Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dalai Lama Melodrama

I put the wheels in motion a few days ago (sometimes karma is fast-acting) while disposing of a cache of promotional e-mails: Right before hitting the delete button, I had a change of heart and forwarded my latest World Market message to Kevin. It said:
We join you in welcoming His Holiness, The Dalai Lama to Indiana for a series of talks. Then it went on to say how proud World Market is to offer the exiled leader of Tibet a Lotus rug to sit on during his appearance in Indianapolis on the Conseco Fieldhouse stage. Kevin is something of an armchair theologian and a closet Buddhist and was profoundly moved by his previous experiences with the DL. So, he was predictably excited by this bit of corporate marketing.

Opting out of the big public lecture on Saturday (Our Saturdays are consumed by soccer), Kevin was ecstatic to discover that there were also smaller-scale teachings in Bloomington on Wednesday with a few remaining seats.I was thrilled for him.Being a parent of five means little time for study and reflection, and Kevin said this came at a really good time--exactly what he needed.
Unfortunately, we failed to recognize a minor flaw in the plan: See, attending the Dalai Lama's seminar meant that Kevin would have to leave for IU well before 6:00 AM on a school morning. No big deal, I mean, it was he who would have to wake up early, right?Only that wasn’t the problem!

There were actually two main flaws in the plan: First, Kevin is our family's certified alarm clock. He sets it on his cell phone every night and, after letting it go off a few times in the morning (sometimes way more than a few), He wakes Kyla while I get up to prepare her lunch, iron her clothes, etc. and she gets herself ready (while Kevin usually lies back down to catch a few more z's). Then I transport Kyla to school while Kevin wakes up the rest of our tribe (except for Levi, who, at the ripe old age of almost two, has taken to sleeping in), starts breakfast, and moves them along till I return home to serve as morning drillmaster, barking out tasks and rhetorical questions about combing teeth (when it’s a really stressful morning), brushing hair and getting dressed.

Ok,ok....I’m not always that nice: One morning I demanded of Izzy as we were flying out the door, "Izzy, why did you wait till the last *F-ing* minute to tell me you couldn’t find your shoes?"Her respone, sarcastic with a smile: "Uh, cause I don't say the "F" word...")

Yeah, I know...I digress. But you have to admit that story was funny!
So, needless to say, once Kevin was on the road (to enlightenment, and Indiana), his hundred or so (give or take) calls to the house, my cell, and Kyla's phone did not disturb anyone’s slumber. And, secondly (flaw #2), neither Kevin nor I, in haste to get him to the first session on time, which was probably (and ironically) about mindfulness, considered exactly how Kyla was going to get to school...when there would not be an adult at the house for 25 minutes or so, with the four other siblings left sleeping to fend for themselves. If we had risen at a decent hour, I could have forced them all up and prodded them into the car, I suppose. Or if we had any foresight at all, we could have lined up my Dad who lives one street over and is early in leaving his house each day.

So, here I was already feeling like the Worst Mother Ever (Kyla was ticked at me for waking her up late when she had asked us to wake her up at 6 so that she could finish her homework) Not to mention, her backpack with her lunchbox never made it downstairs, so I had to pack her lunch with a double-ziploc bag of ice (this is due to the fact that the frozen icepack she usually takes to school remained upstairs and unfrozen--she hates this especially), and beyond that, her uniform pieces were MIA. Luckily for me this morning, it turned out that she was actually thrilled when she learned that there was no other choice but to relax and push back her normal schedule, giving her time to finish her homework while the others got ready. And, quite unfortunately for me and for Kyla, I had to iron her totally wrinkled pants from the day before on the hardwood floor. This would be because the ironing board I had Kevin drag up here to iron Raleigh’s room curtain (still in basket, un-ironed, after two weeks) was now occupied with lunchboxes, mail and other stackable oddities/necessities and the couch and ottomans that I would normally resort to as makeshift ironing boards were occupied with unfolded laundry and stacks of clothing destined for Goodwill. No surface is safe in our house.

So, under the circumstances, I bought off the twins for lunch again since we were down to our last icepack and it was reserved for Raleigh’s lunchbox (Raleigh, usually the most easygoing of the three, is quite fragile when it comes to things being out of sorts in her daily routine (and, since she was also the one whose lunchbox made it to the kitchen the night before, she became the proud recipient)! We are actually experiencing an icepack shortage at home due to the fact that Izzy has had two lunchboxes as of late that have come home with what we have come to call the Cheese Touch(reference: Diary of a Wimpy Kid; I will explain in a future blog) and had to be thrown away.

