30 April 2011

A Royal Evening

Normally, today's post would be Saturday snapshots. But I've been a wee bit busy, what with the lying about (or as they say up here in Salem, "aboat") after the mystery illness, and then the mad preparation for the conference. So, not so many pictures. Although I did snap a photo of my awesome, new patent leather loafers that I wore this afternoon. They make me giddy with happiness. Ignore the pasty white legs that are attached.

Tonight, Delia and I sat with Anne Stuart, Lani, a.k.a. Lucy March, and Deborah Blake. Deborah hooked us up with the seats, as she is determined to keep all the Betties together. A very enterprising person made "Proud to Be a Betty" stickers, which we affixed to our name tags. These have prompted some questions regarding "Bettiness." I want to answer, "We're a rag-tag bunch of slavishly devoted blog readers, offering Universal Positive Regard and FGBV's," but I think that would make some folks back away, SLOWLY. So, I just tell them we read Lucy's blog. And then I ask for their business card. Because I am a self-promoting card whore.

Yes, I've gone from contest slut to card whore in a matter of days. It's a slippery slope. As an ice-breaker, Kate George, conference coordinator, organized a Scavenger Hunt. We were tasked with finding attendees based on descriptors. Because my general attitude this weekend is, "What the hell-I don't care!" I basically ambushed my fellow writers in my quest to finish. After interrupting their conversations and quizzing them, I asked for business cards. And then I foisted mine, courtesy of Pyra Promotions, upon them. I've collected some beautiful, creative, and downright racy business cards. I'm thinking of decoupaging a picture frame.

My favorite quote of the evening was, "You don't sound like you're from New Jersey." I heard that three times! And now, for you viewing pleasure, I present Lucy March and Queen Anne Stuart.


29 April 2011

A Betty-licious Night

After driving through apocalyptic weather, I arrived in Salem-famous home of witchcraft, a previously thriving maritime industry, and Bunghole discount liquors. Delia and I had time to spare, so we circled through the town, taking in some of the sights. Today is much more bright and shiny, so I think I will venture down by the waterfront, and perhaps have my palm read by "The Official Witch of Salem." I'm going to ask for her credentials. Surely she must have passed a test, or won a cage match, in order to claim that title. I wonder if it's like "Smackdown," and each year the witches have to face off to claim the "Official Witch" belt.

After enjoying a frozen hot chocolate (yum!- like a mochachino, without the coffee!) in the comfy chairs of our room, we ventured over to the Hawthorne Inn, where the convention begins today. There was a raucous party happening, which included the incongruous mix of a spectacular drag queen in a floor length red cape, a Beatles cover band, and home health care professionals. Go figure. We took in the sights, and commenced Betty hunting.

We texted, tweeted, and emailed our fellow Betties, Kate George and Deborah Blake. Kate is the chairperson of the conference, and we knew she would either be busy working or collapsed in a puddle of alcohol-tinged drool. That's not a comment on her, personally, it's just how I would react. Deborah is presenting, so we knew she would be on site as well. But we couldn't find them. We had almost given up the ghost, when in walked Lani Diane Rich, a.k.a. Lucy March and Anne Stuart! Delia recognized Lani from a class, so we introduced ourselves, which was funny, because we had to include our Betty names, which is how we identify ourselves on her blog. She'd just come back from dinner with Deborah and Kate, so she walked us over to meet them in their little cottage.

Kate was busy with last minute details, so we jumped in to help. As her chapter associates wandered in, they eyed us busily stuffing envelopes. We introduced ourselves, and kept sorting dinner orders.

"And why are you working with Kate?"
"We're Betties."

'Nuff said.

28 April 2011

The Next Step in My Journey

I am leaving in a few hours for Salem, Massachusetts, to attend a writer's conference. I am a writer!

I have so much to do that I can't actually post right now. But I promise to be in touch!

Now I have to go pack the Jell-O.

27 April 2011

O Coffee, coffee, wherefore art thou coffee?

My mother called this morning, sounding slightly panicked, and asked if I was okay.
"Yes, I'm fine. Why?"
"Well, there was no blog this morning, so I got worried."
It's nice to know I've become so reliable that my absence provokes worry. There's nothing further wrong with me; I just haven't had the late night energy to post at my usual time.

I am recovering ever so slowly from my as yet undiagnosed malady. But what's really kicking my ass is the fact that I have had no caffeine since last Friday. Those of you who know me personally will understand the magnitude of that statement. I love me some coffee. Especially the Fairway Supreme Blend that June brings me, or the Tip of the Andes that Janet gets at her local coffee shop. I drink coffee when I read all the blogs in the morning, and when I post late at night. Not to mention the late afternoon, for that extra boost of energy needed to wrestle children to the table to finish their homework. I have a sign in my kitchen that says, " Give me the coffee, and no one gets hurt."

I started drinking coffee when I got clean. Twenty-three years ago, one could still smoke cigarettes in rehab, and the only beverage at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting was brewed in a giant urn. Because I was desperately missing the feel of a drink in my hand, I took the joe. And added pounds of sugar and cream. Addicts are nothing if not adaptable.

I've had to lay off my sweet, muddy elixir a few times over the years, most often during pregnancy, when I was too nauseous to enjoy it. However, I found that once the darling parasite was out of my womb, the desire for coffee returned. And trust me, when you've already got a passle of kids, and a new one keeping you awake at night, coffee is what keeps the pack alive. I would drink a whole cup before going to sleep, so that when Boy Three, Four, or Five woke me in the middle of the night, my synapses would be ready to fire. Without the java, the lads would have perished.

I think the worst of the withdrawal is over. I didn't wake with a massive headache this morning. I've been bitchy, but I think that can also be attributed to the fact that I've been in pain. Currently, I am not jonesing for a fix. I am worried, though, that when I go see the specialist, he will tell me to lay off the perk for good. And I'm not certain I can comply. I think the benefits of imbibing outweigh the risks. Recently, coffee consumption has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, as well as gall stones and gout. It fights cancer-causing free radicals, and increases cognitive ability! Who cares if it irritates the hell out of stomach? Can't you just take a pill for that?

