Saturday, January 29, 2005

To be in the springtime...with my love...

As my husband will be happy to tell you (after he gets through describing the defense of Rohan in his current Lord of the Rings game), we had a date last night. Cheap. A very kind friend offered babysitting, and my folks sent us gift certificates to Outback that very nearly covered our dinner expenses. It was so good to just sit back and snuggle while someone else did all the work, knowing that any screaming I heard wasn't my problem to deal with. So beautiful.

Unfortunately, we had to eat and run because we are parents of a Cub Scout and it was the night before the Pinewood Derby, which meant time for the official weigh-in, also known as "Cram 8 ounces of buckshot into your kid's car, and what's that cool power tool that other dad is using...?" night. Also known as "Mom gets to put the kids to bed" night. I did pretty well, but it's really a 2-person job, when one of the people is me. But we managed. My husband came home with a triumphant glow and sawdust on his coat. He said the race was at 10 a.m., which was a little later than usual, but I trust him, as well I should, right? So we stayed up late talking about completely unrelated things.

This morning was the Derby, of course. We showed up right at 10 a.m., just in time to hear #1 Son announced as the 3rd-place winner overall. Yep, it started at 9 as always. OK, I was a little relieved not to have to sit through that hour of screaming and mayhem, but I felt bad at disappointing the kid(s). Still, there were pictures and donuts, and the leaders let the boys run their cars down the ramp a few more times just for kicks, and the little guys were all OVER the place, so it almost felt like the real thing, but without the pressure. What was that show called, "Early Edition"? Get the news before it happens...

After our first Pinewood Derby 2 years ago, I started the tradition of baking a cake for our boy to make the day more special. That first car did spectacularly poorly and he was crushed. Last year, his car was a flying woodchip on wheels that took second place. I baked him a cake to celebrate. This year's car was a little more polished and only took third. (Take that lesson as you like it.) So I made another cake today. We had a beautiful devil's food just waiting for him (since most of us are chocoholics), but no, Mr. Boy wants pineapple 'cause it's yellow and favorite colors are much more important than favorite flavors when it comes to cake. I mentioned the idea of frosting, but he stood firm. (Also known as being stubborn just because.)

So I baked the darn pineapple cake, but nobody got to eat it tonight because they were all being horrible little monkeys (shrieking at stratospheric pitches, throwing fecal matter, and you only think I'm making this up). Actually, the baby was quite well-behaved but had eaten 3 donuts and really didn't need any more carbs. Speaking of cake, my darling husband made me a Boston cream pie yesterday because I was having "one of those (cranky, hormonal, and generally whimpery) days." No, we usually don't have 2 cakes in one week; this is extremely rare and in no way responsible for our expanding waistlines. Seriously. They mostly go uneaten until they rot; we just love the idea of cake.

And on the subject of eating cake, I want to send a big shout out to my man George W. Bush and anyone else who was responsible for my ability to get a larger tax refund than the total amount of taxes I paid in a year. It's more like twice the amount. More than I make in a month, in fact. (I claim 10 exemptions on my W-4; the fact that they're still taking any money out is kind of bizarre to me.) I feel weird about taking the money, but it's not like I can just tell the IRS that I don't want it. (If I can, don't tell me.) Anyway, I do want it. Forty beautiful Benjamins (and change) would come in REALLY useful to us in this, the Year of the Lawyer. And so I e-file, and so I get the money direct deposited, and so I pay my bills, and so I am happy. I love, love, love tax time.

I still hate being poor. Just a little less this time of year. More good news: No more Pinewood Derbies for another 4 years. Yaaahoooo! But definitely more cake.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Baby Got (My) Back

It's been more than a year since I wrenched my back trying to pick up my gigantic (20-pound) baby and all his baby gear at once, and I still hurt. A lot. At first, I tried to ignore it, thinking it was an ordinary strained muscle, nothing a lot of rest and ibuprofen wouldn't fix. Enhh, wrong answer. Then I went to the doctor, got momentarily distracted by a huge, ugly, infected cyst growing out of my chest, had it removed, went back to the doctor, got shunted around to physical therapy, orthopedic specialists, x-rays, MRIs, etc., all of which actually made the pain worse.

