Monday, October 21, 2013

Defending myself

A few weeks ago, I walked into preschool to pick up Elizabeth, and one of the teachers started laughing and said, "Oh mama, do I have a story to tell you." My heart sank. There are lots of embarrassing things Elizabeth could have told her teachers, the question was which one.

Here's the transcript.

Classmate: Why do I have to come to school every day? I want to stay home.
Teacher: You come here because your mom and dad go to work. They have jobs and earn money for your family.
Elizabeth: Not my mom. She doesn't have a job.
Teacher: Even if she doesn't work outside the house, it's a big job taking care of you and your brother and sisters. She keeps the house clean and does the laundry and cooks dinner. There's lots of work at home.
Elizabeth: No. She makes me and my brother and sisters do all the work. She doesn't do anything.
Teacher: Well what does she do all day?
Elizabeth: She plays on the computer.

At this point, I started sputtering. "But I do have a job! I really do. I'm a writer, so it looks like I'm playing on the computer but I'm actually working. And the kids do chores in the house, but I still do most of the cooking and cleaning."

I was mortified.

The teacher, however, just laughed, and said that they know not to believe everything the kids tell them.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What I did on my summer vacation, Part 1

So. . .  we've survived the summer, mostly. It's still stupidly hot. Yesterday afternoon I came up with the brilliant plan of going running while Campbell was at soccer practice. It had cooled off all the way to 96 degrees, so I figured I'd be fine. My run quickly turned into a walk and then into a slow shuffle with lots of stops in the shade. In related news, I'm an idiot.

Anyway. The kids are back at school. Ella is in 7th, Lily is in 5th, Campbell is in 1st, and Elizabeth is in preschool three mornings a week. They are all mostly happy to be back with their friends. Not so happy about the early wake-up calls, though.

I finally feel like I can sit down and catch my breath. Or, at the very least, I can go for more than five minutes without being asked to referee a "she started it first" argument.

It was a good summer.

Ella and I started it off with a trip to South Florida for a climbing comp. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale late on a Thursday night, and ended up not getting to the hotel until 1:00 am Friday. My plan had been to request a late check-out at the hotel, sleep in, and then play on the beach for a few hours. Then I saw the hotel. The place had the word resort in its name. I don't think that word means what they think it means.

Instead of sleeping late, I woke Ella up early, and we went out for breakfast at the beach. It was lovely. Honestly, I am happiest any place where I can see water and smell salt in the air. I could have sat on the restaurant's deck for hours.

After breakfast, we went to the beach for an hour and then checked out of the dump. From there, we drove down A1A all the way to South Beach and then over to Key Biscayne. On a whim, I decided to stop at the Miami Seaquarium. I have a big philosophical objection to marine parks, but it disappeared when I watched Ella watching the dolphins.

She was able to go eye to eye with dolphins and sea lions and otters. And she loved it. She also got to go on the rope course. She was so good at it that the guys running the place couldn't believe it was her first time.

That's her, way at the top.

After the Seaquarium, we checked into the hotel where the rest of the team was staying. Ella let out an audible sigh of relief and said, "Oh thank goodness" when I opened the door to our room. It was new and spotless and I didn't have to throw my shoulder into the door to get it to close. 

The comp itself was not great. In my humble opinion, it was poorly organized and run. I signed up to volunteer at some of the sessions and ended up unbelievably frustrated at how they were treating the volunteers. Plus, the AC had gone out the night before. So we were in a warehouse, in Miami, in June, with 200 people. By the end of the day on Saturday, it was a sauna. A friend of mine was going to come watch the comp on Sunday, but I waved her off. There was no need for her to sit in there and broil. 

Ella climbed well considering that she missed 9 months due to injury and surgery. She took the disappointment of not making nationals a lot better than I did. I was actually quite proud of how she handled herself. 

Once the comp was over on Sunday, she and I went down to the Keys. I lived in Florida from 1978 through 1994, and I had never once gone to the Keys. When you live within 10 minutes of Siesta Key Beach, there's not much need to go anywhere else. 

We stopped at a little pull-out area and floated around for about an hour. I really wanted to drive all the way to Key West, but I didn't want to drive back from Key West at 9:00 at night, so I resisted the temptation. 

The next day we got up at o'dark early and flew back home to reality, which included three happy kids and one very relieved dog. 

Next up, how I flew to Atlanta with four kids and didn't need to resort to getting drunk. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Listserv follies

I had dinner last night with my cousin-in-law, and he and I had a discussion about how the older we get the less patience we have for stupid people. Lately, I seem to be surrounded by stupid people. Either there are more of them around, or my stupid-person sensor is extra sensitive these days.

Our neighborhood listserv is filled with stupid people. People who make me yell, "Don't you have anything better to do??!!" at my computer. I think the heat of summer is making the stupid people even stupider. I'm ready to move.

