Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I'm currently trying to hide from one of my children. We are engaged in a subtle form of Keep away.  She doesn't know I'm it.  It's not anything psychological or emotional; it's just she has an idea, a vision she wants to enact and it involves me.  She wants to paint my nails.

Now I am not a nail polish kind of gal.  I didn't like it in high school and I still don't care for it now.  Even pedicures which I don't mind and actually need to keep my feet in shape, I would prefer without the paint bit at the end.  It's not just I hate the smell. I hate the sound of the emory board scraping the nails.  I don't like the pushing of the cuticles with little wooden punts or the pushing and cutting and trimming --I can't watch; even reading about how it is done kind of creeps me out.  But worst of all, you have to sit still for at least 20 minutes after the final coat to keep from having it look tacky and nasty within minutes.  Twenty minutes.

Do you know what could happen to my house in 20 minutes if I weren't able to use my hands to intervein?  I don't and frankly I'm scared to find out.  On top of that, I just don't sit still for 20 minutes anyway. Even as a student, sitting in a class, my leg would be bouncing under the desk or I'd be doodling while following the text or taking notes, I don't single task anything and so stillness, forced stillness is the most stressful thing I can imagine. At the hairdresser's, where other people relax when their locks are being brushed and dried and styled, I'm thinking "Okay, I've been here, my hair is cut let's go I'm done." I even twitch, talk and thrash around in my sleep.  You'll know I'm dead when I stop moving long enough for someone to do my hair properly.   

But my daughter bought beautiful sparkly pink nail polish with her own money and after I showed her how to use it, she reasoned, I would love it too.   I begged off the first day because as I explained, I needed my hands to do the dishes, feed the baby, bathe the children and get them dressed for bed.   The second day, I pointed out we didn't have time because we had swimming lessons.  

The third day, she helped with dinner and used paper plates.  I thought I was cornered until she couldn't find her nail polish.  I promise I didn't hide it.   I did use the opportunity to explain that people like to pick their own colors.  "Well," she said, "You could buy your own tomorrow when we go shopping." I couldn't see a way out so I mumbled that I'd try to remember.  She left a note reminding me on my pillow.  She called while I was out shopping to ask what color I'd picked.  Grudgingly, I went to the makeup aisle and picked a shade.

So tomorrow, it's happening.  I surrender.  My fingers will be a soft coral if all goes as anticipated.  I know it will bring her joy to paint my fingers.  If I'm going to be stuck for 20 minutes, I might has well make the best of it.  Wonder if she'd be interested in cutting my hair as well. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Did I say that?

Memo: My computer is being retooled. (stupid virus).  That leaves me precious little time on the old machine.  Thus, you get a microwaved frozen leftover re-run from last summer. (Originally run on July 17, 2009). But, if you didn't read it last year, it's new to you. Enjoy!

“Don’t put stickers on the car door!”

“You shouldn’t play the piano with a toothbrush.”

“Please, give me the hammer back…Now!”

There are sentences that need no other explanation in the civilized world other than to say, “I am a parent.” Usually, they translate as imperatives that for all sentient beings, would never need be spoken.

Yet I have begun collecting them as samples of what my offspring require to survive 24 hours in my care. While on the phone with my brother, I heard similar utterances from him at his three children. “Put that down! Stop running into the window!” I started to laugh until I had to shout, “Don’t sit on the baby!” Now it was his turn, but we both recognized conversation was impossible and hung up.

My friends started giving me samples too. “What are you doing?” to a teenager stuffing an entire tortilla into his mouth in one swoop at ten minutes to six as she was serving dinner. “Who told you you could color your arm purple?” from a kindergarten mom. (It was picture day at school). “It’s a free dress day. I don’t have to wear my uniform.” was the child’s explanation. My personal favorite was “You made dinner?” from a third mother who said she’s still finding sauce stains in her kitchen from her fifth grader's experiment.

What is unsaid and unexplained about raising children often transcends what stories are told. Part of the omission is from personal shame. We can’t explain why our child had a three gallon water bottle in the middle of his room. We asked. He didn’t want to get up in the middle of the night to go the extra five feet to his bathroom sink to get a drink. We still don’t understand.

Part of it is the dim recognition that too much truth may be unbearable. Yes, she colored on the piano with a permanent black marker. Yes, he hid dirty clothes in a drawer until they fermented. Yes the toddler took a bite out of a tomato because she thought it was an apple and spiked the offending vegetable onto the newly clean floor. The amount of labor and property damage in those three sentences alone may be enough to doom the human race if universally disseminated.

When I asked my mom about these sorts of odd phrases that were coming out of my mouth as correctives of my children, she laughed and explained everything. “I told you about that when you were a kid...” “What was that? Mom? Hold on. Sweetie, stop squirting the instant mop on the wooden floor. Don’t pull your brother on a towel…”

“Mommmmm, we were playing sled.”

"What was that Mom?"

“See dear, you just weren’t listening.” My Mom answered over the phone.

It may be a dodge, but it’s a good dodge. I’m keeping it for when my kids have kids.

P.S. Today I said, and meant with all my heart, "Don't throw the cat at the chandelier." Son was tossing his beanie baby in the empty dining room and it got stuck. It's like they're secretly reading these posts!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Real World Jobs

Yesterday, we were expecting company from out of town for dinner and I had nothing we could legitimately serve.   So, after dropping off my daughter at the orthodontist to get her braces off, I scurried to the local store to get the needed supplies.   When I walked in the store, there sat a young man in a wheel chair.  He reminded me of one of my students from a far away time when I was Ms. Green and taught multi-handicapped high school kids.  He was wearing an apron from the store but turned away from the door, staring at nothing in particular and seeing no one in particular. 

I tried to give eye contact and said "Hi!" He contorted himself trying to turn towards me, but the angle was too much.  I waved and looked around.  A young man was leaning against a stack of water bottles talking on his phone.  I guessed he was the job coach. 

