Archive for the 'Dysfunction Junction' Category

ALL HAIL THE ARBITER OF ART! (Part 2)

The next morning, I got out of bed after only 3 hours of sleep, not sure what the hell had happened, and not sure what I wanted to do about it. The last thing I wanted was to continue to work for an event that I found, quite simply, irritating. But it bothered me to think that I’d be crushing children’s creativity. I mean, that’s the last thing I’d ever wanted to do to any kid.

I went back through old emails and re-read what my friend and I had talked about way back in February and March about this little arts program, and I spend most of the day talking to friends and to RegularDad and checking my motives. In the end, I realized that the best thing to do was to write up the guidelines that we’d planned on writing, guidelines I should have had written already before I went into that planning meeting. If I’d been prepared, I could have handled it better. I could have stuck to my guns, so to speak, and not lost my temper.

So, I wrote up a detailed description of my little arts program, including guidelines for what things the kids could present. I stated specifically that the program welcomed all forms of art, including modern music and dance, but that the children had to be the ones performing the piece. Air guitar and lip-sync-ing, while fun and entertaining, just didn’t meet the requirements any more than a child saying she wanted to play the piano and then popping in a CD of Beethoven’s 5th and then wiggling her fingers in the air over the piano keys would.

I had RegularDad edit this thing for me twice, making sure I removed any passive aggressive statements that just didn’t need to be there. (Yes, there were a few.) Then I wrote an apology to everyone who’d been at the meeting, saying I’d been unprepared to discuss the Afternoon with the Arts program and apologizing for that, and for my disruptive behavior. RegularDad reviewed my apology email for me before I sent it, to make sure there wasn’t anything passive aggressive in it. (This time there wasn’t.) I attached the guidelines document to the email and told them that this document was what I’d been trying to explain about the changes to the Afternoon with the Arts program, and that the guidelines would be effective immediately. I sent off the email and hoped for the best.

Then, after a long talk with the other friend who I was working with on this thing, I posted the guidelines out to the homeschool group in general and asked the membership to review the document so that everyone would be clear in what the program was about before signing up to do it.

It was the best I could do to heal a bad situation. Or so I thought.

Two days later, I got an email from the homeschool group’s leader (HIP-HOP Mom). She obviously didn’t like the guidelines I’d posted. She began to use phrases like: “As the director of this homeschool group I am going to give you permission to make your own decisions [about these guidelines] but I really think you need to reconsider what you’ve done…” etc etc etc. She also said that I was negatively impacting her son’s self esteem by not allowing him to play air guitar and sing along to a CD. And that I was denying him his chance to show his “love of dance”. (Huh??? He loves dance, I thought to myself? That’s the first I’ve heard of THAT. And I didn’t see him dancing all that much when he did his HIP HOP routine, either. But… WHATEVER…)

I bristled a bit. Well… I bristled  A LOT at that, actually.

I didn’t like the idea of her giving me permission to do anything, really, least of all as it pertained to an event that I’d created myself and ran on a purely volunteer basis. “Her” homeschool group wasn’t funding me, hadn’t commissioned me to create this thing. I’d just accidentally created it and posted it through her group because it’s the primary group I network in. I didn’t like the fact that she’d donned her “directorship” hat and began posturing with it. Never before had I seen her do anything like that before. She intimated that she OWNED my arts program, and that she somehow had final authority with how I ran it.

But I’d already lost my temper and lost face with people in this group as a result. So, I didn’t answer her. I called my friend who was running the thing with me and asked if there was precedent for this woman to take over something I’d created. (There wasn’t.) I showed her email to RegularDad. He frowned at it, thought for a moment, and said: “Don’t do anything. She’s not asking you a question here. She’s just pissed and blowing off steam. Ignore it and it’ll go away. If nothing else, wait 3 days before you reply.”

It was good advice. So I took it. I did nothing.

So, probably as a result of my silence, the next day, HIP-HOP mom and ROCK BAND mom went public. They took the fight to the public message board, and what followed was a couple of days of hellish absurdities. They dubbed me the “arbiter of what is art” and basically attempted to burn me at the stake on the board. I’ve been told that I’ve damaged the self-esteem of their children and children everywhere. I’ve been told I have a narrow definition of art. HIP-HOP mom restated her belief that as the director of the group, she had the final authority over my little arts program and that all along she’d been “giving me permission to make my own decisions about my program with the hope that I’d come to the proper conclusions” etc about what kinds of acts the kids could perform. And now that I’d made the wrong decision, she was terribly disappointed at the fact that I was excluding her children. And that they’d be forced to no longer attend.

I was told all of these things publicly, in front of the 100 or so families that make up that particular homeschool community. ROCK BAND mom asked the group directly to express their opinions of me and the decisions I had made about ART.

And the funny thing is, only 2 people actually responded to that question. One to say she thought I had the right to set whatever rules I wanted in a program I’d created and put the work into, and that she appreciated me taking the time to write out such detailed guidelines because it helped her to have that information. Then another mom posted in saying she was an artist and understood my vision, but she also thought that it would be a good idea to create another program that didn’t focus solely on art media, a entertainment-based program where the kids could do whatever acts they wanted.

