Archive for the ‘parent years’ Category

The spider story

November 15, 2013

My son has always been a sensitive little thing.

When he was 5, he helped me paint his room before we moved into our first house in California.

We stood side by side on his desk while we readied the window up high. I reached into the corner with my brush and cleared out a spiderweb.

“Oh, Mama!” He pointed to a spider on the wall. “He just watched you destroy his home!”

So I picked up the newspaper, rolled it and smashed the homeless spider.

“There. Now he’s not sad anymore.”

Are you all glad I’m not your mother?

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Letters to my children

October 27, 2013

When I was starting out in the newsroom I edited obituaries.

It skewed my perspective on mortality. A good number more than you’d think are young people.

People my age died everyday. They died on the freeway, and they died of heart disease. One woman who went to high school with me died of AIDS. Another had an unexpected seizure. They left behind babies.

I was not yet 30.

It began to occur to me that my chances of survival on any given day could be good, could be bad.

I stopped taking the freeway to work.

I filled out my own obit form with my history and favorite charity. I wrote down the song I wanted played at my service.

Then I wrote letters to my children, just in case. They offered comfort, love and acceptance. They revealed what I saw in them that was good.

It wasn’t enough. I wrote more letters.

I wrote letters to be opened on their wedding days.

It wasn’t enough.

By the time I was through, there were stacks of letters for each child. They included graduation, first home purchase and first baby. Then I had to write letters for  in case one of them didn’t graduate, get married or have a baby. There were some to be opened in the event of unexpected pregnancy or in case they were gay.

I went completely round the bend thinking of circumstances I should lend a voice to.

I was writing to sophisticated people I didn’t even know. During this frenzy, my kids were 3 and 5.

Now they’re almost 15 and 17. I can throw most of the letters out. They know I would support whatever they decided to do about a pregnancy. They know I don’t care if they’re gay. They know I’m proud of the people they’ve become, and they have the strength and confidence to choose futures that make them happy.

They’ve had the benefit of witnessing my values as far as marriage, parenting, drinking and humor. I’ve taught them both how to cook, sew and play poker.

Thanks to this blog, they even have all the family stories.

I’m not ready to die, but tonight I’ve decided something close. I’m ready to relax.

The comma argument

October 13, 2013

My family spent my mother’s birthday dinner in a heated argument about a comma.

I’m aghast that anyone would take a stand against me on this issue.

I am a linguist and an editor.

I may be so confused by science I believe there are little people inside my TV box, but it would be impossible to know more about punctuation than I.

The mark in question is the one often erroneously placed before the conjuction in a simple list: He picked his guitar, friends, and nose.

Today after school one of our closest family friends was attacked by my children. “What’s your opinion on the comma?”

“I don’t care.” Poor kid. He was wondering why he is our friend.

“You must.” I don’t know why they valued his support so strongly. This is a child who pronounces the ‘L’ in ‘talk.’

My daughter, by the way, is for the comma, as is my mother. My son and I are on the side of reason.

The children began to present their positions — simultaneously. My son called me in to define the rule. I used my voice of authority.

“You put a comma before the conjunction in a list only if the last item has a conjunction in it: Myles listens to Hannah Montana, The Jonas Brothers, and Donny and Marie. This rule is for clarity. It’s a favor to the reader.”

Myles gave me an ugly look.

My daughter insisted, contrarywise, that it’s using the comma indiscriminately that adds clarity. She began to expound, “If I ate macaroni and cheese first, then potatoes,” (big pause) “and steak….”

“Wait a minute!” I interrupted. “No vegetables? You won’t have to worry about commas. You’ll end up with a semi-colon.”

The children sent me back out of the room.

The magic trick story

September 3, 2013

I hate a magic show.

To me, it’s like someone coming up and saying, ‘I know something you don’t know, and I’m gonna make you want to know it, and then never tell you.’

The only tricks I’ve enjoyed are the ones my son did when he was a small boy. I liked those, because I knew how they worked.

But his magicianship came to an abrupt halt after one bad experience.

We had flown to Colorado for a friend’s wedding. The groom bought my son a $35 trick coin.

One side of the fifty-cent piece popped off, revealing a centavo.

The trick was to show the two pieces and make as if you were putting them both in someone’s hand, but really you snap them back together and give them the trick coin and a quarter, which was hidden underneath. When you ask them to close their eyes and hand you the centavo, they find there isn’t one. See a video here

My son improved on this by planting a real centavo on a dupe. This way he could add a little surprise at the end, pretending the coin jumped into the watcher’s pocket.

He practiced his routine in Colorado, and was ready to try it out on the airplane coming home.

It was perfect. The flight attendant leaned across him to give my daughter a ginger ale, and he slipped a centavo in her apron pocket.

He waited until she came by later to attempt the trick. She didn’t have time for it.

Several times he tried to get a moment with her, but she was too busy.