Last summer, the listserv was filled with complaints about non members, misbehaving teenagers, loud music, vandalism and trash at the pool. "Why doesn't the management company do something about this?" people asked. So this summer, the management company hired a pool monitor to make sure everyone signs in, keep the place neat and prevent teenagers from acting too much like punks. Within 24 hours, there was a note on the listserv complaining about the Nazi pool monitor. I think that has to be a record.

Apparently this particular resident didn't like that Jason the super-friendly pool Nazi dared to tell him that glass isn't allowed on the pool deck. The complaints flowed from this point on. Everyone posted things that the pool monitor did or said that they didn't like. It was insane. It also turns out that several members of our neighborhood threatened the pool monitor with physical harm. Charming.

At this point, the moderator stepped in and shut down the thread. Peace reigned for about a week, at which point people started complaining about rude teen-agers ding-dong ditching. Each time someone had their doorbell rung, the person would post the time and date to the listserv. One could argue that the continual e-mails were more annoying that kids playing pranks. But I'd never dare suggest such a thing to this group.

While we were in Atlanta, a listserv announcement arrived with the subject ROBBERY IN HIGHPOINTE! There have been reports of smash and grabs in neighborhoods out here lately - a "cable" truck pulls up in front of a house, the door gets kicked in, and all the electronics disappear. This is what I expected based on the subject line of the e-mail.

But no.

Sometime after 10pm the night before, someone had snuck into this resident's yard and stolen 6 - SIX - of their solar-powered landscaping lights. But ha! the joke was on the thieves because they broke two of the lights in the process of yanking them out of the yard. In all likelihood, some bored punk-ass teenagers had yanked the lights out and run off with them. This was not a crime warranting an ALL CAPS e-mail.

The resident then went on to inform everyone on the listserv that she owned a gun and had every intention of exercising her second amendment rights should any criminals set foot in her yard again. Then came the chorus of "me too" e-mails where other residents begged crooks to make their day.

I was thisclose to wading in to the thread to point out that a. the 2nd amendment doesn't give you the right to shoot people who walk into your yard, and b. I wasn't so sure I wanted to live in a neighborhood where amateur Dirty Harrys were going to shoot my kids for chasing their ball into the wrong yard. But then I remembered that it's a bad idea to poke the crazy and deleted my draft.

From there, the threat devolved into a discussion of why we live in a gated community if the gates are never closed and how some people moved here specifically because of the front gates.

Then we had the four zillion messages reporting door-to-door salespeople in the neighborhood. "At 4:10 a guy from Ben's Bug Service rang my doorbell. I told him to go away" read the typical message. And then everyone else who had met Ben the Bug Guy had to chime in. One resident pointed out that our neighborhood has a "No Soliciting" sign at the entrance and asked what good the sign did if all the door-to-door people just ignored it. Another said she called the sheriff's department to report that a salesman was violating the no soliciting rule and that the person at the sheriff's department had told her they wouldn't do anything about it. The nerve.

A reasonable person waded on in to the fray and pointed out that our No Soliciting sign has absolutely no legal standing. The sheriff's department is under no obligation to enforce our HOA's rules. That led to more demands for closing the gates during the day.

This week's furor was started by a message from a resident threatening the "people in the gold minivan - you know who you are" who dared to walk their dogs off leash in an undeveloped section of the neighborhood. The sender complained that the owners were breaking the leash law and being irresponsible pet owners by not picking up their dogs' poop.

The people in the gold minivan replied, in a self-righteous huff, saying that they believe dogs should be allowed to run free and hunt things and that they have lived here longer than anyone else and have always let their dogs run in undeveloped areas and no one has ever complained before.

The original posters responded by threatening to call the sheriff if they saw the dogs off leash ever again.

There were a few more back and forths before the moderator stepped in to remind residents that personal attacks were not allowed. She also pointed out that the management company doesn't even subscribe to the listserv, so posting complaints about the management company and its policies does no good whatsoever.

Things have been silent for the past 48 hours. But I'm not holding my breath that the peace will last much longer. We're in for a string of 100+ days, and those always bring out the stupid.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why I went to the Capitol

Yesterday something amazing happened in Austin. Our current "governor" and his cronies tried to cram a piece of draconian legislation through the process during a special session. It was an omnibus bill, SB5, containing all the abortion restrictions that they hadn't been able to pass during the regular session, which ended in May. The number of votes needed to pass bills during special session is different than during regular, which means legislators love to try sneaky things.

Even though I live near Austin, a very, very liberal city, I still feel pretty disenfranchised. My state and national legislators are all right wing republicans who in no way, shape or form represent my political views. I write e-mails to them about things, but I know it doesn't do any good. If I get lucky, I get a form response two weeks later that has absolutely nothing to do with my issue. But I keep sending them, with this glimmer of hope that somewhere in the office, someone is keep tabs on the number of opposing voices they're hearing. Having worked in constituent relations for major elected officials, I know it's a dim hope.

