Sunday, October 31, 2010

Failing Works Sometimes

In one of the textbooks we use for English composition class, an example of introductions points out that John Milton and Beethoven were both failures. Startling idea, right? How could they be failures when their work lives on centuries later? Well, they're failures because, although they achieved great things, they didn't meet their wildly outlandish goals.
I am setting out to be a failure tomorrow, and I want you to join me.
I have joined NaNoWriMo, again. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel from Nov. 1 through Nov. 30.
It's a crazy idea. The reasons not to join stack up like dirty laundry in the basement, yet I signed up anyway for the fifth year in a row.
Fall quarter is the busiest for me. Thanksgiving at the end of the month always drags me away from my computer. I know if I focus on writing that my exercising will dwindle away. I just finished a novel and haven't even fleshed out my ideas for the next one.
Nevertheless, on Monday morning, Nov. 1, I will begin work on my new un-named novel.
The first year I took part in NaNoWriMo, I succeeded in writing 50,000 words.
Every year since then, I have failed. But if I get to the end of the month and I wrote 30,000 words, that doesn't feel so awful. Maybe I've only written 20,000 or 10,000. At least I've started thinking about and writing a new novel.
How many people spend years planning the novel they will write and never type out the words? The novel lives only in their head.
Face it, when is a good time to try to write 50,000 words? We'll always put it off another day, another year, another decade. When the kids are older, when work slows down, when I'm thinner, when we're wealthier... Excuses are easy to find. Time isn't.
So I signed up.
You'll find me under PaulitaK.
Sign up and friend me.
Let's be failures together.
Go to It's free, but you can make a donation if you want to.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Tale of Two Books

It seems like so long since I read a book that I enjoyed, until I stumbled on Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

When I started this book, I couldn't tell in which time period it took place. An older man reminiscing about simpler times in England and the old Empire. He was born on the Indian subcontinent. It could have taken place in the late 1800s or the early 1900s between World Wars, but it is actually set in present day. The main character is devoted to tradition yet finds himself attracted to a Pakistani widow. In spite of his love of country and British customs, he moves forward ignoring the resistance from even those Brits younger than him, and the Pakistani family which oppose the relationship. The book is very sweet. It doesn't throw tradition to the wind but encourages people to look at customs and determine which are useful in today's world while weaving an intriguing story around likable characters. Earl wants to read it next.
The other book I stumbled on was Anna Quindlen's Every Last One. I filled my library bag with books on tape before my most recent trip to pick up Grace.
This was one of them. I knew nothing about the book. The blurb on the back was fairly innocuous. A woman, mother of three feels herself growing distant from her husband. Well, that sounded like life in suburbia. I'd read other books by Anna Quindlen and enjoyed them so I slid it into the bag.
When I began listening to it, I became enthralled with her characterizations. The daughter Ruby as a quirky senior in high school, the twin teenage boys. Of course, they reminded me of my own family. I told my friend Ruth that she should listen to the book because her family also has an oldest daughter, an independent thinker, with two younger sons. The book stretched from Ruby's prom junior year to New Years her senior year until (SPOILER ALERT), Ruby's ex-boyfriend kills her, her father, one of the twins and stabs the mother. That's right. Without any warning that this book included murder and mayhem, the entire family is killed except for the mother and one of the boys who is away on a ski trip.
The book included no indication that murder was on its way. I felt outraged that I had been lured into loving this family only to see them killed on New Year's Day. The title comes from a conversation the mother overheard as she drifted in and out of conciousness. The police officer who found them says, the whole family is dead: "Every last one."
I overcame my outrage at the surprise mass murder to listen to the remainder of the book because Quindlen is a good writer.
Would I have picked up this book if I knew about the murders? Probably not. I try to read books that don't make me feel too anxious. I use books for entertainment and escape.
Nevertheless, I'm glad I listened to this book because the characters snagged me. I guess if Quindlen were not such a good writer, I wouldn't have cared so much that they were strangled and stabbed on New Years Day.

Friday, October 29, 2010


The problem with starting a mystery is that eventually the answer must be revealed and this time, it isn't very exciting.
Remember when I tore my ACL by rollerblading? The story was improved by the fact that I was training for the marathon and had just finished my 17-mile training run when disaster struck! Duh, duh, duh, duh!(That's the exciting music)
Lately, my family has been beset by ho hum injuries. Grace sprained her ankle this fall but never knew for sure how she did it. Maybe overuse of flipflops as she sprinted across campus.
This time, the crutches and the aircast belong to:

The rather blase story is that he stepped off a curb onto uneven ground and rolled his ankle. He called me and said he thought he'd broken it.
When I arrived, two adult women were there applying ice. He was pale and sweaty. I suspected he wanted to avoid the swim meet the next day, but like the good mother I pretend to be, I didn't say that.
I didn't rush him to the emergency room because I have made that mistake before. He broke this ankle when he was seven. He has injured it a couple more times. I think the sweating and the paleness come partially from that memory of the broken one.
The urgent care at Children's Hospital took an xray and determined that it was a sprain. No weight on it for 7 to 10 days. No swimming.
More ice cream, please, for Tucker who is forced to loll on the couch for a week.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Boy to Man

My oldest son, my second child, turns 17.
I snapped a picture of him, still bleary-eyed, straight out of bed this morning, before I left for work.

