Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kitchen Uses for French Philosophy

Tonight, as K washed the dishes and I packed tomorrow's lunches, we sang The Michel Foucault Song.

The Michel Foucault Song came with K.

[Sort of a packaged deal.]

For as long as I have known him, this song has been K's special serenade to week nights.

Tonight, we taught the song to our children.

And, to the tune of For He's a Jolly Good Fellow, it goes a little something like this...

"I'm reproducing my labor, I'm reproducing my labor, I'm reproducing my LAAAAYYYYBOOOOR... so I can sell it to The Man."
Now that my children know The Michel Foucault Song, perhaps they will grow up to be like him...

Perhaps they will examine the relationships between power, knowledge and discourse.

[And maybe, like Michel, they will also like leetle kittehz.]

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What Were The French Thinking?

Left on his own this afternoon, my tired husband decided to employ a little horizontal parenting.

[A parenting technique nearly perfected here in The House of Joy.]

He reclined on The Mayor's bed and periodically injected, "Is that right?", "Oh!" or "Mmmm hmmmm," at just the right moments in the ongoing dialogue of the short and loud people populating the room (also known as the children.)

The Rooster invaded the bed with a stack of her brother's dinosaur encyclopedias and proceeded to "read" them to him.

Each of her readings went something like this:

"It was Christmas Eve!

There was a boy going home!

The dinosaur wanted to eat him!

The boy... THE END."

The Rooster slammed the book shut and then started the next surprisingly similar Christmas Eve /dinosaur / boy-going-home saga.

After finishing the first stack of books, she scrambled down for a fresh group.

"These dinosaur books are in French," she told her father as she climbed back up.

The Rooster read several of these in a completely made up language.

After babbling randomly at length, she sighed and turned to her Dad.

"I just don't know where this story is going," she said in an exasperated tone.

Then, raising her eyebrows knowingly, she added, "It's French."

----------------------

(The Rooster decided long hair was too tangly and asked for a short haircut -et voilà!)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Her First Taste of Regret

The Mayor and The Rooster were walking in the back door to our house after school today when suddenly The Mayor started screaming.

There are screams that you are ignore and then there are the ones that turn your blood cold and make you run.

I ran.

He held his hand up next to his injured ear without actually touching it. Tears streamed down his face and he wailed and wailed.

"What happened?" I asked him.
"She hit my ear with her whole head and it hurts."
The Rooster, irritated with her brother about something trivial like who got in the back door first, head-butted her brother in the ear with the stitches.

I sent her to her room and tended to The Mayor.

After a little ice, a lot of TLC and a distracting suggestion that we look in the closet to see if we owned any Junie B. Jones books, The Mayor calmed down.

Once he was calmed, I went in and had one of those stern talks with The Rooster.

She typically shrugs off time-outs and plays happily in her Area of Banishment.

I showed her The Mayor's stitches, gave her a pretty detailed description of his surgery and made sure she was clear that she was to never to touch his ear again.
"I'm sorry, Mayor," she said.
But The Mayor seemed pretty shaken up.

He's been really good about following directions related to taking care of his ear and so have his classmates.

At his pre-school, there is a job chart and the children take turns doing things like serving as Line Leader and Door Holder.

To help the class remember to watch out for The Mayor's ear, there's a new job on the chart called "Checker on The Mayor" and each day a different classmate takes a turn keeping an eye on his safety.

[I am indebted to his teacher, she is brilliant.]

After all the time and attention spent on protecting his ear, getting walloped by his sister really threw him.

I'm not sure if it really hurt as much as it scared him.

At any rate, he retreated to my office to read a book by himself.

After apologizing, The Rooster tried hard to get back in his good graces, but he really needed a few moments to himself.

She came to find me with her lip trembling.

Then her tears spilled over and she began to sob.
"What is it, Roo?" I asked.
"I... I... I feel sorry!" she sobbed. "I feel really sorry."
We sat together in her favorite rocking chair and, more softly this time, talked it over again.

