Saturday, December 13, 2008

Merely smaller and bigger versions

of each other.

Whether it's the way in which they verbally negotiate, read under their blankets with flashlights or fiddle with coins in their pockets, my two boys are one and the same in subtle, yet unmistakable ways. It's almost like seeing my own husband as a boy in stages and I often become nostalgic about somebody I never knew, yet somehow have always known in my own children. I think about my husband as a small boy and wonder about the kinds of things he liked to do or say. I don’t doubt he drove his mother to her limits with his incessant talking much in the same way my boys do to me (I'm starting to suspect that they enjoy my twitchy eye). And whatever his own parents did in raising him to be such a good father, I only hope I’m doing some of the same. They’re all so similar, these three boys I live with, almost as if they’re the same person. Each following a similar thread, but each at his own point in time, giving me glimpses of things past and things future.
And if I keep going with this train of thought, you’ll have nothing left to read but "A Christmas Carol" metaphors and symbolism. I’ve got sugar cookies on a cooling rack that need taste-testing anyway, so I really should be going.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Partly due to an ice storm that plundered the entire east coast last night and to some degree my selfish need to drink hot coffee, blog and be inside my warm home, the kids and I have learned some interesting things these last two days. Yesterday we learned that our Little Boy could write his name and today when asked to write letters again, he threw an eraser at my head and laughed fanatically because I AM NOT THE BOSS OF HIM. Fine, I say, wash your own batman underwear from now on. See if I care you adorable thing.

Today started like any typical day as I as dragged myself across the dining room floor, collecting stray legos and string cheese in my hair as I strained to find the coffee maker with my one opened eye. I mentally noted that I should find time to blog about how much of a morning person I’m NOT, but by the time I find time to write I’m usually cheerfully caffeinated and both eyes have come into focus, so I forget about my morning fog. But today felt like an all-day morning except I couldn’t continue drinking coffee lest I wanted to be up all night watching Adult Swim on Cartoon Network – which would’ve been all right except I’ve found I’m much nicer when I sleep.

So other than handing my big kids their structured math lessons, I didn’t have the energy or desire to put together paper lessons. (Despite knowing he’ll be home soon, having my husband gone on business creates a silent, invisible void that can be louder and clearer than anything.) Here’s where the internet becomes my best homeschooling friend. Actually the internet has become my best ever friend, long before the words home and schooling ever came together inside my mouth. Not only did we have excellent
spelling lessons, but we were able to learn everything there is to know about leeches and their medicinal purposes and blood worms, their four black teeth and how similarly their bite feels like a bee sting. A most excellent person allowed themselves get bitten on camera for our viewing pleasure. I’m fairly certain there isn’t anything cooler in a tween’s world than biting worms. (Well, we all know that sword fighting the cracken with Jack Sparrow while drinking a case of Mountain Dew would be much cooler but I don’t like to think about that.)

And now, now that my all-morning day is coming to a close and children are starting to get hungry, I have struck gold with Netflix’s on-demand television watching experience. One swift search for rad 80’s cartoons and I’ve scored myself an hour of quiet, glassy-eyed children. If you aren’t lucky enough to remember Astroboy, then you’re probably from Easton. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some days having kids can be compared to

a tiny headache approaching, the kind of headache that won’t stop you from doing what needs to be done but still feels faintly bothersome. Having children can be, at certain times, just like somebody grabbing your big toe and pulling really hard – it doesn’t exactly hurt, just rather unpleasant. It can also be like waiting ten minutes for the shower water to heat up, until finally realizing the pilot light is out and running to the basement, while cursing your husband for not showing you how to light the pilot and freezing your feet on the concrete floor because you didn’t wear slippers. Having kids can be like that some days.

But most days? Having kids is like getting a birthday present months after your birthday has passed. On most days having kids around is like licking a glob of real maple syrup off clean snow or playing tug-of-war with a fuzzy puppy. Generally speaking raising my kids is like my favorite pancake recipe (the one that’s wrinkled with overuse and brown from egg stains): they turn out right and we like to eat them a lot – the pancakes not the kids. Incidentally I refuse to admit here how often we eat pancakes for supper.

I don’t often have a ton of confidence in my parenting choices because I’m usually a second-guesser. (I suspect we’re all second-guessers to some extent but showing the chink in your Mama armor can be intimidating.) I might act like I know what the hell I’m doing but I regularly make it up as I skip along, avoiding the cracks so I don’t break my mother’s back. That’s one more reason why I like blogging - I can always refer back to my insecurities or convictions to get a bit of justification. I’m not as crazy as I anticipated? Fabulous!

