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Wednesday, 5 November 2003
It's Raining? It's Pouring?
Friday night, Al (my private investigator boss)called to see if I wanted to do some transcription for him. Forty or fifty pages, he said, due Monday morning.

"Sure," I said, thinking of two dollars a page. Forty pages? Easy as pie. I could do that in two nights, four hours tops. I could practically do that with one hand, in my sleep!

He called Saturday, hoarse, obviously sick, saying he'd bring the tape later and that he didn't need it until Tuesday morning. Excellent! Then, my dear husband who was extremely busy on Saturday (he had a funeral to prepare for, as well as the regular Sunday service), said from 1 to 3 p.m., he'd come home so I could get out of the house.

But then at 11:30 a.m., my friend, Paige, called, wondering if I could help her out by watching her 11 month old baby girl for a couple of hours. I said, "Sure, but I'm leaving the house at about 1 p.m. for a couple of hours." She said, okay.

But her husband didn't drop off baby Kyra until 12:30 p.m.! I called my husband and told him not to bother coming home. I'd just have some time off when the kids all went to bed! In addition to baby-care, I oversaw my son, TwinBoyB's, agonizingly slow progress working on a school book report. He spent four hours working on it!

Saturday night, then, found me rushing out of the house, gloriously alone, to see a movie. My timing was remarkably perfect and I enjoyed my bucket of popcorn and my movie.

Al's tapes were waiting for me when I returned home at 9:30 p.m. I said to myself, no big deal, I'll work on them on Sunday night and Monday night. Four hours, easy as pie.

Sunday was a long day, though. I stayed home from church because Saturday night from 1:30 a.m. until 4 a.m., Babygirl was AWAKE! I sat in my gliding rocker in the dark, nursing her while my feet got colder and colder, wondering if she'd ever sleep again. When I finally crawled back beneath the flannel sheets at 4 a.m., I had decided there was no way I was going to church! My throat was sore and my nose was runny from a lingering cold and now I was exhausted.

My husband was gone all day Sunday. All day. Which meant I was alone all day Sunday, alone, that is, with four children. Oh, it was a long, long day, especially since I'd had so little sleep the night before. And, somehow, he'd volunteered me to watch our friend's twin boys (9 years old) for the afternoon.

(Mid-way through Sunday, I found myself wondering if I was the only grown-up spending her life with kids twenty-four hours a day. I decided that somehow I'd been relegated to the "kid's table" for the rest of my life. I want to sit with the grown-ups! But that's another topic for another day.)

So, Sunday night I typed five pages and said, "I'm just too tired. I'll do it tomorrow." I'd spent 12 hours with my four kids, plus two additional kids for the afternoon, and during four hours of those hours, I worked with TwinBoyB as he attempted to write his report and I did this all without enough sleep and with a cold. And with a baby who wouldn't nap.

Monday came. My sweet husband came home for an hour to entertain Babygirl so I could type. I typed and typed and typed. My fingers are dry and two tips are so dry they have cracked. So, they bled. Still I typed as quickly as I could while my husband helped. But he went back to work and I resumed babycare.

Then, it was time to make dinner. The daycare baby's mama came to get him, and I toted Babygirl in one arm while I made dinner. But what's this? TwinBoyA hollers, "Mom! There's water everywhere!" I rush to the family room which is adjacent to the laundry room. There is water cascading over the floor and I immediately realize that the hose has come loose from its proper place behind the washing machine. All the water from the machine is now all over my floor! I leap into the laundry room and plug the hose back into the wall. "Get towels! Find all the towels in the house and bring them here!"

TwinBoyA runs upstairs, exhilerated to be participating in this adventure! He returns with an armload of towels. I scatter them into the puddles, trying to keep the water from creeping into the storage room.

The kids are all now trying to find towels. What fun! I'm barefoot, holding Babygirl, squishing across soggy towels when I smell burning. Burning? Ack! Dinner! I have spaghetti sauce on the stove. I hurry into the kitchen to examine the sauce. Apparently, the burning smell was just a stray crumb or something on a burner. Nothing has burned.

I call my husband to tell him I'm having a crisis and to ask him when he's coming home. He responds to my pleas and shows up about five minutes early and then he takes Babygirl from me and feeds her spaghetti and beans while I clean up water. Every towel in our house is now soaking wet and I have piles of laundry everywhere.

But, I get the baby to bed and I type! I type and type for three and a half hours . . . and somehow, I still have more to go! The forty page statement is now more than forty pages. It goes on and on and on! Al had greatly underestimated the length of the statements.

At 11:15 p.m., I went to bed, though I only had 47 pages finished. I figured I'd get up early and type. But I didn't.

Tuesday now. I expect Al to call bright and early. But he doesn't! My husband comes home again so I can type for an hour. He leaves and mostly, I take care of babies, but then DaycareKid takes a nap. Shockingly, Babygirl naps, too, but not until 2 p.m. Their naps overlap for one hour and I type! Al calls and I tell him how much I've done and that there is more to go. He says he'll call me at 9 p.m.

So I have a reprieve, but the moment Babygirl goes to sleep at 8 p.m., I'm frantically typing again, fingers bleeding, eyes scratchy, feeling crabby. I am almost finished when he calls to fix the "inaudibles."

I finally finish at 10 p.m. and I've typed 76 pages. That's over seven hours of typing. The good news? I've just earned myself $152. My laundry room floors are sparkling clean. And finally, today, there are freshly laundered towels in the bathroom again.

