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Thursday, 25 December 2003
It's All Over But The Tripping

Well, it's over. Christmas is finished for another year. All that's left, of course, is the tripping--over news toys, new clothes, and kids who insist on playing on the kitchen floor with their cool, tiny remote control cars. I figure it's just a matter of time until I step on one of those cars and squash it like a bug.

I went to sleep about midnight last night. At about 2:30 a.m., YoungestBoy knocked on our bedroom door and asked if he could go downstairs to open presents. "No," I said, "______, it's the middle of the night. Go back to bed."

Two hours later, at 4:30 a.m., YoungestBoy again. This time, I didn't give him a chance to ask. I just said, "______, it's the middle of the night! Go back to bed!" At 7:20 a.m., when my husband nudged me and said, "The kids are downstairs," I was having a bizarre dream about a full-sized tiger on a leash and a full-sized Newfoundland dog. I was taking these animals down a school corridor to find their owners. I didn't remember until I was showering that Eminem, the rapper, was also in my dreams--he was propositioning me and I refused him, knowing, even in Bizarro-World that I was married and chaste.

So, I showered and dressed and fed the baby and dressed the baby and pretty much tortured the children by making them wait until after 8:00 a.m. to open presents. They'd found all their stocking stuffers and were thrilled with those treasures. The first boxes they unwrapped were clothes--and like the boys they are, they just looked at the first shirt in the stack and tossed the box aside with a disinterested "oh, clothes".

The exciting presents of the day included computer and video games and a brand new computer for the three boys to share. Babygirl was uninterested in unwrapping anything, which is good since there wasn't much for her. She got some clothes, a kid-sized Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner, and a a cleaning caddy full of baby cleaning supplies--a broom, mop, bucket, sponge, rag, etc. She adores the broom. She was the most interested by a grey felt box which held earrings (a gift from my mother to me). She opened it, pulled out the earrings, put them back, closed it, and then did it all over again.

We had a quiet day at home (well, as quiet as a day can be with four children and their toys). My mom was here for brunch (coffee cake and bacon) and then she headed to my brother's house to celebrate with him and his wife. She planned to go to my sister's house for dessert after that. I was just relieved to be staying home. After Babygirl's nap (in my arms), she was in a very pleasant mood, so she played happily with daddy and her brothers while I prepared dinner (ham and the fixings). The kids were impressed by the "feast" we enjoyed.

I am resisting the urge to pull down all the Christmas decorations tonight. I am so finished with Christmas. Now, I want to paint the living room and Babygirl's intended bedroom. Of course, before that, I just want to sit in a movie theater, alone, and watch a movie! I have small dreams.

Posted by Mel at 7:43 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 12:06 PM PDT
Wednesday, 24 December 2003
Silent Night, Holy Night

It's 11 p.m. and the stockings are stuffed and the presents hug the tree. The children are all nestled snug in their beds with instructions not to get up before 7:30 a.m. I like to be the one who sees their excited faces when they walk into the living room. And I, of course, must shower and dress first, so they have to wait.

Babygirl went to sleep at 7 p.m., as usual, and my mother came over to "babysit" her so I could take the three boys to the Christmas Eve service at church. Being at church without Babygirl was so strange. How did I live without her? What did I do with my arms? Having the gifts of children really does means that I have all I need and want. I honestly don't care about getting anything on Christmas Day. I have everything already.

I did tease YoungestBoy and ask him what he was getting me. He asked for an advance on his allowance so he could get me a diamond ring.

I asked TwinboyB if he was getting me a new house and he looked genuinely puzzled and said, "Why? We already have this house."

TwinboyA spent part of his day readying the gifts he made at school. YoungestBoy sat down with clay and sculpted me something with dozens of toothpicks stuck into it and then drew something.

Sweet, silent, holy night.

Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus!

Posted by Mel at 11:07 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 12:35 PM PDT
Tuesday, 23 December 2003
Made-up Words

I love the occasional made-up word. When someone says "flusterated" it makes my day. Or when I hear "irregardless" I smile and think of my dad (who hated made-up words).

But I heard the best one ever recently: Parannoys--as in "it parannoys me when I think I'm being followed by a monster." Parannoys: a clever combination of "paranoid" and "annoys." Beautiful. Or, as the kids would say, "that is prettiful."

