25 October 2011

Death by Diorama

I was going to write a profound, philosophical post today because lately I've been doing some deep thinking. But I decided to rattle this one off instead, because it combines two of my favorite topics: my complete exasperation with my children, and my shortcomings as a mother.

I had to drive Two back to school to get his lunchbox and planner, because he ran around at lunchtime getting teacher signatures on a permission slip. He didn't make it back to the cafeteria, so his friends grabbed his stuff. He's had the permission slip for two weeks. It was due yesterday. We retrieved his planner, and I explained how it was, indeed, his fault that his planner got left at school. He debated all the way home.

As we walked to the front door, he said, "Hey, do we have any paint?"

"Why do you need paint?"

"I have to make a diorama."

I opened my mouth to speak, but there were no words. I think I may have looked like a robot with a glitch, as I sputtered incomprehensibly.

"When is the diorama due?" I finally asked.


I don't know why this still shocks me. Two is the King of Procrastination. Three is the Prince, and he can use ADHD as an excuse. Two cannot.

"TOMORROW??!!   Fuck you, Two. You suck." Yes. Those are the words that finally bubbled up and out. "I cannot whip up a diorama in an hour."

"You don't have to. Just tell me where I can find a shoebox and some paint. It doesn't even have to be that good. Some guy in class made his out of Play-doh."

Blinking like I was having a seizure, I went to the kitchen and opened my laptop.

"What must your diorama depict?"

"The Siege of Yorktown."

He wanted to whip up a fucking SIEGE in the hour before he had to go back to school for chorale practice.

A Wikipedia search revealed TWO battles at Yorktown.

"Which battle--Revolutionary or Civil War?" I asked.

"Uh...the one in the 1800's?"

He was wrong. It was the one in the Revolutionary War. Or at least I hope so, because we painted a bunch of our World War Two plastic army guys red and blue, to distinguish between the British and the American forces. Sure, the French were there, but they got lumped in with the Americans. I was lucky to find watercolor paint at all, so I limited the number of figures.

We found one slightly bent shoe-box, because I no longer keep diorama supplies on hand. It's usually an elementary school project, so, WTF high school history teacher?  I shoved the box into shape, and we cut up the lid to create "Redoubt Number 10" which was basically a platform, which we then smeared in dirt and grass and surrounded with toothpicks. We perched our Redcoats up there, and glued the blue G.I. Joe/Revolutionary Forces in the grass below. The intent was to show how the Americans defeated the British via stealthy trench-digging. Or, in our case, their superior 1940's firepower. Historically accurate it was not.

All the while I was helping, I was bitching about how Two needs to plan his time. He knew he had to have his permission slip signed; he knew he had a project due.

"Yeah, Mom, it's my project, so just let me do it."

"I'm helping you because I need you to graduate, get into a decent college, AND LEAVE!"

That's the truth, people. I love him, and perhaps I'm coddling. I'm sure I'll miss him when he's gone, but he needs to get out of this house in two years. He can fuck up in college, fail out, go get a job, as long as he doesn't come home. My efforts are focused on getting him through high school and out the door.

To that end, I'm willing to glue toothpicks until my fingers bleed. Because he's killing me.

21 October 2011

Love, In a Million Pieces

The new Lego catalog has arrived. In order to see it, however, you will have to peel it out of Five's sweaty, small hands, where it has remained for almost every moment of the past three days. It is the last thing he touches before he leaves for school, and the first thing he asks for when he returns. Then he curls up in a chair, or lays on the couch, and  fondles the pages like it's some pre-pubescent version of Playboy.

Five is the only one of our children to fully embrace Legos. Two had a passing interest, which produced some cool Speed Racer cars that still exist intact today. Five has deemed them "old," because I think he wants to break them down for parts. But other than those two, no other pack members have possessed the mental fortitude or spatial skills to complete construction on more than two items.

Like all good addictions, Five's obsession began with a taste-a small "Star Wars" Lego kit with less than one hundred pieces. Smitten, he progressed to vignettes of chariots and castles, giant snakes and desert treasure. Now, he is fully in thrall to the beast with two backs. Or at least, the beast which can be created by assembling 1500 light and dark grey small blocks. There's no turning back. His Christmas list is comprised of a dozen kits that range in price from thirty to two hundred dollars. He says price doesn't matter, because Santa doesn't buy the Legos; the elves make them.