She started getting short with him. He realized he had become an irritation and abandoned the effort, but he wanted his centavo back.

I persuaded him to consider the coin a loss, and promised we’d round up another one when we got home.

That’s when he realized he had put the trick coin in the flight attendant’s apron.

At that point, though, she was aggressively avoiding him, and he had to hail the flight attendant in the front section for help.

She called to our lady while standing next to our row. Now our lady was downright snippy. “I told him I don’t have time!”

“He dropped a coin in your apron for a magic trick,” she hollered the length of the aisle.

So much for trying it on a passenger.

And so much for the $35 fifty-cent piece. He got it back, only to accidently spend it within a week.

The playland tubes story

August 25, 2013

I recently heard tell that the ball pits that were popular when my kids were babies have been removed from all fast-food playlands.

I once sneaked into one as an adult — they didn’t have stuff like that when I was a kid — and regretted it. I took a flying leap into the pit. The balls are hard. It hurt everywhere.

Being a California native in Boulder, Colo., I struggled with preschoolers and snowy days. I used to call my friend Katherine up, and we would drive to Broomfield for a field trip. There was a McDonald’s there with the biggest Play Place I ever heard of.

It was indoors, but the walls were all clear plastic, so you could see all five stories of colorful crawl paths from the freeway. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the tubing structure had its own ZIP code.

I was such a rude costumer, I would feed the kids at home, and then just take them to play. I knew it was wrong, but it was 10 degrees below freezing and I felt wronged by the world. I spent winters feeling indignant.

The structure was intimidating, both in size and population. My son was pretty shy about it. He lingered around the little-people area, popping peek-a-boo through cut outs in padded plastic, or throwing the little balls that escaped the pit of pain.

One afternoon when I was almost nine-months pregnant with my daughter, he braved up and went into the maze of tubes.

For reasons passing understanding, he waited until he was in the center of the topmost tube path to decide he was frightened.

He called to me through the windows of his tube. I called back, “Crawl out!”

He could neither figure out how to turn around, back out the four miles he had traversed nor understand that going forward meant a short downhill path to freedom.

I had no choice. I crawled in to get him.

Picture an eight and a half-month pregnant woman in several layers of thermals and wool sweaters wriggling through a habitrail lined with dry, gummy ketchup.

The McEmployees were not pleased.

They scolded me, “The Play Place tube maze is for children only.” I supposed it was for customers only, too, but didn’t mention that.

Since then I’ve seen many things, such as the Internet, and learned that those playlands were said to be chock full o’ dirty diapers, vomit and used hypodermic needles. I read terrible tales of children getting trapped and killed in the depths of the ball pits.

The moral here is plain: never live where it gets cold.

A restaurant review

July 28, 2013

Every summer I gotta go to Big Bear. It’s a couple hours away from me, but I will get up and drive there to eat bacon-and-cheese waffles for breakfast at The Teddy Bear Restaurant, or to roam The Village for jewelry and boots.

I discovered this place when my husband had a three-day conference there on my birthday years ago. I tagged along, intending to stay in the hotel, as I always do when he has a conference. I spend his conferences in the tub with a book.

We stayed at the Northwoods Resort, which borders The Village. I wandered out looking for breakfast and found a row of small businesses that could have been planned for me as a birthday surprise.

First there was a bath shop. I bought bath oils, bath beads, soaps and lotions. These are my favorite things — right up there with chocolate and books.

Then I looked down the street and saw several coffeehouses and chocolatiers. There were three bookstores, too. I may have cried.

After a quick morning buying myself gifts, I climbed into my oiled bath with a novel and some tri-tip. An hour later I was by the fire with red wine and chocolate-dipped things like strawberries and pretzels. It was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.

My husband returned to find a wife with a totally balanced chi.

My husband had this conference every August for a few years, but last year there was nothing. It was gone, and it wasn’t coming back. We went up on our own twice. I just needed to smell the place.

Today I couldn’t stand it. I’ve been missing that town so much I can’t concentrate, so at 1 p.m. I put the kids in the car and went.

About 4 o’clock we walked past a small, tucked-back door that said “Pizzeria.” I was Book-and-Bean bound, and didn’t give a fig about the pizzeria, but I noted that I didn’t remember seeing it there before.

Then around 5 the kids got hungry. They said they had a craving for pizza. I was surprised by this, because we almost never eat it. More surprising, they were both in the mood for the same thing.

I’ve been experimenting with some new recipes. Last night we had pita, stuffed with vegetables, chicken and cantalope and topped with a tarragon mayonnaise. I guess I understand why they were in accord.

So I pointed them toward the doorway I’d noticed. It was Saucy Mama’s Pizza. We walked past some umbrellaed tables in the narrow space between two buildings, and entered the place, which was mostly behind an ice-cream and fudge parlor.

It had a great atmosphere. I love a pizzeria with red-checkered tablecloths. A guy was tossing a big circle of dough in the air. We chose the table with tall stools.

