Monday, March 30, 2009

Cardboard Flight

Most of the time my eight year old seems so much older than his actual age. Its the curse (blessing?) of having two older brothers that he trails after on a regular basis. He hangs out with their older friends, plays their older kid video games, and sometimes watches their older kid movies. He has seen very few of the Disney classics that used to be a staple in our household.

So when he occasionally does 'little boy' things, it warms my heart. I got a shipment of summer shirts in the mail recently and he snatched up the empty shipping box that sat by the kitchen trash can. A bit of tape and a few cuts with scissors and suddenly it was a space ship. He holds it up from the bottom and flies around the house. When he is not in flight, it sits by the bookcase, looking like trash that we haven't gotten around to throwing out.

I will treasure this picture for years to come. For all the shots I get of him looking way too old, in this one he seems exactly the right age. All too soon he will retire the cardboard spaceship and fly off to bigger adventures. And the space ship will go back to being cardboard in the trash.

Snuggly Kitty

Okay, time for a confession. As much as I love my life, there are days when I wonder if it would be as great as it seems to just be a cat for a day.

Update: I ended up writing an essay about this idea. It was printed in my parenting column and posted on this blog on April 14.

Brainwashed Fan

It has been a difficult road, the twenty five years that I have been a Seahawks fan. There are never shirts or ball caps or even keychains with my team on them at the sports stores. Even when we lived in Utah, just two states away from Washington, all I could find was Broncos stuff.

Then my team went to the Super Bowl. I thought maybe, just maybe I would be finding more fan gear in the stores. No chance. They lost the big game and went back to anonymity.

So when my teenage daughter and I were in the mall the other day and saw a clearance rack outside the sports store, I jokingly said, "Let's dig through it, maybe there's a Seahawks shirt in there somewhere..."

And what do you know, there was. A sweatshirt, the perfect size for my eight year old. A brand name high quality sweatshirt...for the discount price of 3.99. Bonus!

He already owns and wears a Seahawk hat that we got in another sports store (also on clearance) about a year ago. I think he feels sorry for me that I seem to be the only Seahawks fan on the entire east coast. I'm okay with that. I'll take any pity fans I can get for my club.

He's worn this sweatshirt almost every day now, over his tshirt. Soon it will be too warm for sweatshirts and I'll have to hope he doesn't outgrow it before next fall. If he does I might be forced to wrap it up and send it as a handmedown to one of my nephews. It's time to brainwash the new generation.

Signs of Spring

I was making dinner this weekend and saw movement in the backyard. When I looked out the window I didn't see kids running around. I saw this. A mama deer enjoying the onion grass in our backyard. I have wondered how the deer survive the rough winters in our back woods. But they must have found a way because now they are in my backyard, looking for some extra nourishment.

This is why I can't plant a garden. I know it would just be a revolving salad bar for this deer and her family. But that's okay by me. I like seeing this scene as I make dinner. Plus gardens are a whole lotta work when I have a fabulous farmers market just up the road, spilling over with all the fresh veggies I could ever want.

Sweet Samantha

I had two aunts when I was a child. One from my dad's side, one from my mom's. I saw them a total of about three times my entire childhood. As I was growing up I vowed that I would make sure my kids knew their aunts and uncles. After all, I had four natural siblings, surely a few of them would be worth visiting every now and then.

As it turned out, they all became fun adults. I am thrilled for my kids, that they have such great aunts and uncles.

Then I married this man who also had four siblings. And they all turned into fun adults who married great partners. So my kids are doubly blessed.

Of course along with great aunts and uncles comes great cousins. The oldest of the group is my niece Samantha. We met her when she was about six and her mom was dating my husband's brother. We lucked out because they ended up getting married and we got to watch Samantha grow up.

She's now this tall beautiful girl who is fun to be around and can make a fun game out of anything. She is the perfect extra big sister to my kids.

We got to enjoy her company this weekend when she came to our house for a break from college. She's working on a film project and needed some kids to film. We have plenty of them for her to borrow.

She brought along all her film props and on Friday night my two youngest had a ball trying them all on and discovering alter egos.

Then I came home from work on Saturday afternoon to find our living room turned into a four square court. I don't know why it had never occurred to me to tape out a four square court on our living room floor. It took clever Samantha to come up with the idea. We spent the rest of the weekend holding tournaments.

Even after she left we left the couch against the wall and kept playing. Last night instead of doing homework and checking backpacks we had a rousing family game, all six of us. There are not many things we can all do together anymore. Girls and boys, big kids and little. Four square is one of them.

