Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dreams of Summer

Sometimes these days I stand by the sliding glass door to my little deck and dream of how it looked last spring and summer. I remember what it's like with all the windows and doors open, with people flip-flopping down to the beach to play in the lake, and the sounds of the gulls flying overhead. With our "murphy table" pulled down and piled high with fresh produce from the Farmer's Market. Dinner out there with friends by candlelight on a hot summer's night.

Which really helps because this is what it looks like right now.
Can you see how hard it's snowing here?

But summer will come again.
I just know it.

Big Boys Do Cry

Baxter, snuggled next to me in bed: "Mommy, there is one thing [The Teacher] is wrong about."

Me: "What's that, honey?"

Baxter: "She says second graders don't cry anymore. But everyone cries. Even grown-ups."


In the end, no matter how whacked The Teacher is, our lessons seem to be overriding hers. And for that I'll count my blessings today.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Popcorn from God

So, it's snowing again. The weather's been bizarre lately - up to 50 yesterday and then back down to freezing by this afternoon. Tomorrow's wind chill will be 20 below. Lots of sudden shifts. The snow melts and then starts to fall anew.

I feel like I've been disengaged from the blogging world of late. Yes, I've posted enough but lately I'm often writing on the weekends and then posting the pieces as the week goes on. This allows me to write when I have extra time and get work done and relax more during the busy-ness of a typical week. And so although maybe my readers don't feel like I'm absent during the week, I sort of do, just stopping in to hit "publish" and then enjoying the comment conversations, and not commenting as often on the blogs I love to read all the time.

I am relaxing more. I've rearranged my schedule and routines to make things work better, and the outcome has been very good. I feel more zen mama and less hysterical mama. The trouble for me is, once I relax a bit, I want to stay there. I don't want to get up and make dinner. Or play cars. Or write a report. I just want to be on the couch reading my book. I don't know if this is because my busy times are so ridiculously busy or if this is a challenge I have personally, but it's hard to find the middle ground.

It was my assist day at Lyle's co-op preschool and I was actually counting on him to nap afterwards; this is silly because he so often doesn't anymore when he's home with me, but he's been sick and he looked exhausted, so I had decided that he was going to nap. Which of course led to dreadful disappointment when he didn't. But I insisted on quiet time, during which I lay on my bed reading "Eat Pray Love" with the space heater pointed directly at the bed, while Lyle alternately looked at books next to me, rearranged the settings on my alarm clock, and dug his fingernails into my Chap Stick. I knew I should get up and do something with him because, really, how relaxing was this for me? But I just couldn't. I didn't feel down or blue, just glued to my bed and book. All I could think of was that my stomach was grumbling and maybe it would be fun to make some popcorn for a snack. That was literally my one and only true motivation for getting off of my bed.

When I did get up, it was because there was a knock at our door. And do you know who was at my door? It was our great neighbors from across the hall, a mom and her toddler who come over nearly every day to play, with a bowl full of delicious popcorn to share with us.

And what more do I need, really, on a cold winter's day when I don't feel like doing much of anything?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Materialistic Monday: Eye Concealer

When Matt and I met, I wore no make-up and the color pink hadn't touched my body in years. I probably didn't shave my legs at that point, either, seeing as how I was in the Women's Studies program at a small liberal arts college and involved in MPIRG on the side. Times have changed - and if you stop and think about it, perhaps we should all be grateful for the changes that have taken place, because imagine if you were frozen in 1993? Shudder.

But let's move on.

I was accompanied to the cosmetics counter of a department store by my mother when it was time to buy some make-up for my wedding in 1996 (I did my own hair and make-up for the wedding because the idea of having someone else do that crap made me gag with the preciousness of it all), and the fruits of that trip were still the only make-up in my possession when Baxter was born in 2000.

And then came the children. Is it about having babies and feeling more in touch with one's feminine side (and exhausted, pathetic, "what about me?" side)? Or maybe having boys and needing to claim one's new role of being the only woman in the house? I don't know, but all I can say is that every time I have another son I buy more pink and a lot more make-up. Thank god there will be no more children or I'd need my own bathroom.

Soon after Baxter was born I walked into a Benefit cosmetics store in Mill Valley, California and never looked back. I go in every few weeks in order to keep my eyebrows from taking over the entire top 2/3 of my face, and always enjoy a little sampling of the goods. I tend to ask for Benefit cosmetics for birthdays, Christmas, et cetera and by now have an impressive supply. (Matt gets lots of credit for freelancing on gifts there.) But for the very first time, about two weeks ago, the fantastically flamboyant young man who waited on me (I love this guy, and not only because he transports me back to many such interactions in San Francisco) pulled out the eye concealer. Now, this shouldn't be a shock, I think that was the week when the wheels were seriously falling off the bus. I'm sure the bags under my eyes had taken on a life of their own.

