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Neurotic and Negligent

Neurotic & Negligent
by Kirsten Cheskey

The Peace Sign, 8/25/08
Anything Less, 7/30/07
Down the Dark Hallway, 3/06/07

An Experiment in Vegetarianism, 11/05/06
The idea (or The Half Assed Vegetarian)
Sunday (or The Prepared Vegetarian)
Monday (or The Cheating Vegetarian)
Tuesday (or The Sad Vegetarian)
Wednesday (or The Excited Vegetarian)
Thursday (or The Addicted Vegetarian)
Friday (or The Drunk Vegetarian)
Saturday (or The Desperate Vegetarian)

Are We There Yet? 2006, 7/21/06
Prologue - A Million Little Pieces... of Spree
Part one - The trip starts... kind of
Part two - Through the cities

Part three - An open letter to a jackass
Part four - The rodeo truth

The Most Beautiful Song, 6/26/06
It Used to Be Mine, 5/13/06
The Luck of the German (A St. Patrick's Day Miracle), 3/17/06
The Eternal, Maternal Sigh, 12/05/05
Are We There Yet - 2005, 9/03/05
The Magic I Have Left, 5/29/05

Showers of Happiness, 5/28/05
Kindergarten and Cookies, 2/10/05
Fish Tales, 1/15/05
I'm No Snow White, 11/25/04
I Love Grumps, 9/22/04
Boys Are Scary, 9/03/04
The Question, 8/19/04

Are We There Yet?, 7/28/04
The Sardine Game, 7/06/04

My Dog Killed a Chicken Today...A Poem, 5/26/04
The Bike Thing, 4/20/04
The Princess Diaries...Entry Three, 4/18/04
The Princess Diaries...Entry Two, 4/10/04
The Princess Diaries...Entry One, 4/01/04
To Reduce the Risk of Serious Injury..., 2/22/04
The Bath...or why I love showers, 2/11/04
Ivehadmephyll, 1/27/04
It's Christmas Time in the City, 12/15/03
Here's what you do...or how to get a 2-year old to bed, 10/22/03
Pray for Me, 10/13/03

Family Fun Night, 9/05/03
Four Shots and a Urine Sample, 7/09/03
The Cookie Judgment, 6/20/03
King of the Road Rage, 5/05/03
Breakfast or 20 Questions, 4/03/03


The Peace Sign, 8/25/08

K: How was the first day of first grade, Julia?
J: Great! You have lots of papers to fill out.
K: Hand 'em over.
J: Also I have a worksheet and a picture.
K: Great. Let me see.
J: I messed up the sixes.
K: Sixes take practice.
J: And here's my picture.
K: Hey! That's really good... OHMYGOSH! JULIA!
J: What?
K: What's he... um... what's he doing?
J: He's jumping off a stage. He's doing rock and roll.
K: But with his... hands?
J: Well, I tried to do a peace sign but...
K: But...
J: The hands didn't turn out the right way. Too many fingers.
K: Yes, at least one or two too many!!
J: My teacher liked it.
K: Your teacher saw this??
J: Yes. She said it was very colorful.
K: Oh, it's colorful all right. A peace sign? Really?
J: Or maybe he's pointing at something.
K: Julia! He's pointing with his middle finger!
J: <gasping> That's not his middle finger! That's bad!
K: <counting fingers> Those are middle fingers! You flipped off the first grade!
J: Well, it was supposed to be a peace sign.
K: <sighing> It is a good drawing.
J: Good. Can we frame it?

She had a great first day of school.



Anything Less, 7/30/07

He needed to run and today was the perfect day for it. This man (we’ll call him Carter) woke up knowing that he’d be going for ten miles. Anything less was unacceptable. His family at home would be fixing their breakfast now. But he laughed at breakfast. He scoffed at lazing around and reading the paper on this most beautiful of mornings.

He was going to run. Some would say that, baby, he was born to run.

Around him blossomed the sounds of nature. Birds called with early morning chatter and ducks made their way into the water in search of a morning meal. The river he would run along poured over rocks; babbling at parts, rushing at others. The gravel underfoot crunched as he made his way to the path.

Thank God he had his iPod.

And so he ran… and ran… and ran some more. The park was filling now. He passed bikers, other runners, people walking at a fast clip and some strolling along with their families. But he paid them no mind. He was in the zone, focused on the finish. You didn’t acknowledge other people when you had the sweetness of Snoop Dogg pounding in your ears, that’s fo shizzle.

Around the eight mile mark, Carter had to stop. His shirt, soaked with sweat, was weighing him down, slowing him down. He took it off, wrung it out and dropped it into the cold water of the river. As the ducks quacked, “Gee, thanks, prick. Our breakfast needed some salt.” – he wrung out the shirt again and let the chilly water fall over him, cooling him down for this last leg of his run.

And then he continued, shirt in hand, to the finish. He did it.

He walked a bit further to cool down and now he nodded to passers-by. Now he took in the sounds of nature. Now he smiled at the families who were pointing and laughing at the ducks. And if they gave him strange looks, he figured it was because he was kind of a mess; shirtless and very wet with steam pumping off him like fog lifting from the moors.

When his breathing evened out, he walked back to his car. He drove home feeling a sense of accomplishment, a heady knowledge that he’d put his body to the test and had come out victorious. By the time he reached home, his thoughts had turned to breakfast While visions of eggs over-easy and fifteen grain toast danced in his head, he emerged from his car.

Then something caught his eye.

And in a flash, Carter’s entire morning was ruined.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

She sat at her desk and figured it was a perfect day to write. It had been months since she (we’ll call her Kirsten) had been moved to write anything but today, as the sun shone, as the birds called, as her children played in the backyard, she was sure something would come to her.

Any minute.

Any time now she would think of something. Anything.

Her husband was out for a run. A long one. Ten freaking miles. She rolled her eyes at the thought. Running was not her thing though she tried every now and then on the dusty treadmill downstairs. She just didn’t get it.

She knew that, were they animals in the wild, her husband would be the antelope outrunning the predator while she would be the one saying, “Well, this is just ridiculous. Here… enjoy my pancreas.” And her husband would leap away while she gave of herself to feed the hungry pride of lions. “Lazy? Hah! It’s because I’m a giver,” her antelope self would call after him. .

And really, as many women can tell you, survival of the fittest in the suburbs has little to do with life or death chases and everything to do with the ability to make a quiche out of two eggs, a drop of milk and whatever leftovers you find in the fridge.

Running, Kirsten decided as she opened a game of Solitaire, could be her husband’s thing. She had more important things to do.

A half hour later, her page was still blank and she’d moved on to online checkers when her husband appeared at the door. In he came and she knew immediately that something was amiss. He looked tired and sweaty as usual but the look of utter bewilderment on his face was something new.

“Hey. How was the run?” she asked.

“Completely embarrassing,” he said, shaking his head.

“Did you wipe out?”

“I wish. No. I was running and…”

He recapped his run for her and got to the part where he had taken off his shirt and thrust it into the river.
“Yeah,” she said, because his story so far hadn’t explained a thing (not unlike this one), “and then what?”

“Well,” he said and he swallowed hard as if something was caught in his throat. Could have been pride. “Well,” he said again, “you know how my nipples get?”

Now, to any other person this might seem a strange question but her only reaction was, “You didn’t.”

He nodded. “You know they chafe when I go for long runs and so…”

“Oh no!” she winced. “You put Band-aids on your nipples?”

“Yes!” He looked horror stricken. “I always do. It’s just a habit now. I mean, who wants sore nipples?”

She had no answer because at that moment a pebble of understanding hit her in the forehead. “But when you took off your shirt you… you took off the Band-aids, right?”

He closed his eyes and shook his head. His devoted wife had to cover her mouth with her hands in an effort to contain her outpouring of sympathy which sounded suspiciously like a bark of laughter.

“And I was shirtless for the last two miles and my cool down walk,” he said with a hint of despair. “But that’s not even the worst part.”

Kirsten frowned now. How could it get worse? This time, understanding hit her like a brick. Eyes wide, she gasped, “Oh no!”

He held up his hand and stuck to it were two Band-aids. On one was a smiling picture of Sleeping Beauty and on the other was Princess Jasmine waving hello.

After long minutes of uncontrollable mirth, his supportive wife finally managed to say, “Well, they… they’re very pretty.”

Carter looked to the ceiling and pulled on his hair. “I can’t imagine what the people I passed were thinking.”

Kirsten gulped down a giggle and said matter-of-factly, “Don’t worry. They will think you have daughters, that’s all.”

“Or that I’m a princess pasty wearing pervert,” he added. “And there I was… feeling so proud of myself, smiling at the nice families as they fed the ducks. I’m surprised they didn’t run away screaming. Why… WHY were we out of Scooby-Doo Band-aids?”

“Scooby-Doo would have been better?”

“He’s a little more manly than Jasmine and Sleeping Beauty, don’t you think? He solves crimes.”

Instead of arguing that Scooby Doo was nothing more than a snack craving coward, Kirsten kindly suggested, “How about we buy you some plain Band-aids to wear the next time you’re at the park?”

“I can never go back there.”

He walked away muttering about princesses overtaking his life and wondering if anyone he knew saw him.

She called after him; assuring him that no one they knew would have been at the park that early. No one would ever know that his sensitive nipples had been saved by those pretty princesses.

Still chuckling, she turned back to her computer. Her blank document was still open before her. And quite suddenly, her fingers began to move over the keyboard.

She paused after the first few sentences wondering if it was wrong. Was it fair that one person’s misfortune was another person’s inspiration? Especially when those people were married? It was a dilemma and Kirsten spent minutes (at least two) pondering it.

But then she thought of the untold millions of men and women who have problems with chafing. Wouldn’t it make them feel, if not better, perhaps less alone to know that there are others who suffer from the same complaint? It could (and probably will) be argued that it would be a disservice to keep this story from seeing the light of day.

As she tried to control the devilish grin that kept sneaking onto her face, Kirsten continued to type; convincing herself that her motives were pure and kind. Selfless. Indeed, within moments she was certain she had a moral obligation to educate the public by revealing every embarrassing morsel of her husband’s run in the park.

Anything less was simply unthinkable.

The end

Down the Dark Hallway, 3/06/07

The wind is howling but it is soft footsteps that wake me. In the way of many mothers, I am able to sleep through loud noises outside but the quietest hiccup from one of my children will have my eyes popping open. I squint through the darkness now to see our youngest daughter passing our doorway to head into the bathroom.

I glance at the clock. 4:20 am. The house is cold as the wind rushes around it, pushing its way into any crack that hasn’t been patched by my husband, Captain Weather-strip.

I see the light from beneath the bathroom door. I hear the toilet flush and the water begin to run at the sink. I wonder if I should get up to walk her back to her bed. She’s only five and the hallway is dark. The nightlight in her room is the only beacon she has to follow and that’s not really visible from anywhere but her bed.

I hear the bathroom door open. I’m about to get out of bed when I hear something. I hear Julia talking. She’s whispering something and so I lay still and strain my ears to hear this early morning conversation she’s carrying with herself.

“Don’t spill the water,” she says as she takes some steps out of the bathroom. “Be careful.”

She’s gotten herself a cup of water and these are words I’ve spoken to her countless times. She’s forgotten to turn off the bathroom light. I’ll turn it off after she’s in bed.

“Forgot the light,” she whispers as if she heard my thoughts. I see her turn, holding her hand over the top of the cup so no water escapes as she heads back into the bathroom. I can picture her reaching up to turn off the light, being careful not to spill a drop. I listen some more. The light goes out. Her small voice continues.
“This is scary,” she gasps as she’s thrown into the dark. “I’m scared.”

My first instinct is to get up but something holds me back. All is silent as her eyes adjust. She continues down the hall.

“It’s not far,” she whispers. “I’m not scared.”

More words she’s heard from me, murmured over and over as I’ve carried her to bed. I can’t stop myself. Hearing my voice will make her less afraid. I know it. I call out to her in a sleepy voice. “Julia.”

The footsteps stop. She turns around and her head pops into my doorway. “What?” she whispers.

I sit up in bed. “Are you okay? Do you need help?”

“I just got a drink. I’m going to bed.”

“Oh,” I say. “Okay. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” she replies and she’s off again, whispering still, her footsteps not so hesitant.

I pull the covers up and close my eyes. The wind continues its howling. I no longer have to carry a little girl back to her bed. I no longer have to coax a child back to sleep.

I am glad because the night is cold and the blankets are warm. I am sad because soothing a child to sleep is a miracle and a memory I treasure. I am proud because she, my youngest girl, can talk herself down the dark hallway.

Before I drift back to sleep I pray that she’ll always carry my words, my voice with her. And I pray they’ll always make her journey easier.

An Experiment in Vegetarianism, 11/05/06
The idea (or The Half Assed Vegetarian)

I’m sitting at my desk one day last week when my daughters, Emma and Olivia, come home from school. They are full of excitement.

I am immediately apprehensive.

“Mommy,” Emma says. “We had an idea.”

Oh boy. “Really? What’s that?”

“Well,” she says.

“Well,” Olivia says.

“We want to be vegetarians,” Emma announces.

I wince.

“For a week,” Olivia adds. “Just to see if we like it.”

I sigh.

I look at them. Emma’s eyes are pleading. She’s serious about this. Olivia is jumping from foot to foot. She is also serious about this… or she has to pee. I quickly think of our schedule next week to see if we can fit in new menu items. Looks pretty clear.

“Okay,” I say. “But we’ll do it next week because this is going to involve some planning. Olivia, go to the bathroom.”

She does.

I break the news to Carter the next day.

“Hey, we’re vegetarians next week.”

“Why is that?” he asks.

“Because our children want to explore new things and we encourage their adventurous spirits?”

“Oh, right. Well, we can eat eggs, right?”

“No.”

He frowns. “What? Of course we can.”

“Eggs are meat. They come from a chicken.”

“But we can drink milk?”

“Yes,” I say.

He looks triumphant. “Milk comes from a cow. Eggs come from a chicken.”

I look like I’m married to a doofus. “But the milk will never, under any circumstances, turn into a cow. An egg could turn into a chicken.”

“But,” he says thoughtfully, “is an egg that hasn’t been fertilized really poultry?”

“According to the food pyramid, eggs are meat.”
 
Carter waves that away. “The food pyramid is based on how many lobbyists the farmers can send to Washington. Wheat and grain farmers? Lots of lobbyists so they are at the bottom of the pyramid. ‘Eat lots of bread! Pasta too!’ The nut farmers get screwed right up to the top of the pyramid. They have to beg people to put them in cookies just so they have a chance. The food pyramid is an unreliable source.”

“My point is that eggs are not nuts or grain or vegetables or fruit. You ask anyone and they will tell you that eggs are considered meat.”

“I still think eggs should be allowed.”

I call my neighbor, Ann. She eats tofu. She’ll know the answer. I tell her our plan to be vegetarians.

She is silent for a moment and then, “You’re eating eggs though, right?”

“NO! We are not eating eggs.” I ignore Carter’s smug look. “Eggs are meat. We are not going to be half-assed vegetarians. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it the right way.”

“Your kids need protein and lots of it. What about B12? What are you going to give them?”

“I don’t know. Peanut butter.”

Ann is silent again. I know how she feels about JIF. She thinks if I were truly a choosy mom, I wouldn’t give my kids peanut butter made with partially hydrogenated oil. The only response and, luckily, the one that always wins is, “But JIF tastes gooooooood.”

“Most vegetarians eat eggs,” she tells me.

I tell her Carter’s theory that an unfertilized egg can’t be considered meat.

“He has a point,” she says. “When did you become pro-life?”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Same argument, really. At what point can the egg be considered a chicken?”

“Goodbye, Ann.”

I hang up and head to the computer where I google vegetarians and eggs. Hmm. It turns out that most vegetarians in the Western world do drink milk and eat eggs. They are called lacto-ovo vegetarians. Seems like cheating to me but maybe I should go along with the crowd this time. I do love eggs.

“If the girls want to try vegetarianism,” Carter says, “we should try the most popular branch.”

So the decision is made. For one week, we will be lacto-ovo vegetarians.

“Sounds kind of cool,” Carter says. “Hi, I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian.”

I nod. “But you can just call me a half-assed vegetarian.”

And so it begins…

An Experiment in Vegetarianism, 11/05/06
Sunday (or The Prepared Vegetarian)

We decide to start our experiment on Monday. Mostly because I have a ham to cook on Sunday and I’m sick of looking at it in the freezer. We’ll eat the ham on Sunday night and on Monday we’ll tell people we don’t eat anything with a face. Excellent plan.

On Sunday, Carter and I go for groceries. While we’re there, it suddenly hits him that he’s giving up meat for a week.

“Why are we doing this again?”

“Kids. Encouraging exploration. Something like that,” I reply.

We pass the lunch meat counter. He sighs. “I really love meat. I’m happy to be an omnivore.”

“We can do it,” I say as I pat him on the shoulder. “It’ll be fun.”

He is not convinced.

At the store, I buy lots of things I’ve never bought before. Black beans, barley, vegetable broth. We avoid the meat counter and the seafood counter. Carter whimpers and asks what I have planned for the week.

“My plan is to buy lots of things and then throw them together so they become culinary masterpieces.”

“You have no plan.”

I grimace and shake my head. I never have a plan. “Soup. I’m thinking lots of soup.”

“Oh God.”

“I can make soup. And salad.”

“What will I have for lunch?” He comes home for lunch most days.

“The same.”

“You expect me to eat soup and salad for every meal, every day?”

“You can have eggs for breakfast,” I remind him.
We buy three dozen eggs.

We continue on and Carter is only cheered when the grocery bill is far less than normal. Hooray for vegetarianism!

That night, we eat ham and savor our last bit of meat. I ask the kids what they think we should eat this week.

“Pancakes!” shouts Olivia.

“Cheese!” says Emma.

“Cinnamon Toast Crunch,” says Julia.

“Cake!”

“Noodles!”

“Cookies!”

“More cheese! Tastykakes!”

“Okay, listen,” I say. “We are not using this week as an excuse to eat more sugar. You must eat eggs for breakfast every day. You will pack lunch everyday except pizza day and mac and cheese day. We will try new foods with lots of vegetables and decide if we like them or not. This is an experiment. Not sugar and cheese week.”

Some people put the Christ in Christmas. We’re putting the veggies in vegetarianism. Everyone agrees with the plan.

“But,” Olivia (aka Sugarhead) says. “We’ll still get dessert, right? If we eat the veggie stuff, we’ll get cake, right?”

Carter pipes up. “I’m afraid chocolate is considered a meat.”

“Is not!” Emma cries. “I know about the food pyramid.”

“Don’t mention the food pyramid to your father, Emma,” I say. “He’s teasing. Of course, we can have chocolate.”

We are vegetarians, after all, not barbarians.

An Experiment in Vegetarianism, 11/05/06
Monday (or The Cheating Vegetarian)

Emma is sick. Okay, it’s more accurate to say that Emma was sick on Sunday night. She is fine by Monday morning.

“Why isn’t she going to school?” Carter asks.

“She threw up last night. It’s a rule of mine. Throw up at night, stay home the next day.”

He starts making his eggs. “It should be ‘Throw up at night, next day sit tight’.”

“No, I like it my way.”

He shrugs. “Whatever but sayings are way better if they rhyme.”

This has nothing to do with anything but goes to show you what mornings are like at the Cheskey house.

Emma wakes up and eats an egg. She’s definitely better. All the girls have eggs. Olivia and Julia go for soft boiled. Emma’s is over-easy. I can practically see the protein rushing into their little bodies.

Carter decides to work from home in the afternoon because I have to take Julia on a field trip. He tells me he’ll be home after his lunch meeting.

“Get a salad,” I tell him.

“You bet,” he says as he leaves.

The day passes. I don’t miss meat at all. I miss heat as I spend the afternoon at a freezing cold pumpkin patch with Julia but I doubt extra protein would have warmed me up. I’m starting to think this vegetarianism is something I could get into. Especially with the eggs.

I come home later to find Emma watching television. Carter is typing away on his lap top.

The phone rings. It’s Ann.

“Do you have any celery?” she asks.

“As a matter of fact, I do. And I never have celery.”

“Why not?”

“We don’t like celery.”

“None of you?”

“No.”

“Why did you buy it?”

“Because we’re lacto-ovo vegetarians and celery seems like something we should be eating.”

I can actually hear Ann rolling her eyes. “I’m coming over to steal your celery. I’ll replace it.”

She’s at our house in a few minutes. She asks why Carter is home. I tell her about not-so-sick Emma.

Ann looks out to the kitchen. “Where was your lunch meeting, Carter?”

Carter is silent.

“Good question.” I look at Carter. “Where was it?”

Carter looks sheepish. This can’t be good. “Smokey Bones,” he says.

Ann breaks into uncontrollable laughter. My mouth drops to the floor. “Smokey Bones? What did you have?” I really don’t have to ask. A place called Smokey Bones doesn’t really cater to the vegetarian.

Carter stops typing. “I had coleslaw.”

I walk towards him. “You had coleslaw and what?”

“Nothing. Just a big plate of coleslaw.”

“You had the pulled pork platter, didn’t you?”
He laughs nervously. “Okay, yes, but I didn’t pick the place. I couldn’t help it.”

Ann is still laughing.

I glare at him. “You’re a cheater. I can’t believe you didn’t even make it one day.”

“One day?” Ann gasps. “He didn’t make it five hours.”

She leaves with my celery. Carter gets back to work after I tell him I am disgusted by his behavior.

Dinner tonight is veggie risotto. I’ve never made risotto before but I like it. I google vegetarian risotto recipes. I find one that looks pretty good. I don’t have the exact ingredients but I can improvise. And I can add cheese. Cheese makes everything better.

I cook vegetable broth and add onions, garlic and the risotto to some of the broth. I cook it all until the broth is absorbed. Then I add more broth. It is also absorbed. I add mixed vegetables that I picked fresh from the frozen section in the grocery store.

Olivia show up to see how it’s going. And is it something we can eat with chopsticks. About a year ago, Emma decided we should start eating more meals with chopsticks because we eat slower and get full quicker. Emma comes up and sees the chopsticks by the plates.

“Are we having Chinese food?”

“No,” I tell her. “We are mixing cultures.”

“Looks like rice,” she says.

“But it’s Italian rice.”

“What’s the difference?” Olivia asks.

“About five dollars a box.”

Blank stares.

“Okay, one is called risotto. One is called rice.”

That answer satisfies them.

“Smells good,” Emma says, as if she’s surprised.

“It does,” I say. And I am surprised. My improvisations don’t usually turn out this well.

I sprinkle it with grated parmesan and we sit down to eat.

It’s good!!

Our first vegetarian meal is a success. Sure, I can’t help but think it would be better with a few strips of chicken but I don’t mention that. Julia gets herself a fork. And we all get spoons because we are also having applesauce and it takes too long to eat applesauce with chopsticks. (Don’t think we didn’t try.)

“So we’re eating Italian food with chopsticks,” Emma says.

“Yes.”

“Do you suppose people in China eat risotto with chopsticks?”

“Maybe if they’re in an Italian restaurant,” I say.

Emma looks at me. “Really? Do Italian restaurants in China use chopsticks?”

“I…” I glance at Carter who is giving me the ‘don’t look at me’ face. “No, I don’t think so. I doubt it.”

“Hmm,” Emma says. “We could be the only people in the world eating Italian food with chopsticks.”

I smile. “I suppose.”

“I like being a vegetarian,” Olivia says. “So, is everyone ready for cake?”

We are… and we eat it with forks.

An Experiment in Vegetarianism, 11/05/06
Tuesday (or The Sad Vegetarian)

The day passes without incident. Carter is home for lunch and eats veggies and a frozen vegetarian Kashi meal. When he takes the meal out of the microwave, I sniff it and say, “Mmm. Looks good.”

I am lying. It doesn’t look good. It looks like someone threw up some black beans, rice and mangoes but he needs something to get him through this week. So, mmm, good.

He tells me it’s not bad but you can’t trust Carter’s taste. The cereal he eats tastes like cardboard. He eats protein bars with some kind of coating that’s supposed to be chocolate but is, in fact, NOT chocolate. It’s chocolate’s evil twin. Looks the same but you turn your back and it’ll sleep with your husband. It’s not at all like real chocolate.

Dinner tonight is tomato soup. I make quesadillas from whole wheat wraps and cheddar cheese. (Two wraps, shredded cheddar, one minute in the microwave. Voila!) And we have a salad.

Carter comes up to the kitchen while I’m slaving over the one can soup/one can milk recipe.

“So, how’s the day going?” I ask him. “Doing okay without meat?”

“I’d be doing better if the leftover ham wasn’t sitting in the fridge begging me to eat it.”

“Oops. Forgot about that. I’ll get rid of it.”

I see a sadness come and go in his eyes. He goes to get the girls for dinner and comes back holding a beer. Not really odd, but usually Carter saves beer for parties or football. This is just dinner.

“You’re having a beer?” I ask.

“I’m hoping there’s meat in it.”

“Sorry, no.”

“Yeah, well, it was the strangest thing… after my run, I was sprawled out on the kitchen floor and I thought, ‘I want a beer.’ So I got one.”
I take a swig of his beer and say, “I don’t think anyone’s ever uttered that sentence before.”

I want to ask why he was on the kitchen floor but I’m afraid he’ll say he was sniffing the dog food. I drop it.

We sit.

“I don’t want this soup,” Olivia says. “I want my soup.”

Olivia’s soup is chicken broth with goldfish shaped noodles and meatballs.

“You can’t have your soup.”

She smiles. “Oh, yeah. Well, I don’t want this soup.”

“Try it,” I say. “We’re all about expanding our tastes this week. You can take the leap to cream of tomato soup.”

She tries it and gags.

“Okay, don’t eat it. But take more salad.”

Emma eats everything. Julia is not thrilled with the tomato soup.

“Why can’t we have the other soup?” she asks.

“Chicken broth,” Carter says.

“Meatballs,” Olivia says.

“Goldfish,” I say, snickering at myself.

No one else laughs.

“Get it? Goldfish would be meat.” Everyone is staring at me. “But it’s really a noodle. But if it was really a gold…”

“Just eat your salad, Julia,” Carter says.

She does.

I take his beer and drink it down.

Five more days. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

An Experiment in Vegetarianism, 11/05/06
Wednesday (or The Excited Vegetarian)

The day starts with the sounds of Olivia being sick in the bathroom. Another one down.

I get breakfast for Emma. I start packing her lunch.

“Wait,” she says. “What’s school serving for lunch?”

“It’s the ham and cheese on a soft pretzel roll.”

Emma’s face falls. “Oh. But…”

“I know,” I tell her. She loves that lunch. It’s ham and cheese baked between slices of soft pretzel. Quite frankly, this lunch sounds like heaven. But sacrifices are being made all over the place this week. This is just one of them.

“When all this is over,” she asks in her most pathetic voice, “do you… do you think you could try to make ham and cheese on a soft pretzel roll?”

“I will do my best.” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, Yes! I get to eat heaven too!

Carter kisses everyone goodbye. “I feel really good today. Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea.”

I narrow my eyes. “Coming home for lunch today?”

Carter turns around, all innocence, “Oh, no. I have a lunch meeting again today.”

Aha!! The anticipation of animal protein is what has him so chipper. “Oh, do you?”

“I didn’t plan it.”

I gasp. “Lies!! I heard you last night.”

It’s true. I heard him on the phone last night talking with a guy from work. And I heard Carter saying, “Yeah. Well, we should probably go over this at breakfast. Or lunch. I’m free for lunch. Any day. Breakfast. Or lunch. How about we get together for lunch and go over this. Lunch. Lunch. Please, let’s go to lunch!” (I’m paraphrasing slightly.)

Sheepish grin from Carter. “Oh that. No, that was me hoping to get in another lunch meeting this week. Today’s meeting was planned weeks ago.”

“Hmm.”

“Don’t worry,” he says. “I’ll be good. I won’t cheat.”

He leaves. Emma stands beside me as we watch him go. .

“Did Daddy cheat?”

I glance down at her. Put my arm around her. I know it’s hard but it’s better for her to hear the truth from me. “Yes, he did. But we’ll work through it and will stay together because of the children.”

“Does this mean I can have the school lunch?”

“Not a chance.”

Our day passes nicely. Olivia begins to feel better. Friends who know about this experiment send me vegetarian recipes to try. Other friends tell me what they’ll be having for dinner. And it always involves meat.

Tonight, I am making black bean soup. I just got the recipe this morning from my friend, Laura, and I have almost everything I need to make it. I call Carter at lunch time and ask him to bring home more black beans and a nice fat loaf of bread.

He does. He also brings home a doggie bag from lunch.

“What’s this?”

“It’s proof that I didn’t eat meat for lunch.” He was at an Italian Restaurant today. Your chances of getting a meatless meal there are better than the barbeque place.

I open the box. “Ooh! White pizza! Looks yum… what is that?”

“It’s…”

“That’s meat!” It is meat. There’s a little pile of prosciutto in the Styrofoam box.

“I know… I was…”

“You cheated again!! I can’t believe…”

“No! I took the meat off and brought it home so you would believe that I didn’t eat it.”

I look at the meat. I look at him. I relax. “Oh honey, you didn’t have to do that. I trust you.”

Silly man. Where does he get these ideas?

I start dinner. This is a very easy recipe. It’s ready in no time at all. I puree it in the food processor. I think and think and then I remember where the food processor is stored. I pull it out. Dust it off. (Not kidding.) Assemble it within fifteen minutes. (Not kidding.) And I pour the soup in.

Here’s the thing… as you may have guessed, I don’t use my food processor often. Most of the food we eat has been processed to the fullest. Our chicken is pre-breaded. Our cheese is pre-shredded. Our bacon is already cooked. Seems a little easier to me, so I go with it. And as a result, our meals don’t usually take much preparation. They certainly don’t take extra small appliances. So, as I pour my soup into the food processor, I suddenly feel as sexy as Jamie Oliver is in his kitchen. I am Rachel Ray. I am Paula Deen. I am Emeril.

Okay, not Emeril, but I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

I turn that soup into a… well, it’s not exactly soup when I’m through with it. In fact, it’s as thick as mashed potatoes. I become slightly distressed about this but then I taste it.

It’s really good.

Olivia sets the table. She sees me dishing up the soup.
“Um. What’s that?”

“Black bean soup,” I tell her.

“I don’t like that.”

Emma comes to the kitchen. “Um. What’s that?”

“Black bean soup and it’s delicious,” I say.

“I don’t think I like that.”

Julia sits on her stool at the island. “Oh no. What’s that?”

I throw the wooden spoon in the pot and turn on my children. “Listen to me. This was your idea. Not mine. Not your fathers. Yours.”

“Wasn’t mine,” Olivia says.

“Oh, yes, it was. You both asked. You both wanted to try something new. This,” I point to the soup. “This is something new. And I used the food processor. It’s delicious and you WILL eat it. Understand?”

Emma looks at the bowl I set in front of her. She looks at her fork. She looks at her spoon. Which to choose? I can’t blame her for this. In all honesty, she could eat this soup with chopsticks. She settles on the spoon and takes a bite.

“Needs cheese,” she says.

I roll my eyes and give them the bag of shredded cheddar. They all load it up. Carter and I eat bowls of the soup. We love it.

“This is the best thing we’ve had all week,” Carter says as he scrapes the last of the soup into his bowl.

“I agree,” I say.

“In fact,” he continues, “it’s the best thing we’ve had in a long time.”

I smile.

“A really long time. I can’t remember the last time we had something this good.”

My smile fades marginally but I let him gush. I made the soup, after all. Not sure how he managed to choke down all the other meals I’ve fed him in the past years but I decide to take the compliment.

“Do we have to eat this when veggie week is over?” Emma asks.

“Yes!” Carter says. “This is really…”

“Yes, Emma. I’ll be making this again,” I say.

Olivia’s face falls. “It’s on the permanent menu?”

“’Fraid so,” I tell her. “I love it.”

“Me too,” Carter says. “This is really good.”

“I don’t know if it should be on the permanent menu,” Emma says.

“Oh, it’s on,” I say. “It could be monthly, if not weekly.”

There are groans from the children. But they’ll get over it. Next time I’ll make it look a little more like soup and a little less like brown mush.

They eat. And Carter and I start to clean up.

And then things get scary.

“I like this,” he says as he carries plates to the sink. .

“I know. It was good.” Jesus. He’s in love with the soup.

“No,” he says and he looks at me seriously. “I like eating this way. I know I was giving you a hard time the past few days but I felt great today. I like eating this way.”

I sigh. “Carter.”

“I know. I know.”

I know too. Carter likes being healthy. He works out regularly. I work out if I feel like it. He runs. I stroll. He eats healthy foods. I will eat cotton candy if it’s in front of me. He drinks green tea. I drink hot chocolate. But even with these differences, we manage to get along okay.

The scary thing is… Carter gets excited about things. And then suddenly, it’s a part of his everyday life. He sees something. Studies it for a bit. Decides it’s good and then BAM! He takes it up for the rest of his life. And if you think that’s not a description of our courtship and marriage, you’re wrong.

So I knew it was a risk, this week of new eating styles, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon. I did not think he would embrace vegetarianism.

It was really good soup.

“We’re not getting enough protein,” I remind him. “You’d have to supplement somehow.”

“I know. I’m not going to give up meat but I think we should maybe add more of this,” he points to the messy pots and pans, “to our regular routine.”

“What? Cooking?”

“No. You know what I mean.”

I do. “We will. I liked it too. It was fun. And it was delicious. I promise to cook healthier foods once in a while.”

“Good.”

“Right after I make the soft pretzels with ham and cheese.”

He smiles.

And another day is done.

An Experiment in Vegetarianism, 11/05/06
Thursday (or The Addicted Vegetarian)

I’m a little shaky today. I don’t mind telling you, the thought of a burger is making me sigh longingly. I think about my friends coming over later and wonder what appetizer I’ll make. My first thought is, "Get crabmeat."

My second thought is, “Crap! That’s meat!”

I find I’m a little short tempered with my kids, my husband. Wouldn’t it be nice, since we’re busy tonight, to just stop at McDonalds? Chik-fil-a? Anything?

But no. I can not.

I call my mother. She asks how it’s going. I tell her, “Not well.” She asks what we ate the night before.

“Oh. We had this great soup.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. And I put it in the food processor and…”

“Wait. What??”

“Um, I put it in the food processor.”

“You,” her voice shakes, “Kirsten, you pureed something?”

“Yeah. And it was really good.”

She’s silent for a moment. I imagine she’s dabbing at her eyes with a hankie. I’ve just made my mother very proud.

“Mom?”

“Yes?” I hear the smile in her voice. I don’t think I’ve heard her this happy since I presented her with grandchildren. The Black and Decker food processor wields great power.

“What are you having for dinner tonight?” I ask.

“Spinach capellini and meatballs.”

“Ooh! Pasta. I have tortellini. Good idea.”

It is a good idea. I was so hung up on the burger I wanted that I was forgetting that I had a couple packs of ricotta and spinach tortellini just sitting in my pantry. Yum.

I cook them up. I’m opening a can of plain tomato sauce, kicking myself for not taking the time to make my own sauce, when Carter comes to the kitchen.

“Hey. We should use that jar of sauce I brought home,” he says.

My husband’s job sometimes requires him to tour companies around the area. If that company happens to process some kind of food, we get samples. Sometimes, the samples aren’t that great. I’m leery of the sauce.
“It has to be good,” he says. “It costs eight dollars a jar.”

“Oh yeah. More expensive stuff is always better.” I say with a roll of the eyes.

“I bet it’s better than that can you’re opening.”

Hmm. He’s probably right. I take the jar and open it. Smells pretty good. I look at the ingredients. No meat. And it’s vodka sauce. That’s encouraging. I cook it up and put it on the tortellini.

Immediately, we can see why this sauce costs eight dollars a jar. Though prices have gone down in recent years, heroin still costs a pretty penny and this sauce is obviously laced with the stuff. My unsuspecting family have just become addicts.

It’s the only way to explain the wonderfulness of this sauce. It’s better than any sauce I’ve ever made. It’s better than any sauce I’ve ever eaten… anywhere. The kids clean their plates. I snap at them when they beg for more of the ‘yummy sauce’.

“You don’t need that much sauce. I need the sauce. I need it!”

I look at Carter. Normally, I’d be embarrassed to catch him looking at our meal as if it was a long lost lover come home to rest forever in his arms but, to be fair, I’m pretty sure I have the same look in my eyes.

“Do you have anymore meetings at this place?” I ask between bites.

Carter pushes Olivia’s hand away from the bowl of tortellini. “I’ll do the serving.” He turns to me. “Yes. In November sometime.”

“Get more. Please get more.”

He nods. “I’ll try. My God, I’ll do my best. You know they had a whole flat full of jars they were sending to the food bank.”

I choke a little. “Really? An entire flat?”

He nods again. “For the food bank.”

An idea takes hold. “Do you… Could we…”

“No,” he says. “No. That would be wrong.”

It would. We gobble up the rest and wait for the sauce rapture to fade. It doesn’t. We’re all strangely content all evening.

My friends arrive a short time later. They bring snacks which include Swedish fish, dark chocolate, panetini and Asiago cheese, fresh salsa and chips, Mango Martinis in a BOX! (We are very classy girls.) And more!

It occurs to me that I don’t miss meat at all.

But, really, that could be the heroin talking.

An Experiment in Vegetarianism, 11/05/06
Friday (or The Drunk Vegetarian)

The Halloween party is tonight. The annual neighborhood Halloween party for which we were instructed to dress as our favorite television couple and to bring our favorite munchie.

“What am I going to make?” I ask Carter. I’m in the parking lot of the grocery store, calling him while he tries to work. I only interrupt work for very important things. This is one of them.

“I don’t know,” he helpfully replies.

“Okay,” I say. “How about this? How about a party tray from Chik-fil-a? Everyone loves those. I love those.”

I do love those. They come with Polynesian sauce. I could drink Polynesian sauce.

“Umm,” Carter says.

I curse and say, “Forget I called. I forgot that chicken is meat. I’ll think of something.”

Stupid vegetarianism! Not that I've had a bad experience with this whole thing but I was really in the mood for some delicious white meat chicken tenders.

I decide to make corn bread with honey butter. It’s really easy and really good. And a lot of drinking goes on at this party. Bread will soak up all the nasty shots.

I go home with my ingredients. While my bread is baking, the phone rings. It’s Ann.

“Hey,” she says, “how much advance notice do you have to give Chik-fil-a for a party tray?”

I curse again. “You’re taking a party tray?”

“Why? Are you taking one?”

“No, Ann. I can’t. Chicken is meat. Duh.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry, I forgot.”

I sigh. “Yeah. Me too. I almost ordered one an hour ago.”

Ann laughs. “Well, I’m getting one.”

“If you were a good friend…”

“I’m getting one.”

I think about it. “Okay. Well, possibly I’ll get drunk and then I can eat some. Eating meat while under the influence or something like that. It’s the alcohol. I can’t be held responsible.”

“Oh yeah. That’s a hell of a defense, Cheskey.” And once again, I hear Ann rolling her eyes.

We hang up. I burn my corn bread. Carter and I dress as Gomez and Morticia Addams. The babysitters show up and off we go.

We arrive at the party which is two doors down from ours. My neighbors, John and Christine, have their house all tricked out for the party. To get into the house we must pass through a curtain that says Must See TV. And then the rest is just spooky.

I set up the bar because I am the bartender. Not that I’m that good at making drinks but I’m really good at getting people to drink. I think it’s because I’m charming. Carter thinks it’s because I’m scary. All I know is I have a husband come up and tell me his wife has been in a really bad mood. Could I please get her to loosen up? A wife comes from another couple to tell me that her husband has been stressed out at work. Could I make sure he forgets about work tonight?
Luckily, we’ve all walked to the party so I don’t have to worry about taking keys. I quickly determine who doesn’t want to drink, who is just saying they don’t want to drink, and who really, really wants to drink. The pouring begins.

Ann comes in carrying her party tray and holds it over the bar as she walks by. “Drunk enough, yet?” she asks.

I’m not. Damn it.

Time passes. The party picks up. The music gets turned up and Skippers are dancing with Gilligans. Kelly is dancing with Regis. Mel, Flo and Alice are cutting a rug. Homer and Marge Simpson are sitting in the corner talking. I’ve been drinking a lot but really, I’m feeling pretty good. Just a little buzzed. Not drunk enough to eat meat.

Then host John comes by. He says, “Enough work. Go dance.” And he pushes me out on the dance floor.

Suddenly, I’m not just a little buzzed. Standing behind the bar is one thing. As soon as I take a step, I reach for Gomez to hold me up.

"You lost your moustache," I tell him.

"Broke my cigar too," he says. "Your wig is gone. And your shoes."

"Really?" Things are spinning. But a happy spin. Not the “oh my God, why won’t the room stop spinning” sensation that I’m sure I’ll experience later.

I spot Ann. Of course I do. Ann is dressed as Mimi from The Drew Carey Show. Her husband is Drew. Ann found the most God awful outfit at Goodwill and has clown-like make up on her face. It's not possible to miss Ann really. I weave through the crowd.

“It’s time,” I tell her.

“Time for what?” She’s dancing away to Barry White.

“I’m drunk enough. I’m going to have some chicken.”

Ann stops dancing and gives me a pitying look. “Honey. That was gone an hour ago.”

“What?” Surely she’s mistaken. Have hours really passed? What time is it? Where’s the party tray? “But I love the party tray,” I tell her.

She pats my shoulder and I nearly fall over. “Everyone loves the party tray.”

I make my way to the dining room and see the snack table is mostly empty. Someone has even swiped all the meat from the seven layer taco dip. Probably Carter. Nothing is left. Well, there sits my burned cornbread but who wants to eat that? I shake my head in disbelief.

All I wanted was a chicken tender. And it's too late.

I turn back to the bar.

And, though details would be lovely, I'll simply tell you that things just spiral downward from there.

