Thursday, November 26, 2009

Give Thanks

The first few years that Thanksgiving was at our house, I used to (try to) make everyone say what they were thankful for before eating. Then, after a couple rounds of that, I realized . . . hearing what other people are thankful for is really annoying. You put people on the spot and they're not sure what to say, so they say something contrived and meaningless. And there's too much copying.

This year, Thanksgiving is at my parent's house, and I'm hoping they don't force the give thanks issue. But still, I'm feeling inspired ever since Daisy brought home a painting of a turkey attached to this statement . . .

I am thankful for many things. I love dogs. I love you Mom. I love bats. And most of all, I love my family.

That's just the kind of random gratitude that I can appreciate. And if you're as easily annoyed as me, you better stop reading now because I'm about to be grateful.

I am thankful for many things. I love green moss. I love you, daughters. I love bubbly water. And most of all, I love my family and friends.

Don't be shy. You know you want to.

Picture 1:
Picture 2:
Picture 3:
Picture 4:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

That's Unusual

Our house is falling apart. We've put very little work into it and it shows. When a balcony began to noticeably disintegrate, my husband took it on but quickly realized he was out of his league. The contractor and his carpenter started the demolition last week, the rotted wood crumbling in their hands, and they pulled out more and more wood. The balcony is gone and so is most of the outside of the house in that area. Now, we're talking about taking out a kitchen wall and a corner of the living room. The contractor said the person who built the house skipped a few protective measures. He was also surprised to find thousands of ants living inside the rotted wood on the second floor. His comment was, "I've never seen that before. That's very unusual."

I had Violet assessed by the speech therapist early Monday morning. She qualified for an IEP and come January, I'll be taking her to therapy two mornings a week. The therapist had Violet identify objects in various pictures. She noticed that Violet's vocabulary is decent but she systematically drops the first consonant sound of words, e.g., eep is sleep and ayround is playground. However, she'll pronounce some of the same consonant sounds at the end of words. The therapist said, "This is very unusual. I don't think I've seen this before."

Today was a teacher conference for Daisy's first report card of first grade. She is doing well in some areas, but the teacher expressed concern that she is markedly behind in key areas such as reading, writing, and number fluency. The things that were always effortless for me from a young age aren't for her, and I have to remind myself that they shouldn't be . . . she's a different person.  She is also strong in areas that weren't so easy for me at her age . . . she's very social and verbal in class. The teacher said what stands out is her ability to express what she's feeling throughout the school day, "She's unusual in that way." She's had an ongoing problem with getting stomachaches and feeling homesick at school.

What's really unusual is these situations aren't stressing me out. I believe that pretty much everything in life happens in cycles. For the last several months, I've been in a bad part of the stress cycle, in a perpetual state of bracing myself for that last straw to drop before the camel's back was toast. But I gathered some strength, got my endurance back up, circumstances shifted and BAM, I can once again deal calmly with adversity, even the unusual kind.  Watch this . . . I have an unusual number of things to do tomorrow . . . It is unusual that a relatively new dryer should suddenly break, just like all my other appliances . . . It was unusual when my dog ran in front of that police car today . . . See? No stress!


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Watch the Country Get Fired

Saturday is usually prime writing time for me as I teach two-hour classes comprised of well-behaved students who dutifully listen to lecture then focus on their own writing, rarely needing assistance. Today, however, I'm having trouble focusing on writing as I am in TERRIBLE PAIN. I pulled something in my back this morning when Violet crashed headfirst into a newel post. (You like my awesome new stair vocabulary? I looked up stair anatomy because I couldn't figure out what to call the first post in the handrail thing, not to be confused with the interior balusters a.k.a. inner post things.) I reached down to scoop up my daughter after she slammed her chin and one knee so hard that there was an extra long pause before the loud cry.  I didn't feel it at first but when the adrenaline subsided, I realized . . . GOOD GOD, MY BACK HURTS LIKE HELL!

So, while my students flipped through their Oxford Americans to complete an intensive vocabulary exercise, I did random Google searches. A generic search for "unemployment" led me to this awesome time-lapse graphic. You can watch the country get fired . . . check it out.

I'm not sure what to do with this information . . . I could say that I feel better I'm not alone. (The unemployment stats represented in the graphic include people who are in the same situation as me: "involuntarily working parttime.")  Us unemployed people love to be reminded that we're in lots of good company. And if you are employed - or otherwise solvent - you should be feeling pretty bad ass right about now, or thanking your lucky stars . . . depending on what kind of person you are.

It is very concerning to see the projection that unemployment will stay above 10% until 2015, although it's intriguing to think about the possible effects of widespread unemployment over the next several years. Will we become less materialistic? More creative? Less wasteful? Will college enrollment decrease? Will altruism increase? Which type of businesses will thrive and which will become extinct? Hmm . . .