It was my daughter's first taste of regret.
"The good thing about regrets," I told her, "is that they help you to remember not to make the same mistakes another time."
Still, it took a long time to rock The Rooster back down to this planet.

[And by this time I was an hour late starting dinner, K was still not home, my blood sugar had fallen (and could not get up) and The House of Joy had to forsake real nutrition and eat soup from a can because I can only do so much. So there.]

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Right Where You Left Off

It has what looks like a red gummy bear jammed down it and a row of stitches neatly rounding it's rear curve.

I don't think he can hear anything out of it, in fact, I know he can't.

The Mayor is a high decibel kid anyway, one who has always TALKED IN ALL CAPS.

Until the gel foam gummy bear dissolves over the course of the next few weeks we'll just have to live with him SPEAKING IN A LARGER FONT.

As if trying to compensate for this period of quiet, the ear itself seems to reach out and away from his head, like it was straining to make out the sounds it can't quite hear.

It will be a month before we know if the surgery was successful and if his hearing levels are restored.

If you look at The Mayor straight on, his ear looks different than it did before.

It sticks out more and seems a little lower.

It is especially noticeable from the back and helped along in that regard because The Mayor likes to keep his hair so short.

K is worried that it won't return to normal. He worries that The Mayor might get teased about it.

Surprisingly, I find it oddly endearing.

It somehow reminds me of the down turned corner of a well loved book.

He has a dog-eared look that suggests that no matter where or how an encounter with The Mayor ends, he'll hold the place for you and everything will be right where you left it the next time.

You'll always be able to pick up right where you left off with him.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Love You, Man

The Mayor returned to school today.

While he was out, they made him a wonderful, giant Get Well card.

The Mayor's best friend Caleb drew a picture of them together and this was The Mayor's favorite part of the card.

On Friday, The Mayor's classmates had a long talk about how they had to be gentle with him when he returned to the class.

Caleb volunteered to help keep other children from being too rough with The Mayor, but then raised his hand,

"If anyone pushes The Mayor can I push them back?"
[No.]
"Well then can I hit them?"
Ah, boy love.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Anatomical Abnormality

K paced the floor like a cat.

The nurse had called to say that the surgery was finished and that the doctor would be out soon to talk to us, but thirty minutes had passed and we hadn't heard another word.

K stopped in front of me, visibly irritated.

"I don't think it's right that these doctors give parents their child's surgical results right here in the waiting room in front of all these people," he said.
I looked around.
"I think they only deliver good news out here. If there's bad news to be heard they take the family members to a consultation room."
Just then our doctor entered the waiting room and approached us.

He scanned the room.
"This is too public," he said, "follow me."
I thought K might pass out on his way to the family consultation room.

I looked over my shoulder at him and his eyes bugged out at me in this crazy, urgent way that said,

"THIS IS WHERE THEY TELL US HE DIED ON THE OPERATING TABLE!!"
I resolved not to look over my shoulder at him anymore and simply followed the doctor where he led us.

"First of all," he said, "everything is fine."
[Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you...]

"But..."
[BUT??!!]

"But he has an anatomical abnormality called a dehiscent jugular bulb."
[Por favor, speak-a di Engliss to me Il Doctorio!]

The surgeon explained that on the right side of his body, The Mayor's jugular vein travels through his ear on its way to his brain.

Apparently, fewer than 1% of the population have this variance in their anatomy.

The doctor told us that The Mayor would be admitted to the hospital and monitored overnight, even though this was originally supposed to be outpatient surgery, to make sure the jugular vein didn't bleed as a result of the surgery.

[Bleeding jugular = big, fat, freakin' emergency.]
"I tell ya," the surgeon said, "seeing that jugular vein took a year off my life!"
[Dear Mr. Doctor Man - While I appreciate your commitment to transparancy and the sharing of your feelings, I SO DID NOT NEED TO KNOW YOU GOT SCARED SH*TLESS DURING MY SON'S SURGERY! ]

He reassured us that the odd placement of The Mayor's jugular vein wouldn't pose any difficulties for The Mayor in life, for example, it won't limit his participation in sports or other activities.

