Monthly Archives: May 2009

Boys to Men

Husband has set the children to breaking up large rocks with a sledge hammer. Backfill for an elusive cement project. FD suggests this sounds like punishment, but in the twisted way that boys have that allows them to feign near-death illness upon being asked to set the table but joyfully dig a hole ten times their own volume, they enjoy the rock breaking. The nine year old probably weighs as much as the hammer, but he's the one hardest at it. 

So help me, every time they take a little rest and then begin again and I hear the first thud of that hammer, feel the vibration in my feet, I think it's a toddler's head striking the floor. You know the solid sound I'm talking about–the one that's generally followed by a split second silence and then an ear-piercing shriek. I have this instantaneous panic reaction and every possibility presents itself: someone has succeeded in climbing all the way to the top of the fridge; a neighbor child has climbed the fence and fallen, headfirst onto the cement; a large someone has decided to carry a small someone on their shoulders and dropped them off backwards.

But the shriek doesn't come and so I take a deep breath and remember, it's just Dad, making men out of boys.

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Forget the Dog, What About Pavlov’s Children?

Classical conditioning may have worked with canines and other semi-advanced species, but I'm starting to doubt its effectiveness with children. 

You would think, for example, that after falling off the dishwasher door three times in five minutes, a two year old child would stop opening and climbing onto the thing. That after pulling the elastic out of the other kid's hair every day for two weeks and getting forcefully shoved backwards onto her behind, every day, she would clue in that her hair pulling behavior results in the pain and humiliation of getting shoved.
But no. 
My favorite is the child obsessed with the baby gym. Every day, several times a day, she climbs into the baby gym and after thirty seconds of sheer joy at playing baby, she starts complaining that she is stuck. 
"Well get out, then."
"I'm stuck." 
"Why are you in there again?"
At which point, someone takes pity on her and lifts her out. 
Ten minutes later the scene is repeated. I decided to leave her in the thing. Pretty soon she's crying. Piteously. I let her out. 
Ten minutes later, "Claire! DO NOT climb into that!"
"I'm stuck." 
Now it's immediate. In, cry to get out. 
"Claire! You cannot climb into the baby's toy. You're breaking it. 
Do you want to paint?" 
Moments later, again, "I'm stuck." 
"Claire! What am I going to do with you?!
"Maybe you should spank her bum."
"Is that what you need Claire? A spank on your bum?"
"WAAAAA! Kimber spank my bum!!!!"
[I am so not allowed to threaten, let alone do, such a thing.]
Her big sister comes in, hearing the fuss. "Why did you spank my sister's bum?"
"She was being naughty."
"She didn't spank her bum."
Hey! Don't blow my cover here, maybe we could instill a little fear in the rest of them.  (Or bring down Child Protective Services on our heads.)  Not that pain seems to be much of a deterrent . . . Who knows. Maybe that's why spanking doesn't work terribly well as a disciplinary tool–children just aren't as easily conditioned as canines. All that bothersome thinking and free will gets in the way.

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Trust Me

Kimber, why can't we use your computer?

It's not a toy.
My mom lets me use her computer.
That's nice–but if you broke mine, I wouldn't be able to do my job anymore.
I wouldn't break it. Why would I break it?
What happened when I let you lose my stapler?
I broke it. 
What happened to my screen?
We tore it.  But we couldn't tear your computer
I know you wouldn't mean to break my computer, but you might accidentally break it. And you know how when I'm reading everyone wants to climb on us at the same time, and when I try to use the computer everyone wants to sit on my lap? They'll all want to climb on you too, and something will get broken.
What can I do?
Why don't you play with bubbles?
We already poured them all out.

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May Fool’s Day

Remember when my computer was crashing twenty times a day but never on demand and so I took a picture of the error screen for the repair guy because it would never crash when he was around?

This morning I turned on my computer and saw this:
Only even more convincing; my thirteen year old figured out how to not only make the photo of the crash fit the desktop background perfectly but also hide all my icons and toolbars, so I'd think the computer had crashed again. 
Sneaky little bloke–if the prompt to sign into my gmail account hadn't popped up I would have really fallen for it. 

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Really Crunchy Ones

Eww! NononononoNo! Quick, grab me a Kleenex! Can you reach them? Yeah, stand on the chair.


     Why, what happened?
         Why you holding hers hands?
The baby has lots of snot. 
Yeah. Let's wipe it before she rubs it all over her face. 
         Or eats it? 
Yeah, or eats it.
    Yeah. I don't eat the slimey boogers. Just the really crunchy ones.
(Yes, this was your child. Just in case you were wondering. You know who you are.)

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I didn't call my mother on Mother's Day. 

