Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Now We Are Fourteen

Joel turned 14 today! I took him and six friends to an arcade place. Of his 6 friends, one is his 10-year-old brother. And he is not considered a tag-along, either. I am so lucky that Jules and Joel (the Joels) are truly friends. I thought that for sure, by now, the split would have occurred. But Joel does not seem anxious to leave childhood behind and, for the most part, still feels very comfortable playing with his brother. In fact, Joel says he is staking his claim in Neverland.

I have tried over the years to have separate friends for Joel and Jules. I thought, for some silly reason, that it would be good for them. But it never worked. All the boys just ended up melting into one big blob of tousled heads. The exact same boys will be invited to Jules party when he turns 11.

On the night before the party I had to pick up one boy who lives out of town, then pick up The Joels at co-op. That resulted in Harlan joining us and the 4 boys slept outside with the coyotes that night. The next morning they were joined by Levi before we headed out to pick up the other two boys, brothers Jack and Ian, on the way to the arcade. Levi and Harlan have been friends with Joel since they were 3. Levi brought a rather large book with him. His mom snatched it away, saying he needed to leave the book at home. "He needs some socialization," she said. This made me grin because Levi is the only one of the bunch who attends school. Austen called shotgun, yelling, "I get to sit up front with Joel's mom! Yes!" Nobody was fighting him over this, but he still thought he scored a win. Austen does 1 of 2 things in the car - he sleeps or talks. He did both on the way to the arcade. The back of the van was rambunctious with many conversations going on at once, most of them centered around bodily functions. I was relieved when Levi began to discuss his favorite book series, which held the other boys' attention only until Austen impressively stuck nearly his entire ear through the tiny little hole of a CD. Then everyone wanted to stick their ears through CD holes. How could Levi compete with that?

When we picked up Jack and Ian the excitement intensified. The van literally rocked back and forth all the way to the arcade. First up was the bumper boats. We purchased tickets and stood in line. A blond-haired boy who didn't look much older than my group slowly saddled over.

"Where's the guy who runs the boats?" he said. I was like, "You're asking me?"

"Ahhh, he's probably on break," he said. Then he looked at us and sighed and said, "That's the story of my life."

I liked the kid immediately.

He began a long tirade in a tour guide/ flight attendant tone. "Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to board the boats yourselves. Do you hear me? Everybody look at me. I help you in the boats one at a time. Don't try to get in the boats without me. Don't rock your boats. Don't rock anyone else's boat. If for some reason, your boat capsizes, do not panic. For God's sake stand up - it is only 12 inches deep. Now then, do not run to the boats....blah blah blah, yada yada yada." I am not kidding. This is exactly what he said according to my memory.

He opened the gates. The boys ran to the boats and began to jump in....

"STOP!!!" shouted our friendly boat boy. "Are you deaf? Did you hear me?" He turns to me, "Did you hear me? You heard me right? I told them not to run, I told them not to get in the boats....am I even here? Can you see me?"

I assured him that I felt his pain. He was preaching to the choir. He managed to get everyone buckled in, untied, and kicked off. He said they would have a 5 minute ride.

I opened my book and began to read. Then I hear, "So what do you have planned for the rest of the day?"

I looked up. "Excuse me?" I said.

"I asked you what you're doing for the rest of the day," said Bumper Boat Boy.

I told him my plans, which basically included driving boys to their various homes. Then I opened my book back up.

"So do you live around here?"

I closed my book. Was he hitting on me? I glanced down at my crossed white thighs with their intricate varicose vein maps....no, he was just bored. I set the book down.

Bumper Boat Boy used to live in Maryland, which is nice, but DC isn't all its cracked up to be. It has a lot of problems. High crime. Taxation without representation. I heard about how education is overrated (which I kind of agree with - read The Teenage Liberation Handbook)...he was quite the philosopher.

I told him I had forgotten my camera and Bumper Boat Boy told me that cameras are also highly overrated. "Who looks at their pictures?" he asked. "Who ever sits down and watches all the hours of useless videos they take? All these folks do is go home and download everything into a computer where it sits until the computer crashes and then they get all sad and miss all the pictures they never looked at in the first place...." Oooohhhhh, I liked this kid. I was like, "Right? Don't you think that people sometimes live their lives watching their lives through a lens rather than really being there?"

"Yes, yes!" he said. "That is exactly it. There is no integrity to life. Just a recording of the false version of it..." OK - I LOVED this kid.

Eventually the boys weren't even shooting their water guns at each other, anymore. They were kind of looking at Bumper Boat Boy like, "Dude - how long does this last?" Harlan looked sea sick. I think they got about 15 minutes out of it. He got them all out of the boats and we headed off to the go carts. Bumper Boat Boy and I were like two bumper boats passing in the night.....

I formed no such connection with Go Cart Kid. Half of my group (including the Joels) had never been on go carts. Go Cart Kid mumbled a bunch of rules that were interspersed with "if you do that you can get seriously hurt or killed" while pacing back and forth and messing with his keys. 90% of the time his back was to the boys. I looked at the boys. A few looked terrified, one was panicking over his seat belt....all were excited.

"Hold on, " I said to the kid. "Jules, did you hear anything this young man just said?"

"What? Who? Huh?"

I asked Go Kart Kid to repeat his rules, and I interpreted. Go Kart Kid threatened to evict anyone who started any monkey business in between telling the boys they could die on the track at any moment. He started their engines and they were off!!

Two of them drove like my grandma :). But they had gigantic grins on their faces, even though their knuckles were white. The rest were pretty gung-ho. There were, after all, two sibling groups out there jockeying for position.

There was one little surprise, though. In the middle of it, Jules turned his cart around and came roaring through the pit area with wide, wild eyes, before crashing full-speed into the wall. He narrowly missed splattering Go Kart Kid into the track. Go Kart Kid was not happy. In fact, he was no longer mumbling and was kind of screaming, "What are you doing? How did you get back through here? You could have KILLED me!" This was an excitable kid. He somehow got Jules turned back around and back onto the track. Go Kart Kid spent the rest of the ride on the sidewalk - staying out of the pit area, entirely, which proves that he was merely impersonable, not stupid.

