Tuesday, July 31, 2007

General Juvenile Behavior

Saturday was shaping up to be a good day until one of our neighbor's very sweet 4-year-olds suffered a blunt force trauma to the head, an injury which was, unfortunately, inflicted by my Brian in our basement. It didn't help that I didn't know which twin it was (nothing like shouting at a bleeding 4-year-old, "Who are you?!" while running to get his mother). Brian claims it was an accident (by-product of a pillow fight), and fortunately the victim's older sister corroborates his story. Whew. I'd hate to have to move again.

Larry and I went out for dinner that night to a "real" restaurant (meaning we didn't have to stand up to order our food). I spent the evening trying not to be grossed out by the fact that we unfortunately had a front row view of the butt crack (excuse my wording - I can't think of a polite way to say that) of some teenager sitting at the table next to us with a bunch of his friends. I would like to say in this underdressed teenager's defense, however, that he had good enough manners to put his napkin in his lap while he ate. Now if he could have just draped it behind him instead....

I decided that yesterday would be a pleasant stay-at-home day. Unfortunately, I forgot that the children would be there too. You know, the longer I'm a parent, the more I start thinking that "Children should be seen and not heard" is a really good idea. The little creatures whine and cry a lot. In a sudden fit of insanity, I decided to be a super-nice mommy and bake cookies with them in the afternoon; the first 5 minutes, Rachel screamed because we were making oatmeal raisin. The next few minutes, Susie screamed because Brian was mixing and she wasn't. Then Brian spent a while sobbing because Rachel (who had gotten over her disappointment) and Susie (likewise) were stirring in the wet ingredients without him. Then they all cried because I came to my senses and threw them out of the kitchen and put the dough on the cookie sheets myself.

Mealtimes are no better. If Susie doesn't like something that she has put into her mouth, she can't just spit it out onto her plate. She has to hold it in her hand and then scream at me until I take the masticated, spit-filled item from her personally. Besotted as I am with her, I still don't find this behavior charming. And for some reason, Rachel is unable to sit down at table for a meal without automatically whining about something on her plate. Brian pouts and whimpers if we expect him to eat anything that does not fall into the category of meat and potatoes, while Anna complains about everyone else's eating habits. We can't even invite anyone over for dinner - it's that embarrassing. I can't tape their mouths shut, because then they couldn't get the food in. IV feeding for the whole family is looking better and better to me.

There - have I complained enough? We're getting summer cabin fever here. And it's predicted to be in the 90's all week. The only saving grace this summer has been the kids' obsession with jigsaw puzzles - the real ones, the 1000-piece kind. I think we've done 4 already. They're sort of addictive. And Susie helps to make them even more challenging by taking apart the pieces when we're not looking. And throwing them back into the box. It's a good thing she's still cute.

Anna's birthday is coming up, and we're not sure what to get her. What does one get for the girl who hates everything? Or, at least, everything to do with us? Larry figures he may surprise her by giving her her bedroom door back. She slammed it one too many times a few weeks ago, and he snapped. I think it's in the attic now. I don't know - I'm staying out of this one.

Theo is heading back home next week, and I, for one, am looking forward to it. We've been eating so much dairy while he was gone that I've gained another 5 pounds. Talk about too much of a good thing.

Wow - I can't believe we still have all of August to endure down here in the semi-tropics. The mosquitoes are just starting to come out in force (they got a late start this year - sometimes a drought can be a good thing), my garden's dead, and Larry doesn't take me seriously when I tell him that what this family needs is a summer house on Martha's Vineyard. Or Nantucket. Everyone needs a change of pace every once in a while, is my thinking. Larry's thinking probably runs more along the lines of "Wives - they'll spend whatever you make." Well, yes - boredom will do that. It would be a little less boring around here if either one of us could figure out how to set up our DVD player - ever since the move, it's just been sitting there, defying all our attempts to get both sound and picture at once. I suggested that we just buy a new one. But Larry just got that look on his face again - you know, the one that says, "Wives...."

It's late - I have to post this before it becomes August, now don't I? Good-night, all.