Once we finally made it out the door, and thinking of how it would all go over
with the powers that be at Kyla’s school, I began having major flashbacks to a previous morning when I had to bring Kyla’s lunchbox to the office while Levi sported what has since become known as his "unemployment pants" and I, un-showered and uncombed, wrapped him in my shawl. Today was no different; Levi was caked in fake Oreos from Whole Foods(I did manage to dress him in clean pants and throw on a pair of sneakers this time) and I was still wearing my shawl, as it was cold and rainy, again…(I secretly wondered if the office thought this was my daily look. Then, I secretly wondered to myself if it isn’t my daily look!)

So when we finally arrive to deal with secretaries and administrators, our timing brings us face to face with a lovely and very well-dressed Mrs. Artman, a 6th-grade science teacher who dropped in to say hello and to tousle Levi’s hair. This is especially disconcerting to me as I am old friends with her husband, Jeff, and every time I run into this couple at a soccer or school function, they appear very clean and organized, while we are, well..consistently disorganized and unkempt! Mr. and Mrs. Artman recently attended Kyla's school soccer playoffs (the girls on the team adore her and are friends with her in spite of the fact that she was never their teacher) whereupon my twins spent the entire time sitting beside them whining and fighting! Their children, of course, were perfect angels and practiced impeccable behavior!

Anyway, I rambled through my story about how Kevin went to see the Dalai Lama seeking a healthy dose of mindfulness and compassion and ironically neither of us had given any thought to the other 4 children who would be left sleeping to fend for themselves while I drove Kyla to school....

And then Mrs. Artman shared a reassuring story of her own about how one time, their family got trapped inside their car inside their own garage in the morning because the electric door refused to open.

It was then that I had my own moment of enlightenment: I thought to myself, WOW, that is exactly the kind of thing that would NEVER happen to us, because one, we don’t even have a garage and two, even if we did....we would not be organized enough to be able to fit both of our cars into it in the first place! OR, we’d lose the garage door opener and no one would ever be able to park there!

The line for excuses is tiny on the school office sign-in chart, so I chalk our morning up to "overslept" and make a quick exit, hoping that at least one of us is getting our fill of peace, love and understanding while the other enjoys yet another morning of complete and total chaos.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Raleigh the Walking Dictionary