Once an addict, always an addict.

I must now dash-okay, move ever so slowly-to complete three days work in twenty-four hours. I am leaving for the conference tomorrow, come hell, or hiatal hernia!

I miss my inky goodness.

26 April 2011

Even Derek Jeter Strikes Out

I just didn't have it in me to post last night. I spent most of the day on the couch in the living room, while Four lay on his couch in the playroom. He would occasionally call for more water or crackers, and I'd remain upright long enough to oblige. I hoisted myself up in the afternoon to retrieve children from various bus stops and activities, and to get Five ready for his First Baseball Game Ever.

As the time to get dressed and ready drew near, Five grew more agitated. There was a lot of complaining that I didn't have what he wanted to eat for dinner, and how the sandwich I'd made him for lunch didn't have enough salami. And, if I didn't believe that there was no spelling homework, I could check his homework folder myself! The Captain had come home early to help me, and he and Two were sitting at the kitchen table listening to Five's harangue.

Two lost his patience first."Oh my God, Five, stop yelling at Mom! You're like a whiny, little baby! What is your problem?"

In a rare moment of insight, Five answered, "I'm just nervous about my game. I don't know what I'm doing. And everybody else does. I don't even know how to get a guy out. Dad, you have to write everything down that I need to know." He handed him a small pad. The Captain told Five he wouldn't really be able to take out his notes while playing, so they would just review in the car. Then I took him to get in his uniform.

As I left the kitchen, I heard the Captain say, "It's gonna be a long season, Two."
"I feel your pain, Dad," he replied.

If I didn't care about protecting the anonymity of my children, I would post the pictures of Five in his uniform. There's almost nothing cuter than little boys in baseball gear. And Five was excited, too, because it was the first time he was in the complete outfit. He left with the Captain, chattering all the way.

I actually showered and made it to the field for the end of the game. When I arrived, Five was crying.
"I struck out! I embarrassed the team! We're going to lose because of me!"

The Captain provided details. Five had actually hit the first two times up at bat, but he struck out on his third attempt. I told Five he could talk to Three, who has played baseball all his life, and sometimes even strikes out looking! I reminded him that this was everyone's first game, and he would get better. He didn't really believe me, but he went back out in the field.

Mercifully, at this level, the teams play four innings or ninety minutes, whichever comes first. Five did not have to bat again. Our team technically won, but everyone bats, and no one keeps score. The coach congratulated everyone for a fantastic first game, and added, "Especially you, Five. Why don't you lead us in the closing cheer?" Five stood up, all the boys threw in their hands, and he counted, "One, two, three...Double Red!"

As we packed up to leave, the coach came over one more time to reassure Five.
"Listen, Five, you did great. Don't get upset if you don't always get a hit. Even Derek Jeter strikes out!"
I think the extra attention made him feel better. And a little bit of my faith in team sports was restored.

25 April 2011

The Best Laid Plans

I started preparing for Easter dinner on Thursday. I ironed my tablecloths, and chose my color theme (white and green for new life). I added a few eggs to the all-season tree. I set up my serving tables with my fun mismatched china, and stood my forks and knives in old coffee pots, for easy grabbing.

The Captain took Friday off from work. It was great to have the extra help, and we did all of our Saturday chores one day early. We had free time in the evening, so we went shopping together for our upcoming trips. Well, not exactly together. He dropped me off at the mall, and then he went to a new, giant hockey store that just opened. The Captain is traveling to Montreal next week to play in a hockey tournament while I am at the writer's conference. He needed a new stick, and I needed new shoes.

As I browsed, I noticed that my mild stomach pains from earlier in the day were growing stronger and more persistent. We left and went home so I could lie down. I went to bed early, and felt relatively fine the next morning. I got all my grocery shopping done, and continued with the Easter fun. The little boys and I dyed eggs. I had the older boys fill the plastic kind with treats for the egg hunt. I mopped the floor. My stomach pains returned, with a vengeance.

This morning I decided to go to the hospital. Although I've experienced these pains before (often, actually), I am usually better by day three of an attack. This time I was worse. I couldn't remain upright for any amount of time. The waves of pain had become constant. I realized I wasn't going to get any better on my own.

The Captain drove me, and stayed while we waited for the tests to commence, which was no small feat, because he was nursing a migraine. My in-laws called the family to cancel the festivities, and handled everyone at home, which included driving Two to a gig as the Easter Bunny. I got an ultrasound, and prepared for a CAT scan by drinking a quart of vile tasting liquid. That was the worst part of the whole day, until the dye injection. I'm a little bit of a wimp. All I kept thinking was, even if it's my gall bladder, they can't yank that sucker until next week, after my conference.

It's not my gall bladder, or anything else they can see. So, now I have to go to a specialist, and do different tests. The doctor was very kind, and gave me medication. I went home and laid on the couch. The Captain and the in-laws whipped up an alternative Easter dinner for our family unit, and we decided to save my pretty tables and the giant ham for mother's day. The Captain is still battling his migraine, and Boy Four now has stomach pain, similar to Five's from last week. When we fail, we like to do it spectacularly.

Pass me the Vicodin; I'm going back to sleep.

23 April 2011

22 April 2011

The Post I Was Too Weary to Write

I felt lame. Julie has stuff going on, and she writes her blog everyday. There have been many times Lucy had a difficult day, and posted anyway. And today, Delia shared about surviving her cascade of crappiness, and it amounted to more than four sentences. So, here's a real post.

In an effort to save my sanity, I have been trying a new course of action with Three. He's a tricky dick, always has been. He's a nice kid, athletic, friendly, curious. But there are some underlying issues. A few years ago, he was home from school for months with crippling anxiety. That's better now. But we continue to deal with his real inability to read a situation, and choose the right path. This is a boy who, right after telling me he had failed math this quarter, asked if he could sleep over a friend's house. What the frak?

