Monday, September 29, 2008

They'll Make A Liar of You Every Time

Granddaddy used to say that all the time about his nine children.

As a child, I concede my own fixations on taste and preference were often fickle and determined by whatever fight my brother and I were having at the moment. When he said he liked eggs, I decided that day, that moment, that eggs were on the verboten list. He liked strawberry ice cream. I avoided eating it for YEARS.

Mom drew the line when I tried to unbuckle my seatbelt to declare my individuality from my younger brother in the car. So we glared silently, seat belted, barely controlling our mutual disdain for the other’s existence. That was acceptable because it was muted. I only got into trouble when I lacked the internal good judgment not to say, “MOMMMMM, He’s LOOKING at me.”

Today, it is my turn, and I break into a cold sweat when asked such seemingly benign questions as “What do your kids like to eat?”

On any given day, I could serve cantaloupe, eggs, bagels and milk and would have children praising me for hours. Asking for more. The same would be true for spaghetti and meatballs with red sauce or pot roast, or baked chicken…until someone else makes it. Visions of children voicing emotionally ungrateful responses to other people’s charity have forced me to take dramatic measures to insure that even if my offspring find the food unpalatable, they aren’t going to be vocal about it.
Because there is a type of universality to children, I humbly offer the following tips.

1) Have a bag of M&m’s at the ready. Insert into any child’s mouth that you think questionable as you receive the food.

2) Make sure dessert looks so tantalizing that they’d be willing to consume liver, beets and lima beans in abundance and wash it all down with tap water…no ice.

3) Empty your refrigerator of condiments. Let the kiddos use liberally.

4) Duck and cover strategy: Cover whatever it is with either sauce or cheese.

5) Channel your inner marketer. Give the food a snazzy name, break out the good china, put on classical music and pretend to be a waiter. Use phrases like “Will that be all Madam?”

6) Stick approach. Eat it or do the dishes.

7) Create an alternative that you like that you know the kids despise, such that the first meal looks appetizing by comparison…it’s either this…or my baked cod with tomatoes…

8) Mommy Dearest method. It’s now or it’s breakfast. This is only if you are willing to suffer for the next 24 hours. I wouldn’t advise it.

9) Piece meal Peace meal. One serving of something at a time…so kids get a fraction of food that looks so small they’re intrigued and willing to try it. Let them add salt and pepper. Serve meal in small courses.

10) Surrender. Divide up the meal to those things the kids will eat, fire up the microwave, nuke some potpies and prepare to spend the next three weeks eating casserole.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This is a Personal Note

Normally, this blog is devoted to the silliness of parenting and the crazy attempt to impose structure, logic, reason and safety on the ever growing expanding minds of children, affectionately known as non-sentients in our home.

(Hint, any child at any age can be a non-sentient; all they have to do is something that to the adult brain makes no sense on any planet whatsoever).

However, recent events have made me feel awed.
Awed at the help that others have offered.
Awed at the prayers of people I will have to wait to meet in Heaven.
Awed by the generous response of my family and community, when there are countless things, big and small which demand their attention.

I have in my life been both excellent and absolutely awful at writing "Thank you notes." Once after a baptism, I dutifully copied down everyone's gift and address and had the stamps and envelopes ready to go...I lost the log and thus could only muster feeble "Thanks." And I know I forgot some people in that process who I only hope can forgive my foolish disorganization and mistakes. It seems nothing but sheepishly stupid to admit these sorts of things, but then that's what mistakes are, sheepish foolishly stupid actions that can't always be fixed, only amended after the fact with large dollops of contrition and forgiveness.

So thank you everyone. Thank you for visiting, for your prayers, for your kind words, for reading. Thank you for supporting my family with your words and well wishes. Your kindness is a balm in this very busy world that seems to forget that peace is what we should be seeking in our lives, in our hearts, and looking for in each other.

After all, Christ's first words after resurrecting were "Peace Be with you."

(Actually, they were "Ta Dah!" but that's been removed from the record).

P.S. For those interested, the Catholic Standard did a follow up piece that includes a picture.

Cut and paste the link to see Paul. I still haven't manged to master putting in certain types of links. Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Piano Lessons

Everyone who has ever signed their kid up for a musical instrument understands the position of the cowboy renegade in the movies.