It was very obvious to me that my 10-year-old daughter, Raleigh, was going to be a clever one from the get-go. While we were still in the hospital, she would sneak her tiny little body out of her bassinet, somehow winding up right beside me in the bed every time I awoke. Just a few hours old, she'd lock her tiny little eyes with mine and offer a look as if to say, "Now, you know and I know you didn't get me out of there. But here I am!"
Whether or not I was hallucinating from labor drugs is still up for debate, but it seemed Raleigh employed this "jumping out of bed" tactic well into her first year of life, and she had me wrapped around her tiny little fingers. And her tiny little fingers were always wrapped around my hair. Literally. She did not let go of my hair until she turned two; I have vivid memories of leaning back in the passenger seat of the car so that Raleigh could tug my hair from her perch in the middle seat to calm down or drift off to a nap.
She started talking, I mean, really talking, around 13 months. And while most babies can throw out several basic words at this point, Raleigh knew all of these and then some, and she was starting to put together complete sentences. She would do this frequently under her breath, responding to the conversations around her at the appropriate times and using the appropriate context. My mom and I (who spent the most time with little Raleigh) would look at each other, stunned:"Did she just say that?," my mom would ask. "Yeah, I think she did!, I would respond. We got such a kick out of this advanced pattern of speech that we began to taunt her for using big words. Two of her best words were "nervous" and "genius." So before long, we had her saying "I'm a nervous genius." And when Raleigh caught on that we were asking her to deliver on-demand, she got smart and started saying, "I'm NOT a genius!" every time we asked her to perform.
As Raleigh got older, around 7 or so, she learned how to combine her genius nature with clever wit. One day, we were on our way to a farm out in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. When we were getting close, Kyla asked me how much longer the drive would take. "5 or 7 minutes," I said. Suddenly, Raleigh piped up from the back seat,So, it's not six? I looked back at her through the rearview mirror and she had a giant grin plastered across her face. My little smartie was also a smartass!
Though she would prefer I call her a smart "donkey."
See, Raleigh is very particular about words and the way in which they are used. She's the first to come up with clever puns and double meanings for everything we say. She's good at math, too. Which is why her friends at school call her a "walking dictionary and a human calculator."
A few weeks ago, when I was totaling my Goodwill donations on an Excel spreadsheet, my little human calculator stood beside me and multiplied the columns in her head, coming up with the answers before I could even find them on my own calculator! The kicker? She was right every time!
Raleigh's outstanding vocabulary skills frequently enable her to talk over the twins' heads, while also enabling Kevin and I to play head games with her. One day, she came into our room and told us she was "parched" and "famished." As she knows we think she is old enough to make her own snack, Kevin and I asked her to calculate how long she thought it would take for one of us to go to the kitchen to make her a snack! (These sort of statements set Raleigh off into a fit of giggles).
Another favorite activity of Raleigh's, besides playing with words and numbers, is to find loopholes in a situation as they work to her advantage. Especially when it comes to following the rules of the household. A few days ago, Kevin told her to stop standing on the table. "Ok," she smiled, as she continued to stand and dance. When Kevin became frustrated, Raleigh informed him that she was never standing on the table; she was standing on the table bench.
Today, Raleigh was eating her snack in our room even though it is common knowledge that such practices are not allowed. When Kevin told her to get her plate off the bed, she said (rather enthusiastically), "ok!" and proceeded to take the plate off of the bed as she was directed--but--instead of taking it to the kitchen as she knew she should, she tossed it onto the floor beside the bed and pranced out of the room empty-handed. Then she just giggled. Raleigh has us right where she wants us: She knows we can't get mad at her for being irreverently clever. In fact, we have cultivated such skills. What Raleigh knows is that in these types of situations, we are just as impressed as we are frustrated!
Yesterday morning, though, we actually got the best of Raleigh for a change.
The conversation went something like this:
Raleigh, (returning from a weekend at her dad's house): "Can I get some more of that medicine?" (Both Raleigh and Izzy had been taking Mucinex packets for the past few days per doctor's orders. They were orange-flavored and sugary, and we teased Raleigh relentlessly about her new addiction and how it could lead to harder things like, say, cough drops).
She started spouting off her symptoms: cough, sore throat, blah blah, blah, winter cold....
Kevin: "Well, if it's just a simple winter cold, what's your excuse gonna be in the summer when you're still begging for it?"
Raleigh: "I'm not gonna be sick in the summer."
Kevin: "Everybody thinks they can quit whenever they want to. But before they know it, they can't hold a job....wait a you have a job?"
Raleigh (smiling): "No. I'm a kid!"
Kevin: "See? It's already worse than I thought!"
(Raleigh then kicks Kevin in the shin as she utters unintelligible mumbles and groans).
The next day, when Raleigh was ready for another dose, Kevin teased her about hearing Pink Floyd coming from her room late at night and other equally ridiculous things. And though these comments went straight over Raleigh's head, she put up with it long enough to get her fix. But then, when she inadvertently spilled it all over the floor and needed a replacement packet, Kevin didn't let her hear the end of it. He joked that we should have never let her and Levi go to that Phil Lesh & Friends concert with us. And when she wanted her snack later, he said she had a clear case of the munchies, etc., etc.
Truth be told, Raleigh is a great kid with a kind heart and a pleasant disposition. But she is wicked smart and dangerously clever. And though she no longer teleports herself for snuggle sessions, Raleigh is always up to something extraordinary.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The (Picky) School Lunch Bunch

