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April 2011

Oh Really Aurelius

Steve and I have a mixed faith marriage: he believes in duct tape and I believe in everything else (except maybe dinosaurs but let's not start on that again; it will only upset you. although... dragon bones - just saying it's possible.)

One of the notions in my extensive catalog of beliefs is the concept of luck. I think some people are more naturally fortunate than others and I think some periods in everyone's life are more inclined toward good things happening than bad. Some days you find five dollars, win a dog show and succesfully use the Heimlich maneuver to save the life of a grateful billionaire; a week later you push the lever down on the toaster and your refrigerator explodes. Steve thinks this idea is bunk. Balderdash. Humbug, fustian, claptrap, hogwash and romantical nonsense. He fails to believe that disparate events can influence each other in creepy cosmic ways and he has made one or two pointedly complimentary remarks about the Victorian era when it was so easy to get a wife committed.

So be it. In deference to his feelings I will not go all First Witch here - muttering darkly about inescapable fates - and I will simply say that after an absolutely lovely visit with my family we've had quite a run of... random occurrences of a less than positive nature.     

Misrandoms #1 - #7 within 48 hours

The utility room in the basement filled with water, soaking parts of the carpet and destroying Steve's collection of moving boxes (I was less than heartbroken about that one - we've been giving house space to these boxes for THIRTEEN YEARS. when I have pointed out that we are unlikely to move any time in the next decade, Steve has said "Do you have any idea how much it costs to buy boxes from a moving company?" Whatever. They've gone to a Better Place and I no longer have to look at them and wonder how much of my stuff they'd be moving to the nursing home.)

Steve decided the flood was above his pay grade so he called in a plumber who determined that our water softener had failed in multiple ways - first the overflow overflowed and then the backup failed to backup. A couple of hundred dollars later it was fixed, Steve pulled up parts of the carpet and we had heaters running to try to dry it all out.

Then it flooded again.

Then my sister-in-law reported that we had water coming up through the drain, filling the tub in the downstairs guest bathroom.

Then water filled the room where the electrical panel lives and the water... smelled funny. YOU KNOW. Like the worst possible funny you can imagine happening to a place where you like to hang out? THAT.

So we called the plumber and he referred us to a drain guy who came and referred us to yet another plumber. We also called our insurance company who sent a couple of guys out to take a look at the mess and promptly starting ripping up our carpet and slathering everything else with chemicals.

Meanwhile Steve went to Home Depot to get... something... and he called me from the road to report that our second car has just developed a spontaneous nervous tic: when you lock the doors the car alarm goes off. Every. Single. Time.

I hung up with Steve and found Patrick hovering next to me.

"What's your problem?" I asked, somewhat irritably as I did the math on a car that screams all the time.

Patrick responded by bursting into flames.

Ohhhhhh the poor kid has another fever. Whoops. Also, damn it. Also, sorry, bunny. 

- Total aside but Patrick has a cold/virus/whatever and the Flonase is not as effective as we had hoped at keeping his sinuses unclogged. Since part of his nonsurgical release from the ENT was predicated upon the hope that he would not succumb to another infection within two weeks of getting rid of the last one I felt the call for desperate measures. You should have seen me in my bathroom last night trying to convince a bleary Patrick that using a Neti Pot is really not like drowning. The water flows right through, I kept saying, all chipper, and in a sense this is true but in another more real sense a child might panic and inhale and exhale all at the same time until water shoots out of everything but their ears and they choke and make pointedly complimentary remarks about the Victorian era when it was so easy to get a mother committed.

Eventually we figured out that the best way for Patrick to irrigate his difficult sinuses is for him to hold his breath, tilt, pour, stop pouring, breathe, snuffle and repeat.

Holding his breath was key - just in case you need to try to help your eight year old use a neti pot -

Where was I? Right. This morning.

So Steve had a meeting and was running late. Steve hates to be late. It makes him frantic unless it is two in the morning and he is out with the guys and he has told me that he will be home by midnight in which case being late doesn't bother him in the slightest 

[True story:

Steve and his pals went out one night when I was X pregnant with the twins. He said he'd be home by eleven. At midnight he called and said that they had been having drinks across the river but were driving toward home as we spoke. TWO HOURS LATER I had created a fully detailed plan for how I would manage as a widow with a kindergartener and newborn twins and he finally poured into the bedroom. When I acidly reminded him that he had claimed to be on his way home hours before he said actually what he had said was that they were pointing toward our town and it was true. They were heading toward home up until the time they had stopped at another bar.

