while we wait

This Christmas tree is so distracting. It’s getting in the way of my desire to do laundry and catch up on chores. I’m having a harder time enforcing bedtime, and snapping orders like “wash your hands!” to whichever grubby little dude is running by me that moment. It’s so festive, and it makes me want to drink hot chocolate and wear a sweater and hug everybody.

Even this week, when things were hectic at work and I STILL did not get a chance to buy stamps, there it was twinkling from the window, like it had been looking down the street waiting for me to come home…tall and sparkly, pretty and happy. It’s close enough to the computer that when I sit down to return emails, or figure out what I want to write about, I usually end up turned in my seat gazing into my fun house mirror reflection on one of the shiny red ornaments. And then of course, I wince when I realize Jacob does this, and I tell him to turn around and focus.

Sure, I appreciate it’s beauty and cheeriness, but right now I can also point at it, and say “Look at that! It’s done. I got something done!” A major accomplishment during a time where I feel like I’m spinning in circles at work and at home, all while fussing and fretting, and talking about how busy I am. Of course, I’m busy, who isn’t? It’s near impossible to find someone who’s not overcommitted or stressed out or even a little grumpy. I’m never grumpier though, than when I run across that person who’s been “done” for a month thanks to the wonders of forethought and online shopping. They’re the worst.

John pointed out that even when you’re a kid, you cannot fully relax until you’ve checked something off your list: face time with Santa. Because up until you talk to him directly, you’re really not too sure if your request has been noted or lost out there in the ether. So yesterday, we sucked it up and went to see Santa to help Zach with his to-do list.

Jake did not want to see Santa. He’s 10 now and has that shag haircut. He reminded me that I promised him last year he wouldn’t have to go again, even if it was just to support his little brother. But there he stood, relatively without complaint, the tallest kid in line and with only the promise of Mongolian BBQ at the end.

The “elf” in the apron who made us very well aware that she hated working evenings and that it was almost time for her break, looked at us like we were nuts for turning down a photo package. This isn’t my first time at the rodeo, you know, I wanted to tell her. We were there on a mission, get in, tell Santa about the “Star Wars book with Luke in it,” and get out – check it off the list. At our mall, right before you get to Santa, you enter a huge snowglobe that, yes, snows on you. The kids go bananas. Laying in it, running their fingers through it and rubbing as much as they can into their hair. One girl even stood under the blower with her mouth open. It took us a minute to remember that this is not in fact, snow. It’s billions of flakes of plastic, possibly asbestos, but certainly not snow. It does not adorably melt out of your hair. It does not taste like the purest glacier water on the planet.

I pull Zachary over to me, and we start working the flakes from his hair and his all-black outfit, including his favorite shirt of all time which is the reason we had to keep him calm – the official World Champion San Francisco Giants, Buster Posey, #28 shirt. Of course, now I see the that this stuff is falling on me too, and I try ducking my head out of the way like I’m being attacked by bees. It’s in all of our hair, but the kid in line behind us is still rolling around in it. I use myself as a human shield between him and Zach when the kid starts yelling “snowball fight snowball fight snowball fight snowball fight!” I dodge and block and duck and swipe, while John shakes his head at me…“You and nature,” he says with a sigh. Now I could have corrected him here, and reminded him that we were still at the mall and not on the frozen tundra, but that wouldn’t have done any good, because this is pretty much exactly what I am like in nature too.

We take our turn sitting on the royal snow palace throne, and when the family who is purchasing 3 separate photo packages is finally done, Santa calls us all over, much to Jake’s chagrin. He high-fives us and asks what we want. When it’s my turn, I lamely point at a sweater in Macy’s window across the way, and we say our goodbyes. Zach looks up at me panicked, and runs back to Santa. “Wait!!”

Santa peeks over the top of his spectacles, “Yeeeesss?”

“What my mom really wants is Twilight: Eclipse on blu-ray.”

“I heard it’s good,” Santa says looking at me, as I slink away, tugging Zach behind me.

Then I realize, as we often do and sometimes too late – this is it. Right here, right now. I will remember this hour of standing in line with the three boys, chatting and dodging that horrific flakey snow, and Zach advocating on my behalf to Santa, much longer than I will remember a fleeting moment of satisfaction from having accomplished something. Why on Earth, would I want this to be done?

We’re reminded from the pulpit on Sundays that Advent is a time of waiting, preparation, and anticipation. But I don’t think it’s the kind of preparation we’re used to – we share this space with other flustered people and their lists and stressers. What if we stopped focusing on the lists, and enjoyed the part where we’re sharing the space with people who love us, or people who need us. This is the part where we really get to help each other…during the waiting that can otherwise seem like such a chore. I don’t need another 17 days ‘til I can care about you, I’d like to enjoy you right now, while we wait.

quarantine

You’ve been there. Your kiddo’s been sick, or you’ve been sick, and you are on lockdown; a self-imposed quarantine. Not to be melodramatic, but being in the house for now going on 3 days is starting to feel like an experiment. Not gross or demeaning like that reality show and beacon of debauchery, Big Brother, but like something far more domestic and yet…. psychologically intriguing.

