Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Keeping Memories in a Jar

With Johnny off to school, I have more time to talk to Richie. I mean really talk. Granted, our words make no sense whatsoever, but I like that in a conversation.

Me: So are you excited for fall?

Richie: No.

Me: Why not?

Richie: Because I will fall off of that.

Me: Should we do the United States puzzle today?

Richie: Yeah. Remember when we went there and saw Santa Claus?

Me: To the United States?

Richie: Yeah, we saw Santa Claus at the United States.

Which is true.

Richie: (Gives me a big hug for the tenth time that day.)

Me: Are you going to be a professional hugger when you grow up?

Richie: No, I'm going to be a superhero. What are you going to be when you grow up?

Me: I'm going to be a mommy.

Richie: I'm going to be a mommy, too. And I'm going to take care of J.J. and go to the doctor's office and get another baby and put them on the floor and they can play together.

Richie still thinks that that's how we got J.J. Justin and I drove to the doctor's office and ordered one baby. Extra large. Hold the pickles and collickiness.

Meanwhile, Johnny had his second show and tell at school. My mom was helping him with it because he wanted to show the class her collection of antique African insects. (What? Like you don't have a collection of antique insects.) She brought over a fact sheet about the insects last night so that they could study. (We make our kids study for show and tell.)

"Okay, we'll need copies of this," Johnny told her, holding up the diagram.

He wanted to give his classmates handouts to refer to during the presentation.

During the presentation, he said, "I'm sorry, but I'm going to tell you something really gross. The dung beetle rolls animal poop into a big ball and drops it in the ground. Then the mommy lays eggs in it and the babies eat the poop."

How do I know this? Was I in the room? No, my mom taperecorded the whole thing.

In our family, we document everything. I am determined to be the family that future generations base their historical assumptions on: Mothers were poor housekeepers. Children were entimologists. Babies were giants. Four year olds aspired to be mothers. Fathers drove their vehicles until they were no longer good for anything but backwoods demolition derbies.

Except that I lose everything and I'm sure will lose track of this blog, too, if that's possible.

Well, there will be plenty of other records future people can refer to...photo albums, journals, blogs. From the old days, records always seem so serious. I once read a pioneer diary that went kind of like this:

Monday: Pa bought 14 bushels of wheat. And tobacco.

Tuesday: We shucked corn.

Wednesday: Removed feathers from down mattresses. Washed and dried them.

I always wondered if they looked back at these diaries and said, "Oh my gosh. Do you remember when we removed the feathers from the mattresses? And then we washed them?"

"As I recall, we dried them, too."

They probably didn't have time to write more details than that. Or enough paper. Or maybe they thought other details were unimportant. Getting the work done was the important thing. And if someone got stung by a bee or felt slighted by some comment or was dreaming about something...well, leave that to the novelists to write down. The main thing was, "We shucked the corn."

If I wrote like that, my day would look like this, "Fed the children. Cleaned up. Fed the children. Cleaned up. Fed the children and the husband. Cleaned up. Typed words."

That's the work I did. But it doesn't quite capture the day. Not that the day will stay in captivity forever. Technology changes. Memories fade. Papers blow away. But like a lightening bug you catch in a jar and let go free before you go to sleep, holding the memories for a little while let you believe you're part of something big. I used to imagine that when I set a lightening bug free it flew to the moon and back to my neighbor's yard. The baby hugs and the quirkiness of six-year-olds and the funny four-year-old conversations...those will fly away to somebody else's house some day. But I'm going to keep them in a glass jar for a while.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Wanted: A Designated Eyebrow Raiser

Have you ever noticed that when you're in a bad situation--your car breaks down in traffic or you spill spaghetti down your white shirt before an important meeting or your child scribbles on an important paper, or you're a musician who could never afford health insurance and now you have cancer--there's always one person there to raise his or her eyebrows.

They're the designated eyebrow raisers. They travel around and when an eyebrow needs to be raised--by God--they do it. It's a challenging job--feeling superior to people who hit a spot of bad luck. The only thing more challenging, in fact, would be...being the person with bad luck.

I like to imagine what's going on inside an eyebrow raiser's head:

"If my car broke down in traffic, I would have an intergalactic starship beam me into outerspace so that I wouldn't inconvenience the drivers with reliable transportation."

"If I spilled spaghetti down my shirt, I would change into one of my five spare shirts I keep in the office for that exact reason."

"My child would never mistake an important paper for an unimportant paper because I have raised him to be as anal as I am."

"If I were a musician without health insurance, I would build a time machine and travel back to my youth and never become a starving artist in the first place. I would become a singing investment broker."

So yesterday we were in the library, and I wanted to check out a book called Raising Cain, which is about raising boys. After the boys looked at books in the kids section, I dragged them over to the grown up section. J.J. didn't get the memo that libraries are quiet and threw a fit over not being able to pull books off the shelf. We went back over to the kids section, but I wanted to peak at the new releases to see if it was there. Again, things weren't going how J.J. planned. But I knew his fit would be short lived, so I finished scanning the shelves.