Now as a rule, I know from Special ed, you try to not help as much as possible on a job site, to let the student anticipate and solve problems because the goal is self sufficiency.  But anyone looking knew this was a made up job that had no prospect of being self sufficient and that both the coach and the trainee were bored out of their minds and not actually being present.

Walking up and down the aisles, through the bread, the pasta, the cereal, the meat, I kept coming back into view of the young man in the wheelchair and the coach still on the phone.  I kept thinking about how the philosophy of Special Ed so often got dropped when practicality showed up.  Any job was a good job and better than nothing. I felt mad that this student was sitting bored in a store. This "job" might be what people considered an opportunity for people like my son.  Work sites for people like this young man, like my former students were hard to come by. 

I remembered as a teacher with four kids with Cerebral palsy and severely atrophied muscle mass like this young man asking why we weren't taking these folks to the pool every day to stretch them out and help their muscles relax and release when there was a Y just next door?  It would require too much effort on the part of staff. Wouldn't that be age appropriate in the summer?  No.  Kids their age worked so we had to simulate work.  On one occasion when I pointed out no one pays for simulated work and that it was a waste to pay people to supervise simulated work when we could be doing actual work helping the kids do actual things that would actually benefit I got nowhere.  "You're young and idealistic." I was told.

We had to keep them in a simulated workshop putting caps on pens.  "Why did they need to put caps on pens?" I asked.  It didn't have to be pens I was told, but this was repetitive, it was a possible task, definable, measurable.  A fellow teaching assistant and graduate student chimed in, and said it was stupid, meaningless, boring and unnecessary especially when it meant we had to go to the next room where they couldn't see us undoing all their "work." Inclusion was nice in theory but reality always seemed to require preconditions of somehow not having or appearing to have the handicapping condition. 

I didn't want my son or any child to face unreal work with the equally imaginary benefits.  I believe in inclusion and in meaningful work.  I believe people are included when they do meaningful work.  I also believe if one can't do meaningful work, then the work done to provide comfort and integration should be meaningful play or recreation or therapy.  Surely there was something in between the no effort of this show job and the too much apparently required of a fully immersion based recreation program.  There must be something that is closer to acknowledging the reality of this person's disability (he can't do what they've assigned him to do) and the equally important reality that he interact and be brought into the larger community. 

What this type of job assignment revealed was a dearth of imagination, coupled with good intentions and zero expectations of any outcome or improvement.   I'm no longer young on this point, but I still think if we aren't shooting for the ideal, why are we wasting our time having ideals at all?

Walking through the aisles I wondered what to do.  Should I say something?  Why did I feel compelled to say something? Why did I have to have to have to say something?  I knew I was going to.  Why did it have to be me? "You have the degree and the background and you see it and you will see it again with your own son if you don't." was the answer. "But it might just be the end of a shift. It might be a down day. The kid might be sick or tired or the coach might be a sub." All my excuses weren't enough for me as I came by the sixth aisle, the young man still motionless and facing the ads of a Chevy Chase bank, the coach checking his blackberry.  I knew I was going to say something.  Go back up the aisle Sherry.  Prayers. Prayers. Prayers.  What if this were my son?  the question burned.  Darn it.  I'm going to have to say something.    

Then I saw just the man in the wheelchair, no coach.  This made me nervous so I went to the young man and said, "Hi there! Who is with you?" presuming that I had made a mistake in thinking the other person was his coach.  In bounded the job coach from outside,  "I'm here.  I didn't leave him.  I just went outside to place a call."  

"I've seen you calling.  You've been on the phone the whole time I've been in the store." 
"I'm trying to arrange transport.  He's a greeter."
"Well he's not facing the people who come in the store."
"Well I can't take him outside, the heat would kill him."
"He's inside, he's still not greeting anyone."
"No one is in the store to greet."
"I came in the store.  He didn't greet me.  There are other people.  You didn't notice them because you're on the phone. He can't notice them because he's facing the wrong way."

He talked about how hard it was to get Metro to come in a timely fashion.  Now this I knew to be true but still, pointed out that the student was obviously bored and that defeated the purpose of having him be out in the community greeting. 

He then motioned for me to walk away with him for a few minutes to talk.  "I'll be right back with you  in a minute buddy okay?" he said in an over enthusiastic tone I suspect for my benefit.  The young man turned a bit and made a noise.

Then in hushed tones like he was disclosing state secrets, the coach explained, "I can't talk about his condition because of state regulations." 

"I don't need you to talk about his condition.  I can tell he has CP, some ataxia, atrophied and frozen limbs, paraplegic and non verbal."

"He's also Chinese, so their culture doesn't always mean they greet or socialize willingly. I've been working with him and his family here at this site for him for three years."  That thought frightened me.  Three years of boredom, three years of staring at walls waiting for someone to talk to him, three years of pretending that this was somehow therapeutic.   Doubts moved into my brain, "Why are you bringing this up?" my hyper critical self was starting in.  But the student looked bored and did not move his head when several people walked in, and that sealed it.  If in three years, he had not come to instantly respond when the cue of a someone coming in  the door to offer a greeting, it was not likely to suddenly start occurring, background culture or no.    

"I don't know about all that, I do know that his sitting staring at nothing as a greeter, doesn't help him and doesn't make you look good."   He apologized, repeatedly thanking me for my concern, and understanding where I was coming from and went back to his spot near the student.  He re-angled the wheelchair so the student faced the entrance and pointed in a manner too animatedly at the next person who happened in the door.   Better.  Nothing to get excited about, but better.

My time was short for shopping so I had to rush through the rest of it.  When I finally checked out, the coach and his charge had left.  The thing is, students get this sort of non job job all the time. It's hard in this economy for students with even only moderate to mild disabilities who are verbal and physically ambulatory and self sufficient to find actual jobs.  Part of it is we are still trying to shake of the old model of simulated workshops found even at graduate school training sites. We still think simulated jobs somehow equal dignity and actual jobs.  We still think inclusion means simply the students aren't locked up and hidden. 

