Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Baby's Itinerary.

Put babies on a schedule, the parenting books tell you. They like the predictability of having naptime, breakfast, lunch, dinner and bathtime.

But in between all these times, babies keep their own schedule. If J.J., at 10-months old, wrote down his morning itinerary, it would look like this:

6 a.m. Sit up in crib, asking, "Where am I? Where's that lady whose arms I fell asleep in last night?"

6:05 a.m. Stand and clutch bars of crib, thinking, "Won't anybody rescue me from this prison? Aaa Aaa Aaa..."

6:10 a.m. That lady, Mama, rescues me, and I give her my, "Where have you been all my life?" hug.

6:12. Get a new diaper, drink a bottle and sit up with a big smile. Climb off mommy's lap and crawl into the kitchen.

6: 25. Dump out doggy's water. Splash in it.

6:26. Eat doggy's food (or try to, anyway.)

6:27. Chase cat and convince him to let me cuddle with him, like the doggy does.

6:30. Give up and find doggy. Lie head on his back for a quick rest.

6:40. Snap out of it and check out the toy area. As usual, no good toys are back here: No boxes of cereal to dump out. No car keys to hide. But this will have to do. Dump out box of blocks. Pick up two and wave them in the air like I'm conducting a symphony.

6:50. Go pay mama a visit. Listen to her hilarious jokes, such as, "Where's J.J.? Peekaboo!" Laugh hysterically.

7 a.m. Brothers wake up. They look like zombies, so I try to purk them up by telling some zingers of my own. Mostly I make rasberries, which cracks them up.

7:10. Eat some bananas and toast. Ask my brothers to give me a donut by saying, "Huh. Huh." They pretend like they don't know what I'm talking about. But they know.

7:30. Repeat to-do list from earlier this morning.

8 a.m. Attend homeschool, where my job is to crumple up papers, pinch my brothers' legs and taste-test the markers.

8:30. Meanwhile, my brothers just sit there, moving a pencil around on the paper. Honestly, I have to do everything around here. I could use a drink of milk.

9 a.m. After enjoying a bottle, I do some laps--five or six crawls around the house.

9:30. At this point, I'm ready to call it a day. I've been awake for hours--three and a half, to be exact. Goodnight, everybody. Wake me up before lunch.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Where is the Love?

Joe Nadeau lost his job as the St. Agnes music director because he was openly gay, reported the Kansas City Star yesterday ( Some parishioners, seeing his name sometimes in connection with the Heartland Men's Chorus, a gay musical group that Nadeau led, asked the pastor to fire him.

With the former pastor, Rev. Don Cullen, this didn't work. With the new pastor, Monsignor Gary Applegate, it did.

Nadeau could have kept his job only if he resigned his post with the men's chorus, said that he would be celibate and stated that he agreed with the church's teaching on homosexuality--that it is a disordered lifestyle.

The church basically teaches that people are not gay by choice, but that being true to their sexuality is wrong. Having a gay relationship is considered to be the equivilant of straight people having sex outside of marriage. However, the Catholic Church is against gay marriage.

St. Agnes is the parish my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins attend. They said parishioners and students loved Nadeau and it was a small group who wanted him out. I've met Joe, a nice guy who had inspirational posters hanging in his classroom like, "Be it ever so humble, there's no voice like your own."

I understand that people want Catholic employees to adhere to the rules of the church. I disagree with the church's stance on homosexuality, but even if I agreed with it, I would think this letter was wrong.

I don't understand how they can say, "In the name of God, I will write a letter asking that the pastor fire this kind, talented man because he is gay. Jesus, after all, loves busybodies. Didn't he say, 'cast the first stone?'"

The church is against a lot of things. I learned at Mass a few months ago, for instance, that being on birth control is a mortal sin.

Is the church going to fire all those men and women using birth control? Maybe, if they were quoted in the paper as using it, they would.

So what's the plan? It's easy to tell people what not to do. But we're left wondering, six days a week, how to take care of our families with the skyrocketing prices of homes, education, and insurance. How to live as a gay person without falling in love. How to live, basically, without participating in the human experience.

It's interesting to me that Jesus didn't clearly tell us what to do in regards to these issues. Oh wait a second. He said, "Love one another as I have loved you."

I remember him saying, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I remember him siding with the underdog, the singled out, the accused every time. I don't remember him circulating any letters recommending that temple employees be ousted. He had bigger fish to fry, namely teaching us to love one another.

Where is the love in this situation?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Fairway Pool

My family went to Fairway Pool Friday night. This is where I swam as a kid and worked as a teenager.

When you return somewhere familiar, you expect to see the same faces. As if time froze while you were away. You expect to see the kid who used to stand on the diving board, preparing mentally for several minutes before performing...a front dive. Maybe he'd be a little taller, but you'd recognize his seriousness. You look for the girl with the big goggles who would breathe in dramatically when she emerged from the water, and you'd think you needed to save her life, but then she'd do the exact thing over and over. She'd walk along the pool deck wearing her goggles, hiding her true identity, so we just called her Weezie. You watch to see if the 10, 8 and 7-year-old brothers--who got pegged as trouble makers but were actually nice kids--were still taking cigarette breaks on the park bench overlooking the tennis courts. You'd look for the other brothers who wore thick glasses. They'd take them off to jump off the high dive. Their mom said that the water below would have looked 100 feet down due to their poor eyesight.

None of these kids are here, and you realize that those little kids wouldn't just be taller now. They'd be grownups, probably with kids of their own.

But watching Richie stand in the 2 foot 6 inch water with his chin in the air to breathe, I remembered, as a little kid, calling this area the "big pool." There seemed to be thousands of kids in this area, diving for sponge balls and getting whistled at for playing too rough. It was wierd to try a handstand in this area one summer and realize I was too tall. Seeing Johnny swim back and forth under water, I remembered doing this for five hours at a time, taking breaks only during the torturous adult swims.

Afterwards, Richie said, "That's nice that I could stand there. We could go back and take a picture."

He wanted to preserve for posterity what a big boy he was. He'd remember, looking at the photo, how big the pool used to be before time passed and made it small.

But it's always big to somebody. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Frankly, He's a Frog

Johnny's friend Nicholas gave him a pet bull frog this weekend. His name was Teddy. Johnny renamed him Frankly, because, as everyone knows, naming a pet is half the fun. And because, frankly, he's a frog.

I think karma brought us this little creature, a tadpole that outgrew his aquarium when he sprouted legs.

We found a frog in a compost pile at Rock Creek on Wednesday. Johnny wanted to bring him home. But this creek is so dead--due to chemical runoff from yards and unnatural landscaping that creates too much water when it rains and too little when it shines--that it seemed wrong to take away the only sign of life I've seen here since childhood. There used to be bluegill and crawdads in this section of the creek, but no more. New back-to-nature landscaping, however, is designed to restore life in the creek.

Anyway, I told Johnny not the above information, lest he fall asleep, but that the froggy's brother lived here and they wanted to stay together. Initially, Johnny planned to find the brother and capture him, too. But after carrying froggy in his hand and showing him off to the big boys, he released him on a rock. The frog just sat there, as if not believing that his freedom was real. Then, he leaped in the water and swam away.

Johnny really wanted that pet frog, he remarked, regretting his moment of wanton generosity. Then two days later, he had one that was born in a pet store and raised as a pet. It is frog karma, frankly.

That's what I think, anyway. To a five-year-old, Frankly is a companion for the Rock Creek frog, who he never should have let go. "If you love someone, set them free" is just not in a kid's musical repertoire.

