Saturday, September 24, 2005
Slogging Through a River of Snot
Ugggghhhh, Jacob's got a cold.

A horrible, nasty, gross sort of thing which is not bad enough to need medical attention but which is bad enough to let him sustain one long, miserable, whiny note over the course of several days. His poor little eyes are all puffy and he's all nasal... very much like a short alcoholic after a 3-day bender. He creates his own body weight in snot every day, 40% of which ends up smeared somewhere on me - usually my right shoulder, which is the only place he's even marginally happy.

(When I say "happy," for him, usually I mean giggly and smily - this week, I mean only moaning intermittently instead of constantly.)


So far none of the rest of us have caught it from him, which is a good thing because I don't think I could tolerate myself if I were that unpleasant, and I'm darn certain I'd be sending Willem or Emily off to the nearest "Go Somewhere Else and Be Quiet" farm if they were like this.

But he's a baby, and he's still pretty cute, so we let him stay with us. We even let him sleep indoors, assuming he actually sleeps. Last night he was up 5 times between 9:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. I could actually feel the moment when the Motrin finally took full effect - his whole body relaxed and then he wanted to bounce and giggle and play. But this was at 12:45 a.m., and my personal tolerance for play and fun had long since faded. Then he bounced his forehead directly into my lower lip, which decreased my mirth even further. So, in my role as Evil Bad Mommy, I laid him back down and let him cry himself to sleep. If it had taken more than 2 1/2 minutes, I might feel bad about that.

Nah, I probably wouldn't, anyway.

He was well enough that we dragged him along to a birthday party for the brother of a classmate of Emily's. Could that be any more confusing?? We actually thought it was for the classmate, and we bought him a gift accordingly... but now, instead of looking like a cheapskate for bringing a $10 magnetic building kit, I look like a hero for bringing a gift for the often-forgotten middle child! Hooray for not reading the invitation thoroughly!!!

I have to say that, as far as 8-year-olds' birthday parties go, this one was actually really, really well-run. Plenty of activities for the kids, not a lot of stand-around-making-small-talk-while-waiting-for-food time for the grown-ups. There was a magician who was pretty darn tricky - which does say something for truth in advertising, as his stage name was "Tricky Dick." Though that leads me to the thought that he could switch fields to a much more risque venue and still offer truth in advertising, perhaps. Anyway, Jacob sat and watched and clapped the whole time, which was just a tad cute. His only break in applause came when the magician was showing off his "new pet raccoon" (a stuffed puppet) and made it wiggle and jump at all the kids. Apparently, to Jacob, spastic stuffed raccoons are right on par with monsters shouting "BOO" and strangers pinching his cheeks, because he had a brief but pointed meltdown after that one.

Jacob's obsession with putting things away continues, though I have my doubts that he'll hang onto that into his teen years. He's developed these sudden mini-tantrums once in a while, though right now they're reserved only for the most heinous and horrifying experiences, such as if he's put everything he can find into his little 6-pack cooler and the lid won't close all the way. You know, important stuff. They are highly amusing to me, though my snorting and giggling doesn't seem to entice him to join in the hilarity.

It's nowhere near late yet, according to my internal clock - only 10:43, according to my computer. But I'm going to go try and shuffle off to bed and get 20 or 30 minutes of sleep before the next attack of coughing and sneezing and leaking and whining descends upon our house.

At least he's cute!
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Beware the Traveling Ice Cream Thief
We had company for the weekend, Mike and Jen, and as hard as I might try, I can't come up with a single gripe or complaint about them. They arrived when they said they were going to arrive, and left when they said they were going to leave. They played with our kids - and not only that, but they seemed to enjoy it rather than appearing to suffer through these short people on their way to something "fun." Then when the kids were in bed, we all played cards and talked and acted like grown-ups (okay, like grown-ups who make fart jokes and argue over song lyrics... close enough!) and generally had a fantastic time. It really takes the wind out of my sarcastic rants, ya know.

Never fear, my mother-in-law is coming to visit in 3 weeks, I'm sure she'll pick up the slack in the houseguests-as-hemmorhoids category.