The product he tried on me had to be purchased immediately, and I have been using it nearly every day because it truly hides the puffy circles I wake up with but doesn't look caked on or fake. It's called Lyin' Eyes and it's the best $13 I have spent in a long while. Now, drama mama commented last week that she uses Boi-ing, which I then discovered I have in my Realness of Concealness set (another treasure to check out if you want to try a few of their best goodies - this is a great one to throw into your handbag). Boi-ing appears to be a heavier-duty concealer that looks like it's meant for the lids as well, and it was great. For me, a solid application of Lyin' Eyes, along with a little magic from my Eye Bright pencil and Lemon Aid on the lid (oh, how I love Lemon Aid!) does the trick. But be advised that you can't go wrong with Benefit. In addition to their web site, their products are available at Macy's and Sephora. If you are lucky enough to live near an actual Benefit store (thank goodness one opened in Chicago the minute we moved here), stop on in - if only for the fun atmosphere and to marvel over the brilliance of their product naming team. And if you live near me, invite me along.

My, how the times have changed.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

We are Living in the Future

The boys did a video chat with my parents in California tonight:

Such mild-mannered urchins I have.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Should I be Concerned?

Each of the boys spelled a word on the fridge this morning.

Somehow, this is what we ended up with.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Have a Heart

A couple years ago, my good friend Sahara sat a couple of us down to dinner at Savor in Noe Valley and told us a story. More than a story: she shared an inspiration, an aha! moment, that came to her one day when she drove by a man who was obviously suffering, and wanted to reach out to him in some way. I can't do it justice, but thankfully you can read it in her own words here. Like everyone else who crosses paths with Sahara, we were drawn in by her magically positive energy and enthusiasm.

This inspiration led Sahara to work (with typically Sahara-like dogged determination) for a couple of years to create Heart is Hot, a fantastic new web site where we can all purchase these beautiful glass hearts you see on the left there, to give to anyone who impacts our lives in some way. The recipient of each heart can then go to the web site (inscribed on each heart along with an individual number) and tell the story of where the heart is and how it came to be in his or her possession. The idea is that over time it will be possible to trace the paths of all of these hearts all over the globe ("following your heart"), illustrating the idea that we are all connected through love. You can already visit Sahara's site and see the progress of the hearts that are out there in the world - it's very cool! With Valentine's Day approaching, I felt it was the perfect time to share this with you.

I have one of these hearts in my possession, thanks to Sahara. I know that I will pass it on at some point, maybe soon, but am waiting for the moment of inspiration.

And the day when I am willing to see it go.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cats and Dogs and Allergens: Oh, My!

So that Suzuki violin class? The one we won in the auction and went to visit tonight to see what we thought of it? Where Baxter excitedly got measured for his quarter-sized violin?

The one that both kids wanted to participate in, with even Lyle whining for a violin (which he could have soon, if we so choose)? Close to our neighborhood? With the really fantastic teacher?

Yeah, that one.

Well, it's in the teacher's house. A perfectly lovely house, I should note, but one that has cat and dog hair swirling into the air and taking off from the floor every time a child so much as places his violin down on the floor to play the "who can pick up their bow properly the fastest" game. With the actual multiple felines and canines racing through the house at the end of class.

There is no way I can spend all that time in that house every week, this much became clear by the completion of the hour.

Damn these allergies.

Damn them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Prom Date Challenge

In 1988, I went to the Junior Prom with this young man. We were friends and I invited him. He learned to drive his dad's old stick shift BMW to drive us there, which was charming.

I was in a Victorian phase - pictures from Victoria magazine were taped all over my bedroom walls - and chose this classic black cotton Laura Ashley frock. My date was too painfully shy to ask me to dance. My official stance was: if I ask you to the prom, you have to ask me to dance. My pride was too great to do both, and I have to say, I stand by that. So I danced with some other guys, but never once my date, despite the fact that I knew he liked me.

This date went on to Cornell and is now a rocket scientist. Seriously. As in developing things that NASA sends into space. He's still a sweet guy and thankfully not quite as shy. He has a lovely wife, and I'll bet money he has danced with her at least once.

The next year I attended Senior Prom. Since the only photos I have of both of us show this dress with a lacy shawl around it and you simply can't get the full effect of its 1980's va-voom, I have been kind enough to provide you with two. (Brave, huh?)

I just have to compare these photos with the one above and wonder what kind of teenage transformation occurred in one short year for me to go from black Laura Ashley to lavender Jessica McClintock lace-and-shimmer, and to have permed my hair. I wish I knew.

My date to this prom was also a very good friend of mine who surprised me greatly by asking me. So surprised was I when he asked me that I believe I said, "Shut up!" and walked away, assuming it was in jest. He was fun to go with, but he hooked up with another girl at the after-prom beach party. 0 for 2 on the prom dates!