On a different note, Star Magazine in the Kansas City Star let me write an article for them on cheap things to do with your kids this summer. You can see it in today's paper or at Cheapness is a subject I'm an expert in, thanks to training from my dad, who once recycled the toilet paper from a T.P. job in our front yard. The teenagers thought it was a prank; my dad saw it as a donation.

My mom is also in The Kansas City Star today, smelling a flower on the society page--What else is new? She was touring a designer showcase home with her friend Patty.

Other articles that came out recently were one on pampered pets in the April KC Magazine, and an article called "Farm Fresh" in the May/June Kansas City Homes and Gardens, available at I also edited an annual report you might like to read. Not really, but if you have an annual report or other business writing you'd like me to read and edit, I'd love to do it.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Plymouth Rocks!

Two by two, children wearing cornflower blue "Plymouth Rocks!" T-shirts walked down the seafront sidewalk.

At a food stand by the Mayflower II, a big man with a big voice sat eating ice-cream with what looked like his wife and their grown children. He stood and fed the rest to a St. Bernard passing by, and resumed his conversation like nothing happened.

By the shops up the hill, a long-haired white guy drove a 1970s convertible with a carseat in the backseat, blaring Spanish music.

An old man sat with his shirt off on a rock by the beach, facing not the ocean but some clouds in the distance. "It's gonna rain," he said. "So you get out now. Enjoy the day. Go home and let it rain."

That was his plan, at least. After 40 days and 40 nights of rain in New England (approximately) he wasn't about to let a sunny --or even hazy--morning get away from him.

This is Plymouth, Mass., in 2006.

The rock is down by the ocean, enclosed behind an iron fence. As J.J. and I stared at it (The boys had run ahead with Justin before I could lecture them about what the rock symbolizes for our country,) some kids in black T-shirts jumped off their skateboards.

"Oh, look a fake rock!" said the tallest to his friends, for our benefit. "How did they get that fake rock down there? That is so sick."

And they wheeled off, snickering.

Well, you can't really blame him for being a smart aleck. You have to be hard to survive the mean streets of Ye Olde Plimoth, where swans bathe themselves in the confluence of the brook and sea. But I'm pretty sure it was a real rock. Whether it was the rock the pilgrims first stepped on when they reached America, no one knows. According to the sign, that is what a Puritan leader claimed to have learned from the older generation, who arrived on the Mayflower. Through the years, the rock has been moved, broken and chipped away by people wanting relics. And yet there it stands, surrounded by corroded coins.

When you tell people you went to Plymouth Rock, they ask, "Were you disappointed?"

It is, after all, just a rock.

You are not, by the way, supposed to throw coins down there, I learned when I chucked a dime into the pit. Wishes are free at Plymouth Rock, the lady said. Tell that to the Pilgrims.

Almost 400 years ago, 128 people crowded onto this ship, which would comfortably seat eight.

On the Mayflower II, a remake of the original ship, we learned about life during that two-month journey from a couple characters pretending to have made the trip.

"I know not of a New Jersey," one man told an English tourist trying to determine the Mayflower's original destination. "I know of Jersey. Thot's in England. Aye."

"Do you know that you weren't really on the Mayflower?" the man looked like he wanted to ask. "Aye. You're an actor."

The woman, who wore a cloth on her head and a long dress was very believable. She said, "I felt very sorry for the children. There were 2 and 50 with us on this boat. And they couldn't play because there was no room. Everywhere you walked there were beds. And they were so sick. At night it was dark and they would miss the pots and be sick on their clothes and you'd wash it with a little seawater. The smells were so bad. The only thing that got me through was my faith. And my husband."

So you can see why a rock would would be an exciting sight for these people. Even a fake one.

Also, having ridden in a car for 12 hours several times with five people, I can see why the Puritans had a lot of strict rules after riding in a boat with 128 people. My family used to drive to Colorado every summer. If I'd been asked to write some laws when we finally got out of the car, they would have included, "No loud chewing of food. No sunlight beating down on you relentlessly. No humidity. No cars without air conditioning. No accidentally touching someone else's knee with your knee. No talking annoyingly (I'll be the judge of that.) No laughing. No Van Halen playing too loudly on your headphones, drowning out the John Denver and Anne Murray songs I'm trying to listen to. Etc. Etc.

William Brewster, my ancestor, came over on the Mayflower and signed the famous compact. In fact, Brewster Gardens is built on the site of his garden A plaque said he was well-respected and well-spoken. We'd always heard he was a thief and a miscreant. Maybe he was a little of both. I wished the plaque gave more specifics. For instance: "His breath reeked of herring, yet his words were sweet." or "He robbed from the rich but was such an eloquent speaker that he convinced everyone that he was justified in doing so." Well, I didn't get a chance to read the whole thing, because it turned out I was in the background of the wedding photo, bent over, squinting at the plaque, which was written in old-timey language.

But whatever he was like, and whatever his wife and kids were like, this much I know. He survived one terrible journey and helped write the Mayflower Compact. That Plymouth rocks!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Such a Perfect Day

On our last day in Plymouth, the boys were begging to go to the beach. Justin drove along the shoreline until we found one. Even from the road, we could see that it was blanketed with seashells.

Johnny filled his yellow bucket with clams and snail and razor shells. Justin and I gave him the best ones we found until he told us to add those to our own collections. He knew what he was looking for.

You couldn't step without landing on a shell. Periwinkles--tiny black snails--attached themselves to every rock and clam shell. Tangles of muscles, seaweed and pebbles were strewn along the shore.

"I bet if you dug here, you'd find a clam," Justin told the boys. "I just saw it spit."

Sure enough, tiny fountains of salt water were spraying out from the sand all around us. We dug but never found the clams. We probably didn't go far enough.

Richie, meanwhile, wandered the shore slowly. He wore a blue spiderman tanktop, an unbuttoned Red Sox jersey, a blue beaded necklace and blue jewelled ring--treasures from the pirate booty. He looked a little bit like a white rapper.

He shed his jersey, pointed to his arms and said, "Look. Look at these. Muscle man."

He stared at the sand as he walked. Occasionally, he'd jump, land in a kickbocking stance and say, "Hero saves the day."

I think that if Richie wrote this account, he'd tell a different story all together. One of villains and pirates and him saving the day.

Against a grassy spot on the beach, a fish as big as Richie lay, its face peaceful and eyes alive-looking, but half of its body carved out--it looked like by a butcher's knife.

"I think a shark ate it but a whale saved its life," Richie said.

Only Richie could come to the conclusion that this washed up fish was still alive. He crouched down beside it for a long time, like a psychic trying to grasp the story of a poor soul's fate.

"So it's alive?" I finally asked.

"No," he said. "It's dead. It's just dead."

I guess if you look at something long enough, you finally see it for what it is.

J.J., riding in the backpack, moved his lips open and closed, like a fishy, and I handed him shells to play with. Or he might have been saying, "Bye bye" or hello. It could have meant anything, really, except milk or mommy which are both "Muh."

We shed our shoes and our feet sunk into the muddy sand. The boys waded out into the water and picked up handfuls of wet sand. Soon the boys were running on the beach, throwing sand like snowballs. I turned away and watched some seagulls fishing in the shallow water.

Just as I was thinking how much seagulls sound like crying children, I realized I was hearing crying children: mine. The mudslinging had ended badly, as it always does. Johnny and Richie were covered with wet sand, which by the time we got to the car, had dried. We just brushed it off and changed their clothes.

