Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tucson to teenager

The radio silence chez Melospiza has been due to an unprecedented spate of traveling--I've been three different places the past three weekends, and none of those places has been home. I'm craving some serious downtime, which, HAHA, try fifteen more years. Then you can have downtime, sister. In the meantime, it's the buy-decorate-be-thoughtful season, so go.

 I began the week in Tucson. Not a bad place to begin, if you can arrange it.

My hotel at 7 am. By this time the following day, I was already in Denver. It was...a very long day.

When I got home, Silas had a question. "When are you going to the store next?" he asked, and I thought he was going to ask for more borax. His class is doing the solutions and mixtures unit in science and he's been an experimental machine lately. He's also been something of a terror in the kitchen. We may never get the cornstarch out of the floorboards.

"Could you get some hair gel?"

Hair in the pre-comb phase. Now it's long enough for styling.
And so it begins, I thought. He's also been combing his hair a lot recently--five or six times a day.

The obvious assumption is that there's a female involved, but I haven't been able to ascertain any details and I'm kind of loathe to darken his mood, which has been uncharacteristically sunny and communicative (about borax and Legos, though, not girls, or sudden changes in cultural practices among fifth-grade boys.) And besides, I'm torn--on the one hand, I want to know everything, and on the other, I don't want to be intrusive. It's his life, he seems happy, and there don't appear to be any dangerous objects involved. I suppose we need to have some early version of The Talk, though.


After all, who could resist this guy, gelled hair or not?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Ski town, USA

Toothy Mctootherson heading up for the day.

This is our Thanksgiving tradition (circa 2010): we haul the family up to Winter Park and in exchange for copious time at the condo pool we train them in the arts of rushing downhill really fast, in the hopes that someday they will be in it for the skiing and not the excessively chlorinated pool. This is what M. hopes, anyway. I mostly hope that nobody ends the day in the ski patrol clinic.

I look rather severe. Perhaps I am instructing Helen in a matter of lift-riding etiquette.

Luckily (for my anxiety level), the kids have inherited my cautious DNA. Every so often I'll see some lavender- or olive-drab-wearing mite zip down the slopes with aplomb and style; after a brief moment of proud disbelief I'll realize that it's not actually my own offspring and that my child, in fact, is the one oozing downhill in a sensible snowplow formation. Nevertheless, M. has high hopes that someday we'll all be ski crazy.

(That will be great, I think. I'll watch you all lovingly from the lodge, where I'll be reading a good book.)

(I kid. I like skiing fine. All except for the impact-and-injury part.)

(You know what I like? The run I took this morning, alone, along the snowcovered bike trail, past the black ice-lined water, under the spruce and almost out of earshot of the highway.)

Welcome to my mountain.
Silas is actually getting rather skillful, in a slow and sensible way. I think technically we share the same ski ability, he and I, much as we share the same boot size, snowpant and helmet.

Actually, I think his boots are too big for me now.

"That's a pretty good view," said Silas. "Better take a picture for Sue."
When we're packing to leave the house, I'm always in a mood--do we have to go? For all those days? And then we get here; the house and all its chores seems pleasantly distant and so long as I have my books and a decent amount of time in which to enjoy the condo in solitude, I am content.

And here we are. The cares of the world feel very far away, and for a little while I am content.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunny & cold with a chance of fantasticness

The Melospiza family made a trip to the Big City over the weekend (yes, that big city. The one we LIVE in. Why?)

Helen terrorizing the natives. Silas is sussing the newness of the situation.

Si felt pensive.

Ultimately, they decided they were pro arts.
They raised a little ruckus.
It was a good day.
We went to see a show: Tom Sawyer--I feel a little about this the way I feel about watching the movie after the book (especially since this is my third play in a row that was an adaptation of a book--three for three) (that's actually kind of weird. Resolved: the next play I see will *not* be as seen in the best-selling book)--like, won't this just be basically an illustration of the story I just read?

Nevertheless, it would be hard to overestimate how delighted I was by the whole thing (except the price, which was RIDIC.) It's partly that the last 18 events we've attended as a family downtown have been sporting--not that I am opposed to sporting events, per se, and I view it as one of my personal strengths that I have come to an appreciation of public athletic events to the point where I can actually think of going to a baseball game at Coors Field without falling to the ground in desperate boredom, but there are other family delights hanging on the tree of the city, and I have long wanted to pick these, too. It's partly that one of the things I remember most fondly from growing up was all the local theater productions we attended. It's also that what we have in Denver is, in fact, quite a whole lot better than local theater production and I've yet to walk out of the Denver Performing Arts Center without my lips smacking in delighted appreciation. It's been something I've been wanting to do since we moved here, in other words, and Lo, we have finally done it, and it was cultural and enriching and etc.

