Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Our Summer is Literally in the Toilet

I've heard that in Germany, people potty train their one year olds. Calm down, I used to think. You're making the rest of us look bad.

But now I'm beginning to see the wisdom in their ways.

Because otherwise it's Potty Training, meet the Terrible Twos. You all should get along great. You're both the worst thing in the world.


We're on day seven of potty training. Or shall I say potty nothing.

Basically, J.J. and I sit in the bathroom and read board books. You'd think we were at the library. I wish.

With Johnny having swimmer's ear and J.J. "trying" to go potty every hour and temperatures in the triple digits, we're practically shut-ins. Any day now, a church group is going to drop by to sing Christmas carols and rake our yard and dedicate three hail marys and an our father to us.

Just to get my toddler in the bathroom is a huge ordeal. He throws fits. I throw fits.

All the books we read end with the kid going potty. Three cheers! So and so's a big boy! Rah rah rah! Sis boom bah!

There is no happy ending to our story. Instead, ours would go: Sadly, the little boy never got potty trained. He couldn't go to preschool and his mom couldn't go back to work and they all starved and I hope you're happy. The end.

Speaking of books, mine keeps getting rejected. When you're a writer and you get an envelope addressed to you in your own handwriting, it's never good news. Good news comes in phone calls and e-mails.

On a happy note, I got assigned three more work-for-hire books. Now, my dream is for the topics at our church trivia night to be: Wisconsin. Peninsulas. The Alkaline Earth Metals. Because that's what my assignments are.

I also sent off the first three chapters of my romance novel to an editor. Now I wait and see if she wants to read the whole thing.

Hmm...maybe my next assignment could be...How to potty train your three year old while becoming a billionaire best selling novelist. Children would probably find that topic a bit self-serving, however. Not to mention unrealistic.

The old saying was, "Nobody goes to kindergarten un-potty trained." It was to remind moms there wasn't a big rush, back in the days when kids didn't go to preschool.

Now we have early childhood education, and in Kansas City, it's free.

So the new saying among preschool teachers is "Lots of preschool parents claim their kids are potty trained. What a frickin' joke."

Well, we still have a little time.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


We went to Boston to visit family and at the end of the trip we all went to Cape Cod together. I love going to the beach, not just for fun but also because there's nothing like it in Kansas City.

Sure, we have swimming pools, but they're not the best for people watching usually. Now, when I was a child going to the pool where my uncle was manager, there was a man named Triple-A who wore a two-piece bikini and swimming cap, and he didn't even stand out because a host of other crazy characters flocked to my uncle like birds to St. Francis.

But the pool I take my kids to is boring. It's mostly families, and if I wanted to see a lady chase her children around, I would just look in the mirror.

We have a river, but unless I had to ship some lumber down south I wouldn't exactly hang out there.

I went to a country club with my friend once. That was interesting people waching. In the middle of the weekday afternoon, some children had both their mothers and fathers watching them from the deck. Who was working in those families? Their money. That's who.

The beach is different. It is a true gathering place--not just for people with kids.

One thing I noticed, after we'd gone two days in a row, was that everyone had assigned seats, or so it seemed. The four older ladies with savage tans sat farthest from the water near the dunes and made bets on whose umbrella was going to blow away. The family that got the group rate at the tatoo parlor sat in front of them. We were in the front row, chasing our children with spray-on sunscreen, and next to us was a male sunbather wearing short black shorts who brought only a towel. (Hello? Is it amateur hour? You're supposed to bring other stuff to the beach, not just something to dry off with. Like chairs and hard boiled eggs and what not. I'm not be from New England, but even I know that.)

But the best part of the beach is how it brings out the kid in adults and the adult in kids. Grownups, like my husband and brother in law and father in law play in the waves. Kids, on the other hand, immediately see that there is a job to do.

They look at the sand and say, "Must dig giant hole." Or, "Must create elaborate castle." Or, if they're J.J.: "Must collect heavy backbreaking rocks for mom and dad to haul around in a bucket."

Reason being, kids can't get enough of the sand.

If you are a grownup at the beach, you notice how sand sticks to your egg salad sandwich, clings to your skin and burns your feet. You obviously have an appreciation for it; if you wanted to visit the ocean and not deal with the sand, I suppose you'd go to a harbor.

But if you are a kid, there is no downside to sand (Unless you're my son, Richie, whose eyeballs magnetically attract it.)

Sand, to most kids, is magic. It makes hours disappear.

If you sit on the sand, you can't help but dig or build something. This is true not just for kids but for grownups, too.

