Monday, November 30, 2009

the tree is up

Tim’s getting so grown up. This year after the tree was cut down, he ran to help tug it along to the car. Near the payment booth they have a shaker machine. Guys set the base of the tree in this device and it rattles and shakes all the loose needles and junk out of the tree. Last year when Tim saw this, his eyes got big and he started to laugh, “Oh, I hope all the squirrels will be coming out now!” This year he’s very manly and matter-of-fact.

Later we decorated the tree, and there’s an odd ornament in Tim’s box, but it’s his.

At Christmas time in 2006, Tim found a little air freshener in the parking lot at the grocery store, the kind that hangs from a car mirror. It was the shape of a Christmas tree, red, white, and blue stripes. He was so excited that he'd found an ornament in the snow. Could he have it?

It was a little bent and mangy, but he was so cute, so totally four, that I said sure, and he put it in his pocket. When we got home, he hung it on the tree.

Well, Dan was over a day or two later and saw that ratty old air freshener on the tree and incredulous, asked me what the hell this was?? He said, "It's even all nastified." I told him the story, and he could not really keep from chuckles escaping as he asked Tim about it. "Dude, what does it smell like?"

Tim's perfectly straight answer,"It smells like roads." Dan threw back his head laughing until he had to wipe his eyes. It doesn't smell like roads, even this year it smells faintly of vanilla. It was in his box of ornaments with the date: "Tim, 2006."

This weekend, Little Jay's friend Larry was brave enough to go with us looking for a tree. (Sometimes there is arguing and even tears. This year, no drama though.) It took Big Jay three tries to get it cut short enough to fit in the house, and finally he brought the sawzall into the livingroom and nipped the tip off, but that's okay. It's all good.

Julia had the idea she wanted to be hoisted up to put her little paper plate angel on the top. She must have seen this in a book somewhere? That the angel goes on top and that she should do it herself? I sure don't know. We've never had an angel on top before, but it looks fine and she's happy.

And we're still eating turkey. I don't think anyone can face another turkey sandwich. I should have made some soup. Now I think we're just going to scrape the rest in the trash. Onward to December. love, Val

Saturday, November 28, 2009

remember 35mm?

In 1981 we bought a 35mm camera. It was expensive for us at the time, but remember those crappy Instamatic snapshots? Yah. Actually, this camera was one of the best things we could have done. I have the most beautiful pictures of our kids growing up--all my most beautiful babies

(Album upon album, a person can begin with album 1, and continue on through album 43. I have three more years to put in albums...that'll keep me busy when I ever get started.)

Anyway, we loved our new camera. It was a manual camera, so we learned to set the f-stop, the shutter speeds, the asa and focus, all that jazz. We had a flash that was also set manually according to distance, but it was often easier to just set the shutter speed to work with the natural light in the room. The pictures looked how it really felt, could almost capture the smell of the air.

A couple years later we bought a telephoto lens for it, and I loved that too. I could sit at the lake and take pictures of the kids all afternoon and they wouldn't even notice me. Zoom in and click.

Okay, well, here's the crazy part, now that I'm used to this little digital camera... with film, we didn't know what we were capturing until later when the film was developed. It was all a surprise. Every time. 36 pictures of what? There often would be one or two fabulous photos and another 10 good pictures, and then 24 pictures of crap--people's backs turned, photos slightly blurry, lots of pictures taken in the split second after the real shot while I tried to focus...

But this is what I want to share with you today. Keep in mind it cost $12 to have a roll of film developed, plus the $3 for the film.... but this surprise still has me laughing 12+ years later.

This guinea pig's name is Patrick, just in case you're wondering.

Kirsten, and the neighbor kid Brennan, did this.

And yes, that's correct. Barbie is not wearing underpants.