It will make any further ear surgery that might be needed extremely complicated.
"If I never see your son's jugular vein again it will be too soon!" his Doctor exclaimed.
[You and me both, Mr. Doctor Man.]

Despite the alarming presence of the jugular, the tympanoplasty and mastoidectomy were successful and the doctor believes The Mayor will recover well.

K stayed at the hospital with him for the night and I am home with The Rooster.

As scary as it was, the weight of far greater tragedies surround you at a children's hospital and ground you in the truth of your own good fortune.

The Mayor will heal.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In The Waiting Room Now...

The Mayor's surgery is today, this morning, right now.

He went for his pre-op visit yesterday and while there, introduced himself to the nurse, the technician and the anesthesiologist.

He told each of them his full name and then, with a wide grin, added,

"But my nickname is The Mayor."
He made them laugh with a spontaneous performance he called "Yoga Booty Ballet."

It involved an interesting assortment of lunging stretches and bottom gyrations.
"This makes my butt really strong," he said, sticking it way out.
He was in an extraordinarily good mood, sparkling, shining, glowing.

He was absolutely radiant, alive with energy, bursting with life.

Though maybe I was just keenly aware of him in the way a mother will be in the moments leading up to the inevitable small cup of liquid versed and the time when the surgical suits wheel that small child away from you, through double locked security doors towards that thing they are calling the procedure.

Do me a favor, if you don't mind... hold The Mayor in the light today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fixing Things

The Mayor had a really hard morning a few days ago.

He picked a fight with his Dad on the way out of the house and, after we dropped K off at the train station, he kept the fight alive with me.

When he shifted his aggression towards me, I was not the best parent.

I allowed myself to be drawn into the battle.

"No I didn't."

"Yes, you did."

"No! I didn't."

[and so on.]

By the time we got to his school, he was completely defeated and utterly sad.

He held me for much longer than usual when we said our goodbyes.

His eyes were red, nearly spilling over.

"I love you forever and ever and always no matter what," I said.
[Because that is what we say in our family when we struggle.]

I held him for a long time, but eventually pulled away.

After I closed the door, I looked back through the window and saw that he had fallen into his teacher's arms sobbing.

I hesitated, but ultimately, kept going.

Throughout my morning swim, I felt sad.

I went to work and dragged from meeting to task to conference call.

Why get into a battle of wills with a four year old and insist on winning?

What a jerky thing to do.

Heavy sheets of dreary rain fell steadily all day and I continued to feel bad.

Finally, I got up from my desk and drove to his school.

"Is it o.k. if I play for a little while longer?" he asked when he saw me.

"Um... can I talk to you for a minute?" I asked.

He followed me to a corner of the room far away from his friends.
"I'm sorry we struggled this morning, Mayor," I said. "I've been feeling badly about it all day and I've been missing you. I was hoping you and I could spend a little bit of time just by ourselves. We could go do something and then come back later to pick up your sister."
He gave me a big hug.

We went to the post office and mailed a box together and then drove to a restaurant for a to-go order of his favorite tater tots.

Nothing magical happened, but I think we both felt better.

On our way back to his school to pick up The Rooster, The Mayor said,

"You love me forever and ever no matter what."

"That's right," I said. "I do."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It Wasn't Nurture, I Swear

There are so many ways that our boy child is 100% boy and our girl child is 100% girl.

He plays dinosaurs and star wars while she plays baby dolls and kitchen.

We swear we didn't do anything to make it so... and still, they are so gendered that their little boy and girl-ness literally seeps out of their pores.

K came into our bedroom after tucking them in bed.

"I can't believe it," he said. "They even smell completely different."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, she smells like fresh baked cookies, but he... he smells liked a damned horse!"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Wedding Ceremonies

Over the last few weeks, The Mayor routinely announced his intention to remain a bachelor.

But today he was interested in learning about the actual wedding ceremony.

We were talking a summer trip to the west coast that we have planned to attend the wedding of a friend and The Mayor suddenly had to know everything.

