Monday, December 29, 2008

The Duggar Thing

Everyone has been talking about it, so I might as well, too. Now that Michelle Duggar has recently given birth to her eighteenth J-named offspring, the Duggar family again crops up in (mostly negative) conversations everywhere. Arriving just in time to be Christmas party small-talk topical probably only increased the popularity of the Aren't-The-Duggars-Totally-Nuts subject. So, I might as well express myself too.

First, I will say I share the sentiments of many. I can barely get my head around what that would actually be like. At our family Christmas party, all thirteen of my Cumberland nieces and nephews, plus my own three kids posed for a picture. This is what the Duggar family actually is all the time, plus two more! It is simultaneously fascinating and slightly horrifying to contemplate.

The Duggars, along with a small sliver of the population nicknamed "Quiverful" families, believe that they should have all the children that would naturally occur in the course of their fertile years. They reject birth control and sterilization.
Many people - even Christians - utterly hate the Duggars. The interesting thing to me is that people like the Duggars are the only Christians who actually carry their beliefs about God's sovereign plan in creating life to it's full and logical conclusion. Here are the Christian beliefs that apply:

1) God intentionally designs every single person for His express purpose.
2) God's will is always superior to human will.

Is any person accidentally created by God? Are there people God would rather not create, but since the silly humans fail to use birth control or become sterilized, He just has to go along with it and make another person? Does God need people to intervene and make it impossible or improbable that they will bring another life into existence?

The argument against it, I've heard, is this: "Don't you think God means for us to use our brains?" This is a condescending way of saying, shouldn't we intelligently avail ourselves of medical means of limiting children? Actually, I would say the answer is No. The Bible gives constant examples of how God wanted people to do what made no sense to their human intelligence. What happened to Abraham? He started to think maybe God must have meant something else when He said He would be the father of many, because God surely didn't mean it would be with Sarah! She was way too old! So, Abe worked out a plan to conceive with Hagar, Sarah's servant.(Actually, I think Sarah nagged him about and then later regretted it.) Anyway, none of that worked out too well. God actually did mean he would be the father of many through Sarah after all.

As unimaginable as I think it is to have a family like the Duggars, and frankly, I don't envy Michelle, I think they are right to put their money where their mouth is. It's better than being one of the majority of Christians who simultaneously believe two incongruent things: that God purposes every life and yet, that they must control their childbearing. Besides that, the Duggars have serious nerve. I don't think I'd be a big fan of holding my extreme beliefs up for national criticism. More people hate them than admire them and even people who admire them in some respect still tend to feel, "Better them than me!"

Okay, now I've gone over the philosophical point of my post, but I still have lighter things to say about the Duggars. Although I watch the TLC show with deep fascination, there's still a lot I would love to know. So, here is my Top Ten Questions to Ask the Duggars:

1) How can Michelle's body parts actually hold up for all that? I don't mean this in a rude way. I've had four babies and I know what can happen to relevant muscles, organs, skin, etc. I'm actually surprised she hasn't suffered serious pelvic collapse.

2) How in the world does the homeschooling work? Seriously. I'm wondering if the younger kids' "buddy" is responsible for teaching reading, writing and 'rithmetic. Because how could Mom ever spend the individual time with what has to be at least six or seven pre-fluent readers?

3) How does medical care work? Do they all go, say, for six-month dental checkups, or are they crisis-only in their approach? I just took three kids to the dentist to the tune of four hundred bucks. The next week, Collin broke his front tooth and I spent another four hundred plus getting that fixed. How the dentistry of 18 kids can work out is unimaginable.

4) How do you mentally keep abreast of eighteen kids? I mean things like who's at what stage of adolescence, who needs to start potty-training, who needs more kisses and hugs, who really needs some personal time with Mom, and so on?

5) What do they do for birthdays? Do they give Christmas gifts? I'm figuring there has to be a month or two that holds three or four birthdays. Do they celebrate each child? Or would that just be totally unfeasible?

6) Do they have toys? Do the children get to have personal possessions or is everything just group belongings?

7) Why no dancing?

8) Does Michelle ever lose her patience?

9) How in the world would anyone ever get a husband to go along with this?

10) Why, having exhausted all those J-names, haven't they had a Julia? Come on! Dad was rooting for Julie Grace for this most recent baby and I was all, "YES!", but no, they went and picked out a hyphenated name with a weird middle name. Darn it. Should have listened to Dad. Oh well. Maybe the next one will get to be Julie. So, Michelle, go with Julie next time. Let me enjoy this one vicarious pleasure with your prodigious procreation. Julie Faith.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Big Brother

Imagine this: Suppose you had your first baby six months ago. In the mail, you receive a postcard from the county government. You have been scheduled for your first parenting assessment. Now, in this imaginary scenario, you are not surprised, because you know there is a state law requiring you to meet with a county official twice-yearly to assess your child's progress, but you still resent the implication a little bit.

You arrive at your appointment and meet a fairly attractive middle-aged lady with very bright lipstick. Before you have even sit down, she politely, but probingly, asks, "So, do you follow any particular parenting program?" Since you are the embodiment of all things antithetical to a parenting program, you smile and say, "No, I'm eclectic. I go by feel."

She skootches a three-page document across the table at you and, along with general questions you knew she would ask, there are also quite a few pretty intrusive questions, questions that far overreach what you are legally obligated to provide. The official wants to know if your child has their own bed and bedroom and if they sleep in it always, sometimes or never and where they sleep if not their bed. She asks you to provide a sample menu of what your child eats in a given week. You tell her you engage in a lovely evening activity of reading bedtime stories and she tells you next time she needs a book list and receipts from the library, indicating that you actually have checked out books. When you tell her you take your child to Kindermusik, she asks if you have brought any cancelled checks to verify that. You find yourself annoyed with these questions and you know she is going outside the bounds of the law, but you also don't want to rub her the wrong way, because she has the power to declare you unfit.

She wants to know if your child has hit all the appropriate milestones for her age. She's dismayed that you admit the child does not sit on her own yet. And she would like to know just how long you intend to breastfeed because, while a year is encouraged, clearly anything beyond that would be unusual. And it goes without saying that she expects a verification form from your child's pediatrician, stating that the child appears to be healthy.

You may chuckle at the absurdity of the government intruding so thoroughly into family life. But if you are a homeschooler and have reviewed through your county Board of Education, you may not find it so absurd. For those of you who don't know, in Maryland you must either homeschool under an umbrella who sets the educational policies or you must be reviewed twice-yearly by a representative from the county Board of Education. This is only the second time in my homeschooling career that I have chosen the county option. Finances drove my decision, as this "service" is provided by the government, but the umbrella is paid out-of-pocket. Both of my county review experiences have been parallels to my analogous story above.

I know that some would say the review process is an important "safeguard", so the few wackos can be identified. But, if that is true, why aren't all parents being supervised by "officials"? How do we normally identify someone who is neglecting or abusing their children? One or more people who know the abuser will report the family to the authorities. Why the big fear that homeschooling couldn't be done this way?

It strikes me that the homeschooling review has a "guilty until proven innocent" feel to it. We must prove our children are being taught math. We must document that they are learning science. (Which is the one that peeves me the most, by the way, since science is not about filling blanks in a worktext, but is about doing things and having actual experiences.)We must give evidence that they have learned history. I swear we could build a scale model of the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks, but if I didn't give them a damn piece of paper to fill out about France, it would mean nothing to the county reviewer.