The first hours were consumed by tending to the little guy with the stomach bug who looked up at me with his big brown “why me mommy?” eyes. As he finally started to mend, he dismissed me from my spot next to him to wander through the house like a phantom in yoga pants and a hoodie,  far enough to give him some space, but not so far that I could not be at his beck and call. John was officiating the lovely wedding of two lovely people and was busy shuttling Jake to football games and maneuvering through baseball sign-ups and Sunday duties at church.

The at-home assignment was mine.

I didn’t notice my demise until a good 32 hours into the… “experiment,” and this is its  manifestation.

Cabin Fever List of Things I Learned While on Lockdown (2010 edition)

  • The bottoms of the living room curtains don’t match up. I looked at it for a minute and tried to fluff them, but they are linen and don’t really fluff. Eeeh….*shoulder shrug*… whataya gonna do?
  • Tetris is therapeutic. It’s science, yo. Jake’s weekend assignment is to prepare a speech about a development in science. And thanks to the fine folks at Oxford, we now know that the best video game ever, Tetris, can ease the flashbacks associated with some milder cases of post-traumatic stress. But not Pub Quiz, the other game in the experiment – so don’t try Pub Quiz – because what Oxford is surely implying is that Pub Quiz is stupid and does not fix PTSD. Just to be clear….this is a class project. I do not assign him speeches about science for fun, though if the ‘tween eye rolling persists, I may give that a whirl.
  • Now two weeks after the glorious World Series, MLB Network is still going strong. Only now the on-air “analysts” have all the time in the world. We were about an hour into the Cliff Lee “analysis” before I cajoled Jake into changing the channel.
  • Captains in football have a C on their jersey.
  • If there are weird hard-to-find ingredients in a recipe, I simply will not make it. I will not scour the Internet looking for ideas on suitable substitutions – I will just simply not make it, and I will, henceforth, edit my recipes accordingly.
  • If you stare at Hex Nano Bugs long enough, you forget they are little vibrating robots and not real bugs. And then when you do realize it, you can’t decide which scenario is actually freakier…actual bugs or robot bugs.
  • There was a week this summer where Jonathan Franzen and his serious face and serious new novel “Freedom” made it into every magazine I subscribe to. Good for you Franzen, you should relax a little and enjoy it.
  • The BRAT diet is quite addicting, and somewhat luxurious if you haven’t been the one doing the throwing up. Saltines and white toast and rice and applesauce with Gatorade to wash it down. I’m enjoying it because by tomorrow night, I’m sure mac n cheese will surely be back in the request queue, and I’ll be obligated to re-introduce vegetables into my repertoire.
  • Every door slam is loud and suspicious. By the end of day 2, I was that lady. Peeking out through the curtains (not the uneven ones) to see just what everybody was doing out there. Noticing  when they left and when they came in. What time did they check their mail? How long did their gardeners stay? Why on Earth do the neighbors on the corner have the U-Haul trailer every weekend?
  • Being tucked away inside provides one an odd sense of security when there have been multiple mountain lion sightings in the neighborhood in the last week. Perhaps said mountain lion saw me peeking through the curtains, and thinks I am taunting him, and is now lying in wait behind that Pontiac Grand Am across the street.

So If you were to peer down into the living room right now where I am typing this, and you were to look past my messy ponytail and oversized hoodie (heat rises! It’s cold down here! Be nice, or I will make you do a speech on air density) and you could zoom in on what I’m writing you would be relieved that it does not in fact say All work and no play makes Colleen a dull girl. All work and no play makes Colleen a dull girl. All work and no play makes Colleen a dull girl*. I’m not typing that, so don’t worry.

Necessary Sidenote: Rear Window is one of my all-time favorite movies, but I always thought Jimmy Stewart’s character was a bit much. I totally get him now, and that’s after just over a day of being at home. If I was restricted to a wheelchair and blue button down pajamas in my 3rd floor walk-up, I’d have the cops investigating every one of my neighbors, I’m sure.

Not-as-necessary Sidenote: I was in fact stuck in my San Francisco 3rd floor walk-up apartment for many many days after my knee surgery years ago, but most of that was spent in bed, and I could not sit by the window and spy on my neighbors which is for the best. I had already discovered to my dismay, that the older couple across the courtyard preferred to eat breakfast in their underwear. During that stint at home, there wasn’t fancy “wi-fi” so books and the E! Network were my windows on the world while John was at work. One of the Deacons from my church showed up with a casserole. Nobody had ever brought me a casserole and I didn’t know casserole etiquette so the entire operation stressed me out. The lady was very nice, but anxious to drop it and go. I can’t blame her, I probably looked kind of scary – wild eyed and pale from the sunlight deprivation. My dad would call me at the same time every day to check on me, presumably to ensure that I hadn’t lost my mind.

*and yes, oddly enough, The Shining is my other favorite suspense movie of all time, though I far prefer Grace Kelly’s outfits to Shelly Duvall’s.

sexy abraham lincoln

The other night we went out, as adults, with other adults. It was very sophisticated. Of course we ran into even more adults including some who were dressed up for a night on the town. Costumed up, I should say for some apparent pre-Halloween festivities. We’ve all seen the selection of women’s Halloween costumes right now….sexy nurse, sexy prisoner, sexy race car driver, you get the idea. So imagine my surprise when there, in the middle of the crowd, was sexy Abraham Lincoln. Black blazer, black mini skirt, white blouse, fish nets, pumps, top hat and yes, Abraham Lincoln beard. Not just any Abraham Lincoln beard, a sassy supermodel-type Abraham Lincoln beard.