On Saturday, the Men went golfing and the Women (and Jacob, since walking is apparently a major prerequisite for golf and he's just not there yet) went shopping. We spent a while at this little playground type thing for kids 5 and under at the mall, and made the delightful discovery that Jacob's roly-poly-ness and basic sweetness and lack of aggression make him absolutely irresistible to the 2-3-year-old age group. A veritable parade of wobbly toddlers had to come over, poke briefly at Jacob, and then push him right on over backwards. It was on a soft padded floor, so he didn't get hurt, and he does do a backward roll in a charmingly floppy way - but still, give the kid a break, okay? Geez.

Saturday night I went on an ice cream run, and brought home 5 sundaes from Friendly's - one for everyone except Jacob. He remedied that situation with ease, by doing constant circuits around the room, mooching off anyone and everyone. He probably burned off more calories in the crawling than he consumed in the ice cream. He also took the opportunity to get quite affectionate with me, which was horrible because I was wearing a new white shirt and he was eating hot fudge... but how could I possibly refuse a baby kiss or 12?

Then on Sunday I had lunch out with my friend Carolyn, WITHOUT CHILDREN. We went through an entire meal without a single pause due to interruption, spills, poking, whining, drool, questions, begging for dessert, counting how many bites left to take, wiping someone else's mouth, or discipline. It was amazing. Of course, we spent the vast majority of the time talking about our kids, and then we went shopping for our kids, but it was still a bit of a break from being Mommy all day long.

Spent yesterday doing hundreds of mundane but important errands, just clearing out paperwork and seeing to all of these little things that have been festering on my to-do list for long past the time when it became embarrassing. Among those, I called a contractor to come look at our house, for an estimate on putting in a 2nd bathroom and getting a window in my father's bedroom. He gave me a plumber's number to start things going on the bathroom, and quotes me $1000 for the window.




So, I'll be doing some more calling today, to find out if that guy is planning to install gold-plated diamonds or if he's on crack or if he's playing a practical joke or if, God forbid, he's about average in that estimate. The fun never stops!
Thursday, September 15, 2005
What I've Learned in Prison
Okay, now, let's be clear right up front: I did NOT learn all of this stuff by trial-and-error. Some of it I was just able to figure out by thinking it through.

-- Don't wear loud shoes.
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, else in the prison wears rubber-soled sneakers - the staff get shoelaces and the inmates don't. (Sometimes I wonder if that's the only real difference between us and them.) So if you wear hard-soled shoes, it's the audial equivalent of being accompanied by a town crier: "Here she comes! Here she comes! Everyone pause your conversations and watch her walk by!" Unnerving.

-- Don't wear a skirt, of any length.
The stairs are metal, sort of a mesh pattern. No reason to be making friends simply by going a flight ahead of someone.

-- Carry your own water bottle.
There aren't helpful water fountains or soda machines in every hallway, for some reason. And while there is a sink in every cell, the idea of taking a sip just doesn't appeal. I can't think why.

-- When entering the Secure Housing Unit (read: highest security, 23-hour lockdown), don't look around when entering the cell tiers.
To enter the hallways where the cells are, you have to sort of weave around a double-door set-up. Right next to these doors is the only shower per tier, which, during morning mental health rounds, is very often occupied by something large and naked and soapy. Just be grateful for the use of soap and keep on moving.

-- Bring out yer sarcasm.
The culture is a very fine mix of support among staff via sarcasm and cynicism, mixed with a twinge of paranoia and a dash of humanity. Shaken, not stirred.

-- Remember that the truth lies somewhere outside of the prison walls.
It's not true that there are no guilty men in prison, a la "The Shawshank Redemption." But it is true that their stories are never quite what you'd expect, and every single one of those stories is sad in some way.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Know what an answering machine does??
Oh, my mother-in-law. I don't deserve such familial bliss.

It has been a while since I whined, don't you think? Yeah, I'm due.

