Friday, July 31, 2009

Shared

It's official. My son and my husband have the same taste in movies. They are, at least in that sense, on the same level. Tom has always had a liking for the stupid humor boy movies. You know the ones I am talking about. The ones rife with bathroom jokes, physical comedy and an abundance of general inappropriateness. Almost every movie by Jim Carrey falls into this category, as do most things with Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller.

It's not that I don't enjoy them. I do. Hell, I grew up on them. My Dad loved the Porky's series, Spaceballs and I've seen every single one of the Police Academies. My Dad's favorite movie of all time, if I had to guess, is Stripes. I could probably recite that entire film from opening scene to ending credits.

There are plenty of times that I like watching them. Sometimes, a silly film can transport you to a place of much needed laughter. When you laugh so much that it hurts. Scenes like that one we saw recently in the Hangover - the one where you see them all waking up for the first time. And the scene where the vet in the chair teaches some men how to dodge a ball. And, who could ever again look at an apple pie the same after that fateful teen movie?

These movies are funny, mostly because of the fact that they aren't so far outside the realm of possibility that we could never imagine them happening to anyone we know. The opposite is the truth. I can imagine most of the things that happen in these movies happening to people I know.

As much as I can laugh along with him, I don't love them the same way that Tom does. I don't feel compelled to wear a t-shirt proclaiming my love of tater tots. I don't need to wear an Average Joe's shirt either. And, no, I don't need to watch Dumb and Dumber every single time it happens to be on TV.

Every once in a while, I want to watch a serious film. I like the occasional lighter, though predictable romantic comedy. I love a tragedy. And every so often, I want to see a horror film. The problem is that my husband isn't as willing to humor my interests as I would like him to be. I've learned over the years that there is a ratio of about 1 to 4. One movie that I want to see for about every four he likes. And he's usually asleep during mine or in the other room playing a video game. On rare occasions, he will allow me to drag him to see one in the theater, but since we only see about two movies a year that way - the odds are stacked against me. I'll see a first run chick flick sometime in 2011.

Finally this year, he got me a gift card so that I can see movies on my own if I want. He's gone to see some of the big ones on his own. I have virtually no interest in some of the movies he absolutely needs to see. Anything Star Wars related and anything based on a comic book - all things he needed to see on the big screen. And he goes, alone, happily. Sometimes it's just easier that way. Soon enough, he won't need to go alone. He'll have a little buddy to tag along. Aidan likes them too. This, dear readers, is why men have sons.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Delete

It never ceases to amaze me how completely and totally unaware some people can be about the effects that their words can have. How much words can hurt. And how it really doesn't matter what the intentions of the speaker were, and how noble they might have been.

I have struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember. I don't even recall a single time in my life where it wasn't an issue. I've been painfully aware of the harsh reality of being overweight my entire life. Kids are cruel, and adults are often worse.

I had a chance to revisit this subject today, as a direct result of a person's comment online. Someone, who I know that has never struggled with it, claiming to be looking out for the best interests of the overweight people in the world, berating them in the process. Not realizing that her statements, her words, though she thought they were harmless and encouraging, were cruel.

It reminds me of the old saying, you know the one. If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all. It really is a good rule of thumb. Don't go on slinging insults, claiming that they are meant to be inspiring. Don't make fun of people, call them names and blame them for their situations, particularly when you don't really know anything about them. Don't be mean, even if you think you are doing a good deed.

If your perceptions are that flawed, that misguided, do us all a favor. Type. Delete. Type. Delete.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Practice

Via the wonder that is Facebook, I've recently reconnected with many of my former classmates from law school. Some of them, I haven't seen or spoken with since the day we graduated, over eight years ago. Many of them have had successful careers in law. Some have already abandoned the field, burnt out and fed up with it. And a couple, like me, never really entered it fully to begin with.

Aidan was born three days after I graduated. The rest, as they say, is history. I had intentions of taking the bar exam a few times, but something it seems, always came up. We talked about moving to Oregon for a while, and I was set to take the Oregon bar. But then those plans to move fizzled out. We moved to Colorado, and since then I haven't thought much about practicing law.

I had some great experiences in law school and met some wonderful people. But I also learned that I was pretty sure that I didn't want to really ever be a lawyer. At least not in the usual sense of the word. Part of it I loved, but a larger part I didn't. The realities of working as an attorney aren't compatible with my life now anyway. I won't work the hours with the kids. It just isn't going to happen. Particularly with Tom working in the public accounting field, I can't. I won't. The kids need at least one parent present in their lives, and for three months out of the year, I'm pretty much it. They come first.

I did a lot of pro bono work in law school. I joke that if there was a way to get paid for pro bono work, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Helping the people who needed it most. Those who had legitimate legal issues, but couldn't afford to pay someone to represent them. Primarily, I worked for the AIDS clinic. All my clients there were at least HIV+, if not diagnosed with full blown AIDS. And, to be eligible for our services, they had to meet income requirements. I helped dispute social security eligibility. I filed restraining orders. I fought evictions. Life or death issues. Important things.

I wrote a lot of wills. The most memorable was for a young man, dying of AIDS. He was only 22 years old, and he was scared. He didn't have a thing to his name. He didn't own anything. He was on public assistance, lying in a Medicaid paid-for hospital bed. I brought him the will, what there was of it anyway, on the afternoon that he died. Tears of the deepest gratitude were his gift to me. Though he didn't have much, he wanted to know that he had done all he could to tie up loose ends. And I made that possible.

I helped a man in his 30's change his name. His family had disowned him when he came out of the closet as a teenager, and he hated being connected to them in name only. You wouldn't think that something as simple as a name change could alter a person's entire outlook on life. But I assure you that it can.

These are the clients that I remember the most. That I truly feel like I helped.

Maybe someday I will practice law again. Maybe someday I will tackle the bar exam. Maybe someday I will find myself explaining a lengthy absence from a career that never really began. Maybe someday I will find someone who will take a chance and hire a woman who is a mother before she is a lawyer. Maybe someday. Right now though, my family needs me more.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mama

There are a great many injustices in the world, to be sure. But there is one close to my heart, one that bugs me daily right now. It is the fact that most babies just don't say Mama first. Who carries them for nine months? Who goes through labor to get them here? Who endures breastfeeding? Mama. We do the hard work, but someone else gets the glory. Someone else gets to hear their name first. The plain truth is that Dada is easier to say. It's an easier sound for them to reproduce. And, of course, from the first time it is uttered, it elicits a response in such a way that the babies repeat it. Over and over. Dada, dada, dada. Whatever.

It's a bit ironic that we want so desperately for them to say it for the first time. At some point, even the most patient mother will cringe when she hears her children calling her for what seems like the millionth time of the day. At some point, we all want a break. We want to be called anything other than Mama. That is, of course, unless there is a baby in the house. Then, all we want is to be called Mama.

The only one of my kids who said Mama first was Ally, and she took it to a whole new level. She was not a talker. She was virtually silent as a baby and toddler. At one point, we were a little concerned about her lack of vocabulary. She was potty trained long before she was verbal. She said Mama, and not much else, for over a year. She flatly refused to say Dada.

It used to drive Tom crazy that she wouldn't say it. She'd call him Mama, and he would practically beg her to say Dada. She got to the point where she would tell him "no" or shake her head when he pestered her about it. She figured out very early on how to push his buttons, and took every opportunity to do so. Eventually, of course, she gave in and started to call him Dada. And then, all of a sudden, one day she was talking. She went from hardly speaking at all to talking in complete sentences and asking questions in less than two days.

Aidan and Ashley both said Dada first, then some other word, then Mama. Mama was in the first ten words, but not even close to the first one. That honor went to Dad. When we were in California, my pediatrician reassured me that it was totally normal for babies to say Dada first. It's just that it's easier for them to manipulate their mouths to make the D sound first. It, he said, had very little to do with priorities, attention, or anything. Right.

Here I am again, with a baby who likes to say Dada. AJ has mastered that, along with Papa and Aidan. He even says Dog and That (while pointing his finger) with more regularity than he says Mama. I tell him to say Mama, and he grins at me, then says Dada. It's already turned into a game for him. He is a stinker.