"I have never seen that, before," he said while shaking his head back and forth.

"Well, he is hearing impaired," I informed him. As if that explained it. I always say that. It makes me feel better and the other person feel slightly guilty. (Jules is completely deaf in his right ear - which really doesn't affect him all that much).

"Sorry," he said.

"That's okay," I answered smugly.

After the boys got off the go karts we headed into the arcade area for pizza, sodas, and games. The boys exhibited various levels of skill at the video games. Jules had 34 tickets when it was all over and Jack had over 900. The birthday boy made an impressive haul (not as much as Jack, though) and traded his tickets for some sticky eyeballs, pop-ups, ANOTHER egg-laying rubber chicken (you can't have too many of those), and a glider that he broke as soon as he got in the car. Jack is saving his tickets. He wants to get enough to trade for the lava lamp. The lava lamp costs a zillion tickets. I told him you can buy a lava lamp at Wal-Mart for like $10. He looked at me like, "What's your point?"

Austen called shotgun again and we headed home, making a quick stop for snow cones on the way. I returned kids to their homes with tongues of various shades of red, blue, green, and purple. The boys all had a great time and so did I. Somehow, my telephone is now exhibiting Austen's eyeball as a screensaver.

Tonight we took the family out for dinner. The Joels ate their weight in sushi. We went to a buffet that was somewhat questionable in quality. It was what Joel wanted and he enjoyed it. We brought him home for cake and presents and we were joined by my dad and sister. Joel got the geek package for his birthday. Everything he received had something to do with Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, Runescape, or World of Warcraft. He said it was the best day of his life. Of course, he says that when I hand him a sandwich, which is why, (Ellie would say) he is my favorite.

I can't believe this child is 14. This is the child who answered "Sweet Baby" when someone asked his name. He is my happiest child. To me, turning 14 is kind of like turning 6. When you turn 6, it is official big-kid time. Turning 14 is official teen time. It is a "jump". I always get sad right before a jump such as this. I think I am going to miss the person they were. I really fixate on it. However, it never happens. The new person fills the space. It is weird. They leave no ghosts behind...they take themselves fully with them into the next phase. I look at the old pictures and I marvel at the changes, but I don't miss the babies and toddlers and children in the photos. They've not gone anywhere. Still, yesterday was tough for me, waiting for today. But today came and Joel is still here, all smiles and hair and grin - not the baby I held at my breast - but still Joel. There is nothing to miss. I came across a poem I wrote the night before Joel turned 6.

My Five-Year-Old

He makes his fashion statement by way of a Super Hero on his underwear.
He saves the world by day and dreams in a well-worn pirate costume at night.
“Baby” is a bad word.
He loves cowboy boots and belts.
He mashes a butterfly to see what happens, and cries that it can no longer fly.
He squats to watch ants for hours.
His speed at running is determined by the color of his newer, faster sneakers.
A mud puddle is an invitation he simply cannot pass up.
He still needs a nap but no longer takes one.
He still needs hugs and kisses but no longer wants them.
His little knees are rough and there is dirt under his fingernails.
He likes to pour sand in his socks, or throw it into the wind.
He’ll cry when it lands in his eyes. Then he will do it, again.
There is treasure to be found in his pockets, and in his laughter.
Real and imaginary are mostly the same.
He expects the magical and knows not of impossible.
Who is he; this whirlwind of activity wrapped in the stillness of awe and wonder?
He is a little boy with the last remnants of baby stuck to his rough edges.
He is something he has never been before and never will be again.
He is my five-year old.
He is mostly mine but partly his.
He is learning how to claim himself, little by little.

Stealing bits away from me until one day, I shall wake to find him all his own.
So today, I will hold tight the little hand when we cross the street.
Tonight I will kiss shut the little eyes.
I will memorize his chubby face, his tousled hair, his baby tooth grin.
For tomorrow, he will be different.
Tomorrow he will be six.

Looking back through all the birthday pictures, Joel changes a little year by year. But the change between last year and this year is quite dramatic. Manhood is truly upon him. His face has lost its softness. His features are sharper and more angular. He is taller than me and Ellie. His voice is so low. His outside doesn't match his inside. I guess that day will come. Will I be sad? I feel like I will be. Here is his birthday picture from last year, when he turned 13.

And here are some more goofy pics of the cake scenario. I asked Joel for a serious picture but he said it wasn't my birthday. Oh well. He's right.

So there is a new boy in my house tonight. A 14-year-old boy where there wasn't one, before. And yet, nobody is missing. How can that be?

A slightly melancholy Sardine Mama

Friday, September 26, 2008

Getting Real at the Ballet

We have had a lovely day today. We attended a ballet. Even with Jasper along it was nice. We saw The Velveteen Rabbit, which is one of my all-time favorite stories. I had the book when I was little and I very strongly believed in nursery magic. I was certain that my toys came out to play whenever I turned my back.

I don't know why but I have an exceptional memory. Well, not if you're asking me what day it is or what we had for dinner last night. But as far as remembering my childhood goes, I remember way back and I remember details. I mean waaaay back, as in crib memories. Anyway, my dad took my sister and me to a toy store called Toybox. My mom says I was 5 years old. I saw a silver teddy bear - a big one. He was up on the top shelf. We had been told we could pick out a toy and I decided I wanted that bear. My dad didn't think the bear was a good idea. First of all, he was on the top shelf. Second of all (and I can totally relate to this), he thought stuffed animals were useless and I already had 100 or so....

"Why don't you take this truck? Or this football?"

My dad liked to pretend I was a boy.

Eventually, he talked me into the dump truck. He was very enthusiastic about it and I succumbed. And I was actually quite happy with the truck and played with it for a good portion of my childhood. However, as soon as we hopped into the booger green Oldsmobile and hit the road, I began thinking about that bear. I'm pretty sure I began whining about the bear. Okay - crying for the bear. By the time we arrived home I had named him Powder Puff. I couldn't live without him. I cried so hard and so long that my parents gave in (there must be a hereditary gene for that). My dad told me that we would go back to the toy store the next morning to get Powder Puff.

I felt like an expectant parent. I began readying my room for Powder Puff's arrival. He would, of course, be able to call shotgun on sleeping in my bed.

