Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Miniature Forests


That is the number Johnny typed while helping me write this blog. Coincidentally, it is also the number of phone calls I've made for a recent story. It is for a publication that I am unbelievably grateful to write for. However, I am ready to put this baby to BED.

It's past bedtime, but Johnny just came and sat on my lap.

"Have I been working a lot lately?" I asked.

"Yeah. It makes me feel sad that you've been working so much."

And just when I thought, "Well, I've ruined his life again," he said, "I just want to cheer you up because you have to work so much."

He didn't feel sorry for himself, he felt sorry for me.

Wait a second, feeling sorry for myself is my job!

Anyway, what a good kid.

Like the other day, he was crying for the poor little hair-lipped children. He saw a television show about these kids and the doctors could only help some of them. He felt sorry for the ones the doctors couldn't help.

But he said, "Even if the doctors help them it's bad because guess what? Doctors hurt."

What a good kid. He's the kind of person who would never, for instance, say, "You need to clear this interview through Todd," who Surprise! is on his honeymoon in Tahiti for the next three weeks. That was actually a different story for another publication I am unbelievably grateful to write for. And it wasn't Tahiti. It was...a pain in the neck, basically.

When working on a big story like this, it's easy to miss the little things happening around the house. Those little things that don't mean much to the world. But to me, they are the world (I stole that from a country song.)

"A North American Rainforest Scrapbook" by Virginia Wright-Frierson.

That was the book I was reading to Johnny and Richie about the largest temperate rainforest in the world, which is right here in the United States. Oregon, Washington and Alaska, to be exact. (and British Columbia, which is in Britain. And Columbia. Or possibly Canada.)

There are the gigantic trees, and then there are these little tiny forests of mushrooms and devil's matchsticks and fairybells and pickie goblets.

And I thought, "Oh, that's the world we live in."

It's an ecosystem, just like the big trees, but if you don't look closely, you'll just stumble over it. The big trees are so much more spectacular.

People try to save the trees. But they don't try to save the little fairy barf (actual name of a plant in the rainforest.) Well, I for one am in favor of saving the fairy barf. My fairy barf...and yours. Whatever small things happened in your household this week, I think that matters. The kind words said or unsaid. The harsh words said or unsaid. I don't care how many bears you wrestled at work, if you can talk to a lamb at the end of the day, that makes all the difference. And vice versa.

And so...the week in fast forward.

We collected leaves, which are still streaked with veins of green, holding onto the orange leaves like warm days cling to fall.

We threw the sunflowers into the yard waste heap...and dragged them back out to use as swords. We broke open the stalk to find spongy white stuff, which must hold the water. The giant leaves catch the sun and block out other plants from growing. The flowers face the sun wherever it is in the sky. Birds peck out the seeds, littering some on the ground to grow next year. How can you not believe in God when you see a mamoth sunflower? They just happened to evolve into the perfect growing machine?

J.J. learned the baby sign language for "more."

This is supposed to help babies ask for more food, but he already knows to simply dive on our plates when he wants more food. So he uses it when things aren't going his way, as in, "I want to call more of the shots around here."

He also developed a favorite pastime, turning on and off the lights.

At bedtime, this prompted Johnny to say, "It's like a zebra in here. Black, white. Black, white."

Richie had his first soccer game. Only one point was scored on his team. It was also scored by his team. Which didn't stop the mixed up player from pumping his arms and saying, "yeah."

As Richie pumped his arms and ran up and down the field, he paused just long enough to give us the thumbs up. And grab a couple vanilla wafers from the sidelines.

A critical person would say that these kids' heads weren't in the game. For instance, one player actually tripped over the ball while staring at the fans. It was as if it was a wrinkle in a rug. And even after falling, it didn't occur to him that he tripped over something important to the game. He got up and kept wandering around.

Richie watched the kids and jogged beside them, kicking the ball if it came in his path. Mainly, he just wanted to hang out with his little buddies. And give the thumbs up.

I give him and the other four year olds two enthusiastic thumbs up. Some people can't see the forest for the trees. But some people can't see the trees for the forest. Who knows what these kids see as they wander around the soccer field. But I have a feeling it is very important.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Caution: Growing Pains Ahead

It was the Thursday night and all of Johnny's short sleeve school shirts were dirty. I laid out a long sleeve shirt and slacks.

"Okay, so this is what you're wearing tomorrow," I said.

"No...no..." he said, backing away as though I laid out a burmese python for him to wear as a scarf.

"The kids will make fun of me if I wear a long sleeve shirt," he said.

Can you imagine making fun of someone for that?

