Monday, May 31, 2010

catching bugs on the patio

The afternoon was spent amusing b.g. on the patio, and also catching bugs.

Santa gave Tim this little device with a magnifying lens for looking at bugs, and it is pretty fun. He used a catalpa pod to flick them into the tube and then turned the lens so we could see them, and then in a little while let them go.

Bugs are pretty impressive in some ways--how they can hang upside down, and fly, and all they can freak out humans many, many times their size...

And b.g. wants to crawl on the patio, which is not my favorite thing for him to do. It's stone--marble and granite, and his head and little round knees look so very, very fair, and precious, and tender, and he's a little too tricky for his own good. The patio is not a comfortable or particularly clean crawling surface, but he couldn't care less. He wants to get DOOOWN! Gramma, let me GOOOOO!

Tim amused him for a long time with this old toy, and he crawled on me and his grandpa. It was a lovely afternoon with two little boys (well, and that big one) I love. love, Val

what's going on here?

A lot of people use my camera besides just me, and often pictures turn up where I pause and wonder what is going on.

Here are a few from the weekend. I don't have answers.

Good thing James has a haircut scheduled.

Okay, that's weird.

I'm sure there's a story there.

And probably here too... love, Val

looking for the tooth fairy

This is where the kids believe the tooth fairy lives.

None of them have ever caught her at home...

But that doesn't stop them from checking. love, Val

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I've been dreading this day for years, dreading how it was going feel.

It was the last day of preschool for the last child. Julia is my baby. We're done. We've done milked this thing as long as anyone could.

This place and these people have been part of our life for 28 years. Week in and week out, I drove over and back, and the kids played, and did art projects, read stories, made friends, and HAD FUN.

As we were getting ready this morning, I did the math. Twenty eight years, 70 times each year, that's like a couple thousand times, taking kids to preschool.

As I pulled into the parking lot, knowing it was the very last time, I wondered if I could really do this or not, but Julia was chippering away, and we had flowers to carry in for her teachers, so onward.

Inside the halls were full of little kids and their baby brothers and sisters, moms, nannies, dads... The rooms were full of sunlight and happiness, and it felt okay.

When I picked her up, it felt good too.

One of the moms from our class called everyone to meet at a park for supper, so later we took b.g. with us and spent a couple hours enjoying friendship and sandwiches in butter perfect evening sunshine.

Alicia came to the park to pick up b.g. after work and stayed for a long time, talking, us taking turns holding the baby, watching him experiment with crawling on the grass. It felt very weird to him at first, serious little frown on his face, trying to crawl on tip toe.

Julia ran all over with her preschool friends and Kari and Tim, and a day I never really wanted to face turned out to be lovely after all.

This preschool made me a better parent. The very first teacher had a sense of humor about children. It was such a relief to a kid like me! I was so relieved to know they all act however they do. There's no right or wrong way to be, really. Squirrels are normal, and it's probably best to laugh.

Lighten up, Val. Yes. I thank them. The kids thank them.

When Little Jay was four and his drawings of himself were all with no arms, I asked his teacher, "Do you see this? Do you think it's because he feels powerless in his life?" Mrs. Martens looked at the drawing, then at me, and burst out laughing and threw an arm around me. "Oh, Val. I don't think so! He's fine! Where do you come up with this stuff?"

"Well, I dunno. I worry, I guess."

"Yes. You must stop that."

When Tim was three, he was sometimes ambivalent at first about me leaving. He'd even cry once in a while, but he told me this: "Yeah. Then I hug with Welken and I feel happy again." The older kids thought this was funny. "How does MISTER Welken feel about that?" Tim's answer: He likes it. (Tim had never met the man.)

So little by little, year after year, they made us feel safe, and normal, and loved. There were no disapproving tones, no disapproving faces, only encouragement and acceptance.

When Kari had that little cussing problem, I knew the days they'd be at the door snickering, that she'd said something choice. One of the teachers who'd had them all said this to me, "This one is a whole new creature again, isn't she?" Yeah, you'd think by the eighth kid we'd have seen it all, but no. (This is one of the most fun surprises of having ten children--the surprises.)

Maria was in three year old class when she told me this story: There was a girl named Laurie who didn't come to preschool anymore because she was too little. She was always getting hurt. One day some doll dishes fell out of the cupboard on her and hit her on the head. Another day she fell off the monkey bars.