The irony is that, as annoying as I found the review to be, Maryland has some of the most agreeable homeschooling laws of any state in the northeast. Its Pennsylvania that sends shivers down the spine of the even the most dedicated homeschooler, with their onerous portfolios and evaluations and attendance logs. Attendance logs? What a ridiculous concept to learning! I haven't attended school in a couple of decades now, but I daresay I haven't stopped learning. But I digress. Better Maryland than Pennsylvania. And better now than prior to 1980 or so, when homeschooling really started to gain status as a valid choice. But even with our fairly easy-to-comply-with laws, the idealistic Libertarian in me does taste bile at the thought of another county review. I resent being treated with a skepticism usually reserved for ex-convicts.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I'm going public. I'm just going to throw it out there, so you'll all know. At my age, and with all I've been through concerning bringing life into this world, and seeing how I have the requisite 3 children, I know the expectation is that I'm "done". Finished with bringing up babies. Certainly my husband has said that he's done, which does tend to make me done by default. But in my heart I am so not done. I'm actually coming undone.

I know all the arguments as to why I should be done. They are even good ones. I've tried to come to appreciate all the perks I'm supposed to be so happy about. Everyone sleeps through the night around here now. Everyone uses the toilet. My ass is reasonably firm again. Travel has gotten easier, if not any less expensive. I even have a few hours a day to just do whatever I like. There's room in the car for groceries AND kids. Everyone has their own bedroom. I've tried to savor all of these benefits. But none of them is as lovely as raising another child would be. I could postpone all of those fringe benefits another three years for the joy of having another child to raise.

I know I'm a terrible candidate for having another baby. But that's not the only way to bring another child into our lives. I fantasize about adopting; I dream in Chinese and Russian. I literally had a dream last night about a little Eastern European girl named "Dasha". Over and over I kept saying "Dasha" in my head and when I woke up, I could not forget that thought.

I was just reading a book called "Comfort" by Ann Hood. A gripping memoir about the sudden death of her 5-year-old daughter, I sobbed and nodded the whole way through. Towards the end of the book (spoiler, here), she had endeavored to have another baby, but was not successful conceiving. I had this sense of coincidence building and thought, "Watch. I bet she adopts a little girl from China." Which is just what she did.

I asked Kelly if he would consider adopting. Unsurprisingly, he said no. I cried and cried, though, as if I thought he might just say something totally off-the-wall, like, "Wow! I was JUST thinking that! Lets print off the I-600A right now!" But no. He said no. It wasn't a strident no. But I do think he really just wishes I would get on with my life and stop wanting another child.

I would even do that, if I could just do that. I've tried. It doesn't work. Now I'm starting to feel a little desperate about it, because we really are running short on time. I've even felt I should stop ignoring God and plead with Him, since that's the only shot I have. I try to pray about it, but I get all tangled up in that whole "God's will" issue. I've prayed for a baby before and look at how that ended up.

I think there are people for whom it never works out. They never do wind up with the family they had hoped for. So, why should I be any different? But I hope I am. I hope I am right to still want children. I hope I am right to not be done. I might as well hope because in the end, that is all I have anyway.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

Hi. I'm back. I'm sorry I've let my blog lay fallow, if there are any people out there in cyberspace who rely on my whining and kvetching to lift their spirits. "At least I'm not as bad as her!" Misery loves...someone who has it worse.

Anyway, it could only be so long before I would be pissed off enough about something to make time to spew it on my blog. And so I am. I hate Verizon. I loathe that monolithic, greedy, bureaucratic monopoly inside-out.

Our phone lines at Kelly's office have never been optimal. They have failed many times. But waaaayyyy back in June, one line failed completely and the other was spotty. After several attempted repairs, finally a repairman told my mother-in-law, as I listened, that Verizon would have to come and lay new cable. There was no way, he said, that these lines would work.

Well. A week or two went by, but no repairman came out to lay cable. At this point, I can't begin to relate all the phone calls and repairs (or "repairs") that began to happen, but the end point was this: The fax line was dead as Arizona road kill for six weeks and the phone line had several periods of no service. However, I was completely and totally unable to get anyone in that despicable company to reduce the charges in a corresponding way. Apparently, right around the time that the repairman came and said they would need to lay new cable, they closed the file as a done deal. So, according to their records, they only have something like a week in June and one in July written down as no service.

I've wasted an astounding amount of time on the phone with Verizon during these months, either trying to get someone to come fix the line for certain and for good or trying to get an appropriate credit to our bill. In the first place, they have that maddening voice-activated routing system, "Say 'repairs'; Say 'pay bill'; Say 'purchase services'..." But never will they tell you how to reach a person. Here is a tip: Say "Customer Service". They won't ever offer that as an option, but it does route you a little more quickly to a person. During one call, I asked the clerk if there was a direct line I could call to get her again, so I would not have to continuously re-explain this whole story and she said, "No." During another call, the billing department said I would have to speak to repairs if I had a discrepancy about how long the phone line was out and when they transferred me to repairs, guess what they said? "We have nothing to do with your bill. If you have a problem with your bill, you have to speak to billing." Explaining that they just sent me from there helped not at all. Back I went, only to be told again that billing cannot adjust a bill unless repairs agrees that the line was out during that time.

I called when my first bill arrived while the line was still broken. I said I wanted credit, since the line had been broken for this entire billing cycle. That's not how they do it, I was told. I am to pay the bill and when the line is fixed, then they will issue the credit. Say what? I told them I would not do that. I am not going to pay in advance for a service that was not rendered, only to have to call back and beg for a credit. And as it happened, they didn't issue the correct credit anyway.

The bill went unpaid. I told my partners that I was just going to pay it and accept that they screwed us. It was not worth the aggravation. It was worth the $40 to not have to mess around with it any more. Well, my partners were not thrilled. What about the principle involved here? You're just going to pay what you don't rightly owe so you can be done with it? Yes, I confirmed. I care about the time I'm wasting and the emotional toll it takes more than I care about fighting for the principle and forty bucks. So, my partner said he would try and get a decent credit back.

But he didn't succeed. And he really didn't have the time to waste on it, either. One call, he asked to speak to a manager and they hung up on him. Another, he asked to speak to a manager and they wouldn't transfer him.

So, last week, I said to him, "We have to pay this damn bill or they are going to turn off the phone." Two minutes later, Kelly calls me and says, "What is wrong with that stupid fax now? I tried to have someone send a fax and it says it's disconnected!"

Oh. Great.

So, today, I open the mail and there is a notice of termination, saying they will terminate service this coming Saturday if they don't receive payment. Interesting, since service is already terminated. So, through my seething anger, I have to call this god-forsaken company yet again and try to get the service reinstated. (I paid the bill last week.) Again with the passing around. Again with, "I don't have anything to do with that if financial services still has a disconnect flag on your account." And then passed back, "We show your balance at zero, so it's up to repairs to reinstate your service now."

After this going on for about twenty minutes, I finally got to the only human being with a soul that works for that tyrannical behemoth. Mrs. King. God, I love Mrs. King. Although she was not much more able to do anything than anyone else had been, she seemed to be trying, a first in my experience. And she seemed to care, another first. Bless her heart, she told me that she would try the number herself first thing tomorrow morning and if it had not been reinstated yet, she would personally call my cell and tell me there was still trouble. Miraculously, they did come through and reinstated the line today and Mrs. King left a message on my cell, just letting me know.