An Experiment in Vegetarianism, 11/05/06
Saturday (or The Desperate Vegetarian)

Good God. What was I thinking? I am far too old to have said the words, “Just mix it in a shot glass. I’m sure it’ll taste good.”

What was I thinking?

My eyes pop open at seven in the morning. I jump a little when I see Carter staring at me.

“Does your tongue feel like a dried out and splintered two by four?” he whispers.

I check that out. “Yeth,” I whisper in response.

He nods his head in the direction of my nightstand. I turn, slowly. There is a glass of water and Tylenol sitting right there. A gift from my always prepared husband or the hangover fairies. I don't really care which.

I partake of the blessed water and Tylenol and feel my stomach turn. Carter turns on the television.

“You know what we need,” he says.

“What?” I mumble.

“McDonalds.”

We generally treat hangovers with fast food. But right now, the thought of any food, fast or slow, is making me sick.

I shake my head and turn to the TV. There’s a KFC ad on. Someone is mixing mashed potatoes and corn and topping it with chicken and gravy and cheese?

“Why? Why would anyone eat that?” I ask as my stomach turns again. “What is that hellish chicken bowl anyway? Turn it off. Please.”

Olivia and Julia wake up. Emma spent last night at a friend’s house so we have one less child to parent this morning. Thank God.

Olivia comes into the room and sees the bucket sitting by the bed (another gift from the hangover fairies).

“Are you sick?” she asks.

I nod regretfully. What’s more shameful than your kids catching you nursing a hangover the morning after a night of excess?

Olivia looks concerned. “Did you catch what Emma and I had this week?”

I think for a second. And I nod again. Okay, lying to your kids might be more shameful but I’m in no condition to explain anything else.

Olivia runs to tell Julia. They both come in looking worried.

“The good news is,” I tell them, “you can do whatever you want to do today. You can wear a fancy dress. You can eat dry cereal from the box. You can make a mess knowing that I won’t make you clean it up until tomorrow.”

This cheers them right up. I barely see them for the rest of the day.

Eventually I get dressed and go downstairs to attempt to do something. I hear someone at the door and see Emma has come home. Her friend’s father has just dropped her off. He helps bring her sleeping bag inside. We chit chat for a few minutes and then he leaves.

I find Carter and tell him that Emma was just dropped off.

“Did you answer the door like that?” he asks.

“Yeah. What? I’m dressed.”

“Look in the mirror, Alice Cooper. Abigail’s father is going to tell everyone that Emma’s mommy is a meth addict.”

I look in the mirror. My hair is a mess. My face is pale. And the black eye makeup I was wearing last night, well, it’s still there, only not where it’s supposed to be. I probably smell like a barroom floor.

I whimper and sit down.

“We need McDonald’s,” Carter says again.

“We’re vegetarians, remember?”

“We’re desperate. And besides, I had some chicken last night,” he admits.

I look at him sharply. The party tray!

He sees my look and backtracks. “Well, only like two pieces, I think. Yeah. Only two.”

“We’re not going to McDonalds,” I say. I’m not quitting.

The day passes. I nap and drink Coke and am still feeling rather bad. The kids have been wonderful. They’ve played without fighting for most of the day. Dinner time approaches.

“So what are we having for dinner?” Carter asks.
I shrug. I still have no appetite. I can’t even begin to think about what to prepare.

“You know what you need,” he says.

I do. I know it. I need McDonalds. And not just for the hangover that is not going away. I need it because, I just can’t think of anything else to eat. I give in.

“Okay, go get McDonald’s. But ask the kids first. If they don’t want to eat meat, then we’re not eating meat.”

Carter goes to ask the kids but really, are they going to say no? Happy Meals are kiddie-crack. They can’t say no. We all know this.
“They’re in,” Carter says a few minutes later. “What do you want?”

“Just fries and a Coke,” I say. “I’m still fighting the good fight.”

He is back within minutes. We get everyone set up with their meals.

“Okay, everyone,” I say, before we dig in. “If you eat this, you are giving up on the…”

Emma takes a bite of her burger.

“Emma!”

She smiles. “I’m hungry.”

“Okay, eat, but know that the experiment has failed.” They dig in and I pick up a fry. It’s good and I start to feel better.

And then sneaky Julia holds up a chicken nugget. “Do you want one of these, Mommy?”

Last night, I’d have sold Julia for a chicken nugget but I don’t mention this. She sits there looking at me sweetly, offering her food to her mother who was sick all day. She holds it closer to me. I have my fries but… look at that nice golden breading on nugget. It’s the boot-shape nugget. I like the boot-shape nuggets from McDonalds.

Julia blinks her eyes and smiles and puts the nugget in my hand. “You can have one of mine, Mommy,” she says.

I can’t say no. Sweet little girls are mommy-crack. I take a bite and…

Really, it’s not as good as it looked but I eat it anyway. I’ve given up.

“So,” I say as I shove more fries in my face and wonder if Carter will offer me part of his burger. “What did we learn from our futile attempt at vegetarianism?”

Olivia says, “We don’t like the brown mush.”

“Oh, thanks for reminding me,” I say. “I’m making that tomorrow.”

“Mommy!”

“I’m kidding. But we will be eating it again. When you least suspect it, you will find black bean soup on your plate. Emma? What have you learned?”

Emma has eaten her burger in record time. “I’ve learned that I like meat.”

“But,” Carter adds, “I think we had some very good meals this week and we can experiment with more vegetarian meals each week.”

“But not an entire week at a time,” Emma says.

“Deal,” I say as I watch Carter eat the last of his burger.

Later, Carter and I are in bed again, watching football. A commercial comes on for the KFC chicken bowl. Mashed potatoes, corn, chicken, cheese and gravy all mixed together.

I am transfixed. “My God, that looks good.”

Carter laughs. “Proof that you’re feeling better.”

“We are no longer vegetarians,” I say. “I can’t believe we failed.”

“It was okay,” he says. “Let’s think of it as a starting place for healthier choices.”

“Like McDonald’s?”

“That was medicinal.”

“Oh, right.”

“And,” Carter adds. “There will be other experiments. We won’t fail those.”

I nod and close my eyes. And then open them again, wide with horror.

Dear God, what other experiments?

The End

Are We There Yet? 2006
Prologue - A Million Little Pieces... of Spree

I must begin this tale by admitting to something terrible. Something awful. Something that will show you how an addiction can lead you to do unspeakable things. How it can make you desperate, frantic. How it can lead you to… murder.

Okay, actually it’s about my search for Spree the night before our yearly trek to South Dakota but still, bad things happen.

I need Spree for my trip. Everyone knows it. This isn’t the first travelogue you’ve read and if it is, I suggest you read the other two. There might be references which would be totally lost on you otherwise. Like Spree. I need it on long car trips like I need caffeine. Like I need Ewan McGregor singing to me. Like I need my husband asking me a million times if I’m okay to drive.

I love it. I need it.

The thing is, I’m out of Spree. Have been for some time now. So I think of all the places in our area that might stock Spree and I make a pilgrimage to the suburban Mecca. I journey to Target, because, come on… it’s Target. They have everything. They always have Spree and I need to go there anyway for some necessities like new shirts, three pairs of sandals, and Pringles. It’s for the trip. Can’t be helped.

I check the candy aisle. You know which one I mean… the BIG candy aisle. The one with all the colorful boxes of candy stacked so nicely from top to bottom. The aisle that makes you think of Willy Wonka and all that’s good in the world. I look through the boxes and see that they have Good N Plenty. They have Bottle Caps. They have Charleston Chew, for God’s sake.

What they don’t have is Spree.

I’m offended by this but it’s not enough to have me walking out without buying my clothing, shoes and potato chips. After all, the grocery store is down the street and if that trip fails, there’s one more place I can check.

My grocery store is also Spree-less. I wonder what the hell is wrong with the world as I pick up some Bit O’Honey as a consolation. And I realize that I have to hit my regular dealer. It’s off the beaten path. It’s not in a place so familiar and friendly as a strip mall. Oh no. For this candy, I’m going to have to travel… about a mile. Possibly less.

It’s a dark night made dangerous by the rain that’s been falling steadily for days. But my wipers work well as I make my way through the parking lot, around the corner and get to the road that will lead me to Spree.

I drive along, obeying the speed limit though some voice is telling me to hurry. The place might close early. I don’t know the hours. My hands shake a little but I keep a steady pace because you never know when a little bunny is going to run out in front of your van and you’re going to have to run over it.
Good thing too, because right at that moment a little bunny runs out in front of my van and I have to run over it.

I do try to miss it. I swerve but it’s confused by the headlights and turns back. I swerve the other way. It runs back the other way. I run over the bunny while screaming, “Make up your mind, bunny. Noooo!” I don’t feel a bump though. Hmm. Maybe my tires missed it. I look in the rearview mirror to see if there’s a little dead lump of bunny in the road. I’m unable to tell because the headlights from the car behind me are blinding.

I wince. That bunny may have avoided my tires but no way did he miss that guy’s too.

I take a moment to mourn the poor bunny and realize if I hadn’t been on this terrible, well-lit road looking for Spree, I might have avoided this brutal killing.

Wait a minute, my Spree. God, I hope my place is still open.

I get to the shop. It’s dark, but a single light shines from inside. There’s a burned out car in the parking lot that upon further inspection is actually an Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan. Probably from the early nineties. And it’s not actually burned out. Just needs a little wash probably. Or maybe it’s just night time and I can’t see so well.

Anyway…I walk into the store, avoiding the harsh glare from the new Dunkin Donuts that sits across the street. I nod to the woman behind the counter.

“You have Spree?” I ask.

The woman takes a drag from her cigarette and says, “I got Spree. You got the money?”

“Yeah, I got the money.”

She snorts out a laugh. “Went off to fancy Target, didn’t you? Let you down, didn’t they? I knew you’d be back. They always come back.”

Then I whip out my switchblade and…

Okay, actually, I nod to the woman who is not smoking behind the counter and she gives me a nervous smile that all but says, “Please don’t kill me. I smell the blood of a bunny on you.”

I buy six rolls of Spree, pay and tell her I don’t need a bag. I leave the convenience store and get back into my van.

Dead bunnies aside, I consider it a successful night. The horrors of addiction fade from my mind as I make my way home on that wet night. Like all good junkies I am suddenly content by the fresh stash in my purse. I have all I need.

I am ready for our trip.

To be continued...

Are We There Yet? 2006
Part one - The trip starts... kind of

We’re going to take our time this year. That’s the plan.

South Dakota is far away. What’s the rush? Let’s drive during the day. Take two days instead of one. Spend some time in Wisconsin. Maybe, maybe hit the Cheese Chalet because… is it made of cheese or does this chalet merely deal in cheese? Who can say? Maybe we’ll find out. There will be no stress. No worries. We have our nice comfy new minivan with lots of lumbar support. Let’s spend more time in the van. Let’s slow down. There’s no hurry. Let’s enjoy the trip.

Yes. That’s our motto for this year. We’re going to enjoy the trip.

Our families, especially Carter’s mother, are pleased with the decision to forego the night time driving. For the past few weeks, we’ve heard about all the dangers of driving at night. Falling asleep at the wheel, car crashes, night blindness, axe murderer attacks, surprise tornadoes. All these things happen at night or so we are told by my mother-in-law.

So the decision is made. We’re leaving Wednesday morning.

But here’s the thing, we are ready to leave Tuesday night. Everything is packed, ready to go. Kids are anxious. We’re anxious. So anxious that maybe we’ll leave a little earlier than six in the morning. Maybe we could get up and go by four. It’ll still be dark. The kids should still sleep a little bit.

“Remember last year?” I say as I dump my Spree into the snack bag. “The kids slept all night. Ten hours they were out.”

“Yeah,” Carter says as he dumps his health bars into the bag. “That was nice. Maybe three am would work.”

“Or maybe we could snooze a little and get going by midnight,” I put in.

Carter looks at the packed car. He looks at me. I can tell he’s struggling over the pros and cons of this. While I consider midnight to be just really early in the morning, let’s face it, it’s night. Night driving is good in that there is very little traffic and very little noise from the back of the minivan. It’s bad in that we are usually kind of twitchy the following day.

“Remember we’re not driving all the way to South Dakota. This would give us more time at the hotel tomorrow. And we’d have enough time to tour the University of Wisconsin,” I add.

Carter looks at his watch. It’s almost nine o’clock in the evening. “Is everyone ready, because if we’re going, we’re going now.”

The decision is made. We are leaving at night. And if Carter’s mother calls, we’ll just tell her we left a little early. It’ll be fine.

Did I mention it was raining?

It has been raining for about five days straight. Our front yard is like a sponge when you walk across it. The streets are full of water. But we pack up and we drive out of town, knowing that Mobridge, South Dakota is experiencing its worst drought in years. Heading toward drier pastures seems like a good idea.

We get the kids settled. It’s a little different this year. New minivan. More room. Our three girls used to be smashed in next to one another on one bench seat. Now they each have their own seats. Their own space. Two are in the middle. One is in the back. I know none of them are going to want the back seat so I make it as appealing as possible. The back seat sitter gets to have the special bed seat. Pillow against the window, legs stretched out over the cooler. It’s the most comfortable spot in the car. Or so I tell them.

Olivia, also known as “Wake up, Olivia”, decides that seat will be hers, but I assure her we’ll rotate seats as the trip progresses. I set up some movies for the kids and we are on our way. This is going to be great. Our best trip yet.

About fifty miles into our trip, we hit a snag. Well, not so much a snag, and not a bunny either but well, you’ll see…

We come around a bend on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that is covered by about six inches of water. Carter sees that it is deeper in the fast lane so he starts to switch lanes in order to avoid it. And sometime during that change, our minivan just starts floating away, rather quickly, toward the guardrail. I am looking back at the kids, answering some question or other, when I hear him curse. I look out the front window and there we are, heading for a ditch. Carter turns the wheel a few times but we are like a bumper car that has been hit by some jerky kid who gets off on making cars spin out of control. We veer back and forth across the turnpike. Only seconds tick by but it feels like much longer. The girls start screaming. I think I say, “Oh my God” about five thousand times. We keep fish tailing back and forth.

Finally, keeping with the bumper car theme, it becomes obvious that the only way to stop is to run into something. And the something this dark, rainy night is the concrete lane divider. Carter tries to turn us away one last time but it’s no use. I remember thinking, “We’re going to hit the wall.” This tells you that even in emergency situations, I can state the obvious with the best of them. In slow motion, the wall gets closer and closer until we hear the sad crunch of my brand new Toyota Sienna against the concrete.

The only sound for about five seconds is the rain pelting the car mercilessly. Then I turn around and say over and over, “Are you okay? Is everyone okay? Are you okay?”

“What happened?” Emma asks.

“We’ve had a car accident,” I tell her. “But it’s okay. We’re safe. We’re okay.”
Emma immediately breaks into the story about her friend, Anna, who got into a car accident and walked away without a scratch. How nice that they now have something else in common.

“Hey,” Carter grumbles. “Next time I’m trying to control a hydroplaning minivan could you not grab my arm?”

I look over. I’m still holding onto his upper arm. Oops. I let go and tell him it’s my natural protective instinct.

“Grabbing the arm of the guy steering is your natural protective instinct?”

“I can’t control it.”

Carter realizes that we are sitting across the highway and are blocking the path of any other cars that might be coming along. So, he backs up and very slowly takes us to the next exit. On the way there, I ask again if everyone is all right. Julia nods. Emma says yes in a quivery voice. Olivia looks up from her movie and says, “Huh?”

She is pretty unconcerned with the whole thing.

As we creep along to the exit, Carter asks, “Did you see your life flash? Because I did.”

I think about it. “I don’t think so. I was too scared to see all that.”

We pull off the exit and inspect the damage. Part of the front end is sticking out. The hood is slightly buckled. Part of the bumper is ripped. All in all, not too much damage. The car is still running and nothing is in the way of the tires. Carter and I stand in the rain, in the dark and wonder what to do.

“It could have been worse,” I say, flicking the flashlight from one damaged part to the next.

“What if a truck had been behind us? We’d be dead,” he says.

“Well, yes. That would fall under the worse heading.”

“What if you’d been up changing a movie for the girls? You were standing up just minutes before we got there.”

“But I wasn’t standing up when we got there.”

“What if we’d gone in the ditch?”

You can take from this conversation that my husband is not exactly Mr. Brightside.

“I think we can fix this part that’s sticking out,” I say as I start messing around with it.

I push and lift but can’t get it to snap back into place. Carter reaches down and does the job for me.

“See? Already it’s better.”

He looks unconvinced.

“Do you want to go home?” I ask him. “We could go home and find a flight or something.”

He thinks about it. “No, we’ve already started. Let’s keep going.”

I want to mention that we are only fifty miles into a sixteen hundred mile trip but still, a start is a start.

“Okay,” I say. “Then let’s go.”

I take his hand and feel it shaking the same as mine. I wrap my arms around him.

“I almost killed us,” he murmurs.

“No, you saved us.” I lean back and look him in the eye and say the words I know he needs to hear. “And if your mother asks, this all happened in broad daylight on dry land. Do you understand?”

He smiles finally. “I guess it could have been worse.”

“This is nothing. The airbags didn’t even go off. Could have been much worse.”

Carter nods and grins. “Yeah. You could have been the one driving. We’d be in the ditch for sure.”

Hmm.

“And I’ve given you something to write about.”

“Thanks for thinking of me but I gave myself something to write about last night,” I say as we get back in the van.

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“I killed a bunny during my frantic search for Spree.”

He looks at me aghast. “You killed a bunny?”

Okay, look, Carter’s as tough as they come but I have to tell you, he has a thing for bunnies.

I explain what happened.

“So you didn’t see the body?”

“Well, no but if I didn’t get him, I’m sure the car behind me did.”

Carter shakes his head and we start on our way. “I think he made it.”

I laugh a little. “Yeah, okay. Probably.” All the while thinking, “Dead bunny.”

“Ready?” he asks.

“Let’s go,” I say. “Our trip starts now.”

And so it does.

To be continued...

Are We There Yet? 2006
Part two - Through the cities

The next part of our trip is tense. Turns out there’s not much to think about during the long night hours besides all the ‘what if’ scenarios. Carter and I keep to ourselves mostly as the kids snooze behind us. At about midnight, I really feel like calling my mom and telling her about the crash.

“I feel like I should call my mom,” Carter says.

“Hey. I was just thinking that. Only, my mom, of course,” I say.

Carter smirks. “We could call, wake them up and tell them we’ve been in this crash but that they shouldn’t worry about us for the rest of the trip. We’ll be just fine.”

“That would funny. And mean. We can’t do that.”

“Guess not.”

We switch off driving all through the night. As the sun comes up, so do our spirits. Everything's better in the daylight. Except the traffic.

Since we left later than we normally do and because of the rain slowing us down, we hit Chicago, not at dawn, but at rush hour. The kids are wide awake as we come upon the windy city.

“Look girls, there’s Chicago,” I say as I grab the Frank Sinatra CD. It’s become something of a tradition now.

The girls were sleeping last year when we passed through it. They look on in wonder at the tall buildings. Carter sighs at the traffic we’re stopped in.

And then Julia asks, “What’s Chicago?”

Yes!

I smile. Carter perks up a little. I have My Kind Of Town running through my head. Carter has the damn Sandburg poem running through his. This is the answer Julia gets from her parents.

“Chicago is… my kind of town. Chicago is…”

“Stormy, husky, brawling…”

“The Wrigley building. Chicago is…”

“City of the Big Shoulders…”

“The Union Stockyard…”

“They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys. “

(That’s Carter’s favorite line right there, by the way.)

Emma shakes her head at her goofy parents and says, “It’s a big city, Julia.”

You know, it’s a sad day when your kids realize you’re a geek and want no part of your geekiness.

Anyway, it takes a long time to get through Chicago. There’s a thunderstorm which causes all sorts of excited screaming from our children. We’re all getting hungry and would love to get around the city so we could find a small place to eat.

A train runs by. Emma says, “Hmm.”

“What’s up?” I ask.

“Is that the number nine?”

I look at Carter. He looks at me and shrugs.

“I don’t see a number on it.”

She nods and then says, “Oh. Because I thought it was... Engine, engine, number nine. Going down Chicago line. See it sparkle. See it shine. Engine, engine, number nine.”
She says it quickly and then shuts her mouth when she’s finished as if she’s surprised at herself. Her eyes are laughing when I turn to look at her with my mouth hanging open. I look at Carter.

“I think the kid just one-upped us in the poetry department.”

Carter nods. “She did.”

I turn to Emma. “You make us very proud, Emma. That was a very Cheskey thing to do.”

She looks proud and… mildly horrified.

Yes. Definitely like us.

We get through the city and stop to eat. Then we move onto Madison, Wisconsin. We usually stay in Madison on our trips home. It’s a nice city but we never feel too much like exploring. And every year I hear Carter say, “Maybe this year we’ll get to see the University of Wisconsin.”

Here’s another thing about Carter. He loves universities. I think just walking around them makes him feel younger or smarter or something. And he’s always heard how nice the U of W campus is, so since we’re only heading to LaCrosse, WI on this day, we can take a few hours to explore Madison.

We drive into the city.

“This is another city,” Olivia says.

“Yes, it is.”

“It’s like Boston,” she adds.

I look around Madison. Yes, it’s a nice city. I’m not going to deny that. But it’s really nothing like Boston.

“Not really,” I say to Olivia.

She nods. “Yes, it is.”

I look around again. “No. It’s not.”

“It’s a lot like Boston,” she says again.

I turn in my seat, laughing. “Olivia. We were just in Boston last year. I remember what it looks like. This is a city, yes. But about the only thing Boston, Massachusetts and Madison, Wisconsin have in common is that we have visited both.”

She shrugs and I can tell she doesn’t believe me.

I let it drop. We get out and stretch our legs. We walk all over the place. It’s a very pretty campus. I’m glad we came. They have painted cows all over the place. The girls run around counting them, milking them, picking which are their favorites.

(Just a note: I have since learned that Boston also has these painted cows standing around the city. I’d appreciate it if no one mentions this to Olivia.)

After a couple of hours, we pile back into the car. We get to LaCrosse, Wisconsin and have a nice evening playing mini-golf, eating a great dinner, and swimming at a pool with a huge water slide.

As we’re settling in to bed that night, I say to Carter, “It feels like we dreamed the whole accident. Like it was a long time ago.”

Carter mumbles something about having a nightmare of a deductible on that car but soon we’re all fast asleep.

Tomorrow, after a brief stop in DeSmet to take the girls to the Little Town on the Prairie, we’ll head to Mobridge. It’s their Centennial Celebration. Lots of fun things are planned.

We’ll need our rest.

To be continued...

Are We There Yet? 2006
Part three - An open letter to a jackass

Dear Sir,

I write this letter in response to the welcome I received upon my arrival in Mobridge, South Dakota. You are a resident there. I’ve met you before. My husband knows your family well. It was great to see you during our first morning in Mobridge.

We were so happy to wander down Main Street, to see all the improvements that have been made to the store fronts in preparation for the Centennial Celebration. We were impressed by the trees that had been planted, by the plaza that had been added, by the pretty fountain that collected pennies from my children.

When we met you, sir, it was our pleasure to pat you on the back, to tell you how great the town was looking. It was so nice of you to ask about our girls, to comment on what beautiful names we’ve given them.

I’d also like to thank you, sir, for saying, “And it looks like congratulations are in order again.”

And then after my blank stare, for asking, “Aren’t you pregnant?”

I consider myself a reasonable woman with a fine sense of humor and your comment certainly brought forth my laughter, hysterical though it may have been. And, quite frankly, your face after I answered, “No. I’m just… it’s just… fat”, is a picture I’ll carry with me always.

I know there are others who've been asked this question by clueless men around the world. Some would maybe feel bitter about your comment. Some would say that maybe I should take issue with it and tell you that no one should ever ask that question . That even if a woman was in her third trimester and was wearing a Bun In My Oven shirt... only a jackass would ask that question.
But I don’t. I don’t mind laughing at myself and the situation. I don’t mind watching you flounder and apologize and gnaw your foot off at the ankle. I liked to see how quickly you could find something to keep you busy so you could run away from the humiliation you just caused.

I also want to thank you because without your comment, I wouldn’t have heard my husband say, “Honey. Don’t get upset, it’s not good for the baby.” every time we were having a little tiff. Without the comment, he wouldn’t have rested his head on my belly at different times during the week and whispered, “I think I hear the baby’s heartbeat.”

Without your comment, I wouldn’t have had to kick my husband’s ass.

Without your sheer idiocy, I might have changed my shirt before going out that night but no, I felt it necessary to prove to the world that I liked my shirt, even if it meant I looked as though I had started marking time by trimesters. And since I wore it that night, I had it on as I stood all evening with my darling husband and his ex-girlfriend. The girl he broke up with to date me. The girl who is very sweet and kind of funny, and who, sadly, must be suffering from some eating disorder because she’s thinner now than she was in high school.

But you, sir, made the comment and all of those things happened. So thanks for that and more.

Jackass.

Sincerely,

Kirsten

Are We There Yet? 2006
Part four - The rodeo truth

Rodeos are filled with crazy people.

Okay, there’s more to the story than that but it really occurred to me this week that participating in rodeos means you might just be a hair shy of sane. Possibly a full head of hair shy of sane but I’m sure every sport has different degrees of dedication.

Carter’s father used to ride rodeos when he was younger. Carter’s sister was a rodeo queen one year. I even have a picture of an eight year old Carter holding his blue ribbon for sheep riding.

Go ahead. Take a moment. Have some fun with that last sentence. Everyone does.

So I know a thing or two about the rodeo. I’ve been to a few over the years. The Sitting Bull Stampede takes place every year in Mobridge over the fourth of July. I’ve seen the broncs whipping cowboys around. I’ve seen the barrel racing. I’ve seen the calf roping, the steer wrestling, the bull riding.

But this year I realize, they’re all nuts. The object of the rodeo seems to be injury. Hey, ride this horse that’s going to throw you through the air. I know, sit on this bull that wants to kill you.

Of course, my blood-thirsty children love it.

We sit back by the chutes so we can get an up close and personal look at the men getting kicked. So we can that the dust from the horses kicked up into our faces. This is where all the old cowboys stand or sit, hats pushed back to watch the young guys work to develop the permanent limps they all seem to have.

The girls love the bronc riding. (“Whoa. Did he get hurt?”) The are upset by the calf roping. (“Oh, that poor baby cow.”) And bewildered by the steer wrestling. (“Daddy, what’s the difference between a steer and a bull?”)

I can’t tell you how happy I am that Carter got that question. He looks at me and I smile wickedly, letting him know that he is on his own. He looks at Olivia who asked the question.

“Well, bulls could be considered the daddy. And steer are, well…”

“Dinner,” I murmur.

“Steer are…” he says. “Look… is that Whiplash?”

Distraction. A very useful tool in parenting.

Whiplash, it is!!

If you don’t have a Taco John’s near you, chances are, you don’t know who or what Whiplash is. Whiplash, it turns out, is a monkey dressed as a cowboy who rides a border collie in the Taco John’s commercials. Here at the rodeo, he rounds up some goats much to the delight of all the children. I want to tell them that the dog is the one doing all the work but does he get any glory? No. My brother-in-law’s father raises border collies. I’ve seen them round up a herd of steer. Three goats is nothing.

But I let Whiplash have all the glory a monkey tied to a dog can have.
Next is the barrel racing. I admit I like this part. From what I’m told by Carter’s uncle, this is the part of the rodeo when most people get up to get a snack. It’s too girlie. What it is, is sensible. It’s a race. Ride around the barrels without knocking them down and the fastest time wins. Nobody gets hurt. Though Carter’s sister does show me the scar she has from when the barrel cut her leg open, the barrels are padded now. There are no injuries in the barrel races today.

The evening passes and soon it’s time for the bull riding. A smaller ring is set up within the rodeo grounds and Olivia is all but quivering in anticipation. She tells me she loves bull riding. The last time we were at a rodeo, I was pregnant with Olivia. I don’t know where the love of bull riding comes from. She’s never seen it before.

The first rider comes out and Olivia says, “Oh, that’s a pretty bull. Look at his udder.”

Carter and I both look.

I should tell you that I have been told in the past that there’s such a thing as being too honest with your children. For instance, a few months ago, Emma came up to me and said, “I know what the F word is. It’s fidget.”

A smart mother would have said, “Yes, you’re absolutely right. Fidget is the F word.”

I, of course, said, “Don’t be silly, that’s not the F word, Emma.”

I don’t know why. I just blurt things out without thinking sometimes. Knowing that, it can come as no surprise to you when you hear that my response to Olivia’s comment about the udder is, “Whoa. That’s no udder.”

“Well, what is it?” she asks.

I look at Carter who smiles wickedly, letting me know that I’m on my own. I turn to Olivia.

“Well, it’s a… it’s a... You know? You’re right, it’s an utter.”

Lies. Another useful tool in parenting.

We watch cowboy after cowboy get thrown off the bulls. One gets his arm stuck and is tossed around like a rag doll as a loud gasp from the crowd hits the air. He walks out of the ring to much applause but his arm is hanging limply at his side.

I look at my father-in-law and try to imagine him getting tossed around by some mad animal. I lean over to him.

“When you did this sort of thing, did you think it was fun?”

He glances at me, looks back at the rodeo. I see memories come and go across his face. Then he says in his slow, cowboy way, “Guess I did.” He looks at me and smiles. “Can’t think why now, though. Seems crazy.”

Yes. Yes, it does.

But it’s fun to watch crazy every now and then.

To be continued…

The Most Beautiful Song, 6/26/06

Today I heard the most beautiful song but first there’s a story.

A few months ago, our eight year old daughter, Emma, came home from her choir practice filled with excitement.

“I’m doing a solo,” she announced.

This news wasn’t met with all that much surprise. She’d had other solos in the past year. A few lines while the rest of the choir stood with her. All the kids in the choir had little solos at some point during the year.

“No,” she said. “All by myself, over the summer. I’m going to be singing all by myself in front of the church.”

This news was met with a universal “Huh?” Neither Carter nor I could figure out just why any child of ours would want to stand in front of people she didn’t know and… sing. But she was excited and happy and we like our kids to be excited and happy, so we said she could go for it. Meanwhile, both of us started wringing our hands wondering how we were going to make it through this.

Her choir director called to make sure we weren’t crazy stage parents, pressuring our child into something she wasn’t ready for.

“If you knew me better,” I told him, “you’d know I’d be perfectly happy to have my children shun extracurricular activities. Do you think an eight year old girl is ready for something like this?”

He and Emma had a lesson. Afterwards, he said he thought she was more than ready. Her excitement was shining through. So they kept meeting once a week until he was confident she knew the song.

I wasn’t supposed to know the song she was singing. She told Carter it was to be a secret and she was going to give her mother the gift of song one day. Of course, Carter told me right away but during the next two months, all of Emma’s practicing was done while I was out of the house. Progress reports were good. A date was set. Emma would sing her solo on June 25th.

A week ago, the choir director called and asked if Emma would sing at both church services. He thought it would be a gift to the people who never get to hear the children sing. I asked Emma. She said she would do it but suddenly there were nerves in her eyes.

“How many days left?” she’d ask every day.

She started having dreams about singing. None of them good. I found her a few times sitting in her room, staring out the window.

“Thinking about singing?”

“Nervous,” she told me.

I’d offer encouragement, along with the “you made a commitment” line. At dinner during the past week, we joked until her nerves faded away. But all the while, Carter and I were shooting looks back and forth. Looks that said, “Why is she doing this? We have to go to church twice? Is she ready for this? Wait… twice in one day?"

Finally, the morning arrived.

Emma woke up at 7:15. She was ready to go by 7:20. We were going out for breakfast after the first service, so we didn’t have to worry about feeding anyone until later. Julia, the four year old, was perplexed by this but we figured my mom was sure to show up at the early service. If their stomachs started growling, Grammy always had Tic-Tacs to hand out.

We were all set to leave when suddenly Carter said a little frantically, “Oh no. That dress won’t work on Emma. There’s no place for the microphone battery pack. She needs a belt or something. She definitely needs a belt. That’s not going to work. She needs…”

“Pockets?” I asked.

Emma showed him the deep pockets in her dress. Carter sighed in relief and then looked horrified.

“Oh God. I’m a stage father. What just happened? I became one of those fathers. I don’t want to be that guy.”

“You’re not. Let’s go,” I said. “We’re all a little nervous.”

And it was true. We were trying to laugh off the nerves as we’d been doing all week but we couldn’t. Emma was quiet. Olivia, our six year old, kept giving us the ‘thank goodness I’m not getting up there’ look but she didn’t make a sound. The minivan was silent. I may have kept saying, “It’ll be okay. We can do this.” But, frankly, it’s all a blur.

We arrived at the church with plenty of time to spare. Emma got her cool microphone that clips to her ear and we went in to take our seats. We opened the bulletin and there it was, right after offering collection – I’ve Got Oil in my Lamp – Emma Cheskey; soloist.

I leaned over to Olivia and said, “You think you’ll ever do a solo like this?”

Olivia looked at me with wide eyes and laughed nervously. “No way!”

I couldn’t help but be relieved by that. Olivia sings in the church choir but she enjoys having others there to fill in when she just pretends to sing along.

The church service got underway and seemed to hurry by. I admit to hearing something in the sermon about the trials of Job but was in no condition to ponder the significance of God helping him through the tough times. Tough times? Hah! Did Job ever have to wait for his little girl to stand in front of strangers and offer up the gift of song? I don’t think so. Me? I knew a thing or two about trying times.

The offering was collected. Emma put on her microphone. She shook out her arms to loosen up. That made me laugh a little. Then she left us and stood up in front of the church. Her eyes got big when she looked out over the congregation. I looked at Carter. His hands were shaking as he held the video camera.

The choir director began to play the piano. Emma began to sing.

She sang one line and froze.

“Wait,” she said. “Oh no.”

Oh no.

She put her hand to her throat, then covered her face. She hurried down to the choir director and I could hear her saying that her throat wouldn’t open. She couldn’t sing. He must have given her some encouraging words, because in a moment, she stood alone again.

Carter and I sent desperate looks to one another, while trying to send encouraging looks to her. I considered walking up and standing there with her or just carrying her out of the church but I kept my seat and watched helplessly.
The music started. Emma opened her mouth… and nothing came out. I saw panic, then humiliation. And then I saw tears.

She walked down the steps, handed the microphone to the director and ran to our pew. She threw her arms around me and sobbed. The congregation stood and sang while I ushered Emma outside, where she clung to me, crying. I helplessly said things like, “It’s okay. It’s okay. We’re proud of you. It’s okay.”

“I only wanted to sing,” she cried. “Why couldn’t I do it? I’ll never sing like I want to. I was awful.”

I told her she wasn’t awful. I told her she was brave. I told her she was eight years old and that was too young to use the word ‘never’.

And then I asked her what she wanted to do.

She pulled her head back, looked me in the eye and said, “I want to go home. I want to eat breakfast and I want to pretend it’s a normal day. I don’t want to sing again.”

There was a huge part of me that was ready to take her hand and lead her home. A part of me that shared her excitement, her nerves, her heartbreak.

But there was that pesky voice breaking in (it sounds alarmingly like Carter actually), telling me that she’d regret giving up. So I gave the answer that all mothers give when they’re being non-committal. I said, “We’ll see.”

Church finished up and some people came out to offer their support. They told Emma she was courageous to stand up there. She was braver than they were. She had no reason to be ashamed. Emma nodded but didn’t believe them.

Our pastor came to the small room where we stood. He took Emma’s hands and knelt down in front of her. He told her a story of his first solo. He told her he’d been terrified. So terrified, in fact, that he couldn’t do it. He’d made his best friend stand there with him as he sang. So it hadn’t been a solo at all but he’d sung his song.

He gave Emma a hug and encouraged her to try again at the next service.

Carter spoke up then. “What if your sisters were with you?” he asked.

Emma looked at Olivia. Olivia looked at Carter with eyes that clearly said, “Are you high, Daddy?” Julia wondered aloud just when we’d be getting breakfast. Seems she’d do whatever we asked as long as we fed her first.

“Would you sing if they were with you? Would that help?”

Emma thought about it. “Maybe.”

Carter turned to Julia and Olivia. “Would you help Emma sing?”

Julia said yes right away. She doesn’t mind being the center of attention. In fact, she kind of likes it. Olivia thought it over, then took a deep breath and said, “Okay. She taught me some of the words.”

We talked to the choir director. He thought it sounded like a great idea.

We went out for breakfast/pep rally. Carter and I kept telling them, telling ourselves, that they could do it. If they used their powers for good, together, they could do anything.

We went back to church. Emma collected her microphone. My mother showed up again. So did two of my brothers and my sister. They sat behind us. We waited through the service. Emma sipped from a bottle of water until she was about to float out of the church. I took her to the bathroom during the reading of the psalm.

While I waited for her, I decided that, though I could never be what one would call a good Christian, we were in a church and I should probably offer some kind of biblical advice.

So I said, “Emma. The lesson in church today is about having faith in God to help you through the tough times.”

She nodded and washed her hands.

I continued. “So maybe if you trust in God, he’ll see you through this.”

She nodded again and looked up at me. “I trust in my sisters,” she said. “They’ll see me through.”

I’d like the record to show that I tried.

We went back to our seats. It was almost time. I leaned over to Emma and whispered, “Remember… just keep singing. Just keep singing.”

I don’t know about your family but the lessons in Finding Nemo have proved invaluable to ours.

Then it was time. She put on her microphone. She chanted, “Just keep singing. Just keep singing.” And she and her sisters, the same sisters she kicks out of her room on a regular basis, walked to the front of the church.

And there they stood. Emma in the middle, holding their hands. Holding on, it seemed, for her life, while Olivia rocked back and forth, chewing on her lip, a shy smile on her face and Julia grinned, leaning her head against Emma’s arm.

The choir director walked to the piano and started to play. My three little girls, who fight and argue everyday of their lives, started to sing. The congregation could only hear Emma’s voice, as she was the one with the microphone, but it didn’t matter. Emma could hear her sisters. She knew they sang for her so she could sing for everyone else.

I smiled through the entire thing. Applause broke out when they finished and still they held onto one another as if suddenly realizing the strength they had when they were together. I glanced at our pastor and saw him look heavenward, maybe thanking someone for something.

Carter and I breathed an easy breath. The first one all day.

By the time evening fell, the bickering between my daughters resurfaced. I know it will never end. But I noticed they were gentler with each other. Kinder in their arguments. Maybe it was my imagination and if not, chances are it won’t last. But something happened today.

Today Emma learned that being brave didn’t mean she had to be brave alone. Today Olivia learned that there were things more important than her fear. Today Julia learned that when Grammy is out of Tic-Tacs, Mommy has some in her purse.

They all learned what it means to be a sister.

Today I learned that my daughters are stronger than I thought. Today I learned that a trio is sometimes more lovely than a solo.

Today I heard the most beautiful song. And I’ve never been more proud.

It Used to Be Mine, 5/13/06

We have this nightgown in our house. It’s pink, made from a soft cotton flannel with a pattern of angels flying around collecting holly. It was from a Christmas long ago. There is a thin strip of lace around the neck and waist. And a thinner strip of white trim with flowers over that. There is one button and a loop at the neck in the back. There is a ruffle at the bottom, pleats at the skirt and the sleeves puff up just a bit at the shoulders.

It used to be mine.

I got it when I was very young. It came with a matching gown for my doll, which would be reason enough to remember it. But I remember it because it was made by my grandmother. And it was made just for me. As the fourth of five children, this meant a lot.

My mother didn’t keep much clothing from my childhood. Things were used and passed along to other families. But when my first daughter was nearing three years old, my mom searched her house and found, packed lovingly away… the angel nightie.

It was soft with age but the angel pattern was clear. The lace had been pressed so it showed bright against the pink. My mom gave it to her granddaughter as my grandmother had given it to me. I had Emma wear it that night and it fit her perfectly.

“Is this mine?” she asked as she held out the skirt.

“My Granma Emma made it. It used to be mine. And Grammy kept it just for you,” I told her.

It quickly became her favorite thing to wear. She hated to get changed on days when she woke up in the angel nightie.

She wore it for two years and then it was passed to her sister, Olivia.

“Was this Emma’s?” Olivia asked me, her wispy hair looking like the angels on the nightie.

“It used to mine. It used to be Emma’s. But we kept it for you.”

Olivia, who played with dolls the most, found the matching doll nightie in the toy chest and quickly dressed her doll to match. She, too, wore the gown for two years and tried in earnest for a third but the button would no longer close. It was time to pass it along to Julia.

“Is this mine?” Julia asked me, her eyes lit with wonder. She’d heard stories of the angel nightie.
“It used to be mine,” I told her, “it used to belong to your sisters. But now it’s just for you.”

Because Julia is tiny, she was able to wear the gown for three years. At first, it was too long and she fell over whenever she wore it. But she loved it anyway and for three winters when I asked what she wanted to wear to bed, her answer was, “The angel nightie.”

A few weeks ago as I was getting her ready for bed, we had to struggle with the angel nightie. When it was buttoned, the neck was too tight, so we left it undone.

My smallest girl had grown. The angel nightie was washed once more.

Today, as I put the winter clothes away to make room for summer ones, I held it up for inspection.

The pink is faded now. There are places where the gown is worn and almost threadbare. There are still streaks of black on the skirt from Emma’s experiment with the permanent marker. The lace is folded over and wrinkled. The ruffle is fraying from too many little feet tripping over it.

Part of me wants to throw it on the pile for Goodwill. Or just throw it in the trash. No one will pay for this.

But then, for some reason, I turn it inside out and I see the stitches my grandmother sewed for me. I turn it right side out and see the angels still smiling as they collect their holly. I see Emma’s hands up waiting for me to slip it on her that first time. I see Olivia’s toes peeking out of the ruffle as she held the skirt up to make her way down the steps. I see Julia jumping into my arms for a good night hug.

I wonder if my mother felt my arms around her when she put the nightie away for the last time because, as I hold this old piece of clothing to my cheek, I swear I can feel my babies’ arms come around me again.