I figure that someday when he's my age, he might want to look back at that picture and be amazed at the outline of each muscle.
He works out every day, playing basketball, lifting weights, running around the track. Then he comes home and drinks milk sprinkled with protein powder and two peanut butter sandwiches. He is trying to put on weight, to add more bulk to the figure that crouches under the basket ready to rebound.
Some people say they hate to see their boys changing into men. I'm amazed.
How could that chubby, curious boy in velcro tennis shoes turn into this muscled man?

And I wonder what he will become.
I wonder if he'll be obsessed with exercise like my older brother, continuing to work out and eat protein-rich foods.
I wonder if he'll be obsessed with sports, like my dad who plays golf five days a week and watches every other sport on TV.
I wonder if he'll find a career he loves that answers his philosophical questions and gives him the chance to explore things with his hands.
I wonder if he'll find a wife who appreciates how fiercely he loves.
For now though, I fetched Long John donuts and chocolate milk for a sugar laden breakfast. I let him open a present that he might want to wear to school. He can never have too many Ohio State shirts.

We'll meet him and Tucker at the local burger joint for hamburgers and shakes before Earl rushes off to work. And this evening he'll head to the gym again for basketball practice, hoping each jump stretches him out just a little taller, each lope with his long legs adds a bit more muscle.
Happy Birthday, Spencer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spray Cheese? Anyone?

My running friends are egging me on to continue rembrances from my past life. I want to tell the story of the Argentian sailor I met at the Louvre, but first I need to get some photos scanned into the computer. Instead, I'm going to tell a story about my halcyon days as a young reporter when I shared an apartment with my friend Pat, who masquerades as Suburban Kamikaze now.
Pat grew up in a Greek area of Florida, so her idea of hosting a party leaned in a different direction from my own Midwestern roots. I thought people should be fed, offered drinks and made to feel comfortable. She thought the guests should feel envy and admiration when they arrived.
This is what led to an interesting trip to the grocery store where we argued whether we should buy the spray cheese. I knew for a fact that spray cheese is always a hit at parties. She argued that it was too Midwestern and akin to our parents' cheese balls. I prevailed on the spray cheese, but she made a stand herself as we wandered through the alcohol store. She found a thin white box wrapped in cellophane that held small chocolate liqueur cups.
"These would be perfect," she murmured. I could see in her mind that she pictured the crowd of reporters sipping Bailey's Irish Cream from their chocolate liqueur cups before nibbling on the liquor-infused cups.
Here's a photo of five of us who were in attendance at the party and had a little reunion two years ago in Chicago. I'm sitting between Pat's husband Dave and our friend Steve. Pat is wrestling with my husband. Not a liqueur cup in sight.

Now, I know it wasn't a competition as to who performed better as host, but history can attest that the crowd preferred the spray cheese to the chocolate liqueur cups.
How can I be sure?
I stood by and watched the reporters grasp a shot glass filled with tequila spread a string of cheese along the area between their thumb and forefinger. They downed the tequila and licked the cheese into their mouths as a chaser. The spray cheese ran out before the tequila did.
As for the chocolate liqueur cups, unfortunately, they hadn't been big sellers in the liquor store. This cellophane-wrapped box of edible liqueur cups must have been on the shelf for quite awhile because they tasted like rubber. Our guests agreed.
How can I be sure?
We found the cups hidden in our plants afterward by guests too polite to throw them away in front of hostess Pat. Instead they stashed them in the ficus pot and the green corn plant. As we cleaned up the next day, the number of cups seemed to flourish. Could it be possible that we found more cups than were actually in the package?
The party was further Midwesternized by a friend who threw glitter as he greeted people and later gathered friends around to tell the story of the Yule Log. But, that's a story for another time when I need to perturb Pat.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crutches and Ankles

What is it with my kids and ankles?

How about crutches? Do they have some sort of magnetic attraction to aluminum crutches?
We have two sets of crutches in the basement and neither pair fits me. They're all for tall people.
Any guesses on who's using them and how these crutches and the aircast came to be in my living room?
I guarantee you that whatever your guess is will be more entertaining than the actual story.