Tomorrow at 3:30 a.m., my husband leaves for four days. When did I turn into the Old Lady That Lives in a Shoe? Some day I'll miss this. Really.

Posted by Mel at 10:37 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:11 PM PDT
Permalink
Friday, 31 October 2003
Halloween!
I have a hacking cough and a headache and enough candy in my house to create a small village of gingerbread houses. The boys scored tonight! My husband took them out in the dark, forty-degree night and they came back an hour and a half later with loot, tons and tons of loot! Full pumpkin-buckets of candy, even full-sized candy bars.

YoungestBoy asked, "Mom, how many days until Halloween again?" He thinks this was the best holiday for kids ever. He dressed as "Roy", a Nintendo character. Basically, he had a purple cape, a matching purple headband and spiky red hair. He looked completely adorable, even if I had to shampoo his blond head three times to get all the red out.

The twins went as Ninjas, whatever that means! My husband came home from Target with packets of makeup. The makeup was horrible and didn't go on very well. It was black and white and red, but it was faded, not dark and defined like the picture showed. My husband said it was better than spending hours sewing and creating costumes and he's probably right, but there was very little satisfaction in smearing that watery stuff on their faces. They didn't care.

Babygirl skipped her nap today, so by 6 p.m., she was ready to be rocked and nursed to sleep. I put a pair of angel's wings on her and a halo made of a silver pipe-cleaner, and took her picture and called it a night! The boys left and I put a candy-bowl on the front step with a sign on the doorbell: "DO NOT RING BELL! BABY SLEEPING! HELP YOURSELF TO CANDY!" Then, I rinsed Babygirl in a bath, put on her jammies and nursed her to sleep. I put her down at about 7:15 p.m.

As I was gathering dirty laundry from upstairs, the boys came in with their bounty. They are now (at 9:20 p.m.) watching t.v. and complaining that they are hungry! I think they each have a hollow leg, as my dad used to say. In a few minutes, they'll be in bed, though, and this day will finally be over.

Just a word about jack-o-lanterns now. I love pumpkins. I love jack-o-lanterns. I love the happy or scary glow of pumpkins on porches, lighting the way to candyland. But I HATE carving them. Somehow I am the designated carver of pumpkins. I do not know how this happened! This afternoon, I was holding Babygirl in one hand and a large knife in the other, thinking that I was a horrible, bloody accident waiting to happen. As I was mentally cursing my husband's name, the phone rings.

It was the aforementioned husband, telling me he was helping Al. Helping Al?! He'd been sent to the store to buy batteries. Anyway, when he finally returned, he told me that he'd run into Al's wife, Kim, in the grocery store and she was very stressed out because she was having forty girls over for a party and the lines were long in the store and she had so much to do and all. So, my husband said he'd pay for her things and bring them by her house. "Really?" she said, and so that's how it happened that he helped out Al! He helped out Al's wife, while his own wife was at home, weilding a large knife and grumbling.

He's such a nice guy, how can he resist helping a damsel in distress?! And how can I complain about such a nice guy?

Now. To shoo the kids off to bed so I can steal all the Almond Joys from their candy buckets.

Posted by Mel at 9:23 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:13 PM PDT
Permalink
Wednesday, 29 October 2003
Every Mother's Right: Spying
Ten and a half year old TwinBoyB is my oldest child. He has a twin brother, but he was born first. (TwinBoyA, his twin, started life turned the wrong way, which I hope is not a bad sign.)

TwinBoyB has never been in a hurry, other than when he entered the world nine weeks early. As a baby, he didn't walk until he was seventeen months old. He turned two years old and only had four teeth. Where TwinBoyA sat straight and threw fits, TwinBoyB slumped and watched the world with calm interest.

TwinBoyB hated kindergarten. When I picked him up from school he would often chant in the car, "I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!" He wrote his letters completely backwards and upside down with faint, scratchy handwriting. He drew people without hands or feet. He depended on TwinBoyA to do the speaking for him.

Despite having some physical skill, TwinBoyB has never been motivated enough to be even competent in sports. He was bored in baseball and would forget what he was supposed to be doing while relegated way out in left field. He never wanted to go to his judo class. He's not much of a team-player. He'd much rather be in the backyard swacking the laurel hedge with a stick or digging a moat in the flowerbeds or throwing balls onto the roof.

TwinBoyB also loves to make noise. He chants. He makes weird mouth noises. He bangs things together. He sits at the electric keyboard and fiddles around. He taps his feet. He whistles.

So, he's joined band, playing the flute. He either hates it or loves it. One night he practiced for an hour, even though that morning, before band, he told me that he hated it. I think music will be his biggest area of interest, though he claims he wants to be a chef when he grows up.

Why does he want to be a chef? Well, first of all, he likes food. Secondly, he likes to help in the kitchen. And thirdly, as he told me, "I like knives." He just might be a chef when he grows up. Of course, he'll work at a restaurant which never serves vegetables or anything with a "yucky" consistency. And all the food will be very finely chopped up!

Last weekend, the twins were invited to a slumber birthday party. My husband and I decided that they could go to the party, but not spend the night. I had spoken to the father of the birthday boy to get a feel for what would be happening at the party. I refrained from asking, "Will you be showing the children porn and playing Russian Roulette?" but that's what I secretly feared.

The dad told me that they'd be walking down to the playground at the school to play games, then playing Nintendo for McDonald dollars later on.