And now as I sit here, cradling this half sleeping child, him staring up at me with his piercing blue eyes, I can't help but adore him. Someday he will call me Mama. I can wait.

Monday, July 27, 2009

9 and 17

A good friend of mine was telling me a story about something her professor said one day in class. They were talking about marriage, and he told them plainly, that the 9th and 17th years are the hardest, and that if you can get through those, you should be fine. I have no idea where these numbers came from, or if there is any empirical evidence at all to support them. But, it makes sense in a way. Some years of marriage are just harder than others. And I know first hand that the 9th year was a challenge, the hardest thus far for us.

Marriage is work. It's not easy, and unfortunately I think there is a romanticized idea of marriage by far too many people. It gets hard. The truth is that it's not always fun. It's not always great. And it's not always easy.

Living with anyone can be difficult. One of the hardest things to accept about being married is the fact that you absolutely cannot do anything to change the actions, the feelings or the thoughts of another person. They are who they are, and you have to just deal with it. The only person you have control over is yourself.

What makes this reality even more challenging is the fact that people change. We all change as we get older, and life gets more complicated. And we have to deal with the changes that happen not only to ourselves, but the changes that happen to our partners. The changes that come from having children, and the changes in priorities that come as a result. Not all of those changes are always welcome.

We are old enough now that we have witnessed most of our friends get married. And we are starting to see some of them getting divorced. The reasons are many, the situations different. Unfortunately, not everyone has their happily ever after.

We have had bumps in the road. We've struggled to see eye to eye. And we've had trouble communicating. But, we are together. We made it through year 9, let's hope that year 17 is one we can overcome too.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hoot

Ally is obsessed with owls. I have no idea where this love of hers came from. Owls aren't exactly a typical thing for little girls to love, but Ally isn't exactly a typical little girl. Most little girls her age love horses or kittens, the predictably girly animals. She's different.

I'm not even sure when this love began, though I can pinpoint the day it grew to what it is now. We were driving to Boulder, along the Diagonal highway, in the dead of winter. Stick trees as far as the eye could see. Fields that have given in and succumbed to the cold, brown and barren. There is an oak grove that the highway intersects a few miles outside town, and some of the trees are so large that their branches form a canopy over the road.

We were driving along, most likely on the way to meet Tom for lunch, when we approached the oak grove. From a distance of over a mile, I could see it. Even from the backseat, peeking sideways out the windows, she could see it. A huge, great horned owl, probably over 2 feet tall, was perched at the meeting point in the canopy, sitting directly over the center of the road. Since there were no leaves or cover on the tree, and nowhere for it to hide, we got a good glimpse of it.

It was strange to see an owl out in the middle of the day like that, particularly in such an open area with no cover and with so many passing vehicles. Owls usually keep to themselves during the day. Maybe he knew that a little girl would be driving past, her eyes filled with awe and wonder. And maybe he knew that from that day forward, that little girl would love owls. Just maybe.

We went to an Irish Festival last month, primarily to get Guinness on draught, sit in the sun and listen to some fantastic music. We went to walk around the booths between bands, and when we were almost at the very end of the aisle, there was a coloring booth. The kids rushed over and sat down - if they colored a picture, they got a free balloon. Within moments of sitting down, Ally was distracted though. The next booth, the only one we had yet to look at, was capturing her attention. Drawn to it, she got up and walked over. We soon realized why.

It was a booth for a Raptor Rescue program, and in the middle of it, was a great horned owl. Perched on the arm of a keeper, she stood. She had been hit by a car, and her wing injured. Never able to return to the wild, she had become an ambassador for the program. She was magnificent. And a little four year old girl stood and stared at her, would have stayed all day there, just watching.

I went out to get some clothes for the kids for school yesterday, and in one store window I saw something I had to take home with me. An owl lunchbox. Whenever I find things with owls on them, I tend to pick them up. It's not the easiest animal to find on anything, let alone on things intended for little girls. When I saw the lunchbox, I just knew that it would make the day, the week, the month of a little girl. And it did.

It's interesting how children find the things that they love. And how different those things might be from what you expect.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fundraisers

I have a meeting to go to this morning. It's one that I have known about for months, but haven't been looking forward to all that much. This year, I am helping to co-chair the annual popcorn fundraiser for Aidan's Cub Scout pack.

The older the kids get, and the more activities they are involved in, the more fundraising we are forced to do. Everything, so it seems, costs money. Every fun thing the kids could participate in requires an order form and cash envelope. The Cub Scouts sells popcorn. The Daisies will sell cookies this year. For baseball, we sell discount cards. The PTO at school does several fundraisers throughout the year. And this year, Aidan will be in an after school club that will inevitably need to make some money too, I'm sure. One ends, and another begins. Someone always wants money for something.

Of all the fundraising we do in a given year, the popcorn sale is by far my least favorite. It's a hard thing to sell. The price points are too high, the market is saturated since every Pack around here does it, and it's popcorn. A $3 box of cookies is a decent impulse buy for most people. A $30 tin of popcorn, not so much.

Walking around the neighborhood, dragging a wagon full of popcorn. Standing in the cold and the rain and the snow outside the grocery store. Bugging people, reminding them that they owe me money. Counting cases and cases of inventory. Driving back and forth to pick it up, drop it off. I will do it because I am supposed to. I will do it because Aidan loves Scouts. And I will do it because my husband is the new Cubmaster.

Anyone want to buy some popcorn? Because I know this kid...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Flicker

I had occasion yesterday to revisit the wonder that is pregnancy. Of course, there is the scientific explanation of it all, the dividing of cells, differentiation, organ development. Having taken classes in anatomy and embryology, pregnancy and labor, biology and child development, I have a pretty good grasp of how and when things happen and in what order. Even knowing as much as I do about babies, how they are created, how they are helped along and how they grow, it is still amazing. It's still a miracle.

How a pairing of cells can transform into a separate being, with a brain and a heart within a matter of days is simply breathtaking. And, as any parent or parent-to-be can tell you, seeing and hearing that tiny flicker, that heart beating for the first time is pure magic. It's even more magical when there has been a long journey to that day, sitting in a doctor's office.

Though it is a total cliche, life really is a miracle. Babies are a blessing. Sometimes they come when we least expect them to, and sometimes they come only after years of longing. I know myself that every time I had the chance to hear the heartbeat during my routine office visits when I was pregnant, there was nothing routine about it. Even with AJ, I still cried the first time I heard it. I still was amazed at the pictures on the screen during the first ultrasound, with the tiny flickering heartbeat. I loved being pregnant.

To all those mothers out there, tired and exhausted from the daily challenges of parenting, be grateful. Find some time today to admire your creations, to be thankful for your miracles. Time to snuggle, time to count fingers and toes, time to love. Time to feel the warm sweet breath of a sleeping baby on your shoulder. Time to kiss an angel as they dream.

To all those pregnant mothers out there, hearing that racing heartbeat, cherish this time. It goes by too fast, and though you might have difficulty looking past the discomforts of pregnancy sometimes, enjoy it. You will, I promise, miss having that little partner, poking and prodding you from the inside. Soon enough you will meet that precious little baby, but as you have already learned, you've loved them since the instant you knew you were pregnant. The human heart's capacity for love is remarkable, and the instantaneous nature of it is evident the second you see that line. Unconditional love, at once.

To all those future mothers out there, hoping for a child and wondering when, have faith, have love, and have hope. For without those, there cannot be miracles.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Transfer

Oh, the things that a mother will do for her children. I wrote about the frog we got from preschool a few months ago. The kids had raised them from tadpoles, and a few were able to take one home at the end of the school year. Within 48 hours of being in the house, the frog had killed the only fish in the tank. And the snails were picked off one at a time until all that remained in the now algae-covered tank was one stinky, mean little frog that the girls had named Ariel.

The kids have been asking since that first weekend when we could get another fish. The answer was a simple one - we couldn't. No fish until the frog died. Every time we would go to the store, the kids would longingly look at the tanks, picking out the fish they would get again someday. A few people told me to just let it go. It's a water frog and would need to be either in water or very near a very wet place, and there happens to be a little pond at the golf course across the street. Unfortunately, the introduction of non-native species is a bad thing for any ecosystem, so I couldn't do that, especially when I already knew that this frog thought fish were tasty.