The diagnosis: at least one dessicated disc in the lower lumbar area, plus a high likelihood of nerve damage from that @&#$(&@ spinal injection I got just before delivering Mondo Baby. Prognosis: chronic excruciating pain, possibly for the rest of my life. Recommended treatment: You're on your own, kid. Try losing some weight to take the pressure off your back.

Well, yeah. Trying to lose weight after Son 2 was how I ended up with this rotten case of plantar fasciitis (3.5 years and holding, going for the new record). So I'll wear better shoes next time-- but there won't be a next time. I walk on knives every day; I'm not about to start back on the 2-mile strolls with the kids. And I can't bend at the waist without aggravating the back pain. I have to limit myself to about 3 times a day, preferably far apart, including once to put on my shoes in the morning. This explains why my house is a complete wreck: I have to clean with my toes.

I tried chiropractic this past fall and got some relief, but mostly, it hurt enough to make me cry. Apparently, the doc gets that a lot; he'd monitor my progress by how many times I cursed him afterward. Time to change clinics. Massage, though, that works nice. And oh, the opportunity to lie on my face for half an hour with soft music playing (and no kids screaming) in the background, guilt-free... It's so worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Counting My Blessings Instead of Sheep

OK, lest anyone think I don't appreciate the good parts of my life, I'll end my day with a list of things I'm grateful for:
  • A husband who does dishes and changes diapers and calls me a babe no matter what I look like
  • A (mostly solid) roof over my head and a heater that works
  • A car that runs and that my whole passel of youngsters fits into without too much squeezing, even with the two car seats
  • The passel of youngsters
  • A steady income that's enough to pay our bills if we hold our collective breath and pray
  • Family members who are willing to travel a thousand miles just to help us through our little life crises
  • Hope for a better future
  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • A warm, fluffy bed to crawl into

And that, dear friends, is where I'm off to now-- along with item #1, who still thinks I'm hot. Sweet dreams...

Monday, January 24, 2005


What do other parents do when they discover that their children are way too smart? For instance, when your baby suddenly starts talking, do you get all freaked out and intimidate him so badly he doesn't utter another peep for years? Or is that just me? I'm in the habit of pointing at things and saying their names to Punkin Baby as we go through the day in the vague hope that someday he'll internalize it, but I'm always shocked on those rare occasions when he says words. Mostly, he's non-verbal; he loves to make noises, especially plaintive little kitty mews with nose crinkled. Cute! Excessively cute. Then there's the shrieking, which toddlers all seem to do at some point. Not cute. Today I was in no mood to deal with it when he climbed on me, whacked me with "Meet Babar," and shrieked yet again to politely ask me to read to him. I frowned at him and said, "You could just say, 'Please'"-- whereupon he turned his big gray eyes to me and said "Peees." I would have read him a hundred books at that moment.

His bigger brother, Buccaneer Boy, usually acts like a typical energetic 4-year-old. Except when he pops in the Sherlock Holmes game to hunt for clues or goes a few rounds of chess with the computer. And then there are the mornings (most of them) when we're awakened by his shouts of "Hoist the mizzen, Mister Cavendish!" followed by his rendition of the theme to "Pirates of the Caribbean": DA dadadada DA DA DA, DA dadadada DA DA DA, DA dadadada DA DA DA, DA DA DA DUM, DUM, DADADA DA-da... Etc. He knows it all. He doesn't seem to be paying attention a lot of the time, but I think that's just because adults bore him so. Every once in a while, he looks up and says something so deep and wise that it boggles everyone in earshot. For example, he really jeopardized our future with his sudden comment to the psychiatrist evaluating our situation that "We need to move, but (insert psycho ex's name here) won't let us." Mr. Evaluator quickly concluded that we talk smack about the woman all the time in front of the kids, and therefore we are BAD people. He wasn't buying our explanation that Mr. Boy is just incredibly smart and figured it out on his own. (Which shouldn't be hard, considering this behavior.) It's the truth, isn't it? We try to emphasize honesty... Sigh.

