Monday, May 29, 2006

Anne and Tom are not welcome here

I have been awarded the Monkey Totem, a small idol carved from the husk of a coconut. It sits near me wearing a black pair of wire-rimmed glasses, hands clasped to its ears in homage to Edvard Munch's most famous painting. It mocks my failure.

I lost at Book Lover's Trivial Pursuit.

Our Memorial Day celebration was extended to our small but faithful circle of friends: Shank & the Collatress, Eeyore & Willa and their brood, and MamaJ. Due to circumstances beyond their control, only Shank was able to make it. We plied him with steaks, chicken, an assortment of salads, drinks, and a key lime dessert concoction. Then, sated, he issued the challenge.

"How 'bout we play a board game?"

SO groaned and gracefully declined. That left two highly competitive uber-librarians to pit their knowledge, skill and recall in a fight to the death.

I started strong, quickly grabbing three pieces of the pie. I was throwing out random literary nuggets from the likes of Dickens, Melville, and Poe. After having lost the last 3 Scrabble games to Shank and his lovely wife, it was rewarding to see the sweat break out upon his noble brow. Sport hovered nearby, offering to roll the dice. "I'm lucky," he declared, slamming the dice onto the board and halfway across the room.

Then, the kiss of death. I got too cocky. Perhaps I was distracted by the soccer game SO was watching and the lean, muscular thighs of the Westbrom goalie, but when asked to name the author of the popular novels featuring a Southern vampire, I completely blanked out.

"Anne somebody. Tom Cruise was in the movie. Vampire Lestat..." I stuttered. I knew it wasn't Ann Rule, but I couldn't see through the mist in my mind. What was her last name?

Time passed. More pieces of the pie were won until we were both neck and neck. Back in the center of the hub, he hit me with non-fiction questions while I parried with kid lit. Then, the nail in the coffin:

"What popular fiction writer wrote a non-fiction book about a submarine?"

"Aaah, Harrison Ford was in that movie. Patriot Games. He wears sunglasses..." Again, I choked. What was my problem? Am I such a literary snob I erase these popular authors from my very subconscious?

Shank won by recalling the title of my favorite Jon Scieszcka children's story, The Stinky Cheese Man.

The Monkey Totem sits here, and I swear his eyes are sad rather than malevolent. He knows it's only a matter of time before I'm checking into the Alzheimer's Longterm Patient Care Center down the street. And he's coming with me -- so I can use him to bludgeon the next person who asks me to play another boardgame.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Saturated with girls

It's official. LegoGuy has a girlfriend. He's been fighting them off all year, and last week was finally reeled in by a cute little thing with highlights in her hair and a budding figure. They've eaten together in the cafeteria, hung out on the playground, and, on the last day of school, held hands during orchestra.

"I'm really going to miss her this summer," he sighed. I love the fact that he hasn't figured out how to use the phone to invite her over, or arranged to meet her at some clandestine location after we've all gone to bed. He's clearly puzzled by the feminine mystique: why she gets insanely jealous seeing him talk to a girl he's been friends with since 1st grade, or pouts when he doesn't immediately rush to her side during recess, or scribble her name on his arm in blue ink. He likes her, but he hasn't been swept away in the manner that she has. Thank God for small miracles.

In the meantime, Sport came home completely exhausted from his last day of school. "I was saturated with girls," he told us. He'd been hugged all day as the girls in his class were distressed at the thought of not seeing him over the summer. "My neck is chapped," he complained. I found a handwritten note in his backpack, a heartfelt message printed in nearly illegible letters. "I will miss you, Sport!"

Aaah, puppy love -- a necessary yet somewhat painful step on the path toward maturity. I remember it well. In the 7th grade, Steve asked me to "go around" with him. He popped the question the day before summer vacation. Shyly I accepted, and our status improved significantly in the eyes of our middle school peers. We were now a "couple". I didn't see him again until September, when he broke up with me and starting going with another girl. That was okay, as I'd fallen deeply into puppy love with a church boy. I would suffer from that particular crush for the next three years.

E was 2 years older than me, Hispanic, with beautiful green eyes and a dreamy smile. I was so obsessed with him, I filled my diary with the most mundane of details: whether or not he'd looked my way, smiled at me, ignored me, brought some other girl to church, sat nearby. The intensity of my feelings for him were overwhelming. I was too shy to do anything about it, and in high school, a 2-year difference is practically a gulf as wide as the Grand Canyon. But I really believed I loved him, and when someone told me what I felt was "puppy love," I was furious. I felt as if I'd been dismissed.

