Monday, May 28, 2007

The Garage Sale

We broke all sales records at our garage sale, making $92.50. Net! Because it took just 46 and a half hours of preparation, Justin, the boys and I collectively made $2 an hour--which is how much I made as an 11-year-old babysitter.

But that's not the point.

The idea was to clear our junk. I think of the attic as the brain of the house, because of its up-top location.

Like many brains, our attic was disorganized. Cluttered. Full of old memories--good and bad. And neurotic about future possibilities. (What if there's a world crisis and I need 80 Easter baskets to save mankind? Yes, sir, I better keep these on hand.)

Now it is clean. It even has empty containers for future storage. So, just as you can work better when your mind is clear, our home should operate more smoothly now. I've also enrolled our house in a yoga program...

Oh, what am I saying? Clearly some of the crazy from our garage sale patrons has rubbed off on me.

Having a sale is like inviting everybody on the city bus to a party in your yard.

You tell them to drop by between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. So half of them arrive at 7:30 a.m. and the other half show up at 5:30 p.m.

They're not there to buy anything--or even get it for free; they simply want to know how much everything costs.

One man wearing an amusement park shirt picked up a glass egg filled with water and a plastic flower.

"This is lovely," he said.

He looked at the price on the bottom: 10 cents.

"You can have it for free," Justin said.

"No, no," he said.

Then he picked up a stone owl.

"Do you collect owls?" he asked.

I started to answer, but it turned out he was asking himself.

"As a youth, people said I did," he said.

"As a boy I collected bananas. When I got older, I thought, 'I can't do this anymore.' And I switched to collecting owls. Which is something older people collect."

This interview--in which he both asked and answered the questions--went on for half an hour.

"Can we trade collectibles for World's of Fun tickets? Ah, now that's a question I'm often asked. I'm afraid it's not that simple..."

After explaining just how complicated the employee discount program is, he tipped his baseball cap.

"Now, it's time to say farewell," he said. "I thank you for letting me look around. Many garage sales have beautiful things. Few have true collectibles like these."

And, yet, he walked away empty-handed.

That's pretty much how things went all day.

But will we have another garage sale next Spring? Probably.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hours in the Attic

Justin and I went to Phoenix last weekend. After a beautiful, relaxing trip, we decided to clean out the attic.

This was like going on vacation to heaven and on the way back swinging by Hell for the weekend. You know, just for the hell of it.

You see, our attic is filled wall to wall. This is because we treat it like a bottomless pit. Just drop off bag after bag of forgotten toys, old paperwork and miscilaneous fragile things--porcelein birds and what not--with which I will cover every flat surface in the house as soon as the kids move out. Justin can't wait.

When it comes down to it, I wish all of this would just disappear.

Instead, I ran an ad in the paper asking people to haul our junk away. And get this...I'm making them pay us.

Yes, we're having a garage sale. How could we not after the resounding success of our last one, when we raked in $22.40?

This time will be different. I bought price stickers, advertising, the whole thing. It will be in our front yard on Sunday and Monday.

Theoretically, we could just have an attic sale and sell every last thing up there.

But there are some treasures. Sorting through the baby clothes, I found each item that I folded into Johnny's dresser drawer before he was born. A yellow t-shirt and shorts. A onsie with a fish design and another with a little chicken on it. A blue nightgown with a matching hat and a green one with matching socks. All of these items will go to the grave with me.

All of the boys have clothes with sentimental value. For Richie, it is his blue coat with horses on it, which he was very proud of as a toddler. Wearing it, he always walked a little taller. Which is cute to see when it's a two year old just a few feet tall.

For J.J. it is his first walking mocasins, which he wore until his toes peeked out of holes. You know you're playing hard when you wear out your shoes before you grow out of them as a kid.

Then there are the sweaters my Nana handknitted and outfits that the boys received as gifts in Boston and wore right away.

I've read that many mothers can't part with baby clothes. The solution: Buy a windowbox frame and arrange a favorite outfit and shoes along with a photo. Good idea. Except that my window box would have to be the size of...well, our attic.

Typically, it takes as long to undue something as it took to do it. For instance, doctors say that since it takes nine months to put on baby weight, you should allow nine months to lose it.

Likewise, if it took three years to fill our attic, it should take three years to clean it out.