I see where this is headed. After a while, there will be no way to satisfy the craving. He'll need a bigger, more potent fix. An "Alien Conquest Headquarters," followed by the "Tower of London." Ultimately, there will be nothing left but "The Death Star," followed by a painful journey through de-tox and rehab. It's inevitable.

But I'm not going to discourage him. Who isn't enthralled by the transfigurative nature of the plastic pieces? Who hasn't wondered what kind of tortured, artistic geniuses create those beautiful manuals, sadistic in their subtle shading? Are not Legos a symbol of universal creation itself, drab building blocks tranformed into complex things of beauty?

This morning, Five asked to take the catalog with him to school. I hesitated, recognizing an escalation in the pathology. But I handed it to him, with instructions to limit viewing to recess and bus time. Besotted, he clutched it to his chest as we walked out the door. Who am I to deny him the power of Creation?

19 October 2011

Border Sharing

The Captain and I spent yesterday at a funeral. One of the Captain's dearest friends, a woman he's known since high school, lost her sister. She comes from a family of seven children, and she and her sister were the only girls; the bookends to all the boys. Her sister was 56 years old. Her parents are 86 and 83. It is a horrible perversion to outlive your children.

We asked our friend how her parents were holding up, as if there could be an answer that encapsulates the devastation of burying one's child. She said they were fine, in the way that all Irish Catholics are fine with death. She added, "I don't want to be fine anymore."

Our friend's sister had been awaiting a liver transplant, but her body deteriorated to the point that she was removed from the transplant list. We did not even know she was sick. Our friend was the person responsible for making her sister's medical care decisions, and in the end, she had to give the order to remove her sister from life support. I cannot imagine how heartrending that must have been for her.

In that moment our friend realized she didn't want to be alone in her pain any longer. She was struggling with the knowledge that her sister had been sick, and didn't reach out to her family in time for them to help her. Our friend didn't want to be an Irish Catholic stoic and soldier on, deflecting her grief with humor. So she sent an email to her nearby friends, and let them come to her. She told us, "I want to stay connected to the people I love, and I want to let them love me."

Our conversation resonated with me. The Captain jokes that he never saw me cry until after we were married, when, ostensibly, I should have been my happiest. And indeed, I am more open with my feelings now than when I was younger. But I still prefer to keep my internal struggles to myself, mostly because I can't think of anyone who is more qualified to solve them. In fact, on most subjects, I'm 98% sure I know best. These include: my marriage; my children; my physical well-being; my emotional well-being; your marriage; your physical well-being; your emotional well-being; and in general, the political and humanitarian needs of the world.  I'm not looking for input, or support, very often. An outside observer might consider me myopic, or self-centered. I prefer capable, and strong.

But, as you know, no woman is an island. Life is brief, and precious. It's important to reach out and maintain relationships with the people that matter to us. It's okay to ask for help. I can't guarantee I'll overcome my stubborn independent streak, but I might try to become more of a peninsula. Connected to the larger whole, but not land-locked. I could have more fluid borders. Do you?

14 October 2011

Looking for the Rational In the Rationale

The Captain is about to board  the red-eye flight from California. He left us Wednesday for a Thursday meeting, and will fly back overnight so he can be home all day Friday. He hates traveling, but he promised he would do a presentation, so he logged 6000 miles in less than three days. He's that kind of guy.

The Captain doesn't travel often, but when he does, I ping-pong between feeling resentful and relaxed. I've been trying to tease out the reasons for both reactions, because neither is logical. I do recognize that on busy days, when I spend all afternoon shuttling children, and all night wrangling them toward homework or bed, I resent not having his help. 

In my mind, my job is the more difficult one. Therefore, I think the Captain should come home after his thirteen hour work day and provide immediate assistance. After all, my work isn't done until all the pack members go to bed, which is pretty frakking late for the teenagers. Seriously; at the end of the day I tell them to just go away, because I'm tired of sharing my air.

I wrote "in my mind," because I have only passing knowledge of what the Captain's job entails. If I had just walked out of Penn Station, was lucky enough to hail the Cash Cab, and I could win all the money simply by knowing my husband's work address and title, I would leave empty-handed. Oh, I know what avenue he works on, and that's he's a vice-president, but I couldn't tell you the fine-print deets without checking his business card.