Luckily, a designated eyebrow raiser was on hand. He graciously looked up from his work to put me in my place.

He didn't say anything. Just raised his eyebrows. I interpreted this to mean: "If I were a stay at home mom whose husband was borrowing my car because his broke down the same day the household airconditioning unit broke and it was 90 degrees inside and raining outside and the only place close enough to walk was the library and my baby was entering his terrible twos and threw fits when he didn't get to pull books off the shelf, then I would create a soundproof forcefield around my family so that I didn't bother all the people who had the foresight to leave their children home with their mothers."

Little did he know that I, too, am an expert eyebrow raiser. As a mother, I had to learn the skill to stop my children from telling random animals, "Your butt stinks." And from eating dessert at 9 a.m. And from turning our living room into WWF Smackdown.

In fact, when I raise my eyebrows, people often mistake me for Kenny Rogers post plastic surgery.

So I raised my eyebrows at him, meaning, "You're out of your element, partner. I raise my eyebrows at your lame eyebrow raising."

What can I say. If you can't beat 'em, raise your eyebrows at 'em.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Mr. Salami and Other Superheros

Superman. Batman. Wonderwoman. Ancient history.

The boys have created a new team of superheros. Johnny's are: Metal Man, Super Star, Meateater Man, Dragon Man, Son of Sun, Waveman, Claw Robot, Creature, Tentacle, Superstrong, Monkeyman, Bearman (not to be confused with Beer Man), Electroid, Animal Boy, Dinosaur Man, Stone Man and Doctor Man.

Richie's are Tomato Popcicle Man and Mr. Salami.

We keep them listed in a white binder. Otherwise, I find slips of paper with the superhero names written all over the house. And all over the house is where I file my important papers.

One time, I found some of these little papers cut in half.

"What happened to your superhero names?" I asked Johnny.

"Oh, those guys didn't believe in themselves," he said. "So now they don't exist."

I'm glad that doesn't happen in real life. None of us would be here anymore. Somewhere in space, a torn piece of paper with our name on it would be floating around. Because we all don't believe in ourselves sometimes.

And so I wondered, why didn't they believe in themselves? Did Superfast, say, "Sure I can get there fast. But what am I supposed to do when I get there? I have no other talents whatsoever."

Did Mr. Tomato Popcicle Man say, "Does the world really need another Tomato Popcicle superhero?"

Did Claw Robot say, "If only I'd been born with prosthetic hands, and not prosthetic claws, I could be somebody."

Did the Wave say, "I wasted my youth surfing, and now I don't know how to save people."

Or maybe they believed in themselves, but didn't trust in the world to believe in them.

Now we'll never know because they no longer exist. The moral of the story is: You should always believe in yourself. Pretend like your life depends on it. Because, really, a lot does depend on believing in yourself. Even if your superhero name is Mr. Salami.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Evolution of J.J.

J.J. is walking now.

This frees up his hands to explore the world.

He's like an evolved ape. Once they got their knuckles off the ground, one of the apes wiggled his thumbs and said, "I don't believe it. They're opposable."

And his wife said, "I know. How do you think I've been doing everything around here?"

Before you knew it, the apes were drawing on cave walls, traveling in canoes, taming the wilderness, painting the mona lisa, shaking cocktails, shooting the moon, and finally, sticking notes on textbooks saying evolution was just a theory.

Being able to grab things made them want to grab the next thing. Stone, copper, steel, computer chips.

Likewise there are no bounds to J.J.'s ambition right now. As soon as he wakes up, he reaches his outstretched hand for his shelf and says, "uh." Which means, "Mom, could I please have my Walt Disney snow globe?"

And I get it down for him and wind it and set it for the floor. It plays "When You Wish Upon a Star."

I sing along...Makes no difference who you are...anything your heart desires will come to you...If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme...

He pats it and says, "Uh," which means, this time, "Will you get me those tiny snowflakes inside there?"

Um. That request is actually too extreme.

He gives up and reaches for the ceiling fan, which means, well, you know.

So the other evening, our family was stuck at a gas station in Columbia, Mo. (long story) and the boys were playing in the crabgrass field next to it. An acre away, an electrical tower rose about five stories in the sky, all lit up like a Christmas tree. Only metal.

It must have looked quite beautiful to J.J.

And he reached for it.

"You want me to get that tower for you?" I asked.

"Uh," he said.

I pretended to reach for it, you know, to show him that mommy couldn't grab it either. So that he wouldn't be frustrated. But instead, I saw his point. When you reach for something, it looks like your hand is resting on it. You should be able to grab it. It's right there.

So I pretended to grab it and hand it to him.

"Uh," he said. Which means, "Even I can pretend to grab the tower and then give you a handful of air.

He reached further. "Uh."

