skills (always a plus, since he is also gifted in the art of sudden disappearance) by finding creative hiding places for one half of each pair of shoes you own (which you will discover when you have exactly twelve seconds to leave the house in order to be on time to your destination).

For those with older siblings, don't forget to ask us about our Absolute Annoyance program, which involves several visits and is sure to test the patience of your older child as Monkey snatches toys, bites and scratches, and howls in a high-pitched tone every time your older child looks at him funny. This program is proven to break the spirit of even the most patient of children, readying them for the challenging world of being an older sibling.

I really do try to have a safe environment for Monkey to play in and explore, and it has always been my intention to minimize the amount of things in his daily life that are off limits. Still, he is continually finding new things that are completely unsafe. Tonight, though, he showed me that maybe I need to lighten up a little.

We were lying in bed cuddling and nursing, and Monkey popped off and sleepily began shaking his finger in front of him. "No no no no no no no no NO!" he said, wagging the finger. Then he moved the finger to his lips and said, "SHHHHHH! SHHHHHH!" He nursed a little more, and then repeated this process, his tired little voice sliding into a monotone: "nonononononoshhhhhhnononononononoshhhhhhh!" and his little finger tsk tsk tsking away.