Tuesday, December 22, 2009


It's a mustache. Despite how faint it is, it's definitely a mustache.

"I need a razor," he tells me. "I need to shave."

All our razors are dull. I know this because the last time I used one, I made a mental note to write "razors" on our shopping list. But I didn't do it. And now he needs a razor.

He's 16, and he needs a razor. He won't use his father's electric shaver because "I need to know how to do this." It's another rite of passage.

Our office is getting ready to move to a building after 30 years or more of being in our "temporary" space. I've only been here for fifteen years, but I've accumulated a lot of stuff. I've been weeding through my desk drawers and making piles of things to keep and things to throw away: Superman drawings, school pictures, notes from friends, birthday cards. The cards and notes go in the recycling bin. The drawings and school pictures I can't part with. They contain clues to his evolution. I search each of them to try and pinpoint the moment he moved from child to man. I find nothing but the slice of bittersweet memories.

He's taller than I am and at times so distant I barely recognize him. Some days, he's as cold and callous as any typical teen. But some nights he's as sweet as the toddler he used to be. Instead of kisses, he'll rub my sore neck. Instead of drawings, he'll wash up the dishes and put away a basket of clothes. He doesn't like to pose for the camera like he used to, but he'll freely share an anecdote from school. He'll ask a question and wait for an answer.

"Do you really think the world is going to end in 2012? 'Cause that would really suck. 'Cause I'm supposed to graduate from high school."

He's 16 and he needs a razor. Then in two years he'll be gone. It cuts.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

H1N1 and me

Sport came home Monday from school feeling poorly: fever, congestion, and vomiting. It was inevitable, I suppose. The H1N1 virus has been sweeping through the schools.

Tuesday was the worst of it. His fever spiked to 103.2 and I called the doctor to see if I should bring him in.

Dehydration is dangerous, she told me. If he continues to vomit and have diarrhea, then come. Other than that, give him Motrin or Tylenol every 4 hours and try to keep as comfortable as you can.

It's the sickest he's been since a double ear infection as a baby. I literally could not step out of his sight. "Mom," he'd call weakly. "Mom..."

I plied him with liquids and medicines. Ran him baths and showers. Kept a cool rag on his head. Slept on the floor of his room while he napped. Rubbed his feet with lotion. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and he was wrung out and near tears.

"Tomorrow will be better," I promised. And it was. But it's been a long week and I'm grateful that he had no complications.

His reliance on me made me think of all the times I relied on my mother when I was sick. I was a rather sickly child. One family reunion, we all contacted stomach flu and spent the drive back vomiting into a plastic bag.

"Mommy!" we demanded, retching. Rub my back, hold my hand, make me feel better.

My poor mother had her hands full. I can't remember if she was sick as well. I was too consumed by my own misery. But she never complained. That I remember. Never threw her hands up in the air and shouted, "You kids are driving me crazy!" -- although I'm sure she wanted to. My mother was a saint. Thanks, Mom, for setting such a good example.

But I did draw the line last night. He hadn't had a temperature in 3 days and was milking the "waiting hand and foot" mama option for all it was worth.

"Could you get me a drink of ice water?" he asked, heading for bed.

"You've got legs. Use 'em."

So he did.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bucket list

A couple of my co-workers celebrated their 50th birthdays recently. It won't be long before I'm facing the same grim milestone.

I feel like a grump admitting it, but I've grown to hate birthday celebrations. Unless you're under the age of 19, is a birthday party really necessary? I don't expect anyone to mark the day I entered this world, except for my parents and my spouse. Are any of us with a driver's license all that excited about getting older?

SO and I figure we have about 25 good years left. Anything after that will be gravy, and depending on our genetics and environment, it might be lumpy gravy at that. Our own parents, well over the age of 65, have a combined list of ailments that includes (but is not limited to): osteoporosis, arthritis, high cholesterol, bipolar disorder, prostate cancer, fallen bladder, and cataracts.

Sometimes I ponder the sentiment, "Die young and leave a beautiful corpse." It's catchy, but a recent brush with the Grim Reaper left me certain that an early death is not on my Top Ten list of things to do. Heading westbound on I-40, a semi-truck threw a tire in the eastbound lane. My hands gripping the steering wheel, I watched as it bounced (in apparent slow motion) on the line dividing my car from one to my right. In the rear view mirror, I saw it hit the shoulder and roll harmlessly into a ditch. There was a surge of adrenalin. My hands started shaking when I imagined it deviating slightly and crashing into my windshield. I would have bit it but good. As for a beautiful corpse -- well, I'm sure it would have been a closed-casket ceremony.