HIP-HOP mom seized upon that idea immediately, made a large public show of saying she was moving her kids to THAT FAR SUPERIOR PROGRAM in which no child’s self-esteem would ever be threatened by ME the evil nasty mean mom, the Arbiter of Art, who won’t let them do air guitar anymore.

I’m condensing a lot of this into as brief an explanation as I can, but you get the idea. My week sucked, basically. Somewhere in the middle of all this bullshit, I posted one final message to the group, asking them all again to read my guidelines and make their own decisions about if they wanted to attend my program. I said that while I didn’t think of myself as the arbiter of art, I was definitely the arbiter of what I would invest my own time and energy into. And I left it at that.

As far as I know, at this point, HIP-HOP mom and ROCK BAND mom are busy planning out their new ‘That’s Entertainment!’ program. And I’m sure they’re gleefully excluding me from it. Creating guidelines of some sort. Something to the effect of THE ARBITER OF ART NEED NOT APPLY.

But during those days, I did also receive a smattering of supportive emails and phone calls. Not a huge amount, but enough to know that I’m not being crazy or unreasonable, enough to keep me going, and to know who my friends really are. The best of those emails included two from leaders of two other local homeschool groups in the area. They’d been following the drama and they both emailed me to offer support and asked if I’d like to advertise my arts program through their boards. In the end, Afternoon with the Arts may just prevail. But even if it doesn’t, even if it folds, it’ll be okay.

So, the drama died down, and things have moved on. And I thought I was over it, but I’m not really. Because here’s the thing:

I was embarrassed when they called me the Arbiter of What Is Art. Embarrassed because that’s something only snobs would do, right? And no one wants to be a snob… or at least no one wants to APPEAR to be a snob, right? And through all the ugliness of the past few days, and the cringing and the sitting on my hands NOT REPLYING no matter how much I wanted to, what haunted me the most was the idea that I’d destroyed a little boy’s love of dance. That’s what HIP-HOP mom accused me of in the end, remember? And I tortured myself for days with the idea that I’d destroyed something so precious in a child. If I’d ever imagined that all of this would come to THIS POINT, I never would have said a damn word. I would have just folded the program and walked away rather than hurt a child.

For days, I’ve replayed in my mind every performance that little boy ever did. And never once did he say he was going to perform “DANCE”. Never once did he actually attempt any dance steps. He’d put on sunglasses and held a microphone in one hand and mumbled along to a rap song, his plastic guitar hanging over his shoulders. It certainly didn’t look like dance to me. But what if I was wrong???

It haunted me, I tell you.

But then, in my Internet wanderings, I came across this video:

I watched this video. And then I watched it again. And again. And again.

And then I came to my senses. Because if I was ever confused about what the Love of Dance looks like, I sure wasn’t anymore. Every single moment in that video screams LOVE OF DANCE.

I realized finally that this whole fight was never about a kid’s love of dance at all. This whole fight was about the laziness of two women who didn’t want to put in the work in takes to help a child find his way in the Arts. The Arts are HARD. And both of those women knew that what their kids were performing wasn’t ART at all. Because impossible as it is to define ART, one thing that all the ARTS contain is VOICE. And voice is something that simply cannot be faked. There is no shortcut to voice. To find it, you have to risk it all. Even if you’re only eight years old. You have to take the risk. And if you have a child who shows an interest in the ARTS, then it is your JOB as a MOTHER to help them take that risk. Because there is just no other way.

And so I find that I’ve changed my mind after all. The Arbiter of Art, they called me? Well, somebody pass me a crown and scepter. I’ll take that title gladly. And the first thing I’m going to do with my position is to point at the two of them and shout loudly till all the world stops to hear:

SHAME ON YOU, YOU VAPID, LAZY BITCHES! I may be the one who disappointed your children this week, but I am NOT the one who failed your children this week. That honor rests with the both of you, and you alone.

Putting your kids up there with a karaoke machine sure is easy, but it certainly isn’t helping your kids at all. If nothing else, it hinders them, makes them think that they can’t try in their own voice, however fumbling those early voices are and must be. Trying to cloak your own laziness underneath the rubric of “love of dance’ spits in the face of every dancer out there who has spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours practicing until it hurt, the same steps over and over again, while a choreographer claps and chants mercilessly FIVE-SIX-SEVEN-EIGHT! AND AGAIN!!! until they’re at the very brink of exhaustion, and then they find a way to go an extra 15 minutes anyway.

Don’t you dare speak to me about the love of dance. Don’t you dare cheat your children and cheapen the Arts with your own faulty rhetoric just to make yourselves look noble. Your children’s self-esteem would skyrocket through the stratosphere if you just would give them the chance to try on their own to sing with their own voices. For them to fumble their way through even half a verse of Rapper’s Delight would be far more beautiful than 15 minutes of them whispering along to someone else.

SHAME ON YOU, I say! And shame on me, for believing for even one moment that this ever had anything remotely to do with me.

I am the Arbiter of Art!

Hear. me. ROAR!

