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!