Thanks Samantha. For broadening our world. For being the kind of cousin I have always wished for my kids to have and being the kind of niece I am blessed to call my own.

Three Reasons

In these pictures you can see three of the reasons we left beautiful Utah and moved to New York. The adorable girl in the picture is my niece, who is in film school at Ithaca College. My Sam adores her and she returns the favor by spoiling him. It never hurts to have an extra big sister.

Her dad grew up with the title 'little brother' to my husband. I met him when he was in high school and still forget sometimes that he's all grown up and has a successful career designing planetarium theaters. He married a gal that I would have picked as a sister if I'd been given a choice.

They came over from NH to see their girl. We are kind of a mid way point between her college and her home. We get the bonus of seeing them all at the same time.

Because she's an only child she gets four instant siblings and has mastered the art of jumping right in like she's always been our 'fifth child'. This is when it is truly a joy to be an aunt. An aunt who lives close enough to visit when a touch of homesickness needs to be cured.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

How a Sky Can Make You Homesick

Every year it is a new surprise, how just the fact that the days are getting longer makes it feel like spring really might be around the corner. I no longer drive home from work in complete darkness. Some nights, like this past Wednesday, I get to enjoy a stunning sunset. And as much as that visual gift made me smile and not be so anxious for the light to turn green, it also did a number on my emotions. Because seeing a beautiful sky can sometimes make me just a little bit homesick.

When we moved to this East coast state just over two and a half years ago we did it with purpose. We sought out this move and were thrilled when the job offer came through. My family is spread out all over the United States but Jeff's family is mostly concentrated in New Hampshire. They are all people I love being around and want my children to know personally, not just through pictures on the fridge and a visit every three years. We were very excited to get back to the East coast.

But as much as we were excited about New York and all the great things about being closer to family, there was no denying we were also leaving something very special behind. Having lived in Utah for three years we had grown some pretty significant roots. We were a part of a small tight- knit church, being one of the few congregations that were not Mormon. We lived on a street that could have come straight out of Leave it to Beaver, filled with growing families who met regularly on each other's driveways when evening walks turned into chats that stretched to almost bedtime. The children and I learned to ski on snow that is just as perfect as the ads declare and with cheap season passes for locals, we spent most winter weekends flying down perfectly groomed slopes.

But one of my favorite things about living in Utah was the sky. In our first few weeks there I kept catching myself telling long distance friends and family, "the sky is just so big here…" I know Montana is supposed to be big sky country but Utah has its own version of the extra large vista. You could honestly see weather fronts moving in from miles away. I loved the thirty minute drive to Salt Lake City, with the shimmering Great Salt Lake off to my left, and the huge sweeping sky spread out in front of me. More than once I pulled off the side of the road and tried to capture the latest amazing view with my camera. Most of the time a picture could not do justice to the magnitude of what lay in front of me.

New York is not without its own treasures. Life in the Utah valleys means the only trees to be found are dainty overgrown twigs that are more decoration than nature, breaking up the monotony of too many small square bushes lined up in front of the house. It is a desert state and any foliage that appears in suburbia yards is there because of rigorous watering schedules and hard working sprinkler systems. My boys were in awe the first time we drove the tree lined back roads of New York. Visions of tree houses and tire swings danced in their heads. Neither were an option in our old state.

Their only request when we were scanning real estate ads was that our new house come with 'good woods'. After two perfect houses fell through we finally got our third pick and, looking back, it really was the best of the three. It came complete with five acres of exquisite woods. In the spring and summer my boys and their friends can spend the entire weekend tromping around back there, doing whatever boys do, in their very own forest.

We have loved hiking through New York's national parks and finding new favorite lookouts. Having family close enough to see on a regular basis is just as great as I thought it would be. Being able to explore New York City and Boston, and still be able to sleep in our own beds at night has been exciting. And the trees…ahh, the trees. We have hung a hammock, strung up a tire swing and the boys are constantly adding to their tree fort in the woods.

But on days like last Wednesday, when the drive home treats me to a gorgeous sliver of sunset, there is only one place I can think about. It's not the place I grew up and I have no flesh and blood family there. I just lived there long enough to be captivated by its magic and its amazing skies. I suspect that as I start to feel like a New Yorker more with every passing year a part of me will always yearn for that great state out west. A place where we made lifetime friends. A place where the skiing is consistent and amazing. And a place where the skies seem to have no end.