If I had a bucket list (and I don't), I'd feel pretty good about marking off some things. True, I'll probably never tour Europe or hike up to Machu Picchu, but I've seen the Grand Canyon and driven up Pike's Peak. I wrote and published a book and I found my True Love. I had a part in creating two unique and entertaining individuals and I've laughed -- a lot. So when the end comes, it comes.

I just hope it comes without any surprise birthday parties. I hate those things.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


This fall, Sport's slowed down a bit on the soccer field. He's carrying a little extra weight around the middle, getting ready for another growth spurt, I think. Over the last year, he's shot up five inches. He's not as fast as he usually is, though he's just as skilled. He anticipates where the ball is going to be and he tries to beat it there. He passes, takes corner kicks, and encourages his teammates.

He's always got a grin on his face. Hair tousled by the wind, he's in his element.

The second half of the game, he volunteers to be goalie so the kid who usually tends the onion bag can get a little time on the field. Sport lunges, grabbing the ball not just with his arms but with his whole body. He doesn't waste any time, putting the ball back into play as soon as he can.

A hand ball in the box results in a penalty kick. Way back at the other goal, Sport claps his gloves together.

"Can I take the shot, coach?" asks one of his mates. Two or three others volunteer.

"Sport!" yells the coach.

My son glances over, squinting.

"Take the shot!"

He's confused for a moment. A goalie taking the penalty? Is the coach serious? Benched kids from the other team look to their own coaches for confirmation. What's going on?

"Take it!" Coach motions for Sport to run down the field. He doesn't have to be told again. Confidently, he sets down the ball, peers at the goal, then kicks.

It's in! Our side erupts into cheers. The boys slap Sport on the back as he races back to his spot in the box. It's a perfect moment. I take a snapshot of it in my mind. Beautiful.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Lately I've been so tired. Depressed, even. Perhaps the dog days of summer are getting me down (and the fact that the air conditioning is broken at work). Mostly, it's the return-to-school blues, the chaos of the boys' schedules, the expectations, both spoken and unspoken, we have for our kids as they face another year of public education.

I'm reading Rafe Esquith's new book about raising extraordinary children. It makes me tired and depressed as well because I know I'm not doing nearly enough to rouse my sons from mediocrity to greatness.

I share a secret with my friend MaryGrace, who is bringing up four little girls. We celebrate parenting high points -- recitals, awards, good report cards -- and support each other through the low points -- self-doubt, recriminations, regret. "Remember, we don't have to be good mothers," we tell each other. "We just have to be good enough."

Those two boys are going to be something special, Jill tells me. You're doing a great job, says Crystal. Stop reading all those parenting books, says my husband. You're driving yourself crazy.

Tonight, TeenGuy opens up at the dinner table. Usually he wolfs down the food and heads out to hang with friends. But today, a surprising revelation: "I had a good debate today." And he tell us that one of his classmates made a political remark, some offhand statement, and my son said, "Bullshit" -- in front of the teacher -- and then came back with a fact, which left the other kid sputtering until a third boy got into the verbal fray.

TeenGuy beams.

SO and I are appalled. "You cursed in the classroom?"

He assures us the teacher didn't mind. "She even gave me a thumbs up!"

"You don't curse in the classroom. That is very disrespectful."

He shrugs it off. Later, when we are alone, SO says that throwing out a somewhat objectionable word and a single fact does not constitute a "debate." Yet I can't help but marvel at my son's courage.

That, I think, is extraordinary.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Light a candle

As a public library cataloger, I get to look at lots of different books covering a vast array of subjects. Some of the most interesting are books are the ones aimed at elementary school kids: they cover the basics and whet the appetite. I enjoy working on a batch of Tween books, especially when the subject matter is animals or geography.

I worked on insect books this morning. As always, I learned something new. Fact: earthworms have bristles on their skin to help anchor their bodies to the dirt. As a gardener, I love earthworms (despite their creepy appearance). As a human being, I'm drawn to their vulnerability.

I have a habit of rescuing neighborhood earthworms in the morning after the sprinkler systems have shut off. I find their struggles to scale the curb heartbreaking. They'll never make it, of course. They lie writhing on the concrete, increasing in desperation until either a bird picks them off, a car crushes them, or they dry out in the relentless sun.