SB5 was just one more item in the list of things I have felt powerless and voiceless about.

But then . . . Sunday night during testimony on the bill in front of the Texas House, something amazing happened. Individuals gathered to stage a citizens' filibuster. Testimony from people opposing the law went on for hours and hours. Folks camped out in the hallways of the Capitol through the night. Supporters from around the country started having food delivered to the people waiting to give their testimony.

The citizens' filibuster only slowed things down for a day, but that was enough for there to be a chance of a filibuster while the bill was up for a vote in the Texas Senate. And one senator, Wendy Davis, with the support of the rest of the Democratic delegation, announced her intent to stage a filibuster. The rules in the Texas Senate are incredibly strict. The speaker has to stay on topic the entire time, cannot sit down or lean against anything, is not allowed to eat or drink or use the restroom. Senator Davis was looking at a minimum of 13 hours on her feet talking nonstop.

Groups started putting out calls for people to submit testimony on how SB5 would have affected their lives, and Senator Davis's office was inundated with heartbreaking stories from women who had had abortions for one reason or another and who, if SB5 were enacted, wouldn't have had access.

On FB, I started seeing pictures from friends who were in the gallery to support Senator Davis. They wanted her to know that she wasn't alone during this ordeal. I really, really wanted to be one of those people there in support, but I didn't see a way for it to happen.

But then, while I was at climbing practice with Ella, I saw more posts on Twitter asking people to come reinforce the crowd in the Senate gallery through midnight. And that's when I decided I was going to go and I was going to take Ella with me.

In the car we did have a difficult discussion about what abortion is, exactly. I kept my tone neutral and only answered the questions she asked. I emphasized that I was upset because I'm tired of legislators, mostly male legislators, telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. I'm tired of being told that we are less than, that our opinions and feelings don't count. I'm just tired of it, and I wanted to stand up and say "No! This isn't right."

On the way to the Capitol, I envisioned a few hundred people milling around and texted Wendi Aarons to let her know we were on our way. What we found when we got there was beyond belief.

When we joined the line, we were halfway down the flight of stairs to the second floor. From there, the line went up the stairs and all the way around the rotunda, down a hall, up a second flight of stairs, around the rotunda once, through the Capitol library, around the rotunda again, and then down the hall to the gallery. As spectators left the gallery, guards would let in an equal number of people. 

And here's the thing. No one, and I mean NO ONE, was complaining. Thousands of people standing in line, and there were no problems. No one argued about having to be in line, no one tried to cut or cheat. It was like the happiest, most positive party you could ever imagine. 

Every once in a while a person would come through with a cooler and hand out bottles of water to anyone who wanted one. And then a bag of granola or trail mix would be passed down the line. People let strangers use their phone chargers and took pictures. 

I still get weepy thinking about it. 

After an hour of standing in line in which we managed to make it around the rotunda once, Ella and I gave up and went off to explore. I knew the odds of our making it into the gallery by midnight were slim, and I was just happy that we were there to witness the goings on. 

When we got out of the line, it snaked down to the first floor, across the rotunda, out and back down one wing, to the front door and down the sidewalk. And again, there were no problems. Ella and I went up to the fourth floor just to take in the sight. 

From there we went over to the Capitol Extension and found the auditoriums where CCTV had been set up so people could watch. Both were standing room only. People were yelling and cheering and legislators were popping in to thank everyone for being there. The crowd was men and women and families and people of all ages, and it was amazing. 

We sat on the floor of one auditorium for a while, only to have nothing happen. The president of the Senate, David Dewhurst, had called a point of order, and the legislators were debating the rules of a filibuster away from the microphones. Senator Davis was still not allowed to sit or lean or eat or drink while the debate was ongoing.

I decided to show Ella around the Capitol. I used to work in the complex and spent a lot of time wandering the halls. The view from the underground rotunda still gets me every time. That's the statue on the top of the Capitol poking up.

We were back in the main rotunda when word filtered through that Dewhurst had called a third point of order and ended the filibuster. The roar from the crowd was deafening. We stood there for half an hour, joining in. Ella did ask why people were cheering when the bill was going to go through after all. I explained that it was important to make noise and to make ourselves heard, to make sure the Democrats in the Senate chamber knew we were still out there.

Organizers finally got everyone quiet enough to announce that the Democrats were arguing the point of order and trying to stall for more time. As long as the session ended without a vote being taken by midnight, the bill would fail. So everyone just sat down and waited quietly.

At this point we heard roars from outside the Capitol. Dewhurst had ordered that the doors be closed and locked and no one else allowed in. Hundreds of people on the steps were chanting "Let Us In!"

My phone was dying by now, and I my terror of crowds was starting to kick in, so Ella and I left the building and sat on the front steps for a while. We talked to friends, we talked to complete strangers. It was just amazing. I know I keep saying that. But it was.