My daughter ordered a vegetable calzone, and my son and I split a Hawaiian Delight pizza, which had Canadian bacon, pineapple and regular bacon chunks on it.

I have rambled on all this time to get to this sentence: This was the best pizza I have ever eaten in my life.

We packed up half the calzone and two slices of pizza for Daddy. My son and I almost wept, denying ourselves those last two slices.

Back at home, we presented the food to my husband like begging dogs at his feet.

He shook his head at us, “I can’t believe it’s as good as you guys are saying. It’s just pizza. You three have built it up so much, there’s no food can live up to your description.”

He bent over his plate and took a bite. Then he looked up, met my eyes, and nodded.

“Oh my God.”

The kids and I started cheering and hugging. We were crazed with the greatness of this food.

Then the dam broke, and my husband would not shut up. “The crust is sublime. These people must be from New York. This sauce is fantastic….”

So there it is, my first post as an amateur food critic. Get on a plane, wherever you are, and fly here so you can eat at Saucy Mama’s Pizza.

If you want my family to sit at your feet and watch you take your first bite, we’ll be happy to make the drive up the mountain.

The trip to the emergency room story

June 29, 2013

My Oldest Friend’s baby took a random toddler spill and ended up in the E.R. with a broken nose and battered mug. Today there is also a gruesome black eye.

Mr. Oldest Friend is across the country on a business trip.

I feel for her, balancing an injured baby on one knee and keeping her preschooler from feeling ignored on the other; and for Mr., seeing ghastly photos of his little girl on the monitor — unable to be there offering strength, comfort and protection.

I’m an hour away from her, and I feel helpless, so I’ll bet he’s crazy with it.

Being a parent is much more painful than being a kid in pain, I say.

Here’s how I know.

One afternoon we bought a steam cleaner. That year we had adopted a puppy.

My 8-year-old son saw an opportunity in the empty box, which, as it happens, slid beautifully over the carpeted steps.

And which, he discovered with delight, he fit inside.

He went up to the landing halfway between the third floor and second, climbed into the box with his bed pillow and rode belly down and feet first to the bottom.

When the box hit the landing, the top swung over. The back of my son’s head hit the hardwood floor with a sound like when you drop a watermelon.

He lay there, noisily. 

I had been making chocolates when I heard the launch. I ran to him, but didn’t know what to do. He wouldn’t lift his head. I’m not good in a crisis, it turns out.

I called my husband, who was shooting pool in Uncle Mike’s garage.

I told him our son went down the stairs in the steam-cleaner box. My husband laughed. “That’s hilarious!” he said. I was in no emotional state for his not getting it. He proceeded to say the wrong thing: He told me to calm down.

Then he said something productive: Check his eyes to see if the pupils are the same size. They were.

“Let me talk to him.” I handed the phone to my son on the floor. He had calmed, and wanted to hear about Mike’s new pool table.

He’ll be fine, my husband said. He’s just stunned.

After lying there a while my boy got up and started moving around the house. He ate a few chocolates, but he wasn’t right.

At 6:30 p.m. he lay on the couch and said his vision was blurry.

That was it. We were off to the emergency room.

My husband met me in that little room where they check blood pressure, weight and temperature. My son got off the examining table, puked my chocolates into the sink, and lay back down. He went promptly to sleep. We couldn’t wake him.

A doctor was summoned. He said something about checking for bleeding on the brain and used the word ‘fatal.’ We were off to a CAT scan.

It was much ado about nothing. My husband was right. After about 15 hours of sleep the blurry vision was gone and so were the rest of the chocolates.

I wasn’t so quick to recover.

Thinking of my girlfriend sitting in the emergency room from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. brings it all back.

So I write this in empathy for her, so she knows I know that sometimes, you just gotta hang your head and cry.

The kayak story

June 17, 2013

There’s a house in my neighborhood with a kayak on the front lawn. According to the sign, someone’s asking $400 for it.

This reminds me of a story that ends with me getting in a lot of trouble.

I moved in with my husband immediately after the wedding. It wasn’t great. He had refused to ask his friends who rented rooms in his house to move out.

One of the guys was particularly unaccommodating. He insisted I park around the corner so the guys could use the driveway. He told me I wasn’t welcome to use the grocery bags with the handles on them.

One day a kayak showed up on the front lawn. The place was disgraceful enough, what with the couch and broken stove on the porch. I took a stand against the kayak.

Unaccommodating Guy said he was keeping it for a friend, and there it would stay.

A couple of weeks later I was playing poker, and a guy I had never met commented that he really needed to win, because he was saving up for a kayak.

How fortuitous.

I shared that there was one for the stealing on my front lawn, and I implored him not to let this opportunity pass him by.

Two days later Unaccommodating Guy ran in the front door and dialed the police. This made me extremely uncomfortable. I hadn’t thought of that.

Then my husband ran in looking distressed. “Someone stole the kayak!”