This is my tale about the danger of monopoly. What option is there for phone service that does not include that despicable company, Verizon? Don't they own all the cable, all the repairmen, all the trucks, all the lines? (Someone out there might now be screaming "Vonage!" and maybe that is the answer, but I'm still too techno-stupid to be sure how to make that happen.)

So, Verizon - Can you hear me now? You are the lowest of dust-eating vermin. I am convinced that you make it so difficult to get appropriate customer service on purpose because you know that people will come to the conclusion I did - that it is better to cut my losses and pay your damn bill than to waste literally hours trying to get an unjust charge settled. I spit in your face. You are what is wrong with humankind. You are greedy and insensitive. May it all blow up in your smug, rude face.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Traces of Traci

My sister, Traci, liked to give gifts. She and my mother are very similar in this way. They love to find little knick-knacks and trinkets to give people. Traci often bought things at yard sales or thrift stores and then gave them to me, my husband or my kids. To be honest, it got on my nerves. I'm a person who likes things uncluttered and it never helped to have someone piling gifts in the front door while I was trying to push the excess out the back door.

But now I realize my attitude was all wrong. Really - should I have been annoyed by someone who was too generous? Whose symbols of love were overly abundant? Considering the amount of selfishness in the world, this is hardly a problem.

Now that Traci is gone, I look around and the traces of her are everywhere. She's left a trail of gifts, some wonderful, some silly, some a little absurd, but at least she left a trail. Her trail of gifts was a trail of love. I went to put a band-aid on Mason's finger yesterday, and even there, in the humble bathroom cabinet, were two boxes of jazzy-looking band-aids given to the kids by Traci. Is there a bathroom cabinet anywhere among my friends or family members that holds something so silly and precious from me? I would have to say not.

I have never read the book The Five Languages of Love, but I know the gist of that book. It's about how different people "speak" and "hear" love different ways. Some feel loved by acts of service. For some, it's physical touch. (That seems to cover most men.) For some, it's words of appreciation. (Hear, here.) Some like an investment of time. And for others, it's giving gifts. I would say that gifts are the least important of those things for me. Which is why all those gifts never really turned me on.

But I sure am glad I have them now. Each little one is like a lasting love-note from Traci. Thanks, Traci, for the ceramic hummingbird, the purple velvet negligee, the Anne Gedes book, the rubber stamp of an angel. For the jazzy band-aids, the fuchsia kitten, the "Sissy and Smooch" set, the dress-up poodle and the soccer-ball gum you gave my kids. And the airplane picture frame, black travel case and Home Depot card you gave my husband. And all the other stuff, too. I probably didn't say it just then. So, thanks. You gave us a lot of stuff and I wasn't always thrilled, but it took losing you to see what you gave. You gave continual reminders that you cared, love-notes that remain even with you gone.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


It always seems there will be more time later. Time to hear a loved one's voice again, time to share a meal. Time to paw through a thrift shop together again, time to take another photo. But sometimes, time runs out all of a sudden.

If I had known my sister's last day was rushing towards me, if I had known time was about to run out, how very differently I would have treated the time.

My sister's time ran out on me and who would have ever guessed? On Wednesday morning, she never woke and no one knows yet why. It takes scientists and doctors, clinical and detached, to discover why her time ran out at 42. And I am left with regret. Her voice was only a phone call away; how I wish I had recently heard it. Her zany humor was available to me whenever I would have planned to spend a day with her. Did I think I didn't have time then? I don't have time now.

I found a note she wrote me when Lydia died. She was living in Florida then, but urged me to come see her at a moments notice, if I ever needed time to clear my head. Why didn't I? She told me if I needed anything at all from her, I could have her on the next flight out. I wish I had taken the time.

She told me I was "absolutely precious to [her]". If only the time was not up, that I could experience again her boundless love.

Goodbye, Traci. You are absolutely precious to me, too. I'm sorry I did not take the time to show you.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Book All Women Must Read

I was diddling around in the library today, waiting for Kyla to pile a half-dozen cat books into her tote, when an interesting title snagged me from a nearby shelf: What Did I Do Wrong? When Women Don't Tell Each Other the Friendship is Over by Liz Pryor. I was hooked immediately. You mean this is a universal female experience? I had no idea!

Has it happened to you? Have you been merrily going along with someone, maybe even approached best-friend status, when the ass dropped out of the whole operation? The phone? Abruptly silent.
E-mails? Absent. Dinner invitations? You're eatin' alone now, friend.

I'm only half-way through reading the book, so I can't say for sure if there's any useful help here. But if you've ever been inexplicably dumped by a friend, there's commiseration in spades. Or maybe you're the dump-er. I've done that, too. There was that one very pretty, super-fun friend I met years ago when my daughter was a baby. At first, I thought she was a lot of spontaneous fun. Then, I realized she was a psychotic, unstable powder keg who couldn't have carried out a day as planned unless she was straight-jacketed and wheeled around on a dolly. There was another chic I was getting friendly with once until she went postal over my daughter not coming to her daughter's birthday party. Apparently, two months prior I had signed some sort of blood pact that I positively wouldn't have other plans that day.

All that is not too big a deal if it's a newish friend you've just had one or two coffees with. Beg off a few times and the hint is gotten. The book is about the stunner that happens when a very close friend just bails, leaving you wondering what the hell happened. That happened to me years ago and it still hurts. Could it be that she just decided she didn't like me anymore? That is such a bitter pill to swallow. Don't we all want to believe all people should like us? At least all people that matter?

The book says - and I concur - that society doesn't even acknowledge the pain that can come from the demise of a friendship. If it's a marriage breaking up, or a love relationship, there's a whole section at the bookstore on coping. Hell, there are even books about grieving the loss of your job. But a dissolution of a friendship hurts at least as much, not that I know about divorce, but I'm guessing. The basic message is essentially the same: You no longer count with me.

See, the thing is that women are rarely straight with one another. And even if we were, would that make it hurt less? Which is worse: having a friend dump you while you wonder for ages why, or having a friend tell you straight up that they are sick of hearing you whine about your troubles, sick of you using big words, think your husband is lazy and besides all that, they can't stand the way you chew?

It's not any easier to be the one who wants to end the friendship. There is no bloody way I would spell out exactly why I want to end the friendship. No possibility. I am like most women, finding myself a little too busy until the dump-ee gets the hint. Fortunately, I've hardly ever had to dump a friend.

Wait. No. It is easier to be the one who wants to end the friendship. The fallout from being dumped lasts ages and ages. It strikes at your self-worth. It makes you wonder if you are bad, annoying, ungracious, obtuse, ugly, foolish, arrogant, myopic, egocentric, harsh, careless, thoughtless or just have halitosis. Then you think, no, it's just that she is. And besides that, she has bad taste in clothes.

Maybe it is better if the dump-er just spells it out. Then you can flatly deny it and get on with your life.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Perfect Attendance

Well, Kyla's chorus group has finished up for the year. Seven months of Tuesday practices - on reprieve until next September.

So, we had the Awards Night. I admit I have been more excited than Kyla about the Awards Night. Because, you see, I knew she was lined up for a Perfect Attendance pin. Twice in the last month the directors checked her attendance records with me and I checked it off. Yes, she has been to every practice and every performance.

The irony in the whole thing is that I hate the concept of an award for perfect attendance. Perfect Attendance has little to do with commitment; it has a lot to do with luck. Can you squeak through seven months of flu season without picking up the bug? Can you resist the Rhino virus swarming on doorknobs and telephones everywhere? If Aunt Martha sneezes on you over Thanksgiving dinner, does that really reflect poorly on your level of commitment?