Johnny came away with an overflowing bucket of shells, and a few new pets, he realized as he was washing them off in the sink. He filled a tupperware container with water and table salt. When we left Boston, he left them in Nana's care, suggesting that she consult a pet store worker about what they should eat.

Papa soaked the shells in bleach for Johnny and we carried them home to Kansas City for the "shells we found on a perfect day" exhibit at the museum.

Richie left the beach with nothing, except, of course, his own bulging muscles and fearless heroism. Which is just how he likes it. It's hard to hold seashells when your hands are full of adventure stories.

J.J. finally got out of the backpack and sat on the sand with Justin. I thought he'd eat the shells around him, crunching them between his teeth like popcorn. Instead, he just waved to them. Our little animal lover.

It was a perfect day. Perfect in different ways for each of us. For Justin and I, it was perfect because we were all together, something that rarely happens for an entire day in Kansas City, where work and errands always scatter us like periwinkles over the sand.

But for one day, we were like the muscles, tied together loosely by seaweed. Just waiting for the next high tide to carry us away.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Wedding Over the Brook where Herring Swim

Jamie--Justin's brother--and Sondra married this weekend in Brewster Gardens in Plymouth, Mass. They said their vows on a bridge over the town brook, which emptied into the sea just yards away.

Family and friends walked along a path to the bridge, where we stood and looked on, pausing in our busy thoughts to smile or dab our eyes as only weddings make us do.

In fact, the whole park froze as if posing for a painting.

As Jamie and Sondra said their vows, three women watched, smiling, from a park bench. A man stopped walking his dog to listen. The sound of children playing in the distance faded away. Johnny looked up from scratching at the ground with a stick--for a second at least.

Time stood still as if to match the miracle of two people promising to stay together forever.

Everyone paused, that is, except for the herring. Upstream, they were busy swimming in place. Surely they were the inspiration for the water treadmill you see advertized in upscale magazines.

Every year, they swim from the ocean upstream to a pond to spawn. Once the eggs hatch, the freshwater acts as a little nursery for the herring fry before they make their way to the deep blue sea. Still, only one in 100 of the fertilized eggs survive to become fish in the ocean. Fortunately, 100 in 100 of the male herrings think it is theirs.

I didn't see them at first--they were hidden beneath the golden sunlight bouncing off the water.

"Fish," Johnny said, pointing to the brook after the wedding.

"Is there a fishy in there?" I asked, crouching down beside the water. "Oh my gosh. There's like a thousand fishies."

A school of silver herring swam in place waiting for the right moment to jump up the whitewater stairs built just for them. It was mesmerizing: a living world beneath the mirror-like water. It made me wonder what I've missed all those times Johnny or Richie weren't there to point it out to me.

As I watched a few jump up the stairs--obviously the natural athletes in the school, I felt sorry for the others, swimming and getting nowhere. I can't imagine what that must be like. Oh wait. Probably like doing laundry. Or paying bills. Or cleaning. Or asking your kids to stop wrestling for the thousandth time.

One poor fish jumped the small waterfall and just as he was surely talking trash to the fish below, "See ya latah, playah hatahs. I'm gonna spawn my ass off tonight," a seagull swooped down and ate him.

It is a cruel world.

"Awesome," Johnny said, looking at the bird in awe.

Beach rat, I thought, relating to his herring prey.

Most parents swim against the current to make a good life for our kids. Like the fish, we strive to give our young the best shot at survival in this crazy world. We work hard to give them a safe place to live and a pretty brook to travel down on their way to the ocean of life. Who knows if they'll swim right into the mouth of a shark once they get there. But hopefully by then they'll know that life is as fragile as it is beautiful.

We're so similar to the herring, I thought, as I told Johnny to say bye bye to the fishies.

But as we arrived at the reception, where people danced the Electric Slide and Richie drank about seven root beers and the Burts won the dance contest for which couple had been married the longest, I realized we couldn't be more different.

Herring never get off the aquatreadmill. Their only job is to help their species survive and not get eaten by seagulls. (A memo that somebody never got.) I wonder if they ever even see their offspring.

Our small fry, on the other hand, travel upstream with us, impatiently waiting for us to finish our work so we can play with them, and we travel downstream with them, taking the time to see things we haven't seen since we were kids: fish filled streams, superheros among us, that rootbeer tastes a million times better than sprite. Most of all, we get to see the looks on our kids' faces when they see these things for the first time.

It seems so simple, but how many days go by that we forget to float downstream, we're so busy working or cleaning or making sure our kids toe the line? Not to sound pessimistic, but that could be anyone of us getting eaten by the seagull, figuratively speaking, of course. I mean, we're not talking pteronodons, here.

At the rehearsal dinner, Sondra and I talked about how you have to take time to enjoy the little things that kids do. To write down the things they say. To listen to their funny voices even when you want to say, "Yes. I know Flash's underpants are yellow and Robin's are green. But we still need to go bye bye. Just. Put. Your shoes on."

Sometimes I forget to enjoy it. I just want shoes on their feet so that we can get to wherever we're going prior to me having to cook the next meal.

But as Sondra put it, if you can't enjoy your kids, then what can you enjoy?

Might I recommend an aquatreadmill.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Pirate's Treasure

Johnny, 5, sat in the hotel room, counting his loot by lamplight.

"...57. 58. 59. 100. 1 billion. 1 billion and one. 11 billion. 100 billion. 100 billion and one. 111 billion."

He wasn't asking the typical questions he asks when counting: "What comes after 49? What comes after 59? Etc."

He was just winging it. And by his calculations...

"We're rich. We're rich. We're rich," he chanted. "Daddy never has to go to work again."

Jewelled rings, beaded necklaces and gold coins--imprinted with John F. Kennedy--littered the desk of the Hilton hotel. Spoils from our day at sea.

We were in Plymouth, Mass., for Justin's brother Jamie's and his bride Sondra's wedding. But before the big event, we had to find the buried treasure that had eluded so many others. Luckily, unlike professional treasure seekers, we are not easily tricked. Blackbeard has nothing on us.

Earlier that day, Nana and Papa brought us to Pirate Paul's boat--Johnny, Richie, 3, J.J., 10 months, Justin, Uncle Johnny and Aunt Erin, good friends the Burts and the Richmonds--cousins from Florida. The boys had fashioned hooks from hangers and wore bandanas on their heads and jolly roger shirts. They told Pirate Paul that they were good pirates. Which is true about half of the time (when they are asleep.)

Johnny showed Pirate Paul a map of the world, which he opened with gusto and taped cavalierly when it ripped. Then he told us what was going on: We were after lost treasure and probably would not encounter any trouble. However, earlier in the day, he had spotted a pirate ship. To be on the safe side, the boys had to man the water canons on the side of the boat.

We sailed out into the bay as dramatic pirate music blared over the speakers. Soon we encountered the enemy ship--a tiny vessel with a treasure chest in clear view. The boys fired their weapons at the boat, and the chest was ours for the taking.

Until...up popped a one-eyed pirate. Face like a sweet potato. I mean he was ugly to the point that he looked like he was wearing a mask. He shot us with a big water gun.

"You barnacle," roared Pirate Paul over the loud speaker. "That treasah is ours. Give us the treasah. Everybody: We want the treasah. We want the treasah."

"We want the treasure. We want the treasure," we all chanted.

"Yell at him," Pirate Paul said. "Call him a loser."

He didn't have to twist Johnny's arm.

"You are an ugly idiot," he yelled. "Idiiiiiooooottttt!"