So it was that I was hanging out in my front yard at about 5 p.m. on Saturday night with my baby when I distinctly heard the voice of TwinBoyA bellowing from the general direction of the school. Before I knew it, I had plunked Babygirl in her stroller and I was winding down the trail that leads from our street to the upper edge of the school grounds.

I could heard the boys' voices as I approached the chainlink fence. I stayed partially hidden behind some bushes and a tree trunk, but I could easily pick out my boys as they played kick-ball. That was TwinBoyA on first base (as the runner) and TwinBoyB playing second base on the other team.

But what did I hear?

"Him! We're losing because of HIM!" Someone yelling at my boy, TwinBoyB?

My ears perked up. Then I heard, "You! I am terrible at sports and YOU ARE WORSE THAN ME! You are TERRIBLE!!!"

Then TwinBoyA says, "Brother, pitch the ball! Pitch the ball!" Leave it to TwinBoyA to figure out a way to play kick-ball without being responsible for catching a ball or throwing it at someone to make an out.

The next kid kicks the ball straight to TwinBoyB and it goes between his legs. The boy played first yells at him again. I think that boy is about to suffer a heart attack or a stroke, or possible just a grand mal seizure.

I am ready to stalk down the rest of the trail and stomp on that snotty boy's toes! I am a split second away from a berserk screaming fit in which I yell my head off at that child who dares to tell my child he is a horrible kick ball player. I may just bonk that boy on the head with the kickball that I will snatch out of his grimy little hands. I'll show him!

But I stand in place, silent. Babygirl fusses a bit, wondering why we are still. But I stand. Alert, like a mother deer who is trying to be invisible. I wish my boy were invisible, too. How can I leave him to the cruelty of other boys?

But then, the pitcher switches places with him. TwinBoyB pitches the ball, a boy kicks it to the new second baseman, who promptly makes an out. The boys run in and I turn to leave. Quickly, before I hear any more.

I push the stroller up the hill, deeply disturbed. How will my boy, my sensitive, hedge-swacking boy, withstand the rudeness of boys his age? Will this first slumber party be a nightmare in his memories? Will he shrink into the walls at the party? Will the boys mock him until he cries?

I think about not telling my husband. I am so mortified that my boy was taunted. I wonder if I can somehow spy some more. My stomach hurts.

When I tell my husband, he tells me that it's no big deal. Everything will be fine. I think he's just saying that so I will leave him alone while he watches the sixth game of the World Series. Okay, so maybe I'm just unusually paranoid. I try to set aside the worry.

That night, at 10 p.m., I go to pick up my boys. Very casually, I say, "So, was everyone nice?"

"Uh-huh. So, Mom, it was really cool, we---"

"Really?" I say. "No one was mean or anything? What exactly did you do?"

They tell me about kickball and then playing Nintendo and eating cake and ice cream and watching a video.

"So," I say to TwinBoyB, "Everyone was nice while you played kickball? What position did you play?"

"Oh, I was pitcher, Mom! I'm a really good pitcher."

Huh. How strange. No tears, no bad reports, no tattling.

I tried to drag it out of TwinBoyA the next day. Nothing. I brought up the topic with TwinBoyB. Zip, zero, zilch, as YoungestBoy would say.

Apparently, my boy is unfazed by the slings and arrows of boys his age.

I, however, still want to pluck the nose hairs from that first-basemen until he recants and promises to be sweet to my kid. Forever. No matter what.

Even if TwinBoyB is a horrible kick-ball player.

Posted by Mel at 10:27 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:19 PM PDT
Permalink
Monday, 27 October 2003
Wishing Life Away
When I was a newlywed, I worked for a small law office in New Haven, Connecticut. An attorney practicing alone had taken on a partner and I was hired as her secretary.

She didn't have many clients because she was just beginning her solo practice, so I often spent long hours at a blank desk, day-dreaming about what I would name my five children some day. I'd talk long-distance to a friend of mine who was working in a law office in Chicago (she called me). I wrote long letters and journal entries. I was bored silly. I would stare out at the three churches in the center of the Green and wish I were somewhere else, doing something else.

When I would walk down the flight of stairs to deliver something or pick something up from Leo, the legal assistant, we would often chat for a few minutes. He was teaching me everything I needed to know. He was studying to become a lawyer, too.

One day, I was wishing aloud that it was time to go home and Leo said in his Boston accent, "Hey, now, don't wish your life away."

Huh.

That's exactly what I'd been doing. Wishing away the moments I had for some future I couldn't even see.

From time to time, I hear myself wishing my life away again. Yesterday, after church, for instance. Roberta sat next to me. She has a 23 year old son and an 18 year old daughter. She said, "How are you?" and I launched into way too many details about the lack of naps around here and how exhausting it is and how I feel like I've been doing this forever.

"What was I doing ten years ago?" I said. "This! What was I doing five years ago? This! What am I doing now? This!" I pointed to Babygirl each time I said "this", to indicate that I was at the mercy of a toddler's schedule and quirky habits.

She smiled and said, "I'd give anything . . ."

And I actually interrupted her and said, "Yes, I know. My husband told me this morning that I would miss having her completely dependent on me, but I DON'T THINK SO!"

She said, "It goes by so fast. My son is twenty-three."

Sigh. Why is is that the days last so long and the years are so short?

I should know this, of course. My ten year old boys were babies just twenty minutes ago, it seems. They do grow up fast. But, oh boy, this day lasted forever. She woke up at 7:30 a.m. and went to bed at 7:30 p.m., with two power naps while she nursed, lasting a total of an hour. She was crabby, she whined, she stomped her pretty little feet, she spit her lunch at me.