Friday, October 22, 2010


While Grace was home last weekend, we talked a lot about choices. She hates to make decisions. Even when we're shopping for clothes, she'll say, "I can't choose." Choices aren't right or wrong, I told her, they're just different paths.
As Grace ventures out into the world, she is facing more and more paths. The problem with choosing one path is that the other path gets rejected. Most of the time, once we start on a path, we can't go back and try the other one again to see how that might have turned out.
I tried to illustrate my point by telling Grace that shortly after I moved to Clearwater, Florida for a job with the Tampa Tribune, I was offered a job at the New Orleans Times Picayune. If I had pulled up roots and moved to New Orleans, my life would have been totally different.
I met my husband at the Tampa Tribune. Marrying this particular man led to the paths that we have taken. The fiesty kids, the soujourn in Michigan and then back to Ohio.
Would I have settled in New Orleans? Would I have developed a southern accent and improved my French? Would I have married a man who lived on a bayou?
I don't look back and wish I'd taken another path.

Rather than being helpful, I think this example terrified Grace. Now all of her decisions seemed to be crucial and life changing. The choice she faced was whether to continue swimming. We avoided the word "quitting."
At college, she spent about 22 hours per week swimming. She wasn't loving it. She stressed about the classes and the labs and the grades. She saw her friends only in passing. She went to bed early and rose in the dark to ride her bike to the pool. She longed to go to swing dance class and spend more time at the theater learning to apply make up and hem costumes.
Her path seemed clear. Swimming, although a part of her life for the past eight years, was not going to be her career. When it stopped being fun, when it stopped being the place she socialized, she needed to let it go.
Letting go is hard.
On Monday, hidden in a stairwell in her dorm, she called me sobbing. "What have I done?" she wailed.
She met with the coach and told him, slipping into tears right in his office. When she asked if she might be allowed to return to the team her sophomore, junior or senior year, the coach said, "We'll have to talk about that."
So she swiped at tears as she crossed campus and searched for a private place to cry. It's not easy to find solitude on a college campus.
As the days have passed, her mood has soared and plunged.
"Sometimes, especially at night, I think what have I done? I have to go swim," she confessed in one whispered phone call. She thinks about going to talk to a counselor on campus, but in the morning she feels good about her decision.
As the day wears on and the darkness slowly surrounds her, this path looks unfamiliar and she wonders if she can still run back and try that other path, the one that she was on for a very long time.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tickled Purple

I picked Tucker up from school as he walked along the sidewalk. Spotting him was easy in his bright purple shirt that he got at a swim meet last month.
He heaved his backpack onto the floor of the car and climbed in. As he buckled he asked, "Did you know today was wear purple to support gay teens day?"
"Oh..." I said. I wasn't sure if he felt happy or dismayed.
"Yeah, and I just got lucky. I didn't plan it or anything," he said.
"So you were okay with wearing purple in support of gay teens?" I asked.
"Of course, why wouldn't I be? It's not like I'm afraid people will think I'm gay. I mean, I'm obviously not."
As much as that boy drives me crazy, sometimes I'm really proud of him.
He isn't afraid to do what he thinks is right and he doesn't spend his first year in high school worrying about what other people think of him.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chemotherapy and Exercise

Did you know this is breast cancer awareness month? I didn't, even though football players are wearing pink wrist bands. Truthfully, I've been especially aware of breast cancer for about the past six months.
I think it's time for Dream Girl to tell her story, but she won't write it for me, so I'll have to cobble it together the best I can.
It started for us on the running trail. I was complaining about some ache or pain when Dream Girl confessed she had a mammogram in the coming week.
"I found a lump," she said.
Now, most women have had friends who found lumps. It almost always turns out to be nothing. So that's what we told Dream Girl.
Then our conversation took a turn to the jaws of life. Dream Girl had gone to get her mammography but the machine wasn't working so she had to reschedule. We began to speculate on ways that a mammogram machine could break. What if it broke in the middle and a woman's breast was squeezed between the plates?
"They'd have to call the jaws of life!" Dream Girl said.
And we laughed imagining that call to the firefighters.
Then the next week they were scheduling a meeting with the surgeon. Dream Girl had breast cancer.
Here's what she worried about: gaining weight while on the steroids and unable to exercise. Oh, she worried about other things too, like watching her kids graduate high school, hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Rim Trail, keeping track of the birds that fluttered around her house.
After the surgery, which included some lymph nodes and drainage tubes, Dream Girl tried to run way too soon. She had to run with her arm clamped over the breast that was operated on. She came back to run with us our 7.5 miles on the trail.
She kept saying that she felt fine.
So we ran.
Oh, we shared a flurry of emails as she began her chemotherapy. Would we run without Dream Girl? No, we decided that we would walk if that was all she could do. And when she didn't even feel like walking, we'd meet at a coffee shop.
I pictured her wrapped in a blanket shivering as she lost her hair and battled cancer.
We couldn't have anticipated that Dream Girl would run through her chemotherapy with only a few extra naps on chemo day.
And, of course, she celebrated the end of her chemotherapy by running the half marathon. Here she is dwarfed by her rambunctious family after the half marathon.