Posted by Mel at 11:45 AM PST
Updated: Tuesday, 23 December 2003 5:03 PM PST
Monday, 22 December 2003
So Does This Mean I Have Seven More Years of Bad Luck?

Christmas week--and I somehow expected a more relaxed schedule. The daycare baby isn't coming this week. No school. But my husband ran off to work earlier than usual, but not before pointing out that the carpet in the bathroom (yes, I said "carpet"--the people who owned this house before us were idiots) was soaked. The toilet overflowed. I used every available towel to soak up the wetness. The toilet looked fine, but I made a mental note to bring up the plunger later to make sure. There was no time to shower, so I didn't. I just pulled on sweat pants and a t-shirt and figured no one would see me but kids.

Of course, I had agreed to watch my nephew (age 6) and neice (age 9) for 36 hours and my brother-in-law was the first to view me in all my unshowered glory when they arrived at 9:40 a.m.

The loud morning flew by and suddenly it was lunch-time for six kids. All was calm, all was bright. Well, not really. It was foggy all day. After Babygirl took a nap in my arms, I thought that I could figure out a craft project for the kids to do so they could stop wandering the house, shouting and banging doors.

The phone rang. Could I please proofread the church newsletter? Certainly. The phone rang. Could Al come over within an hour and fix the leaking kitchen sprayer hose? Certainly.

Then I looked around. My house looked like there had been an explosion in a Goodwill store. Kids' stuff was strewn about like breadcrumbs leading back to home. Kitchen rags sat in wet lumps all over the crumb-y floor. (Babygirle takes them and abandons them all day.) The toy box seemed to have erupted. Dirty dishes filled half the sink.

I sprang into action, holding Babygirl on my left hip. I emptied the dishwasher, filled the dishwasher, swept the floor, put things away, washed the kitchen table, gathered all the dishrags--basically worked up a good sweat. Unfortunately, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and marched upstairs to turn on a curling iron. How optimistic I was that straightening my bangs would make some difference!

Then Paige, the newsletter editor arrived, with her one-year old baby in tow. I welcomed her in and then proceeded to mop while she stood in my kitchen. Just moments before I had washed the cabinet doors. I never notice the spots until I imagine someone else looking.

Paige and I sat with our babies, visiting--me acutely aware of my wild hair and sweaty face--until the doorbell rang.

Here is Al, coming to fix my sink--he wears a Santa hat and brings two of his kids, also wearing Santa hats.

While Al's on his back under my sink, we visit, until suddenly, my neice comes running down the stairs, stricken look on her face. "Aunt Mel, I used the bathroom upstairs and. . . " I shriek, "AND YOU FLUSHED THE TOILET! OH!! NO!!" I race upstairs to see water gushing over the rim of the toilet, soaking the carpet again. All the towels I used earlier are in the washing machine. I shout to the kids watching, "GO IN THE OTHER BATHROOM! GRAB TOWELS!" They run off and I twist off the water at the source.

The kids bring towels and I begin the soaking-up-the-water dance that I perfected earlier. I spread out a towel and then stomp on it with my slippered feet. Babygirl soon joins the fun, stomping, too.

Fortunately, I haven't put away clean laundry in a day or two, so I find a good supply of towels in the adjoining bedroom.

I return downstairs to find Al finishing up the plumbing job. I am so grateful that I can now run my kitchen faucet full-speed without flooding the floor.

Al leaves. I spend time doing laundry, putting away clothes, taking huge baskets of dirty clothes downstairs. I order Dominos Pizza for dinner. A neighbor rings the bell and gives me a large package that was mistakenly delivered next door. Babygirl watches in amazement as I pull a play vacuum from the box--for her! A gift from a friend in Georgia! The kids eat pizza. I order a television and Nintendo break for the kids, so they begin a game of hide-and-seek. Then, I hear the Big Crash.

That crash was the shattering of a full-length mirror that my mother abandoned behind the door in the storage room. No one is hurt, but I have a big mess to clean up.

This is why I wonder--does this mean I have seven more years of bad luck? Will my toilet continue to flood twice a day? Will the toy box keep exploding? Will the children pee on the toilet seat every single day?

I'm almost too tired to find out.