Finally, the pirate offered to give up the treasure.

"This better not be a trick!" Pirate Paul warned.

The evil pirate blew his nose into his fingers and came up with a handful of seaweed, which he threw at us.

"Pirate buggars!" Paul said. "That's disgusting."

But, being from the Midwest, Johnny and Richie really did consider seaweed to be a treasure and they hung onto it.

Finally, the pirate offered to exchange the treasure for a passenger on our ship. Nana! But when the boys found out he was for real, they begged not to let her be taken. They didn't want the treasure after all.

Luckily, they were able to capture the treasure--or booty, as Pirate Paul called it--without surrendering Nana. And that is why we are now filthy rich.

Paul poured us all a shot of Pirate Juice.

"Hey, this is root beer!" Johnny said.

"Here, have some more," said Pirate Paul, pouring it so that it overflowed all over the floor.

Johnny still wasn't convinced that it was really pirate juice, but he drank a toast anyway.

No, we are not easily tricked. We know the difference between real and fake.

And "That pirate was really ugly," Johnny said afterward.

Richie whispered, "He had a booty," and giggled.

And now we are home in Kansas City. Justin never has to work again. But he went this morning anyway. Just for fun, I guess. We have not yet moved to Mission Hills because moving is such a pain in the pirate booty. So it is our secret (and yours) that we are much richer than when we set sail from Plymouth rock. In memories anyway.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Pirates and Pilgrims

We're leaving for Boston today for Justin's brother's wedding. (Congratulations to Jamie and Sondra!)

The wedding is in Plymouth, home of the famous rock. We'll get to see that and the Plymouth Plantation, where you see how Pilgrims lived.

People in Boston grew up going on field trips there and to Salem and to where Paul Revere made his famous ride, places we in the Midwest only read about. I'm excited to see it.

In high school, I learned about the Puritans for a semester at least in American History. But I was too busy feeling sorry for myself over my ongoing acne problem to pay much attention.

All Justin can say is, "You don't want to be a Puritan." It was all work and rules.


My ancestor William Elder Brewster was a puritan. He came to this country on the Mayflower. One of my female ancestors was named Submit. Isn't that a darling name?

Carrying on W.E.'s tradition, my great uncle R.R. was a Congregationalist and a Prohibitionist in Missouri. He ran for U.S. Senate. His campaign came to a screeching halt when a reporter caught him drinking a beverage on a train. An adult beverage. So what people believe in and what they do are not the same thing.

The Puritans get a bad rap, though. And for what? So they fined the women who cut their hair too short and burned "witches" at the stake based on hearsay evidence and hypocritically forced Hector Prynn to wear an "A" on her shirt and...okay maybe they deserve the bad rap.

Still, I can't wait to see the Plymouth Plantation and the other sights in Plymouth, not to mention the wedding. We are even going on a pirate ship.

Oh, yes, pirates haunted the coast of colonial America, the boys and I read in the encyclopedia yesterday. And we are going on a real pirate ship on Friday (I mean, the ship is real), searching for treasure. To prepare, Johnny packed a plastic sandbox strainer (to pan for gold,) a map of the world oil situation from National Geographic and the "b" junior encyclopedia britanica, which theoretically has an entry on "buried treasure." I told him the encyclopedia had to stay home, so he had me take notes and pack those instead.

He wished on a star two nights ago that he would find pirate treasure. Today, he found a piece of cardboard with writing on it. It said, "Seek and you shall find, in Boston, treasure old as time." That or else "72nd Terrace Wall." It was hard to make out.

Richie wanted to bring a wooden sword, but I could just picture him attacking the "pirates" on board with it and us getting sent back to shore on a lifeboat. So that has to stay at home. But his Nana has a special pirate outfit for him to wear.

We learned that pirates had their own strict code. No gambling on board, for instance. If they broke a big rule, by, say, stealing, they got marooned on a deserted island with only a jug of water.

So you see, pirates and puritans had a lot in common. Rules and...I guess that's it.

I'll tell you about the trip when we get back!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Daytime Drama

J.J. is teething. His gums are red and swollen next to the eight front teeth he already has. He's tired but can't sleep. And he's not eating much, so that's a red flag right there.

Being in pain, he wants to nurse, but his teething makes this impossible. So I sit on the couch, crying as I feed him a bottle. Not because bottle feeding is sad but because it's not what he's used to.

He lets go of the bottle and says, "Mama," in a sad little voice.

It seems like he's asking, "Why can't I just nurse? Why are you weaning me now, of all times?"

But he's probably thinking something simpler, like, "Owie."

I've heard that if grownups cut teeth, we would need morphine to cope with the pain. Yet we give babies children's tylenol. Or a little bourbon on the gums. Or a frozen carrot to chew on.

While grownups are prescribed cutting-edge pain medicine, babies get Civil War-era remedies.

"Well, of course you're in excrutiating pain, little fella," we say. "Here. Chew on this plastic ring."

Can you imagine if a doctor said that to you after you got your molars yanked out?

It's not just J.J.'s pain that makes me sad. This is like the end of our little partnership.

J.J. and I rarely leave each other's side. When I say, "I'm going to throw some laundry in the dryer," J.J. smiles at me as if to say, "That is so funny because I was just going down to the basement. Do you want to go together?"

So any changes involving him make me a little sad.

However, this is a drama that I'm going through on my own. To Justin and the boys, this is akin to switching from Hy-Vee brand to Anderson Erickson milk. And feeling sorry for J.J. is like fretting over a football player getting tackled.

Whereas I see J.J. as the infant I brought home from the hospital and nicknamed "my little angel miracle love baby," after his valient fight during an emergency c-section, his brothers and daddy see him as a sasquatch. As Baby Paul Bunyan. As one of two people in our house that isn't afraid of our cat. (Skippy tried to eat J.J.'s grilled chicken one time and he grabbed the often cantankerous cat by the scruff of the neck and held his head on the highchair tray for a second, smiling. It was a playful wrestling maneuver, but Skippy took note.)

Johnny came into the living room from outside as I was lamenting the end of nursing.

"What?" he said. "Why is there black stuff under your eyes?"

My mascara.

"I don't know," I said.

"Oh. Do you want to see my stickery thing collection?"

Fir tree branches he'd piled on our front stoop.

At dinner, I told Justin about this tragedy I was going through.

"He's fine," Justin said. "It's probably time to stop nursing anyway."

Then he said, "The barber cut two retarded guys' hair today."

"While you were there?" I asked, thinking, what does that have to do with J.J.'s and my problem?

But maybe Justin was trying to cheer me up. Not to make a sweeping generalization, but I love retarded people. I worked with a group of mentally retarded adults at a department store in Arizona. I mean, a lot of people say they work with retarded people, meaning their co-workers aren't exactly geniuses . But these people really were retarded. Our job was to put security tags on clothes and purses. We had that place looking like the Fort Knox of high-end clothing stores.

It was a fun job. We'd drink coffee in the employee lounge in the morning and talk about movies. Or a movie, actually. Baby Geniuses was everybody's favorite. They'd remind each other about the funny parts and crack up.

So yes, that did cheer me up.

At bedtime, I went in the boys' room to kiss them goodnight, and J.J. was standing in his crib for the first time, holding onto the rails.

"Do you know what that means?" Johnny asked.

"Yes," I said dramatically. "He's an adult now."

J.J. stood there in his white onesy chewing on a pacifier.

"No, it means he'll walk when he's one year old," Johnny said.