Ella desperately wanted to go back in the building, so we went around to the north entrance hoping the line for security would be shorter, but the doors were still locked and no one was being let in.

So we went home, intending to watch the live feed from the Senate floor. But I fell asleep. Whoops. I woke up at one and went online for updates and was stunned that the whole thing was still going on. I stayed up until just after three, when Dewhurst issued his snippy little statement about how an "unruly mob" had made it impossible to vote on the bill properly before the session ended.

Now this is a brief victory. There is absolutely nothing stopping "Governor" Perry from calling another special session and bringing the bill back up. In fact, he probably will make an announcement soon. But at least last night, we made our voices heard. We stood up with Senator Davis and said NO.

I'm beyond proud that I was there to do my tiny part. And I am glad that I was able to show Ella that people can stand up to injustice and have it make a difference, no matter how small.

There's now a petition afoot to draft Senator Davis to run for governor, and if she does, I will be campaigning for her.

Friday, May 31, 2013

This is why we can't have anything nice

Yesterday afternoon I noticed Elizabeth sitting on the floor concentrating hard on an art project. I did a a double take and screamed in horror.

Her art project was my floor.

When I sent her to her room, she had the nerve to look surprised.

Thursday, May 02, 2013


This school year has been a tough one around chez hok health wise.

Thanks to knee surgery and strep, Ella missed so much school in the fall that we got threatening letters from the school district telling us she'd have to repeat 6th grade. I appealed to the principal and the attendance committee, pointing out that we had informed the school in advance of her knee surgery and had worked with her teachers to make sure she stayed current on her work. As for the strep, we had a note from our doctor saying she was sick and not allowed to go to school. Oh yeah, and she's a straight-A student.

A week later we got a letter from the principal informing us that they had wiped all of Ella's absences from her record and everything was fine.

So when I got a letter from Lily's school about her absences, I figured we'd go through the same process. Lily has been sick a lot this school year, and she has missed a lot of days as a result. But I've kept in touch with her teacher, and she has stayed current on her work. She's also a straight-A student.

All this is to say that when my kids stay home from school it's with my permission and because they are sick. They aren't skipping school to hang out behind the 7-11 and smoke. When I get a recorded message from the school informing me of their absence, it's never a surprise.

I spoke with the assistant principal at Lily's school about appealing the attendance committee's decision to deny her credit for the school year, and I explained that she really had been ill. I also pointed out that she hasn't fallen behind in her classwork. The assistant principal said she would present my comments to the attendance committee and inform me in writing of their decision.

Frustratingly, their decision was to make Lily and one of her parents (me) attend credit recovery class for 6 mornings. This means she and I have to be at school by 7:05 and then have to sit in the library doing busy work until 7:40. Lily finished her entire packet of worksheets on her first morning, so today she and I both just sat and read.

I get that there are families for whom school is not a priority. I get that there are kids who will skip school given the opportunity. I get that schools receive funding based on the number of students in the seats at 10:00 am each day.

But I also get that Lily is essentially being punished for being sick, and I am being punished for following the district's illness policy.

The result is that for the next two weeks, Lily and I will hang out in the library being bored, and for the rest of school year, I will be sending Lily to school no matter how high a fever she has or how much she's barfing. I am going to be the mom who sends her sick kid to school to infect everyone else. Yay me. But that's apparently what the attendance committee wants.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Interview

Back in September I wrote about how Ella had sent an interview request to Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium and his office had said yes and then we never heard back. Uncle Ty decided he was a man on a mission, and put a link to my post on a lot of forums he frequents, including the Texas Concealed Handgun Forum. And it worked! We got a nice e-mail from the head of media at Star Talk Radio letting us know that they hadn't forgotten about Ella.

We did happy dances of joy around the house.

And then nothing again.

So Uncle Ty once again decided he was on a mission and started pestering the Star Talk folks.

Last Monday we received an e-mail from Dr. Tyson's office asking if Ella was available to do a 30-minute Skype session on Friday.

There was wild joy and celebration. Uncle Ty is now definitely Ella's favorite uncle (who is actually a cousin once removed, not an uncle).

As we counted down the minutes until our scheduled time, I was a nervous wreck. Ella was calm as could be, acting like interviewing world-famous astrophysicists was an every day thing.

We had some trouble connecting to his office. You would think Skype would be relatively glitch free, but no.

When we finally connected, I might have actually gasped out loud, "Oh my gosh, it's HIM." Maybe.

My biggest worry was that Dr. Tyson would be all "OK. Let's get this over with." I wanted Ella to finish the interview still thinking he was her hero.

Turns out I shouldn't have worried. Dr. Tyson was incredibly generous with his time - Ella's interview lasted about 45 minutes. He was funny and charming. He could tell that Ella was nervous, so he warmed her up with a few questions.