Having a handicapped student act as a feel good prop to a store isn't a job.  Watching a student act as a feel good prop to a store isn't much of a job either.   It's unfair to the students to give them these jobs they cannot do which perpetually frustrate or eventually bore. It's also unfair to the coaches who must sit or stand and facilitate something in perpetuity. They'd both be better served for the Metro bus to take them to the library to either hear a story read or have the coach read to, to go to the Starbucks in the grocery store and split a muffin, to field trip to the pool once a week for exercise and maybe go to a free concert at lunch via mass transit once a month like real people with real jobs and lives might do once in a while.  Inclusion means living, relationships, real stuff like errands, like friends, like eye contact and conversation.  These are not found in staring at the wrong wall when strangers walk by or a room where the work is undone as soon as it is finished.

Maybe we should stop pretending this unideal situation for people with disabilities is the best approximation we can make of what we profess to hold true, that inclusion matters.   Maybe we should start aiming for something higher than tokenism, symbolic work or simulated work.  It isn't enough to park a kid in front of a door and act like a crazed loon to encourage the student to give eye contact every time someone comes in, and it isn't enough to park a kid in front of a door of a place and presume if a the kid makes a sound when someone walks through that they've "greeted" the customers. 

Neither is a true assessment of what is taking place or of what one hopes will occur as an outcome.  What we want, is these handicapped individuals to be viewed as individuals worth knowing and with lives that have zest and fun and relationships in them that matter.  We want people to say, "Hey Eddie," or "Hi John" when they walk in the door and see their friend who greets people.  Honestly, if I'd seen the kid loving greeting everyone that came in the door, I'd full on shop there just to see that moment of joy; but here was the dullest form of dutiful drudgery being mistaken for charity and outreach and being maintained under the theory that it was inclusive and a job.   It was as real as the workshop here you put the caps on the pens task.   They can do it but so what?

I don't have a perfect solution or answer other than if it feels fake, it probably is and shouldn't be acceptable; that at least, these jobs should not be considered better than nothing.  These jobs were nothing but well intentioned nothing.  

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What would Rick from Casablanca Do?

I don't know why I didn't post this back when it was written, I think the actual electoral process was too surreal to add anything, but it's funny and so I give you a freshly thawed archive from the election cycle that was 2008. 

You Must Remember This...

The political landscape continues to grow more confusing with each and every primary. Ergo, being American, we need a quick fix, an easy way to discern who is the right person, man or woman, for the most powerful job on Earth? I have the solution.

W.W. R. B. D?

What would Richard Blain, American Do? To answer this probing question, via the miracle of Forest Gump like technology and the blogosphere, we located Richard Blain of Casablanca at his Cafe American. He agreed to a short interview to answer some key questions for the voting public.

Me: What political party are you affiliated with?

Rick: I’m a drunkard.

Me: That makes you eligible for both parties, I’ll put you down as independent.

Me: On the subject of terrorism, you know about what is happening in the world. Who do you think will win the war?

Rick: I haven't the slightest idea.

Me: We are looking for a chance, looking for a leader. Can you imagine Guilliani as President? Can he take Florida?

Rick: Well there are certain parts of Miami I wouldn't advise him to invade.

Me: What about the economy?
Rick: We can last. In the meantime, everyone stays on salary. A bribe might work, it has before.

Me: Do you think the handshake deal between Congress and the current president will hold?
Rick: Certainly not! But since they’re in a hurry, the stimulus package will have to do.

Me: What about Hillary? I know you were never interested in any woman other than Ilsa, can she be President?
Rick: She’s not just any woman, but we went all over this with her husband. It's no deal.

Me: What about Edwards, Ron Paul and Romney? Do you despise them?
Rick: If I gave them any thought I would.

Me: But that leaves Huckabee, Obama, Hillary, Guilliani and McCain. How are we supposed to pick from this field. It's a crazy world, anything can happen.

Rick: Don't you ever wonder if it's worth it? I mean what you're fighting for?

Me: It was your cause too! In your own way…

Rick: I'm the only cause I'm interested in now. So I'll make you a counter offer. Instead of these petty candidates, suppose you put up a politician who really says what he or she means, that would be quite a coup for the USA wouldn't it?

Me: Yes it would, the Voters would be very grateful.

Rick: Then write in me. The republicans will eat their own, Hill and Bill get away, and the third party will help eliminate at last, all these petty annoyances.

Me: Why would you run?

Rick: Why not? The candidates make fictional narratives about their lives as part of the vetting process, why not put up an entirely fictional character for a candidate? At least then, the voters would know what they’re getting. They wouldn’t be “shocked. Shocked! To find corruption everywhere.”

Me: Why are you so interested in what happens to us?
Rick: I'm not. Your business is politics, mine is running a saloon, but I am interested in what happens to me.

Me: You? But what makes you think something would happen to you?
Rick: smoking a cigarette. I run a bar. I smoke. I serve liquor, I foster gambling. I'm in love with another man's wife, and I'm only a poor business man. I also happen to represent America at its best in cinematic fairy tales.

Me: You sound like most of the politicians in the race.

Rick: Sherry I don't want to shoot you but I will if you say one more word. You call the press and tell them I’m running for President and remember, this gun is aimed straight at your blog.

Me: That is my least vulnerable spot.

Call the press, round up the usual suspects!This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship…”


Small Success Thursday

What matters is always what should always matter.  Little things.  Great love.  So this week's Thursday Small Successses are very small indeed but I'm working on it.

1) Went to Bed Bath and Beyond and Walmart, had container fever. Got bookshelves for the little girls' room so we can showcase all the books they want read at bedtime.  Got two memory bins to cover Paul and Regina's pictures.  Got a filing cabinet and consolidated all of the taxes.  Bought a CD catalog case to put away all the CD's that have lost their original cases.  Now I have to use all these things.

2) Plumber came and fixed upstairs shower and basement sink. Yeah. Both are working again.

3) Driving lessons, swimming, Karate and tutoring all proceeding according to schedule and I haven't collapsed.

4) Had friends from out of town over last night, it was fun but way too late.

5) Got daughter to orthodontist (yes the appointment I forgot two weeks ago) on time. Her smile is beautiful.

