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.