I realized today that I just am not going to get autumn decorations up. Time's short. The days are long, but time is short!

I've got to stop wishing my life away.

Posted by Mel at 9:07 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:21 PM PDT
Permalink
Sunday, 26 October 2003
A Day of Rest (Ha-ha)
Sunday again.

6:30 a.m.: Husband says: "Dear, it's time for you to shower."

"No. You shower first."

"No, you need to shower first so you're ready when Babygirl wakes up."

Ack. I shower and get ready for church. I'm tired. For some reason, I was up late watching "The Planet of the Apes" last night. What's wrong with me?

9:30 a.m.: We're at church. The twins have gone to sit with friends in the second row. I'm in the second to last row with YoungestBoy and Babygirl. Babygirl wastes no time in pulling all the little cards and pencils from the backs of the pews. YoungestBoy lays on his stomach and kicks the pew.

9:45 a.m.: Church starts. Babygirl likes the music and is distracted. A friend and her 11 month old baby sits next to us. Her baby "sings" during all the music. How cute!

10:15 a.m.: Babygirl paws at my dress. I take her downstairs and find a private place to nurse her. The children are all heading to their classes, too. I find a the World's Most Uncomfortable Recliner to sit in and nurse the baby. She falls right asleep. I sit with my neck crooked forward, trying to imagine who designed this pain-in-the-neck chair. Perhaps a chiropractor?

11:00 a.m.: Church ends. I jostle Babygirl awake and she cries. Darling little tears run down her cheeks. I pick up YoungestBoy while the boys head to the game room to play pool and air hockey. YoungestBoy makes a bee-line for the birthday cake--our church is celebrating the 80th birthday of a set of twins in our church. YoungestBoy has two pieces of cake. I attempt to give Babygirl bites of finger sandwiches, but she spits it all out. I discover that she hates cream-cheese frosting.

11:30 a.m.: We leave church. My husband, of course, stays behind. I take the children through the Wendy's drive-through because Wendy's has baked potatoes and that's exactly what I want. Only I forget and just order fries for everyone.

12:30 p.m.: Husband returns home.

12:45 p.m.: After a change of clothes, he takes Babygirl for a walk. The sun is shining though the air is a little chilly. It's a lovely day. When they leave, I go upstairs to change clothes. I want to get the flowerbed weeded before the rain returns. I become completely distracted by the state of my closet and begin cleaning it out.

1:45 p.m.: Husband returns with sleeping Babygirl. I put new film in the camera and take half a dozen pictures of her slumped over in her stroller, sleeping. Husband (God bless him) volunteers to sit on the porch and watch her while she sleeps so I can finish my project.

2:45 p.m.: Baby wakes. My closet is clean. Babygirl's clothes are sorted through, too, and the tiny sundresses are packed away. He brings Babygirl upstairs and she takes one look at me and bursts into angry tears. Husband leaves.

2:45 to 3:15 p.m.: Apparently, Babygirl has developed a sudden brain tumor. Or multiple personalities. Or a raging case of PMS. She screams if I hold her and struggles to get down. I place her on the floor and she stomps her feet and screams louder. Tears pour down her face. She wails as if an alien is about to burst out of her abdomen. After about fifteen minutes ("You want to go downstairs?" "You want a drink?" "You want a cracker?" "Shall we go outside?") of continuous fit-throwing, I figure out she's not ill. She's just pissed off.

I put her down and turn on a Wiggles videotape. She gets distracted for a few moments at a time and stops screaming. Eventually, the fit eases and she toddles off to find Mr. Potato-Head. Sigh.

3:15 to 5 p.m.: I play with Babygirl. The kids play with the each other. They play with Babygirl. I keep offering her food, but she doesn't want to eat. One molar has broken through, three more lurk right beneath the surface.

5 p.m.: Bathtime!

5:30 p.m.: Downstairs. The boys are going through the bath, one by one. The older boys made soup for themselves for dinner. I make YoungestBoy whole-wheat waffles with peanut-butter and syrup.

7:00 p.m.: I put new lightbulbs in two light fixtures in the yard. I love it when I actually accomplish something in a day.

7:30 p.m.: Babygirl goes to sleep!

8:00 p.m.: I clean up the kitchen. Fold laundry, move a load from washer to dryer. Put a new load in washer. Pick up living room. Husband comes home to find me on the computer. I can tell he thinks I've been doing nothing.

8:30 p.m.: Kids go to bed.

9:00 p.m.: Time to watch Alias!

Another Day of Rest completed!

Posted by Mel at 8:54 PM PDT
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:25 PM PDT
Permalink
Friday, 24 October 2003
Silence Between Sisters
My sister, Harmony, is 16 months younger than me. I suppose my mother expected that her two daughters close in age would be close emotionally. That has never been the case.

My earliest memories of sharing a room with her include my disgust at her sloppiness. She could not fold a blanket, which seemed to me a rudimentary skill in a girl's life. She left whole sandwiches under the bed to fossilize. She whispered at night while I tried to fall asleep. She even bit me once!

She is blue-eyed and has the long nose from my dad's side of the family. She looks a lot like he did. I take after my mother with brown eyes. I remember clearly the day we moved from our childhood home--my dad was divorcing us (I say us, meaning my mom and the kids, because that's how it seemed to me at the time) and we were moving out. Harmony was sobbing. She was always very dramatic, very emotional. We all dealt with the shattering of our lives in ways that drove us all apart.