We went out to dinner last night, all 4 of us. Which was really great right up until the second the waitress brought our main course. Suddenly, Emily, who had until then been angelic and had INSISTED on ordering fettucini alfredo, announced, "I don't like this!" and had a delightful and embarrassing tantrum in the middle of Olive Garden. Now, as we all know, she never actually touched the food, much less tasted it - and yes, she's had it before and liked it then. So, that brought the night to an abrupt downer, though we did recover our mood somewhat after she stopped howling and mooing.

We came home to three messages on our answering machine. The middle one was from my dad, using the machine as God intended for it to be used - leaving a brief message which actually contained some useful information. The first and last messages were from my mother-in-law, and they were identical: "Hi, it's Mom. Just calling to see how the first week of school went for everyone. Give me a call, or I'll call you later." They were left about 3 hours apart, on a Friday night, around dinner time. How DARE we not be home?

This by itself isn't that obnoxious, but it's part of a larger trend. She called four times on Father's Day to leave the same message each time: "Hi, it's Mom, just calling to wish my son a happy Father's Day. You could call your poor mother back sometime, if you want." We had spent the day out, so we came home to all four messages at once. That was her record, but generally my mother-in-law doesn't seem to believe that answering machines will, in fact, answer the phone and play back messages. So it's irritating.

She called again this afternoon, just after Willem took the kids out on an errand. I don't know who was happier when I answered the phone, her or me. Our conversation started like so:
HER: Oh, hi, Kate. Is anybody else home?
ME: Nope.
HER: Oh, good! Can I talk to them?
ME: No. They're not home. Willem took the kids out.
HER: Oh. [Thinks: Liar.] Well, how is back-to-school going?
--mindless chatter for 5 minutes, in which she asks questions and does not listen to my response--
ME: Oh, Willem and the kids just got home, hang on.
HER: Oh, okay. Tell Willem that I want to -- [Me pulling phone away from ear so as to enforce the "hang on" part.]
ME, to Willem: Your mother is on the phone. Do you want to talk to her now or would you rather call her back later?
HIM: I guess I'll get it over with. [takes phone] Hi. [pause] Classes are good. I haven't taken any tests yet, so I don't really have any grades. [pause] I did get one homework assignment back, I got a 96. [pause] What do you mean, what happened to the other four points?

At this point, I left the room rather than remaining to fume.

I know, she could be worse.

I wish she was! She's soooo good at walking that line between driving me insane but not being bad enough for me to legitimately cut off the relationship. Argh.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Hooray, I'm the neighborhood B...

Yep. I'm so proud.

It's not intentional! Circumstances have aligned such that I am surrounded by irritating teenagers, and so I end up looking like the bad guy for dealing with their snotty attitudes.

It all started a few weeks ago. I'd had just a crappy day - lots of errands to run, no nap from Jacob, much whining from Emily, etc., etc. Then Willem came home with the news that he'd been offered a position as a teaching assistant at his college, which is fantastic in the sense that it means tuition is now paid for plus he gets a stipend, but it was extraordinarily stressful because we found out with two days' notice, and it meant some major rearranging in plans and schedules around here. So, the kids were in the bath and he and I were sitting on the couch trying to hash out the details.

From our couch, you can see the street, including where our mailbox is. So I was facing directly that way when three teenagers walked past (this was in those last endless days before school starts, and these beasts had obviously reached the age where back-to-school equals more moping, not excitement). One of them was opening all of the mailboxes with flags up. And I had finally gotten around to writing thank-you notes for our housewarming gifts, so for the first time in weeks I actually had stuff in there. So, I hopped up off the couch and very delicately waltzed to the screen door and uttered, "HEY, GET OUT OF MY MAILBOX!"

The girl was very small and delicate-looking, and I scared the bejesus right out of her. She jumped, she jolted, she turned red, she gasped. Her two friends, another girl and a boy, immediately gave her the universal "oooooh, you're in trouble now" look. She had to save face - I mean, I'd already made her soil herself by catching her in the act, so the only way she was going to survive this, socially, was to mouth off, right? Right. So, with the maximum possible level of teenage snarl, she said, "Relax, lady." I gently replied, "Stealing mail is a federal offense. Want to argue with me?" She declined, though I have to say that her grasp of sign language is rudimentary, at best - the sign she flashed me, while being negative in nature, was clearly more abrupt and crass than the typical sign for "No, thank you."