The next morning I was up early and we headed back to the toy store. I ran through the door, looked up at the tip top shelf and Powder Puff was gone! The clerk said someone had bought him just after we had left the day before. Surely, a shiny silver bear would appeal to many children. I was devastated and heartsick (and possibly somewhat spoiled). The clerk pointed to the bear sitting next to the empty space. "We have this one," he said. Well, there was a big bear sitting up there. He had dust on top of his head ( I remember the clerk trying to dust him off) and had been sitting there for quite some time. He was not a sparkling silver. He was (gulp) burnt orange. He and I looked at each other. I was sad, he was hopeful. It was a match. We took him home. I decided I would still call him Powder Puff. I remember that the first night I had him I played with him outside. I had sat him on top of the hose holder that was attached to our fence. I pretended he was sitting in a saddle. Yes! I actually remember this! Soon the neighborhood gang came up and began making fun of him. "Who wants an orange bear?" they asked. And that was the first time of many, that I found myself answering the question with, "Well, I do."

The question was asked during show and tell. The question was asked at summer camp. The question was asked by my college roommate. The question has been asked by my own children. The answer has always been the same. "Well, I do." Powder Puff and I never bother to tell people that he was second choice. He pretends he doesn't know and for that I am grateful.

Powder Puff suffered allergy shots (plastic syringes brought home from my dad's dental office - my friend and I filled them with perfume and stuck stick pins out the ends). I also suffered allergy shots. Powder Puff had several haircuts, and he had his tonsils removed (which is how he lost his little felt tongue). He had his arm set in a cast. He suffered greatly and was loved very much and that is how he came to be Real. Which he is, of course. Real. For sure.

So the Velveteen Rabbit is a wonderfully beautiful story and one that I believe in. Joel has Snow Bunny - but he is not Real. Joel has never believed Snow Bunny is Real, so therefore he simply isn't. You can tell it by looking at him. He is cute, and somewhat worn and ragged, but definitely not Real. Now Little Green Bear is another story. Jules made him Real. He has been with us since the Easter Bunny left him in a basket on Easter morning some eight years ago. I will never forget the time Jules left him sitting on a hay bail at a local creamery where we had enjoyed ice cream with friends. We couldn't find him anywhere. Little 3-year-old Jules ran into the ice cream parlor and asked the lady behind the counter if she had seen Little Green Bear.

"I don't know," she said quite seriously. "What does he look like?"

"Well," said Jules between sniffles. "He is little, he is green, and he is a bear."

"Hmmmm..." she said. "Does he, per chance, have a small carrot embroidered on his tummy?"

"Yes! Yes he does!" exclaimed Jules.

At that, the kind lady pulled him up from behind the counter. "Someone brought him inside," she said. "He just finished some ice cream. He knew you wouldn't leave him, so he wasn't scared at all."
"I was scared," said Jules.
When Jules was eight, he was at the local Christmas parade with his aunt and grandpa. Jeff and I were at a formal Christmas party hosted by one of Jeff's customers. The phone rang. Jules was hysterical. I couldn't understand anything he said. My dad got on the phone and said that they had just returned to his house from the parade and Jules didn't have Little Green Bear. "There's no way we're going to go back to the parade and find him," he said. "He doesn't even know where he lost him and we were all over that place. And it has started to rain."

"You have to go back," I said. There was a long uncomfortable silence.
"Are you sure?" my dad asked.
"I'm sure," I answered.
I swear, I was as worried about Little Green Bear being cold and afraid as I was about Jules being sad. (I told you I'm a believer.)

The parade-goers headed back downtown and as they slowly drove through the rain a man appeared in the headlights. He was holding something small and damp and dirty. "That certainly looks a lot like..." my sister began. And then Jules shouted, "Little Green Bear!"

My dad pulled up to the man and rolled down the window. "Do you know somebody who might be looking for this?" he asked. He said he was going to walk past Little Green Bear, but then he had the feeling that he needed to pick him up. "I just knew somebody was missing this," he said again.

Things in the "Real" department have become a tad bit more complicated in the past two years. Jasper has a little bear, too. And he wears a green sweater. And his name is, guess what? Little Green Bear. Two-year-olds are not known for being incredibly original. Anyway, sometimes he has to have him and other times he forgets about him entirely. So it remains to be seen as to whether or not Little Green Bear II will ever become Real.
To further complicate matters, my dad carries a little green fanny pack with him that has his meds, cigars, cell phone, etc. and he calls it (I'm sure you've figured this out) Little Green Bag. I do not think Little Green Bag is on the way to becoming Real. But you never know.

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time."
Well, I might not ever regain my pre-pregnancy figure. I might not ever wear the latest trends, again. But as I sit here Jasper is eating grapes at my feet. Camille is dancing around the room on her tiptoes - the music from the ballet still playing in her head. The big boys are outside and their laughter comes in through my window. Ellie is playing the piano and the music floats through the house. I have gray hair, my shirt is stained, the laundry overflows the hamper and there is no dinner cooking in the oven. But, I know very much that I am Real. And the Skin Horse is right. It happens bit by bit and sometimes it hurts. But you don't mind. Because being Real is worth it.

Sardine Mama

Thursday, September 25, 2008

All in the Family

I know it has been a full week since my last post because today is piano/guitar day again! Time flies when you're driving around like a mad woman.

We found ourselves back in the can over the weekend! No exotic trip, just our driveway. We hosted Jeff's family reunion and his sister and her family stayed with us for two nights. They're from the Denver area. Since their party consisted of 3 adults and a baby - we figured they would be most comfortable in our bedroom and Camille and Jasper were thrilled to sleep in the can. So the Family Bed had some visitors! Jules is holding precious baby Bohden. Joel is still making faces, of course. Bohden's mommy, Launa, has Camille on her lap, and to her left are her parents, Richard and Susie, Jeff's brother-in-law and big sister.

I believe the final count on the reunion size was 58 people. This was Jeff's mom's side of the family. The food, of course, was great and there was tons of it! I had spoken to my children of my desire for them to appear normal in front of the relatives. They did not share my desire. That's alright. We wouldn't want to disappoint anybody.