Wednesday, November 18, 2009


My 3-year-old daughter Violet is delayed in speech. She talks, but a lot of what she says is unclear. I’ve been dragging my heels on enrolling her in preschool for this reason. Most people can understand about 50% of what she says, her dad 70%, me 90% and her sister 99%. We’re having her assessed by the school district next week, and it’s likely that she’ll qualify for speech therapy. (A speech therapist I know reminded me recently that once a child is three in California, the local school district is obligated to provide speech therapy if needed.)

The other day, Violet tried to tell me, “I wan bah be a bomb.” I didn’t get it. I asked her to say it again, then again and again, and she was getting more and more frustrated. I turned to Daisy and asked what her sister was saying. Daisy sighed, “She wants to go to” I thought she was joking at first but when I turned back to Violet, she was nodding her head. How do you guys know about Daisy explained patiently, “We heard about it in a commercial. You can play games on it and dress up Barbie. It’s for kids. Can we use your computer? Please?” I told them NO WAY. I oh so gracefully vented something like this: It’s too late. You’ve made a mess and you’re not even helping me clean up. Daisy, you need to start your homework . . . and I don’t know why either of you would be expecting to go on my computer when you don't take care of your own things! “Please?” NO!

I actually don’t have that much of a problem with Barbie. If you believe what you see on flickr, she might not always be a role model in her off time.  However, she’s improved in all sorts of ways over the years. She comes in a rainbow of colors. She’s career-oriented. Barbie is a veterinarian, race car driver, surfer, teacher, musician and dog walker. She occasionally wears work boots. You’ll notice that in her recent movies, Barbie and her girlfriends use their brains and talent to save each other. They’re friendly with the Ken figures, but not necessarily looking for anything beyond friendship. The modern Barbie is solidly “chicks before sticks.”

The main problem is I don’t want the kids using my laptop, which is the only reliable computer in the house. I just got it last spring – I’ll be making payments on it for the next couple years – and there’s already been a freak accident. I was on the laptop when Violet tripped from several feet away and somehow splashed an entire glass of lemonade into the keyboard. The keyboard was pretty messed up, so Dell sent me a new one that I had to install myself, and ever since then, there is a panel around the keyboard that won’t snap down all the way. I really don’t want to let Miss Wear and Miss Tear have their way with it.

After thinking it through, I realized that is an opportunity for young fans to improve their literacy and eye-hand coordination. So last night, I set the kids up. The first game involved using party favor bags to catch items falling from the sky, such as lipsticks and cupcakes. After the first round, Daisy rubbed the initial scores of 600 and 0 in Violet’s face. Violet took it pretty hard but we cheered her on to a score of 400 in the next round. Their favorite activity, however, was styling Barbie Fairytopia – from her hair to her wings to her shoes. After about an hour, I shut it down but it was like taking crack away from an addict. The kids, all crazy eyed, wouldn’t let go of the laptop and I had to literally pry their sweaty hands away.

So I made the Barbie heads an offer . . . they can earn computer time by helping me clean up. Violet got to work right away, enthusiastically singing the clean-up song Daisy and I have been trying to teach her for the last year. I explained that they were earning credit for tomorrow as they already had a turn and it was almost time for bed. But bedtime would not deter Violet's devotion. At 4 a.m., Violet woke me up with “I wan bah be a bomb ri now.” I sent her back to bed. She came back at 6. I sent her back to bed again but it didn’t stick. Maybe I should have thought this thing through a little more. Thankfully, they’re at daycare now so it's peaceful. But soon, it will be time to get pumped for the negotiations at pick-up time.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bad Influence

It started with the heaps of toys . . . the sparkly My Little Ponies, big-haired Barbies, and confetti of Polly Pocket parts. I could blame it on Grandma but I let it happen. Daisy and Violet were the kids with an overabundance of toys that might or might not be allowed at their friends' houses. It's not that I lack standards . . . I drew the line at Bratz dolls - too sassy (yet somehow, one Bratz still infiltrated the basket of Barbies under Daisy's bed). Playdates at our house were live infomercials for the latest pink plastic, much to the other parents' enjoyment.

Then there was television. Although I don't advocate for kids watching TV, I am a realist. Children will watch TV, and parents might as well use that fact to their advantage. If TV is severely limited, children will waste time figuring out how to get to houses where TV watching flows. Once finally in front of a TV, the sheer novelty might result in abnormally long periods of screen time, the child helpless to move away. So, if a playdate I'm hosting turns sour, I don't hesitate to put on one of the many DVDs that accompany our toy collection (again, I could blame Grandma). I did get the vibe that not every parent feels the same way after numerous debriefings at pick-up time . . . "So, how'd it go?" Oh, fine. We hit a wall about an hour and a half in so I put on Diamond Castle Barbie. Not afraid to use a little TV when necessary. . . am I right? Silence.