I figured it wouldn't matter much if I substituted "years" for "hours." That caused me to feel slightly overwhelmed. I suggested to Justin that if we really wanted to make a dent, we would need to have a garage sale everyday for the rest of our lives.

He said I was exaggerating. However, he said this while watching T.V., not helping me rummage through 19 bags of clothes, one of which included seven mustard colored thermal shirts, and eight pairs of green corderoys.

Justin's participation, so far, has been on a consultation basis. For one thing, he suggested that, since he hauled the bags up there in the first place, he shouldn't have to carry them back down.

He also mentioned that on Saturday--the day we are cleaning out the large items in the attic and setting up for the sale, he might go to work for a few hours.

And he wondered why I let all the clutter build up instead of dealing with it a little at a time.

I suggested that he donate his comments and questions to the Salvation Army, along with the stuff we don't sell at the garage sale.

He looked at me like I was going insane. And I looked at him like he was driving me there.

It's going to be a weekend of bonding, I can tell already.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mother's Day Reflections

With Mother's Day this weekend, I thought about some things that become clear once you have kids, and other things that are foggier than ever.

For instance, I now understand why you should never stand between a mother bear and her cub. It's nothing personal. It's just instincts.

On the other hand, a great mystery to me is what my sons think about while going pee. Because clearly they're not thinking about getting it in the toilet. I don't think they even know that that's the goal. When I was in fifth grade, the boys in our class got in trouble for peeing on the walls behind the toilets in the bathroom. Nobody ever admitted to it or said who did it. Now I think they all did it. They just didn't realize it. Boys are totally clueless in this regard.

I now understand how a mother can talk to a person on the phone in the sweetest voice imaginable while--in the same instant--yelling at her children (silently, of course). Her kids might not read lips, but they get the point: mom is not going to be on the phone forever. So they should hide.

But I don't understand why kids think they are invisible when their mom is on the phone, and, thus, won't see them wrestling/tracking in mud/setting a worm on the kitchen counter/eating candy for breakfast/etc.
While Sunday was officially Mother's Day, it was unofficially Richie's chance to remind people about his upcoming birthday, which is in less than two months.

"My birthday's coming up," he told his Nana on the phone. "Don't forget my birthday," he wrote in cards.

You should be receiving your "save the date" refrigerator magnet any day now.
The boys also had lots of suggestions for things I'd like to do on Mother's Day, such as go to the zoo or see Shrek. But what most mothers want on this day (besides being alone for one blessed minute, that is) is to get work done. It is the only day you can ask your family to do anything and they can't really argue. What would they say? "Thanks for bringing me into the world, mom, but planting that tree is too much to ask. How about a nice card instead?"

It's also the day that husbands, uncles, grandfathers and sons are in charge of making the dinner. Soon, they are shocked to learn that salads, casseroles and desserts do not grow on cows. Just because you grill some burgers doesn't mean an entire meal magically appears on the picnic table.

In fact, studies show that women talk on the phone more than men. The difference is due entirely to how much time we spend discussing side dishes with each other:

"What can I bring to Easter dinner, Nana?"

"How about a salad?"

"A jello salad?"

"No, Margaret's bringing the jello. You bring a green salad. Oh, shoot. Your mother mentioned she might bring a salad. Call her and see if you can bring the appetizer."

"How about spinich dip?"

"No, Mary's bringing the spinich dip. You bring the carrot sticks."

This takes weeks of planning--time that men simply can't waste...on anything but ESPN. Did anyone hear about that Rock Paper Scizzors championship last week? My husband watched an entire program about it.

Anyway, Mother's Day is a wonderful time for quiet reflection...especially about what makes you a better martyr than most of the people in the Illustrated Book of Catholic Saints.

So whether you are a mom or a mother-figure to somebody, happy mother's day.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What if...Everything Turns Out Great

There's a show on T.V. called "Notes from the Underbelly," about a 30-something couple expecting their first child.

They are terrified. Will they wind up like their pregnant friend and her husband, who set their alarm for the middle of the night to feed a doll (you know, for practice)? Will they be zombies like the mother and father they meet at a baby shower whose child has zapped their energy? Will they have to trade their cute car in for a minivan? And what about the foosball machine? Will the crib take the place of that?