Jeff's family is of Czech heritage and his mom, Pauline, should have been a pastry chef. She loved to bake and used to take 1st place in SPJST contests, of course! Luckily, her granddaughters and nieces continue the tradition, and there was a lovely sampling of kolaches, Pauline's signature dessert.

Here is a picture of the aftermath.

The families represented included those of Aunt Gertrude (deceased)

And of Aunt Fritzie (lovely lady on the right)
And of Uncle Bill. This group looks tame and sweet but there was some major monkey business going on just before they settled down for their pose....

And of Pauline's! It was at our house this year so we had the most family members attend. And I think we might have the most family members. Period.

A great time was had by all. We had all the usual excitement of games, gossip, and looking at old photos. The reward for those who stayed late was witnessing Jeff and Joel chasing after 4 of the neighbor's bulls on a tractor. The bulls had gotten into our pasture and were "bothering" a heifer. During this entertainment, Jasper sucker-punched one of his favorite aunts. This raised some eyebrows while a few folks waited for the spanking that never came. You see, Jasper had stepped on a sticker (barefoot, of course) and was trying very hard not to cry. He asked me to take him into my bedroom to remove it. He tends to get somewhat hysterical during sticker removals and didn't want to do it in front of the relatives and detract from the tractor spectacle. I, however, did not want to take him inside and knew I could grab that sticker very quickly. Ellie grabbed his arms and I yanked it. He became hysterical - crying - both from the yank and from the shock that I did it against his will and in front of everybody. Then, he was extremely embarrassed, of course. During all of this, his dear Aunt Liz came up to comfort him and he sucker-punched her. Who's fault is all of this? Well, the way I see it, it is mine. I knew he wanted me to take him in the house to remove the sticker. I knew why he wanted to go in the house. And it was not an unreasonable request. I misused his trust in order to save myself a trip inside. So he was not the one who needed spanking. We talked after everyone went home. He obviously felt quite horrible about the sucker-punch. That was punishment enough, and it was administered by his own healthy conscience.
In my opinion, a spanking would have made no sense at all - not to mention the fact that we believe spankings are violent, pure and simple. The lesson is that it is wrong to hit unless you do it to someone who is smaller than you and totally dependent on you for his very survival. What does that kind of lesson spawn? Looking at the current ills of society answers that question, I believe. Many people say the problems we face come from too little discipline and punishment for children. I say the opposite is true. Children behave as they are treated, for the most part. I'm hoping to raise kind, thoughtful, and empathetic people who feel responsible for their own actions - all the time - not just when the threat of punishment is around. They need to develop a strong sense of right and wrong through their own consciences, with the loving guidance of their parents. They need people to admit when they've wronged them, and to say "I'm sorry. I am not perfect. I made a mistake." I find myself saying this often, unfortunately. But my children also seem to be able to recognize when they've made mistakes, and to apologize when necessary. And to do it sincerely.
Well, enough about corporal punishment. I shall save that soapbox for another day!

The evening ended perfectly, with Jeff's sister and me sharing a couple of tequila shots. It was hard to let them go the next morning. We hadn't seen them in 7 years. They are avid can-readers, though!

Well, I'm off to Neverland. And this is what's waiting for me when I get home.

Sardine Mama

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Right? Naw.

It has been a long time since my last post! So this is going to be a "free write". No telling what is going to come off the fingers, here. Exciting, isn't it? Maybe I'll start with recent news and work my way backward?
Today was music/library day. Ellie enjoyed her guitar lesson with Master Guitarist Kevin Lewis. I believe, in addition to playing guitar, they also solve 90% of the world's problems in under 30 minutes. Ellie enjoys this time so much (and I think Kevin does, too).

While that is going on, Camille is in the parlor learning piano from Kevin's wife, Dana. Dana should be called Saint Dana. Seriously. Never so much as a slight wince ever crosses her face, even though the cats in the room have their hair standing on end. Dana and Kevin are professional musicians with no "day jobs" other than music students. You can hear them perform with their band, Light Travellers, or as a duet act, Lewis and Clark (their last names - no kidding).

Let's see, after that we stopped at the library where we meant to return books and the dreaded DVD's that cost $1 per day past due date, but realized we had left the book bag at home. I was so disappointed! So now I have unresolved issues at the library, again. While there, Ellie and I chose books from the banned book shelf. At my recommendation, Ellie picked The Handmaid's Tale, and I chose All is Quiet on the Western Front. I also picked up my second Anita Blake novel by Laurel Hamilton. This series was recommended to me by a friend who shall remain nameless since she enthusiastically described the books as "vampire porn".

When I requested the first novel, Guilty Pleasures, Ellie was like, "You are not going to go up to that sweet librarian lady with glasses and no make-up and shock her with this request." Well, how else was I going to get the book? I handed her the slip of paper and to Ellie's disgust she said, "Oh my gosh! I love these books! I just finished reading one. It even gave me dreams last night..." Luckily, we were spared the details of the librarian's possibly erotic dreams. Thus far, I have found the books to be slightly disappointing. Not only do they not qualify as even soft porn (although my nameless friend breathlessly tells me they get better) - I am finding myself annoyed by the author's ending what seems like every other sentence with "right" and "naw". Who says naw? Nah, maybe. Right? Naw.

Then, (are you still with me? we're still just on today) we went to Taco Cabana for lunch. I won't bore you with what we ate. Afterwards we stopped at the grocery store to get turkey meat for tonight's tacos. Camille and Jasper were given helium balloons by the greeter. I love having helium balloons riding in the car with me. The experience conjures up the same level of anxiety and nervousness as does walking in front of the grocery cart while Jules pushes it. You know, the sphincter tightening anticipation of jammed and bloodied heels.... Anyway, yesterday our helium balloons from the birthday party we attended on Monday popped. So thanks greeter-lady. Like I should get a break from balloons. Right.