Just One Foot

When I started this blog I had to come up with a name. It needed to sum up who I am. Wife, mom, friend, sister, many titles. They all define me in some way. Then five years ago I got a new title. Amputee. It quickly defined me also, but not in the way you'd expect.

Getting rid of that one foot gave me new options in life. After living with a deteriorating deformed foot, the result of a minor case of spina bifida, I decided to have it cut off. I wanted to start over with metal and plastic. Many didn't understand how I could be excited to be having my limb amputated. As one friend said, "It's on the short list of things the rest of us fear the most in life." But amputation did not mean failure to me. It meant starting over.

I have written a memoir about my experience and how you can come to a place in your late thirties where you're shopping around for docs who are willing to do elective amputations. And how it can be all about good, nothing to do with failure. The working title is Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability.

So here is a brief explanation, in an excerpt from my manuscript, of where the title Just One Foot came from.

The other night a man asked me if I had bone cancer. I understood why he'd think that. Most people see my prosthetic leg and put it in a box they understand. If they have known someone who had cancer and lost a leg, that's what they think happened to me. If they read an article in the paper about someone losing their leg after a traffic accident, they wonder if I survived a car crash. Sometimes it bothers me. I get points for overcoming some obstacle I never had to face.

Maybe hauling around that deformed old foot all those years could be counted as adversity but I don’t put it in the same category as car wrecks and cancer. People who lose legs for those reasons knew normal before and are thrust into this new category of amputee. I never had a normal foot. This new metal leg is my version of normal.

And with the whole cancer thing there are more issues. Cancer is arbitrary. Even if they give you good odds, there is still a chance you will DIE. That's a long, emotionally draining road. What I had was a long road, but I knew what I was dealing with every step of the way. I knew it was just a foot that was not formed right. I also knew it was never life threatening. Life altering, but very different from life threatening.

I bounced these thoughts off Jeff one night. He surprised me by saying he thought my decision was actually harder. With cancer they tell you it's coming off. There's no choice. If you want life, you lose your limb. My surgery was more about taking chances. If I were going to beg a doctor to cut off my limb I'd better be ready to deal with the outcome. If anything went wrong I had to live with the consequences, knowing it had been 100% my choice to have it done. But I still have trouble believing I'm anywhere as brave as amputees who have it thrust upon them. Usually I feel like I have an advantage over them.

By having never known normal, my standards for this new leg are different than for most amputees. I just wanted better. When I walked out of my prothetist's office with my first leg I was not asking for normal, I was just looking for better than my old foot. And as twisted as my old foot had become, better was not hard to achieve. I lived most of my life hating my old foot. I have never had a moment since my surgery that I have missed it. I have never cried about my new amputee status. I'd already done all my crying, in the years I battled decreasing mobility. I can fully accept and love this new limb with no reservations.

Granted, I would have loved to have been born with two normal feet. That would have been great. But I wasn’t. I had no memory of running and skipping and jumping. I got used to the idea that those things would never be possible. Then suddenly there was a flicker of hope that I could get them back. It was worth pursuing. I had nothing to lose but immobility. It was all forward progress for me. Cut off the one that doesn't work, stick on one that does. It’s a mindset that is only possible if you hated the limb that came with your original packaging. It is great for one’s mental health. Not many amputees have that luxury.

So in a nutshell this decision was not as radical as it may seem. To me it was just one foot. Just a bit of flesh and bone that no longer worked. There were promising options if I had it removed, hints of a more mobile life. Why would I not pursue them? Bionic legs had amazing technology that could improve my life and give me a brighter future, if only I got rid of that limb. So what's the big deal? It was an easy choice. It was just one foot.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Living in the During

It started in the Wendy's drive thru.

Sam turned to me and said, "You know what this drive thru reminds me of, Mom?"

"No, sweetie, what?"

"Remember when we were moving here and before the furniture came and we were working on the house? (understatement....) We used to come through this drive thru almost every day."

He's right. We were officially living in the Residence Inn as we renovated the house. And because Wendys offered something besides burgers and fries, we went there a lot. Just about every day. He's right about that.

"Yeah, we did a lot of work to our house, didn't we?"


"I've been meaning to make a photo book of our know, kind of 'before, during, and after'....but we keep doing more things so I never feel like its time for the 'after' pictures, you know?"

"'re right. We're still livin' in the during."

Boy does that sum up how I feel about the raising kids thing.

We're still livin' in the During.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Painting Fruit

I wish I had an appropriate picture for this posting but I just don't. Just a quick Sam story.

