Wednesday, December 30, 2009

that innocent baby

Okay, tonight we were down in the office working, and far away, we could hear a child’s frightened voice hollering, “Dad! Daaad! Dad!” We ran. The possibilities are infinite.

All the commotion was in the family room, in the bathroom specifically. We could hear water pouring, and sure enough the radiator was spraying hot water out the top valve. There was enough pressure it was like a wide open faucet, spraying all the way over against the wall.

The valve was laying on the floor….and most suspiciously, so was a toy wrench. Well, we started laughing. Jay stuck his thumb over the leak and grabbed the valve and was able to thread it back on, even using the toy wrench to tighten it back up again.

We called for Tim to come out of hiding. He came creeping slowly with very big eyes, looking sheepish. We need to talk to you. He said, “I was wondering what that part did.” ??? Are you for real, Kid?

I mentioned what if he had done this when Dad, or even both of us, weren’t home? What would the kids do then? This would be a very bad problem with no dad around. Please leave your hands off things. This isn’t a good idea. He nodded.

Then we told him he would have to get some towels and wipe down the walls and the floor all where the water flew. He nodded and ran to get towels to take care of it. Oh my. This is the child who also would flush tooth brushes and was so excited when Dad had to take the toilet up and shine a flashlight into the innards to find the toothbrushes and remove them. (That was a long week.) Actually, he was born by surprise in our bathtub, now that I think about it….maybe it’s just destiny. (snickering...) love, Val

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

okay, that would be here

di·shev·eled or di·shev·elled
(d -sh v ld)
1. Being in loose disarray; unkempt, as hair or clothing.

2. Marked by disorder; untidy: a disheveled pile of books on the library table.

Yeah, well, that's this house tonight, even with little glowing candle lights in all the windows. It looks so pretty, who knows what disaster lurks beyond.... We had a goood day... probably too good, ending with three rounds of Catch Phrase and some zithromax and codeine cough syrup for the legions of coughers.

Tomorrow we're going to clean up this place, put away all the clean clothes stacked all over the diningroom, and in other ways too, get our Crap Together. (As if crap all together is actually a good thing. I think an assembly of crap could honestly smell very bad. It may be better dispersed. Widely.)

They're arguing now in the hallway, as to who is sleeping upstairs. Everyone has a bed! Of their very own! (whether they choose to sleep there or not, hello.) GO TO DAMNED BED. We've got beds galore, find one. cough, cough, cough, cough.

...cough... ahem....ahAAAAAAKKKKK, cough, cough... love, Val

Monday, December 28, 2009


the dual action light sabre!! thank you! grandma and grandpa!!

Tonight we and all our grown kids enjoyed dinner at a nearby restaurant--John and Dannell's Christmas gift to us. It was lovely.

It's a lumpy transition from Christmas into 2010... and yet our wonderful old friends will be here on New Year's Day to celebrate, same as every year. It's colder than hell, just like always. We'll flop into the New Year and get ourselves pointed forward again. We survived 2009! Woo Hoo, right? I'm being sarcastic, but I'm not entirely joking. We really do feel lucky, even as we scramble around desperately trying to wrap up the year

Tonight was very special. We had l.c. with us. He's at that age that's hard to leave with babysitters. He's mobile enough to be extremely dangerous, and too little to understand much about that. My daughter in law amused him while she ate--eating right handed, and she's a left handed person--by letting the child swirl his tiny fingers around in a wine glass half full of water. That amused him more than his own toys, my watch, or my car keys. We all passed him around and wrassled him, feisty elf. Beautiful elf.

Heidi held him up over her head backward to look at himself in the mirror above the table. She said the things we always say to babies in the mirror: "You see that guy? Do you like him? I do."

james and l.c. --his first christmas

When we arrived back at home, t.c. was wild to get in the bathtub with Julia and shampoo some Barbie dolls. Of course they used the most expensive salon shampoo on the ledge. Barbie is looking most gorgeous tonight. When they finally were dragged from the tub, t.c. told Tim, "Now you take your bath and we'll watch you!" Tim giggled, no thanks. No. No audience, but thank you. I'll take a bath tomorrow, actually. By myself. Alone. He's getting so grown up.