Since I was still unemployed when the New Year turned (my company re-located to Wisconsin in September), I took it upon myself to resume my morning duties as a mother, which meant I was going to take back AM responsibilities from my own mother. Which meant....I would be getting four girls ready for school--fed, clothed, combed and clean. It also meant I would be packing their school lunches every day.
Though my mother protested and offered incessantly to continue with these morning duties, I felt as if it were something I was missing out on--hanging out with the girls in the morning and sending them all off to school together. Plus, since my severance had run out already, I was forced to pay her less to watch Levi all day, so I felt compelled to relieve her off some of the more tedious responsibilities. Prior to my unemployment, I would drive my oldest daughter to school each morning on my way to work, after we dropped the rest of the crew off at their Nana's (my mom) house, where Kyla picked up her lunchbox.
I had beautiful images in my mind of waking up early with my five beautiful children, enjoying a calm and peaceful morning while we gathered together at the breakfast table, with plenty of time after that to hang out and kick it while they took turns brushing teeth and combing hair.
That image was quickly replaced, however, with reality. The kids wake up especially grumpy (as do Kevin and I), and it takes much prodding to get them out of their respective beds and to the breakfast table, where they whine and complain about what they're going (or not going) to eat. Once there, they spend an exorbitant amount of time hanging out at the breakfast table while I do what has now become the new bane of my existence: packing school lunches.
Oh sure, it sounds easy enough, right? And I got a list from my mom of what each kid takes for lunch every day, which makes grocery shopping simple. Wrong! The girls are a finicky bunch (they got this from me), so boredom quickly set in with the regular items while I struggled to find acceptable replacements to meet their ever-changing tastes and standards. Added to that is the fact that a lot of the work must be completed ahead of time: ice packs must make it into the freezer each night, lunch boxes must be cleaned and sanitized and ziploc bags, as well as the proper pantry and refrigerator items, must be in plentiful supply. The week starts out pretty easy with regard to planning, but usually takes a dramatic turn by Thursday morning when the grapes start wilting and the bananas begin to turn yellow. (This catastrophe can only be pre-empted by a mid-week grocery run). And, let's be frank: a busy mother of five with a boatload of work to do AND a job to hunt for, is too exhausted to make the school-night run, especially after this is coupled with driving to and from the kids' many extracurricular activities.
But the problems do not begin and end with my disorganized habits and hatred of grocery shopping. I cannot stand touching raw meat (like turkey), cold cheese or salty chips and crackers. I despise making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the sheer stickiness involved (though I love cutting them in half to give them a "mother's touch"). And, it takes at least 30 mintues to sleepwalk through the preparation of 4 school lunches. AND, it's usually anybody's guess where the last roll of paper towels has gone (I use these to clean out lunchboxes, wipe my hands after packing icky, sticky food items and for packing inside the lunchbox so my girls can avoid being icky and sticky). This problem is also compounded by the fact that I usually have to hunt for spoons for the girls to use for yogurt and fruit cups, which can only happen after the kids are fed breakfast, which can only happen after I rummage through the dirty dishes in the sink for cereal-suitable bowls or extra large coffee mugs.(The children have been known to eat out of small glasses or other random kitchen oddities on days when the appropriate dish supply is depleted. This is a common phenomenon given that there are seven people eating and snacking all day every day and the fact that Levi has broken a number of our cereal bowls by tossing them across the room at his whim).
Finally, in the event that I am particularly exhausted and we are out of most of the lunch fixings, I have a backup tactic: Buying off the kids! What this means is that I coax them into purchasing a cafeteria lunch (something I do not in general condone for its notoriously high fat, highly-processed content...Kevin and I have read Fast Food Nation and watched Food Inc...which is why I insist on having lunches packed in the first place). The last step in this process, of course, is making sure the lunches make it out of the car and into the school!
And so it came to pass on one recent morning of unpreparedness, when Kyla reminded me she was on a "soft food" diet after her recent tooth excavation, that I had to drop off a special lunch for her at school. And her lunch-time is freakishly early...sometime around 10:30. This made it especially problematic as I had to first drop the kids off at two separate schools, then drive Kevin to work so I could have the car, then drive to Steak and Shake for the special meal of cheese fries and milkshake I had promised, and then rush to school to deliver while the fries were still crispy and the milkshake cold!
I assumed Kevin had Levi dressed and ready to go--packing up the boy is his early morning responsibility--so suffice it to say I was very surprised when we arrived at Kyla's school and found Levi looking like he, too, was unemployed. He was wearing yesterday's shirt, baggy sweatpants, donut glaze-a byproduct of Kevin's coffee craving at the Krispy Kreme donut shop, and no shoes or socks! Mom had the day off, and so apparently Kevin assumed Levi would be returning home with me immediately following the drop-offs. Anyway, upon arrival at Kyla's school, I wriggled out of my bunny fur (if you read my recent blog, you know why I didn't want to be seen in this) and wrapped myself in a long shawl I found on the floor of the truck. I tucked Levi's feet in (he was wrapped around my waist) and made a run for it in the freezing winter rain. My plan was to make a quick and anonymous exit before anyone even knew we were there.
Of course it was just my luck to run into one of the most pulled-together moms I know! Like me, she has four school-age daughters, but she always seems so organized, and her look is flawless. Except, thankfully, for this day. She was rocking a casual look for a change and had her hair pulled back. Our daughters are close friends, and we talked and laughed for a good ten minutes about the chaos of parenting. Turns out, she realy hates making school lunches, too. And, she also resorts to the practice of buying her kids off to avoid packing them some days.
*Sigh.* It is encouraging to occasionally be reminded that we are not the only ones living in the throes of chaos and that every nest has its own birds of appetite to appease.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Threat Letters and Room Signs

I apologize if I've already scared you with the title, but I feel compelled to publish these two letters my oldest daughter Kyla wrote as evidence in the event we never see our shared morning hairbrush again or someone gets charged a fee or, worse, banished for entering Kyla's room.

In light of a recent hairbrush threat note and an even more ominous room sign, I feel at this moment it is appropriate to report this information to a trusted source--i.e. my three followers of this blog.