To make matters worse, my dad teased me relentlessly, chipping away at the fragile layer of self-esteem I'd managed to build up by getting braces, a good haircut, and eye make-up. But my mother was kind, letting me buy a ring with E's initial. I wore it to school, pretending we were together. It was a harmless fantasy.

As far as LegoGuy's romance goes, I'm treading very carefully. One boy's puppy love is another's True Love.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The sound and the fury

I'm recovering from another duty visit to my folks' place, or the House of Dread, as I call it. Whenever I go by, which is about once every week and a half, I'm treated to a bad remake of a Fellini film. As the oldest child, I feel a certain obligation to make sure the triune of elders are doing okay. But once I've been there for about 15 minutes I'm eyeballing the clock, begging Chronos to speed it up a little.

My grandmother is always eager to see me, though she often calls me by my youngest sister's name. She orders Sport to play the piano, and he runs through his repertoire in no time. Meanwhile, my mother is reciting her usual litany of family-oriented news, with a dash of church news for added spice. She finishes with the chilling details of the death of a former San Antonio congregation member. "Pancreatic cancer," she whispers, shaking her head. Dad, stoic and silent, whisks SO away into the study to remove the cookies embedded in the computer. LegoGuy escapes into the magic fingers massage chair, ignoring the nervous energy in the room.

At one point a clock starts to chime. It's the battery-operated Seiko. Mesmerized by its garish tackiness, I watch as the face drops down to reveal a little figure made of red plastic. It starts a manic jig to the tune of "I could have danced all night." At this point my mother puts on her latest CD, purchased from Dollar General. "Fifties classics!"

She can barely contain her excitement, and turns to Sport. "Don't you just love this song?" she asks as "Purple People Eater" starts to play. Now, he's never heard that song in his life, but he nods politely.

The clock treats us to a concert of four additional songs: theme from "Phantom of the Opera", "Tonight", "The sound of music," and "Memory". All the while my mother is talking non-stop, asking questions and then moving on to another subject when I try to answer. After awhile, my responses grow monosyllabic. It's all I can do to keep from screaming.

What terrible thing did I do in some past life? How the hell I ended up in this family, I can't say. I'd like to believe I'm learning a lesson in patience and tolerance, but by the time our hour is up, I'm ready to kill somebody. Most likely myself.

I finally escape from the musical assault and wander down the hall to find SO. As I enter the study, I'm afraid I'll find more than I bargain for. Surely there's a corpse lying on the guest bed in full repose, swathed in a bridal gown. Faulkner may have written stories about creepy Southern families, but he didn't grow up with mine. We'd have provided additional material for his novels, I'm convinced.

Luckily, SO is just finishing with the computer clean-up. We gather our things and head out the door. When we get home, I'm headed right to the garden to pull weeds in an effort to calm my sound-induced fury. My mother is still talking to us from the front stoop, dressed in her lavendar babydoll pajamas. I wave like I can hear what she's saying, rolling down the window, catching her final words as they fall from her mouth and scoot across the lawn toward the car.

"I loooooooooove yoooooooooou!"

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Just what do you do?

I've gotten some grief lately over why I don't write about my workplace and my job as a cataloger. It's simple: the work I do is tedious and a little dull. We don't get many people wandering in to watch the trained monkeys. Hell, the other day, the library executive director came by the circ desk downstairs and asked for a key to cataloging. A key! As if we're escorted to our 12' x 15' room and locked in each morning. How else could they get anyone to do this kind of work?

Ask me what I do, and I'll try to keep it as simple as possible, narrowing my response down to a couple of sentences before you get that glazed look in your eyes. It's like data entry, only more complicated. It's logic and access points and taking a 3-dimensional object and translating it into a 1-dimensional medium. A constantly changing field, with a language unto itself.

But mostly, it's relentless. This poem sums it up:

Cataloger's day

book book book book book
book book book book book
book book book book book
book book (break) book book

book book book book book
book book book book book
book book book book book
book book (lunch) book book

It goes on for another 3 paragraphs, but you get the idea.