And then, I thought, he'll drive. And he'll be too busy to visit little old mom. (You have to practice these guilt trips early to get them down pat.)

I picked up J.J. and read him "I'll Love You Forever," a book Justin's mom gave Johnny when he was a baby. It's a real tearjerker. Only I didn't cry. It actually cheered me up. I don't have to worry about J.J. not being a tiny baby anymore because he'll always be my baby.

As for J.J., I gave him a bottle this morning and he spit it out.

"Here we go again," I thought. "He wants to nurse."

But it was just gas. He burped and drank the rest of the bottle.

Justin's right. J.J. is fine. It was me who was having the separation anxiety.

As a mom, you're always coping with your kids' dramas: scraped knees, hurt feelings, fights with brothers. You can't understand why something so small is so big to them.

"My God, it's not the end of the world," you think.

Going through your own little daytime drama helps you understand. Heartache doesn't have to make sense. And it doesn't have to exist in proportion to what caused it. It just has to be met with a hug. And J.J., for someone in excrutiating pain, sure is generous with his hugs.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mom's Lessons

Last Mother's Day, I wrote a story for the newspaper about how my mom taught me various lessons by telling stories.

You don't lay out in the sun too long, for example, lest you wind up like poor cousin Barbara's friend. After Barbara went inside, her friend stayed on the beach and fell asleep. I bet you think she got sunburned. Heavens, no. Rather, ants crawled into her ears and ate her brain. She scratched her ears until they bled. That's when the paramedics came and put her in a straight jacket. Forever.

And that's why you don't sit in the sun for longer than one hour.

Last night, my mom reminded us of how she taught my cousins the importance of writing prompt thank you notes. (A lesson that did not stick with me, unfortunately, as my birthday notes are embarrassingly late again.)

We were at a cookout at my brother and sister-in-law's house, and everyone was telling funny stories about scary stories. In my sister-in-law Sarah's house, for instance, they learned not to go in certain crawl spaces or basement areas because a little monster lived there. He wasn't bad, but children were not to go where he was.

My mom told the story of when the ghost of Miss Kiekbush left cookies on her grave for my cousins.

My little cousins were always begging my mom to tell them stories about Miss Kiekbush, the lady who used to live in our house and now was haunting our attic.

Miss Kiekbush was basically a nice lady but just couldn't help herself when it came to playing mean pranks. For instance, she stole the lower half a woman's body, turning her into a torso manequin. My mom used this manequin as a funky 50s-era decoration on our deck.

One day, my cousins found the manequin holding a letter in her delicate hand. Naturally, it was from Miss Kiekbush.

She instructed the children to come to a graveyard on Troost Avenue because she had a gift waiting for them on her grave. But get out of there before the thunder strikes three times, or else, she wrote.

My mom baked cookies and asked in the cemetery office where she could find a grave marked "Kiekbush." They told her, and she put the cookies there and returned with the children and my aunt and uncle. She told scary stories under the cloudy skies, and the kids made rubbings of the gravestone with crayons and paper. They found the gift of chocolate chip cookies, surely believing at last that Miss Kiekbush wasn't bad, just a jokester who occassionally stole half of people's bodies.

Then thunder boomed.

"We have to get out of here," my mom yelled, reminding them of the note.

Thunder struck again.

"That's the second time," she yelled, in a panicked voice. "We have to leave before it strikes again."

Some of the kids were perched atop Miss Kiekbush's gravestone and were crying to be helped down. My mom helped them and they ran to the car and piled in.

My mom peeled out down the graveyard road, until she came to a bridge.

"Oh, no," she cried, screeching to a halt. "It's the old bridge!"

"Don't go over the old bridge," the children begged her, not liking the sound of it.

"We have to. It's the only way out of here!" my mom said, stepping on the pedal and driving like a bat out of hell.

By this time, my mom couldn't hold back her laughter. So she disguised it as a cackle.

"Stop doing that," my cousins said. "We know it's you."

"I can't help it," she said. "Miss Kiekbush is laughing through my mouth."

Finally, they got to the graveyard exit before anything bad happened.

My mom stopped and turned to them.

"Now," she said. "Someone needs to deliver a thank you note to the grave, and it's not going to be me. One of you will need to ride your bike."

My cousin Jono, 11, bravely volunteered and Miss Kiekbush never pulled a prank on any of my cousins.

Did the note ever get to Miss Kiekbush? Of course it did. Wouldn't she have sought revenge if it didn't?

So if Jono can risk his life to deliver a thank you note, then what excuse does anywone else have? And that's why you always write thank you notes.

Note to self: write thank you notes this week.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Blue Thunder

I heard a caller on the radio yesterday talking about how people force gender roles onto boys and girls. You know: moms teach girls to play with dolls and dads teach boys to tackle each other.

This lady obviously has not been to one of Blue Thunder's soccer games.

That's the name of the soccer team I coach. It's made up of six boys ages 4, 5 and 6, and one little 3 year old who runs around saying "poopie head." I bet you can't guess who that is. He's on the practice team.

Don't get me wrong. My team falls into their gender roles perfectly. But they got no help from me, Mrs. Coach.

For instance, I didn't teach the players to bond by conking each other in the head with the soccer ball. But that's how they deepened their friendship. I didn't coach them to make a dog pile at the end of the game. But that's how they celebrated a possible victory (In this league, you don't keep score.) I never told them to get a 50 foot running start on their kick-ins. But that's their strategy.

Boys are just more active. More rambunctious. More...boyish.

They're different from the girls we play in this coed league. Not better or worse. Just different. For instance, the boys crash into each other like magnets. Today, two players were locked in a football-style hug for the kickoff. Trying to pull them apart was like separating Siamese twins. The girl players, on the other hand, do not appear to be magnetic.

Also, when the girls daydream, they turn cartwheels. The boys, on the other hand, turn up hunks of dirt, finding big juicy worms to dangle in each others' faces.

It's been a relief to me to see the energy level of Johnny's teammates. I always thought my kids were a little on the wild side. But now I see that they're typical boys. I tell them to give me a hug, and they tackle me. I choose a cute story about a bear family and they want to read about Superman or dinosaurs instead. It goes without saying that they act out the book by flying off the couch or roaring.

Believe me, I tried to teach them to like dolls and sleep with teddy bears. They tossed the dolls like footballs and wanted to curl up next to their Tonka trucks at night instead.

I tried to teach them to converse with each other, but they thought I said to collide with each other.

Eventually, I got tired of forcing the gender stereotype out of them. What's so bad about being a little wild anyway? Sure, they'll have to set aside their dreams of being successful library patrons. Or those people who spraypaint themselves gold and stand totally still for hours, pretending to be statues for tips. But they'll make their way somehow.

Don't get me wrong. All this gender role talk serves its purpose. People used to think girls had no place on the athletic field and women had no place in high paying jobs. Boys didn't cry and dads didn't stay home to raise the children. Now it's a little easier for boys and girls, men and women to do these things. Boys and girls both get a shot at victory on the soccer field or any other field they want to try. It's just that they follow different playbooks.

Blue Thunder's book says, "Tackle!'"

Friday, May 12, 2006

The 5-Year-Old Museum Curator

Johnny, the night owl, was awake while I was working on an article for Star Magazine about free and cheap things to do with your kids this summer in Kansas City.

"I have something," he said.

He was talking about his shell museum, located on a two-tiered table in his bedroom. The collection of shells has now expanded to include rocks and a film festival (in which all movies are written and directed by him.)

He dictated this entry for the article.