"Can you tell me everything about weddings? NO! Can you show me?"
Lately, The Mayor has to be pretending all day long.

For example, he spent the entire day soaring around the house and shrieking.

[Bald eagle.]

His pretending is so fast and furious that he's making K a little bit nuts.

"What animal are you?" he'll ask impatiently as K fumbles for his first cup of morning coffee.

"Can't I just be a plain, old, regular Daddy right now, Mayor?" K will beg.

[That would be no.]

Showing The Mayor about weddings meant that K and I had to play the bride and groom while The Mayor served as the officiant.

[We went with a non-denominational imaginative play wedding.]

K told The Mayor what to say and I repeated back all the for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health words.

We walked up and down the aisle.

We sang Here Comes The Bride.

We exchanged rings.

We even kissed.

When The Mayor was finally satisfied, he said,
"I'm still not going to marry. I'm definitely going to be a bachelor."
Then I remembered one thing about weddings that I had forgotten to tell him.
"At the end of the wedding, everyone gives you presents."
His eyes widened.
"They give you toys?"
"Well, no. You're an adult when you get married so they give you things adults want."
"Oh," he said, experiencing a moment of regret about his choice never to wed.
Then he shrugged it off,
"Oh, well. I'll still have Christmas."
[Later The Mayor asked what wedding presents K and I received. When K told him we got the family silverware, The Mayor couldn't stop laughing. He had never heard of such a ridiculous gift.]

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dissin' One Quarter Fat

After an impossibly long week, a friend suggested a dinner out.

Amazingly, we were able to find a babysitter and so did the other two couples.

I think all of us were relieved to be out, to be social, to be doing something besides working.

[Working, working, working... Everyone I know who has a job is working harder than ever.]

One of the husbands told the rest of us that he'd recently joined a gym.

"I was embarrassed by my body mass index evaluation," he confessed.
The other husband (besides mine) asked what the report said.

"It said I was a quarter fat!" husband #1 told him.

"Wow!" husband #2 said, smiling. "You must be really, really soft!"

"Thanks," husband #1 said, sarcastically.

"You should probably make friends with some seals," husband #2 said. "They'd meet you and say, HEY! YOU'RE OUR KIND OF PEOPLE!"

Then, changing his marine focus slightly, husband #2 spent the rest of the evening referring to husband #1 as Flipper.
"Can you pass the salt, Flipper?"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bofe of Us

She came running up to me, holding her little jean jacket in her hands.

"Mama, let's bofe wear our jean jackets today!!"
She was jumping up and down with excitement.
"Sure, Roo. We can wear our jean jackets."
Then she looked up at me with her big eyes sparkling and said,
"Let's dress exactly the same!"
I have always been suspicious of mothers-daughter outfits.
"Matching outfits! Pa!"
I always assumed it was the mother's idea.

[Oh, my disdain!]

It made me smile to have had it all wrong and backwards.

How could I resist Roo's small request, her love-filled plea?

She wanted to spend the day dressed like me.

I know that it won't be very long before she'll strain and pull away from me, working hard to prove that she and I are nothing alike.

When we left the house, we were both dressed in jeans, white shirts, boots and jean jackets.

I was beaming.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Bay Leaves

"Do you know if these fresh bay leaves will spoil quickly in the refrigerator?" she asked me.
It was late Sunday evening, the market was crowded, and if I didn't hurry, the kids would already be asleep before I got back home.

"I don't know," I said. "I've never bought them before. If you're worried, they probably have dried Bay leaves over in the spice section."

"Well, the last time I was here they didn't have any dried bay leaves," she said.

I didn't know what else to say and I was anxious to get on with my shopping.

She was an older woman with a perfect southern drawl.

She spoke slowly, wistfully almost.

"When I was a young girl," she started, "there was a big branch that bent way over a pond where ducks used to swim."
I took a deep breath.