I turned him away from it to spare him the frustration. Twilight was falling and he saw the moon and started reaching for it. "Uh," he said, meaning, "Well, then, Could I have the moon?"

Giving up, J.J. reached for a star. "Uh---" meaning "Could I at least have a star from a far off galaxy?"

"Of course you can." I wanted to tell him. "But you'll have to reach it yourself. God didn't make you an upright walking mammal for nothing."

I'll never touch a star. But maybe, by the time J.J. grows up, other galaxies will be within reach. Maybe that's unrealistic. Even so, when J.J. holds a baby someday, and watches him reach for the sky, he'll be that much closer to the stars. Knowledge will have progressed, and a new discovery will be within reach for the next generation.

Like the Louis Armstrong says, "I hear babies cry, I watch them grow, they'll learn much more, than I'll ever know, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world."

Now, J.J. wants me to reach things for him. Soon, it will be the other way around.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bringing Critters to Show in Tell

Today was Johnny's first show and tell.

After school yesterday, he asked his teacher if he could bring his hermit crabs.

"Their container has handles," he said, as if that would be the only qualification.

"Attention parents: Children may bring animals to show and tell if they can be carried around in a box with handles."

It wouldn't matter if they smelled, pinched, or tried to wriggle out of their shells and onto the floor?

Which they do.

But bringing them was okay with her. So I brought them at 11:10 a.m. and Johnny immediately launched into his presentation, reaching in to grab each one.

"This is Snap. I named him that because he bites me," he began.

"And this is Gray Green. You're okay Gray Green," he said.

G.G. is Johnny's favorite. And the crab really is sort of mild mannered. I often think he is a shell lieing on our floor among the other debris. And then he crawls toward me and I scream. Apparently, he has the run of the house.

The next hermit crab was hiding in a larger shell, which Johnny dumped onto his hand, watering it with smelly saltwater.

"This..." he stalled forgetting the name and making one up on the spot..." is...Castle because he looks like a castle."

Or whatever.

"And this," he said, "Is Bubble. Bubble lives in a wishing shell."

Wishing shells are shiny shells that you can wish on.

Bubble started climbing out of his shell and onto Johnny's hand.

Johnny lowered his voice and muttered grumpily, "Not now Bubble. I'm in a meeting."

It sounded straight out of a soap opera. I just hope he never utters the same words as a grown up.

Show and tell ended with Johnny walking around the room as kids told him, "I have a hermit crab," or "my hermit crab died" or "my hermit crab burried himself in the dirt."

But no one said, "My hermit crab interupts me during important meetings." Only Bubble does that.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Pictures Tell a Thousand Words

First: Thank you for your comments on the School Supplies blog. It was a record breaking nine comments. And one came to me as an e-mail--there's no explaining technology. I'm just going to call it an even 10. So, thank you for reading.

I'm not a photographer. Frankly, I don't have the upper body strength. They haul all this gear, and run around, changing film, sweating, motioning me and my notepad out of their way. OUT OF THEIR WAY. OUT OF--HELLO? Earth to reporter. Oops, sorry.

I worked with a photographer who would climb on top of trash cans to get a good photo. He once shimmied up a football goalpost to take a picture.

When the newspaper came out, I'd just look at his photos and not read the story I wrote.

Pictures are more fun to look at than words, I think. In school, I wanted to be a photographer. My great aunt Kath gave me a book called The Family of Man. She'd always send kind of funny Christmas presents. That year, it was a how-to yoga book and other used books. I pulled that book out of the pile and would just stare at the photos: a girl playing the flute on the mountain, an audience of 1950s, small town people laughing their heads off. All sorts of stand alone photos. Now there's a new, similar book, The Spirit of Family, that my friend has, and I could look at it for hours. I could not, however, read a book for hours--without falling asleep.

But when I tried photography, the pictures didn't turn out like how things happened. So, as with every attempt to do something other than writing, it didn't work out.

So this week, I'm going to try to take pictures with words instead of film.

A picture of Richie today:

He's standing on a little chair in the kitchen, listening to the Sesame Street CD for the third time. He does NOT want me singing along to the Count's song while I do dishes. He's listening very carefully and watching the radio. Two Sesame Street books are open for his reference. He points to the characters in the song.

"That's grover. He can fly. And him is friends with Cookie Monster. They will fight the monster in the mirror and they will win because they're getting stronger and stronger and stronger and stronger.

"And him is Ernie's big brother who grew up to be a trashman. And their daddy is a trashman."

Richie has determined that all the blue monsters are friends and all the red monsters are related. Grover is the hero.

I used to do this same thing as a kid. Listen to records and stare at the album covers. Oliver! was my favorite. And I remember also thinking that Telly and Cookie monster were best friends because they were both blue. Does everyone do this, or this something Richie and I share because of our DNA?