In that same spirit of goofy, discordant gratefulness and very much happiness, here are a few photos from the holiday. Best wishes to you in the new year. love always, Val

opening gifts

her snow globe ornament

a game of mancala

a lot of laughing, and most likely some terribly bad coughing

b.g.'s first christmas

Saturday, December 26, 2009

three faces and a question

three faces:

We had a great Christmas, very fun.

reading with grandma

These are pictures from Christmas morning, and the question: What is up with these kids?

Notice their pajamas. We have tons of pajamas, pass them down kid to kid. They were sold in matching sets--tops and bottoms. The other kids wore them as matching pairs. These three never do. Never. This goes on every day. And I have no idea why. love, Val

the basketball shirt with the snowman pants

the silky summer top with the knit pants

the strangest of all: easter bunny pants with the christmas top

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

from Christmas, 2006:

There comes a time where you realize you must wake up. The snooze alarm keeps blasting at intervals and it’s just time to get up. What I thought was real was not, and so I faced the fact that I was pretending, living in a space created in my imagination.

It was a little startling to discover this, but it’s also freeing to know the truth. It has allowed me to embrace what’s good, because most of it actually is, and to feel clear about what didn’t make sense before. It also gives some sense of truth to realize that the person at the center of my life is me. Girls, realize: All the kids and family you wait on, all the people clamoring for this and that—it’s YOUR life. You own it.

A couple years ago a dear friend died, and she took with her a lot… my sense of security in the world, the history we shared, the complete safety and peace she brought to my life, the laughter (and hard times too) we shared, the meals she cooked—chicken and dumplings, minestrone, bbq chicken and potato salad….her delicious Betty Rubble snicker, our shared lust for John Travolta, her unpretentious and completely beautiful self.

She ate many meals at my house too, but I don’t remember those. It’s her cooking I miss. We loved each other’s children, and behind their backs laughed at how comical they were. I know she took me as much for granted as I did her, and at first when she died I wished we hadn’t taken each other for granted. Now I’m glad that we were so comfortable together that we did.

As I went through the emotions of grieving, I realized that none of my other friends were going to fill the gaping hole that this one had left. I miss her so much! And later it occurred to me that I had the power within me to be the friend to myself that she had been to me. I didn’t need someone outside of myself to do it. On a July afternoon a few days before Julia was born, I stood by myself at her grave in the beating sun and looked down at a pile of dirt. It was miserably hot and ants crawled over the dirt and that bothered me.

There weren’t even tears, it felt so overly bright and desolate. And then I realized I could hear the chirpy voices of kids playing on the water slide at the community pool beyond the hedge, the very one she had take our girls swimming at. In the air was her voice, “Let’s get out of here.” I don’t feel her around me much, and her sister has said the same. We’re both glad of that. She’s gone on to better things. But that day, she was right there at my shoulder.

One of my friends is always preoccupied, only ever available on her own terms. I don’t resent that anymore, and don’t feel inadequate or insecure when she blows me off. It’s her, doing her thing. I appreciate what she brings to my life and don’t blame her for not being what she isn’t.

Others are very busy with their own lives, and I’m not sad about it any more. I have a life too, and though connections with other women have always been a lifeline to me, I really can be a lifeline to myself, and more and more I am figuring this out.

I also have a husband who can be moody and exuberant, a roller coaster of moods, which is partly why my friends were such an anchor for me, and I relied on them way too much to steady my course. I used to ride this with him, feeling like there was some validity to it, like he knew something I did not.