I take a moment and laugh at myself for crying over a nightgown.

Then I take it downstairs and press the lace so it stands up bright against the pink. I fold it more carefully, more lovingly than I ever have, and I pack it away to keep.

Someday, maybe, I’ll pass the angel nightie to another little girl. And I’ll tell her about the woman who sewed it for me. I’ll tell her about the woman who kept it for me. And I’ll tell her about the little girls who wore it. Loved it.

I’ll tell her it used to mine. It used to be theirs. And I’ve kept it just for her.

The Luck of the Germans, 3/17/06
A St. Patrick's Day Miracle

First things first… we’re not Irish. We used to be. Partly. Supposedly my mother’s grandmother, Blanche, came over by boat from the Emerald Isle but in researching family history, my uncle found that Blanche had been born in the coal regions of Pennsylvania. So we don’t talk about Blanche as much as we used to.

She was the only thing not German in our ancestry. The hurt went deep.

But I’m getting off track… so St. Patrick’s Day was always a big day in my house. Back when we were hip deep in stories of Blanche, my mom would make us wear green. We sometimes would eat green food. My dad would drink beer.

Okay, he did that every day.

But even with Blanche and her lies, we all knew that the Irish in us was only a wee bit. The day didn’t have all that much meaning for us.

Times have changed.

When I moved into this neighborhood, I met my next door neighbor, who is mostly Italian. Her husband is half Irish/half Italian. And they love the Irish part. St. Patrick’s Day is big in their house. Huge.

They have a leprechaun that comes every St. Patrick’s Day while the kids are asleep. He leaves green foot prints trailing through their house. The dining room furniture is usually turned upside down. Paintings are hung the wrong way. The kids get Lucky Charms for breakfast. The milk is green.

And there is a small pot of chocolate gold coins for each of the children.

Being the kind neighbor that she is… we too would get a small pot of chocolate gold coins on our front steps every St. Patty’s Day. So my children grew up thinking that the leprechaun came to our house as well. He just wasn’t as tricky with them.

Well, this year, I was going to fix that.

I realized late last night that I didn’t have any coins to give. I hadn’t heard from my neighbor, so wasn’t sure about the appearance of the pot o’ gold. The only thing I had on hand was the new Harry Potter movie. I’d been keeping it as a surprise for our Friday night movie. The kids have been dying to see it.

Inspiration struck like a giant shamrock.

The leprechaun would come. He would leave a trail of clues. At the end of the trail… would be the movie. They would love it.

So last night I type up the clues. I split the first clue into three parts and put one part in each of the girls’ shoes that were set by the front door. (My girls have this idea that the leprechaun leaves gifts in your shoes. I don’t know why.)

The other clues are hidden in certain places around the house. One in the fridge. One on the window sill in the blue playroom. One behind Emma’s light up star. One in Julia’s Bitty Baby. One in Olivia’s favorite book. I’m doing well until I need to hide the clue in the Bitty Baby. I can’t find it. I check the playroom downstairs. I check the playroom upstairs. No baby.

This means only one thing. It’s in their bedroom. Walking through Olivia and Julia’s bedroom in the daylight is a challenge. You’re really taking chances if you go in there at night. I curse the night light that blew out a few weeks ago and I still haven’t replaced. The hall light is on but it’s very dim in their room. I look around. I find other babies but no Bitty Baby.

I do find Olivia’s favorite book which is lying on the floor by her bed. I slip the appropriate clue inside. I soon realize that it’s no use. There is no way I’m going to find the baby without a light.

So I head to Emma’s room. She has this head lamp that my brother got her for Christmas. She uses it to read in bed. The rest of us use it when we need a flashlight. I take it in to the messy room (no, I don’t wear it) and eventually I find the baby doll, under Julia’s bed. About an inch from where I was blindly feeling around earlier.

Clues are deposited, kids are tucked in and I’m off to bed. I feel as though I’m the best mother in the world.

Morning breaks and my children awaken. I hear Olivia saying, “Julia, Julia! It’s time to see what the leprechaun brought for us.”

I hear Julia saying, “Okay. But where are my pants?

Now, I don’t know about you, but when one of my kids wakes up with no pants, I think they’ve wet their bed. So I run upstairs and check. No wet sheets. But also no pants. I look among the toys scattered on the floor. No pants. I find her a new pair and they all come down to check their lucky shoes.

Emma figures out that it’s a treasure hunt right away. They put the clues together and this is what it says:

If ye be looking for pots o’gold, check in the place that keeps things cold.

Okay. I should tell you that whenever Carter or I attempt to do an Irish accent, we end up sounding like pirates. Apparently, I can’t even write leprechaun-ish without sounding like Greenbeard the scourge of the Irish Sea.

But back to the story. The girls head to the fridge. Where they find the next note:

No gold is here. Tis just a clue. Your next is by a window blue.
“We don’t have a blue window,” Emma says.

Olivia and Julia ponder this.

I can’t take the suspense so I say, “Well, we have blue room.”

There are three little gasps and they run upstairs to find the next clue, which says:

You’ve found this one but where’s the next? I’ve heard it’s near your mother’s desk.

No problems finding that one. Though I do have two desks, they know I only use the one with the computer sitting on it. This note says:

Is this the last? I do not know. You might check Emma’s star that glows.

No words are spoken. No gasps. They are on a mission and they head right to Emma’s room, where they find the next clue:

No gold is here. Oh, what a pity! But look inside a babe that’s bitty.

“My Bitty Baby!” Julia exclaims.

Olivia sighs. “We’ll never find that.”

“I know!” Julia yells.

She heads for their room. She looks right under her bed and pulls out her Bitty Baby. Even Emma is impressed. We may be a messy lot, but we know where the important things are.

She finds the next clue:

Is treasure found? Too soon to tell. You might check Livi’s Annabelle.

“My book!” Olivia shouts. She heads over to the side of her bed and picks up Tasha Tudor’s A is for Annabelle. She opens it and finds this:

Now sisters three must link their hands. And check in with the pots and pans.

“Now sisters tree?” Olivia begins with a frown. “What’s a sister tree?”

“Three,” I say. “Sisters three.”

I realize my error too late. I’m standing across the room. How do I know what it says? Emma sends me a sharp look.

“Umm. I’m assuming,” I say. “Let me see that?”

I read it aloud and the three of them hold hands and head downstairs.

They open two drawers before they find the one with the pots and pans. Apparently, I have a lot of pots and pans. You really think I’d cook more considering.

Finally, FINALLY, they open the drawer that holds the movie (and bonus Scene It game). Taped to the movie is this note.

A treasure here! And one to keep. To watch this night before you sleep.

I wait for the exclamations of joy.

I wait some more. The poor dears must be struck silent by all their excitement. I look over.

I see Olivia pick the movie out of the drawer and look beneath it.

“But where’s the gold?” she asks.

Emma looks at me. Then at her sister. “This is the gold,” she says with false lightness. “This is our treasure.”

I can’t believe they’re not excited. I can’t believe they don’t like it. And I really can’t believe I’m being bailed out by my eight year old.

“The movie?” I say. “Cool. Now I don’t have to go buy it. And we can watch it tonight. Boy! I sure do love that leprechaun.”

Now Julia is excited. Olivia is perplexed. Emma is glad she gets to watch the movie tonight.

“But,” Olivia says. “What about the gold?”

“It’s treasure, Olivia. Guess the leprechaun thought you wanted this more.”

Olivia walks to the living room, checking behind pillows and under furniture. Certain there must be gold somewhere.

Emma looks at me and Carter. “Olivia is not being very appreciative,” she says.

“She likes gold,” says Carter.

“She likes chocolate,” I mutter.

I head to the door to get the morning paper. Olivia follows me. I hear a small gasp when I open the door. There on our front steps is a small pot of chocolate gold coins.

I glance over at our neighbor’s house as Olivia takes the treasure inside.

“He was here,” she shouts. “He really was here.”

The girls spend the next few minutes divvying up their booty. I spend the next few minutes being thankful for my neighbor.

“He brought us a movie,” Emma says.

“And gold,” Olivia says.

“And he stole my pants,” Julia adds.

Yes, it is truly a St. Patrick’s Day miracle.

The End.

The Eternal, Maternal Sigh, 12/05/05

There’s this sigh that mother’s have. If you have a mother, you’ve probably heard it. If you are a mother, perhaps you’ve used it. It’s long. It’s sometimes quiet. Sometimes it’s almost a moan. But it most always conveys something to the listener.

Perhaps it’s disappointment. Maybe it’s a vocal eye roll. Once in a while, it’s a sigh of pride. In my case, the maternal sigh I get can be translated into this: Did she learn nothing from me?

It has become my mission to avoid the sigh of my mother. I try to have the house clean when she comes over. I try not to be late for things. Often times I fail. But I always try at least a little bit.

On Saturday, all I had to do was get my girls to my mother’s house by six-thirty in the evening. My mom and my sister were taking them out to the theater and Carter and I were going to our friends’ house for dinner. I’d talked to my mom earlier in the day and the window I’d given her for drop off was between six o’clock and six-thirty.

Normally, this means somewhere before seven, but I hear my mom say over and over, “Okay. Around six-thirty then?”

Between six and six-thirty,” I say again.

“Ooookay,” she says. And I can hear the disbelief in her voice.

“Maybe even six-fifteen,” I say a little defensively.

“Oooookay,” she says again. “I’ll be ready.”

In mother speak, I’ll be ready means Don’t be late.

So I am determined to get my three girls ready for a night at the theater and to my mother’s house on time. This time, I will NOT be late. There will be no sigh.

The day flies by. The kids have things to do. I have fudge to make. Carter has college football to watch. Oh and he paints the kitchen a little bit. Before I know it, it’s time to get ready to go.

Yes. It’s four o’clock.

I know what you’re thinking. Four o’clock? That’s a full two and a half hours before you have to be at your mother's.

That’s true. But I know myself. I know my strengths. I know my weaknesses. Procrastination is a big weakness. I love to put things off. Something else I’m not so good at is hair. Anyone who has met me in person can tell you that I do very little with my hair. I’m just not good at it and have always felt it would be wise to spend my time on pursuits that had nothing to do with curling irons or hair gel or <gulp> braids.

My children have suffered for it. They have great hair but no one to do it up right.

But today I am going to do it up and hope for the best. I’m not going to put it off. I’m going to start at four o’clock so we can all be at Grammy’s house somewhere between six and six-thirty.

We begin.

Olivia, our six year old, has decided to be first. She walks into my bathroom with her robe and towel. We’re using my shower because it’s huge and it allows me to be in there with them without getting myself wet. We wait until the water is warm and in she goes. I wash her hair and rinse. I scrub her from head to toe and rinse. When she is out of the shower, I wrap her up in her robe and, just because she loves it, I wrap her towel around her hair and pile it all up on her head. She’s feeling very important. I tell her to go comb out her hair while I’m washing up her sister.

She raises her eyebrows haughtily and says, “Well, I suppose.” Then she giggles and says, “Can I get dressed?”

“Not until your hair is done.”

“Pickles,” she mutters and is off to her room.

I turn to find Emma, the seven year old, already in the shower.

“I can do this myself,” she tells me.

“I know. I know. But I’m doing it for you today. I’m quicker.”

“Okay,” she says.

I wash her hair. Emma has thick hair. We wash. We rinse. We condition. A lot. When she’s all finished. I wrap her in her robe and put her hair up in her towel and send her to comb out her hair.

“When are we getting dressed?” she asks.

“After hair.”

“’kay.”

She scampers to her room and I see little, four year old Julia is now in the bathroom. She looks at me with her darling little face.

“Thampoo?” she asks worriedly.

“Yes. It’ll be fine.”

She nods solemnly. Julia loves baths. She loves showers. She HATES shampoos.

In she goes. I pull down the shower head and tell her to put her head back. She does.

“Wait!”

“What?” I ask.

“I need a wathcloth.”

I hand her a washcloth and she places it over her eyes to prevent her mother from blinding her with the fruity goodness of L’Oreal Kids shampoo.

I quickly wash her hair.

“Are you done?” she asks.

“Nope. Head back.”

She puts it back for a rinse. Washcloth still over her eyes. I am so careful. Not one bit of water hits her eyes, let alone any soap.

I’m about to tell her she’s finished when all of a sudden she starts screaming.

“What? What? What is it?” I say frantically feeling the water to see if I’d just burned her or something. “Why are you screaming?” I ask after I see that the water is fine.

She pulls the washcloth off her face and shrugs. “I dunno.”

Suddenly, I don’t think she has such a fear of shampoo. I think she just likes screaming in the shower. Hitchcock would have loved her.

So we finish her up. Doesn’t take too long because Julia’s something of a shrimp. You could spit on Julia and she’d need a few towels to dry off. I get her bundled up in her robe and she looks at her towel. Then she looks at me.

“You want the towel in your hair?”

She nods.

“You know you don’t have all that much hair,” I remind her.

She just grins and in a few seconds her towel is a towering twist on her head. I turn to leave the bathroom and check on the girls. I hear Julia gasp.
“Mommy!”

I turn and my cat-like reflexes save Julia from being pulled backward onto the floor by that big old towel on her head.

“How about,” I say as I unwind it, “we just go comb your hair first?”

She agrees.

We walk over to Emma’s room where she and Olivia are combing their hair out and gazing at each other in the mirror.

“Hey, good job,” I say when I see their hair. “Let’s go dry it.”

“Me first,” Olivia says. “Can I get dressed?”

“After your hair,” I tell her.

She sighs and I think of my mother. I look at the clock. Don’t want to be late. “Let’s get going,” I say.

I dry her hair and it looks so nice. My kids never get their hair dried by anything other than the night air. They have, unfortunately, picked up my hair doesn’t matter attitude. But, oh, it looks great when it’s blown out.

Olivia has curlier hair than the other two. When I start curling it, it’s mostly in an effort to control it. And it works. Her curls lay nicely against her head. She stands so still but that could be because I told her that hot curling irons could scar you for life if you weren’t careful.

I curl and curl, all the while biting my lip and guessing that I’m doing it right. Then I comb it out a little and then I send Olivia into bliss by putting hairspray over it all. She looks gorgeous.

Emma looks concerned.

“How are you going to do my hair?” she asks.

“How do you want it?” I respond.

“Can’t I leave it straight and do nothing to it?”

She is so my child. “I guess,” I tell her. “But I have all this set up. Sure you don’t want just a flip at the bottom?”

“Okay,” she says. “Just a flip. A little one.”

Olivia comes back in patting her curls and looking smug. “I picked my dress,” she says. She looks at Emma with her little flippy hair and pats her curls again. Really, I expect her to say something like the annoying girl in the Charlie Brown Christmas special – “Did innkeeper’s wives have naturally curly hair?”

“I’ll be out in a while, Olivia.”

She shrugs and leaves the bathroom.

“I want curls.”

“What?” I turn back to the mirror.

“Curl it all. I want it curly.”

“The flip looks cute.”

“Give me curls… please,” she says.

I sigh. “Ooookay. Just remember, you and Olivia have very different hair. It’s not going to look the same.”

“That’s okay,” she assures me.

So I curl and curl and burn her ear a little but I blame her fidgeting and not the fact that I was gazing at her shimmering beautiful blond hair and wishing my hair was that color again.

I comb her out a bit and spray her with hairspray. And I look at her hair. It’s different than Olivia’s but it’s still beautiful. If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m very proud of myself. I did their hair and it turned out well. This is a day to remember.

I help them all get dressed and they look even more beautiful. I check in on Emma and I notice her frowning.

“What’s wrong?”

She looks at me and winces. “It’s just…”

“You hate your hair.’

She nods. “Maybe a ponytail…”

I don’t say a word. I may have given a look but I’m not sure. It was one of those moments when the primal scream I keep inside was so loud it didn’t allow for anything other than… a sigh. A deep, long, suffering sigh. Okay, it might have been closer to a growl.

Suddenly Emma’s eyes get wide and she says, “No. No, ponytail. This will be fine. Looks good. Yup. No ponytail for me.”

“Good answer,” I mutter as I go to get myself ready for the evening. Wow. The sigh works.

By six-ten we are all putting on our coats. I may not know hair, but I know dressy outerwear. The girls have these long, beautiful wool coats. Julia even has a beret and muff with hers. The others pull on their gloves and wrap up in scarves. We all head outside and I have to tell you, the only thing keeping it from being a Currier and Ives moment is the mini-van in place of a horse and sleigh.

We get everyone in and buckled up. I sigh again but this time it’s one of relief. It’s six-fifteen. We’re not late. It took us over two hours to get ready but it was worth it. We’re all ready. The girls will get to my mom’s house and we’ll get to our dinner. It’s all perfect.

“I can’t believe we’re on time,” I say to Carter as we go on our way.

“You started pretty early,” he says and I can see the strange wonder in his eyes. I can’t blame him for being a little confused. He started getting ready five minutes ago. He doesn’t understand all of this prep time.

I sit back and look at the clock. I’ll be hearing no sighs from my mom. We’ll be on time. I can run them into her house and we’ll be out of there in no time. We might even be on time for our dinner. That never happens.

We pull up to her house and take the kids inside. My mom ooohs and ahhs and takes a few pictures. I tell her again that the tickets will be waiting for her at the box office. The girls take off their coats until it’s time to go to the show.

Carter puts his hand on my shoulder.

“Okay,” I say. “We’d better get go…”

And then it happens. Emma asks a question that has me stopping mid-sentence, has me pulling in a surprised breath, has that primal scream coming out in a distressed little squeak.

She asks, “So when are we going to have dinner?”

I look at her for a frozen second. I glance at Carter, whose eyes are as wide as mine, whose mouth has fallen open and whose shoulders are already shrugging as if to say, “Don’t look at me. I was watching the game.”

And finally, I look at my mother.

"Oh, my God," I say.

She shakes her head. “You forgot to feed your children?” She rolls her eyes. She chuckles a little.

As I head to the kitchen to quickly whip up some peanut butter sandwiches, I hear it.

I hate it. I love it. I use it myself. And even though I'm grown, it seems I still deserve it.

It's the maternal sigh. And on this day, it's a loud one.

Damn.

Are We There Yet? 2005, 9/03/05
Part 1 of 7 - The Long and Winding Road

Whenever we mention our trip to South Dakota to friends, we are asked the same question, “Are you driving again?” When we answer with a yes, the next question is always, “Are you crazy?”

I can’t blame them for asking. Packing three kids under the age of seven in a minivan and driving all night to reach our destination does seem a little nuts. But for some reason, we like it. We’ve flown with the kids before and we’re always balls of stress wondering if we’re going to miss a flight. Will the kids be good on the plane? Will we get dirty looks from other passengers?

In our minivan, we are the only ones giving dirty looks. And who really cares how the kids are? They’re contained in the back seat traveling with people who already know how they are.

Of course, this is coming from the person who often compares our car trips to the Bataan Death March. Carter and I are the guards and any complaints from the POWs (aka our children) result in their being cut down without mercy. It works for us. We know we’re in for the long haul and well, we’re just not going to put up with any crap.

WE are the ones driving all night. WE are the ones who are losing sleep so we can arrive in South Dakota quickly. WE are the ones who are responsible for all of us arriving safe and sound. It is not too much to ask that the trip pass without complaint.

This is the third year we’re driving to South Dakota from Pennsylvania and I have to tell you, by this time, we’re a well oiled machine. The car is ready to go when Carter gets home from work. The kids have their lunchables all ready to eat. They are dressed in dresses that are comfortable to sleep in but will also work for tomorrow’s outfit. And we only have to turn the car around twice to get a forgotten cd and the shirt I left on the couch. Very well oiled, indeed.

“How long is this trip anyway? And why aren’t we flying?”

This was from Emma, our seven year old, about three minutes into our trip. The time is 7:00 pm. I turn around in my seat and immediately Emma sees she’s made a mistake in asking such a thing.

“WE are the ones driving all night,” I say, my eyes giving her the crazed look one can achieve after spending the day packing the bags, packing the car and mentally preparing oneself for a week with ones in-laws. “WE are the ones who are losing sleep so we can arrive… etc.”

She smiles guiltily and says, “Oh.”

Carter has decided to drive first. We get about twenty miles from home before we make our first stop.

“I can’t wear these shorts,” he says.

“What?”

“These shorts. They’re not comfortable. How can I drive all night in these shorts?”

“So change them.”

“I think I have to.”

Fine. We stop at a service plaza. Carter heads inside to get some food for us. I head to the back of the van to get different shorts for him. I find some by the time he comes out with our food. He changes and we are once again on our way.

I breathe a sigh of relief. Everyone is comfy. Everyone is eating. We’re having a good time and isn’t this an excellent mix cd I made?

<silence>

“What’s going on?” I frown as I look at my cd player. Our mini van still has the tape player in it and so our cds can only be played with a walkman hook up. Only the walkman hook up is suddenly not working at all.

“I think it’s dead,” Carter says.

“It can’t be dead. I made cds just for this trip and they’re good. I need those cds to make it through.”

“Sorry, babe. It’s radio time for us. We’ll get a new player in Minneapolis.”

Oh, that's true, I think. We’re meeting my best friend at the Mall of America for a few hours tomorrow. Surely they’ll have a walkman somewhere. Then I remember… that’s tomorrow!! I have at least 16 hours of driving to get through before we meet up with Julie. How am I going to make it with only the radio?

“There’s a WalMart around here I bet,” I say.

“We’re not stopping now. We’re on our way,” says he who stopped to change his shorts.

I mutter some unflattering things but I’m not going to be blamed for slowing down this trip. I am ever patient and I’ll just be satisfied with the radio and with the knowledge that I am NOT driving through western Pennsylvania. I hate western Pennsylvania. It’s hilly. There’s always construction and they put up these cement chutes for you to maneuver through making it feel like you’re a cow headed to slaughter at seventy miles per hour.

If I remember right, Carter drove all the way across Pennsylvania last year. Then I took over in Ohio. That would be great. Yes, I’ll be fine as long as I…

“Can you drive now? I’m really tired?”

I look at Carter. It’s been two hours. We’re heading into western Pennsylvania territory. My look tells him as much.

“I know. Just let me take a quick nap and I’ll take over before the bad part,” he says, looking all pathetic and tired.

Before I can sigh in a long suffering manner, I’m behind the wheel. My trusty Spree at my side, my finger on the seek button and a coke sitting in the cup holder.

I flip the radio once before the kids ask, “Can we watch a movie?”
It is all I can do to keep my forehead from hitting the steering wheel. This is really not going so well. The only thing worse than listening to nothing in the car is listening to a movie. But I am a kind mother and soon I’m driving to the sounds of Spy Kids and Carter’s light snore.

Finally, the movie ends and I tell the kids to go to sleep. In a move that makes me both happy and suspicious… they do. They go right to sleep. I smile and look around. Carter is still resting. For some reason, the construction isn’t bothering me this year. And then it hits me. There isn’t construction here. The roads, at places, are as nice as the Ohio Turnpike and if you know me, you know I LOVE the Ohio Turnpike. It’s like driving on a smooth, inky black road. Well, okay, in fact, it IS driving on a smooth, inky black road.

But here I am in western Pennsylvania and I’ve got the cruise control on. I never use the cruise control in Pennsylvania. This is wonderful. I’m flipping through the stations and finding some good songs. We’re nearing midnight and the Pennsylvania/Ohio turnpike and I’m going strong. Except for that incessant yawning, I’m feeling really great.

“I think we need gas,” Carter says.

“Yeah.” I look to the gage. “I’ll pull over in Ohio.”

“I’ll drive then. You should rest a little. You keep yawning.”

Damn! I knew he was going to say that. He’s totally stealing the Ohio Turnpike from me!! But I am getting a little sleepy, so I grumble an agreement.

We get out to pump gas and the kids pop up a little bit when the lights come on in the car.

“Are we there?” they ask.

I laugh. “No. Go to sleep.”

And they do… again. Hmmm. Who are these children?

I ask Carter if he’d like a snack for the drive.

“Yes. I’m taking the Deadliest Catch approach to driving,” he tells me.

Oh boy. This’ll be good. Carter has been watching The Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel. It’s about fishermen who stay up for days pulling in Alaskan crab from the freezing waters of the Bering Sea. Most of them end up hurt, some die. I’m wondering how this relates to our trip.

“They eat all the time to stay awake. The fishermen,” he says when I look at him blankly. “I’m just going to keep eating and I’ll stay awake.”

Oh. Sounds reasonable. I open the back of the van and begin gathering snacks for his shift. Okay, here’s something I have to mention. We brought apples. That’s not odd. We always bring apples, but this year I brought along the apple slicer and a small wooden cutting board. As I hop into the back of the van, I pull my little apple kit out and set in on the cooler. I tear off some paper towels and line up the apple. I look around to see if anyone can see me, but it’s midnight at an Ohio service plaza. It’s not too busy.

The thing is… I’m not an organized person. I’m the least organized person I know and I am REALLY proud of this little bit of food prep in the back of my car. I’m like Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club with her little sushi set. I’m waiting for people to say, “How clever to be so organized on a family trip?” And then I would say, “Oh, it’s just a simple apple. Nothing to it really.”

I see some people pull up behind us at the gas pump. I move to the side so they can see me push the slicer through the apple. I glance back. They’ve both run to the bathrooms.

Damn.

Oh well. I’ll just slice this apple for Carter. I’ll be like Ma Ingalls preparing food in the covered wagon while my three girls sleep in the back. Pa will surely appreciate the apple.

I wrap the slices up in a paper towel and throw the core into the trash. I pick up some more food as Carter finishes pumping the gas. He comes around the back.

“Is that a cutting board?”

“Yes. It’s my apple cutting kit. I’m very organized this year.”

He looks at me strangely. Very much like the way I looked at my kids when they fell asleep right away. I hand him the apple.

“Wow,” he says, clearly impressed. “Thanks.”

“No trouble,” I say.

We get into the car and head onto the Ohio Turnpike. Carter has all his food at the ready. Protein bar, water, walnuts and a perfectly sliced apple. My husband is disgustingly healthy. So healthy, in fact, that I almost pass out when he pulls out a huge bag of peanut M&Ms.

“Peanut M&Ms?”

“The fishermen use peanut M&Ms,” he grins. “They’re a tool really.”

Right. But I don’t say anything more. Who, in their right mind, complains about the presence of peanut M&Ms?

Here’s the thing about driving long distances with your spouse… you realize how little you trust the other person to keep you alive. While I was driving, every turn of the wheel or swerve in the road would have Carter popping up immediately, saying, “You okay? Too sleepy? Are we crashing?”

I'd probably be offended if I didn't do the same thing. Let's face it, when your eyes are closed and you’re reclining in the passenger seat with a blanket and a pillow, every little turn feels like your heading into a ravine where the only escape will be through the Jaws of Life. So I decide then that I will try my best to stay awake in order to keep him awake, to keep us all alive. The safety of my family is depending on me and my ability to remain alert.

Sadly, I’m sound asleep before Carter takes his first bite of apple.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Are We There Yet? 2005, 9/03/05
Part 2 of 7 - The Wee Small Hours of the Morning

I doze off and on over the next three hours. I think I manage about an hour and a half of sleep. Not good sleep, but sleep. I think I ask, “You okay?” about thirty times during those three hours. I ask again at around three in the morning. And this time Carter’s answer is, “No.”

We pull into another rest area. I head to the back and slice up another apple. Again nobody is around to witness my efficiency. I grab my snacks, which, as always, are mostly unhealthy and filled with deliciousness. I have a Coke, my Spree, a tube of Pringles. The only bit of goodness I can muster is the apple and really, I just wanted to use my apple slicing kit again. Still, it looks pretty good. It’s all juicy and smells so sweet. I can’t wait to bite into that apple.

The kids are still sleeping. Carter gets all comfortable.

“I’ll drive the next three hours,” I say, as I settle the snacks around me so they’re easy to grab. I, too, am using the Deadliest Catch approach to wakefulness. I don’t care if I gain a million pounds. I am eating… poorly. Except for the apple.

The three am to six am shift of driving is easy in that there are very few cars to contend with. It’s hard in that the driver is usually really freaking tired. But I convince myself that I’m refreshed after my nap and I’m ready to go. I flip the station on the radio again and off we go. A few minutes pass.

“What are you thinking about?” Carter asks.

I jump in my seat. “I thought you were sleeping.”

“Soon. What do you think about when you’re driving?”

“I don’t know. At the moment, I’m wondering how I’m going to end that Jamie and Nia story I’m writing. I’m thinking I’m going to be flipping the damn radio a lot and I’m thinking I should spread out my apple slices so they last the entire three hours. Why? What do you think about when you’re driving?”

“I don’t know. Work. The construction on the house.”

“No wonder you’re sleepy.”

He’s soon snoring next to me. Okay, I think. I’ve got to spread out this apple. I have three hours and eight slices. It takes far longer than it should for me to figure out that I can have one slice every twenty-two and a half minutes. It will help me pass the time anticipating that yummy apple slice. I’ll have my first one now, I think.

I pull one out of the paper towel I’d wrapped it in and take my first bite.

Jesus Christ!! This can’t be right. This apple sucks. I take another bite. This is… this is awful!! Why, it barely tastes like an apple. I don’t know what it tastes like, but it’s certainly not the apple I was expecting. I finish the slice in a bit of a shock. I can’t quite comprehend that this apple sucks as bad as it does.

I shake my head and grab a Pringle and my Coke to wash the taste out of my mouth. I’m going to eat the whole damn apple. It’s part of my plan to stay awake but God, that first slice was very disappointing. I washed the apples at home before we left. They were packed in plastic zipped bags. Nothing happened to this apple to make it bad. It just grew that way.

Oh well, I think with a sigh. At least I have another twenty two and a half minutes before the next slice. In the meantime, I’ll think about what I always think about on long trips. Ewan McGregor. With a sigh, I glance down at my cd holder. The Moulin Rouge Soundtrack is in there somewhere. Ewan is waiting to sing with me. I do it every year. It helps me through the long dark night. But I’m stuck with the radio and northern Indiana in the wee small hours isn’t offering too much.

I look at the clock. Holy crap!! Twenty two minutes have passed. Here is proof that dread makes time pass more quickly than anticipation. Slowly, I reach into the paper towel and grab another slice.

This slice is just as bad as the last, but I eat it. By the time another twenty two minutes pass, I’m nearly weeping. This is really the worst piece of fruit I’ve ever eaten. I should just stop, but now it’s become some sort of penance. I don’t know for what, but it sure did make the last hour speed by.

I am the only person on the road now. Carter is sleeping really well. He’s not even asking me if I’m okay. I flip around the radio some more. There’s not all that much to choose from and everything seems to be slow and sleep inducing. Why can’t I ever find a good radio station? The yawning starts again.

I’m starting to doubt Carter’s Deadliest Catch method. It occurs to me that the fishermen eating all the time also have freezing air slashing at them as they work their frost bitten fingers to the bone pulling in their catch. I’m stuffing my face with sub-par fruit and various kinds of sugar and salt while sitting on my ass in a climate controlled minivan. I have nice comfy seats and freaking Sarah McLachlan on the radio. Quite frankly, I’m amazed I’ve stayed awake this long.
Suddenly I’m pissed off and defiant. I will NOT be sleepy. I will NOT pull over and make Carter drive. I’m going to drive to Chicago and nothing is going to stop me. You can sing about me finding comfort in the arms of an angel, Sarah McLachlan, but I will NOT be lulled to sleep. I listen to the entire song, just to prove I can. I eat my damn, disgusting apple every twenty two minutes. I eat my Spree, Pringles and Coke until my tongue is shriveled up and twitching from the combination of tart, salt and sweet.

When Fame comes on the radio, I smile. Yes! I’m gonna’ live forever! I’m gonna’ drive forever!! When Barry White comes on, I’ve reached cross country driving nirvana. Time is passing. The miles are flying by. We’re coming up on Chicago and I’m pretty sure we’re an hour ahead of where we were last year. I’m sure last year the sun was coming up when we passed Chicago. It’s still really dark.

Carter has gotten some good sleep. He wakes up and asks if I want to switch.

“Hell no!” I declare. I’m an expert driver. I’ve beaten back the sleepiness. I’m good to go the rest of the way. I’ve finally found a great radio station and am happily listening to the Foo Fighters. “Hey, wasn’t it lighter when we hit Chicago last year?”

He frowns a little. “Yeah. We are making good time, but it should be lightening up a little bit.”

My three hours are almost up. I have one slice of apple left. My Coke is gone. My mouth is completely rejecting any form of candy or snack. That one bit of apple is all I have left to eat. And my last twenty two minute break is almost upon me.

“Hey, this isn’t darkness,” Carter says as he looks at the Chicago skyline. “This is…”

DRIP!

“…rain.”

I see the drop on the window immediately. I leave it there. But another drop falls. And another. And another.

I turn to Carter. “It’s… it’s raining?”

He nods. “And there’s no where to pull over.”

Suddenly I’m in traffic. It’s dark, wet and the other cars are out to get me. My confidence left with the last purple Spree. I turn off the radio, grasp the steering wheel and try to get through this mess.

“These are the worst wipers! Jesus! I can’t see a thing. The car’s going to flip over.”

“You’re fine. You know, I asked if you wanted to switch before we hit the city.”

“Yes,” I growl. “I remember it all clearly.”

We’re stopped momentarily in traffic. I see I’m overdue for my last apple slice. I’ll have it quickly before we start moving again. I frown when the paper towel comes up empty. I reach around frantically looking for the last apple slice.

“Did you eat my last piece of apple?”

“No. Traffic’s moving again,” Carter says.

I grab the wheel again and try to think. Did I eat the last piece? Did I do the math wrong? Where did I mess up? Where is that last piece of apple?

I nearly whimper when we pass an accident on the other side of the highway. I’d be completely freaking out if I weren’t so occupied with wondering what happened to the last apple slice.

Eventually we get through the traffic, through/around Chicago and I pull over to the side of the road as soon as I’m on a road that has a side.

Carter and I switch places. The sun is coming up and of course, the rain stops as soon as Carter starts the car. I turn around.

“The kids are still sleeping? Are they still breathing?” I check to make sure they are.

“You made it through Chicago in the rain, babe. Excellent work.”

I begin looking again for the missing apple slice. It’s no where. I must have eaten it.

“You really liked that apple, huh?” Carter asks.

I think for a minute. “No. It was terrible.”

“Yeah, mine too.”

My mouth drops open. “Why didn’t you say anything? Why did you eat it?”

“You went to all the trouble to slice it up for me…”

I smile at that. “Well. I was just using mine as a timer. I’d eat a slice every twenty two minutes.”

Carter smiles.

“What?” I ask.

“I was doing the same thing.”

I laugh then and lean back. I don’t sleep though. This is a really good radio station. I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss it.

To be continued…

Are We There Yet? 2005, 9/03/05
Part 3 of 7 - Bathrooms, Malls and Funnel Clouds

It’s nearing eight o’clock when I say to Carter, “Have our children really been asleep from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin?”

He glances back at them. “Yes. And I’m getting hungry. Should we wake them up?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“It’s time for breakfast. I think we should stop soon.”

I’m about to argue when we hear stirring in the back seat. The kids have arisen. Carter mutters a Hallelujah! Our girls slept for ten hours. They are wonderful. They are angels. They are also hungry and they have to pee. Happily, Carter takes the next exit and we find a restaurant.

You know, since I’ve become a mother, I’ve never once thought, “Oh, I wish we’d had a boy.” Everyone knows I’m happy with my girls. Everyone knows I’d be lost and scared if a boy suddenly came to live with us. Everyone knows I breathed a sigh of relief when our third child came and was not the boy everyone else seemed to be hoping for. I love having daughters.

But just once I’d like to be the person who gets the table at the restaurant while the other person takes the kids to the bathroom. I’d love to be able to walk into a bathroom and not have to say…

“Did you wipe? Oh, thanks, but I’m happy to take your word for it. Did you flush? Go flush. I know it’s automatic, but it’s obviously not working. No Olivia, there is nothing to be afraid of. The flashing light isn’t going to hurt you. Yes, I remember New York. Yes, I remember the lost hat. That’s not important right… here, I’ll do it. Emma, did you wash your hands? Don’t waste the soap. No, you wave your hands under it. It’s not that hot. It’s cleaning your hands. Julia, let me lift you up so you can reach. Here’s some soap. Hurry up, now. Emma? Use the automatic dryer. For the towels you have to press the button, then crank. Yes. Press… then crank. No. Just use the automatic one. Wave your hands under it! No? Is there a button? Then press it. No, it’s not a hair dryer. Just for hands. Let’s go. They’re dry enough. Wipe them on your shirt. Let’s go.”

But I have daughters and therefore, I am bathroom chaperone… always.

We walk out to find the perfectly-happy-without-sons Carter at the table. We have an excellent breakfast with the best French toast I’ve ever had. When we’re through, we take a small walk outside and then we pile back in the car.

It’s my turn to drive again. The morning passes by. The kids are occupied by workbooks and Polly Pockets and for a grueling ninety minutes, The Ninja Turtle Movie. Around noon, we get to Minneapolis. Carter and I are switching places every so often.

A week earlier, I was talking to my best friend, Julie, who lives in Las Vegas. She mentioned that she, her husband and her daughter were heading to Minneapolis for a small family reunion. After a little scream of excitement, I told her WE would be in Minneapolis on Friday afternoon. After a big scream of excitement, we decide to meet for lunch or whatever. After calls back and forth all week, we finally decided on a time… and a place. The Mall of America.

As we approach, I glance over at Carter, who is behind the wheel. He’s looking a little smug.

“There it is. The Mall of America.” he says. “Funny you would pick that place.”

“It’s a good place to meet. We can grab lunch. We can get the cd player. We can buy me a book. It’s a fine place to meet.”

“But you always said…”

“I know what I said and no one but Julie could make me break my solemn vow.”

You see, years ago, back before we had kids, back before we were married, when the Mall of America was brand new, Carter and I went on a trip. The in-flight magazine had an article about this fantastic new mall. I rarely read the in-flight magazine because I always have a book handy. I was reading my book and Carter was reading the magazine.

“Can you believe this?” he said. “This place is huge!”

From that point on, he listed for me every fact and figure about the Mall of America. Besides interrupting my reading, he knew I just didn’t care all that much. But I would listen patiently. Then I’d read. Then I’d listen again. Then I’d read. Then I’d listen some more, not so patiently. Finally, I grabbed the magazine from him and said, “So help me God, Carter, if you tell me one more thing about the Mall of America, we will never go there. I swear it.”

He didn’t respond. Only took back the magazine and started to read again. I started to read too.

“There are over three hundred stores there. Isn’t that something?”

“That’s it. We’re never going,” I muttered.

“Oh, we’ll go,” he argued with a laugh.

“No way. I swear it. I will never set foot in the Mall of America.”

“I’ll get you there someday.”

“Fat chance,” I said. And I kept my vow for years.

Until today. We park and head inside. All I can say about the Mall of America is that it’s big. Carter was a little disappointed I think. I’m not sure what he was expecting. At the end of the day… it’s still just a mall. A HUGE mall with rollercoasters and things of that nature, but still just a mall. Of course, I have no doubt I’m biased and am completely determined not to be impressed by the place.
The kids immediately ask if they can go to the amusement part that is smack dab in the middle of the mall.

I smile indulgently. “Of course not,” I say and continue to walk on.

After a few cell phone calls we finally make it to the correct food court on the correct side of the mall. And there I see Julie. We eat and talk and shop and talk and walk and talk and play with her baby and talk. We try to fit so much into the few hours we spend there. The girls and Carter are happy to be out of the car and running around. I’m just happy to see my friend. After picking up a new cd player and a book for me, it’s time to go. We’ve had a three hour break. It’s time to drive again. Sadly, we say our goodbyes.

Carter drives after we leave. We’ve been keeping track of the hours each of us drives and so far, I’m winning. He’s trying to make up some time. We’ve been driving forever it seems. We’ve been awake longer. As we follow route twelve into South Dakota, things are getting kind of fuzzy.

But in a very pretty way.

The sky is huge as always. We can see storm clouds gathering in the distance but it’s far, far away from us.

When I take over driving again, I ask the girls, “Have you ever seen a sky like that? It’s so beautiful. We don’t have skies like that in Pennsylvania.”

Olivia frowns. “We have sky in Pennsylvania.”

“Yes, but you can’t see so much of it. Look at it over the prairie.”

Emma pipes up. “Of course you can’t see this much sky,” she says. “We have these things called houses.”

“And people,” Olivia adds.

“Hills,” Emma puts in. “We have hills.”

“And trees,” Olivia says. “Trees block the sky.”

“Okay, okay,” I say. “Isn’t it time for a nap?”

A nap isn’t happening but they stop being smartasses for a few minutes.

“Hmm,” I say as rain starts to hit the windshield. Guess the storm clouds aren’t so far away. “That’s a weird looking cloud there in the distance.”

Carter looks up and frowns. “That does look kind of funny, doesn’t it?”

“It’s probably just rain. It’s just falling hard there.”

“Yeah,” Carter says, but he keeps his eye on it.

After a few more minutes, I ask, “Okay. Is that a funnel cloud? Because from here it looks like one.”

“No,” Carter says. “No. I don’t think so.”

“Think? You don’t think so? Should I maybe not be driving in that direction?”

“No, it’s okay. It’s not a funnel cloud. I think.”

“What if it is?” I ask. “What if a tornado comes right toward us?”

The word tornado has the girls perking up fast. “Is that a tornado? What do we do?”

I frown. “What do we do? We should have a plan. I know you’re mother always tells us, but what is it?”

“I don’t know.” Carter looks at me a little frantically. “Go in a ditch I think. I don’t know. She didn’t give us that warning this time. It was all about watching out for the bikers from Sturgis.”

“We’ve seen three motorcycles the entire trip. And two of them were parked. What do we do if a twister hits us?”

“A ditch,” he says again. “I’m pretty sure it’s a ditch.”

I look up again. “Oh.” The sky’s clearing up a bit. “Where’d it go?”

Carter looks up too. “Guess it wasn’t a tornado.”