6)  My brother and his dog survived a fire that destroyed everything else.  My cup is full.

7) Surprise today, opened the Catholic Standard to find a piece I wrote and submitted two weeks ago, published!  It's not yet online or I'd put a link.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How to Respond to Tragedy

Yesterday, lightning struck a tree next to the row of homes and a fire started at my brother's house. Neighbors who were home began banging on everyone's doors.  The fire grew and intensified.  The Fire department was called.   But flooding waters and Houston traffic (which is always bad), hampered response time. 

One of the neighbors called my brother who was sitting at a Starbucks preparing to call our Dad to wish him a happy birthday.  Dan owns a large four year old mutt of a dog named Chester (short for Chesterson), who was kenneled in the town home. He immediately hopped back in his car and began what should have been a 5-15 minute drive even with heavy traffic. We were driving home from canceled swimming lessons in a nasty rain/hail storm.  My sister called to tell me Dan was trapped in traffic and that possibly Chester was being burned in the house.  My kids prayed and we added a special intention to Saint Francis to look after Uncle Dan's dog.   I confess, I was not optimistic.  But we prayed and waited.  

Meanwhile, my brother was stuck in maddening traffic owing to floods caused by the storm that started the fire.  Traffic lights were out.  Roads were closed.  Water was high.  The whole trip, my brother was anxious and worried and praying.  His dog Chester was trapped.  Was he already dead? Was he choking and dying alone?  My brother said on the news, he had a panic attack about Chester.  So what did he do?  He prayed.  He prayed and prayed and prayed.  He told my mom that on route home in the midst of all that worry, knowing everything he owned in addition to his dog was being consumed by fire, he saw a woman with her car broken down in the middle of the road.  

Her voice trembled as she told me what happened next.  He got out.  "I can't help Ches but I can help her." he said he was thinking.   He helped push the car to the side of the road and then drove on.  When he got to his home, there was Chester sitting being hugged by the fireman that saved him.   My sister took Ches to the vet for a check up because he was wheezing and coughing up blood.   Friends took my brother in, and there have been already, many offers of help, and I know the hard road to recovery starts today.

But the bottom line is, while everything was destroyed, my brother is safe, no one was hurt. Chester is doing better, and while my brother lost everything he owned, he is a very rich man indeed.   I'm gushing because I can't but admit I'm very proud of him.  I don't know if I in the midst of a profound agony, uncertainty and doubt, could see an other, a stranger and accept the grace to stop to help. 

Chester and the fireman who rescued him.

Take care Dan.  Prayers.  Love you from Maryland.  
Proud to be your sister.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

Today is Father's Day.  My Father continues to live out his vocation with each of his children.  Dad still jokes on the phone. He still listens to our troubles.  He still occasionally for no reason, sends a note and usually a few bills or a check with the closing, "Love and prayers, Daddy."  He still offers me books I have no capacity to comprehend but which I keep hoping one day to understand and he still prays for each and every one of us daily. 

Fathers get a bad rap these days as being unnecessary by modern thinkers.  But I'm betting those modern thinkers ache in their hearts to have those moments Dads, real dads are famous for: grilling food in the winter, organizing football games even when none of the kids are in the mood and marshalling everyone outside for what turns into a weekly event and quiet points with walks in the woods or fishing.  Fathers are those guys that teach their children knock knock jokes and then spend the next twenty minutes listening to their offspring butcher the delivery, invent new punch lines and still, they really laugh. 

I can't imagine trying to fill the space my husband would leave behind if he weren't present in my children's lives.  He stays up past 12 playing games with the three that love cards.  He signs our middle daughter up for softball and goes to every weekend game just for her.  He makes the brothers and sisters bring their instruments to basketball games and play during time outs and drives us to civil war battle fields and gives the historical accounts with fuller detail than the museum.  Listening to their father sing at mass is one of my favorite moments once a week.  It models for every one of them, how much they should participate and lo, the boys who were muttering along are now singing.  

When things are squabbly, he lays down the law with lines like, "Peace through work." and the subsequent assignment of cleaning out the garage, trimming the hedges and pulling weeds or folding clothes.  He invented the wolf council --where the kids howl and assemble and allowances are given and family announcements are made and the laundry system which would work if anyone followed it.   And he prays for each of his children and for me every day.  It takes a decade to get to us all. 

So happy Father's day to my love, to the father of  all my children and to my Father, who helped shape the person I became and model the type of man I should seek and to my Father-in-law, who shaped the man I fell in love with, with his love of history, dedication to his family and willingness to play summers full of whiffle ball and cards with his sons.  I am blessed by all of you.  Love, Sherry  

Survival of the Dullest

It’s summer. We’re going on vacation and once again, it’s near my birthday. Every year I suffer from the annual temptation to prove I’m just as big an idiot as I sometimes know that I am.

On my thirty ninth birthday, we went to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. My husband and I took turns staring at the Top Thrill Dragster, a 420 foot high monster that essentially launched its cars and halpless passengers with air craft carrier type precision. We’d take the kids to the mini coaster and the log flume and come back to stare. We got food and drinks and took in a show but we came back just to look. At some moment, we became desensitized to the fear factor and began to mention the idea of each of us having a go. We’d laugh and demand to know who was going first. The danger point was when we were walking back from the haunted house. My husband noticed, “The line’s not that long.” The ride had suffered a malfunction and so people had cleared out. I’d just worked up the nerve to get in line when we discovered, the car with people in it was stuck suspended 374 feet up and just now getting freed to come back down. Cowardice or sanity, take your pick, it prevailed and I did not proclaim my foolishness or temporarily gain back my youth by defying death as a result.

At 40, my annual danger lust sought again to be sated when the local sporting goods store put up a climbing wall. I so wanted to climb it but I was six months pregnant and even extreme sporting good stores it seems, have limits. My husband breathed a sigh of relief. I told him I’d be back next year but the place closed that part of the store down for some reason.  At 42, I got roller blades.  Nuff said.