"Johnny’s Shell Museum and Rock Collection

You’ll see most of the shells in life coming up to humans. Even waves carry most of the shells up to land to the top of mountains. On the bottom you’ll be digging and work on the hole every day, you’ll get to a whole bunch of lava underground. It’s the deepest part of the world. It’s called the center of the world. You’ll always find millions of shells. There’s 100 shells at my house.

We’ll be selling robots for $2 whenever we start inventing them.

Fun to go with science kids. With babies, keep them away, because they have a little lecture of tiny ones.

Also, we have a little rock collection. They are really cool rocks, especially the smooth ones. Found in Meadowlake Park in the sandbox. Sometimes you see little white ones. Also, some are glowing orange.

Also there’s a movie store. Right when you get there early, you’ll only see two movies. Then I’ll be making more books into movies. First it would only be scary ones like alien adventures and ones of fake gods and especially ones of scary monsters. Rated R, PG, PG-13. And the goodest ones when you get there is the "Cave of Things" and the one about a superhero that had any superpowers called "Anything Man." "King of the Tunnel." "Superbear" is a family of superheros only one day new. And you’ll also see superheroes from the Justice League. You’ll see dinosaurs, animals that have special powers. The Lords of the Evil is the bad guy. He has any superhero powers also. Also has things from Marvel. You’ll see a lot of things. It’s as long as the Bible. You’ll have to watch a little a day, just like the Bible.

If I was the editor, I'd lead with that, but I'm a little biased. As it is, the editor might think I'm trying to cash in on my own story. Also, it's possible that he doesn't speak 5-year-old and wouldn't know what the entry meant.

The problem with children's language is every family has a different dialect. So I'll translate.

"Johnny's Shell Museum

While touring the museum, you'll see 100 shells. One popular activity is digging to the center of the earth, where you'll find hot lava. You'll be treated to a long lecture on how shells reach the top of mountains, and several other science facts.

Science kids will love it, but it is not for babies, who might choke on the small shells.

The rock collection features rare finds from the sandbox, which really should be on the 10 o'clock news they are so unique.

Robots will sell for $2 as soon as my dad takes me to the junk yard to get scrap metal and discarded robot-programmed computer chips.

You'll also get the chance to see several epic-length films, not yet created. Suffice it to say they are as long as the Bible, and in most cases rated PG-13 for scariness.

All this for $1."

If you don't see this entry in the newspaper, be sure to act like you did. It's hard out here for a 5-year-old museum curator and film festival producer, and he needs a little encouragement.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sound the Alarm: Mommy's on the Phone

I'm convinced our telephone transmits signals to the kids. While I'm the one holding the phone, it somehow whispers in their ears, "Ready, set, now: Go crazy. Fight. Be loud. Dive off the couch. Demand bandaids. Kool Aid. Immediate assistance tying your shoes. Whatever you do, don't wait until mom's off the phone. That could be minutes from now."

The kids can be coloring quietly, sharing crayons, and complimenting each other. When the phone rings, they go crazy. They both want the burnt sienna or cornflower crayon. They try to color the ceiling by throwing the crayons up there. They color like madmen, running around their papers, yelling "ay ay ay ay."

Maybe they see their chance. Since childhood, they've seen mommy smile and be friendly on the phone. They know that I can't smile and read them the riot act at the same time.

Perhaps they find my facial expressions and hand motions amusing.

"We'd love to come over Saturday," I say smiling. Then I give the boys the look and furiously point my finger from one to the other, meaning "break it up," but saying, "What can we bring?"

They laugh. It's fun for them to see mommy communicating like a chimpanzee. Do they think I'll be on the phone forever? When I hang up, they'll learn that they lost T.V. privileges for the day. They don't care. I provide ample entertainment for them as it is.

The miracle is that the phone doesn't even have to ring for them to hear the "go crazy" alarm. J.J. can be napping and the boys playing independently--relocating all their dinosaurs in preparation for a looming pretend flood, and I'm savoring the peace and quiet.

"Hey," I think. "This would be a great time to conduct that phone interview for the home magazine."

I dial the number, remarking to myself how well behaved my children are. I ask for who I need to speak to. I hold.

"Hello. Yes. This is..."

That's it. J.J. wakes up screaming. Richie and Johnny start arguing loudly. They also need my help moving the dinosaurs immediately. The flood is coming right now.

The person I called must think that I saw my children crying and yelling, fearful, of course, of this terrible flood that's coming, and thought, "Now would be a good time to ask an interior designer if wallpaper is making a comeback."

It turns out she wasn't thinking that at all. She didn't even ask if I should call her at a better time. She knew that picking up the phone makes it a bad time.

"I have kids," she said. And yes, wallpaper is making a comeback.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


For kids, there are two kinds of questions: ones they already know the answer to and ones nobody knows the answers to.

Richie, in lawyer like fashion, asks the first kind.

He only asks, "Can I have a special treat?" when he's eaten all his dinner. Then he repeats the question just to hear, "Yes."

He follows up, asking, "Did I do a good job eating my dinner?"


Again to emphasize that last point, "Did I do good?"

"You did great."

"Do I get a piece of candy?"


"Is it my Easter candy?"


"Not Johnny's Easter candy?"

"No it's yours."

"Did I do a good job?"

"You did a great job."

He knows all these answers, and that's what makes him such a good lawyer.

If, on the other hand, his food sits untouched on his plate because of some tragic error, such as, (in an opera voice) "It has salsa on it. Salsaaaaa," then he doesn't even ask for a treat. Instead, he tries to get Johnny to smuggle him something he can eat under the table. They are invisible under the table.

Johnny asks the tough questions. The ones you'd never see on a FAQ sheet, unless it was a parent of 5-year-old's FAQ's sheet.

Who is a better lifeguard: an elephant or a human?
Are leprochauns endangered?
Why do people die?
Why do old people get sick?
If we evolved from mice, why do we kill mice?
Why did the chemicals make Mr. Fantastic stretchy?
Why did God make shells breakable?
Is "fake" a real word?
Do you think Scooby Doo will be afraid of his own spirit when he dies?

Johnny daydreams through my answers, which is just as well because they are complete bull honkey.

No, kids don't ask questions for the same reasons adults do, that is to find things out. They want reassurance and confirmation. They want to hear "yes" instead of the "no" they hear so many times a day.

And I think they even need reassurance that, even though they know almost everything, more, miraculously, than their older and wiser parents, there are still some mysteries out there.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Back to Arizona

Flying from one home to another is like watching your life flash before you. The green quilt of Missouri and Kansas farms disappear beneath the clouds, you disappear behind your People magazine, and the next time you look out the window, the chiseled mountains and silver rivers of Arizona lay all around you.

It had been three years since Justin and I visited Phoenix. This is where we both lived for two years. Where we met and Johnny was born. Where we still have friends and family. Who knows why it took us so long to get back?

When I first came to Arizona in sixth grade to visit my aunt Beth, I couldn't believe a place in America could be so different from Kansas City. I took mental notes to tell my friends back home. "Everybody has a swimming pool in Arizona...In Arizona, no one has grass in their yard...At the Grand Canyon, Europeans are everywhere. And...(I whispered for emphasis) some of them sunbathe topless..."

And I vowed to live there some day. Out in the desert, with possibilities as far as the eye could see. Maybe it was because it was different that Phoenix held so much possibility. Kara, my friend who I moved there with, and I used to say we felt like we were on vacation, driving to our jobs along streets lined with palm trees. Beth and Devida knew all the best places and introduced us to all their friends.