Just as we arrived home Ellie says, "Oh my God!" I, who had been sitting on pins and needles waiting for the helium balloons to pop screamed, "Oh my God! What?!" Dun, dun, dun. She had forgotten her purse at Taco Cabana. Inside it was $20, 1 red cell phone, and 1 brand spanking new iPod. "Oh my God!" I threw my phone at her while turning the car around. "Call them," I said. She did. They claimed there was no purse left at any of the tables on the patio. I decided we'd go back anyway. If one of the employees had it behind the counter my plan was to walk in and dial Ellie's cell which would screech out a Tegan and Sara song that arouses almost, but not exactly, the same reaction in me as a popped helium balloon. Then I was going to scream, "Aha! No purse you say? Right."

The purse sat, hanging on the back of the chair, just where she had left. Treasures still inside. Do you think the person she talked to on the phone even checked around? Naw. She probably just counted to 10. Oh well. Hooray! We were happy campers on the way back home.
Speaking of books...were we speaking of books? Is it time for a what-are-you-reading post? I believe it is. I just finished reading a great non-fiction book called Captured. Disappointingly enough, this book also contains no vampire porn. But it is a simply spellbinding account of Indian abductions in the late 1800's right in the area close to where we live. The author is Texan, Scott Zesch. What a fabulous writer! I often have a hard time with non-fiction books. What I mean is, I love to start them. I rarely finish them. Having them on my book shelf makes me look smart, though. Right. Naw.

Anyway, Zesch's book is filled with well-researched facts and philosophical theories that do not detract at all from the actual events. He wrote the book because he has a great-great-uncle who was abducted by Comanches. He never knew his story and set out to research it. He ended up researching quite a few stories, since his own family's abduction drama was not well documented. What emerged is a fascinating phenomenon of "Indianization". Amazingly, no matter how old the children were when they were abducted, how violent their abductions were, or how long they remained in captivity, a vast majority (almost all) of the abductees never adjusted to re-entry into their respective cultures. Why? It has never really been studied. Zesch offered up some possible theories. Of course, the Stockholm Syndrome must have played a part. But it didn't account for the lifelong loyalty for and identification with the captors held by the abductees. They truly always thought of themselves as Indians. (I use the term Indian, rather than Native American, because at the time of the abductions that is what the Native Americans were called and what the abductees called themselves.) Another possibility is that the Indian culture was simply more kind (even though the abductions themselves were horrifically violent events) to children, and treated them with more respect than the children were used to. Most of the abductees were German immigrants settling in the Texas Hill Country. Life for these settlers didn't even slightly resemble the stories of Laura Ingalls. These were tough people living in near impossible conditions who were very literally trying not to starve to death, for the most part. The lives of the children were hard. Very hard. The lives of the parents were very hard. On top of that, the culture was one where children were to be seen and not heard. By contrast, the Indians' lives were much easier. They were not trying to tame the land, but instead lived as a part of it. They had been there for generations and knew how to do it. Children were allowed, for the most part, to play and be children. The boys, in particular, were coddled and spoiled. When they were not playing, they were being taught and treated like men. They were treated as equals according to their skills. Having the respect, praise, and sincere attention of the grown Indian men was intoxicating for young boys who were only used to being treated as hired hands. They described their days as being full of riding, hunting, raiding, and being free. They were like unschooled, attachment parented kids :).
Oops. I just heard a balloon pop. One more to go and then I can relax my sphincter.

Anyway, back to the book. I also think that freedom was a huge issue. They had never before experienced the land as "Mother" and "Nurturer" rather than something hard, hostile, and unruly. They no longer felt they were at the indiscriminate mercy of a harsh environment that needed to be tamed and mastered. They rode the plains of Texas and New Mexico like the whales swim the oceans. Their eyes had been opened to their true human natures. The civilized condition appeared less and less real, and more like an illusion. How hard it must have been to go back to living against the Earth; out of alignment with the natural seasons and cycles of the planet. They were some of the last souls on our continent to live in such harmony and experience nature in such a way.
I am romanticizing a bit here, but the book does no such thing. Neither the German immigrants nor the Native Americans are demonized or sainted. In the book, they simply are what they are. The neat thing is, you don't feel like any judgement is required on your part, as the reader. You identify with both groups. You feel a part of both groups. I can't explain it very well. A shift takes place when you read it.
In addition, because I am somewhat of a glutton for punishment, I am reading another Haruki Murakami book and loving every page. It is one of his earlier works, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I am going to understand this one. I swear. Right.

Well, I thought I was going to recap my week. But you only got one day out of me and then a corner of my brain where I am currently storing and pondering literary information. Let me hear what you've been reading! I ended up buying several books suggested by commenters the last time. I'm waiting! Don't disappoint me. I get sad when I see "0 comments". I cannot wait to see how many people end up on this blog after googling "vampire porn".
How about a recipe to close? This dish is called Camille's Faux Yams. Camille is violently allergic to sweet potatoes, which is weird but true. We are talking projectile vomiting. Sweet potatoes happened to be the very first solid food she ate. There is a connection I'm sure, which is why we usually don't give our kids solids until they are at least 10-months-old. Notice I said "usually". This dish is meant to replace sweet potatoes (like at Thanksgiving, for instance) for Camille. The funny part about this tasty dish is that Camille hates it and the rest of us love it. But it is called what it is called....

Camille's Faux Yams

1 butternut squash

1/3 stick of butter

1/4 cup of brown sugar

sprinkle of cinnamon

Remove seeds and pulp from squash and cut up into chunks and boil until the flesh is soft. Drain well. Scrape the flesh off the skin (this is easier and quicker than it sounds). Mash with a potato masher and stir in butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Delicious! And it is a lovely color, too.

Sardine Mama (who is voting for Tina Fey)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sharpshooters, Unresolved Issues, and Bifocals

Well, I had this post all planned out. It was going to be really cute. I was going to start with a picture of Jasper sleeping in our bed, cuddled up next to Jeff. Then I was going to boo hoo about how sad I was that Jasper was no longer sleeping in our bed. A really cute picture of him sleeping with Camille was going to come next. However, Jasper was back in our bed this morning. So we'll save that story for another day. Here is a picture of what the 3 boys (and weiner dog) are doing right now on the "family bed"; watching Word Girl on PBS.