We aren't, as a family, all that arty, which is somewhat boggling to me and is what my high school self would have found most disappointing/ shocking about my life now. Although I don't know if a yearly trip to the theatah is going to make us more...arty. I'm not sure what would do that...actual artists in the house, perhaps? Besides our enthusiastic 6-year-old artist, that is. I imagine something like the creatively couch-slumming creatures in the Moomintroll books (and then I imagine trying to play Moominmama, taking care of all those needy creative souls, probably while trying to make sure homework gets done and maintaining an actual paying thanks. Alas. Perhaps it's just as well we're more sportif.)

Mom starts chemo today. I leave tomorrow to go visit. I am both eager with anticipation and sort of dreading it, dreading everything to come in this next phase.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Middle Earth

We've moved into November, real fall, the kind with long brown days and freezing nights and sodden clumps of mush where we didn't manage to rake all the leaves before the snow fell. The kids have had the barfing sickness, mostly in our bedroom, which means that our once new rug is no longer safe to do pushups on. The mountains are brilliant white and, thanks to the advent of Daylight Spending Time, my morning run happens at sunrise, which is a beautiful thing. We are as crazy as elves (and not because we're planning ahead for the buying season. As IF.) 

The news from home is bad, and I have been exerting a lot of mental energy to reset my expectations re my mother and the future. Some days I am a mess, but mostly I am melancholy but serene, even happy. The kids and their day-to-day emergencies keep me constantly in the present; the mostly up tenor of their days makes mine up, too. One of my holds at the library comes in, or I get a new idea about a story that I'm s-l-l-l-o-w-l-y working on, or the kids have a good day at school, or my morning run is white and pink and beautiful, and I feel happy, like the world is going well, more or less. Then I remember: no, it is so, so not.

Other times, I will even be sanguine about the so-not-ness. My mom feels fine, after all. I could pick up the phone and call her right now, except that she'd probably be out for a walk with my dad. Things are at-this-moment okay, and new therapies offer so much promise. You hear all the time about remissions that last for decades--maybe it will in this case. Why not?

And then I lie down at the end of the day, and I do that calming thing where I spread my mind over all the people in my life and mentally tuck them in and smooth their foreheads, make sure they're okay--all my chickens under one roof, even if that roof is the wide-open sky of the Midwest--and my hand catches: no. Not everyone is okay. Not at all.

Or I will be fine until I come across a calendar, and my mind is forced into dangerous places, like This Time Next Year. Or the work meeting I go to this spring in Minnesota--how will things be then? Or the baseball meet Si has in June--what will conditions be at that time? Or the 2013 work meeting. Or--and then I shut it down, quick. Because I can't imagine that. No. Better to think about the end of the month, the plans we have to ski in a couple of weeks, the benefits form that has to be turned in next week, the fish I need to remember to pick up for dinner, the email I have to write.

And then I turn to the nearest kid and hug them hard, until they can squirm away.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pumpkins and more

Just looking at this picture makes me want to wash my hands.
The weekend before Halloween was pleasant(ish) and warm. Then it snowed. That, plus random stretches of drought, is local weather in a nutshell. The kids carved our hand-grown pumpkins and courteously kept the gloop in piles on the porch. I am normally not a squeamish person and I will gladly catch the bird/ wasp/ moth/ snake/ spider that may infest your office, but I kind of dread the annual Carving of the Pumpkin due to the touching of the gloop.

An interesting comparison photo from the archives. Silas approaches pumpkin carving as he approaches particularly juicy math problems: with seriousness and the directorial instincts of a third-world dictator. Also as an opportunity to assert his rights of primogeniture (note that he has the largest pumpkin in both pictures).
The cuts must be made just so.

She used to dislike gloop, too.
These were found growing in the gloop. Note the shininess of her hands. Gloop.


Halloween night was cool and windy; I began the night with Helen and her friends, a small but enthusiastic group, and ended it in the company of about 6 parents I didn't know watching my proto teen engage in barely-organized wilding (focused on candy and directed only toward each other, I hasten to add; it's not like we were overseeing the TPing of trees and the egging of mailboxes, or anything) as part of a swarm of other proto teens. I much preferred the former but the latter still beat sitting at home with the doorbell and the bowl of candy. What is it about handing out candy that panics me so? Is it the constant summons to the door? Is it the awkward exchange of mumbled trick or treats to rote compliments on costumes? Is the way I close up the door, my relief marred by second guessing my attempts to parse costume choices? Or is it just that sitting at home alone while the party rages outside feels a like hangover from high school?

Ugh. I don't know. But I do have an educational and non-holiday-themed story.