But I digress.

When we were teenagers, I was mortified by Harmony's behavior. She refused to wash her hair, so it was stringy and greasy. She struggled with acne. She never really figured out the social skills necessary to get along with her peers. I was doing my best to not embarrass myself in junior high and high school and I was admittedly self-centered, as teenagers tend to be.

So, I didn't really pay her attention if I could help it. We had nothing in common, other than genetics. When we got home from school, we went to our separate rooms. I read, I played the piano, I volunteered and went to church and kept myself busy getting perfect grades.

She was always in my shadow and she always resented me for it. She wanted my approval, but I was a child myself and not capable of bolstering her up. I was trying to survive myself in a family whose members were isolated from one another. We had little parental support or approval.

When I was a senior, I met an exchange student from Japan. She needed a place to live and my dad agreed to let her live with us. She and my sister became fast friends. They eventually went to community college together, and then two other colleges, before they graduated from Western Washington University. After that, they moved to Japan, where they have lived ever since. That was over 10 years ago, maybe 12. They've actually lived together for about 20 years.

In our adult years, we've had a cordial relationship. We were pen-pals for many years, exchanging harmless letters without any true exchange of emotions. We saw each other on holidays and she visited several times. We had a couple of spats about ridiculous things, but that sort of thing stopped when I vowed to myself to just treat her like a pen-pal, not a sister. No emotions, just a plain vanilla relationship.

A few years back, after a particularly trying visit when she upset my mother with her constant demands and rudeness, I realized that if I viewed her as a fourteen year old I would not be so upset with her. After all, do you expect a fourteen year old to plan ahead? To take other people's schedules into consideration? To take care of their own errands and chores? To pay for their own dinner and to offer to pay for someone else's?

See? You would just say, "Well, she's fourteen, you can't expect that she'd be considerate at all times. A fourteen year old is completely self-centered. She's a teen! What do you expect?" And once I started thinking that, I adjusted my expectations and my annoyance level lessened considerably.

So, when she decided to take up photography and spend literally thousands of dollars on equipment and lessons, I said, well, of course, a fourteen year old would spend all her money on her own hobbies. And when she expected us all to drop our lives and throw a party when she visited (unscheduled, without warning), I said, well, what do you expect from a fourteen year old?

When I found myself unexpectedly pregnant for the second time, I started to think about who I'd invite to the birth. I wanted my mom to be there and my youngest sister (because we are close). I wanted to have video tape and photographs this time, but who to ask? Ah, my sister, Harmony! She has spent a fortune on photography equipment and lessons! Plus, she'll probably never have a baby herself, so it would be a great experience for her, plus, I'd get photographs!

So it was that I invited her to my birth. She agreed and seemed excited about it.

I told her what kind of photographs I wanted. No flash. Nothing graphic (I'd be in a tub, so figured nothing would be graphic anyways). She talked to her teachers and talked about what kind of film to use. She planned when to come for the birth.

Fast forward to the day of the birth. I realize I'm in labor at noon. I decide I can't be in labor because I'm three days from my due date. By two, I'm timing contractions. By three, I beg the midwife to come. By four-thirty, she examines me and informs me that I will have a baby "today." By five, I'm flinging myself to the ground every two minutes, moaning through contractions. In between, I call my sister, my mother, my friend and tell them that I will be having a baby, but that there is no hurry.

By 6 p.m., I am writhing in the birthing tub, screaming my way through contractions. My midwife and her two assistants have arrived. My mom and sister arrive at 6:15 p.m. I look up and say, "Hi. I am having intense labor. In a moment, I will be screaming. Do not be alarmed." Then I clutch the sides of the pool and scream.

Harmony starts taking pictures. I tell her to slow down, not to take a million pictures of me just screaming. I think labor will last a lot longer. Hours, days, possibly months.

The baby arrives at 6:52 p.m. Harmony has shot seven rolls of film.

The next day or so, she brings me four packets of pictures. These are the only rolls she remembered to take in. She's only had single prints made of each roll because she wasn't sure they would turn out. (This does not inspire confidence in me.)

The pictures are grainy and pretty much underexposed, but at least they are pictures. She managed to take some very unflattering and graphic pictures. I hurry through them while the baby sleeps and promise to pick out the pictures that I want reprints of.

She visits every day or so and asks repeatedly if I'm finished with the pictures. I keep saying, "no", because I'm busy with my newborn baby. Finally, I say, "Why do you want them?"

She shrugs and says, "I just want to have them in my purse. I'm just weird."

Oh. Okay. I say I'll try to get to them.

The next time she asks if I'm done with them, I say, "Why do you want them?"

"Because I want to show them to people."

"Show them to people? Who?" I think my mouth has sprung open and my eyes have bugged out.

"Well, to Tim [our brother] and to Uncle Joe."

I am stunned. She wants to show pictures of me partially naked to my 70 year old preacher uncle and my brother. When she leaves, I call my mother in a panic and tell her what Harmony has said. I tell her that I don't want Harmony to have pictures if she intends to show them to people. She agrees with me.

I decide to go through the pictures and take out all the ones that I deem unacceptable for public viewing. I edit out maybe half of the pictures. The next time she comes, she brings the three remaining packets of pictures. She's had double-prints made of them, one copy for me and one for her.