I wish I had the ability to retain every little detail I read, the tidbits of information I pull from paragraphs scanned: topics such as the Black Death, bartending, brownies, barbeque, bird migration. Sometimes I surprise SO with an occasional nugget I dredge up from the back of my mind. "How did you know that?" he asks, amazed. "Read it somewhere," I shrug, secretly thrilled I remembered. If I had total recall, I'd be some kind of game show freak. Poised to hit the big time with the weight of my cerebral superpowers, I'd make a million dollars and buy an RV, traveling across the country in search of the perfect blackberry jam. It'd be a sweet life.

As it is, I'd barely remember the books I read last month if I didn't keep a reading journal.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Our contribution to society

I wonder. Are we making a positive contribution to society by raising kids? After another bedtime meltdown, I despair of them ever making it out there on their own. How will they find a fulltime job, performing complex duties and requiring critical thinking skills, when they can't even remember to throw their clothes in the laundry after a shower? Or find their shoes in the morning for school? Or clean off the table after a meal? It boggles the mind.

I think they have possibilities; I can see they're special and unique, but then, I'm their mother. I'm not sure what other adults are thinking, especially after getting yet another email from Sport's teacher. "I have to ask ... Did Sport live in Germany, go to school on a bus, get involved in a roll-over bus accident?" I assured her that we'd never been to Germany and he'd never been involved in a roll-over accident, although there are times he distracts me with his endless questions and I want to crash the van to stop him from talking.

Sport's latest obsession is favorites. He could go on for hours, asking: What is your favorite _______? (color, animal, professional football team, planet, food, number, teacher, president, drink, restaurant, book, fish, car dealership, insult, knock-knock joke, movie). The list goes on and on.

When I've finally had enough, cranking up the radio to drown him out, it's LegoGuy's turn.

"On this episode of the Simpson's, Bart did this thing, and Homer ate something, and Lisa was involved in saving this whatever, and..." You get the picture. I usually zone out as he rambles on, reciting the storyline in a monotone, interspersed with "likes" and "uhhs." All the while, I'm panicking at some deeper level because I know there are kids out there like SGK who are delving into the geography of Africa or learning the causes of WWII, while my children are studying the plots of a subversive cartoon sitcom in which the main character is a sarcastic, disrespectful brat.

Not that I was any kind of superstar as a child. I swore off Saturday morning cartoons when I turned 12, but I didn't do it because they bored me. I did it out of some misguided belief that I was superior to my brother and sisters and watching cartoons was beneath me. I used to doodle in class, ignoring the teacher, sketching out my dream for the future: a cat ranch. Yes, since there are so few cats in the world, I figured I'd be the owner of a ranch full of cats, breeding and selling them to an enthusiastic public. As I got older, and realized that cats might not sell so well, and changed my goal slightly. I would have a horse ranch, raising thoroughbreds in the Kentucky hills.

I'd read a book during math, hiding it behind my thick textbook. Mr. Cuellar, my 4th grade teacher, caught me and slammed his paddle onto the desk. (I'm not kidding. He carried a paddle around to traumatize the class, bringing it down on the lower back of a doozing child in the most painful of wake-up calls.)

"What do you think you are doing?"

"Reading," I whispered.

"Well, you just keep right on reading, little missy." His eyes were narrow. Beady. The paddle was poised for punishment in his beefy hand."It's obvious that math isn't your thing."

I suppose he had doubts I'd add much to society.

SO and I have doubts about our two boys, but we have lots of hope as well. Hope that they'll always try to do the right thing, no matter how difficult. Hope that they'll do no harm. Hope that they'll walk through their lives focusing on what really matters, rather than focusing on what is the most fun. Hope that we can communicate to them the message Eeyore is trying to communicate to his girls:

"We weren't put on this earth to be happy. We were put here to do great things."
-- Boris Pasternak

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sweet fancy bruises!

There's a creepy fairy lurking on the valance of my bedroom curtains. On Saturday mornings, when the sun starts to rise, I shake off the throes of slumber and usually end up peering at the fairy, wondering why I can't banish it back to Erin. The curtains aren't really decorated in mythical creatures; the material is a floral print. But the fabric is bunched up in such a way that my brain sees the outline of a fairy, leaning pensively on a toadstool. And it's not just me-- SO sees it, too.

A wizened face, formed by peeling paint, stares out at me from the tiny bathroom where I work; the tile floor of the break room spells out words I cannot read; and I think there's a goblin frozen in the cabinet door of my library shelves. I see images in random patterns. They are everywhere.