ALL HAIL THE ARBITER OF ART! (Part 1)

So, about a year and a half ago, I was hanging out with a homeschooling friend of mine, and we got to talking about stuff we were thinking about doing for the kids. And I mentioned to her (me being a poet and all) that I was thinking about maybe starting up a poetry appreciation tea party kind of thing, and she (being an amateur pianist) said she’d been thinking about starting a music recital thing at her house, and then (WHOOPS!) her chocolate got into my peanut butter and the next thing you knew, we’d accidentally created this little arts appreciation program for homeschool kids in our area. We named it “Afternoon with the Arts” and held it once a month at her house, because her house was a hell of a lot bigger than mine. So, once a month, we’d post to one of the local homeschool groups near here, asking people to sign up for this thing, and before long, it became this Incredibly Popular Event. Practically everyone wanted in.

At first, it was really cool. Kids brought their musical instruments they were studying. Kids brought their artwork. They read poems and stories. Some danced. Some of the preschool set would get up there and do somewhat odd things that weren’t exactly related to the “ARTS”, but they were preschoolers, so we didn’t worry about it. We didn’t expect prodigies. And if they wanted to get up there and talk about firemen for 2 minutes, we’d just applaud and move on to the next act.

After a year or so of this, things began to deteriorate. It started with this one mom. (There’s always that ONE, isn’t there?) She’d been bringing her 3 kids since the beginning, and her youngest was only 3 years old, and he always liked to get up there and dance to Michael Jackson. And again, since he was only 3, we didn’t expect him to do a great job, although he actually had a pretty decent moonwalk going there. And since dance is part of the Arts, we figured he was well within the scope of the program, so no big deal, right? Well… he got so much applause for his routine that his older brother and sister wanted IN. So the 3 kids started doing something called ROCK BAND.

ROCK BAND was this act in which the 3 kids turned on some Hannah Montana song and bopped around the room for a few minutes, sort of lip-syncing and playing air guitar to the music while the 3-year-old danced his dance. For the first couple of ROCK BAND acts, we applauded politely and sort of shrugged. We figured it would eventually stop and the kids would go back to something else. Something that they were actually performing. We figured their mom would tell them: okay, that was fun, but remember, this is supposed to be a program where you show YOUR TALENT. Not just futz around up there.

But, noooooooooooooo….

ROCK BAND began to escalate. Another little boy (about 8 years old maybe) decided he wanted to do something like that too. So at the next opportunity, he got up there, put on a rapper CD, slung a KB Toys plastic guitar around his neck and mumbled along to the music. He called it HIP HOP. Next thing you knew, my kids wanted to do a ROCK BAND. And so did my co-creator’s kids. Everyone wanted to do ROCK BAND or HIP HOP. Because, let’s face it: you sound so much cooler that way, and no one can tell if you mess up.

I looked into the future of Afternoon with the Arts and saw endless hours filled with watching kids lip sync (badly) while playing air guitar and imaginary drums. And I didn’t want any part of it anymore. But, for a while I just kept my mouth shut. Who wants to be the kill-joy mom who brings ROCK BAND to a screeching halt and makes them go back to fumbling out beginner level tunes on the piano?

But then in February we held a special evening show (dubbed Evening with the Arts – we’re SO original, I know!) and invited the dads to come and see. And we invited the adults coming to also perform something if they wanted. And this little boy came with his dad, and the two of them sang a song together, a cappella, in perfect harmony. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever heard in my life. It was Afternoon with the Arts at its finest hour, you could say.

And after they were done singing, the ROCK BAND jumped up, popped a disc into the player and did their lip-sync air guitar thing. And the kids watching responded (in an almost Pavlovian kind of way) by screaming and cheering like the Beatles had just landed, and I was just disgusted and tired of it all by then. All the work we’d put into making this happen, all so we could watch these kids do NOTHING up there. No thanks.

But the next month, when we sent out the signup notice, that mom put her 3 kids down for ROCK BAND again, and the HIP HOP act went in there too, and I finally emailed my friend as diplomatically as I could and told her I thought ROCK BAND really had to stop. I didn’t mind if the kids wanted to do rock music or hip hop, but if they wanted to do it in the future, they needed to actually PERFORM the song themselves. No more lip sync-ing. No more air guitar. It was just getting ridiculous. I also asked her if she thought I was being too picky, and if she said yes, I was ready to bite my tongue. I mean: who am I to say if it’s ART or not, right?

But my friend agreed. She told me she’d been thinking the exact same thing. But she wanted to wait until the year was done before saying anything. Let’s finish out the year, she said, and then next year, we’ll put some guidelines in writing and start the year fresh. She was moving across the country in a month or two and wouldn’t be here to start the year fresh with me, which made it much easier on her to say “oh, let’s just wait till the new year starts” but she’d just had a baby too, so I didn’t want to press the issue. I was just glad she’d been thinking like me. That I wasn’t being crazy or mean by wanting to stop this weird un-artistic trend that had developed.

So, fast forward to last week. The new year is starting up. Another mom stepped into the place my friend vacated when she moved. This is a good friend, who also agreed that it was time to refocus our little arts program. I didn’t think people would be overly upset about it. So when the call came out from the leader of our little homeschool group to come to the planning meeting, I signed up and went to the meeting without thinking much about what I was going to say about Afternoon with the Arts.

Big mistake.