I said it reminded me of the Clinton's definition of sex and he said I'm kinda tired right now and I said would you like to hear my definition of sex and he said do you mind if I just close my eyes here on the floor and I said NEVER AGAIN, that's my definition and he said zzzzzzzzzzzzz]

Anyway Steve was freaking out in the garage and he asked if I could hand him his cell phone. The twins were also freaking out because someone was leaving in the car without them so I opened the door just wide enough to extend my arm through the crack while I held the twins back with my leg. Steve grabbed the phone, said, oh I need my boots and barreled like a rottweiler on a mission through the door I was holding open. The corner of the door snagged the edge of my big toenail and ripped it right off. Right off. As in, two words: bloodied stump.

Steve looked horrified. Caroline wept. Patrick said oh gross and Edward kissed me lovingly on the ear. Then Steve raced off, Caroline continued to weep, Patrick disappeared and Edward asked if I could help him get a little breakfast.

So to recap: Sick kid, basement flooding with unspeakableness in a situation that we have now determined was caused by not one not two not three but FOUR separate malfunctions, car alarm going off every few minutes and my once broken poorly healed toe is now missing a nail - it's the only part of me that looks like it could play professional hockey.

Steve can clutch his duct tape all he likes but I say we are having a run of bad luck. A doomed period if you will. I would not get on an airplane or invest in a franchise cookie stand right now if you paid me and I'm not kidding.

Do you believe in luck? Lucky people, unlucky people, fortunate times, unfortunate times? We have a side of the family that seems to be plagued by the worst things - cancers and bankruptcy and more cancer. They are the nicest people and all these awful things happen... it just seems like they have a disproportionate share of grief in their lives.  

PS Speaking of bloodied stumps I was so charmed by your responses to my question about the fairy tales. You guys really do run the gamut and every time I think I have solved one of life's mysteries to my satisfaction you come along and show it to me in fifty hundred new ways. It is my absolute favorite part of writing this blog. My assumptions get challenged every freaking time and I think oh wow that IS a new perspective. In retrospect I think I was more startled than anything by the decapitated wolf and after I read your comments I did release my pearls and wonder what - exactly - I thought Caroline and Edward would get from Grimm. In a pleasant blog-meets-life moment my mother arrived the day after I posted that last one and at some point she was left to entertain the twins, which she did by poking around the bookshelf. When I came home she immediately mentioned the Cousins book and laughed over it. I asked if she had read it to Caroline and Edward and she said yes. I said, "In its entirety?" and she said, "Of course."

She added that she did make the deaths sound less interesting than the other parts but other than that... she said that Caroline and Edward are three, they could not have cared less about the wolves headless or otherwise and then she gave me a look which nicely encapsulated kids-today-with-their-hothouse-parents-I-swear. I wouldn't have been surprised if she had told me that when we were little my brother and I had actually been held captive in a gingerbread house for six weeks - very common in the 70s - and we turned out just fine.

PPS Luck? Fate? Discuss. I love it when you talk to me.

PPPS I don't care what anyone says. I am excited about the royal wedding. I think it's romantic and she's lovely. So there.


But Leave Out The Bloody Bits

Edward is very literal. When he climbs into bed with us I say, good morning, Edward, how did you sleep?

He gets a faint crease in his brow as he considers the question and then says, "I slept in my race car bed under my blue blanket."

Ah. Well. Yes.

When Caroline joins us half an hour later she says, "I slept very well thank you Mommy. How did you sleep?" If she's feeling a little picante she might add, "Dormir Mama? Bueno?" Never let it be said that almost complete ignorance of the Spanish language ever deters her from speaking it. She is like a British tourist from the 1920s; all stout constitution, easy phrases and an indomitable sense of her own right to be understood. I find her vastly entertaining and I now spend hours looking up words for her after my admission that I had no idea how to say "turkey" in Spanish led to her lying flat on the kitchen floor, staring wordlessly at the ceiling while tears trickled down her cheeks. It was the most effective tantrum, like, ever. I actually felt guilty.

(Pavo! Donde esta el pavo? El pavo esta en el patio. Poor Caroline. I took French. Steve took first year Spanish, true, but he took it four times. And Patrick thinks everyone should speak English; which either means he is a curmudgeon ahead of his time or the modern day isolationists are tracking with third graders. Did you know that a previous iteration called themselves the Know Nothing Party? They were worried to death about the Irish and all the... parades they might throw. or something.)

