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Wednesday, 12 November 2003
Buying a Box
My kids are thrilled with me today. I bought them a huge box. Well, a huge box which contained a new computer . . . but in their view, the computer is incidental. It's all about The Box.

This is no ordinary box. The Box is large enough to enclose a ten year old and an 5 year old. It's the largest box we've ever owned. Two of them sat in it and watched television tonight through the little slots that are meant to be handles.

My first three children are boys. Since I began this parenting journey ten years ago, I have learned the following things from my boys:

1) The only playthings really necessary are sticks, rocks, mud, water, boxes and Nintendo products, in that order.

2) Peeing directly into the toilet water is a skill which small boys do not possess.

3) Slinkies will last approximately twelve minutes after being removed from their boxes on Christmas morning.

4) Justice is the most important thing (ie. "That's not fair!").

5) Silly Putty will melt into your shorts if you sit on it.

6) The more expensive the Nintendo game, the more likely that it will be scratched and destroyed.

7) If a little salt is good, a lot of salt is better.

8) Sleeping in on Saturdays is against the Law of the Universe.

9) Screaming is an appropriate way to settle disputes. If screaming fails, use elbows. (To the gut, to the head, whatever is closest.)

10) Cleanliness is pointless and unobtainable.

So, I have a new computer. They have The Box. We're all happy tonight.

Posted by Mel at 10:03 PM PST
Updated: Wednesday, 12 November 2003 10:09 PM PST
Sunday, 9 November 2003
The Boringest Woman on Earth
I hereby proclaim myself the Boringest Woman on Earth. How did I earn this title, you ask?

Well, for four days my husband's been out of town. In four days, I drove the car twice. Once to pick up a book at Barnes and Noble and once to take the kids to the video store and Wendy's.

In four days, I did too many loads of laundry to count, including every towel in the house (which I had to use when my washing machine lost its mind and spewed water everywhere). I have literally one dirty load of laundry left. I'm ridiculously proud of this fact.

In four days, I saw four other adults: Beth, who picks up YoungestBoy for kindergarten; Sam, whose son, James, came over to play on Friday morning; and John, who dropped off my kids after school Friday and Brenda, who let my kids play at her house after school on Thursday. Now, geez, as I'm recounting it, I guess I saw the lady at Barnes and Noble and the fast-food worker at Wendy's, too. I'm such a liar. I guess I saw the Dominoe's pizza guy, too. Geez, I practically have a social life.

In four days, my baby took no naps.

In four days, I mopped twice.

In four days, I vacuumed twice.

In four days, I read a book.

In four days, I cleaned off the kitchen counter.

In four days, I cared for eight different children.

In four days, I had no real conversations with anyone, other than instant-messages on the computer. I barely read the newspaper and hardly saw the news.

In four days, I screamed "YOU'RE DRIVING ME CRAZY!" at least once. Maybe twice.

I am the Boringest Woman on Earth. Who lives in a shoe. With so many children she doesn't know what to do.

Husband should never be allowed to go on business trips when their wives are at home turning into pumpkins.

(Have I used enough nursery rhyme imagery yet?)

Wave if you see me at the grocery store! I'll be the one with the twitching eye and sparkly tiara. Yes, they are giving out tiaras now to really dull women.

I have to go. The children need a whuppin'.

Posted by Mel at 8:46 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 8:14 PM PDT
Saturday, 8 November 2003
My Twitching Eye
My eye is twitching. This can mean only one thing: I need sleep. But my eye will continue to twitch, because I need something more than sleep. I need to be awake in this house while all the children are asleep. I crave silence.

Babygirl skipped her nap again today. I'm not sure why I bother to say it that way. The truth is, naps are an exception, not a rule. My husband laughs at me because I am so optimistic that she'll nap again regularly. I'm a "glass half-empty" kind of girl. I can find the downside in any situation. I nicknamed myself "The Dream Basher" early in my marriage. My husband would have all these plans and ideas and dreams and I could effortlessly smash them into smithereens. I know. It's a gift. He's the Dreamer and I'm the Dream Basher. (We're meant for each other.)

I had a fairly productive day. I woke up at 6:55 a.m. and thought, "I should get up and shower while Babygirl is still asleep." Then fifteen minutes later, I heard her cry out. Oops. I managed to shower an hour or two later. Babygirl was distracted by one of the boys downstairs, so I sneaked upstairs and got into the shower. It was only a few minutes before TwinBoyB escorted her upstairs. She stood outside the tub and sobbed.

TwinBoyB begged me to take them somewhere. It's cold and rainy here. Where would I take two 10 year olds, a 5 year old and a baby? He wanted to spend his allowance money which was burning a hole in his pocket. I finally decided to take them all to the bank (drive-thru), video store (to rent games) and to buy lunch from Wendy's. I've been trying to get a baked potato from Wendy's for a few weeks, but keep forgetting to order it. So, that's what we did. We rented two games, then went through the Wendy's drive-thru. I remembered the potato today!