We've been dealing with this exasperating behavior for so many years, we're worn out. We just keep waiting for him to mature, and "get it." But a few weeks ago, when he once again said the wrong thing at the wrong time, I decided to change my tactics. Instead of freaking out, I used that maddening moment as a teaching opportunity. I told Three I was going to walk him through our entire conversation, and point out where his responses had been inappropriate. Then, I would tell him what he should have said, in order to keep his mother from losing her freaking mind. In turn, this might eventually get him what he wanted. These are called social skills.

So, last night,  Three came to me while I was writing the blog. He had done something, and he knew it was wrong. There had been moments as the event unfolded, where he could have stopped, and prevented things from getting worse. But he didn't. And he wasn't accepting responsibility for his actions. It was...depressing.

After the fall-out, Three went downstairs, and asked One to buy him cigarettes. One promptly came upstairs and told me. I'd been sitting at the kitchen table in a funk, having erased the draft text of my post which, ironically, was about Three overcoming anxiety at his baseball game. I gathered myself up, and went downstairs to talk, because of all my children, Three is the likeliest candidate for addiction.

"What makes you think smoking will make any of this better?"
"I thought it might take the stress away."
"No it won't, because then you're addicted, and you have to spend like ten dollars a pack for more cigarettes. And that's stressful."

We reviewed the wrong choices Three had made, and what he could have done instead. We talked about using a seven second delay, like they do in broadcasting, in case someone curses on live television. Instead of acting on impulse, maybe he could learn to pause for seven seconds and think. It's sad, because Three knows right from wrong. He just doesn't always make the right choice. But I must. And I choose him. So, I'm just going to keep talking, and talking. Even when I just want to go to bed.


I had a post planned. And then a whole bunch of shit happened. And now I don't feel like writing. I'll try again in a few days.

21 April 2011

Of Pathogens and Preparation

Ack! I am one week away from the NECRWA conference! I am unprepared, and this week is not progressing as planned. Four is on school break, and Five has been lolling outside death's door since Saturday. The rainy weather and Five's consumption have kept us confined indoors all week. Except for the day Four got his cavity filled, and then chewed on his dead lip until it swelled to Angelina Jolie proportions. It's a good thing Four is easily entertained, or he might have noticed that this is the suckiest Spring break ever.

Five started to rally today, and the sun made a late appearance. It was enough incentive to get me to vacuum. Oh, did I forget to mention that we host all the family gatherings? Therefore, while my brain is busy thinking of all that I must do before leaving next Thursday, I must also dedicate time to prepare for Easter dinner. The crowd will be small, in comparison to Thanksgiving. Twenty-three people, give or take.

I have a love/hate relationship with the holiday parties. It's fun to decorate, and the family enjoys being together, especially the young cousins. But it's a lot of work. I suppose if I maintained my house, it would be clean and at the ready. But since that isn't the case, it would help if I didn't have children. Or at least if I had children who don't play sports, act, sing, or do homework. Then, I could really be productive.

There was a moment yesterday when my mother-in-law considered cancelling the whole shindig. She is hyper-germ-aware. She has been closely monitoring Five for signs of improvement, while vigilantly studying Four for signs of contagion. She and I have different opinions about the half-life of viruses. She firmly believes that germs can linger undetected, like long-range reconnaisance patrols, for weeks after the initial contact. Thus, Five can make a complete recovery, but if Four gets the same illness in the next two weeks, Five will be to blame. Therefore, she almost called the whole thing off, out of concern for the other grandchildren.

I, on the other hand, think that if any children get sick after Sunday, it will be because they all attend public school. When one swims in that cesspool of pathogens day in and day out, one is at risk every moment trapped within those airless rooms. I don't think wee Mr. Five can be held personally accountable for any illness acquired subsequent to one's visit to our home, Your Honor.

M.I.L and I discussed our divergent theories, and concluded that Easter festivities can proceed as planned, after the entire house has been disinfected with Lysol. I get the feeling I've been hoodwinked into defending my right to work my ass off. Well, I do have ass to spare, so maybe it's not all that bad.

Tomorrow, I will still be trapped at home with Recovering Mr. Five and Fat-Lipped Mr. Four, so I'll finish decorating my tables and the all-season tree. That might free up some time for conference related items later. You know, between the egg-dyeing, basket assembly, and actual cooking of the meal. Who am I kidding?

At least I can rest easy that I will arrive in New England germ free, thanks to the Lysol.

20 April 2011

Condom Shopping

Last night, I went shopping in The Christmas Tree Shops. I was on my way to Target, and realized I needed grass for Easter baskets. The Christmas Trees Shops carry discount seasonal items (although, judging by the name, at one time it was only the one season), a random assortment of foodstuffs, and cheap housewares. They are run by the same company that owns Harmon Discount, so there is also a separate section of health and beauty supplies within the Shop. I needed children's Tylenol for the woebegone Five, so I wandered over to browse.

I'm not a particularly girly woman. I don't often go in for mani-pedi's, I have no skincare routine, and I rarely need more than three products in the shower. The other day, I had to use my shampoo for body wash, because I forgot to replace the empty bottle. Nevertheless, I can be persuaded to purchase site-specific products, especially as I age. I was drawn to the Bio-Oil for stretch marks, although those suckers are so old, I'm not sure anything short of a steam-roller would do the trick at this point. I picked up a foot file, thinking I might remember to use it if I put it in the shower. I stocked up on sunscreen, because it was on sale for three dollars a bottle!

I rounded the corner, and spied condoms. I am fairly certain I have never purchased a box of condoms in my life. I haven't even seen a condom in twenty years. Yes, I know; I'd probably have fewer children if I'd been a little more familiar with the rubbas, as we called them back in the day. That said, I wasn't shopping for personal contraception.