This date went on to Yale and then Penn, and is now an ER doctor in rural North Carolina. He has a wonderful wife and three adorable little boys.

Thanks to The Snarky Squab for this Prom Date Challenge! C'mon, ladies, who's next?! I DARE YOU! Link to your photos in the comments section! (Or just laugh at me. Either way, really.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

In my head, I have been excitedly preparing the first post in a new series for today. "Materialistic Monday" will bring my fair readers some of my very favorite stuff, new and old, each and every Monday. I'm going to start out by sharing my super-amazing new eye concealer, because what it does for me - for which I shall kiss it every morning - is to conceal those tired circles under my eyes quite perfectly! I mean, really, who doesn't want to read about that??

But then it hit me: today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I simply cannot write about eye concealer, for God's sake, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Bad enough that I am doing the opposite of commemorating it by going to work - I cannot make things worse by using this space to talk about cosmetics. You'll have to wait another week for that.

So here's what I want to say to you all, kind and thoughtful Wonderwheel readers near and far:

On this day, I am going to think about how I am using my time in this world.

It is imperative that I see the people around me, and do what I can to make the world safer and more comfortable for everyone, not just my little family, starting within my own community and moving beyond it.

I need to continue to serve the families I work with to the fullest. I need to continue to reach out to those less fortunate than me, and hug the panhandlers in the grocery store parking lot, even when I don't know if their problems are as they describe. And I need to do more. A lot more.

I refuse to lead a small life. I want my life to be big, and full, and exciting. I will continue to seek out new experiences and learn new things, and then I will share all of that with whomever will listen. And a few who won't. In light of that, I am going to share a quote that I've kept posted over my desk for years. It's Nelson Mandela's inaugural speech from 1994:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.

We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not in just some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, let your own light shine today and every day.

And may we all be liberated from our fears.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

They'll Have to Carry Me Down the Aisle in a Coffin

Baxter, Lyle and I were in the boys' room one recent morning, getting them dressed for school.

I can't remember how the topic came around to marriage, but I jokingly asked Lyle who he thinks he might marry someday. He didn't know how to answer this ridiculous question so instead focused on the fact that it would mean he could "be a fiance", an idea with which he is hilariously obsessed.

I asked Baxter if he remembered who he wanted to marry at age 3. He remembered, if only because we love the story so much. "You?" he asked, laughing. "Yes, me! And you used to cry all the time about the fact that I was already married!" He cracked up at this. (It really was funny: oh, the dramatic sobs at the dinner table!)

Lyle laughed, too. "I can't marry Mommy!" he joked.

"No, you can't, Lyle!" squealed Baxter. "And neither could I!"

"And anyway," he continued sagely, turning towards me, "what I didn't even know then is that you'll already be DEAD when I'm getting married!"

God, how I used to love that kid.

A Musical Interlude

We seem to have entered a musical period around here. It started fairly innocently, when Matt and I decided, on a lark, to bid on a set of two introductory violin lessons during the nursery school's online fund-raising auction.

I played violin and viola for a number of years, as I alluded to once before. I enjoyed playing, and although I wasn't particularly stellar at it, I was decent enough to be part of a youth orchestra and a string quartet - which I especially loved, much in the way that I later preferred singing in a choir to performing solo. (Everyone needs a viola player and an alto!) In fact, now that I've been focused on such things in recent weeks, I have been surprised to realize how much music was a part of my life growing up, in a way it surely is not anymore. I eventually left string instruments behind in favor of choirs and theater productions, which were the highlights of my extra-curricular life for many years.

Perhaps if I'd started learning the violin at a younger age I would have been better at it and stuck with it longer. Probably not. But, I have talked a lot to Baxter over the years about starting an instrument. He's always been interested, but I haven't felt he could sit still long enough until pretty recently. When I saw this auction item, I thought it might be a good way to give it a try. The instructor is in the neighborhood and sounds great. He teaches the Suzuki method, which is how I learned and what I would prefer for my kids.

Now that we are the lucky winners of those Suzuki violin classes I am starting to realize what we're getting into. This isn't really just two "try it out" lessons - there are the weekly individual lessons, yes, but also every-other-week group lessons. There's the measurement and ordering of the correct rental violin, and perhaps the ordering of a rental for me as well, since it's ideal for a student to have an adult to imitate (do I still have any skills left to imitate?!). I have discovered that Shar Music, the company whose catalog I pored over in the '80s, picking out new strings and a comfortable shoulder rest, now has a website from which I can order my son's copy of Suzuki violin book 1 and the accompanying CD. It's all rushing back to me.

When I mentioned to the instructor that I sort of wanted to make sure that Baxter liked it before jumping in, I got a very kind and sensible email response about the fact that the responsibility to start and keep playing an instrument at this age has a lot to do with parental motivation and coaching kids through the hard moments. He explained that he would coach me along the way about how to teach Baxter in small, doable steps while keeping it really fun for him.