The other parents have actually been mostly nice about my lenient TV habits. I tend to stay away from the rigid types anyways. I've been particularly thankful for my understanding parent friends ever since the disastrous naked-man playdate. That one was ambitious to begin with . . . instead of having just one girl over for each of my girls, I had three who were Daisy's age and no one for Violet. I have never been with a group of five-year-old girls when someone wasn't being left out. Throw in a tag-along little sister and you've set the stage for drama.

At the infamous naked-man playdate, I had a craft table ready to go as a distraction from the drama and while we worked, we somehow got on the topic of earthquakes. Without thinking it through, I told the story of when my youngest brother bolted from the shower during an earthquake. In complete terror, he ran naked out the front door and down the street. After hysterical laughter, the girls were suddenly chanting, "Naked man! Naked man! We like naked man!" Um, does anyone have another story? You guys want to watch Kung Fu Panda? But they could smell my fear and despite doing everything I could to get them to drop it, the only topic of conversation until their parents arrived - and after - was the dreaded naked man. "Mom, she told us about a naked man!" The parents responded with what I would describe as cautious surprise. I sheepishly told the story and sent the kids home to reportedly continue the naked man jokes for days. Were we getting a rep?

The answer was yes. One of Violet's two-year-old friends went home after another playdate at our house and showed her parents that she had learned how to "shake my booty." The father apparently asked, "What is going on over there?" And really, I'm not sure because I don't remember any dancing that time . . . but kids are always showing each other new tricks. Daisy started sucking on her hair and using markers to "paint her nails" after playdates at other houses. That's weird, right?

I wish I knew who taught my kids their latest trick - mooning. I was at the shake-my-booty girl's birthday party last Sunday. The adults had been talking in the living room for a while, so I went to check on the kids in the backyard. To my horror, I discovered my daughters instructing the rest of the group in what mooning was as well as strategies to maximize the impact (I refuse to elaborate). I stopped them then solemnly returned to the living room. "I guess I should tell you my daughters have just taught all your kids how to moon people. I'm sorry." I'm pretty sure the other parents will forgive, but they will never forget.


Friday, November 6, 2009

You've Been Warned

Today was one of those days that compels me to sound the alarm to anyone I know who has innocently expressed the desire to have children. Babies might be darling and they smell good . . . and those silky fingers and toothless smiles . . . but no, do not under any circumstances fall blindly into the baby trap. Those precious bundles turn into small savages who will dismantle your life as you know it. You will become intimately involved with body fluids. You will lose your sleep, your temper, your money, your capacity to put together a decent outfit on a daily basis. Let me put it this way . . . mom jeans were no accident.

If you read my H1N1 shot saga, you will understand that I fell exhausted into bed at the end of that day. I was woken up from a lovely dream when I realized Violet was perched over me, announcing, "Me ti-ud." Um, go back to bed then. "Pease you ome with me." I sluggishly walked her back to her room to tuck her in then beelined back to bed. Just after falling asleep again, she was back, announcing "My ummy huts." I barely had time to process what she said before I was drenched in vomit. All I could think was . . . what about me says "vomit target" to my children? What about their dad? What about the toilet?

This afternoon, I was preparing to leave the house to get Daisy and her friend from school . . . the friend's mom wasn't feeling well. I wanted to make sure to be on time as I have been known to run a few minutes late and this other mom often saves me. I called out for Violet, having just checked on her a few minutes ago, and there was no response. I found her in the bathroom with a guilty look and an ominous smell. I will spare you the details of what might go wrong for a recently potty-trained child. If you're not experienced in taking care of young children, you certainly can't handle the truth.

We were almost on time for pick up. I could see the kids coming out of the classroom from a distance and my daughter and her friend looking around in confusion as Violet and I ran towards them. Actually, it was more like I ran while yanking Violet by the hand. She didn't seem to mind though, even thanking me, "Nice ride, Mom." I told the girls we could hang out at the school playground for awhile but then we needed to go to Costco.

The process of getting the girls from the playground to the store was frustrating, full of arguments, complications and drama. I offered to take my daughter's friend with us, thinking I owed her mom and how hard could it be anyways? Well, what's worst than two whiny kids at the store? Clearly, it's three. I was pummeled by the constant negotiations . . . no, we will not be eating dinner at the food court . . . no, you cannot try the cappuccino . . . no, we will not be buying the large stuffed pony . . . no, I cannot buy sparkly dresses for all of you. Each plea was pitched repeatedly, tirelessly.