Except instead of saying, "Okay Sherriff, Dance!" we're stuck trying to hotglue our children's seats to the bench and place their fingers on the keyboard " it it for old times' sake....I've set the before the time goes by..."

Threats don't work well in the realm of musical instrument practice, "Practice or no more lessons sounds curiously like a reward rather than a big stick." Whenever I could play the piano...children's bladders have an instantaneous urge, or there are homework assignments that haven't been attended to...or gee, that book looks fact, the only chore dreaded more than practice is laundry...I did try that once...practice music or fold socks. I was actually bummed out when she chose the tickling the ivories over sorting the whites.

Now I know music builds hand/eye coordination, reading skills, helps develop brain synapse overlap and creates a life long skill that most people come to appreciate long after the weekly lessons have stopped, but I still wonder, what lessons is this weekly/daily struggle teaching me?

Well, I never really learned to read I can now FACE and EGBDF with the best of them. My teachers always had to play songs for me before I would try them. I can now sight read as a intermediate and have even ventured into looking at new pieces...something beyond the Spinning Song and the Happy Farmer...those never get requested at parties...maybe that's why I'm not invited to many. The lecture about playing a piece three times each, putting that into practice has really been an intellectual effort on my part not to be a hypocrit. I know it works...but even I chaffe at having to do it...darn it, why was I right on this one?

Still, after getting my daughter who actually requested this extra curricular activity to practice, she conceeded, she likes the idea of being able to play more than the reality of learning it. And I gave in, and told her we didn't have to continue.

Followers of this blog know that I name my appliances and important non animated tools that aid in this galactic struggle we call parenting. Today, the piano earned it's name after five years of servicing us sans a monicker..and the piano's name is Lonley. "Because it's only happy when we play it." My daughter explained. Then she set the timer for me.

"But I have laundry to do."
"It can wait. You always say we should make sure we keep proper perspective on things and do things every day to enrich our brains and increase our talents."

I hate being quoted back to me.

She leaned forward and looked earnest. "I don't think folding socks improves your brain or your talents. Besides, you're always saying you don't do enough things that have no purpose other than being good for you --like exercise and reading and..."

I meekly sat at the bench. Lonely and I were in for it.

She even put out my piano books so I wouldn't be able to stall as she had in locating the sheet music.

"What are you going to do while I'm practicing?"
"I'm going to fold socks to help you out Mom." she smiled. "And to make sure you practice each piece three times."

"Lonely, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mad Cow Disease

The last bastion of purists have hunkered down for the purpose of converting strict adherance to their way of being in a single field of study that the world at least considers respectable. I am speaking exclusively of those well meaning souls known as Lactation specialists.

Now I know that breast milk is natural, normal, easy, convenient, healthy and provides bonuses that formula does not have. There's no chance of metal contamination from some yahoo in a foriegn country who spilled a box of nails while packaging insta powder. There's no need to make sure you won't run out. As long as you bathe regularly, there's no sterilization issues to speak of. Having nursed all of my prior children, it's not like I failed to subscribe to the theory of nursing or needed convincing to try it.

But Downs Syndrome children have trouble nursing and with my son's poor heart condition, he needs to conserve his energy for growing and not coaxing milk to come to him. He needed the food to be easy and plentiful and require little effort. Even my OBGYN, Pediatrition and Cardiologist had agreed, a mixed approach was fine but food was most important. I explained to the La Leche League woman providing "support" that while I hoped to nurse, I also recognized my son's condition required a bit of flexibility on my part.

She shook her her head and smiled very nicely. "You know, there are studies out there that indicate that babies who are held but who are also nursed, and mostly because they are NURSED, are less retarded."

Even in my percoset stupor, I recognized a vague threat. The implication was clear. If I failed to supply my breasts to the cause, I would be lowering my son's IQ. I would be causing further handicapping complications for my son.

"Are you unaware that if he doesn't get enough calories, his heart will fail?" Thinking as logical people do that this might make her...reconsider her words.

"Babies who breastfeed are healthier."
"Not if they lose weight and fail to thrive."

"If the mother is committed to breast feeding, the baby thrives." Her benevolent smile told me her thoughts, this poor tired recooperating woman must not be thinking clearly. "Breast is always best." she soothed.

"Even if my pediatrition and the specialists have said otherwise?"