This morning he and I were watching the Today show as we ate our oatmeal together. There was a segment about how the four hosts went to a famous art studio and learned to paint. Their subjects were nudes.

Of course, being an inquisitive eight year old boy, Sam wanted to discuss this. I went into my long speech about how painting the nude body can really help an artist learn about line and form and blah blah blah...

He listened politely then, when I was finally done with my speech, he let me know he understood.

"Oh, I get it..", he said, "First they learn to paint naked people then they learn to paint grapes."

I guess when you are eight all formal paintings seem to be about bananas or grapes. (both fairly relevant when painting nudes, if you really think about it.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sam Had a Snowcone For Breakfast

Don't remember if I've posted this article yet but I've tried to start posting the stories I have in the paper each week. This is the current column:

Years ago, when Sam was a little guy, we came to the end of a very long day and my baby boy was hitting his wall. I knew it, his big brothers and sister knew it, but Sam himself didn't quite know it yet.

As the late afternoon wore on, my boy, who was on the last days of a bad cold, came to me over and over, wanting comfort. I soothed his latest wound, most of them emotional, as he tried repeatedly to keep playing while his body was trying to tell him it was time to quit. The smallest rift with brothers sent him into cascades of tears. Even a kind look from big sister made his body break into sobs. So he kept returning to my lap and I kept thinking he would fall asleep while we rocked. But each time he found some inner reservoir of energy and decided he wanted to play just a bit longer.

Finally I knew it was time to step in and insist that the night be brought to a close. I was tired and Jeff was working late to prepare for our big trip to the East coast in two weeks. My days were full of packing and making arrangements, so by six o'clock I was hitting my own weary wall. And Sam just needed to let go and call it a day.

As we were getting our last drink of milk from the fridge Sam saw it...the syrup for making snow cones. They were a frequent treat in the summer months but when autumn rolled around the snow cone machine was tucked into a back cabinet and the syrups were stored in the fridge. The idea delighted Sam. He asked, "Mom, can me have a 'no cone?"

I had to say no. It was the right thing to do. I have no doubt that if he were an only child I would have said yes in a heartbeat. But the big kids were constantly complaining that I treated the baby of the family with favor and I knew they were right. It was late, the snow cone machine was packed away, and it was time for bed.

Not time for snow cones.

But my boy felt deeply in his soul that he needed a snow cone. Once I said no I had to stick to it. Much weeping and wailing followed but I held my ground.

I rocked him a bit more, then we lay on the bed together, watching Sponge Bob. About every two minutes he would roll over to look at me with big sad eyes and say, "Mommy....PEEZE can me have a 'no cone?" Of course I would have to answer a quiet "No, maybe tomorrow", which was followed by a minute of tired, quiet sobs from his side of the pillow.

Finally, finally, he fell into a much needed sleep.

As I sat at the computer the next morning, checking my email before the kids got up, a squinty eyed pre-schooler opened the door to the office. Before his eyes even adjusted to the light, in a tiny voice, he said, "Mommy, can me have a 'no cone NOW?"

The email could wait, my boy had waited long enough.

We searched the cabinets, behind the waffle maker and the extra coffee pot, and we found the snow cone maker. We quickly set it up, filled it with fresh ice, and were cranking away with first morning energy.

Suddenly all that had been so wrong in his four year old world the night before was all better. The magic elixir of snow cone juice healed all. Very few times in life can such big problems be solved with such simple solutions. It was a new day and time for a fresh start.

And that is why Sam had a snow cone for breakfast.

In Honor of Michael Who Hates Spelling.

I stole this picture off my friend's facebook page. She said it was okay, really. She took it at a subway station in London recently. Too good to pass up.

(she's a teacher too, we get a kick out of these things.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Falling Apart

So yesterday our friends came over to hang out and give some house renovation advice. Tim is a leading expert on shaker furniture and has dismantled and rebuilt several historic homes. He's also built a few of their own houses. Jeff devoured the expertise he provided.

One thing that has been concerning Jeff, and by concerning I mean keeping him up at nights, is the condition of some of the support beams under our house. He was nervous that they were not doing their job and the hodge podge add-ons that have been done to the house have compromised its stability.

After his chat with Tim yesterday, Jeff got up bright and early and started chipping away at said suspicious beam. Sure enough it was pretty didnt take much to get it to fall away and the picture above shows the section he pulled out.