It flashed through my mind to try to look surprised, but I’m no kind of skilled liar. I’m too afraid of getting caught. “I invited a guy to steal it.”

It got quiet. All eyes were on me.

I acted brave and sure, “It’s my house. No tenants have the right to use it to store other people’s things against my say so. Show me more respect next time.”

The police showed up and made a report. Our homeowners insurance replaced the guy’s kayak.

I’m a different woman now, and there’s a lot I would do differently if I could go back to that part of my life.

But not this.

Words of wisdom

June 13, 2013

Tessa says, “A mother is only as happy as her saddest child.”

The yelling story

June 12, 2013

Happy happy birthday to my favorite girl in the world, my beautiful wonderful daughter.

This is my favorite story about her, because it shows how very cool she is and always has been.

We moved to California when she 2 and a half. My husband became a stay-at-home dad and I left to work two jobs.  

Something happened one night. I don’t know what. I wasn’t home.

My husband apparently lost his temper at The Baby. He said he just blew his top and yelled himself out at her. She had never been yelled at before.

She stood there unblinking, looking up at him throughout his tirade. 

When he stopped, she put her index finger against her lips and went, “Ssshhhh.”

She had him trained in no time.

The tornado story

June 10, 2013

Five tornados touched down in Colorado the other day. This reminds me of two months before we left Boulder, when a tornado was a block from my house.

I was home alone with the kids, who were 2 and 4.

There were siren horns in every neighborhood, and of late they had been testing them, in anticipation of the 100-year flood. In an actual flood, the sirens would sound continuously, alerting us to get as high as we could, (which in Boulder meant different things to different people.)

Suddenly the sky went dark. I was folding laundry in the living room, which had a whole wall of windows and had been awash in natural light. Within a moment I could see only the flickering of The Magic School Bus.

Then the sirens sounded — continuously. I called the newsroom to find out what was going on, and learned a funnel cloud looked about to touch down around 30th and Iris. That’s where my house was.

I was told to get under my house. Fine system they have, I thought, where the same siren either means to get on or under your house.

I called my husband and unfairly begged him to come home. He was in the middle of getting a sixth-grade science class into the hallway in the center of the school.

I sent my kids into the area that was too deep to call a crawlspace and too shallow to call a basement. They took the cordless phone and a flashlight while I scurried to gather supplies. I tried to pretend this was a fun adventure. I showed up in one minute with kid chairs, shoes, books, snacks and the potty.

I read to them by flashlight, but could barely contain my fear. It was so totally dark, and the sirens were so loud.

After a half an hour of books I shone the light around. I had never been under there before. There was a lot of space. We had dining chairs stacked that I had forgotten about, and some old baby furniture.

My son said, “Want to see where Daddy and I fixed the pipes for the bathtub?”

“I do,” I said as I offered him the flashlight.

“I don’t need that.” He walked past me and flipped the light switch.

For Pete’s sake, I should have put him in charge in the first place.

The dog-in-the-street story

June 9, 2013

You cannot unread this story. Probably you should surf to another blog today, or read one of my better stories, like The Special Day Class or The Pregnant Teenager Story.

This will conclude my three-day series of stories non gratae.

We were about two blocks from home when my son looked out the window and saw a little dog running alongside our car. “He’s racing us.”

The dog’s legs were short, but he was fast. We thought it was funny.

We lived on a wide, busy street. As we pulled in front of our house, my husband said, “We oughta get that dog before he runs into traffic.”

My son ran to the sidewalk, crouched and patted his thighs. “C’mere b–”

We heard thu-thunk.

My son says the dog turned and looked at him just as a truck caught him. The truck drove off.

I held my son while he repeated, ‘Oh no.’ I hated that he saw that.

The kids and I went in the house while my husband went to see if the dog was alive.

When he hadn’t come back after an hour I called his cell phone. He was sedate, “Yeah?”

“Where are you?”

“In the garage.”

The dog had looked dead, but when my husband moved it to the sidewalk it started jerking.

Silence. Then, “I’m looking for something to kill it with, but I can’t do it. I don’t think I can do it. I’m just standing here. The dog’s on the sidewalk. It’s thrashing. It’s in too much pain.”

I was so worried about my son, it hadn’t occured to me to worry about my husband.

I called the animal hospital for advice. They told me to bring the dog in.

By then the dog was dead. Can I bring my husband in? He needs a shot of whatever you were gonna give that dog.

Death

June 6, 2013

I had an emotional conversation with some of our friends this morning. They’re putting their dog down today.

Since we got our first dog I’ve imagined his death. I calculated how old my children would be if he lived an average lifespan. I pictured calling them home from college to say their goodbyes, all of us lying spoon-style on the dog bed, which would be wet with tears.

We had to put our family cat down when the kids were 3 and 5.

We stroked the cat and spoke soothingly, gathered around the cold, steel table in the veteranian’s office. We pretended not to see him tap tap the side of the syringe.