"The doctors want what is controllable and convenient."
"The doctors want my son to live."

"God made cow milk for a calf, breast milk for a baby." She insisted.

"I drink cow milk."
"That's different."
"You're an adult."

Squelching an urge to moo at her, I tried reason once more."I never had breast milk. I was in an ICU the first few months of my life."

"You proably would have been there less if your mother had been able to nurse you."

At this point, I began to wonder if a gentle rap on side the head would be legally defensible...or at least plausible to a jury of my peers.

"Thank you." I got up, grabbed my IV pole so I could indicate I was escorting her out of the room.

She touched my arm in what was supposed to be a reassuring gesture, but felt vaguely like a "I'm explaining it one more time for you so you can say the right thing Chicago style" grip.
"Are you going to nurse?"

I opened the door and patted her hand.
"I'm going to do what's best for my son. Whatever that means."

She stood in the threshold, holding on to the door, trying to make the pitch one last time. "Meaning, you're not going to breast feed exclusively?"

I smiled. "Well, you see, I was premature and drank formula for the first year of my life so we'll chuck all bad decisions I make as a Mom up to that."

For more humor that doesn't nurse a point to death,!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Welcome Baby Paul!

Chocolate for Your Brain welcomes it's latest inspiration, Paul, born this Wednesday, September 17th at 7:28 pm. The following is an article written about him which ran September 11th in the Catholic Standard. Thanks for visiting and for reading.

Baby Paul's Heart and Ours

“Will you accept the blessing of children lovingly from God?”

In every Catholic wedding, the priest asks the question and the couple responds.

There isn’t a caveat or a footnote or an asterisk to that particular answer or question, designed to explain away exceptions or alternatives. It is a promise a couple makes to God in the process of obediently submitting to the sacrament of marriage. The choice to have children was made on that altar amidst family and friends, prayers and flowers. “Yes.”

As the mother of eight, soon to be nine children, even total strangers have remarked to me, “You must have wanted a large family.” No. I have to confess, that wasn’t my plan at all. I planned to get a PhD and run a school, and maybe one day teach English at my Alma Mater. That was my plan. I loved my husband to be and we had dutifully gone through the pre-marital inventory, had the interviews with our bishop, and spent the weekend at the Pre Cana retreat in preparation for the sacrament. But we hadn’t asked the specific question of each other, “How many kids do you want to have?” To be honest, the question had never occurred to either of us, in our youth and inexperience.

When I started on my Doctorate, my advisor asked the question, “How do you hope to prevent yourself from becoming seduced by academia?” I said “My husband and children (at that point I had only one), would be able to keep me humble and out of trouble.” We laughed but God saw the opening I had given Him and took it.

Prudence might indicate that, once kids became a part of our lives, we would have discussed numbers. But again, the question never came up. We couldn’t argue with the consequences of the blessings of our marriage. We loved each new addition to our family fiercely and found the idea of not having known such unique amazing individuals as our sons and daughters, a horrid prospect.

Graduate school was postponed. These people had always been part of our family, though we had never laid eyes on them before they were born. It was as if pieces of our lives and our hearts, our personalities and our gifts, were being revealed to us for the first time in each of these new people. Whenever I would begin to yearn for what had been let go, God would immediately ground me in the present with the people around me. Maybe our family would be smaller if I hadn’t been such a stubborn person, but I wouldn’t wish it. It has been an amazing and unexpected journey these past eighteen years.

God’s plan included this ninth person Paul, who has Down’s syndrome and a heart defect that will require surgery. His heart will have to be remade. Like most parents who discover they will have a child with disabilities the world can see, our hearts had to be remade too. My son’s heart has no walls on the inside. Our hearts had walls that had to be torn down. We didn’t know they were even there.

Paul’s heart will be examined by 35 pediatric cardiologists via the wonders of technology, so that the best possible care can be given to make the four chambers necessary for him to thrive. God has spent the last 42 years peering into our hearts to try and get us to submit to the surgeries of life necessary to make our souls flourish. Neither of us have been terribly cooperative patients, sometimes ignoring the prescriptions that would make us spiritually stronger. There have been moments when we have wanted to say, “No.” Or at the very least, “Why can’t it be my plan?” or “Why this plan?”