So now he is at Home Depot, buying a few jacks and a support beams, trying to get our structural integrity back.

Its a good thing he cares about stuff like this. If it was up to me, I'd choose to ignore it and spend the hundred bucks on shutterfly photo albums or snack foods.

I Can Breathe Again

For two long weeks my first born son had a blast in Brazil. We have family friends who live in Sao Paulo and now that we all have teens we've started trading them back and forth whenever possible. It's a great opportunity for our kids to see another culture.

Michael did more in two weeks than some people do in a lifetime of vacations. He saw how Brazilian people operate in their everyday lives. Then he spent a week with them on vacation, flying to a lush island where they water skied, biked long trails and rode horses on the beach. We heard from him every now and then, but mainly we left him alone so he could soak it all in.

But that's not to say we didn’t miss him. Desperately miss him.

You'd think having just one less kid, when you normally have four, wouldn't be that big of a deal. Even though Michael was gone, we continued to have the regular stream of friends come through the door and the house was rarely quiet. Let's just say my grocery bill never dipped. The house was full. There were plenty of teen age kids around. But four minus one never equals plenty. I missed that kid. That one personality, that specific smile.

So when he came home last night I finally relaxed. It was touch and go for a bit, as he flew in right as a snow storm was slamming New York City. But in a twelve hour effort, Jeff got down there, found our boy, and they both arrived safely home in time for dinner. All six of us around the dinner table once again. Heaven.

There was an excitement in the air for the rest of the evening. He was happy to be home and we were thrilled to have him back. I began to wonder if this is close to what it feels like to have a child go off to college and then come home to visit. His presence was so missed and he filled it completely the moment he walked back in the door. As he wrestled with Sam, throwing him over his shoulder and tickling him until he squealed, my heart spilled over with contentment.

When they were all toddlers I feared the teen years. You can almost say I dreaded the teen years. I loved the control we had when they were always under our thumb. It was easier when they didn't climb into cars driven by teenage friends and I didn't have to wonder if they had eaten a single vegetable in the past 24 hours. I didn't lay awake at night wondering if they were finding the right path and if the next few years would involve hauling boxes of their things out of my house and into a tiny apartment or dorm room.

Time seemed to go slowly when they were little people and none of us seemed to ever sleep three nights in a row. Now time is screaming by and vegetables or not, they are gaining height and maturity faster than I can comprehend. It is not fear or dread I have found in their teen years. It is yearning and longing. Wishing that it all would slow down just a bit, for just a while.

Even before they fly off to their dreams after high school, they are taking little practice flights. Two weeks here. One week there. The independence just makes them feel more grown up and upon their return causes them to walk back in my kitchen door just another notch farther away from me. It's a good thing, right? Good that they can make this transition so easily. So why does it hurt my heart so much?

I knew I had missed Michael when he was in Brazil. But I guess I didn't realize just how much. Then suddenly he was back and all was instantly right with the universe again. The heaviness I had carried around for two weeks while he was gone suddenly evaporated. Our family feels whole. At least for now. So I won't think about how soon his sister will be done with high school and how soon after that he will follow his dreams that take him out of my house full time. Because for now I am content. I am at peace. All my chickens are back in the nest. And finally, finally I can breathe again.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dog Days

Now before you look at this picture and go "Awww....a sleeping dog.", let me tell you something.

This dog knows who's home at any given time. She is only spread out on the couch because she knows Hubby's not home. If she even senses that he's in the house, she's on the floor in a heartbeat. But the rest of us are bad people. We don't really care if she lounges on the sofa. Heck, we like to, why shouldn't she?

But the even bigger picture is that this is the couch that was in my childhood home. It sat in the front room, the one we never dared walk through, much less use the furniture in. This couch joined the family before I did. It was hauled from MA to MO in the middle of the 1960s and is in the background of all the formal pictures taken in my house as I grew up. We sat on it once a year, as we opened Christmas presents. Then we knew to stay off for the other 364 days of the year.

When my mom died in the mid 1990s and dad was cleaning out the house, he offered to let us have the couch. We had a thrift store version in our living room at the time so we said, "sure!". We knew we'd find our own couch some day and this one could fill in until then.

Years passed, money came and went. There was never justification for buying a new couch. This one still worked fine and there were much more pressing needs in the household.

We moved, then we moved again, then we moved again, and the couch came with us. Our babies had diapers changed on it. They watched endless episodes of Barney as they hung off the arm rests.