I’m not a natural Halloween person, though through the years, I’ve tried really hard. As a kid, I was the one who always got a fever the day of, or alas, threw up at school ten minutes before the costume parade (it was 2nd grade. Of course, my mother had spent a month working on a Revolutionary War period costume for the occasion that would not see the light of day.) I did rock the Mickey Mouse in ’77 and Princess Leia in ‘78 complete with homemade buns (thanks again mom). There were the unfortunate off years where “jogger” or “girl in wig” had to suffice.

My sad attempt at replicating my brother’s infamous “blind date” costume– the sight impaired glorified raisin that had skyrocketed my brother’s status to that of Halloween legend — fell appropriately flat when I kept having to explain it.

College, right? College Halloweens had to be epic. I had pretty high hopes going in. I won’t bore you with the sad details. They are not even funny sad, just sad sad. So I suppose epic is still appropriate if you are talking about the level to which they were ho-hum. As was my first crack at homemade Halloween treats. I tried to guess the recipe for sugar cookies. That, my friends, is why I cook, and do not bake. I can guess the recipe for a lot of things, but with baking I now know, there is stinkin’ science involved.

I did put my all into pumpkin carving when they came out with those handy kits. I loved picking the most complicated pattern, and it would take about 4 hours for me to finish one design. Those tiny little haunted house windows are tricky. I’d be sitting at the table, tongue out, brow furrowed and glistening with the perspiration of pure determination, moxie, and chutzpah! I’d eventually look up and I’d be sitting alone nursing my wrist and looking for the beginning signs of carpal tunnel syndrome, while everyone else had retired to the couch with a beer having finished their elementary designs of “funny ghost face” or “bat.”

Then I had a baby, and I could not get through trying to cut the hole in the top without having to stop 11 times to feed and change and bounce and soothe. That’s when I decided that pumpkins were even more attractive and longer lasting when you did not have to cut them open.

Jake did however breathe new life into my Halloween efforts. I cried when I saw him in his baby pea pod suit. He hopped all over my office as a frog, put on my heart and soul when he slipped into the airplane costume I made for him, and wore around half our monthly food budget in his sharp looking and fully legit NASA flight suit.

He also spent one year as “the kid with the fever” with Zach taking his turn with it two years later.  

We do have high hopes for this year. I may have failed on the cookie front again, but the costumes are shaping up nicely.

Zachary is the most detail-oriented dresser-upper you’d ever lay eyes on; last year in his Indiana Jones satchel, where nobody could see, you would have found jewels, a journal, a whip and a snake that helped him get into character. This year, he has taken it upon himself to meticulously grow out his hair to achieve the fluffiest, featheriest Mark Hamill ‘do this side of 1987. It will go perfectly with his x-wing fighter suit. Let me just say that again. It’s a 5-year-old growing out his hair to replicate Luke Skywalker, circa 1977. He is nothing if not dedicated.

After lamenting costume options for weeks with Jacob, including an ill fated Justin Bieber idea, yesterday we walked into a local Halloween store and asked for beards. The girl cocked an eyebrow at me – “Brian Wilson?” I nodded sheepishly, with the confirmation of what I expected. Prepare yourself Bay Area folks – Brian Wilson will be visiting you… a lot. I really would have felt like a Halloween rock star if I could have honestly answered, “No thanks, show me your sexy Abraham Lincolns.”

huddle

The other night, I went to pick Jake up from his football practice. I was so very ready to go home. It had been a long day of work; no homework had been completed; dinner had not been eaten; and Zach was hell bent on scaling the one part of the park’s play structure that looked so dangerous, it had to be an illegal engineering mistake. But alas, practice was not over. Jake and his buddies were now huddled around in their team meeting, looking very worn out and very serious. Like tiny little SWAT teamers doing a recap of some big operation.

Assured that Jake is currently where he is supposed to be, huddling with the other SWAT teamers, I shift my focus to Zach who’s back on the scary and forbidden play thing, only now while also pointing at his own eye with a stick. That’s when I hear a very familiar voice call out… “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. MOM!”

I look over, and there is my eldest, non-discreetly summoning me from the middle of his meeting. He sees that he has my attention, and hits me with his emergency. “What’s for dinner!?!?”

Granted, he does not have a lot of experience being in meetings. But I give him the abbreviated version of my laser eyes, and the universal hand signal for “turn around and listen to your coach, focus, and by the way, I have NO idea what is for dinner.”

Other than “how did I get out of your tummy?,” “what’s for dinner?” is probably my least favorite question. I know the answer about 25% of the time. Within that 25%– noodles, chicken nuggets, pizza, Subway and tacos really are the only place where there is any overlap of excitement from both boys, which comes to about 10%. I’ve already exceeded my math aptitude here, but that leaves a lot of stink faces, and “I don’t like that” and “can we please have macaroni & cheese or Subway or tacos or noodles?”

Sure, I’m frustrated and kinda harried and cranky looking on the outside, not to mention slightly distracted by a 5-year-old daredevil with a stick, but at the same time, a little relieved on the inside. Jake’s still 10, not on the SWAT team, and him knowing what’s for dinner currently trumps all of his other worldly concerns.