Although I do not particularly enjoy having Jasper repeatedly dig his toes into the waistband of my underwear all night long, I find I am in no particular hurry for him to vacate the family bed. He is, after all, the last one. There was a time when I allowed other people to make me fearful of never ever getting the children out of our bed - I truly thought that they might just settle in forever, which would ruin their lives (how could they go to college, get married, have kids of their own...etc) and not really provide much of a rosy future for my husband and me, either. Ahhhh, but they do not stay little forever - they truly want to head out on their own, sooner or later. Jasper is going to be later.

This reminds me of a story (of course).

A couple of years ago somebody shot through our living room window. Yes, I said SHOT. As in with a gun. A real bullet. It was not an election year so that ruled out gun-toting Republicans who were sick of my bumper stickers. And there are no moose or lawyers here, anyway. That left the more likely scenario that somebody was shooting at a coyote. Possibly even a Democrat, although not an extremely liberal one, seeing as how he/she had a gun. Possibly it was a Libertarian. Anyway - politics aside - somebody shot through our window, hopefully unintentionally. And do you want to hear something scary? I was sleeping on the couch at the time! No fight with the hubby - just an attempt to curtail the nighttime nursing by one of the kids still in our bed. So I actually heard something and it woke me up. I got up and looked around, saw nothing out of place, and so went back to the couch.

In the morning I saw a hole in my bamboo shade and upon further investigation, saw the perfect bullet-sized hole in the window. Holy cow! What to do? I called the sheriff. I don't know why - I just did. A deputy came out and looked at the hole. First he wanted to know if one of my boys had done it. What? With a nerf gun? We gave Joel a BB gun for his 10th birthday and his exact words upon opening it were, "Do you want me to kill myself?" Anyway, it was determined that neither of my boys had done it. With the family no longer serving as suspects, he was free to move onto other considerations. Now, I'm no detective. I don't even watch CSI. But when I examined the bullet hole it appeared to be "angled". It looked like it came from a certain direction, which would be the house across the highway - the one with a zillion and a half fighting cock cages. I shared my opinion with the deputy, who grinned at me and said he couldn't draw the same conclusion and if he had to guess, it had come from the road and had been a straight shot. That sounded stupid to me. Who would stop his pickup and shoot at a coyote in MY front field? That would leave the uncomfortable scenario that a pickup had stopped on the road in front of my house to shoot at ME. Like I said, it wasn't an election year. I remained suspicious of the house across the highway, whose inhabitant was possibly shooting at a coyote in HIS front pasture and missed...The deputy said the bullet could technically have travelled up to a mile. "You can't really tell where the shooter was by looking at this here hole," he said. Then he looked at me like I shouldn't be bothering my pretty little (then blond) head with such details. He closed his book, said he'd look into and talk to the neighbors, and get back to me. I am still waiting for him to get back to me. Anyway, I decided to pretend I knew what I was doing and assume the bullet had come from the direction I suspected. I followed the trajectory from the window, walked over to the wall, and BINGO. A little divot in the wall. Just a divot, so obviously it had ricocheted. Again I did my little trajectory thing and guess what? A ping in the ceiling. I trajectoried once more and there was another ping on the door frame of the study. And then, there on the floor of the study, sat the bullet. How smart am I? So apparently the bullet had been fired from quite a distance as it had only penetrated the glass and no walls. Definitely not a hired hit from the road, we were looking at a missed coyote or beer bottle practice from the house across the highway. What a relief! Kind of....

We were all a little spooked. That night I decided I would feel better if all the kids slept in our room, which has no windows facing the county road. After the little ones and the boys were settled, Ellie came in. She was holding her pillow and a blanket. She stopped at the doorway, looked at all of us and said, "Well, I'd really rather be shot." Then she headed back to her own bedroom, where she slept quite peacefully all night. So see? They really don't stay in your bed forever. The day will come that they would rather be shot. Sweet, isn't it?

Feel like another story? Have I mentioned I am having issues? I should not be having issues. They are supposedly all resolved. How do I know this? Because I was told so. The scenario went like this:

I waited for him to finish reading something on his computer screen. He knew I was there. He was making me wait, as his type is prone to do. I was getting nervous, which I'm sure he enjoyed. Finally, he looked up at me as if we both had all the time in the world and said, "What can I do for you?"

"Well," I said. "I have unresolved issues."

"Ahhh...I see," he said.

Obviously he had done this a zillion times before. In his occupation, he was used to people with unresolved issues. He gave me a kind, if totally disinterested, smile.

I smiled back. I attempted to explain but he continued smiling as if he'd heard it all before. Which I'm sure he had. "Let's see what we can do," he said. Then he started typing. I became uncomfortable. It seemed to take forever. How much was this going to cost me, anyway?

"That will be $17.50," he said.

"God, that's a lot," I said.

He handed me back my library card.

"I've seen worse," he said.

As usual, that was nice to know.

So anyway, according to my library account, I have no more unresolved issues. If only the rest of my life could be so easily settled. I am 43-years-old and am physically falling apart. I will spare you the really gory details of this and stick with the more palatable aspects. Today I got bifocals. Well, I pick them up on Thursday. I have no idea what I picked out because a) I can't frickin' see anything and b) my pupils were dilated at the time I was supposed to be looking at myself in the mirror with various styles of frames over my owlish eyes. I told the guy I wanted cute glasses and he showed me a bunch of old lady glasses. I have a small face and I was expecting all kinds of help from an expert like you see on the commercials on television, but he was pretty much like, "Well, here are the frames. Don't get anything too small since you're getting BIFOCALS."

"What is too small?" I asked.

"Well," he said. "See these tiny numbers in the lower right hand corner of this almost invisibly small tag? You're looking for frames without these little numbers."

"I can't see anything other than a tremendous glare," I said, while squinting through pupils the size of Texas. I might as well have told him I had unresolved issues. He was totally disinterested.

"Call me when you're ready," he said.

"Ready for what?" I asked.

"To check out," he answered.

So I have no idea what I got. I think they are kind of brownish/reddish. I think they have something shiny on the side, although that could have been the blinding glare of the fluorescent lighting. It is kind of exciting. At my age, excitement is coming more and more in the form of things like thrilling bifocal options.