Kids will play with sand anywhere, not just at the beach. The backyard at the house where we stayed was all sand. One morning, I was sitting out there reading, and my three sons and nephew were playing in the sand. They each had either a horseshoe, a stick, a bucket or a badminton racket, and were plowing these through the sand, looking like insane farmers. They did that for about an hour.

I'd like to convert our backyard to a big sand pit. Our kids would never be bored again (though Richie would most likely go blind, eventually.)

Johnny's favorite beach on the trip was a small one that disappeared at high tide. It was actually a river that led to the ocean--an estuary I think. Everytime we went, a little boy his age was there, and they searched for hermit crabs and jellyfish and minnows together.

At low tide, people lined up their colorful metal folding chairs and watched the colorful sailboats going by. Then, as the day wore on and the beach disappeared, they did, too.

We stayed. The disappearing beach is a wondrous concept to me. I love that a beach can disappear and reappear two times a day. In contrast, the only thing that affects our swimming pool is adult swim.

But it also strikes me how little progress the tides make, considering how big the ocean is. When high tide comes in, it eats up, what, 50 feet of sand? Whereas in the ocean, there are parts so deep that sunlight can't even get down there and so dark, fish don't even bother growing eyes anymore.

And yet, for the most part, that water stays in the ocean day after day. Storms and tsunamis not withstanding.

Although, in fairness, the mountains stay in the mountains, and the plains stay in the plains. Mainly in the plains. They say nothing stays still, but moves too slowly for us to see. Who knows where it will all end up?

For instance, millions of years ago, we had an ocean in Kansas--and maybe beaches, too, but nobody ever went because the water was filled with sea monsters. Then one day, that ocean up and went away. Well, it was more like one eon.

I guess in the eyes of the universe, the middle of America seems as small as the beach we went to. And an eon seems as fast as a day. Sometimes the land is underwater. Sometimes it's dry. It just depends on the time.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Is Your Fish Hook Half Full or Half Empty?

They say that pessimistic people are more in tune to reality than optimists, but that doesn’t make me proud to be one.

I can’t help it. I was born a pessimist. Some folks say you can change your outlook on life. I’m guessing those people are optimists. They think, "Sure I could change my point of view, but why would I want to? I’m already an optimist."

In truth, the idea that you can change the way you think is optimistic at best. Delusional is more like it. See, I told you I was a pessimist.

But while I will never be an optimist, I wish I was. So it gives me great pleasure to listen to my son Richie process things. With the slightest suggestion, he’ll change a minor disappointment into a great triumph, and a small failure into success of mythic proportions.

And I get to be a part of it.

The other day, we went fishing at a little pond inside a little zoo. The people behind the counter gave Richie his low-tech fishing pole and a can of worms.

“Mom, can you put the worms on the hook?” he asked.

“No, but you can,” I said.

A mom watching us from nearby narrowed her eyes at me and sighed like a martyr. “If you bring your pole over to where I’m standing, I’ll do it,” she said with a frown.

What? Where did she come from? And why was she acting like we were putting her out? The worm was the one putting its life on the line. Literally.

“No, no, we can do it,” I said, meaning he can do it. “Thank you, though.”

So, Richie put a few worms on the hook, which the fish ate without getting caught.

Then I remembered, from back when I was a kid and baiting a hook didn’t make me want to throw up, that you have to sort of tie a knot with the worm and stick it on the hook in more than one place. I figured this was beyond Richie’s age level, so I did it myself.

God, I hate killing worms. When they wriggle around after you stab them through the hook, it makes me feel terrible.

Anyway, the fish still got the worm a few times, but finally, Richie hooked one. He yanked the pole up, and the fish flew through the air. His eyes widened in excitement…and then in disbelief when the fish fell off the hook and back into the water.

He frowned.

But I knew it would be easy to turn that frown upside down.

“That’s okay,” I said. “We would have had to throw it back in anyway. Because it was a baby, and we weren’t going to eat it.”

His eyes lit up. “Yeah, and you would have been too scared to touch it!”

“Yeah!” I said. “So it’s a good thing it jumped off the hook!”

“Yeah!” he agreed.

By the time Richie called his dad to tell him the good news, the story sounded like this:

“I caught a fish today. But we had to throw it back in because it was a baby. And guess what? We didn’t have to throw it back in because it jumped back in!...Yeah, and mom almost threw up!”

Okay, I don’t think that last part had to be characterized in a positive light…but whatever. I may not be an optimist, but watching my son be one is just as good.