By the time we stepped into one of the checkout lines, I was looking forward to getting the hell out of Costco. Just as we got to the front of the line, I heard Violet - who was several feet behind me and in plain view of most of the checkout lines - screech, "ME GO PEEPEE!" I turned around to the sound of a crowd erupting in laughter and the sight of my daughter squatting with her dress pulled up and her bare butt sticking up in the air. I ran to her, yelling "NOOOOO!" then abruptly ordered the older girls to take her to the bathroom, while the person working the register waited impatiently for me to hand over my card.

As we finally made it out of the building, the lady checking the receipts offered to draw three smiley faces on ours, starting a frantic debate about who was going to hold it, which ended in upset feelings all around. It's days like today that make me think of a childhood friend who started having kids before me. The woman has motherhood dialed. She now has five boys . . . she's given birth to a basketball team. Shortly after Daisy was born, I called her for advice. She hesitated before answering my question, explaining that she and her husband were "anti-kid" that day. Her statement seemed a little harsh to my new baby sensibilities. Little did I know.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Counseling Wednesday

I am one of those people who can normally go pretty deep in the feelings realm. I can tell you what's bothering me without being accusatory and listen to what's bothering you without getting defensive. I can usually pinpoint what my feelings are, where they're coming from, and deal with them so they don't seep through passively or explode aggressively at a later date.

But I'm going through an intense period right now and my capacity to deal with the emotional thunderstorm is wavering. I started counseling last week, which I initially had mixed feelings about because I've witnessed some heavy bs coming from counselors I've worked with in schools and otherwise known in the past. Counselors can be as subjective, egocentric and misguided as the next person. However, as my brother said, having the perspective of a neutral party is sometimes helpful. And it's fortunate that our family insurance pays for a certain number of sessions per year with a minimal copayment.

I was a little nervous on my way to the appointment. . . wasn't sure what to expect. When I arrived at the office, there was no one in the waiting room. The sound of rushing water came from one of those little white noise machines, probably to blot out the sounds of therapy in the adjoining room. I sat down and looked around at the pamphlets and business cards, wondering if the counselor was going to be new agey. I was a little surprised when the door was opened by a gray-haired guy in jeans with a noticeable New York accent.

I walked into his large office filled with couches, a few chairs, a desk, bookshelves and a dry-erase board. There was a teddy bear tossed on the floor in one corner. He didn't tell me where to sit so I picked a chair. My thought was . . . you'd better not try any teddy bear exercises with me, buddy. The room was dim. The counselor sat across the room from me and was quiet. I pushed away any lingering anxiety as we sat there and breathed. I was proud of myself for not smiling idiotically or giggling nervously.

The hour that ensued was actually pleasant. I talked about some serious stuff but we were able to keep it lighthearted, joking at times. He talked about the theory that within each of us is a parent, adult and child. The parent is the authority figure, the adult deals with information, and the child is either happy or sad. Problems can arise when individuals don't parent their own inner child or they relate to significant others unevenly i.e. parent to child instead of parent to parent or child to child. I found the concept to be personally relevant and left the appointment feeling strong and clear about things. After the appointment, I had a presentation to give at one of the learning centers, and it was the type of thing that might normally make me anxious but I nailed it. Hurray for counseling.

Of course, there's more work to be done . . . last night, I ran some errands, which included a stop at what used to be Long's but now is something called CVS/pharmacy. For some reason, the sudden change really upset me. I've been going to that store for 18 years and it's called Long's. What kind of cold, generic name is CVS/pharmacy anyways? And what's up with the new gray carpet that already looks dirty and why have they've gotten rid of some of the aisles? I walked around the store in tears and when I found myself waiting in line behind a teenager who was clearly on meth, I started to cry and switched to another line. Good thing today is Counseling Wednesday.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween 2009

Halloween was active this year. I swear I didn't sit down for a week.

This is Daisy's pumpkin project for class: a pumpkin woman with a jump rope. She designed it and I provided the glue gunning. It's decorated with all repurposed materials. I know, fabulous.

This is Daisy in her school parade . . .

. . . as her sister looks on jealously.

My mom's comment was that I was brave to wear this costume but she also thought there might be something weird about my husband's face. I don't care if I look ridiculous because Daisy was so excited when I met up with the group of neighbors who took her trick-or-treating . . . "My mom is Cleopatra! Have you seen my mom?!" Meaning I'll be wearing that costume for another 10 years . . . when she'll ask me not to dress up or talk to her in public.

This is what happens when kids eat candy for eight straight hours.

No one was sure of what Violet was but she screamed if we tried to put anything on her other than her "puple yayas" dress aka purple princess. Make-up by Daisy.

Halloween Art

This house has had an art installation made of cardboard every Halloween for the last 25 years. I've gone to most of the last seven and there's always a new theme that seems to be largely incomprehensible to those who stand before it. But it's worth some contemplation. This year's theme was "The Nuclear Family."