You nudge your coworker when Bob walks by.

"Look at Bob in long sleeves," you say. "What's the matter, Bob? Are all your short sleeve shirts in the wash?"

People would think you were crazy.

As far as I'm concerned, there are only two reasons to make fun of someone. 1. They have a bad habit that they are not aware of. Unlike the rest of us, who are embarrassed about a habit, like, say blurting out dumb comments, they have no idea that they...are a backseat driver. This makes us jealous. So, to get back at them, we make fun of them. The other reason is to be funny.

Long sleeve shirts are not funny.

"Are you going to spend the rest of your life doing what people say you should?" I asked.

"No," he said near tears. "But if I wear that they'll say long sleeve shirts are for winter."

I knew then that this was not a teachable moment.

"I'll wash your short-sleeve shirt and shorts, okay?" I said.

He nodded.

"Well, I guess we both have work to do," he said, cheerily, pulling the blanket closer. "You need to do the laundry, and I need to get some rest."

And the next day, he saw his short sleeve shirt and shorts laid out and said, "Thank you, mom!" like it was Christmas morning. I felt like one of Santa's elves.

But I know better than to believe a short sleeve shirt will make a day in kindergarten go smoothly. I've been to kindergarten. If all I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten then it would go like this...

Nobody wants you to swing with them, so don't even ask.

When you're daydreaming about Raggedy Ann and Andy being your very best friends forever and ever, and you haven't listened to the teacher for the last...oh, 6 months or so, the teacher will call on you at that moment. Suddenly, you're the expert on "th." Whatever that is.

It is 5,000 degrees inside school regardless of the season. Especially when you're wearing those stupid knit tights.

No, really, kindergarten wasn't bad. The teacher was nice. The kids were nice. I was just very nervous about fitting in. I'm sure it was all in my head, though.

Don't you love it when people say that?

"It's all in your head."

As if that's reassuring.

If they said, "It's all in New Jersey," then you could just say, "Well, then, I won't go to New Jersey." But when they say, it's all in you're head, then what? "Well, then, I will take leave of my senses."

So, I understand the shirt thing. It's hard out here for kindergartner.

We went over to recess yesterday. Johnny is half-day and misses the afternoon recess so he wanted to visit his friends. To the typical observer, I'm sure this scene looked lovely. Happy children playing. To me, a lifelong worry-wort, hazards loomed at every corner. It was like a construction site.

A girl said, "Fine. Then you're not my best friend."

A boy said, "I wasn't talking to you."

This was a typical schoolyard and I wanted to surround certain situations with yellow caution tape. Put a sign in front of it that said, "Hazard: Growing Pains Ahead."

But I lost track of all this as Johnny joined some kids collecting acorns and a couple girls gathered around Richie and J.J. and I. They stirred woodchips and acorns and leaves in a bucket, poured it into a frisbee, and topped it off with dirt.

"Here's your blueberry pie," one little girl said, handing it to me.

"Oh my gosh, this is delicious," I said. "Now I just need a napkin and a cup of coffee and I'll be all set. Thanks."

One girl handed me a leaf for the napkin.

The other girl put her hands on her hips.

"We don't have coffee," she said, accusingly.

I shrugged. I guessed I'd just have to settle for the pie, then. No big deal.

Kindergarten is pretty managable after all...now that I'm 30.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Machine Soup

A couple days ago, I was going to a courthouse to write a legal story. After getting all dolled up, I sat down next to Richie.

"Are you wearing that?" he asked.

Not exactly the question you want to hear from your four year old. Especially after he just came into the living room wearing a Chiefs jersey and his one-year-old brother's khaki slacks and said, "Look, I found a new pair of shorts."

"Does this not look good?" I asked him.

"That's a thing daddy would wear," he said, pointing to my blue blouse, gray slacks and cardigan sweater.

He was right. My hot pink business suit and bonnet were at the dry cleaners, you see.

And so...I wore my reporter's uniform: gray slacks, blue shirt, black sweater. It reminds me that I am a professional and should refrain from acting like myself.

Everybody has to do that when they go to work. You don't want to come right out of the gate with your comedy routine, for instance. Even if the people are friendly. And if people are mean, you absolutely have to say, "Thank you for your help," when what you mean is, "The only way you could be a bigger pain in the neck is if you were the disease spinal meningitus."

And that's fine. That's good. And that's why I work from home. Because between choking back jokes and being painfully polite, I can search for our runaway turtle, color heroic pictures, and make cut-one noises on J.J.'s belly. The two worlds sometimes collide badly, when my cellphone rings during a poignant parenting moment. And rings and rings. All day. Which is shocking because typically people don't call me back.