The disturbing  thing about watching major league sports is how many of these guys look like little boys. I mistook an Atlanta Braves pitcher and a pinch runner for bat boys, and I have a hard time believing that the Giants’ beloved Buster Posey has started shaving yet. The old men in the sport are a couple of years younger than John and I. Please notice, I include John in this to keep me from feeling so alone out here in the mid-thirties.

persuasion

The boys want a dog. Like really bad. What boy doesn’t want a dog, I guess. And when I say boys, I mean all the males who live in my house. Here’s the hitch: they’ve teamed up, and I’m fearful they are using their collective cuteness and unparalleled persistence as their secret weapons.

Frankly, I don’t feel that I’m ready for a dog. Two human boys? Sure, I can handle that. Well, sometimes, I can handle that. But a dog? With fur and paws and stuff? I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t know how good of a job I’m doing right now with what I’m already responsible for.

I’ve been casually interviewing people on the street about how their lives have changed since the dog. It’s hair, and shoe chewing and “surprises” in the hallway. I saw Marmaduke this summer while we were on vacation in Las Vegas, which as it turns out, was the only redeeming quality of the movie. On top of it being a simply awful cinematic disaster, it did not help the boys’ argument for the dog. There was a lot of slobber, and passing gas, and the guy losing his job because of Marmaduke’s terrible terrible behavior (I hope I didn’t spoil any critical plot points.)

Of course, I’ve had a few people tell me it’s been the best, most wonderful thing that has happened to their family. John is consistently reminding me about those people. I turn around and cite the few souls who flat out told me, “don’t do it, just have another kid.”

I’ve had dogs. Well, I think it would be more accurate to say that my brother had dogs, and I lived at the same address as said dogs. Scott & Mugsy shared a close relationship long before I was ever born. I mean for years. Mugsy went to doggy heaven when I was still little. Through the years, the story of how he’d shown up abandoned on our doorstep one 4th of July when Scotty was a tyke became family lore. Apparently, he was the world’s most perfect dog. He had the body of a full size canine, and the legs of a tiny one. He stepped over toys, and slept in front of our bedroom doors as our guardian and never chewed anything and would let my brother and the neighbor kids dress him up when they played cowboys, spacemen, and army. (Um, my brother was a kid in the 60’s. I played Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman and Remington Steele).

Zeke was also technically my brother’s dog. We got him about 2 months before Scotty left for college. Zeke and I were cordial to each other but we had drastically different interests and schedules.  He was a Brittney Spaniel, a hunting dog with a lot of energy, and my parents had to add 2 more feet to the back fence because he could jump out of the yard flat-footed without even trying very hard. He stayed outside and had his own little house, and when Scott would come home from college he would breeze in the front door, say hello to us, and head straight out the back to hang out with his furry little buddy.

Yes, a boy and his dog. That is what my boys envision for themselves. Every essay that Jake writes, if it’s not entirely about a fictional dog, or the general greatness and amazingness of dogs, or the emptiness he feels because he does not have a dog, includes at least a sentence proclaiming his untamed desire for the animal. He does in fact look like a kid who should have a puppy. Overalls, a fishing pole, and a loyal canine companion. He’s got freckles, a sweet smile and floppy hair that hangs in his big brown eyes (See?? I can’t even get my kid a haircut – how can I have a dog?)

Zach’s on the same page. He has a legion of stuffed puppies who, he reminds me are not real, but he takes very good care of them, and gives them interesting names that only kids can come up with (“Salad the Dog” anybody?), and softly tells the stuffed puppies that he will still love them even if he gets a real one someday. He even wakes in the night to make sure they are all accounted for.

And then, of course, there’s John. Every time John is on his laptop lately, I peek over his shoulder, and there are all these sappy and adorable photos of full grown dogs, and little puppies in need of good homes. I’m pretty sure he got a good sense of where I am emotionally when he peeked over my shoulder this afternoon, and saw a screenful of fall boots that are also looking for a good home.

I get it. I understand the allure. Dogs are cute, and they look interested in what you are doing. And I know they are loyal and amazing companions. But, when I greet a new dog, I usually keep my hands to myself, look down at them and say, “hello there.” I’m not trying to be rude, but I’m not looking for anything long-term. And I’ve seen people talk to my kids that way, so I really don’t feel very bad about it.

Honestly, I’m trying to be responsible and realistic. In fact, I’m pretty sure I thought less about the consequences of having human children, than I have about adopting a dog.  We keep weird schedules, and we’ve tried the “kid contract” where our eldest signed a non-legally binding piece of paper outlining our expectations regarding the much smaller pet rat. That did not go awesomely.

But then there are the big brown, yes, puppy dog eyes (John’s included) that are constantly trying to change my mind. And of course, societal pressures! Peer pressure! Corporations who want me to think that I’ll be a better patriot and mother if I get a dog! The Man! Big Brother! And probably, my actual big brother too. And even though I effectively ended the discussion this afternoon when I pointed out tall black zippered walking boots with juuust the right amount of slouch, I know the conversation is not over.