So, although this is going to cause some - er - interesting scheduling issues for us in addition to daily practice, we're going to jump in and see what happens. We are committed to working on it through June. (Of course, if it doesn't seem like a good fit after our two "free" (i.e., paid for) sessions I have no qualms about saying "sayonara", but if Baxter's interest wanes come mid-March we'll see it through.)

Oh, and thanks to a positive reference to the Music Together program on the Suzuki instructor's website and my recent fond recollection of what a wonderful program it was when I was writing this post, I signed Lyle up for Saturday morning Music Together classes as well. He's not doing any other classes right now and I wanted him to have something special just for him, especially with his big brother starting all these music classes. This seemed like a great choice and he's loving it (and so am I!).

All of a sudden, it appears that - at least for the next 6 months - my life is going to revolve around music learning all over again. I'm enjoying it immensely.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Teacher Had a Big Ole 'But'

Things have been altogether too quiet on The Teacher front. Oh, you remember her, don't you, from previous scenes such as "Totally Freaking Me Out", "Totally Pissing Me Off", and - a favorite of Wonderwheel readers everywhere - "Totally Forgetting Baxter's Birthday Party"?

Yes, that one.

Well, I've got another good one for you today. Buckle your seat belts...

It's pick-up time. The Teacher asks, "Which way are you guys walking?"

Confused, I point to the east where my car is parked.

"Okay, you boys run ahead," she says to Baxter and his friend, Carpool Buddy, essentially sending them unsupervised into a big crowd that is heading towards a busy parking lot exit.

Then she begins very seriously with, "Most of the other kids..." No, she decides this is not how to start, so we pretend she didn't say that. She starts again. "Baxter is a VERY sweet and good student... " and at this point she grabs my arm - "now, don't think there's going to be a 'but' here, because there isn't! There's no 'but' in this sentence! I promise!"

Now I'm really confused. I was quite positive that I heard a 'but' coming and was very, very interested to hear what it would be this time. Because if there's no 'but', what could possibly come next? "...and so I've nominated him for a very special award that only goes to the sweet and smart kids and I didn't want him to know about it"? That was all I could come up with in the split second before she opened that truly amazing mouth of hers again.

So she goes on. And you won't even believe what she said.

"He is a very sweet and good student...BUT..."

And then she says lightly, as if surprised, "Oh, well, I guess there was a 'but' in that sentence, after all!"

Oh. my. God.

What. a. nut.

(And, I'd just like to add for your continued amazement that the big ole "but" was because today when she asked him not to read during writing time - he was finished with his writing work - he cried, and she didn't know why. And apparently he did this once before, but it was a long time ago. And so she wanted us to work "as a team" to get to the bottom of this. Which was not difficult because he immediately 'fessed up to me that he was really embarrassed that he was called out for doing something he shouldn't be doing and didn't realize it wasn't okay. Personally, I'd reserve that kind of admonishment for, I don't know, breaking classroom crayons when bored, rather than reading a book at one's literacy magnet school. Maybe that's just me.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Panhandlers and Parking Lots

"Hey, why didn't you guys give that man money just now?" came the accusing voice from the back seat. "He needed money for food!"

My immediate internal reaction was to recoil in shock: What man? Was there a man panhandling who did not even register with me? Did I just look right through someone? This horrified me until I looked behind us as we drove on and realized that the man Baxter saw was alongside Matt's window and I had been looking through mine. Phew.

Nonetheless, this was difficult to explain to a 7-year old. We tried to talk about how - rather than handing out money to all of the individuals we pass - we give money to social service organizations that provide food, shelter, and other assistance to people in that man's position, and also reminded Baxter of the food drives, the mitten trees, and the social justice activities that we participate in through church.

"So...why didn't you give that man that advice? Why didn't you stop and tell him to go to one of those places?" he demanded further.

This was more difficult to answer.


She was standing in the dark parking lot when I left the grocery store last night. I didn't see her until she stepped forward, moving towards me and talking softly but urgently to me.

"Please, miss, can you help me?" her eyes were filled with tears. She was embarrassed. "Don't be afraid of me. Now, my name is Cindy, so if anything happens you know my name. I'm not going to do anything wrong or hurt you. I am a single mother of two children and I need some food for my girls. Last time I tried to steal some in there and they caught me. This time I want to do right. I don't want to steal food, but we need something to eat." She repeated her name to me as if handing me the proof of her legitimacy. And maybe she was.

I looked at her. It was unclear whether she had just moments before been kicked out for shoplifting or if this had happened another night. Or ever. "If you go in there tonight, will they let you buy food?" She nodded. I considered the situation. "Okay."