In truth Caroline sleeps like a whirling dervish and every few days she changes her mind about how she wants to do this. Sometimes it is upside-down on her chair with her head hanging over the edge. Sometimes she crashes in her fairy tent. I've found her alseep under her bed and I have found her in a dresser drawer. For a week she slept in her closet in a nest constructed out of old baby clothes. Lately she has taken as many blankets as she can find, laid them on the floor next to her bed and then she sleeps on top of them wrapped in a towel.

As Caroline gets older we will need to actively find safe ways for her to thrill seek, that's all I'm saying. The child likes experiences.

My mom and my brother and his family start arriving today and they will be here through the weekend. I'm very excited - it's been more than a year since we've all been together. I'm also a little disorganized - I started considering things like pillows this morning and realized that the last time we had a full house we also had two proto-people in cribs and now Caroline and Edward are full-fledged lodgers and they use enough bedding for six (see Caroline, above) so I have to figure out what I am going to do. Clearly Caroline will be giving up the princess and the pea act while our guests are here but even so I'm not sure I have enough sheets and whatnot. And I haven't been grocery shopping in a while so tonight is looking like a Top Chef episode where they are given a jar of pickled okra, a bottle of maple syrup and a wok. And Saturday we're hosting an egg hunt/dinner thing for my family plus some friends and I haven't worked out any details for that either. And last night I chipped my front tooth (a year ago I chipped the other front tooth on a Charms Blowpop - this time I did it walking up the stairs) so I have an emergency dental appointment in.... damn it. Forty minutes.

So this is less of a post than a Mad Lib in which I start a topic and you help me finish it in the comments. The topic is: would you read the actual words in a violent children's book or would you fumble for an explanation of the pictures that involves less death?

What, you say? You ask if there is such a thing as a violent picture book?

Funny you should mention it. I took Caroline and Edward to the library yesterday where they picked out some books, among them a couple of things by Lucy Cousins. You know Lucy Cousins, she writes and illustrates books about Maisy the mouse and her monosyllabic friends. The pictures look so simple you think you could do it yourself until you try to paint a mouse vacuuming and then you realize that there is actually an art to her art. Anyway, Caroline is always up for a nice Maisy book so we threw some into the bag and when we got home I saw that one of them was actually a collection of eight classic fairy tales illustrated by Cousins and I thought, oh how nice, classic fairy tales.

So I started with Red Riding Hood and they were, indeed, classic - extremely classic - as exemplified by page 17 where the wolf swallows the grandmother. Then he eats Red Riding Hood and then the woodsman appears and cuts off the wolf's head which goes flying - I kid you not - onto the next page; which I suppose is a happy ending for everyone except the wolf because RR and her grandmother leap out of the wolf (undigested - how nice) like Zeus and his siblings.

Gruesome. Maisy! Who would have thought the little mouse was so bloodthirsty?

I do know that this is how the stories actually went - back when the Brothers Grimm trotted from mountain to mountain collecting folk tales - just as I know that in the real Little Mermaid she commits suicide (can you imagine the 20th anniversary DVD from Disney, now with alternate ending.) But I was shocked to find it in a book whose pictures so clearly spoke to very little kids. And I fudged the story and flipped past the page as fast as I could and when the next wolf (a relation perhaps) started eating the three little pigs I lied and said that they ran to the airport and when the third little pig made wolf stew I said he was getting a bath.

So that's my topic for the day and to broaden it a bit I guess I feel like I insulate my children from unpleasantness far more than I was ever sheltered and I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not. I grew up watching the nightly news and I grew up just fine (although perhaps a little nervous about nuclear proliferation) and one could argue that generations of German children knew exactly what happened to those pigs and they turned out fine too (I mean, apart from starting a couple of world wars.)

Would you have read the actual descriptions to three year olds? Do you think children should be told about tsunamis and reactors and famines? Are children today more sheltered than previously and is that a good thing why or why not use your blue books.

PS Damn tooth.

PPS My family is coming! WHEEEEEE!

PPPS I got Muzzy from the library and it has got to be the WEIRDEST set of videos ever created. That said, Caroline loves them. Any suggestions for Spanish language stuff for her? CDs or Dvds?