I didn't even send an email or a text message. 
I could blame it on the plumbing or exhaustion or, I don't know, I could say I lost my voice and my internet was down. 
But honestly . . . .
I didn't call because my mother hated holidays. 
She liked to decorate for Christmas, and sew costumes for school Halloween parties.  She used to make these really intricate cakes for birthdays. Cakes like a baby grand piano complete with a full keyboard and peddles or the six layer mountain "cake" made from egg, milk, and leaven free ingredients for my allergic brother. It had  little pine trees and a waterfall and a toy train winding it's way up to the top and I think there was even a tunnel. 
But if the holiday had anything to do with focusing attention on her, she hated it. And I mean tight-lipped, neck-sinew-twitching hatred. And I think Mother's day pretty much topped the list. 
If I remember right, the rationale went something like this: If you love me, show me year round; if you don't, then cut the crap. Direct quote. I think the once a year brouhah over mothers struck her as a bit hypocritical. 
So I'm a little hesitant to make that call, you know? Because I'm not an affectionate person no matter what day it is or who you are. Unless you're under three feet tall and you drool. In that case I'm okay with you invading my personal space and I'll probably tell you how smart and wonderful you are. But once you're taller than my elbow you're pretty much on your own. I'll listen to what you have to say; and if you sincerely want to listen, I have a few things to say myself occasionally. When we can actually hear one another.  And actually, I prefer email. Take it or leave it. 
Do I feel guilty? Yeah. I start thinking about it some time in April.  I always pick up the phone and stare at it on D-day. Some years I make the call. Some years I don't, but we manage to step around the issue by talking about something else entirely, when I do hit send. 
Last year I bought gift certificates. One for Mom, one for Dad, in March. I even bought cards and figured I'd make a sneak attack through the US postal system. I think I finally sent them in July. 
So Mom, and I know you'll probably read this out of sheer morbid curiosity if nothing else, having noticed the M-word in the title. I'm sorry I didn't call. Because I know you noticed. And even when the attention makes you squirm, it probably feels even worse when I say nothing at all. 
Thank you for the ridiculous cakes and the costumes and the hours spent on the phone the rest of the year talking about nothing at all. Thank you for taking us to Conference, year after year; for trying, when it seemed like nothing you did would ever be enough, or noticed, or matter. I'm a mother now too, and I'm beginning to understand. 

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"Have you seen your Mother's Day sign, yet?"

"On the bathroom door."
Affixed there with packaging tape, I found this cryptic sign: "Winslow Did It"

With much trepidation (and my shirt over my nose) I opened the bathroom door, and thus the most motherly of tasks greeted me on Sunday morning: emergency do-it-yourself plumbing. Followed by a detailed lecture on what can and cannot be flushed, and in what quantities.
I was just glad nobody made me breakfast in bed. And that we'd taught everyone how to turn off the water behind the toilet. And that at some point he'd thought to. 
My blessings abound.

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Vampires in Your Den

I skimmed through an article the other day about conserving both energy and money because it actually promised a cost analysis of certain behaviors. Like how much money it saves you to unplug your cell phone charger when not in use. Yeah, those vampire chargers we've all heard about, sucking the life out of the power grid and ultimately America. You know you've read the headlines and felt a little bit guilty for harboring your own little covey of life draining appliances.

Don't worry about it. 

The charger? 14 cents a year. I've could save ten times that much by sorting the pennies out of the crumbs in the depth of my living room sofa. Your laptop? You could save 2 cents a day by leaving it unplugged. The grand total I could save if I acted on all the recommendations listed? Slightly less than thirteen dollars. A year.
Call me crazy, cynical or lazy, but you'd have to pay me a whole lot more than 14 cents a year to concern myself with whether or not my cell phone charger is plugged in. It isn't, but only because I need that outlet for the pencil sharpener. 
I know, I know, I could get a manual sharpener and save even more money–and counter space. Except that I bought the electric one specifically because it is so over sized it cannot possibly wander off into someone's pocket or backpack. And I can operate it with one hand.
And for better or for worse, isn't that America? We do things that don't make the most economic or environmental sense because it makes the most personal sense. People pay hundreds, thousands of dollars a year to walk on a treadmill at the gym when there are miles of blacktop they could use for free. We buy prepared foods for astronomical prices rather than cook every meal from scratch. Because we value time more than money. And we value convenience and aesthetics, too. We like our clothes to look clean. We pay other people to cut our hair–not because it's healthier or morally correct but because we like how it looks. You don't see articles recommending we do away with stain removers or the barber and his energy sucking establishment, do you?
And if you want to talk economics, there's a cost saver–I have given my children and husband about 487 hair cuts in the last fifteen and a half years.  If you price each one at about $20 (and I have no idea how accurate that is) I have saved myself $9740, not counting gas to get me to the barbers and probably a fast food meal on the way home because I wouldn't have been there to make dinner. 
But that's me. I have more time that money; I have five boys that don't really care what their hair looks like precisely (although I was getting a lot of coaching and suggestions last go round) and a girl who likes to wear hers long.
So go ahead. Leave your charger plugged in if that is convenient. Wash your towels and underwear in hot water if you want. Hire a barber or a masseuse or a lawn guy if you have the money. Don't let the headlines get to you. Use your common sense, and if you like, you can even let your mammon cents accrue beneath your sofa cushions. 