The first letter I found upstairs last week with Kyla's hairbrush. I'd like to add that until last weekend, the entire household (not counting Kevin & Levi who make a habit of not brushing)shared two hairbrushes each morning--one that I purchased for Kyla, and one for Raleigh. We use whichever it is we can find during the morning rush--which is ok with Kyla if she cannot find hers and Raleigh's is available, and not okay under the opposite circumstances. Which is how it happened that I received this letter one morning when I ran upstairs to grab Kyla's hairbrush. It said, in red crayon:

This better be back here by tomorrow without me having to get it.
(if not, I'm hiding it somewhere 2morrow).

(I went out the next day and bought a replacement hairbrush to use, which is also now in the morning circulation as a possible option when the other two are missing).

The room sign, which we discovered taped to Kyla's door this morning, is even worse. It said:

Kyla's room terms + agreements (with pretty smiley faces and star decorations)

All things in this room automatically become property of Kyla. All people who enter Kyla's room must clean up every mess they make and pay for anything they break or damage. When you are in this room, you must do everything that Kyla Drozt says. Minimum fee for distracting, abusing, or annoying Kyla is one dollar a minute. If you fail to follow this rule, Kyla will have you banished. Under the roof of this room, you must agree to say nothing profane or against the rule of Kyla. What Kyla says, goes. Izzy and Sophie and Raleigh must learn to knock before entering. Alex and Madie Douglas are allowed in any time. Maddi Karcher is not allowed in either unless you do the secret knock and I say you can. Plus, you must follow all rules. NO THROWING BOXES OF CEREAL (yes, that means you, Raleigh). You must not address me in any other name besides Kyla unless I give you permission. If you steal anything you must return it, with included a tax fee of ten dollars and up. Thank you.

Underneath this letter, she has written the words, "Sign here." And, to our surprise, below that are our actual signatures--which Kyla has cut out from various pieces of paper she has asked us to sign at one point or another.

Now, call me crazy, but these are not rules I, nor any of Kyla's sisters...can obey. The cereal incident she references happened during one of our regular slumber parties with Kyla's best friends Alex and Madie, and Raleigh and one of her BFF's, Maddi Karcher. Alex and Maddi Karcher are sisters. When they come over, they play a lot of games that involve stealing objects from each other's room and throwing cereal and the like. This cannot be helped. It's sisters against sisters, with Kyla having an extra player on her team. And if she thinks I'm going to shell out $1 bills to her sisters to pay her toll every time she's annoyed, distracted, or abused...well, to use a popular phrase, "She has another thing coming!"

To be fair, there is strong basis for the rules she has set forth. Since Kyla and Raleigh go to their dad's house some nights, Kyla often comes home to find that her main partner in crime, Sophie, has destroyed her room. Sometimes stuff is missing. I don't really know much about the profanity clause (I think she added that in for good measure).

Finally, with regard to the intruders in her room...that is just a fact of life that happens when you have sisters. It's everyone's sisters' and brothers' duty to annoy, abuse (we're talking cat fights) and distract one another. I think that's written in some kind of brother/sister creed somewhere. Or maybe it's just an unwritten rule.
But somehow Kyla has been led to believe that she can control these extenuating factors.

I doubt anyone will begin following her rules. After all, even if we took her bossiness seriously, we are a house full of rule breakers who have been around long enough to know that most threats are empty anyway. Especially ones issued from 12 year-olds with ever-changing moods.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Double Trouble