As homeschoolers, we have the good fortune of being able to plan a ski trip during the week when the slopes are empty. However, I planned ours not to interfere with chorus, because winning that darn pin loomed on the screen of my mind. As I considered how much more I was paying to include Friday, instead of Tuesday, it did momentarily occur to me that I was a gigantic horse's ass for shelling out all that dough so Kyla could possibly still win the ninety-seven cent pin.

So, there was the rushing around and getting to the Award Night and the clapping as children received their Certificates and Bars for participation. After each round, the director would say, "And have I missed anyone?" - No, no mistakes, everyone got their certificates and bars. And then, at the pinnacle of the evening, all that we've been waiting for, they read out each marvelous child who remained healthy all year. And I clapped for each one. Until the end of the list. They didn't call up MY CHILD! I stood up to gain the attention of the director, but she didn't do that, "And have I missed anyone?" thing again, she just started walking in the other direction! Idiotically, I strode across the room calling her name. By the time I had procured the eyes of every single parent, grandparent, aunt and uncle in the entire room, the director finally looked my way and I set her straight. To my hideous embarrassment, I called right out, "My daughter had perfect attendance!" The only slight relief came when another parent piped up, "Yeah, mine too!" So, after I paid the price by being a gigantic idiot bonehead in front of two hundred people, they gave Kyla her dime-sized "golden" pin.

I've decided. I will never again strive to have Kyla win that stupid pin. There could not be a more pointless award. I'm not sure why I lost sight of that.

I think next year I'll just order my own cheesy pin that says something like, "Outstanding", give it to Kyla and call it a day. And go skiing from Monday through Thursday when the slopes are empty and they practically give the lift tickets away.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Danish Mystery

Over the weekend, my husband went to our beach house for a clean-up. Somewhere along the line, he picked up a Pecan Danish by Entemanns. When he came home, he still had most of it left over. He invited the kids to have it for breakfast the next day.

Danishes and Donuts alike have always mystified me. How come they pass for breakfast? A danish is basically a piece of cake. A donut is basically a piece of cake. You can even get it with chocolate icing. Yet, if you had a piece of cake with chocolate icing for breakfast, you would have to go to confession. Imagine the mother who would pass out birthday cake to the kids for breakfast! Reminds me of that Bill Cosby snippet, "Dad is great! He gives us chocolate cake!"

How did pastries ever come to be viewed as breakfast food? I blame the British! It seems like the British would do that. Am I wrong here, people?

Monday, April 21, 2008

She was a good bathing suit saleswoman

I can't move my legs. They were just fine a week ago, but now I can't bend over to wipe up the splattered spaghetti sauce without contorting my face in agony. I'll pay a child a dollar, just to tie my shoes for me. And how did I get in this disastrous state? It all started with a trip to the bathing suit store in Columbia Mall.

My husband planted the seed, so I blame him to start. Then, that charming sales girl watered it. I had my right hand on a perfectly age-appropriate one-piece suit. My left brushed the considerably smaller bikini male fantasies are made of.

The short, bubbly sales girl came to my aide. "Hey, girl! Can I help you find sumthin today?" She asked jubilantly.
"Well, I was planning to get something like this," I started, pushing forward the suit that covered most of sins I've committed against my abdomen in the past 12 years.
"But, my husband would like to see me buy something like this." I touched the bikini gingerly, as though it might burst into flames at any second.

She sized me up. "Girl, you could wear that bikini. Let me see your stomach."
"I've had four babies." I apologized, as I pulled up my perfectly age-appropriate Lands End button-down shirt in inexplicable obedience.
"Girl! Make your husband happy and get in that dressing room! Get your hand off that old-lady suit and let me dress you!"

Before I knew what was happening, I was standing in the poorly-lit cubicle, appraising myself in a bikini small enough to fit in a napkin ring. The bubbly sales girl tossed an endless stream of suits over the door, many of which require hair-removal procedures named for South American countries. Eventually, though, through her barrage of compliments, I convinced myself that I probably could wear a bikini, if I would just get back on track with my workout.

Ah, that is the point, my friend. I jumped back into the weight-training routine I once did many babies ago, as if I had never taken an ice-cream-sundae-filled vacation of several years. And my quadriceps are definitely holding it against me.

It is good, though. (At least it will be once I recover. Mental note: go easier next time.) I've got a concrete goal. I want to live up to that suit! Here is the suit that will either kill me or spurn me into a hardbody:

Wish me luck!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Protest: Down with snacks!

I know I'm risking unpopularity by saying this. My husband told me, "You are in the minority." I'm sure he is right. All the other soccer moms go along with the program. Yet, perhaps somewhere across this great nation there are 3 or 5 other soccer moms who feel as I do. It is for them that I write. For them, I risk alienation on sidelines from Mt. Airy to Hagerstown.

I really resent the concept of the soccer snack.

It probably started out innocently enough. Perhaps there were a few coaches or generous team mothers who often brought a boatload of Oreos and Gatorade to the games. This made the other parents feel guilty, so they decided to share the task of feeding overpriced junk food to the athletes. So, they started out with a voluntary sign-up, which wasn't really voluntary, given the peer pressure.

What have we now? We have an obligatory list onto which our names automatically are written, which binds us to cram one more task into our overwrought brains. Now, not only do we need to discover where on God's green earth West Mountain Elementary School is (past the 12th dairy farm on the left), we also need to bring goodies for everybody. And a chair. And sippy cups for the preschooler. And water. And wipes. And bug spray. And a potty, just in case.

The thing is, lots of people bring snacks anyway, particularly if there are little siblings. When buying snacks for everybody, there's always that concern of just how healthy will the kids tolerate vs. just how junky you can go before the parents disapprove. And then you have all those food allergies out there, threatening to swell the goalie at the mere suggestion of peanuts. Couldn't we just bring snacks for our own families if we want?

One year, we had a coach who seemed (thankfully) to be fairly against sugary snacks, so he suggested that we all stick to the same snack: oranges. This was better in some ways. However, have you ever bought 12 oranges off season? It equals the cost of throwing a smallish party. And then you have the sticky-hands factor, so bring wipes and a trash bag also.

The idea originally was to spread around the cost and effort. Only now, it increases everybody's cost and effort. It's similar to the idea behind governmental health care. Instead of no one person paying more than others, everybody pays. Besides, do the kids always need a snack?

P.S. to my kids' fine coaches. Ignore this. I'll bring the snack as scheduled, as every good soccer mom does. I stop just short of real activism and merely bitch about things.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wit with Words

I was visiting a writer's forum that I frequent at Writer's Digest online. One poster came up with a hilarious post titled, "Nome de Plume" (although it technically should have been Nomes). The premise was to come up with witty pen names for imaginary book titles.

At first, I couldn't come up with a single one, though I laughed out loud at those that others offered up. But I guess I put it in the crock pot of my mind, because as I was cleaning the kitchen this morning, they were coming fast and furious. Here are some of them:

"Revitalizing Americas Farms" by Bill D. Barnes
"Public Transportation Options" by Anita Carr
"Fun with CB Radio" by Mia Handel
"Disguise Your Baldness" by Donna Hatt
"How to Cope with Disaster" by Kerry Ohn
"Developing Patience" by Terry Long
"Winning Through Passivity" by Dwight Flagg
"How I Handle Difficult Women" by Frank Lee DeBeers
"Attracting Songbirds" by Robin J. Cardinal
"Win at Poker" by Holden Card
"Weather Forecasting Made Simple" by Will D. Weatherby

and, okay, this one is kinda dirty, but:

"Overcoming Erectile Dysfunction" by B. Holman

I had an absolute ball with this. Think up some of your own. I bet my mother would be great at this. I posed it to my daughter and she came up with this one:

"How to Cook a Perfect Homemade Meal" by Amelia Cook

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What Homeschooling Looks Like

I think the rarest commodity among homeschoolers is published reports of what a homeschooling day really looks like. I also think it's a commodity in high demand. Homeschoolers want to know what their fellow homeschoolers do. Thinking-of-homeschooling-maybe types no doubt want to know. Possibly, those who wouldn't homeschool if you paid them would like to read it, for voyeuristic reasons.