When the photographic evidence emerged, we all saw Patrick in a new light. He wasn't the innocent little lettuce-eater we'd imagined. I didn't even know he'd ever left his aquarium full of pine chips. Well, he did, and it looks like tequila might have been involved. love, Val

Thursday, November 26, 2009


We had a great day, delicious meal, lots of laughing and pretty babies to hug. It was a beautiful day, and yeah, we feel grateful this thanksgiving.

the tables, finally set

the eating

The kids were impressed by tiny snow-globes--Christmas ornaments with their names on them from great-grandma

It was a lovely day, warm enough for even a little time in the sandbox after pie. Now the dishes are done, the pajamas are on. Who could ask for more? love, Val

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

thanksgiving eve

Okay, the dog hair is quite under control, though the dog is here now beside me, probably shedding like a mad fiend. I hate to even mention this, since we're okay now, but there are times when her butt smells shockingly terrible. There aren't adequate adjectives for the shocking terribleness of the smell. We're spared that anyway, so this is good.

The table is set, 24 places, takes up the whole living room and dining room, but we didn’t have to add any branches going into the family room this year.

Heidi has pronounced the flowers inadequate and will be bringing more tomorrow. Evidently there are three accent flowers and five vases. ??? If she's got a plan, I defer.

Our bed is so covered in miscellaneous crap gathered up from the rest of the house in a neatening effort that I cannot lie down. There are socks here I do not recognize. Junk mail I've never seen before. Why is it on my bed?

Jay is plucking at the pile of overdue library books on his side of the bed now.

Below is an actual Christmas list handed to me by an actual child:

Bag of spaghetti
Cell phone
Cotton candy machine
A clown that can teach me how to juggle
A peach
Crazy socks (x2)
Gassy Gus card game
Star wars dual action light saber
Popcorn machine ($149)
Glow dome
Wow Wee interactive cub
Mario Kart radio control terrain titans micro

She is as quirky a person as her list would indicate. I mean, why just two pair of crazy socks as opposed to one pair or three or ten? We don’t know. She was questioned intensely regarding her need for a light saber, and she defended her position. “It makes noises. I can hit people with it.” They mentioned this is a no-hitting house.

She laughed.

Oh my gosh, I love her.

The older kids did mention to her that she doesn’t have to put a peach on her Christmas list. She could just write “peach” on the grocery list and I would buy it. Same with “bag of spaghetti.” (Like who wants that in a Christmas stocking? It sounds really messy.)

Time for bed, I think. Happy Thanksgiving. Love, Val

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

complaining, gray layer, more complaining

Why is my house so dirty??? It’s that dog. Night before last I dreamed I was cleaning for Thanksgiving and everything was outrageously filthy. I woke up and laughed, “Oh, it’s not that bad.” (...but it is...almost.)

Thanksgiving is my holiday though, and everyone’s coming to my house for dinner and there cannot be dog hair in the food, good Lord, no, no, no. It’s freaking me out, Girls, just like it always does. Jay said something last night about my “frantic little eyes” when I was talking about it.

It’s the dog hair I really can’t stand. We have enough Gray Layer around here—you know that little layer at the edges and in the nooks and crannies—the Barbie shoes and gum wrappers, light bright pegs, pennies, Legos, all bound together with dog hair and dust bunnies. It accumulates under radiators and couch cushions… know it when you see it.

The dog has rashes the vet says are allergies, probably to dust. My mother howled, “She’s the source of 9/10 of it!” I know it. Last year when I was whining to her and actually cried a little about the endless mess, she urged me to get rid of the dog. Find her a new home, but I can’t. She’s a sweet animal and James… well, he started out his autobiography like this: “I was born on March 10, 1997. On January 23, 2006, I got my dog Samantha…”

So I’m at it today. I’ve washed the kitchen floor three times and by the third round, virtually no dog hair. First round there was a big sloggy ball of hair that I scooped out of the water to throw in the trash. No need to clog the drain too, right? So that’s progress.

I’ve got my little shop vac out now and we’re gonna hit the family room next. Ugh—MAJOR Gray Layer in there. Frightening. I can hear them fooling around out there, supposedly studying Venus, but there’s way too much laughing and thumping for that to be happening.