Monday, July 23, 2007

On the Road With Harry Potter

Faced with the prospect of another fun-filled weekend of home renovations and reorganizing, we ran away instead. We decided to visit Theo at the Boy Scout camp where he's working this summer and see how the simple life agrees with him. Anna was quite excited about this plan - she couldn't wait to sit in the van with her 4 younger siblings for over 3 hours and then walk around in the woods of southern Virginia. (There really should be a font which indicates sarcasm.) Her displeasure was only slightly ameliorated by the fact that while she was sitting in the car, she could read the latest (and last) Harry Potter book without being asked to stop and help around the house.

Because we were leaving so early Saturday morning, we had to visit the bookstore at midnight Friday to get the books (yes, 2 of them - David ordered his own copy). Alas, if it were only that simple. What we really had to do was show up at the bookstore Friday morning, before it opened, and get in line behind the approximately 100 people who were already there in order to get a wristband that would enable us to get the books at midnight. Then, Larry had to take them to the bookstore at 9 that evening so they could sit around and wait 3 hours to get their hands on the precious tome. We had been warned that if we showed up later than 9, we might not be able to get in. It was true. I was supposed to relieve Larry of bookstore duty at 10:30, but he called and said not to bother - there was no way to get past the mobs around the front of the store. And even if I did, there was a bookseller with a bullhorn barring entrance to latecomers. Booksellers with bullhorns, attempting to calm an agitated crowd - hard to picture, isn't it? Larry's voice seemed to be shaking a bit as he relayed this piece of information to me. "Are you guys all right?" I asked him. He said they were, he was just a little freaked out by the numbers of people wearing capes and brandishing "wands." I guess he almost got it in the eye a number of times. "What's going on here?" he asked me. That's what you get if you send a Potter virgin to one of these book release extravaganzas. They suddenly realize that they don't know what's happening. It's not my fault - I had begged him more than once to read the books and brush up on his Potter lore, but he refused.

Where was I? Oh, yes - they managed to get their books and escape the mob outside the store. (I'm told Larry was yelling at the kids, "Hold it close to your chest! Don't let anyone get it!" as they made their way between the lines of police tape and out to the parking lot.) When they got home, I immediately confiscated both books and told the kids to get to bed and get some sleep before the trip. Which I did too, after I read a couple of chapters. (You didn't think I was going to buy a third copy, did you?)

We found Theo well and happy in the woods of southern Virginia. We had a picnic by the lake and he gave us a tour of the camp, including the disheartening scene of the staff members on their day off, all sitting around in a circle by the tents and smoking like chimneys. Theo says that they're not worried about getting addicted to nicotine. They're just smoking because they like to smoke and they don't want to stop. But they're not addicted. That's what they've told him. So that's okay. Theo's not bad in the sarcasm department himself, you know.

Anyway, we walked with Theo to the camp headquarters where he found that his copy of Harry Potter had arrived (yes, our family now owns 3 copies of that book - what of it?). He wanted to finish reading it that day because he had a waiting list of several other staff members who were going to read it after him. For 5 dollars a day. Apparently, Theo is nobody's fool. So we left him to his reading and continued on to West Virginia, where we were staying at an out-of-the-way navy base for the night. We only got lost once, on a winding country road; but we were helped out by a pleasant old gentleman who apparently hadn't gotten to talk to anyone since Bush's first Inaugural. So along with giving us directions, he regaled us with tales of his experiences in the Pacific during WWII and then stories of his grandfather's experiences in the Civil War (excuse me, I mean the War Between the States - we're in Virginia, you know). (In case any of you Yankees aren't aware of it, the War Between the States was never really settled in these here parts.) Every once in a while he had to step aside to let a car or truck go by, but then he'd come back and start talking again. After we finally managed to drive off, Rachel piped up, "Do we know that man?" We do now, sweetheart.

The Navy base was extremely isolated and extremely well-equipped: up-to-date playground, community center, game room, swimming pool, you name it. (Everything seemed to be named after Senator Byrd. It's not hard to imagine why. That's one senator who knows how to bring home the bacon.) We had great lodgings (3 bedrooms, kitchen, livingroom) for a mere 60 dollars a night (again, your tax dollars at work). It was ringed by beautiful mountains, which Anna and David barely glanced at, as they were engrossed in Harry Potter. Still, Larry and I enjoyed the change in scenery and we plied the younger kids with enough junk food that they enjoyed the experience too. And I finally got my hands on The Deathly Hallows (Anna is a fast reader), so I was able to read it before anyone could ruin it for me. Larry, however, is remaining steadfast in his determination to be a Harry Potter ignoramus.