As I look through them, I edit them, setting aside the graphic, unflattering, scary pictures. (She's taken pictures of the midwives sewing me up, for instance. And pictures of my backside as the baby emerges. And just plain ugly pictures of me looking like a shark has dragged me underwater in a violent attack.) As I do this, I explain to her that I am not comfortable with people seeing certain pictures and that I decided to just take out the ones that I am not comfortable with.

She nods. I assume she understands. I give her stacks and stacks of pictures which are acceptable.

As she leaves, she says, "Where are the rest of my pictures?"

I say, "I gave you all the pictures I want you to have. I am not comfortable with people seeing the other pictures." I ask her to bring back the negatives from the first four rolls of film. She'd taken them surreptitiously during one of her visits.

"Oh," she says, but I can tell that she is angry.

She leaves.

She tells my mother that I stole her pictures. I am shocked!

She comes by for a final visit before she leaves for Japan. She photographs my baby's feet next to mine. When she leaves, she says, "Here's your stuff." She lays an envelope on the dresser. She seems pleasant enough. But the last thing she says as she walks out my bedroom door is, "So are you going to give me back my negatives when you are through with them?"

And I think about lying, but instead, I say, "No. I already gave you the pictures I am comfortable with you having."

So she's gone. I put down my baby when she's finally asleep and pick up the picture envelope.

In it, I find negatives in the sleeves the developer uses when you order reprints. But I hadn't ordered any reprints. I look at the negatives and find that she's had about a dozen pictures made, including some shots of my naked posterior birthing a baby, which was a picture I specifically excluded from those I gave her. I did not want my nude butt shown all through East Asia.

Completely furious, I marched myself downstairs and wrote her a terse email in which I demanded that she return the photographs which she took without my permission. I told her that if it was about money, to please send me a bill and I would be happy to reimburse her for the cost of the film and developing. I gave her two weeks.

She did not respond.

In two weeks, I fired off another email demanding the pictures.

I did so every month for about seven months when I gave up.

Eleven months after she stole my birth pictures, our paths crossed. My brother and his wife held a wedding celebration reception in their backyard. I decided on the way that I would respond if Harmony spoke to me, but that I would not initiate any conversation.

I realized that I have initiated every conversation with her for years and years and years. Probably since high school. I ask her questions, I respond to her comments, I try to make her comfortable.

But no more.

The backyard barbecue was a very small affair, maybe just a dozen people, perhaps twenty. My other sister, my mother, and my stepmother were there, as well as assorted in-laws. I walked through the fence, took note that Harmony was standing near a table and said to my stepmother, "Where's Harmony?"

Shoot! I meant, "Where's Becca?" because I was an hour late (conflict in my schedule) and I figured I'd be the last one there. Becca, however, took that award for lateness!

Anyway, I corrected myself and said, "Oh, I know that, I just wondered where Becca is."

Harmony never spoke to me, other than a comment indirectly spoken to a small group I was in: "Do you want a brownie?" I did not make eye contact, did not initiate a conversation. I am finished being the one who holds together the flimsy relationship we have. I am finished excusing her because she's "fourteen." I am done overlooking the selfish, wrong things she does. I am just done.

So, that's why we haven't spoken in over a year. I do my best not to put other family members in the middle. I know they all still email her. I know she'll visit again and I'll do what I can not to make anyone uncomfortable.

But she's not welcome in my home.
She's not welcome to have a relationship with my children.
She's certainly not welcome to show my naked butt to strangers in Japan.

The funny thing is, I haven't noticed any loss or vacancy in my life. I'm just annoyed that she never sent me the pictures of my newborn's feet nestled next to mine.

Other than that, it's a relief not to have to deal with a perpetually petulant fourteen year old.


Posted by Mel at 9:57 PM PDT
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:30 PM PDT
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Naps
My now-ten year old twins napped until they were nearly four. We finally had to force them not to nap when their bedtime crept from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and even later. They went to bed, but they didn't go to sleep.

So, we'd skip their naptime and by 5 p.m., they would be so tired that we wouldn't let them sit down and watch t.v. or do anything "quiet" or they'd fall alseep for three solid hours.

My now-five year old quit taking naps before he was two years old. One time, shortly before his second birthday, my husband and I took him to a mall, for a little outing while the older kids were in school. The Supermall is a huge, circular place and we hadn't been there many times before.

We were checking toy stores for a particular item and in the second store, YoungestBoy picked up a toy. As was my custom, I took it from him and said, "No, not today. Let's go now and see what else we can see."

He began to cry. So, I scooped him up and hurried about three stores down the mall, figuring that would be the end of that.

Oh.

No.

He has his father's stubborn streak. He kicked. He screamed. He flailed. He cried. I finally held him against me, arms and legs out, kicking, waving, twisting . . . I broke a sweat. We made a quick decision and figured it would be faster to just keep going since the mall was a circle.

Wrong.

We went another three-quarters of the way around before we found our exit. Then, with the fit-throwing boy still screaming, walked through two parking lots, me with grim, sweaty face, figuring that someone was surely dialing the number for Children's Protective Services at that moment.

Found our car. The tantrum had not lessened and in fact, we couldn't bend him to get him into the car seat. I spanked him and the shock of that caused him to bend long enough for me to buckle him in. He was now so angry he was foaming at the mouth and struggling to get out of his carseat.

He screamed, red-faced, for twenty minutes before he fell into a sweaty sleep. (By a stroke of luck, I'd taken a picture of him on the way to the mall, and now I took a picture of him on the way home, all blotchy and disheveled. I love those pictures!)