When it came time to talk about it, and I mentioned that we were going to be limiting the kinds of acts that the kids could do that year, all hell broke loose. The mom with the ROCK BAND kids got upset. I knew she would. She’s a mess and a generally unpleasant person. She’s made it clear on many occasions that no one has it harder than she does, that she doesn’t like her own children, and often chastises people for not helping her enough with whatever she thinks we should be helping her with. We all have spent the past year tiptoeing around her IMPENDING NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. Entire families have pulled away from her and her children in an act of self-preservation. I’d already had a couple problems with her in other activities, and I knew she’d take this badly. So, I said to her, Look, I’m not trying to single just your kids out. I’m not trying to mess with you. I’m just trying to bring this thing back to where it was supposed to be.

It didn’t go well at all. The fact that the HIP HOP kid is the son of the leader of the group didn’t help me much at all either. She got just as mad as the ROCK BAND mom. Then everyone started brainstorming OPTIONS for me. Like maybe we’d do a special ROCK BAND night. Or maybe the kids would have to take turns doing ROCK BAND. It all began to spiral out of control, and all their suggestions just added extra work to me, as the planner of the event. And I got mad. I bared my teeth a little. I told them if someone else wanted to do this thing, I’d be happy to pass it off on them. That it took an enormous amount of work to run the program. That we’d had a very specific vision for it way back when we started it and that the vision was getting lost in air guitar.

At that point, someone said, “you know… there are air guitar competitions all over the world… can you really honestly say that air guitar isn’t art?”

I almost cried right there. Picture it, if you can: there I was, the woman who’ s married to a rocket scientist who’s also a thrash metal bass player, a man who once took guitar lessons from John Petrucci, and who once was in a band that opened for Machine Head and Otep, sitting at a table in a Borders bookstore coffee shop listening to a bunch of “good Christian homeschooling mothers” defend the artistic genre of TEEN BOP RAPPER AIR GUITAR.

Somebody just fucking shoot me already.

More heated discussion ensued. I was no longer sure what I was trying to say or do anymore. I only knew I wanted to get the hell out of there. I threw my hands up in the air and said: “Okay!!! I stand corrected! If you think it’s art, then you decide. I leave it up to you as the parents to determine if your child is presenting something artistic.” It wasn’t what I wanted to say, but it was the only thing I could think of to say to MAKE THE CONVERSATION STOP. Then I made a ridiculous show of saying I felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave. And the whole meeting pretty much broke down (which made me feel worse) and I managed to just get out. I was 45 minutes in to an anxiety attack that would last about 16 hours.

I went home, told RegularDad the whole story, lay awake most of the night and wondered what the hell I was going to do.

“Have had no thoughts today…”

Excerpts from a letter written by F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter:

…I am glad you are happy—but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed page, they never really happen to you in real life.

All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

Have had no thoughts today, life seems composed of getting up a Saturday Evening Post story. I think of you and always pleasantly…

 Fitzgerald ends his letter to his daughter with this list of things not to worry about and things to think about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t wory about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

[From William J. Bennett’s The Book of Virtues for Young People, pp. 86-87]

I read this to the girls today during lunch, having come across Bennett’s book purely by chance at the library last week. It was one of those books I’d heard mentioned frequently in homeschooling circles, but never felt compelled to rush out and purchase. So, when I saw it on the shelves, I grabbed it and brought it home to peruse, and now we read a little from it every lunch hour. And now that I’ve read this letter, I do believe I’ll buy a copy for the house.

I can’t help but remember how my own father never gave me any advice, except with regards to what I should be reading. I’d send him a letter, and he’d write back: “Go out immediately and get yourself a copy of Madame Bovary.” Or he’d send a letter with a postage stamp with Hemmingway on it. “Look at the man on the stamp,” he’d write back. “Read him.” My father lived a life of missed opportunities, estrangement from family, homelessness and addiction. He was the Hemmingway Defense defined, you could say, and a failure as a parent in every possible way.

Except one, I suppose.

No room for arugula.

Way back when RegularDad bought our first house, one of the Great RegularAunt’s gave me a book on gardening as a housewarming gift. It was an old book, probably bought used at a yard sale, so I had a good time perusing the pictures and giggling over the oh-so-70’s outfits the gardeners were wearing in them. But I also spent a lot of time reading through the book, and wanting very much to give gardening a try.

But as luck would have it, it seemed every time I’d say to myself: okay, this year I’m gonna go for it, something would happen. We’d suddenly have to move, or I’d suddenly become pregnant, or I’d already have a new baby to nurse and care for, or some combination of any of those things. And the years went by and I’d often pick up that old gardening book and pour over the pages again, and think to myself: someday.

And as this past winter was coming to a close, I got out that old gardening book, and sat down with RegularDad and said: okay, this year I’m gonna go for it. And he smiled at me and we talked about it for a long time and we walked around our large neglected yard and talked some more and then we decided we needed to fence the whole thing in because of the little pool we put up every year, and then I said, this corner over here would be perfect for a vegetable garden.

garden-4-25

And we spent quite a few evenings walking around that little corner and sitting down with graph paper and planning and plotting, and then we decided on raised beds, and RegularDad said he’d be happy to build me whatever I needed. Then one night we sat down and ordered a whole mess of seeds from an organic supply close by, and over a series of weekends, RegularDad built me eight large garden beds, dug out the sod, and refilled them with dirt.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much work that turned out to be. Not just the actual carpentry and digging and filling, but the fact that he had to schedule it all around a very busy work schedule and the absolute RAINIEST spring ever on record, and in between doing the actual labor he had to deal diplomatically with one crazy neighbor, one crazy fence-builder, a less-than-ethical dirt supplier, and my many bouts of angst and worry and doubt.