I got a chewy little morsel of homeschooling awesomeness today, and yes I realize how often I mention homeschooling but saying those words aloud somehow make it feel more existent and substantial.

It’s not that I wondered if my Little Boy (I can no longer call him Toddler despite me wanting very much to ignore his very untoddler-esque qualities) could or couldn’t write his name - I just haven’t focused on those skills with him because he’s a loud, busy boy. A loud, busy boy who just wants to move constantly. Letter recognition seems to come in short bursts of rare quiet time (like, say, him having a fever?) and matching sounds with those letters must somehow be associated with tractors and fire trucks racing to the rescue. And no sooner do I write his name on a piece of paper, he is compelled to destroy it with glitter glue and pom-poms because, well, that’s what one does when destroying monsters and saving the planet. I assume.

He brought this to me:

After sitting with her:

He was grinning with pride because of Mama’s apparent gush fest (OH BABY LOOK WHAT YOU JUST DID! OH MAMA’S SWEET BABY BOY! DID YOU DO THIS?!) and she was proud because that’s what she does so astonishingly well - teach small people with patience and perseverance. If given time alone with a small person and without any competition, she’ll love, teach, love and play.

There was the occasional moment today when it felt like my big toe was being pulled, but these kids never fail to do something that reminds why I’m home and why I’m grateful to be home.

What happens when something

normally found in your own childhood memories, like a toy or gadget, resurfaces in your children’s present lives? Does it retain its previously trendy value? Or does it now fall under the retro category? Or neither? Maybe it’s just another something.

We found a cassette player (!!) with headphones at a local salvage/surplus store and lo and behold! Cassette tapes were also available for the bargain basement price of 2 for 99¢. We gave the archaic contraption to the Boy for his 12th birthday, along with a couple more contemporarily acceptable gifts and you would’ve thought we gave him a touch screen mp3 player/pocket camcorder that makes ice cream sundaes. I can only surmise his reaction came from not really knowing what the heck a walkman actually was or even realizing that he was born long after they’d served their sole purpose (to jog in neon-colored spandex while listening to AC/DC) and had died accordingly in 1990 following the birth of cd's. He likes the click whir click whir noises that accompany stopping, fast forwarding and rewinding. I suppose when you’re adapted to on-demand media and music it might be a mysterious treat not knowing where the next song is. It’s rather like he’s a sleuthy detective trying to crack the cold case #72 “Where’s That Song I Really Like?” and the fate the outcome rides on his mad button-pressing skills. That’s how it was for me anyway. I’d sulk on my bed, popping pimples and listening to Peter Frampton’s Premonition album, just wanting to hear number seven over and over. I had rewind button reflexes like a cat. An angsty cat wearing tapered-legs jeans and sporting a bad haircut that no amount of Rave #4 would fix.

It’s a good thing he’s homeschooled because as much I love him reading Calvin and Hobbes while listening to his walkman in 2008, I know that would totally get him beaten up in school.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Brown paper packages tied up with string

those are not a few of my favorite things, but these are: holiday baking, black and white movies, cinnamon bun candles, cinnamon bun candles burning while baking and watching black and white movies….

By the first turn of leaf in August, I begin fantasizing about how much fun December is going to be, how wonderfully spicy and warm my kitchen will smell, and how joyful my kids’ faces will be after testing every baked treat I’ve lovingly pulled from the oven. I even wear an apron sometimes. I completely romanticize December, despite having successfully lived through 32 of them and knowing full well that even with best intentions, it’s not all baking and caroling…..

But it is! In my head! I want to bottle this time of year just so I can lift the lid mid-February and remind myself how wonderful snow can be, how refreshing and not-at-all irritating slush on the cuffs of your pants can be, and how fun it can be to wear another wooly sweater because your nipples have turned inside out and have practically fallen off from the chill.

I’d make every flavor of fudge, bake every style of cookie, plan every silly snowflake craft and let my kids stay up every night watching old Christmas movies if it could be December all through winter.

I like my kitchen looking like this.

I live and die for like licking boiled chocolate off my shirt, jeans, stove top fingers.

And no, I didn’t bother to wipe the crushed walnuts or condensed milk from the corners of my mouth. I’m keeping it real.
And when would I ever get another opportunity to smash candy canes with my rolling pin if not for December? Not only do I create minty sprinkles but I’m able to release little frustrations too. I like to pretend the curly ends are Dick Cheney’s decrepit, pasty legs. Total epic kitchen.

Die puppet! Die!