It's funny the things you share with your family. Identical twins separated at birth will wind up having the same favorite movie. The same rosy outlook on life--despite upbringings that are not equally rosy. They'll even pick out the same shirt at a department store. And yet, meeting face to face, I'd challenge them to agree on anything.

You know what would be great about being a photographer? I wouldn't have to come up with an ending to stories before picking Johnny up at school in...35 seconds. The end.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Does This Kid Look Ready for Kindergarten or What?

Yesterday was the first day of the rest of Johnny's life. He entered the big K. The garden of styrefoam cups. Circle Time Central. Dr. Suess Depot. Phonics Phantasia.

That's right. Kindergarten.

He was dressed in full uniform by 6:30 a.m. He even had his backpack on.

"I'll just walk over," he said. "You guys stay here."

We do live across the street from the school, but still...

"No, we're going with you," I said.

"Just tell me when it's safe. I'll cross the street by myself," he said.

What did he think this was? College? I had pictures to take. Last minute advice to give. Tears to wipe away. We walked him all the way to his little chair.

Only, it wasn't a sad day at all. Johnny was happy to set off on his own. Our house was a little quieter. Richie enjoyed building blocks undettered by his brother sneaking them into his pile.

Sure, I peaked out the window when the kids walked out the door to recess. (The fact that we live across the street saved me the time and expense of renting a surveylance van.)

nd I worried the night before when Johnny prayed, "God I hope I'm not shy tomorrow because shy people don't make friends."

I worried even more when he said after school that he spent the whole recess collecting cicada shells by himself. A kid asked him to play kickball and he said no. Trust me, we have enough cicada shells. I'd venture to say we have the largest indoor cicada shell collection in the Midwest. I think he should give kickball a try. But I didn't say anything. I don't want him to feel shy about being shy.

But the thing with kindergarten is time is so linear from there. K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, college, job, family, babies, k, 1, 2, 3...

When they're babies, it seems like time isn't really going anywhere. Everyday, you hold them and feed them and stack blocks with them. You can play peekaboo from morning to naptime and it all seems new to the babies. You go outside and tell them the same thing everyday: "We don't eat sticks. Or rocks."

Even when they're three or four, they don't really seem to be marching with time. They still want to wear their boxers and white tank top to the grocery store. Why should you dress differently when you're asleep and awake? At breakfast time, they ask, "Is it time for bed?" At bedtime, they want to go out for pancakes.

But then...they hit kindergarten and the march is on.

They leave behind the days of losing a binkie or finding a cape that actually lets them fly. From now on, they tackle the same type problems over and over. They might learn something new everyday, but it probably will feel vaguely familiar.

During how many recesses or lunches, or workdays, for that matter, will these kids feel like fishes out of water? How many friends will they make because they both like something as simple as cicadas or kickball. How many books will they read once they learn how? Will any change their lives? Maybe someone in the class will write a book. How often will they witness that--like experiments--life is full of cause and effect. And sometimes that's good. And sometimes it's heartbreaking. And sometimes, life doesn't happen like experiments at all. You plant a sunflower and get the sun. Or a weed.

I'm not saying that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten because a. someone already said that, and b. if it were true, then doctors would say, "There's a word for what you have. But I cannot read it because it doesn't rhyme with ham. Or hop on pop."

But it is where you learn lessons that repeat themselves through the years in more complicated ways: choosing friends, selecting books, learning to add and subtract.

That's why yesterday, for me, was a happy day. Life from kindergarten on isn't as easy as being a preschooler. But it's worth the lessons learned and relearned.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Kids: They're Not as Dumb as They Sometimes Look

People think kids are dumb.

They watch toddlers dash for a busy street just so their moms will chase them. They see a six year old pick his nose and, realizing he has an audience, eat the bugger. They witness a 3-year-old going ballistic in restaurants because her French fry broke in half before she could bite it in half.

What other conclusion could they come to? Kids are so dumb.

True, kids act pretty dumb sometimes. But sometimes I think they could go head to head with grownups in the logic department. Try talking your 6-year-old out of his fears, for instance. I dare you.

Johnny, 6: I can't go to sleep because I believe of ghosts.

Me: Well, even if ghosts are real, they're not bad, just stuck.

Johnny: Well I believe in wolfman's disease.

Me: There are wolfmen. But they're not bad, just furry.

Johnny: What if a robber got wolfman's disease?

Me: Then it would be easy for the police to catch him. He would look different from everybody else.

Johnny: But the thing I'm most scared of is evil cyclops aliens.

Me: I don't think God would let a species become intelligent if they were evil.

Johnny: But dust created the galaxy and God created our world.

Me: No, God created the galaxy, too.

Johnny: Oh. I didn't know he was that big. But I do believe in the curse of the mummies.

Me: Where'd you see that? In a movie?

Johnny: I've seen it lots of places.

Me: Well, let me tell you something about movie writers. They don't even believe in the curse of the mummies. They just think people would like to watch a show about it.

Johnny: But I do believe frozen dinosaurs can come back to life.