There are a few reasons why this may be:

1) Days vary. They are not the same in one household.

2) It's hard to streamline the information. It quickly becomes baffling if you say, "Then, the 5th grader does English and Spelling, the 2nd grader does English and Phonics, but doesn't take as long as the 5th grader and, meanwhile, I'm juggling poster paint, smocks and water changes for the preschooler."

3) You can't win for the scrutiny. If you sound really on the ball, some people will say, "You're too pushy; try unschooling!", or, "Don't you think they're too young to learn that?", or, "That's why I could never homeschool!", or, "You LIE! Nobody can do all that!". If you sound really laid-back, they will say, "You mean you're not teaching Science every day?", or, "This sounds like educational neglect." or, "When will they ever learn to diagram a sentence?". Other people's expectations: Sheesh!

But, I thought it would be fun to summarize a day for you. Here's kind of, generally, what Monday is like around here. I picked Monday because that is the most consistent day all school year.

I get up around 6:30am, but don't be too impressed; I don't do devotions or anything else remarkable. I lay like broccoli in front of the news until the coffee kicks in.

The kids are more or less free to sleep, but 8:30 is about as late as I can stand anyone to still be in bed. Collin and Mason are just about always up long by then. Kyla - hardly ever.

We start schoolwork around 9:30am. No, we don't say the pledge or sing Bible songs for 1/2 hour together, although that's perfectly nice for others if they do it. Typically, we do sit-down schoolwork in the playroom; both the big kids have desks. Little man has an ugly plastic desk that used to be a Fischer Price highchair. Not that it matters, because he's never been known to sit in it for more than 2 minutes at a time.

Kids do Math first. Monday mornings is a new concept, so they each watch an instructional DVD before their lesson. (I have a portable player with headphones.) It is not uncommon for me to be scoring 3 days worth of last week's math now. :) I am also just now filling in their weekly plan books with what I hope to accomplish! After the video, they do two pages of Math. Hopefully, they won't drag it out for two hours. If they are on the ball and understood the lesson, this may take 20-40 minutes.

Kids do English second. Kyla has an English worktext from Bob Jones University, Spelling Power and Literature. Collin has English worktext from BJU, Explode the Code Phonics, Reading practice and Literature. Kyla does most of this independently, except for being given her spelling words. Literature is any book of her choosing; she reads extensively. Collin needs frequent input on English subjects and cannot do them all independently. Literature may be a book of his choosing or it may be mine. I usually read it aloud to him.

Commonly, it is nearly lunch time by now. Mason may have done any one of 1,000 things during this time, not all of them desirable. Generally, he plays, draws, paints, plays with sand or watches a video while we do schoolwork, but believe me when I tell you, this is THE hardest facet of homeschooling for us right now. He doesn't play quietly, independently. He doesn't play quietly with others.

We have a long lunch time, because it's not too worthwhile to try and get everyone re-organized only to stop again when it's time for Mason to take a nap. He goes down for a nap at 2:00, with much fanfare. I read to him and play music.

After he's asleep, we do Social Studies and Science. (But not always; sometimes I just go blog!) These may be based on a book, a DVD, a project or activity. I'm really bored with our Science right now, frankly. I'm sick to death of rocks. And I haven't even opened that whole Creation vs. Evolution can of worms I meant to do this year. The kids also practice the piano (we have headphones) and do their chores. After that, they can do whatever. Computer, trampoline and bike riding are Collin's favorites. Computer, drawing or playing the piano are Kyla's favorites.

Dad often gets home between 4:00-5:00pm; I realize we're lucky like that! Collin likes to join Dad outside until dinner. We eat around 5:45 on Monday nights, because Kyla and Collin leave for piano lessons at 6:15. Although, last night it was more like 6:02, because I didn't get the potatoes on early enough. So, we had a lesson in speed-eating. ;)

Everyone is supposed to shower and brush their teeth around 8:00-8:30; Mason goes to bed, but not simply. Kyla and Collin take care of their rabbit and hamster, respectively. Kyla often reads for much later than I'd like to broadcast to everyone. I often read to Collin after Mason has gone to sleep.

And then, I have a few lovely hours to do whatever I like until I collapse!

So, there you have it: a typical day. Except that no day is typical and every other day of the week has a different rhythm. So, now, whisper amongst yourselves your evaluations! Just don't tell
me what you think!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Mason's Diagnosis

Well, now that we finally went to our appointment at the prestigious neuro-developmental center in Baltimore and endured the two-hour analysis of our son, we learn that he suffers from.....nothing. Difficult Child Syndrome. Parenting Effectiveness Deficit Disorder. Something along those lines.

They say he's normal. So, why do I still feel that nagging concern at the back of my mind like you get when you're on a flight to Orlando and can't remember if you unplugged the iron before you left? I just don't think I managed to communicate my concerns. At one point, the psychologist (or whatever her title actually is) asked how I would discipline him if he kicked someone. I didn't answer that effectively, mostly because he doesn't go around kicking people. I think when I said, "I'm not really sure
what I would do...", she figured she had arrived at the problem. Just teach these people how to manage a 3-year-old and everything will be fine.

I knew it was going wrong when she was describing a Time-Out method and stated that, "Struggling against a time-out shouldn't continue beyond about three times with this method." HAAAAAA! If Mason's behavior shaped up in ANY respect after the third time of managing the problem, it would be a miracle! That was the whole point of why I think there's a problem!

I was also disquieted when I read the report, which states, "Mason's parents feel that he is a much more difficult child to raise than their other two children." This is true, but is not the point! A more accurate statement would have been, "Mason's parents feel that he is a much more difficult child to raise THAN MOST."

Her phone number is on the bottom of the report, along with an invitation to contact her "anytime". I'm tempted. But I also just want to forget about it for now.

I feel like I wasted time off on rabbit trails about time-outs and how to do them effectively when I should have been telling her every single wacky thing he does that I can think of. Why do I still have to heed the "Choking Hazard: Not for Children Under 3 Years of Age" warning? Can't give Mason small pieces! Why can't he play with toys that have more than, say, six pieces? In 3 minutes or less, he will throw them pointlessly all over the place. Why do I still give him mostly board books? Because he destroys books with paper pages! Why does he shout out for no apparent reason? Sometimes "obscenely"; i.e., 'Poopies!' Why does he relish the dog food? Why does he draw on his face? Why does he eat crayons? Why did I find him with pushpins in his mouth a week ago? Why does he cry about the same things a zillion times, even though he knows it will change nothing? Why does he binge or starve like Ashley Olsen, rather than just eat a little food at each meal?

I feel quite lost about the whole thing. I'm glad he's not considered on the autism spectrum. I'm pretty amazed they didn't pin him with ADHD. I'm relieved they didn't have their prescription pad handy. But I'm frustrated to have no explanation for Mason's behavior. I'm left again to gritting through it, waiting for him to grow out of it and a improving my discipline technique, as if I haven't been disciplining him all along.