Extremely protective of my belongings, I carefully extracted the cash I had just gotten at the grocery store and handed it to her without ever removing my wallet or any other contents of my hand bag. She asked if she could give me a hug, and I said "Yes", knowing full well that this would be the moment the bag could be wrenched from my grasp for good and the gig would be up. But it wasn't. We hugged tightly and I watched her walk into the grocery store, wondering what she would buy with the money I'd just given her.

Would it truly be food for herself and two children? Would my cash be turned into something else, some substance that might drown her sorrows for another night? Or perhaps she walked into the store and exited out another door with another set of plans in mind altogether.

I'm not ignorant in my compassion. I do spend a lot of my time and we give as much as we can afford to others, but I try to be careful about how I do it. I know I could have accompanied this crying woman into the store and made sure she bought food with the money, but I trusted her somehow and, frankly, that idea felt like adding insult to injury.

This act tonight was not cautious. It was a reckless act. I may well have been conned. But I rely on my intuition and something told me that Cindy - or whomever she was - deserved whatever I could do for her. I wished I could've done more in that moment, but a small act of compassion and a big hug were the best I had to offer.

I did it for her, for whatever was going so wrong in her life, and I did it for her kids - real or fictitious.

And I did it for mine.

Channeling my Inner Oprah

I am not a lemming. I am not a lemming.

I repeated this mantra to myself as I burned a few hundred calories on the eliptical machine, watching Oprah this morning.

I don't watch TV unless I'm at the gym. Ever. Honestly. It doesn't occur to me to turn it on, perhaps because I have such limited down time and much prefer to read novels or surf the world over to read all of your blogs. So when I discovered this morning that going to the gym during Lyle's nursery school hours meant that Oprah was on instead of the local morning news shows - with their dreadful closed captioning and non-stop stories about murder - I was secretly thrilled. I mean, pop culture - in my very own world!

I don't actually mind Oprah as a person - it's just the Americanized branding of Oprah that bothers me. It's the way her picture is on her own magazine every month (don't even get Matt started on that one), the fact that millions of women run out to buy the books she recommends, and everything she looks at for more than 10 seconds turns to gold. Can we not think for ourselves, sisters? It's also extraordinarily irritating to me to see all the middle-aged women in her audience shrieking with laughter when she says something really unworthy of that much hoopla. So even though I actually do respect what she's done in a lot of ways and also respect her opinions, I don't seek out that show. And yet finding it on at the gym was a guilty pleasure, I guess because it seems so normal, a word that doesn't often apply to my life.

But here's the scary part: I think I've hit The Demographic. I mean, it was clear to me that Oprah is targeted at me now. No, I didn't shriek with laughter when she said something mildly witty to a guest, but I found that all of the business people she had on her show today were associated with businesses I love, such as Williams-Sonoma and The Container Store (I think my heart rate immediately went up an extra 10 bpm when they started showing those cute boxes). And some guy from 3M invented some pretty awesome highlighters with built-in post-it flags (definitely his 2 minutes of fame!) that Oprah just looooves - and you know what? So would I. (You know me and office supplies, though.)

So now I know: I am not a lemming. I am a middle-aged woman. Oprah is all about me.

Monday, January 14, 2008

All Mondays are Not Created Equal

It was a rough Monday morning at Chez Wonderwheel.

There were two additional stressors that I may have neglected to mention in Friday night's post:

1) Matt has to work in NYC Monday through Thursday this week, leaving today before any of us were awake; and

2) Everyone and his mother's brother's uncle has decided they NEED to have a team meeting about their child immediately. Which I need to attend, and which occur in the evenings, whether my husband is out of town or not. I have limited myself to one of these a week to save my sanity, but unfortunately most weeks I have other commitments in the evenings over the next 4-6 weeks. There is one week coming up this month when I have to be out of the house in the evening four nights in a row. Y.U.C.K.

And so that brings us to this morning.

Lyle is old enough - and wise enough - now to become upset when I say that Daddy's in New York and Mommy will be working late, past bedtime, and will give him a kiss when I get home - beloved or not, 13 hours is a long time to be with the babysitter. (It's true: just ask our checking account!)

There is no worse way to leave the house on a Monday morning than with the echoes of your 3-year old's wails resounding in your head.

Especially when you know that he has every right to be upset.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Life After Vacation

It's a common question after a long break: "How's everyone adjusting to getting back into the routine?" For some of my family members, this has been easy to answer.

"Lyle was beyond thrilled to see his babysitter again, and he was happy to get back to nursery school, too."

"Baxter seemed to jump right back in and was glad to see his friends."

"Matt was counting the minutes until he could go back to work and put an end to the non-stop activity and socializing. I've never seen someone so happy to go back to work!"

But I've been avoiding answering this question for myself this week. That's mostly because I don't want to scream loudly at the friendly people who are making small talk with me.