When we got home, the boys immediately disappeared to play Nintendo. I played with Babygirl on the living room floor for awhile, then decided to vacuum. Not only that, I decided to move all the furniture and vacuum underneath everything.

I found enough unpopped popcorn kernels to feed a large homeschooling family of rats for weeks. It scared me. But I feel very virtuous now, with super-clean carpets. After that, I put away two baskets of laundry. Then, I whipped up a double-batch of chocolate chip cookie dough. I froze three dozen balls of dough to bake later and baked three dozen cookies. (I need to go pop them into a ziplock bag!) I have only one dirty load of laundry left in the house. I have impressed myself.

We had soup for dinner, then I made all the boys shower and wash. "Let me smell your armpits. Oh! You smell! Get back in there and wash this time!" And then a few minutes later, "Okay, let me smell you again. Did you wash your hair? You did not! Wash your hair! With shampoo!" It took TwinBoyB three tries to get totally clean.

They all have clipped fingernails and toenails and clean hair. Even though we are skipping church tomorrow because Babygirl has another runny nose.

How shrunken my world has my world become when I feel a sense of accomplishment because I have clean carpet under my couch and three dozen balls of frozen cookie dough in my freezer and freshly scrubbed children? I'm not sure whether to pity myself or laugh at myself.

When my husband goes out of town like this, I start to notice that I don't really have a local girlfriend to call and shoot the breeze with. When I was newly married, it bothered me a lot to have shifted from many friends in college to no friends as a newlywed. As we moved from state to state, I noticed that it took longer and longer to connect with women, to click and find someone to telephone in the afternoon while standing at the sink doing dishes.

Now, when the phone rings, it's either A) my husband; B) my sister; C) my mother; and D) someone calling me to ask what someone else's telephone number is. I've become a Directory Assistance of sorts for church people to call! Even a good friend called me yesterday to ask for someone else's number! A while back, my great-aunt from Wisconsin called me (she NEVER calls) just to ask for my sister's telephone number in Japan.

I have often been lonely for women's companionship. Women my age usually have children who are older than my younger children. They are often immersed in their careers. Often, they have long-standing friendships and it just takes too much time and too much work and too much commitment to establish a new friendship.

Then there is the added complication of being a "Pastor's Wife." Just that title alone puts an automatic distance between me and other women. (The ones who know. I often don't tell.) People have assumptions about what a Pastor's Wife is like. I don't really fit any of those stereotypes, but I do feel myself guarding my Real Self. I have to keep some things to myself, keeping in mind that if I complain about my husband, I am putting their pastor in a bad light. So, the church women are not a source of comfort or friendship to me for the most part. (I do have one good friend at church, but she's mother to three children, plus is consumed by a new career. She literally has no time.)

Well, woe is me.

My eye is still twitching and I'm squinting through my contact lenses. The buzzer on the dryer has gone off and I need to get those cookie dough balls into a bag. The fun never ends.

Posted by Mel at 8:15 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 8:17 PM PDT
Friday, 7 November 2003
Fred is Dead
Fred is dead. At least he looked dead the last time I checked.

Fred's been living with us since May of 2002 when YoungestBoy found him gliding across our driveway. YoungestBoy immediately picked him up and caressed him, as little boys who love slimy things do. He christened the creature "Fred" and that's how we ended up with a pet snail.

We kept him in a Rubbermaid shoebox for quite some time. When it became apparent that YoungestBoy would not allow me to let Fred go back to his family, I bought a creature box, designed for small pets. When I'd remember, I'd sprinkle water on Fred and give him a carrot or a lettuce leaf. Once, a telemarketer called and said, "how many pets do you have?" and I said, "Well, that depends. Do snails count?"

Fred lived on and on. We kept his box tucked behind the couch so that the afternoon sun wouldn't sizzle him. Mostly, we forgot about him. He was pretty much the ideal pet.

Until, of course, YoungestBoy "caught" a slug in the backyard and put him in a jar at the end of last summer. Then, inexplicably, YoungestBoy put both Fred and the slug in his bedroom windowsill. The next day, the slug was just a slimy remnant of his former self. Fred was fried.

I moved his box out of sight. That was a couple of months ago.

Two days ago, YoungestBoy said, "Hey, I forgot all about my snail!" and I said, "Son, I think Fred is dead."

"He is?" YoungestBoy said.

"Yes, remember last summer when you left him in the windowsill? I think he got too hot and he died."

Silence. From the kitchen, I called out to him in the living room. "Honey, are you okay?"

"NO!" he said.

I peeked around the corner to see him curled in a chair, mourning. He was crying a little, his darling little mouth in heart-tugging frown.

"Now, I only have one pet!" he said. He moped for maybe half an hour, but it wasn't just about Fred. This distress was really about Greta.

When we brought Greta to our home in October of 2001, she was a bumbling ball of black fluffy puppy love. I had researched breeds carefully and chosen a Newfoundland because they are reputed to be gentle and sweet with children. YoungestBoy loves all dogs and wouldn't be intimidated by her adult size (over a hundred pounds). After much thought and research, we became dog owners!