When I'm walking my dog in the morning I can't pass one by without trying to help. After a rain storm, it's impossible. I have to set a limit, and then turn away. I feel like the woman in the starfish parable.

But, to paraphrase a line from one of my favorite movies, I'd rather light a candle than curse the darkness.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

This is the sound of your kids on caffeine

Sunday morning, on the way to church:

Kid #1: "Do you think I could drive the van? 'Cause it's got a bigger engine than the Toyota. I think I could handle it pretty well. I think I could handle a stick shift, 'cause I drive one of those when I'm gaming. It seems pretty easy. You drive two footed, right? And then you shift when you get a certain speed. Hey look, a Mini Cooper! Do you think I could afford a used Mini Cooper? When I get a job, I mean. The guy down the block has a classic car for sale. $3000! I think that's too much, don't you? Of course, it is made of steel. I'll bet if I crashed that car it wouldn't even get a dent. So can we go driving tonight? A Honda Civic! That's my car, right there. I want one of those. Are you guys going to buy me a car? Are you going to help me? I think I could save $5000 over the summer and get a good car. Why are you smiling? You think I couldn't do it? I could totally do it. Or I could get a Yugo like in that movie last night. I wonder what kind of engine a Yugo has. Like a 2 cylinder? ..."

Kid #2: "Would you rather be shot in the head or the heart? 'Cause a head shot would be fast but messy. But a heart shot might take longer to die. And a shot in the lung would take a long time. I'd rather be shot than drown. Or suffocate. What if you fell from a four story building and got all kinds of internal injuries and then it took you like four days to die? That would suck. Would you rather have a stroke or a heart attack? Would you rather be eaten by a grizzly bear or killed by a human? Oh, a Corvette! I'm going to save all my money and get a Corvette when I grow up. I know they aren't good for the environment, but that's my car. That's mine. No, you can't talk me out of it. No, I don't want a hybrid. Those aren't cool, Mom. Come on! Would you rather burn or freeze to death? ..."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Clash of the titans

We have a few very strong personalities in our family. Last night, three of them smacked right into each other.

With the onset of puberty, TeenGuy has moved into a new phase. No longer content to sit and observe things with his old soul eyes, now he wants what he wants when he wants it. He's a master at pestering. He loves to negotiate. Often, he'll bargain. If he doesn't get what he wants, he'll retreat into a dark silence, or disappear on his bike for a couple of hours.

Last night, he wanted to drive.

I was doing a crossword puzzle with Sport and SO. TeenGuy stood in kitchen, working his jaw. Finally, I stood up to grab my purse. Like lightning, he zipped to the driver's seat of the car, revving the engine.

We ambled along neighborhood streets until I got the bright idea of taking him into a parking lot with speed bumps. "You'll need to learn how to go over them without tearing up the bottom of your car," I told him.

I didn't realize how narrow the entrance was to the lot until he took the turn going way too fast. A metal post, situated to the left of the entrance, loomed ahead. Time slowed down as the front of the car came dangerously close. I must have yelped and said (rather loudly), "You're going to hit it!" Scared the kid to death. Scared me. He started yelling at me. I yelled back that raising my voice was a natural reaction to fear.

It didn't go too well after that. I took over and drove home, vowing to leave the driving lessons up to his father. TeenGuy jumped on his bike and took off.

In the meantime, Sport had a meltdown because he wanted to spend the night at a friend's house. This friend, I'd like to mention, already had plans to spend the night with us the next evening. Sport's learned how to negotiate and bargain from his brother. The difference is, this kid doesn't let go. His appeals tend to go on for hours. We were all exhausted by the time he finally gave in.

I retreated into my bedroom, put on some calming music, and did some yoga. Eventually, TeenGuy reported that he'd gone back to the site of the incident and taken a second look at the space. "You were right, Mom. It was really close. I'm sorry."

And later, Sport came in to apologize as well. They're good boys. But stubborn!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rules of the road

TeenGuy wants to get his driver's license. To do this, he has to learn to drive. Also, he needs to know the rules of the road. I've brought home the Oklahoma driving manual twice during the summer. It sits on the buffet table, looking sad and unused. My son seems to think that getting behind the wheel of the car a couple times a week, hugging the curb, and coming to a full stop at the stop sign is enough knowledge to pass a driving test. Think again, mister. When I imagine him hitting an ice patch during the first winter storm, I shudder.

I've been taking him out when I can, and the last time, SO went with us. He told me I'm too hard on the kid -- honestly, I didn't mean to be. I sort of screamed when he veered into the left lane while making a turn. I was only playing, but my kind of teasing is probably more appropriate for my peers.