I willed myself to slow down and listen.
"We used to wander down there by that pond," she said, remembering.
She tilted her head slightly upwards and looked off to her right as she pulled this place from her past into focus.
"When mama was making a soup or stew, she used to send us down to that branch and ask us to pick her a few of those bay leaves. She never did ask us to pick her a whole bunch like this though."
She threw a questioning glance down at the small tub of fresh bay leaves in her hand.

I could read the price. The fresh bay leaves were $1.99.
"Well," I said, trying to be both friendly and comforting, "if you use a few and the rest spoil, the worst thing that can happen is that you'll be out two dollars."
She sighed.
"The thing is," she said putting them back, "I don't have anything to use even one of them for right now."
I understood her then.

She didn't really need a bay leaf, just someone to talk to.

Someone to hear about that pond with the bent over branch, that special place where the ducks once swam.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Tactics

"Who are you from Star Wars?" The Mayor asked.
Every day, on the drive to drop K off at the commuter train, The Mayor organizes us into Star Wars characters for imaginary play.

K decided to be Yoda and I went for Han Solo.

"I'm Luke Skywalker!" The Rooster announced.

"But...," The Mayor started to protest.

It was obvious from his whining tone that HE wanted to be Luke Skywalker.

He quickly pulled himself together, knowing that his sister would never give up the title if she knew he wanted it.

He employed a more clever tactic.
"Luke Skywalker? Are you sure?" he asked.

She held her claim.

"Roo, let me ask you this... do you like using your same two hands every day?"
K and I were on to him.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Run

Lately I've been reading a lot of Ann Patchett.

I read Bel Canto awhile back and really liked it.

More recently I read The Magician's Assistant and now I'm reading Run.

In Run, one of the characters is Father Sullivan, an aging Catholic priest spending the end of his life in an assisted living facility.

In the following passage, Father Sullivan is awake too early in the morning, unable to sleep, thinking about the faithful who regularly visit him, believing he has divine healing powers.

But now that his heart had become so shiftless and unreliable, now that he should be sensing the afterlife like a sweet scent drifting in from the garden, he had started to wonder if there was in fact no afterlife at all.

Look at all these true believers who wanted only to live, look at himself, clinging onto his life like a squirrel scrambling up the icy pitch of a roof.

In suggesting that there may be nothing ahead of them, he in no way meant to diminish the future; instead, Father Sullivan hoped to elevate the present to a state of the divine.

It seemed from this moment of repose that God may well have been life itself.

God may have been the baseball games, the beautiful cigarette he smoked alone after checking to see that all the bats had been put back behind the closet door.

God could have been the masses in which he told people how best to prepare for the glorious life everlasting, the one they couldn't see as opposed to the one they were living at that exact moment in the pews of the church hall, washed over in the stained glass light.

How wrongheaded it seemed now to think that the thrill of heartbeat and breath were just a stepping stone to some thing greater.

What could be greater that the armchair, the window, the snow?

Life itself had been holy.

We had been brought forth from nothing to see the face of God and in his life Father Sullivan had seen it miraculously for eighty-eight years.

Why wouldn't it stand to reason that this had been the whole of existence and now he would retreat back to the nothingness he had come from in order to let someone else have their turn at the view?

This was not the workings of disbelief.

It was instead a final, joyful realization of all he had been given.

It would be possible to overlook just about anything if you were trained to constantly strain forward to see the power and the glory that was waiting up ahead.

What a shame it would have been to miss God while waiting for him.

Run
by Ann Patchett


The passage made me stop for a moment.

Driven by my interest in the ongoing narrative, I read on, but not before I dog-eared the page.

It struck me as one for further contemplation, one to ponder with a hot cup of coffee.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

One Dry Moon

Lately we've been spending a lot of time recreating at our local Y.M.C.A.

I especially enjoy it when The Rooster sits on a stool outside my shower stall after we're done, eating a snack and singing at the top of her lungs,

"It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A."
She always gets a laugh from the other naked wimmins in the locker room.

It's been too cold to burn off the children's jet fuel at the park so into the pool we go.

However, I am seriously about to complain to THE MANAGEMENT because the pool chemical balance has spun out of control.

They like, totally go to eleven.]