Last time I asked James to Swiffer, Julia decided to be cute and jumped on the Swiffer and BROKE it, so now the handle is taped with duct tape and popsicle sticks, and that aggravates me too. Why you gotta wreck stuff? Isn’t it bad enough I have to Swiffer ten times a day without goofballs breaking my equipment? You darn kids. And your darn dog. And stand up straight, I'm talking to you! Salute your mother!

Okay, enough bitching.

Onward. I’m gonna be okay.

Love, Val

Here are a couple pictures from last year, and nobody choked off on dog hair, it's true. Do you see any dog hair in these pictures? It'll all be fiiiiiine. I know, I know.

Monday, November 23, 2009

happy anniversary

Today at the office they gave me the one year award and the owner said after the meeting he’d take me to the wine cellar to make a selection. I thought he was joking.

After the meeting he called me to his office and said that thing about the wine cellar again. I told him I thought he was goofing around.

He said, “Oh NO,” and ker-bang flung open a file cabinet full of wine. He helped me choose a bottle. (Like I have any idea, right? There were no boxes of wine in his file.) Too funny. They’re nice people. I feel lucky at that office. love, Val

why sleep when you can pretend to fish?

We put Tim and Julia to bed a while ago. She has her very own bed upstairs in the room she shares with Lydia (aka Kari.) She’s got the flowered sheets, teddy bears, etc. and so on. But she insists on still sleeping with Tim.

Earlier I heard Jay yelling, “JUST GET IN BED ALREADY!” (Okay, Dad’s starting to lose it.)

When I went in there to kiss them, Sam rolled her eyes up at me like, “yah,” head on her paws. (She sleeps in there—the floor is cool and she has these babies to guard.)

I just went past their doorway and they’re in bed with a nightlight and some hand-held video game about fishing. Julia was attempting to cast and Tim was coaching her, “You gotta flick it a little harder. Do it again. Okay now, Reel! Reel! Reel!” Do you people ever darn SLEEP? I can hear her giddy laughing now, “Is that a fish?”

The older kids say I’ve gotten soft. I think I’m just really … well they’re right. I don’t care if they stay up all night catching tiny little fake fish on a little gray screen as long as they’re happy and I can sleep. love, Val

Saturday, November 21, 2009

someone little to look up to

"The reason I chose my grandma for my National Honor Society mentor is because she is one of the kindest people I have ever met. She has taught me to work hard, and to be kind, honest, and generous, and has always believed in me no matter what. She would do anything she possibly could to help her loved ones, and I know I can count on her whenever I need to."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

somewhere behind vegetable oil

Julia’s learning the alphabet in preschool, and a note came home that she should bring something that starts with V for show and tell. Wow, okay.

She said she wanted to bring vegetable oil. I thought that was not the best idea, potentially really messy, and I told her this. She said she’d leave the cover on, but I don’t trust her and her little nefarious friends.

I suggested she bring a picture of me. My name is Val, starts with V. Here’s a picture of me and you Julia, stuck right here in the mirror over the sofa. You could take that.

She looked at the picture, me all tan and smiling in a lawn chair on the beach, and her on my lap, one week old, fat cheeks and tiny triangle lips, white cap with pink trim, wrapped in a floral print blanket.

Her lip kind of curled and she said, “Nah… I just really want vegetable oil.”

I rolled my eyes, “Of course you do.” I googled vegetable oil and found a photo of Wesson oil, printed it out for her.

We see where I rate. Love, Val

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

shit balls

Maria reading with Sidney

Oh my gosh. Tonight Kirsten came over to keep Maria company and hold down the fort while we were at Jay’s National Honor Society thing.

Late in the evening, as the baths progressed, and Kirsten and I were dealing with the kids and the house winding down for the evening, Kari launched into her story.

Okay the back story: Maria’s gone to school for the first time this year and her dog Sidney Annie is left here all day without her. Sidney, previous to this, spent most of her life tucked under Maria’s chin. She’s a fluffy , cottony lhasa poo, little bitty ten pound dog, a scaredy cat, but sweet as can be.

Here’s the next chapter of the back story: Now that Maria’s gone all day, Kari and Sidney have been hanging out, becoming buds. Kari’s nine, same age Maria was when she got Sidney, and it’s working. The dog is not lonely or neglected when Maria is gone, and Kari has a new friend.