You see, once we decided to do this project, and we told the kids about it, they of course had to tell everyone that we were putting in a garden. And when they told my mother and my mother-in-law about it, both of those women said in no uncertain terms: What are you kidding? That’s so much work! Why would you do that to yourself?

What they were thinking was probably something along the lines of: oh GOD. First she homeschools. Now she wants to grow her own food. WHAT NEXT????

And silly me, sometimes I’d buy it. I’d agree that this was ridiculous. That I’d never be able to grow anything. That I would fail. That I’d look so stupid at the end of it all, having made RegularDad do all this work, and there’d be nothing to show for it. And my mother and mother-in-law (the two people who should be NURTURING me in this process and sharing their knowledge of cooking and doing MOTHERLY type things like SUPPORTING ME IN THIS ENDEAVOR), they’d be lined up out front elbowing each other out of the way to be the first to say to me: See? I TOLD YOU SO. Didn’t I tell you? You can’t do this. You can’t do anything.

Because they’re THAT kind of mothers.

But RegularDad kept telling me to shake it off, and I remembered some very good advice a good old friend once gave me about gardening:

Just plant something.

So I did. I planted stuff. And at first, it didn’t look so impressive at all:

 garden-5-31a

And I spent quite a few anxious hours on the phone and online with some of the greatest women I’ve ever known, discussing the state of my dirt, the health of my little plants. And they all held my hand and told me that everything would be okay. That things would grow. Wait and see, they said. And take another picture in a month. So a month later I went out to the garden and snapped another shot:

garden-7-2

I was starting to feel a little better by then. I’d gotten some lettuce to grow and the corn was definitely knee-high by July, and we’d had fun with radishes. Even more important than that was the fact that all four of us would often end up out there after dinner working in the beds, or just playing in the vicinity. My 8-year-old suddenly became quite attached to the garden and often asked to go out there with me so that we could work together. We’d be busy digging or mulching and she’d say to me: What if nothing grows? And I’d say to her: Then we’ll try again.

RegularDad decided to build me a gorgeous little picket fence to go around it, and if there wasn’t any actual work to do with the plants, the kids would often go out there and help hold boards in between bouts of swinging on the swings or playing tag. And every time they found a worm, they’d bring it to me and I’d say: oh, go put that in with the squash. Or the cucumbers. Or wherever. And whenever they found a ladybug in the house, they’d make a big deal out of ushering it out to our garden and wishing it well.

And one day my mother-in-law showed up and said, so… show me the garden, and we went out there and walked around and talked about what was in there and she smiled and nodded as if she’d been the one who’d had to encourage me to do this all the while. And at one point she said, so are you growing any arugula? And I said, no, I wasn’t because I don’t really like arugula very much. I find it very bitter and prefer to not eat it. She expressed her disapointment at that, and then bent down to one corner of a bed and said: see… this here (using her arms to draw a wide box in the air)… this would  be perfect for my arugula. And in my head (not out loud, because the kids were clamoring around begging to harvest the last radishes) I was all: OH MY GOD. GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY GARDEN.

And then a couple weeks later, my mom showed up to have dinner with us, and she said to us: so… show me the garden. So, we all trooped out there again and walked around again and commented on what was out there AGAIN, and my mom was all: how wonderful! I’m so glad you finally decided to do this! And before I could even sputter any obscenities in my head, she trotted off to her car and came back with a tray of nearly-dead plants she’d picked up in a garden center, oh, I don’t know, three months earlier and then apparently hid in her trunk until that moment. To give to us as a gift. Oh, I know they’re not looking too good, she said to us. But I bet if you just put them in the dirt and give them a drink, they’ll perk right up.

Oh, my FREEKIN’ GAWD.

So, the point of this whole story is, I did it. I gardened. And it’s been a really great experience. So far, I’ve eaten the following things from my own garden: lettuces, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, corn and green beans.

Here’s what it looks like more recently:

garden-8-7a

garden-8-7

garden-8-7b

 

garden-8-7c

 

garden-8-7d

 Those are my cucumbers right above there. Can I tell you that I’m currently in cucumber heaven? Actually, I’m in a full medley of vegetable heaven, but the cucumbers are really my favorite this year. I planted two varieties, one of which was recommended only for greenhouses, but I thought I’d try anyway because I loved them so much, and they were so expensive at the store. And I watched, amazed, as they grew into these enormous giant vegetables with small thorns on them. I gingerly picked one about a month ago, and brought it inside. I washed the dirt off it, scrubbed the spines off it, and sliced it and, oh-so-timidly bit into it. And it was the most amazing cucumber I’d ever eaten. I couldn’t believe how much I’d been paying for store-bought cucumbers that were yellowed and scrawny and dry. The ones in my garden are like watermelon rinds.

There’s a patch of corn in the background there. A month ago it was knee-high. Now it’s seven feet tall. And tasty. There was this one afternoon when I went walking down the aisle to pick some beans, and I walked by the corn, and the aroma of those plants pollenating made me stop and just stand there for about five whole minutes.