As for #1 Son, he is bright but troubled and doesn't always live up to his potential. He's been in chess club and the gifted/talented program (which "Mommy" takes credit for, despite being a high school dropout with no respect for education). It's a sad measure of how brilliant our kids are (or we think they are) that we actually felt disappointed when #1 Son brought home a B-average report card this week. My parents would have thrown a fit if I'd done that badly, especially in 4th grade. But he's not me, nor, thankfully, is he his mother.

To be fair, if this same report card had represented an upward trend, we'd have celebrated. But his grades are falling, and he doesn't seem to care. There's a lot more to it than just a lack of interest, though; the boy is a bundle of nerves because of the custody situation. When he came back from "Mommy's" last night, he was white and shaking. Of course, that could be because she brought him home without his coat on a mid-January night. Late, and without feeding him. But at least she brought him back. I always worry that next time, she won't. But so far, her self-preservation instinct has won out.

I won't dwell on that. One other great child-prodigy story from today: My sister bought the boys a couple of disposable cameras and some scrapbooking stuff for Christmas. (Weird as may be, but they get a kick out of it.) #1 Son posed things very carefully and methodically but lost interest after 20 minutes or so. Buccaneer Boy, however, must have inherited his grandpa's shutterbug gene. He chased after baby brother all day, snapping candid photos and getting some really adorable shots. I'm glad he did; Punkin Baby has been the unfortunately neglected youngest child in the photo department recently. Now we can populate a whole album of him in his grubby yellow T-shirt. Beautiful.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Packing, Poison, and Pirates, Arrrghhh...

I know, it's not midnight yet, or even 11 p.m., but it's Saturday, my kids are in bed, and my house is still mostly clean from our frantic "white tornado-ing" yesterday for our house showing. Did I mention our house is up for sale? It is. I'm sure the big white sign in our yard is a major source of annoyance for that freakish woman who keeps calling in the middle of the night to scream, "YOU'RE NOT MOVING!" (OK, she's only done it once or twice, to my knowledge. Nowadays, we simply log onto the Internet as soon as the boys are in bed; it's much more restful this way.)

Anyway, yes, we are moving, just as soon as we can find someone to buy our house. I thought at first it would be completely impossible without our moving out and hiring an excavation team to find the walls and floors and then a subcontractor to replace them all. But a lot of wonderful people, including my parents and sister & brother-in-law, jumped in and saved us from that trauma. They drove in from out of state (multiple states) to help us pack and clean and repair this place until it didn't seem too bad to live in.

The other thing that helped was renting a storage unit for most of our stuff; we figured we'd have to go without for maybe three, four months. That was back in July. We didn't even put up the "For Sale" sign until September. And it's been interesting to try to make all the holidays happen without our stuff. I bought a ton of doilies and construction paper last Valentine's Day (which the kids had a blast with), and I still have half a ton left over, but do I know where they are now? Uh uh. In storage. So everything's been very minimalist at our house lately. This is truly unnerving for a rococo gal like me.

Among the things that's packed away in oblivion is another of the innumerable books for writers. I can't even remember the title, but it's a mystery-writer's reference on the subject of poisons. Neat, but not applicable at the time we packed it. But now I need it for the story I'm trying to write, and I can't get to it. OK, fine. There's the Internet; I know how to do research... Except that I can't do it while my kids are awake, which I apparently forgot today. I even offered to let my darling 4-year-old "help" me with the laptop.