I loved seeing all the kids I work with, and my colleagues. I enjoyed talking to the families about how the break went for their kids and hearing both the successes and the horror stories. All of that was great and very satisfying. I missed those parts of my work when I was away.

But it's the pace. The pace, and the amount of work I need to do daily to stay afloat. And the fatigue, especially on the days I've been to the gym before work. Those things, and running in so many directions every day. By last night I was sitting at my desk in the darkening clinic, unable to get myself motivated to pack up, clean up the toys in the clinic, and drive home to spend the evening with my sweet but loud and boisterous boys, only to work at my desk after they go to bed and then go back and work all day again today.

In the end, I didn't go back in today, because I'm not feeling well this morning. I don't know if I'm coming down with something or if this is just complete and utter exhaustion, but I am out of energy and feeling lousy.

Here's what I was contemplating on my drive home last night: would it be better to a) take the night off and read a great book lying on the couch by the fireplace? or b) get the work done that needs doing today so that it doesn't keep piling up on me, causing total overwhelm in another day or two? As enticing as choice (a) was, I chose (b); I am too wary of the overwhelm because it leads to such major procrastination and more stress in the end. But then, when do I get a break? I'm not looking for a long break, just an evening to myself. On Saturday, when I'm not feeling well and stuck here in bed? That's not quite it, either.

So what do you do? Do you just put it all aside so that you get some rest, even knowing that it'll make tomorrow worse for you? Or do you keep on truckin', opting for the steady sound of check-marks on your to do list?

Please, I'll take any and all insights.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The More People He Meets

My son Baxter has a rather unique personality. He is what his father and I think of as uber-social, and has been since birth. Baxter was the 18-month old who walked into day care with a big grin and greeted each other toddler by name and with a hug (which usually knocked them to the floor, one by one - there were those sensory issues coming into play!). He was the preschooler who didn't just start playing in the sandbox at the park, he first went from unfamiliar child to unfamiliar child, greeting them with a big smile and a hello. My friends used to refer to him as "Mayor of the Playground".

Recently, Matt and I had an odd realization: it occurred to us that we couldn't think of a single person Baxter had ever disliked. No complaint about another child at school, no adult who wasn't his cup of tea. In his book, it seemed, everyone was fantastic. In fact, to this day if you ask him how his day was, he invariably answers, "GREAT!" each time with completely earnest enthusiasm. My father told me last year that he loved this quality in Baxter so much he had started responding that way himself at work just to see how other people reacted. My mother said recently that Baxter's attitude towards life is "refreshing". I agree.

While I was making Christmas cookies with Baxter a few weeks ago, we had a lovely conversation, as we often do when we're together. I brought up this question of whether he'd ever met someone he didn't like. He thought about it, and agreed that we were right - he had not. "In fact," he said, "the more people I meet, the more people I like!" This was followed by, "Hey, that should be my motto!" Delighted, I agreed. He was given the t-shirt shown in the photo above by my highly amused cousin in San Francisco, complete with his new motto printed on the front.

Last week we visited a childhood friend of mine who lives in Santa Cruz. Soon after we adults had settled ourselves at the beach side cafe with our coffee cups and gigantic muffins, Baxter headed into the sand with a Frisbee. About five minutes later, my friend asked, "So, what's Baxter like?" I pointed over beyond the volleyball nets - "Well, did you read his t-shirt?" He said that he had, grinning. "And do you see him over there?" My friend turned and realized that Baxter had singlehandedly organized an impromptu game of Frisbee on the beach with a mixed group of kids and adults, within five minutes. He was happily taking pointers from someone's dad about his throw. A while later the game switched to football and he was tackling unfamiliar children in the sand, children he would've knocked over 6 years ago had they been in day care together.

Thus it came as some surprise tonight at dinner when we were looking at Lyle's map place mat and I idly asked, "Where do you boys think you'll live someday?" (secretly hoping the answer would be "next door"). Baxter's voice shook a bit with emotion as he replied, "Anywhere, as long as Adam P. doesn't live there!"


It all spilled out. Adam P. (one must use last name initials at all times in second grade!) has been calling him names (primarily "Dexter", which is just kind of lame, if you ask me) and generally being a little stinkpot to Baxter. Bax sat on my lap, curled up with long thin limbs that were unsure of where they fit anymore, and told us all about it. I think we handled it well enough, talking a lot about how he felt, why Adam P. might be doing that, and what Baxter does about it. A discussion about the power of ignoring ensued, and after a while he brightened up and it was clear that this load he'd been carrying had been lifted from his sturdy 7-year old shoulders. He even laughed when Lyle then climbed on my lap, saying, "And Mommy? The boys at preschool are saying rude things to me, too!" and then made up all kinds of crazy things that have definitely never happened. All for a little cuddle and attention. So we had a big family love-in on the couch for a while and then went on with our evening.