I met with some of the moms and kids from preschool for lunch earlier this week, and for some reason we started talking about the frogs. One of the other of the moms had taken a frog home, and it had been instantly adopted by her older daughter. It was her pet, she kept it in her room. And it had escaped a few weeks prior. The poor little girl was hoping to find it, and her parents knew that the chances of that happening were virtually nonexistent after the first couple days. But she held out hope.

"You're missing a frog, and I want to get rid of one?" I said. Isn't that terribly convenient? I told her that she could have ours. Really. I'd much rather have fish to be totally honest, and in doing so, we could give her daughter a pet again. She emailed me, asking if I was really sure. Completely. I told my kids that someone was going to take the frog, and give it a new home. They wanted to know where it was going, and I could only tell them it would be safe and loved. They can't know where it was going, because the little girl on the receiving end can't know where it came from. And she is a good friend of Ashley's. They said their goodbyes, looking forward to the new fish.

And so last night, under the cover of darkness, my friend came to pick up the frog. Packed and ready to go to a new home, Ariel was waiting. I'm sure this morning that her name isn't Ariel anymore. I'm sure that we are going fish shopping in the very near future. And I'm sure that a little girl's hope in finding lost things is restored.

Have a good life, froggy. For now, I've got a tank to clean.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beautiful

I took the girls to the store yesterday to pick up the last few things on the school supply lists. While we were there, a pretty strong thunderstorm rolled through. It was still raining a bit by the time we got home, but the bulk of the storm had passed. When we got home, I went to the front door to check on the weather, and to see if more was coming our way. As soon as I opened the door, I had a shadow. A little buddy. My fellow weather junkie. Ally. She wanted to see the clouds too.

I walked out front, peeking around the houses to see if there were any more storms. Ally came out with me and shut the door. I asked her if I should go in the house and help Daddy make dinner. "No, Mama, stay out here with me", she said. "I want to sit here in the rain with you." She is like me in so many ways. I absolutely love the rain. I love the smell of it especially, and the best part of a rainstorm are the brief minutes right after it eases up. When it is still misting a bit, and you can still hear the runoff trickling off the roof.

We walked down the driveway and she immediately was drawn to what she calls the tiny river, the gutter. While it certainly isn't the most sanitary place in the world to play, it's not the dirtiest either. And it had been washed out many times this week already with rain. When I was her age, I used to play in the gutters whenever it rained too. She laughed when I told her that I would go out in the backyard and run around in the rain as a kid. Silly mommy.

After splashing in the gutter for a bit and having a long conversation about how the clouds in the distance looked like soft pink marshmallows, she found a treasure. A smooth river rock, one that had escaped at some point from our neighbor's landscaping, had found it's way into the gutter. Newly washed by the rain, it called to her.

"Momma, momma, look! Look at this beautiful rock!" she exclaimed. She ran over to me, turning it in every direction to admire all the sides. It's a white quartz rock, not unlike many others in the yard. To me, it's a rock. To her, it's magnificent. It's shiny and smooth and pretty. She asked if she could keep it. I told her that it wasn't our rock, it belonged to our neighbors. If she wanted to keep it, she needed to ask if that was okay first.

We strolled over to the neighbor's door, and she nervously rang the doorbell. Looking to me for moral support, she stood anxiously, not sure what to expect. When my neighbor answered the door, Ally asked her quite politely if she could keep this beautiful rock. And she didn't just say that Ally could indeed keep it, she asked if Ally could show it to her first so that she could admire it as well. She asked Ally what she was going to do with it, and Ally replied excitedly that she would keep it in her room. On the walk back home, Ally was proud of herself. Not only had she found treasure, she had used her manners and been rewarded handsomely. And she was now the proud owner of a beautiful rock.

I went outside yesterday evening to check on the weather, with the hopes of having a few moments to enjoy the rain. I got much more. Children give us so many gifts that they are so completely unaware of. And yesterday, Ally gave me three gifts. She reminded me how fun it is to play in the rain. She taught me again how to find beauty in ordinary objects. And most importantly, she gave me 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to enjoy the wonder that is a four year old little girl.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Spread

Though I didn't actually finish my degree, I completed almost an entire master's program in public health. A project is all that keeps me from claiming it fully, and those three units will forever be in the way. My emphasis was in public health management, but I am fascinated by most of the specializations in the field. Of all the classes I took, I really enjoyed epidemiology the most.

The classes in epidemiology taught me a lot about things that most people don't want to know about. The things that ordinary people in a civilized society don't want to deal with, don't want to think about. Food borne illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases, air borne viruses, epidemics. These things might seem boring to some people. To me, they are fascinating.

When the WHO first started to express concern about the Swine Flu, my interest was piqued. I had an feeling, from the first mention of it, that this one was going to reach pandemic levels. The CDC and WHO were quick to employ containment efforts, and the initial outbreaks did not seem as bad as the public feared. Not too many people died in those first weeks, and in general, the public was irritated by the perceived overreaction. The problem is that it's not over.

Swine flu, since renamed H1N1, is still making it's way around the globe. Still infiltrating every city and town. It's here in Longmont. And it's still going. In some ways, I am dreading the start of the school year. I have a feeling that it will run rampant through the schools, and ours is no exception.

It's a strain of the influenza virus that hasn't been seen in human populations before this. We have no natural immunities to it. No one has had it before, no one has built up a defense to it. The attempts at creating a vaccine for it are in large part, slow and unproductive.

Perhaps it is the danger in knowing too much about how diseases spread, and how we fight them, not as individuals, but as societies, that scares me. The complacency, the shrugging it off bothers me. There are people here in town, those who know that they have been exposed and are presenting symptoms, that still insist on going about their normal activities. They could be spreading it. They probably are spreading it.

Boost your immune systems, my friends. You might be needing it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Captive

There are days, many days, this summer that I feel like I am a captive in my own house. Like I am stuck, against my will, indoors. That my children are in essence prevented from playing in the front yard. And I don't like it.

It's not illness or weather or bugs or heat keeping us inside. It's kids. Other kids. Most neighborhoods have them, I'm sure. The kids who are perpetually roaming the streets, looking for someone to play with. Someone to entertain them. It's not terribly unlike the way most kids were when I was younger. Children were given longer leashes back then. Parents were less restrictive. The difference is that they are the only ones in the area like this, and it's obvious.

They are a bit older, and their parents clearly a bit more tired and less interesting in amusing them. Or so it seems, anyway. We have seen them only rarely and spoken with them never. Even when I was a kid, back in the days when kids were universally given more freedoms, my parents would have shuddered at the thought of me going over to someone else's house, hanging out with other adults that they didn't know.

They seem to think that by giving their kids a cell phone, they have done enough. They can, to some degree, keep electronic tabs on them. Good enough, right? Not in my mind. Especially since I am one of the weary parents tired of always having a few extra kids around.

The kids show up at the door many times a day. If we are out front, they will be there within minutes. My kids simply cannot play out front without them showing up. If they hear us in the backyard, they invite themselves in. If we tell them "not today", they stand at the fence and try to prod the kids into talking us into letting them out front. Even on holidays, they are there. Bugging. Constantly. Don't they have anything better to do? And shouldn't they be with their family instead of pestering mine?

The constant need for playmates is one thing, but the chattiness and questioning is another. My patience wears thin for parenting advice coming from a child not much older than Aidan. No, we haven't eaten dinner yet, and yes, that is fine. Yes, the baby can eat this. No, you cannot hold him. This is replayed daily, hourly sometimes.

I am not the only mom in the area, tired of the relentlessness of it all. The only time all summer that we have had a break was when they were on vacation. It was nice to be able to go for a bike ride without tag-a-longs. To let my girls play without interference from other kids with their own toys, the ones that can only be played with out front.

It's not that they are bad kids. They are well behaved. They are kind to my children. But they are not my children, and I've had enough.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Bag Full

Though it is well into the summer, we went to the farmer's market for the first time this season yesterday. In reality, there isn't much use in going until the end of June or beginning of July here anyway. The growing season is extremely short due to the weather, and there isn't much to look for locally until the summer is in full swing. Some crops can be planted here in April, but not many. Most have to wait until May, and even then it can be a risky proposition. We had snow the second week of May last year.