My desire for something beyond the ordinary occasionally allows me to sometimes impress my children, like when I dive off the high dive or do stand up. Weirding them out I think is an equally desired reaction. It has also resulted in the occasional trip to the emergency room, like after I tried to do the monkey bars at 32. However my carefree spirit conflicts with my equally natural maternal instincts which scream No! when my sons or daughters propose engaging in reckless activity like wanting to take the metro to downtown DC to catch a movie, biking to the 7-11 for ice cream or proposing a roadtrip with friends to California after graduation.

The “AHhhhhhhhh are you NUTS?” gene activates and their somewhat show-offy daredevil mom becomes the safety first and always and only mommy. Regardless of my own predilections to court danger, I’m not about to oblige my children’s wilder sides. Why not?  Because I'm the Mommy that's why.  Because I like their insides inside of them and their outsides just the way they are. They can risk their necks once they’re middle aged like me and they’re someone else’s worry.

This year, we’re going to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for a family reunion. Our family has vacationed here before. When last we visited, there was a pending attraction, the Zorb. For the uninitiated, Zorb is the latest import from New Zealand designed to kill off much of the existing population between the ages of 11 and well, I’m turning 44. It has the added bonus of being legal. The Zorbonaut or victim (take your pick), is strapped into a plastic clear globe inside of another plastic clear globe. For variety’s sake, you can opt for a wet or dry Zorb run. The wet one has the added bonus of water in the outside globe and being shot down one of two water flume tracks so the rolling and drowning occur within a controlled setting. In the dry scenario, you add the bonus of random gravity as you are thrown down a cliff/hill and left to bounce until you stop or die whichever comes first. I can readily attest to the absolute idiocy of paying to potentially die, drown, become a broken pile of bones or paralyzed in the name of fun. I must also concede the siren like call of this thrill ride is not without appeal.

In the meantime, my shrewd husband uses my dual nature to his advantage and my long term viability. In planning for this trip, having seen my eyes gleam as I mentioned, “Zorb is up and running,” and in an effort to make sure he isn’t suddenly a widower with nine children, he’s shown the promos from the web for Zorb to my oldest four. They all now desperately want to go. That sly dog just guaranteed I’ll be pool side reading books the whole week even if my life insurance is paid up. It just goes to show, you marry what you need and the species survives.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Guaranteed “No’s”

I say yes to a lot of things. Some people, including my husband, would say I say yes too often to too many. Running the fall Festival even though the carnival is the due date of the baby? (2008) Yes. Swimming and Driving lessons that happen congruently. (2010)Yes. Catholic school for the top six? Yes. But big and small, there are some questions that will ensure a negative answer every time. The following is by no means an exhaustive list from only the last 24 hours:

20) Can I have my own computer?

19) Can I have your computer?

18) I want ice cream for breakfast.

17) Can I go to the midnight showing of Toy Story III? Me too! Me Too! Me Too! What about me? (No. No. No. NO. No).

16) After a day of swimming complete with dinner at the pool (chicken fingers, fries, funnel cake and lemonade), upon returning home, “Can I have dessert?”

15) My friend got her ears pierced when she was two. I’m eight…

14) Can I buy a skateboard and a ramp?

13) Do you think we could get a dog?

12) Can I have a tv in my room?

11) Why don’t I have a cell phone?

10) Could I have a stereo?

9) Can we buy a used car?

8) I really really really want another smore. (had 2 and 1/2).

7) Can I ride on the bumper of the van when you drive up?

6) Could I put my sister in the recycling bin and pull her up like a ride?

5) Could I get private lessons to become an Olympic ice dancer?

4) Can I wear this dress? (Christmas velvet long sleeved and outgrown way too short). I really love it.

3) Could I have my own room?

2) Can I use your bathroom?

1) And the number 1 question guaranteed to get a “No” regardless of when, where or how it is asked: Hey Mom! When I graduate, can me and five of my friends drive across country to the Comic book conference in San Diego, CA?

Small Success Thursday

This week of little victories included:

1) massive cleaning effort of the upstairs.  Three rooms down! 
2) the beginning of driving lessons and swimming lessons and karate.  All kids have something to do and man am I glad.
3) worked on Helen for 6 days straight.  Missed yesterday.
4) worked out four days straight. Hope to make it five today.

5) The week had been full of strife and struggle, with the weariness of not having a routine taking it's natural toll on the kids adjusting to life full time at home.  (They're a bit quarrelsome). As a result, the older kids had monopolized Mom time until yesterday when I took Regina to the doctors to treat her skin rash that had begun to get out of control.  Going to the pediatrician's with just one was a quiet experience.  Regina chatted happily at me about the birds in the sky and asked me if any of them were hawks.  She pushed every button to get to the elevator.  It made her giggle.  Inside the office, she grabbed a book and climbed into a chair and began to read to herself aloud.  It wasn't actually the story but she followed with her finger and was quite happy.  It is a rare thing for me to just see her.  It was like I was seeing a whole part of her that gets covered and coated by everyone else.

When we were moved to our room, she pointed at every animal at the wallpaper and we named them all at least twice.  By this point, she had come to understand, it was only me and her.  "Mom, I need a tissue.  Get me a tissue Mom."  I went to the table and brought back a Kleenex.  She put it to her nose for a second.  "I wiped my nose Mom.  Now, throw it away. It's trash."  I obeyed.   She made us go through this twice before I said, "You're just bossing me around."  She gave me a toothy smile.  Then she asked for a pencil and we drew on the doctor's protective paper and made all sorts of animals and flowers and designs.  In mid coloring, she said without looking up from her drawing, "You're the best Mom."  and I know, if everyone else had been there, those words might not have been said, or might have been missed.  She needed medicine and a special cream but otherwise, everything was fine.  I wish she didn't have this rash as it looks painful, but because of the break in the action, I got to watch this little one unfold like a rare orchid. And that little moment, was just what the doctor ordered. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Is This Thing On?

Ever have one of those days when you're quite certain the mute button has been selected and everyone else knows but you?  