I sat off to the side, holding my phone up to record the interview because we hadn't been able to get the app that records Skype to work and grinning like an idiot. It's a good thing Dr. Tyson couldn't see me.

Ella asked him about string theory, the Large Hadron Collider, going to Mars, Harry Potter, living in Austin, and he answered every single question.

It was just awesome.

At the end of the call, he told Ella to take a screen shot of their faces together. She got a big kick out of it.

Ella has posted a transcript of part of the interview over at her website, The Magnolia Post. I have posted the full interview over on YouTube. The picture is lousy, but the audio is great. You can even hear me snort laugh when Ella tells Dr. Tyson an inappropriate joke about the Higgs-Boson. In her defense, she didn't realize why the joke was inappropriate.

Thank you to Dr. Tyson, Elizabeth Stachow, Jeff Simons and Uncle Ty. You all made a 12-year-old science nerd's dream come true.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I am still reeling about the explosions at the Boston Marathon yesterday. I know others have and will continue to write much more eloquently than I could ever hope to. But, still, here I am writing.

As I do every year, I watched the marathon online. It was a perfect day for the race, and I ignored my writing deadlines to spectate. I got all misty eyed watching the runners cross the finish. Having finished marathons, I know the feelings of joy and accomplishment and exhaustion the runners were experiencing. I will never be fast enough to qualify for Boston, but I can still celebrate with those who are. 

I turned off the feed after a while and got back to work. Two hours later I went back on line and was shocked at what was in my Twitter feed. It was incomprehensible. This is the Boston Marathon. Bombs don't go off at the Boston Marathon. Who blows up a marathon?

I ignored my work for the rest of the afternoon and watched for updates from running friends who had been there. At long last, everyone reported in. One friend was walking up Boylston Street to meet her husband at the finish. She was yards away when the first explosion went off. Fortunately, her physical injuries are limited to cuts from flying glass and ringing in her ears.

For more than 20 years, running has been a huge part of my life, part of who I am at my very core. When things aren't good, I go running. When things are good, I go running. I've met some of my best friends through running. I've run countless races and worked as a volunteer at dozens. This year I volunteered at the finish line of the Austin Marathon. Training for and running the New York City Marathon was one of the best experiences of my life.

And this is where I lapse into incoherent rambling.

I don't know what to do or what to say. So this morning I put on my NYC Finisher's shirt, laced up my shoes and did what I know how to do - I went running. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


This is my dad, runnerdude in the comments. Except he now rides his bike insanely long distances, too, so maybe he should change his name to i'm67andcankickyourassdude. 


Runnerdude is tall and skinny. When he is not in business casual attire, he wears a pretty standard uniform: jeans or khaki shorts, a t-shirt from a 10k race, and running shoes. He also loves doing crossword puzzles.

I think one of the best days of his life was when he was finally old enough to qualify for the senior discout at McDonald's. He will drive past Starbucks to get his "senior coffee" at McDonald's. Also, he usually has exact change.

Last week, Lily had a dentist's appointment, and after she was finished we went to McDonald's for a "yay! no cavities" treat. (I know. I know.) As we were waiting for a our food, a man walked up to the register next to ours to place his order. I would not have paid the least bit of attention to him had he not ordered a "senior coffee" and then handed the cashier exactly 54 cents.

I turned and looked, and it was like runnerdude was standing right there. The guy was tall and skinny, wearing khaki shorts, a race shirt and running shoes. He took his senior coffee to a table, sat down, and whipped a crossword puzzle out of his pocket.

I nearly died.

But it makes me wonder which of them is the evil twin. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Continuing the Conversation

I wrote the following post four years ago when Prop 8 was enacted in California. It still says everything I believe about the issue. Since I wrote that post, we've continued the conversation with all the kids in small ways here and there about how any person should be able to marry the person he or she loves.

Today I'm going to talk politics, which I don't usually do, because this isn't that kind of blog. I don't know exactly what kind of blog this is, but it isn't a political one. Also, if you're going to leave a hateful comment or send me an e-mail telling me I'm going to hell, don't bother. You're not going to change my mind, and I don't believe in hell, anyway. I'm open to polite discussion, though.

This morning I was listening to NPR while driving the girls to the bus for camp. Of course, the lead story was about the overturning of Prop 8 in California. This led to an interesting and encouraging discussion with Ella about the issue. Lily didn't say much, but I could tell she was listening intently.