Sunday night, SO came home from an 11-hour day at his new workspace. Unfamiliar with the newly-constructed rental counter, he'd plowed into the corner with his tender ribs. "I think I'm going to have a bruise," he said, pulling up his shirt. Sweet Fancy Moses! The fist-sized Pollock-inspired creation hovering there sent us into shock. This was no bruise. It was an unknown biological entity (UBE).

"I think it's trying to take over your soul," I mused.

Turning my head to one side, I swear I could see the haunting profile of Alfred Hitchcock.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Let us bless them everyday

I don't usually believe in omens, but last week I saw something that made me reconsider. A mallard couple, trying to cross the street during morning rush hour, met a terrible fate. The female had been hit. She lay there like a crumpled piece of notebook paper. The drake paced back and forth along the curb, confused by her absence. One moment she was there, the next second she was gone.

Then, Fletcher died.

LegoGuy's friend had been diagnosed with a rare cancer in the 2nd grade. He'd fought the good fight for more than 4 years, and on Tuesday, he surrendered. We were all expecting it, of course, but nothing prepares you for the moment a person you care about leaves this world.

Many of the kids in his youth group planned to be at Fletcher's memorial service, so I arranged to go with LegoGuy. I was dreading it. I am not good at funerals. I doubt there's a normal person out there who likes going to funerals, but I mean it -- I am really not good at funerals. My empathy meter starts clicking the minute I walk into the church, and soon I'm sopping up those grief vibes like a crack whore looking for her next fix. One whimper and I tear up; a sob sends me into a crying jag.

I used to mourn from the perspective of the departed. No more sunsets! What a shame. She'll never get to have the beautiful wedding she always wanted. So, so sad. He won't get to see his son grow up. What a pity.

Once I had children, however, I watched the service from the eyes of the lost one's mother. The first time this happened to me, LegoGuy was about 2 years old. A young girl died unexpectedly while on vacation with her husband. They were newlyweds, and I'd known her since she was a little girl. The two had gotten separated while hiking. Not dressed for the quickly changing mountain weather, she'd died of exposure in a relatively short time. It was tragic.

But as I sat there in the church, I didn't mourn the loss of her life as much as I mourned that mother's loss of her child. I tried to muffle my sobs, but it was no use. A friend of mine clutched me to her as I let loose. It was embarrassing, but with so much grief in the room, I figured I would be forgiven.

I managed to hang onto my emotions during Fletcher's funeral. The ceremony was an even blend of sorrow and celebration. I shed a few quiet tears during the prayer and a special song. I choked when the pastor stated, "If the power of love could have kept this child alive, Fletcher would be among us right now." When the man next to me cried so hard he made the pew shudder, I held fast. I made it through the eulogy with my mascara still intact, as little old ladies grabbed for Kleenex, squares of white fluttering like doves released from their cages. It was during the reading of the poem that I dissolved.

And as I watched him go, my beautiful boy,
and a weary woman was I...

I swallow hard, reach out to my own beautiful boy.

Oh boy, my boy with the sunny brow,
and the lips of love and of song!

I cover my own brow with my shaking hands.

For I gaze in the fire, and I'm seeing there a child,
and he waves to me...

No longer even pretending to be composed, I keen.

If he called from the ends of the earth
I know that my heart would hear...

No tissues at hand, I get up from the pew and stumble out, unable to see. I can't take another verse of that poem. Have to get out of there. LegoGuy follows, finds a box, stuffs a handful of tissues into my palm.

The strains of Amazing Grace, played on bagpipes, follow us into the afternoon sun.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hello, my name is AQ and I am a soccer mom

Another Saturday, another soccer game. It was supposed to be the last, but they've rescheduled the one that was rained out ... I've got one more weekend left before diving into neglected garden chores.

Shank met us for lunch. He'd promised to come watch Sport play at least one game before the end of the season, and although The Collatress wanted to come too, she had to work. Shank helped carry the necessary soccer paraphernalia: sunscreen, a basket of snacks for the team, insulated bag of drinks, a blanket, and, with artless grace, a pink parasol.

Parked on the top row of the aluminum bleachers, my bottom nestled cozily on a bit of "cushy" (folded blanket), I settled in to watch the game. By now I know all of Team Wizard's names: no more reading a book when my kid isn't playing. I'm yelling out words of encouragement and advice along with the rest of the parents:

"Sam, watch the line!"

"Be aggressive, Chad!"

"Taylor, take it down!"

Shank turned to me in surprise. "Jeez, you are totally a soccer mom."