I wouldn’t argue with the 35 cardiologists about how to do this pending surgery; I have to trust they will do what is best for my son. Likewise, arguing with God about His plan seems a waste of energy. He’s the expert. God’s plan was for a different sort of Doctorate, born of thus far, fifteen years of study. Once one recognizes God’s plan, acting within it becomes a condition of will, a choice based on trust that the Divine Physician knows more about what’s best than the patient.

God’s plan was much more interesting than mine. I still hope to one day get that Ph.D. if it is right for me to have it, but I must concede, in all honesty, not getting what I wanted thus far has been the greatest gift of my life. God tells us He will make for us whole new hearts, and that is what this journey of life is for, to give Him time to operate on our souls via the trials, triumphs and tragedies we experience. He came to heal us of the illnesses we do not even know that we have.

A dear person in my life asked the question, “How do you know God’s plan?” At the time, I didn’t have an answer but I do now, “If it stretches you beyond your own perceived capacity to love, it is God’s plan. If it makes you devote your whole self to others, it is God’s plan. If the fruits of your actions include joy, laughter, lightness, mercy, healing, hope, forgiveness, patience and peace for yourself and/or others, it is God’s plan.”

I remain overwhelmed by the support and volume of prayers offered on Paul's behalf and am pleased to report he is beautiful, he is as healthy as one could hope, and that we already love him more than we could have thought possible.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hurricane Ike Destroys Bolivar

The Bolivar Peninsula is no more. A family friend flew over the land and saw that virtually none of what was, even remains in piles. Most people never heard of it, so they won’t miss it. But for me, Caplen, Gillcrist, Crystal Beach and Galveston, they represent not just whole summers but three to four generations of memories that have just now literally been washed out to sea.

The whole peninsula had a way about it that differed from the flashier Galveston that always got everyone's attention. No one traveled to the Bolivar Peninsula that did not already know of its hidden charms. It was drive thru land, as the lure of the ferry and the Strand and Guido's and the bungee jump, bumper cars and rent-a bikes along the seawall kept people from stopping along the way except perhaps for gas or a loaf of bread to feed the seagulls.

People who lived at the beach year round were easy to spot. They wore clothing that had been line dried to the point of fading and most of them smoked. Most of them had tattoos that were politically incorrect, and had them long before they were trendy. The women wore nail polish but no makeup. They had leathery tan skin that if you touched felt unspeakably soft. Men wore jeans and t-shirts 99.9% of the time and baseball caps. They were lean but not thin, strong but not muscular and frequently unshaven. These were people who lived by their hands, via carpentry, painting, sewing, baking, fishing and selling all they made. They cleaned whatever they caught and ate it. They invoked Jesus’ name and cursed with equal ease and didn’t think much of people who came to the beach but didn’t want to get sandy or know how to handle tar (baby oil works great), or who wanted to know where the nearest “Wi-fi” connection might be found. (Try Houston).

Their homes were often pink and grey and they would own at least one boat, one dog, one trailer and a pickup truck. They could fix air conditioners but most didn’t bother to own one, as fans worked best year round. Phones came to the peninsula grudgingly, (1984) and few bothered with TV or cable, much less computers. All that salt air and moisture made electronics beyond a good stereo a real waste of time.

That none of the businesses or homes still exist, even as piles of debris require that I remember them as they were. There was the obligatory shell shop for souvenirs, Milt’s Fish Market for bait and fresh caught goodness, and Claud’s, a store which sold everything one could possibly need at the beach except food. These stores had been here since my Grandmother was young. There were even hand written notes mentioning them as places to go for goods posted in the beach house that served as a summer place to survive with 9 kids before air conditioning for my family’s family since the 1920’s. It's hard to imagine the Bolivar penisula without these places where a man with Harvard law degree and a man who didn't finish high school would be indiscernible from one another as they swapped fishing tips and discussed lures and baitwells and the best "spec" they ever caught.

Looking at the pictures, there is mud and devestation, and I remember the “newcomers” like Mama Theresa’s Flying Pizza, which quickly became mine and my brothers and eventually our children’s favorite spot on Fridays. There wasn't a chain on the entire path, in fact it was a big deal when in the late 90's, a McDonald's opened in Winnie (15 miles away), and a grocery store (The Gulf Mart) opened so that going to the beach no longer meant packing food for a week or driving to Winnie, Houston or Beaumont for more. These places always seemed new because I could remember a time when they weren't there.