He doesn’t, and I adore him, but since my friend died, I’m off the ride. He’s free to have his moods, but I’m not getting tugged along. He thoughtfully buys me Fostoria cake plates, pretty jewelry, and chocolate. He’s generous, huggable, devoted to our kids, has a rowdy sense of humor, and treats me with great sweetness most of the time, and I know he loves me the best he can, the best any mortal really could.

Moody as he may be, his integrity frames his life. He’s reliable and decent, and he makes me happy. I am long past wishing he were someone else, some perfect romance-novel hero of my imagination. Whatever: Time to grow up, Val. You’re into middle age now. Who he is, is nothing short of great, even if we drive each other crazy some days.

Tonight was our family Christmas party. Years ago, we moved our party to the 23rd to avoid conflict with other family parties, and it was just convenience that motivated it. How I did not realize what genius this would later become! And what is special about the 23rd anyway? Nothing. We can do this on the 22nd or the 26th or 27th just as well. It’s a state of mind, an appreciation of the spirit of Christmas, a being togetherness that drives it, and that’s all we need.

Tonight though, today, the whole day, all week, I’ve been melancholy, which isn’t really like me. I’m not sure why. I was angry (not toward her, but inside) with a very elderly aunt who is always demanding. She always has been, and I always give her a pass, so why I’d fume about it now makes no sense, but I did! I was a tad bit irate! And why so blue all week? I have no idea.

After our family Christmas party, as I waited for Julia to fall asleep, I sat here and viewed a New York Times photo montage of joyful people –the montage was called this, and I watched the photos flip by and they could just as well have been photos from MY house, tonight. My beauteous grandbaby in his pajamas—the puppy pajamas I gave him as a gift and my daughter in law was thoughtful enough to put on him, literally brought tears to my eyes as I hugged him tonight, squeezing that precious rascally baby against my chest, kissing his cheeks. (He lets me. He’s generous like that.)

And the photos flipped by of laughing people and I pictured Dan, age 26, sending matchbox cars sailing down a plastic runway and Tim, age four, at the end in a fuzzy Dora the Explorer chair with his mouth open to catch them. (Impossible.) And Dan’s doubled-over laughter as the cars sailed over Tim’s head and into the college-girl sisters beyond, busy playing Mexican Train.

There were meatballs and shrimp, cheesy potatoes and salad… cookies with sprinkles and the most divine handmade gingerbread. The grand-dogs ran wild, jumping off our normally sedate sofas, tearing up wrapping paper and stealing treats… tomorrow is church and the more somber remembrance of the religious meaning of Jesus’ birth. But today is our day and it’s goofy and fun.

Eventually Julia dozed off, full of my milk, dolly in her arms, and I went to Tim’s room and found his dad… everybody’s dad, my own crazy husband, asleep on the pillows next to him and I kissed his ear and thanked him for the beautiful necklace, waking him up as I nibbled. I don’t know why I’m in a funk this Christmas, but it’s certainly not lack of joy or blessing in this house. Maybe it’s just more change, all the time change? or the headlines? or just life? Love and good wishes to all of you in the year 2007.

Monday, December 21, 2009

i don't even know

Today I talked to Alicia about this again, and she told me the reason they take this round about approach is because then the dog jumps off the bed as if it's her own idea. (I gazed at Little b.g. asleep, long eyelashes against his cheeks, his apple red cheeks, the little pretend ears on his hood, and I was dazzled, as Little Jay says.) They don't want to hurt the dog's feelings by kicking her off the bed.

They've seen Lady and the Tramp.

My mother was hysterical. "I thought Vikings and Norweigans were tough!" Together, we howled, her on the phone. I was in the basement plumbing office, underground, subterranian, under flourescent lights, wrapping Santa gifts.

Oh gosh. It's a pretty good story, but I'm actually really sort of glad. A person who would slap himself, or a woman who would fake cough on behalf of a dog's feelings are people you can trust. Good grief. love, Val

Sunday, December 20, 2009

a real dumb story

Tonight Dan and Alicia were talking about b.g. sleeping in the middle half the night and how that’s evolved, and another kid asked about the dog—their Sheltie. Where does she sleep then? She sleeps at the foot of the bed too, and it gets crowded. Dan said, “When we want her off the bed we start coughing or slap ourselves.”