My twin girls, Izzy and Sophie, are as different as night and day. Izzy (left) is the happy-go-lucky, bubbly, outgoing girl who happens to have a bit of a temper primarily when technology is yanked out of her little hands. Sophie (right), on the other hand, is completely unpredictable in her actions (and anger) but is overall a much more mellow, introspective child who enjoys employing clever humor and getting everyone's goat. (That includes making up stories and stubbornly presenting them to everyone as truth, including Izzy who gets particularly upset as she vehemently argues against such fictions).
Izzy (short for Isabella Grace)and Sophie (short for Abigail Sophia)are fraternal twins, which means they also look as different as they act. Izzy has fair skin, freckles and bright green eyes. She's also the only lefty of the bunch (though she may well be ambidextrous). Soph, by comparison, has an olive complexion, the giant brown eyes of an old soul and the most hilarious expressions to complement her outrageous sense of humor. She is my "wild child," without doubt.
The two are as close as any set of non-twin sisters, in that they fight like cats and dogs. They are fiercely competitive and always trying to outdo one another. I ask them repeatedly to "be good twins," which means I expect them to look out for each other and play together without conflict. Sometimes, this works rather nicely; more often, one of them runs down the stairs whining after just a few minutes of play, reporting the wrongdoings of her twin and advising me how to punish said twin. The twin in question is usually never far behind with a different take on the altercation and an alternate plan for punishment.
When Izzy and Sophie were tiny, they really didn't seem to notice one another during the day. But an inadvertant bond was present nonetheless. They slept in the same crib, and I laid them to bed on opposite ends, but I'd always find them curled together like yin and yang in the mornings.
Izzy quickly showed herself to be the one in charge. While still crib-age, I'd lay the twins side-by-side and give them their bottles of milk in efforts to fill their bellies and put them down for naps. Izzy would drink hers with quick, steady gulps, while Sophie liked to take her time. Izzy figured out fast that there was another baby with another bottle right beside her. She would give Sophie a piercing glance (we used to refer to this as "shooting prisms") and, without looking, toss her bottle off to the opposite side, roll sideways and--with both arms--grab Sophie's bottle. Sophie would wail hysterically while Izzy nonchalantly rolled back and began gulping Sophie's bottle as if it were her own. They did this, without fail, so many times a day that I decided I would pitch this routine to the "Got Milk?" campaign. I actually made it as far as the head of the campaign when I was told they had abandoned their trademark lifestyle ads for more "celebrity-focused" campaigns. I still think the "Got Milk?" campaign was seriously missing the boat on this!
For a while, after the milk incidents subsided and they reached the terrible two's and three's, Izzy and Sophie were "good twins." They kept each other entertained and found their way into all kinds of trouble. They hid inside the kitchen cabinets together. They drank from a bottle of Benadryl together and got rushed to the hospital together (disclaimer: The bottle was nearly empty and they probably didn't drink too much, but just to be on the safe side, we had to go anyway) where they drank charcoal "shakes" together to offset any negative effects. And, one time, they dressed in swimsuits and filled a large ice tub with various colors and flavors of Kool-Aid coolers because they wanted to go "swimming." When I discovered them, I had to make them stop (it was getting very sticky and messy) but it was so funny--and creative---that I couldn't get too mad at them about it.
Though temporarily equals, Izzy re-established herself as the dominant twin through the preschool years. Sophie clung to Izzy like glue and used her as a "buffer" between herself and their newfound friends. At this point, Izzy could do without Sophie; Sophie could not do without Izzy.
To keep Sophie's anxiety to a minimum, I asked that the twins be kept together in elementary school (parents always have the option to split them if desired). Now 7 years old and in first grade, they are both at the head of their class and in the advanced reading group together. Izzy, however, still the more outspoken of the two inside the classroom, bonded better with their teacher, thus landing her in the gifted and talented program for art and creativity. When Sophie found out, she was devastated and didn't understand how Izzy got picked over her. Truth be told, this is more Sophie's niche...but somehow the teacher has not recognized as many of Sophie's efforts in the art department. (Izzy was probably more the standout as she drew pictures of herself with Mrs. Baker and gave them to her as gifts every week). So, in the interest of easing competition, I have been thinking about separating Izzy and Sophie for the coming school year so they could each shine individually. (My thoughts are to remove Izzy from the class since she makes new friends easily, leaving Sophie with the kids she knows the best so she can stay inside her comfort zone).
Incidentally, in spite of Izzy's years of reigning as the dominant twin, something interesting has happened over the past few months: Sophie has begun to assert herself, to the point of constantly pulling the "I'm older than you" card to coax Izzy into doing as she wishes. She barks orders at Izzy non-stop, and Izzy actually listens 90 percent of the time! Sophie is exactly two minutes older than Izzy, which makes this whole routine even more absurd.
A few days ago, Sophie broke my heart when she returned home from school fighting with Izzy. I told them they needed to end the agression and "be good twins," but Sophie insisted that she would no longer stand for being twins with Izzy.
Too bad for Soph she has no say in this factor!
I'm glad that Sophie has finally found some of the confidence she has been lacking in social situations. However, I am still holding out for the day that Izzy and Sophie learn how to "be good twins" and express the love they have for one another even as they make their own disparate ways in this world.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