The kids sit back, deflated and clearly disappointed.

The sun shines on the yellow grass all around us. The blue sky is now filled with white puffy clouds and not one of them is shaped like a funnel. We pass farms. We head through different little towns. A few times we pass fields filled with bright yellow sunflowers. And finally with Van Morrison telling us we were born before the wind we head into Mobridge, into Carter’s hometown.

We did it again. We made it in little over a day. We are exhausted but happy to know our travels are over for a week. We unload what we need from a minivan that somehow got really messy on the way out. My efficiency and organization obviously took a side trip to Chicago and hasn’t caught up with us. We see Carter’s parents, his grandparents, his sister and her family. And then finally we go to bed.

“We made it,” Carter whispers when we lay down.

I sigh and stretch out. “We made it.”

Right before I reach a comfortable level of unconsciousness, I hear Carter say, “And you got to go to the Mall of America.”

He’s never going to let me forget that.

“I did,” I say and with one final yawn, I add, “And I drove two hours more than you.”

To be continued…

Are We There Yet? 2005, 9/03/05
Part 4 of 7 - Jeepers

Last year on our trip, we spent a lot of time seeing what was to be seen in the town of Mobridge. We visited, we shopped, we toured. This year, we’re not doing any of that. Or not so much anyway. We decide to focus on family and, as Emma would tell you, horses. Family and horses. That’s our goal.

Carter and I spend a lot of time with his grandparents. Both of them are in their eighties and we watch them all week talking, arguing, laughing. They have a little tiff about what to serve the jelly in, “Carl, why would you serve it in the jar? I have a bowl for that.” To which Carl responds, “Marie, they’re from Pennsylvania. They’re barely civilized. They don’t mind jelly in the jar.” And a bigger tiff over bugs. “Carl, that hole in the screen is letting all those little bugs in.” To which Carl responds, “Jeepers Marie, (they both say ‘Jeepers’ a lot) those bugs have all of Walworth County to fly free. Why would they choose to come through that little hole in the screen? Let’s be reasonable.”

We play cards with them almost every night. Carl puts two pillows on Marie’s chair so she’s high enough to reach the cards. Marie beats us all soundly at Gin, but it’s hard to begrudge her when she’s also shoving her delicious cookies on us all night. They both make fun of me when I make a mistake that costs me the game and I let out a word slightly more shocking than Jeepers! Carter and I laugh when they tell us that after sixty four years of marriage they’ve finally decided to be friends. And we listen when they tell us stories and show us pictures from their past.

I get a little misty during our last night of cards when Carl says, “Tomorrow night we’ll look at the clock and think, ‘If they were here, we’d all be here playing.’”

We spend a lot of time during the week with Carter’s dad and his horses. The girls fall in love. Carter’s dad teaches them while letting them have fun. I see patience and care and a whole bunch of indulgence. Emma is the first person to ever sit on one of the horses. And when she finally rides it, she’s in heaven. Carter mutters over and over, “Don’t get any ideas.” Emma’s confidence blooms before our eyes. All the girls feed and brush their horses. Even little Julia hauls hay for her horse. She calls her Honey Bun one day and Ladybug the next. And when we set her on a horse, our fearless one throws her arm up and yells, “Yee Haw!” And then there's Olivia, so scared to get on a horse but unwilling to be the only one who doesn’t try. When she finally gets on, she clings to Carter’s hand for protection.

Our last day there, Emma hugs her horse and whispers goodbye. The horse lowers her head as if to hug her back and I look at Carter.
“I see you’re getting ideas,” he says. “You should stop.”

He obviously has a heart of stone.

We also spend a lot of time with our ten year old niece. We asked (begged) her to stay for the week to help with the kids. She agreed without reservation (we paid her). She is wonderful. She takes the girls to the playground, to the park, the pool. She rides bikes with Emma, colors with Olivia and takes Julia for walks in a stroller. She is priceless.

On my birthday, we all go out to the farm. The girls investigate the old homestead and Emma decides she has to write a book about this place. She sees skeletons that aren’t there. She finds intrigue in a spoon left on the front step. She goes into the barn that is about to fall over. When we object, fearing for her safety, she tells us it’s research and it has to be done. So we let her.

When Olivia actually finds a skeleton (small animal, not human), they are in ecstasy.

Later that day, Carter’s mother takes the girls to the pool and Carter and his dad head out to a pasture where they need to do some work. I tag along and sit in a tree with a pen and a notebook. I listen to the sounds of the wind making the old, grey trees groan. I love that I can’t hear a car or a radio or anything other than that wind and the buzzing of the locusts or the zip of the little red dragonflies dashing all around.

I have to tell you one of the best things about this vacation and having a ten year old nanny is the time Carter and I get to spend by ourselves. We take walks together, we go through old letters and pictures found from the late 1800s, we watch shooting stars on a late night walk all without interruption. We hang out laundry to dry and all the while we talk, we argue, we laugh. It all reminds me how thankful I am to know that he’ll be the one who one day will put pillows on a seat so I can reach the cards. And is it any wonder then that when he kisses me behind the wet shirts we’ve just hung, the only word that passes through my mind is… Jeepers!

The week passes by and Friday morning arrives. We are packed up and ready to go. We wake the kids and make our sleepy goodbyes. It’s time to get back in the car. It’s time to go home.

We always look to the ride home with trepidation. First, because we take two days to drive home instead of one. An all-nighter is impossible after a week away. Second, because we know the chances of our children being asleep for ten of our traveling hours are nil. There are bound to be meltdowns. We can only hope, as we always do, that the children are the only ones having them.

To be continued…

Are We There Yet? 2005, 9/03/05
Part 5 of 7 - The Round Bale of...HEY!

The drive home begins early Friday morning. We get the kids up, throw some clothes on them, say our goodbyes and are on our way by 7:30. We decline Carter’s mom’s offer of breakfast, preferring to get something in a couple of hours along the way.

This will prove to be a mistake in judgment. But our hindsight is always good. At the time, our foresight was still sleepy.

We tell the girls to go to sleep once we’re in the car. They don’t. But I don’t mind. My mind… my eyes are drawn to the scenery. You see, I have this love affair with the round bale of hay. I don’t know why. I’ve seen them up close. There’s really nothing fascinating about them, but every time we pass a field filled with these round bales, I beg Carter to stop the car so I can take a picture. He does a few times and then he tells me to get over the hay.

So we drive on past beautiful fields of gold. Every once in a while we pass through a small town. And every time, I make sure the doors are locked. Really small towns freak me out. Mobridge has just under 4000 people and, though it’s considered one of the larger towns around out there, even that gives me the willies sometimes. When we reach the towns that are well kept and idyllic and have less than 1000 residents, well, I’m scared to death.

Ever since I read The Lottery by Shirley Jackson years and years ago, I’ve had a fear of the very small town with their old traditions that might or might not include stoning someone to death once a year. You never know. Frankly, I’d rather not take part in something like that. So as we drive through one small town, then another, my eyes scan each neat town square for a pile of rocks. I see none. I also see no restaurants.

About two hours have passed. The girls are getting hungry. I quiet them with animal crackers. When Emma eats one and passes the rest to her sisters. I frown and study her a moment.

“Hey! You okay?” I ask.

She nods, but I can see the dark circles under her eyes. She’s trying to take a nap, but can’t get comfortable. This isn’t a good sign.

“Do you want something to eat? I’ll get you something out of the back.”

She shakes her head and closes her eyes.

“Uh oh,” I say to Carter. “Emma needs breakfast.”

“We’ll stop at the next town,” he says.

Which is a lovely thought, but we’re on reservation land now and the towns are even further apart… and <gulp> smaller than the last few. We’re in trouble.

“Hey! Hay!! More round bales,” I say, looking out the window. “Let’s pull over.”

“No,” Carter says. Suddenly a sound comes from the backseat. Carter frowns, “What’s that noise? Hey! What’s going on?”

Next comes the sound of high pitch screaming. I know what’s happening before I turn around. Emma is throwing up and the other two are grossing out over it. Unfortunately, we’ve been in this position before. This is why we keep a bucket in the car at all times.

“Do you need some water, Emma?” I ask. I see Olivia watching her sister with wide eyes. Olivia is the biggest sympathy barfer you’ve ever seen. “Olivia, don’t watch. We only have one bucket.”

Both Olivia and Julia turn away. As Emma had nothing in her stomach, there isn’t all that much to gross out over anyway. Carter pulls over and I rinse out the bucket. Okay, and I snap a few pictures as well, but we were there. Shame to waste an opportunity.

Soon we are on our way again. We’re nearing the town of Chamberlain and Carter assures me they have food.

“We used to play basketball against them,” he says.
I look out at the prairie. Then I frown and look at the clock. “What do you mean you used to play basketball against them? We’ve been in the car for almost three hours.”

He nods. “Yeah, one time it was so cold there was ice coating the windows… on the inside.”

“What?” I’m completely incredulous. I knew they had to travel for games, but this seems a little extreme. “But, this is really far.”

“I know. We used to get home at around three in the morning.” He obviously sees there’s nothing strange about this.

I look at him and shake my head. It’s like he’s an alien sometimes.

“Hey! Windmills! Girls! Look at the windmills.” We are coming up on rows and rows of them. It’s the Hyde County Wind Energy center. “Let me take a picture!”

Carter pulls over. “And look, there are round bales on the ground. No, don’t worry about your daughter starving to death in the back seat. I’m sure she’ll have a pulse when we get to breakfast. Get the shot.”

I ignore his sarcasm and take a few pictures. “These are huge!”

“How do they work?” Emma asks, obviously rallying herself in support of her mother.

“The wind spins them,” I say.

“But what do they do?”

Uh oh. “They make electricity.”

“How’s that happen?”

I look at Carter. He looks at me. “We should really get going to breakfast,” I say quickly.

“But…”

“It’s all about harnessing the wind and all that,” I add.

“And it becomes electricity?”

“Yes.”

“But how?”

“Umm. It harnesses and then…” I look at Carter again. He shrugs. I sigh. “I don’t know Emma. We’ll look it up at home.”

“There’s a dam in Chamberlain,” Carter puts in. “They harness the water’s energy.”

“How do they do that?” she asks.

“You and Mommy can look that up at home too,” he says.

Hmm.

A short while later, we come upon Chamberlain. It’s a beautiful town on a lovely lake. It looks quiet and well kept. I’m immediately suspicious.

Until I spot a McDonalds.

Not that we’re eating there, we’ll find a diner, but just the fact that they have a McDonalds comforts me in someway. There are no villager sacrifices in towns with fast food. I’m sure of it. We head to the Anchor Grille for breakfast. Emma steps out of the van and throws up in the street. She’s shaking now. I can only imagine how low her blood sugar is. We go inside and I take the girls to the bathroom. Emma’s acting a little drunk now, so I get her out to the table quickly. Bev, our waitress, immediately brings Emma some juice. In a few minutes, she’s all better. She devours her breakfast. We all do. It could be the fact that we’re eating so late in the morning and we’re all starving, but this breakfast is, without a doubt, the best breakfast I’ve ever had in my life. All plates are clean within a half hour…

And we’re back in the car again.

The girls pass out once we’re on our way. In Chamberlain, we pick up the interstate that will take us to Iowa. And though I know it will get us home more quickly, I miss the open prairie, the sky without billboards, even the freaky little towns. And, of course, the truly wonderful round bales of hay.

To be continued...

Are We There Yet? 2005, 9/03/05
Part 6 of 7 - An Organized Trip

Not much happens on Friday after the vomiting. Iowa rolls more than I thought it would. It’s downright hilly at parts and very pretty. After a long day’s journey into Davenport, we check into our hotel. We swim, we eat in the room while watching cartoons, and we all quickly fall asleep. The next morning we eat breakfast at the hotel. (Never let it be said that we don’t learn from our mistakes.) Then we’re off.

I have to say, we’re pretty damn organized. I had packed a small bag with all we’d need for the hotel so that’s all we had to carry in and out. A few years ago while on this same trip we stopped at a restaurant and I saw this family traveling in a mini van similar to ours. We pulled in as they were packing up to leave. They had three girls as well, though a little older than ours. They were all dressed alike, wearing t-shirts proclaiming this to be their family vacation. I imagine they tie dyed them themselves. When they opened the door of their van, it was neat and clean and they all looked so happy. When we opened the door to our van, parked right next to theirs, things fell out. Videos, books, water bottles and Barbies littered the pavement. And our children were not the happiest they’d ever been.

Now, of course, there is a part of me that thinks this family is obviously really screwed up in some way that doesn’t show on the surface. But there’s another part of me that wants the neat van, that wants the organized back seat, the happy kids. There is no part of me that wants the matching shirts, but the rest… the rest, I’ll take.

My apple kit was just the beginning for us and as we head into the final day of our trip, things are looking good.

Carter and I find an eighties station and spend a good half hour trying to one up each other on guessing the artists of all the one hit wonders. He wins (and worries me) with the speed of his shouted, “Mike and the Mechanics!”

We lose the station and after letting the kids watch another movie, we head to the cd collection. It’s late in the morning and I’m driving. I put in a cd I made for the trip. I lovingly call it My Girlie CD. Carter groans. I’ve made some good music mixes for this trip, he tells me, and this is not one of them. It became obvious and filled us with pride that our children could belt out Green Day lyrics as well as they could Kelly Clarkson’s. Still not sure they should be on the same cd but the girls picked the order of that one.

But this one… this one is all slow and soothing and… girlie. And Carter hates it. I tried to play it on the drive out but Carter suddenly needed to charge his phone then. But now, I’m driving and as Alanis Morrisette starts singing, Uninvited, Carter looks ready to stick an ice pick in his ears.

I ignore him and sing along.

The girls are coloring or doing workbooks in the back seat. Suddenly, I hear Emma say, “No, Julia. You’re not coloring that the right way. You’re mixing up too many colors. The markers will get all messy.”

Julia doesn’t take this very well. In her silence, we sense her sadness. There will be tears soon. Since I’m driving, Carter’s on kid duty. He turns around to see what’s going on. I’m looking in the rearview mirror, because, really, seeing Julia work up to a good cry is something you don’t want to miss. It takes about five minutes before any whimper can be heard. First her eyes get big. Her mouth closes and stretches across her face in a straight line. Then her eyes fill but she holds the tears back as long as she can. Her mouth opens then, wide, but still she makes no sound. Her distress is so great that words fail her. And then, as we all watch in fascination, she lets two fat tears fall and a sob escapes.

“That was good one,” Carter says. “You missed it.”

“I saw most of it in the mirror.”

“Daddy,” Emma says. “I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings. I was just trying to help her.”

“I know, Emma,” Carter says. “It’s not your fault. I blame the cd your mother’s listening too. I’m about to cry myself.”

Everyone starts laughing. Even Julia who was in the throes of self pity manages a snicker. But they don’t bother me. Nothing is bothering me today. I take a sip of my Coke and say, “Oooh… Joni Mitchell.”

I turn up the stereo and drive on. Nothing is going to ruin my day.

A short while later, we’re completely stopped in traffic.

Not just a slow moving traffic. Like last year, this is ‘get out of your car and have a visit’ traffic. There are hundreds of cars stopped ahead of us. And hundreds now behind us. We turn off the car and get out. Some kids up ahead are playing with a basketball. Everyone gets drinks and snacks.

“It’s so hot out here,” Emma complains.

“It’s not a big deal, Emma,” I say. “Just consider it a break.”

“Why are we stopped?” Olivia asks.

“Probably an accident,” Carter says looking up ahead. A man walks up and starts talking to him.

The kids along the line of cars get all the trucks across the way to blow their horns at us. When an ambulance goes flying by, leaving whatever is stopping us, the line of people gets quiet.

“Was someone hurt?” Emma asks.
“I think so,” I say.

I know so when, twenty minutes later, we pass the remains of a small car. Flipped, shattered, and smashed.

Thank God we were the ones stopped in traffic.

It’s early afternoon when we approach Indianapolis. Carter is driving now.

“I have to go potty,” Julia says as she squirms around in her seat.

“Can you hold it?” I ask. “We’re going to stop for lunch after we’re through the city.”

She nods, but I’m not convinced she’s telling the truth.

“She’s going to pee in her pants,” Olivia says.

“No, she won’t,” I say. “She’s a big girl.” Then I mutter to Carter, “Hurry.”

“There should be a place soon,” he says.

Suddenly I sit up in my seat. “Jeepers! Is that what I think it is?”

“Do you think it’s the RCA Dome?”

“Yes!” I laugh.

“Then it is what you think it is.”

“Girls, look!! That’s where our Colts play!! That’s where Peyton breaks records. Let’s all take a moment and pray for a good season, okay?”

“Mommy, I think Julia really has to pee,” Emma says.

I tear my eyes from the glistening dome and turn to see Julia squirming again. “Hmm. Don’t think about it,” I say. “Girls, distract her.”

And then something amazing happens. Suddenly Emma and Olivia are overtaken by the spirits of Abbott and Costello.

“Let’s sing the alphabet song,” Emma says.

“Okay,” says Olivia.

“Only don’t say you know what.”

“What?”

“Just sing.”

Olivia starts. “ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP…”

“Aaaargggh!” Emma shouts. “You said it.”

“It?”

“The letter you’re not supposed to say.”

“What letter? ABCDEFGHIJKLMNO…”

“Stop!! Don’t say it,” Emma pleads.

“Say what? I was at the letter P.”

“Don’t you understand, Olivia? If you say ‘P’, Julia is going to think about having to pee and that’s not distracting her.”

“It’s just a letter.”

I see Julia looking distressed. “Girls,” I warn.

“Try this, “ Emma says. “ABCDEFGHIJKLMNO… hmm… QRSTU…”

“You forgot to say ‘P”,” Olivia tells her.

“Ohmigosh, Julia is going to pee because you keep saying the letter ‘P’ and so it’ll be all your fault.”

“But it’s just the letter ‘P’,” Olivia shouts.

“GIRLS!” I snap as I turn on them. “If one more person in this car says any form of ‘P’, you’re all in trouble.” I look at Julia. “I expect you to hold it until we can stop. You’re a big enough girl to handle this. Understand?”

She nods again, looking determined. Then her determination flees and she looks scared. “Oh, Mommy!”

“Jesus! Step on it, Carter,” I yell.

He flies off the next exit and we find a restaurant. We haul everyone out of the car and are momentarily stunned by the hot, wet air that surrounds us. Olivia’s hair automatically curls a bit more.

Emma only has a second to complain before we pull them all into the restaurant and back to the ladies room. Julia held it. I’m completely surprised by that.

I’m even more surprised when the waitress brings their drinks and they all say thank you without me giving them meaningful looks or nudging them under the table. I look at Carter and he shrugs and shakes his head. It’s truly amazing.

My children… my beautiful, wonderful, fabulous children have been great on this trip. As we eat lunch, I feel myself relax. We’re getting closer to home.

We’ve been through tears, traffic and bathroom emergencies and it’s all been handled beautifully. I’m feeling a bit like the matching shirt family.

What could go wrong?

To be continued…

Are We There Yet? 2005, 9/03/05
Part 7 of 7 - Family Vacation

Oh my God. This is the longest trip in history. Why did we take this route? Why? Why do we insist on driving? Why don’t we fly anymore? We’re never going to get home. Never.

Ahhh, here we are… mid afternoon on the second day of travel. This is always the worst part of the trip. We’re close to home and yet, still so far. It’s become obvious that this was a longer route to take, God knows when we’ll finally make it home and… it’s my turn to drive.

I haven’t been driving all that much today and I know Carter’s tired. The problem is that I am too. So I grab the necessities to help me along. Spree and Coke. It’s my life blood. And, just to be safe, I grab some more candy.

Some people think because I’m so fundamentally opposed to Chewy Spree that I dislike all chewy candy. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I like chewy stuff. In particular, I like red fishies (tiny Swedish fish) and Bit O’Honey. I don’t know why. I’m neither Swedish nor Irish, but I love them both dearly and I have them both on hand for this trip.

I put in a slow-ish cd and hope everyone goes to sleep. And they all do for a short time. I’m really tired. I consider putting in Moulin Rouge and singing a few with Ewan, but I know it would wake Carter up and he should sleep. I should sleep, but instead I pop Spree like it was, well… candy.

I’m eating fishies and bit o’honey and drinking Coke like mad. And after a bit, I’m feeling better. All better, in fact. I’m not tired anymore. I could drive on and on and… I need faster music.

Just in time, the kids and Carter wake up and I throw some Blink-182 into the player. I turn it up and I’m pounding the steering wheel, singing along. Every time Carter tries to turn it down, I turn it back up.

“Do you want me to drive?” he says as he turns it down one more time.

“No,” I say, turning it up. “I’m good.” And don’t interrupt, I add silently. I’m singing!

“Really?” he asks. “You still okay with candy and Coke?”

I turn to him. “What do you mean? Of course I’m okay. This is my… it’s my method.” I look to the road again. It’s starting to rain. I slap on the wipers.

“I know it’s your method.” Carter’s voice takes on the tone of a medical professional talking to a crazy person. “You’re just a little jerky.”

I jerk around to face him again. “Jerky? I’m not jerky. You’re jerky!”

“I think you might be on a bit of a sugar high. Maybe we should switch.”

“Mommy, I have to pee,” Emma says.

“But I’m doing fine. I’m not tired,” I say with a bit of a whine.

“She has to use the bathroom,” Carter says, firmly. “Let’s pull off, get gas and switch.”

“Fine!” I pout.

I pull into the nearest station. Carter gets out and starts pumping gas.

“Get your shoes on, Emma.”

“I can’t find one.”

“What do you mean you can’t… what the hell happened back here?”

The back seat is wrecked. There are papers everywhere. Crayons, markers, books, freaking Polly Pockets.

“We were just playing.”

“Playing? Playing? No wonder you can’t find your shoe.”

“What’s the hold up?” asks Carter.

“Emma can’t find her shoe,” I snap.

“It’s lost,” she says.

“It’s not lost!” I shout. “If things were put away instead of lying all over the place, you’d know where your shoe is.”

“Well, I’m going in,” Carter says.

“Just wait. Take her.” I say as I throw things around looking for her shoe.

“Me?”

I look at him. “Yes, you! You can take her into the bathroom once. Just wait for her.”

“I have to go too,” says Olivia.

“You should take them.” He’s sounding desperate.

“I don’t have to go!” I look at Julia. “And neither does Julia. Someone has to wait here with her.”

Julia looks at me and I see that my tiny three year old understands. “No, no potty.”

“See? I’ll stay with her. You can take them both… here it is!” I pull up Emma’s shoe and hand it to her. They hurry out of the car and Carter angrily takes them to the bathroom.

Minutes pass. I look at Julia.

“Mommy?”

I close my eyes. “Don’t say it.”

“I have to go potty.”

“You have to go potty?” My voice is shaking now.

She nods.

“Fine!” I snap. “Let’s go potty.”

I shove her tiny feet into her sandals and pull her into the convenience store. I hear the girls talking. I try the ladies room. It’s locked. Hmm. Their voices aren’t there. They’re coming from the…

“You took them to the men’s room?” I ask Carter as Olivia lets me in.

“It’s just us and the other one was locked. They couldn’t go in.”

“Well, looks like we’re all going now.” I say.

“There’s no toilet paper,” Emma says. “We’re supposed to drip dry. Daddy says it’s easy.”

“Easy for Daddy to say,” I mutter.

Carter leaves with Emma and pays for the gas. I’m in the bathroom with Olivia and Julia. I set Julia on the toilet.

“Julia? What’s that?”

“What?”

“You’re butt. It’s blue!” I look at her pants. Her underwear. It’s all blue in the back. “Were you sitting on a marker?”

Olivia pipes up. “We were playing with them and…”

“I told you to keep the caps on them. I don’t think this is washable ink. Your clothes are ruined!” I tell Julia.
And Julia makes an error that all children make sooner or later… she laughs at her mother.

“THAT’S IT!” I cry.

I throw soap and water on their hands and make them wipe it on their shirts. I grab their still wet hands and pull them through the store.

Carter and Emma are ready to go. Olivia and Julia get into their seats and they all watch, fascinated, as I have a complete meltdown.

“I’m never letting you use markers again! Look at this mess! This is ridiculous! There’s paper everywhere, dolls, crayons! Look at this,” I hold up a piece of ripped paper. “Why didn’t you throw this away?”

“We don’t have a…” Emma begins but stops when I pin her with a look.

I start picking up markers and throwing them in the box. “If you can’t take care of things, I’ll just throw them away. Do you want that?”

Emma starts crying.

“No crying!”

My voice is shrill and some small part of my brain is telling me that I’m being a complete cow of a mother especially since on a day to day basis I’m sloppier than they are. But I wanted the car to be organized. I wanted to be the happy family. And now it’s ruined.

I go on and on. Yelling, tossing things around until the floor is clean and clear of debris. When I hear Carter smother a laugh, I think I’m going to kill someone.

I slam into the car. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing.”

“What?”

“Did you see that girl?”

“What girl?” I look around but see no one.

“She left, but she heard your tirade when she went into the store and heard more of it when she came out.”

I’m looking around frantically now. “Where is she?”

“She’s gone. She was a chippy. Early twenties, cute, driving a truck. She smiled at me.”

“Oh, really?”

“Not that kind of smile. She heard you yelling, saw you throwing things around like a crazy woman and smiled at me… in pity. I could almost here her think, ‘You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.’”

I look at him for a few minutes. He’s laughing like a loon. I think I’m going to cry. Is there anything worse than having a stranger… a cute stranger… witness you losing your mind? “Great,” I mutter.

“Don’t worry about it,” he says, patting my shoulder. “Someday she’ll be in a mini van crashing from a sugar high and freaking out on her kids.”

“She’s Christie Brinkley,” I say miserably.

“What?”

“She’s Christie Brinkley and you’re Chevy Chase. Like the movie. She’s the girl you can look at and think about while you’re stuck in the car with your wife and kids. I’m Beverly D’Angelo. All we need is Lindsay Buckingham singing and it would be the same thing.”

“Lindsay Buckingham? I’m impressed.”

“Shut up. I’m going to sleep.”

And I do. I sleep for a while. Around eight o’clock we stop for dinner. I feel sick from all the candy I sucked down earlier and also from the guilt I’m feeling for completely melting down on the kids. When we get inside, Carter gives the girls a meaningful look and nods in my direction. The three of them all press big hugs on me with their little arms and finally, I smile. I tell them all that I am, in fact, very proud of them and they’ve been great on this trip… if your looking at the whole picture.

By the time we get back in the car, I’m feeling better. It’s nine o’clock now. Carter is still driving. He definitely has more hours in on this trip. I tell the girls to go to sleep but they’re busy looking out the windows. There’s a fantastic lightning display we’ve been following for quite some time. As it gets darker and darker, we’re more and more impressed.

Finally, the girls are asleep and I let out a deep breath. We’re still about four hours from home and right now it seems like forever, but I’m calm now, relaxed. I put on Norah Jones and sit back.

“The lightning remind you of something?” Carter asks.

I smile and remember watching a lightning storm as we drove through New Mexico on our way from Las Vegas to meet my family at the beach in North Carolina. We were engaged. Carter had just graduated from college and after a week at the beach, we were going to settle down in Pennsylvania. We had everything we owned loaded in the back seat of his old Volkswagon Fox. It was so full that you couldn’t see out the back window.

“That was a fun trip. Remember the back pack?”

“I hated that back pack,” he says.

“I know.” I laugh.

We’re both quiet for time.

Carter reaches for my hand. “A lot’s changed since then.”

I think about that for a bit. We both wear a ring now. We have a mini van instead of a tiny stick shift I could barely drive. We have a house that’s messy more than it’s not. We have a dog that jumps on people. We have, I think as I turn around, sloppy kids who take after their mother. I watch them for a minute, all peaceful and sleeping.

“What are you thinking about?” Carter asks. He always asks me that. Thank God.

“It’s pretty corny.”

“That’s okay,” he says.

I squeeze his hand. “I’m thinking things haven’t changed that much.”

“No?”

“No.” I look out at the lightning. “It’s still you and me in a car on a trip.” I nod back to the kids. “And everything that’s important to us is packed in the back seat.”

He smiles then. “I guess you’re right.”

And we drive toward home, taking turns along the way and knowing we’ll never fly to South Dakota. Because it doesn’t matter what the car looks like, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to reach your destination. It matters who’s with you for the drive.

The End

The Magic I Have Left, 5/29/05

There is a storm brewing and not just in the sky. My children were up too late last night. So was I. Our moods are bad and that’s putting it mildly. We are grumpy and I know soon after we wake up this morning that a nap will be needed… for all of us.

Julia starts first. Everything she does today is a cause for tears. Every word out of her mouth comes out in a piercing whine. There is nothing we can do to please her. Nothing she can do to please herself. Misery is her name.

Olivia is our quiet five year old. She often gets sleepy but doesn’t let us know until the meltdown. I hope upon hope that the nap comes before the meltdown.

And then there’s Emma. Our seven year old drama queen is at first mad because she couldn’t swim at the neighbors and then, when she can, is mad because she gets wet.

There is nothing I can do. Nothing I try to do to make it better. And between the whining and the crying, my mood is turning as dark as the clouds and moving in just as quickly. Finally, I snap and my anger is as quick and sharp as lightning. The shouts are like thunder… loud and scary. There is a rainfall of tears.

And I wonder why it always has to be like this. I wonder why a day can’t go by without an argument, without someone fighting with someone.

I do the only thing I can think of. I announce to one and all that it’s nap time.

Olivia stays outside with Carter. She is still silently sleepy and is spared from my temper. Emma and Julia are sent to the house. I head in with them and try to find some calm. I take Julia up to my bed. I tell her we’ll lie down and watch the rain come in and I secretly hope she’ll fall asleep. Emma comes in and asks if she can watch tv downstairs.

She looks miserable. I suddenly feel sorry for her. She’s incredibly sensitive. She’s a lot like me and so many times we end up screaming at each other instead of heading to our corners and cooling off. Now I see the circles under her eyes; the sadness in them and instead of turning on the tv, I ask her to join us in bed. Wouldn’t she like to watch the rain coming in?

She doesn’t hesitate. She lies on the side of the bed right next to our glass wall. Julia is next to her and I am behind Julia. We watch and we wait for the rain to hit the leaves of the tree outside.
As the sky grows darker, Julia wraps her hand in my hair and falls asleep. She’s only three and it never takes long. Emma is quiet as she watches but I can tell she isn’t asleep. She’s staring out the window and I wonder, as I often do, just what she’s thinking about.

I untangle Julia’s hand and move between her and Emma. Wrapping my arms around Emma from behind, I hold onto her. Something I never seem to do anymore.

The first drops of rain hit the window and I see her cheeks move. She is smiling.

“Emma,” I whisper. “What are you thinking right now?”

“The rain drops look like crystals on the window,” she whispers back.

I look up and see that she’s right. They do.

“Why do you always ask me what I’m thinking?” she asks quietly.

I think about that for a minute. But I already know the answer. “All children have magic, but when they grow up, they lose some. So I ask because every thought in your head, every word you say, every feeling you have is magic to me. Even when we're mad."

She sighs. “Magic.”

“You help me remember the magic I used to have,” I whisper.

She yawns and whispers back, “I’m the magic you have left.”

I smile and kiss the top of her head. “Exactly.”

Soon Olivia comes in and lies down across my legs. She’s not one to be left out and has decided a nap is just what she wants to do just then. Julia turns over and grabs my hair again.

Soon, very soon, they are all asleep.

The thunder comes but it doesn’t wake them. One child’s hands are tangled in my hair. One child is draped over my legs. One child is cradled in my arms. They know they are safe. They are at peace, because their mother is with them. And sometimes that’s all it takes.

Soon I drift off, forgetting the storms of the past, the storms to come, the storm pouring down outside.

Now I am safe. Now I am at peace because sometimes all it takes is being surrounded by the magic I have left.

Showers of Happiness, 5/28/05
Part 1 of 4

My sister's baby shower was on Sunday. It was at my house. The following are true events...

Friday 9am: My mom shows up to help clean my house. She did this because though I am technically a 'housewife', I take the house part to mean I get to stay in my house all day. Not I have to clean my house all day.

Besides the general sloppiness of my place, there has also been construction going on for the last nine months. My house is pretty messy.

So I clean a little. Pick up a little. Because I don't want my mom to think I'm as bad as I really am. My mom is a clean freak. She does laundry for fun. She is a mystery to me.

Anyway, she shows up, buckets and mops in hand, takes one look around and says, "We should have had the shower at my house."

-sigh

This was only the beginning. Those of you who heard from me at all on Friday know that I was in my own personal hell. I was reprimanded for never cleaning the underside of my dining room chairs. And I'm not talking legs... I mean, flip the chair over and scrub under the seat. HUH?? Who ever looks there, besides maybe the dog? And the dog's not going to tell.

My neighbor comes over to see how I was doing. She's great. We chat for a bit, my mom gives me a dirty look and I sadly say good bye.

An hour later, another neighbor comes by, and not empty handed. She's holding a Mike's Lemonade. She comes in and says, "What is that noise?" I look up from the corner where I am scrubbing the floor and say, "It's a vacuum." She gives me a quizzical look. If there is one thing I love about this neighbor, it's the fact that she's messier than me.

"Come on," she says. "We're drinking over there."

My mom turns off the vacuum and looks at my neighbor.

"You're welcome to come over," she says to my mom.

My mom gives her a false smile. "Oh thanks, but we've got a lot to do."

My neighbor looks at me. I look at my mother. Back to my neighbor.

"I can't," I say in a quivering voice. "I have to clean."
She holds up the Mike's. "Are you sure?"

I look back at my mother. She raises a brow. I nearly sob, "I'm sure."

The first floor is coming along. We scrub by hand. We scrub by mop. The only incident is me getting Murphy's Oil Soap in my eye and being partially blinded, but as my mother says, "There are hardly any chemicals in Murphy's Oil Soap. Let's get to work."

And people wonder where my insensitive side comes from.

We continue cleaning until 7 in the evening. I make some excuses every once in a while to hit the computer, so I can see my friends emailing each other and having fun without me. More torture, until they send the story they made up about CinderKirsten.

One of my email excuses was to email Kelly's boyfriend about the plan to get her to my house on Sunday. I email his instructions and he writes back and tells us that Kelly was just put on complete bed rest by the doctor.

My mom calls Kelly and gets the scoop. Her blood pressure is high and she's not allowed to work anymore. There are still 4 weeks to go and she's freaking out. My mom calms her down and asks if she'll still be able to get to my house for 'dinner' on Sunday. Kelly says she's not going to miss dinner. She'll lay on the couch if she has to, but she'll be there.

My mom tells me this. We look at my couch.

"Maybe we should tell her about the shower," I say.

"The surprise might be too much," my mom says.

"But maybe she'd like the surprise," I say.

"It might cheer her up," she says.

It's decided. Still keeping it a surprise. Back to cleaning.

I have to say, my first floor has NEVER been so clean. I tell my mom I'll take care of the rest on Saturday. She promises to stop by for progress checks. Damn.

But I look around. The first floor of my house is sparkling. It looks REALLY good.

I'm sure I can get the rest finished on Saturday. And I'm sure the shower on Sunday will go off without a hitch.

I am so very, very wrong...

To be continued...

Showers of Happiness, 5/28/05
Part 2 of 4

Saturday goes well. I'm cranky from cleaning, of course. Carter and I have been snarling at each other for quite a few days now. He surprises me with a bracelet and earrings. This has nothing to do with the story. This is just to let you know that my affection can be bought. Thankfully, my darling knows this.

It brightens my mood, as does my neighbors coming down in the evening and pulling me outside for drinks. Alcohol and jewelry... a wonderful combination.

Anyway, Sunday morning I wake up and finish the cleaning I put off from Saturday. I get the kids ready for Sunday school and they are out the door. I've heard from my mom (who did NOT spot check on Saturday) and she and my brother and sister-in-law are coming over to start setting up. So... I QUICKLY clean up all the stuff that was put off from before. I'm running around like crazy when I remember that I have nursery duty at the late church service. I consider calling off sick, but realize my chances of going to hell would go up really too far for my liking, so I decide to go and keep the kids with me.

I shower quickly. And head to the church after the set up team arrives at eleven. Once at church, I realize, it's confirmation Sunday. The young girl watching the kids with me tells me it's going to be a LOOOOONG service. Crap! I should've called in sick.

But I play with the kids and watch the clock. People are arriving at two. It's about 11:30 now. At around twelve a mother comes down to collect her twins. That leaves, my three kids and the daughter of a friend of mine and the 6th grader who's helping me.

I look at the clock again.

Alyse (the sixth grader) says, "You can leave if you want. I have red cross training."

"What?" I look at the clock again. Then back at Alyse. "You do? Are we supposed to have that?"

She shrugs. "I got it for babysitting. I'll be fine here with Amanda."

That's true. Actually, my being there is more of a nuisance since most of the kids in attendance belong to me. And really, Amanda is seven. And she's a good kid. And besides that, her mom is one of my friends. She'll understand if I leave early.

But no, I shouldn't. The angel on my shoulder is yelling at me about responsibility and this is church. I can't just walk out on a church responsibility.

Then Emma says, "What did we get Aunt Kelly?"

"Huh?" I ask, still looking at the clock.

"Didn't we get her a gift?" she asks.
My gaze turns to Emma's quickly. I stare at her for thirty seconds. Then I look at the clock. Then at Alyse.

"I think you'll do just fine without us here to make a big mess, don't you?" I say as I jump up and gather the kids sandals. The angel has just been beaten to death by the devil reminding me that I didn't buy a gift for my sister.

"Umm, yeah. We'll be fine," Alyse says, as I gather up my children.

"Are we going home?" Olivia asks.

"Yes," I say. "After we hit Babies R'Us."

I RUN out of the church. It's a little after noon.

We head to Babies R'Us. We walk the entire store because my kids want to each get her something special. Finally they each pick something and we get home.

I get into the house. My brother, Kevin and his girlfriend are there setting things up. Kory is washing windows. Carter is scrubbing stairs. Chairs have been set up. My mom and Alynda (my sister in law) are off picking up all the food and the cake.

It's a little after one. People are showing up at two. Kelly's getting here at two-thirty. Plenty of time. I start wrapping the presents the kids and I bought Kelly when the phone rings.

I check the caller id. It's Kelly.

Crap.

I've been avoiding speaking with her all week. I haven't even emailed her. You know why?

Because I can't keep a secret. Everyone in my family knows I'm the worst. So, in an effort to make this shower a surprise, I've just been 'too busy' to get back to her. She mentioned something to my mom about it, and my mom just covered and said I've been running around a lot with the kids.

But now... I had to answer. I take a deep breath. I can do this. I take the phone outside so she can't hear the other people in the house.

"Hello?"

I can't hear anything. Just someone crying on the other end.

"Kelly?"

"My water just broke!!"

Huh?

To be continued...

Showers of Happiness, 5/28/05
Part 3 of 4

"My water broke!!" she cries.

"Okay!" I say. "It's okay!" Just so you know, this is my typical response to crisis. I keep saying "it's okay" over and over in an attempt to convince myself and others that it is, in fact, okay.

"It's too early!" She's really crying now.

"It's okay!" <--see?

"Where's Harry?"

"He's on his way home now."

"Okay, I'll talk to you until he gets there."

"I couldn't get ahold of Mom."

"I'll find her," I say. "It's okay. You're having your baby."

"A month early." She's hysterical now.

"It's okay. It'll be okay."

"Okay," she says. Clearly she's had enough of my clever pep talk. "I have to get dressed. The doctor said we're supposed to go right to the hospital."

"Okay," I say. "It'll be fine." (I changed it up a little there.)

"Okay, bye."

I hang up and turn to see my family at the back door all looking at me with wide eyes.

"This is what comes from me cleaning my house!" I say as I run in to call my mom.

Mom is FREAKING out when I tell her. Her reponse is something like this...

"She what? Oh my God. I should go to the hospital. Oh no. We just bought all the food. What are we going to do with this food? I should go to the hospital. But what are we going to do with this cake? I should go to the hospital."

"Should I start calling people?" I ask.

She pauses and says, "Let me get back to you."

She and Alynda show up some time later with all the food.

"We're not cancelling," my mom declares. "Someone is eating this food. We'll just have the party without Kelly. Things are moving slowly at the hospital. We'll just tell everyone when they get here."

Patrycja, Kevin's girlfriend, is making the 'Guess the baby's arrival' board. "You know what would be funny? Let's not tell anyone she's not coming until they're all here waiting."

Huh?

"Oooh, that's a good idea." my mom says. "We'll surprise them instead of Kelly."

Another surprise?? Great. I decide I'll keep myself busy before the announcement. That way I won't spill the beans.

The first guest arrives. My cousin. I quickly look for something to do. There is nothing to do. Everyone else has scattered and are busy doing all the other things. I have nothing to do but host... and lie.
"So does Kelly have any idea?" she asks.

"Hmm? Umm, no." I say. That's a lie. My mom told Kelly on the phone.

"How's Kelly getting here?"

"Hmm? Umm, oh... Harry. Harry's bringing her." I'm starting to sweat now.

I look to the others for help. They have abandoned me.

Other people show up and I continue the sham. This was a bad idea. A very bad idea.

Finally, I escape and head to the kitchen where my brother, Kory, is wiping a counter or something equally unnecessary.

"What's wrong?" he asks.

"I'm a terrible liar. I think Aunt Sue thinks I'm on drugs, since I keep blabbering about nothing and losing my train of thought."

"Well, you're the hostess," he says with a smile.

Jerk.

Finally, my cousin, Missy, shows up. She's the last one to show. She's my age. We spent a lot of time together as kids and within two minutes, she knows something's up.

She catches my eye and says loudly, "So... I was upstairs with the girls. Kelly's in the hospital?"

Huh?

The girls!! I forgot about them. They're so excited. Of course they told. I look at Missy. I look at my aunts. Everyone has gotten quiet.

"Well... I... ummm..." I swallow. Oh God. Is everyone here? Kevin (also my architect) is giving tours of the new addition. I know not everyone is in the room. But what can I do?