Posted by Mel at 8:53 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 12:39 PM PDT
Friday, 19 December 2003
Sweet Child

What a darling boy, my YoungestBoy.

Friday night bedtime and I said, "Let me read you a book." I picked out Stellaluna, a lovely, award-winning book with beautiful pictures and a moral to the story.

As I'm reading, I suddenly remember this morning, when we were watching "Sesame Street." Rosita had a Frog Prince friend and she was singing him a song. She was going to lose her friend because he would turn back into a Prince.

YoungestBoy suddenly said, "Mom, I'm going to cry, too. That is so sad that she's losing her friend."

My sensitive, sweet boy.

That was what I was thinking (while reading) when he abruptly crawls on top of me and farts loudly.

I say, with mock indignation, "Hey, didn't anyone ever tell you not to fart on your mother?!"

He bursts into giggles and I laugh, too.

After mothering boys this long, it was bound to happen. I laugh at farts.

What's next?

Posted by Mel at 9:12 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 3:57 PM PDT

Last week, my five year old son brought home his first-ever report card from kindergarten. His grades were nearly perfect and his teacher wrote, "Wow! His math skills are amazing for his age! He is doing very well in all academic areas and is a joy to teach!" Tears sprang to my eyes. So this is what parental pride feels like!

I have two older kids, the twins, who are in fifth grade. TwinBoyA normally does well, though his handwriting is horrific and impedes his progress in writing. He has an enormous vocabulary, but when writing will choose a small, easy-to-write word rather than a bigger, perfect word. This year, he's really working hard and earned an academic award recently. I'm relieved, since fouth grade ended badly. (Let's just say, when he started sitting next to a girl named Tasha, everything went down hill.)

TwinBoyB, though, is another story. He is a kind boy, charming and fun-loving. Even at this age, when pimples are beginning to dot his nose, he'd just as soon be out in the backyard swacking bushes with the metal pole he broke from the broom. He makes a lot of noise, mouth-noises, foot-noises, just plain hollering. He's hated school since the day he started. I remember driving him home the first week. He chanted all the way home, "I hate school! I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!"

His handwriting has been messy at best, illegible at worst for years now. His second grade teacher told me, "It's just second grade." She used to help him cheat on his spelling tests because she knew he'd get a milkshake if he got a perfect score. What a scam that was. He is a charmer.

So, the week after YoungestBoy brought home his perfect report card, TwinBoyB tells me early Tuesday morning, "Mom, I have to tell you something, but I'm afraid you'll be mad."

I hate it when the kids start a sentence like that. Then I have to assure them I won't be mad.

"Mom, my Roanoke report is due today and I didn't do it."

I just raised my eyebrows instead of my voice. When I finally pulled all the details out of him it turned out that the class had been given a week and a half to write a fictional historically-based story. TwinBoyB didn't understand the directions from the start, so he just fiddled away his time. He never mentioned it to me. When I asked about the project, he said they were working on it at school.

I emailed the teacher for the information. Then, for two days after school, I hovered over TwinBoyB while he agonized over writing three pages. He is truly a horrible writer. He has no intuition, no skills, no interest. As a writer myself, I just cannot find a bridge between us. When I was in third-grade, I wrote a ten page story for fun and won an award for it. Words have always been my friends, my partners, my solace.

TwinBoyB's worst enemies are words.

No, I take that back. His worst enemy is long division. And multiplication is out to get him, too.

I worry that this child will never succeed in school. And I realize how important it is to me that he does well. I feel like this is what I do. I raise kids. If my kids fail, am I a failure? Sigh.

Then again, I think of YoungestBoy. I've raised him the same as his brothers. In fact, I didn't even teach him how to write anything before school, not did I "work" with him in reading or math. He just embraces math. The other day he said, "Mom, I know what 5 minus 50 is." Half-listening, I said, "You do?" And he said, "Yes, it's negative 45."

So here is what having adopted children and biological children is teaching me. My older kids are not struggling because of me. My youngest is not excelling because of me. My job is not to duplicate my own successes in school. These kids are individuals.

My job is to give them a map, help them read it, point them in the right direction, and watch them go. They will succeed, they will fail. They will learn, maybe not the way I want them to, but they will learn.