"Could you shut the door?"  I ask as five children march out with the plan of playing soccer.  Not one hears.  Not wanting to make a big stink, I just shut the door.  I look out, it's hot, they've decided to start with Popsicles first.  I open the garage to remind them as they're passing out the pops, "Be sure and close the freezer and shut the garage door."  Five minutes later, after I've rodeoed the laundry along, I follow up and the freezer is slightly ajar and both doors to the garage are wide open, all the bikes having been taken out for inspection. 

"This is fine, but you need to put the bikes away when you're done."  I get nods in between sticky happy Popsicle licks. 

Thirty minutes later as I'm doing the dishes, I look out the window and spy three bikes, two trikes, a scooter and five skates along with 15 pieces of chalk abandoned and awaiting crushing by my van the moment I move the car. 

Like an Infomercial, I don't presume it's the message that's being rejected, it's just I'm  not using enough SHAM WOW volume.  So I summon the troops.  When they come, the commercial I planned is interrupted by a public safety message as all of the kiddos have red, green, blue or orange tints to their hands and faces.  I'm going to have to scald the doorknob to remove all the sugar and dye.  By the time I finish the cue of cleaning, they've settled by the TV.  Perfect.  

I turn off the TV and begin my pitch. "Hello Folks!  Are You Tired of Having Your House a Mess When All that's needed is for Kids to Put Their Things Away?  Have you been Asking and find that No One hears a word you say?  Well now, there's Momitis.  That's right, Momitis.  Momitis is the SIMPLE patented Method of Ensuring ALL Your TROUBLES are Over.  Use Momitis when you want the bikes put away.  When you want doors shut or lights turned off.  Momitis also works on excessive Television watching, getting homework done and solves pesky hunts for SOCKS."   The kids are giggling.

"IT's As Easy as MOM and APPLE PIE.  You state the desired chore.  "Turn off the Bathroom Light."  Point to the desired child.  I pointed to an eager and entranced six year old, and then say "Please." and watch that KID go!"  Sure enough, the six year old ran up the stairs and turned off the light.  When he comes back down the stairs.  "Wasn't that amazing." I clap.  The other kids clap.   "But, let's try it again.  Go Make your Beds. Please."  and this time three scramble to comply.   "What fabulous results but wait, there's still more!" 

Moms, you can use this effective product for the low low price of a few kisses and hugs.  Pay 2 now and give two more when you receive the desired effect.  MOMITIS is not sold in stores or online.  You CAN ONLY GET IT HERE.

MOMITIS works best when children listen and Moms give clear directions but what about a more complex task like putting all the bikes and skates and scooters away so we won't destroy them with the car?   The kids lined up for their prepaid hugs.   And returned for prompt payment in full.  

The thing is, one can only SHAM WOM mom for so long, it's exhausting.  But the bikes were cleared, the beds made and I hadn't yet used up kid good will in the process when we still had grocery shopping and a few errands later in the day.   While working on the computer, I heard kid versions of the infomercial being used to get books, snacks and trade chores. I heard one child trying to infomercial his way into getting his sister to part with her end of school year chocolate from a party.  The sister was feeling oppressed until I called out, "ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTIONS or CHEAP KNOCK OFFS.  MOMITIS, ONLY Available BY MOMS FOR MOMS."

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Boring Parts of the Book

With summer upon us, I am trying to remind my offspring that reading is a richer better and less likely to be disturbed by Mom means of passing the time.  Having taken two opposite children to the local Borders to garner a few new options, I had to pitch some tomes to get my 10 year old to acquiesce.  I had to set a limit on the 14 year old who would spend every last sou at a book store and finish all she bought before we got home. 

When we got home, I saw that my oldest had babysat and thus while all were accounted for, dinner loomed and dishes from lunch still needed doing.  I began my evening routine only to be interrupted by the call to change a diaper, settle a fight, plunge a toilet and reset the television code so they could watch Arthur.  Back to dinner, I received two requests to opt out and eat cereal instead and a reminder that I needed to make 24 muffins for the next day for one kid's breakfast party at her class.   I realized that my life was largely spent managing interruptions and plodding about the daily tasks that must be done to make any day run sooth.  I was the filler in between the action points of school or a game or test or birthday.  I was as my son called it, "the boring part of the book." when no actual climatic action is taking place but which get you to the big chapters.

You can't ascribe that sort of a comment to your life without pausing to wonder 1) should I be happy to manage being the seamless strand that allows everything to hold together? And if I'm not, 2) was the fact that I chaffed personally at being only the mortar and not the brick, only the page and not the words or only the words and not the action a sign of pride that was healthy or sinful?  and 3) What if I wanted to pop off the page too?  

The rest of the day, when there was the crazy tripple run where I had to drop child one off at her playoff game then return for the next child to get her to her class then double back to the first field to get the first child to then return for the second and all within a two hour span while putting back together a third child who was having a hard day, I thought I may not know how to sew but this motion I'm doing is stitching.  When the daughter who had been tucked in by her brother with a story and a sippy cup and prayers came down demanding to be put back to bed by me, again it was stitching.  In and out, up and down, putting into their lives the thread that held things together even if I felt frayed like I was falling apart.

My two oldest came to spend a few minutes visiting and they rubbed my shoulders in a conga line (it's part of the mandatory make Mom have fun rule of the house), and we were again, going in and out, back and forth and I could see the boring parts of the book that held it together in that moment.  And while I know I'll still want to star and still want to soar, I also know, all those boring parts of the book get you to the good parts and you won't appreciate the good parts if you skim over the rest.   So I've dusted off a few books for summer and I'm hoping this year, I can plow through them, because this time, I'll understand more how important the boring parts are to the whole story.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Small Success Thursday

Today, we celebrate the little victories of the past week.  So here goes:

1) Worked on Helen every day this week.  (It's been atrophying in my computer).
2) Scheduled party for six year old son and eight year old daughter for this Sunday at a farm.  Very cool.
3) Sat in the passenger seat for an hour while my son drove. 
4) Daughter graduated from 8th grade.  It was lovely.
5) Lost 2 pounds.