Me: Do you understand what the news is about?
Ella: Yes. It's about whether two girls or two boys can get married to each other, like Aunt P and Aunt S.
Me: Right. The law right now says that only a boy and girl can marry each other, not two girls or two boys.
Ella: Why can't two girls or two boys marry each other?
Me: That's a good question. Some people think that it's wrong. Some people say that it shouldn't be allowed because of the bible.
Ella: What do you think?
Me: I think that two people, boy-girl, girl-girl, boy-boy, if they love each other and aren't married to anyone else already should be allowed to get married.
Ella: And they can't be brothers or sisters.
Me: Right, they can't be related.
Ella: So Aunt P and Aunt S should be able to get married if they want to?
Me: Yes, if they want to.
Ella: The only problem I see is that if too many boys get married to boys or too many girls get married to girls, there won't be as many babies born. But I don't think that's going to be a big problem.
Me: No, probably not. There are lots more straight people than gay people. And gay couples can have children.
Ella: What do you mean "straight"?
Me: Well, when a boy likes girls and a girl likes boys, that's called being straight. When a boy likes boys, that's called being gay. There are some people who think that gay people choose to be gay and that they should just choose not to be. But scientists who study the brain say that whether you like boys or girls is part of how your brain works. You don't choose to be gay or straight any more than you choose to have brown hair. 
Ella: Gay also means really, really happy. Like SpongeBob.
Me (trying not to laugh): Yes, SpongeBob is totally gay.

The discussion ended there, but I was pleased with how it went. I answered her questions as she asked them and put things in terms she could understand. My hope is that my kids' generation will grow up believing that of course any two adults can get married if they want to.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Push and Pull

I haven't been writing about Ella much, not because I don't love her, which I do, but because she's 12 and I'm very conscious of respecting her privacy. She's had a tough year, but that's her story to tell someday, when she's ready.

Today I'm breaking my promise.

Now that Ella is 12, we are getting the full pre-teen treatment. Doors are slammed, eyes are rolled, sighs are heaved. For the most part, we just roll with it, grateful that it's not anything worse. But we definitely see her pushing for more independence and freedom.

Her teen-age-ness is popping up in some unexpected places. Last Wednesday I picked Ella up from school. As I had done every day for six weeks when she was in the wheelchair, I walked across the school driveway and met her on the sidewalk. She was mortified. Like hand covering her face so her friends wouldn't see her mortified.

She marched to the car 10 paces ahead of me the whole way.

Me: So am I not supposed to cross the driveway anymore?
Ella: Eye roll.
Me: I should just wait for you over on the grass?
Ella: Huge sigh
Me: How about I stand over on the grass and yell "Ella, sweetie! Over here baby!"
Ella: You wouldn't dare.

What she doesn't know is that I absolutely would dare.

The next morning I had to drop Ella off at school early for a field trip. It was still dark when we arrived, and I didn't see any teachers out supervising, so I parked, intending to get out of the car.

Ella: You don't need to get out of the car.
Me: I just want to make sure you're in the right place.
Ella: I know where I'm supposed to be.
Me: But I just want to confirm with your teachers.
Ella: You don't need to get out of the car and talk to my teachers.
Me: I don't see anyone here. How do you know it's the right place?
Ella: MOM! I see other kids who are going on the field trip. You don't need to get out of the car.
Me: So what you're saying is that you don't want me to get out of car?
Ella: Uggghhhhhhhhh

So that's fun. Ella's siblings are not pleased with her attitude, either. She has this need to prove that she is the smartest person in the house. And her sense of righteous indignation about any perceived slights or injustices is tiring.

But then there are times when Ella reminds me just how awesome a kid she really is.

On Friday, the middle school was shut down due to a broken water main, and all the students were sent home at 9:00. Ella came home with grand plans to ride her bike to meet friends and go to the playground. I told her she could, and then came the surprising part - she offered to hook the trailer to the bike and take Elizabeth with her.

Elizabeth was thrilled to go on an adventure with the big girls, and I was thrilled to have an empty house.

Maybe we will all survive her teen years, after all.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Campbell's True Love

I had been feeling very much like a neglectful and unloving parent the past few months. Any time another mom asked me what sports my kids did, I'd talk about Ella's climbing and Lily's ballet, and then I'd trail off. I had never enrolled Campbell in any kind of sports or classes or anything.

So when the e-mail from the Dripping Springs Youth Sport Association arrived announcing registration for spring soccer, I signed Campbell right up. When I told him, he protested that he didn't know how to play soccer, and he wasn't comforted by my suggestions that maybe no one else on the team would either.

 But then we went to get his soccer gear. He wore his shorts, shin guards and cleats everywhere and carried his soccer ball with him. 

On the day of his first practice, he asked me approximately eleventy-mabillion times how long it was until we left. During the practice he ran and laughed the entire time. I'm not sure he had any idea of what was actually going on, but he had so much fun. 

The night before Campbell's first game, B gave the kids the option of staying up late and watching a movie. Campbell announced, in all seriousness, "I should go to bed on time. I do have a soccer game in the morning." And then he went to bed. 

Unfortunately, he poked me awake at 5:15 whispering, "Mom! Mom! Don't forget! I have a soccer game this morning." He was not happy when I told he we still had four hours before we needed to leave. 

B took Campbell to the soccer game while I was at ballet with Lily. About halfway through I got a text that said, "This is what Muppets would look like if Muppets could play soccer." 