Me: I don't think so.

Johnny: But I do believe in evil trolls.

Me: Why?

Johnny: Because Santa's elves are good trolls so there must be bad trolls. Just like there are good people and there are bad people.

What was I supposed to say to that? It's my fault. I never should have told the boys there are bad people. But we were reading a book about wolves and it said that some wolves were good and some were bad.

"Oh, just like people," I said, shrugging.

And I might have mentioned that wolfman's disease is real. I was trying to prevent the next generation from being prejudiced against these poor people. All one or two of them.

But I never said anything about Santa's elves being trolls. I know that. Still, how can I argue with Johnny on this point?

I could have said, "There are no bad people. Only good people who make bad choices. Just like there are no bad trolls. Just good trolls who make bad choices.

And then Johnny would picture one of Santa's good elves breaking all the Christmas toys and saying, "Oops. It looks like I made a bad choice. My apologies."

Kids, when they really try, can convince themselves that all their fears make sense. Life would be easier for kids if they really were dumb. If they only saw what was in front of them, and not every possibility in the universe.

Example: People are watching me. Maybe I'll wave to them. Or maybe I'll eat a bugger. Or maybe I'll be attacked by an evil cyclops alien. Or maybe one of Santa's elves will make a bad choice and ruin Christmas. Maybe I'll save Christmas single-handedly because I have superpowers. Really: It's anyone's guess. But I think I'll go ahead and eat the bugger.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Clearing Our Junk

We dejunked the house on Sunday. I told the boys that if they put some of their toys in a garage sale, we'd split the profits.

"Will we make $9?" Johnny asked enthusiastically.

Let's see. Last year's garage sale netted $49 and included furniture. This one will primarily be McDonald's Happy Meal toys. $9 is probably a little optimistic. But getting rid of stuff is priceless.

We filled a trashbag with broken pieces of toys. For years I threw these in the toy box each night, hoping they would a. spontaneously fix themselves and b. find the 99 other pieces required for them to work properly.

In the process of cleaning, I found four chess pieces, two missing library books, two live crickets and a pile of cicada shells.

With our junk cleared, Johnny found room inside for his cobweb covered, rainwater dripping dinosaurs, which had been living outside--happily, I thought. This is good, though. It means the boys can entertain themselves inside.

This was a lifesaver yesterday when we got home from the grocery store.

You know when you put the food away in the refrigerator and to make room, you take out all the leftovers and eat them so they don't go to waste. But something has gone bad--maybe. To make sure, you keep eating it, and you realize, yes, it did go bad. And you have a tummy ache. So to counteract that, you eat some oyster stew that you cooked for lunch, but that makes it worse. You end up lying down, and to cheer you up, all your children jump on the bed so that you're flying up in the air. And you're like, "Hey, why don't you guys go make some chocolate pudding all by yourselves?"

And they leap off the bed and into the kitchen.

That's what happened yesterday. It was instant of course--no cooking required.

I told the boys what they needed and even drew a picture of what a wire wisk looks like so they could find it. Johnny brought back the plastic bulb we use to blow J.J.'s nose.

"That's not it." I said.

"Yes, it is," he said, pointing to my illustration. He was right. I did draw a buggar-sucker-0uter.


"You're going to stir the pudding with the thing we use to blow J.J.'s nose?" I asked.

Johnny laughed and went back in the kitchen and came back with a wire wisk. They made the pudding, polished it off and then played with the dinosaurs.

So cleaning the house has paid off already. Except that it makes me wonder what other frog food is wandering around our house. Well, I'm sure we'll find it when we plan our next garage sale.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Separate Bunk Beds; Separate Lives

Last night, for the first time in a long while, the boys slept in their own beds--Johnny in the top bunk, Richie in the bottom bunk.

They'd been sharing the top bunk ever since they realized monsters lived in their room.

But a few weeks ago, Johnny drew about 200 pictures of monsters that might live in their room. Monsters with one head but several faces. Monsters with eyes on the ends of tentacles. Monsters with eight arms and no legs...Then he decided he didn't believe in monsters.

Richie panicked when Johnny said he didn't want to sleep in the same bed anymore.

"But I will be scared of monsters," he cried.

"Richie, monsters aren't real," Johnny said, exasperated. He himself would never believe in such a thing. Not in the last 24 hours, anyway.

"I will be scared of ghosts," Richie said.

"Most ghosts are nice," Johnny said, throwing his hands up in the air.

"Can I sleep in your bed?" Richie asked, turning to me.

I felt sorry for Richie, but sleeping in separate beds was a good idea. Johnny claimed Richie hogged the whole bed when in fact Richie slept pressed against the bed railing. Richie yelled at Johnny to move over. Johnny said his side of the bed was scary. When they were grumpy in the morning, I wondered if they were getting a good night's sleep.

Plus, maybe a little space would give Richie room to grow.

As the second boy, I worry that he'll see himself as Johnny's opposite, and not see how unique he is in his own right.