Because, I haven’t exactly said no. Hey wait, I have said no, and nobody seems to be taking that seriously. As it turns out, I am weak when it comes to puppy dog eyes. Especially the human kind.

freshmen

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been saying goodbye to some of our young friends who are off to the first years of college. Near and far, they are starting their own adventures, next chapters, new beginnings, fresh paths, their next step on this funny little journey called life…you get it.  The grown-ups in the room offer congratulations, good wishes, and “be safes.” But with as much wander as the kids have for the great unknown, the adults kind of nod knowingly at each other. We do generally have an idea of what’s in store for them.

This is where it changes. This is where they, ideally…hopefully….fingers crossed, start figuring it out. The parents of these kids surely want their kids to be happy and healthy. They want them to have fun, and be good, and get good grades, and then maybe they’ll get a great job, and not move home. And they want the kiddos to call. But not too much, because that can be a bad sign. They want them to call just the right amount.

We try not to share all of our college stories with these fresh hopeful faces. We can’t. Not yet. They have to live it first, and then they get to hear the good stuff. Who doesn’t wistfully look back at those days – a haze of fuzzy and romanticized memories of freedom, and possibilities and ordering  pizza whenever you want to, and buying white bread instead of wheat for the first time, and other completely, um purposefully non-descript college stuff. Those precious last years of getting away with things just because you’re young.

Isn’t that why we’re all so flippin’ passionate about our alma mater football teams? We’re defending our life choices! Our history! Our heritage! Our memories. Those little boys out there are going to tell you that my memories and choices are meaningful and significant, by kicking the butt of your team and your memories. So hah!

Who doesn’t pine a little, and sit back like you’d imagine Wilford Brimley to, to spin a yarn about the good ol’ days, whether it was your freshman year of college, or your first time on your own?

Mine would go a little like this (please read this in Wilford Brimley’s voice – it’s better that way): Listen up kids….The second day I was at school I stuck a roommate’s head of raw broccoli in the freezer. I had never seen raw broccoli away from a salad bar and had no idea what to do with it. We found little tiny green bits all over our dorm for a year. She had to teach me how to use an ATM. My friend Liane & I would only use the computer lab at 3 in the morning. We were pretty inept with word processing, and that’s when the computer lab guys would be happy to come out from behind their ridiculously tall desk to help us. We may have also solicited help from a handsome classmate who was finishing his reporting assignment too.

We saw some great movies: Pulp Fiction, Singles, Reality Bites, Seven. Don’t ever see Seven kids, you won’t sleep for a week. That movie changed my mind about pursuing criminal science.

There was a short period of this nation’s history, where absolutely everyone in America, I mean  EVERYONE, was wearing flannel, always the flannel – formal flannel and casual flannel  – and Docs and Converse, and listening to grungy music and drinking coffee, and figuring out how they could get to Seattle. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins… now that was music.

I had never had a Caesar salad. But Wolfgang Pucks was in our food court, and I had a Caesar salad every day until I ran out of discretionary funds on my meal card. And then there was just the sheer joy of being in a new place and having the chance to start fresh, and kick off your adult life your own way. I threw the curtain open from our fifth floor dorm living room and there it was, the Hollywood sign. I had arrived. Of course, if you looked out the other window, you could see the Bank of America that got robbed four times that year.

We’d lose our way sometimes, and get frustrated and make mistakes, and find our way back, and be smarter for it, most of the time. Times were good.

And that boy in the computer lab? Well, his name was John, and I would go on to marry that boy. (Ok, don’t read that like Wilford Brimley).

Good luck freshmen! I can’t wait to sit on the porch someday and hear your stories!

fine. be that way.

I’ve had better weeks. I’ve had worse… but I’ve definitely had better.

You know when your week is kinda going ok, and then it starts to take a turn for the worse? First it’s one sorta small mildly unpleasant thing, and then it’s like a medium not-so-good thing. Then boom, boom, it’s two blatantly sucky things back to back, and you start looking around for an explanation? As part of my investigative process, I usually pull up the full moon calendar. There is seriously something to it. For the first three years of his life, Zachary would be up all night fussing the two nights leading up to the full moon. EVERY month for three years. After a while, John could not argue with my hypothesis anymore, as much as he wanted to. The moon pulls on the ocean, I know it can screw around with our tiny little bodies & mess with our heads and make us cranky and irritable. C’mon, I know it’s not always the moon that gives us grief. It is fun, however to think of the moon as an adversary. Whaddaya gonna do – throw down with the moon?

When you’re mad, and feeling kinda beat up, I’m sure you notice that everybody else’s driving is really terrible. Then I look at myself, and I see that I’m hunched over, chin all the way over the steering wheel, knuckles white, in my best defensive driving position. I’m sure if you peeked in the window, I’d look Cruella De Vil driving that crazy car of hers, wild hair, gangly arms, lips thin and growly. I don’t have that cigarette holder or a puppy fur coat though, so I’ve got that going for me.

I just want to get home and hide. I want to pull the drapes and turn off the phones. I’ll drag the sleeping bags into the living room and let the boys watch a movie and eat dinner picnic style, just so I can feel cozy and protected from the maniacal villains who are running around loose out there, intent on making me miserable.

I know by now that you can’t control people – that never ends well – so I will try my darnedest to control things from within the house. The laundry. The dishes. That candy shelf. The photo cabinet that is currently sitting open because I was going to pour all of my frustrations, and swear words that I wanted to say, and dirty looks that I wanted to give into reorganizing that horrible horrible closet. And I wanted to sit down and write something funny about anything, but every opening line I typed sounded like the beginning of a manifesto.