My son maybe shouldn’t have been in there. He was darting his eyes around and feeling helpless. His first word had been ‘cat.’

My daughter was unfazed. I suspected she didn’t understand.

The next day I discovered one of our rabbits, Hare-ica Jong, was dead on the bathroom floor. I think she had had a fight with Cyndi Lop Ear, because there was blood on her neck.

The day after that, I was calling around the house for my husband. I said to my daughter, “Have you seen Daddy? I can’t find him.”

She shrugged without looking up from her toys. “Maybe he’s dead.”

Suspicion confirmed.

A phrase of our own

June 3, 2013

I was reading in a journaling article that every family has inside vocabulary. The magazine recommended people record their terms and the stories behind them in their family history albums.

I rushed to record ours. For my reading audience, I’ve culled all but  my favorite.

When my daughter was a preschooler we had to remind her to chew with her mouth closed.

One night my tongue got tied, and I told her “Chew with your mouse clothed.”

Forevermore in this house people understand the warning, “No naked mice.”

Call 911!

May 31, 2013

My daughter loved A.A. Milne poems. One evening while my son and husband were at Little League practice, she was reading When We Were Very Young — My Oldest Friend’s favorite book, which she gave as a welcome-baby gift.

The Baby was cheerfully reciting Rice Pudding.

She stopped abruptly. She was struck with an idea. “Can we make rice pudding?”

I called Mom, the knower of how to make everything. She came right over.

I opened the door to see red splatters across her T-shirt on her abdomen. She was urgent, ‘I’m bleeding! Call 911!’

I must introduce you to my mom here. My mother is not a practical jokester. She’s not even a laugher at practical jokesters. What she is is a worrier. For instance, she can’t watch when people on TV go up high. She begs me not to let my teenagers ride roller coasters. You get the picture.

I yelled, ‘Oh my God!’ and she smiled. Then she bent to pick up a dripping flat of strawberries.

Who was this woman?

I don’t know what made me remember this story, but it visited me early this morning.

Later I had to call Mom about something else. Before I hung up, I asked,  “Mom, do you remember that time you came over to make rice pudding–”

“No.”

“–and you had some strawberries–”

Laughter.

“You’re laughing?”

“That was a good one.” A good one? It was the only one.

She defended herself,  “I didn’t plan it. I noticed that juice looked just like blood. It was spontaneous.”

Spontaneity makes it OK to scare my intestines clean?

“You had such a look of horror on your face . . . ,” more laughing.

“Well, yeah. You scared me.”

‘”Yeah, that was a good one.”

Vocabulary

May 27, 2013

In the English class I taught today, I made a list of big words and gave meaningless bonus points to students who could define them. It’s amazing how badly children want imaginary points.

I pulled from former ‘word-of-the-week’ terms at my house. I used to put a vocabulary word on the fridge every Sunday — ignominious, wan, penultimate. If my kids used the word 10 times that week, they got to choose something out of the prize drawer.

This was right up my daughter’s alley.

My daughter was loquacious right out of the womb.

Her first word was a sentence: Read-a-book.

By 18 months she was conversing clearly. People who heard her for the first time always whipped their heads toward me in surprise.

I confess I cheated. During her infancy I was finishing my linguistics degree, with a focus on language acquisition. She had better have spoken early.

When she went to the doctor for her 2-year check up, the nurse tested basic mental and motor skills. She asked her to point to the balloons on the wall. She asked her to hold up three fingers.

Then she gave my daughter a piece of paper and a pencil. “Can you draw circles?”

My daughter nodded, “Side by side or concentric?”

“Nevermind,” the nurse said. “I got what I needed.”

So did my daughter. I have it in her baby book, under first bonus points.

My prom story

May 22, 2013

Tonight my son’s friends are throwing a private prom at my place. They strung little white lights in the wisteria arbor overlooking the orchard. It empties onto the carriage house deck, which they made into a dance floor.

My son will put on a tux to stay home.

I hope it turns out better than my prom experience.

Here’s what happened. My boyfriend didn’t have the money to ask me to the dance, and my best friend was between beaus.

She and I grabbed a can of Pam cooking spray and beach chairs and went to Whitewater — a creek just outside of Palm Springs — for some after-school tanning.

Our friends Craig and Eddie showed up on Craig’s motorcycle and asked us to go, as friends, to that night’s prom.

Eddie and my best friend went back in my car, and I hopped on the back of the motorcycle.

The boys left us girls at my house, where we put on our leftover homecoming dresses.

They picked us up on time. Mom took pictures. We were off.

We drove to Rancho Mirage, parked and walked up to the door of the prom facility.

That’s when the boys admitted they hadn’t bought tickets.

We leaned across the open door to exchange waves with people inside, got back in Craig’s mom’s Camaro and went to Carl’s Jr. for dinner.

Then they took us home.

It was awful.