As evidence, a speedo swim suit usually lasts me through three months of workouts before it looses all it's elasticity and color.

[And then the girls, who were properly lifted and secure when the suit was tight and new, are forced to swing low in the faded, shapeless bag my speedo becomes... which is so... very pretty.]

My last two speedo suits, both purchased since the new year, were completely thrashed after two weeks in the water.

Two weeks!

ATTENTION GOOD PEOPLE OF THE YMCA: I can't be out there buying up speedo swim suits every other week!

[insert various expletives here]

Swim suit issues aside, the chemicals are also having a negative impact on our family's skin.

The Family Joy is one itchy lot.

[Oh, the shame of dryness!]

Despite copious vats of lotion application, we itch on.

Being the sweet, and wonderful man that he is, K routinely offers to re-apply lotion to the family's most bothersome body parts.
"Where do you need it?" he asks, waving the lotion bottle.
The Mayor and I turn our backs to him and lift our shirts.

Ack! That out of reach spot between our shoulder blades!

The Rooster, on the other hand, sports her most offending itch in regions located much further south.

"Where do you need lotion, Roo?"
Every time he asks, her eyes sparkle with mischief and she drops her pants to moon him.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The First Time

I grew up where it was common, but Sunday was the first time my children saw snow.

Of course, they had heard of it and had seen pictures of it in books, but this was the first time they held their mouths open to the sky, willing crystalline flakes to fall onto their tongues.

They walked with their father, throwing snowballs and laughing through the woods.

They built a small snowman.

Eventually, dressed in cotton clothes testifying to my children's southern upbringing, they got too cold and wet.

Rooster came into the house sobbing because of it and reminded me of my Tennessean college roommate on the day she got her first taste of an Illinois winter.

I was on my way down to the laundry room, waiting at our dorm elevators with a basket of clothes.

The doors slid open and there, crumpled in a heap, was my college roommate Liz, crying hysterically.

I set the laundry down and crouched down beside her, worried.

"What? What is it, Liz? What's wrong?"

"I'm...s-s-s-so... c-c-c-COLD!" she sobbed.

Because I had lived in Illinois since the eighth grade, I was used to the bitterly cold weather.

I even went on a date to see The Flamingo Kid with Matt Dillon on a night when the wind chill registered eighty degrees below zero.

I vividly remember the way the wind steadily blew a thin layer of talcum snow across the dark and deserted theater parking lot.

It gave me the eerie sensation of being surrounded by ghosts.

When I found Liz crying in the elevator, I did what any kind, understanding roommate would do.

I burst out laughing.

[And then I helped her get up and to our room to get warm.]

When The Rooster and The Mayor came inside, they both had perfectly round, rosy button cheeks.

Their faces were literally shining with the cold.

I pulled their wet things off and quickly re-dressed them.

When they were dry, we made hot chocolate.

While they sipped it at the dining room table, they told me all about the snow.

They told me everything.

Monday, March 02, 2009

We Should Watch The Taming of the Shrew Next

"The beast was mean and grumpy," Rooster said.
[We watched Beauty and The Beast on Friday night.]

"He was," I agreed. "How did he learn to be nice?"

"Belle taught him," The Mayor said.

I nodded in agreement and then, with a wistful look in my eye, said,
"That is just like the story of your father and I," I told them.
Their eyes widened.

"Before he met you he was a mean, hairy beast?" they asked, incredulous.

"Oh, YES!" I said.

K rolled his eyes.
"Was he really, really hairy?" Rooster wanted to know.

"Did he have big, pointy teeth?" The Mayor wondered.
My children took this bait and let the hook sink deeply into their tender cheeks.

They went to bed imagining their fair mother taming the beast that once was their dad.

The irony is, of course, that I was the one who was the beast.

K transformed me into a gentler, kinder person.

His influence is one that encourages me to constantly strive to be the best version of myself.

After we tucked the children in and kissed them goodnight, K leaned in and whispered in my ear,
"Payback is hell."
When I looked at him, he was grinning mischievously.