My brain did a double-take. WHAT??? What in the world?? Dan clarified, “Yeah, then she jumps down. Actually, she only jumps off if Alicia coughs, so she has to do it.”

I asked what happened if they slapped each other rather than slapping themselves? At this point, I could hardly speak and was wiping my tears. Alicia was rolling her eyes like, “I know how ridiculous this is.”

Dan said they hadn’t tried that.

Okay, that’s a real dumb story. Love, Val

Saturday, December 19, 2009

the band aid fairy

Okay so his hands are sore. It’s cold and the air is dry, the tools are cold, it’s all a misery when the temps don’t rise above 10 degrees F. My hands are in too much water also, and I get those same cracks and exquisite piercing pains. Fingers are so sensitive.

He fell asleep across our bed, watching the news. I was still doing laundry and picking up, folding clothes, wrapping up the night, but I saw him dozing and asked to see his hands.

He held them up in a gesture like, here they are, and fell asleep again. I went over them finger by finger, the palm, the sides, with ointment and band aids.

In the morning he kissed me good-bye and whispered, “Someone bandaged my hands while I was sleeping.”

Yeah, I’m the band aid fairy. That was me. You didn’t care. It made me laugh.

A few weeks ago I woke up and he was kissing my calves. I said, “WHAT is going on?” He crawled up to my face and laughed, “I’m trying to leave for work.” Yeah, well, GO. Sigh. He’s a grandpa now, you’d think he’d be past all that. Life is good. It’s never been perfect, that’s true. Work is unpredictable. Taxes are due. Customers pay or they don't. Bills are always on our heels. But we’ve got each other. Love, Val

Friday, December 18, 2009

the last christmas program

Thursday was the Christmas program at preschool. This is the last program I’ll ever attend as a mom there. My baby, Julia, will be a kindergartener next year, and preschool will be over. All ten of them went to this school. Our first year was in 1982, and we’ve had a child there pretty much every year since. I was surprised I’m not sad, and relieved that I'm not. I always wondered how it would feel when it came to that LAAAST ONNNE. It feels good, perfect, happy, right.

Last summer I sat on a bench with a young friend, watching Julia swimming with her dad. I told her Julia had been born shortly after our 25th wedding anniversary, and I was glad I hadn’t known about her ahead—how big our family was destined to become--because I could not have waited TWENTY-FIVE years for this one. She is the maraschino cherry on top of a giant sundae of family.

Being an aunt isn’t always easy on her. She hates sharing her mom. She doesn’t like it when t.c. overpowers her, which he’s doing less and less as he gets older, but for a while it was a regular thing. I thought about this and realized if I had a nephew who outweighed me and was perfectly willing to take me to the ground to get his way, I probably wouldn’t be happy to see him all the time either. Especially if he seemed to have a special claim to my mother’s heart.

So this brings us to b.g. whom we babysit occasionally. He comes for the whole day and it’s just lovely. We do nothing but baby all day. Well, Julia is less than thrilled. As I told some friends, we had b.g here today and Julia admits she doesn't like him. "He smells bad." This is untrue. He smells like baby wash and milk and gorgeous-ness. She crawls around on my person like some kind of feline while I'm trying to feed her nephew a bottle....

The night before he came, she asked me, “Do you love b.g. more than you love me?” Sigh. That would not be possible. I laughed and asked her who she loved the most? Me or Grandma? Well, she pondered on that and said she couldn’t decide. “I actually love you and all my grandmas.” Well, yeah. It’s kind of like that. More isn’t how it works, and aren’t we ever glad. Love, Val

away she goes

an ending, a beginning

Kirsten's graduation ceremony is on Sunday! She says it's a little surreal, hard to believe it's real.