A little more than a week ago, I found myself revisiting our favorite hospital, this time with a head situation of my own...a massive sudden, crippling ache (which in the end was relatively benign in and of itself but it unfortunately merited some serious tests-including a lumbar tap-to arrive at that conclusion. And the invasive spinal poke apparently resulted in the nasty side-effects that necessitated several subsequent return trips to treat my nausea and a series of even worse headaches). During my many turns in the ER, I did encounter a number of cool doctors and nurses, a few of which I found greatly fascinating and entertaining. There was Leviticus, our good-looking, young and free-spirited ER nurse who shares the same name with our only son (though ours is simply, "Levi"); Darren, my super-groovy "headache concierge" who appeared out of nowhere in our darkened room and talked me through the headache sequence in a voice as smooth and easy as Barry White (so smooth, in fact, I had to double-check with Kevin to ensure he was not an apparition); and, finally, Marylin, an old bohemian granny who was upbeat, humorous and a little too candid about her own health woes(Turns out she suffers from "dumping syndrome").
But the hospital shenanigans are really not the point of this blog. I would like to mention, though, that each of the aforementioned medical professionals received a "WOW" card, which is sort of like a restaurant comment card except you can only fill these cards out for exceptional service. The cards provide a diversion from the pain and are the closest thing to "fun" that exists while waiting to be discharged, although attempting to guess why the poor soul next door is screaming in agony and why no one can find him any morphine does help to pass the time.
The POINT of this blog does have to do with the fact that my ER nurse with dumping syndrome loved, loved LOVED my bunny fur, which launched quite a conversation that would have had anyone listening in roll on the floor in stitches.
I have been rocking said bunny fur this winter since my black wool Kenneth Cole coat went out on a three-week fashion parade that culminated in a look that said "I spent weeks on end rolling around in a dog house and I think it's perfectly ok and even quite respectful to show up for social gatherings draped in fuzz, food, and filth."(even though I was never in contact with an actual furry animal or its dinner).
Out of desperation, I visited the basement for an alternate coat and turned up with the celebrated vintage long black fuzzy bunny fur I purchased years ago at an estate sale for $5 but had not been in circulation for the past few winters.
As Marylin and I discussed, the coat made me either feel super glam and stylish (when paired with the right pieces) OR like a total bag lady. The bag lady feeling was the more common, especially when the coat was employed to top off my school-morning car-line ensembles. She was in full agreement and, despite the fact that it has a missing patch of fur on the right arm AND the fact that I ripped a giant tear in the left sleeve seam when reaching over the backseat to hand a stuffed elephant to Levi...assured me that the bunny was in fact super-fab and probably worth about $500. She then proceeded to tell me about each of her five fur pieces to the point that I decided I was not only going to continue wearing my bag-lady sophisticate bunny...I was also going to add more crazy fuzzy pieces to my cache.
My taste is offbeat to say the least, but I know it gives the PTA moms (though not the PETA moms) a giggle when I roll into the school parking lot each morning in my "car-line" clothes. The straight truth is you just never know what you're gonna get.
Kevin and I are both hoping that Stacy and Clinton (and the rest of the TLC crew) are secretly filming us. Sometimes I add extra special touches just in case...because wouldn't it be grand if they awarded one of us with a $5,000 credit card and a trip to NYC?
Like, for instance, I LOVE to set off the fur with a pair of knee-high Frye boots and whatever old T-shirt and baggy yoga pants I happened to be wearing the night before. To finalize the look, I can usually be seen sans make-up, sans bra and sporting a 1/2 up, 1/2 down ponytail that I haven't even bothered to comb since I rolled out of bed at the last minute in my usual mad morning rush.
I would like to say for the record that I would have a hard time letting go of many of my wardrobe items following Stacy and Clinton's assessment in the 3-way mirror. "Hippy Dippy Trippy" to them is "stylish bohemian ease" for me. No way am I letting go of my long patchwork hippie skirt, the bunny OR the white go-go boots I haven't had a chance to wear yet but am saving on the off chance I may someday fit back into my electric pink paisley Jackie O. style 60's sheath I bought on Haight Street in San Fran. And I will not let Nick cut my hair. Carmindy, welcome to approach me with makeover tips. Makeup is easy to replace.
Kevin is a much more likely candidate for the show, since his wardrobe consists of a couple corduroy sports coats with patches on the elbows that he either purchased straight from Goodwill or stole from his father's closet...his infamous Rolling Stones "1/2 top" and various other rarities from the "too short old concert T-shirt collection" and several dilapidated button-ups in colors that do not flatter. Stacy and Clinton would have a blast with his year-round, all-occasion flip-flop array and the tiny spectacles with the loose screw that make him look not unlike a soft-spoken, near-sighted serial killer. C would have a heyday with his thick, busy blond brows (did you see the episode where she ripped the gal up and down for her hairy, overgrown "monkey" eyebrows?)I will physically harm Nick, though, if he tries to give Kevin another hair cut (Kevin has a bad habit of growing his hair out to an acceptable length and then sneaking off to the most ancient barber he can find to undo all that is good. At press time, I'd like to add, it is looking really nice...which is making me extra antsy).
As it turns out, the real likelihood is that Kevin and I will probably continue to put together half-baked looks until either a)Stacy and Clinton rescue us out of a ditch b) our numbers come in or c) the kids are grown and stage an intervention and/or become financially independent. Because everyone knows when you're raising five kids, your entire wardrobe must suffer at the expense of clothing the children. At least that's our rationalization! And as far as I know, Levi is the only one of the five who's ok with running around naked. Correct me if I'm wrong, children...I could use another bunny fur!
For now, I'll bask in the delusion that, like the old granny nurse with the dumping syndrome affirms, I'm flaunting a fabulous fur with double blowouts that makes me look like a million dollars even when I physically feel like I'm gonna puke on Kevin and my head is going to explode. That's exactly why she got herself a "WOW" card.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Babies Kissing Mommies!