What a mistake. As soon as I popped it open, both the little guys swarmed over me like pirates boarding a helpless galleon. This is more apt a description than you may believe. At least one of them was actually wearing a pirate hat, and I'm sure I heard the baby say "Arrrrgh..." Or maybe that was me. My children are extremely interested in pirates lately-- lately meaning since Halloween, when #1 Son dressed in pirate garb and ran around brandishing his cutlass at unsuspecting candy-givers, growling "Arrrgh, gimme candy!" (It's a lot cuter when the 4-year-old does it. Unfair how you lose cuteness points over the years.)

By early November, the costume was nearly destroyed from overuse, and besides, one costume doesn't divide into three boys very evenly. Whoever gets just the hook feels gypped. So when I went on a business trip to Vegas, I picked up a couple of pint-sized pirate hats at the Mandalay Bay, and the kids have been wearing them ever since. Especially our 4-year-old buccaneer, who wouldn't take the thing off even for Christmas pictures, so there he is in the center of the photo, brothers on either side grinning in their Santa caps, brandishing the cutlass, and shouting "YO ho ho! MERRY Christmas! Argggh." My husband had to scrape me up off the floor, I was laughing so hard.

And then I had to go and buy my sweetie the Pirates! game. It's a big time-suck for all of us, especially Buccaneer Boy. (I won't tell you how much time I've spent romancing governors' daughters and digging up Blackbeard's treasure. It's too embarrassing.) Pirates are such a family hobby that, when my husband suggested today that we pull out planks and "board" our new house when we finally get to it, we all shouted "Arrrrgh!" Well, it's one way to introduce yourself to the neighbors.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Man Who Killed My Brother

Today's my brother's birthday. My family probably thinks I don't remember this, but it's just that I try to avoid thinking about it. My brother was my closest friend through a lot of our childhood, mainly because we moved an average of once a year until I was in 6th grade. We fought a lot as kids, but once that stopped, we realized that we had a lot in common. Almost everything, in fact.

But not quite.

Turns out he's a child molester. Behind that friendly smile and semi-geeky exterior was a monster of the worst kind. When I found out he was a predator and realized that I was prey, I tried to get help, but there was that idiot smile and the denials and what mother wants to believe such awful things of her own blood? Much better to think that your oldest daughter's a drama queen. Maybe so, but *I* was telling the truth. Unfortunately, I was also too naive to realize that I wasn't the only prey in town, or even in the house. That blankety-blank (why are there no words to insult a male without involving his parents or body parts?) left a wake of destruction through our extended family.

Then he got married and had kids. Had the temerity to marry a woman still carrying the scars from her own sexual abuse years ago, and have children with her. Just for that, he should be horsewhipped. But I digress.

As I mentioned, I try to avoid even thinking about my brother. My family thinks I'm overly critical or unforgiving for not wanting to be at family gatherings (such as Grandpa's funeral) where my brother will be present. Call me crazy, but I don't feel comfortable bringing my children in contact with a dangerous beast. Sue me, but you'll have to take a number.

Which reminds me: One major reason that my husband and I are so dead-set against just sending #1 Son off to live with "Mommy" is that her teenage stepson of a whole 3 months is also a child molester. Guess who his prey was? That's right: #1 Son. And what was "Mommy's" reaction to having Junior Perv forbidden to see her precious baby until at least after he's written a very nice "sorry" note? "Waah, the boys won't be able to play together anymore!" (Suppress urge to pull her lungs out through her nose and show them to her.)

Am I the crazy one here, really? 'Cause that's what I feel like a lot of the time. I try to remember that most people haven't had those night terrors, the fear of turning out the light, the panic attack every time their sweetheart puts out a hand for a caress. The complete inability to live a "normal" life, in fact. All because some punk decided that his desires were more important than your dignity. Hmm, sounds like high school dating, now that I put it that way.