I searched for the waterslide, surely it remained. That contraption was something of a controversy to my elders. "Why should we pay to go on a waterslide when you have the entire ocean here?" It was not an easy arguement to combat. Still, eventually, a trip to the slide became part of the beach regimen, just as surely as crabbing with turkey necks, smores and a night of competitive poker, hearts and speed solitare. A second waterslide tried to muscle in on the territory (2004), but beach goers of the Bolivar Peninsula were terribly loyal and annoyed whenever anyone tried to one up anyone else, so the second place struggled along until the first place announced that it was okay and that they were actually friends.

Danny’s Donut Shoppe kept fighting to survive, selling Kolaches which the few in the know people swooped in on Sunday after mass at Our Mother of Mercy to purchase. It went out of business at least three times a summer. Maybe the guy was out fishing, but at least three trips out of five, the shop was closed during hours it was supposed to be open. The beach was like that.

Maybe we should have known that the peninsula’s days were numbered, that everything at the beach gets worn down and eventually destroyed but there was a permanent feeling to that thin stretch of Texas Coast. Whenever someone sold their beach house to someone not family, there was a feeling of shock and concern…that the next people would not be beach people. Most people who came to the beach, became beach people or sold. One could spot the early sellers. They'd try to give their beach houses fancy names and "modernize." It became quickly apparent they didn’t like the fact that there were only three radio stations one could get in clearly, one Christian rock, one talk and one country. Cell phones were essentially useless and they'd be shocked to discover people didn’t have answering machines. As far as I knew, there were only three atms along the entire strip and most places didn't take credit cards.

When people opened new businesses, everyone would look on with amazement to see if they could stick. Some did, like the Sand Piper (on the bay side, great fish), and some didn’t, like the Pier, which when Hurricane Rita hit in 2006, left the large stumps of the pier itself, standing in the surf.

What I will miss though, are those experiences that were uniquely East Texas Coast Beach. I’ll miss hearing the old church lady imitating Kate Smith at the end of mass on 4th of July, singing God Bless America and beach combing while remembering which house was the one where we saw an alligator that had swum down into the gulf, sunning itself. I’ll miss the neighbors that would walk up to introduce themselves because your bonfire looked fun and the beer was cold. I know I could go riding in the back of a pickup truck along the shore to gather driftwood for a bonfire almost anywhere, but there was something to it here. I'll even miss the crazy beach lady on her tractor mower who would get grouchy if your flipflop touched her property line when walking back to the house.

But mostly, I’ll miss the memories of bringing new people to the beach house and watching them discover that despite the seaweed and jellyfish in the brown warm surf, the tar on the beach, the stickaburrs in the grass and the fire ants and mosquitoes, that standing out on the wooden deck, staring at the ocean, sipping a freshly made drink of something, they would breathe in the salt air and marvel at how much they loved this place.

Now I know places can be rebuilt but here, we just don’t know if there is anything to build on yet, or even how to begin. It’s too soon to know if any of what we knew could be restored. By all accounts, there's just nothing there of those 85 years of memories but memories. For now, I just miss that place that described my childhood summers and almost every birthday until I was 24 and hope that in Heaven, I get to drive down highway 87 and turn onto Martha's Vineyard and find a strong southeast wind and a grey house up on 18 foot piers with family inside it sitting at my grandfather's butcher table, chopping up the ingredients for Gumbo.

Arial View before Ike...,+TX&ie=UTF8&ll=29.495683,-94.531804&spn=0.001735,0.003259&t=h&z=19

For more information/pictures of what was and what is...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Plugging a Fellow Writer/Serving Cold Dished Just Deserts

A friend of mine from the Erma Bombeck Conference wrote a book "Rebel without a Minivan" and has a regular column, Lost in Suburbia. She has been on the CBS morning show...but there's been problems.

The first time Tracy was scheduled to be interviewed, her bit was preempted by breaking news about Patrick Swayze's inflamed pancreas. All of us at her table begged her to write a piece called, "My book was bumped by Celebrity Dirty Dancing Star's Irritable Organ."