Much as I hate to admit it, I am, and I've got the mini-van to prove it. Last season, I found myself completely losing it when Sport's team failed to score any goals. He had somehow ended up on the worst team, filled with players who were new to the game -- children who had no idea what they were doing. It was frustrating to watch my kid try to play just about every position the entire 45 minutes. I turned into a raving, slobbering loon. I remember giving Sport some ridiculous strategy on how to play the next game, jaw clenched in rage, before I caught myself.

What was I thinking, anyway? Why was it so important to me that his sad excuse for a soccer team win?

Humans are hardwired to be competitive. It's there in the genes: win at all costs, no matter what kind of activity you're taking part in: mammoth hunting, house-building, pin the tail on the donkey. Win, win, win!

Unnerved by Shank's observation, I tried to limit my benchside coaching to an occasional low groan and bitten lip. Cringing under my pink parasol, I even managed to reduce the number of spoke pokes to the heads of Shank and LegoGuy. Eventually, Sport broke through the other team's defense and made a dramatic goal. The Wizards shook off their slump and ended it, 2-1.

I wish I could say I wouldn't have minded if they'd lost. But it's so much better to win.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The gray brigade vs. the ponytail brigade

I started going to yoga many years ago as a way to help alleviate lower back pain and to build up my sadly underdeveloped muscles. The first class I attended at the YMCA was a power yoga class, and it seriously freaked me out. Some of the people in that class were able to execute a perfect Parsva Bakasana without breaking a sweat. Being the weakling that I am, I knew I wasn't about to go back and subject myself to that kind of humiliation.

But I kept going back.

I was never very flexible as kid. I wasn't one of those girls who could collapse into the splits at the drop of a hat. I could do a backbend, and I was pretty good at cartwheels, but I knew I didn't have a future as a cheerleader. Still, yoga enticed me because of the "payoff" at the end -- 10 minutes of delicious relaxation after 40 minutes of forcing the body into unnatural positions.

We eventually lost our drill sergeant of a power yoga instructor and inherited a kinder, gentler teacher. We've got a core group of devotees, mostly a graying, over-40 crowd of men and women with the weary air of having battled personal demons all day long. Every January, we get a new batch of members, eager to try out the class. I've come to despise these newcomers: young women dressed in the latest yoga fashions, hair pulled perkily back onto the tops of their heads in a loathsome ponytail. It's obvious when we start the warm-up that they're former cheerleaders. They aren't interested in getting the pose correct -- they prefer to show off their youthful flexibility by stretching their bodies into adorable cheerleader stances. As winter melts into spring, they eventually drop away, and the gray brigade settles back into relaxed familiarity, comfortable in old sweats and stained t-shirts, no longer harassed by those perky ponytails.

Last night, our teacher tried to get us to try a partner move. I watched as a gray-bearded man and a woman who'd recently had surgery put on their game faces and attempted the pose. Having just seen an SNL sketch in which Tom Hanks and Rachel Dratch did a similar move with disastrous results, I decided not to try it out. I love a good challenge, but I have to trust that my partner isn't going to smack me in the face with his "package."

I settled into Child's Pose and waited it out.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Grit your teeth and keep your eyes on the karma

Got a funny email from my dad this morning, an all-out rant regarding the latest Grandma incident.

This was not a good day for us. It began at 6 a.m. with Grandma outside the door saying "I don’t feel good." Mom was not in her usual place because I had snored too loudly for her delicate ears. So I attempted to ignore the wake-up call until the door opened and the light was turned on and Grandma said, "Daughter, where are you?" The old bear was roused from his hibernation and growled loudly....SHE’S NOT HERE ... NOW LEAVE ME ALONE. She then proceeded to the front bedroom to find her daughter…As the bear fumed and tried to return to sleep, it was an impossible task ... all I heard was groaning and coughing and I finally gave up and got up. After a bite to eat, I headed out of the house for a walk, hoping that Goldilocks would come and render assistance … Later, as I was sitting in the Archie Bunker chair, the wake-up artist came and said, "Is lunch ready?" Of course, the bear had a sly remark: "I thought you were sick ... can you eat?" The answer? YES! Then she said, "Daughter said you were going to move out." That really got me going and I said, “If anyone goes, it will be you.” Yes, I know, I should have kept my mouth shut, but I never do what I should do.

My parents inherited my 84-year-old grandmother after my uncle David “took care of her” by emptying her savings account, paying off his condo, buying himself a new boat and a truck for his youngest son, and then disappearing when confronted by her worried daughter and the authorities.