So I guess it shouldn't surprise me that I had that same nightmare last night. The one where I'm suddenly un-married from my sweetheart and re-married to my ex, with whom I *always* felt like I must be the crazy one because nobody had locked him up yet. I hate that dream. I always manage to get away, clubbing him with anything that comes to hand while trying to figure out how to find my true mate again, and marry him. The dream always ends unresolved. Tell you what, though, he'd never take me alive.

Tonight, I'm taking a Valium before bed. And sleeping with a knife under the pillow.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Thumper's Mama

I think she was the one who allegedly told her children "If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all." Well, I have a lot of things on my mind, but mostly they aren't nice. And strangely enough, I do hear a lot of bangs and thumps on the walls of the boys' rooms in the night, but when I go check on the little scamps, either they're sound asleep or (in the case of #1 Son) "didn't hear anything." Note to self: Get that boy's ears checked.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Sympathy for a Stepmother

OK, I've officially had it up to *here* with the legal system in general and certain lawyers in specific. And with whoever came up with the idea of hogtying and beating people who happen to be mature enough to take responsibility for their children when their (ex-) spouses decide to run out on them because toddlers are just too inconvenient to raise...(expletive deleted, I'm sure).

The state of Colorado, for example, is extremely fond of restricting the movement of custodial parents to within certain city limits (say, a 10-mile radius) for the duration of the children's minority. This translates to "the same house, if you're lucky" unless you happen to be fortunate enough to get a *huge* raise that even comes close to competing with the boom in housing prices. And let me tell you, the house that was "cozy" when your kids were tiny is just not going to hold them as they head toward their teens. Especially if they're boys.

And forget about going back to school if the perfect one isn't within commuting distance. In fact, abandon your dreams, your freedom, and all hope, ye who did not shirk responsibility...for you are in the power of someone who wishes you ill, and the courts say there's nothing you can do about it, and you're evil for even expressing a wish that things were otherwise. Especially in Colorado.

I'm lucky; I didn't have kids with my first husband, much as it pained me at the time. But I'm married again, and we do have children (did I mention they're all boys?), and we're happy and we love each other and so on. But "our" oldest is really not mine. I'm only his mother in the sense that "mother" is a verb, and an active verb at that. I'm the one who carried him in my arms when he couldn't walk because of some weird virus. I'm the one who washed his underwear when he couldn't quite get the hang of potty-training. I'm the one who taught him to read, although with less patience than maybe other moms because I was 8 months pregnant. I'm the one who earns the money that puts a roof over his head and food (oh my GOSH the amount that child eats!) on his plate. I'm the one who makes him do his homework and go to bed at a decent hour. Mothering is not a glamorous job, but someone has to do it.

Since he was 3 years old, I'm the one who's been there for all the hard work (right alongside his dad, I hasten to add). "Mommy" has been there only when it's convenient, only for the fun times (weekends, holidays), and only since the aforementioned potty training and basic housebreaking was done. When he starts throwing up cotton candy all over the roller-coaster (I am not making this up), that's her cue to pack him into the car and bring him back to us. She makes the messes, we clean them up. A perfect symbiosis, from her perspective.

Apparently, my husband and I are evil for suggesting that maybe she is in fact a "Disneyland" mom. And how dare I claim the title of Mama in the house where my own offspring live! And so on. I won't scream, because that will get me thrown out of the courtroom, where very soon a judge will rule whether we can continue parenting (also an active verb) this poor sweet child who is caught in the crossfire, and whether we are allowed to improve our lives by moving an inconvenient distance away, if we increase the amount of visitation substantially, deliver him gift-wrapped to her door every other week, let her tie up our phone line 24x7, etc. Anything to get out of the slum where we live.

It shouldn't be this hard to do what's right for your family. But it is in Colorado.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

A Novel Idea

I love words. No, it's more than that: I love language. I love the way words sound, flow, and interact. I love what they do when they meet and I love how the whole dynamic changes again with just a tiny tweak to spelling or punctuation. My favorite jokes involve multiple languages; my favorite limerick includes five. Wonderful combinations of words excite me as much as the discovery of an unexpected fossil does an archaeologist. And I'm aware that my obsession is just as baffling to others.