But, the producer promised to have her on again...or rather to book her again. The date for the event, September 11th. watch/?id=4439618n

Not only did they not plug her column or her book, they used her for a spot and indicated she had three kids. She has two. Thus, as a loyal friend, I offer this piece as a serving of revenge on the self serving agenda of that CBS morning show producer.

How to become famous in spite of Morning Television Shows...

1) Make sure no B-list or lower celebs are suffering from obscure medical disorders that desperate perpetually caffinated hostesses might consider to be breaking news. Fire off an email to avoid fatty foods in case any gall bladders out there are considering becoming irritable.

2) Be proactive. Figure out how to insert the phrase, Buy my book into every sentence you utter or wear a t-shirt with an ad for your book on it and pepper your interview with sneezes that sound curiously like "Available at" "Now in Paperback!" "My Book's Title" excuse me Katie or whatever the name of the host of the morning show of the moment is, "is Rebel without a Minivan" Then apologize. "Oh, Katie, I'm so sorry, I suffer from uncontrolable sneezing fits that sound curiously like plugs for my new book which I know you're anxious to tell the viewing public about."

3) Create controversy by igniting the pyrotechnical blogosphere. ...Obama and Palin have a secret love child, currently living in Hope, Arkansas with the Clintons! Make up a few bonus websites to collaborate your rumors. They'll pop up within minutes anyway.

4) Crowd the set. Move your chair over two feet to ensure your legs are more prominent than the hostess. Use your arms to practically hug the screen and if necessary, stand up on your chair a'la Tom Cruise. It's good TV and will be Youtubed for decades to come.

5) Give incomprehensible answers. "So, you're a mother of three..." "Well, I studied the migration patterns of trumpeter swans when I was seven so I felt it wouldn't be difficult to start my own business and needed cheap labor."

Tracy take care, peace and know that you have fans in cyberspace that didn't need the plug to know 1) you're a lovely person and 2) a very funny writer.. Sorry it wasn't what it could have been, should have been.

P.S. That third phantom kid might make for good comedic fodder too.

Here's my plug for you.
Tracy Beckerman

P.S. I plug me!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

All Hail the Queen

This morning, my 17 month old decided it was time to take the gloves off and deal with her older sister who up to that point, had a chaotic love/destroy relationship with her. If the baby had a cookie, apple or bottle she wanted, Miss Chief would march over and take it or illustrate "sharing." while coopting the lion's share if not the whole treat in it's entirety. If the baby had a toy she coveted, she'd lure the baby into the next room, grab the toy and run up the stairs where her sister could not yet follow.

Patrolling to protect the youngest from her more assertive older sibling wasn't deterring the older from these tactics. But today, September 9, 2008, the littlest one declared her autonomy and her authority. Putting a tierra on her head, she marched into the kitchen to demand breakfast.

I put her in her high chair and toasted a few waffles. Miss Chief had already consumed her toasted breakfast but saw that there was more food available and went to pounce on her sister's serving. The Queen was having none of it. She grabbed her food and called out. Miss Chief had never encountered true resistance before. Now she wanted that waffle. She reached again. Her sister bopped her hand with her tiny fist and began eating quickly. Seperating the utterly baffled Miss Chief from her triumphant younger sister, Miss Chief tried feeling hurt to get what she wanted. "She hit me! My little sister hit me!"

"You were stealing her waffle. You can't eat her food." Seeing she had no ally in me, Miss Chief stomped off to plot her next move. Five minutes later, she returned to try and take the crown. The Queen had finished her breakfast and was dancing in the kitchen, trying to grab the sounds of the French Horn from the air. (Rudy was playing on the CD). But the crown was even more important than the waffles, and the Queen ran faster than I have ever seen a 17 month old move to guard her finery.

Miss Chief considered this continental shift in power that had just taken place.

She went downstairs where we keep all the toys. For 20 minutes, I heard happy sounds of playing. Miss Chief returned wearing a crown and cape, her arm around the youngest princess' shoulder. They each held a barbie septre and the eyes were shining with the secrets that only two toddler sisters can share. Miss Chief had raided the pantry and procured a bag of oreos, the crumbs of which smeared their happy cheeks.

It was clear, an alliance had been struck.

My life just got exponentially more complicated. May have to outlaw collusion.