6) On Tuesday, two of my sons had a public fight and it was horrible.  We all went to a softball game.  The kids did not sit well. They did not sit still.  It was hot so I sent my oldest to get water bottles. He came back with three and I divided them amongst the crowd that cared. 

My oldest had bought himself a lemonade.  My softball kid had her own from the game.  My oldest shared her water with the two toddlers.  My middle two sons were to share one and the last one was for me and my middle daughter and the baby to share.  When the game ended, (we lost), we  also had to cart everything including two chairs and a stroller along with the baby and softball equipment across three fields.I was trying to usher everyone to the car.  It was spread out so I lagged behind. It was a good thing I did. My three year old lost her diaper in mid walk so I picked it up to carry to a trash can.

At point,  my two sons began to have a disagreement.  They were supposed to share the water.  One had decided they should take sips. The other had decreed, he would drink his share first so as to not contaminate his drinking experience with his brother's cooties. Within seconds, they were screaming at each other and it was very very very loud.  I had to try to run after them while still carrying a folding chair and a diaper in one hand. Could I look more pathetic?  Yes. Yes I could.  I could add crazy mad to the mix.  To sum up, I dramatically dumped the water not on them, but with a flourish to indicate my displeasure.  "YOU ARE FIGHTING OVER WATER!"

The next fifteen minutes were miserable (because I'd thrown out the water and one of them didn't get a sip and the other was angry because his brother's impatience had made him get in trouble), while we loaded the car. One son ran from me back across a field to hide behind a tree while he knew I was trapped in the business of loading the car.  When we finally got everyone, I could barely speak. The son who should have known better, who had been the I want to drink my half of the water first and started all this nonsense asked, "Can we stop at the store? I need colored pencils for a test tomorrow." 

I couldn't answer for a moment.  It took every ounce of grace I could find to mutter....yes but man do you flunk diplomacy.  It would have been better to ask BEFORE you caused a huge public snit. I admit, I didn't want justice. I didn't want to be a good parent.  I wanted to be a bad mother.  I'd been put through the ringer and revenge was seeming like a reasonable option.  

But pulling into the parking lot of the Staples and letting the son and his older brother go in, my 8 year old daughter asked, "Does she have a diaper yet?"  and I have to concede, an important oversight had been completely lost.  Her sister's diaper free experience  had totally blipped off my radar.   I had to laugh.    So I flunked motherhood that day and they flunked childhood but we survived  so it's okay. 

7) Made a dental appointment for myself.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Character Witnesses

Being the primary caretaker of the under five set for over 17 years, I've developed patterns over the course of raising nine children designed to minimize injury to them, craziness to myself and the potential for extensive property damage. 

Hence, I don't tend to send them outside without me, or to the basement without me, or most places, without me.  If I need to go somewhere without them, like say, the facilities, there are three options:  1) Feed the baby and put him down for a nap and then give the girls both sippy cups and bowls of gold fish and put on Dora and then bolt 2) take the baby with me and be willing to have the possibility of extensive conversations that will involve explaining why Mommy is behind closed doors 3) wait until the older ones get home or drive to a friends house so I can excuse myself while providing cover supervision.  The Doctor's office or Dentist or  school secretary are also good in a pinch, as well as the hair dresser who gives the girls lollipops. 

It wasn't always this mad, but my two girls seem especially capable of inflicting maximum damage to a room, appliance, each other with minimum time regulations. But they're very cute the two of them, so my family doesn't always get my rather tether strung method of parenting these younger children. 

They think I should relax and let them go outside and that I can watch them from the window as I work.  But I've seen them go outside; they start by hang from trees trying to break the branches.  They get out their brother's scooter and take turns cruising perilously close to the side of the van, just millimeters from creating a bit of detailing.   I was presented with every petal from every bud of every bulb we'd planted; all picked to make a fairy crown that I apparently was to sew.   They also took all the rocks from the wall and moved them to the picnic table to make a castle.  I called them in when the older one turned on the hose to either wash the car or water the garden, I forget which.   All of that was in the span of 24 minutes the time I needed to make a conference call.  Email is now the best means of communication for me if you're wondering.  Someone suggested Skype to me and I just laughed.   Like I want this stuff on tape.   

But you're thinking Sherry, you overprotective silly mommy you, the basement is full of toys.  Let them go down and be kids.  Let them play. Lighten up.  Let them live a little.  "You're too stubborn about this. You need to relax a bit." I've been told.  But no one has to tell these two daughters of mine to seize the day, they own it. 

Downstairs is Rockband.  I can't operate the DVD player but the four year old can sign on to do a triple set no fail mode including the words to some songs from the Talking Heads.  I'm almost 44 and I don't know the words to songs from bands of my era that were and still are considered cool.   It's not that I'm a complete slacker as a parent either.  I've patrolled the basement.  I've combed through the bins to try and make it an inviting and safe place for those two to really play.  I've even created boxes with stuff I thought they'd totally love, blocks, barbies, animals.  But there's always something I missed.  It can be anything, masking tape, their sister's beloved art picture, their brother's hero clix collection, sharpies, and the result is well, purple armed children sound really cute in print but trust me, the joke wears thin long before the marker fades.   

But I take great comfort in the reality of Guardian angels; for one day, should I be so blessed, I'll have two unimpeachable witnesses to confirm, "She wasn't nuts....well, at least not about that."  and "here's why.  Let's roll to the video tape."   Also, they might know the real reason why the younger one decided to color her arms deep purple.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Financial Labels

I have seen the light.  All this time, it's been there right in front of me.  Bureaucracy respects a fellow bureaucrat.  Ergo, We need to mandate that every member of congress have a fiscal nutrition label detailing the amount of spending they've voted for that has been approved.   By having each representative and each Senator wear a badge with the appropriate breakdowns of different lobbying interests, we can at a glance spot the quid pro quos.

