Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Daze of Summer

How would I describe summer vs. the rest of the year? First of all: I love summer. It's my chance to spend time with my boys that doesn't include homework and signing a bunch of stuff.

I get that homework is important. Especially if my boys are to fullfill their promise to me that one will be a doctor/dentist, another, a lawyer/mad scientist/local business owner who sponsors a 3&2 team, and the third a "surprise me." Guess who chose that one? (Hint: starts with an R.)

In terms of dealing with people, however, who would you choose? A. People who have spent all day swimming/playing whiffle ball/eating ice cream products. B. People who have been bossed around and forced to do paperwork in tiny desks all day. Again, I get it. If they always do "A" they'll turn into donkeys. I'm just sayin': I would choose A.

Furthermore, summer is one reason I chose to be a children's book writer, instead of a...I would have said banker, but there's really no sure thing anymore, is there? You might as well feed it all to the birds.

So I'm not complaining. Just making a statement. There is a certain daaaze that goes along with summer, as opposed to working while the kids are in school. I would compare it to being a hunter-gatherer vs. a farmer.

Farmers mold their world by planting crops and raising animals. Hunter-gatherers live off the land as it already exists. Winter mama molds her world by doing such things as generating business, doing work, following up on paychecks. Summer mama's to-do list says, "Apply sunscreen. Do it again. Do it again. Do it again. Do it again."

All humans used to be hunter-gatherers until the agricultural revolution. Then, a wave of farming swept the world, and people laid down roots, planned ahead, met certain goals.

Now, if I had heard about this new way of life, I would have said, "That sounds like a lot of work. Why don't you guys do that, and I'll chill out here on the savannah. Your descendents can come back in a few thousand years and write magazine articles about how my people don't plan ahead...which is why we never got around to drilling for oil in the ocean or building nuclear bombs. I'm going to take a nap now. Have fun with your corn."

But at the time, everybody thought this was a great idea. In a way, it was. We got culture. I love culture, don't you? Books and what-not. Culture is so great. I have several cultural deadlines coming up that I will do momentarily. While my kids are quietly...dripping popsicles on the furniture and losing Furious behind the toy box.

Not that we're at home that much. That's the difference between being a summer mom and a year-round stay at home mom, like I was when the kids were little. The sunny months are so much better! Mainly, we go to the pool and eat. Swimming makes these children hungry! Speaking of corn, you can't have enough popcorn lying around when you are at the pool!

Here's something else I thank the agricultural revolution for: mass-produced coffee. I had given up coffee for green tea over the winter. Coffee was keeping me up at night. In the summer, however, I can pour coffee directly onto my eyeballs with no adverse affects. The sun bakes it out of me--even with my dorky-ass mom visor. (During the summer, I use big words like "dorky-ass," and "punk-ass," and "sorry-ass." Hardly ever front of the children though. That would be bad parenting-ass.)

The bottom-line: I love summer--I'm so lucky to get to have a summer, but staying home with kids and meeting deadlines don't mix. The boys and I are about living off the land--the land being the swimming pool and Aldi's. Deadlines are about planning and meeting goals.

So when I say, "No problem," about a deadline, I'm thinking, "Winter me is all over it. Summer me, on the other hand, is trying to find my son's camouflaged flip-flop. Why in the swamp-ass hell did I purchase something camouflaged for a son who can't find his nose on a map of his own face?!"

If you are reading this and have given me a deadline, however, I really am all over it. Right...(push "publish post") now!

Friday, June 25, 2010

So, So Furious

Last summer, a blog I like, Fuse #8 Production, posted the top 100 picture books, based on readers' votes. I can't find the original post, but here is the list on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/fuse-8-top-100-picture-books.

We read most of them last summer and into the fall. It was perfect timing because Johnny was still reading picture books. Now, he's too old...for now. See, you're never too old for picture books, or too young, but sometimes you're too in between.