I have never done anything gracefully. It is doubtful I'm going to start with aging. I'm all for ungraceful falling apart, instead. Anyone care to join me?

Finally (is this a long post or does it just feel that way because of my tremendous headache due to my dilated pupils?) - here is a link to Ellie's performance on Saturday. She played her first concerto. Her teacher is playing on the second piano. She did so great! Quality isn't so hot but the sound is good enough to be enjoyable. I am so totally obnoxiously proud. (You can also get to the link on my sidebar...it is labeled "our daughter's latest latest performance").


Sardine Mama

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

School of Sardines - Back in Session?

Even though we don't have a school year where we stop and start our learning (it is like breathing, after all), many of the activities we participate in tend to follow the school year. So we still have the feeling of "starting school"...dance lessons, music lessons, Odyssey of the Mind, Girl Scouts....

So, what does that look like for us? First of all, let me explain a little bit about unschooling. Does it mean the kids run wild all day long in total mayhem? Sometimes. Does it mean vegging out in front of the television or video games all day long? Occasionally. But for the most part, it just looks like normal life. If I were to peek in the boys' room right now I'd see (by the sounds of it) one boy having a sword fight, living out whatever little scene he's just created in his miniature LEGO world...and a teenager obliviously reading in his loft bed, unconscious of the battle being played out beneath him. Both of these things are learning. Both are engaging. Both are getting creative juices flowing.

If I were to peek in Ellie's room right now, unschooling will find her looking very much like a school kid - as she pours over a Critical Thinking textbook, taking notes, iPod buds in her ears...she is a 10th-grader taking two college courses through community college.

If I were to peek in the little kids' room (based on fleeting images I've had from my sedentary spot in my chair) - there is an active game of dress-up going on. Camille is now singing LOUDLY - Jasper is wearing his PJ's and a hard hat, with a mask literally taped to his face.

Typical school day for us. And yet, somehow, the three older ones all learned to read and are voracious readers. They all have fields of expertise based on intense interests in things of which I know absolutely nothing about. They are interested in their community and the world around them and will often silently whip past me on their way to examine the globe...."What are you looking for?" I'll ask. "Bolivia..." they'll absentmindedly answer, obviously lost in their own thoughts....or recently I've heard, "Georgia...or Russia...or Afghanistan..." And yet, people still ask me how I know they're learning anything. How did I know I was learning anything? I received a report card with relatively good grades, yet I know not a fraction of what was on those ancient tests I obviously passed. Was that learning?

Their school friends labored over summer reading lists assigned by teachers. My kids were perplexed. Why was this seen as a problem? "Don't you like to read?" they'd ask. Their friends were like, "Yes, we like to read. But these books are awful..." and then they'd go on to list some of my kids' favorite books. One of Ellie's friends was assigned The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. "Wow!" I thought to myself. "What an awesome assignment!" I was impressed. It is a favorite of mine and Ellie's. But her friend was hating it because he a)HAD to read it and b) was forced to write a paragraph summing up each chapter. blah. We have no summer reading lists, here. We have a house full of books, and kids who find reading to be very entertaining. No summation paragraphs required.

How does Unschooling differ from regular Homeschooling? Well, that distinction isn't always made and certainly isn't always needed. In the beginning of the movement (60's and 70's) all homeschooling was unschooling. Unschooling was a product of the anti-establishment movement. A few families began pulling their kids out of government-sponsored schools to teach them at home. They didn't try to emulate the schools at home. They learned through various methods, and on their own timetable. In the 80's, Christian fundamentalists began pulling their kids out of schools in large numbers. The Homeschooling Movement came out of hiding as these numbers swelled, and capitalism being what it is, a huge industry cropped up to meet the needs of these families. Suddenly, you could buy everything a regular classroom had, and do "school at home". So homeschooling was more and more a smaller and more personal version of "school", and unschooling, learning through living and interaction with the community, became a faction of homeschooling.

Today these two groups often overlap each other, families mostly are pretty fluid year to year in what they use as their needs change, and a large number of families wouldn't even begin to know how to fit themselves into any kind of slot.

Unschoolers will have times when you cannot tell they are unschooling...looking at their day might reveal structure, textbooks, workbooks....but it is what you can't see that identifies them as unschoolers; the motivation. Sometimes a family turns to schooling due to a child's request to "try it". Because it is a natural consequence of the child's curiosity and desire to explore, using full-fledged curriculum in this case would be total unschooling. Sometimes the appearance of schooling is the result of pursuing specific goals. For example, Ellie wants to go to college, and she's pretty sure she wants to go to a really good college. So her life right now is revolving around meeting admittance requirements for several small liberal arts schools. This means textbooks, preparing for the SAT, etc.

Unschooling is simply child-led learning - on the child's own time table. What if a child doesn't want to learn the "necessary" things? Well, then they aren't necessary. People learn BEST the things that are necessary. Jules found it necessary to read to play the computer games he wanted to play. So at 9, he began to read. Joel found it necessary to write legibly to fill out the Odyssey of the Mind forms he needed to hand in last year, so he focused on handwriting for a month and has beautiful handwriting. He is almost 14 - but obviously, until now, legible handwriting simply hadn't been necessary. But how will they see the need for things like algebra, you might ask. Well, for most of us algebra really isn't necessary, is it? However, if you want to go to college, it is necessary in order to gain admittance. So you take it, because it is necessary for you to reach your goals. Ellie has just started algebra II not because she is interested in it, but because she realizes it is necessary. Since she has not been forced to memorize and regurgitate unnecessary and irrelevant information throughout her entire education, this is not a big deal. She is not numb to it. And because she is totally unfamiliar with the "memorize it and spit it back out" method of learning, she is actually trying to learn it - because that is the only way she has ever learned anything.

Jeff and I practice Attachment Parenting. Attachment Parenting implies physical attachment (baby-wearing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping) but it also about responding to the needs, both physical and emotional, of children and respecting that those needs will be different for each child. The idea is that when you totally meet the needs of a child, the result will be a very self-confident and independent teenager/young person/adult. With our family, this seems to be working out very well. Unschooling our children is an extension of Attachment Parenting. Just as we didn't question whether or not a child was hungry or sleepy and trusted that they knew that way better than we did (whether the clock said they should be or not) - we don't question what they need or want to learn. Who says you have to learn the layers of the Earth's crust during a certain year, or memorize the steps to the scientific method? Isn't more relevant to know that there are layers and there is something called the scientific method and why? And where to find the information when it becomes relevant?