It had to happen sometime, didn't it? I mean, someone had to get his attention with nasty behavior enough times to bring him to the point of dislike. It sounded like it had been going on for months, so I think he's been quite tolerant about it for a while now.

In the end, I know that even the Mayor of the Playground is going to have a few enemies. But I have a feeling that's not going to slow him down for long. I'm pretty sure of it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

What Goes Around

This morning I clicked over to read Susan Etlinger's latest post on The Family Room blog. Among her other treasures of the day were a couple of new blog recommendations for her readers. Both are excellent. One of these, in fact, was a blog I just discovered myself this week, that of my friend Emily in Texas. Aptly titled A Life Less Ordinary, Emily writes about life with her three fantastic little boys, who are perfectly extraordinary.

Finding Emily's blog was a gift this week. We were friends back in San Francisco, brought together by Baxter and her oldest son, TH, who were absolutely the best of friends in preschool. Our families began to meet up for playdates, and Emily and I always seemed to manage dinners out on each other's wedding anniversaries (without our spouses). I'm still not sure how it worked out that way, but it did. That is, until they moved to Texas and we left for Chicago in the summer of '06. With work and distance and all these boys, Emily and I have only stayed in touch sporadically, so you can imagine my joy when I was able to sit down, read her posts and look at her photos - and TH's incredible artwork!! - on her blog all at once.

Thus, I was thrilled to see that Susan had linked to Emily today. Coincidentally enough, Emily had just posted to her own readers that they should come on over and check out The Wonderwheel, writing awfully sweet and humbling things about this blog and my work. (Aww, shucks.)

I can't let this circle of blog love stop here. All day I was thinking, "I need to bring this full circle and link back to Susan now!" But here's the thing. All I could think of was how many of you are out there, blogging about your very special kids. Yes, I know, all kids are special (yadda, yadda, yadda), and I enjoy reading some blogs that are written by parents of typically-developing kids too, but those of you who are writing so beautifully about the winding path you walk with your extraordinary kids, you all deserve a really huge thank you from me.

So here we go:

You and you and also you and you..and you and of course you, you, and you - and also you, you, and you...and all the rest of you out there whom I haven't yet read or haven't visited recently enough because eventually a girl's gotta sleep...

Thank you for letting me in and not making me feel like an impostor for reading and commenting on your blogs. Thank you for reading and being a part of my life through my own blog. Thank you for helping me to bridge - just a little bit - the wide gap between parents with typically-developing kids and those who are on their own unique path through life. Thank you for your insights into parenting, which not only allow me to be a better parent myself but have dramatically changed the way I work with families.

Thank you, Susan, and thank you, Emily.

Thank you.

All of you.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

True Confessions of a Late-Night Reader

I'm having, you know, just a wee bit of difficulty keeping to my New Year's resolution to get more sleep. You can call it lack of will-power - or, perhaps, ambivalence - but I am blaming it on the really, really good books I've been reading lately.

You see, for Christmas I received Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs - I mean, seriously, folks, this book is uniquely compelling. "Will this kid actually survive his own childhood? Is it possible for so many people, all these families, to be this dysfunctional? Turn the page to find out, because it is about to get worse!" I loved reading about this family from the perspective of the other sibling - his older brother is John Elder Robison who wrote the wonderful Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's which I reviewed here last fall. Very talented brothers, those two. I'm not sure if Running with Scissors ended up more heavily weighted on the hilarious side or the heartbreaking side (probably the latter), but it was well-written and kept me reading long past my new-and-improved bedtime, whatever that's supposed to be. (Hmm, maybe that's my problem!) The day I finished this book I stopped at Black Oak Books in San Francisco and picked up another of his books.

But then, the next one I read (also a Christmas gift) was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Holy moly, have you read this book? If not, go out and pick up a copy - you won't be sorry. Amazing story, beautiful writing. What a tale. I learned more about Afghanistan from that book (and A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I read recently by the same author - also an excellent read) than from any other source. I am now extremely frightened by photos of the Taliban, which is an appropriate response, let me tell you. When I got to the last quarter of The Kite Runner, I couldn't put it down. I ended up reading it well past 1:00 AM on Saturday morning to finish it. I cannot remember the last time that I read the conclusion of a book sitting up in my bed in the middle of the night, hand half over my exhausted eyes out of fear for the protagonist. This, like Running with Scissors in its own completely different way, was a story of survival and redemption.

Page-turners, I tell you. They'll keep you up past your bedtime. And that's a very, very good thing.


And now it's time for an Internet vote! Which of these books on my nightstand shall be next? Submit your vote now (quick!)

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert


Where I Lived, and What I Lived For by Henry David Thoreau

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Question of Semantics

Lyle's a pretty creative little guy. As many of you know, he has been obsessed with the movie Cars for, oh, about 6 or 7 years months now. Not as long as Baxter's dinosaur phase, but a sizable chunk of time nonetheless.