Well at bedtime, Maria wants Sidney in bed with her. We have an owl in the back yard some nights and this is worrisome with a dog as delicate and tasty as Sidney. Maria misses Sidney during the day and can’t sleep easy unless her baby is in bed with her. But she gets up early for school now and goes to bed early also, and she comes to gather Sidney some nights before the dog is really ready to go to bed.

WELL, that brings us to the point:

So tonight Kari did a little one-act play where she did both the part of Maria and Sidney (conveyed by use of a red chintz pillow.) She imitated Maria’s stompy way of walking, her tone. It was a priceless impersonation of Maria, overplayed a little, but sooo recognizable, and the pillow rebelled in exaggeration and growled, snarled, tried to bite. She scolded the rambunctious pillow, “Don’t bite me!”

About that time the real Maria came down the stairs, and Kari, caught in the act, said, “Shit balls,” and threw herself down innocently in the chair.

Maria stared at us and demanded to know what was going on. Kirsten was unable to speak, she was laughing so hard. I told Maria it was an impersonation of her.

She said, “I have never said shit balls in my entire life.” Well, no not that part exactly. Oh my gosh.

Tumbled over fits of hysteria, not particularly amusing to Maria, who does not suffer fools, gladly or otherwise.

After a moment, she gathered her little dog, looking SOOO much like Kari’s impersonation of her we almost died holding ourselves together until we heard her door shut upstairs. Then we were gone. My ribs hurt. Kirsten couldn’t get air.

Shortly after that, the subject of James’ math came up and Kirsten said she’d had her fill of hilarity and had to go home.

I’ve never said shit balls either, just so you know. Love, Val

The famous actress herself...what ARE we going to do about the ROOM?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Yesterday, late afternoon I mowed the lawn and cleaned up the front yard. It was really dusty around the pine trees. I had pine junk stuck in my hair, a chunk of flesh missing from my thumb knuckle, dirt around my ankles above the shoes, a just filthy.

I came in, and after I put the kids to bed, and loaded the dishwasher, I was soooo looking forward to a bath. About the time I was finally in the tub, slid down, bubbles up to my chin, glass of wine on the ledge, there was a little rattling by the doorknob.

I said, “Who’s there? What do you want?”

It was Tim and in his deep voice he said, “I haaave a few questions about sea turtles.”

I thought, "WHAT?"

He said, “Do they bite?” “How big can they be?” “How old can they be?”

I tried my best to answer, and then I heard Julia’s voice, “Tim, Tim, now ask her about dolphins.”

At that point I said, “You guys go back to bed.” They left.

But a few minutes later I could hear Jay’s tired voice in the dining room. Apparently he'd come home while I was in the tub, “You guys, I don’t actually know very much about sea turtles.”

How about sleep? Sleep anyone? Love, Val

Sunday, November 15, 2009

hunh? homeschool?

A photo from 20 years ago, our first year of homeschool: Dan is the upside down one. John's in the red shirt. Heidi's grinning, and Kirsten is the tiny pipsqueak. Their dad is the one cleaning guts from a pumpkin. (Can you believe that linoleum?? Holy cow. It came with the house.)

I thought I could never homeschool either. I didn't even WANT to, but felt like I had to do something for my poor kid who was flunking out of 4th grade. All washed up in life by 4th grade, how heartbreaking is that? I couldn't handle it.

But I was worried about how this was going to work. I was way crankier than any teacher he'd ever had! John and I argued all the time, and he was not a big cooperator, Mr. Sassy and Independent. I was just desperate for a solution to this school mess though--and finally figured I couldn't do any worse by him.
Well he and his brother were pulled from school, and we began.

And he and I yelled at each other as much as we ever did, and his confidence did nothing but go up. Apparently it's way less intimidating to get to hollering with your mother than to endure disdainful, critical treatment from a teacher.