Her husband apologized for not parking close by and she waved it off. It was only a half marathon.
Dream Girl doesn't want to tell her story because she doesn't want to give other women false hope. If they find out how good she felt, they might feel resentful or guilty. They might blame themselves for feeling too lethargic to move. Dream Girl feels like she did nothing special. She just got lucky.
But maybe Dream Girl buoyed herself up for those chemotherapy treatments with all of that exercising she did, not just last year, but the years before. Maybe exercise does make a difference in fighting cancer and recovering from chemotherapy. Shouldn't she tell that story. What if she could help someone else?
Before Dream Girl started chemotherapy, she was asked if she'd like to join a study about chemotherapy and exercise. She said, "Sure."
Then they found out she was a runner and said she was too fit to join the study.
Maybe someday we'll see the results of that study. Maybe it will announce that moderate exercise or intense exercise helps counteract the effects of chemotherapy on the body.
Or maybe we can just look at the results that Dream Girl had and decide that exercise makes things better, cancer or no cancer, chemotherapy or no chemotherapy.
Then again, maybe the study should be on friends and it might discover that chemotherapy is much easier to bear if it includes a weekly meeting with friends -- on the running trail or in the coffee shop.

October Harvest

Three teenagers.
Two cats.

And one scary pumpkin that traveled back to a dorm in New York.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Run, Dream Girl, Run

Sunday morning, as the sun rises in the east, Dream Girl will join thousands of other runners in surging down Broad Street eastward from the starting line of the Columbus Marathon.
She plans to run a half marathon to celebrate her last chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. I think that was about a week and a half ago, maybe two weeks.
I can't imagine going through surgery and chemotherapy for six months then running a half marathon. That's 13 miles.
Dream Girl is truly amazing. She tries to say that she isn't doing anything special, but that she hasn't felt bad.
All I can say is that when I think of Dream Girl, I think of a word that Grace texted me last week: awe-full. That's me, full of awe for all that Dream Girl has gone through -- with a smile while trying to make other people not feel so bad about it.
My friend Pam is running too, but she doesn't want anyone to know, so don't cheer for her, like we did one year, yelling, "Go Pam!" at every group until we finally found her.

Flag Memories

Last night, Grace asked if I would go to the football game with her. The weather had turned colder, and I'm a wimp. I had planned to stay in and grade papers with half an eye on "Say Yes to the Dress."
Grace was meeting a friend at half time so I only had to commit to the first half of the game. I texted my friend Jane whose son plays on the team. She would be there. I had a feeling Grace wouldn't be my companion for long. We hadn't even walked half way across the front of the stands when Grace scampered off having spotted her friend Haley who she hadn't seen since leaving for college.
I searched for Jane to no avail so tromped up the bleachers to sit beside another Jane.
"One Jane's as good as another," this Jane said to me when I told her who I was searching for.
Grace came back to sit with me right before the band took the field.
Our school has a big band for its size. More than one-fourth of the students in the school are in the band.
The other team's band had flag girls. They had three different flags to use throughout the show, switching, well, I'm not sure why they switched but the gold and burgundy flags looked pretty.

I was a flag girl at my high school. That's how I met my best friend from high school, Tracey.
We're the same height, so we were always opposite each other in our flag lines.
The year I started as a flag girl, we got new aluminum poles. Those poles were so much lighter than the old wooden poles we used.
Before we could use the aluminum poles though, we had to go to band camp. Does anyone remember band camp in August? I don't think I ever felt more miserable, and I was always on my period during band camp, standing in the hot field throughout the day with bees and flies landing on my bare legs. We had to hold positions like the foot to knee and if we slipped we had to run a lap.
The band director would say, "If you didn't hold attention, you need to run. You know who you are. We saw you."
I always felt so guilty that I would run even if no one was around to see me.
At band camp, we used heavy metal poles to practice with. We couldn't risk ruining the new aluminum ones. We also had to create our own flags from white cotton sheets. I can't remember what kind of scene I used to decorate my flag, but here's one thing I do recall, a white cotton sheet on the end of a metal pole gets pretty darn heavy.
Add to that the early morning practice, the field filled with dew, and soon that wet cotton sheet weighed down my arms.
As the week of band camp passed, I grew much stronger.
Cut to the actual show. We practiced with our heavy poles and flags for weeks. In the band show at half time and competitions, we'd switch to aluminum poles and nylon flags.
One of the highlights of the show was when the flag girls in lines opposite each other catapult our flags to our partner. We each end up with the other girl's flag.
Weeks of swinging the metal pole with the heavy cotton flag.. well, you can guess what happened.
I launched my flag pole and it flew over Tracey's head landing on the bright green turf. We had a runner to gather flags or other discarded objects, but she didn't see the flag laying on the field, so Tracey had to mime her flag work through the rest of the show.
Now that I think about it, I'm rather amazed that Tracey is still my best friend from high school.
We're going to have facials together in just a few weeks. She never forgave me for the flying flag incident though.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dark Adventures