For humor that doesn't involve power struggles of an epic!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Deer At Home on the Range

I used to think seeing the deer in our backyard was romantic. I was a victim of having seen Bambi and read the Yearling as a child. Then my son got Lyme disease. It took the whole summer to diagnose and was very painful. Watching my son receive shots and IV’s for weeks, those deer morphed into very large rodents in my eyes, bringing the equivalent of the black plague into my home in the form of a poppy seed sized insect. I combed over my children like a crazed chimp after a day of play for any signs of the critters and am proud to say I have pulled off more than ten in my careful searches.

Two more children caught Lyme disease in the following year, but we saw the bulls eyes around the bites and promptly got antibiotics. The problem was the deer rendered our half acre lot a constant danger for outdoor play. We needed to send Bambi and his friends packing.

We tried spraying “Deer Be Gone” on the bushes, but truthfully, I felt I could almost hear the does saying, “Oh look honey,” to their favorite bucks, “The Italian restaurant is putting out a new vinaigrette on the Hosta, we should go to Antonetti’s tonight.” Those bushes always seemed to get munched first.

Psychological warfare didn’t work either, for the month of July, we bar-b-qued every night. I wanted the smell of smoked meat to permeate the woods adjacent to us as if to warn them, “Carnivores live here.”

Assembling the family, we instituted “The Call.” If anyone saw a deer on our property, they were to yell, as loud as they could, “DEER!” and everyone young and old would stop what they were doing and make a charge out the back door at the creatures, screaming a’la Braveheart style and waving their arms. The deer would startle a bit and move on in a leisurely fashion as if to say, “How rude, we were eating here.”

Our collective charge had the emotional weight of someone talking on a cell phone at a restaurant. They couldn’t quite blow us off, but it was close. We tried using pots and pans and toy drums and instruments. My son’s trombone playing didn’t even require a cautious head raise by the lead doe. When he finished blasting out the Notre Dame Victory March, the deer casually walked out of our yard with scarcely a tail flick.

“Must be Michigan fans.” I thought.

We needed a battle plan.

Watching some nature show with my children, inspiration struck. Using branches that had fallen during a thunderstorm the prior weekend, my oldest son and I tied them antler style to the front grill of our Suburban. That weekend we waited eagerly for the Deer to arrive.

It was Saturday morning, 7:11 am, when the unfortunate buck stepped out of the forsythia to get some morning blueberries, freshly planted. I was in the kitchen starting breakfast and writing up the schedule for the day when I saw him. He was a picture perfect 8 point buck, straight out of the Disney studios, standing against the yellow blossoms, eating my berry bushes. I got my car keys and sneakers and stole out to the big blue SUV. I got in quietly. I buckled up. I turned on the ignition with a roar. The deer looked up, alert.

I swung the car into gear and drove onto the grass, flashing my lights, antlers waving and beeping my horn. That deer practically flew out of the place. I could also hear the satisfying thicket crunching sounds of many of his friends clearing out. “There’s a New buck in town.” I crowed at the fleeing pests, as I got out and patted my car. “Mine are bigger than yours!” I sang as I took the branches off my car and proceeded to do a victory lap around the back, wearing the branches like a crown.

My husband took the opportunity to re-park the car. “I’m sure that was against the Home Owner’s Association rules.” He said quietly.

Okay, so it probably was a bit over the top and the deer have since returned in force, unimpressed by my more creative antics. Recently, I gained perspective on the whole situation. My brother-in-law bought a house and the painter that was putting finishing touches on one of the rooms called him because a large black bear was grazing about his back yard. Suddenly, the deer seem pretty benign to me. I may not love them, but I can live with them. Nothing brings about peace like some third party with a bigger stick.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Little Bits

Every night, before we go to bed, one of us makes a patrol to make sure all lights are out, no one is conducting a midnight comic book marathon binge, and that any electronic equipment is turned off. The other day, it was my husband’s turn, and all was well as he approached the last room, the room of our two toddlers, the R& R girls, Rest and Relaxation…what we don’t get.

Rest had cried out.

Tucking in Rest, Relaxation rolled over and opened one eye. “It’s not my fault.” She said and fell back into deep sleep.

Only four weeks left of pregnancy and I’ve discovered that language is something I need to monitor. At dinner, I mentioned I had felt a contraction. My third grader looked at me puzzled. I asked him if he knew what a contraction was.