It made a nice lounging spot on days they were home sick from school and never groaned as all six of us piled on it for family movie nights. We showed that couch what everyday life felt like, after it had spent most of the 70s and 80s in quiet isolation.

Now that couch is a favorite hang out for our chunky poodle. She doesn't care that the cushions are all squished and hardly match up with each other anymore. She doesn't care that on any given day there is a line of kitty fur along the top edge because the cat has claimed it as his perch.

She knows none of the history of this couch she enjoys so much. I have to think my mom would be pleased, not angry, that this piece of furniture she picked out so many decades ago, has survived another generation.

She had a pretty big heart. I think she would totally understand about mostly obedient dogs who just like a soft spot to nap every now and then.

Artistic Expressions

Over winter break the kids were home for a full week. We dug out supplies and made sculptures out of straws and paper clips. It was fun and we came up with some pretty cool stuff. (paper clips, opened up, are what hold the joints together)

Then we moved on to an old project we did years ago. Building with spaghetti noodles and marshmallows. Baby Boy really got into this one and made some kind of geometric shape. (Aunt Terry, the math teacher, could probably tell me what kind).

It is now three weeks later and this one sculpture has survived, getting sturdier the more the marshmallows hardened. This is what Baby Boy came up with when I asked why we should keep it and not throw it away.

I'm not sure if it's a hat or just an artistic statement. I'm just pretty sure this is not the answer I would have gotten from most girls who were asked the same question.

Star Wars Heritage

When you're eight years old and get to see an awesome Star Wars space ship like this one, hanging in a museum in Boston, it's pretty cool.

But when you get home and mom sees the picture and says to you,"Did you know that the ship just like this one, that hangs in the museum in D.C., was designed by your Uncle Kurt?"

Now that is a whole new level of cool.

The Big Trip

If you happen to be one of our children and you happen to be turning eight any time soon, you know what's coming. Well, you kind of know what's coming.

In our house, when you turn eight, you get to take a big overnight trip with the parent of your gender. It's all about you and all about making you feel special.

Oh yeah, and you also get the big sex talk.

About a hundred years ago I heard someone on Oprah say that eight is a good age to fill kids in. And when you make it feel like an important rite of passage they understand how important and special the whole thing can be. At an age they are still actually listening.

So Baby Boy turned eight in October. Then Halloween hit. Then Thanksgiving hit. Then get the idea.

Finally a weekend opened up in February. So Baby boy and dad hit the road for Boston. I pulled all the relevant, age appropriate books off our family book shelf and threw in a few new library books on the topic, and sent them on their way.

They did a bunch of tourist things, ate lunch at Faneuil Hall, went to the science museum, walked on the water front. This picture is Baby boy with the turtle guy who seems to be the mascot for the Boston Aquarium.

They had a great time, made some special memories. Oh, and they also had 'the talk'. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall. This is the only information that has been relayed to me concerning the subject - on the afternoon before they drove home I got a check-in call.

Once I got Hubby on the phone I asked, " did it go??"

He paused, exhaled, and said, "Well, let's just say there was a lot of giggling."

I had to ask. "By who?"

His response: "I'd rather not say."

Good thing this is the last kid who will count on us to give him a life education.

Investigative reading

My Middle boy, reading my column in the newspaper. kids reading my column, which is usually something about them...

Maybe this is not such a positive turn of events.

Driveway Excavation

This is the day we finally found the driveway. It had been buried by a thick layer of ice since about mid December. It took some jack hammering with a good sharp shovel, but by golly, it was still under there.

Winter Reminders

Just so I can remember when, six months from now I am sweating like a pig and complaining that it's just too stinkin' HOT in this house....I will post this picture. Sam, waiting for the school bus. February of 2009.

It might have been six degrees outside but you can always add more clothing when it's chilly out. When it's hot, you can only get so naked.

Some Snapshots from Brazil

Somewhere off the island of Florianopolis.

A bit blurry but the only shot of the whole family. They are amazing people who made my boy feel very much a part of the family.

Dinner is served!

The four that follow are different shots of the countryside and the coastal waters. A majestic place.

Swimming in the cold deep blue ocean.

Michael at the Carnival Parade. Another amazing experience he'll remember for a lifetime.

Let's end on this gorgeous view....

The Best of Brazil

Michael on a boat off Floianopolis Island with Rodrigo (left) Thais (far right) and a cousin of theirs (middle).

He's been home almost a week now. His first day back on American soil he spent most of his time waiting out, then driving through a thick snow storm. He and dad arrived safety home right in time for dinner.