We got home and he woke up and remembered what he'd been doing when he fell asleep, so he resumed the tantrum. I took him straight upstairs and plopped him into his crib and told him that when he was finished, I would come and get him.

He carried on for a bit.

Finally, the fit ended and I brought him downstairs.

Sadly, my new baby, my sweet girl, Babygirl, God's gift to me, the one who will care for me in my old age, the apple of my eye, the sunshine of my life, my daughter, who is not even fourteen months old . . . yes, her, the cute one with reddish blond hair and denim blue eyes . . . she hasn't napped in four days.

Is this is a trend, a new chapter in her life, a permanent change? Doesn't God realize I am an old woman? I need a break! I need some peace! I need a baby-free zone!

I need a nap.

Posted by Mel at 2:19 PM PDT
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:32 PM PDT
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Thursday, 23 October 2003
School Conferences
Today was School Conference Day. I attempted to put Babygirl down for a nap at 12:30. My husband came home from work for an hour so I could go to conferences. My plan was for both babies to sleep, but Babygirl did not cooperate. I was so frustrated when I had to take her with me.

TwinBoyB's conference was first. This is my son who didn't walk until 17 months old. He had only four teeth when he turned 2. He has never been in any kind of hurry in his life. His plan for life is to do as little as he can in all areas. Except, of course, for Nintendo and making weird mouth noises and swacking bushes with sticks.

He starts every school year operating in Sneak By Without Being Noticed mode. I was not at all surprised to hear that he's failing half of his subjects, even math, which he truly understands. He "forgets" things and doesn't understand things. The truth is, as the teacher said, "If a leaf falls off a tree outside, it completely derails him." This is a boy who cannot or does not concentrate.

Anyway, we can only hope that he grows up and graduates. He normally begins to put forth a bit of effort about this time of the year when he realizes that we are all watching him!

TwinboyA's teacher had good things to say about him. He's getting nearly straight A's. She said he'd like to just read all the time. His handwriting is messy, but she feels like he's making improvements in that area. His math sheets are also messy, but that's improving as well. She was very nice and didn't even get rattled when Babygirl decided to fuss and cry during the whole twenty-minutes.

Tonight, I went to YoungestBoy's kindergarten conference. The teacher showed me the assessment that they did the first weeks of school. He counted to 100 and knew all his numbers. He knew almost all of his letters and a few of the sounds. He knew his shapes and colors. Most importantly, though, she said he is an excellent student and a joy to have in class.

I never expected that getting children through their school years would be such an exhausting experience. I hate to see any of them fail in any area. They are all great kids.

I hate, too, that my kids are so average, or even below average. It always seems like everyone has kids in gifted and talented programs, or accelerated learning programs, and my kid is just struggling to spell "resource"! It's a reminder that they are individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses . . . and if strengths reflect positively on parents, then don't weaknesses, too?

I feel like TwinBoyB's failures make me look like a negligent parent, like a failure myself. After all, if I can't raise my children to be excellent students and good people, then perhaps I'm doing a horrible job as a mother. I worry about this pretty often. I thought I would be so good at this mothering thing and half the time I can't even keep clean underwear in their drawers!

I tell myself that they are just individuals with their own sets of struggles and successes to experience. It's another chance to step back and remember that these children are a gift from God and not an extension of me, like a couple of extra arms or feet.

For tonight, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

(And, please, God, please, don't let Babygirl give up her naps just yet or I will surely collapse! Twelve straight hours of baby-care is more than I can handle!)

Posted by Mel at 10:18 PM PDT
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:34 PM PDT
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Wednesday, 22 October 2003
It's Raining, It's Pouring
We had the most gloriously dry summer here in the Pacific Northwest. The sun just shone on and on, as if we suddenly lived in San Diego, rather than the rainy Northwest. We took the kids to swim at the pool almost every day. The lawns turned totally brown. The experts started talking about a drought.

And then came Monday.

Early in the morning, I heard the rhythm of hard rain falling. I snuggled a little deeper into my flannel sheets, pleased with the sound of rain. Rain is good. Rain is soothing.

The rain fell so hard and so continuously, however, that we set a weather record for the most rain ever to fall in a single day here--five inches. People think that it rains all the time here, but the truth is, it's overcast a lot. It does rain, but we don't have snow, tornadoes, hurricanes, thunderstorms or typhoons. Just rain, trickling here and there. One year we did have 47 straight days of rain, which tends to grind down even the hardiest among us.

But usually, it's just damp from October to March.

Luckily for us, we don't live even remotely close to a river. We live, in fact, on the top of town. We travel downhill to the waterfront, the Puget Sound. But many people lost all their belongings when their homes and property was flooded. And I remembered once volunteering to fill sandbags as a teenager. I wonder what year that was? I think it was 1979.

Good grief, here I am going on and on about the rain, when there are so many . . . boring things to record.

Babygirl skipped naps two days in a row.
School conferences are tomorrow.
This week is half-days of school, and no school for my kindergartener.
My husband has had to wear suits all week because I haven't gotten around to ironing his pants and shirts.
I've lost almost 12 pounds on Weight Watchers, this time around.

Since I am completely rambling at this point, let me just remark about how cute Babygirl is. She nods her head. Not just a little, but vigorously in response to questions. "Do you want to go upstairs?" Nod, nod. "Do you want to go for a ride?" Nod, nod. "Are you hungry?" Nod, nod. She is so darling and so completely different from my boys that it's an adventure, a brand new adventure every day, being her mother.