My condom curiosity was sparked by a conversation I had with Two. He was doing his homework while I was writing, and he kept answering text messages. Only after I threatened to stomp on his phone and smash it to bits, did he offer any details.

Me: "Who are you talking to?"
Two: "Some girl I want to hang out with on Thursday."
Me: "Who is she?"
Two: "Melanie. She's a friend of Allie's."
Me: "Melanie Who?"
Two: "I don't know her last name. I met her on facebook, and she really wants to hang out on Thursday."
Me: "You don't know her last name, and you're going to hang out with her? Does she go to school with you?"
Two: "No. But we've been trying to get together, and Thursday is the first day we can do it."

Now, Two didn't necessarily mean DO IT, but I did get the impression he's trying to mingle outside his normal dating pool, which has been quite shallow lately. I don't begrudge him this opportunity. But the idea that he might be meeting some unknown girl for a random hook-up made me nervous. I decided I was going to buy him condoms. I told the Captain.

Captain: "Yeah, but it's not a good idea..."
Me: "I don't think it sends the message that I'm encouraging him."
Captain: "That's not what I meant. He's fifteen. The first time a girl says she'll sleep with him, he won't need any encouragement. I was just going to say it's not a good idea to walk around with condoms stuffed in a wallet. He'll sit on them and wear them out."

I love the Captain. I told him I would give Two the condoms, with instructions on wear and tear. Honestly, we both hope they expire in his top drawer, but better safe than sorry. So, I set about purchasing condoms for my teenage son. There were a lot of choices.

I remembered Lora's  mention of Durex as the brand with the best record of non-breakage. However, it soon became clear that sometime in the past twenty years, condoms became about "female pleasure." They all touted their ribbing, and thinness. I don't care about satisfying Two's dates, and I definitely don't want him wearing THIN condoms. I want reinforced steel, with nuclear strength spermicide to eradicate any wily swimmers that might manage to escape. I bought Trojan Classics.

Now, I have to actually give them to Two. I'm sure he'll be embarassed, but no more so than if he had to buy them himself. Which is why I got them. I don't trust his penis to do the right thing, and one of us needs to be thinking about his future.

19 April 2011

The Feverish Mr. Five

I am sitting on the playroom couch while Five reclines at the other end. He is very ill, and suggested "someone should come keep an eye on me." This morning I worked in the kitchen, but now closer proximity seems in order. My new laptop battery has made me once again cordless, so here we be. He is sipping water through a curly straw, and nibbling ever so lightly on a pretzel. He is the very definition of wan.

As you have gathered from his name, Five is the last of the line. Previous to his arrival, I had already encountered, endured, and developed immunity to every mundane childhood illness known in these parts. It takes a lot to get me to go to the pediatrician.  Along the way, I learned to wait at least three days with a fever, or the doctor will automatically declare "it's a virus," and send us on our way. One must really let strep fester, in order to avoid the false negative test, thus necessitating a return visit, and another stick to the back of the throat.

I am also very reluctant to pay the $125.00 emergency room co-pay unless a bone is actually poking through the skin, or one's wrist is bent at a 90 degree angle. I ignored Three's severe sprain for a week, before finally visiting the perky, young pediatrician, who immediately sent us for an x-ray. She looked horrified when I asked the time frame for returning to football practice. I wasn't forcing him to go back; I just wanted a legitimate answer for his coaches. Three has a reputation for exaggerating the extent of his injuries.

Five developed a fever Friday night, it subsided Saturday, and he didn't even vomit until very early Sunday morning. There were a few more incidents throughout the day, including one bout during Sunday family dinner, which everyone in the other room tried admirably to ignore. But as symptoms go, I was unimpressed.

I kept him home this morning, and monitored his decline. He got worse as the day progressed, and I began to flash back to our experience with Two. He is the one who taught us about strep throat. We took him on day two of his fever, and the test proved negative. Then we watched him get more pale and listless with each passing day, until he couldn't even suck on ice pops. Sure enough, this time the test was positive for strep. He never willingly allowed that giant q-tip near him again. I began to fear the same fate for Five.

I made the call, and took Five to the doctor this afternoon. I had to carry him in from the car. Which is difficult, now that he is more than half my size. I deposited him on the exam table, and he very eloquently explained his symptoms to the aforementioned perky, young pediatrician.

Dr.: "Can you tell me what's bothering you?"
Five: "Yes. It started on Friday, when my stomach was hurting and I couldn't go to the nurse. And then I threw up yesterday, and today I'm so weak I can barely move my legs. And I can feel my heart beating a lot."
Dr. "That is an excellent observation, Five. When you have a fever, your heart beats faster. But the medicine should help that. Have you been eating and drinking?"
Five: "Only some saltines or Ritz, and today I sucked on a pretzel. But I've been drinking through a straw."
Dr.: "That's okay, it's probably better if you don't eat. You have to drink, though. You should feel better in two or three days."

What he took away from that conversation was that the doctor said he can't eat, and he won't be better until Wednesday. Always the optimist. But at least, in his mind, she failed him, instead of me. I did my duty, and took him in one full day sooner than I would have, normally. Score one for the neglectful mother!

18 April 2011

Against All Odds, Victory

On Saturday, Four and Five competed in their Tae Kwon Do tournament. As you know, TKD (it takes too much concentration for me to keep spelling it out), is a mixed bag. We had stopped attending back in the fall because the boys didn't like it. I have learned, after years of youth athletics, that I have no interest in cajoling, negotiating, or otherwise forcing any of the boys to participate in them. You don't want to play? I'm not going to twist your arm. Because I've twisted Three's arms with enough torque to break them, and gotten nowhere. Lesson learned.

However, after speaking with the nice young Master at our TKD school, the boys re-upped. Then, they begged to compete in the tournament. I was very apprehensive. But I don't like to discourage, so I paid our entry fees. Sure enough, the week before the tournament, Four had that awful day, and Five refused to practice. Goody.