And they are opposites. Johnny answers questions fast. Richie thinks them over. And whereas Johnny makes big plans in split seconds, Richie takes his time. Sometimes, by the time he decides what he wants to do the next day, Johnny has already planned their whole lives.

Whenever Johnny lists what he wants to be when he grows up: scientist, inventor, doctor, astronaut, lawyer, carpenter...I ask Richie what he wants to be.

"I don't know," he says.

So Johnny says Richie can be his helper.

Yesterday we went to the zoo. Johnny wanted to take pictures of the animals and make a book. Richie loves taking pictures, so he wanted to take some, too. He took a couple of the animals, but then he decided he just wanted to take pictures of J.J. and I.

Then, while Johnny took pictures of the baboons grooming each other, Richie sat down next to me.

"When I grow up, I want to be a mommy," he said. "And I'll take pictures of J.J. And I'll sleep in your bed and put my clothes in your dresser."

Justin and I were going to be his kids, too. He showed me with his hand how tall everybody was going to be. Naturally, he was going to be the tallest.

I wondered how long he'd been thinking about this. Ever since I asked him a couple weeks ago what he wanted to be?

Now Johnny and Richie both wanted to hold the camera the whole time. Johnny, so that he could pretend he was a wildlife photographer. Richie, so that he could pretend to be a mommy.

Richie would click pictures of J.J. and I chugging cups of water or wiping sunscreen out of our eyes, and Johnny would say, "Richie, I have to take a picture of the warthog!!!!"

Richie would hold the camera to his chest. I could just see the wheels turning in his head: "Just because I thought of my plan later doesn't mean it's not as important."

They took turns, sort of. Finally I put the camera away. In the 100 degree heat, I didn't have the patience to be the camera referee.

That night, Johnny cleared the stuffed animals off the bottom bunk. He laid Richie's Spiderman blanket across it and put the Spongebob pillow at the head. He arranged his own blanket so that it wouldn't fall over the edge of the top bunk and block Richie's view of the nightlight.

And Richie gladly laid down on his own bed.

"Mommy, will you lay down here?" he said, pointing next to him.

"What are we doing tomorrow?" he whispered. This is a question Johnny usually asks.

"What do you want to do?" he asked.

"I want to go see what Ma and Granddad are doing."

"They're in Florida," I said.

"What's Florida?" he asked.

I told him about the different states and how you get there by airplane. Richie is still at the age where he thinks our friends and family live at the airport. When we want to see them, we go pick them up.

He didn't make a new plan. I'm sure he had to think about it for a while.

With the boys in bed, Justin and I watched 20/20. It was about Siamese twins connected at the torso. From the waste up, they were two people. From the waste down, they were one person. They only had one kidney. But at age 4, doctors gave them a 95 percent chance of surviving separation. Their mom was donating a kidney to them.

She said she would donate both her kidneys if it meant they could lead separate lives. Still their dad was crying before the surgery. Not just because he was worried but because they wouldn't be Siamese twins anymore.

Not to compare sleeping in separate bunk beds to being severed at the torso, but with Johnny going to school, the boys are severing a bond of sorts. Richie will get to make his own plans in the morning. And at school, Johnny won't be the big kid anymore. He'll be surrounded by kids his own age. I think they'll both grow a lot in the next year. But I hope they always stay close.

The Siamese twins survived the surgery. Doctors pushed their hospital beds side-by-side during recovery so that they would see each other when they woke up. They knew that being close is what helped them survive being Siamese twins in the first place.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Ahem. The Language of Babies

Move over baby sign language. J.J. now communicates by clearing his throat.

It's surprisingly easy to translate:

Ah ah ah hem.

I'm awake and want out of the crib this instant.

Ah ah ah hem.

Now I want to see my Walt Disney snowglobe.

Ah ah ah hem.

I didn't say anything about my brothers touching the snowglobe.

Ah ah ah hem. AH AH AH HEM.

Access denied. I repeat access denied. Step away from the snowglobe.

Ah ah ah hem.

Now I'd like to inspect everything on that shelf. And I hearby declare a law against anything in this house being out of my reach.

Ah ah ah hem.

I wasn't finished with the snowglobe.

Ah ah ah hem.


It's like we have this dignitary in the house. The throat clearing reminds the rest of us that we are dealing with a VIP.

He's saying, "I don't want to embarass anyone by stating the obvious...but...ah ah ah hem. The 7-layer salad has disappeared off my plate."

"Well, then," I say. "Allow me to give you a second helping."

It's amazing what you can communicate without talking. J.J. marches through the house, tummy out in front of him, holding Richie's action figure--Chewy Chewbacca--and clearing his throat.

Ah ah ah hem.

Excuse me, miss. This furry gentleman is ignoring me. Has he been informed of my dignitary status?

"Oh, hi J.J. Will you be my friend?" I say in a Chewy voice.