But it is the best solution I can figure out at this time.

"Starfire fell into machine soup and became part machine."

Now Richie was telling me the backstories on some superheros.

"Machine soup?!" I asked, thinking, "What in the everloving hell would possess someone to cook machine soup?"

But they did, and the result was part man and part machine. You would think this would result in a guy who sounds like an automated phone messaging system. "Hello. Su. per. man. You have. 4. late. materials from. The kansas city public library."

In fact, he is just a typical man personality wise. His machine-ness simply makes him invincible. Ironic, I think. All of our machines break constantly.

Machine soup...it sounds a lot to me like an office, making man into machine. But it doesn't have to change your personality. It just makes you more efficient as a worker. I shouldn't fear going to work away from home so much. Someday, I will have to. It's just hard when people ask you what your long term goals are and the song "Paperback Writer" starts blaring in your head.

I heard on the radio that the drive to create determines an artist's success more than their IQ. But it also determines your failure in other areas, unfortunately. House cleaning. Making money. Oh how I wish I was driven to be an investment broker! Where is this machine soup and how do I fall into it?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Your shoes are on the right feet!

Dressing Johnny as a toddler in the morning was a struggle. More like a war, actually. He'd wriggle away and throw a fit, and kick and flail, and basically let me know that my plan to raise a civilized, non-naked child was ridiculous.

So when he learned to step into pants and pull a shirt over his head, I stopped participating in getting-dressed-time. If he wanted to wear a red and orange ensemble, fine. Cowboy boots with swim trunks? Sounds good to me. His shoes on the wrong feet? According to who? It just wasn't worth the fight.

Anyway, I'm not big into fashion, so why should I pretend to be via my children?

So even when Johnny, at age four, suddenly started nodding his head and saying shocking things like, "Okay, mom," I continued to let the kids dress themselves.

They do a pretty good job. The boys often dress in all one color, like orange, a sign that they put some real thought into their outfits. A very visible sign. Richie even has a sort of signature style of wearing not only a red shirt and red shorts but even red shoes.

So it's fine. Except the shoes. It turns out I should have corrected the kids on their shoes being on the wrong foot.

I just thought, if it doesn't bother them, it doesn't bother me.

But now Richie not only thinks left is right, he also thinks wrong is right. And that's just wrong.

What happened was he'd walk around the grocery store and zoo with his shoes on the wrong feet. And people would stop in their tracks and say, "Your shoes are on the wrong feet."

Now, many of us respond to comments like this with embarrassment or even brooding. What's that supposed to mean? Was she implying that my feet look clownish?

Not Richie. He is the kind of person who assumes that people stop dead in their tracks to congratulate him on putting his shoes on the right feet.

So he thought that when they said, "Your shoes are on the wrong feet," they meant, "Your shoes are on the right feet. Well done."

He now comes into the living room, and holds out one foot.

"Are my shoes on the wrong feet?" he asks proudly. It's a rhetorical question. He knows he got it wrong, meaning right. Or wrong, actually. Whatever.

"Yes, honey," I say. "Your shoes are on the wrong feet." Which they are.

And he beams.

I'm sure that at some point in his life he'll learn that wrong and right are not the same thing. It will be a very important lesson. But for now, I'd rather let him live in his own world, where people look for the tiniest things to compliment people on.

"Your coat isn't on backwards. Outstanding."

"Your feet are clean. How wonderful for you."

"You walked forwards instead of backwards. I think you're going places."

"Your shoes are on the right feet!"

Just don't tell Richie that. He's confused enough as it is.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Music of Our Lives

When you stay at home with the kids, your lives are pretty similar.

Like the children, you wake up at the crack of dawn, eat cocoa Lucky Charms with all new magic mirror marshmallow!, play trains, listen to a Sesame Street CD, eat macaroni and cheese...and so forth.

Last week, when I asked Richie what he did at a friend's house, he said, "We played choo choo. We watched trucks. We ate cheese."

And that pretty much sums up my day, too.

The difference between their day and mine is that we have a different soundtrack playing in our heads. Johnny, Richie, and even J.J. constantly hear an action movie theme song. I know this because they often sing it out loud.

For instance, in the library on Sunday, Richie sat next to me in the grown up aisle as I searched for a humor book to read.

My soundtrack was neurotic. "Is this going to be funny?" I fretted. "Well, it might be sort of funny. But not laugh-out-loud funny. When will I have time to read this anyway? The new T.V. season is starting any day now..."