This year, the winter was not nearly as drawn out as last, and the farmers were grateful. The crops have flourished this season, thanks in large part to a very rainy spring and summer thus far. There have been more than the usual number of thunderstorms this year. They bring some danger, no doubt. The hail and wind can wreak havoc on the plants, just as they can on patio furniture. But the storms tend to be isolated, and the damage is rarely widespread. The one thing that has been statewide this year is the rain. We have had a lot of rain.

I didn't even bother attempting to grow vegetables this year. I've been burned the last two years, all my plants abysmal failures. I did have a good sized tray of flowers ready to go, until it blew over in a windstorm and destroyed all the seedlings. I have been hearing from friends, those who are better at timing the planting of vegetables than I am, that the crops this year have been remarkable.

Those rumors of super sized veggies are true. I've seen it for my own eyes. At the farmer's market yesterday, there were heads of cabbage bigger than basketballs. Squash and zucchini as long as baseball bats. Green onions as big as vidalias. Really.

We got to the market later in the day than we had planned, and some of the stands were closed up already, sold out of their items. We did happen upon one stand that still had an abundance of produce. It is run by Miller Farm, a large local farm that we love for many reasons. They put together a fabulous farming instructional program for the kids, have a great fall festival and have sponsored the preschool float in the holiday parade for as long as we have been here. I was glad to give them my business.

We lucked out that they were ready to pack it up for the day, and still had a lot left over. Just as we walked up, marveling at the size of the yellow squash they had displayed, they announced the new prices. Buy a grocery bag, fill it up, $10. Anything. Now that is my kind of challenge. I asked the man if he was sure. I could cram more into a bag than anyone else I assured him. Really, just $10. Yep.

I walked away with my bag full, bulging at the seams. Onions, green beans, wax beans, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, carrots, and more. I put the big stuff in first, filled in the gaps with the green beans. There is a science to competitive shopping, you know. And if someone tells me to fill up a bag, I most certainly will take them up on that offer.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Forever

One of the unfortunate byproducts of having had moved to Colorado is that I miss things. I miss a lot of things. And I miss some important things. There are days, like today, where my thoughts and my heart will be somewhere else, far, far away from where they actually reside. My cousin is getting married today.

There are few moments in our lives more important, more special, than the day we get married. About the only days that will ever trump that are the days our children are born. And to be a part of that day, to witness that ceremony is a privilege. A joy.

To see the nerves showing in the eyes of the bride and groom. Those emotions fade almost universally the second they see each other for the first time from opposite ends of the aisle. Together they promise to love one another, to take care of one another, to trust and to be trusted. They came into that day as two separate beings, two distinct lives. And they leave as a team, a partnership.

This joining together is even more special for my cousin today. He has been hurt before. He brings into this marriage with him a beautiful daughter. Another person who depends on him. Who needs him. The mere fact that he can fall in love again, and trust that it can work is a testament to his heart, to his faith in people, and to the goodness in his soul. Though I have not met his soon-to-be wife, I can only assume that she is deserving of him as a partner. She has to be special.

Though I can't be there to see it for myself, I am sure it will be a beautiful day. I wish you both all the happiness in the world. And when that happiness sometimes seems missing as it inevitably will, I wish you all the love you will need to see it through. Marriage is work, but it's work worth doing. To steal from what a wise couple, long standing family friends, wrote to us on the day we were married, Just love one another forever.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Best Laid Plans

My apologies to all those daily readers out there who are probably wondering what has happened to me. I try to get the daily entry posted by noon or so, but it just didn't happen today. I had every intention of having a fairly mellow day. I was going to take the kids to the pool for swim team and lessons, then ballet. I was going to run to the grocery store for a few things and come home. Home. Home sweet home. Haven't seen much of it this week. I had grand plans of cleaning my bathrooms and mopping the floor. As of right now, my bathrooms are no cleaner, my floor no less sticky.

What happened? Nothing, really. Just life. And being that it is summertime, it's a good time to find other things to do than planned. It doesn't help that I have a few friends who twisted my arm this morning. Toilets can wait. Come to the pool, they said. The same pool, mind you, that we were already sitting at, waiting for the swim team to finish up.

As we walked out into the parking lot, us on the way to ballet class, these friends of mine, these terribly convincing friends, managed to talk me into running around like a mad woman for the following two and a half hours, just so I could come right back to the pool. Makes complete sense, right?

To the pool we went, again. Only this time, we went with the purest of intentions. To have fun. No classes, no training, no teachers, no coaches. Just friends, food, sunshine and cool water. I can't think of a better way to spend a Friday afternoon. And my friends were right. The toilets can wait. Summer comes once a year.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Going Back

I spent over $50 yesterday on school supplies, and I know I'm not done yet. The lists get longer and longer every year. Fortunately, the kids all have backpacks and lunchboxes that are in perfectly good condition, and we should be able to squeeze at least one more year out of them. This backpack life extension is happening of course much to the dismay of the kids, who want new and shiny every year. I carried the same backpack from 5th grade until I was almost done with college. If it ain't broke, it sure don't need replacing.

I've also started the long and expensive process of shopping for school clothes. Both of the girls should be okay for the most part, since I tend to buy ahead for them still. Ally gets all her big sister's hand-me-downs and hasn't rebelled against them yet. She loves to go shopping in the boxes in the basement. If it's new to her, it's just as good as new. Really. There are actually certain outfits she wants Ashley to hurry up and outgrow so that she can have them. Someday she'll figure it all out and start to refuse the recycling I am sure. But as long as it works, I'm not about to question it. The marvelous thing about dresses is that they can be a little too long and a little too short, just add some bike shorts or leggings and call it good. And we have a lot of dresses.

Aidan is a different story though. I did have two boxes of clothes in the basement, hoping that they would still fit by the time he went back. No such luck. More than half of it is already too small, thanks to a summertime growth spurt of at least two inches so far. I haven't bothered making him try his jeans on yet, since there really and truly is no point. Just because they fit today doesn't mean that they will in a few months when he needs them. I'll just wait and buy some when he needs to start wearing them again. I'll put off forcing that child into a dressing room at the store for as long as humanly possible. Trying on clothes is close to torture for both of us.

Shoe shopping is something I am not really looking forward to, mostly because it's about to get a lot more expensive. Aidan is right on the edge of going into men's sizing, and the shoe prices jump pretty dramatically once that happens. Same shoes, same styles, just more money. He destroys his shoes, and he has yet to truly outgrow a pair of shoes without beating them up first. As long as he has been walking, he's been wearing holes in his shoes. Ashley made the switch from little girl sizes to big girl last year, which also comes with a price. More money, but also more to choose from. And the girl loves her some shoes. At least Ally is still in the little girl section for now.

Getting the kids ready to go back to school is a long process. Things to buy, things to organize, things to try-on. Schedules to coordinate, new teachers to meet. Back to living in the car, and making the trip to the school parking lot several times a day. Back to packing lunches and checking homework. It takes a few weeks to adjust to the new routine every Fall. This year, Ashley and Aidan will be full time, every day, all day. And Ally is in her last year of preschool.

When we moved here, Aidan was just starting preschool and I had my hands full with a newborn and a 2 year old little girl. That same little girl goes to first grade next month, and the newborn is in preschool. Aidan is in third grade already. How does it go by so fast? How is it possible that the days can drag on forever, but the years just fly by?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Motivation

One of the hardest things to do sometimes as a mother is to find that thing that prods a child along. To find something that will make them want to try harder, to do better. That will make them face their fears and pick themselves up when they fall.

Each child is different of course, which makes this process all the more difficult. What motivates one child has absolutely no push for the next. And children can find inspiration to succeed in the strangest places.

Ashley is my hesitant one. The one testing the waters over and over again before she steps in. She analyzes every situation to the fullest potential, going through the motions in her head before she ever attempts anything in the real world.