Something about the dark morning when it rains must beckon me, because I had decided not to run in the rain this morning, yet I got to have an outside adventure anyway.
It all started when I opened the screen door to fetch the morning paper. I grabbed the plastic-encased Columbus Dispatch and turned back inside. Just as the door was closing, the wiry body of our 5-year-old cat Tupi slipped through. Okay, maybe Tupi isn't wiry. He's pretty chunky, but I couldn't figure out how he got through that door. He looked fairly sleek as he was escaping.
Perhaps it was the memory of this Halloween costume last year that inspired him to make a run for it.
I was wearing warm up pants, a fleece and a pair of socks as I started after him. I called him in an exasperated voice: "Tupi!" as I followed him down the stairs covered with leaves and long skinny seed pods from the trees above. I felt them bumpy through my socks which grew soaked on the wet concrete.
Only a few steps behind him, I felt sure I'd catch him. He usually stopped once he reached the sidewalk. And he did slow down. I could almost grab him when a matching tuxedo cat stuck his head from around the stone wall in front of our house.
Tupi stopped then and crouched.
I looked at the other cat. He was black and white and resembled our other cat so much, I wondered if it could be him. I also hoped I never got confused and caught the wrong cat.
I put a hand on Tupi's back and started to pick him up when he lunged and chased the other cat through the grass up a hill to our neighbor's house.
I turned around to fetch shoes. I could feel the rain soaking through my hair and transforming the sleek straightness to gloppy curls. My running shoes stood ready in the hallway. They mocked me: "Thought you didn't need us today."
"What's wrong, Mom?" Tucker called sleepily.
"Tupi escaped and is chasing another cat," I told him.
I walked out the back door, thinking he might have chased the other cat back into the alley. Tucker in shorts and a tshirt, went out the front door. I made my way through the alley and met Tucker on the sidewalk.
No luck.
The rain continued to drip from the sky, just enough to make us miserable.
"Go put some shoes on," I told Tucker.
I called Tupi's name, disturbing the quiet of the neighborhood. The kids were off school today so the whole town was having a lie in.
Sauntering up the street toward me came my husband in a black rain jacket. He had pulled himself from the warmth of our bed to search for the cat.
We called together and a neighborhood stray came running to greet us.
"Not you, Mew," I said.
We climbed the hill by our neighbor's house and called some more. They're on vacation so we didn't wake them.
"He'll come back," Earl said and we turned to go.
Then I heard a "Miaaaoo" from the other neighbor's house.
"Tupi," we called again.
After another "miaaaoo" he crawled from behind a planter.
I went to him and leaned over to grab him, looking to see that he had a white tip at the end of his tail.
"Make sure that's him," Earl warned.
"It is," I said as Grace climbed up the hill beside us in a hoodie sweatshirt and pj pants. I handed the cat over to her. She's our quasi-veterinarian and she would be sure he was the right cat and that he had no wounds from his cat fight. Tucker joined us as we got to the sidewalk, his feet a little warmed in his Converse shoes.
I suggested we all walk down for coffee in the rain (okay, so I'm a morning person), everyone else went back to bed while our little cat followed Tupi around sniffing and waiting to hear about his adventure.