I mentioned this to her teacher. She gave me a long look and pressed her lips together, nodding. Then she said, "We never had a girl named Laurie in the class, and no kids have left this year. I don't know who that is."


When I asked Maria about it again, she claimed she forgot. I didn't ask what she was freaky enough that she could tell a made up story that sounded totally real. (Maybe Laurie was the predecessor to her cool imaginary friend, Nina?)

One day when I showed up to pick up Heidi, the teachers congratulated me, said they heard we'd gotten married. I said, "Yeah? About ten years ago."

They hooted with laughter. It had been our wedding anniversary, and Heidi was mixed up. Then they said, "Well, we WONDERED, here you two have all these kids...probably are ready to get married." Oh yeah.

So here's where it ends. They were wistful about it too, but I couldn't go getting all boo-hooey, so I told them maybe this b.g. in my arms will be there in a couple years. I might be back yet. That gave us something better to think about than good-bye.

This is the woman who runs the place. She is as dignified and elegant as she looks, always patient and positive and kind, smoothing and helping. With all her talents and education, that she made a career of loving families is a pretty bold statement of her priorities and the kind of person she is.

This lady is an angel.

And this one is a sweetheart.

We're going to miss them very much, it's true. It's a sad thing, a loss in its own way... And yet I keep returning to this truth too: lucky, lucky us. love, Val

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

an insane parent story

Okay, this story is just too damned good not to share.

It's the Hula Hoop Story.

This is the story:

A mom and dad bought their four year old son a hula hoop. He probably can't hula, but that's okay. They're being nice to the kid.

In the car on the way home, the kid is in his carseat, yet somehow manages to put the hula hoop over his dad's head and then the laughing child gets his legs tangled up in there, so the hula hoop is against the poor dad's trachea while he's driving.

The dad's got one hand on the wheel, the other on the hula hoop, trying to preserve his own breathing.

There's some yelling and so forth. The mother of this child has to dive over the seat, and as the dad described it, "She had to get into hand to hand combat to gain control of the hula hoop."

Somewhere in all this, the dad managed to pull the car over to the shoulder.

And then?

Oh, this is classic. This is the very best part:

Is the child sorry?


Sorry about what??

He's incensed that they won't give him back his hula hoop, and commences to throw a full out fit right there. (At least he's still fastened in the car seat.)

Oh yeah.

When I got done laughing, gasping for air, holding my chest, drying my eyes, the dad told me, (ME, of all people!) "Oh yeah, parenthood's a real trip."

No kidding. And yet, he was laughing too. And we love this insane little monster SO MUCH my heart could explode sometimes.

Sigh. Yes, parenthood is a real trip. I TOTALLY agree.

This adventure is going down as a classic family tale, never to be forgotten.

And this is the child who made it all possible:

Oh, I love you so, Gramma

Sunday, May 23, 2010

all in all...

a superb weekend.

Yesterday morning I took Tim over to my parents to see the digger dig up their back yard. They've got a project going on and Tim looooves equipment. (He has even referred to my Kitchen Aid mixer as, "the equipment." Power tools, yah, yah.)

The guy dug, the bucket scraping against the outside of the basement walls, kind of a freaky sound, a little scary, a lot exciting.

Then in the afternoon, JULIA went to another birthday party. This one was at Build-A-Bear.

She BUILT A BEAR, (can you believe it!) and ATE CAKE, and it was tremendously exciting.

Last night Dan and b.g. came for supper and it was fun to be out on the patio, feeding this enthusiastic eater in the evening sun.

This morning was the last day of Sunday School picnic and party and that was a wild old time, lots of kids and noise. It's hot today and it was sultry even in the basement.

One Sunday School teacher has been teaching forever. She's a tiny, elegant woman who keeps on being nice to other people's children, year after year after year. They called for a photo of "anyone who has ever had her for a teacher," for a group photo. Most of them are taller than she is now, and I loved that. She's been so sweet to my kids.

Later, Maria needed a new oboe reed, so we went to the music store and we also found a video game of piano playing, kind of like Guitar Hero, only with a little keyboard attached to the port on the computer, marked down from $149 to $24 final clearance. That bargain made me abnormally happy.

Tim and Julia argued a while and then figured out they didn't have to take turns at all. Tim told me, "We set it to two-handed, two-players, so we can BOTH play." Julia took the left hand part, and Tim the right. As long as they're not fighting, good enough.