The story begins in the emergency room with a sore knee (Si's, for the record). Number one: we shouldn't have been in the emergency room. That become abundantly clear during the hour and a half we spent on the premises (in my written complaint later on, I called this time "waiting." Apparently it was not waiting. Waiting only occurs between the time you against your better judgement admit that you're willing to be admitted and your first visit from a medical professional. Four minutes, in our case, as the lady who called me to do damage control stated.) The knee was not that sore. No major damage had been sustained. No medications needed to be applied. We did get an ice pack, which we got to keep. Yay, yay and yay. I was still disgruntled that I didn't just go to a damn urgent care but hey, with no medications and no real medical attention--he did get an x ray, and let me tell you, my friends, do NOT do this--how bad could it be? Really?

$1,971.72 worth of bad, is what it could be. Which our insurance company knocked down to the still astronomical $1037.72. For a sprained knee.

This caused me to break one of my cardinal rules of conduct: I protested my grade. In phone and in writing and, wow, hey. I did not know this, but apparently medical billing operates on the same general premises that Craigslist haggling does. My mild and gentle protests (although I did say things like "this is what's wrong with medical care today" and "this is ridiculous" and "highway robbery" etc.) got the price lowered to $732. When another damage control agent connected with M, the price dropped to $384. Still ridiculous, but within the realm of you're-too-stupid-to-go-to-urgent-care-so-maybe-you-deserve-it.

Lesson # 1: Urgent care.
Lesson #2: Argue the bill. OMG.
Lesson #3: Urgent care. Also, no fifth grader who has visited a bouncy castle between the time of injury and the time of complaint, esp. if that complaint happens to occur on a weekday morning just before school, needs to go to the damn doctor. Jeesh.

Friday, October 28, 2011


As is usual in these parts, this week fall abruptly turned off the lights and left, slamming the door on its way out. Where Tuesday morning dawned sunny and pleasant, the streets lined with red and green and gold, Tuesday night it rained and Wednesday it snowed. Our beleaguered walnut tree began Tuesday as an ethereally golden harbinger of doom and by Wednesday evening it was a stick with a sodden pile of brown muck at its base. All done. Next!

Luckily for my mood I like this time of year, with its frost-on-the-grass mornings and its bleak, unpretentious prospects. Where some people get melancholy and weepy as the days shorten up and night falls faster, I feel a little tingling of anticipation (books fire holidays birthday Food pies stuffing PRESENTS), which Helen, as a fellow late-fall birthday-er, totally gets. We started reading The Long Winter during the uniformly beautiful days of August and had to put it up because "it makes me want it to be wiiiiinter." Well, okay, Muffin, although I wouldn't really call this one a paean to the glories of snow. I get it. You're my daughter, through and through.

The other one in my house, though. If I hadn't been present and accounted for at his birth I might be starting to wonder right about now whether he truly belonged to me. This week, for example, he came home with a stack of math problems and set about doing them cheerfully and even, I would say, with relish and zeal. And zest. He talks about them, kind of smacking his lips with the deliciousness of it. Meanwhile, I vaguely looked over the packet in the interest of parental involvement and immediately felt a build up of static cling in my head. I don't remember all my dreams this week but I sense that one involved panicky toil over just such a stack of problems.

In contrast but related, Wednesday he got the chance to go see Obama speak in downtown Denver. After a little convincing related to the okayness of missing Bear Club and the once-in-a-lifetime-ness and the crowds-will-be-fine, he agreed to go. "How was it?" I asked when he got back, excited for him. "Good," he said in that slightly accented monotone which means he did enjoy himself, however little he may effuse. "What surprised you the most?" This is a little conversational gambit I use sometimes to get around the "how-was-it-great" problem. He was silent for a while. Sack of potatoes silent. He might have been thinking, or he might just have been absenting himself from a difficult line of questioning.

"Well? Anything? What was most surprising?"

More silence. Then: "The snow."

Well. Okay then. The snow. You'll be able to tell your grandkids you saw Obama and it was great, it snowed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


It took them four hours, but this entire pile and more made it to the back yard.

So we're rushing toward Halloween, costumes ready, pumpkins grown and picked, pumpkin lights up. Ordinarily this is one of my favorite months. Warm days, cool nights, perfect conditions for training the children in quasi-agricultural labor, which as everyone from Agricola on knows is the best possible thing for their little characters (now if we could also encourage them to engage in that labor outside the home, i.e., on someone else's payroll, we'd be gold. As it is I'm out $30 bucks after a particularly vigorous bout of weekend Helping.) The kids are doing well--it's kind of a golden year for both of them, possibly the last one ever (at least that will occur in tandem). After all, Si starts Middle School next year. Life as a nuclear family will only go down from here.