Be Our Guest

She came home after two months at college for her mid-semester break. Four days off school and swim practice and dark bicycle rides through the early morning. A 10-hour car ride home, 3 hours with a friend to Rochester. Then Earl wove his way through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the confusing streets of Rochester, New York to fetch her. They arrived home at 3:30 a.m.
She brought her own toothpaste, as if we wouldn't have any or wouldn't share with her. I guess she's responsible for herself now -- and that's a good thing. Right?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Baby in the House

One day this week, we had the privilege of watching Caroline, Earl's niece's baby. I guess she isn't technically a baby any more since she turned one last week. Caroline's mom works two days a week and Caroline usually stays with her grandparents who have adjusted their work schedule to keep her. This week though, Earl's sister and her husband were off bicycling in Napa Valley (because someone had to) and we agreed to watch Caroline. She arrived at 8:30 a.m.
I was at work and stayed at work until 1 p.m. That means that my big, sometimes loud, husband was solely in charge of Caroline.
Now, Earl always took care of our kids when they were little, so I knew he could do it. But Caroline has had a fear or dislike of Earl since she was little. Something about him made her cry. Maybe because he's so big or because he would try to rough house with her. When I got home, Earl and Caroline were fast friends. She was wearing a flower behind her ear that had wilted. She had played with the trains we spread out on the floor and was especially fascinated by the cats.
Caroline doesn't walk yet, but she crawls everywhere and has discovered that bouncing on her butt backwards is a terrific way to cover ground. She bounces so high up in the air that she is practically standing. It looks like some sort of yoga move the way she places her feet together and bounces. Here are a couple of blurry photos of her in action.

This is nowhere near the height of her bounce. She is spring-loaded in the diaper area.

You may notice that she is bouncing on top of a calculator and has a remote control nearby. The remote was her favorite toy. She would press the buttons then look quickly at the televistion to see if she had turned it on.
Earl and I packed her into her jogging stroller and took her for a walk to our little downtown. We had coffee while she sucked on a straw full of water and shared bites of Earl's pumpkin ginger scone.

Then Earl took a nap while Caroline had a playdate with the 16-month-old three houses down. He was into kissing and she kept pushing him away. She was too busy eating leaves that I kept pulling from her mouth.
Our boys didn't want much to do with her at first. As Spencer walked up the back sidewalk, I was carrying a wet, disposable diaper to the trash can.
"Oh, gross. I was going to eat but now I've lost my appetite," he said.
The boys sat across the table from Caroline during dinner. They didn't want to risk gross food touching them. They watched in amazement as Caroline grasped handfuls of bananas, tomatoes, tuna and cheerios.
"She shoves her whole hand in her mouth to get one bite," Spencer observed.
Then she growled at them and they almost fell over laughing.
"Don't get too close to her food," Earl warned them as she growled again.
That girl can eat.

My observations after her dad picked her up at 7:30 that night:
Babies are cute but exhausting.
I never have learned how to get babies to sleep, which was obvious from the fact that she skipped her afternoon nap. None of my kids were good sleepers.
There is nothing as sweet as a baby belly and the smell of their soft heads.
It's good to get a baby fix.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Riding in Your Pocket

Sometimes, as a parent, I have wanted to tuck my children into my pocket and keep them safe.
Grace and I have come up with a kind of opposite plan.
She had a nightmare Sunday night and then woke in the dark of Monday morning as her alarm sounded at 5:50 a.m. She pulled on some clothes and walked out into the cold black morning. She unlocked her bike and rode to the swimming pool, fearing the demons from her nightmare and the real things that lurk in life.
Later that morning, she told me about her bad dream and her fear riding to the pool alone in the dark.
"Call me," I said. I teach at ungodly early hours and I set my alarm for 5 each morning.
"Call me and put me in your pocket when you ride," I said.
So, for the past two mornings, she has phoned. We chat for a minute while she unlocks her bike and then she slips me in her pocket while she rides across campus. I lay the phone down and put it on speaker so I continue exercising or flat ironing my hair. I hear muffled sounds as she travels.
When she arrives with a clank, she takes the phone from her pocket and says, "I'm here."
Sometimes I can hear other people walking past on their way to the pool or early workouts.
"Ok. I love you." Typical mom speak. "Have a good day."
Then she's on her own, but for awhile, I'm right there in her pocket.