She's apologizing for how boring Sunday's ceremony will be. I love graduations. They're not boring to me at all. I listen to all the blah, blah speeches, and read all the names in the program, all the beautiful names mothers gave newborns 20 years ago. I know I can be a sap, but these are touching to me. My own is Kirsten Elisabeth, a perfectly Scandinavian name that suits her. There's something in graduations-- so alive with potential, so much happiness in the air. I'm glad she's walking.

Yeah, those graduations. She and I were talking about this. I didn't walk in my high school graduation. I graduated early, in January, and at the end of the day, emptied my locker, picked up John from his sweet sitter, went home and cooked supper. It felt very anti-climactic.

But by May I was quite pg again and we’d bought a house. It seemed like ancient history to put on a gown and walk.

Nursing school graduation too, I didn't care about. I was having a baby in a few weeks and far more interested in that.

College though--I did participate in the ceremony finally. Of course I was pregnant then too... Tim was doing flips and the whole time, but it was a nice night.

It was right after my 40th birthday, so there was that milestone too, and I wore a beautiful black velvet dress and high heels. It was a great night, wonderful, wonderful.

Then I went home and sat in the sun, toasted my belly brown and grew the most beautiful baby in the world who came spinning out like a starfish into our bathtub. I have nothing but wonderful memories of that whole summer.

I've always admired you Kirsten, and hope your graduation means as much to you as it does to me, and that you'll look back on this winter as an amazing point in your life. Love, Mom

Throwing coins in the Trevi fountain in Rome

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

what's 8 + 9?

At bedtime Saturday night, Tim and Julia were super silly, laughing, kicking around. We yelled for them to get to sleep, and then I overheard this:

Tim: “Julia, Julia, want to hear a joke?”

Julia, giddy laughing: “Yeah.”

More laughing, then Tim: “What’s 8+9?”

Julia, still giggling and kicking around: “I don’t know!”

Tim: “Weiner.”
More laughing.

Boy jokes are so predictable.

He wants Julia out of his room too, and upstairs in her own bed. Last night he asked me, “Isn’t she big enough to sleep by herself?” Julia agreed to go upstairs if we’d help her find her GameBoy.

A couple weeks ago I was sitting on the bed, talking about all the good things that had happened to him that day. At the end, I pointed to Julia, asleep on the pillow, and said, “And you’ve got this cute sister.”

He looked at her and kind of wrinkled his nose. “Yeah. When she’s asleep she’s cute. Awake? A devil.”

This morning I got him down by the freezer in the basement… (Moo Jrs in there—I swore off those a while ago—too addictive. You can’t stop at just one, even though you should.) Anyway, he had his Moo Jr. and I hugged him off the floor and told him the whole family is better with him in it. He said, “Yah, I know!” love, Val

Monday, December 14, 2009

school? why?

Yesterday my daughter in law and I were talking about t.c. and what a nut he is. His mom and I are a little worried about when he goes to school, hoping he gets teachers who appreciate him. I hate that he'll have to go at all, be molded by that place. I'd love to see him just continue on at home being his own crazy self.

I don't know how circumstances will evolve, but I doubt it'll include homeschool. His mom is a teacher and she'll make sure he isn't too squashed by any mean teachers, but the system itself isn't kind.

But here's the thing: Elementary school does not matter. It's irrelevant for educational purposes at that age, and it's an unhealthy place to spend your childhood.

I didn't think any of this when I started homeschooling. We began because of dyslexia, though at first we didn't even know what we were dealing with.

I look around at the kids I know who are in school, and some are doing well. But that PLACE takes a toll on them, how they perceive themselves. It's hard on all of them, and it's sad knowing that too.

They shouldn't be subjected to everyone else's opinion of them all the time--grades on their papers, grades on their math worksheets, judgement judgement all the time, dancing to everyone else's tune..the social pecking order and fear of humiliation.