We did come to believe in homeschool wholeheartedly and to love the lifestyle and family created by it. It's more abstract than literal and I obviously can't convey this to anyone. It's not about curriculum or activities. It's more about freedom and inner life. You kind of have to be there to get it.

When people tell me they could never homeschool, I tell them, "I thought that too. I'll bet you could. You'd be surprised." love, Val

Twenty years later

sweet saturday night

We watched little BG last night while Dan and Alicia went to a party.

Playing with Auntie Julia

He was restless and not sure where he was, I think, without his mom and dad. Big Jay walked him around for a while, and he was so quiet cuddled on Grandpa's chest. I defrosted a couple ounces of breastmilk and then he conked out and slept in the bassinette on the dining room table. When I put my chin on the edge, I could listen to his breathing and smell him, his milky breath and fuzziness.

We're getting to know each other, and it feels very sweet. love, Val

Saturday, November 14, 2009

a bobcat story

Okay, so up at Poor Richard’s Antiques was this nasty old taxidermy bobcat. Missing an ear, moth-eaten, sitting on a shelf out back year after year, and Lydia was fascinated by it, liked to look it, talk about it, wanted to buy it. It was $60 and NO we were not buying it! Not even if she saved her own money. No. They couldn’t pay me $60 to take it. Eeewww. No you cannot keep it in your room. Absolutely not.

Well, my dad caught wind of this and dropped by Poor Richard’s, made an offer of $30, and brought the bobcat to Lydia. She was surprised, delighted, and a little awed at the same time. She told us, incredulous, "I actually own the bobcat."

My mom was perturbed because how could he put her in this spot? That thing wasn’t coming inside and that’s that, not on the porch, and not in the garage either. Nowhere, and she had to be the bad guy and a grandchild was involved, and NO we’re not making Val take that to her house either. That’s just wrong.

So he built a shelf in the window of the barn and put Bob on the perch—where Lydia can visit him and Bob can look out the window every day and not be bored. Other found bones are on the shelf now too--the little skulls and stuff they find, they put next to Bob.

I don’t even know what to say about it. Love, Val

Friday, November 13, 2009

speaking of my dad and tim

My parents and Tim at the wedding

Out in Wisconsin, my dad has these big snap traps--for trapping chipmunks, I'm told. (He had some chipmunks in a live trap and let them go a few miles away, so what this big Tom and Jerry snap trap was all about, I'm not sure.)

But Tim tripped it, and my dad saw that, and alarmed, scolded him, "That could break your fingers! Never touch that!"

Tim, in a tone like no worries said, "Oh, naaw don't worry. I used a STICK." Good Lord.

My dad did not re-set the traps.

The beehives and pumpkin patch

Oh, and later Tim was sitting on a little lawn tractor with his feet in the steering wheel badgering my dad, "You only tell me what button the horn is, but you gotta tell me these other buttons, what they do. I'm big enough to reach, blah, blah, blah."

My dad refused, "Tim, you are too little."

I added, "Yeah, you come back in about seven years we'll tell you what the buttons do." My dad kept the key in his pocket, not left in the ignition.

In the garden

He's a good natured kid, easy to live with, not a behavior problem in the least. But dang, I don't trust him. He’s got too many big ideas.

My parents have done much to make their Wisconsin place fun for kids. There’s the driving range where they whack golf balls. (Oh, one time a golf club slipped out of James’ hands and went up on the metal roof of the barn. Talk about a shocking racket. Everyone came running.)

Some balls land in the cornfield beyond or the woods to the side, but that just makes it interesting for the little kids. Grandpa hauls them around in a wagon behind the lawn mower, the kids equipped with a long device to fetch golf balls, and they pluck them up, keeping count and arguing. My parents pay a nickel for each one retrieved.

The log cabin where my own grandfather was born was moved to there. It’s about 15 x 12, log walls and cement floor, and that’s where the dress up clothes and Barbie dolls are, doll dishes, shopping cart, baby buggy…

They built a garage where a decrepit old woodshed stood, only it’s really an art studio with a picture window facing the gardens and the beehives. They paint for hours, serious and quiet.