Though he won’t say it with regret, my son and I will both be able to say we spent prom night all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The James Bond theme

May 19, 2013

My son and husband just rented Quantum of Solace. They’re doing their guy thing in the living room, while my daughter and I make baby clothes for my brand new niece.

We have Grey’s Anatomy on. It’s making us cry. We are not doing the guy thing.

I have never seen a James Bond movie. It’s my son’s first.

One Christmas I got the game Cranium. My son and I were a team, and I drew a name-that-tune card. It was the James Bond theme.

Shoot, I didn’t know the James Bond theme.

So I hummed the Mission Impossible theme.

My son yelled, “The James Bond theme!” and we won the game.

Yeah, we’re that good.

This is what’s in a name

May 17, 2013

I was born with an unusual name. It’s not an uncommon word, but it was spelled differently so teachers mispronounced it.

I hated the way kids and some adults felt they had to make a comment when they were introduced to me.

Often people would say, “That’s your name?” which was always followed by “Where are you from?” or “What nationality are you?”

I was from here, same as Jennifer and Suzy.

Once, in elementary school, I was getting a drink at the fountain and a boy I had a crush on said loudly, “See that girl? Her name is  (insert name here.)” The boys laughed and I cried.

I started trying to get people to call me different names at age 3. I was Rose, Mary, Linda and Dianne. At age 10 I found one that fit, and it’s my legal name today.

I had a normal name for 13 years, and then I married a man with a last name people giggle at. It was destiny, I guess.

My children are great sports.

Last week my daughter performed in a concert. There were thousands in the theater.

The woman to my left said, “Look at this kid’s name.”

Her son looked at her finger on the program and read my daughter’s name aloud. They tittered.

I imagined identifying myself, which made my ears hot and my heart pound. I am a great big chickenpants.

An hour later my daughter’s group took the stage.

The woman said, “Here comes that kid with the funny name.”

The boy said her name. This was my chance.

I turned to her and said, “That’s my daughter.” My heart was thudding and I was breathing funny. I’m not cut out for confrontation.

“Who?”

“The child you’re laughing at.” I faked calm.

“Chivus?”

What? “No,” I said my last name.

She effected a puzzled face. “We were talking about Chivus.”

She’s insulting me with denial now?

I didn’t respond. She turned toward her son, put an arm around him and kissed his hair.

I debated telling the children what happened, but I can’t have a story inside me and not tell it.

They took it well. They asked, “Where was she from?”

Here, obviously, but I wish I had asked her anyway. Meow.

A proud moment

May 13, 2013

On Oprah, which I now tape and watch, thanks to my grama, they had an episode about children who commit suicide because of bullying.

It was heartbreaking.

But then there was one woman who shared a bright story, about a group of kids who saw a child being bullied and stood up in a circle around her. Their standing up for her, the psychologist said, gave her the confidence she needed to handle taunting in the future.

This reminded me of a phone call I got when my son was in second grade.

A man I didn’t know called and asked if I was my son’s mother.

Uh-oh.

He identified himself as Alyssa’s father. He wanted to know if I had heard what happened at lunch.

Uh-oh. “No, sir, I haven’t heard a thing.”

He was quiet a moment. Then when he started talking, I could tell he was trying not to cry.

Alyssa had gone home and told him some kids were calling her names like ‘gay,’ ‘nerd’ and ‘loser.’

Awwww. Alyssa was a sweet, tiny, timid thing who wore glasses.

He said Alyssa told him my son stood in front of her and yelled at the bullies. He told them to stop it. He said to be nice to her. He said Alyssa was his friend.

By that point the dad had given up trying not to let the tears come.

Me too.

The kindergarten craft story

May 10, 2013

On Mothers Day when my daughter was in kindergarten, I got a matchbox on a ribbon. It was a necklace.

My daughter had glued heart-shaped pasta to the outside and a photo of herself on the inside, locket style. The box and pasta were sprayed gold.

It made a perfect lanyard for my press ID. I wore it everyday.

One night a month later there was an evening school event. The kindergarten teacher threw her arms around me.

Unbeknownst to me, her husband had been getting a haircut when I took my son to the barber that afternoon. He saw the necklace dangling over my suit.

She explained to me that her staying up late spraypainting the projects gold irritated him. He suggested it was a waste of time .

My going to the barber earned her an apology.

Happy Mothers Day back atcha.

The blood-drive story

April 29, 2013

My son called me Friday at work, asking to forge my signature on a permission form for the blood drive, going on that minute. In the few weeks before I was kicked out of my law class, I learned that signing someone’s name with permission — and a witness to the permission giving — is not forgery. I gave him my grace by speaker phone and had done with it.

Naturally, I have a story about giving blood.

I’m afraid of needles, and have been delighted always to be ineligible to participate. You have to weigh at least 115 pounds and not be pregnant.