Oh. Never mind. Now he is speaking.

I've heard that 90-some percent of communication is nonverbal. With J.J., 100 percent is gutteral. I think I'm going to start speaking back in the same language.

Ah ah ah hem.

I want out of my crib.

Ah ah ah hem.

You haven't taken your nap yet.

Ah ah ah hem.

VIPs don't take naps.

Ah ah ah hem.

Go night night.

J.J. is sleeping even as we speak. I think throat clearing is my new language.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Bringing Business Home

Hey, readers. Thanks for sticking with me while I'm writing less than I used to.

Well...I am writing, just not blogging as much. All the sudden I've been blessed with a deluge of local magazine articles. So yesterday, somebody was dropping something by our house for a story I'm writing. I was hoping we wouldn't be home when this happened because our living room was baboon-cagish.

You know when you go to the zoo and the baboons have salad and cardboard and oranges thrown all over their cage and you look at them and say, "Have some pride, for Godsakes."

And then you go home and think, "Oops, guess I shouldn't talk."

Yesterday, books, Magic Stars, melted popcicles and blocks littered the floor, and since I was writing during naptime, I didn't have time to clean it up. In fact, when the business man wrang the doorbell, I thought of yelling, "Oh my God we've been burglarized. And they trashed the place."

But I didn't.

So I answered the door and he said quizically, "Bridget?"

Then I thought I'd say, "No, you have the wrong house. Bridget lives in the house with no weeds or dead flowers out front. The one with the new paint job and roof."

And then I'd go pick it up.

But, you know, honesty is the best policy, so I owned up to my identity. Only later did I realize my eyebrows were colored orange when I opened the door. I had been massaging between my eyebrows with an orange crayon while I read Richie a book. You know--like how you rub your temples with your fingertips. I didn't know that crayon marks on skin. But I guess it does.

So it looked like I purposely gave myself an orange unibrow. Cute.

Well, I got the story done anyway. The boys have a friend over. J.J. is walking all over the place and has a new favorite food: 7-layer salad. A lot happens in a few days and I miss recording it. Also, writing everyday helped me put a positive spin on things. But if the writing work keeps coming, I can't complain. Even if it means showing our chaotic house to the tidy business world. See...I'm thinking positive already.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Buying School Supplies

We went shopping for school supplies this weekend. Kansas City stores didn't charge sales taxes Saturday or Sunday, so, not surprisingly, we weren't the only ones in Walmart.

Parents held the supply list in one hand and pushed their cart with the other. While kids chose their Walt Disney-themed folders, the parents tried to interpret the list, which was a lot more complicated than when they were kids.

Mothers cornered sales associates in the paper aisle and grilled them.

"So loose leaf and notebook paper are the same thing?" they asked. "Loose leaf is notebook paper. So if I get notebook paper I'm fulfilling the loose leaf requirement. Would you be willing to bet your life on that?"

I guess it's better safe than sorry. You don't want to be that parent. The one referred to as "some parents" in every school newsletter.

"Some parents have been sending soda pop in their children's lunches. Please note that each can has 143 tablespoons of sugar in it, making childhood obesity a likely outcome. Thank you."

"Some parents are deeply in debt in cafeteria lunch money. If you need to be on the federal free and reduced lunch program, why don't you just ask? Thank you."

"Some parents bought the wrong kind of glue specifically described on the school supply list. Please note that our school has a free literacy program for parents who cannot read. Thank you."

So fathers inspected glue as it went into the cart.

"Does that have glitter in it? I don't see anything about glitter here. Get the Elmers. The Elmers. No that's 6 oz. We need 7 oz."

Well, I'm sure schools are actually very nice about accepting slight variations on school supplies.

But let me tell you, the kindergarten school supply list has grown exponentially. In my day, it called for a sturdy twig and a patch of dirt to scratch answers on. Well, maybe not in my day. But in somebody's day I'm sure.

Now you need two boxes of classic markers, one tropical, 3 rolls of film, a ream of xerox paper, two boxes of 24 crayons, a nap pad, wet wipes, paper towels, 12 giant pencils, two posterboards, two glue bottles, and 16 large glue sticks. I just hope Johnny knows how to glue stuff by the end of kindergarten.

Actually, I am happy to see so much on the list. As a former 5th and 6th grade teacher, I know that the little kids' teachers were always running out of supplies and having to buy new ones with their own money. It makes sense to spread the cost out among parents.

Johnny chose his notebook. Cars. No dolphins jumping over the planets. No a tiger standing on the moon. No cars. He went with the dolphins.

Finally, we went to the shoe aisle to buy Justin some new tennis shoes. He wanted Dr. Schoell's in size 11 1/2 with "Are You Gellin'?" soles.

They only had them in black, which Justin okayed over the phone. I assumed they looked like the shoe displayed on top of the box. Lace up low/high tops--like what basketball players wear. So I just threw the shoe box in the cart and went to check out.