Reading’s good and takes my mind off things, but the book on my nightstand is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’ve been trying for months to read it, refusing to pick up another book until I finish. Actually, I angry like Hulk every time I pick it up, because I can’t get past all the Swedish, and it makes me feel dumb. I really should just quit trying. I tossed aside Eat, Pray, Love after the Eat part and never looked back. Then there was the added bonus of one less Julia Roberts movie I felt obliged to see.

When you’re mad, like really good and mad, there are few practical ways to dissolve the anger. A choose-your-own- adventure of sorts. Part of being an adult, a responsible, thoughtful, and prayerful person, is to select the right adventure. Sometimes I goof and pick “rant”. I’m spoiled rotten that I have people who will listen and be patient with me. That my husband, who even out in the mountains of Idaho, will drive two miles just so he has better reception to hear me gripe. And that I have amazing friends, who on any given day, if I hint the slightest that I’m upset, will text and call to say that even though they don’t know the story, they’re mad too, on my behalf.

Or, sometimes the adventure starts with yelling, stomping, muttering, crying, or the unfortunate combination of all of the above.

Moses finally had it, let his fury get the best of him, struck that rock with his staff and was kept out of the from the Promised Land, even after all that work and all those years of being obedient. Fine. I guess I’m supposed to get my you-know-what together, let go of my worries and fretting and the anger that for some reason I seem to enjoy holding on to. Surrender. Bluch, really? Do I have to? It’s not like I’m trying to take it out on everybody else so they’ll feel terrible too, right? Right?

Surrender is not very glamorous. I’ll try, but I’m telling you right now, it’s not easy. I’m pretty sure it’s my least favorite option. Channeling anger into an activity that’s obviously counter-productive can be fun and bring relief, even if it’s temporary. I can rage-eat a bag of Wavy Lay’s like nobody’s business. It feels fan-flippin-tastic at the moment, but does it feel better later? Definitely not, especially since, in a blind fury, I probably also whipped up a batch of clam dip to go with it.  Like yelling, like crying, like complaining – the joy of clam dip furiouso is fleeting.

atrophy

Atrophy. If school wasn’t starting in two days, it certainly seems that would be the word of the week, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you how to spell it.  Looking around the house, it is essentially a time capsule from June of 2010. The backpack is slumped in a corner where it was dropped on the last day of school. The fool-proof organizing system of boxes and document holders with which I am continually tinkering, still spews papers from the top, mocking my good intentions.  Feeling entirely too much like an adult, I had to take pause this week and wonder, where did my summer, once so full of promise and untold delights…yes, THAT summer, go?

The last week of August already tends to be one of mixed emotions. The kids have dissolved into mini-delinquents whose sole purpose for punching each other is force of habit, but they shyly admit that they might indeed just be ready for regular school stuff. And while I fancy myself fairly footloose and moderately fancy free, I’m pretty stoked about having some structure reintroduced into our lives.

Faced with the reality of summer’s end, Jake shimmied out of one of his beloved baseball tees and into a collared shirt for school pictures this afternoon, followed by a peek into his new class. The glimmer of joy came when he realized he scored one of two air conditioned classrooms.

The glimmer disappeared with the school supply shopping. It should come as no surprise that when you’re shopping for pencils and paper, the biggest smiles are on the parents’ faces. You’ve seen the commercials. It’s totally true. Grown-ups chipper with anticipation, happily checking off otherwise mundane items from their lists.

 “3-ring binders? Theeeeere they aaaaarre!” …this from a smiling cherubic woman with a Blue Tooth headset firmly in place and the lilting sing-song voice of Snow White. She was followed by a wincing teenager whose hands were shoved defiantly into his pockets.

 All over the store, parents were holding up items, saying “which one?” enthusiastically trying to sell kids on the luxury of choice that they have in the color of their binder, their notebooks, their pencil case –  offering perhaps a semblance of control in a situation where essentially, young students have little. Jake haphazardly pointed at the red, the blue, the black. It seems he would have been happy if we were picking out a leather office chair or fax machine…that’s where his attention was.

 But now, as my tall funny fifth grader, and my cuddly sweet last-year-of-pre-schooler are not punching each other and tucked snugly into bed, I’m having a heck of a time being excited about launching into a new year without a firm grasp on what happened to the last 12 weeks? Where have we been that I didn’t finish the recipe project or paint the living room? How cute is it that I thought that I might?

Let’s see, the DVR sputtered out its last CSI weeks ago – dead of fatigue.  (Killing your DVR with overuse doesn’t result in the prideful feeling you’d think it would.) When that noble piece of technology finally went, it took about 18 hours of stored treasures that I had reserved for the summer programming drought. So aside from the recent delicious start of Mad Men, I wasn’t near the TV like I usually am. Hmm…the evenings were too cold to lounge around outside and spray down the boys with a hose, though there were moments I considered it. And I’m just as far into The Girl  With the Dragon Tattoo as I was in June.

Even my personal magazine pile has doubled. Have I really been that behind on Entertainment Weekly? Well, not entirely. I almost forgot to feed the boys dinner the day the fall movie preview issue arrived. And all those issues of The Economist? I did take the time to toss those, so that’s good.