With legislation these days passing so broadly and so quickly, it's hard for the average voter who apparently gets confused about the nutritional value of a Big Mac, Fries and a Coke as versus a grilled chicken salad, apple slices and bottled water to know who to focus just outrage at based on their voting record.   Since the media seems singularly disinterested in connecting dots or acknowledging the cash for votes method by which so much is getting done, Congress needs oversight the same way restaurants need clarification for the average diner at a drive thru restaurant.

Granted, some of these folks will look like entrees in NASCAR when we get done listing all the companies greasing the wheels to get bills, grants and laws either passed or bottled up but as we all know, trans fats aren't good for you and transitive pork isn't either.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Perfect Call for This Day and Age

In case you've missed it, this past week a perfect game was lost because of a bad call.  Pitcher Armando Galaraga of the Detroit Tigers pitched a game that was one bat away from history.  Then Jim Joyce the umpire missed the call with the Cleveland runner and called him safe at first, when replays clearly showed him out.  For those who don't love or get baseball who say it's just a game, I say "Yes and no." 

Yes.  The game is just one of many.  Yes, it ultimately does not change the world. Yes, there are countless other more things, more exciting, more important, more vital. 

And No. This was an opportunity at history, at perfection, marred by human events.  So I feel for the pitcher who just gave 26 perfect performances only to have the 27th robbed as the umpire clearly muffed the call. 

And No because the real story was the next day.  It's part of why Baseball still matters and still means something, because there are moments like this that the broader world gets to see and given the level of vitriol, preening and self righteous puffery that we witness on a daily basis, having real people on a big stage matters immensely.  

The Umpire (Joyce), went to the locker room immediately after the game to apologize and Galaraga hugged him and accepted it.  He also apologized again the next day when Galaraga came out with the line up.  He shed tears. He even said, "I cost this kid history."

And No again, it isn't just a game because Galaraga did not call for a reversal of the call.  He did not demand his perfect game, he did not demand a pound of flesh for the loss of his moment. 

There is a lesson in this moment of baseball, about the way we return to civility and class as a society, as modeled in the Pitcher and the Umpire. A mistake was made. It cost the pitcher permanently. The umpire apologized, heartfully. The Pitcher accepted. The game went on and life went on and baseball was all the richer for the absence of a perfect game that was perfect; when perfect gentlemen responded as gentlemen should.

I know there are cries for the call to be reversed, but this would be a disservice to baseball and to my way of thinking, all of us. There are bad calls. The game goes on. Life is like that; the content of our character is revealed by how we respond to bad calls, to unlucky breaks, to perfection not being recognized; to not making history.

The fact is, that there are far more men like Jim Joyce the Umpire and  the pitcher Armando Galaraga than we know.  They just don't make the news because peace or the lack of open conflict isn't a news item. There are far more moments when we don't make history, when we are asked to accept apologies or our own sense of right and wrong requires us to give them. The little story of a blown call gives me hope for our society as a whole.  As long as good women and men keep coming forward with quiet dignity and fighting to do or say the right thing despite having the Kitchen sink thrown at them and people did boo and in some cases, threaten the umpire and his family despite calls from Armando not to be angry; civility will eventually be welcomed as a relief from the constant preening spinning, bickering and self righteous acid throwing that currently pretends to be this nation’s discourse. 

Given the fact that men like Armando and Joyce exist, I can hope.   Play ball.

Friday, June 4, 2010


After Confirmation, Graduation, First Communion, Easter, Oldest kid's Spring Musical, Spring Band Concert, Elementary School kid's Spring Musical, Mother's Day, and five birthdays over 9 weeks, the perpetual fiesta that has taken place since March, finally drew to a close yesterday evening.  Or did it?

Tucking one of the youngers in, they talked about how they were going to a party the next day with a moon bounce and a barbecue and everything.  Then they remembered, they didn't get a party with a moon bounce and barbecue and everything. The thing is, we had family parties for each of these guys.  But having since been invited to other kids birthdays whose parents "love them better," yes, she used those words and then another sibling, sensing weakness, piled on. "We didn't get parties. Real parties." There were three kids who had just family gigs that we had hoped to skate by.

Some of these complaints were now two months old in origin and I had to wonder, wasn't there an expiration date on kid gripes and kid grudges?  Now I have many rational reasonable thoughtful reasons for NOT giving in to this absurd demand, and at the same time, I love these people irrationally so of course, I want the bells and whistles for every one of them that we couldn't manage at the time of their actual birthday.  I envisioned talk show hosts nodding sympathetically as they tearfully explained, "She never rented me a clown."  "I didn't get a pinata, I was deprived."  I thought back to try and pull them back to the fun times they had. They had presents.  They had streamer and balloons and cake and in some cases, even special events like baseball games or movies but with only "Family."  They celebrated only with the people that love them best, not the people that just like them. 

"But I would have gotten MORE presents." 

"But then you would have had to clean up MORE and write MORE thank you notes." I know, appealing to sloth to combat greed, probably not a right move but I was tired. 

"I wouldn't mind."  Oops, I raised a greedy but thankful kid.  Or at least a politically adept one.

So I'm considering my options.  1) Accept the slacker mom medal this year and make sure next year is all the bomb and hope they forget 2010.  2) Guilt laden, throw a party after school lets out, tell everyone it's for these three kids.  Rent the darn moon bounce and receive the I'm a Wimp Parent and have an Empty Wallet Award. 

As I wrote this, my oldest daughter came into the room.  She read the piece in it's uncooked form.  "When's my party with my friends?" she asked.  I started to protest but she gave me a wink.  She was just being ironic. We'd just thrown a graduation cook out last weekend.  She patiently suggested, "Still Mom.  You might want to set something up.  You are the next birthday. What do you want for your party?"  

 .  .  .

So maybe the real battle was my own sloth against my own greed.
I dialed 1800 rent a clown.   I offered my wallet and then said, "Do you have any openings?  I know a Mom who is a shoe-in for the Rope a Dope game."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

When Emails Reveal More than We Planned

I belong to the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and as such, occasionally participate in the email based conversations that take place.  Today, the web editor asked to take my response to a thread as a column.  I was surprised because it was a rough response.  But I'm very honored to be in such company. 


Thanks for reading. 

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!