This is a funny Tim story. When he was maybe four? He observed the twin bed at the lake and pronounced it, "a one player bed." A double bed is, "a two player." One winter morning when t.c. was here with his dog, and the kids and I were all in my bed watching Curious George, he looked around and chortled, "This is a SIX PLAYER bed!" I guess it was that day.

Tonight Jay put in the last couple air conditioners, and after that we did yard work. The kids ran through the sprinkler while we planted plants my parents sent, weeded the garden. (Holy ...never mind. The weeds. Ugh. A really cool guy we like brought us a load of black dirt a few years ago. The dirt was full of swamp grass and nettles.)

It's luscious black dirt, all right, but these atrocious weeds. Of course I couldn't find my damned garden gloves, so I used a towel to pull the nettles. They're nasty. I have actual welts on my actual arms. (Yeah, yeah, wah, wah, wah.)

Then, as the grand finale OF the weekend, Jay smoothened and flattened a place for the new tent my parents bought the kids. (The old tent wore out--the fabric shredded from sun, so they decided to buy them a new one.) It's a great tent! It's destined for many days of fun.

At the end, it was time for Sam's bath. She was so hot this afternoon she was scaring me a little. My aunt and uncle had a Newfoundland named Taffy die from heat years ago, so I always take heat seriously with Sam, plus even ordinary hot spots aren't exactly fun.

Now it's now, and time for a bath. Our marvelous little air conditioner is blowing softly, Jay's on his pillow snoozing, and Sam's asleep on the floor, comfortable, not panting like she was before. Last night, seriously it felt like she was fogging the windows with her overheated huffing and puffing and pacing and guzzling of water. This is a dog who loves winter. Or a/c.

Onward to Monday. It's going to be a great week. love, Val

Friday, May 21, 2010

finally friday

Oh well, this has been the quietest week ever, almost absurdly silent. Maria had a friend here for the evening, and they baked the sour dough starter, the friendship bread. The fragrance of vanilla and cinnamon filled the house and even the yard.

Thursday we did make it to preschool with the 24 Amazing Princess Cupcakes for her half-birthday party. Even though they'd been in the freezer for a couple weeks now, apparently they tasted delicious.

Julia wanted b.g. at her party and he was there, happily crawling all over the kids and the preschool, taking out books, pounding on a bucket.

As part of their birthday routine, the child's parent (that would be me) must read a book to the class. Julia picked out the book, one Jamie Lee Curtis wrote about moods. You remember Jamie? She's that girl who stars in Activia. (snicker)


Which brings us to today, and even though it was a dark, gloomy-feeling day, it was the most uplifting day of the whole week.

Customers paid. (I cannot tell you how that makes me happy. Money in the accounts makes me feel safe.)

I went to a listing appointment and met a fun couple with a great house, most enjoyable... and later had another conversation with a client that was all good. She's a fun person who makes me laugh...

But the most uplifting part of the WHOLE day was this character:

She came here and held down the fort while I was working and Jay had to rush to an emergency. (Water blowing a hole through a wall is never good.) When I came home I found her working with Tim on his most recent kit. My parents signed him up to receive these little project kits once a month. He LOVES THEM.

She was patiently working on this, helping Tim, helping him measure, pound the nails, screw in the screws.

When it was done, I fetched a bird feeder that had fallen apart so we could fix that too, since all the tools were out. Then it was time to hang it back up, and where were the ladders? We tried pulling down a branch, but it broke.

So then this PERSON climbed right up in the TREE, wearing FLIP FLOPS and a fancy shirt, and dangled precariously from the branches, hanging it up and filling it with seeds. She even caught the coffee can full of seeds when I threw it up into the tree.
it wasn't really this scary. the camera was set wrong

this is the real picture

And she tried to help Julia and Lydia figure out how to climb trees. They loved it, even though they needed major boosting. Kirsten could always climb though. She climbed the woodwork to the top of the door cases, using her suction cup feet. She could get to the top of the refrigerator as a preschooler. A monkey then, and apparently now.

She's also the one who told me she didn't have to sleep at night, didn't have to get weaned, and didn't have to do what I said.

Well, all right then.