This personality trait often makes it hard to get her to try new things. Even those things that she needs to try. Those things that she absolutely needs to learn how to do. Things like learning to read. To ride her bike. To swim.

She's taken swimming lessons for years, and the progress has been painfully slow. It was over a year before she would even put her face in the water. Just that simple act took a special kind of help. A special kind of teacher. Then, for almost the entire summer last year, she walked along the bottom of the pool and faked the arm movements. She tried so desperately to convince everyone that she could do it, and she tried, I think to convince herself as well. Little did she know that we were on to her little scheme.

Finally, towards the end of the summer last year, there was a change. Same pool, same level of lessons. But a new teacher. And this new teacher wouldn't let her get away with it anymore. This teacher pushed her to try. And let her know that her little tricks weren't going to work anymore.

Her first session this summer was just more of the same. The feet on the bottom, the faux swimming. She didn't care, didn't try. When I told her she was starting lessons again this week, she was mad. She didn't want to swim anymore. I told her that she needed to, and until she could actually swim, she'd be going whether she wanted to or not.

But then something happened on Monday, the first day of this session. She found that motivation again, in the person who had provided the motivation for her to put her face in the water years ago. This teacher has one thing in common with the teacher who forced her to get her feet off the bottom of the pool last year. It's not that they are the best teachers the pool has to offer. It's not that they are super sweet and encouraging. It's not that they give her more attention than the other kids.

What is it then, you might ask, that provides such strong motivation for her in the pool with these teachers? Rest assured, I am well aware of the answer. It's pretty obvious, actually. It's just an answer I am not entirely sure that I like all that much. They are both boys. She's had plenty of teachers over the years, and the only ones that she has ever listened to and really tried to learn from have been the guys.

For at least the next two weeks, she has her most favorite instructor. You should have seen her face light up the second she saw him. And suddenly, mysteriously, someone wants to get up in the morning and go to swimming lessons. Let's hope she learns a lot this session. And let's hope that this isn't a sign of things to come. :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pros and Cons

Having a big family comes with its ups and downs. There are good times and bad times in every family, but it seems that those swings are magnified when there are more people involved.

The pros are easy to see. We have a lot of love. We laugh all the time. Someone is always hitting a milestone. There is usually something to look forward to. And there is always, always something to do to keep us busy. Seeing the kids grow and develop their own relationships is amazing. The older three are fiercely protective of AJ, sometimes a little too much so. Ally asks Aidan to read her a story and tuck her in. The girls spent an hour yesterday building a village out of blocks, playing together in their fantasy world. The fantasy world where boys are not allowed, and all characters must speak in super high pitched voices.

The kids drive each other crazy quite often, on a daily basis right now since it is summertime. But even as they drive each other batty, they miss one another desperately when they are apart. Horseplay takes on a whole new meaning when there are more than a couple kids involved. The wrestling matches in our family room could rival the WWE.

There are many positives to having a large family, for sure. But there are also some challenges. I have learned to resign myself to the fact that it's highly unlikely that my entire house will ever be clean at the same time. I can clean one room, certainly. But as I do so, another room is simultaneously being dirtied. It's just life. It takes some getting used to, but I'm working on it. I have learned to sweep the floor as needed, sometimes 3 or 4 times a day. But I have learned not to bother mopping it until after the kids have gone to bed for the night. At least that way, it will have at least 8 solid hours of cleanliness. I have learned that laundry is something meant to be done daily. And that if I take a day off from the laundry, it multiplies at night when I am sleeping.

We go through a lot of food, which is only going to get worse as the kids get older. Feeding a small herd of children is not cheap, and the grocery bills are not for the faint of heart. I've learned to economize, to cook from scratch as much as possible, to use coupons whenever I can. We will, at some point, have no choice but to get a larger water heater. Aidan can use most of a tank as it is now, and he's nowhere near puberty. Our vehicle choices are limited these days. We can only use a car that fits 6, ideally more in case we have a carpool to contend with.

One of the most annoying downsides of having more than two children is that it apparently gives every rude person in the universe free license to make comments about us. I have learned that I don't really care what other people think about me, my children or my parenting. I'm doing the best I can, and for the most part, I think I am doing a pretty darn good job. Don't ask me why I have so many kids. It's none of your business. Don't ask if they are all mine. Clearly, the children are from the same genetic stock. Don't express shock at the fact that they can all behave in public. They are children, not wild animals.

As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to having a large family. But I'm certain that the pros will always outweigh the cons. The good times will always make the bad ones worth enduring. And the love we have will always be more important than the sacrifices we may make.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sisters

As anyone who knows me already is aware, I only have one sibling. I have a brother, who will forever be my little brother. No matter how old we get, that is just the way it shall be. I never had a sister, and I never really wanted one to be truthful. Too much drama.

Having my girls has served to reinforce this thought in my mind. They fight about everything it seems, and there are days that drag on and on, me playing the role of the constant referee. Since they have had to share a room, the situation has become ever more strained. And I can't really say that I blame them. Neither of them has space of their own. Everything it seems, must be shared. Their room is a small one to begin with, and with both of them crammed in there, it doesn't leave much room for them to keep anything besides clothes and shoes. They have a couple baskets of other things, and that's about it.

Aidan, meanwhile, gets to reap the benefits of being the oldest. He has his own room, and he also scored the best room with the most windows. He has not just his bed and dresser, but his desk and bookcase. He has room for his toys, and room to play on the floor. Since he has a loft-style bed, a lot of his things can go underneath that. He, just generally, has more stuff. He has a room all his own. He can do his homework, he can create his art, and he can have his privacy in his room. The girls don't have that option.

We are working on finding a solution for the situation. Ideally, I want to close the wall in the loft and move Aidan in there, so we can split the girls up. We've discussed moving Aidan downstairs into what is now the office, but I'm not sure that I want him on his own floor just yet. We'll have to figure something out, and the sooner, the better. They need their own space, away from one another. Before they kill each other.

I fought with my brother growing up, for sure. But I know that if I would have had a sister, we would have fought more. I've seen how my girls fight. And they aren't old enough to fight over phones, makeup, friends, cars and boys yet. That time, I am afraid, will come. I hope that they make it through adolescence, I hope that we all make it through their adolescence. And I hope that they will find a way to share. To respect their differences. To take care of each other. To love each other even when they don't see eye to eye.

A few years ago, I got a sister. Not in the traditional sense, of course. She's my sister through marriage, my sister-in-law. We aren't genetically related. We don't have any long standing grudges against each other. We can't retell the same stories from our childhood, since they were spent on opposite sides of the country. But what we do have now is even better in some ways, I think. We have the love, the friendship, the trust, the understanding of sisters. But we have all that without the animosity, the anger, the bitterness, the judgment that comes from growing up together.

I always said that I never wanted a sister. I was wrong. I guess I just didn't know what I was missing. Love you Gretchen!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tipsy

AJ is just about almost walking. He has been cruising along the furniture since an hour after he figured out how to crawl over the couch and pull himself up. He's been pretty fearless throughout the entire process, often launching himself forward without remembering to move his feet at the same time.

He is not to the point yet where he is really trying to walk on purpose. He cruises along the furniture, walls, baby gates, kitchen cabinets and anything else he can get his hands on, including the arms, legs and heads of his unsuspecting siblings. But, he hasn't begun trying to walk away from those supports purposefully yet.

What has started happening is that he will just keep going, without realizing that he has let go of whatever it was that he was holding on to. And he will get in a couple steps before he figures out that he's doing it on his own. He has already had blisters on his big toes and on the balls of his feet from cruising around so much. It's not long now.

Having an almost walking baby in the house is like have a perpetually drunk little man around. He's tipsy. Stumbling, bumbling, falling down all the time and muttering to himself. Often after a surprising fall, he will sit and laugh at himself. His forehead shows the telltale signs of the fact that he is officially entering toddler hood. He has scrapes, bumps and bruises.

He learned this morning to use his arms to help balance when he is walking more, and the humor level has increased dramatically. Now he is stumbling around, waving his arms frantically over his head. Usually blowing raspberries and giggling interchangeably.

He also learned at some point in the last few weeks to put his head on the ground and stick his behind straight up in the air. He spends a lot of time in this upside down position, but I have yet to get a picture of him doing it. He will have full blown conversations (babbling, of course) with us from that slightly more interesting perspective.

