Saturday, October 24, 2009


My oldest son has just begun driving, and when I tell people this, I think this image forms:

For some reason, I am really relaxed about this, and I am not a relaxed mom. I still carry BandAids and Neosporin, and have since my oldest began crawling. I don't let them "chillax" at a house if I don't know the parents - and sometimes they can't go because I DO know the parenats. I still count their vegetable, fruit and calcium servings. But about driving, I am relaxed. Of course, that's probably because Christopher is a reasonable kid. (Come back when Philip starts and people will be sending me Xanax...)

His DAD grabbed the emergency brake the other day. His father is a wreck about this (pardon the pun). That's probably because his father has no history of driving with Christopher.

I remember when he was about five, we went out to the playground after he finally shook a bad cold. On the way home, he asked to sit in my lap and "drive" - we did this pretty often. Because he had been so sick, when he asked to drive in the seat by himself, I hesitated, but let him - only up our long, flat driveway. He was ecstatic. He was doing a great job. Only I had forgotten to teach him a really, really important aspect of driving. When you sit on mom's lap and steer, you don't get too much about the pedals below. So as he drove up and got close to the garage door, I said, "Brake, Christopher. It's time to brake."

He looked at me with his pre-kindergarten face. "What's that?"

I reached over and pulled the emergency brake literally one second before we would have crashed into the garage door.

I think that was the dumbest move I've made with kids in my life. Or at least with Christopher.

I think I'm relaxed about it because I learned to drive in New York City where stop signs are pauses and speed limits are viewed more as recommendations, not laws. Plus, he's the kind of kid who when I call him while I'm driving reminds me, "Mom, it's illegal to drive and talk on a cell phone."

It's such a strange rite of passage to see your kid driving past the house. And like a lot of milestones they pass, it's a rite of passage for the parents,too.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Balloon Boy and Other Parenting Nightmares

The other day, Philip asked me (you already knew it would be Philip, right?) how I could push his buttons so easily. I told him he had to stop watching so much Dr. Phil. He only watches him because he thinks he looks like a human walrus, but still, the terminology wears off.

"Seriously, Mom, how?"

"I can push those buttons because as your Mom, I pretty much installed them."

I do believe that. I also think there is a really serious line between what parents can do to their kids and what they can't. This bothers me a real lot:

I listened to a radio interview with the balloon boy's dad. I tried to be open to the possibility that storm chasing dads are as competent and loving as employed dads who, say, mow the lawn instead of charting the courses of cyclones with their kids in tow. When the comment came about the boy saying he had to hide in garage attic rafters "for the show" the dad took out his harmonica and began tooting it. That's when I knew. I found out later that the whole family had appeared not once, but twice on Wife Swap. That's when I was certain.

I think it's great that the boy's innocence, the compelling element that the family tried to play off of, pretty much trumped in the end and revealed the gritty truth. I also can't imagine growing up in a family that has such visibly crazy parents - at least here we keep our craziness out of the national news.

But I also wonder how they get their kids to cooperate with that kind of thing. I remember trying to take pictures of my kids at their birthday parties and they would slide under the table to avoid it. When I would ask them to please, please not tell the teacher that I had actually gone to the bakery and bought the other dozen cupcakes to mix with the homemade ones, the teacher would greet me at the party and ask which ones had I made since the homemade ones were always so much better. They could never really be controlled to that level. In fact, control is the biggest issue in our house.

Emma has a teacher who makes them walk to lunch in a really straight line. (All I could think of when she described this was the children's book, Madeline, and that chant about walking "in two staight lines"). The other day, while the teacher was heading up the line, Emma began a silent version of the Michael Jackson "Thriller" dance and most of the class followed her moves. (I blame her father for those genes) They did this all the way to the cafeteria. She told me she's "kind of famous" in her school now.

I can't imagine asking her to crawl up into attic rafters even for five minutes let alone hours.

Kids that age are pretty innocent. Emma and Philip used to do things like this:

That family damaged that little boy, and I really hope someone other than me notices and steps in to check on the welfare and stability of those parents. It's too bad they can't find more positive ways to bring attention to themselves.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Organizing, The Sequel

I am in a stage of organizing to organize which means I have to get rid of the first layers in the house to see what we actually have. Emma has big plans for a yard sale - which I secretly dread since I would have to talk to my neighbors. I'm not actually sure I want to move beyond the wave stage.