Maybe they're not ready to have a baby after all, they think.

The show made me realize: I don't know if I'm ready to be a mother, either. Granted, I already have three children. But, believe me, this feeling of being ill-prepared never stops.

Am I willing to trade in my Buick for a minivan? In that case, yes. The minivan has been my dreamcar since age 17. It's a smooth ride, and I really don't understand the bad rap.

As for the pretend feedings, well, crazy is as crazy does. And the energy? It's overrated. The last time I had extra energy, for instance, I used it to tap my pen on my desk really fast.

These worries wash away soon enough. You realize, for instance, that waking up in the middle of the night is second nature. You've already been doing it for 9 months to go to the bathroom 800 times.

And anything else that changes your life, well, you put on your big girl panties and deal with it.

But once the baby is born, the worries switch to the child.

He is obsessed with arranging toy cars in a straight line. Is he autistic?

He's 10 percent in height and weight. Is he a midget?

He's in the 1000 percentile in size. Does he have that disease that Andre the Giant had?

And when they start school, it's all over. You pretty much have to schedule 8 hours into your day just for worrying. Might as well quit your day job because you'll be up all night.

What if she has attention deficit disorder? What if she doesn't have attention deficit disorder? Why is she acting like that then?

What if nobody plays with him at recess?

What if she overhears the girls talking about a birthday party...and she never got an invitation? In fact she hasn't been invited to a friend's house all year?

Soon, you get involved in school activities. Now, you have 100 kids to worry about.

What if he has to leave his friends and move to California because his mom is getting married?

What if a kid tells somebody, "We're best friends," and the other boy answers back, "No, we're not?"

Many of these worries are beyond your control, of course. Other times, you think, if I had parented differently, that wouldn't have happened.

Yesterday, J.J. had a friend over.

He shared his cars and trucks. He shared his bug shaped instruments. He shared his trains.

Then, as soon as I left the room, he pushed the kid onto the floor. The poor little boy was crying and his mom was so sad for him.

J.J. went in time out, of course. But I thought, am I raising him to be a brute?

Because, as you probably know, my boys wrestle a lot. J.J. recently perfected a Three Stooges move in which he throws Richie into Johnny and they fall like dominos. They think it's funny.

But now, he's pushing down a kid who was just standing there minding his own business. Not funny.

Maybe I've let them go wild. As a mother up at school once said about another lady: Her children are like dandelions. They're not raised. They just grow.

For instance, my kids jump on the couch. To me, it's normal behavior. Until a few years ago, I did it myself sometimes. It's a good cardio workout. But now, come to find out, normal people don't let their children do this.

What if they grow up thinking anything goes?

All these worries are enough to drive a mother crazy. You can become scared of your own shadow. You can assume that what works for one family should work for yours. You can wonder why your children can't sit still when you know darn well that hyperactivity runs in the family.

But, you know, there is a flip side to fear. It's not fearlessness, which is unattainable if not dangerous.

It's hope.

Because most things could go either way.

It seems only fair, after considering what could go wrong, to imagine what might go right.

So...I hope that the girl who doesn't get invited to parties knows the preciousness of friendship when she finally finds it. And she will find it. Everybody has a friend out there somewhere.

I hope the boy who plays on his own never joins the crowd. It's big enough already.

I hope small kids don't feel too small and big kids don't feel too big. I hope all kids feel just right.

I hope the boy who moves to California becomes a movie star. Or a surfer. Or whatever makes him really happy.

And when things go wrong for these kids, as things always do, I hope that they look on the flip side of fear and see hope.

Friday, May 04, 2007

How to Talk Like a Rockstar

Well, J.J. is finally off the bottle...and on the sippy cup. Which he calls a bottle. Or a ba, actually. He is still not a big talker. This worries me only because I've heard that late talkers make up for lost time.

And we already have one world champion talker in our house: Richie. He talked for five and a half hours straight last night. When he can't think of something to say, he yells out the name of something new in our house.

"Water bottles! Yeah, baby."

"New toilet seat. Boo-ya!"

I don't know where he picks up these catch phrases, but he uses them like salt. Just sort of sprinkles them randomly all over the conversation.

"Spiderman's a bad guy?" he asks, "What's the big idea about that?"