"Well, she..." I look again at everyone staring at me. "She is!" I cry. "She's having her baby now. It was too late to cancel. She's missing her shower and well... there's so very much shrimp here... we just didn't know what..."

My mom comes racing into the room. "Cat's out of the bag, I see?"

"I blame the children," I say.

My mom explains. Word spreads through the house and everyone is shocked and excited. And surprisingly, no one is mad at me for lying to them for the past thirty minutes.

So we eat, drink and are very merry. All gets quiet whenever there's a call from Harry. But things are still moving slowly there.

Finally everyone leaves and we all sit down and look at each other.

Now, we decide, now it's time to have a baby...

To be continued...

Showers of Happiness, 5/28/05
Part 4 of 4

We decide to go into the hospital in shifts. First is me and Iliana. Iliana is Kevin's ex-girlfriend. She's still around for the big things as she was part of our family for a long time. Luckily Kevin and, more importantly, Patrycja, are okay with this.

Emma makes a card for Kelly. She drew a picture of Kelly holding a baby and above she wrote, "If you are worried, it's okay." She's the best kid.

We take a few presents and head in. Harry has just left to go pack up some things from home. Kelly is a few hours into Pitocin-ville and is not happy about it. Her contractions are coming fast and furious, but she's not progressing. I keep telling her to relax. I remind her to breathe, but it's not helping.

I avoid mentioning the epidural because she's got a terrible fear of needles. Even the IV she has is making her sick. So I don't say a word, though secretly I'm screaming... "Get it!! Get it!!"

I know what I'm talking about in this case. I had my first two kids naturally. Not a epidural in sight. First one was because I was natural Earth mother and had something to prove I guess. Second there was no time for an IV let alone drugs of any sort. With my third, I got it. I was in so much pain I was levitating and realized something needed to be done.

It was the best decision I ever made in my life. I'm now an epidural advocate and really think they should be mandatory. But that's just me.

The doctor comes in to check Kelly. He's really nice. Her nurse is cool. Another nurse comes in and I remember she was my nurse when Emma was born. Everyone is really great.

However, Kelly is only 2 cm. along. The doctor asks Kelly how she feels about epidurals. I get ready to hear her loud negative response and am shocked when she says, "Well, I expected to say no to the epidural. But I didn't expect this pain."

Things are a go for the epidural. I can see she's scared but I tell her I think she made the right choice. We help her through the next few contractions and the drug doctor shows up. So does Harry. Iliana and I leave and wait outside the door.

I hear Kelly crying and hope she's okay. I hope she made the right decision. I know the epidural doesn't work for everyone and I HOPE it works for her. We hear every thing that's going on. We hear Kelly crying, then moaning, then all is quiet.

Then after a few seconds of quiet, as we are both holding our breath, we hear Kelly say...

"Oh, I like this medicine."

We breath sighs of relief and go back in. The rest of the family shows up and in no time she's at 5 cm. Iliana and I leave. I get home and hang out with the neighbors for a bit. We call the kids in and get everyone ready for bed.

It's nine o'clock now. Kids are on my bed, teeth brushed, pajamas on, book in hand, when the phone rings. It's Kevin.

"Hello?"

"It's go time!"

"WHAT??!!"

"She's at 10. She's pushing. It's go time."

"Oh my God!! Already?"

We get disconnected.

The kids start screaming. "Can we go? Can we go?"

I look at Carter. "It's a school night."

He looks at me. "Yeah, but when is this gonna' happen again?"

I sigh and look at the girls. "You MUST be good. You MUST be quiet. And if there's any change in that behavior, you won't see this baby until she's walking."
They nod dutifully. We get them dressed and head out. We get to the hospital and wait in the waiting room. The kids are in heaven because there's a tv and a vending machine. They are quiet and good. I'm amazed. So is everyone else.

Kory and Alynda, sadly, had to leave earlier. They had the long trek back to Virginia. But Kevin and Patrycja only have to go to Philly. They're going to stay.

"This has been the strangest day," I say.

My mom laughs a little. "It's been a strange year, if you think about it."

And we all think of my dad and wonder if he's watching.

At 10:15, we're trying to decide if we should go home or not, when Harry comes out and tells us to come and meet the new baby. All is well!!

She's 6lbs 12oz. 20 inches long. And the name we'll get from Kelly. While we've known all along that it was a girl, the name was kept a secret. Kelly did tell my dad the name before he died, but he took it to the grave. And before you wonder... yes, I did ask him to tell me before he went. I'm curious, like that.

Anyway, we walk down to the room. The girls are good and quiet. And then we see them.

Kelly and a tiny baby wrapped like a hoagie. Kelly looks at us with a dazed kind of look and says, "This is Miranda Grace."

And she's just beautiful. The girls are in love. We all are. She cries a little and we laugh. You forget that newborn cry and it makes me weepy to remember when I was in the bed holding my little ones. I hold her for a bit, then my mom takes over. We all ooh and ahhh. And promise to come back tomorrow. Then we have to leave. It's almost eleven and the girls have to get to bed.

You would think this is where the story ends, but it's not.

As we're walking by the nurses desk, Emma scratches her head and says, "Mommy. I think I have a tick."

I stop, pull up her hair and say, "Well, you're right. Climbing trees today?"

She grins sheepishly. But doesn't freak out. Carter looks over to the desk where the nurses are gathered around. It's a slow night in maternity.

"I wonder if there's a nurse around who could help us," he says in a loud voice.

They all rush over to see what's going on. They take charge. They grap big tweezer like instruments and alcohol soaked pads and within seconds, the tick is gone.

Emma is a trooper.

On the way out the questions begin.

Emma asks, "What did you mean when you said her water broke?"

"Umm, well, ahhh... there's this fluid in there with the baby."

"So the baby was drooling a lot?"

"Exactly," I say.

"And I'm so glad to know something now."

"What's that?" I ask.

"I now know that you can not buy babies in the store."

We all laugh and head home where I give my girls an extra hug because they're still my babies and I forget sometimes.

And I pass out with Carter.

It's been a strange weekend. It's been a strange day. But at the end of it all, we have a new life to celebrate. We have our lives to celebrate.

Welcome Miranda Grace!

The End... and for Kelly and Harry and Miranda... the beginning...

Kindergarten and Cookies, 2/10/05

We had a meeting at our daughters’ school last night. Olivia, our five year old, will be starting there in the fall. Emma is now in first grade there. Tonight’s meeting was regarding the school’s decision to switch to all-day Kindergarten.

This is not meant to start a debate about the issue. I’m simply retelling the events as Carter and I saw them.

I should start off by telling you that one of two things happen to me whenever I find myself in a room full of serious people. One is the cough. I get a tickle in my throat. I get desperate for a drink of water. I try to suppress the cough, but it never works. It only makes it worse.

The second thing is the hysterical and wholly inappropriate giggle. I can’t help it. It happens at the worst times. I usually have to leave the room to get myself under control. I wish it didn’t happen, but in the wide world of problems… these are pretty minimal.

Unless, of course, I find myself in a room full of serious people. As I did tonight.

Carter and I got to the school right at seven. The guidance counselor greets us.

“Cheskey, right?”

My eyes widen. “Yes.” She remembers me from when I was a mom who dropped off and picked up her kids last year. Now I’m a mom who sends her kids off with a kiss. I like being this mom better. This mom gets to stay in her jammies longer.

Anyway, she hands me a packet. Carter and I head to the very back of the room. The last row is the row for us. This allows for two things. We get to see everyone. No one gets to see us. We’re like spies or assassins that way.

“We should have grabbed some cookies?”

“Cookies? There are cookies?” My eyes light up. I mean, when you go to these things you always hope there’ll be a snack… but cookies?? Yummm.

The meeting begins. A couple of people welcome us… blah, blah, blah. And the power point begins. We follow along like good little students, I mean… parents.

Carter looks at me. “Why are we here?” he whispers.

“Because if this had been for Emma, we would have come,” I hiss back.

Carter looks at his watch. “We’d better be home in time for the Duke/UNC game.”

“It’ll be finished by eight. Relax.” I say to him. And then I feel it.

The tickle.

I try clearing my throat. I try a little cough. Nothing’s helping. I look in my bag, thinking maybe it’s a magic bag and a bottle of water has suddenly appeared. It’s not a magic bag.

Carter frowns at me as I try the silent cough. You know, coughing with no sound. Much like the end of a cough you might hear from someone who has Emphysema. It starts off big and then kind of peters out into this quiet hacking. I was trying for that part. The quiet hacking.

“Are you okay?” Carter asks.

“It’s this damn cough. I can’t stop.” And I can’t. The annoying dry cough is taking over. I try holding it in, but my chest is heaving up and down trying to force the cough out. I hold my packet in front of my face.

“My mom gave you tic tacs,” I remind him. “Where are they?”

“I ate them,” he says.

“All of them?”

“There weren’t that many.”

I go back to coughing.

I steal a glance at Carter. He’s trying not to laugh. I look back at the packet in front of my face. Carter leans over. I don’t look at him.

He whispers in my ear. “You’re a real piece of work, you know that?”

“Shut up,” I cough at him. “I can’t help it.”

My face is red. My eyes are watering. My tickle is not going away.

And then when it looks like things can’t get any worse… the hysterical and wholly inappropriate giggle escapes. Only it’s not just a giggle. I start laughing and coughing, still keeping my face hidden behind my packet.

Emma’s principal is there. She’s a scary woman. I don’t want to get in trouble. But I can’t stop what I’m doing.

Suddenly, the crowd gets a little noisy. I cough REALLY loudly and manage to get rid of the tickle. My giggle disappears when Carter leans down and asks, “Are you listening to this?”

There is a couple in the front. The man raises his hand to ask a question.

“Oh crap,” Carter mutters. “This is his third question. We’re never getting out of here.”

“He’s a concerned parent,” I say.

Carter rolls his eyes as we listen.

Concerned Parent asks, “I’m wondering about the snack situation. I really think the snacks around here have too much sugar and I think the school should provide a better choice.”

Carter and I look at each other as understanding dawns.

“Think he watched ‘Super Size Me’?” I ask Carter.

Carter nods.
We listen to the man go on and on about the sugar in snacks. I’m a little perplexed. Emma takes her own snack to school. She has an orange everyday. It’s a pretty healthy snack, but still… I’m not against having better choices. Not sure if the Kindergarten meeting is the appropriate venue, but whatever.

Concerned Parent is still going on about the snacks.

“Somebody should offer that guy a cookie,” Carter mutters.

I nod my agreement.

Next, a woman on our side of the room asks about snack times and how often the kids will be provided with food.

Carter leans down. “Have we really just spent twenty minutes discussing snacks?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Those cookies up there look pretty good. We really should have grabbed some before sitting down.”

“Don’t let Concerned Parent catch you.”

Concerned Parent starts in on gym class and recess. He definitely saw ‘Super Size Me’. He’s throwing out statistics like crazy. He’s done his homework. Good for concerned parent.

Suddenly Mrs. Concerned Parent speaks up. “I don’t know why a full day program was implemented without parent approval.”

The principal speaks up. She is polite, but as Carter says in my ear, “You shouldn’t mess with her.” The principal goes on and on about studies and learning from other schools that’ve done this. Mrs. Concerned Parent is really pissed that her child is going to school all day long.

Suddenly, another person raises her hand. “For the orientation, there are no evening times. For parents who work, this is really hard. Can you change it?”

Ahhh, Carter and I look at each other. This is Mrs. I Don’t Like To Change My Schedule. I know a lot of people like her. So does the principal apparently.

The woman has a valid point, but the principal is ready. ‘No, the times can not be changed. This is how it’s done and it’s for the kids. We want them to be fresh… yadda, yadda, yadda.’

Mrs. Schedule is left unsatisfied.

Another question from Mrs. Concerned Parent. She and her husband are like a tag team. Carter and I are stretching our heads up over the crowd so we can get a better look. The discussion is getting heated.

Suddenly, Mrs. Parent Who Sat in the Front Row turns around and breaks into the debate.

“You know,” she says. “If you don’t think you’re child is ready for Kindergarten, you can wait another year.”

The room falls silent. Carter and I gape at each other.

“She didn’t!”

“She did!”

“Oh they’re gonna’ go at it.”

“They’re throwin' down any second now!”

These things are furiously whispered between Carter and me. But we must keep our voices down. Nothing shocks people into shutting up faster than implying their child isn’t READY for something. This room is silent. We wait on the edge of our seats for the coming explosion.

“There’s going to be a fist fight,” I whisper excitedly.

Carter nods, too enthralled to take his eyes off the happenings.

Mrs. Front Row deflates the situation by saying, “My daughter wasn’t ready last year. I held her back. This year she is ready.”

Damn. I’d be lying if I told you we weren’t a bit disappointed.

Mrs. Concerned Parent bursts out with, “Well that’s your choice!!”

Mrs. Front Row turns back around and says, “Yes, and this is all your choice too.”

Mrs. Schedule breaks in. “If I’m not mistaken, isn’t Kindergarten optional in Pennsylvania?”

“Go, Mrs. Schedule,” Carter murmurs.

The principal jumps on that. “Yes it is. Kindergarten is not mandatory. There’s the option of taking Kindergarten elsewhere or home schooling, etc.”

Voices rise again throughout the room.

The woman a few rows up looks back at me. She heard Carter and me laughing and we all share an incredulous laugh. I don’t know her, but I admire her ability to see the absurdity in all this.

She holds her packet in front of her face and mouths, “Less filling… tastes great. It will never end.”

I laugh. I like this lady. I hope Olivia ends up in her kid’s class.

The meeting hits the end and people start to mill about. The wind has been taken out of the sails of the Concerned Parents. No way are they going to admit their child is somehow NOT ready. The principal is talking with them off to the side of the room. It is apparent that they are mostly pissed because they weren’t consulted before a decision was made.

I lean over to Carter. “Are we bad parents?”

“Why? Because we trust that we have a good school? Because we have proof in Emma that we have a good school? Because we didn’t come here with an arsenal of questions?”

“Because all we really care about is getting those cookies.”

“Oh that.” He looks at the cookies longingly and sighs. “Then yes.”

“I thought so.”

Fish Tales, 1/15/05

Back in the summertime, we were offered some goldfish by a co-worker of Carter’s. Her pond was becoming over run with fish and she was cleaning house.

“Sure, we’d love some,” we told her.

After all, the kids really only have KC our dog. Nothing they have to do to take care of her. KC pretty much takes care of herself. Maybe fish would be a good way to teach them about responsibility.

Great. Let’s do it.

Carter comes home with around fifty fish. I am a little shocked, but nevertheless, excited by our additions to our family. We have a big fish giveaway and the neighbor kids are so happy to have some new pets. Neighbor parents are less happy, but what are they gonna’ do? You can’t say no to free fish.

We decide to keep four fish. Two for Emma. Two for Olivia. Julia is completely uninterested in the fish, so we just tell the other two that Julia is part owner in all of them. The rest of the fishies will be traveling to my mom’s house. She has a pond with some fish and they could always use some more.

I say to Carter, “Maybe we should get an aquarium.”

He looks at me incredulously. “What do you mean? I’m not spending money on an aquarium for fish that will probably only live a few days.”

Hmmph.

I let him have his way, for now. We dig out the old goldfish bowls and set the girls up with their fish.

Emma names her fish, ‘Fin’ and ‘Goldy Gills’. Olivia names hers, ‘Spot’ and ‘Dorothy’.

The first night Spot and Dorothy die. They are flushed without ceremony and quickly replaced by two fish from my mom’s stash. Olivia knows they died, but has decided to give her new fish the same names as her old fish.

Luckily fish don’t have issues about things such as this.

Time passes. Bowl turns several shades of green but fish are alive. Severely depressed, but alive.

Finally I clean them out. It’s gross, but the fish seem much happier now that they can see through the water. I mention the aquarium to Carter again, who scoffs.

“Look at the nice clean bowls,” he said. “They don’t need aquariums.”

I raise a brow but remain silent. I know what I must do.

A month passes and our fish are so unhappy living in the filth of the bowls that I see one ready to jump out of the bowl, just to be free. He fails.

Finally, it starts to smell and Carter finally capitulates and we go to buy an aquarium. We fill it, set it up and move the fishies into their new home.

They are no longer depressed. They are happy. Why, Dorothy is even swimming upside down.

Huh? Upside down? I don’t think that’s normal. Oh well, just happy I guess.

We have a fake plant in the tank and a pink rock formation thing. Girls are ecstatic and aquarium provides nice night light for the room.

All is happiness in our fish loving home for a month.

Right before Thanksgiving, I am adding more water to the aquarium when I see a fish… Fin, in fact, sleeping on the bottom. It occurs to me that fish don’t actually lay down on the rocks to sleep. But, it’s late and I think… maybe he’ll be better in the morning.

Morning comes and Fin is no longer on the rocks. Yay.

Fin is stuck up in the filter tube. Crap.

Dead fish. And horror of horrors… it’s Emma’s fish. I keep the news from her until she gets home from school. In all actuality, I could have let that fish rot in the aquarium for months and she wouldn’t have noticed. I feed the fish. She barely looks at them.

I break the news to her gently.

“Your fish is dead.”

“What? WHAT????”

“Fin… he’s dead. We have to flush him.”

She runs to the tank. “Get him out.”

I do. I looked for the damn net all day and couldn’t find it, so I reach in with my hand and grab dead Fin. Emma looks as if she’s about to start CPR. I try to explain about gills and such not being very open to receiving CPR and that regardless of any life saving measures… Fin is gone.

Emma is bereft. She begins to weep. Then she cries. Then she wails.

“You can’t flush him! We need to bury him.”

“It’s raining.”

“We have to bury him!!!”

That last was said in the most pathetic cry you’ve ever heard. I give in and find a jewelry box and my rain coat. I head to the garage and find a shovel and there in the rain I stand and dig a hole for Fin the fish. Emma joins me and we say a few words over his grave.

I have to tell you, with the rain and Emma’s sad sack face… it’s a very touching scene we’ve got going. If this funeral had been for anything other than a fish that was barely looked at in the two months we had him, it maybe would have caused a tear to well.
Emma places a cinder block over the grave and says what a good fish Fin was. I agree solemnly and we head inside where she decrees that she will never stop crying.

Okay.

I look at the remaining fish. Dorothy is still swimming kind of funny. I really think she’ll be the next to go. I say as much to Olivia. Olivia says as much to Emma in a sisterly effort to make her feel better.

But we are wrong. So very, very wrong.

The very next day Goldy Gills is swimming with the fishes… or rather… NOT swimming with the fishes. She’s dead. She was our biggest, healthiest looking fish. I thought she’d last the longest. I prayed she’d last the longest because Goldy Gills was Emma’s other fish.

Oh the screaming, oh the drama. It was a sad time in our house. I didn’t have time for another burial, so I left Goldy in the tank, stuck up against the filter tube. My brother and his wife, both of them marine biologists, came over that day and gave us a good talking to about dead fish emitting bad gases that will kill the other fish. So, after much rolling of the eyes, we get rid of Goldy Gills. She is buried along with Fin.

Emma goes on and on about how she is bad luck and she kills fish. She calls herself a murderer. I call her the winner of the best actress award. Funny how the tears stop when we say she can get a new fish.

But we wait on that. Dorothy and Spot… or Dot and Spot, are doing really well in the tank. They are happy fishies. We let them enjoy having the tank to themselves for a little over a month.

Emma’s birthday rolls around and Carter buys her a pretty goldfish. Emma is thrilled. She names the fish Birthday Two Tails. Olivia is still happy with Spot and with a benevolence that exceeds her years, she gives her other fish, Dorothy, to Julia, so they can each have one.

However, they feel Dorothy is now in need of a name change. So in remembrance of the fish that’ve gone before, Julia’s fish is now called, Goldy Gills Fin Dot Spot or GGFDS for short.

Happy days follow. Happy weeks even. Until I check the tank one night as I’m getting the kids ready for bed.

GGFDS is up against the tube. Julia’s fish has bit the dust and no way am I burying it outside. I break the news to Julia gently.

“Oh no Julia. Your fish is dead.”

Emma screams. “What??”

“Wait,” I say. “This is not your fish. You can not be upset about it.”

Emma turns to Julia. “We should bury it.”

I grab a dixie cup and scoop the fish out of the tank. As Emma is talking to Julia about the best burial plots in our backyard, I carry the remains of GGFDS to the bathroom.

I call on my Finding Nemo wisdom and holler, “All drains lead to the sea, girls. Remember that.”

I see that one of my dear children has left a little something in the toilet. Gross! Even I can’t flush the fish down a dirty bowl, so I do a cleansing flush and wait for the toilet to refill.

Julia and Olivia quickly join me in the bathroom. I plop GGFDS into the toilet and we wait some more for the toilet to refill. It’s an old toilet. It takes forever. Finally it stops. Julia is given the honors of flushing. She is just about to push the lever when Emma comes screaming down the hall.

“WAAAAAAAAAAIT!!!!”

We all look at her. “What now?”

She looks at me disgustedly. “I think we should say a few words, don’t you?”

“Fine,” I say. “Go ahead.”

She takes a deep breath and pulls Julia’s hand off the lever.

“Goldy Gills Fin Dot Spot was a good fish,” she begins.

I think this is all she’s going to say and am about to give Julia the go ahead, when Emma continues.

“He had a very long name,” she says. “Like Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Martin Luther King Day is Monday. Emma’s been talking about him all week. I blow out a breath and close my eyes. This is going to be a good one. I can tell.

“And now, Goldy Gills Fin Dot Spot is dead… like Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Well, not exactly like Martin Luther King, Jr., I think. None of this mess could be placed at the door of James Earl Ray. And Dr. King’s funeral in no way resembled… well… never mind.

Emma goes on and on about the virtues of this fine fish, though I’m almost positive our pet was never arrested in the name of civil rights. She finally stops just short of breaking into the “I have a dream” speech and Julia is given the okay to flush. She does and Emma leaves the room. She can’t watch such a thing. Olivia and Julia watch closely and mutter, “Cool.”

Then they say, “Bye bye, fishy!”

Later that evening, Julia gives Carter the biggest pout of her life and reminds him that he bought Emma a new fish. He immediately agrees to buy Julia a new fish too.

I’m going to watch these fish closely. I’m of the opinion that our tank can only hold two fish happily and the third will always die. It’s just a question of which one will go first.

It’s hard to say. We can only hope the next one shuffles off their mortal coil close to President’s Day so we can hear how Birthday Two Tails was instrumental in ending slavery.

I'm No Snow White, 11/25/04

It is well known, by now, that I am having an addition put onto my house. This has caused many a problem in recent months, but things are still moving along nicely. We just got lights in our new kitchen. It’s very exciting. With every new day, I find something to be happy about. Something new… something to look forward to.

And this morning was no exception to the excitement. Today, before my workers arrived, I had a visitor.
 
I was first suspicious when I let our dog, KC, out for her morning barking up the only tree. After I closed the door, I heard a shuffling. A fluttering. And my first thought was, MICE. We’ve had them before. We always seem to have a few stragglers every year, but usually our mice are considerate and only come out at night… with a few rare exceptions. I couldn’t believe a mouse would have the balls to be running around at 9:30 in the morning.

So I start to investigate. I went out into the new addition. After carefully scanning the floor, checking behind power tools, I heard the noise again and it came from… above. I looked up into our new lighting and there was our invader. There was a bird.

I know a bird getting in the house is a common occurrence, but it freaks me out. I’ve had bats, mice, little neighbor boys and none of them gave me such a shriek as this little bird. I couldn’t identify the bird. My environmental science teacher apparently wasted his time going over slide after slide of local birdery. And now that I think of it, my English teacher also wasted his time going over reason after reason why ‘birdery’ isn’t, in fact, a word.

Anyway, it wasn’t a sparrow. It wasn’t a nuthatch. It wasn’t even a finch. BUT, I’m fairly certain it fell to that side of the aviary tree. It was brown, had a reddish breast, longish beak. Very cute, once I got over my initial fear of the flying thing.

Suddenly, the bird takes off again. It flies to the living room. It lands on my lamp. It flies to the kitchen. It lands on my dirty dishes and I swear it gave me a disapproving look as it sees the size of the stack. This tells me it’s a mother bird.

Speaking of mothers…

I pick up the phone. I call my mom and tell her the situation.

“Did you open the doors, so it can fly out?” she asks.

I scoff. “Of course I did.” I say, hoping she can’t hear the sound of me sliding open the doors.

“And the windows too,” she says.

“Yeah, yeah… and the windows,” I agree, heading for the windows.

I hang up after being told how much of a mess birds can make in one’s house. Obviously, mom hasn’t been over lately. I imagine the bird is flying around thinking, “Oh my feathers, what a messy house. Why… I could make a fine nest with the dust bunnies alone.”

After hanging up, KC comes back in the house. I listen. I hear nothing. The bird must have flown out. I go around and shut all the doors and windows and as I’m shutting the last one, I hear it again. Flutter, shuffle, flutter. I look into the dining room. There’s the bird.

KC spots it, thinks “I can take that thing” and rushes over to eat it. I scream at her to stop and she does. The bird is flying frantically at the window. It perches above it. Okay, I think… if I could just open that window, chances are good that the bird will just fly out.
I approach the window slowly.

“Nice birdie,” I say. “There’s a good bird.”

I know what you’re thinking… "It’s just a bird!!" But she has a good size beak and could probably, if her aim was true, do some damage to my eye. I keep going. I get to the window and at the first sound of window opening, the bird flies away. I quickly duck for cover. KC starts jumping like mad to get this thing. When the bat was in our house a few years ago, KC cowered behind the couch. But, really, I can’t blame her. That was a bat. Everyone, even my dog, knows bats just MIGHT turn into vampires.

Something you should also know about KC. Being a Jack Russell, she loves to jump. She used to jump the fence at our old house when she was a puppy. It was way impressive. Now, however, she is eight years old and the jumper isn’t what it used to be. However, the sight of the bird has her catching air she hasn’t caught in years. She is springing up and down, trying to catch the bird who… oof… just ran into a closed window. I should probably open that one. I quickly open all the windows and doors.

Eventually the bird settles on top of the china closet. I study her for a moment, wondering how I can get her to the open window. I glance at the broom. No, I don’t want to hurt her. I see a sheet on the floor (why’s that there?), but no… that could be dangerous too.

Suddenly I think of Snow White. I picture myself singing the bird onto my finger and then carrying it outside. Would that be a story or what? I think about it. I couldn’t really do it, could I? Maybe Snow White was onto something. I mean, there are a lot of similarities between me and Snow White. We… umm… we both like… apples and umm… short guys… okay let’s stick with apples. We both like apples. The singing just might work and wouldn’t it be funny if it did?

Automatically, I stick my hand up in the air and go… pssss, pssss, pssss. It then occurs to me that making the same sound one uses to call a cat might not be the best way to persuade a bird onto your hand. Maybe I’ll whistle. I’m an excellent whistler. I try, but have suddenly developed the giggles at the ridiculousness of the situation, and whistling is impossible. So I sing a little. What is that Snow White song? Someday my prince will come… I begin. The bird seems frozen.

Oh my God!! I’ve hypnotized it with my voice. The bird is my soul mate. She’ll come to my house every day just to hear my sweet song.

I walk forward, still singing, though I hum over the words I don’t know. My hand is up. My finger out.

Suddenly she attacks!!

She swoops and I swear she was aiming for my eye. Or my voice box. I duck and scream. KC starts hopping again. There is a moment or two of complete pandemonium during which I grab the broom and think, “well, she gave me no choice.” I try to swoosh the bird out of my house. But it is too late. The bird doesn’t need my help. She has flown out the back door. She is on a branch of the tree outside.

KC runs to the tree and begins barking up at it. I walk around shutting all the windows and doors… again. And then I spot the dirty dishes. I have a moment or two of guilt. I really should get those done. And the bird did give me that look.

I sigh and head over to the sink. I can’t believe it. Guilted into doing dishes by a freaking bird. I glance at the apples sitting on the counter.

This NEVER happened to Snow White.

I Love Grumps, 9/22/04

I love grumps!! I love people who are so angry and pissed that nothing in the entire world can make them happy. I don't know why... but they make me laugh.

I'm not talking about sad or upset people. They don't make me laugh. They make me sad too. But pissed off people give me a chuckle. I don't know why. I'm perverse that way.

We have a grumpy girl cashier at our grocery store. I always go to her line. She hates it. She hates me. I always have a TON of groceries and usually a few kids with me. I let the kids help unload the groceries from the cart. The look she sends me when I get in her line sends me to heaven. She hates me. And I know it. She hates her job. And I know that too. I'd feel bad for her, but she's young and if all she has to be pissed about is her job at the local market... well... she's gonna' be seriously angry in a few years.

Carter wonders why I seek her out at the store. I don't really know. I just like seeing her scowl at me every once in a while. I love smiling back at her. Well that and she's a fast cashier. She hates customers... of course she's fast. She wants them out of there as soon as possible.

However... lately Grumpy Girl is missing. I've gone to the store at different times and she was no where to be found. Did Grumpy Girl go to college? Crap. I've been going to this other cashier who is a nightmare. He's slow... and chipper. Ugh. What a combo!

Today, however I had contact with a new grumpy person. Someone who I may never meet again. Someone who was pissed... at me!!

I was bringing Emma from the doctor's office and we turn off the main road to cut over to the grocery store to get her prescription filled. As I am bearing right, I see a car coming to a stop sign at my right. I don't have a stop. She does and she is NOT slowing down. I slow down because I think she's going to run it. Luckily she sees me at the last minute and stops suddenly.

However, there is a woman behind me who is really pissed that I slowed down. She slams on her breaks and starts honking her horn and, I imagine, cursing a blue streak. She was either speeding... because I only slowed a little. I didn't stop. Or she was following me too closely and I, slowing down, almost caused her to hit me.

I shrug and keep going. No one was hit. If it ever happened again...I'd slow down again. I wasn't going to risk getting hit by the lady who had the stop sign.

So we carry on and the lady behind me is PISSED. She is beeping and waving her arm at me and her mouth is going a mile a minute. She finally stops beeping but is still following me. I can see the rage pumping out of her car like exhaust. She is mad!!

"What is that lady's problem?" Emma asks.

I look in the rearview mirror. She's still cursing me out.

"Well, I don't think 'lady' is the correct word to describe her... but I think she's unhappy with her life choices."

"Huh?" Emma asks.

"She's a grump," I say and smile, remembering that I LOVE GRUMPS.

I stop at a light and she goes to pull into the store at my right. As she pulls up beside me, she stops... but keeps her window closed. I lower mine. I'm willing to hear what she has to say. I lean over. Her mouth is still going, but since her window is up... I can't hear her.

Now I don't claim to be a lip reader... but she seemed to be saying "fudge" an awful lot. I don't understand. Maybe she needs some fudge? Maybe she thinks I have her fudge? I don't know. But she finally just stops and stares at me... her venom spent.

At this point... my light has turned green. So I say farewell in a time honored way. I smile widely and flip her off. Turns out... I'm not so much of a lady either. But it gives me a good laugh as we make our way to the store.

We get Emma's drugs and check out in the pharmacy but we have to go through the cashiers to get outside. We can't go 'out' the 'in' door. So we head over and who should appear behind the first register we hit. That's right. GRUMPY GIRL!!! My favorite cashier has returned. She looks at me warily and then smiles.

"Go on through," she says. "Have a good day."

What?? WHAT?? Grumpy Girl just told me to have a good day?? Something's not right.

My step slows as we head to the parking lot. What a let down?! Happy Girl? Is she now a Happy Girl? Then I realize... we had no groceries!! That's why she was happy. She had no customers... that’s the reason for the cheerfulness.  

I'll change that.

I know when you work now, Grumpy Girl. And I'll be back... with a load of groceries, a couple of bad kids, a smile on my face and if at all possible... a pissed off 'lady' honking her horn behind me.


Boys Are Scary, 9/03/04

Okay, maybe I have my fair share of drama being the mother of three girls.  Maybe I never thought my day would revolve around dress ups and Barbies.  Maybe, on MANY occasions, I wonder why I was given three girls instead of a boy.  Maybe I’ve wondered what it would be like to have a boy.  To have him look at you with adoration, to never hear the words – “Do you think blond hair’s pretty?  Because Danielle thinks brown hair is better and do you like curly hair or straight hair better?  Because Olivia’s is curly and mine in straight and Julia… well hers is right in between, so do you have a favorite?  And where are my new brown boots?  Do you think they look good with this skirt?  Is this too dressy for school?  How should I wear my hair?  Which reminds me – do you think blond hair’s pretty?”

 

So, yes, it has entered my head.  My neighbors across the street have three boys aged 8, 7, and 4.  They are sometimes our girls’ great friends, most times mortal enemies, and always a nagging fear in the hearts of Carter and me.  There is nothing scarier to the parents of three daughters than three little boys of close age moving in across the street.  But we’ve become friends with them and except for a few instances, (like… oh… I don’t know… our dog killing their chicken) everything generally runs smoothly. 

 

Their mother and I often compare notes on parenting the different sex.  She’ll sigh over the girls’ new Easter dresses.  I’ll wince in envy every time she says, “Oh, the boys don’t care what they wear.”  She’ll see her husband helping one of my girls do something and say, “Oh… a girl.”  And I’ll see my husband walking down the sidewalk holding her son’s hand and say, “Oh… a boy.” 

 

But then, on occasion, I’ll baby-sit their 4 year old.  During that time… we kick things.  Or rather, I hold things and he kicks them.  He’ll find anything in our house that closely resembles a football, ask me to hold it, and then punt it across my living room, while wearing his favorite snow boots that he will NOT take off.  For the next few weeks, I can’t look at a snow boot without flinching. 

 

And then there is our annual Christmas party, to which kids are also invited.  I’ve taken to hiding ANYTHING that could in some way be used as a weapon.  Batons are stashed in closets.  Jump ropes… GOOD GOD… jump ropes are rolled and stuffed in drawers.  I tell the girls to pick a favorite doll and put her in the witness protection program… because there will be casualties that evening.  Fairy princess wands are hidden behind the book shelf.  But all this doesn’t matter.  The boys always find something to turn into a weapon.  This is evident the year we were thoughtless and left the feather boa out with the dress up clothes. 

Then there was the time this summer when my girls had some girl friends over and they were hanging out on our front porch.  I am out front.  Ryan, the 8 year old, pulls his bike up in front of my house and eyes the girls playing quietly on the porch.  He looks at me.

 

“Hi, Mrs. Cheskey,” he says.

 

“Hey, Ryan,” I say.

 

“How are you today?” he asks.

 

“Pretty good,” I say.  “And you?”  I reach out and mess up his hair a little.  What a sweetie to ask how I’m doing!!

 

“I’m okay,” he says.  I see him look back at the girls on the porch. 

 

“Could you do me a favor?” he asks.

 

“Sure,” I say.

 

“Would you hold my bike a minute?” he asks.

 

“No problem,” I say. 

 

“Thanks,” he says, as he jumps off the bike and runs onto my porch yelling and roaring and chasing the girls into the house.  The delicate sounds of PIERCING GIRLY SCREAMS can be heard echoing throughout the neighborhood.

 

And do I run in to stop his rampage?  No, I am standing on the sidewalk holding his bike, looking dumbfounded at the house.  His mother comes over and says, “What’s going on?”

 

I break out of my daze, turn to her and say, “You’re son just had the gall to ask me to hold his bike while he goes and terrorizes my kids… and I have to say… I’m kind of impressed.”

 

For every time I complain about the drama of my girls, I hear or witness a story about the boys and decide I’ll take the drama.  For every time I complain about having to watch Barbie of Swan Lake a hundred times, I hear my neighbor complain about having to watch Star Wars a hundred times.  After my girls watch Barbie of Swan Lake… they dance around the place.  After her boys watch Star Wars… they pick sides and break out the light sabers. 

 

I know they are just boys being boys… but now I know there is a reason we weren’t given boys.  I’m a wuss… and I can’t take it. 

 

Boys are scary!!


The Question, 8/19/04

I knew it would happen someday. In fact, it’s already happened. But before when I was asked, “Where do babies come from?”… I had a ready answer.

“They come from my belly,” I would tell them.

Now, however, Emma is six and she wants to know the what, when, where, why, who, and most importantly, HOW of everything.

This morning Emma had her reading observation at school and as we were buckling up to go she asks, “Mommy, you know that photo album I was looking at?”

“Yes.”

“Is Julia in that one?” she asks.

“Nope, that one only goes until Olivia was a baby,” I tell her. “Julia wasn’t even in my belly yet.”

As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I wince. CRAP!! Why did I add that part on the end? Mentioning Julia in my belly was a can of worms that just burst open.

“Mommy?”

“Yes?” I say as I start the car, while silently begging her to ask a different question.

“Babies are in your belly, right?” she asks.

“Well, not at the moment,” I tell her.

“But they grow in your belly?” she asks.

“Yes they do,” I say and hope the finality of my tone will help her change the subject.

But she doesn’t change the subject. She is quiet for a moment and I start to breathe a sigh of relief when I hear it…

“But how does the baby get in your belly?”

UGH. Okay… I can handle this. I’ll just give her the standard line I’ve heard used before.

“Well, when a mommy and daddy love each other very much sometimes they are given a baby,” I say.

She is silent again. I am once again lured into thinking that’s the end of the conversation. Once again, I’m wrong.

“So,” she begins. “You are given a baby and what? You put it in your belly?”

“Well,” I stammer. “No.”
“Because, that doesn’t make sense,” she says.

“Umm, okay… see… when a mommy and daddy love each other they are allowed to try to make a baby.”

“Make a baby?”

“Yes… make a baby.”

“But… how?” she asks.

“Umm…”

“With scissors?”

“Uhh…”

“Paper… glue?”

“Well… no…” I say.

“Or is it like something you cook?”

I stop and glance in the rearview mirror. “Well, as a matter of fact…” I say.

“Do you use a spoon and stir something in a pot?” she asks.

“In a manner of speaking,” I mutter.

“What?”

“Nothing… umm… see here’s the thing…” I begin.

She waits patiently. Damn.

“Okay, when a mommy and daddy really love each other…”

“I got that part,” she interrupts.

“Oh,” I say. “Well, good… umm… when they love each other they decide if they want a baby and then they try to make one. It’s… umm… just something you’re allowed to… umm… practice at… and hope it works. When you REALLY love each other…and then sometimes… you get a baby in your belly… when you love each other. And you’re older… and umm, MARRIED. You should maybe be married too. And then if you’re lucky you end up with a little baby and THAT is how a baby gets in your belly.”

Emma is quiet for a moment.

“Huh,” she says. “That’s funny.”

No kidding! But I ask, “Funny, how?”

“Well, Danielle told me that God puts them there.”

I raise my eyes heavenward and silently ask the unseen almighty, “Where was that answer a minute ago? I maybe could’ve used a little divine intervention just then actually.”

I pull into the school parking lot and I turn around to face her. “Well, yes Emma… or… or… God puts them there.”

But thankfully her thoughts have turned to her school and the question is forgotten… for the moment.

Are We There Yet?, 7/28/04
Part 1... The Secret Weapon

By the time Carter gets home from work on Thursday, I have the van all packed.  We have snacks.  We have caffeine.  We have movies and games.  We are ALL set to go.  Carter gets home and takes KC to our friends’ house, where she’ll be spending a fun filled week.  We get the kids set up with lunchables in the car and we are off. 

 

Carter started the trip.  He drives all the way across Pennsylvania… through construction… through rain… through terribly bumpy roads, all the while avoiding being run into a construction wall by an eighteen wheeler.  I can tell by the time we reach the Pennsylvania – Ohio border, he’s getting tired.  Really tired.  It’s midnight now and I can see Ohio before us like an asphalt oasis.  I know Ohio has really good roads… really wide, nice, smooth roads.  So I say, “Hey babe, how ‘bout I drive now?”

 

Carter looks at me as we pull into the service station and he peels his hands from the steering wheel that he’s been gripping so tightly.

 

“Yeah,” he snarls, “how ‘bout it!!”

 

I shrug and slip behind the wheel.  I glance at the kiddies in the back seat.  They are all sleeping soundly.  This is going to be fun.  The rain has stopped.  I’ve got a nice cold Coke.  I’m all ready to go.  I also have my secret driving at night weapon.  Of course I brought chocolate on this trip but I’d be lying if I told you it lasted past Harrisburg.  My secret driving at night weapon is not chocolate.  My secret weapon is… SPREE.  The hard, candy coated sweet tart-like thing that fills my mouth with flavors too wonderful to describe.  This is my weapon.  I pop one in my mouth, suck on it, guess which color it is and THIS keeps me awake. 

 

Now, I know there are SOME people in this world who claim all SPREE taste the same.  They would have you think a purple one tastes the same as a red one and I can tell you…that is not the case.  These same people can also be found claiming that green M&M’s don’t taste any better than the browns ones.  HAH!!  Green M&M’s are clearly better tasting than brown ones.  But I digress.  Back to the SPREE.  My favorite flavors are purple and red.  I don’t really care for the green ones.  A girl I used to work with only ate the green ones… but she was crazy.  HOWEVER, a green SPREE is better than no SPREE at all.  I begin my drive. 

 

I’m popping SPREE left and right.  Carter is snoring away.  I have some trouble with our cd player playing my mix cd’s, but I solve that by hitting the player every now and again.  And before you ask…NO…I am not related to Fonzie.  We just share the same talent for getting music to play. 

 

My driving time is going along smoothly.  I make a big dent in my box of SPREE.  But… I’m getting sick of guessing the colors.  I mean…it’s not like I can check to see if I’m right or not.  It’s too freaking dark!!  I’m even getting sick of singing along with my music… and that’s saying something.  I love singing along to music.  I look at the clock thinking it must be close to dawn.  Carter drove for 5 hours, surely I’ve gone that long.  The clock says 1:30. 

 

WHAT??