I know how awful that sounds, but remember where I live, and know that these guys would fit right in at the decoy show:

Yup, we had a duck decoy show last week, sort of like a festival celebrating wooden duck decoys. The folks there made the Walmart people look glamourous.

We do have some normal neighbors. One family is really organized. They put their garbage out at 5:45 on Tuesday afternoons. We're more like, "Wait, is today Wednesday? Quick, I hear the garbage trucks. Hurry up!" Everything in their yard looks pretty much like this:

They have two little girls who play together in the yard, doing things like hanging birdfeeders and planting butterfly gardens. I was outside, trying to untangle the herb garden I started that seemed like such a great idea in May. Now I have this wild scraggle that grew like oregano on meth. I tried untangling it, but it gets really scratchy and my hands were getting all cut up.

The little girls were on their swing outside. From my house, all you could hear was Lady Gaga chanting "Poker Face" and the sounds of Philip showing his girlfriend his latest discovery: he learned in science that methane ignites. He then realized that he is a very reliable source of methane and there is a candle lighter in the kitchen drawer. His girlfriend squealed with delight as he demonstrated (yes, this is early teen romance - not exactly like Edward and Bella). Except there was, as there always is with fire, a backdraft problem and his jeans now have scorch marks on the rear.

I watched the lovely little girls help their mom put pumpkins on the stoop. We tried to grow pumpkins, but the boys and their friends quickly realized that pumpkins are amazing targets for BB guns. The splat factor is very big in the boy world.

I'm wondering if organizing is a personality type rather than a matter of habitual neatness. Maybe there are certain families who have to have everything in order or they feel kind of crazy. And maybe some families are the opposite. When I cleared off the kitchen counter, Christopher looked at it and commented, "Why does that look so weird?"

Friday, October 2, 2009


At 5:52 this morning, Philip leaned over my bed and said, "Hey, Mom, did you know that if you give a cat a mint, it sneezes for like twenty minutes?"

I sat up immediately. "And how did you find this out, Philip?"

I listened to a story involving Sarah, one of the already crazy cats, a perfectly timed cat yawn, interest in the texture of a cat tongue and a mint Tic Tac. You can fill in the rest. (She's fine by the way, and is safely sleeping right now on a basket of papers on my desk)

Papers on my desk lead me to announce my latest plan: I am going to get organized. It occurred to me that when I went through some of my writing titles that I don't really have records of sending my stuff out. I get emails from aspiring writers who can tell me, "I sent this to 17 publishers, 4 agents..." and go on to tell me dates and times and responses.

My system is more like, "Wait. Where did I put chapter two?" or "Ok, let me send John the editor an email to make sure he got this rewrite. Did I finish that rewrite?"

It's so aggravating when editors don't publish my stuff just because I haven't sent it yet. You would think they could anticipate more.

It's not that I haven't tried organizing. It's actually that I have tried organizing one too many times I write things in different notebooks or I save them under different file names and then misplace the notebooks and forget the file names.

I teach people how to organize their writing. I start by explaining there are only two types of organizers: internally organized people and externally organized people. Internally organized people can write, do taxes, compose a libretto with a messy desk, cats, and piles of laundry all around them. (That's me) Externally organized folks need spare, neat space, the rug vacuumed (preferably with all the swirls going in the same direction) and the dishes done before they can put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Part of the problem is that I write in short breaks between work, house and kids. I am going to try to organize my time as well. I might even change the layout of this blog. I want to have one of those WIP bars with my daily word count. I have never even thought of doing such a thing, probably because I like to work on different novels and types of writing simultaneously.

I told the kids this morning. Emma looked at Christopher. "It's like all 'o' things today - organizing, October..."

Christopher added, "Odd.."

Then he went on to explain that Cami, our insanely mischievous kitten, had just swallowed a piece of string that had broken off Emma's YoYo string. He had tried to pull it from her mouth, but she growled and went under the sofa until she had eaten it.

I can't tell you how happy I am that I am internally organized.