That afternoon, Campbell and I talked about his game.

Me: Did you score any goals?
C: I don't know.
Me: Which team won?
C: I don't know.
Me: Did you at least have fun?
C: Yes! And we got popsicles!

I think soccer's a success. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Flashback Tuesday

The kids are all supposed to have their rooms cleaned and ready for inspection by 11:00 am each Sunday. Campbell, Lily and Ella had finished their chores at about 10:55, but Elizabeth was screaming that there was just too much to clean and she needed help. I tried the trick of having her just pick up clothing or just pick up dolls or just pick up five things, and none of them worked.

So I got mean and told her she had to stay in her room until she had picked up enough things that I could tell the difference.

Instead, she emptied the entire contents of her dresser on the floor. The other side of the room was even worse. FeeBee likes to sleep in Elizabeth's room next to the bed, but she couldn't even get to her spot.

This morning Elizabeth and I worked on getting her room under control. At one point, while standing on her rocking chair with her hands on her hips, Elizabeth told me, "This is the upstairs. Kids can do whatever them wants upstairs."

As I was convincing Elizabeth that she really didn't need to keep bent wire hangers and wadded-up stickers,  I remembered this post. And its thrilling conclusion.

Some things never change.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Just read the book

I have had a lot of favorite books through the decades. In elementary school, Anne of Green Gables and Little Women were at the top of my list. In high school, I was obsessed with Jane Eyre  and A Room With a View. During college, I focussed on Jane Austen's rather large catalog. In grad school, I was all about Edith Wharton. I still maintain that Age of Innocence  is the best American novel ever written. As a grad school dropout, my favorite books were those that didn't require any thought or analysis. I seem to remember a lot of John Grisham.

These days, I don't have a favorite. I'm kind of all over the map with what I read. According to Ella, though, my Kindle is filled with nothing but "books about mass murderers, serial killers and assassinated presidents." I'd protest that she was being unfair, but she does have a point.

Over the years, the books I have always, always come back to, though, are Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. I have read them so many times that my paperback editions disintegrated and are now held together with rubber bands. I swear I could identify my copies by how they smell. I knew passages of each by heart because I had read and reread them.

I wanted to be Anne. I wanted to be brave and stubborn and willing to crack a slate over someone's head. But as my sister once pointed out, I'm much more of a Marilla. I also wanted to be Jo - free spirited and creative and willing to sell her hair to help her family. There were also times I wanted to be Beth. I envied her patience and kindness and beautiful death scene. I never wanted to be the know-it-all Meg or spoiled-rotten Amy, though. Never.

After Ella was born, I started picking up copies of my favorite childhood books as I saw them. In addition to Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, I couldn't wait to introduce her to Little House on the Prairie, The Phantom Tollbooth, James and the Giant Peach, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Through the Looking Glass, just to name a few.

When Ella learned to read, I counted the days until she'd be ready for chapter books, stacking my favorites in her room.

To my everlasting delight, Ella loves reading as much, if not more than, I do. She always has her nose buried in a book.

So what's the problem?

She won't read the books I want her to. Absolutely refuses.

Each time she complains that she is out of books, I helpfully and hopefully hand her one of my favorites. She just rolls her eyes and wanders off to browse the book closet on her own. She has read all of the Harry Potter books many times over, wanting to be Hermione and hoping that her invitation to Hogwarts would arrive on her 11th birthday. She's read all of CS Lewis, which I couldn't stand, and The Hunger Games trilogy, which I have no interest in.

She's also discovered some cool series like the Mysterious Benedict Society and You Have to Stop This. I've enjoyed reading these books along with her.

But she still won't read my favorites.

She finally read Anne of Green Gables last year as part of a school project. When she told me she had been assigned it, I did a happy dance around the room. I knew, just knew, that once she met Anne, she'd want to read the rest of the books.

Yeah, no.

When Lily started reading chapter books, I figured I had a second chance to introduce my favorites. I moved all of them into Lily's book shelf and offered them to her each time she asked for something to read. She is most decidedly not interested, and refuses all my suggestions as stubbornly as Ella does.

Lily's been home all week sick, and I've been suggesting that she go read instead of beg to watch movies. She came in the other day to tell me she didn't have anything on her Kindle that she hadn't read yet. I did a happy dance and loaded Anne of Green Gables on to it. She sighed and rolled her eyes.

"I don't understand," I said. "This is my favorite book. And it was Aunt Sarah's, too."

"Yes, but that was you and Aunt Sarah," she replied. "I'm Lily, and I like different things."

I hate it when my kids are smarter than I am.

So I have resolved to back off and stop pushing books on the girls. But I still feel like a bit of a failure as a mother, English major, writer and avid reader. Some day, someone is going to look at Ella and Lily with the same shocked look I have, and say, "What do you mean you've NEVER read Anne of Green Gables? How is that possible?"