Plus we watch Look Who’s Talking, that old Kirstie Alley movie, or else The Long Trailer with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. That movie can make laugh like none other. Something about elegant Lucille Ball trying to toss a salad in that trailer, saving rocks and canning food and lying about it. And Desi is so gorgeous too, that sexy accent and his perfect suits…

My mom and her mom

Late in the afternoon, hot sun and long shadows, Jay whacking golf balls behind the barn with the kids, my dad went past with the lawn tractor and kids in the wagon behind, and I said to my mom, “Thirty years you guys been doing this grandparent thing, and you’re still not tired of it.” She looked at me, surprised, and said, “Oh no, never.”

This is good because I’m only beginning my grandparent days, and it’s different than I expected. I knew I’d love that kid. I figured that. What I did not expect was just how plain old happy he makes me, just a dumb grin happy. I see his face at the door and the incredible swell of pleasure in my chest, how could I have known?

Last time, I picked him up in a hug, but he was so heavy I had to toss back on the couch, kissing his head, squeezing him tight. He doesn’t care about me that much, unless he’s hurt or scared. He wrassled out of my hug asking, “Where’s Tim?” Ahh, Uncle Tim. Yes, that’s where the excitement is.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

stump the grandpa

My dad told this story from an afternoon with Tim:

He and Tim were walking along and Tim asked him, “Could a bird rule the world?”

My dad, being the amiable soul he is, walking along chatting with a child said, “Sure.”

Tim, in all seriousness, asked, “How?”

Love, Val

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

what's going on up there?

Okay, there is mayhem upstairs. Why always with the mayhem? We've got your door slamming and a lot of laughing. I can hear dance, dance revolution from somewhere up there, but this ain't dancing.

I have a box with about 12 shoes in it—all singles. Where are the matches for these shoes and bedroom slippers? I’ve looked all over the house. Where do random shoes even go? It kind of pisses me off, actually. Then I realized some don’t even fit anybody, so why even care? Sigh. Still.

What could that pounding possibly be, and why is an air conditioner running in November when it’s 50 degrees outside?

OH, GET THIS: Yesterday the air conditioner up there was running and when I crawled across the bed to shut it off, I realized Kari had her electric blanket on. This has happened before. The a/c AND the electric blanket?

Now the report from upstairs: Small kids were trying to break into the bathroom while Kari was going, and almost KNOCKED her right of the toilet. (Story told with much indignation and drama.) I do feel for her. These are not civilized people.

Our old house has the toilets right next to the door--which is an old-fashioned layout, but I actually like it because then when you're on the toilet you can hold the door shut if anyone comes bursting in.

Unless you're small and there are two of them and they knock you right off.

love, Val

what a rester

Okay so when I picked Julia up from preschool, the teacher, whom I love, told me: “Ohhh, she’s the best little rester in the world. She falls right to sleep at rest time.”

Yah. She’s also as white as paste and prone to whiny crying jags, slept 13 hours last night. The girl is anemic. I told the teacher, “Oh sure, she’s a good rester. She’s anemic. We’re giving her vitamins. It’ll get better. We gotta build her blood back up.”

The teacher’s mouth hung open, then she laughed, not sure if I was kidding or not.

She’s little. She has only a few sources of iron in her diet and obviously those are inadequate.

Not so much with the kidding. Yes on the Flintstone vitamins.

Sigh. Love, Val

Sunday, November 8, 2009

uncle sandwich

Little Jay and his friend Sarah

This weekend was our last weekend at the lake, closing up for the season. TC didn’t want to leave. He wept on his mother, sprawled across her and his brother on her lap. I brought him Kleenex and told him I understood. His mom told him she understood too. His dad said he didn’t want to leave either, but he had to be on a plane to Colorado tonight for work. “We gotta go.”

At the lodge in Hayward: Tim, Lydia aka Kari, TC, and John

We headed out to the yard and his mom asked if he wanted to tell the kids good-bye? Little Jay spotted him crying, trotted over and lifted him up in a hug against his chest. Then he yelled to James, “This kid needs a sandwich hug!” James ran over and they wrapped their arms around each other, TC squashed between them, and jumped up and down. Little Jay hollered, “It’s an Uncle Sandwich! We’re Uncle bread, and TC is the peanut butter!” In a minute they let him slip to the ground again and he ran the rest of the way to the car laughing.