This is an old story--but I have a nephew who was a gorgeous blonde cherub, and he loved Kirby. (He'll be 22 this summer.) He followed her everywhere, tried to do what she did... but she was truly as tiny and agile and tricky as a monkey and he was younger and not the airborne type, and she'd lure him on and on, not realizing he was growing tired and frustrated...

here they are, the two of them. oh gosh, those curls of his...

One afternoon they were here and Kirsten stood on top of the washing machine in the kitchen to demonstrate a dance, and later climbed over the headboard of our bed to smash around in a ficus tree we had back there. The story is: He watched this and hollered, "Ter-sin, Ter-sin, get out of the tweee!" Later at home, he asked to dance on their washing machine. My sister said no. (At 22, he's still adorable.)

those cheeks are breaking my heart

even though our faces are turned away, this is my favorite picture of him and me together, beautiful baby

I told Kirsten to list this on her resume as one of her skills....if anyone needs and econ major in a tree, she's the one.

Happy, happy Friday. love, Val

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

awards nights

Last night and tonight were Academic Awards night at the high school. It's a special occasion and tonight I thought how we take it for granted now, and what IS that about?

The first time was when John was a freshman. An invitation came in the mail and John told us we'd have to dress up. The program was formal and a bit dull, stuffy musical selections and predictable speeches. But when John shook the principal's hand and received a letter in academics, it felt absolutely miraculous.

I told him if he never, ever did another thing educationally, he'd done enough. He'd vindicated our homeschool as good enough.

He hugged me around the head and laughed.

Someone we know commented to John that perhaps he could cover up that word 'academics' on the letter.

John is awesome. He said, "Why would I want to do THAT?"

Maria's awards were for her grades and also awards in English and Math. Jay's awards were for having a gpa over 3.8. He ducked his head and the principal draped long braided cords around his neck. He's to wear them at graduation in a couple weeks.

So it's over, and he did good. And Maria survived her first year and left feeling accomplished and proud. Whew.

Yeah, and we've got Mr. Timothy. He brought a bucket of some kind of weird little hairless caterpillar things to me in the living room tonight. He calls them inchworms, but I think of inchworms as tiny and light green. These are bigger and ugly-ish. (Emphasis on the ish.)

After we looked at them, he said, "Now I'm going to release them onto the inchworm tree."

The inchworm tree? I had to see this.

A silver maple, ordinary. I dunno.

Last night John called to tell me Tim's been leaving too many messages on their answering machine, and did I know he was calling them?

Umm, no. I did not know this.

Fourteen messages, some long, with music playing. Oy.

This isn't the first time he's had fun with the phone. A few years ago I had a call one day from a woman asking if everything was okay. There were strange calls coming from our house.

I said, "Who are you?"

She said, "I'm Suzy, from your phone company."

I looked in the family room. The kids were all there, art spread on the table, t.c. in a walker watching Arthur with Julia. I'd been putting away clothes, and this all looked very ordinary.

I said, "Who was using the phone?"

They all pointed at Tim. I told the lady, "We've found the culprit. He's coming to the phone now to apologize."

She said, "Oh no, no, no."

Oh yes.

Tim took the receiver. (This was the rotary phone in the kitchen.) He cradled it in both hands and said, "Rady? I'm reawwy solly about the phone calls."

Sigh. He means well.

I think.

The last few weeks have had a number of defeating moments...which then color other things, causing me to read in, which is something I try not to do. It's better to take things at face value and not create imaginary scenarios about what other people are thinking or intending.

So if an award that felt MIRACULOUS 15 years ago feels pleasantly ordinary now, how about in the other direction--could things that feel crappy now feel like ho-hum ordinary eventually.... I'm looking around at life and thinking yes. No doubt it's about perspective mostly.

There was a time when I'd have been perfectly mortified by a kid doing tricks with the phone. Now? I follow up, but can't work up any real excitement. Lucky for Tim, eh?

It's a perfect, warm evening, stars in the sky, and I'm thinking about a glass of wine on the patio. love, Val

Oh, this is funny though-- Today I showed a house, a distressed property. It's in a pretty neighborhood, but the house is in tough shape. Okay, this grossed me out, and I've seen a lot of grossness...but there were icky bugs floating in the toilet. I called to the buyer and asked him what they were. He pointed his little laser light pointer at them and said, "Ah yes, cockroaches. A nice touch." Oh yeah. That cracked me up. Laughing's good.

a funny pic