 

An hour and a half?  That’s it??  Well this sucks.  I’m getting a little sleepy here…but I realize I must pull my wait on this trip and Carter DID do all the crappy Pennsylvania driving.  So I suck it up and pop another SPREE in my mouth.  I have now eaten so many SPREE that the inside of my cheeks are raw.  I can actually feel all the sugar beneath the surface of my skin.  I would probably be better off just sticking the SPREE to my face since I’m sure when the ensuing break out comes… it’ll look much like that.  I keep driving and entertain myself by popping in the Moulin Rouge soundtrack and like always, imagine myself singing along with Ewan McGregor.  This, of course, leads to happy Ewan fantasies that keep me well occupied for the next hour or so.  

It is now 2:30 am.  Carter is still snoozing away…the bastard.  I stayed awake to keep him company, but there he is all comfy, cozy and reclined.  The practical side of my brain tells me that it is good he is sleeping.  This will be for the good of the trip.  However, my impractical side…the side that’s smothered by a SPREE and Coke filled haze… tells me he should wake up!!

 

I mouth the word “Carter” in his general direction.  Still snoring. 

 

“Carter,” I say…so quietly he doesn’t hear me.  He doesn’t even budge.

 

“Carter,” I say… a little louder this time…but still a whisper.

 

I clear my throat.  I clear it a little louder.  Still nothing.  Is the man in a coma?? 

 

“Carter,” I say… still whispering.

 

Suddenly he jumps up.  I clamp my mouth shut. 

 

“What?” he yells.

 

“Hmmm?” I say innocently.

 

“What’s the matter?” he asks.

 

“The matter?” I ask.  “Nothing’s the matter.”

 

He shakes his head.  “Oh,” he yawns.  “I thought you were calling my name.”

 

“Why would I do that?” I say.

 

He narrows his eyes.  I glance at him from the corner of my eye.  He narrows his eyes some more.  I tap on the steering wheel and start humming along to the song playing. 

 

“All right,” he says with a stretch.  “So how’s it going?”

 

“Okay…I did call your name,” I confess with a cry.  “I’m tired.  The SPREE!!  The SPREE!!  The orange are beginning to taste like the purple.  The Coke’s not working.  Even impure thoughts of Ewan McGregor aren’t working.  I need to sleep for a few minutes.  Just a couple of minutes.  Then I’ll take over.  I promise… I PROMISE.  Please.  I need some rest.  PLEASE let me sleep!!”

 

Carter looks at me with pity in his eyes.  “No problem,” he says.  “I’ll drive for a few hours.  I’m all refreshed after my nap.”

 

The bastard.

 

We pull into a gas station and fill up.  We switch places and are on our way once again. 

 

Carter turns to me as I’m getting settled.  “Could you hand me an energy bar and some grapes before you go to sleep?”

 

“Sure,” I say and hand him his snack.  “But wouldn’t you rather have a Coke and some SPREE?”

 

“SPREE is gross,” he says.

 

“Not true,” I say as I close my eyes.  “It’s my secret weapon.” 

 

And I am fast asleep before he swallows the first grape.

 


Are We There Yet?, 7/28/04
Part 2... My Kind of Town

I sleep for close to two hours.  I wake up to the car weaving and being corrected really quickly.  I pop up.

 

“Hey,” I say.  “You okay?”

 

“I’m good,” Carter says.  “I’ve taken the cruise control off so that when I finally DO fall asleep behind the wheel there’s a chance we’ll slow down a bit before crashing and dying in a fiery crash.”

 

He looks over at me.  “I have to pull over,” he says.  “We’ll just sleep for a little bit before hitting Chicago.”

 

“I’ll drive,” I say.  “I feel great after that nap.  I can do Chicago.”

 

“What??” Carter says.  “It’s a big city we’ll be going through.”

 

“It’s not so much through as around,” I tell him.

 

“You’re sure?” he asks.

 

“Yup,” I say.  “Toss me some SPREE and we’re all set.”

 

We pull over and switch places.  Carter falls asleep immediately and I drive for an hour or so before we get to Chicago.  Since, we gained an hour by passing through the time zone there is not too much traffic around Chicago.  Carter is awake by now and we hear the mumblings of our oldest daughter, Emma. 

 

“Are we there yet?” she asks with a yawn.

 

“No way,” says Carter.  “Check it out, Emma.  Second tallest building in the world…right over there.”

 

Emma is impressed.  “Whoa,” she says.  “A city.”

 

Emma loves big cities. 

 

The other two girls wake up.  They are both impressed by the city.  I’m impressed that I’m driving through the city and am still pretty relaxed. 

 

Suddenly, Carter grabs the cd player and starts flipping through the cd book. 

 

“We need Frank,” he says.  He finds one of the Frank Sinatra cds we brought along and pops it in the player. 

 

“Where’s ‘My Kind Of Town’?” he asks.

 

“Chicago!!” I say, triumphantly.

 

“No!!” he growls.  “Where on the cd?”

 

“Oh…near the end, I think,” I say.

 

He is furiously punching the buttons on the cd player.  Finally ‘My Kind Of Town’ starts and I have to sing along.

 

“’Stormy, husky, brawling’,” Carter mutters.

 

Oh jeez!!  He’s quoting poetry.  Carter knows two poems.  And not even the whole poems.  Just parts of two poems.  One is one verse of ‘The Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll.  The other is two verses of ‘Chicago’ by Carl Sandburg.  That is what we are blessed with now.  (I never said we weren’t geeks.)

 

I suspect Carter learned parts of these poems to get girls to sleep with him in college…and to be completely truthful, it worked.  Now, though, it just makes me laugh.  We get through Chicago and head to Rockford. 

 

“Ah, Rockford,” Carter says.  “That’s my kind of town.”

 

“Huh?” I ask.  “What’s Rockford have?”

“Umm…files…lots of files!!” he says.

 

“The Rockford Files were named after Jim Rockford.” I begin.

 

“Who was from Rockford, Illinois.” Carter interrupts.

 

“I don’t think so.” I say.

 

“I’m pretty sure,” he says.

 

I roll my eyes and pull over.  It is time for Carter to drive. 

 

We get the kids dressed and eat breakfast in Beloit, Wisconsin or somewhere near there…it’s all fuzzy now. 

 

When we are back in the car, Emma asks…again, “Are we there yet?”

 

“Honey, we won’t be there for a long time.” I tell her.  “It will probably be this evening sometime.”

 

Emma gives a huge sigh.  “I don’t understand why we didn’t just fly to South Dakota.” she says.

 

“Emma,” Carter says, “this is fun.  Look at all the stuff you’re seeing.  You just saw the second tallest building in the world this morning.  You just saw Rockford, Illinois, for God’s sake.  And look there’s a billboard advertising the “Cheese Chalet”.   You DO NOT see that everyday and you certainly wouldn’t see that from an airplane.”

 

Emma is satisfied though I think she rolled her eyes.  “Well, what kind of football team does Wisconsin have?” she asks.

 

Carter and I grin.  We’ve successfully turned at least one of our children into a football crazy child. 

 

“They have the Pack,” I tell her.  “The Green Bay Packers…and Brett Favre.”  My second favorite football team… and Brett Favre.”

 

“Oh well,” she says.  “That’s okay then.”

 

We pass through La Crosse, Wisconsin (which Emma claims is the prettiest place on Earth) and over the Mississippi River.  All the while pointing out all the sites Emma would have missed while flying. 

 

“Look at those horses…you wouldn’t see that if we’d flown.”

 

“Check out that old farm…can’t see that from a plane.”

 

“Look…another billboard for Wall Drug.”

 

By the time we get through Minnesota and are into South Dakota, she is very sorry she ever asked why we couldn’t just fly.

 

In South Dakota the skies are so blue and full of clouds it is breathtaking.  I turn back to Emma and say, “See those clouds Emma?  If we had flown you wouldn’t see them.”

 

She frowns at me.  Carter glances at me from the driver’s seat. 

 

“Well, actually…” he begins.

 

“From this side!!” I add quickly.  “You wouldn’t see how pretty they look from the ground and you wouldn’t be able to pick out the shapes and okay, maybe I’m a little tired right now and  MY GOD!!!  HOW LONG IS THIS TRIP ANYWAY??  Are we there yet?”


Are We There Yet?, 7/28/04
Part 3... Of Mice and...Lizards?

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before but…I could drive FOREVER in South Dakota.  First … the speed limit is 75.  Second… there’s NO traffic.  Third … it’s beautiful!!  Fields of gold and green swaying in the breeze.  Brilliant blue skies with puffy white clouds.  Summertime on the prairie is a beautiful thing.   And this is exactly why Carter does not allow me to drive in South Dakota.  I’m too busy ooh’ing and ahh’ing over the scenery and once in a while I hit the shoulder.  Carter finally makes me pull over after I yell out, “LOOK….A BUFFALO!!”

 

“That’s a round bale of hay,” Carter says…looking toward the field.

 

“Oh…well…from a distance it looks like…”

 

“A round bale of hay,” he adds.  “Pull over babe.  You can look all you want then.”

 

I do pull over and I spend the last leg of our trip admiring the prairie. 

 

Carter is from a town with the population of about 3500, which compared to some of the towns we drive through, is kind of big.  Our last stretch of highway is wonderful.  Carter turns around and tells the girls how good they’ve been on this trip…and it’s true.  They have been good.  That is…until we tell them how good they’ve been.  Then they start fussing and fighting and I have to turn around and threaten to feed them to the wolves if they don’t settle down.  They do and we pull into Mobridge.

 

I have to say the week is pretty idyllic.  Carter’s sister and husband arrive with their daughters, aged 9 and 13.  I am shocked to see my 13 year old niece is as tall as I am and I get a little misty thinking of her in her flower girl dress at our wedding 10 years ago. 

 

We see the famous bike, Pink Lightning and are a little concerned when it turns out Emma is too big to ride it.  Luckily, Grandma and Grandpa have a back up bike…a slightly bigger, just as pink bike called…Pink Lightning 2.  Emma is in heaven all week. 

 

Olivia finds that we are a little more lax in the snack area during vacation and she finds that her Great-Grandma makes wonderful cookies.  Olivia is in heaven all week.

 

Julia finds that she is just as able to wrap this Grandma and Grandpa around her finger as she is with the set of grandparents at home.  She manages to get herself rocked to sleep every night by Grandma and has her every wish catered to.  Julia is in heaven all week.

 

Our darling angel nieces decide to stay all week though their parents can only stay a few days.  The result of this is built in babysitters…who seem to be happy to take the kids with them everywhere.  So…Carter and I are in heaven all week. 

 

There is really only one major crisis all week which I will describe for you now.  Picture a pet store on Main Street.  Animals everywhere…dogs, cats, lizards.  It is while standing by the big lizard that our story begins.  I am looking at the cute little puppies when I hear the kids say, “Oh look at the cute little baby lizard!!  Mommy come see the baby.”

 

I make my way over to the lizard terrarium and see a little pink thing squirming on the floor of the cage.  I smile and say, “Oh isn’t that just the cute…wait a minute.”

 

“Carter!!” I call nonchalantly.  “Could you come here please?”

 

He walks up beside me.  “What’s up?”

 

“Umm, just a question,” I begin in a whisper.  “Don’t baby lizards come out looking like big lizards only little.”

“Huh?” he asks.
 

“What is that?” I say pointing to the small, pink squirming thing.

 

“Baby lizard?” he asks.

 

“Baby lizards don’t look like that.  They look like lizards.” I whisper again.  “That is a mammal.”

 

He looks again.  “You’re right….that’s …”

 

“A baby mouse,” I say.

 

“Dinner,” he says at the same time.

 

Unfortunately the kids have been listening to our little conversation and quickly the questions begin. 

 

“That’s a baby mouse?”

 

“Why is a mouse with the lizard?”

 

“It won’t eat the mouse, will it?”

 

To which we respond with…

 

“Ummm.”

 

“Uhhhh.”

 

“Circle of life??”

 

There is quite a ruckus.  Finally a salesperson sees the problem and grabs the mouse from the cage and takes it to the back. 

 

“Sorry,” she says.  “I thought he’d be done by now.”

 

Well…that certainly helped. 

 

The kids are very upset…but fortunately there are puppies in the pet store in need of love.  And kids with puppies in their arms tend to forget about the evil lizard preying on a defenseless mouse. 

 

If only the puppies worked on Carter.  I look at him and he looks a little sick. 

 

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

 

“That poor mouse,” he says.

 

“Well, the lizard has to eat too,” I say.

 

“But…it was just a baby,” he says.

 

“Carter…do I need to remind you of the village of mice we killed in our house this year?” I ask.

 

“But…it was just a baby,” he says again.  “That would be like us taking a newborn human and setting it in the path of a dinosaur.”

 

At this point, Olivia breaks in with a “Don’t worry Daddy.  Longnecks don’t eat babies.”

 

My God!!  They are ALWAYS listening!!

 

I shake my head at everyone and mention to Carter that I’d love to buy that little beagle that loves me so much.  The thought of spending money breaks him out of his sympathy for the mouse and we quickly leave the store…never to return. 

 

The rest of the week passes uneventfully.  No more mouse sacrifices.  No nightmares involving dinosaurs eating babies.  Just a nice relaxing week. 

 

But I know it’s coming.  The trip home.  I just hope I’m ready for it!!


Are We There Yet?, 7/28/04
Part 4... Some Observations
Just a little note...this is a little different than what I normally write.

This story was published in the Mobridge Tribune on August 18th, 2004.
http://www.mobridgetribune.com/articles/2004/08/19/people/people01.txt

I don’t quite know how to describe the town of Mobridge to you…but I’m going to do my best.  I’ve always loved the people I’ve met there, but in the back of my mind was always this question… “How can you live here?”   Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE to visit…but I know in my heart of hearts that I could NEVER live there year round.  I mean…there’s no mall.  There’s a rodeo ground…but no mall.  Not that I go to the mall all that often at home, but it’s a comfort knowing it’s there.  There is a WHOLE lot of winter here.  I’ve visited Mobridge once in the winter… and that was so cold, I get a chill just thinking of it. 

 

I tease Carter a lot about his small town upbringing.  It is easy to make fun of something you don’t understand…so this year instead of focusing on the differences I try to look at the town and I wonder how I would write about it.  What would I tell you about this town?  What is Mobridge?  Here are some things I find…

 

I find a group of women (my mother in law included) who meet at their friend’s gift shop on Main Street every Saturday for coffee.  I find these same women come together to help each other with problems.  Women who, instead of buying birthday cards for one another, put the money they would have spent into a fund to buy gifts for the angel tree at Christmas.  Some of these women have been friends since high school.  Some haven’t been around as long but are no less a part of the group.  I should also mention that coffee get togethers are not only for Saturdays.  We visit the store three times the week I am there and have a coffee/chat three different times…with different sets of women. 

 

I find a community that comes together for a band concert/ice cream social in the park. 

 

I find that all different kinds of people get the same sad look in their eyes when you mention the eighty diseased trees that are marked for removal. 

 

I see a semi circle of Shriners singing the national anthem before the circus begins… and singing it so well it makes my breath catch. 

 

I see a place where a dozen cars go down a neighborhood street in a day and people complain about the traffic. 

 

I see a grocery store where, not only do they bag your items; they carry them to your car. 

 

I find a salesperson at the shoe store who talks to me as if I’m an old friend she hasn’t seen for a while.

I find a furniture store that lets you take the couch home for a few days to see if you like it. 

 

I see the local museum get better every year I visit it.  I see two women dedicated to making it that way. 

 

I see the prairie…the land that is still in my husband’s family.  I see Carter baling hay and running fence with his dad and when he asks me how I knew it was called ‘running fence’, I answer him with, “Nora Roberts…Montana Sky.”  I then see Carter roll his eyes and mutter, “I should have guessed.”

 

I see the horses my husband and father in law own.  I see my bashful, 4 year old, Olivia, patiently hold out alfalfa hay until the shy horse she has claimed comes to eat from her hand. 

 

I see fields of wheat against a blue sky and wonder if I’d find it so beautiful if I saw it every day.

 

I find a cemetery where my husband’s grandfather is buried.  A cemetery that is set in the middle of a field that used to be a town.  There I see too many little headstones marking the death of a child in the early 1900’s.  There Carter finds two tiny headstones marked, Babies… December 24th, and I wonder if their mother ever had a good Christmas after that.  There my daughter, Emma, finds and is fascinated by, a headstone marked with her  name.  The name, we find out later, of her great-great-great aunt who only lived to be 22.  Emma takes a picture of the headstone.  Carter can barely stand to look at it.  And there I take a moment to thank God and pray for the health of my children. 

 

I see what I’ve seen every year we go…but maybe I didn’t always appreciate it.  Instead of comparing all I saw with what I knew at home, I should have been listening, finding, seeing, and learning from what these people in this town know.  This year I did…and I’m grateful for all I was taught.    

 

The week passes quickly and we are soon packing to come home.  We leave early Saturday morning.  We won’t drive straight through on the way home.  We’ll be stopping in Wisconsin and staying in a hotel.  We say our goodbyes and I am sad to leave, but my eyes gleam with excitement…because today we are going someplace I’ve wanted to go since I was a little girl.  Today Carter is taking a different route home so that one of my childhood dreams can come true and I CAN NOT WAIT!!!


Are We There Yet?, 7/28/04
Part 5... Little Me on the Prairie

There’s something you should know about me.  I am a "Little House" freak.  When I was eight years old, I brought home my Scholastic Book Club sheet from school and asked my mom if I could order “Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  And I was so happy when she said I could.  I loved the television show…I mean LOVED it and I wanted to read the books as well.  Little did I know that I would come to love the books so much more than the show and as I said before… I LOVED the television show.   (I’m not kidding about that.  When I would get in trouble my punishment was no “Little House”.  My parents knew to hit you where it hurt.)

 

I read through “Little House in the Big Woods” quickly and was allowed to keep ordering the following books in the series.  This must have been spread out over a few years, since I know I didn’t get them all at once.  I do know it seemed like I was growing up with Laura and her family. 

 

I also know that I did on occasion ask my parents why we couldn’t skip the beach one year and go to De Smet, SD to see the museum and one of the “little houses” that Laura lived in.  My parents would roll their eyes and tell me that one day I would get there. 

 

When I met Carter and found out he was from South Dakota… well… let’s just say it seemed everything was coming together quite nicely.  Until I visited South Dakota for the first time and realized these towns are not exactly a hop, skip, and a jump away from each other.  It’s a four hour drive from Carter’s hometown to De Smet.  We’ve never made the trip.  BUT this year… we are going.  Carter mentioned earlier in the week that maybe we could hit De Smet on our way home, if I still wanted to see it.  He was met with an enthusiastic, “YES, YES…YEESSSSSS!!!”

 

So we pack up the kids on Saturday morning and start on our way.  When we leave South Dakota it is around 6 am.  We witness one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen.  A pink sky welcomes a bright orange sun.  At one point a farmhouse on a hill is completely profiled in the sun.  It is breathtaking.  I yell at Carter to pull over so I can take a picture and realize I have to load some film.  By the time I manage to do that… the sun is up above the farmhouse and the moment is gone.  If ever there was an argument for the convenience of digital cameras… this was it.

 

“You know, if that were a plow instead of a farmhouse,” I say to Carter, “I’d be feeling a bit like Willa Cather right now.”

 

“We don’t have to go visit her house anytime soon, do we?” Carter asks.

 

Blah, blah, blah.  I hear nothing bad today.  I’m going to De Smet.  Nothing is ruining my mood.  We travel along the many roads to De Smet.  It turns out it is not all that far out of our way.  We just need to zigzag across South Dakota for a bit.  We pass very few cars.  The girls have fallen asleep again, so all is quiet.  We go through a few towns.  Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re in a town until we see a gas station and grain elevator.  It is a gorgeous day and I am happy to just look out the window.

 

At around 9:30 we hit De Smet.  We made really good time.  We pull into a gas station, fill up and then go to a restaurant across the street.  We pick up some brochures and check things out while waiting for our meal.

 

“I think we should be out of here by 11 o’clock,” Carter says.

 

“Whoa, really?” I ask.  “You don’t think it will take longer than that?”

 

“It’s not a huge town,” he says.  “The tour shouldn’t be that long and if we make the 10 o’clock tour, we’ll be in good shape.”

 

“What time is it now?” I ask.

 

“9:40,” he answers.

 

“Eat fast,” I tell the kids as our meal arrives.

 

Suddenly Carter sits up a little straighter.  I glance over.  He’s looking at Olivia’s glass of milk with wonder.

 

“Something wrong?” I ask.

 

“I just had a sip of her milk,” he says as his eyes glaze over.  “That is the best milk I’ve tasted in years.”

 

He hails the waitress and asks her to bring him a glass of milk too.

 

I shake my head.  I’ve never seen this side of him.

His milk arrives and he closes his eyes as he takes his first sip.  I must be sitting there with a strange look on my face because when he opens his eyes, he says, “What?”

 

“Nothing,” I say, shaking my head again. 

 

Our breakfast is wonderful and we leave quickly for the tour.  We arrive at 10:02 and have missed the 10 o’clock tour.  Carter is a bit put out.  I want to mention that we may have made it on time if he hadn’t been making love to his glass of milk…but I bite my tongue and say nothing.  We’ll just make the 10:30 tour.

 

“The 10:30 tour is already booked,” says the tour guide who is dressed like a boy from the prairie.  “A group of girl scouts is coming in…sorry.”

 

FREAKING GIRL SCOUTS!!

 

Carter can tell I’m getting upset so he talks to the guide and finds out we can do a half tour.  We get to see the house that Pa built…we just can’t go through the Surveyor’s house, where the family lived at one time.  Okay…that sounds good.   We sign in, hop in the car and are off to see the house.


We arrive and are welcomed in by a woman, also dressed to historical accuracy.  She is very nice and tells us all about what happened to the family after the books ended.  She asks my daughters questions about the books, but I’ve only started reading them the books and they don’t know the answers.  I know all of the answers.  I know more obscure facts about Laura Ingalls Wilder than any person should. 

 

The girls are bored out of their heads.  Carter is too, but he’s putting on a good face for me.  We look through the items they have placed around.  I see a big, green book of wild animals and get all excited. 

 

“Pa used to read the girls stories from that book,” I say. 

 

“Wow,” Carter says.  “That’s something.”

 

“Whoa,” I say, “these were Ma’s kitchen cabinets.”

 

“How about that,” Carter murmurs.

 

I glance up at him.

 

“I’m not bored,” he insists.

 

“HAH!” I say.

 

“No really,” he says as we leave the house.  “I can see where this would be interesting to someone who has read the books.”

 

“Have you read the books?”

 

“No.”

 

“Exactly,” I say.

 

We head back to the beginning.  The girls all have to use the bathroom so I make a deal with Carter.  He takes the kids to the bathroom.  I go to the gift shop and we can leave.  I won’t make him drive to the cemetery.  I won’t make him go anywhere else on the tour.  We can leave as soon as I’m finished shopping.  He hastily agrees.

 

I hit the gift shop like a tornado.  I spend more money than I should but consider it a consolation for the missed part of the tour.  I head back outside where the 11 o’clock tour is just starting.  I look over and see Carter frowning at the group going into the house.

 

“Those are some young tour guides,” he says.

 

I look over and roll my eyes.  “Those are Mennonites taking the tour,” I say with a sigh.

 

We head back to the car.  Carter’s eyes widen when he sees all I bought but he is too smart to say anything.  I give the girls their little china dolls dressed like prairie girls to play with in the car.  They love them.

 

“What are their names?” Emma asks.

 

I turn to look back at them.

 

“How about Mary, Laura and Carrie?” I suggest.

 

They all think about this for a bit.

 

“You know…three of the girls we just heard about?”  I say.  “From the books at home?”

 

Silence.

 

“How about Jenny, Meggie, and Livvy?” Emma says.

 

Olivia and Julia voice their approval of those names.

 

I turn around in my seat with a sigh.  “Or Jenny, Meggie and Livvy.” I say, while we drive out of De Smet and onward toward home.


Are We There Yet?, 7/28/04
Part 6... WE ARE THERE!

We are back on the road and making our way to Madison, Wisconsin, where we’ll be spending the night.  It is a smooth trip.  We spend much of it counting the Harleys on their way to Sturgis.  The kids are busy playing with their dolls.  We stop for lunch and get back in the car.  I’m driving now.  I’ve got my music on.  The kids are sleeping…everything is great. 

 

We get through Minnesota and are heading into Wisconsin when Emma wakes up.  We are just about into La Crosse when Emma wakes up. 

 

“Look Emma,” I say.  “We’re in the pretty place.”

 

“What’s all that smoke?” Emma asks.

 

Carter and I look ahead.  Sure enough about a quarter mile ahead of us is billowing black smoke. 

 

“That can’t be good,” mutters Carter.

 

I see all the cars around us slowing to a stop.  I stop too. 

 

“I wonder what’s going on,” I say.

 

We roll down our windows, because it is a beautiful day.  As soon as we do that, a man on a motorcycle heading the other way passes us and yells, “CAR FIRE!!”

 

“Oh boy…this could be a while,” I say.  I look back.  Emma is watching the smoke.  Thankfully Olivia and Julia are still sleeping. 

 

“Hey Emma,” Carter says.  “Check out the guy in front of us.”

 

We all look.  Directly in front of us is a guy on a motorcycle with a side car.  In the side car is a beautiful black lab.  On the beautiful black lab is a pair of motorcycle goggles.  We are all in heaven.  It is hysterical. 

 

Now here is what I love about the mid west.  In Pennsylvania, if there was an accident and people had to be stuck in traffic, you would hear a horn every now and then.  You would see people frowning and bitching to themselves or whoever they’re speaking to on their cell phones.  People would not be happy.

 

Here in Wisconsin, people throw their cars into park, pop open a coke, get out of their cars and have a visit.  The guy with the dog comes back to talk to us.  A bunch of people get out to see the dog.  People are talking and laughing.  Carter gets out to take a picture of the dog. 

 

Finally the fire trucks arrive and traffic starts moving.  We pass the car that has been extinguished.  There is not much left of it.  We see a bunch of young people looking at the car frowning.  We imagine them saying, “Dude, we are SO dead.”

 

Then we pass a guy sitting on top of his car laughing hysterically.  We imagine him saying, “Look at those crazy people who set their car on fire!”  I know we shouldn’t laugh…but it can’t be helped. Sometimes you look at a person laughing and you just can’t help but laugh with them.  We laugh until we reach Madison. 

 

In Madison, we stay at a hotel with a pool.  The kids think it’s the best thing in the world.  We swim, then we walk to a nearby restaurant to have a late dinner.  We are having a great time.  Everyone is being silly.  To be honest, Carter and I are still laughing about the guy on his car.  Everything is fine until I look at Emma and see her face fall.  Tears fill her eyes.  The ends of her mouth droop to her chin.  I hear a small sob escape.

 

“Emma, what’s wrong?” I ask, suddenly concerned.

 

“I just realized,” she begins.  “We have to spend all day tomorrow in the car again!!”  The end of that sentence drowns into a wail. 

 

“WHY DIDN’T WE JUST FLY??” she cries.

 

“Do we have to start pointing stuff out again?” I ask.  “What about that Mississippi River?”

 

“What about the burning car?” Carter adds.

 

“What about the dog with the goggles?” I supply.

 

She laughs through her tears in spite of her best efforts to remain sober.  “I just don’t want to get back in the car,” she says.

 

“Oh well then,” says Carter.  “I guess we could stay here.”

 

“Madison does seem like a nice place to live,” I add.

 

“That’s not what I meant,” Emma cries.

“We know, Emma,” I say.  “But we need to get in the car.  KC is waiting for us.  There’s a lot left to see.”

 

“But for now,” Carter says, “you get to watch TV while lying in bed back at the hotel.”

 

This cheers everyone significantly. 

 

The next morning we head out early and have a good trip home in that we don’t get lost and we don’t get stuck in traffic.  You can tell we are all sick of being in the car.  We are all a bit short with one another.  We are all tired and just want to get home.  We hit Pennsylvania and the car starts bouncing.  We are cut off by people.  We are trying to avoid eighteen wheelers.  


Once again…near the end of the trip, Carter tells the girls how proud he is of them.  They have been pretty good throughout the trip.  However, when he tells them this, once again…all hell breaks loose.  Suddenly Emma starts screaming.  Olivia and Julia start kicking one another.  And they don’t stop.  I try to tell them it won’t be long until we get home, but they’ve had enough.  They have completely lost their minds. 

 

I give up for a moment and turn on the radio. 

 

“Oooh, a Josh Groban song,” I say and look at Carter. 

 

“Fabulous,” he mutters.

 

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Olivia and Julia kicking again.  Emma screams again, “ARE WE THERE YET??”

 

I feel scary mom emerge.  I try some breathing exercises, but it’s not working.  I feel Julia kick my seat.  Emma has hit a note with her screaming that makes my eye twitch.  Scary mom can not be contained.

 

“THAT IS ENOUGH!!” I shout.  “DO YOU THINK YOU THREE HAVE IT TOUGH?  TRY BEING IN CHARGE UP HERE.”

 

I turn to Emma.  “YOU,” I point, “WILL BE QUIET AND STOP COMPLAINING!!”

 

I turn to Olivia and Julia.  “AND YOU TWO,” I point back and forth between them, “WILL STOP KICKING OR I SWEAR TO YOU… I WILL CUT OFF YOUR FEET WITH A SCISSOR!!”

 

I turn back around in my seat.

 

“I’m there,” Carter says.  “It’s official.”

 

“What?  Where?” I ask grumpily.

 

“I’m officially in HELL!!” he says.

 

“You?  Why you?”

 

“Well, let me see,” he begins.  “We’re about to be killed by a truck or a construction wall.  The kids are being REALLY bad.  You just threatened to chop off their feet with a rusty scissor…and….AND,” he says his voice rising, “FREAKING JOSH GROBAN IS ON THE RADIO!!!  THIS IS MY HELL!”

 

I reach over and turn off the radio. 

 

“The scissor wasn’t rusty,” I mutter.

 

“What?” he snaps.

 

“The scissor wasn’t rusty.” I say.  “I wouldn’t risk blood poisoning.”

 

Carter starts banging his head on the steering wheel.  This makes me smile.  I reach for the cd player.  I put in the Ramones… “I Wanna Be Sedated”.  There is much head banging and afterwards, we all feel better. 

 

Finally, FINALLY we are at home.  We walk into our house and there is a collective gasp from the kids.  My brother has started our addition and while we were gone, he tore out our dining room wall.  There are holes in the ceiling.  There are holes to the outside that are covered with plastic.  Carter and I are not surprised by this.  We knew it was happening, but still it is a shock suddenly being able to see our back yard from the front of the house.  The kids had no idea.  There are tons of questions. 

 

There is much hugging of KC.  Olivia hurries upstairs to see if anything is amiss.  She comes down and says, “It’s okay.  Uncle Kevin didn’t break the upstairs.”

 

“Give him time, Olivia.  Give him time,” says Carter.

 

Emma checks out the hole and looks back at us.  “So when is this going to be done?”

 

We shrug and herd the kids into bed.  We stumble into bed ourselves. 

 

We are there.  We are home. 

 

Home, sweet, dusty, big hole in the wall, home.


The Sardine Game, 7/06/04

As some of you know I spent the weekend with four of my very good girlfriends and their families at my friends’ lake house in the Pocono Mountains. This amounted to 10 adults and 10 kids (would have been 12…but two of my friends left their youngest ones with Granny for the weekend).

The weekend was idyllic. Deer came to be fed by hand from our kids. All the kids and grown ups caught fish from the dock. Canoeing trips were made to visit the island in the middle of the lake and to see the huge beaver dam on the other side of the lake. Campfires were built, s’mores were eaten. Kids eventually passed out and then the real fun began.

S
ardines is a game that I learned from my best friend, Julie. You turn off all the lights in the house. One person hides and the others split up to find him or her. However, when you find the person, you don’t call out…you squeeze into the hiding place and hide with the person until the last person finds you. It may not sound like fun…but trust me, if you are squished up with a bunch of friends listening to other people try to find you, knowing you can’t laugh out loud…it’s a good time.

Since the kids on the trip were spread sleeping throughout the house…we nixed the idea of playing inside. So, what the hell? It’s dark outside. There are lots of hiding spots. LET’S PLAY OUTSIDE!! One of the couples in our group turned in early, so we leave them inside with the kiddies and out we go.

It is dark!! It is horror movie d
ark. There is a still lake with the moon slowly sinking. There are stars everywhere and that is the only light. We turned off all the lights in the house so it wouldn’t help us find anyone. It was my friend’s husband’s turn to hide. We give him a few minutes and go to search.

I have to tell you…the other husbands think this is the ideal time to scare us. They jump from behind trees, they make “Jason” noises…they’re a real laugh riot. We girls decide to stick together and we head from the front of the house to th
e back by the lake. We check around the docks when suddenly it occurs to us that the men are no where to be found. They all found the hider. We are the only ones left. This feels kind of creepy. Kind of like the Blair Witch suddenly made off with our husbands. But…we’ve all been drinking and have the bravery of the inebriated coursing through our veins.

We head out front once again. There is a small copse of trees in front and a big carved wooden bear, a garage, lots of brush and a wood pile. We search. All the while squealing at every little noise and then laughing at our own stupidity. My friends Katie and Terri are holding hands and Denise and I are joined at the hip. We all know what happens when you get separated from your friends in the woods after dark.

Denise whispers, “Dave’s a hunter. It’s just like him to pick a good hiding spot.”

“Hush,” Terri warns, “listen for them.”

The key to finding hiders is to listen for the laughter. There is always laughter sooner or later. In this case, we hear nothing but the bullfrog out back in the lake.

Suddenly we stumble on some brush and start laughing uncontrollably.

“I’m going to pee in my pants,” Denise yells.

“I want a new partner,” I say.

“I can’t hold it…I’m going.” Denise says.

She walks over to the carved bear who sits beside the trees, squats and pees.

“Good God…you sound like a racehorse!” I say.

“Told you I had to go,” she laughs.

Terri and Katie are investigating the trees…keeping a fair distance from Denise’s stream. Denise finishes and we join them.

“Do you think they’re in there?” Terri asks.

“I’m not going in there!” Katie says. “It’s scary out here.”

“I’ll go in!” yells Denise, in all her drunken courage.

“Wait,” I whisper, as I stop her from trouncing into God knows what. “Let’s think about this. If that is them right there…we’ll throw something. If it’s human and NOT a bush…it should make a yelp-like sound.”

I find a fallen branch and haul it up. I throw it with all my might and “BAM”. We all wait quietly. No sound. Damn.

“Maybe they are around the side,” Katie says. “Let’s go back.”

“Hush,” Terri warns, “listen for them.” (I have to tell you, this is her phrase of choice for the evening.)

We are headed to the back of the house when we hear a turkey call from up front. We all realize this is a clue and stumble our way out front once more. When we get there…there is no sound.

“Did they cross the street?” Katie wonders aloud.

“Dave’s a cheater,” Denise states, “It’s just like him to break the rules of the game.”

Hmm, we look across the street when a one of us steps on a branch. We all scream and grab onto one another.

“Oh my God,” Katie says, “I think my pants are wet.”

“I’m peeing right now,” Terri cries, “I can’t control it.”

We all stop and talk her down. She regains control and we continue our search.

“Okay,” whispers Terri, “we need to think. We need to do something funny, so they’ll laugh.”

“Okay,” Denise whispers back, “how about a lesbian ménage a trois?”

Katie adds, “But there are four of us.”

“Ménage a quatro?” Denise asks.

“We’re mixing languages,” I supply.

“Whatever,” Denise says, “let’s give it a try.”

“OOOOOOH!!” she yells out. “I think we should head out back and kiss. You girls game?”

We all start laughing again until Terri breaks in with, “Hush…listen for them!”

We listen…still nothing.

We sigh…defeated.

“Wanna’ go get a drink?” Katie asks.

We all agree and begin to head out back. Suddenly we hear turkey calls and a dog barking. All man made sounds and we run into the trees, where we find Dave shaking his head, not five feet from where his wife dropped her pants and answered the call of nature. We find Carter and Terri’s husband, Chris rubbing their back and neck, because my aim was true and I hit them both with the branch. And we find Katie’s husband, Jim, who was the first to find Dave and who, it is decided, will be the next to hide.

We all go inside and give Jim a few minutes to hide. The guys head out to begin the search. After they leave, we look at each other.

“Jim’s probably going to pick a good spot.” Denise says.

“Well, he’s always wearing hiking boots,” Terri states. “He might just climb a tree or something.”

“Anyone want a drink?” Katie asks with a gleam in her eye.

“You know,” I say, “we could just forego the searching part of this game.”

We all agree. We head to the dock and sit with our drinks, sharing stories, sharing laughter under the starlight…while in the distance every once in a while the man made call of a turkey or a dog barking is happily ignored.


My Dog Killed a Chicken Today...A Poem, 5/26/04

Oh my dog killed a chicken today…yo ho
My dog killed a chicken today
I don’t know how
That dog got out
But my dog killed a chicken today…yo ho
My dog killed a chicken today.

The little boy across the street
Wished he could one day farm
He asked to raise some chickens
And keep them from all harm.

His parents said, “Okay then…
We’ll go and get some peeps.
Just remember they’ll go back one day.
These chickens aren’t for keeps.”

So Ryan got two chickies
And he was feeling fine
The brown one’s name was Stripes
The yellow’s was Sunshine.

They grew in love and harmony
With boys to give them care
The neighbor kids all watched them grow
Every child got to share

Then today I was a’ visiting
With the mom across the street
She went out back, came front again
With KC at her feet.

I looked on in confusion
What was KC doing here?
She must have snuck out sometime
When the little ones were near.

“KC got the chickens!”
The mom yelled with glassy eyes.
“Are they okay? Are they dead?”
I asked in my surprise.

“I can’t tell,” she said
As she moved out back once more.
I threw KC into our house
And headed out the door.

I came upon a scene
That I won’t soon forget
The cage knocked over, Sunshine hiding,
And Stripes…on the lawn…dead.

While Sunshine has recovered
And Stripes is buried 'neath the tree
The guilt I have was heightened
When Ryan tried to arrest me.

So now my head hangs low
My heart is filled with shame
For though they say no one’s at fault
I know I am to blame.

So why do these things happen?
WHY ME? I always say
Why did my dog have to go
And kill that chicken today?


So now we have a problem.
At least it seems to me
That now we’ll have to change
Our dog’s name to KFC.


Oh my dog killed a chicken today…yo ho

My dog killed a chicken today
I don’t know how
That dog got out
But my dog killed a chicken today…yo ho
My dog killed a chicken today.

THE END


The Bike Thing, 4/20/04

We are teaching Emma to ride a bike without her training wheels.  And when I say ‘we’, I, of course, mean Carter.  I don’t have any great wells of patience and I know that if I were in charge…things would get ugly…really fast. 

 

We tried teaching Emma to go without the training wheels last year.  To say it didn’t go well, would be putting it lightly.  Emma, it seems, is also lacking the great wells of patience and since she didn’t get it in 10 minutes…decided she was too little and begged her father to put the training wheels back on.  This was after the obligatory ‘throw the bike on the ground and run into the back yard sobbing’ scene, all of which I have on video. 

 

So last year we gave in and put the wheels back on.  This year, she is going to learn.  She is six.  It’s time for her to ride a two wheeler.  When we mentioned this to Emma, we learned something new about her.  She not only lacks great wells of patience, but also any amount of courage.  In short…she’s afraid of falling.  So, I buy her knee and elbow pads.  These, along with her helmet, will surely persuade her to get on that bike.  And miracle or miracles…she gives it a go.

 

Day one is not so productive.  There is a lot of almost falling and VERY LOUD SCREAMING!  Carter stays with her, holding the back of her bike the ENTIRE time, but she quickly decides she’s had enough.  Rather than push her into the scene from last year, we back off and tell her she can try again on Sunday. 

 

Day two is a little better.  She seems to be getting a little balance, but still screams whenever the bike starts going a bit too fast.  She lasts a little longer than day one, but gives up again.  We say that’s okay and she’ll try again on Monday. 

 

Day three…Monday.  Carter comes home from work and we get dinner.  We are finishing our meal on the front porch, when we mention that after dinner Emma will have her bike practice.  Emma swallows the last of her ice cream sandwich with a loud gulp and looks out at her bike in the front yard.

 

“Did I show you my new library books?” she asks.

 

“Yes, you did.” I say.  “We’ll read them after you practice on your bike.”

 

“I think we should read them now,” she says and runs in the house to get them.

 

She comes out with her backpack and pulls out three books.  “This is the one the librarian read to us today,” she begins.  “It’s really good.”

 

“I’m sure it is,” I say.  “I’ll read it after the bike lesson.  Emma, it’ll only be a few minutes… like before.”   

 

She looks out at the bike again.  She looks back at me.

 

“Here’s the thing, Mommy,” she begins. 

 

Oh boy…this should be good.

 

“Riding bikes isn’t really my thing.  Painting, reading, swimming, running once in a while…those are my things.  I don’t think I should have to learn to ride a bike.” 

“Hmmm,” I say, “well, that’s true and you are good at those ‘things’, but Daddy and I want you to try all different ‘things’ so you aren’t limiting yourself.  If you learn to ride and then it is still not your ‘thing’, well then you don’t have to ride.”

 

“Do I really have to learn, Daddy?” she asks.

 

“Well, I guess not,” he says, “but you’ll miss out on riding ‘Pink Lightning’.”

 

Emma looks perplexed.  “What’s ‘Pink Lightning’?” she asks.

 

Carter’s been waiting for her to ask…I can tell.  He gets a gleam in his eye and begins…

 

“What’s ‘Pink Lightning’?  WHAT’S ‘PINK LIGHTNING’?  You have never heard of ‘Pink Lightning’?  Let me tell you.  ‘Pink Lightning’ is a bike…not just any bike.  ‘Pink Lightning’ was found and fixed up by your grandpa and is waiting in a garage in South Dakota…waiting for a little girl to take it for a ride.  Your cousin Courtney rode it when she was little.  Your cousin Chelsey rode it when she was little and your mother and I had hoped that when the time came…you would ride it.   But…if you prefer to skip the bike riding part of your life…’Pink Lightning’ will just have to wait…for Olivia.”