Friday afternoon, Five came home from school complaining of stomach pain. He got progressively worse as the day  wore on, and I put him to bed early. I warned Four that he might have to go to the tournament alone. He said that since they wouldn't be dueling against each other, he was fine alone. Progress.

The next morning, Five woke up ready to go. He didn't have a fever, and he wasn't complaining about his stomach. They got in their uniforms, and we headed off to our first TKD tournament! Half way there,  Five said he felt sick. I fed him some crackers, and told him he didn't have to compete. But he wanted to try. So, we entered the gymnasium, and joined the HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN AND PARENTS. It was hot, noisy, and chaotic. Everything that is bad for Four. I became nauseous.

The Captain and I sat up in the bleachers while the children were led through their stretches. For thirty minutes. Five hates stretches, because they hurt, and he can't do his personal best. (Please see "How I Failed Five" in Lyrics and Failures.) I waited for him to look for me. Nothing.

Next, there were several demonstrations of various martial arts. The Captain practiced karate for many years as a child. He earned his black belt when he was fifteen. Then he hurt his knee, and could no longer train. But he still retains the knowledge, so he commented as we watched.
"I don't know why they keep their hands open. That's just an invitation for a broken wrist."
"Tai-chi is just fighting, in slow-motion."
"It's incredibly hard to use two nun-chuks, because you have a dominant hand. So you have to be really skilled. Do I still have my nun-chuks?"
"Yes, dear. I know where all your killing instruments are located."
At the end of the demonstrations, I looked to see if Four had lost his mind from waiting so long to compete. Not yet.

Finally, the actual competition began, with board breaking. We climbed down from the bleachers to get a better view. Five went first, and broke his three boards "Into seven pieces, Mom!" He earned a silver medal in his group. Four also took second place. They were both so excited to receive their medals, they forgot that they were hot, hungry, and had been waiting over an hour. I started to relax. Then I found out it would be another hour until their freestyle forms competition. The nausea returned.

We had lunch. We went back into the gym, and watched our friends do their forms. At last, we were called. Five went first. His routine was very artistic, but lacked real technique. He placed third. And he was pissed. He was absolutely sullen on the podium. This was the boy who wanted to quit this week. The Captain was a clingy, nervous child, who grew into a boy who didn't like to lose. So, it appears he has succeeded in creating at least one child like himself.

Four was second to compete in his group. His freestyle forms were punctuated with guttural hyah sounds, which he says gives him more power. I think that's what did the trick, because he won  first place. He was so excited, he forgot to bow. I took many pictures of him, grinning ear-to-ear, as he was presented with his gold medal. We were ecstatic!

We left as soon as we were done. I finally took a deep breath. We stopped at the diner for lunch, and got ice-cream as a treat. Five's stomach pain returned. We went home and spent the rest of the day lying around, recovering.

I realized that my body had been clenched all day, anticipating the worst. I think it's been one big knot of anxiety for the past six years. Four is clearly making progress, but I wonder when I will internally accept that without question. When will my default thinking be one of success, not failure?

Are you trapped in old patterns? Is something from your past interfering with your present? How do we get those old voices to be quiet?

16 April 2011

Saturday Snapshots

Poor Five is sick. And tomorrow is the Tae Kwon Do tournament that he and Four begged to enter. Before Five decided that Tae Kwon Do = pain. So, I don't think he'll be participating. We'll see what the morning brings. In the meantime, here are some snapshots of my time in Florida.
Welcome to Myakaa River State Park, where we saw all the wildlife, including alligators, an armadillo, and an orange snake. 

This is called the Canopy Walk. It's a single person suspension bridge set between two towers, about 75 feet above ground. It sways a little when you walk across, but it's very cool to be up among the tree tops, admiring the ferns that grow on all the branches.

Armadillo! He's tough to see in his thick armor, but cuuutte.

 Here is one of the wild peacocks that live in the historic section of Sarasota. He was kind enough to unfurl all his feathers, and shake them, like a Native American dancer. Then, the folks who live in the house opened their garage door, and scooched him away, so they could get out! He was unimpressed, and took his sweet time moving. I wish I had known how to use my zoom lens!
MomMom and Pappou on the boat ride through Sarasota Bay. It was a beautiful day. We saw a dolphin, and lots of tropical birds, who were busy diving for food to feed their babies.

It's very difficult to see, but this is the rookery, where all the birds nest. There are three of these shrubby islands, and hundreds and hundreds of birds build their nests in them. I don't know how they manage to find their own babies in the crowd! Well, I guess all mothers know the sound of their children calling their name.

The Lone Woman, with the sun on her face, and the wind in her hair.
I'm still figuring out the camera phone. First, I filmed us, upside down. Then, only half of our faces were in the shot. This is the fourth attempt.
Finally! We'll take it. That is my beloved Dillon Panthers hat, from "Friday Night Lights." I love Coach, and Mrs. Coach, and when I'm done here, I'm going to watch the first episode of the final (sob) season. Those of you with DirectTV, don't tell me what happens. Those of you who have never watched "Friday Night Lights," you  need to correct that. 

Thanks, friends, for all your support this week. I wish you a weekend with sun, laughter, and much love.
I'll be back to chat on Monday!

15 April 2011

All Hail the Captain

I just finished folding five loads of laundry. The Captain returns tomorrow from a business trip, and I'm trying to make it look like I actually accomplished something while he was away. Yes, I know it's ridiculous. But the truth is, the Captain does my job better than I do.

When I was in Florida, I checked in periodically to see how things were going. Everyday, there was another glowing report about fantastic Mr. Four and cooperative Mr. Five. Four was up in the morning, happy to go to school. He would hop right in the van, even though he was battling a cold. He got his homework done in fifteen minutes, before the evening commitment of Tae Kwon Do, or Five's baseball practice. He studied every day for his spelling exam, and on Friday, he got his highest score ever!  They both went to bed without snuggling!!