It was our anniversary last week (fifteen years!). We spent it as couples at a certain life stage do, which is to say wedged into tiny plastic chairs at a school function:

M, at least, got to stretch his legs a bit.
It was also the anniversary of this:

That tree is really one of the best aspects of the neighborhood.
See? Still looks good, with 100% less noxious drywall dust.
Life is good, and yet Life, she is kicking my rear end to the curb. I am spending these idyllic fall days either weighed to the ground with trepidation and sadness or gliding along in a haze of denial: my mother is sick. This is as much as I want to say, because this thing that is happening is her private event and I have a feeling if I say anything it will flop awkwardly over into the realm of saying too much. So to summarize: the color of this fall is grief. I am alternately prostrate and hopeful, as are we all. Well, except the kids. They are still, and hopefully will get to remain, delightfully oblivious that anything bad could happen to the people they love.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


One of my Facebook friends posted this last week:

40 miles of trails, all dirt. Two wheels, no engine (except my legs). Huge vistas. Gold autumn leaves. Blue sky. Home to green chili stew, a Myrcenary microbrew, my dawgs and cats and the love of my life. A perfect day. So grateful.

I left this comment: "This sounds like pretttty much my perfect day."

Then I thought: uh, I think. That would be enjoyable, right? Or is that just something I used to like and now I like something else? What do I like?

Yup, it's official: I don't even know what a perfect day is anymore. I count a weekend good if I:

  1. Clean all the things;
  2. Get a good long run in and sling some dirt and branches around in the back;
  3. Spend some quality one-on-one time with the kids; and/or
  4. Do something. Like: take the kids to a new park, go for a hike, go camping/skiing, etc.

For example, this past weekend we did this. Enjoyable? Yes. Life-affirming? Hmm.
I mean, these aren't bad. Family time, tending the home hearth, exploring the great world around--in a rather small-scale and time-limited way, but still: out! about! breathing the open air etc.! These are the things of which a good life is made. So what if a good weekend falls into two categories: good because it helps me get rested and caught up to face another week, or good because for at least a few hours I get to step off the endless merry-go-round of routine. So what if while I'd call a weekend like this good, I'd hardly reach for the superlative "perfect." Good is good. To paraphrase Annie Dillard, a day spent tinkering in the yard and playing educational games with the kids isn't necessarily a good day, but a life spent doing such things is a good life.
I used to dream about having a place to garden. Now I have it. It's nice.
Then why does this life feel so limited? Why do I read my (childless, freelance writer) friend's post and sigh deeply, wistfully, as though I am sitting in my cell at San Quentin and watching a little biplane fly by, perhaps with the occupants inside laughing and clinking champagne glasses?

(Grass is greener. Duh.)

Well, fine. There probably is a grass-is-greener element. Maybe if I were living a life in which I could see a beautiful fall day and decide to hit the trails for a 40-mile bike ride, I would be thinking wistfully of Life with a Family or Life with Affordable Health Insurance/ 401k/ steady paycheck that didn't require hustle. Or maybe I would be living my dream life. I really don't know. (I'm pretty sure I would miss having the kids, despite all their whining and meMEme-ness and preferred habitat: suburban big city-ness. The steady paycheck, though. Hmm. If I could have "paycheck," hold the "steady"--well.)
I really would miss this guy. Most of the time.
I'm going to have to file this post under "things to think about later," though, because wistfulness aside, I'm not planning to jettison any part of my life right now. The 40-mile bike ride, and the life that can easily expand to accommodate it, will have to wait. Is this selling out? I suppose so. Jack Kerouac would not approve, or Katherine Mansfield, or Percy Bysshe Shelly. But I'm not living in a Beat novel. My life is more like Trollope. And even though the romantic Beat poet living in my psychic attic may wail and rage, I can't really hear her right now, because the kids are making too much noise. What I want most of all at this particular (fifteen-year) moment in my life is to provide a steady stable for them to bed down in. Prudence and moderation: these are actually my desires right now (can you believe I'm saying this?)

He appreciates it, though. You can really tell.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Corn and other signs of fall

Well, for those of you who haven't noticed it, fall is definitely here:

Although you might be forgiven for not noticing, what with it being so dang hot. I'm only sort of complaining, though, since as of the itty bitty mini cold snap we had a week or so ago,  the garden had only yielded two (2) ripe tomatoes. The cold snap didn't manage to frost, at least not in our yard, so the tomatoes pulled through and now are turning out all sorts of ripe fruit. Yay tomatoes, etc.

Only slightly snaggletoothed.
We used the weekend to do some seasonal things, like visit the corn maze. I'm actually not sure how I feel about corn mazes. They're seasonal! And smell like hay! And are harvest-related! I like harvest things! Buuuut...they're also kinda. Well. You know. You kinda don't do anything except wander aimlessly through tunnels of corn. Maybe if I were alone I could get into the whole maze/puzzle/ brain growth aspect, but as it is I spend most of my time running after disappearing kids calling out, "Don't get too far ahead! Wait up! Don't turn until you make sure we're all there!"

This is the first time we've done the corn maze during daylight hours.