But his favorite conversation topic is age. On May 24, he turns 4 and 11/12. It's a big birthday for him. Bigger even than 4 and 5/6, which he celebrated on April 24.

He is sure that if he has enough birthdays, he'll catch up to Johnny someday.

"When I'm 16, will I be older than Johnny?" he asks.

My mom told him that on his next birthday, he'll be older than his granddaddy, who is turning 4. Hearing that, Richie looked like the cat who ate the canary.

Then he said, "Yeah, baby. Older than (singing James Brown-style) Granddad."
With the warm weather, you start to see your neighbors again.

The little girl a few houses down is Johnny's age. She has a little sister, and they were outside with their daddy while he mowed the lawn. We were outside watering the flowers before bedtime. The big sister walked over, gently nudging her sister forward, whispering, "Go. Go."

When they got here, the big sister rolled her eyes slightly and said, "My sister wanted to come see you."

Seeing the girls on the front stoop, Johnny came out carrying his chess trophy and medal. He stood there like a speaker who had just announced, "Okay, I can take questions now."

Do you play chess? the neighbors asked.

Yes, he said.

Then he hung his medals on the mailbox and placed his trophy between them--like a makeshift display case. Looks like somebody wants to put his best foot forward with these neighbor girls.
You know, I really do hope J.J. learns how to talk some day. But for now, I enjoy translating for him.

Yesterday, he took my by the hand and pointed to his empty cup of juice.

"You want more juice?" I asked.

Then I tried to get him to do the sign language for it. You know, instead of grunting like a caveman baby.

"More," I said, bringing my fingertips together.

He repeated the sign.

Then I put my hand next to my mouth. "Drink," I said.

That was just too much for him.

He looked at me like, "Are you deaf or why are we doing this?"

Other times, I have no idea what he's telling me. The other day, he brought me into the kitchen, where I saw that he'd opened the refrigerator, thrown a bunch of tortillas on the floor and now was pointing at the soy sauce and looking at me quizzically.

He appeared to be asking, "Did you know we had soy sauce?"

But that couldn't be right.

We had a breakthrough the other day when J.J. started saying two sylable words. Do Do was the first (for donuts, not the extinct bird.) Next was doctor.

Hearing the song, "Ten Little Monkeys Jumpin' on the Bed," he thought the funniest part was when I said, "Mama called the doctor..."

He repeated it like a rock singer announcing a guitar player whose nickname is doctor.

"Doctah!" he growled/sang.

Now he growls it all the time.

His uncle Luke, the doctor, would be proud.

It appears that when J.J. does start talking, he will have the voice of a hard-rocking, hard-living musician.

All I can say to that is, "Yeah, baby!"

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Good News

I have good news. The newspaper group I used to work for is running my column on a monthly basis.

Today it is in four newspapers: the Raytown Tribune, the Liberty Tribune, the Sun Gazette and the Sun Tribune. These are delivered in suburbs or towns just outside of Kansas City.

It is at Click on the link to one of those four newspapers and then click on "opinion."

Hint: in my "opinion," ants are dumb yet manage to take over our house every single year.

My goal is to have a weekly column in a newspaper, so this is a good start.

A story was also accepted in Kansas City Voices, a literary magazine that comes out every fall and sells in some bookstores.

Thanks for reading. It's what encourages me to keep writing.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Excuse Me, Can You Tell Me How to Get to Wherever I'm Going?

This weekend, my husband and sons and I went to my aunt and uncle's farm. It takes one hour to get there, but we made it in two.

During the hour we were lost, I wondered: Why would anyone go someplace without knowing how to get there?

Anybody besides me, I mean.

It may sound sexist, but I think my husband should be in charge of the directions. Because there are some responsibilities I have to take on as a woman. Like birthing the children and picking up everybody's dirty socks. So there should be a trade off.

While us ladies are sleeping off our first trimester of pregnancy and/or straightening up the house, men should study maps. Like a map of rural Miami County, for instance. Would it kill my husband to know that if you hit Wea Creek Ranch you've gone to far? Would it?

I kept these thoughts to myself as we rode along the gravel road. To the children, I pointed out an owl and a wild turkey. I politely refrained from heckling it as it crossed the road: "'Ya big turkey!"