 

I just have to step in here and mention that at times like these I am completely overwhelmed by the brilliance of my husband.  First to get her attention with the bike’s name.  Then to throw in a mention of her 13 and 9 year old cousins, who are the epitome of cool to Emma simply because they are 13 and 9.  And to cap it all off with the subtle threat of keeping the bike for Olivia…BRILLIANT!!  Emma had her helmet on before the end of the speech. 

 

I am buckling up the knee and elbow pads and I decide to give Emma a last bit of advice. 

 

“Remember…fear is our enemy, babe…courage is our friend.”

 

She is almost out the door when she turns around.  She raises her eyebrows and says with a laugh, “Have you been watching Star Wars?”

 

“Umm, no.  Why?  Is that from Star Wars?”  I ask.

 

“I don’t know.  I’ve never seen it…just sounded weird, like it would be in Star Wars.”  she says.

 

“Use the force, Luke.” I say as she rolls her eyes, shakes her head and runs to her bike.

 

She picks up her bike and within two minutes she is riding with no help from Carter.  We are all cheering.  The neighbors are cheering.  Emma is glowing.  When she finally stops she gives us all high fives and runs to tell Olivia who is out back swinging.  Emma joins her and I hear her say, “This feels so good.  I want to tell the whole world that I can ride a two wheeler.”

 

So this may not be the whole world…but I am telling all of you…the people in our world. 

 

EMMA CAN RIDE A TWO WHEELER!! 

 

And for Grandpa and Grandma in South Dakota…dust off Pink Lightning.  Bike riding has become one of Emma’s ‘things’.


The Princess Diaries...Entry Three, 4/18/04

Dear Diary,
 
So you know I have three girls and while raising three girls is very rewarding on…maybe a couple days out of the month…on the whole it is one big challenge. What makes it worse is that I'm getting an inkling that my darlings might be a tad spoiled. Not completely...but well...you'll see.

Our problem starts here in our house one day a few weeks ago. Olivia has outgrown her latest pair of sneakers. As I always do when Olivia needs a new pair of shoes, I check the attic first. I have a huge Rubbermaid container filled with Emma’s old shoes, so I check…but sneakers get pretty worn out and I am out of luck. So I buy a new pair of little white sneakers for Olivia and I give them to her one morning before school.

“What are these?” she asks.

“New sneakers,” I say.

“New?” she asks. “Were these Emma’s?”

“Nope…only yours.” I answer. “You can tell this because they are still white.”

She holds out her hands and I place the new shoes in them.

“They’re my size?” she asks.

“Yes, Olivia,” I say while laughing. “They are your shoes…no one else’s and while someday they may be Julia’s, right now they are only yours.”

She puts them on.

“They fit,” she says. “I love them. Thank you Mommy.”

Wow!! Didn’t realize a new pair of sneakers could instill such gratitude.

Olivia wears her shoes to school and shows her teachers right away. One of her teachers takes her over to the sand box in the class room. Olivia hesitates but then follows.

“I’ll play with the sand,” she says, “but I must be very careful. These are my new shoes and I don’t want them to get messy.”

“Okay,” says her teacher, “we’ll be careful.”

“Do you know these shoes were never Emma’s?” she asks.

“Oh well,” says her teacher, “they are very nice sneakers.”

I can’t believe it. My poor middle baby. I never knew she even cared where her clothes came from. Has she been feeling this way for a long time? Will she need therapy for this and, once in therapy, will she <gulp> BLAME ME??

I go home and do what I always do when faced with parental guilt…I call my mother. She always talks me down and tells me to get over it. I’m counting on this. I know I wore hand me downs. I was the fourth of five children. I lived in hand me downs and, as far as I know, my mother has no guilt about it. So I call, looking for guidance. Looking for a “Oh Kirsten, you are being ridiculous… she doesn’t really care that she wears hand me downs.”

But I don’t get that. There is a big difference here, you see. I was her child. Olivia is her grandchild. All I hear is, “Oh the poor baby.” and “Well, we’ll fix that.” and “I’ll see what I can find.”

Well, gee, that worked out didn’t it? I still have a bit of guilt, but my mom is going to take care of it. All right!!! I’ve passed the guilt buck and she’s going to go spend it.

So we go visit my parents a few days later and, while there, my mom breaks out the clothes she bought for Olivia. There are some really cute things. Olivia is ecstatic and when my mom breaks out the nightie she is beyond words. The nightie is long. It has the word princess on it. It has a sheer overlay with little silver hearts on it. It’s pink.

Oh crap!

It’s pink!!

I quickly glance at Emma. She was pretty bored with Olivia’s other clothes but I see her eyes sharpen on the nightie.

“Is that mine?” she asks my mom.

“No, Emma,” she says. “You just got some clothes last week. These are Olivia’s things.”

Pink Nightie“That’s a pink nightie, Grammy,” she says. “MY favorite color is pink. Olivia likes purple.”

“I like pink too.” Olivia pipes up while her fingers tighten around her nightie. She is not giving up this piece of clothing.

“Emma,” I say, “this is Olivia’s clothing. It wouldn’t fit you anyway.”

“It wouldn’t go to the floor,” she explains, “but I bet it would fit.”

“Well,” I say, “that’s too bad. This is her nightie and you’re not getting it.”

“What do I have to do to get that nightie?” Emma asks. “What? Clean my room? I can do that.”

This is a tactic Emma must have inherited from her father. We call her the deal maker. When we were at her pre school conference back when she was only three, her teacher told us how Emma loved the Snow White dress up clothes and if someone else would have it on, she wouldn’t cry or beg for it…she would follow them around the room holding another dress and say things like, “I think this dress would look much better on you.” or “Look, you could have this dress AND the shoes, if you give me the Snow White dress.”
Today, I’m not budging.

“Emma,” I say with the tone (you know, the mother tone), “this is Olivia’s…end of conversation.”

Emma gets the message and I think this is the end of the problem and it is…but night falls. The kids get ready for bed. Olivia puts on the nightie and comes to show me.

“Do I look like a princess, Mommy?” she asks.

“Yes you do.” I say. “A very pretty princess.”

“WHAT??” Emma yells down the hall. “You think she’s a princess, but not me??”

AAAARGH!!

“Did I say ‘Yes you are a princess Olivia…but that Emma sure isn’t.’?” I ask. “Did I?”

“You said she looked like a princess.” Emma whines.

“She asked a question and I answered it. Now get into bed.” I say…and the tone has come back.

Carter comes up to put them to bed and when he sees Olivia he says, “Oh what a pretty princess we have here!”

I wince…I know it’s coming and I count to three before I hear. “WHAT??? DADDY THINKS SHE’S A PRINCESS TOO? I want that nightie!!!”

Carter looks at Emma. “Emma, just because I say something nice about your sister doesn’t mean I am thinking the opposite of you.” he says.

“But…but…but,” she gasps. She is really getting upset. She is headed to meltdown territory. I hate meltdown territory.

“Emma,” Carter continues, “you are very tired and you are making more of this than there is. Go to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

We give kisses. Olivia is glowing. Whenever Emma is being the least bit naughty Olivia becomes the biggest angel in the world. Emma does the same when Olivia is naughty. They think they are working us, but we’re onto them.

I take Julia into her room to put her to bed. Carter gives a kiss to her and heads downstairs. I start to read a book to Julia when I hear it.

“Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooh,” Emma moans.

“Oh boy, “ I whisper to Julia, ”it’s going to be a long night.”

“OOoooooooooooh, “ she moans again. “Why, oh why was I ever born?”

I look at Julia. She looks at me. I shrug as if to say, “Can’t really think of a reason right at the moment.” It certainly wasn’t so she could argue with her sister over nighties. Emma finally realizes she is not getting any response from us so I hear her get up and whimper her way downstairs to Carter. I’m still with Julia, but I can hear the high pitched complaints of Emma and the deeper reasoning tones of Carter.

A little while later, Carter comes up with a sleepy Emma and puts her to bed.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Well, she really didn’t understand why Olivia got clothes and she didn’t.” he says.

“WHAT??” I yell. “She ALWAYS gets new clothes. She just got some last week.”

“I know, “ he says,” I asked her to put herself in Olivia’s position. I mentioned that maybe from now on we’d only buy clothes that wouldn’t fit her for two years…and she’d just have to wait…like Olivia does.”

“Wow, good one.” I say.

“Yeah well…it worked.” he says.

We go to sleep. The next morning several things happen. At one point Emma comes down wearing the nightie along with Olivia who’s saying, ”It’s okay Mommy. I said she could wear it.” I make her take it off, mostly because it’s about to rip and also because I found out she paid Olivia for it and since Olivia has no concept of what money is...she let it go for 43 cents.

I call my mom and tell her the story. She sympathizes and I know she will not let this state of affairs last long. And it doesn’t. On Easter, at my mom’s house, Emma receives a long, pink, silky nightie. Peace is restored. The spoiling continues and my princesses are happy.

That is until Julia sees the nightie and says, “An’ me? Where mine??”

I see my mom flash a guilty look her way and she is about to say something like, “I’ll run out right now and get you one.” But I’ve had enough. This is ridiculous.

“Do you want to know where your nightie is Julia?” I ask…a little on edge.

“Uh huh.” she says and she folds her arms across her chest.

“Olivia has it, “ I say through clenched teeth, “you’ll get it in two years.”

She looks me in the eye for a few seconds. “Oh,” she says. “Otay.”

And off she goes.

Wow!!

That was easy. What a sweetheart. You know… I think maybe she deserves a reward for being such a good girl. Maybe a new nightie…

The Princess Diaries...Entry Two, 4/10/04

Dear Diary,

 

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if Emma was going to play T ball. 

 

"Ummm, I don't think so," I replied. "She never mentioned anything to me about it."

 

To be honest…I did see the paper in her bag.  I just threw it out.  Here's the thing.  We don't push sports in our house.  Not that we have anything against them.  We just have this fear that one day one of the kids will come home and say, "I want to play soccer."  Soccer scares us.  We've seen soccer parents in our neighborhood, coming home from day long tournaments...eyes glazed over...muttering, "Six games today...oh...but tomorrow there are only four...that's good."

 

That's not good!!  That's terrible.  We don't want to spend our weekends at a soccer field.  But, I'm getting off topic.  I tell my friend, “I have no idea what happened to that darn T ball paper…what’s involved?”

 

"Well, Amanda (her daughter) is playing and I'm coaching," she says.  "So far Amanda is the only little girl and she would love it if Emma would play with her."

 

"Hmmm, well...I'll check with her." I say, after finding out that it is only once a week for eight weeks.

 

So I am driving my little princess home from school and I say, “So Emma...do you think you'd be interested in playing T ball?"

 

I look in the rearview mirror and see her frowning.  She, then, looks up with an incredulous expression and says, "But...isn't that a...a...a SPORT??"

 

"Errr, yeah!" I say.

 

"But...would I have to run?" she asks.

 

I roll my eyes. 

 

"Yes, I imagine running would be involved at some point." I reply.

"I could fall," she says.  "What happens then?  What if I fall?"
 

"Well...you get up and keep running."  I say.  (GEEZ...we may not push the sports, but I was completely unaware that we've raised a big priss.)
 

As we pull into the garage, I explain what Amanda's mother told me.  Emma's eyes light up. 

 

"Oh well," she says.  "I'll do it if you want me to."

 

But I am on to her.  She doesn't want to play T ball.  She would only be joining for the social opportunities presented. 

 

"Well, we'll see." I say as we go into the house.

 

Later, I talk to Carter about this. 

 

"The only reason she'd play," I say, "is so she can hang out with Amanda.  She has absolutely no interest in playing a sport."

 

"Hmmm," Carter says.  "I'll talk to her.  What are your plans tomorrow night?"

 

"I'm going to that scrapbooking party." I absently reply.

 

"But...you don't scrapbook." Carter says.

 

"Well...duh, but I do get to hang out with all my fr...oh HAR DEE HAR!!!  You think I've done this to her??" I ask.

 

"I'm just saying." he says.

 

Later, Carter talks to Emma and they decide to skip T ball.  We tell ourselves it's because she already has dance class once a week and we don't want to put too much on her.  We tell ourselves that if she truly wanted to play...we would have let her. 

 

The sad truth is...we're pretty selfish and really hate running all over the place all the time. 

 

The other sad truth is...we're lazy and it looks like our girls are headed in the same direction. 

 

The saddest truth of all is...deep down...we're afraid that a season of T ball will in some way, somewhere down the line...lead to soccer.


The Princess Diaries...Entry One, 4/01/04

Dear Diary,

 

Today I’m having a bit of trouble with my little princesses.  The two oldest princesses, in particular.  Okay, let’s be honest…the youngest isn’t all that much of a princess anyway…so let’s leave her out of it. 

 

My oldest princess, Emma, who is 6, loves the color pink.  Olivia, the middle princess, who is 4, loves the color purple.  Here’s where one of the problems started.  You see they have these little rolls of tape to use for their crafts.  Emma has a pink one.  Olivia has a purple one.  One day, while upstairs making some kind of beautiful thing out of paper, markers and tape, the screaming began.

 

Olivia was screaming terribly and she’s the quiet one.  The last time she screamed like this was when Emma slammed her pinky in the front door and nearly cut it off.  So I am understandably concerned.  I run upstairs to find them both at the table.  No blood…that’s good.  Apparently, no injuries at all…even better.  Olivia lets out another scream.

 

“What’s the problem here?” I ask.

 

“Emma saaa thhaaaaa  heee  isssssooonnnnnnnllyyy princessssssssss.”  She wails.

 

“Huh?” I ask.  “Slow down…give it to me without the crying.” 

 

“Emma…Emma…Emma…” she begins.

 

“Okay…Emma did something?” I say.

 

“I didn’t do anything,” Says Emma.

 

“Olivia…calm down and tell me what the trouble is.” I say, while giving Emma a look.

 

“She…she…she…” Olivia begins…again.

 

“Take your time.” I say.

 

“She said that her roll of tape was the princess because only pink is a princess color.”  She cries out…finally.

 

“Huh?” I ask…again.  I’m tempted to have her repeat it.  But it took her three tries the first time and I don’t really want to go through all that again.

 

“Let me get this straight,” I continue.  “You are upset because Emma says that her ROLL OF TAPE is a princess and yours is not.”

 

“Yes,” she sniffs.

 

For a moment I’m thoughtful.  I can almost guarantee this was NEVER discussed in Parents Magazine. 

 

“Olivia, you understand this is a roll of tape we’re talking about?” I ask.

“Yes…and she said hers was the princess…and, and, and…look at it.”  She says.

 

I look at Emma’s pink roll of tape.  There on the side is a capital “P”…I assume for “princess”.   I raise my eyebrows at Emma.  She just shrugs and smirks.


“But,” I try again.  “It’s a ROLL OF TAPE.  I don’t think there has ever been a tape princess.  Well, maybe in Scotland, but they just call it Scotch tape, not Princess Scotch tape.  And it is NOT pink.  Maybe you can both have princess tape.”

 

“Mommy,” Emma says with a sigh.  “Mine is pink.  Sleeping Beauty wore pink…”

 

“And blue,” Olivia interrupts.

 

“Yes…but mostly pink,” Emma continues.  “I have the pink tape and it is marked with a “P”…so mine is the princess tape.”

 

At this Olivia lets out another wail. 

 

“Okay,” I say over the noise.  “Let’s look at what we’ve got here.”

 

We all look at the table. 

 

“Again, I have to point out that this is TAPE we’re talking about.” I say.

 

This doesn’t matter to them…apparently.

 

“Okay,” I continue after a huge roll of the eyes. “Well, I have to say that historically I think purple is the more royal color.”

 

“But,” Emma sputters out.  “Do you like purple better?  You like her better, don’t you?”

 

“Huh?  What?”  I ask.  “No…I like pink and purple.  They can both be princesses.” 

 

Now I’m shaking my head at myself.  This is ridiculous.

 

They are still arguing back and forth.  Finally I’ve had enough.

 

“THIS IS TAPE.  THESE,” I say picking up the rolls, “ARE ROLLS OF TAPE.  NOT PRINCESSES.  THIS IS TO STICK THINGS TOGETHER.  THESE DO NOT DANCE AT BALLS.  THESE DO NOT WEAR PRETTY DRESSES.  THESE ARE NOT IMPORTANT!!”

 

“They’re important to us.” Emma says taking her tape back.

 

“Yes, they can be princesses if we want them to be.” Olivia says.

 

“Yeah,” says Emma.  “Come on Olivia.  Let’s play with our princess tape.”

 

And off they go and I’m left with only one thought in my head…some days it sucks to be the Queen. 


To Reduce the Risk of Serious Injury..., 2/22/04
(This is the Prequel to "The Bath...or why I love showers")

I’ve never been known for my great powers of concentration.  Anyone who has ever driven anywhere with me will tell you they’ve uttered the words, “Umm, weren't we supposed to turn there?”  I can't help it.  Obeying traffic laws and holding a conversation takes up too much of my brain.  There is no room left for directions.  My mind wanders.  I was the kid in school that got yelled at for staring out the window.  I used to tell the teacher I had to go to the bathroom just so I could escape the classroom and stare out a window in peace.  I didn’t see the harm.  After all, I wasn’t hurting anyone.  Maybe I’d be better at math today if I had paid a little more attention but really…a little mind wandering couldn’t actually physically hurt a person…could it?

 

Read on…and find out.

 

Carter bought me a treadmill.  Yes, we belong to a fitness club.  Yes, they have many treadmills there.  Yes, I even ran on them many months ago when the membership was new and exciting.  And NO, I don’t go anymore.  I liked running on the treadmill.  My legs didn’t hurt as much as they did whenever I ran outside (which I have to be honest…wasn’t all that often).  My problem was actually going to the club.  I could find a million excuses why I should NOT leave my house.  Too much to do.  Too much trouble…yadda, yadda, yadda.  So I stopped.  And Carter, against his better judgment and after making me sign a blood oath swearing I would actually use it, bought me a treadmill for our house. 

 

It’s a nice treadmill.  Lots of buttons.  Two fans (one of them for aromatherapy).  A key with a cord to attach to your person in case you fall.  Pulse checker.  All sorts of numbers flashing all over the place.  I really have no idea what they all mean.  I just hit start and slowly punch up the numbers as I run.  But first I need music.  I made a running CD back when I was planning on becoming a fitness club junkie.  It’s really good.  I think about putting it in the DVD player, but remember the first song has some bad words and the kiddies are about, so I use my walkman.  I am now attached to the walkman sitting on the little shelf and attached to the treadmill by the emergency key.  And so it begins.

 

My first song is “Creep” by Radiohead.  If you know the song you are probably thinking, “Hmmm, not the motivating song I would have picked.”  Well, you may be right.  It is not very motivational, but it is a song filled with such self loathing that it suits my mood quite nicely.  Here are some particularly uplifting lyrics…

 

I don't care if it hurts

I want to have control

I want a perfect body

I want a perfect soul

I want you to notice when I'm not around

You're so fucking special

I wish I was special

 

But I'm a creep

I'm a weirdo

What the hell I'm doing here?

I don't belong here

 

This song kills me.  I hate myself when I listen to it.  I am suddenly thinking, “What the hell AM I doing here?  I DON’T belong here.”  Then I start cursing society and the media for telling me I have to be thin (though it is in the back of my head that I am actually running to prevent myself from dropping dead of a heart attack).  And then…when I am about to jump off of the machine and tell Carter to take it back to the store...my second song comes on…

 

The Wiseguys…Start the Commotion which has these lyrics…

 

Get up, get up, put your body in motion
Get up, get up, put your body in motion
Get up, get up, put your body in motion
Let's do it, just start the commotion

 

...over and over again.  You may remember it from a Mitsubishi commercial that was out a couple of years ago.  There’s a pretty girl in the car singing along to this very upbeat song.  And suddenly I think, “Heart attack, Schmeart attack…I want to look like the pretty girl.”  All of my outrage against society and the media drifts away as I turn the treadmill up higher and start running.  I start checking out all the flashing numbers.  Whoa, look at me.  Look how fast I’m going.  Wait, what’s that in the middle there?  A warning sign…I should check that out.   I can’t read it from this distance.  I need glasses.  I bend down a little bit to check it out.  “To reduce the risk of serious injury…”  Yeesh, that sounds ominous.  I probably should have read this before starting.  I lean down again.
 

BAM!!  I run into the left side of the treadmill.  I give a little shriek and grab onto the bar, barely saving myself from a fall.  Maybe I should leave the reading until later.  It can’t be that important.  I keep going.  The third song is about to start.  It’s Mandinka by Sinead O’Connor.  Again, maybe you think this is an odd choice, but this is my cd.  And this was one of my favorite songs in high school.  AND it has these lyrics…

 

I don't know no shame
I feel no pain
I can't see the flame
But I do know Man - din – ka.

Wow, I haven’t heard this song in so long.  It brings back memories of me dancing around in my room at my parents’ house.  I was soooo skinny then and really, I didn’t appreciate it.  I close my eyes as I smile.  I love this song so mu….

 

CRASH!  My eyes whip open.  My hand has hit the cord to the walkman.  My walkman goes hurling through the air.  The CD flies out of it.  In an effort to grab the walkman, my right hand has hit the cord to the emergency key and the treadmill slows to a stop. Unfortunately I’m still running… BAM…right into the front of the treadmill.  

 

I stumble off the death machine and catch my breath.  I’m a little dizzy from stopping so suddenly.  After a minute or so, I find my CD and decide the walkman is too dangerous.  I don’t think the rest of the songs have any cursing so I stick the CD in the DVD player.  I skip over Mandinka and go straight for the fourth song, Blue Monday by Orgy. This is a fantastic remake of another of my favorite songs from high school.  I plug in the key again…attach it to myself and start running.  Ouch…I have a little twinge in my knee.  Hmm, I’ll just run through the pain.  I’m sure it’ll work its way out.  I’m happy to report there were no problems during this song.  Just a whole lot of running my butt off (hopefully).  I’m really going at a good pace now.  I don’t know how far I’ve gone since the machine reset itself, but that’s okay.  Don’t dwell on the past.  I am kicking ass right now.  That’s what’s important. 

 

Hmm, what song is next?  Woohooo!  It’s Zombie by the Cranberries. I punch up the pace a bit.  I’m sure this twinge in my knee will be better any second now.  This is such a great song.  I know this song has a message and I’m supposed to seriously think about the lyrics, but all I can think is, “This would be a great song to play while having sex.”  Maybe it’s the beat, maybe it’s the melody… probably it’s Dolores moaning throughout the entire song.  I don’t know.  The picture is in my head.  And well, one thought leads to another and my eyes close and

 

CRASH…STUMBLE…SCREAM…STOP…BAM!!  Once again I have run off the left side of the treadmill.  Once again my hand has hit the emergency key cord.  And this time…I fall…hard.  I grab the bar and haul myself up.  Ouch…my knee really hurts.  I probably twisted it or something.  I sit down for a few minutes and contemplate the machine.  I never had this problem at the club.  Why now?  It must be the machine.  It can’t be me. The alignment is off.  That’s it.  Just like the car, it keeps pulling to the left.  Wait, wouldn’t that mean MY alignment is off?  I shake my head and am about to admit defeat. 

 

The next song is playing.  It’s Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie (or by David Bowie and Queen… whichever you prefer).  I sit and listen.  This would be a good running song.  I concentrate on the lyrics and I hear…

 

Insanity laughs under pressure we're cracking
Can't we give ourselves one more chance?

 

Oh God.  I can’t believe I’m going to do this.  I’m going to give it one more chance.  Stupid cd.  I limp onto the machine.  I’ll just walk a bit and maybe my knee will be better.  I plug in the key.  I don’t attach the cord to myself.  That’s caused too many problems.  I start walking.  Ouch…ouch…ouch.  Every step hurts.  The next song comes on.  It’s Brass Monkey by the Beastie Boys.  Unfortunately, I can’t even make it to…

 

We're offered Moet - we don't mind Chivas
Wherever we go with bring the Monkey with us.

 

My knee hurts too badly.  I give up.  As I am about to hobble off I notice the warning again.  I read it.  To reduce the risk of serious injury, stand on the rails before getting on the treadmill.  Read your owner’s manual, blah, blah, blah.  I limp over to the desk and grab some masking tape and a marker.  My warning now reads…To reduce the risk of serious injury…PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU ARE DOING, YOU IDIOT!!

 

I promise myself that I will get on the death trap, umm…I mean, treadmill again…but not today.  Today I have had enough.  Today I am going to try to forget about this fiasco.  Today I am going to treat myself.  Today I am going to take a nice, long, relaxing bath.  I deserve it and what could possibly go wrong in the bathtub.

 

The Bath...or why I love showers, 2/11/04

I don’t often take baths. Who has the time? I’m a ‘hop in for a quick shower’ type of girl. I’m sure if I had the time I would love baths. They certainly look relaxing. And today…I hurt my knee. Today…my skin is really dry. So today…I am taking a bath.

I spent a ridiculous amount of money on some bath oil a few months ago that is supposed to hydrate my skin and help with aches and pains. So since I fell off my treadmill today (another story completely)…I decided I would see if this stuff really works.

We have a very old house and only one bathroom, so I am doomed to take my bath in the tiny tub upstairs. First I have to empty the tub of all the toys. The kids have all these foam letters and numbers stuck all over the wall. I leave them alone. They look like they’ll stay put. I empty out all other toys and do a quick rinse of the tub.

Then I start the water and poor in the oil. WHOA!! This stuff smells…like…like…peppermint, I think. Whew. It’s making my eyes water, but maybe that is the active ingredient. I’ll keep it going. I do one last check of the bedrooms to make sure the kids are occupied and go in and shut the door. I get in the tub and lay back with my eyes closed.

Splat!!

What the hell was that?? I open my eyes and notice the number 7 floating near my leg. Must have fallen off the wall. I check the other letters. They are still secure. I close my eyes again.

Splat!! Splat!! Splat, splat, splat!!!

I am suddenly attacked by the foam letters. I try to arrange them in some sort of order. After all, this may be some sort of sign. Instead of reading tea leaves, I’ll be known for my powers of reading bath tub letters. However, the letters are G, T, B, Q, and the number 2. Along with the number 7…this comes to…well…nothing really. I can’t work without vowels. Maybe I’ll just lay back and see what else drops.

I lay back and wait. Nothing. I open one eye to check out the letters. I tap the E with my toe, but it just slides around the wall and really I mustn’t help the letters. It won’t mean anything if I push the vowels into the message. So I sit back and shake my head at myself. Who thinks of these things while in the bathtub?? Ugh. I lay down again and close my eyes…willing myself to relax.

Thirty seconds later, my eyes open again. I start looking around the tub. OH GOD!! What is that?? Under the soap dish thingie that’s built into the tub there is a whole load of mildew. How’d that get there? Hmmmm, that’ll teach me to only clean the places I can see. I make a mental note to clean the tub when I get out.

I’m feeling pretty good. My knee is better. I’m feeling all hydrated. I’m probably ready to get out, but then I remember the bottle said 20 minutes. Good God!! I’ve only been in for like 7 minutes. Sheesh. I lay back….again and here the pitter pat of Olivia’s feet. She comes into the bathroom and announces she has to go potty.

“Fine,” I say. “Go ahead.”

She sits and looks over at me. She frowns.

“What are you doing, Mommy?” she asks.

“Ummm, taking a bath.” I answer.

She frowns again. “But you don’t take baths…you take showers.” She says.

“I know that, but I thought I’d try a bath today.” I reply.

She looks really perplexed by this. I can see her trying to get her brain around it. She decides she needs another opinion. “EMMA!!” she yells, “MOMMY’S TAKING A BATH!!”

Oh great!!

I hear Emma scamper down the hall. She bursts into the bathroom and says, “What are you doing, Mommy?”
“Taking a bath.” I answer. “Could you please shut the door and Olivia aren’t you finished yet?”

“Forgot to go," Olivia mutters.

Apparently the sight of me in the bathtub has made her forget her original purpose in coming to the bathroom.

Emma is still standing there looking at me. Suddenly she breaks out laughing and leaves the room (and forgets to shut the door). Really I can’t blame her for laughing. I see myself naked and break out laughing all the time. Of course my laughter usually ends with a sob and an, “Oh God, what happened?”

Finally Olivia finishes and leaves.

“SHUT THE DOOR!!” I yell after her.

She pops back in, “Sorry Mommy.” And she shuts the door.

I lay back…once again. Still no letters falling. I hear footsteps… again. Olivia opens the door.

“Mommy,” she says all seriously. “We can’t find the baby to the Barbie Happy Family.”

“Hmmm, okay.”

“Sometimes we lose things though, so it’s okay.” She continues.

“Okay, Olivia…it’ll turn up.” I say.

She leaves. SLAM!! At least she remembered to shut the door.

Close my eyes...again. Jesus…are those more footsteps coming??

The door pops open. Emma comes in.

"Do you know where to find the Happy Family baby. She was wearing a cute little shirt.” She tells me.

“Emma, Happy Family baby will turn up. Maybe you should clean your room and find it.” I say. That last line was a stroke of genius. Nothing gets my kids to hide like the thought of having to clean their room.

“I'll keep looking.” She says and runs away.

“SHUT THE DOOR!!” I yell…again.

SLAM!!! “Sorry Mommy.” She says.

Okay…this is ridiculous. Why am I even in the bathtub? If I’d been in the shower I’d have been finished before Olivia had to go to the bathroom. But I am going to follow the rules. I think I have about 7 minutes left.

I lay back and try to enjoy the last few minutes of my bath.

Good GOD!! More footsteps. Little footsteps. Julia. At least she can’t turn the knob. But our little Julia is resourceful. She always manages to get what she wants. What she wants now is me.

“Honey, I’ll be out in a few minutes.” I say.

“MMMAAAAAAMMMMMMAAAAAAAAAAAA.” I hear her moan through the door. I look and see her little hand reaching under the door. This is just pathetic. I really should get out, but my time is not up. What should I do?

Suddenly I hear a SPLAT…SPLAT!! I look and see my answer. The Zero and the U have fallen. They are floating next to the T and if you pretend the zero is an O and put it with the U and T… you get OUT. So that’s what I did.

So I am now hydrated, my eyes are still watering from the peppermint, my knee still hurts and I get to look forward to an afternoon of cleaning the tub. But I am happy to report that we have found the Happy Family baby. Julia had it.

So very, very glad I took that bath.

Ivehadmephyll, 1/27/04

Okay here was the question posed on my message-board...
 
Peter Jackson, director, found a little known follow up book to "Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien.  He plans to start filming and wanted the original cast back. Unfortunately, none of the actresses are available.

Casting call has gone out and YOU have been chosen. Which part do you take in the new film?

You don't have to pick a character that's been in the previous movies, or even the books! Make one up. But if you do, tell us about your character!

 
All the girls were saying, 'Oh I'll be Arwen' or 'I'll be Legolas' girlfriend'...really no imagination.  So here is my answer...

I'm the new Elven queen, Ivehadmephyll, the always forgotten sister of Galadriel. (I look a bit like her, only not quite so pasty.)

Since no one told me when the boat was leaving for the undying lands...I'm stuck here in middle earth with a bunch of little freaks or "hobbits" as they call themselves. And in the way of all lesser beings…they took one look at my beauty and made me queen. S’okeedoke with me. After all, Galadriel’s not here to object (she was always jealous of my complexion. Hey…not my fault she never hit the tanning booths.)

Our quest is to find a girlfriend for one Legolas D. Elf, since Gollum started this nasty rumor about Legi being in love with Aragorn…it’s thrown the story off and things MUST end happily (well that…and Arwen is in a state thinking Aragorn might one day return Legolas' affections. She just keeps staring off into nothingness. Every once in a while you see a tear drop down her cheek, but other than that…nadda. Bit of a drama queen if you ask me, but well…you didn’t.)

So continuing on… first…we have to find Mr. Elf. He’s gone missing and the little thingies…umm…oh yeah, Hobbits, think I’m the only one who can find him. So what the hell. Things are kind of slow now that peace has been restored. Let’s find Legolas.

We start out in some woods where Merry and Pippin have a good time catching up with some really tall drink of wood. He’s got this sloooow, seeeexy, kind of thing happening. But bark is too rough for me and it doesn’t take long for me to realize he hasn’t seen the elf. All he wants to do is talk about how he and his treebuds overthrew Saruman. Blah, blah, blah. Happened a long time ago, buddy. Let’s move on.

We head to Edoras and find the hunky Faramir and the fair Eowyn giving long lustful looks to one another. Every once in a while Eowyn will yell out, “I am no man”. Hmmm, maybe she has to keep reminding him. Sounds like they need some counseling only I don’t have the time to listen. I look over the table to Eomer. It is clear he is in love with his sister. Ewwww, these people have enough trouble without throwing a maybe gay elf in the mix. We better leave them alone.

Oh no…Merry and Pippin are waxing poetic about the freaking shire again. “So go home already,” I shout. “This was your idea…not mine.” They finally stop arguing and agree to keep with me on this quest.

Okay…we’ve checked all over middle Earth…I don’t see any sign of Legolas. “Maybe we should check Rivendell,“ says Merry.

“Rivenwhat?” I ask.

“Ummm, Rivendell, it’s where the elves used to live. You’re an elf…shouldn’t you know the place?” He asks (a little cheekily, I might add).

“Listen up, Shorty…and I don’t just mean your height.” I begin. “I am a lady of the freaking golden wood. I kept away from the crazy relatives in Rivendell. Wait…isn’t that where Arwen’s from? Oh jeez…no wonder I never went there. She used to come visit us in Lorien….ugh…the stares…and the tears. Puh-lease, I stayed far away from Rivendell.“
But it does sound like a spot where Legolas would be hanging out, so we check it out. Our first clue is the ground littered with broken arrows. We follow them along the buildings until we come to a tower. There we hear the distinct sounds of male elf sobbing. Hmmm, this could be touchy. Things are not looking good for Arwen and Aragorn. We start to climb the stairs. We come across a tapestry depicting Aragorn and his cool new sword all crumbled up in the corner. Not a good sign. We keep climbing and come across a tapestry…this one still hanging... of the HOTTEST elf I’ve ever seen.

“Who is that? “ I ask the ‘bits.

“Why…that’s Legolas. Didn’t you know what he looked like?” Pippin asks.

“Ummm, NO!!” I reply. “I just told you we didn’t mix with the Rivendell crowd.”

“Well,” says Merry, “How did you expect to find him if you didn’t know what he looked like?” (I can tell he’s still pissed about the ‘shorty’ comment.)

“I assumed you two would ferret him out,” I say. “You do have a heightened 'gay-dar', do you not?”

They both looked stunned. Pippin sputters, “Why would you think that we have good “gay-dar”?”

Uh oh, I think, they aren’t out yet…tread carefully.

“Well, you know,” I begin, “I just figured you two were…well…I mean you can’t stand to be separated and well… you can’t tell me that maybe one night after too much pipe-weed and brew from the Green Dragon you haven’t… at least thought about it.”

They gape at me. Then they stare at each other as awareness dawns in their itty bitty eyes. “Okay, “ I say, “I’ll just head up here to find Legolas.” I leave them on the stairs.

The sobbing is getting louder. I must be close. Did he have to pick the tippy top of the tower? I sigh and continue on. I come to a closed door and knock lightly and call softly, “Legolas?”

There is running and the door is thrown open by the very sexy Legolas. “Who the hell are you?” he yells.

“Ummm…I’m Galadriel’s sister…Ivehadmephyll.” I say. “I was sent on a quest to find you and discover if you are, indeed, in love with Aragorn.”

He gapes at me…lots of gaping going on today. He finally recovers and begins to laugh. Oh what a nice laugh he has. And then I see it. The tapestry on the wall…the eyes…the stare…the freaking teardrop. He’s not in love with Aragorn…he’s in love with ARWEN.

“Well,” I say. “I see what the trouble is and you are just going to have to get over it. She is in love with Aragorn and he, for some reason, is in love with her.”

“But I’ll never get over her,” he laments. He starts singing an old elvish chant and really I can’t stand the oldies so in order to shut him up…I kiss him. He pushes me back and gapes…again. “I could never love you as I do her.” He says.

I don’t mind telling you…I’m a little hurt by this. I mean…I’m the one with the tan. Sure my gowns may be a little more form fitting, but can I help it if I made friends with the breast fairy? I sit down. What can I do? He loves her. I stare across the room…looking at nothing really and then I feel it. The teardrop on my face. Shit…it must be a elven thing.

I feel Legolas turn my face to his and I suddenly see a love for me shining in his eyes. Arwen is freaking BRILLIANT. The teardrop works!!

So Legolas and I are still in the tower room. Don’t know what became of the Hobbits. Don’t really care. I have my elf…and you other ladies are gonna have to wait until after …I’ve had me phyll.

It's Christmas Time in the City, 12/15/03
Part I: City Sidewalks...Busy Sidewalks

Ahhhh, the holidays…a time of good will, spending time with family and silver and gold decorations on every Christmas tree.  This year I am overcome with the spirit of Christmas.  I vow in late October that I WILL enjoy the holidays this year, I WILL get around to doing my Christmas cards this year, I WILL make sure my kids experience the magic of Christmas.  The “magic of Christmas” this year included a trip to New York City to visit the shops, to see the tree, to experience New York in all it’s Christmas splendor. 

 

We really decided to go to New York as a treat for our 5 year old, Emma.  She was dying to see the city.  I’d like to tell you it was because she is an urbanite at heart or that she was ready to wade hip deep in culture or even that she wanted to see the windows at Macy’s but no, none of these are the reasons for the trip.  Emma wanted to ride in a taxi, so being the suckers…I mean doting parents that we are, we agree to make a trip to New York so she can fulfill her dream of tooling around in a cab.  So we pick a day and that day is…December 5th.  (Did anyone else hear the horror movie music when I mentioned that date?  No?  Oh well…continuing on…)

 

We leave on Friday morning at 9 am.  We drop Julia at my mom and dad’s house, because there is no way I will ever take a stroller to the city.  I’ve seen the kids in strollers in New York.  They are NOT happy kids.  And really any opportunity we have to hoist one of our kids on my folks, well, we take it.  So we begin our trip.  We can usually make it to New York in 2 ½  hours, but we are allowing extra time because there is snow forecast and there is already a dusting on the ground.  But does that stop us??  NO WAY!!  We are talking Christmas magic here…snow HELPS Christmas magic. 

 

The trip up is fantastic.  We make it in only 2 hours and take that as a good sign.  Hindsight being what it is, we probably should have taken it as a sign…a big flashing neon sign…that says, “IT’S SNOWING, YOU IDIOTS…GO HOME.”  But we are caught up in the spirit and even though the skyline is mysteriously hidden by all of the clouds, we continue to the city.

 

We park at the Port Authority and go to wait for a taxi.  Emma is dancing with anticipation.  About this time Carter asks where we are going to go.  “I don’t know, “ I say, “we’ll just fly by the seats of our pants.”  Carter gives me the look…the incredulous ‘I can’t believe we are in New York without a plan’ look.  He runs into the gift shop and buys a map of the city.  Then he gives me the ‘I can’t believe I just paid 10 bucks for this dinky map’ look.  Finally we are in a cab and Emma is in a nirvana like state.  This is why we came to New York.  Wait…I phrased that wrong…this is why we came to New York??  For a taxi ride?  Are we nuts?  Oops…bad thoughts…go away.  Silver Bells…tralala, not listening to the little voice in my head screaming, “IDIOT.”

 

We decide to start at FAO Schwartz and work our way to Rockefeller Center.  So we go to FAO…see the line…sneak around to the back where there is no line AND where there is…SANTA.  How cool is that?  Christmas magic at work again.  Kids talk…yadda, yadda, yadda.  Check out the toys.  Kids want everything they see, but we are standing firm with our “NO TOYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS” decision.  Emma starts to get hungry and is looking a little tired…after all her life long dream of the taxi cab ride has been realized.  There is bound be some post taxi cab let down.  So Olivia is looking at some toys and Carter sits Emma down on a bench.  Two older ladies come over.  One sits down and says to her friend, “Delores, sit down here.  I’m sure this young girl won’t mind moving over a little.” 

 

Then she pushes Emma off the bench. 

 

And then Carter gives me the “I can’t believe I’m going to get into a fight with an old woman look”.   I start to intervene when luckily the crisis is averted by the arrival of the strange wandering toy store princess, who is a pretty girl dressed up like a princess talking like she has just taken a shot of helium.  You would think this would be comforting to kids.  “Oooooh, fairy princess…how pretty…” and all that, but no.  My kids are freaked out by Princess High Pitch, not to mention kind of scared of the old lady, so  we leave FAO…quickly. 

 

Hmmm, cold as a witch’s…well…you know…outside and kids are getting hungry. 

 

“I know,”  I say, “ lets go to the American Girl Store…they have a café there, I’ve heard.”

 

“Great,” Carter says, “where is it?”

 

“Hmmmm, must be around here somewhere.” I reply and I start walking like I know where I’m going.  I really don’t, but realize I can’t let Carter know that.

 

Unfortunately…he knows.

 

“I can’t believe you didn’t research this before we came here,” he says.

 

“Well, you know, hehehe, fly by the seat of our pants and all that.”  I reply.

 

He mutters something about the seats of our pants being frozen, thus making the flying very difficult, but I’m not quite sure about that…it was lost in the ever increasing wind.  It is really getting cold.  The kids really start complaining about weakness due to hunger. Carter and I tell them to look up at the tall buildings… if only it weren’t so cloudy, maybe we could see the tops.  If only it weren’t snowing so hard, maybe we could see ANYTHING.  

 

Ahhh, it’s all so magical…and cold…so very, very cold.  Actually it is really wet, as well…but still…kind of magical in a very messy, wet and cold kind of way.  Keep repeating over and over in head…”Silver bells, silver bells.  It’s Christmastime in the city…”


It's Christmas Time in the City
Part II: She Was...An American Girl

I’m walking and walking and okay…maybe shivering…a little.  Okay, A LOT, but I am having fun.  I am in New York.  I am introducing my kids to the wonders of Christmas.  I am keeping my eyes peeled for any sign of an American Girl.  I am dragging my older daughter, while Carter drags our younger daughter, through the first snow of the season.  I start to get discouraged.  I don’t see an American Girl store anywhere. 