In the meantime, I need to work on being a soft place for them to land. Especially for my boy who hates writing and loves mud.

Posted by Mel at 3:04 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 4:00 PM PDT
Wednesday, 17 December 2003
My Real Face

Tonight I had to run to the grocery store (again) to get graham crackers for kindergarten gingerbread houses. As I was standing in line a voice said, "Hi!"


I always mistakenly feel like I'm invisible in grocery stores. But I'm not.

The voice belonged to my favorite baby-sitter, a lovely young girl named Beth. Her father stood next to her and her teenage friend grinned on the other side.

We made small talk. They remarked, "You look so tired!" I talked fast, made up reasons why I look so tired, but the fact is, an almost-39 year old face looks wretched without make-up. At least mine does. I have no lips and dark circles under my eyes. The lack of sleep only highlights my imperfect complexion. I am pale.

I rambled on and on about Babygirl and how she doesn't nap. I was acutely aware of the long line which suddenly sprouted up behind me. I smiled way too big.

When I was young, I never left the house without make-up. I couldn't imagine letting anyone see my Real Face.

Now, I'm old and haggard and I couldn't care less. This, my friends, is what almost-39 looks like. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

(All the same, tomorrow night when I meet my friend for dinner, I'll be wearing a full mask. My Real Face only shows when I am caught off-guard.)

Posted by Mel at 11:15 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 4:02 PM PDT
Tuesday, 16 December 2003
The wind blew cold rain today and daylight never really arrived in my living room. I woke up very tired this morning. I read last night before I turned off the light (at midnight?) and forty-five minutes after I fell asleep, Babygirl woke up crying. I skipped my shower this morning in a desperate attempt to get more sleep. Despite that, I was crabby and short-tempered all day. My house is a wreck and my laundry is getting backed up.

And now it's 8 p.m. and I can't wait until my big kids go to bed in another half an hour. Babygirl went to sleep at 7 p.m. since she doesn't nap in her crib anymore. My husband went to a small-group church Christmas party. He's getting a new suit, shirt and tie as a present, which he's going to love. I was in on the conspiracy. I love it when people are nice to him!

On these days that I don't leave my house, I start to fear that I will never leave my house again. I'll never have anything interesting to say, I'll never have a viewpoint, I'll never have a need for a Palm Pilot. I'll never have a reason to style my hair or shave my legs or wear something other than these stretchy black pants. Being boring sometimes terrifies me. Other times, it's a pretty good camouflage, an easy way to blend in and eavesdrop without being noticed. I have finally learned the art of making small talk and I have learned it so well that when people converse with me, they don't notice that I haven't mentioned a thing about myself. Which brings me back to the fear that I will never have anything interesting to say about myself again. Will I ever be interesting again?

When I was in college, I once composed a funny song at the piano about dead butterflies. I'd been walking down the sidewalk and saw a dead butterfly pressed onto the sidewalk and since I was heading to the music building, I immediately made up a tune and added words. Everyone who heard it laughed.

Then the school talent show came along and I impulsively auditioned, singing that song. Oh, how funny it was to see Sister Judy Brown's stunned face when I finished my ridiculous little song. "Is that is?" she asked.

I went shopping for my costume at the local thrift store. I picked out an orange polyester mini-dress and white vinyl go-go boots. I found a white plastic handbag in which I placed a mannequin hand. (During my performance, I made mention of my "handbag" and pulled the hand out.) Over the whole ensemble went a man's black trench coat. I sang my song, did my air-head act, the audience laughed and I earned myself a reputation as a funny entertainer. I still have the white boots and a picture in the yearbook. The funniest thing was that some of the students never did figure out that the air-head bit was an act.

The only person who laughs at me any more is Babygirl. And my husband, who continues to dig my wry sense of humor. The church people would probably faint dead away if I wore orange polyester and sang about dead butterflies.

I have had two people ask me if I was singing a solo at church this Christmas season. I'm not. They ask, "why not?" and I laugh and say "I wasn't asked!" I do love to sing Christmas music, but this isn't my season for singing. Another time. Another place. But not in orange polyester.