It's definitely in daylight. Still vaguely ominous, though.

Also kind of fret-inducing.

Especially when big brother's in charge.

We did make it all the way through, though, which was a first.
Anyhow. There are a lot of fret-inducing things going on chez Melospiza these days, so maybe wandering half-distracted through a maze of living organism was just the thing for a hot Sunday in October.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Madame Helen's School for Fine Stuffed Animals

As I said in my last post, it will surprise no one if Helen becomes a teacher. Yeah, sure, she vigorously denies this possibility herself ("I want to be an ARTIST"), but come on, her favorite game right now is playing school:
Class is in session. She calls them The Children. As in, "The Children are having recess now, so I can brush my teeth."

She works very hard at it, since she has to be both teacher and nine students. 
The subjects are spelling, gymnastics, soccer and drawing.

She has not missed Silas at all this week, by the way. Or claims not to. "Do you like getting all of our attention all to yourself?" I asked as she rode her scooter to the bus. "Yesssss," she answered, cackling a little.

I miss him, though. He'll be home tonight. Then all my chickens will be under my roof.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Another heartbreakingly beautiful weekend. I spent it in the usual ways: cleaning, chipping away at projects, watching sports, and snatching moments when I can for reading. I maybe spent more time at the latter than usual, doing a little comfort reading (Room), but I did manage to show up here:
Sports are fun, but it's really about the snacks

Where we ran into more old acquaintances--we knew two girls on the opposite team, plus the coach. The whole Kidsport craziness--the endless idyllic days dragging out endless folding chairs and applying endless rounds of sunscreen and cheering, endlessly, for the team that either wins or doesn't win, broken only by the perhaps-longer-than-necessary trips to the bathroom or the car or escpaing, hooky-like, to the nearest coffeeshop--is made marginally better by the social aspect.

Still a little uncertain about actual game play

It's still kind of tiring. On Sunday I didn't even try to drag Helen to Si's early game, the one that started at 8:30. Instead we biked over to the local kid triathalon, in which two of her friends were competing and which struck her fancy enough (I think it was the medals) for her to get sulky and grumpy and want to leave because "I wanted to do the race. Why didn't you sign me up, Mommy? You're MEAN." So: next year, triathalon. Then we came home and cleaned. That is, I cleaned, and took comfort-reading breaks, and Helen spent 2.5 hours closed up in her room administering spelling tests to her stuffed animals. They all did very well, although I think there was a little grade inflation at work, because even Carrots, who got an A+++, spelled animal wrong, and no one did worse than a B+ despite some test-takers having long lists of meticulously misspelled words.

It will surprise no one if she becomes a teacher

Sometimes it feels a little like we live in separate families--the baseball family and the everything else family--so in the afternoon we roused ourselves and went over to Si's second game. The social aspects of that crowd are less congenial, now that we're on a new team and only know a handful of other parents.

It was a quiet weekend. The rest of our time was spent packing for Si's week of Outdoor Education with his school--his whole class will be spending three days up in the mountains, playing trust games and orienteering and who knows what else. Si is up to his ears in excitement, mostly at the opportunity to pack (like me, he loves packing a list of supplies) and also about the bus ride.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Oh the busy days of now

It was a beautiful fall weekend--no, an exquisite fall weekend, and we did all the sorts of things a family should in this event. We went to a Rockies game, we watched some fireworks, we stood about on the sidelines of a soccer game* and two little league games**. I went for a run along trails brushed by yellowing leaves and ripening plums. I strategized about making wild plum jam and chokecherry jam. I bought plants and planted them in the yard and now one edge of the yard is looking better, definitely starting to look better, less like the chicken-scratched flats of a tarpaper shack and more like something you'd like to rest your eyes on while you have a drink. We had dinner with friends (the long-delayed BBQ I complained about earlier, in fact). There was a sleepover and a birthday party and neither one was at my house. I cleaned the floors.

In spite of all this, or, probably, because of it, I spent the entire weekend holding my breath while I dashed from one thing to another and by Sunday night I was in a vicious, hectoring mood. I need to improve my practice, I can see. My living-in-the-moment zen practice.

*Helen's first. I now have two children in organized sports. This is both a wonderful thing and sort of a slow torture.

**I managed, regretfully, to attend neither. The secret saving grace to having multiple children in multiple activities is that at some point it becomes physically impossible to be present at them all and while this doesn't exactly provide free time, it does provide some respite. Except on the times, like next weekend, when everything is staggered and there is neither free time nor respite--nor time that would normally be occupied by doing things like, say, brushing teeth or securing food.