 

I am about to give up when an angel of the Lord descends upon us.  Okay…not so much an angel of the Lord as a man carrying two HUGE American Girl bags, but still…a very good sign. 

 

So I do what every wife does.  I elbow Carter and whisper, “Go ask that guy where the store is.”

 

“What?”  He asks.

 

I point to the guy with the bags.  Carter gives a long suffering sigh and asks the man where the store is. 

 

The man says, “Fear not, I bring you tidings of great joy for up ahead a few blocks is the store you seek.”  (I may be paraphrasing a bit…I’ve still got the angel image working.)

 

“HAH,” I say, “we are going the right way…I knew it.”

 

The man starts to walk on, then turns around and yells, “Don’t forget your wallet…my kids went nuts in that store.”

 

Oh hahahaha.  What a funny guy and much nicer than that old lady at the toy store.  I glance at Carter…he’s twitching.  Never a good sign.  Okay, we’ll just keep going to the store.

 

But wait…is that St. Patrick’s??  Oh it is soooo pretty.  “Let’s go inside.” I say.

 

“Do they have food in there?” asks Emma.

 

“No…well, maybe communion wafers, but let’s go in.  It is so pretty…and WARM…I bet it’s warm in there.” I say.

 

That gets their attention.  We go in and the kids are less than impressed. 

 

“Are they having church?”  Emma asks.

 

“Yes,” I say, “keep your voice down.”

 

“Why are all these people in here?  Is that a store?”  Olivia asks.

 

“Ummm, well, yes it is…look at the windows.  Aren’t they wonderful?”

 

“I guess, but our church doesn’t have all these people walking around AND we have those kind of windows too.” She responds.

 

“Okay, who’s hungry?” I ask, “Let’s go see the American Girls.”

 

We venture back into the cold.  We walk and lo and behold…The American Girl Store.  We rush inside.  Yay, we are here.  We can eat.  YAY!!!  We are warm…we are dry…we are in an alternate universe.  Everyone in the American Girl store is beautiful.  Beautiful parents… beautiful kids… beautiful dolls. 

 

Now, I have a little history with the American Girl thing.  When I turned 16, my mom bought me the Kirsten doll.  Yes, I was too old for dolls, but growing up I could never find ANYTHING with my name on it.  So my mom would buy me anything she could ever find with Kirsten on it…earrings (I still have those), a key chain (lost that) and when the American Girls came out and one was named Kirsten…I got it.  So now Kirsten sits on a shelf in the girls’ room…and now the girls want their own.

 

Luckily, my mother is getting them the American Girl of their choice for Christmas.  She already has them wrapped, so when Emma and Olivia run up to the dolls they’ve picked, we have to give them the “NO TOYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS” line…again.

Carter cuts to the chase at this store and immediately asks an employee where the café is.  We are told it is on the third floor, so up we go.  The girls aren’t saying too much.  I think they are in awe of the whole thing.  Carter thinks they’ve slipped into a coma brought on by excessive hunger.  We check our coats on the second floor.  Everyone is so nice.  We head up to the café and we stop in front of the CLOSED doors.  We stop in front of the unhappy woman behind the podium in front of those CLOSED doors.  We stop in front of the sign that says “RESERVATIONS ARE SUGGESTED” that is in front of the unhappy woman in front of the CLOSED doors. 

 

Carter looks at me.  “Do we have reservations?” he asks.

 

“Of course not,” I say. “I didn’t know we were coming here.” 

 

“Of course not,” he mutters.

 

Okay, I am going to ask the unhappy woman.  Unhappy woman is on the phone.  She doesn’t look at me, but points to the sign that shows the ‘seating times’ for the café.  We are two hours late for lunch and an hour shy of afternoon tea.  I have questions but unhappy woman is still on the phone, so I go and grab a menu.  Hmmm, I see nothing on here that my kids will eat.  THIS is a disaster.  I look at Carter and see him looking around the place with something akin to fear in his eyes.

 

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

 

“This place is freaking me out.” He says.  “All the little girls are dressed like their dolls.”

 

“They are just little kids having fun.” I say.  But I start looking around too. 

 

“Fun?” he says, “It’s a freaking snowy mess outside and these kids are wearing velvet dresses.  This is a strange place.  There’s a Fridays across the street.  Let’s go there.”

 

I look at OUR two little American girls.  Like all good girls from the suburbs, my kids are head to toe GAP.  Sure their little sneakers may be dripping, sure their hair may be windblown, sure their noses may be…okay their noses are dripping too, but they look okay.  Maybe…maybe Olivia could pass as the “Little Match Girl”, but other than that, they're fine.  I kneel down in front of my little girls, who really have been troopers through this whole thing and ask a question to which I know the answer…

 

“A vegetable frittata here?  Or a burger across the street?”

 

A resounding “BURGER” meets my ears.  We leave unhappy woman on the phone and head down to get our coats.  While at the coat check we see another mother getting her little ones ready. 

 

“Oh, were you at the lunch?” she asks.

 

“No, I’m afraid not,“ I reply.

 

“Oh, it was great,” she says, “we were lucky to get a walk in spot at the lunch seating.”

 

This brings a picture into my head of unhappy woman upstairs picking the best dressed little kids to get behind the CLOSED doors.  Kind of like a kiddie bouncer.  This makes me smirk.  I tell the woman to have a good day and head downstairs while thinking, “That woman is crazy”  Which is immediately followed by my covetous thoughts surrounding the American Girl sheepskin jacket that her 4 year old daughter was wearing.

 

So we head across the street.  We go into Fridays, because like all good parents from the suburbs, Fridays is our natural environment.  We defrost.  We eat our fill of nachos, burgers and ice cream (I know…ice cream??  But we wanted dessert and ice cream was available.)   And we have a good time.  And I start to think…this is good.  We’ll go see the tree and we’ll head home.  We’ll get out of the city early and be home for dinner.  Things are really looking up.  After all, the trip home couldn’t be that bad… “ring a ling, here them sing…soon it will be Christmas day…”


It's Christmas Time in the City
Part III: What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

“Okay, let’s go see that big tree,” I say as we finish with our dessert. We are all refreshed and full of yummy food. We go back outside where the very, very cold wind blows the very, very cold snow right in our faces.

“Let’s make this quick,” I mutter to Carter, “we have to get home.”

So we see the tree, we see the ice/snow skaters. We take pictures and off we go…back to the Port Authority. I would have taken a cab to the Port Authority, but Carter insists it’s not that far and, really, precipitation + New York = no cabs, so we hoof it. The kids are really getting tired. Carter picks up Olivia. I see Emma’s eyes narrow.

“Boy, my feet are wet,” she says.

“We’ll be there soon.” I say.

“I’m really tired,” she says.

“I know…we’ll be there soon,” I say.

“Why does Olivia get to be carried?” she asks.

“Well, Olivia is only four. You are almost 6. Don’t worry we’ll be there soon.” I say…again.

“Mommy…will you please carry me?” she asks.

“Emma, I can’t carry you all the way to the Port Authority.” I reply.

“But…we’ll be there soon,” she says.

Damn, she got me. I hate that. I pick her up and keep walking. About a block later…I switch with Carter. After all, he is bigger than me. He should get the bigger child.

Finally…FINALLY we see the Port Authority. The relief I feel when we step inside is so great, I almost cry. No more walking in the cold…YAY!!! Okay, we are going to make a potty stop and then go get the car.

I take the girls into the ladies room. Carter says he’ll meet us in the gift shop when we’re done. Okay, Emma
claims she doesn’t have to go. Truth is she is scared to death of public toilets. Olivia on the other hand will go in any public toilet she can find. So, in we go. The next person out comes out of the handicap stall. I always feel guilty using the handicap stall. What if someone comes in that really needs it? Hmmm, I mull it over until the person behind me asks if I’m going in there. Okay, I quickly pull the kids in telling myself that if taking two kids to the bathroom isn’t considered a handicap, it should be.

I set Olivia on the potty and kneel down in front of her. Suddenly the toilet flushes. Olivia jumps off…SCREAMING.

“What happened?” I ask Emma, “Did you flush that?”

“I didn’t touch it…there’s not even a flusher,” she declares. Which tells me that she may not have done it…but she thought about it.

I look and see it is an automatic flusher.  When I knelt down it activated the flusher. Okay, I explain what happened and Olivia gets back on the potty. I stand in front of her…the flusher is not going to be activated this time. I look down at her. She is still sniffling. I crack a joke and she laughs a little. She starts blinking her eyes.

“Mommy,” she says,”I think I have something in my eye.”

“Oh, let me check,” I say and I kneel down.

I…KNEEL…DOWN!!

I realize my error too late. I look back at the flashing flusher light in much the same way, I suppose, as a bomb squad guy might look when he realizes he cut the wrong wire.

FLUSH!!!

Screaming like you’ve never heard follows. Olivia jumps off the toilet so fast that the hat on her head flies off and lands…in the toilet. I quickly slap my hand over my mouth. I really shouldn’t laugh when my daughter is so upset, but I’ve moved into a hysterical state and can’t quite control the giggles. Emma is in a state of sheer bliss. This is the funniest thing she’s seen in a LONG time. Olivia is still crying and claiming that she doesn’t have to go anymore. Apparently now I have two daughters afraid of public toilets. I give up trying to get her to go. I dig the hat out of the toilet and we head out, stopping to throw away the hat (because even though my grandmother made that hat…it was in a toilet at the Port Authority…it will never be clean again, no matter how many times I may wash it) and to wash my hands…VIGOROUSLY.

We meet Carter in the gift shop and I relay the recent events to him. Then I spot something over his shoulder... a book with an orange cover. The new Nora Roberts book that I haven’t had time to get at home. I rush over and tell Carter I am buying it.

“Can’t you get it for less at home?” he asks.

“Do you understand that I just had my hand in a public toilet?” I ask and my hysterical giggles vanish into what can only be described as an “if one more thing goes wrong” look. Carter quickly breaks out the wallet and I feel somehow comforted by the new Nora book in my hand.

We get up to our car…which is covered with snow because we had to park on the roof. Carter cleans off the car while I get the little ones settled in their seats. Everyone in snuggly warm by the time Carter gets the car cleaned and we start to leave the city. It is 3:30 in the afternoon. We were in the city for four and a half hours.

It takes a long time to get through the tunnel. The kids pass out before we hit the end. We are going about 10
miles per hour. Two hours pass and we haven’t hit the New Jersey turnpike. I call my mom to check on Julia. All is well there. I tell her we’ll be late. Really, really late. Emma and Olivia start to wake up. We start playing car games. Our version of a car game is called “Would you?” We just keep asking ‘would you’ questions. That lasts for a little while but, like always, the subject matter keeps deteriorating. When Olivia asks if I would brush my teeth with snake throw up, I call a halt to the game.

The roads are really bad. We know we are on a two lane road, but there are four lanes of cars. No one can see the lines, so everyone’s guessing. It is now around 7:00 pm. The kids are getting a bit restless and I still have it in my head that Olivia has to pee but is refusing to go. I mention to Carter that we should try to pull off somewhere and find some snacks and a bathroom. He agrees. He is really stressed out. He is hot, because every time we turn our defroster down a little bit, the windshield starts freezing up. So the temperature in our car is up there. He is stiff because this is not the most relaxing drive. We pull off the next exit and hope to find a gas station or something that has some food and a bathroom. We travel down the road a bit, when we see a light in the distance. The light seems to call to us…beckoning us with its warm glow. We get a little closer, when suddenly Carter’s eyes get big and he says in an awestruck
whisper, “Honey? Kids? It’s going to be okay. We’ve found a strip mall.”

We pull into the lot and look around reverently. This is the nicest strip mall I’ve ever seen. We find an open grocery store and head in. The kids think this is the best adventure they’ve been on. We load up on lunchables and deli sandwiches and lots of water. Everyone makes a pit stop and we are on our way once again. Fate is smiling on us when I find a movie stuck under the seat. We set the kids up with their dinners and put the movie in. When we get back on the road we are behind a plow…YAY!! The kids are in heaven. Apparently eating in the car…in the dark…is a big deal.

We are all feeling better. Well, until Carter realizes the movie I found was “Fantasia” and he is in for two hours of classical music while sitting in a sauna-like mini van. Every once in a while he rolls down the window and sticks his head out. Every once in a while I stick my hand out the window, break off some ice and shove it down his shirt…okay…I only did that once.

Finally, FINALLY we make it to my mom’s house to pick up Julia. It is 10:30 pm. It took us seven hours to get home. Personally, if I am going to be in a car for seven hours I expect a beach-like destination. But I am glad to see my littlest one. I take her out to the car where Carter and the girls are waiting. All three of them are sound asleep. I wake up Carter and we head home. We get the kids to bed. As we are getting them changed they wake up a little and I ask them what their favorite part of the day was.

“Taxi,” Emma mutters.

“Dinner in the car,” says Olivia.

Oh well, I tried.

I go down stairs and plug in the tree for just a little bit and look outside. Still snowing and it looks really nice when you are in your house all safe and warm. I watch it for a while and pet our dog who is wondering where we were all day. I unplug the tree and go upstairs where I check on my sleeping girls.

“Here is my Christmas magic,” I think as I kiss them one more time. “Here is my everyday magic.”

I go to bed...

…and start making plans for next year’s trip…when…

”above all the bustle you’ll hear…Silver bells…Silver bells…it’s Christmastime in the city. Ring a ling…hear them sing…soon it will be Christmas Day.”

THE END

Here's what you do...
or how to get a 2-year old to bed, 10/22/03

Lately we’ve been having difficulty putting our little almost 2 year old to bed.   Well, we don’t have trouble putting her there…she seems to have an issue with being put.  So, last night I kept careful track of everything I did to get her to bed.  I post this now in the hopes of helping other mothers.  So here’s what you do…

First, you put your other children to bed in the hopes that the two year old will see other children going to bed and want to do same.

Next, never let your husband try to get the two year old to bed.  Even if you are chatting with friends on the computer, you should put them on hold and just put the baby to bed yourself.  Really you will be saving time in the long run.

If you ignore the above advice, as I do often, here’s what you do…

After about an hour your husband will descend  the stairs with a two year old who is bloated from all the drinks of water she talked him into.  He will look at you and admit defeat.  She will look at you and gloat.  So then…you will put whatever you were doing on hold and take her upstairs.

You think rocking will help.  Yes, you realize, it is ridiculous to still be rocking a two year old to sleep, but she is the baby and will probably be rocked until she is sixteen.  However, after rocking for a half hour on the wooden rocker that you thought would look “quaint” in the nursery, you rub your aching back and say, “Hey, two year old, why don’t you go to bed like a big girl?”  You try putting her in the crib.  She is reaching for you desperately and the lower lip is sticking out and…and quivering.  You can’t leave her like this.  She’ll hate you forever.  She’ll be in therapy at some point blaming everything wrong in her life on this night…on YOU.

So you pick her up and decide to take her into your room and lay with her on your bed.  This seems to be working…she is laying still, playing with your hair.  She’s relaxed…you’re relaxed.  Suddenly you wake up…it is now midnight and you are still fully clothed on top of the covers with a two year old asleep on your arm.  Miraculously your husband has come into bed and slipped under the covers without waking either of you.  You narrow your eyes and look at him.  You suspect he may be faking sleep so he doesn’t have to help remove the two year old from your arm (which by this point is all tingly).  You have her hand so tangled in your hair you don’t know how to extract it.  You decide to take matters into your own hands (no matter how numb one of them may be).  So here’s what you do…

You roll over…slowly.  This is key.  NO SUDDEN MOVEMENTS.  You slowly take your feet off the bed and lower them to the floor.  Now you are in a REALLY uncomfortable position.  Half of you is ready to stand, the other half pinned by the baby.  You take your right hand and extract baby hand from hair.  You then grab hold of your left arm at the shoulder and pull.  This is the only time when quick movement is allowed.  You get the arm out from under the baby and quickly flop on the bed…just in case the quick movement wakes her up.  You lay there for a few moments, not unlike an animal playing dead.  You open one eye and notice hers are still closed.  You breath a sigh of relief and work the blood back into your left arm.

Okay…you are now ready for the most delicate part.  You stand up.  NOW…this is very important, you MUST be careful where you step.  You have wood floors throughout your house.  It is an old house.  IT IS VERY CREAKY.  You thank GOD that you left some dirty clothes on the floor, as this will muffle the footsteps.  You stand and look at your little angel sleeping.  You consider just leaving her there, but decide that would be the wrong thing to do.  She must sleep in her own bed…eventually.  So you lean down and pick her up.  Her eyes open, and your breath stops, but they flutter closed again and you begin your journey.

You walk over the dirty clothes….trying to remember where you left your shoes, so as to avoid tripping over them.  You do a kind of hopping leap on your tip toes, so as to avoid creaky boards.  You make it down the hall and put the two year old in her crib.  You quickly shove her favorite stuffed animal in her arms and cover her with her blanket.  You look…her eyes have opened.  You keep your hand on the blanket, so she knows she hasn’t been abandoned.  Her eyes close.

Now you wonder how long to keep the hand on her.  Do you remove it quickly and risk the eyes opening again?  NO…you remove it slowly…one finger at a time and then slowly….sloooooowly lift the hand out of the crib.  Then you do something that makes you shake your head in disgust.  You drop to your hands and knees and crawl out of the room.  You manage to shut her door…using more care than a thief and creep back down the hall while pressed up against the wall, because the floorboards there don’t creak as badly.

You get changed…you crawl into bed.  You hear your husband whisper, “Is she all set?”  You say yes and then get a bit of revenge by shoving your freezing cold feet between his legs.  And then you slowly drift to sleep.

You are awakened sometime later by the pitter pat of 4 year old feet.  Then, the sound of 4 year old feet tripping over the dirty clothes as she makes her way to your side of the bed.  You open your eyes.  You hear the words, “I had a bad dream.”  You mutter something that sounds like ‘climb in’.  She squeezes between you and your husband and you decide to take a little snooze while you figure out how to get her into her bed.  You wake up a while later with the plan in your head.

So here’s what you do…

Pray for Me, 10/13/03

Okay...it all happened on Saturday (perhaps the nicest day of the year). It was fantastic outside. Skies were blue, sun was shining, clouds were puffy, leaves were falling. It was damn near perfect, if you ask me. And where was my oldest daughter on this beautiful day?? She was downstairs...watching television.

Now I admit, I let my kids watch tv a lot. There are no "no tv on school nights" rules in this house. The only rule we have is 'If it is nice outside...it would be nice for you to be outside.' And it wasn't just nice on Saturday...it was freaking gorgeous. (I know...I'm repeating myself.)

Anyway, we tell Emma to shut off the tv and get outside. She complains that she doesn't want to go outside...she just wants to watch tv.

"Too bad." I say, "Get your butt outside."

"Emma," Carter says, "who knows how many nice days we'll have left...you better get outside and enjoy it." (As you can see, he's far more diplomatic than I am.)

"NO!!" she yells. "I AM WATCHING TV!!"

Wow...look at that!! Carter's diplomacy just flew out the window (probably because it's gorgeous out there). Emma is punished by being sent to her room. And if you think Emma went quietly...well, then you don't my daughter too well.

So finally she is in her room, whimpering over and over about how she neeeeeeeds tv and she doesn't understand why we won't let her watch it and blah, blah, blah.

"Emma," I say, "if you are going to cry up here, please do it quietly. I have to get Julia down for a nap." (As you can see, I not only lack diplomacy, but sympathy as well. Really, there should be a test before you have kids.)

Surprisingly...she does quiet down. Carter has Olivia outside. Emma is in her room. I am in Julia's room putting her to bed. This takes a little while as Julia has decided she's not all that sleepy. I change her mind for her and in about 20 minutes, she is asleep.

I go to check on Emma. Hmmm, she's not in her room. Oh, she must have gone outside with the others. I go outside with the others and ask, "Where's Emma?"
"Um, in her room, I guess," Carter answers.

"Nope not there," I say. I narrow my eyes. I look at Carter..."You don't suppose..."

We both run inside, down to the family room and there is Emma sitting...watching television.

The anger I felt was too great to put into words. But I managed to get one sentence out...

"EMMA, YOU WILL NOT WATCH ANY TELEVISION FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK!!!"

Now, apparently diplomacy must have run into sanity outside, because sanity suddenly comes crashing in screaming, "WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE??"

I realize I have just punished myself far worse than I have punished her. I look at Carter and utter the only two words left to say, "Oh shit."

He looks at me and nods. Emma finally goes outside where she has fun in spite of herself. I walk around in a daze. How will I survive for a week without my nanny...I mean...television?

Then I think...well...it won't be too bad. She has kindergarten. If we can just get through the weekend...it shouldn't be too bad.

Sunday was bad. The pleading and deal making were, quite frankly, embarrassing. She is trying everything in her power to get us to lift the ban. My favorite was "I'm sick...I need to watch television." Sunday night she goes to bed and I think, "Okay, school is tomorrow. Sure she only has afternoon kindergarten, but we'll survive. We can make it."

Then I remember...IT'S FREAKING COLUMBUS DAY!!! No
school...at all. AAAAAAAAGH. So I heard some more pleading and begging. I had to clarify that, yes, movies were also included in the ban. I had to get angry and threaten a two week ban. (I did hear sanity scream again when I mentioned that!!) And then Emma went outside.

So please...pray for me. Pray for nice weather. Pray for the "Hello Kitty" shrinky dinks to last. Pray that I don't cave and let her watch tv. Support me in my time of need. I don't expect sanity to come back until next Saturday.

Family Fun Night, 9/05/03

Earlier this week we had a couple of rainy days and nights so in keeping with our efforts to be a more Cleaver-like family, we decided to have a game night.  No TV for us tonight...this is "family time."  During dinner we tried to decide which game we should play...

Carter:  Okay girls, who wants to play a game tonight? 

Emma:  I do

Olivia:  I do

Julia:  Ah da (she’s still not speaking very well)

Me:  Okay, which game should we play?

Olivia:  Chutes and Ladders

Emma:  Not Chutes and Ladders

Olivia:  Yes, Chutes and Ladders.

Emma:  I can’t play Chutes and Ladders.

Me:  Emma you CAN play Chutes and Ladders…you’ve played it before.

Emma:  I know how to play…I just can’t.

Me:  Why not?  (Although truth be told…I know why not)

Emma:  I cheat.

Carter:  So don’t cheat.

Emma:  I can’t help it.  I won’t go down the chutes, so we can’t play that game.

Okay, looks to me like Emma has admitted to having a problem and instead of trying to fix it, she just avoids the temptation.  Not an uncommon step in many cases of addiction.  You know, if you’re addicted to alcohol, stay out of the bar…if you’re addicted to gambling, stay out of the casino…if you’re addicted to cheating, stay away from games. 

However, this IS family fun night and we ARE playing a game, damn it.  This is what people on Milton Bradley commercials do and they look like they are having fun.  So we eventually decide to play “Go Fish,” we just won’t let Emma deal the cards.

So we play the LONGEST game of “Go Fish” on record.  Carter is helping Olivia, Emma is on her own, and I am trying to keep Julia from showing everyone my cards.  (I take “Go Fish” pretty seriously.)  Finally, after 7 hours (okay maybe it was closer to 32 minutes, but it felt like 7 hours), we are finished and Emma has come out the winner…without even cheating (at least not that we could see.)   

Surprisingly, Emma is taking the winning of the game very well.  No victory dances, no smug smiles, no calling her sister a big loser.  Obviously she does not take after me in this respect, as I’ve been known to celebrate my victories for quite a while.  Olivia, on the other hand, is not faring so well.  After pushing all her cards away, she threw her head down on the table and is not showing very sportsman-like behavior.  We give her the old “there’s always next time” line but she’s not buying it.  Her head is still on the table, a little hiccup of tears can be heard every now and then.   And just when I am about to give up…here comes the voice of reason…

Emma:  You know Olivia, everyone is good at something, no one is good at everything.

Carter and I look at Emma, then at each other.  Holy crap!!  Our daughter is Master Po.

Me:  Wow Emma, that was a pretty cool thing to say.

Emma:  Yeah, I heard it on Sponge Bob.  (Sponge Bob…Kung Fu, same thing)

Carter:  Ahhhh, yes, Life Lessons by Sponge Bob.

Julia:  Sponge Bob, Sponge Bob, Sponge Bob (funny…she says that pretty well)

Are we great parents or what?  Anyway, Olivia (or grasshopper, as she is now known) saw the wisdom of Emma’s words and got up from the table.  On their way upstairs to brush their teeth the gloating (previously held in check) is now let loose.

Emma:  You know Olivia, you are really good at lots of things…I’m just good at winning stuff.

Olivia: (no response, but I think she rolled her eyes)

Emma:  Look at this Olivia…you are really good at brushing your teeth and I am really good at winning stuff.

Olivia:  (again, no response, but she looks like she’s wondering if her toothbrush could be used as a weapon)

Emma:  And this Olivia…you are really good at saying your prayers and I am really good at winning stuff. 

Olivia:  (too busy praying to respond, but I bet I know what she’s praying for)

Me:  Okay Emma, that’s enough.

Emma:  I can’t help it Mommy.  It’s just the way it is. 

Me:  Emma, go to sleep.

Olivia:  Next time we’re playing Chutes and Ladders.

Me:  Yeah right.  Next time…we’re watching Sponge Bob.


Four Shots and a Urine Sample, 7/09/03

This is an old story, but has some very valuable lessons.

It all happened a year and a half ago.  My three girls were then 4, 2, and 2 months old and it was time for Julia's 2 month visit to the doctor. 

“Hey, that’s great, “ I think , “that’s around Emma’s 4th birthday…I’ll set their checkups up on the same day.  AND I’ll take Olivia along so she doesn’t feel left out and then I won’t need a sitter.  People will be so impressed that I am out with my new baby and my other two adorables.  They will look at me and think, ‘I want to have three kids, look at how well that woman handles her kids.’ ”

So the morning of the check up arrives.  What the hell was I thinking???  I have to get these three kids all ready and be at the doctor’s office by 9:15?  (I know what you’re thinking…9:15 isn’t that early…but with my three kids…well…it’s early.)  But I manage.  They are all dressed.  Emma and Olivia have used the potty.  They are all buckled in and we’re off.

We get to the doctor’s office and I admit it, I’m feeling a bit smug.  “Here I am,” I want to shout, “I have three…yes, three children with me.  We are out and about.  They are dressed in clothes that match.  They’ve been fed…and if you really want to be impressed, I could tell you that this morning I nursed the baby and made scrambled eggs at the same time.”  But that would be bragging, so I keep quiet, though very self-satisfied.

We go back to the little room and the nurses start checking out Julia and Emma.  Since Emma is now 4, she has to have her sight and hearing checked.  Passes the sight test okay, but she’s being a little bashful.  Time for the hearing test.  The nurse gives her explicit instructions, you all know how it goes – you hear the beep, you raise your hand.  Well, Emma has apparently forgotten the ‘raise your hand’ part of the instructions.  The nurse is beeping away, slowly making them louder and louder.  My God, my daughter is deaf.  She’s not raising her hand.  Oh my, now the beeps are so loud, I can hear them.  My poor baby…all this time, I thought she didn’t listen…turns out she couldn’t hear.  Just then Olivia says, “Mommy are we almost done?”

Emma turns around with the headphones on and says, “No Olivia, I have to finish listening to the beeps.”

Okay…scratch that…reverse it…she can hear…does NOT listen.

So we finish that….doctor comes in and checks them out.  All healthy…Julia’s gaining weight.  After some more instruction, Emma passed the hearing test. 

“So now all that’s left, “ says the doctor, “is Julia's shots and Emma’s urine sample.”

“Oh yeah, how many shots is it today? And what’s this about a urine sample?” I ask.

“Let’s see…looks like four shots for Julia and we’ll just need a little sample in this container here from Emma.” Answers the doctor.   “It’s normal on their 4 year visit.”

Oh it’s normal on a 4 year visit…okay, I can do that.  Sure Emma only pees two, maybe three times a day, but we can handle it.  WAIT A MINUTE…Did she say four shots??  FOUR???  FOUR???  In my baby’s tiny legs?  Are they kidding?  FOUR? 

I mention my reservations about FOUR shots to the doctor, as this is my third child and I’m sure my other girls never got four shots at once.  Three maybe, but not four.  The doctor explains that they’ve changed the immunization schedules a bit and now they give four at the two month visit.

“Well, okay,” I say, though I am already apologizing to Julia in my head.

The doctor leaves…the nurses arrive with the needles.   I take a deep breath and watch them poke my baby.  I wince…Julia screams and really, who can blame her?  I’d be screaming too.  But I try to soothe and comfort her.  I get her dressed and am about to leave when one nurse points to the little urine sample container.

Oh yeah…almost forgot about that.  Hehehe, well, I can handle it…after all, I got these kids here.  I am a together mother.  I can handle anything.  So we head down to the bathroom and lock the door. 

“Okay Emma,” I say, “you need to pee in this little cup…think you can do it?”

“Hmmmm,” says Emma, “I don’t have to pee right now.”

“Well, you have to try," I answer, “I really want to get home, okay?”  (Please keep in mind that Julia is STILL screaming and as I said before…who can blame her?)

So she sits.  I kneel in front and hold the cup under her in one hand and Julia in the other. 

“Okay, “ I say, “pee.”

Nothing.  Not a drop.  I try begging, threatening, I may have even cajoled (but as I’m not sure what cajoled means, I can’t be certain). 

Nothing.  Not a drop.  She tries laughing, making faces, squeezing…nothing is working.

I am getting really frustrated.  I made it this far, damn it…I am getting the urine sample.  More threats, more pleading and in the middle of it all…my little forgotten middle child (and don’t give me any crap about forgetting about her…I was a middle child too.  I know what it’s like)…anyway, my little Olivia decides it is time she was getting some attention.  She reaches behind Emma, to the back of the toilet and…FLUSH!

PANDEMONIUM!!! 

Emma jumps off the toilet and knocks me in the mouth with her head.  I fall backwards since my hands are full of screaming baby and urine cup (though, thankfully, an empty urine cup).  Now everyone is crying.   Emma is crying because the toilet scared her…Olivia is crying because I yelled at her for flushing the toilet and Julia…well…FOUR shots.  And me?  What about me?  Did I cry?  No I did not, but it was a close thing.  I checked to make sure my teeth were still intact and then pulled up Emma’s pants, grabbed the urine cup and left that terrible place with a promise to bring the urine sample (and not so many kids) next time.

So Moral #1:  If you find yourself with three children and someplace to go…don’t be a hero.  Don’t be smug.   Hire the freaking sitter.

Moral #2:  Don’t double up checkups…you may think you are saving time, but you’re not.

Moral # 3:  Pay attention to your middle children.  They’re sneaky.


The Cookie Judgement, 6/20/03

Last month my mother in law called asking what kind of cookies she should make for my kids.  She was going to make them and freeze them, so she would be all prepared for our visit. 

“Great,” I say, “they eat any kind of cookies.”

“How about chocolate chip?” she asks.

“Wonderful,” I exclaim, “that is their favorite.” (and mine as well, if you must know.)

“Okay, how about if I use M&M’s instead of chocolate chips?” she asks.

“That should be okay,” I say, but secretly I’m a little disappointed because I like chocolate chips better than M&M’s.  However, I am a good and giving mother who always thinks of her children first (hah), and I know they looooove M&M’s, so I’ll go with that.

“Great,” she says, “then I’m going to use applesauce instead of butter.”

“Ummm.”

“And then, I’ll use Splenda instead of sugar,” she continues.

“Hmmm, I’m not sure…,”

“And I’ll throw a bit of oatmeal in as well,” she says.

What?  WHAT?!?  This is NOT a cookie!!  What she just described is NOT a cookie.  That is a cookie atrocity, an anti-cookie.  Everyone knows a cookie requires butter or shortening or some form of fat.  And it needs sugar…not Splenda.  Brown sugar, white sugar…stuff that is bad for you.  Otherwise, what is the point of eating a cookie.  My God, in some circles, what she is making could be considered…<gasp> HEALTH FOOD!! 

However…

I am a good and giving daughter in law who always puts the feelings of my mother in law first (hah…no really, HAH!!), so I try to be diplomatic.

“Well,” I say, “I can’t guarantee that they’ll like that, but they’ll try anything, so whip some up.  They sound…<gulp>… yummy.”

Sooooo, we get to South Dakota, and the cookies await us.  My kids take one, for a moment fooled by the presence of M&Ms.  They eat one…and therein lies their verdict.  They only eat one…they don’t help themselves to a second, they don’t ask for a second.  They eat one and don’t touch those cookies for the rest of the week.  And I personally think they are a little pissed that their grandma tried to pass off such crap as a cookie, but being the good and giving daughter in law that I am, I would never say that.

So the moral of the story is…if you are a grandma and you say you’re gonna’ make chocolate chip cookies…for god’s sake, make chocolate chip cookies.  There is a recipe right on the back of the Nestle Morsels bag and no where...NO WHERE does it mention applesauce.


King of the Road Rage, 5/05/03

As some of you know, I had a child-free Saturday.  I spent the day with my friend Jenny, being pampered and polished and spoiled.  It was a great day, but I won’t get into all that.  This story is about the drive home.

Jenny lives about an hour and fifteen minutes from me, so I was looking forward to the drive home.  I mean, one hour and fifteen minutes in a car (not my minivan), listening to my music (not the Disney princess collection) is just a little slice of heaven for me.  So I begin my journey.

I have to tell you, I was feeling pretty cool.  I had just had a wonderful time.  I was singing along to the music and even though I sometimes get a little nervous driving at night, on this particular night, I was King of the Road.  Cars everywhere were getting out of my way.  It was perfect.  I was going to make great time getting home.  YAY ME!!  I can’t believe it.  I’m passing everyone.  I’m not even speeding…that much.  Everyone must realize that here is a girl who is in control, who is confident in her night driving abilities, who is relaxed and happily heading home to the bosom of her family.  (Okay, truth be told, I don’t really know what that last phrase means, because when you think of it…I am actually the bosom of the family…but anyway…)  Everything was moving along fantastically, until…

 …the pick-up truck. 

This guy is NOT getting out of my way.  In fact, he is slowing down in front of me.  Just pull over mister…I am King of the Road here tonight.  You know, ‘keep to the right, so people may pass on the left’?  Ever hear of that, buddy?  God, why can’t everyone be a great driver, like me?  Suddenly, actually rather abruptly, he shoots into the right lane and I pass.  Then suddenly, rather abruptly, he pulls behind me in the left lane. 

Hmmm, maybe he’s angry.  Maybe he really likes the left lane.  I’ll just scoot over to the right.  Agghhhh, he’s followed me into the right lane and…AND…puts his high beams on.  “Oh God,” I think frantically, “it’s road rage.”  Every horrible road rage story pops into my head.  He’s going to shoot me with a cross bow, he’s going to throw my dog into oncoming traffic…only I don’t have my dog with me.  MY GOD, he’s going to throw ME into oncoming traffic. 

Now he is flashing his high beams.  What is he doing?  What did I do to him?  I start to get angry.  I mean, the high beam thing is just rude.  Just who does he think he…wait a minute…hmmm…what does that blue light on the dashboard mean?  It looks like a little headlight…in fact I think when that light is on it means…

OH….MY….GOD.   

My high beams are on??  MY HIGH BEAMS ARE ON??  How did they get turned on?  More importantly, how do I turn them off??  I quickly start flicking anything that will flick and after turning on the wipers, the turn signals and giving the windshield a quick, unexpected wash, I hit the high beam switch.  

I slow down, I turn the music down…I am defeated.  I’m not cool.  People weren’t getting out of my way because I was King of the Road.  They were frantically trying to avoid being blinded. 

The pick up truck pulls up beside me.  I courageously (hah!) keep my eyes straight ahead so I don’t have to see Mr. Pick-up.  I know I should give a wave to thank him for letting me know about the lights, but I can’t bring myself to glance out the window.  I am quite sure he is either laughing or giving me the “stupid, woman driver” look.  And anyway, it is too dark to see anything.  So I drive on…

Then I hear something coming through the speakers of the car.  Wait, I love that song.  That is one of my FAVORITE songs.  I turn it up.  I pull into the left lane, behind the pick-up.  I follow him for a bit, and eventually he pulls over into the right lane.  I pass him…I pass other people.  I am still King of the Road.  I am still cool.  Woohoo!!!  I am relaxed.  I am a great driver.  I am blowing by these people and I’m not even speeding…that much.  This bosom is going to be home with her family in no time…no time at all.  Everything is moving along fantastically, until…

Was that a cop??  

Damn.


Breakfast or 20 Questions, 4/03/03

So you know how everyone always talks about how their kids ask a million questions?  Like, ‘why is the sky blue?’ or ‘where do babies come from?’.  Well  I have a different problem.  Why do I have to ask a million questions?  I’m talking about breakfast at our house.  Most meals in our house are strictly dictatorial, meaning you will eat what you are given or you will be sent to your dungeon/bedroom.  However breakfast is a different affair.  We like to give the kids a choice.  We run a petite dejeuner democracy, if you will.  After all there are only so many breakfast foods available.  How hard could it be? 

Let me set the scene… 

6 am…my house.

 There is an annoying morning person (also known as Carter/Daddy) bopping around the kitchen making his breakfast and lunch for the day.  He’s very chipper because he realizes he can go out in the world and speak to adults today.  But that peeve is for another time.  I come downstairs holding baby Julia.  Julia is 17 months old and can only manage a few words.  We have worked out a system, though, of yes and no.  Nod and grunt means yes.  Shaking head means no.  The questions begin:

Me:  Julia, are you hungry?

Julia:  (nod and grunt)

Me:  Want an egg?

Julia:  (nod and grunt)

Me:  How ‘bout some juice?

Julia:  (nod and grunt)

Okay, don’t really have to ask her those questions, but I’m trying to block out the sounds of the cheerful morning person in the background.  Get Julia her breakfast just in time for Olivia to come downstairs.  Olivia is 3 and speaks with a little lisp lately.  You’ll soon see why that bit of info is important to the story.

Me: Morning Olivia.  Did you go potty?

Olivia:  No, went last night.

Me:  Sure you don’t have to go now?

Olivia:  Don’t have to go potty.

Me:  (rolling eyes) Okay, want some breakfast?

Olivia:  Yup

Me:  What would you like?

OliviaOlivia:  Thereal.

Me:  (thinking of the 7 boxes of cereal in the pantry) Okay, what kind of cereal?

Olivia: (looking a little exasperated) You know!!  The thereal we got at the thtore.

At this point Carter breaks in with a “You know, as opposed to the cereal we harvested in the backyard.”  Which earns him “the look.”  I finally remember that Olivia picked Fruit Gems at the store, which is basically Fruity Pebbles without the Flintstones.  I pour some in the bowl.

Olivia:  I don’t want milk.

Me:  You don’t want milk?

Olivia:  Nope.

Me:  Eat one bowl with milk, then the next without.  Deal?

Olivia: ‘kay

I don’t even ask about juice.  She always picks orange, so I go with it and hope there hasn’t been some change in her opinion of orange juice.  Set it down.  She drinks.  YES!!

Hear someone lumbering down the steps.  Ahh, our 5 year old Emma is most definitely NOT a morning person.  She sits down carefully keeping her eyes closed against the sunlight.  Emma

Me:  Morning Emma.

Emma:  (yawning) Morning.

Me:  Want some breakfast?

Emma:  (nod and grunt…so that’s where the baby gets it from)

Me:  What would you like?

Emma: (think she has dozed off)

Me:  Emma?  EMMA?

Emma:  What?

Me:  Breakfast?  Want some?

Emma:  Yeah.

Me:  Emma, why do you get out of bed if you’re so tired?

Emma:  Not tired.

Me:  (rolling eyes again) Okay, what do you want to eat?

Emma: (silence again)

Me:  Egg?  Pancake?  Cereal?

At this point Olivia breaks in…

Olivia:  Mommy!

Me:  What?

Olivia: I have to go potty.

Me:  So go. 

Olivia runs upstairs.

EmmaEmma:  Pancake

Me:  What?

Emma:  I want a pancake.

Me:  Just one?

Emma:  Yes.

Me:  Are you sure?  You usually eat two.

Emma:  Just one.

Me: (sighing) All right.

Go to the kitchen and nuke one frozen pancake.  Carter is on his way out.  Kisses all around.

Me:  (yelling up the steps) OLIVIA?

Olivia:  What?

Me:  Is everything okay up there?

Olivia:  Yup.

Me:  Do you know your cereal is getting a little soggy?

Olivia:  Yup.

Me:  Okay.

Suddenly Julia starts screaming. 

Me:  What?  What?  What is it??

Julia:  (pointing, nodding, shaking head all at once)

Me:  What the hell does that mean?

Julia:  (still pointing and nodding)

Me:  More juice?

Julia:  (shakes head)

Me:  More egg?

Julia:  (shakes head)

Me:  (a little frantically) What?  What?  Toast?

Julia:  (shaking head and really getting pissed)Julia

Me:  You want mommy to make daddy call in sick so mommy can spend the day at the spa?

Julia:  (shaking head)

Damn, was really hoping for a nod on that one. 

Emma:  She wants Olivia’s cereal.

Me:  What?

Emma:  (looking at me as if I were a pitiful excuse for a mother) <sigh> Julia wants Olivia’s cereal.

Me:  Oh, okay. 

Get some dry cereal for Julia to eat/play with/throw on the floor.  Crisis averted.

Okay, I am going to sit down and read the paper.  Everyone’s happy, it seems.  I sit down, sip some juice, when finally my children decide it is their turn to ask the questions.

Olivia: (yelling down the steps) Could thomeone come wipe my butt?

Emma: Mom, could I have another pancake?

Me: (nod and grunt)

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