Even on days that she doesn't nap!

Posted by Mel at 8:17 PM PDT
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:36 PM PDT
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Saturday, 18 October 2003
My Dirty Shirt
I hate waking up to the sounds of children hollering. But that's how some Saturdays begin. (Why do children wake up so early on the weekends?) Usually, I hear loud footsteps thumping down the stairs, followed by the sounds of morning cartoons, but this morning, I slept soundly and didn't hear anything until the hollering started. That sort of set the tone for the rest of this day. The children argued and whined and complained their way through the day.

By mid-morning, TwinBoyB had spent time in his room alone--twice--for fighting with YoungestBoy. TwinBoyA spent fifteen minutes alone in his room for being sassy to me. That was a battle I had to win immediately. I saw a future-teenager lurking in his eyes and thought that teenager should know that I meant business! His attitude improved considerably after that.

And now, at 9 p.m., my shirt is dirty. My shoulder features smooshed banana from Babygirl's breakfast. The center stains appear to be dried mucus from her nose. Garden-variety dirt was scattered over the lower front. (Babygirl threw it at me with great glee.)

I appeared in public in this dirty shirt this afternoon. We took the boys to buy pumpkins at the local produce store and I didn't have a chance to change my shirt. Who knew that changing shirts would require so much effort?

(Scene at the produce store checkout lane:

TwinBoyA: "Mom, can I have this?" He holds up small tin of expensive hard candy.

Me: "No. That's too expensive. Here, let's get these." Places three peanut butter chocolate candies on the counter to purchase. Price: Three for a dollar.

TwinBoyA: "I hate those. That's peanut butter. I want this."

Me: "No."

TwinBoyA: "Please, mom? Please!"

Me: "No. I don't even know how much it is. Oh, look here, it's a dollar nineteen. That's too much."

TwinBoyA: "Mom, you only care about money. What if I repay you with the allowance I'll get in two weeks?"

Me: "No."

TwinBoyA: "I can't believe you won't even make your son happy."

Me: Silence.

Then, as we're walking out, "Son, when we walk out this door, I do not want to hear one more thing about that candy. Is that clear? I said no and I meant no."

TwinBoyA, grudgingly: "Okay.")

Sigh. Ungrateful kids. Now I understand what my dad was talking about!

Babygirl did not nap today. I attempted three times to put her in her crib, but she would not stay. So, she slept only thirty minutes while I nursed her. This lack of sleep did not affect her energy, of course!

Yesterday, I took her to the doctor for her 12 month check up. Yes, I know, she's 13.5 months, but I'm marching to the beat of my own drummer. The doctor was uncharacteristically unhelpful and started the visit by saying, "So, what can I do for you?" I was puzzled and said, "We're here for a well-baby check and shots."

I think Babygirl had already started fussing and crying. She did not like the nurse taking her temperature or weighing and measuring her. She's a very cautious baby who does not appreciate strangers coming into her personal space. Anyway, she screamed during the whole exam and the doctor and I had to talk around the wailing.

The doctor was extremely concerned about Babygirls's weight (18 pounds 12 ounces) and height (30.5 inches). Babygirl was 8 pounds 8 ounces when she was born and then held steady in the 25th percentile until now. Now she is below the charts, which apparently freaks out medical types.

The doctor said if she didn't put on some weight within two months, she will need to have some tests! I nodded and agreed, but when I left the office, I had a sick feeling in my stomach, like I have failed as a mother, like I received a C- in a class that I expected an A+ in. She doesn't need tests! Her developmental is completely normal, but the doctor wouldn't know that, because she failed to ask!

Anyway, Babygirl got four shots and cried in protest, but stopped abruptly when they were over.

I spent the day noticing how little Babygirl ate. I even made peanut butter cookies to fatten her up. She took one bite and spit it out! She eats a bite her, a bite there, but has a dainty appetite. She probably will take after her paternal grandma who is a tiny little thing.

So, this day ended much as it began. I passed out bowls of popcorn to the children. The bowls were the exact same size, filled to the brim with popcorn. TwinBoyB said, "Hey, no fair! My bowl does not have as much as theirs!"

"Son," I said, "The bowls are perfectly fair."

"No, they aren't! I don't have as much."

"Son," I said, "If you complain, I will take away your popcorn and you can have nothing."

Why does a child want to test his parent's resolve? He carried on with his complaints and I went over and said, "Okay, give me your bowl."

"Noooooo!" he wailed. And he put his bowl behind his back. We both had a grip on the bowl.

I said in my firmest mom-voice, "Give me the bowl right now or you will go to bed immediately!"

And he handed over the bowl and then started to sob. I told him that he'd better get a grip or he'd go straight to bed.

He complained a bit more and nearly bought himself an early bedtime. "I'm hungry!" "My face hurts!" "My throat hurts!" "I feel dizzy!" "I only ate three bites of dinner!"

He even offered to eat a banana, which is what I always offer when they say they are hungry and it's not time for dinner yet. (They always refuse my offer.) I said no.

It's amazing to me that some kids continue to test the boundaries year after year after year. TwinBoyA has been attempting to wrest control of the family from me since he was a year old!

Some days, I want to do a little happy dance when the darkness falls and they are finally in bed. But I resist the urge and save my energy for the laundry which still awaits. Sigh.

Posted by Mel at 9:08 PM PDT
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:41 PM PDT
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