The next day I gave him a freebie from school, jet lag and all that. He had been so psyched on his first night home that his three hours of sleep on the ten hour overnight flight hadn't really caught up with him yet. He slept until after ten the next morning.

It was so great to have him back. Have him be one of the options when I came around the corner into the kitchen to see who was home. I had to get used to him being around again. Every time I saw him I smiled. My boy is home. My boy is really home.
He told many stories on his first day back but more have been trickling out of him as the week goes by. I thought I'd better write some down before I forget in the comfort of our new four-kid normal.

One thing that humors me is that he hung out a lot with the staff who lives with the family in Brazil. They have a full time driver,a cook and two household maids. And my shy boy hung out with them, to his advantage.

The Cook took him to the market and convinced all the fruit vendors to give 'naive american boy' a free sample. They eagerly sliced off pieces of foreign fruits for his tasting pleasure. Kind of like a Brazilian version of free samples day at Sam's Club.

Then he and Driver went for long rides through town, to 'show him around'. He has pictures of a crazy motorcycle they saw and the guard towers that are posted around the parking lot at the shopping mall. Kidnappings are still fairly common in Brazil (so much so that Brazilians have insurance policies on it) so the fact there were security guards at the mall, in look-out towers, actually brought me comfort.

Because the family still had work and school the first five days he was there, Michael had a lot of hang out time. And he chose to spend a lot of it with the staff. Did I mention that the staff basically spoke NO English?

Yeah, I think that's one of the reasons he enjoyed their company. My boy doesn't use a lot of words in a day. This quiet, just hanging out time worked for him. No expectations for small talk. Just drivin' around. Just hangin' out in the grocery store. Smiles and nods were sufficient.

Then the second week they were all on the island together. Staff stayed back in Sao Paulo. Suddenly he had to use all those words he'd been saving up. He hung out with his new Brazilian siblings and did his best to fit in with the events of each day.

He played a lot of chess with Rodrigo, who is the same age as Sam. The big brother role is familiar and comfortable to Michael. I am sure it made him feel at home, to hang out with a little guy. He enjoyed those long silent games because as he put it "its all about who is the black pieces and who is the white, then 'your turn, my turn'....until someone wins." It was the perfect game to share with this new little brother who understood some, but didn't speak much English.

Nina, the oldest daughter, who spent a week with us last summer, speaks our language well. She is just fourteen but between school lessons and her immersion in our culture last year, she does very well. She got to practice her translation skills (which pleased her mom) when her friends were over and she wanted Michael to be included in the conversations.

But Michael brought home some funny mannerisms and habits that were fun to watch until he dropped them. Things like speaking very slowly when he spoke to Sam, because that is how his Brazilian brother best understood the language. Simple word choices, spoken slowly. We had to remind him that Sam speaks English very well, thank you.

At one point Michael and I were having a conversation and Sam, so happy to have big brother home and showing it the best way he could, was shooting Michael repeatedly with Nerf bullets from across the room. Big brother just ignored it, stood there allowing little brother to pelt him with foam artillery.

I paused our conversations and said, "Are you really going to take that?"

I know I shouldn't promote violence but this was just not a natural way to react to an annoying little brother. Michael had forgotten that this was not the little brother he had to be polite to. This was the real thing. And no, he was not going to let it go.

He calmly walked over and scooped Sam up, turning him upside down and tickling him until he squealed.

Then there is this issue with how he says, "yes" to everything. Very deliberate, with emphasis. Where he used to say 'yeah' or 'I guess so', he now answers a very polite "YES." I know it is how he answered his Brazilian parents, trying to be polite, and I like it, but it just doesn't feel like my laid back boy. I'm kind of glad he's now dropped that habit.

I can tell that Brazil is still in the back of his mind, even as he gets back in the groove around here. Out of the blue, totally out of context, he'll say things like, "down there, they didn't have this kind of meat." or "once, when I was down there, we were in this elevator, and Nina leaned on the button..." The story goes on and it is assumed that we all understand that he's talking about Brazil.

A place that now feels very much like home to him. He fit in with their family and soaked up their culture. He watched a school (posse?) of dolphins leap next to their boat when they were water skiing one day. He saw amazing views and incredible countryside landscapes. And he hung out with the staff and had inside jokes with Driver. A little brother was left behind who thinks Michael hung the moon.