It turned out yards in Phoenix did have grass. Ours even had orange trees. It was like being on T.V. in California, I thought, with Kara and her brother Jeff--my roomates--being so funny that I felt like I was on the set of a sitcom. This mentality might be why I was the world's worst waitress in Arizona. Subconsciously, I was thinking, "I'm not a waitress. But I play one on T.V."

And now, here Justin and I were, actually on vacation this time. Relaxing in the mild dry night with our friends--Beth, Davida, Kara, Lexi, Roland and their friends...Playing fetch with Francis, the Australian Shepherd who catches tennis balls like it is his job. We'd go to a favorite place in Arizona and then relax by the pool. We'd try to trick Kara's computerized 20 Questions game by being too honest. Thinking of a hair barret, we'd ponder whether it stored information.

"Maybe," Kara said, deviously. "If you inserted a microchip into it."

Do the police use it? 20 Q asked.

"Yes," Lexi and I said. "Female police officers do."

But 20 Q, being a mind reader, always guessed right.

Meanwhile, I played my own game of 20 questions. What if we had stayed here, I wondered. Justin joked that we'd still be living in our studio apartment.

At that apartment, I'd gossip on the lawn with the other stay-at-home moms. Well, the others weren't moms, really. More like stay-at-home beer drinkers. I'd run into them on the sidewalk when I walked the baby and one guy would say something like, "Did you hear? The landlord is kicking me out just because I lost my rent money in the couch cushions and accidently gave away the couch to a friend whose phone number I also lost."

And I'd say, "Wow. That's unbelievable."

"I know," he'd say, and I'd think, "I know that you know that I know that's unbelievable. Yet here we are."

And the subject would turn to the weather.

Once I tried to borrow baking powder from our apartment neighbors to make a cake for Justin's birthday. I knocked on all the doors where I could hear a T.V. playing and everyone just stared at me like I was asking to borrow a hambachoowakeetee, or some such made up thing. And seeing what everyone's favorite pasttime seemed to be, I thought, "Damn. Why couldn't the cake call for marijuana? Several neighbors could loan me that ingredient. Then this cake would be in the oven by now. Totally baked." Pardon the pun.

So, no, we wouldn't still be living there. I mean, I might not be the world's best go-getter, but it's not like I accidentally give away couches. At least not ones that double as piggy banks.

But even living in a place where many people had fallen on hard times and couldn't get up, I felt like I was on vacation. I even suspected that our apartment was an old hotel, due to the way the balconies surrounded the pool.

And there were mountains to climb, patios to relax with friends and family on, dry air to breath and sun to soak up. The boys would have loved it there, where lizards are as common as house mice and it rains so rarely that people sit outside to watch it like a drive-in movie in the sky.

We listened to the song "Trip Around the Sun" while we were there. It says, "No, you never see it coming/Always wind up wondering where it went/Only time will tell if it was time well spent." You always wonder, when you return to an old home, if you made the right call. If you turned right when the situation called for a left turn. But when you don't know where you're going, any road will lead you there. My brother thinks that saying is a warning. I think it's a promise.

Justin and I and the boys are happy in Kansas City. It was the right decision, but this much I know, we won't go on a trip around the sun again without making a trip to Phoenix.

Back home, we went to a First Communion party for my cousins. It was a cool, humid day, typical for May in Kansas City. While the big kids played baseball, Johnny searched for "wild animals" lurking in the "bamboo" on the edge of the lawn.

When he saw us, he ran across the yard, yelling "Mommy." Richie bolted over from the sandbox to see his daddy. J.J. stared at me blankly for a minute, then smiled in a way usually reserved for a soap opera character who sees the twin he thought was lost in a tragic accident at sea but, as it turned out, was only kidnapped and raised by pirates. "Where were you? Why didn't you call? Or throw a bottle into the sea, at least. Oh, listen to me. None of that matters now. Come here. Give me a hug. Do you have any rum?" Or in J.J.'s case, milk.

The next day, I wore the "Got Chile?" shirt Beth and Devida bought me at Los Dos, our favorite restaurant in Arizona. While I unpacked and drove the boys to the park and unloaded and loaded the dishwasher and made dotted numbers for Johnny to trace, I pretended I had one foot in Kansas City and one in Phoenix, like a cartoon character on a souvenir map. If only a big step were all it took to go back and forth.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Blog Will Return Tomorrow

After a brief hiatus for a vacation in Phoenix, the blog will return tomorrow.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Planting a Garden is Like Raising Kids

This week we planted our garden. As we planted three seeds every three inches to get one plant per foot, it struck me how similar gardening is to raising kids. You sow seeds, nurture them with water and manure (such as "If you sit that close to the T.V., you'll go blind.") And those seeds take root. But this analogy has been written about before. Songs and parables in the Bible compare farming and gardening to family life.

So I'll focus on the differences between parenting and gardening.

In gardens, you plant three seeds in hopes that one will take root. With kids, you tell them the same thing 1,000 times, knowing that they will never take your advice but hoping that they will at least understand why you gave it in 30 years, when they have children of their own.

When weeds grow in gardens, it's not your fault. And you simply pull them out. If anything goes wrong with your kids, you blame yourself, but can't solve the problem. Your child has to help. This is like depending on your tomato plant to uproot the dandelions.

Seed packets tell you the amount of sunlight and water, and the climate the plants need to grow. But with kids, you never know what is going to work until you try it: logical consequences, a long talk, a hug, grounding, reading them the riot act. Will they thrive in the face of challenges or a sea of opportunities? It's a guessing game.

In gardens, if you plant a carrot seed, you get a carrot. But with kids, you can plant a carrot seed and get a Venus flytrap. Or a plain ole bean seed and get a magic bean stalk. You can teach your son, for instance, that boxers are underpants and he will swear up and down that they are dress up attire. Or you can gripe to your kids about the rain and they'll say, "That's nice that it's raining because the flowers need a drink.

Or you can teach them how to spell real words and they'll insist on typing funny words and large sums of money.

Now Johnny would like to say a few words:



no go up fog see


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

If Your Boss Were...

When I worked at the newspaper, I interviewed a stay-at-home dad who said, "I work for the most demanding, difficult, micromanaging boss in the world, and I love it." He was talking about his two-year-old daughter.

Ever since, I've wondered what it would be like if bosses in the working world acted like the little bosses at home.

Let's start with babies.

If your boss were 9 months old, he would...

Call you into his office by crying loudly.
React positively (laughing, yelling, bouncing up and down in his seat) to any presentation that involved clapping.
Forget about his dissatisfaction with your work performance when you held a cloth over your face and said, "Where am I? Where am I? Peekaboo!"
Fly off the handle if his lunch didn't arrive the moment he realized he was hungry.
Solve all office disagreements with a big hug.
Think you were talking to him when you were really talking on the phone. He would sit by you, answer your questions with a smile, laugh when you laughed, and finally grab the phone from you and chew on it.
Show you proudly how he could pick up a cheerio, put it down and pick it up again.
Rate your performance solely on whether you could keep a full glass of milk in front of him at all times (and how often your presentations included clapping.)
Make you feel like a valued employee by crying when you left the office for the day.

If you boss were three years old, he would...