At some point, not too long from now, he will be walking upright confidently. And when he does, this awkward, yet amusing, transition will be over. Someday he'll walk in a straight line, and he won't need to wave his arms above his head anymore. He'll give up crawling altogether, and the constant forehead bruises will fade. Until then, though, I'll cherish every moment of living with my tipsy little man.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wasted

I wasted a perfectly good morning today. Summer mornings are gorgeous here in Colorado, and often the only time of day when it's cool enough to do anything substantial outdoors that doesn't involve water. There are countless things I could have done this morning. But I was busy. I had a garage sale.

I've spent weeks getting things ready to put out, both anticipating and dreading today. I hate having garage sales. I hate people giving me sad eyes when I tell them that no, I won't take a quarter for something labeled five dollars. I hate the kids wanting to help, running around the driveway while it is filled with strange people. But, I hoped that it would be worth the effort.

Of course, we found out a couple days ago that the HOA is having a neighborhood sale in August. Whether I will put anything out for that, I'm not sure. Our neighborhood is faily isolated, gets almost no traffic. This is a good thing almost all the time. All the time, that is, except when you are trying to have a garage sale. We had one a few years ago during a neighborhood sale and did only slightly better than this time. You'd think I would have learned my lesson the first time around.

For whatever reason, I went ahead with it again. I was wrong, completely and totally wrong. Weeks of preparation, 4 hours standing outside. And for what? $67. I'm done with garage sales.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Marked

It's official. All of our kids are marked, they all have birthmarks. We thought for sure that AJ's would be in about the same place that the other kids have theirs. It just seemed terribly coincidental that the first three are all in close to the same location.

Aidan has a splotchy mark on his left wrist. Ashley has one too, though it is smaller and lighter. She has another one on her upper thigh, much more noticeable. Ally has a spot on her right arm that is devoid of pigment. We just figured AJ would have something on his arm too, to no avail. A few weeks ago, possibly with some help from his tan, we noticed his birthmark. He has a spot on the back of his knee. Not an arm, but still an extremity.

None of those can compete at all with the birthmark that Ashley had as an infant though. She had what is known as a cavernous hemangioma on her side. Basically, it was an overgrowth in blood vessels. It grew and grew in size for about half of her first year, to the point where is was almost the size of a golf ball. It peaked about the time she was 8 months old or so, then started to shrink. She still has a tiny hint of it, but nothing like she originally had. When Ashley's hemangioma started to grow, everyone around us was concerned. I knew what it was, had talked to the doctor about it several times. If she started developing more, it could be a sign of a vascular problem, but one was not generally a cause for concern. And, like most things, it went away on it's own without intervention.

Aidan had a physical issue as a baby too. Not a birthmark, though. His was a hernia. He had a fairly sizable umbilical hernia, caused by weak stomach muscles that had not come together completely in the middle. As a result, his stomach wall wasn't closed fully and he developed a hernia. It too got bigger and bigger, reaching about the size of a lime at it's biggest. It was pretty funky, I must admit. You could feel his intestines squished through there, and sometimes even hear the gurgles when he was digesting something. We were slightly more concerned about it, but it too went almost completely away without intervention. He still has a slight herniation there, but it's not something we would elect to have surgically fixed. If in the future he ever needs to have surgery for something else, we might have it closed. Maybe.

I'm not an interventionist mom. I don't like to subject my kids to unnecessary tests and procedures. I trust that most things, most of the time, will fix themselves. And they usually do. If you just let them.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Journey

Four years ago this week, we left California. We made one of the biggest decisions of our lives, and took an enormous leap of faith. Not really knowing what the road ahead would bring us, we crossed our fingers, packed up the kids and left.

Ever since college, Tom and I had been talking about moving out of California. Our intended destination for many years was Oregon. We almost moved there for law school, and then almost moved there again afterwards. For some reason, it never seemed to work out.

A year before we moved, TJ moved to Colorado. I sent Tom out here to visit his little brother, and the conspiring began almost immediately. Tom came home from that trip, and I just had a feeling that the wheels were turning. He wanted to go. The thoughts were there, in the back of our minds for a few months. It was about March when Tom really started to get the itch. Right after Ally was born, we made a decision.

I told him that I would go. This time, we would go. But, before that could transpire, there were a lot of things that had to happen. I put quite a few conditions on the move, assuming I think, that some of them wouldn't come to fruition. Not all those things could possibly fall into place in such a short amount of time. I thought I had given myself an out. A way to stay.

First, he had to get a job there. And it had to pay at least what he was getting paid now. He registered with a head hunter, figuring that it would be months before he got a call. Less than a week later, he already had a few interviews lined up. We flew out here when Ally was only 6 weeks old. He got the job, and he was offered more than we anticipated.

The second condition was that we had to find a house that was bigger, close enough to his work and with good schools. We settled on Longmont, midway between Boulder and Fort Collins, where TJ was. We found a new development, one that had just started construction on the edge of town. Third, we had to sell the house, and we had to get what we wanted for it. Put it on the market, and it sold in two days for more than we were asking.

We had a month. A month to tell everyone we loved, all our friends and family, that we were leaving. For real, this time. We had a month to find a rental house 1200 miles away. And we had a month to pack. I use the term "we" loosely here of course. Tom packed exactly one box. Everything else, all me. With three little kids, one of which was a newborn, we were leaving.

At some point, the reality hit me. We actually were going to do it this time. I struggled with the decision we made, questioned if it was the right choice. It was hard to go. I won't lie. It was scary, driving off into the unknown that day in July. There were many tears shed, many lingering doubts in the back of my mind.

The trip out here was a long one. I don't recommend cross country moving with three kids and two dogs to anyone. Especially when most of that trip takes place through the desert in the middle of the summer. When we crossed over the Colorado state line and stopped in Grand Junction for that last night, I really started to think we had made a terrible mistake. We got out of the car, and it was at least 110 degrees, and the wind was horrendous. What was I thinking?

Adjusting to life in Colorado took a while. And I'm still not entirely used to the weather here. I like to think that I have acclimated. I have held fast to my California ways. I wear my capri pants and flip flops year round, even in the middle of winter. I have developed almost the same relationship with the mountains here as I did with the ocean in California. Accustomed to seeing them all the time, but visiting them less often than I would like.

The schools are great. It really feels like a community here. There is so much for the kids to do, and it really is a family friendly place to live. I hardly ever get questioned by people about my choice to have so many kids here. It's more normal to have a larger family. It is less about the rat race here. Fewer people drive fancy cars. More people hang flags on their front porches. We have pancake breakfasts and parades. I can't go anywhere here without running into someone I know these days. While I will forever be a California girl, Colorado has become my home too.

Now here we are, four years later. I learned many things about myself through the experience. I learned that sometimes, you just have to jump in with both feet and hope for the best. I learned that when you are doing something truly because you believe it is the best for your children, you are almost always going to be right. I learned that my home is wherever my children are. Wherever my husband is. I learned that as scary as it is, I can start over. And I learned that life really is not about the destination, it's not about where you end up. It's about the journey. Enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Retraining

I seem to have forgotten what it was like to have a toddler boy in the house. I remember what Aidan was like when he was little, of course. But I am just now realizing how different he was as a toddler than the girls were. I have been conditioned to having little girls in the house for too many years, and I need to relearn what it's like to have a little boy.

Little boys do things like tip over the trash can. Over and over again. Not only is the trash can apparently a great thing to hold on to when cruising along the kitchen, but it contains all kinds of treasure. AJ knocks it over at least twice a day. Every day. It's almost worse when it's empty because it's easier for him to pull down.

He picks the dirt out of the sliding glass door track. He fishes dog hair from under the couch. He opens every single cabinet and drawer that he can. Then proceeds to remove as much as he can from inside, usually scattering it randomly around the floor. I have to repair the broken child locks and get a few more installed. We just never needed to have all the cabinets locked with Ally. But boys are different.

He takes great delight in the newspaper. He loves to shred paper, and the newspaper is good for that. You have to read it before he has a chance to touch it, or forget it. He rips magazines apart, one page at a time, eyes twinkling with mischief.