One evening I came home with a Band-Aid on my krelbow. Fun fact: The word ‘krelbow’ is the word in my house for the inner elbow. I came home to Boulder from a visit with my family in California showing off this new term. My husband, who taught anatomy at the time, laughed at me. ‘Where did you get that?’ I learned it playing Scrabble with  my aunties. ‘How much is the K worth?’ I was suckered, but my pride demands I continue using the word.

My husband pointed at the Band-Aid and raised his eyebrows.

“I gave blood today.” The blood bank used to hold drives every season in the conference room when I worked at the paper.

“Sure you did.”

I did. I lied about my weight, because I wanted the free booklight. Also the cookies were chocolate chip.

My husband shook his head chucklingly. “And how did it go?”

After some sadist with gel in his hair took the needle out, I stood up and swooned. They made me lie down for a half hour with cookies and my novel. I liked that part.

Imagine, after all I went through, my husband having the nerve to tell me the booklight was too bright.

The hair-in-the-shower story

March 28, 2013

I lose a handful of hair everytime I wash it. To keep it out of the drain, I stick it to the wall during my shower, then throw it in the trash after.

My husband one day accused me of sticking it to the wall and leaving it there.

“I have never.”

Now, obviously he was right, or how would he know I stuck it to the wall? But I felt sure I never left it there.

I had the nerve to hold my ground.

The next night during my shower I got an idea that struck me as terribly funny. I wrote “HI” on the shower wall with my hair.

And left it there.

I came out of the bathroom and told the kids what I had done.

When my husband went to take his shower, the kids and my goddaughter, who was living with us at the time, ran with me into the office. It was across the hall from the bathroom.

My daughter giggled, “Wait for it…”

We were rewarded with a chuckly bellow, “Oh, you are such a pig!” 

Marriage is fun.

How we got our piano

March 16, 2013

My daughter is in Washington, D.C., for spring break.

When we went there on a family vacation we got a big thrill. A twin to our piano is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

We have an antique quarter-grand Chickering. It has amazing sound, which we are told will continue to be true for generations.

We almost didn’t get it. When we found it in the classifieds, it was advertised at $2,500. We figured it was old; we’d have a tuner look at it and offer what it was really worth. If the old lady selling it let us pay a little every month we could pay off two grand in a year.

This plan began to fall apart when the tuner said it was worth more than she was asking, and completely unraveled when she told us she underpriced it, because she wanted the money right away.

It was a humiliating afternoon. My son was testing out the goods with a Bach piece when she threw us out of her powder-blue living room with a huffy ‘well I never!’

This was a month after his second surgery — the one to remove the disfiguring tumors.

Because whatever was wrong with him had never been seen before, the Discovery Channel did a Medical Diary episode about him. All of the local papers ran a story about the local boy who was on TV.

The day after the show first aired we got a call from the old lady we offended. She knew there was something special about that boy, she insisted.

She wanted us to take the piano for $2,000, pay for it as we were able, and accept the bench, lamp and sheet music to boot.

We had too much pride for that. We would pay the full price.

And by ‘pride,’ I mean money from my mother-in law.

link to photos

The Ides of March

March 15, 2013

Happy Ides of March. Does anyone else celebrate, or just me? Every year I retell the violent story of betrayal to my kids. It’s kind of my tradition to kick off spring.

This year the holiday is enhanced, because my daughter’s English class happens to be reading the account in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

One Ides when my children were toddlers, Sesame Street acknowledged the day. Muppet Julius Caesar had a triangle party.

All the little toga-clad muppets showed up carrying triangles. They brought them in all sizes and colors, which Caesar announced from his lounging chair, “Ah Augustus! I see you have a large blue triangle.”

Then Bruté walked in with a number.

The Caesar muppet was aghast, “A two, Bruté?”

The dirty water story

March 13, 2013

My husband will eat or drink anything not in someone’s hand. I have almost no complaints about this man, but I have this one.

Tonight my daughter had a cup of chocolate pudding. I don’t know where it came from, but she was excited to find it in the cabinet. We made a deal: She could have it if she made the sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunches.

She opened it, put a spoon in it and set it down to get to work. Then my husband walked by and picked it up to eat it.

Spoon in hand he denied my accusations. I was forced to remind him of the time he got what he deserved.

My babies were born at Christmas time, and winter in Boulder was brutal. Our house was always cold. Instead of baby wipes, I used to fill a plastic cup with warm water and dip a washcloth in it. I did not use a cup from the kitchen.

I had changed a chunky diaper and ended up with a sleeping infant in my arms, the dirty water stranded on the table.

You know what’s coming, don’t you?

In walked the reason I only ever got half a cup of coffee. He saw a cup with liquid in it and couldn’t resist. It had to be his. Fine.

I let him drink it.

He didn’t change. So much for learning through natural consequences.

And he didn’t get a kiss for a week.

Destiny

March 12, 2013

During our big kitchen remodel my potpourri disappeared. The bowl was there, but all the little citrus slices and nuts and stuff were missing.