We figured it was the perfect time for a family dog. The twins were 8 and YoungestBoy was 3. He was so lonely when they went off to school every day and I thought a dog buddy would be perfect.

And it was perfect. Except that two months later, I found myself unexpectedly (shockingly!) pregnant. After a long history of infertility, a pregnancy was the very last thing I expected. Now, we had a dog and would soon have a newborn! Suddenly, my perfect plan flew into disarray.

Despite the fatigue of pregnancy, I took Greta to obedience class and worked with her until she had decent manners. Her first year was a wild one. She was confined to the kitchen and family room and every night she would race through the house, sometimes hurtling herself over the couch, but more often running across it. She knocked down the children. When she got bigger, she stole food from the counter. Sometimes, she'd sit on the kids while they sat on the couch.

I was nervous about how we'd manage with a baby and a one-year old dog. Large breed dogs are still puppies through their second year, even though they are huge. Visitors always said, "Wow, she is so big!"

But my fears were largely unfounded. During the homebirth, Greta stayed in her crate and didn't make a sound. After the baby was born, she was interested in the baby, but always gentle. I thought my panic was unwarranted.

Shortly after Greta turned two years old, she was downstairs with the boys while my husband and I were upstairs with the baby. I heard TwinBoyB cry out briefly and when I came out of the room after putting the baby to bed, my husband told me that Greta had nipped TwinBoyB. Greta had been licking the butter dish on the counter and TwinBoyB scolded her. Apparently, Greta was startled and she nipped his face.

My husband was furious. I was shocked. He called a friend who used to train dogs who warned him that the dog would probably bite again. He talked to a nurse friend of ours who instructed us to put antibiotic ointment on it and watch it for infection. We agreed that if the dog ever did something like that, she would have to go.

I reiterated to the children that they should not scold the dog in that situation again. They were to give her commands often--before feeding her, before letting her outside, before petting her. I figured it was an issue of dominance, but we'd never had trouble before, other than one time when Greta growled at one of the kids. We'd just step up our efforts at letting her know who was boss.

Less than a week later, I was upstairs nursing the baby. YoungestBoy was downstairs watching television. Greta was keeping him company. The twins were at school, my husband was at work. The house was quiet.

Then YoungestBoy screamed. I put the baby (now crying) in her crib and leapt down the stairs. I knew instantly what happened, but when I got downstairs and saw the baby-gate askew and YoungestBoy clutching his face and sobbing, my heart flipped over. I put Greta outside and gathered my boy in my arms and pulled his hand from his face.

His cheek was red. Three scratches ended in a puncture wound and another puncture wound was bleeding near his jaw. He was hysterical. "She bit me! She bit me!" he wailed.

I led him to a chair and said, "Greta will not be living with us anymore" in a grim voice.

"But Mom, I love her!" He started crying harder.

I got ice, band-aids, a wet cloth. He sobbed and sobbed. "Why did she do that to me?"

I called my husband and told him what happened. I called the breeder and told her what happened and told her that I had to bring Greta back. (It's the policy of good breeders that dogs have to be returned to them if the owner can no longer keep the animal.) I just knew that I couldn't have an unpredictable dog in my house with my one year old baby.

The what-ifs scared me.

The night, at 8:30 p.m., I told the children that Greta would be leaving. "Do you want to say good-bye?" I really wanted to sneak out of the house under cover of darkness, but I knew they needed to cry and to hug her and to say good-bye. TwinBoyB and YoungestBoy both broke down, crying. TwinBoyA said, matter-of-factly, "This will leave a big hole in our family." He never really liked her.

The breeder's house was two and a half hours from mine. I wept most of the way. My tears were for my boy who loved his dog, even though she scared and hurt him. He had begged me not to take her away. "Mom, what if it wasn't her fault?" I told him that she never had a good reason to bite him. The next day he told me that he'd been lifting her ear to talk into it. He thought it was his fault that she bit him.

At 11 p.m., I drove up the dark, tree-lined driveway. The breeder's home is a large log-cabin, set in a clearing in the woods. The only time Greta made a sound was when I neared the house. She whined.

We spoke for awhile and went over the horrible events of that day. The breeder was kind and apologetic. I cried more, handed over Greta's rabies tag and her flea treatment. Then, I left.

My tears started before I got to my car. A few miles down the road, I remembered Greta's special food was still in my car trunk and I sobbed harder.

When I slipped under the covers at 1:30 a.m., I cried a little more and then fell asleep.

Now, two months later, YoungestBoy remembers every once in awhile. He'll say, "Mom, I really miss Greta," and tears will slip from his blue-gray eyes. He used to ask me if she could come back and live with us. Or if we could get a new dog. I always say "no."

So, Fred is Dead. Greta is gone. I comfort myself with the thought that my boy can grieve these losses in a safe place, with my arms around him. Maybe he'll be stronger in the end. I hope so.

Posted by Mel at 8:08 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:07 PM PDT
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
Friday, 31 October 2003
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
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
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."


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
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
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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