Two good things that came out of the appointment: 1) I know he is intellectually normal; and 2) I discovered how much he likes to have a useful job. She encouraged me to give him work to do. This is most definitely good for him. If he puts all the napkins in the hamper after dinner and I tell him what a good helper he is, he is radiant. Pity I can't do that ten hours a day.

He is so blessed cute with those blue eyes like early April mornings. But, God is he exhausting! This is my one, rare admission about something with homeschooling being hard. It is hard to occupy him in a meaningful way while we're doing schoolwork, because he has the attention span of a gnat. I could spend 17 minutes getting him set up to paint the next poster paint masterpiece, but it's only buying me three minutes of actual freedom. And then I have to clean up. Except that today, I was doing this "give him a job" strategy, so I let him waste a load of paper towels cleaning up his spilled murky water himself.

It makes me burn with curiosity about the Duggars, or other families even a mere half the size at eight homeschooling kids. Yeah, I know they have the whole "buddy system" and that Maxwell Chart from Hell hanging on the wall that tells everybody what they are supposed to be doing at a given time. But, honestly, out of 17 kids, didn't they get a hard one along the line? I only have two other children to help and they mostly do their main work independently. But still. Kyla needs me sitting right with her for math at the moment. And Collin needs that for English. And Mason needs some sort of intervention every blessed nanosecond. How do the Duggars do it? Maybe when the last kid is up and out, if they can still write, they will explain it all. But by then it will be moot for me, darn it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

It's Easy to be Green

Sometimes, I feel a little smug. It's so popular to talk about Saving the Earth, now that Gore went and brought An Inconvenient Truth to the masses. Now that most scientists finally agree that it would be better not to trash the planet. But at the risk of sounding like I'm tooting my own horn, (which I am, though), I was green way before it was something to be proud of. Reminds me of a country song: "I Was Crunchy When Crunchy Wasn't Cool".

Okay. So, it's true I don't live in a straw-bale house and I pretty much only ride a bicycle in front of the TV with a cup of coffee on the windowsill, but still there are earth-friendly things I've been doing for ages that you could do, too. Here is my handy-dandy, quickie list of things that take barely any thought, but save money and generate less trash:

* Cleaning cloths, not Swiffer dusters
* Washcloth, not Wipes
* Sponge or dish towel, not paper towel
* Cloth napkins, not paper napkins
* Carry a water jug with you and fill it from the tap. Empty water bottles create an enormous amount of trash! If your home water is "bad", consider having a Reverse Osmosis tap put in.
* Reusable lunch bag, not paper bag.
* Compost.
* Juice in a cup, not a juicebox.

With a minimal amount more effort, you can do these:

* Use homemade cleaning products. See book Clean Home, Clean Planet on how to do this.
* Make homemade pizza dough, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, waffles, cookies. Homemade pizza is very cheap, delicious and takes barely more time than ordering and waiting.
* Buy used clothing or other goods.
* Freecycle - an on-line list where you can give away/pick up things locally. Save money and reuse things.
* Cloth hankys. Yes, there is such a thing. Look up "Hankettes" on the web. Maybe I'll stick the site in here when I get a chance.

If you really rock and want to be Ultra Mother, do these:

* Garden. Can your own veggies. Canning your own veggies is Ultra Green! Bonus points if the jars you use were your MIL's from 1947!
* Hang laundry on a clothes line. I admit I haven't done this in a couple of years.
* Cloth diaper your babies. Ditto this.
* Breastfeed at least one year. Bonus points if you use no bottles - scary news about plastic bottles lately!
* Throw a party and serve everything on real plates with real forks and knives. Serve water in a pitcher and pour it in water goblets.

There are other great things, but the above are things that are within my experience. Here are some I've never done:

* Get milk from a creamery in the glass bottle, which you return for more milk.
* Go a year without buying anything (as in clothing, shoes, toys, books - yeah, stop me right there! - decorations, etc.)
* Give only non-material gifts; a dinner out, a bowling trip, a picnic.
* Buy bulk products and fill your own containers repeatedly.
* Use cloth female products or a Diva Cup (google it).
* Live in a teepee. Okay, I'm kidding about that!

Lastly, a few principles that lead to green planet and green pockets, too:

* Before you buy something, ask yourself if anything else you have will do this job. Is there another way you can use this thing without buying it? How will it be disposed of when you don't need it anymore?
* When you have used something, ask, can this be used for something else? By someone else?
* When you no longer need something, pass it on. I recall Deepak Chopra said something in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success that stuck with me. He said, "Money is like blood, it must flow." He said that hording it and holding on to it stagnates it or something along those lines. I think the same thing about possessions. Let it flow, pay it forward.
* Recycle and Reuse - but in a contest, reusable is better than recyclable. Every day, you can fill the same water jug. That's better than buying 365 water bottles that have to be manufactured and shipped all over God's green earth, and then have to be carted off for recycling and use resources all over again to recycle them into a poly-fleece dog sweater!

And here's my A-list of the most ill-conceived disposable products ever:

* disposable cutting boards
* disposable baby washcloths
* plastic baby utensils meant for one use
* single-use toilet brushes
* single-use dishwashing sponge

In closing, don't be hurt if I've picked on The Product You Can't Live Without. I have my favorite non-green environmental disasters, too. (Can everyone say "Escalade"?) I'm not the embodiment of all things green, Mother Nature. But some things are so simple to do, yet our culture says, "Look how easy, you just throw it away..." I'm asking you to re-think what you throw away. I can just imagine my grandmother hearing about Kleenex tissues for the first time. "Why would anyone pay good money for a handkerchief that you throw away after one use???" Think about it!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Testing My Techy Know-How

(This should be good!)

Hopefully, this is an adorable picture that hints at how mischievous Mason is.

...And voila! Apparently, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Oh, the world that just opened up to me now that I know how to insert a photo into the body of my post!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Potty Update

I'm sure everyone has been waiting for an update about Mason's potty training. Although, now I hear the proper term is supposed to be "potty learning". That's just dumb. It's training, folks. Very similar to house-breaking a puppy. Show them where to pee. Avoid having them pee elsewhere.

Anyway, Mason has been making great strides in the #1 category. He hasn't had a pee accident in several days, which has definitely taken the edge off my laundry duty. He tells me when he has to go; "Mommy! I gotta go pee!!!" with his impish little smile. So cute. I'm still too paranoid to risk leaving a pee trail at Target, so I put him in pull-ups when I'm dumb or desperate enough to leave the relative safety of my home. However, on our recent errand day, he did keep the pull-ups dry the whole time. Lightning McQueen icons on the front remained intact.

We only have to make it over the #2 hump, and then we'll have heaven in our hat. I think he recognizes when a poop is imminent, he just doesn't have to patience to sit there that whole long time. (Not patient? Where would he get that?) My MIL handed me a newspaper article written by that bonehead prat whose name escapes me right now, although I think it's Jewish. He's an older fellow, who always seems to think that no children raised in the "good ole' days" had any issues because their old-fashioned parents just made it happen and didn't coddle them. Which begs the question, "Why do psychotherapists make money, then?" In his infinite wisdom, he first of all can't understand why parents no longer train all children to use the potty long by age two. See, I'm eternally grateful that most people no longer use this standard. I think the younger the child, the more probable that it will take a long time and a lot of frustration. Anyway, having a toddler in underwear is no picnic. Diapers are way easier. Why rush it?