So I did an exercise to get to the bottom of this mystery. Please, please, please don’t stop reading when I say this. OK, it involves Twilight, but it has a point. During the 9 hours of special features on the DVD that I watched as happily as I did the actual movie, the screenwriter, Melissa Rosenberg said she read the first book in a single sitting, focused on the scenes & images that stood out from this initial read – and then structured the screenplay around those. So I did the same thing, but to rediscover the highlights of a season past.

 Melodramatically closing my eyes…I flitted back to the ill-advised but glorious Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast in Las Vegas. The 4th of July fireworks over Disneyland. Sitting in the theater watching Eclipse with my friend Margie and a gaggle of really rowdy and inappropriate mothers. My friend Megan making me dinner in my own kitchen, and having a mom talk with the little one when I was just too tired to do it myself. Jacob jumping himself silly on a trampoline for his 10th birthday. Trying and failing to get our hands on chocolate covered bacon at the State Fair. The butterflies in my stomach when my handsome husband appeared on the escalator at the airport, finally home from Zimbabwe. The sinking feeling I had when I realized the gifts he brought the boys were two vuvuzelas. The plotting of where I could accidentally lose two vuvuzelas. A couple of great end-of-summer parties with old friends, and new friends, and many many appetizers. And then there was starting this blog, which during the nail-biting hemming and hawing stages of discernment about it, felt kinda self-indulgent, overly revealing, a little brave, a tad silly, and maybe a little bit cathartic.

And so now I will post this piece, walk by the backpack and filing system, and hop into bed with the triumphant posession of a summer well-spent. I suppose there are worse things than atrophy of housecleaning.

the carob chip resolution

So many nights this week, I’ve turned this computer on and just sat here. Always after I’d finally gotten the boys bathed, jammied, storied and in bed. OK, so some nights the bath didn’t happen, but the jammies always did and so did the goodnight prayer, so I’d call that a success and I’d sit. And then it would be really quiet in the house, and I’d think about it and decide it really wasn’t a success after all because I’d lost my patience right at the end there, and I used not-the-nicest voice, and when I delivered more cups of water to each bedroom it was with a frowny face instead of a smiley one.

So I’d go back in and kiss their sweet heads whispering that I loved them, and I’m just tired which of course is my problem and not theirs.  I’d pad back out here with my hair in a messy ponytail and stare again. Sometimes at the blank screen, sometimes at the wall, sometimes at the TV. Occasionally, I’d mess around trying to create the perfect Pandora station. None of it though, could take away just how insanely tired I felt. Then I would think about John and the rest of the group in Africa, and how they’re up at 5 a.m. to carry around bricks and climb homemade ladders, and then I’d feel pretty stupid. And then I would think of all the people in the world who do that every day but with worse circumstances and worse ladders, and then I’d feel even more stupid. I’d be hopeful that the mere realization that I was being a ninny would make me alert and inspired….and that maybe I’ll write something I’m happy with, and plan the menus for the week, and organize the photo cabinet.

And then maybe I’d teach the boys how to make lasagna and I’d take down the mountain of t-shirts I haphazardly toss on the top shelf of the closet, find a few to give away, and perfectly refold the rest organizing them by color. While I’m at it, I’ll get down under all the beds and couches and deal with whatever I find there. I’ll write that stray thank you note from July. I’ll take care of the backlog of birthday, baby, anniversary and graduation cards and presents that haunt me every time I look at my calendar. I’m going to once-and-for-all get rid of the candy shelf by the fridge, replace it with dried fruit, carob chips, and almonds, and then rearrange the Tupperware. But I don’t. So I turn this computer off…the computer that feels more like an enemy now than a friend, and wonder if maybe I’ve very recently, just this week in fact, developed a not-too-serious, but just-serious-enough medical condition that makes me tired and unproductive. That must be it. I’ll probably be able to get a very sappy and concerned sounding note from my doctor.

So now instead of sitting comatose in front of the computer, I’m laying in the dark wondering how soon I should go in to get my diagnosis confirmed. Gah – forget it. I don’t want to have to make an appointment. You know what? I’m going to start going to the gym again, and I’m going to be so much more disciplined about morning devotions and eating almonds and carob chips and then….then I’ll have the energy I need.

But then today, the day we’ve been counting down to, is finally here. John and the group arrive on UAL flight 977 at 11:23 am. A journey that began three flights, four stops, four countries, and two days ago. The parents, siblings and nervous teenage boyfriends with their flower bouquets (how cute is that?) cheer and clap and whoop and holler as our loved ones descend the escalator. My boys even stop punching each other long enough so they can cheer too. It’s very exciting. Exciting for us and for the kids…confusing for the people on the escalator who are not with our group.

The big smiles on the travelers’ faces begin to wane as the minutes tick by and the wait for their luggage extends. There’s a lot of hugging, and a little bit of crying. But once the carousel starts up again, the wistful looks disappear, and people get back to business, snatching their belongings and high-tailing it out of the automatic doors into the sunshine, presumably to eat a burger and take a nap.

Once our now reunited family gets home, John hangs in as long as he can, listening to the boys march around earnestly blowing their new vevuzelas (thanks John!)…even taking them to the park before finally collapsing into a well deserved slumber.