Eldest Only Child

Patrick's sinus infection has completely cleared up. The ENT has asked that he stay on the flonase for a couple more weeks and that he take it for several weeks any time he starts to get congested in order to prevent a recurrence. He's not built to drain, apparently.

So that's good.

The problem is that after his sinuses got the All Clear he had a day at school in which he became too nauseated to eat lunch or function. I guess he rolled down a hill at recess and that was it for him for the next four hours. I know it sounds kinda stupid - my child gets sick when he spins around! So do I, actually - but it is so debilitating for him that it is hard to think it is normal. I'm running out of ideas, though. We'll go back to the pediatrician but do you have any thoughts? Inner ear? Migraines still?

I will be eternally grateful to you for explaining that the Vivaldi orphaned girl narrative is an actual thing. The CD we have slapped the first seven minutes of Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery onto the end of a recording of the Four Seasons with no explanation and I was as confused by it as Caroline and Edward were enchanted. It didn't seem to bother them that the story just ended abruptly after three tracks - we'd just play what we had over and over again. I, however, need closure in my arcs so once you explained what it was I was able to buy it and thank you and I'm less unsettled knowing that Katerina is the Duke's... well, I don't want to ruin it for you. 

I ordered the second Classical Kids collection as well (Mozart, more Mozart, something about Unicorns so I'm guessing lots of recorder and... someone else - Handel maybe.) It should arrive today and I hope Edward will be willing to step away from the Bibaldi. Expand his horizons. Live a little.

That reminds me. Patrick and I spent a day in downtown Minneapolis during his spring break. When he expressed an interest in seeing how high we could get I snuck us into the IDS tower and when Patrick started to read the sign prohibiting the public from the elevator we were approaching I nudged him inside with my hip and hit Door Close. 

As the elevator went up Patrick pressed his hands to his cheeks and said, oh my oh my oh my and I said, aw c'mon, we're a mom and her kid and we want to look out a window for five minutes. it'll be fine. trust me. live a little.

Patrick said, "I'm living as much as I can," and then added, darkly, "considering the circumstances."

He took pictures from the 50th floor and we looked at them on my camera as we descended.

I said, "Oh that's a nice one. Aren't you glad we did this?"

Patrick looked at the picture he had taken and said, "Yeah I like it... and maybe they'll let me hang it on the wall of my jail cell."

He added, "This one is better. And LEGAL."

He had a point.

IMG_3814

Shockingly, we were not actually arrested for wandering into the unused banquet space at the top of the IDS and Patrick's ability to make me feel like Auntie Mame is a neverending source of amusement to me. Like when I took him with me to run two quick errands before his tumbling class. First I went to the liquor store to buy a bottle of this cava (Aviyno. the reserva - if you can find it, buy it. buy it all. best $16 worth of liquid sunshine you'll ever drink) to which Steve and I are... I don't want to say addicted... partial! that's the word. They had eight bottles left in the store and I thought oh to hell with it and bought them all after the cashier offered me a case price. After we bought the wine we went to Bed Bath and Beyond because I had printed my 20% off one store item coupon and after much nail-biting and price comparison and close reading of the retailer's satisfaction guarantee I decided I was going to buy the Mint floor cleaning robot and - since Steve heartily disapproved of the idea - I was going to give it to him as a surprise present. Sort of like a bowling ball named Homer.

- That night I started the Mint in the kitchen while Steve and I watched Netflix.

After a while he said, what is that noise?

What noise, I asked.

That noise! I have to go check. I think the dishwasher is breaking.

So he went into the kitchen and I tiptoed after him and watched as he looked around frowning and then the Mint bumped into his foot and he screamed like a little girl and I DIED laughing and he said, Julia, why is there a cube trying to eat my foot and I shouted Happy Birthday! It was awesome. His birthday is in December of course -

Where was I?

Oh right. So I bought a case of wine and then Patrick and I ran into B B and Beyond to get a floor cleaning robot. The saleswoman rang it up and took the discount and then told me what I owed her and Patrick said, "WHAT? Do you realize that you have just spent almost $300 on wine and vacuum robots in the past fifteen minutes?"

The woman said, "Did he just say... wine?"

And Patrick said, "Yep. Wine."

And the woman said, "That is really funny."

And I blushed and said, "Well I guess the plan is to drink wine while the robot cleans my floors."