Dad and Grandma have never gotten along. Ever. She thought he was a tightwad. Mean-spirited. She didn’t think he was good enough for her daughter. They fought all the time.

Many of their battles took place over me. When I was about 3, my grandfather died of a devastating battle with lymphoma. Mamaw redirected her grief into a hyper-attachment to me, her eldest grandchild. I’m not proud of the fact, but I was her favorite. Everything I did was, in her eyes, absolutely charming.

I have a vivid memory of my grandmother facing down my dad over something I’d done at a family reunion. I was probably 5 or 6 at the time, I don’t remember what I’d done (Dad said I was behaving badly toward my sister), but he wanted to spank me. Mamaw picked me up and I clung to her with a death grip. She wouldn’t let go, and Dad couldn’t pry me off of her. I escaped that time, but I’ll bet the next time I acted up, he spanked me twice as long and hard.

I respect my dad for doing the right thing, taking responsibility for a woman who never liked him and who constantly interfered in his marriage and his family. It speaks volumes: do the right thing, even if you don’t like it.

And trust me, he doesn’t.

Monday, May 08, 2006

For my sins, he'd been left behind

For my sins (British & Australian, humorous):
A phrase you say in order to make a joke about the fact that something you have to do or something that you are is a punishment for being bad.

Well, it’s official. I’m a bad mommy. Rainy weather, a distracted mind, and complicated scheduling coalesced into every parent’s nightmare: I left my child behind.

I’d arranged to take LegoGuy and his friend Z to a church youth activity, after which I had to drive to Edmond to deliver Sport to yet another piano competition. A light mist was falling as I dropped the two teenagers off at church. I saw adults going in and out of the fellowship hall, so I didn’t bother to go in with the boys. I waved and headed north.

Imagine my horror when I got home and found this message on my answering machine:

“Hey Mom, we’re at the theater with Z’s mom. Talk to you later.”

(Note to self: review with LegoGuy the necessary components of relaying an effective message.)

I gathered from this minimal bit of information that the group outing had been cancelled. Z must have called his mom to get the abandoned boys. She’d given up her Saturday morning to shuttle the boys to a movie and lunch.

What must she think of me? Would she ever trust with her son again?

I called the youth leader who confirmed my suspicions. The ranch had cancelled. Too much rain, too much mud, and not enough buffalo to watch. “I emailed you last night,” she said. Unfortunately, the email address she has is my work address, so there’s no way I would have gotten it on a Friday evening.

Eventually, LegoGuy called back and said they were going to do some shopping and would be back later that afternoon. Z’s mom didn’t seem angry at all, just amused.

I know parents with the best of intentions eventually make mistakes. Where does this rank in my long list of missteps? How does it compare to the time I left the passenger door unlocked, and Tiny LegoGuy opened it while we were turning onto a busy intersection. Or the time I bundled him into an idling car to take him to preschool, went back into the house to retrieve something, and screamed as the car bumped into the garage wall. (He'd put the car in drive all by his 3-year-old self.) Or the time I let him ride his tricycle in the dark (with a helmet), saw him barrel down the driveway, hit gravel, pitch forward over the handle bars, and knock out a front tooth in the process.


Truth is, my mind just wasn't on what I had to do. It was on what I wanted to do. What I really wanted to do on Saturday was go up to Stillwater with some friends to protest possibly the worst president ever. I wanted to work in the garden, pulling up the swampweed that has sprouted since we started getting all this rain. I wanted to shop for a new swimsuit. But the kids and their activities have to come first.

I guess it's just one more incident LegoGuy will have to discuss with his future therapist.

Today's miscellany:
Sport's score for 2 piano solos: 99, 100
Finished reading: On the wild edge: in search of a natural life, by David Petersen
Inches of rain over the last week: 3+
Hours weeding: 2 1/2
Bush clock countdown: 987 days to go

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Perched on the edge of a guffaw

SO came up with the above phrase after dinner the other night when Sport and LegoGuy got the giggles and couldn't look each other in the eye without busting up again. They are so silly.

We laugh a lot as a family. Sitting down to our nightly dinners, I know it will only be a matter of time before LegoGuy tells us a new "Your mama is so stupid" joke and sends Sport into gales of laughter. We laugh at our dog Bella and her youthful hijinks. When I hear a song I like and start to dance, SO laughs. (He can't help it -- I am just so bad.) When we watch our favorite movies, like the Blair Thumb and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, we roll. When we play games like Pictionary Jr. or The Game of Life, we crack up. Laughing is part of who we are.