Monday, October 11, 2010


The main problem I have with parenting is discipline. I make plenty of rules and enforce them, and, luckily, I have rule-following children for the most part. The problem is that I like to make my children happy. Tucker has probably received less discipline than the other two. He's the most stubborn of the kids, he's the third so I have less energy to fight with him, and, frankly, he wears me down.
The latest discipline situation revolves around an iPod. Tucker is ahead of the iPod game. He had a shuffle when the original one was out. Then he got a Nano. Next he received an iPod touch for his birthday. The iPod touch now has a spider web-type crack across the screen. It doesn't work well with headphones any more, which is fine because every pair of headphones he gets are chewed up by the cats. Something about the headphones attract the cats. They don't chew on much, but they love headphones.
As many iPods as Tucker has had, he's had twice as many headphones. He leaves them hanging from the computer and the cats get to them. He has also borrowed many pairs from me, Earl and Grace and we've seen those get chewed up too.
Last week before school, Tucker asked if he could borrow my iPod. I have had one iPod. It's a little green shuffle that clips onto my shorts when I run.
I handed it over and he stuck it in his backpack. The next morning when I got ready to run, I realized I didn't have my iPod. I went into the bedroom and looked at the bedside table, thinking Tucker might have listened to it as he fell asleep. Then it would probably be dead, but at least I'd have it. Tucker woke up and I asked where it was.
"I'll get it in the morning," he said.
"This is my morning," I said then went on a run without it.
The weekend passed and I asked Tucker again where it was. He said he put it in the basement beside the computer.
That day, I found the tiny inside of an earphone on the floor by the trashcan.
Sunday night, after a day of fighting about whether he had to go to swim team and whether he had to go to confirmation class, I laid out the boys' money for the week. I give them money so they can buy lunch (or they can pack) or use for spending money.
Tucker shaved off the burgeoning goatee on his chin and came up to show me. He was trying to make amends for all the fighting and the threat of no Xbox.
"Go get my iPod," I told him since I planned to run in the morning.
He brought it to me. The headphones had been chewed up and torn apart.
I took his money from the counter and told him I would use it to buy more headphones. He could have any money that was left over after the headphone purchase. He went to bed without speaking to me.
I know that it's the right thing to do -- make him pay to replace the torn up headphones, but I hate that he's so unhappy. Hopefully, he'll be more responsible with other people's belongings after this, but it's no guarantee.
How about you? Do you ever remember being punished for something that actually made you change your behavior? Does an object lesson like this work? Have you ever punished your kids for something and seen it make a difference in their behavior? I need some hope here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Memories of a Suburban Childhood

What's your earliest memory?
In talking to people, I find that most everyone remembers something from the time they were three. It might be non-sensical. It might be a joyous memory, but it seems like the bad memories might outweigh the joy. A lot of people remember something bad happening.
My earliest memory is of being at my aunt's house when she lived in the same town where I grew up. I can picture the kitchen table with a sliding glass door behind it and a long hallway that led to the bedrooms. The adults were clustered around the table, and I'll assume that the older kids were playing outside, but I was too young to be included. Someone, my Aunt June, I think, gave me a cluster of keys on a ring. Someone else suggested I see which door those keys fit.
Being a logical and reasonable child, I closed and locked every door along the hallway then went back to the beginning of the hall and started checking keys to see which doors they might unlock.
I remember the hullabaloo when the adults discovered that I had pushed the buttons to lock all of the doors and closed them behind me. Truthfully, the set of keys in my hand didn't unlock any of those interior doors. The adults began to ask why I hadn't tried this or that instead to see if the keys worked. I couldn't seem to explain to them why I closed and locked the doors.
I think it was a struggle to get all of those doors unlocked. So I was chided and laughed at a bit. That was my first memory.
My mom says I can't possible remember that because my aunt moved out of that house before I was 2. Maybe I've got the memory wrong. Maybe it was another house, another aunt, another set of keys.
I'm kind of bummed that my first memory is something I got in trouble for. Why can't it be my first taste of chocolate instead?
What's your earliest memory?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Overactive Morning

Man, am I feeling the aches and pains of age, or maybe it's just overexercising. When I got up this morning at 5:30, I could feel the muscles in my booty and thighs groaning. I've been devoted to P90X again this week and yesterday's "Legs and Back" workout took its toll.

Of course, I was up at 5:30 so I could meet my friends for our Saturday morning run.
We ran our 7.5 miles, although a cramped calf about half a mile from the end caused us to walk a bit. That wasn't my cramped calf, it was Dream Girl.
Dream Girl had her last chemotherapy session for breast cancer last Friday. She plans to run the half marathon next week to celebrate. Her hair is starting to grow in wispy and light, as opposed to the dark lustrous locks she had before she shaved it off. She looks like a downy baby duck with the hair standing in a short, fuzzy ball around her head. Now that the chemo is finished, it should start to grow back in full force. She's the only woman I know who actually looks good bald.
Running with my friends doesn't even feel like running. They listen to my stories and they say the wisest things. Pam points out that Grace processes all these experiences as they happen, rather than waiting 10 years and learning the lesson afterwards. They just put a good spin on what some might see as failures.
On the drive home, about 15 minutes, I flexed my hands trying to get feeling in them again. It wasn't that cold this morning -- 50 degrees when I left the house, so I wore shorts rather than the running pants I had laid out last night. We could see our breath throughout the run and I left my fleece on.
I've learned that the only way to warm my hands after a cold run is to hop in the shower. Even a cup of hot coffee doesn't help, but I wasn't finished exercising yet.
When I walked in the house where the men were still sleeping, husband and elder son, I put in the CD and started to do the Kenpo workout for P90X. I skipped the warmup, figuring that a 7.5 mile run was enough of a warm up. Kenpo is sort of like kickboxing or martial arts. Lots of kicks and punches. My hands finally started to warm up about half way through that workout. Then I turned on Ab Ripper X. I only made it through about 10 minutes of that before I decided I'd hit the wall on exercise.
Earl and I walked downtown to the farmer's market where we bought apples and tomatoes then stopped for a coffe.
I don't think I'm leaving my chair for the rest of the day while I grade papers.
Oh, shoot. I forgot that I have to take Tucker to a swim meet this evening. Midnight Madness. I am definitely not lasting until midnight!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Childish Adults