Now we're back home, and wondering what to do with the rest of the summer. July is sort of a long month, you know?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summertime Diversions

Larry noticed that I was climbing the walls with boredom and consented to take time off from work to take us all to the beach for the day. It's proof that I was bored out of my skull that I agreed to sit in the car for 3 and a half hours so that we could lug half our worldly possessions (or so it seemed) from the state beach parking lot to the one empty place on the sand and broil ourselves in the sun all day. Oh, and then drive all the way home that same evening. Anyway, it seemed like a good idea when he suggested it; and once we got to the hot, sunny beach and the children were cavorting in the waves and digging in the sand, both Larry and I felt repaid for our efforts. Until I couldn't see. I thought that my glasses were fogging up, so I took them off; but everything looked misty and weird still, and I was just deciding that I was suffering from some form of rapid-onset glaucoma when I noticed (with some relief) that the lifeguard was blowing his whistle and waving for everyone to come back to shore (not that anyone could see him that well). So there we were, sitting in the middle of a cloud and listening to the ocean and gazing at the first line of breakers (because that was all we could see) and trying to convince the kids that they should just enjoy playing in the sand, which is normally fun, but it isn't as much fun when it feels as though you are sitting in a small gray box. We decided to wait out the inclement weather (which Larry posited was brought on by global warming), since we weren't exactly going to pile back into the car at that point; and after an hour or so of waiting (with some moderate episodes of whining) and after eating some extremely expensive french fries, we decided to amuse the children by taking them for a walk down the beach. So we all stumbled down to the shoreline (I should have tied us together with ropes, for safety) and felt our way down the beach aways and half-heartedly played Frisbee as if it were bright and sunny out. It was pathetic. Then we felt our way back to our umbrella and blankets, with Larry and I saying to each other the entire way, "I think it's lifting" and "Say, isn't that a second line of breakers out there?" By 3:30 or so, the fog rolled back enough for the lifeguards to allow us back into the water and then the sun did come out and even Susie rebounded from her lack-of-nap slump and ran around giggling at the edge of the sea. Of course, the lifeguards all went home shortly afterwards, leaving us (literally) high and dry again. So we decided to call it quits and head home ourselves. A little disappointing, but I would like to think that the kids learned a valuable lesson: even a day at the beach isn't always....a day at the beach.

We only had to take one van, as Theo is away, so our whole day (including the french fries) cost a mere 65 dollars, which came to less than one dollar per person per hour. I think that is pretty cost-effective, don't you? I'm trying to watch our spending, which isn't hard to do, because there isn't much of it to keep an eye on anymore. That's what happens when you decide to increase your mortgage by 50 percent, you know? And I can't help wondering whether the sacrifice is worth it, just to live in a house where I still don't know where everything is and where all of Larry's free time and disposable income for the next, oh, 10 years is going to be spent fixing it up. Owning a home isn't all it's cracked up to be. I find myself fantasizing about renting a nice little 2-bedroom condo with a maintenance team on call. No, I don't know where I would put the kids. That's irrelevant. Sometimes you just have to look out for Number One.

Today was typical end-of-summer exciting (we start our summer vacation early, so we're near the end now - at least, it feels that way). We are sort of pooled-out, if you know what I mean; so we sat around and did a Hershey's Cocoa jigsaw puzzle (which made me hungry, of course) and then we went out and got our free ice-cream cones at McDonald's. They're free because nowadays all the public library systems bribe children to read books over the summer. Our local system hands out coupon books if the children read (or are read to) a mere 15 titles. So far we've gotten free Pizza Hut personal pan pizzas and the aforementioned ice cream cones. We're looking forward to our free boxes of real-fruit popsicles from Whole Foods, small pizzas from Jerry's Subs and Pizza (actually, I'm sort of dreading that one - the lady who runs the shop gets rather hostile when she finds out that you are actually going to eat your food at one of her tables), and free yogurt from the local grocery store. Cool! We also have to remember to collect our free books from Barnes and Noble (you only have to read 8 books for that one); I have to fill out a separate form, however. The paperwork involved with these freebies can be a little overwhelming at times. Oh, well, all in a day's work....