And so by now, he has gotten to the point where he talks about the movie but inserts random tidbits about his daily life into the scenes, just to mix things up a little. So you might hear him walking down the hallway and saying something like, "Remember, Baxter, when Tow Mater said to Lightning McQueen, 'You better brush your teeth now" and Lightning McQueen had a biiiig fit and said, 'No, I can't! My nose is running!!!'?"

This drives Baxter completely batty.

Because, well, THAT WAS NOT IN THE MOVIE! And when you are a 7-year old who is into THE FACTS, nothing's worse than the idea that this race car said his nose was running. I mean, really, where to begin? With his lack of a nose, or the fact that this scene did not actually take place?

He goes cuckoo.

A few nights ago at my parents' dinner table, Lyle got rolling. Personally, I am delighted by the randomness of these moments and I egg the boy on. So he was going on about how Doc said, "Don't eat Nana and Papa's Christmas tree, Fillmore...!" and I was, of course, encouraging this, when Baxter sighed, took a noisy breath, and leaned across me so that he could see the perpetrator's face from around the candles.

"Wait, Bax," I cautioned, holding him back. "Are you about to correct him on this? Because I want you to allow him to have an imagination, please."

Baxter considered this question for a long moment and then looked at me seriously.

"I'm not going to correct him, Mommy. I'm just going to teach him."

Ah. Of course.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Other Shoe

We so clearly remember how we felt when Baxter was three, Matt and I. So many things – parenting things – became hugely easier for us around that time. It’s true, I’ve written here before about the sea change in emotional energy in parenting a three- or four-year old. However, to us, having a three-year old meant a greater sense of equilibrium in other ways: Baxter was sleeping well (and therefore we were better rested), he was in preschool part of the time (oh happy days!), was potty-trained, and he had real friendships that we enjoyed watching blossom. We discovered that he was a cinch to travel with, and far more flexible than we’d previously known him to be. I think that we remember these things so clearly because they were our arguments at the time against having another child.

A friend once told me, “It’s much easier to have another child before you’re out of the fog. You might as well stay in the fog until you’re done having kids, because going back into the fog once you’ve been out of it is very hard.” She was right.

I have never envied the early years for parents with kids closer together than ours, but I always saw how much easier things got for them around the time the younger child was 18-24 months old and the siblings played together much of the time. Those parents often seem to be in the fog for a few solid years and then emerge victorious, cheerful, and relieved to be sleeping again, feeling human. Oh, and typically with kids who entertain each other for long stretches of time!

As you know, in the end we did finally make the conscious but difficult decision to step back into the fog, and once Lyle was born we never regretted it. It may be overly obvious, but we can’t imagine our family without him.

On this vacation – which I am now ready to call a vacation because that’s what it has actually felt like – we are suddenly aware once again of being out of the fog. Lo and behold, we have a three-year old who is a cinch to travel with, is potty-trained, and is more flexible. He’ll sleep squished next to his brother on the floor in sleeping bags one night and then in a queen sized bed with him the next. He can miss his nap when visiting friends and not melt down. The contrast between this trip and the same one at this time last year – which midway through we realized had to be renamed immediately as a trip (a time to see loved ones) rather than a vacation – is stunning.

For days, I have silently waited for the other shoe to drop. The night I had a very sore throat last week I was sure I was getting Matt’s strep infection of two weeks ago. When my stomach was off, I had to be getting Baxter’s stomach bug. But no. Granted, Baxter did get sick the day before we were to leave and we had to put our trip off by a day. But, really, in the scheme of things (read: last year), that was small potatoes. Since we’ve been here, we have all stayed healthy, well-enough-rested, and cheerful. The boys’ flexibility has astounded me. We’ve been able to squeeze in every little visit with friends and family that we’d hoped for, because not only were we doing fine, so was everyone else. (I guess everyone’s kids are growing up!) Matt and I have been able to stay in San Francisco for two extra nights while the boys are partying with my parents down in Pacific Grove. We are relaxed and rested, and have had ample time with friends and each other. Oh, and to lie on the couch under warm blankets and read new books!

There are moments when I’m nostalgic for the days when we had a baby or toddler around the house, but the older the boys get, the fewer and farther between those nostalgic moments become.

If this is the beginning of the next stage, bring it on!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Let's Sleep Away the New Year!

Do you want to know one of the best things about this vacation?

(I thought so.)

I have been reintroduced to the concept of sleep. Actual sleep! Okay, so my eyes still pop open at 6 am every day with or without the kids, but the difference is, I have been going to bed at a decent hour! Like 10 pm! None of this late-to-bed and then up-at-the-crack-of-dawn crap.

It being the time of year for such things, you might think you feel a resolution coming on.

But instead of making a formal declaration, I think I'll just head off to bed.