On the  following Monday, this is how our day began:

Four: "Am I on Spring break?"
Me: "No, honey, that's next week."
Four: "Then why did I get Monday off?"
Me: "You didn't. Today is Monday."
Four: "Oh, man. I don't want to go. Can I just have one more day off?"
Me: "No, sweetie."
Four: "But I'm tired. I can't go."
Me: "Listen, Four, you're making me look bad. All last week, you went to school with no problem for Dad. You did a great job, you got your homework done lickety split every night, and your points were good, too. Can we please NOT make Mommy look like a lousy parent?"

And you know how the next few days went. Except for Tuesday, when the Captain took Four to the dentist. He was great. The hygienist had to really take her time working on his teeth. A water pik was involved. Then, the Captain convinced Four to let them use real paste on his teeth. The minty kind. Four hates mint. But he did it anyway. They took x-rays, and discovered a huge cavity in his molar. Apparently, I was supposed to take him a few months ago to have the pictures taken. Instead, I get to bring him next week to have that sucker filled. Let's hope it works out better than when I brought Five.

Shoot me.

The only thing the Captain didn't manage to accomplish while I was gone, was a clean house. This is an anomaly. Usually, the rugs have been vacuumed, the refrigerator's been cleaned, and the kitchen floor mopped. I know it's twisted, but I was happy none of it got done.

The Captain will read this when he lands. He'll come home tomorrow morning, and reassure me that I am a great mother, and an awesome wife. He'll point out that he was able to work so closely with Four because none of the other children were in school that week. Yeah, yeah.

We've been married for twenty-one years, and parents for eighteen. He knows how I prioritize my day, and he just works differently than I do. The Captain is very goal-oriented, and routinized. He likes systems. I am much less structured in my approach to daily living.  And I am rarely motivated to clean. If the Captain catches me with the Swiffer in my hand, he has to leave the room. It's too arousing.

Logically, I know all of this doesn't matter. But I'm still going to fold that last basket of laundry. And remove that huge cardboard box that's been sitting in the living room since Monday. If I'm very motivated, I might mop. And those damn kids better not screw me over in the morning.

Wait. The Captain should arrive home right around bus time. No worries. I'm sure they'll be angels for him.

14 April 2011

For Every Yang, There is A Yin

Because I have, of late, been relentlessly upbeat,  I was rewarded with a fairly shitty day. Nothing catastrophic happened; it was just more of the usual challenges that suck the life-force from my soul.

It's 11:10 at night, and I am just sitting down to write. And it's not like I've been busy cleaning up the joint, and am now plunked down in my chair, exhausted but pleased, as I gaze out at my gleaming kitchen counters. Nope. I had to shove the kids' homework out of the way to fit my laptop on the table. I'm waving hello to the pizza box, which, if I was inclined to go open, probably still contains a gelatinous slice or two. I'm debating whether I should empty the remains of this morning's coffee and make a fresh pot, so I have the energy to unload and re-load the dishwasher. Maybe I'll just drink tea.

The mood of the day was established early, when Four refused to go to school unless he was allowed to bring Five's Nintendo DS game on the bus. I got him out the door toward the van that picks him up at the top of our driveway. Then I went inside and told Five I'd pay him money to let his brother borrow the game. He started negotiating a price, but I could feel the clock ticking, so I basically grabbed the game out of his hand and headed up to Four. Five came outside, sobbing, "You'd better not give him that game!" I got to Four and gave him the opportunity to do the right thing. Make his younger brother happy, or leave him crying. And this is where I should explain everything that was going through my mind at that moment.

The night before, taekwondo had ended badly. Four was disrespectful to me and the teacher, and he wouldn't/couldn't explain what had triggered his transformation from enthusiastic student to sassypants. This resulted in an hour of reading alone time in the bedroom before Four came out ready to apologize. So, I feared another complete meltdown.

The van driver is a nice, older gentleman who doesn't really understand the mood swings of my beloved Aspergian child. As I stood outside the van, negotiating with my boy, who was threatening to unbuckle, I let my feelings of inadequacy take over. I wanted to avoid looking like a failure, keep my kid in his seat, and send him off to school. Four chose the game over his brother, so I gave it to him, and told him he better enjoy it, because it was the last time it would ever rest in his hands.

Then I walked back toward Five, fully aware I had just left the frying pan to jump into the fire. It took an hour to calm him down. Here is the abbreviated version of  his commentary:

"I trusted you. You're a nice person, but you just came in here and stole the game from me! And now I am really upset. You've taken my heart, and broken it. Ripped it into pieces! And I'm crying, and I'm not going to be able to stop, and everyone at school will know, and they'll make fun of me. And I'll be humiliated! I'm only seven, and I'm shy! And I'm afraid I won't be able to stop crying, and I'll have to spend the day at the nurse. I'm not going!" Seriously.

I swept the ashes of my heart into my hand, and attempted to explain. But it's hard to say, hey, listen, I know it sucks that you have this totally needy brother, but every so often, I'm going to screw you over. Instead, we decided that letting him watch a bit of a funny movie would stem the tide of tears, and a stop at Dunkin' Donuts would fortify him for the day ahead.

When Four got home, the first thing he asked was if I had told Five he was sorry. I said he would have to do that himself. He did, and Five accepted his apology. Later, he took great pleasure in telling Three that he had gone to "DD", all by himself, and ate his own cup of munchkins at a table.

"Why did you get to go there?" Three asked.
"Because mom stole my game from me, and gave it to Four. But I forgave her."
I asked him to repeat it to be sure.
Now I just have to do the same.

13 April 2011

Future Possibilities

I was talking with a friend today about her niece. The young lady is getting ready to select a college, and seems intent on following in the footsteps of all her incredibly intelligent family members. That is to say, she wants to go to an Ivy League school, get a degree in business, and pursue a career in finance. And her incredibly intelligent Auntie is disappointed.