The mystery was solved when I swept behind the couch in the parlor. There were mice droppings and dried citrus rinds. About this time my daughter yelled from the powder room that she saw a huge mouse scurry into the game closet when she turned on the light.

We found a hole going to the driveway where the electrician had run new wires.

My husband wanted to get traps. The ones that cut the mouse in half made me sad. The ones that glue the mouse to a board until he starves made me sad. Poison made me nervous. I closed the game-closet door.

After about a week my husband and I were in the kitchen space. It was bare but for wood floors and wood counters, which we were leaning against.

A big rat sauntered in, brave as you please.

A screaminger, hoppinger woman you never saw. I tried to get up on the counter, but my husband was yelling at me to get out of the room. I think he just wanted a minute of quiet.

He told me the rat could climb up on the counter. But the rat was by the door. I was trapped, hopping from one foot to the other, going, ‘Ah ah ah. I don’t like it.”

The next day I asked the contractor to fix the hole, put out those traps that cut the rat in half, put out the gluey boards, and sprinkle poison everywhere.

And on my way home from my daughter’s school I went to the Humane Society to get a great big cat. I would come to regret my choice of companion.

She went straight to the cage that held a pair of black-and-white kittens.

Oh, no, we’re not.

Here’s where my fear of destiny screwed me. My daughter asked the bad lady who was telling her that little kittens’ scent would keep rats away what their names were.

I ended up taking those stinky, useless kittens home.

They were News and Paper.

link to photos

Tormenting

March 11, 2013

For all of my son’s life, when he said from the back seat, “Hurry home, I need to go to the bathroom,” his parents would torment him.

If he was doing the pee-pee dance, we would say, ‘Whatever you do, don’t think about a waterfall.’

If he was doing the squirm, we would say, ‘Remember this morning when you were sqeezing the toothpaste out of the tube?’

Tonight I helped my son avenge his dad. My son was in the bathroom, and my husband was banging on the door in urgency.

Now before you feel sorry for him, he could have used my daughter’s bathroom if he had to go that bad. He could not go where I was about to take a bath.

I called out, “Honey? Don’t think about the log ride.”

This made him buckle over. Now he’s clenching and laughing at the same time.

“Remember when I gave birth, and the head started coming out?”

Harder banging on the door.

“Honey?”

He stopped me right there. He started heading for my bathtub room. He had all the power.

The beauty of this family is that no one ever takes vengeance on me. The miracle of this family is that no one has ever ruined his pants.

The movie date story

March 8, 2013

When the biopic The People Vs. Larry Flynt, came out in theaters, my husband and I went to see it on a date.

We’re big into dates. When we’re out, my husband refers to me as his best girl.

The theater was nigh on sold out, and we had to sit in the middle of the front row.

In one scene Mr. Flynt made a return appearance in a courtroom where he’d been scolded for disrespectful behavior.

He wheeled his chair in and took his place behind the defendant table. His T-shirt said, “F*** this court.”

The movie in no way addresses the shirt.

My husband and I were consumed with laughter.

Throughout the scene we would settle down when the camera cut away, only to start up again when it showed him presenting his defense in that shirt we were bending our necks to see.

Today we refer to that as the night we knew we were growing old with the right person.

Because throughout that whole scene, in that crowded room, no one else laughed.

My son took his best girl to the movies this afternoon. He came into the kitchen with wet hair, buttoning his cuffs and smelling like Axe.

He was ready.

The standing on my desk story

March 5, 2013

During the year I subbed, or as I refer to it, Hell, it was on this date I finally got a job for my daughter’s class.

My daughter wasn’t there.

She was with her teacher at the school’s talent show.

At the end of the day, her friends said, “Your mom told us a story about standing on her desk.” She told me she heard this 30 times. 

As many times she said, “Yeah, I know that story.”

My daughter doesn’t think I’m as entertaining as I do.

I had to tell it after I introduced myself, because one of the children said, “Instead of calling you by name, can we just stand on our desks to get your attention?”

Middle school kids think they’re entertaining.

The first week of high school my geometry teacher was beginning a lecture on finding the measurement of an angle when I butted in, “Can’t we just subtract the other two angle measurements from 180?”

In hindsight I get that his point that day was to show us a different way to get the answer. His response to me was “I never said the angles equal 180.”

Yeah, but don’t they?

“Show me where it says that.” Silly me, I thought he really wanted me to.

He went back to his lecture.

I found it in the book and raised my hand.

He went on with his lecture.

Undaunted, I stood on my chair.

At this point it was a showdown. I sat toward the front. He couldn’t pretend not to notice me.

He pretended not to notice me.

I stood on my desk.

He no longer had the class’ attention. He dropped his chalk hand to his side and shrugged as if to say Uncle.

“Yes Miss C?”

“Page 94!” I was proud.

He didn’t seem proud of me. He went on with his lecture.

I never did learn the other way to find the measurement of an angle.