In the school system others tell them who they are--they don't really have the room to discover that on their own. And then there's all how they're SUPPOSED to be, and if they aren't that way, then tough luck.

I have some squirrely boys and a couple calm ones. The stuff that has been said to me about my squirrels absolutely stuns me. Have they no idea what little boys are like? If they were actually being fresh little brats, I would understand. But they're not. They're just squirrels. I have to protect them from old bags with no sense of humor and no patience.

(This kid is actually one of the calm ones.)

Oprah had a show a few years ago about mixed race kids and how they felt about themselves and race. Mariah Carey was one of the guests. I can't remember the others. But as I listened to them talking, it emerged that none of them felt uncomfortable among all their various colors of relatives. Where they felt like they didn't fit was at SCHOOL.

And the great guru Oprah sat there nodding, of course, of course. Nobody questioned school itself, it's value, or its role. I wish those conversations would happen, how it's safe to be a squirrel at home, to be your own weird self, to learn your own rhythms and preferences in peace, and figure out how to get things done as YOU. love, Val

Sunday, December 13, 2009

sunday afternoon

It was a great afternoon. Soup's on the stove, and the Christmas cards are ready to go. Tomorrow is Monday. love, Val

Friday, December 11, 2009

the fun continues... all night long

Okay, last night we went to bed, same as usual, set the alarm for 6 am. I crawled over him and hit the snooze button a couple times, and then thought, “I HAVE to get up! Ugh, I’m sooo tiiired.”

I wandered to the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror. Gawd, I look like Einstein, except not the moustache. But the bags under the eyes, the wild hair… yah. I remembered my clothes were in the dryer, grabbed my watch and headed out to the kitchen where the dryer is.

As I buckled my watch I noticed it said 3:15. “Oh sheeze. Something’s wrong with my watch! Aww, I just had a battery put in it, that’s not right.” But in the kitchen it was 3:15 also. I fetched my clothes and headed back through the dining room. The cuckoo clock said 3:15. Hmmm.

In our bedroom it was 6:15. I checked my cell phone, which is controlled by external forces. 3:15. We had to re-set the clock, but I didn’t even care. I was so glad I could go back to bed for three more hours. I happily threw myself against his very warm, space-heater of a back and fell right to sleep.

And then at 4:15 there was someone next to the bed. Someone kind of small and narrow, with dark hair hanging down in the shadows and BIG dark eyes. It was Lydia. She kind of scared me.

I said, “What’s going on?”

She said, “I had a very bad dream.”

“So you want to get in here?”


Sigh. And there I was sandwiched between a nine year old and her dad and shortly it was way too warm. And there was no room for my arms, so I fell asleep with them over my head, but then woke up because my hands were numb, and thought, “Oh this suuuucks.” I did squiggle around enough to get my arms some circulation again. Unh. I’m really tired today. Numb and dumb tired, can’t follow conversations clearly. It was 15 degrees out, should have felt warmer than yesterday, but I was really cold all day and my bed’s been calling me.

Julia cutting cookies

That looks a tiny bit suspicious.

I had to do some holiday volunteer work with my office this afternoon, and my sister baby sat the kids. This is the email I sent her last night: “… and the kids when I told them they were going to your house to get babysat, you'd have thought they'd won a free trip to Hawaii. We were rolling out Christmas cookies, and they were jumping and cheering, flour all over their shirts. You're quite the celebrity. (Not in a Tiger Woods way. You know what I mean.) As soon as I get home and they are dressed, we'll be on the way. Thank you for doing this. Love, Val” She did not disappoint, never has. The kids had a riot at her house, and she’s generous and good natured about all their squirrely weirdness.

The main rule is absolutely no licking anything. I still caught Jule licking the top of a shaker.

After supper we frosted the sugar cookies, and tomorrow is the Christmas party with the cousins and my family out of town. Should be fun. Time for a bath. Time for bed. Love, Val