But am I grateful? Yes. I'm grateful for it all, and already feeling melancholy about its inevitable end.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Friends of the Mosquito Coast

I have been thinking a lot about friendship lately, and who has it, and where one can get it, and how one can improve it when one does have it. This may or may not be related to a slightly pathetic email I sent to an old friend saying that we needed to schedule a hike ASAP because I was feeling lonely and weird (see, this is the kind of friend to whom I can get away with saying stuff like this. I haven't been making many such friends lately.) But this life of ours right now--with the full-time jobs and the full-time kids and the kid activities and the House Issues--does not leave a whole lot of room for friendship. And it's partly that the last three casual BBQ get togethers we had planned fell through at the last minute due to scheduling conflicts and it's partly that these were in June and it's partly that other social interactions we've been having as a couple, as a family, as a unit have been deeply unsatisfying, but I'm not even sure at this point that we're capable of either making new friends or maintaining contacts with old ones, and I think it's a phase but I'm not sure and I'm getting just a liiiiittle bit desperate. And by we I mean us as a family. Because at this point, except for a few dusty holdouts from previous lives, I do not make friends independently. I just do not have the fucking time. And it kind of fucking sucks, which is why I tell myself that it is a phase and not a prison sentence without possibility of parole.

So: who has it? The kids have it. The kids' friendships are a total priority in our household, a fact of which I'm both proud and kind of irritated with. Playdates, sleepovers, even the fact that we're in a neighborhood we can't quite afford (well, the NEIGHBORHOOD is fine, it's the particular HOUSE we bought that sits on our shoulders like a 2-ton vulture): if we make a decision about social life, it's generally to promote the kids' ties with other kids of their choice. We do this because I think it's the right thing to do, and also it's easier. The children are a Force that Must Be Obeyed.

Who doesn't have it? The adults, that's who. We have old friends, whom we both neglect and feel resentful toward for neglecting us, when we have time for resentment, which is not often. Our old friends live in other towns, so most of the time, they're sort of off the radar. We have a few sputtering friendships as a family/couple, but these are arduous to maintain (see canceled BBQs above). There's the sheer logistical challenge, which we usually aren't up for. We barely have dinner together, let alone in the company of others. The few families we do, or did, see regularly tend to be baseball families, only now that Si's changing teams that doesn't work so well (plus the competitive BS that's starting to accompany baseball kind of seeps poisonously into the grownup friendships, too.) M., for all his baseball involvement, is sort of bored to death by other baseball dads. I like the baseball moms, generally, but I like them better when we don't talk baseball. Anyhow. It all adds up to a whole lotta not seeing anyone, ever, except on sidelines or at front doors while exchanging children.

How to get more of it? That's what I'm trying to figure out, when I can devote the energy to figuring, which is not often. Most of the time I feel stuck in a place of great activity and busyness but also great echoing spaces of loneliness and strangeness. I feel both dazzled and sad, when I have time to notice my feelings, which luckily, I guess, is not too often. Mostly I try to feel resigned and accepting of the fact that I am just in a lonely period of my life right now.

The hopeful thing is, we (and I) have been in this place before. We've come through.


I have also been thinking about The Mosquito Coast, which I am listening to as I drive, and which could be considered the original primer of how not to be a helicopter parent. Along with, say, David Copperfield. It's about an eccentric and antisocial inventor who ups and moves his family of four to the inner jungle of Honduras (where, confusingly, most of the people they encounter speak English, which, if you have to be stranded in a third-world country with a psycho parent and in a novel by Paul Theroux, besides, is really the best possible option, or so it seems at this point in time. I'm only a third of the way through.) And I'm finding myself having a strangely mixed reaction to their situation. On the one hand, when in the first chapter it seems for a while that the father has died, I was very happy, because I was so sick of him already. On the other hand, I think I could learn a little from his parenting, even as I'm wincing at his method (just up and move to a third-world country for selfish, screwed-up motives of your own! what about providing security?! what about stability?! what about a kid's right to self-determination?). I mean, not even the most old-school we've-got-to teach-the-kids-independence diehard would approve of his methods (humiliate your son into climbing a ship's rigging in a storm, and enlist younger siblings in the teasing--not great parenting). But the son did climb the rigging, and got over his fear, a little, and came a long way toward being stronger and more self-reliant: he learned very decisively that the world didn't revolve around him, which is a useful lesson. Of course, it helped that he didn't die while he was learning it. And one of his enduring lessons does seem to be how to hate his dad. But, speaking as person who has basically shaped her whole life around her kids and who occasionally gets resentful about it (see above), teaching kids that they aren't the center of the universe does seem to have a certain bracing value.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tom Sawyer and Mary Lennox

I don't consider myself a heliocopter parent (smugly so, I might add), and then I notice myself doing things like checking the 5th-grade website five times a day (still not updated for the new week) (I HATE that). In my defense I'll insist that I'm just curious and I have NO INTENTION of discussing the contents/ activities with either my fifth grader or his teacher.