Monday, December 08, 2008

If we could all walk around

with thought bubbles above our heads I think I’d write “The economy’s in the shitter and I’ve got three stockings to stuff” in mine for the month of December. I’ve become more frugal this year than I ever thought I could be. Actually more than I ever thought I would want to be. And because I’m in such a vastly different situation than my parents ever were, I’ve only viewed bargain hunting as a hobby, a chance to find a deal and get a thrill. Yeah that sounded SO DORKY. But it’s true, my mother bought us second-hand clothing because she had no other choice. I garage sale (yes, it’s totally a verb) and rummage at thrift stores just because I know I’ll eventually find what I’m looking for before the summer’s over and pay only a few dollars for it. But until recently, I didn’t view bargain hunting as essential, just fun. I’m truly starting to feel like it’s part of my responsibility in this family and I’m learning to adopt a more frugal lifestyle because it’s good for us, not just because I get a kick out of $2 Gap jeans. I’m so much less stressed about clothing my kids this year because I didn’t pay more than $1 for almost every single pair of jeans in their closets! And unless I divulge that information, you can’t discern what they’re wearing from store purchased. Although we’re fortunate enough to never go without new if ever I can’t find something frugally, there isn’t a day I’m not grateful for that. My parents never had that luxury and I’m not envious. I’m slowly learning how to acquire what we need and so much of what we want without feeling like I’m sacrificing. And secretly? I enjoy it. I think what has made the most difference is the group of people I’ve found through homeschooling. They live their lives in similar ways and having good company makes us feel more normal and less like a weird, homeschooled freak show who like to make their own Christmas toys.

Speaking of which, I tried my own version of homemade crayons and they’re pretty neat (Mr. Roger-speak is hip again in case you weren’t aware) and the multicolored drawings they create will totally make it onto the fridge (if you’re in competition with, say, your big brother for the most fridge art). If you’ve got broken crayons, cooking spray, muffin tins and an oven you can make these.

I coated the tins with cooking spray and filled them about halfway with broken crayons and crayon shavings left over from our autumn window hangings (I knew I’d use those later - yay for saving them frugal me!). Heat your oven to 200° and set the timer for 11 minutes.

After you take them out, let them cool for about an hour. When you’re able to hold the pan with your hands, run the bottom under cold water and give the pan a little twist.

Your new crayons should pop right out! I’ll be putting these in my three-year-olds stocking and I didn’t spend a penny. Oh god I’m awesome.

Seriously, I’m learning to reuse what we have and spend our money on more important things, like good dark chocolate or a babysitter.

There's a boy.

And he’s mine.

He’s mine in that I never knew I always needed him until I met him. I met him and we played swashbuckling pirates with swords and sealed our fates. He chased me around his house, laughing and climbing on me and drenching me with his little boyness. I knew if for no other reason than simply to be his mother, I was going to marry his father. And yes, I often let my twisted emotions hold the flashlight as I stumble through life’s dimly lit tunnels. But that’s how I operate and it’s reason #592 why marrying a left-brained person was in my stars.

You, my son, are also left-brained….logically, rationally and objectively left-brained. You’re one of my loudest voices of reason besides that of your father and I sometimes wonder if I tell you often enough how much I appreciate your humble, unobtrusive pieces of advice. Example: “Mama, that’s the Spanish version of the manual.” Or “Mama, try turning it the other way.”

Thanks kid.

You helped keep me sane and truly unafraid during the year your Dad was gone. It was beyond difficult; it was a true test of our bonds and trust in each other to be without him for so long and to know hope he would be home soon. You? Stepped up and did the things your Dad asked of you while he was away. And you were never negligent or complained because that’s who you are. People repeatedly tell me what a considerate, kind boy you are and I although I’d like nothing more than to selfishly take credit for my marvelous parenting, it’s just who you are. It’s so simple yet so remarkable how good and faithful you are to those you love. I regularly question what right things I did to deserve your love.

I love you in such a different way than I love your sister and brother, and yet I love you in the exact same way. That’s exactly what I tell people when asked how it feels to parent a “step” child; it’s different but the same. They don’t know you’re not my stepson. They don’t know you’re mine and always have been. It’s just something we have and don’t remember not having.

You’re 12 today. You’re one year closer to leaving home and becoming a world-renowned zoologist. You're one photo album closer to no longer being my young child. You're one more angsty, hormonally charged tantrum closer to signing up for driver’s ed classes. You’re my first attempt at parenting a tween, a pre-teen and soon….a teenager. I already know you and I will compromise and make it out alive because we’re cool like that. (It’s your sister I’m terrified of.)

You were so thrilled because you got 12 wishes this time...

I’m going to borrow one of your wishes and hope that you never lose you what makes you so unique.

Shine on Keegan – I love you!

Lung infections and asthma

drain my ambition to write creatively or otherwise. That’s my excuse this time.