So, I watched them walk down the street, they tried to act all tough but within about 20 feet the culprit started to cry, it was all very adolescent. I felt bad that she had to be nosy on the day when I was having such a crappy day to begin with, but such is life.

A single incident is not enough to cement my reputation, of course. But I had a follow-up last week, so it may now be permanent.

One of our neighbors, a few doors up across the street, is blind. I don't know how long he has lived there, but the town put a brand-spankin'-new sign up about him last week. (Which I always wondered about: Do blind people know that there are street signs up about them?) It's on the line between our property and our neighbors', right up next to the street - a fantastic place for a street sign, I must say.

Anyway, we were unloading the Jeep after a grocery trip, and the two juvenile delinquents who live next door (different from the Mailbox Gang) were out in the front yard throwing things at each other. I don't know if they are, legally speaking, truly juvenile delinquents, but it's not for lack of trying, swearing, hitting, whining and general nastiness. So, when throwing rocks got boring, they went over and started trying to yank out the new sign. In the middle of the afternoon. 50 feet from me. Idiots.

So, I gently and calmly (really - I was having a good day this time!) asked, "Hey, guys, can we leave the sign alone, please?" Their descent into angst and anger was instant - they obviously have much more practice than the Mailbox Girl. "It's our property, we can do whatever we want here." I disagreed, but just gave them my still-protozoic Mom Glare (I've only had to use it on Emily a few times, it hasn't been perfected yet) and they skulked away. They resumed their prior assault on each other, and to my surprise they haven't removed the sign yet - though I did see their father out checking on it the other day. Wondering what he'll be charged when his kids destroy it, no doubt.

So, sigh, by now all the teenagers in my neighborhood will know who I am and how horribly unfairly I treated those poor, innocent miscreants.

At least I'll know WHY when my house gets egged on Halloween.
Monday, September 05, 2005
Pediatric redemption
Despite days of Severe Crankosity like Jacob had on Satuday, despite Insane Meltdowns like Emily had last night, they do have their redeeming moments!

I stayed up until almost 3:00 last night, a combination of playing around online and typing (fantastic for my pages-per-minute, very efficient... or something totally different than that). Willem left for his baseball game around 7:30 (2-hour drive to the train station, 1-hour train ride to Boston, saves $30 on parking, etc.), so that meant I was up at 7:30. Well, physically vertical, but in no way "up." I shoveled breakfast into the kids (and, judging be the empty bowl on the counter, into myself, too, but I have no memory of it!), got them both set up with toys and TV, and passed out on the couch. They let me sleep for two hours! Jacob just stayed right in the living room with me, puttering around and chatting to himself, and Emily was in and out of the room.

Hooray for baby gates and deadlocks on the door! Hooray for well-behaved children! Hooray for Mama not being a total zombie all day!!!
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Emily's first day of Argh.
Yesterday was Emily's first day of kindergarten. She was only in school for 3 hours, but it was a looooong day.

It started Tuesday night. She was just so wired up about starting school the next morning that it took absolutely nothing to set her off. Plus she was home with Willem and my dad while I was teaching my class, and that's a whole lot of Daddy games to cram into one evening. Here a spaz, there a spaz, everywhere a spaz, spaz. At one point after she had ostensibly been tucked into bed, we hear a thump and a wail - she had hit her head on the ceiling. Now, granted, she does have a loft bed, so this isn't as insane as it might otherwise be, but still, the bed is not six inches from the ceiling. It took some effort for her to get there.

Wednesday morning was relatively uneventful, she got up and dressed and fed and out of the house on time. Got on the bus with hardly a backward glance... though that may be due to the fact that the bus driver was yelling at some kids in the back of the bus already ("Keep yah hands to yahselves!") and drove away as soon as Emily's back pack had made it all the way past the plane of the door.

We wandered back to the house and did a good job of not sniveling, Willem headed off to his class, and Jacob, my dad and I sat down in the living room and breathed. (My dad's weekend falls on Tuesday/Wednesday, so he was home.) About 10 minutes later, the phone rang - which is never a good thing in the morning after you've put your kid on a school bus.