No, Gouldie, SO and I didn't connect through an act of violence, but through humor. One of the first things I noticed about him was his beautiful smile. And he was so hilarious! I had a number of requirements for the men I dated: they had to be smart, they had to be funny, and they couldn't be too tall. (Also, they couldn't be studying for the ministry, and I didn't care for blondes.) SO met all my requirements. I've known him for 20 years now, and he still makes me loose it.

Both boys have inherited their father's beautiful smile and love of all things hilarious. True, their timing is still off when it comes to telling jokes. I can't tell you how many Knock Knock jokes I had to endure before they finally graduated to another level of comedy. The thing about kids is, they'll grab onto something that's funny the first few times they tell it, then recite it over and over until your eye starts to twitch like Chief Inspector Dreyfus in The Pink Panther.

Sometimes they are funny without meaning to be. For example: after Sport lost a tooth, he asked me where the tooth fairy got all that money. "What do you think?" I asked. “She must be a Democrat,” he replied. Another time, I made a comment about our little mutt, who had aged to the point that she didn't seem like she'd be around much longer. "Poor girl, she's on her last legs," I said. "How many legs did she used to have?" Sport quipped.

And LegoGuy is just as funny. Recently, he was complaining about being hot. “Why are you so hot?” I asked. “It’s got to be these hemorrhoids,” he said emphatically. Hemorrhoids? “You know, those chemicals making me grow.” “You mean hormones!”

Yes, laughter is what makes it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Playing house with the Son of God, or, It's weird being me, part 2

I'm sure my dedicated readers can't wait to read about my miserable elementary school years!

Shunned by classmates because of my crippling shyness, I dreaded recess. I’d walk with my head down, looking for stray pieces of candy to take to my only friends, the fire ants who lived at the furthest edge of the playground. It was the highlight of my day – and I firmly believed that there was an air of excited frenzy around the ant mound when I showed up each day.

Yet, I did have one more friend. Being raised in the home of fundamental Christians, I was constantly told that Jesus was my best friend, and I took this to heart. I often pulled Jesus out of the realm of the holy and made him my imaginary friend. How many little girls could say that they had the Messiah as a playmate? Casually attired in his long white robe, he'd often read the newspaper while sitting in an easy chair. I made dinner, of course. His favorite meal was broiled fish. We had lots of interesting conversations out there on the blacktop.

Jesus and the red ants – the sum and total of my childhood pals.

Luckily, my sister was growing into a bit of a tomboy. Taller than me, and more confident, she took it upon herself to threaten some of the bullies who entertained themselves by making my life a living hell. “Say that again,” she warned Laura Pacheco who’d mocked my terrible overbite, “and I’ll punch you right in the face!” But, being a year younger, my sister couldn’t be with me everywhere. I tried to be philosophical about it, figuring that suffering brought me closer to Jesus, but it was truly a trial to love my enemies when Laura, who was built pretty solidly, jumped on my back the day I wore my new pink dress and skinned both my knees.

By 6th grade, I could see an end to the horror of elementary school. I had a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Roessler, who gave me a variety of responsibilities and duties. When the other children watched The Electric Company as part of their free time activity, she allowed me to read at my desk. When I’d finished my assignments, I was able to get a pass to go to the library. She complimented my writing. She made me feel good about myself. If not for Mrs. Roessler, I’m certain I would have become even more neurotic than I already was!

That was the year I became infatuated with my desk mate, Melvin Howell. He really was named Melvin Howell, a name right from of Gilligan’s Island! As the only Jehovah’s Witness in our class, he already had an air of mystique about him, quietly sitting at his desk while the rest of us said the Pledge of Allegiance, never taking part in birthday celebrations, bravely refusing to participate in Halloween festivities. With his white blond hair and incredible blue eyes, I thought he was wonderful. And so, I did all I could to annoy him.

During one afternoon, we were quarrelling over a pencil. He tried to take it from me; I swore it was mine. In the shuffle, I pulled back on it and accidentally jabbed him in the eye. I was mortified! Here I was, trying to get Melvin’s attention, and instead I had mortally wounded the love of my life! His eye quivered and watered as the teacher examined it. She determined that, as he had not been blinded, he would survive. I knew, however, that any chance of romance between us had died with the entry of that eraser into his eye socket.