Never in the past three years was I as glad to have quit smoking as I was at that moment. Because if I were still smoking, I probably would have missed that scent. And so I realized yet one more benefit to having this garden: it’s something new. Something I never smoked while doing. I’ll never be triggered by a wish to smoke in that garden. And more than once, when briefly wishing I still could grab a quick smoke, I’ve gone out into the garden instead and stood between the corn and the tomatoes and just breathed it in.

And last week, when my mother-in-law begged us to make the long drive to see her mother, crying and moaning to me on the phone that her mother wouldn’t stop calling her and crying and moaning about how no one comes to see her, I went out to the garden early in the morning and picked a small basketful of tomatoes and cucumbers and brought them up to RegularGreatGrandma’s. And I bit my tongue when my mother-in-law raved about how beautiful our garden is, and just pulled out a pile of knitting and kept myself happy with it while we had our visit.

garden-8-7e

For a first year garden, I’d say this has been a success. And next year will be even better. Not that I haven’t lost any crops. Because I have. I lost my early spinach. And I don’t think my watermelons are going to make it. Nor the pumpkins or squash. I didn’t get to start them as early as I would have liked, and they’re still very tiny. This has been an unusually rainy year and it seems some plants do well with it but others don’t. But I didn’t lose it all. And each year, I’ll try again and see what I get. It’s amazing how fast I’ve gotten used to just wandering outside to pick something to make for dinner. What a gift this is.

I’d orginally planned to blog about my garden project slowing during the course of the summer. But then, I lost my watch, and blogging took a backseat to both looking for it and to actually being out in my garden. Gardening. But again, I do apologize to those of you who have waited so patiently to see these pictures, and to see how it all turned out, not to mention the length of this post.

You were right, cowgirls. It all came together. And now I’m hooked.

In 20 years, we’ll look back and say: “Oh yeah, that was the summer Mom lost her watch!”

See, the thing is… I lost my watch.

I lost it way back in June. The kids were swimming and I was cleaning the back porch. It was hot and I was sweeping the porch, dust and grit floating in the air around me, and I was sweating a bit and thinking about getting on a suit and getting in the pool with the kids for a while to cool off, and my watch was sort of STICKING to my wrist in that way and at some point I went inside the house and went into some room or other to do something and I remember taking off my watch and putting it down on top of a little pile of… oh, I dunno… junk, toys, something… and I can see myself doing that and I can SEE the watch tumbling down the pile a little bit, and I can CLEARLY REMEMBER saying to myself: don’t leave your watch there, dummy, you’ll lose it for sure.

But I was hot and gritty from sweeping the porch and I just wanted to cool off fast, so I left it there, in that place where I was SURE to lose it and went and got my bathing suit on and went for a little swim with the kids.

And guess what? I haven’t seen it since.

And I LOVED that watch. RegularDad got it for me a year ago and it’s one of those uber-cool solar-powered things so I’d never have to get the battery replaced in it ever!

Sigh… and now it’s gone.

And I’ve thought about it and thought about it and retraced my steps again and again, and I can’t find it anywhere. I’ve checked all the likely places. The most common places where little piles of junk crop up, and nothing.

And then my camera battery went dead.

And every time I’d come up here to my office to get the charger to charge the battery so I could post some pictures of things I want to blog about, I’d think to myself: hey, I wonder if my watch is in THAT PILE RIGHT THERE? and I’d start looking and then I’d wander down to check the top of the microwave but it’s still not there, and then I’d wander into the bathroom and check there because I was about to change into a bathing suit when I took off the watch so maybe I left it in there. But nope. (I even let the trash can in there pile up for a quite a while because I was afraid to throw it out because maybe my watch had fallen into it, and it took quite a while for me to find the spare 10 minutes needed to dig through that trash, and let me tell you what a THRILLING 10 minutes that was for me. And guess what? It wasn’t in there.)

And then I’d forget all about charging the camera battery, and by the time I remembered it and realized I hadn’t done it, it would be time to take the kids somewhere or cook something or CHECK THE LAUNDRY ROOM BECAUSE MAYBE MY WATCH IS IN THERE SOMEWHERE. I know I already checked there, but hey, you never know. It could magically reappear there someday. Maybe. And by the time that was all done, it would be time to put the kids to bed, which seems to somehow TAKE FOREVER AND A MILLENIUM THESE DAYS and by the time that was done, I’d be too tired to do anything but sit on the couch and look for old House reruns, which I can’t seem to find anywhere lately. Dammit.

So, I’d say to myself, okay, I’ll charge the camera battery tomorrow. And then I’ll blog something. HONEST I will. PROMISE. Total Freekin’ Pinky Swear.

And right now, I’m in my office and the camera battery is charging, but it’s not ready, so I have no pictures. But I felt like I sort of owe you some sort of an explanation of where the hell I’ve been all summer, and the answer is, quite simply:

I’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR MY WATCH.

God help me, in between the normal craziness that’s an average day around here, what with all the new curriculum to be ordered and the myriad social events my kids simply MUST ATTEND and the ubiquitous dishes and laundry that need washing, that’s how I’ve spent my summer vacation.

I’d tell you more about all the OTHER things we’ve been doing this summer, but… well… wait a minute… I see a pile of stuff over there in the corner that I’ve haven’t checked yet and—-

Unfrazzling the frazzled.