Niece is a rocker chick. She plays the bass. She's talented; not to mention funny, creative, and smart. So Auntie is worried that she will be unhappy pursuing a more traditional life plan. But Niece doesn't see the pay-off in the road less taken. So, Auntie was very excited when, in the course of volunteering, she met a cool, funny, creative, smart, successful woman. Hipster Gal had worked in advertising, taken a detour through retail, and eventually ended up as the head of visual design at a major New York clothier. At the end of their conversation, Auntie asked if she could bring her niece to meet Hipster Gal. She wanted Niece to see the alternate route fully achieved. Possibility become Reality.

I thought it sweet that Auntie was so intent on presenting all of life's options to her niece. When I was young, I opened the classified ads, and was astounded at the variety of jobs. I really had no idea about all the ways one could earn a living. I think this is true for many of us. We aren't aware of all the different paths we can explore.

I don't remember what I wanted to be when I "grew up." In college, I knew that I wanted to do something creative, perhaps in film. I dabbled a little in that venue after graduation, and I worked in an artist's studio. Then I got pregnant, had One, and life took a different direction. It wasn't a wrong turn, because I'm pretty sure God put me on this earth to raise these boys. But it's been a twisty trail at times.

This is the first time in my adult life that I am working in a profession of my own choosing. Even though I don't earn a paycheck, I am fulfilled. I'm using my funny, creative, smart brain in a new way. It's a satisfying feeling. I hope Niece can have that, too, no matter which path she travels.

What did you want to be when you "grew up?" And what would you choose to do now?

12 April 2011

Nothing But Good Times Ahead

I entered some writing contests in January. You may recall that my mother gave me The Guide to Literary Agents at Christmas. After flipping through the index, I decided to join the Romance Writers of America. It was a small gesture that made me feel committed to my writing. When I visited the RWA website, I discovered that the various chapters across the nation sponsor writing contests. I read the descriptions and requirements of each contest, and decided to enter three: Cleveland Rocks, the Winter Rose, and Between the Sheets.

Cleveland Rocks judged my first 6000 words, and Winter Rose my first chapter. Between the Sheets was my favorite, because I had to submit a love scene. Let me tell you, gentle readers, I labored long and hard on that scene. I had many discussions with my de facto editor, Janet, and my sister, Erin, who had to call me from the Safeway parking lot, for privacy. I dare say, it's sexy. Perhaps even hot. I giggled when I sent it off.

While visiting Mom, I got an email from Cleveland Rocks. It informed me that I wasn't a finalist, but my comment sheets were attached. I took a deep breath, and opened the file. The two judges were very complimentary, and insightful. Both said they would have kept reading! I was giddy with delight.

When my plane touched down in Newark, I turned on my phone, and saw I had a voicemail from Texas. I listened to the nice woman with the charming accent explain that I am a Winter Rose finalist! Wait, that makes me sound like a beauty contestant. Rather, my entry, "Big Sky," is a finalist! I really wanted to whoop, but I'm not big on public yakking, so I mad-texted instead, first to the Captain, then Mom, Janet, and June, my de facto agent. When I got home, I saw Two, asked about his week, and then said, "Okay, enough about you. Guess what happened to me??!!" I smiled for a solid day, as I made everyone look at my name in print on the Yellow Rose website.

I'm not going to lie, and say it doesn't matter if I win or lose. It would be fantastic to win. But, to paraphrase the Academy Award nominees,  just getting to the final is a prize, because someone from Harlequin will read my submission. And I am unafraid. Letting June and Janet read my first draft was more nerve-wracking than this. They read A LOT of romance. They know much, much more than I do about what makes a satisfying novel. When they gave me their seal of approval, I felt like I could compete, even if I do still think they grade me on a curve. Writing my first sex scene was even more excruciating. It took me days and days to get up the nerve to let it be read. By comparison, having strangers critique me is cake. 

I have entered two more contests since I submitted to those first three. I realize I'm in danger of being labeled a contest slut, but I don't care. This is my first book. Tart me up, and ship me out! I want all those kind, talented judges to read what I've written, and tell me what they think. Some will like it, some won't, and I'm okay with the results.

There are many writers with more talent and skill than I possess right now. More than anyone else, I am competing with myself, because I want to get better at my craft. I'm proud of what I've accomplished, especially in the last four months, and I can't wait to do more. Maybe it was the vacation, or the arrival of Spring, but I am in a particularly optimistic mood. I want to stride forth, armed with a fertile imagination and a fearless soul!

I haven't heard from the Between the Sheets folks. I think they lost my entry, because they posted the finalists and I haven't received my comments. It's too bad, because it was a really good sex scene. Even the Captain agreed, and he's hardly my target demographic. Oh well. Time to re-apply the lipstick, hike up the skirt, and slink on over to the next contest. I'm a cheap date.

11 April 2011

Time Together, Time Apart

This is the Gulf of Mexico. It is across the street from where my mother lives in Florida. One, Mom, and I spent a few hours there, enjoying the warmth and the wildlife. Although Mom's pulmonary fibrosis makes it difficult for her to walk anywhere, she was game to go and sit on the beach. We took our time, and made it over the dune, so I could watch One in the water. Which was a bit chilly. Not Atlantic Ocean teeth-chattering cold, but not Gulf bathtub warm, either. I didn't go in. Instead, I made a dedicated effort to tan. Which means I have more freckles now, and a reddish triangle on my chest.

We spent the week focusing on all the things that make One happy. He just turned eighteen, and the trip was his birthday present. One hasn't been on a plane since the world turned upside down in 2001. He doesn't have a driver's license, so we had to get him a government issued I.D. I  had prepped him for all the security requirements, but forgot the simple things, like escalators. It was impossible for him to make it down, when his good hand was pulling his carry-on suitcase. When we landed in Tampa, I found the elevators instead.