What's not to love about Brazil?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Thrill of the Day

Ironically I had just emailed my sister about this very topic earlier this week. She had commented to me recently that I must 'get recognized' when I'm out at the grocery store because of the column I write for the paper (that usually includes a picture of me and my kids). I explained to her that writers sometimes don't really know who is reading their stuff.

Rarely do I read something myself, something that touches me or impresses me, and have a chance to tell its writer that I was moved by his/her effort. So the fact I don't get much feedback from my weekly column doesn't really surprise me. I hope someone is enjoying it but don't actually hold my breath.

So today, as I checked books out to a mom with her young daughter, I was totally shocked and deeply touched when the woman recognized me and said these words, "I just have to tell you, I love reading your column. I look forward to it each week and so many times I am thinking about something and you write it out so perfectly in your column."

Again, I was shocked. Actual feedback from an actual reader. Someone is out there. Someone does read the words I send out to the universe every week. I have had a few neighbors comment that they see the column sometimes, and the kids have comments from teachers who read it (which horrifies them, of course, and leaves them begging me to not write about them.) But every now and then, when the comments come, they are appreciated.

Each and every one of them spurs me on. It gets me back to this desk chair and back to that blank screen. I write because doing so keeps me sane. It's just really nice that every now and then what I write can speak to someone else too.

The Microwave Internet

You know, the internet has become a huge blessing in my life. I often wonder how I ever lived without it. When my sisters and I are discussing this topic one of us always sums it up by saying, 'it's just like mom and the microwave.' In our sister circle we all know what that means.

Back in the days when we feathered our hair and religiously listened to Casey Kasem's American Top 40 on the radio every Sunday afternoon we heard rumors of this metal box that could cook food quickly. Slowly our friend's moms got them and everyone raved about how great they were.

But our mom could not be convinced. She was sure they were hard to operate. Or hard to clean. Or radiated nuclear rays that would beam us all full of cancer. Until the day dad just brought one home. No discussions. The mammoth machine just appeared on the counter one day. And within 24 hours, our mom was in love. Within one week she was saying, "how did I ever live without this?!"

That's how my sisters and I are with the internet. I remember the day, just about a decade ago, that I first signed onto AOL. It was what new people did. We were all baptized into the internet when we heard "You've got mail!" for the very first time. Then there was no stopping us.

We learned to shop on the web and then all learned in due time that deep product discounts have to be weighed with shipping and handling charges. Eventually we stumbled upon medical websites. There we had lessons to learn about being careful who to believe and bouncing seemingly crazy information off our trustworthy, in-person, real life doctors.

Now I do all my banking online and check on my kid's school activities. I keep in touch with our large family and friends all over the country in just minutes a day. Heck, I rarely even use the four phone books that keep appearing on my doorstep and take up space on my sagging office shelves. Who needs to flip through flimsy pages when a few key strikes can get the information so much faster?

The month of December was much more traumatic than it had to be in our family mainly because sometime in the second week of that month our family computer died. Not just hiccuped loudly. It died. And with it went all the resources I use to keep this family moving forward. I think it was the closest I have come to having a cardiac arrest not counting the two times I've watched my toddlers fall down a flight of stairs. (different kids, different houses, years need to call family services)

So tonight as I was once again clicking around, minimizing this, maximizing that, I had a realization. That as much as the internet has been a blessing to me, at times it can also be a curse.

Because tonight I am clicking back and forth on weather websites and I am not at all thrilled at what I am seeing. Snow. And sleet. And driving winds. Right down the path my husband will be driving in a few hours to pick up my first born son at the airport in NYC.

He's finally coming home. After over two weeks of pure fun and endless opportunities for lifetime memories in Brazil, my boy has boarded a plane in Sao Paulo and is in the air as I type this. In the hours he is flying the storm will be coming down. I'm not even sure he'll be able to land. He might end up in Chicago by breakfast time. I have no idea. His dad may end up in a ditch, trying to get that mini van down to Long Island as the snowstorm flies. The forecast says driving will be treacherous to impossible. But what about dads who just want to pick up their boy? Don't they get exemptions?

So having the ability to track this storm is not really doing me any favors. In my old life I would catch the forecast on the 11 o'clock news and just go to bed, hoping for the best. But in this new age of endless information I can technically track this storm, minute by minute, as it moves up the coast to wreck havoc on our tidy plans. Maybe that's not such a good thing.

Maybe sometimes I need to just step away from the technology and let things be. Worrying and tracking and fretting will do me no good. I think maybe it's time to log off and go make some cocoa. Good thing my microwave is standing by and ready.