Last week I took the kids through the McDonald’s drive-through. (I know, I know – a homeschooler eating fast food – freaky ain’t it? Next thing you know, we’ll be cursing like sailors and playing video games.)

Anyway. So, it’s dinner hour, and the kids are a bit of a sopping mess after swimming lessons, and RegularDad’s working late or bowling with his boss, or something, so I’m all: “Hey, who wants McDonald’s?” and reveling in those spare few moments when I am THE GREATEST MOM IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE, and I pull into a mildly long line  at our local McD’s and wait a while.

Now, mildly long lines at the drive through don’t bug me all that much, because it gives me time to take the girls’ orders, and let me just say that the decision between a Hamburger Happy Meal or a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal followed by the agony of not being allowed to get soda because it’s not the weekend followed by the interminable silence that is my 5-year-old deciding between chocolate milk and apple juice can take a FREEKIN’ ETERNITY. So a long line can sometimes be a bit of a boon sometimes, is all I’m sayin’.

ANYWAY.

So, we get up to the speaker and upon hearing that age-old metallic garbled welcome-to-mcdonalds- can-I-take-your-order, I give the kids’ orders, and then I ask a question about something on the menu, something that’s just a dollar. I dunno what. Just something. And there’s this utter silence at the other end — like the girl in there fell into some BLACK HOLE OF UTTER DOOM AND OBLIVION because I didn’t just say And gimme a #4 with Coke — and then someone else gets on the line and answers my question and we move on to the payment window, and finally up to the next window where I’m handed a few bags of “food” and I pull up a little bit so the car behind me won’t be delayed, and CHECK THE BAGS.

Because long experience has taught me that you never just drive away from the McDonald’s drive-through without CHECKING THE BAGS. Because they always forget the sauce. Or the straws. Or the fries. Or something.

This time, HORROR OF HORRORS, they’d forgotten the TOYS!

MOM!!!!!!!!!! my 5-year-old cried. THERE’S NO TOY!!!!!!

(AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!! Let Loose The Hounds of Hell!!!!!!!!!)

What? I said. What do mean? No toy?

Then my 8-year-old said: I don’t have one either.

And so much for the drive-through. We parked the car and went inside and waited 10 minutes for someone to help us. There was only one register open, and the girl working that register was obviously, PAINFULLY new at this job. She had someone shadowing her, telling her exactly what to say, which buttons to push, where to find the apple pies, etc, etc, etc.

And you could SEE IT on her face: how frantic she was. What a nighmare her afternoon had been, and that the evening was probably going to be at least just as bad, if not worse. I suspected that if I were to elbow my way to the front of the line and wave my receipt and demand a couple of Happy Meal Toys for Girls, she’d have just collapsed onto the floor in a sobbing teenage ruin, and who needs that on their conscience?

So, I waited in the regular line with my two anxious daughters, watching this frazzled teenager learning valuable lessons about life and capitalism and the importance of a good college education. And eventually, we made it up to the front there and I showed her my receipt and asked for our toys and then we left.

“Thanks, Mom!” the girls said to me, skipping out to the car with their treasures. “You’re the BEST!!!”

They didn’t tack on that part about the WHOLE UNIVERSE, but that’s okay. The universe is expanding anyway. It’s better to not be compared to things that are expanding these days. I am 40 now, after all.

Tonight, I ran out to the grocery store to pick up salad fixings, some cauliflower, and milk (things that will definitely not earn me the GREATEST MOM IN THE ENTIRE EXPANDING UNIVERSE AWARD), and I jumped into the express line and proceeded to wait quite a while because someone up there had written an actual check to pay for her items, and it practically made the clerk’s head explode. He had to type in all these codes and numbers and it wasn’t working at all. He tried it three times, and he couldn’t get it to work. And he was starting to panic. He kept trying, and after every failed attempt, he’d look over his shoulder to where another clerk was working a line and say: “Hey man! I really NEED your help over here!”

By then I was doing that special crane dance: where you start stretching your neck around to see if anyone else is open, because this could take FOREVER. But the only other guy open was the guy that was going to end up over here helping this dude out, so why bother moving, right? Besides, it was the express lane. The lady in front of me had maybe 7 items. And let’s face it, a trip to the store alone is like a mini-vacation anyway. Why rush things? So, I waited. I read some of the Enquirer’s headlines. Patrick Swayze’s not looking too good these days. It’s very sad.

After a while, and without the other guy’s help at all, this dude managed to figure it out. He was so relieved! “You’ve got to hit the pound sign at the end,” he confessed. Ah, yes, we all nodded sagely. The elusive pound-sign maneuver. It’s gotten the best of all of us at one time or another, hasn’t it? But, we all smiled and cheered for him a little. We could tell he was new at this job. He thanked all of us individually for being so kind and patient. And when I whipped out my Visa card instead of a check book at the end, you could tell it totally made his night.

So, there’s me: being patient. Me: being nice.

Isn’t it nice?

yeah…

What I wish for, is that I could remember how to act nice like this when it’s the kids who are frazzled. I wish that I could remember that when they’re freaking out, it’s not at all unlike what these two people were going through. That in their little heads, there’s this weird buzzing sound, and nothing seems to be connecting right. And they don’t need me adding to their stress by being impatient. Or yelling at them and sending them to timeout.