We called my cousin for directions and he gave them to us. We opted to drive around in circles instead.

We passed cows and horses and llamas.

And a sign that said, "Stop. There is nothing ahead except farms."

The next one said, "Warning: low maintenance road. Enter at your own risk."

The final sign said, "What the hell is wrong with you? Turn your dumbasses around."

But we never got to that sign. We had already come to our senses.

Back on the main road, we saw a man, woman and boy parked on a bridge over a creek.

"Is that guy fishing?" Justin asked.

He was. With a pistol. And a budweiser. Always a good breakfast beverage.

Justin asked for directions. The guy gave them to him. But his wife shook her head.

"No, keep going until 383rd," she said.

"You'd take directions from a woman?" the man asked Justin. Which is my point exactly.

But after hearing her out, the husband agreed that her directions were better. Then he went back to trying to catch a fish. With a bullet.

The wife's directions were dead-on.

We got to the farm and had a beautiful day. The boys searched for frogs and turtles and went on a boat ride in the pond.

We realized we got lost by turning on Hedge Lane. The street rung a bell for Justin and I, so we took it. As it turned out, the road looked familiar because we'd been lost there before.

With half my family coming from Miami County, maybe I could have been in charge of the directions this time.

Because, you know, maybe men aren't any better at directions than women. For me, it's just a handy stereotype to explain why I never know where I'm going. Getting from point a to point b is a struggle.

I mean point a is easy, right? 'Cause you're already there. But point b: You can't see point b. And you don't know what roads cut through and which ones have dead ends and which ones veer off in a new direction.

Just like in life.

Only in life, we often don't even know where point b is. It's one thing to ask somebody how to get to a farm. But you can't really stop and ask, "Excuse me, do you know where I'm supposed to be right now?"

That's a question you have to ask yourself.

I had the most vivid dream while deciding whether to quit the newspaper after J.J. was born. It was a difficult decision because I liked my job and Johnny and Richie liked their childcare centers. But I really wanted to stay home with the boys.

Once a week, on the way to our newspaper meeting, I crossed a bridge over the Missouri River and, on the other side, there was a billboard of Kermit the frog that said something like: Eats flies. Loves a pig. Dreams of being a hollywood star. Follow your dreams.

I always wondered about that poster. What was it advertizing?

So one night, I dreamed that the boys were in the car with me and we came to that same bridge. Only instead of the Missouri river, there was a silver ocean. Of course I immediately thought of the undertoe and sharks. But a voice assured me that this water was safe.

My next worry was that we couldn't see the other side. What if the bridge just went on forever? Or it led to a junkyard. Or a Chucky Cheese.

Traffic was behind me and I had to make a decision. Cross the bridge or stay put.

Finally, I thought, "If the bridge itself is this beautiful, it must be very beautiful on the other side."

Actually I was more like, "This traffic is making me crazy! And now it's too late to turn around! God damn it!"

But it would have been very wise of me to say the first thing.

Anyway, I took that dream to mean that I should take a chance and quit the newspaper. Another factor: By the time I paid for three kids in daycare, I would have been losing $800 a month. But, no, it was the dream that decided it all for me. It's much more romantic that way.

And you know, I never found out what was on the other side of that bridge. Other than Oprah's debt diet, I mean. But it has been a beautiful drive so far.

In that case, not having a point b worked out. I used to think that never having a point b was okay.

I often thought of the old saying, "When you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there."

To me, that was a promise. I was surprised when my brother told me it was actually a warning.

Now, just 31 years into my life, I can see where having a point b is a good idea. I mean, you can't just look out the window at llamas your whole life. You've got to go somewhere. Even if you're not good at directions, you have to at least try to choose a destination and map out a route.

So I thought about it. What is my point b? And I realized it was to appear on Dancing with the Stars. Only I'm not a star. Or a dancer.

Instead, I chose something only slightly less preposterous. It's something I've always wanted to do but never thought I could. I want to write a book. Even if it's a maintenance manual on how to operate your alarm clock. I just think it would be rewarding to work on a long term project like a book. A children's science book, for instance. Or something.

It will take years to achieve, but I am going to try. That's my point b. Now, if I can just find a woman standing beside a man shooting fish in a creek, I'm sure she can tell me how to get there.