"I am the only adult on this campus!" Grace huffed into the phone today as she trekked across her college campus.
I'll have to agree that she was getting some pretty bad advice from the adults at her college. Grace has been struggling with class load and swim practices. She practices 15 hours a week. She had the sprained ankle and now has rotator cuff problems, plus a perpetual cold and sometimes fever in the cold, rainy weather where she has transplanted.
Her major is conservation biology, which requires taking a biology lecture class with a three hour lab and a peer component. They meet five times a week. She's struggling with the class, partially because of the math and the fact that she is not allowed to use a calculator. The instructors banned calculator use because they are so advanced that students can hide information in them and cheat on tests.
Today, Grace met with her advisor who isn't in the biology field. He's in the Communications department and is in charge of her performing arts "house." His wise suggestion: She should drop her biology major. He doesn't think she can swim and major in biology.
Then she had a meeting with the swim coach who had noticed she was struggling. I thought he might offer suggestions to help her deal with all the hours of practice, offer her some sympathy.
He wanted to know why she wasn't spending more time with the swim team when they aren't at practice. He thinks she has social issues. Truthfully, from the first night she got there, the swim team has been drinking heavily. Grace has chosen not to drink at college (Earl and I don't know where that came from, but we admire her decision.)
Grace did not rat out the partying swim team members, including the fact that the 21-year-old captain collects money from the younger students and buys them alcohol. His ultimatum, commit 100 percent to the swim team. Start hanging out with the swim team members.
So that's what she got from the adults in her life today: Drop the major that you have planned on for years and start hanging out with people who get falling-down drunk every weekend.
Grace may change her major before the end of college, but it seems like a choice between spending more time studying or more time swimming should be directed to the academic side.
Neither biology nor swimming are making her very happy any more. She gave up playing on the Quidditch team. She just dropped swing dancing. She may not get to travel to the Rally for Sanity in Washington, D.C. Biology and swimming are asking a lot from her.
What does make her happy these days? Her crazy performing arts friends who sing, dance and laugh. Learning how to do makeup and costumes at the theater, including some pretty cool stick-on wounds.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Family Weekend

I left Charlotte, North Carolina and headed to New York so I could visit Grace at college for family weekend. My flight was supposed to go to New York City then to Syracuse where Earl would pick me up in the car and we would drive the two hours on to Grace's college. That plan had so many possible flaws. And some sort of tropical storm that battered the East Coast decided to interfere. Instead, the airline flew me to Washington, DC then to Buffalo, New York, which is much farther from her college.
We stayed in a cedar cabin in the woods with an outdoorsy young couple and their 20-month-old daughter, Aurora. The sunrise turned the wet fields misty.

After Grace's swim practice, we spent the day together going to a football game and a swim team cookout.

We took Grace to visit baby Aurora to get her toddler fix. That was fairly mean of us because Aurora sobbed every time we left. She got attached very quickly.

I gave them Grace's cell phone number in case they ever need a babysitter.
Grace and her friends had planned a dinner with all of their friends and parents together at an Italian restaurant. When we got in the restaurant, the students scattered to their table and the parents sat together. They were a fun, intelligent group.

I took some photos of the "kids" table, which included some little siblings.
One of the siblings, an 8-year-old boy named Nick, was shunned by the older kids. He sat between his parents and me. This kid was a hoot. So I got a few posed shots of him then set him loose in the restaurant with the camera.
After dinner, we went to a Singers concert of music from France and then danced to a band that included some of their professors.
The next morning we joined Grace for brunch at the cafeteria before our long trek home. Earl smuggled a turnover out of the cafeteria, which embarrassed Grace.
And we left Grace on the beautiful campus as she cried big tears. Loving it where she is, but missing home like crazy.


Everyone in my family is having some sort of emotional trauma, except Tucker, which is weird because he's usually the grumpy one.
It's exhausting to be the waste receptacle for everyone's emotions.
I'm going to work.

Cockadoodle Doo or Cocorico?

 We stood in the middle of the road, having walked together 13 miles that day and Claudine grasped my forearm. "Mais non! It doesn'...