I remember learning to drive. It was terrifying. My dad was really critical with my hesitant technique and I was scared to death being in control of a 2-ton solid steel station wagon. But I persevered. I prepared.

I passed the written test with ease, but during the driving part, the state trooper in the car with me nearly jumped out of his seat when I veered to close to a parked car along a narrow neighborhood street.

"Watch the side mirrors! Watch the side mirrors!" I think he broke into a sweat. And then he failed me. The next time, I did much better and left the building with a license to drive. Ahhh, teenage milestones.

Another diary entry:

Jan. 8, 1975. Boy, are my parents mean. They would not go to the library for fear we would be late for church! Dum, right?

Even then, I was a library junkie.

That same day, a year later:

I played with Bruce & Jason [neighborhood boys who lived down the block from us]: "Slaves." Then we played "Bigfoot" and "Time Travel." Then I watched "Nashville remembers Elvis on his birthday." Today was Elvis' birthday. He would be 43. The first birthday without him. It was sad.

I wish I could remember what the game of "Slaves" was like. I'm sure it wasn't politically correct.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


SO and I are working on reorganizing our garage so we can make a gaming station out there for the boys to use when it's not miserably hot or cold. We figure they could get about two and a half seasons of use out of it.

We're pretty good about going through our junk every few years, so at least the thing isn't stacked floor to ceiling with acquisitions. Looks like we'll be making a trip to the hazardous waste dump because we've got lots of half-used cans of paint, insecticides, and other items too dangerous to put in the trash.

I found a box of old letters from family and friends. I weighed the pros and cons of throwing the whole bunch into the recycling bin until SO reminded me that few people write letters anymore. "Maybe our kids won't be interested in those, but our great-grandkids might."

I imagined finding a box of letters written to my own great-grandparents. What a treasure that would be! Wouldn't it reveal their characters to me in a way that family stories never could? I decided to keep the letters and store them in the hopes that a future Adjective Queen might enjoy them one day.

I also found two of my childhood diaries. I got a kick out of reading entries to SO until he very patiently asked me when I thought I'd be done so he could read his own book in peace.

Here's an entry from the 1976-76 edition (spelling errors included):

Jan. 4. I am sitting on my bed writing in you. I don't want to go look at cartoons rite now because I feel I am to old. I am ten years old. We go to music lessons today. I hate them. I don't ever get a day off.

How many times have I heard Sport complain in the same way about piano lessons?

Another entry from the 1977-1978 edition.

Jan. 3. Today was school. Hard to get up this morning ... Mr. Slack told us about "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". It sounds good. Probably will out sale "Star Wars." MAYBE. Haven't seen "Star Wars" yet. I hope we can see it soon.

Guess I got that prediction wrong!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Victor, his name is Victor...

Sport volunteered at the library's Summer Reading Program. As a result, he got a free pass to Laser Quest. He's never been before, so it was a new experience for him. TeenGuy (formerly known as Lego) has gone a couple of times and really enjoyed it, so I was sure that Sport would have fun.

I, however, didn't plan on sticking around. First of all, the place is loud. Secondly, it's smelly. Thirdly, it's loud and smelly. I scouted out a cute little Mexican restaurant nearby, a place called Victor's. After dropping Sport off and making sure he was properly supervised, I grabbed my book and headed for the cafe.

I should have taken my first cue from the penetrating heat of the interrogator's light installed over my booth, My second cue was the stale tortilla chips the waiter so eagerly brought to my table. The third? The bizarre, frenetic music playing over the speaker system. I'm not even sure of the genre. Flamenco/salsa/techno?

The chicken tortilla soup was packed full of squash and carrots -- not a common ingredient in any of the tortilla soups I've ever eaten. I couldn't enjoy my book because the couple behind me had to raise their voices to be heard over the music.

What did I learn? Never eat at a restaurant named after the Lone Rangers nephew's horse.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Meanest mom

Apparently, I now qualify for "the meanest mom". My crime? Limiting my children's access to the TV. And the Xbox. And the computer.

The boys feel it is their right and privilege to be entertained every waking hour of the day. Reading is not acceptable. They won't draw. They rarely stay in their rooms to mess with board games. If it doesn't come with flashing lights and sounds, they won't bother. Only when the TV is off limits do they turn on their stereo and listen to music.