We visited Myakka State Park, which is forest, plains, and lakes. There were herons, pelicans, egrets, and diving cormorants. We saw alligators and an armadillo. More lizards than can be counted or caught crossed our path on one of the nature trails, and an adorable orange snake slithered past as we left. It was One's vision of Heaven.

Each day, I wrote a little more of the book, sometimes while sitting on the front porch, enjoying the scent of jasmine carried on the evening breeze. Each night, we ate Pappou's homemade ice cream. And when I climbed into bed, I read until I fell asleep. My version of Heaven.

When it was time to leave, I hugged my mother good-bye, for now. She will return to New Jersey in June. I know she feels the passing of time more acutely. But there is a part of me that doesn't want to give these days any more weight than all the ones that have preceded them. Each day, year, decade she has been my mother has been a gift, and I don't need her to tell me, now, how much she loves me, because I've lived that all my life. There is no unfinished business. Just living.

The Captain and the little boys came to meet us at the airport. It was late, but they were so excited, they unbuckled to give me kisses. They talked and  talked, and so did I, until Five said, "Mom sounds like she's had a whole box of coffee!", which made me laugh. Every so often Four would proclaim, "I love you, Mom!" and then diplomatically add, "And you, Dad!" because their week had been pretty great, too.

I was delighted to see them, and when we got home I couldn't wait to climb in their bed and snuggle. I contorted my body to accommodate hand-holding on one side, and head-resting on the other. I lay awake in the dark, smiling. And I understood my mother a little more. The time away was wonderful, but I was happy to be back with my boys. Just living.

02 April 2011

I Didn't Plan For That

The Lone Woman and One are in Florida! Today, I ran around the house trying to get us ready to go. I'd bought each of us a few new t-shirts, and I felt compelled to wash them. So I had to wait to do the actual packing.

I cleaned the kitchen. Mostly.
I filled out the "This Week on the Farm" whiteboards, which detail all the children's activities for the week.
I packed toiletries and medications.
I made sure we had our identification and boarding passes.
Then I checked my lame-ass list.

I'm not a list-maker. I'm also not a long-range planner. This is not a good combination. The family knows about this particular character flaw, and they reference it often enough to signal their subtle disapproval. My sister Erin, the professional organizer (a true Virgo), has confronted my willy-nilly lifestyle as if it's an affliction. She pities me, and then determinedly sets out to find a cure. The last time she stayed with me, we settled on a planner that I could take with me in my big purse, and organized a binder to file all child-related papers. I agreed, to make her happy. Seriously, I don't think she could have slept soundly back in Arizona if she hadn't implemented a system.

My planner still sits on my kitchen table, and the binder hasn't been updated since October. I'm a recidivist non-planner. Now I have my fancy new smart-phone, and I'm trying to use that for all calendar updates. I haven't quite got the hang of creating shopping lists yet, but I'm planning on learning. We all know how that'll turn out.

Despite my laissez-faire attitude, One and I managed to get out the door, almost on time. The Captain came home to drive us to the airport, and Four and Five came along for the ride. Twenty minutes into the journey, Five said his stomach hurt. He was starving. I hadn't packed any snackage. I know, somewhere in Arizona, Erin's preparation-sense was tingling. How could I not have crackers and water in the van? It was a rookie mistake.

When we got to Newark Liberty International Airport, I made Four and Five move to the middle seats, to eliminate any motion-related sickness. I emptied some shoes and clothes awaiting return to Walmart out of their bags, and told Five to use them for puking, if necessary. Then I dug under my cup holder tray, and pulled out a box of wipes for clean-up, if vomiting did actually occur.

It was almost like I planned for it.

So: are you a list-maker, or risk-taker? Organized, or in shambles? Walking the aisles of the Container Store, or the fine line of slackerdom? Erin is available for consultation.

I'm off to bed, with no alarm to wake me. I'll be exclusively writing the book for the next six days, but I'll be checking in with your blogs. I can't just quit cold turkey, man. Have a great week!

01 April 2011

Project Runway

The past three nights I have left the house and gone shopping. I was trying to pre-shop for the conference, shore up for the trip to Florida, and leave the pantry in good standing while I'm away.

Shopping for clothes isn't my favorite activity. I enjoy the alone time, but I'm usually purchasing for a specific event. This means I must tailor the outfit(s) to convey a certain facet of my personality. Because I am still defining myself as a writer, I had to decide what "Megan Coakley: Writer," would wear to a conference. I had an image in my mind, so I went in search of its tangible components.

The Captain has worked for Macy's his entire adult life. It was his first job out of college, and he has remained a loyal employee for over twenty years. I never shop at Macy's. I have no ill feelings toward the company, and I don't dislike their stores. It just isn't convenient for me. I prefer one-stop joints. I like to buy my cookies and capris under the same roof. The three main places I shop-Costco, Walmart, and Target-provide this service for me. Macy's requires a separate trip. If I want a really good selection of petite clothing (I'm 5'2" on a good day), then I must travel twenty-minutes east.

I considered the conference worthy of the drive. I wanted "real" clothes. You know, like grown-ups wear. After wandering for forty minutes, I came upon a small section of Michael Kors petites. I took one of everything into the fitting room, and actually came back out with several items. The next day I donned the outfits one more time for review, and whittled the selections again.

Today I went to Target to buy the things I forgot to buy last time. Just for fun, I wandered through the clothing section. I found some cute t-shirts, and a nice little sweater. Then a drape-y dress caught my eye, as well as a pair of cropped pants. For good measure, I grabbed a cardigan on the way over to frozen foods.

Tomorrow, I'll try it all on again, and re-evaluate. But right now, I'm thinking "Megan Coakley: Writer" wears Mossimo, not Macy's. I'm going to dub it "Frugal Chic." I might even use it to describe my writing. Spare, with the occasional flourish.

What's your style?