Posted by Mel at 8:02 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 4:05 PM PDT
Monday, 15 December 2003
Strange, but True
I drove to the store tonight to buy fixings for lunch for my twins. They are going on a field trip tomorrow to see a play at the Seattle Children's Theater and need to take a sack lunch. They normally buy lunch, so I had to buy stuff.

As soon as I pulled into a parking spot, the car next to me began blaring and flashing its lights. Apparently it didn't like anyone near it. I moved immediately and wondered at the idiot who has such a stupid car alarm. What good does it do?

Then, as I was leaving the store, a man wearing a rather full knee-length khaki skirt came in. I didn't even pretend not to stare. His calves were covered in green tattoos. Men with tattoos wear skirts these days? I am perplexed.

A mile or two from my house, I came across an impromptu memorial featuring mylar balloons and candles and stuffed animals on a corner. This morning a thirteen year old boy was killed when a school bus ran over him. A news van was there, preparing for a live report at 11 p.m. The news reports so far have suggested that perhaps the boy wasn't paying attention and didn't hear the bus because he was listening to music in his headphones. Now, he's dead.

Strange, all of it, but true.

Posted by Mel at 9:57 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 4:03 PM PDT
Saturday, 13 December 2003
Grocery Store Therapy
I didn't want to do anything last night after Babygirl went to sleep, but I went to the YMCA to work out, then went to the grocery store. Turns out that 9 p.m. is a quiet time to buy groceries. Still, I wait in a line long enough to notice that Oprah is turning 50 in January. I think, "Hmmm, if Oprah's turning 50, then I'm turning 39?" I know she'll 11 years older than me, but I can't believe it, so I do the math. Sure enough, I'm almost 39. I wonder if this is a sure sign of my old age, not knowing my own age?

The boy-cashier asked me if I found everything. "I did, thanks," I say.

"Before you know it, it will be Christmas," he says.

"Less than two weeks," I say.

"Then it will be 2004," he says, "But what I'm really waiting for is 2005."

I think quickly. Graduation of some sort? High school? College? He looks like he's in junior high to me, but I have noticed that I can't judge age very well at my advanced age. College kids look like high-schoolers to me. Once I had a dentist younger than me, which I found oddly frightening.

"Graduation?" I say to this fresh-faced blond boy.

"No," he says, "I'm turning 21 in 2005."

"Oh," I say, "I'll be forty that year." The Oprah magazine cover is fresh in my mind, plus I was born in 1965, so I can count by fives pretty quickly, even as an old-fogey.

"Does that bother you?" he says.

"Not at all," I say, "Age doesn't bother me." And truly it doesn't. If it did, I'd probably remember what age I actually am.

"Would you go back to your twenties, if you could?" he says.

"No, not unless I could know then what I know now," I say.

"Why? Did you make a lot of mistakes?" he says.

"No, I just have more experience now and with more experience you get smarter. I wouldn't want to give that up," I say.

"What have you learned?" he says, eyeing me.

So, as he scans my bread and two packages of Oreos (on sale for $3 for both) and potatoes and cheese, I tell him, "I know to relax, not to worry so much. I've learned not to wish away my life, my weeks, my months, but to enjoy the moment. I've learned to enjoy people--my dad died when he was 47. When I was 20, I never would have guessed that I'd lose him."

Then I add, "Oh, and I'd go to a better school."

He looks at me curiously, then silence. Then, "So, with all this talk of the end of the world, do you think the world is going to end like the Bible and the tabloids say? Like California falling into the ocean?"

"No," I say, "and even if it did, what good would it do to worry about it?" I think for a fleeting moment of the verses in Matthew that talk about not worrying. But this is not a time for theology or eschatology. So I smile and pay him and push my huge basket of groceries to my car.

I think later that my instant response to his question was fairly accurate. I have learned to relax, to savor the moment, to enjoy the people here now. I know that the future will unfold like one of those big maps that is such a pain to refold correctly. I can just see part of the map, but that's enough. I'll be able to see the whole landscape soon enough.

In the meantime, I have strange conversations with young cashiers in the grocery store to remind me of what really matters.

(And as a postscript, my mother-in-law called today. Her apartment burned to the ground on Wednesday night. They lost everything. And they have no renter's insurance. Everything we have can turn into ashes before our eyes. It's what we can't see that really, really counts.)

Posted by Mel at 8:32 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 6:42 PM PDT

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