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Then Sings My Soul

Summer of 1993. Four thirty in the morning. Willow Drive nursery.

Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder.. .”

I’m surrounded by fruit trees; nobody can hear me sing. I have been memorizing hymns for months during my commute to work and out to the college; the song is my current favorite. I have stood at the top of a mountain and felt my own soul hum; I think I know just how Carl Gustag Boberg felt when he penned the words that became “How Great Thou Art”. I drive with a hymnal in my lap and I memorize all the verses, not just the ones we sing at church. I’ve been told a mother needs to have music in her head. Good music, and lots of it.

I’m seventeen and on some level I really want nothing more or less than to be a mother. I prepared myself for motherhood the way a student might prepare themselves for medical school. I’ve read the books; I’ve done internships as older sister, babysitter, candy striper in the children’s ward.

I’ve also graduated high school a year early with a 4.0 and almost perfect scores on my college entrance exams.

It bothers people that motherhood is my main goal.

Were I beautiful, no one would insist I market my looks or my body; but because I am intelligent somehow I owe modern society my undivided attention, my intellectual services.

But a seventeen year old doesn’t worry much about obligations to society. I sing my songs and I dream, out in the fields, newly American and keenly aware of being young and alive and strong.

A face appears between the saplings, a few rows over. A small, rounded Mexican woman with a thickened, wrinkled complexion. Several other women crowd around behind her. She pushes her way through the trees and her friends part the branches to watch. She gestures excitedly at me with her pruning shears. I have no idea what she’s saying.

Senor, mi Dios, al contemplar los cielos,” she sings. Her voice is no better than mine, but I recognize the tune. We know the same hymn, and this makes her happy. Everyone is smiling. They are clearly delighted that the strange white girl on the early morning crew knows this song.
I’m not sure how to respond.

“It’s my favorite hymn,”  I tell them in English. I’m pretty sure they don’t understand me either; they smile as everyone retreats back to her own row. Through the leaves I can see the sun glint off their shears as they work.

When I marry, I am told I have sold myself short. I have my babies and I sing my songs late into the night and in the early morning where nobody can hear me but the dark. One night I am singing as I pace the hall with a colicky newborn. The almost two year old calls me in and demands his blanket that has fallen, and “So-so.”

I don’t understand what he means. I hold the baby on my chest and I sit in the rocking chair; his older brother stands in his crib, eyebrows knit together, watching me. “So-so,” he pleads again.

“I don’t know what you’re saying,” I tell him. I pat the baby’s backand pick up singing where I left off, “I marvel that he would descend from His throne divine, to rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine.” 

The two year old jumps up. “So-so!” he exclaims. “A soul so…” Aha! Our eyes light at the same time as I make the connection. So-so!

“You want me to sing that song?”

“So-so song,” he says, grinning.

“That’s one of my favorites, too,” I tell him, and I start at the beginning. He lays down on his belly, looking out at me through the bars of the crib as I rock his brother. When I get to the soul so rebellious part he grins.

And as he gives in to the demands of sleep, he is still smiling; his blanket knotted around his fists, his tiny behind in the air. We know the same song; we understand each other; we have not been sold short. We are whole in a way no intellectual effort can explain or comprehend.

My son is thirteen and a half now. His feet are enormous. He opens pickle jars when I can’t. All on his own, he declines invitations to parties where he knows the planned activities are not the wisest; he tells me this in a matter of fact way while he helps a two-year-old into her coat. I want to hug him; tell him he makes me so proud, but I just listen.

He stands up each Sunday with the other boys his age, all in their suits and ties and he is the tallest one. And during the sacrament hymn, I see his lips moving:

I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.” 

I listen, wanting to hear his voice, but I can’t pick it out over the voices between us and the toddler on my lap. And so I watch, and I am whole. We know the same songs. Still.

Ten O’clock Paint Job

I read a suggestion somewhere that if you can't get your brain to turn off so you can sleep, try painting your entire body with a heavy gold paint, starting with your toes. The more difficulty you are having getting to sleep, the smaller you should imagine the paintbrush. 

Last night I imagined up a fairly decent size paintbrush. One small enough to get between the toes, but large enough that I wouldn't hyperventilate about how long it was taking to get the job done. 
Problem was, I couldn't really settle on what sort of paint brush it should be. And then I worried about spilling–is gold paint washable? Would it come off my sheets? How long would it take to dry?
I managed to evade these fresh worries enough that I was actually starting to feel pretty numb–to the point of not even caring that in order to paint my right arm, I'd have to operate the brush with my teeth, which would tense everything up again and nullify the whole experiment–in fact, I think I'd decided the brush could operate itself–when the phone rang, shattering the entire illusion. Turns out that not only will the paint not stain sheets, it doesn't hold up that well to a ringing telephone. Evaporates instantly. 

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