Anyway, it was interesting to see what my sons' favorites were. I'm basing this not on votes, but on 1. how many times they wanted it reread and 2. the look in their eyes that said, "I'm not here; I'm there. The book is my religion. It's my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's my lucky everything." You know the look. Actually these are separate criteria, so here were their favorites, based on one and two:

J.J.: 1. Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt. 2. Little Blue and Little Yellow, by Leo Lionni.
Richie: 1. Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by John Scieszka. 2. The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff and Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm by Alice Provensen.
Johnny: 1. None. 2. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans and Eloise by Kay Thompson.

I thought of this list yesterday because of Richie's reaction to the animals in Our Animal Friends. He said, in an imagination-induced daze, "I never knew you could have that many animals as pets!" Then: "Can I have a pet pig?"

"Sure!" I said, caught up in the excitement. "You don't mind if we get a pig, do you Justin?"

He had just walked into the room and was like, "What the hell just happened in here? I thought you were reading a book."

He asked, "A pig?"

"Not a hog, but a small pig," I said. I turned to Richie. "I think they have something called a 'pocket pig,' which can fit in your pocket. They either have it or they're developing it. Or we could get a pot-bellied pig. They're small. Would a pot bellied pig be all right?" I asked Justin.

"Sure," he said. It's the same answer I get when I suggest we move to Florida or travel the country in an RV. He knows that I have ADHD and only follow through on writing projects. He was thinking, "You can write about small pigs all you want, honey."

Well, guess what? Yesterday, Richie got a pig!

A Guinea pig.

He'd been wanting a pet of his own for two years. Johnny used to have a frog and a turtle. Then there were the snails, which died tragically of overpopulation.

Richie had his heart set on a parrot. But we are not pirates. Plus, Justin doesn't like birds. Plus, aren't parrots expensive? They're bossy, I know that. I once accompanied my brother to feed our neighbor's parrots, and they were like, "Turn on Nick at Night! Where's Lois? Get the lights. Blah Blah Blah."

"Parrots cost $5,000" I said.

Richie began to lean toward something furry.

On his birthday, we went to see Shrek: Forever After. I rented out the entire movie theater, Daddy Warbucks-style, or at least that's what I told Richie. We really were the only ones in the theater!

Then we went to Petsmart. My mom and I had both given Richie gift certificates for his birthday.

First Richie looked at dumbo rats. I'm not a rat person, per se, but I have to admit, one of these guys was cute. He was pawing at the glass as if to say, "Pick me! Pick me!" Then the Petsmart worker opened the cage and they all started running around, and all I could think was Willard. Plus, my mom would die if she had aided and abetted the purchase of a rat. Because then, somewhere, someone would say, "A rat has been sold. Excellent. Now we can breed more rats!" And his name would be Willard, horror, etc.

It came down to Russian hamsters v. Guinea pigs. We learned that hamsters are crazy hyper and fun to watch on their little wheels. But they're quick to get away when you hold them Then Richie held a Guinea pig. She held perfectly still. I knew he had found the pig of his dreams.

"What are you going to name her?" I asked.

"Furious," he said. "Because his eyes are red." (Richie is in denial that Furious is a girl.)

Her eyes are red because she's an albino, but yeah, okay, I can see why you would think the timid little fur ball was on the verge of insane Guinea pig anger. If you were an eight-year-old boy, that is.

We got furious a cage, bedding, water bottle, food, special hay, and an oatmeal canister hiding place.

J.J. asked, "Why doesn't Furious have a T.V.?"

"Maybe she prefers to read," I said.

"No, he wants a T.V.," J.J. said. So he drew pictures on Post-its and stuck them on the cage. I'm not sure why that constituted a T.V. and not an art exhibit. I guess it speaks to the cultural experiences I've offered my children. In my defense, Sesame Street is a work of art, in my book. And iCarly is not too bad, either.

Well, Furious might be watching T.V., but my boys aren't. They're allowed to watch T.V. before 8 a.m.and after 4 p.m. This works better for us than limiting their viewing time to one hour because I can't keep track of time. Today, the boys woke up at 7 a.m. but didn't turn on T.V. Instead, they sat backwards on the couch and watched The Furious Show.

"He's drinking his water! He's hiding! He's eating hay! He's knocking things over! Wow he's so smart!"