That’s what I wish.

In which I envison a great many peanut butter sandwiches in the near future.

flu

Yesterday afternoon, I took my 5-year-old to the doctor because her cold was going on Day 8 and wasn’t showing any signs of improvement whatsoever.  We ended up getting the doctor that drives me batty, the one who reminds me a bit of Dr. House. He doesn’t limp, and he’s not so OBVIOUSLY rude to people, but he’s brilliant enough that he just does not understand how to talk to a 5-year-old during an appointment. In fact, he barely talks to the 5-year-old at all. He talks to me, and he says things like “Oh man, THIS is really gonna be a TOUGH one!” when my 5-year-old shows signs of distress at the thought of a stick or a Q-tip swab anywhere near her throat (which is so sore that she can barely talk or swallow).

What my 5-year-old hears isn’t so much that she’s the tough one. It’s that something will be DIFFICULT during this visit. Which translates into something will be PAINFUL during this visit. Her distress increases visibly.

What I think when I hear this sort of thing is: WHY did this guy ever get into pediatrics in the first place? What I want to SAY is “Dude, do you even HAVE children?”

What I wish is that I could have magically transported our entire pediatric facility from Colorado along with us when we moved, so that the girls would have the same doctors they’d had ever since they first popped out onto this unsuspecting world. The doctors that knew how to talk to them when they felt sick. The ones that looked right at them when they came through the door and gave them a commiserating frown/rueful smile and said: “Not feeling so good, huh? Well, let’s have a look-see.” and then just went ahead and did what needed to be done without pausing to comment on how difficult it might be, just transferring them from the exam table to my lap and encircling arms for things that might prove uncomfortable, and GETTING IT DONE.

But no. None of them thought uprooting their entire practice was a reasonable idea when I told them we were moving. So I’m stuck with this guy, who is apparently BRILLIANT and the ultimate Go-To-Guy when your kid has got some serious rare disease. But apparently, if your kid is just plain old sick, and happens to have some wax in her ear so he can’t really see if there’s an infection in there, and happens to have this aversion to Strep tests, he’s really not all that good.

And in the end, he simply decided Not To Do The Tests. He would give her antibiotics anyway at this point, so he didn’t see the reason for putting her through an ear cleaning and a Strep test that might or might not have resulted in a prescription for Amoxicillin. He saw how worried my kid was, and apparently didn’t want to deal with it. So, we lucked out, I guess, and just got a prescription. At first, I was all: Gee that’s nice of him. Maybe he’s not so bad after all. But then not ten minutes after he’d explained why he wasn’t going to do the test, he gave us a mini-lecture about how we couldn’t ALWAYS EXPECT to get off this easy. That NEXT TIME, she’d probably have to have the tests.

At that point I told him, as nicely as possible, that if he felt the procedures were necessary, we certainly would do them. That he was the doctor. That I relied on his professional opinion about these things. And that if my daughter showed stress or reluctance I was RIGHT THERE ON HAND, IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE  to help her through it. That I considered it my JOB to help my child through difficult medical moments, just as I considered it HIS JOB to tell me what was required.

He gave me a prescription and we left. Without doing any tests.

I guess it would be prudent to mention at this point that I, also, was still dealing with the very same symptoms as my 5-year-old, which made it very hard for me to maintain any sort of perspective or patience regarding this whole doctor visit. And if he was any other doctor, I’d have called the office to complain when we got home. But considering that he’s the uber-brilliant guy there, I figure it would be bad karma to, like, alienate him or something. So, I took my kids, the prescription, their various Webkinz that they brought in with them, all my own personal cold symptoms and got into my car and left.

And this morning, still feeling pretty crappy, I decided to stop pretending I wasn’t really sick, and called my own doctor’s office. I told them I suspected I have a sinus infection, and they said to come on in. So, I took my kids, their Webkinz toys, some Goldfish crackers, and all my symptoms down to my doctor’s office a couple of hours ago, where I was informed by my kindly young doctor that it’s not a sinus infection.

It’s the flu.

“The flu?” I said to him. “Are you sure? I thought the flu would be one of those I-can’t-even-get-out-of-bed-because-of-the-utter-agony type things. I’m up and around. How can it be the flu?”

“Well,” he said. “Not everyone gets the exhaustion. In fact, it’s almost worse when they don’t, because they tend to think it’s just a cold and go about their business, and it takes longer to recover that way.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Did you get a flu shot this year?” he asked.

“Well… no.” I said.

“Definitely the flu,” he said, and started scribbling like mad on his prescription pad. “I’m gonna give you some Amoxicillin along with everything else I’m prescribing, just in case, but chances are, it won’t make a difference. Go home and rest.”

We’re home now. And resting as best we can.

Except for one event tomorrow that we simply cannot back out of, we’re cancelling everything for the next week or so.

I’ve decided that Mr. Uber-Brilliant Doctor Who Never Should Have Been A Pediatrician doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. I’ve decided to treat my 5-year-old’s cold as if it were the flu. Sure, she’ll take the damn antibiotics. Just in case. But chances are, it’s the flu, and we’ve just got to get through it.

I’ll be back when I’m on the other side of all this.


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