So, the old fart says it's easy to train children to poop on the potty. Just strip them off after breakfast, tell them the doctor says they have to poop on the potty and then leave them there until it happens. He seems to think this works perfectly for all children. Just. Like. That.

I admit I tried a variation on this theme. It worked not at all. Mason cannot bear for me to leave him alone like that! I think he was abandoned in a past life! Clearly, it wasn't the path to poop success for us.

My SIL tried it, too. Her son didn't freak out about being left alone, but he didn't quite produce the desired outcome, either. Apparently, he didn't want to let his precious bundle fall down into that potty unnoticed, so he brought it in his hand to his mother. :) Funny the old fart never mentioned that possibility.

See, that's the thing. Kids will throw ya. The infinite possibilities available to the human mind are not wasted, even on the young. If you think you've devised a fail-safe method to get them to do anything, think again. The best you can do is try and get them to want the same things you want. Then again, that generally works better in all human relationships.

Maybe it really is potty learning after all.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Funny Money

I subscribe to Money magazine. Sure, I love the tax tips, advice on how to make a dollar stretch and, most of all, the annual Mutual Fund Scorecard. But one of my favorite sections, which always strikes me as humor, though it isn't intended to be, is the "One Family's Money" section. Every month, I flip right to it.

The idea behind "One Family's Money" is to profile a family who is having some difficulty with their finances and show them ways to fix their troubles. The part I find funny is that the family nearly always has an income of $100K or more.

This month's feature is about a divorced father who has custody of his four teenage children. Now, I am certain this situation has plenty of pain involved, and so I'm not making light of the situation itself. And I do commend the dad on the sacrifices he's making on his children's behalf.

But, since the article is specifically about money issues, I have to interject. First, it mentions how he had to take a $45,000 pay cut in order to live near the children's mother. Ouch! That hurts. However, he's making $156,000. (How will he ever survive?) Then, it mentions how having four children under his roof has inflated his grocery bill to $1,500. HOLY CROW!!! That's more than twice as much as I spend on a "bad" month! If I were his financial advisor, I'd start right there. Here's a tip: make your own waffles.

It goes on to say that in one trip to the sporting-goods store, he dropped more than $1,000. What did he buy? Kayaks for everyone?

As a side-note, the article also rolls out a little pity-party for his "opportunities lost". First of all, he had to turn down a promotion that involved long hours. If he had stayed on that path, he'd be making $500K now. The article says, "Once the kids moved in, he lost a lot of freedom too. His evenings filled up with recitals and emergency trips to the dollar store for school supplies. He had to cook or pick up dinner..." Oh, cry me a river! Gee, what must it be like to have to spend your whole evening taking care of the kids, running them all over God's green earth and even making a meal?! I'm sorry: no pity at this well. It's pumped dry on myself, thank you.

What I'd really like to see is Money printing articles about a family who really squeezes by. Show me the financial plan of a family of five living on $50,000. That is what really makes fascinating, informative reading. That's why we loved The Tightwad Gazette. The woman had a $50 budget for clothing for her family of eight. Per year!!! I always wondered what she did for bras, underwear and socks, since that alone tallies up to probably $300.00 per year around here. Although it's possible I don't really want to know!

We all make choices and prioritize, so I'm not really picking on someone who apparently eats steak and shrimp every night, given the outrageous grocery bill. But I find it a bit kooky that Money always profiles a family with fistsful of money and then says, "Whatever will they do???" It would be so much better the other way. Gosh, I'm not even a numbers kind of gal, but I am positive I could tell the poor dad how to improve his money situation.

One last tip: your daughter could live without Abercrombie & Fitch.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

This is me, See?

Political Ideology Quiz
created with
You scored as Libertarian

You're a libertarian. That kind of means you're a right wing Anarchist. Go buy a gun, some gin, and wait for the hippies to show up.













Monday, January 28, 2008

Potty Mouth

Could there possibly be a task of motherhood that I despise more than potty training? I think not. I have heard claims of 2-year-olds happily abandoning their diapering days virtually the instant they are tempted with the promise of a fine-looking pair of Big Boy Undies; however, I have not witnessed it first-hand. About the only thing going for me at this point is that I gratefully live in an era that has become less obsessed about how old a child is when they reach this milestone. Now, it's generally only people born before 1960 that might raise an eyebrow at 3-year-olds in diapers. (Or Pull-Ups, better known as overpriced diapers you can change standing up.)

Though I have taught two kids how to read, add, multiply, spell, write and recognize a liberal, I still consider myself a colossal failure at communicating the lesson of basic sanitation. With my first child, I didn't really try at all until she was nearly 3. She learned "number one" almost immediately, but chronic constipation made "number two" a lesson that lagged for ages. On my incompetent pediatrician's advice, I constantly gave her prune juice, which never helped at all. I switched to a wonderful, earth-mother-crunchy pediatrician (whom I had to leave eventually because she dropped my insurance). She recommended increasing magnesium intake naturally, for which nuts are apparently optimal. One Planter's Cashew jar later, my daughter became regular and never had another day of constipation. So, she became potty-trained when she was 3 1/2.

I thought I had it in the bag with my second child. I tried the old lady method of putting them on the potty when they were little infants, so they would get used to it. That aspect worked out great. He was not afraid of the potty, nor rebellious about sitting on it. Before he was two years old, I could take him to the potty any time and he would non-challantly sit there until he peed. However, he didn't personally care about going to the potty. He saw no particular benefit in being dry, so if I wasn't on the ball, he would be wet (or messy) and happy as a clam. If I had really wanted to, I could have put him in underwear, taken him potty every hour or so, washed two or three pairs of accident pants a day and called him potty trained. Then I could be one of those moms who walked around saying he was potty trained before he was two. But this prospect did not appeal to me. "Potty-trained" to me means they know and care where they're supposed to do their business. They make an effort to go potty themselves or enlist help when the need arises, at least 80% of the time. If they would sit happily in a filthy puddle should you not take them potty in a timely fashion, they are not potty trained, IMHO.

Anyway, I put him back-and-forth in underwear, in pull-ups, underwear, pull-ups over the next two years, waiting for him to reach a point where he would care. He's such an easy-going chap, bless his heart. He never did care until I upped the ante shortly after he turned four. Since he was wild about Burger King at the time, a place you can hardly pay me to go, I let him know there was a flame-broiled patty of mashed-down kangaroo meat in it for him if he could go a week with only smiley faces on his potty chart. Thank God for fast-food bribery. It worked like a charm.

Now I'm facing this monster task of motherhood for the third time. This is my second attempt at it, after a false start in August. At that time, Mason was just shy of three and showed all the "signs" (whatever the heck that's supposed to help) of being able to use the potty. At first, we were wildly successful. He peed in the potty 97 times before lunch. He was "telling me" - i.e., he cared, which is the acid test for me. Then, he took a nap. Someone secretly switched him while he napped. He woke up thinking the potty was the Tool of the Devil. He wouldn't sit on that thing, even if there was a cheeseburger in it for him. If I "gently insisted", it was like trying to sit him on a hedgehog. So I did what any weak-willed mother does. I gave up.

The weird thing was, he did like to go potty in potties away from home. Kind of the reverse of most kids. We would be in church and he would squeal in a weird falsetto, "I got to PEEEEEEEEEE! I got to PEEEEEEEEE!" right in front of Sister Callahanto. So, I knew he was capable of all elements of pottying. He just wasn't going to do it on my say-so.