Call you into his office by yelling your name 10 times in a row at the top of his lungs.
Enjoy any presentation where you casually used foul language, such as "butt in the pants," and "booty in the butt." Example..."In conclusion, we need to put our butt in the pants and get this done."
Forget that he was mad at you when you gave him a piece of candy.
Fly off the handle for any reason at all...he ran out of paper, couldn't find his stapler, his roller chair got stuck on a snag in the carpeting, he woke up too early, etc.
Solve office strife by tattling on someone.
Show you proudly how he could jump from his chair to his desk without touching the floor.
Rate your performance solely on your ability to stay in character as whichever superhero he proclaimed you to be for the day.
Ask you to show that he is a valuable boss by scratching his back and belly at the end of the day.

If your boss were 5 years old, he would...

Call you into his office by saying, "There's something you've gotta see." You would know right away that it was a giant cockroach or other disgusting insect.
Appreciate any presentation that included exploding volcanos.
Forget that he was mad at you when you explained to him that you were looking out for the company's best interests...and gave him a piece of candy.
Go ballistic when a fellow boss ruined one of his projects just to watch him go ballistic.
Solve problems in the office by tackling the culprit.
Show you proudly how he could nurse an injured beetle back to health.
Rate your performance based on how good of sport you were when he put a worm in your hair as a hilarious office prank.

Things would always be interesting. The good news is, you'd never get fired. The bad news is you'd never get paid. But mostly, like the dad I interviewed, you would love those demanding, micromanaging little bosses.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Tucking in the Boys

I'm always rushing through the boys' bedtime. By that time, I've kind of had it. I'm ready to watch a little T.V. and at least pretend to think that everyone is tucked into bed, and not crouched down in the hallway, believing that they are invisible until someone makes eye-contact with them.

But bedtime is when kids say the best things. When they believe in the most outlandish dreams and plan the most elaborate futures. They'll be scubadiving scientists who live in houses made of shells! They'll make movies! They'll catch bad guys! They'll fly!

Richie, for instance, thinks that if he steps outside and yells, "Justice Leak!" Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Johnny Jones (I don't know who that is either) will descend from the skies and ask him to come with them to ward off an international crisis.

He gets a far off look in his eyes and says, "I but. I but. I but. I but Iceman will come and Batman and Robin will save the day!"

He throws his head back on his pillow and looks up at the ceiling with a big smile.

"Ha. Ha," he says. "Batman and Robin save the day!"

To Richie, Batman and Robin are the most amazing superheros ever, despite the fact that Johnny tries to convince him that Batman doesn't fly. He just glides. Richie denies that unequivocally.

While laughing at Richie's gullability, Johnny hopes that if he keeps his eyes open long enough, he'll catch a glimpse of the small people living under his seashell table. He made a tiny room for this family in a shoebox and awaits a chance meeting at night. Their intense shyness keeps them hiding in the basement by day.

In contrast, grownups face a sea of worries at bedtime. "I forgot to call so and so. Is it too late to call? Oh shoot. Where is the envelope I have to mail? Is it late? How will my meeting go at work? Will so and so get better? How can I get everything done tomorrow? What if this? What if that?" Etc. Etc. Sleep experts say people should face each worry by inhaling and exhaling, "Not now." Or they can list all their worries and sign off on them, meaning they can't think about them or add to them until morning.

Kids do not have this luxury. Their worries at bedtime are more pressing. They think a monster is going to eat them. Or a bat is going to bite them and turn them into a vampire. Or a tiger is going to escape the zoo and wind up, where else? in their bedroom.

For every farfetched dream of revolutionizing superherodom by making a movie about Anything Man and Nothing Boy, there is an outlandish nightmare about a crumbling bridge and snapping alligators.

Johnny sometimes pulls his sheet over his head to avoid seeing monsters. He has nightmares before he even falls asleep. Richie refuses to sleep on the left side of the bed, believing bad guys lurk between the matress and wall.

I've read that these dreams and fears express the struggle against the badness within. But I just don't think people are that bad. Not as kids, anyway. I think the dreams warn kid about the badness outside. It clues them in so that if they ever see a wild growling alligator, they sense the danger and run instead of saying, "Aw. Look at the cute lizard. What a pretty smile!"

When the boys wind down, we say prayers. Johnny prays for every person, place and thing in the whole world, thus saving the time it would take to name people individually.

Richie alternates between praying for others and himself.

He says, "I hope Aunt Kathy feels better and finds her necklace." (He mixes her up with his Great Aunt Mary, whose jewelry was stolen.) Then he names various PG-13 superhero movies that he prays he'll be allowed to watch.

These movies used to scare him. But the other day, Richie smiled as he watched Penguin growl his evil plans.

"That's okay, mommy," he said. "Batman will save the day."

If only all dreams had such happy endings. We would have to believe that the world worked the same way.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Family Resemblance

My aunt Kathy is the oldest child of 10. She is one of five girls. She was the first in the family to move out of town and stay out of town. We went to visit her this weekend. "We" being my mom, my three other aunts, baby J.J. and me, Kathy's goddaughter.

Kathy is now sick and homebound. But that doesn't stop her from getting her hair done.

Her beautician came to her home and charged her $70 for a cut and color.

Kathy said, "I told her, '$70? Are you crazy? To come to my house? I don't think so.' I paid her 150."

That is Kathy.

We settled in on Friday to talk about blond hair and Lifetime Television. Kathy and my mom love them some Lifetime movies. As the oldest girls in the family, that is one of the few things they have in common.

Kathy worked as a flight attendant for 20-some years. She married late in life, and had two dogs, whom she adored. One was Molly a "basador"--you know the dogs with the labrador head and basset hound body. Molly would go shopping with Kathy and get McDonald's cheeseburgers at the drivethru for lunch. She passed away, and Kathy talks about her often. Maggie, a basset hound, now lives with Kathy and her husband in their condo. She and J.J. crawled around together this weekend, taking turns howling.

My mom married at age 23, had three children and worked part time as an occupational therapist. She now has seven grandchildren. If you're looking for my mom, you'll find her on the sunny side of the street, the bright side of life and somewhere over the rainbow. Which, when you think about it, are pretty good places to be.

Kathy sees things a little differently. She is the alternative weekly newspaper to my mom's church newsletter. They would both tell you that, growing up, Kathy was the rebel and my mom wasn't.

Kathy's friend came over while we were there (Kathy on the phone: "You know you're welcome. Don't give me that 'I'm not welcome' stuff. Whatever. Just come over.") The friend looked around the room and remarked how similar everyone looked.

But looks can be deceiving. I've never seen five more different people than that room full of sisters: a retired flight attendant, a school principal, a sales executive, a grandmother and a dog rehabilitator.

Until we were driving to the airport and saw a van that said, "7 Sistahs on Board. Sisters Weekend or Bust." And we brainstormed how we should react.

Mooning them and kicking their asses were among the suggestions.

Of course, we did neither. We have our reputations to uphold. But we laughed about it. That's what everyone has in common. We laugh a lot. We laugh at things that aren't funny--like Lifetime movies and the less bizarre real-life problems. We laugh at things that are funny. Like my mom and Kathy's stories about my mom and dad's first three dates (Kathy, who told the stories on her deck while wearing a pretty bathrobe and gold jewelry, going inside to smoke so as to avoid polluting the outside air for the baby, set them up.)

Kathy is funny. All the sisters are funny. So looking at everyone, Kathy's friend probably saw the half smile on everyone's faces that says, "If no one else is going to say something funny, I will. It's time to spice things up."

In every family, there's enough drama to make get-togethers spicier than a Thai-hot entree. Tears are going to flow. So you have to ask yourself, should they be sad tears or tears from laughing. Lifetime chooses the first option. We choose laughter.

Or maybe it chooses us.