Richie held him several times. True to his name (now I think of him as a him, too,) he nuzzled softly against Richie's chest and let him pet him. What an angry young Guinea pig!

I took Richie's picture with him. Then Richie, the wildlife photographer, took several pictures of Furious in his cage. The big question is: Did Furious sleep last night? When we left him in the living room, he was awake in his oatmeal canister. When I woke up this morning, he was awake outside the oatmeal canister. Maybe we'll have to hook up a secret camera. Then we really will be able to watch him on T.V.!

Happy bday Richie.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


As you know, I'm J.J.'s celebrity handler at the pool. His new friend, Preston, also has a handler, a babysitter who wears a blue, what we used to call "tank" swimsuit and cop sunglasses.

Preston asked J.J.: "Do you have a dad?"

"Yeah," J.J. said.

"Well, where is he?"

"He's at work, Preston," his babysitter said.

"My dad is really, really scary," J.J. said.

I laughed nervously. "His dad is not scary at all," I assured officer babysitter.

"No, I said, 'my dad's really, really hairy,'" J.J. said.

"Oh, well, that's true," I said.

Richie went to his first day of wrestling camp at a school called Rockhurst. Richie is always getting wrestled by Johnny and J.J. and he doesn't like it, which leads to fights. I figured, maybe if Richie knew what he was doing, he would like wrestling, and my boys could be happy barbarians all day long.

Last night, I told Justin that Richie had gone to wrestling camp.

"Did you learn to jump off the high rope and body slam guys?" Justin asked.

"This is real wrestling," Richie said. "Not T.V."

Richie described a move called the knife, which involved legs, and that's all I understood of it.

J.J. said that he had also been to wrestling camp. He showed us his move, which was to hold up his fists, jump and land on somebody. He must have gone to T.V. wrestling camp.

"My wrestling camp was at Nockhurst," J.J. said. I thought that sounded suspiciously like Rockhurst--and knockwurst.

Seeing my skepticism he said, "No, I mean it was at... (trying to make up a school name)...Frickin'"

"You went to Frickin' wrestling camp?" I asked.

He nodded and showed me his wrestling move again. Sometimes I think J.J. is not being totally honest with me.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Spider-dad, Spider-dad

J.J.'s party was a success. A mom from J.J.'s school came to the party with her four cute kids, who each brought a present. She was like the guardian angel of people not RSVP-ing! One was a slip n' slide, so the kids played in the plastic pool and on the slip n' slide, and did play dough. Then, while they ate their cupcakes, Spider-man came.

His pants were about six inches too short and he was wearing brown loafers.

He came out saying, with a thick Boston accent, "What is this, a birthday party? Psha Psha (shooting webs from his wrist.)"

J.J. looked shocked--even a little scared. Then he yelled, "Daddy?!"

He looked on the verge of laughter and tears.

The other kids were nonplussed. "Are you really Spider-man?" they asked skeptically.

So I had to say, "Spider-man was busy fighting bad guys so daddy came instead. Wasn't that nice?"

J.J. nodded and started laughing and shaking his head, as if to say, "Oh, mom and dad, if only I could peer into the tangled webs your brains sometime."

Justin said he should have disguised his voice. I can't imagine the overall impression that would have given, what with the loafers.

But will we try the same thing in July for the cousins party? Yes. Only with a shorter and less well-known Spiderman.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Muscle Beach...meet Muscle Pool

For some people, summer is about the beach. In Kansas City, it's all about the city pool. I once asked a friend in Boston if people went to city pools there. "Poor people do," she said. Well, poor people go to the city pool here, too, (how do you think our family gets in?) But so does everybody else. I mean everybody. It's a total madhouse.

J.J. doesn't know how to swim yet. So I follow him around everywhere. It's awkward this year because he's made some pool friends, and I tag along with them like some kind of celebrity handler.

Today, his friend Ryan--who was in the goldfish swim class with J.J. and apparently learned how to swim (what a concept! J.J. should try that some time.) was doing somersaults in the water.

"How old are you?" I asked, impressed.

"I'm five and three quarters," he said.

"I'm five and I have four quarters," J.J. said.