So that's who I am: a language geek. I work as an editor, but I nearly didn't get the job because I admitted I'd rather write. Hey, who wouldn't? But mostly, it doesn't pay. I just needed the steady income to support my 10-paragraph-a-day habit. Surely someday I'd make that big break into the other side of publishing.

Then I went to a lecture by some big-shot longtime editor, who made one of the scariest statements I've heard: You can't be both a great writer and a great editor; at best, you'll only be one or the other. Maybe I shouldn't have taken it so seriously, but that one sentence totally deflated my ego. Wasn't I a darn good editor? I mean, it outrages me when people abuse the English language; I spend my day rescuing poor, traumatized words from the muck and filth that people call writing these days. Maybe I just wasn't a very good writer. Let me tell you how bad that thought felt. I gave up even trying for a long while, and life got very dark.

I did pull out of it a bit when I decided I could live with not being a great editor. Heh. Eventually, I dug up a writers group and joined with such enthusiasm I think I scared half the membership away. But I had an excuse to write, and I did. And I had people telling me how great I was at it, although I think they were just being nice... or possibly uninformed. I even started the second chapter of my cheesy adventure novel.

But when Son 3 of 3 was born, I discovered exactly what my limits were: 2 kids, especially boys. Terrific. Heck with the instruction manual, why don't these things come with warning labels?! So, fine. Plenty to write about, but no time and no brainpower. Push it to the back of the pile, wait for a better "place" in my life. Sure. But I kept up my pretense (call it a hope, if it makes you feel better) that someday, someday, I'd get my stuff out there, people would love it, and I'd be an author, not "just a writer."

Then a couple of things changed my attitude. First, my awesome friend Sheri died at the age of 35, and I got this overwhelming feeling of urgency to not put off the things I wanted to do in my life. The second thing was less dramatic. With my Christmas money this year, I did what I always do: I bought books about writing. I'd never heard of the authors, and I wasn't sure whether the books were any good, but I bought them anyway because that's who I am. They were good. Particularly Barbara DeMarco-Barrett's Pen on Fire: a busy woman's guide to igniting the writer within ( Fun exercises, lots of insights, sympathy (but not too much), real-life practical help.

When I got to the chapter titled "Celebrate your otherness," though, the doubts returned. I didn't remember really feeling all that different from, say, the rest of my family. I don't think I ever considered myself a "writer" when I was young, and again I started to wonder whether I really was. I pondered over the whole idea of "otherness" with an increasing despair. Then it hit me that all those times I'd tell my mom what had happened to me during the day or describe my social life or really anything at all to her, she'd say I was such a complainer, and I'd feel so let down that she didn't understand-- THAT was the otherness. I wasn't really complaining, at least I didn't mean to be. I was telling a story. I was relating a dramatic narrative, complete with thoughts, feelings, dialogue, pacing, setting, detail-- I was dramatizing. To her, it seemed that I just loved to complain, but I was carried away in conflict and characterization. I hate the word "epiphany" (it rhymes with Tiffany), but all of a sudden, sitting in one of those interminable meetings at work, I realized what my "otherness" was and, as a corollary, gave myself permission to be a writer.

And the dam broke. I can't stop writing. The plot of a mystery novel sprang fully formed from my head this morning. Just like they say, in that half-awake state first thing as you're opening your eyes, you know the one-- it sounds like a horrible cliche. I mean, usually, when you wake up thinking that dream you had will make a great plot for a story, don't you find that as you get more aware, your plot makes less and less sense? Maybe it's just me. Well, today, the real thing hit: inspiration. And because I tend to think the dream-to-text idea is pretty bogus, I didn't have a notebook or pencil next to the bed. I had to rummage all over the house to find those simple writing implements, and you know what? The idea was still with me, and it was still a good one. And I'm writing.