It was Someone vonWhatshername at Emily's school, who was disturbingly perky given the conversation:
SvW: Hi, is this Kate?
K: Yes, it is.
SvW: Good morning! How are you?
K: I'm fine, thanks. Is this a sales call?
SvW: Oh, no, ha ha ha ha ha, hee hee. No, this is Someone vonWhatshername at Emily's school, how are you?
K: I'm still fine, thanks.
SvW: Oh, right. Hee hee hee. Well, Emily got off at the wrong school this morning. But it's okay, they got her on a different bus to come here, and the vice principal will get her off the bus and walk her to her classroom. Tee hee!
K: Excuse me??
SvW: Emily got off at the --
K: Right, thanks. How did that happen?
SvW: Well, I'm not sure. The bus drivers aren't supposed to check the kids' name tags. The name tag checker at the other school noticed her right away, she never even got inside the other building. She'll be here soon! The vice principal herself will walk Emily down. *happy sigh*
K: Okay. I'm on my way.
SvW: Oh, that's fine. You don't have to come down if you don't want to, I just thought I'd let you know.
K: Right. I'm on my way.

I'm realizing, in the retelling, that I probably should have been more awed by the fact that the vice principle herself was going to walk Emily down. Apparently this is going way above and beyond the call of duty, and I'm just too plebian to realize what an astounding honor this was.

Anyway, with my dad home, I could leave Jacob and just go directly to the school, so I ended up arriving at precisely the same time as Emily. I *knew* she'd be fine, but it was good to get there and see that she was okay - not in the least upset, still ready for kindergarten. I decided to hang out for a bit, and hence I accidently discovered that The Good Parents at this school get their kids on the bus and then race the bus to school on the first day, to bid a second, more chaotic goodbye when the kids line up to go from the playground into the school. Phew, what a relief, I almost didn't get to be A Good Parent.

The rest of the day was wonderfully less eventful - Jacob and I took a shower, stared bewilderedly at each other, put the dishes away, stared bewilderedly at each other, started some laundry, stared wilderedly at each other, etc. I wasn't really certain whether he really understood that Emily wasn't in the house somewhere, until I announced, "Okay, it's almost 11:00, time to go get Emily!" He made a beeline for the door and pointed at the car, just in case I got sidetracked or confused on how to best accomplish this. Such a good helper.

Getting her to tell me about her day was tricky - at first, I got a lof of "I don't knows" and "I can't remembers." After a while, we were able to figure out how she'd spent the morning, and then she was able to share that with anyone willing to stand still long enough for her to tell. (This includes the guy at the Walgreens photo center, the waitress at Friendly's, two Grandmas, and one of the trees in our front yard.)

This morning, she apparently decided she'd fallen into too much a rut with the school routine, because she woke up complaining that her eye hurt. Which, at first, I didn't take too seriously, because this is a child who will scream like she's being beaten with a cactus if she stubs her toe. (Last night at dinner, we got to listen to, "Ooooowwwwww, I burned my hangnail on my hot dog." Who says these things?!?) Anyway, she kept complaining, and eventually we were able to actually see the particle in her eye. Another side effect of her loft bed is that she likes to pick at the popcorn paint on her ceiling, and now she has learned why that ain't such a hot idea. It was bad enough that we kept her home in the morning, ready to take her into the doctor as soon as they opened. Just for future reference, we discovered that the more surefire way of healing a hurt eye is to hang out in the doctor's office waiting room for 5 minutes - it was as good as new without us ever getting to an exam room. Argh.

So she got through her day at school, and judging by her truly horrible attitude all day, she's tired. I've done my best to respond by either (1) giving positive distraction and activities or (2) pretending I'm stone-deaf and dumb as a brick, but still, by bath time I was ready to barricade her into the bathroom for a few weeks. Thank God she has two parents, I can't imagine how much shorter her life expectancy would be if I couldn't hand her off sometimes.

Here's hoping that tomorrow can be her first *normal* day at school!!