His new favorite thing to do is to rub whatever he is eating in his hair. Cereal, sweet potatoes, strawberries, anything. If it mushes, squashes or oozes, he has to play with it. And he has to make the biggest mess he can. And then he has to fuss while I try in vain to clean him up.

He's a boy. They get out of the bathtub dirty. I've been through it before...I just need to remember that.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Inches

We have a lot of spoons in this house. Big ones, small ones. Wood ones, plastic ones, metal ones. Spoons are generally regarded as the safest utensil, since they don't have any sharp edges or pointy tines. Spoons are not as safe as they might look. About this time two years ago, I learned that the hard way.

I was emptying the dishwasher, putting away one load and getting ready to start the next. The kids had asked if they could do a parade - basically they wanted to bang on pots and pans. I said yes, and gave them some lids and wooden spoons, then went back to the dishes.

In the time it took me to put away some cups, it happened. Ashley was playing with her lids and spoons, and fell. She fell on the stairs and she was hurt. But she wasn't the one crying. Aidan was screaming, and Ally was too. I ran around the corner of the kitchen and there was blood everywhere. And Ashley was just standing there, mouth open, tears in her eyes. The spoon was laying at her feet.

She had put the spoon in her mouth, then fallen. The end of the spoon had jammed up into her mouth. And there was blood. A lot of it. Without even a moments hesitation, I grabbed her and a towel and put her in the car. I ran Aidan and Ally across the street, and my neighbor didn't even have to ask what was wrong. She must have seen the look on my face, and she knew it was bad. And she knew she'd be watching the kids for a while. No questions asked.

I got her to the emergency room, had called Tom on the way. I told him what I could. All I knew was that she was hurt. I didn't know how bad. I just knew she wasn't talking, and we were both scared. They got her in immediately, and assessed her right away. The bleeding had slowed, but she still wasn't talking.

After a while, what seemed like a very long while, the ear, nose and throat specialist came in. She couldn't tell how bad the damage was. But we both knew how lucky we were that the spoon had not hit an inch further back than it did. An inch, the difference between a repairable mouth injury and death. When Ashley finally started talking again, we were relieved. But there clearly was damage done to her palate. And that damage needed to be repaired surgically. We also needed to make sure that her sinuses weren't involved.

By this point, Tom had arrived at the hospital. He made sure Ashley was stable, then went to pick up Aidan and Ally. TJ was at the hospital when he got back. He made it just in time to see her before she had to go in for surgery.

Though Aidan had a rough start at birth, he never needed to have surgery, and this was my first experience with it as a parent. And it was terrifying. She was scared, completely unsure of what to expect. All she knew was that she was in pain and there was something wrong. The anesthesiologist asked if I would like to bring her into the operating room, and my instant answer was yes. I put on the surgical jumpsuit and booties and carried my little girl in. Somehow I managed not to cry until she was under. I couldn't let her see me scared.

Fortunately it was a quick surgery, and the damage was easy to fix. Her sinuses were fine, and the soft tissues weren't involved. She did not do well with the anesthesia, and had a really hard time waking up. The nurse in the recovery room didn't know how to calm her down, and they called me back. I held her, crying, for over an hour. When she finally relaxed, they moved her to the pediatrics floor. The nurses in pediatrics were much better with her than the recovery nurse had been. They brought her a teddy bear with rainbows on it, one that she still cherishes to this day.

She wasn't too upset that she could only eat applesauce and ice cream for weeks. It didn't seem to bother her in the least. And within a few days, she was back to her normal self. She has a funky looking scar inside her mouth, but no outside signs of the trauma of that day. Every once in a while, she will mention something about that day. She doesn't play parade much anymore. And she knows how dangerous ordinary objects can be. We all do.

It may seem strange to measure life in inches, but I do now. And I will never look at spoons the same way again.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Shattered

I have grown weary of the weather here. Spring is supposed to be the time of the year for severe weather, but this seems to be the year that just keeps on giving. Just when you think we've crossed over officially into the heat of summer, it comes back. It's July, we should be done. We should be having our little thunderstorms every few days, just enough to cool off the afternoon and sprinkle the grass with a little water. What we have actually had is something entirely different.

There are still tornado watches, still local street flooding. There are still swollen rivers and creeks, some running so high that the crossings are closed. There are still those looming dark clouds off to the West, and there is still a constant need to determine which way the wind is blowing.

The storm that came through yesterday was the worst yet this year. We had at least 2 inches of rain in about thirty minutes, hail and hurricane force wind. The storm came through so fast, and from a direction that they don't generally come from, that we didn't have time to fully prepare. We managed to get most of the things picked up in the backyard, but not everything. Even the smallest of toys can quickly become dangerous when carried with the wind.

We had a few casualties from the storm. The patio table, umbrella and 3 chairs didn't make it. The wind carried the chairs at least 50 feet, around the side of the house until the fence caught them. The safety glass in the table worked precisely as it was intended - which might make it a fantastic safety feature in some ways, but makes it infinitely more dangerous in others. It shattered on the grass, which is now littered with thousands of shards of glass. We picked up what we could, but there is still a lot out there that we can't see. The flag on the front of the house was ripped off, 2 inch wood screws through the bracket and all. I expected to see the pole snapped, but the entire bracket was gone.

I am grateful that the tables and chairs didn't hit a window. I am grateful that the fence remained standing. I am grateful that we didn't lose any trees. I am grateful that the hail didn't get big enough to do any substantial damage, though it appears to have done a number on some of my rosebushes. And most importantly, I am grateful that no one was injured.

Tables and chairs can be replaced. The kids really should always be wearing shoes outside anyway. We can buy longer wood screws for the bracket. And my roses needed to be pruned before yesterday. Mother Nature has a way of putting things into perspective sometimes. And she has a way of reminding us of her power, of how fragile we are.

When they say keep an eye on the sky around here, you'd best do it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Boom

There is just something appealing about gunpowder to boys. Since I am lacking in the male gene department, I'm not quite sure what that appeal is exactly. But it's there, for sure. And it's not something that they ever outgrow.

One of the so-called benefits of moving to Colorado, at least in Tom's eyes, is that you can legally blow stuff up here. Fireworks are legal. In the city limits, there are some rules - essentially anything that stays on the ground is fair game. If it goes up into the air, you aren't supposed to have it. Of course that doesn't stop people from lighting them around here.

There were no less than 6 separate areas last night with airborne fireworks that we could see. Only one display was on the up and up, the others clearly smuggled across state lines. It didn't take but about 10 minutes after dark for the fire trucks to be racing down the main street, sirens blaring. Someone lit something on fire they weren't supposed to.

The problem with fireworks is an obvious one. They are dangerous. You light them at night, presumably in the dark. And all this is generally done after hours of drinking have transpired. Not a good combination.

My problem, clearly, is that I just don't see the huge appeal in it. They're cool and all, I suppose. But I don't have any desire to light them myself. I'm fine with leaving it to the experts. Must be that lack of a male gene.
Happy Fourth of July. Hope you all still have your fingers attached.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sacrifice

How many men and women have laid down their lives for you? How many people have given the ultimate gift, made the supreme sacrifice, so that you may enjoy your freedom? Many more than you might think, I guarantee. I am now and will always be eternally grateful for their bravery. We all should be. And we should all take time out of our harried, busy lives, to thank those around us who serve. Those who sign up to defend our country, knowing full well that their signature binds them to complete service. That their signature could mean deployment, battle, and yes, even death.

What I struggle with understanding are the deaths that didn't need to happen. That could have been prevented. That should have been prevented. The fights that we shouldn't have been in. The lives given for questionable reasons. For politically motivated battles, the ones never fully legitimized in the eyes of the world. There is a line, a time and place where most people can agree that war is the final determining answer. Attacks like the one on Pearl Harbor and the genocide of entire race of people - acts like this cross that line easily and clearly. But everything else leading up to that line is a gray area.