And now here I sit… quiet house, three sleeping boys, cool new Pandora channel, and finally more typing than staring. Feeling like no less of a ninny for moping around exhausted, but buoyed enough where I think I’ll keep that candy shelf after all.

hero abatement

A couple of weeks ago, John came into our room and said, “It looks like the MLB threw up on our son.” All I heard at first was “throw up” and “son,” and started to launch into vomit abatement mode.  

“No the MLB threw up on him,” (he emphasized like it’s actually a thing that happens)… “Mets Hat. A’s shirt, Rockies shorts.”

“On purpose?”

“Pretty sure.”

As of last month, Jake’s 10. He’s all limbs, freckles and Justin Bieber hair. He has very sophisticated culinary preferences, and tosses the kids’ coloring menu aside to peer over my shoulder at the grown up menu. When he finishes a meal, he unashamedly eyes my plate, so now I eat faster. He can carry on an intelligent conversation with adults, is good with the follow-up questions, and has amazing recall with biographical & historical factoids. I call him my cub reporter, and he rolls his eyes.

I see what a tween is now – stuck there between little kid and teenager. I can see it in his eyes, “I want to cuddle with you, but I don’t want you to think I want to cuddle with you.” He measures himself against me, waiting for the day he can look me in the eye. I remind him that even when he is taller than me, I will still in fact, be the boss of him.

He rises with or before the sun to turn on the MLB network to check scores and amazing catches and homeruns he missed while he was sleeping. He can rattle off stats I don’t understand, and who’s going on, or coming off the DLs across American and National Leagues.

He understands now, how hard it is to become a professional baseball player, so has been considering his options: sports analyst, sports agent, sports doctor.

I’m well aware that there are countless little kids out there who love baseball and basketball and football. But the one who lives under my roof has hit a rough patch lately with his sports heroes.

The first team he fell in love with was the USC Trojans. Poor kid didn’t have a choice in the matter. His father and I are both Trojans and football is just what you do when you go to USC.  Saturday games are still a major event at our house, and another excuse for hot wings and clam dip. When John was in seminary, before the advent of the smart phone, he’d excuse himself from mandatory Saturday seminary activities to stand in the hall yelling commands to some robot on the other end of his gigantic cell phone. You could call a number and get scores! Wow! It was all very futuristic and sophisticated and his classmates still remind him of his voice booming through the hall trying to get the robot to understand his needs. “FOOTBALL! FOOTBALL SCORES! COLLEGE FOOTBALL! USC FOOTBALL SCORES!”

Jacob had a Reggie Bush doll that has now been passed to his little brother, a sports nut in his own right (and who this year re-named St. Patrick’s Day “Dan Patrick Day” and had a fever-induced hallucination starring Kevin Garnett). The hands fell off the doll, Lil Reggie, about 4 years ago. Once in a while I’ll come across one of the hands in a toy box, and it’s really quite disconcerting. Almost as creepy as stretching out on the couch only to have Lil Reggie peeking at you from behind a pillow.

We live near Cal which means we are reminded frequently of USC’s recent fall from glory, or as we think of it, push from glory by the NCAA, based on the unsavory actions of the USC athletic staff, and (maybe not) Reggie Bush.

His next loves were the Giants and Barry Bonds. I didn’t know another little kid who was rooting for Barry Bonds more than Jake. He’d pretend to be Barry Bonds whenever he picked up a bat and would ask daily if there were new homers. Then we had to start talking about steroids and asterisks…with our 1st grader. We forbade him from walking away from us in the store, talking back to his mother, and taking steroids.

There was a point where we actually tried to refocus his attention on good guys. Hard working family men. You know, like Tiger Woods. Last holiday season was tricky, trying to steer away from sports news, regular news, entertainment news, newspapers, anything on the radio, or any conversations with other humans. We’d already had the steroid talk. I wasn’t ready to explain mistresses, bottle service or sex rehab.

He’d already seen Michael Phelps & Tim Lincecum each get caught with pot. Big Ben goes to jail for being gross. LeBron draws the ire of a nation with his one-man money show.

John & Jake were watching ESPN a few weeks ago when the the Lance Armstrong doping allegations story popped up. John said the look in Jake’s eyes was one of hurt and betrayal. “Nooo. Not Lance Armstrong!” before flopping back with the kind of frustration and defeat that should be reserved only for mothers. I’m afraid in 5 years, he’ll  look back on that moment as the one where he decided that heroes might be a waste of time.

Since then, two players from his other favorite team, the Mets, are in the news, Johan Santana has paternity drama, and Francisco Rodriguez, K-Rod, gets arrested for being in a super-classy fight with his father-in-law. We have about 100 pictures of K-Rod taken from 10 feet away, while Jake sat starry eyed watching him warm up. I’ve noticed in the last couple of days, Jake’s been absentmindedly flipping through these stories, on his way to the Disney channel.

I think it would have been easier if the MLB had just actually thrown up on him.

August 24, 2012: For his 12th birthday, the only thing Jacob wanted was a t-shirt with the number of his new favorite Giant, Melky Cabrera. Days later, Cabrera was slapped with a 50 game suspension for doping. We’ve delicately discussed the Penn State football program over the past months, and not so delicately, the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. When I saw today’s Lance Armstrong news, I remembered this post I originally published almost exactly two years ago. Things change, but not really. And I really wonder how a family can collectively find a new interest – like bird watching or stamp collecting.