Meanwhile, Richie was staring at a comic book advertisement for superhero action figures and singing, "Da-da-da-DA. Da-da-da-DA," over and over. It was like the song telekinetically propelled the toys on the page into a comic strip of his making. And I'm sure he was the star of the show. Most likely Richie was J'onn J'onz, the Martian Manhunter. He likes to be the more obscure superheros, perhaps because he doesn't know what their personalities are like, so he can just be himself.

Then on Friday, we were making apple pie. Johnny's job was to combine the cinnamon, sugar, flour and apples.

He was the sugar.

"You cannot destroy me, cinnamon," he said, as the sugar transformed into a shade of light brown.

"I will," the cinnamon said in a menacing voice.

It didn't. But the apples almost did. As the sugary mixture clung to the juicy slices, the sugar said, "It's getting to be too much!"

Then Johnny said, in a normal voice, as though I couldn't hear his make believe commentary, "Mom, we don't need any more apples. There's no room in the bowl."

"Okay," I said.

"See," he growled melodramatically. "I will not DIE. Da na na NA."

I take it he was portraying the sugar again. Because the crowded apple bowl really was not a life or death situation.

Meanwhile, my soundtrack sounded more like this: "I don't think that's enough flour to thicken the syrup. But I don't want it to pasty. Ew. That would be disgusting. Yeah, but that's not enough flour. Well, maybe it is. No, it's not."

Johnny's argument was a lot more interesting.

Even J.J. has a soundtrack. When he's sitting in his highchair, waiting for food, he hums, "Mm. Mm. Mm." It sounds kind of like the Jeopardy! tune.

But Richie took the cake yesterday when we were sacking groceries. We had to get home fast, so we were sacking them like crazy. Johnny naturally was singing an action song, "Da, da, da, da. Da, da, da, da," as he threw canned goods into the bags.

"Don't smash the bread. Don't smash the hamburger buns," was my chorus.

Richie just looked on nonchalantly and sang, "Corn. Corn. Corn corn corn corn. Corn. Corn. And corn. Corn. Corn and corn and corrrrrrrrrrrrn!"

What would life be like with songs like that playing in the background? You'd still have to do mundane things like grocery shopping. But how could you be annoyed with "Corn and Corn," playing in the background? Yes, need a new soundtrack. From now on, while I'm typing I'm going to sing the action song. I will be the Incredible Typing Woman. Da da da da. Da da da da.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

City Bus...We Hardly Knew Ye

With both the New Yorker and the Dodge running, the boys and I say goodbye to the city bus. We'd been taking it while we waited to be a two-car family again.

It wasn't just the cars. For one week every peice of machinery that we owned broke. It was as if someone buried a magnet under our house that zapped all our appliances. So it took a while to fix everything. Now, it's back to our normal life, which runs like a well oiled machine that happens to have attention defecit disorder.

I believe in the bus. I know that it benefits the environment. But I also know that when our car is just sitting in front of our house, I'm going to take the easy way out.

And so I'll miss the reality T.V. show that you get riding on the metro.

For instance, there was the sweet old lady, who turned to me and said, "I live in a group home, but my son is taking me out today."

She pointed to a young man wearing a red shirt with a rooster on it and a slogan.

I squinted to make out the words. Ah, yes. How thoughtful of sonny boy to select his "Big Cock" T-shirt for his outing with mom. At least he brought nice friends, a couple young girls who helped me get the stroller off the bus.

Then there were the siblings who were arguing about whether or not their house was haunted. After every argument, one of them said, "Yuh huh. Ask mom."

Which would have been a lot cuter if they weren't in their mid-20s.

It isn't all oddballs on the bus. They're just the ones who stand out. And sometimes the crazy lady is the nicest person on the bus, in spite of her angry Personality #2.

On our last bus trip, an older woman got on the crowded bus. No one stood to give her a seat. I was holding baby gargantuan, and the boys were crammed into one seat. Just as I was contemplating which of my children I would let swing from the handles like monkeys, a young woman got up and offered her seat. And proceeded to cuss the bloody hell out of her way to the back of the bus.

Which was nice, I thought. I mean, who else would give up her seat knowing she would get berated for it--by her own personality? She deserves a special place in heaven--or at least on the bus next time.

Now, technically, the crazy woman only had to scoot over to let the older lady sit down next to her, but then where the @#$! would angry personality #2 sit?

And I thought I had problems. If everything on your property ever breaks in the same week, take the bus. You'll never feel sorry for yourself again. Because some people are broken. And how are they supposed to fix that?