Only the next day did I see them.

"Honey, you got me old man shoes," Justin called from the bedroom.

I came in to see black velcro tennis shoes with big soles. Several of the older retarded men I worked with in Arizona had shoes just like it. Which they paired with lime green or pale blue polyester slacks. I could never understand why their mothers bought them clothes like that. Now here I was buying them for my husband.

"They're really comfortable," he added, walking out the door to have a beer with our neighbor.

"I can take them back," I said.

"No, these are great," he said.

He was gellin' like a felon.

It's just a good thing Justin's not in school anymore. The kids on the playground would have a field day with those shoes.

I can just see the school newsletter now.

"Some parents have sent their sons to school wearing hideous black velcro Dr. Schoell's tennis shoes usually worn only by old men. Please note that this contributes to teasing and low self-esteem. Thank you."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Whole New Can of Worms

If you need any giant Canadian nightcrawlers, we have two boxes in our refrigerator. They're dormant, because of the cold, but stick your hand in the box and they'll perk right up.

This is attempt number three at finding Frankly the frog something to eat that the rest of us can live with.

The crickets, if you'll recall, were psychopathic cannibals that literally ate until they burst. It just wasn't working out having them as houseguests--not even as frog food.

So we went digging for worms in the backyard.

This had the boys and I in Dr. Phil mode by midmorning. We were a family in crisis. With me out there digging in the mud with one of our good spoons and finally asking, "What the hell am I doing? The boys dig for worms everyday and the one time I ask them to do it, they won't."

And as the boys played dino-pirate war, me snapping, "Get over here and dig for worms!"

And them claiming that there weren't any and me accusing them of not giving their "best effort" which is teacher language for digging for worms in a really half-ass way, if you ask me.

And me finally realizing I was being a drill sergeant over the worms and saying, "You're right. There aren't any worms. Let's go to the pet store and see what we can find."

We went to the local pet store. Not the big national one that sold us the psychocrickets.

"What do you have in the way of frog food?" I asked.

"Crickets," they said.

"Our crickets ate each other," I said.

"You could feed him baby mice."

No. We weren't feeding our frog a baby anything. See, I happen to like babies. Even babies that gnaw holes through your cereal boxes, make a racket running through your cabinets and nibble on your bars of soap--making them somehow seem unclean.

We had mice once. They did a real number on our peace of mind. But I am not prepared to retalliate on their children.

I didn't say this. As the pet store worker ate a big sandwich next to the tarantulas and mealy worms and amid the smell of pond water, I had the feeling he would think I was on a high horse.

A new guy walked by.

"What could she feed her frog?" the sandwich guy asked. "Her crickets ate each other."

"Goldfish," the guy said.

He caught us two feeder fish and sold them to us for 25 cents. We put them in a nice bowl and fed them. Still, they were freaking out. It's like the other fish told them, "When people buy you, that's not good. They're not adopting you or anything. You're frog food."

We were a little too far up the foodchain here, as far as I was concerned. As kids, my brothers and I had goldfish as pets. My brother Luke's fish lived for years. Luke would take him on "walks," letting him swim in puddles when it rained. That fish was like our brother. Our little tiny, orange, mute brother.

But I understand how the animal kingdom works. It's a frog eat fish world. So we fed goldfish number one to Frankly. He ate the fish in the night. The next morning it was gone. And Frankly was stuffed.

Three days later, we put the other fish in the waterbowl. But Frankly didn't eat her. Two days went by, and he didn't eat her.

"I guess we'll have to keep her as a pet," Johnny said.

He was right. We couldn't just leave her in there waiting to get eaten. So we put her back in her fishbowl.

Hence the worms. We bought them at the Short Stop in Overland Park. Two boxes of creepy crawlers, which naturally had to be kept in the refrigerator. Gag.

Of course, the boys wanted to keep them as pets, too. I let them keep two in a bowl of mud. I've been feeding them coffee grounds and vegetable rinds. They're on the supermodel diet.

But here's the thing. Frankly likes the worms, but not to eat. They just hang out together under his sharkhead hiding place. And we don't fish, so the worms are just sitting there in our refrigerator...I don't know, maybe we should go fishing for fish to feed Frankly.

You want to hear something sad, though? Fish Eye died. That's what Johnny named the goldfish that Frankly didn't eat. She died just swimming around in her bowl. Alanis Morrisette would call that ironic. I just think it's sad. It's like Fish Eye was so prepared to be eaten that she just imagined herself into the jaws of death.

She had a bad life. I hope she's in fish heaven.

And we're back to the drawing board. It's either cute frightened goldfish or gross homicidal crickets. Okay. I've made my decision. I like goldfish. But not as frog food. I don't like crickets. So we might as well feed them to Frankly. Gag. More crickets in our house.

I bought a frog and wound up the chair of our household philosophy department. Go figure. And some journalist in England says motherhood is boring. When? When will it be boring? I'm ready for a slow day.