Some people will argue that it is inconsistent to say that one supports our troops and simultaneously question the motivations of their commanders. I wholeheartedly disagree. The soldiers are doing their job, doing as they are ordered. They deserve 100% of our support. They should be taken care of, financially, physically and mentally, upon their return. Their families deserve adequate support. They should not be forced into battle without proper equipment, not in a day and age where it exists. We need to train them not just to fight, but to be human when they come home. And if they need help, we need to help them. As a society, we need to do a better job, and we need to demand that our government does a better job.

It is abhorrent what happened to the men who returned from Vietnam. Sent to fight, brought home to a life they no longer recognized. Many of them had lost the ability to live a normal life, and there was not enough help here for them to recover that ability. The statistics of homelessness in the veteran population are disturbing to say the least. And the health care is woefully inadequate. I fear that the men and women returning from the Middle East may face the same challenges. I hope that they don't have to. I hope we can do better for them.

Has our government always been prudent about sending troops to fight? I would argue that the answer is no. We hastily went after the wrong target, letting the one we really need to focus on escape us. And in doing so, we embroiled ourselves, our troops, in a war for the wrong reasons. And far too may of them have not come home. Men, women, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, friends, all of them. Gone, but not forgotten.

I urge everyone to really think about that on this Independence Day. Think about what it takes for us to live the lives we are fortunate enough to have. Think about the choices, the sacrifices made to ensure that. And thank a soldier. Our freedom comes with a price.

Too close to home, a life was lost early in the war. Mike DiRaimondo was one of TJ's best friends. He was a medic in a Blackhawk helicopter that crashed outside Fallujah, Iraq in January 2004. At the age of 22, he was gone. Thanks, Mike, from all of us.

www.fallenheroesmemorial.com/oif/profiles/diraimondomichaela.html

Friday, July 3, 2009

Presumptions

I recently spent about 5 minutes yelling at the radio. I get incredibly frustrated with stupid people in general, but even more so with those who are given public and open platforms like the radio. You would think the station owners would be a little more careful about hiring hosts, or at least that the producers of the show would be better about telling them when they are just flat wrong. I was listening to a talk show host discussing the Michael Jackson situation, and she was talking specifically about his children.

The details of how his children were conceived aren't fully clear, and to be totally honest, why should they be? Since when did it become anyone's business how someone chooses to become a parent just because they happen to be famous? The speculation currently is that his oldest two children were conceived outside the womb, through in vitro fertilization, and implanted into his then-wife, Debbie Rowe. Whether that marriage was ever anything close to resembling a real relationship is debatable, and it has always seemed to have been purely a marriage of convenience. She was his wife, on paper, and for the purposes of giving him kids. It doesn't seem that she got anything from the arrangement, except I assume to be paid handsomely.

Recent news reports have said that Jackson's sperm was not even used for the oldest two, and that it was instead from a donor. It is this point that the radio host seemed stuck on. If his sperm wasn't used, then the kids were never really his, and so then who gets custody after his death? People are so stupid. Of course the kids were his. While the genetic tie may be in question, they were his children. The host couldn't comprehend why he had never legally adopted the kids. Well, perhaps it was because he didn't need to. He was married to the mother, he was the intended father, his name is on the birth certificates. In the state of California, any man married to a woman who gives birth is automatically presumed to be the father. Period. He is the father. Whether he is genetically the father or not has absolutely no bearing on the situation at all. Whether the marriage was a sham, created solely for the purpose of enjoying that presumption, also doesn't matter.

She spent a good long time trying to analyze the situation the best that she could. Trying to decipher how the courts would go about determining custody in light of the fact that he wasn't really their father. It amazes me sometimes that people sitting behind a microphone don't think before they speak. The court will determine custody as they do in situations like this every day when the custodial parent is deceased. The wishes of the parent will be considered, but ultimately, the court will grant custody based on the best interests of the children. And the judge, I assure you, has no interest in where the sperm came from.

Much more troubling in my opinion is the status of the youngest child. Jackson was not married to the mother at the time of birth. If his sperm was not involved, and there is no genetic tie, he would have had to adopt the child to be the father. But that never happened. The only name on the birth certificate is Jackson's. There is no mother listed. Clearly, Jackson and his attorney held some powerful influence to accomplish that. What child has a birth certificate with no mother listed? I would think that whoever approved that birth certificate has some definite explaining to do. Assuming that there is no other legal document establishing legal parentage of the youngest child, the court would be put in the awkward position, it seems, of presuming that Jackson was indeed the father. He certainly was the intended father. And unless someone steps forward with contrary information that they can prove, he will be treated as such.

Jackson lived almost his entire life in the public eye, under the scrutiny of the microscope. Even in death, questions arise. And it seems that his children will not be able to escape the spotlight either. And, unfortunately, those children will not be able to avoid the idiocy of people who think that they are qualified to judge them - even when those people clearly have no idea what they are talking about. Give a stupid person a microphone and it won't make them more intelligent. It will just make them louder.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Purging

I find strange things therapeutic. I love gardening, getting dirt under my nails and everything. Tom thinks it is bizarre, but most of the time, I prefer not to wear gloves. I usually wear them only when pulling particularly stubborn weeds and when I am pruning the rosebushes. I'm not entirely sure where this love came from.

I love to paint. Most people see it as a messy chore, but I find peace in it. Solitude, calm. It's amazing how easy it is to transform a space, to renew a room. I am itching to paint, it's been too long. The source of this love, I can identify. It came from my grandmother. That woman painted and painted and painted everything in her house. The cabinets in her kitchen must have had 20 layers on them. So much that it was often impossible to get the doors open without sticking. At some point, a few of the doors lost the ability to close completely. She loved to paint, for her it was therapy too. If she was in the mood to paint, it was best to just get out of her way and let her have at it.

I love to clean out the house and get rid of stuff. This, I know I get from my father. He is the all time king of banishing clutter. My mom will never let him forget the time he donated her Kitchenaid stand mixer while she was visiting me. He tends to clean out the house when she isn't around. I find myself doing it often too, though I would never get rid of my mixer! I've spent a lot of time recently going through the kid's things. The clothes, the toys, the shoes, the stuffed animals that either don't fit or don't get used. They need to go somewhere else. They need to get out of my house.

Is it strange to find such satisfaction in cleaning?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Chasing Butterflies

One of my favorite places to take people when they are here to visit is the Butterfly Pavilion. There are a few indoor rooms, one dedicated to insects and spiders, the other to ocean animals. These displays are not terribly impressive, but seem to amuse the kids. But that isn't what you are really there for anyway.

The pavilion is essentially a huge indoor rain forest. No matter what the weather is like outside, it's always hot and humid in there. It can be a most welcome relief in the dead of winter. Inside the pavilion are thousands of butterflies. From innumerable different species, from all over the world. There are tiny ones and huge ones. And they are all magnificent.

We went a few days ago, taking my niece Athena for the first time. She is here to visit, and the look on her face when we walked into the pavilion was priceless. There is just something magical about a fluttering butterfly. They truly are one of the most beautiful gifts of nature.

Sitting and just watching the butterflies for a bit, you learn a lot about them. I know that I learn more about them each time I go. And I see more and more the similarities between the butterflies and one of my children, Ashley. Beautiful and magnificent, but fragile. Fluttering around, never content to stay in one place for long. They are almost never at rest. Even when they appear to be, the wings are still going, but at a much slower pace. You realize that there isn't any organized path of flight. It seems that they are incapable of flying in a straight line, instead they are perpetually taking the scenic tour.

Taking pictures of butterflies is not as easy as one might think, and doing so provided me with yet another learning experience to parallel with Ashley. Much like with her, I spent a lot of time with them, waiting for the right moment. Sitting, anticipating, hoping that they would be still long enough for the images to be crisp and clear. An exercise in patience, and a valuable one at that. Well worth the effort when you see the end result.

There are signs posted all over the pavilion asking patrons to leave the butterflies alone. Please don't touch them. If they land on you, just wait. They will leave soon enough. The reason for the signs is obvious. Butterflies are incredibly delicate and easily harmed by touch. Their large wings, the ones that make them so breathtaking, are also what makes them so vulnerable. Look with your eyes, not with your hands. To keep them safe, to keep them beautiful, we must respect them. How many other things in life could you say the same for?

I hope you enjoy them.

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