There is too much knowledge in the Universe for someone to sit down and map it all out very neatly on a timeline and decide to "teach" it. You simply can't get it all to fit! Even if you lived to be 200 years old, you could never learn everything. So to the "Aren't you afraid you're going to leave holes in their educations" question...I say this: We all have holes in our educations, obviously. The danger is having a society where everyone has the same holes.

Well, back to school! I have important things to oversee...must go find the little fishies, first.

Sardine Mama

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I'm no Mom of the Year BUT....

Labor Day was spent laboring around here (no, I have not had another baby). We pulled weeds in the garden, repaired some fencing, and tried to get the bull we're planning to slaughter into the front pasture where the green Bermuda is the perfect height to fatten him up. We had 50% success with that. He was in the field briefly. Like most young males, he thinks with two organs, neither of which are his brain. After filling one of the organs (his stomach), he broke through the fence to get back to the herd of cows. Hence, the fence repairs. We should have turned him into a steer. We won't make that mistake again.

Speaking of green pastures, our pastures are GREEN! This is not always the case this time of year. We did not get any rain from this last hurricane but we are pretty damp as it is. And speaking of the hurricane - New Orleans dodged this bullet - hooray! We have very good friends in New Orleans who stayed with us during Katrina. One family only sustained minor damage, the other lost everything and moved to nearby Franklinton. Everyone is OK this time around!

Over the weekend I had a very important date. Jeff and I take turns (as do my sister and dad) taking the kids on date nights. It was my turn to take Jules. We had a great time but I was reminded about how rarely we go into the city anymore. We went to see Journey to the Center of the Earth, which Jules LOVED. The movie theater we went to was really big - well, average sized for a metro movieplex. Jules was just way too excited. He is used to our movie theater, which has just expanded to include 3 screens. It is downtown with a typical south Texas storefront. You buy your tickets outside at an old-timey ticket booth, then proceed into the lobby which is about half the size of my living room, where you buy popcorn from a local teenager. Then, until recently, you went either to the right or left of the popcorn counter, through a little black curtain, to enter one of the theaters. Now we also have the choice to go down the hall to the left to the THIRD theater. Very exciting! Also down the hallway are new bathrooms. The old bathrooms were in the lobby. There was one for men and one for women, both of which were one-seaters. If you sat near the back in the first theater, you could hear the toilet flushing (and the popcorn machine popping) during quiet moments of the film. When Jeff and I went to see Batman he came running down the hallway yelling, "Come look at the new bathrooms! Come see!" Now this is a man who travels extensively and regularly sees "big" bathrooms. But he was obviously (to my embarrassment) quite thrilled with the new facilities. So back to Jules - he gets very excited to go to big movie theaters in the city. We got our tickets first, then went to grab a bite to eat. It was a quiet meal. Our conversation went pretty much like this:

"When is our food gonna be ready?"

"Shortly. Are you looking forward to the movie?"

"Yeah. Do you think our food's almost ready?"

"Probably. Would you like to read the Jules Verne version of the story?"

"I guess. I wonder when the food is going to be ready."

Finally the food was ready. The lively conversation continued and consisted of:

"So...do you like curly fries?"

"Yeah. Do you?"

"They're alright."

The movie was great, if you are a ten-year-old. Jules is a ten-year-old. He loved it, loved it, loved it. After that we went to Borders to get a book or two. He was all wide-eyed and I was like, "Oh my God! Have I never taken this kid to a bookstore?" Gulp. I honestly don't think I have. He goes to the library weekly. Occasionally he asks for a book to be bought from Amazon. I'm pretty sure he's been in a Half-Priced Books location, but inside a big, gigantic, overwhelming bookstore? I don't think so...Bad mommy. Going to Borders tends to be something I do by myself. I love to grab a cup of chai and browse for a couple of hours....

We bought the 3rd Percy Jackson book for Jules, as well as, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. He then bought his brother an Indiana Jones movie for his birthday, and I picked up The Golden Compass for him, too. We have Journey to the Center of the Earth at home, and that is Jules' choice for our next "folding" book. Folding books are books that are read as long as the boys are folding clothes :).

Can we discuss a bit of national news, here? I have been thinking about Governor Palin and her situation. Her family is struggling with an unplanned teen pregnancy. Many American families (including some of my friends and relatives) have had to struggle and adjust to this challenge. I believe it is truly a private matter, and doesn't speak badly of the girl. Teen pregnancy can happen in any family, even in the ones that think it never will. All that being said, why is it bothering me so much? I think it all boils down to the fact that, as a mom of five children who consume my waking (and sleeping) hours, I am struggling with understanding her choice to take on such an overwhelming responsibility as becoming the vice-president of the United States (and let's face it - taking McCain's age and history with cancer into consideration - possibly the President of the United States) in light of what has to be a very trying time for her family. I was first put off by her decision to leave a 4-day-old severely handicapped baby who was born prematurely, to go back to work. I know quite a few working moms of great kids, and have juggled the briefcase and breast pump myself, but this is truly an extreme situation. I have NEVER known a woman who CHOSE to leave a 4-day-old baby to go back to work, and can't imagine I ever will. Especially a baby that has Down Syndrome. The baby is now 4-months-old and will be needing extensive early intervention, therapy, medical treatment, and possibly surgical procedures. And she's choosing to hit the campaign trail? Now, coupled with this new knowledge about one of her other children's needs, I am convinced that her family values and mine do not match. Her husband works in the oil industry, so it isn't like he is staying home being Mr. Mom. When I saw Palin holding her 4-month-old against her navy blue business suit, all I could think of was how inconvenient it would be to nurse in such an outfit. I think most parents in her situation would be looking for ways to cut hours and stress at work, at least temporarily. Running for the second highest office in the country doesn't seem to be what "most" Americans (women or men) would do, during a time like this. So is she really in line with "most" Americans?


Sardine Mama