(Total lie, BTW. I'll "discuss" it with Si, and the conversation will go something like this:

Me: Hey, I noticed that you guys are reading ___.
Si: (crickets chirping)
Me: (slightly aggrieved whisper) Si. That was kind of a question.
Si: What? Oh. Yeah, we are.
Me: And what do you think? Do you like it?
Si: (shrugs) Mm hmm.
Me: (kicking self for asking a yes-or-no question) What's it about?
Si: Um. This guy does this thing, and then he has a dog, and then he does something, I don't remember what, and then he does this other thing. He rides the bus, I think.
Me: Oh. What's your favorite part?
Si: (raising his face to the ceiling and speaking in a just-end-this-conversation-NOW monotone): I like it ALLLLL.

Meanwhile, I ask Helen on the third day of school what she did in class today (this is after we reviewed in detail all the important parts of the day, such as recess, the other recess, lunch, and specials). She sighs noisily and says, "We just did the USUAL STUFF, MOM."

In summary: I have NO BLOODY IDEA what either of my children are doing in school. Hence my obsessive refreshing of the 5th grade website.

This is one reason I like reading to them at the end of the day so much. At least that's one thing that's going into their brains that I'm involved in. Also, I've said this before, but reading kids' books is one of the main reasons I had kids. As soon as Si reaches a non-read-aloud-to-age--like, gasp, 11--I'm going to have to insist that he start reproducing, so that by the time Helen is too old to read to, I'll have a read-aloud partner again. Although the catch will be that I'll have to read a bunch of the same books instead of all new material. Already I'm on reread #2 of The Secret Garden--there could be worse books to reread twice in two years, of course, but I find myself throwing longing glances at Pippi Longstocking and the Moomintroll books.

Si and I are reading Tom Sawyer, and we're both more-or-less enjoying it. This is one of those books that I wanted to read less because I lovity-loved it as a child (I didn't, and I still don't--Tom is kind of vain and self-aggrandizing, and the book is a little heavy on the adult-directed cultural commentary for either my taste or Si's) than because it's an Essential Book. You might think, from this statement, that I'm a canon-driven, reading-is-good-for-your-character kind of pedant, and, well, you'd be right. In my defense, I'm doing it because someone has to. His school favors dreary, good-for-you Cultural Context/ Sensitivity Training books, and he favors series. Both of these are fine, but they tend to omit or elide certain aspects of real life. Such as: one of the things I like about Tom Sawyer this time around is that it shows girls and boys living in entirely separate, mutually antagonistic worlds. Sure, Tom likes Becky Thatcher (that part is kind of weird, actually), but they aren't friends. Almost every other kid book in the world is based on a dual girl-and-boy hero/heroine set, and they're usually best pals and completely support each other. Which is a nice model. It also doesn't exist for kids over the age of 6, as far as I can tell.

Also, Tom's friends are both his bosom pals and...kind of based on opportunistic serendipity. They aren't friends because they really understand each other, or have long heart-to-heart conversations, or show up on the doorstep bearing comic books and bubblegum when the other guy is sick. No, they're friends because they happen to be in the same place at the same time and like to play the same things. Or they're friends because they totally envy the other guy's set-up (see Tom's affection for Huck: is it Huck he likes, or the fact that Huck doesn't have to go to school or bed or church? And does he even get Huck? I don't think he does. Camping out on the island with stolen food is a lark for Tom but pretty SOP for Huck, and it's not at all clear that Tom understands that this is what Huck's life is like all the time.) But none of this stuff matters: they're friends, or buddies, or whatever, and that's all they need. Whenever I stare at Si's roster of hero-worship friends, neighborhood pals, baseball buddies and other opportunistic associations and wonder what the hell friendship even means for him, it helps to remember Tom Sawyer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

First firsts

First day of first grade:

First day of the last year of elementary school (ce n'est pas possible):

First photo of the first season of the sideyard garden, of which I am inordinately proud (see also: the nectarine tree behind the kids above. You would think I was sprouting these fruits myself):

Pumpkins, sunflowers, morning glories, beans, a lonely (and late-developing) stalk of corn. A glorious case of powdery mildew on the curcubitae associates.

It's been a good week so far. I've heard rumors of kids who dread going back to school and get grumpy and weepy and out of sorts as the ominous day approaches, but I have not given birth to children of this stripe. They were little wound-up springs of anticipation all last week and they have been exhausted but jubilant (and kind of strung out) this week. They both have male teachers this year and while Helen is on occasion prejudiced against boy teachers and boys in general, she has so far given a tentative stamp of approval to her teacher. Silas is thrilled unto death. As he should be. His teacher is young, funny, energetic and smart: he makes me wish I could be going to fifth grade. I have high hopes for this year. At the very least, maybe Si's writing scores won't decline over the course of the year, as they have the past two years in a row. Argh.