Now that we're in the dead of winter and our activities are at a minimum, I thought I would revisit the potty concept. I was planning to take a week in February for an intensive, week-long potty workshop. Since I've discovered kitchen timers help my transition-phobic child go along with the program, I was planning to use timers to help the process along. Then, Friday night, for reasons I can't explain, I impulsively decided to resume potty training that instant. I decided I would muscle through the inevitable crying. Of course, Friday night was a terrible night to start, for the very reason that interruptions would be constant all weekend - wrestling matches, errands, sleepovers, church. However, I went along with my ill-conceived plan.

Not surprisingly, he did cry on every trip to the potty, but he mostly sat and then would be happy over his success. The timer did help, but over the weekend it was too inconsistent to be very effective. Today, the timer is helping much more, since we've been home all day. We even got to a few instances of him telling me - again, my acid test of potty training.

I know there are some who would say that you shouldn't be training a child who cries. (A younger version of me would say that.) But for Mason, crying is part of the recipe. For him, mild tears are his usual state and only if he's going ballistic do tears concern me. Thankfully, ballistic hasn't happened this potty-training round. Perhaps cute Thomas the Train underwear are not far off in his future. We'll see.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Telling Stories

At church yesterday, the pastor talked about how our "stories" can help other people. For example, stories of painful things we've been through, or even are currently going through. Then, we had two church members tell a story of their own.

The first man told a bona fide tearjerker. If he had titled it, it would have been called, "Coincidences - or not". At the story's beginning, he had not been going to church, but "coincidentally", he and his wife both had the urge to find a church. They wound up at Cedar Ridge. Shortly after that, their son had a bad fall at the park and had to go to the ER. Which was lucky, actually. Because that is how the doctors discovered he had a rare throat cancer that has no outward symptoms. It was so fortunate, he said, that they now had a church community, because they could not have made it otherwise. Thankfully, their son was able to beat this cancer, a cancer that is nearly always fatal, simply because its stealth makes it undetectable until it's advanced.

Man, we all love a story like that! That's a story that bolsters our faith, moves us to believe that God has our back, makes us feel we're on the right team.

At the risk of sounding bitter, though, I cannot hear a story like that without comparing it with my own. My story is the reverse. At the beginning of my story, I was not an unbeliever. Me and God were buds; very tight. I was at the pinnacle of my faith. My faith that God had my back could not have been more certain. I was pregnant with my third child and believed myself to be so blessed and rewarded by God. I suppose I was arrogant. Subconsciously I think I believed that my life was so great because I was such a good little Christian. It was a very simple formula; trust in God and everything will turn out lovely.

It never entered my mind that this baby that I thought was proof of God's great love for me could die. Doesn't that happen to other people, you know, bad people who believe the wrong things? It never entered my mind that God's blessings can be rescinded at any time, without warning, without explanation. What could be more senseless than a baby who dies on the day of her birth? What is more impotent than a life that ends before it begins?

I have such trouble with My Story, because it is the antithesis of that awe-inspiring story Mr. Steve told about his child. In his case, the God he did not previously connect to said, "Here I am! And watch what I will do!" In my case, the God I was sure was there seemed to walk away, turn from me without reason, torment me for no purpose. What would Mr. Steve's story be if there were no "coincidences" that saved his child? His story would be my story.

I know that there are people who do go through horrible tragedies and come out with greater faith. The thing is, I have no idea how they do it! How do you continue to pray when you've had prayers answered with a heartbreaking "No."? I haven't been able to pray much since Lydia died. For every answered prayer, there is someone else, grief-stricken, whose prayers are not answered.

Some say that the purpose of tragedy is to refine our character. It is true that I am forever changed - in some ways for the better - by losing Lydia. It obliterated any notion I had, subconscious or otherwise, that I was specially loved and protected by God because I was so "good". It sensitized me, exquisitely, to the pain of others. Still, that cannot be the purpose. Could better character ever be a fair trade for the life of your child? Would you take that offer? Besides, losing Lydia shattered my faith in God and people. God, being omniscient, would have known that would happen. So, if He went ahead as planned, He would be saying He didn't want me anyhow. I think maybe that is not so.

That's the other reason why My Story makes such a shitty one. It's not resolved. There's no denouement. I'm still in Limbo, waiting for something to make sense. I may die waiting. I keep trying to hang on to some notion of Faith, without any good reason to do so. I'm like a battered wife who's still trying to find a reason to stay. (There's that battered wife metaphor again. People will start to wonder.) I still call myself a Christian, while my beliefs are downright heretical.

I keep trying. But it's a puzzle.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


When my first two children moved from a crib to a bed, I got double beds for them. I reasoned that this would be ideal any night they had a nightmare or were sick and I chose to sleep in their bed with them. I was pleased with this arrangement, although they rarely woke at night by that age.

When Mason moved into a bed, however, someone had a twin-sized mattress they wanted to unload and, being the cheapskate, I took it. Naturally, he would be the one who wakes up 50,000 times a month and requires a lot more bed-sharing than the other two.

So, last night, as I lay in his bed with a heel in my backside and an inadequate amount of choo-choo comforter on my tenth of the bed, I pondered the name "Twin-sized bed". How did that name ever come to be? Twins are two, so far as I know, yet a bed that sleeps two is a "Double". Perhaps the namer had spent the night with a 3-year-old in a twin-sized bed, and concluded that it's as roomy as twins in utero. But, really, logic would clearly dictate that it should be called a "Single". Then, Queen-sized beds could be called "Talls". And King-sized could be called "Frigid"...err, "Spacious".

I hate things that have bad names. That's why I'm not voting for Huckabee.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Weirder Motherhood Moments

New year, fresh start. That's what they say. Yet, other than taking the two big kids to see Alvin and the Chipmunks, my day was mostly made up of the usual mundane tasks. But someone - most probably a young son - managed to break up the monotony of emptying trash cans. As I emptied the cute, white, cottage-style trash can in the boys' blue-and-white adorable bathroom that looks straight out of a Nantucket beach house, something WET trickled out of the bag. I only had to wonder what could be wet in there for a few seconds before my SENSE OF SMELL informed me exactly what was wet in there. Seems someone managed to use the trashcan as an impromptu potty. Hard to explain, seeing how the actual toilet is 3 inches away. Unless poor aim is to blame.

Now WHAT IN THE HECK would prompt some child in the household to choose such a plan of action??? I puzzled over the question as I washed my hands 76 times. Then I called a certain young man upstairs, and asked him why I was discovering such leavings in the trash can. He, naturally, couldn't explain it. When asked directly, "Did you pee in the trashcan?", suspect looked thoughtful and then pulled the Clintonesque, "I don't know." Now, I'm no Sherlock Holmes, but I reckon if I peed in a trashcan, I could pull that from my memory banks, so that was as good as a confession, I figure. With that, I made a plain statement, "Don't pee in the trashcan. It's disgusting and unsanitary. Okay?" Our pact now secured, he skipped off to carry on with hopefully more useful pursuits.

The things you don't know about until you actually are a mother....! (If you're reading this and you actually AREN'T one yet, you're probably shaking your horrified head and saying, "Well MY child will NEVER do something like that!" Write that down. It will be funny to review later!)

Happy New Year, everyone! Cheers to all the Moms out there, wiping up pee everywhere! May your New Year include a reasonable amount of take-out-food, a few great Sugar-Plum Martinis and a really stunning pair of unsensible shoes!