I have no doubt that all of my children love me. I know this because they each have their own special way of letting me know.
My oldest daughter, Kyla--who is nearly 13 and quite a reasonable age to be publically embarrassed and humiliated by my every action--insists on leaning over in the car and giving me a hug on her way out the door to school. And, at night, if I ever let her go to bed without tucking her in, she will physically drag my butt out of bed and up the stairs for a goodnight hug and kiss.
Raleigh and Izzy are my cuddly girls. Raleigh never hesitates to find me the second she or I return home, smiling with her pretty little dimple, then throwing her arms around my waist and tucking her head in for a hug. Izzy is much the same--always smiling, climbing into my lap for a cuddle, hug or kiss. She throws her arms around me so tightly at bedtime I nearly have to pry them off.
And Sophie--whose affection is the most elusive of the four girls--comes to me frequently for comfort when she thinks the whole world is stacked against her(namely, her sisters). She's good for a cuddle on her own terms, but the most heartfelt gesture is to draw happy little pictures of birds and hearts and puppies on little pieces of paper with touching captions like "I love you mommy" and "Mommy and Sophie." Sometimes she slides one into my laptop. I hide them all over the house, so when I come across them I am reminded that my "wild child," too, has as softer side.
And Levi--though his love is sweet and tender, his kisses are hard to come by. He is the first of the five who did not give kisses freely from the second he learned how to give them. Sure, he'll come to me for a cuddle at night with his thumb in his mouth, leaning his head lovingly upon me...but he holds the real deal--those sweet, wet, open-mouthed "soap opera" kisses--ransom.
It's no surprise he's inherited the "mean German streak," or, in lay terms, hereditary stubborn nature, that seems to have been passed mainly down the female side of my family. Some days, I'll get 7 or 8 kisses in a row. Most days? I'm lucky if I even get one. Fortunately, Levi does not just single me out; he is equally evasive with Kevin and the girls.
I have tried everything I can to increase the frequency of Levi kisses.
I have given him a mantra: "Babies kissing mommies" (said in a singsong, sickeningly syrupy voice) and even googled images of babies kissing mommies to reinforce this important bonding ritual. He loved looking at the pictures with me; however, the routine did not translate.
I tried to have my cousin demonstrate "babies kissing mommies" at a wedding reception with her tiny little blond boy. Miraculously, Levi got caught up in the moment and gave me one kiss...but the other baby's mom got many,many more.
And, (I am not proud of this one), but I almost had it out a couple weeks ago with a stuffed animal named Sally. Sally is a seal puppet Izzy purchased with her holiday money a few years ago from the book store. Levi adores Sally and Sally adores him. She has such a presence in our home she has taken on anthropomorphic qualities. And,on Kevin's arm, she gloats at me and challenges me every time Levi gives her scores of french kisses. Sally is very lucky to still be among us.(Though she is on the endangered'd better watch it, Sally)!
Finally, to add insult to injury, Levi developed a "fake-out" kiss that goes something like this: He moves in for the kiss...fake puckers and pops his lips while leaning closer, then quickly turns his head to the side and laughs at the very last second. This one is especially frustrating and nearly always elicits a fake cry from me, which sometimes scores me a kiss. (Kevin is jealous because this tactic only works for me).
However, since Kevin and I are equally distraught over the kissing dilemma, we decided it was time to get to the root of the problem: Did we scar him? We may have sort of pushed Levi in the direction of not freely giving kisses early on when he just began to give them by emphatically shouting "NO!" and "Don't you give mommy/daddy a kiss!" while he was mid-pucker. Perhaps it was our jealousy of each other that drove the poor boy to this state in the first place.
We have taken note that Levi intends for us to earn his kisses. He's quite the clever one and will not be outsmarted. For instance, if you follow him when he tugs at your pants leg and make him a bowl of ice cream, you might get a kiss. If you are a sister who rolls him around in a plastic storage tub, you will most likely get a kiss. And if you lie down with him and read "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" and "Moo Moo Brown Cow" over and over and over again...chances are pretty good a kiss is coming. It seems this child has the entire family wrapped around his tiny, sticky little fingers, and he knows how to cash in his chips. Or, kisses, as the case may be.
For now, I'm holding onto every little precious kiss I get--and trying to figure out how--and when--I'm going to settle the score with Sally. And, I will continue to revel in the fact that each of my children love me. In their own, very special ways.