One thing that has been kind of--not sad, exactly, but melancholy--is that by fifth grade, we are getting into the time when parents who chose our elementary school for list-y, rate-y, type-A kind of reasons are starting to get restless and look for the next Xtreme Education Challenge. I sound judgy but I'm not, not really; I have certainly played in that tournament myself over the years. However, in a possibly ironic twist, and one which I did not quite anticiapte, the kids who are leaving now tend to be the most interesting and unusual ones--the boy who has already started his own business, the smart, arty girl with the Velma vibe and the awesome glasses whom I maaaybe had had a little fantasy of S dating sometime in the future. I was kind of looking forward to seeing how these kids developed, come middle school and high school; now I see that I won't. They aren't regular friends of Si's, and I don't know the parents, so: chapter finished. See ya. So I'm a little bummed for that.

Overall, though: wow. What a difference a year makes. Last year we were up to our eyeballs in drywall dust, mold, torn-out walls and money panic, not to mention the first prickings of irritation and misgiving about our choice of builders. There wasn't one thing that was easy, from keeping track of school-to-home papers to washing the damn dishes. Now, despite a triple-book schedule of baseball, swimming and soccer (we're like, a sporty family--I never would've thought that, not in a million years), M's four-year review at work and accompanying 80-hour-a-week workweek, things feel smooth.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

For his daily writing assignment so that his writing muscles don't atrophy, I asked Silas to write about what he was looking forward to most about school. Here's what he wrote:

It has been a long, boring summer. Camp, horseback riding, fishing, Legos, a trip to Yellowstone, fishing, playing with friends, sleepovers, a sleepover party, homemade ice cream, homemade popsicles, pool, cousin time, grandparent time, crawdad fishing, biking the neighborhood, zoo, museum, more Legos...

Thank god that's over and he can finally DO something all day. Well, six hours of the day, at least.

Meanwhile, Helen and Mary, her doll, are both looking forward to starting first grade.

We visited the Denver Doll and Toy Museum to celebrate (and also because The Boys went to the Rockies game).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Last days of summer

Summer is such a schizophrenic time for me. On the one hand, I wake up at five thirty and run, shower and go to work, the same as I do every other frigging day of the year. On the other hand, the house is filled with long lazy days and unfulfilled desires and endless, endless fights over who gets to have a playdate or who is touching whose Legos. I get home and the heat and need to loaf hit me like a wave, but then there is no loafing, because however leisurely the kids might feel themselves, they don't really share that feeling with others, and monitoring them is a fulltime job and M has been up in his ears with it for the past nine hours and it's my turn now and also everyone is hunnnngrrry. So like every other mother on the planet I am looking forward with panting enthusiasm to the first day of school. I am also trying to wring every last drop of summer from this month. Thus this weekend I spent in a frenzy of yard work, and then took the kids (and my parents, who are visiting in order to help us with the last critical week before school starts) to do two installments of our summer Park Project.

The pavilion at Cheesman Park

The Park project is where we visit Denver parks, investigate their offerings, and fill out a little survey sheet.

Helen gave the fountains top marks but found the playground average at best.

The survey sheets are more to make it official than anything else (well, I think Silas secretly loves them. They fulfill his need for order). Otherwise we're just visiting parks and testing the playgrounds. These were our second and third parks; last time we went to Observatory Park, which still earns top marks from both kids (the observatory. Not many parks can boast a functional observatory, and the fact that it was closed on the day we visited probably made it even more desirable. The mysteries of the stars, etc., as opposed to the pain in the neck of peering through a telescope at tiny swimming pinpricks that, we're assured, are VERY IMPORTANT.)

Si tested the pavilion for scooter worthiness.
The playground was serviceable. Although less so for proto teens.

I'm hoping to visit at least one more park before the summer's really done (probably not before school starts, though, which means not before baseball and soccer start in earnest, so really, who am I kidding? Life, which has been pretending to be busy all summer, is about to crank into high gear.)

Smith Lake at Washington Park.

For me, the Park Project has been an excuse to visit places I've meant to go for three years and explore the city we sort of live in a little more. It's both satisfying and sad. I wish that I could have been doing this all summer, for one thing. And it makes me think of all the other things I wish I was doing with the kids, and how I desperately wish I could have the summers off, and how the kids are growing up and already Si is almost too old to be read aloud to (one of the main reasons I had kids, already phasing itself out! Why go on?). I get this rushing, panicky sense of needing to do it all now and maximize this day, this week, this time of their lives.

I have to forcibly sit down sometimes, and remember: in twenty years (in five years), the details won't matter. Their childhood will have become just that--the thing they have, imperfect, marked by expediency and what-we-happened-to-have-on-hand-at-the-time-ism--and it will be enough. Really. It will. Even if they don't learn Spanish.