She laughed and said it sounded like a good plan to her and I said doesn't it and Patrick compressed his lips and looked at us a young Jonathan Edwards planning his next sermon. He does a great dour. 

Oh and here is my two second Mint product review:

It is not a vacuum substitute so much as a swiffer substitute. It picks up cat hair and dirt and those little bits of stuff that wind up next to baseboards but it cannot do much with, say, half a banana. So if you are looking to replace your shopvac the Mint is not for you. If! However! You want something to zip along giving the hard floors in your house a little love while you organize canned food drives (or drink wine) then go ahead and put the Mint on your wishlist. Is it faster to just sweep your own floors? Definitely. Am I sitting here writing this while Minty is cleaning all the dirt in the front hall that the kids tracked in yesterday? Also definitely.

But buy it somewhere that offers a decent return policy just in case you are not as into floor cleaning gadgets as I am. And I am now coveting the Neato XV - it vacuums. Whoo whoo.

Speaking of abrupt endings: 

After condemning Stuart to the bowels of the Little family plumbing, Caroline refused to ever listen to the book again. By that point, though, Patrick had gotten into the story (such as it is) and he requested that we keep going the next time we were alone in the car. So he and I finished listening to Stuart Little together. Then we blinked at each other.

(I know what I am about to write is blasphemous so if you're sensitive perhaps you should skip down or at least get yourself a glass of water before reading the next part):

I had no idea that Stuart Little was such a strange, vaguely mean little book and the ending was so supremely unsatisfying that Patrick and I literally crawled around the floor of the car checking to see if I had dropped a disc somewhere. But no. It really does just end like that.

It was all so post-war and odd. Don't get me wrong, it is beautifully written and very clever and witty like a dry martini but as a book for children I don't get it. What was up with the tantrum he threw with Harriet Ames? Why didn't he take her to the supper dance at the club? Why does he leave his family like a runaway bride and why oh why is he following Margalo and shouldn't he either find her or give up at the end? It's just so cynical.

On the plus side I realized that I can get Patrick to listen to pretty much anything once it gets started so after failing for the past two years to interest him in reading the Witch of Blackbird Pond we are halfway through listening to it on CD and I'm swooning. I LOVE this book and Patrick - not surprisingly - approves of the Puritans so we're both happy.

+ I found Caroline and Edward under the dining room table on Sunday.

"We're hiding from Patrick," Caroline explained.

"Oh," I said. "Are you playing hide and go seek?"

"No, we don't want to do any more band practice."

"Ah," I said. "OK."

He has been working them pretty hard but I expect the Von Hippogriff Family Percussionists will be ready to debut soon as the result of his tireless direction.  

IMG_3823

As Patrick got older and I kept miscarrying I worried that the age gap between him and any putative sibling would stretch to some point beyond which there could be no relationship. I worried that he would be an only child for so long that the transition to a larger family would be hard on him. Then the twins were born and he was so amused by them that I thought, whew, THAT worked out just fine didn't it?

Recently, though, I have noticed the first signs of sibling strain starting to creep into his dealings with them. Caroline and Edward are no longer "the babies." They don't disappear for naps, they don't hang out in baby jail, they have opinions about what is on the TV, we're planning on bringing them with us to the farm in a couple of weeks and Patrick the Only Child is more than a little tweaked about it all.

He still loves them.

IMG_3829

He just thinks maybe they should do a semester abroad somewhere. Or better yet WE should go away to a waterpark and leave them with a babysitter. You know, because all of their stuff is here and it's not like they would like a waterslide and even if they did they ruin everything because they are so little.

See what I mean? He's a little peevish.

This is a sincere question. We've gotten used to dealing with them as two separate units (well three obviously but it is really two since the twinklebots do many many things together - bath bedtime school dentist - while Patrick is on a different schedule) but the necessity for this is fading as Caroline and Edward get older. My instict is to say oh settle down Patrick and welcome to the family but it IS sort of a drag for an eight year old to have to kowtow to preschool tastes. Clearly we don't need to do separate family vacations (Patrick will be going to Disneyworld and Caroline and Edward you get to go to the... LIBRARY!) but maybe some division is appropriate? How much should one lump kids together and does age and personal preference matter?

PS It's ridiculous for me to be so proud of myself but look

IMG_3924

IMG_3915

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Steve went to the farm for the weekend and I took the kids to the playground. All by myself. Go Celexa.