We're updating our car to the digital age by having a radio with CD player installed (my birthday present - thanks, Dad!). For no apparent reason, Honda was still putting tape decks in their lower end models back in 2004. Well, come to think of it, there was a reason - so they could try charging us 600 dollars to upgrade to a CD player. Or else to convince us to upgrade to the EX model that had the CD player included (which would have been a few extra thousand dollars, in which case that should have been one heck of an audio system). But we couldn't afford either option, so we've been driving around sticking cassette tapes into our radio, just like I'm sure those pioneers did in their covered wagons. Just try explaining the concept of a cassette tape to kids these days. Turn it over? Huh? Rewind? Auto reverse? How retro can you get?

And just to prove that I am not a complete sound system ignoramus, I'll let you know that I made sure that Best Buy is installing the cable that will make our new car stereo IPod compatible. Not that we own an IPod. But it's best to be prepared...in another 3 years, who knows? Compact discs may be on their way out.

Anyone need some old cassette tapes?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Of Kids and Zucchinis

I was having one of those lovely moments with my 2 little girls the other day. I actually forgot about the housework and the unpacking (yes, we're still living with boxes all around) and sat down to just cuddle them in the armchair. Lovely...until Rachel affectionately confided in me, "Mommy, you look just like a grandma!" This move is taking its toll, apparently.

Larry just returned from yet another working retreat. He had a bag of potato chips and a bag of pretzels in his luggage. "Oh, we just had a little party," he claims innocently.

Now he is up in the attic attempting to install some space-age-looking radiant something-or-other that is supposed to lower the heat in the attic by thirty degrees. Looks like a big roll of tinfoil to me. David's eyeing it jealously - I think he wants to use it to build a space shuttle.

I sure hope Theo remembers to return from camp. No one here has had a decent meal since he left. I just keep throwing some form of bread and cheese at the hungry hordes (pizza, quesadillas, grilled cheese) and they stay happy. This can't be healthy. Theo reports that all is quiet at camp, aside from various unexplained fires - including one melted toilet seat in the campers' latrine. I'd like to point out that girl scout camps do not have this problem. Girl Scouts only light fires to cook s'mores.

In case anyone is wondering how the garden is doing this year, I was wondering the same thing. Somehow, I haven't found time in the past month or so to go check on it (yes, it's only half a mile down the road - but multiply that by several children and it makes it much farther). Anyway, since today was predicted to be in the 90's, I decided that it would be a great time to mosey on down (with the 4 youngest in tow - Larry was working) and see if anything was still alive. We found the tomatoes desperately trying to bear fruit while being strangled by morning-glory vines, the basil throwing in the towel and going to seed, and the zucchini thriving on the neglect (are we sure zucchini aren't weeds?). I immediately threw myself into trying to rescue the tomato plants while urging the children to go for water (and hurry!), for all the world as if I were a trained EMT happening upon a train wreck. (That might make a good TV show for hapless gardeners like me - Gardener 911 or Plant EMT.) The kids were extremely excited to discover the 4 baseball-bat-sized zucchini in the plot. We ended up spending almost an hour there (Susie only cried for the last 30 minutes or so), and I think we managed to convince the basil to hang in there and we propped up the thirsty, traumatized tomatoes and we gave everyone a good drink. So maybe we'll have a successful summer - if I ever make it back there again. Stay tuned...

I get to host the neighborhood Bunko club here tomorrow night. Yes, I'm turning our new house into a suburban gambling den. I hope everyone likes the stacked-boxes look - it's the latest thing in interior decorating...and so inexpensive!

Anna hates me. Oh, but you knew that already. So did I, actually. But she keeps repeating it to me, so I thought I would repeat it to you.

That's all my addled brain can remember to report - someone out there write to me - I want to know what people with normal lives are doing.