He looked disgusted at the question, “Of course I do, it’s where you use an apostrophe to shorten two words, like can’t.” He then asked me how I could feel a contraction and I decided I couldn’t. “Figure of speech.” I said.

Just not ready for any further discussion about that, or at least, not at dinner.

This week John McCain nominated Sara Palin to be his Vice Presidential candidate and my husband took four of our girls to see her speak in Pennsylvania. My husband had shown them pictures on the internet of Palin with her children. While there, my fiver (I guess I should call her sixer now but Fiver fits her personality better), called me on the cell, her voice filled with joy. “Mommy! Daddy took us to Pennsylvania and we saw the President and she looks just like she does on your computer!”

A question I get asked every day by someone out in public, "How do you do it?" I didn't realize how jaded I'd become until one of my daughters, the (Sixer), answered for me. "Well, she divides us into the sentients and non sentients, she has us each do chores. She makes us clean for a whole hour on Sunday."

"Do you get allowance for that?" the older woman asked as she listened intently.
"Yes. We hold a wolf council and everyone howls and we light the wolf candle and she gives out our money for the week. Plus we vote for the kid of the week. I never get it."

"Uh, excuse me, you won it last week."
"Oh yeah. I forget."

By this point, the woman was moving on...but my daughter kept going. For the next ten minutes as we grocery shopped, she laid out every system we had ever created in an attempt to manage our horde. People knew we made menus on Sunday, had individual laundry bins, breakfast for dinner one night of the week, two nights of pasta and Sundaes on Sunday.

I considered saying to her, "Dim your lights." but so far, I haven't the nerve.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Expert

Sometimes I need to stretch other writing skills so I write flash fiction via the Absolutewrite forum --they give topics every Sunday Night at 9:00 pm. You have one hour to create a piece. This was my most successful piece; the topic given, "The Expert." Enjoy.

This is crazy.” Susan said to herself, “But you need help. You’ll never make it through today if you don’t.” she answered herself. Practically, she had examined the schedule and with her husband out of town and her oldest required to play in a high school concert or be docked two grades, there was no avoiding the obligation. She didn’t want to bring a toddler and a newborn plus two older children to a building where every squeal would be super amplified. It was a great opportunity for her son to be sure, to play at the Kennedy Center, and it wasn’t that she hadn’t tried to secure a babysitter, but people looked at the number of children involved and got very busy with their schedules. The woman had stopped her at church to say to call if she ever needed help, and pressed the paper into her hand.

Unfolding the paper, Susan dialed the number. “Hello?” a male voice answered, he sounded annoyed or at the very least, stressed. “Can I speak to Anne?” Susan asked. “One moment.” The male voice had switched to business professional.

“Hello?” a sort of familiar voice came on the phone. “Hello Anne, this is Susan. You gave me your phone number to call if I need help.”
“Yes. Yes. Yes. I’m so glad you called. What can I do for you?”

Susan poured out the whole insane schedule to Anne who was properly sympathetic to the craziness of it all. “What time do you need me?” Grateful for the rescue, Susan promised to order pizza and have the kids ready for bed to make it easier. “It’s a good thing you caught me today, tomorrow my husband and I fly to Chicago.”

“Oh. To see family or see an exhibit?” Susan asked, she loved Chicago and always liked hearing about people going there.

“No. “ Anne’s voice softened. “My oldest daughter is struggling with depression and we’re flying there to help her. She’s seeing things that aren’t there.”

“Oh!” Susan felt a hammer on her heart, just thinking about the amount of pain in that simple statement. “I will pray for you.” Susan said.
“Thank you. I’ll be at your home tonight at six.”

Susan took out her rosary and began the familiar prayers. “Rain on the heavens with the rosary.” She thought. “I need my brother.” She thought of her long deceased brother that had lost his battle with madness on Earth. “You know the pain you caused Mom, see if you can talk some sense into this woman’s daughter.”

And somewhere in Chicago, a hung over woman brushing her teeth in her apartment had a vision of a cigarette smoking skinny black haired boy with an avenging naked red headed arch angel tattoo on his left arm. He took a long drag and then he looked her straight in the face, his blood shot eyes matching hers. “You don’t want to go down this dark road.” He said and flicked some ashes. “Trust me, I’m an expert.” Then he faded from her view and her memory, leaving only the whiff of air where someone had been smoking.

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