Campbell is now reading, but I know better than to try my favorites with him. He came home from the library this week proudly clutching some Star Wars book. Elizabeth is my final chance. Her middle name is Anne-with-an-E. Maybe she'll want to read about her namesake.

But probably not.

Here are the books I will never, ever try to get my children to read.
Where the Red Fern Grows (honestly, I think I have PTSD from that damn book)
The Yearling
The Summer of My German Soldier
Rumble Fish
The Outsiders

Monday, February 18, 2013

Someone talk me out of this

This is Robin Wright on House of Cards. I love her haircut. B and I have been rationing our viewings of the show, but each time we watch, I sigh about how much I want to cut my hair short.

I have always been willing to experiment with my hair. I've turned all of it pink, I've turned parts of it pink. I've cut off 10 inches for charity. I've cut bangs on a whim. I've bleached it almost white blond and I've turned it deep auburn.

My philosophy is that it's just hair and it will grow back.

But I just can't quite talk myself into getting this haircut. I know better. I know it won't work, no matter how much I love it. And I know I will spend the next year wishing I had never cut my hair short.

How do I know?

Because this is what happened the last time I cut my hair short. It just sticks up in a lumpy mess. It won't matter how much product I put in it and how much time I spend with a blow dryer or a flat iron. My hair will be a sticky-upy, lumpy mess.

I've been polling family and friends about whether I should try it. Knittergran says yes. Liz @Peace, Love & Guacamole says I should talk to a professional first.

B says I should get another tattoo.

What to do? What to do?

Friday, February 08, 2013

A piece of my childhood is gone

Have you seen the news? It turns out that Mary Ingalls, of Little House on the Prairie fame, probably did not go blind from scarlet fever. A new article in the journal Pediatrics proposes that, instead, Mary suffered from meningitis or encephalitis. The article's author, Dr. Beth Tarini, looked through medical records from the era and studied Laura Ingalls Wilder's memoir Pioneer Girl, which was the basis for the Little House books. She also looked at the records from the school for the blind, which Mary attended as a teenager. According to the records, Mary went blind due to a "brain fever." 

This has turned my world upside down. It also reminded me of one of my favorite posts ever. I wrote it back in 2010 for a now-defunct site called Deep South Moms. 


My youngest daughter recently had croup (which I call THE CROUP, complete with jazz hands). When I posted on Facebook that the baby had croup, my sister's immediate comment was "get the ipecac." I laughed out loud, because I knew exactly what she was talking about.

In Anne of Green Gables, which was our favorite book growing up, Anne saves Diana's little sister from the croup by dosing her with ipecac.

Elizabeth was sick enough that we ended up at the doctor's office. After he had finished the exam and confirmed my diagnosis, I asked him about the whole ipecac thing. He laughed when I told him about Anne of Green Gables and said that he had seen that particular episode while watching the mini-series with his daughters. Then he told me that giving kids ipecac really was standard treatment for the time. When he was in medical school, he went to a Q&A session with an old pediatrician, and one of the other med students asked the doctor how he would treat croup. The doctor's immediate answer was ipecac. Go figure.

My doctor said that there are two theories on why it worked. First, it's chemically similar to an opiate, so the baby probably gets good and relaxed, which stops the coughing fits. Second, it may just make the baby throw up enough that the coughing stops. Either way, it's not recommended by anyone anymore.

But all of this reminded me of the time I diagnosed my oldest with scarlet fever, which I told the doctor about. Ella, who was three at the time, had already been in to see him and had tested positive for strep and started antibiotics. But that night she broke out in a rash all over her chest. I pulled out my trusty Dr. Spock and decided that it looked like scarlet fever, and I freaked the heck out.

I immediately phoned the on-call pediatrician, who explained that there are several types of strep and a few of them produce a scarlatina rash, which is commonly called scarlet fever. This is the rest of our conversation.

Me: But Beth in Little Women  DIED from scarlet fever.

Doc: (long pause) Yes, but that was before they had antibiotics. Ella has already started taking hers. She'll be fine.

Me: But Mary in Little House went BLIND from scarlet fever.

Doc: (another long pause) Again, that was before antibiotics. Ella will be fine. I promise.

My doctor laughed at the story, but he also made me promise to stop diagnosing my kids through children's literature.

When my sister first read Little Women she got to the end and asked what had happened to Beth. When we told her that Beth died, she looked perplexed and said, "The book said she went to a better place. I assumed that meant the beach or something."

I fully expect the next literary medical discovery to be that Beth did, indeed, go to the beach and lived quite happily in a better place. 

And speaking of beloved children's classics, have you seen what a publisher has done to Anne Shirley? Just.No. 
Updated to include a note from my sister: This totally leaves out that I was seven or eight and the copy of Little Women I had was abridged and the fact that Beth died was NOT well explained. Mom immediately bought me the full version. I feel like my reading comprehension skills are under attack when you tell the story without all the details