It was true--he did have four quarters. My kids' summer--if not their entire lives--are dedicated to memorizing the prices at snack bars--and scraping up just enough money to ruin their teeth. But J.J. is not five.

He's turning five in July. It was my brilliant plan to have his party one month early so that I could send invitations to school. (The school doesn't have a roster that I know of, so I don't have addresses.) Well, nobody RSVP'd. Way to keep it classy, J.J.'s friends' parents!

So I figured, we'll have his party at the regular time, when his cousins from Atlanta will be in town. Then, yesterday, one mom RSVP'd. She offered to bring her three other kids, too. Bam! Instant party.

I don't want to blow my wad on this party, since we're having the cousins in July, so I'm going to make play dough, copy Spiderman coloring sheets off the computer, make red cupcakes, and make Justin dress up as Spiderman. Keeping it classy, as always.

J.J. has luckily forgotten all about passing out 20 invitations at school. He only remembers giving one to his elusive school bus friend, Jamaicai, who I'm beginning to think is J.J.'s snuffalufagus. I told J.J. that Jamaicai might be spending his summer in Texas. I have no reason to think that. But my yoga teacher's kids are spending their summer in Texas, and it's a big state, so you never know. I should have said Jamaica, though. Duh.

Anyway, J.J. now has no idea how old he is, only that he gets to have two birthday parties this summer. Yay!

Richie, meanwhile, really does have a birthday coming up and we're celebrating...you guessed it, at the city pool. Then he gets to have a slumber party. This is the boys' big eight year old treat. The pool is key--you have to wear these children out. I'm hoping they don't wear goggles, as chlorine can do wonders for kids wanting to close their eyes when they get home.

I'm realizing that this post is not about Muscle Beach/Pool after all. Here is what I was going to say. At football camp, Johnny's coach said the boys should relax afterwards. He said, "Your shoulders are starting to get big, so go show them off to the girls at the pool."

Johnny took that comment at face value. We were riding in the car the other day and he said to Richie, "Dude, my arms are enormous next to yours." Just what every younger brother wants to hear.

Then, he actually saw a girl in his class at the pool the other day. I think he likes this girl, because for a while, he was working her name into distantly related conversations. Well, he wouldn't even look at her! Finally, I convinced him to say hi out of politeness. And out of me handpicking her for my future daughter-in-law. (She's very sweet.)

That's all I have about muscles. I should probably change the title of this post...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Running Routes

Johnny went to football camp and won a quarterback award (for some drills they'd done.) That night, he wanted to practice. He asked if we had a target he could throw the ball at.

"No, that won't work," Justin said. "You have to throw to somebody in motion. Mom will run routes for you."

I was just taking a bite out of my second giant chicken salad croissant, and gave him a look.

"What? I can't because of my knee," he said.

"I just think you've found a way to dovetail your dreams of having a quarterback son and a skinny wife," I said.

But after finishing my dinner, I laced up my tennis shoes and we went over to the school playground, which is next to a busy street. I've run routes with Johnny before, but I'm the one who throws it. This is normal. The mom or dad passes the ball and the kid catches it. Whoever is running the routes is the one practicing. So it looked like I'd told my son, "Hey, I'm joining a lady football team. Come run me some drills."

As I ran a post across the field, a couple of cars honked. Yeah, I get it, my ship has sailed. Ha. Ha. Or never come into port, actually.

Once we started, though, I got into it. I was like, "You can throw this far, Johnny. You just need to train your eyes. See, you did it!" For my part, I was jumping and diving for balls--training my body to think it was invincible. (I found out the next day it isn't.)

Soon, some Boy Scouts came outside. I was like, oh, great. Now I'll really feel like a fool. But they looked to be in high school and were playing on the swings, so I figured we were in the same boat.

The next night, Johnny tried to throw J.J. routes, but he doesn't know how to catch the ball. In parochial league, they have a weight limit for who can carry the ball, and at age four, J.J. is approaching it, so he probably won't need to learn that particular skill set. But it would be nice if Johnny could teach him. Then Johnny could be the quarterback and his brothers (not his mother), the receivers. Even though it was fun diving for those footballs.