Big Jay and I stood out front and waved as the child beamed out the window yelling at us, “See you later!”

I wiped only one tear, then wandered back inside to finish packing with Kirsten…wipe out the fridge…scrub the bathrooms…

We won’t be back until April. All the days between now and then, the sun will rise and set, shadows moving across the rooms in silence.

The lake will freeze, snow will fall…the snow will melt again and the lake will thaw in the five months before we return.

Sigh. Gosh it was hard to drive away. On to the next thing, I guess. Love, Val

Thursday, November 5, 2009

lucky to have tights

This morning I put Julia’s tights on her. She was kicking around on my bed, skinny long feet in the air. I tussled her into them, milking the knit up her legs, and it made me think of a conversation I’d had with my mom. When I was Julia’s age and even older, I wouldn’t dress myself. How pitiful is that? Mom would put the clothes out on the bed, tell me to dress and then go make breakfast.

I’d roll around on the bed in my underwear, kick around, goof around, waiting for her to come back and dress me. She yell breakfast was ready a couple times and I’d ignore. Then shortly she’d come to the room and scold me, “Why aren’t you dressed? …mutter, mutter,” and she’d put the tights on me, same as I was on Julia this morning. I mean, I could see she didn’t feel like it, but her griping was a small price to pay to have someone else deal with the tights.

I’ve apologized to her for what a brat I was. I argued with Pam too much, would toss around on the floor at the store when I was bored while she was shopping. It was obvious to me fairly early that I had some very benign parents… other kids had to clean their plates and couldn’t be in the stuffy formal livingrooms of their homes. This was the standard of our suburban neighborhood, yuck. But that’s how it was.

Other kids’ moms wouldn’t let friends in the house—kids had to play outside all the time. My mom didn’t care. I didn’t have to eat all my food, didn’t have an early bedtime. I could have friends play in pretty much any time, could take my Barbies and dolls and all their clothes and crap out in the yard if I wanted. Suit yourself, honey. My dad never yelled. Spanking was unheard of. It just wasn’t very strict at my house, and the parents didn’t get excited about much.

Anyway, when I apologized, she waved me off, “You were just a kid.” Well, yeah. A brat is still a brat. I could have been nicer.

My mom tells about when she was a kid in the 40s, they didn’t have tights. They had long stockings and garters. Children’s garters. They were an elastic contraption that involved two long, wide strips of elastic that went from the front of the leg all the way over the shoulders on each side, to the back of the leg. Clips were on the end to fasten the stockings to. In the middle was an elastic waist band that held the long strips together.

She says it worked perfectly when it was on. But when the thing was taken off, the elastic would spring into a tangled ball. Getting it untangled and back on in the morning was a hell of an ordeal. Her mother was working in the barn, so she wasn’t going to come tussle her into it. She had to untangle it and get the damned thing on by herself. Moreover, she had to untangle her little sister Pat’s garter and get hers on her too. Yeah, tights aren’t so bad after all.

Here’s a cute picture of my mom and Pat, her sister, my godmother, taken in about 1947? Look how docile and tame that chicken is, big claws dangling.

Here’s a picture of my parents. Take a look at their faces. In the whole world there’s nobody kinder, more generous, forgiving, and GOOD than these two.

Last week Little Jay had to name a mentor for National Honor Society. They discourage kids from naming parents, and I think that’s good. (Parents are such obvious mentors.) I asked him who he was choosing. I thought he’d name one of his teachers. He’s had so many excellent teachers over the last few years.

He said, “Grandma,” without hesitation.

I said, “Wow. She’ll be honored. How did you decide that?”

He said, “She’s always believed in me, like totally, you know?” Yeah, I do know. Totally.

Lucky, that’s what we are, and smart enough to know it. Love, Val

Mom, Kirsten, and Little Jay