Walking home that day, I felt as if the world had come to an end. Melvin! Oh, Melvin! His sculpted beauty, those pale white hands, his slightly curved spine, his belted, brown corduroy pants. I knew he would never talk to me again. What freak of nature skewers her lover’s eyeball on a pencil? Was I destined to be alone forever? Sobbing my heart out at home, I prayed that he would forgive me. Although I knew, deep down, that there was really no place in this world for the daughter of a Nazarene minister and a practicing Jehovah’s Witness, I was romantic enough to believe that true love could overcome the differences in our theology. But would he forgive me for taking out his left eye?

The following day, Melvin’s eye was red and puffy. And yet, he gave me a small, shy smile. Somehow the tide had changed. He’d noticed me! No longer was I the girl he sat next to in class. I was the girl who’d popped him.

It was the turning point. At that point, a new chapter in my life began.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

It's weird being me, part 1

So the other day Sport sucks back a Diet Coke, slams it down on the table, and asks, "Do you ever think about how weird it is to be you?"

I knew what he meant. He'd probably spent some time contemplating how he came into existence, and freaked himself out. I thought, how odd that he's asking me the very same question I used to ask myself when I was his age. Is this something all children go through, or did he get this little personality quirk via half the genes I'd passed on?

How did I get to be me?

My parents tell a story, perhaps apocryphal in nature, that when my father was bringing my mother and me home from the hospital, he missed the exit because he couldn’t take his eyes off me. My mother says it was because I was such a beautiful baby. I think he was plotting the trajectory of my flight off the front seat toward the dashboard should he slam on the brakes. This was 1964, in the days before child safety seats and the like. I was simply placed on the seat between my parents in the front of the car and my survival was left to fate or angels. (Wasn’t it obvious to my parents that if hitting a good-sized pothole, I’d be propelled up and over the back of the seat, and possibly out the open back window?) When he hung a quick right at the next exit, I tumbled like a doodle-bug into his lap and he nearly lost control of the car.

It was a difficult birth. My mother remembers scraping her nails up and down my father’s arms the night she went into labor. 42 hours later I was born – blue, underweight, cheerless. Dad's arm looked like hamburger. I stared out at them with unreadable eyes and a swollen face. The doctor gave a quick diagnosis: I had brain damage and would probably never be able to walk, read, or properly butter bread. My father refused to believe him and later sneaked us out of the hospital early, hoping to remove me from an early stigma and to save money on the doctor’s bill at the same time.

Little did I know that I had only 381 days until the tranquility of being an only child was brought to an end. Only a year and sixteen days after I arrived, my mother gave birth to my sister, and soon after that, a brother. It’s apparent to me now that I was damaged irrevocably by this upset in my routine. For a brief period of time, I was the center of my parents’ world. They thrilled to my smiles, were amazed at my babbling, wildly anticipated my first words. Then, in less than 2 and a half years, there were three small children in the house, and focusing on any of us for more than a few minutes was a virtual impossibility. And yet, despite this childhood trauma, I eventually did walk, learned to read at age 3, and didn’t worry about putting butter on bread as I loathed the stuff.

Looking back, I can see now that I was a weird child. Though the doctor had misdiagnosed me, he was right in some respects. I was hyper-sensitive, hyper-shy, and socially stunted. When someone talked to me I stared right in their eyes, forgetting to blink. Soon my eyes became watery and red, my nose began to run, and all thoughts flew from my head. I could barely hold a conversation, so conscious was I of being looked at. Why, then, did I stare so fervently at people? Obviously, there was something wrong with me. I felt things too strongly and heard things too loudly. Even complete silence was painful because my thoughts seemed too loud. I mourned the passing of insects and small birds, as if their deaths were somehow my doing. Sunlight was too bright, darkness too oppressive, and the whistle of a passing train made me cry because it sounded so sad.

Doubts of my own existence later haunted me. Was I real or a character in someone’s dream? If my mother had married another man, would I still be me? And then the really profound questions bothered me. Does the universe continue to expand, and if so, into what? What is outside of the universe? Why did it sound so strange when I repeated the same word over and over again?

I doubt my parents had time to see how weird I was. With two others in diapers, and my brother’s bout with pneumonia, I was often overlooked. Yet, the worse was yet to come. It was in grade school that I faced probably the worst 6-year period in my life.

But that's another story.