It's the heat that is really exacerbating the problem. In the evenings, they'll go outside to play soccer, but ten days of 100+ weather has us all dragging. Even when the sun is setting, it's miserable outside. The boys say it's too hot to kick the ball out on the street. The pavement feels like a griddle.

I feel like I'm being held hostage by the TV. I know I'm weird. I have sound sensitivity issues. After working all day, I don't want to hear exploding bombs, irritating theme music or mindless role-playing dialog. I just want it to be quiet. Sometimes, I want to listen to classical music. Sometimes I want to read in my favorite chair. But I can't do any of that when the boys are entertaining themselves.

So I demand they turn it off. They throw tantrums. Call me mean. Roll their eyes. Say it's stupid. Accuse me of being unreasonable. Finally, the teen will storm off to a friend's house. The other will go into his room to listen to music and thumb through a soccer magazine. Then, it's quiet.

Except for the high-pitched whine of my neighbor's attic fan. Once the din of the TV is gone, that's what I hear. Sighing, I'll turn on my newest aquisition: a metal fan that hums like a small-engine plane. It masks all other sounds with blessed white noise.

Ahhhhh, quiet. Finally.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lounge wear

Dear Target shopper,

Don't. Just don't. Yes, I'm talking to you. You, the man in the lounge pants and the shirt with the sleeves conveniently cut out. You, wearing flannel in the middle of summer, multi-colored toasters winging their way across the grain of the fabric. Do you realize that when you raise that cup of Starbucks coffee to your lips, the arms of your "shirt" flop conveniently in the breeze, exposing the bulge of your belly? Your armpits appear to be dueling black holes, threatening to engulf nearby children with tentacles of hair. At least put on a pair of cutoffs. Sheesh!


Your fellow Target shopper

I know that grocery shopping is one of the least pleasurable activities on earth. I really hate the frantic search for relatively healthy meals to sate the appetites of my growing children. I'm all for embracing individuality and eschewing formality, but I can't stomach the increasingly bizarre outfits of some of the people I see at the grocery store.

I'm not in favor of putting on a dress, hose, heels, and full make-up like the character of Betty in one of my favorite tv shows. I think a pair of sweats, shorts, and a t-shirt are sufficient. But the whole pajama thing has got to stop. The other day I saw someone shuffling about in old lady slippers. Where's our sense of pride, people? Would it kill you to put on a pair of sandals?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Guilty pleasures

At the urging of my friend Thomas, I'm starting up the blog again. Facebook put a real damper on my posting enthusiasm, but I think I can base my entries on status updates and see what happens.

Right now, we are in the middle of watching episodes from the original Star Trek series. A trip to the theater to see the J.J. Abrams reboot got me curious to revisit these blasts from my past. I vividly remember coming home from elementary school and turning on the tv, face pressed to the cool black naugahyde of our family couch, and hearing that familiar refrain: "Space, the final frontier..."

What's even more interesting is recognizing the quality of the scripts involved. Yes, the special effects are cheesy. One of the episodes had Kirk and Spock thrown against the wall of the ship, and the thing buckled like cheap foam board (which it was). For the most part, however, the stories are really good.

And then there's that special relationship between two of the main characters. There is real chemistry among the three main characters, but especially between Kirk and Spock. Curiously, the Kirk/Spock dichotomy led to the birth of slash fiction, and I've read through some of these creative attempts during the last week. Mostly, they are pitiful, with multiple points of view, lots of heavy breathing, and too many adverbs. But it's also hard to stop reading. It's kind of fun, actually.

Author Henry Jenkins explains why this kind of fan-created fiction is so popular, especially among heterosexual women:

When I try to explain slash to non-fans, I often reference that moment in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan where Spock is dying and Kirk stands there, a wall of glass separating the two longtime buddies. Both of them are reaching out towards each other, their hands pressed hard against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. They both have so much they want to say and so little time to say it. Spock calls Kirk his friend, the fullest expression of their feelings anywhere in the series.

Almost everyone who watches that scene feels the passion the two men share, the hunger for something more than what they are allowed. And, I tell my nonfan listeners, slash is what happens when you take away the glass. The glass, for me, is often more social than physical; the glass represents those aspects of traditional masculinity which prevent emotional expressiveness or physical intimacy between men, which block the possibility of true male friendship. Slash is what happens when you take away those barriers and imagine what a new kind of male friendship might look like. One of the most exciting things about slash is that it teaches us how to recognize the signs of emotional caring beneath all the masks by which traditional male culture seeks to repress or hide those feelings.”

As Spock might say, "Fascinating."