Why not? We don't talk about his job in great detail. This isn't for lack of interest on my part; it's more that I know he doesn't want to re-hash his day when he finally gets home. He would prefer to relax. Which is amusing, considering what goes on here. And which is why, conversely, my evenings are often more relaxed when he's away.

When the Captain is home, there is a general push to get everyone in bed, so we can spend some time together. Really, it's usually just to sit on the couch and watch a show we both enjoy. But, I kid you not, the moment my ass meets the leather, the boys come out of the woodwork. There must be some change in the chi that they subconsciously recognize, which alerts them I've stopped moving. This mixes with some Oedipal undercurrent that detects I am with another man. Suddenly, I'm surrounded by penii, which, in turn, provokes a response from the Captain, along the lines of, "God Bless America (or, dependent upon the age of the interloper, something more colorful), I just sat down with my wife!  I get one hour a night with her, and you're infringing on my time! I had her first!"

The weird thing is, when the Captain's not here, the kids couldn't care less about me. The big boys just hide in their rooms until I tell them to go to bed. Then I tell them again thirty minutes later, and thirty minutes after that they actually go to sleep. There's less drama, because I'm not trying to spend time with the Alpha Penis. Guy behavior is funny.

None of this will come into play tomorrow, when we have a wee amount of alone time before the kids intrude. In the hurly-burly of daily life, it's easy to forget that we had each other first. And now that I've purged some of my jumbled negativity all over you, dear readers, I remember that. For all that he does for our family, I love my Captain. Even if I still don't know his job title.

11 October 2011

Homework With Four

On Mondays, it is nearly impossible to get Four to do his homework directly after school, because I spend two hours driving children to and from activities. Yesterday, Four got home at 2:50. At 3:20 I took Two and his friend to Chuck's house for weight training. Their six-packs needed maintenance. I got home at 3:50, yelled at Three to finish his math and get ready for soccer, and gave Four a snack. We attempted one sheet of grammar homework.

At 4:20 Four, Cobie, and I drove to the elementary school to get Five from his afterschool program. We arrived back home at about 4:45, and I set Five up at the table to start his homework. Four and I finished the one grammar assignment. At 5:05, Three and I left for soccer practice. After dropping him at the school, I went to pick up Two at Chuck's. We made a brief detour to Chuck's mother's house, to view the remains of Chuck's brother's car. He'd been in a fairly severe accident. Everyone in the car was unharmed, which seemed miraculous given the damage. I seized the teaching moment.

"Chuck, it's so kind of your brother to teach us these lessons. What have we learned here today, boys?"
"Uhhhh...don't drive like an idiot?"
I'm pretty sure that's the only reason they're all alive.

After the car viewing, Two and I briefly stopped at home, so he could change for Chorale. No one likes a sweaty teenage boy. I especially don't like the ones that douse themselves in body spray to  cover the ammonia smell. Thankfully, Two changed his entire outfit, thus reducing the odor. I dropped him at the high school, and got back home at 6:10. Dinnertime!

So, when Four and I actually sat down to do homework, here is what it sounded like:

"Wait, Mom, what's that thing that police officers do when they pull you over?"
"A pat-down."
"Can I try it on you?"
"When you're done with this sheet."
"Okay. Hey, can I show you this epic Bakugan battle?"
"Maybe, when we're done with homework."
"Eww! Why is my book wet?"
"It's from my iced tea."
"How can tea get all the way over here?"
"It didn't. My glass just got wet, and I forgot to wipe it. It's just water."
"Oh, okay. Hey, I invented a new way to knock you out for surgery.  First you put a gas mask on the person, and then you hit them in the head with a frying pan."
"Stop talking and finish this sheet."
"Who invented the pat-down?"
"The police."
"To make sure the person wasn't concealing a weapon."
"Can I pat you down now?"
"Not yet."
"Why do you call 411?"
"To get information, like a phone number."
(Singing) "Somebody call 911, shorty's burning fire on the dance floor, ohohohoh. Is is possible to create fire from dance?"
"I don't think so. Keep working."
"I want to sing you a song we learned in school."
"When we're done."
"Can I kiss you?"
"How did you feel when you lost your dad?"
"I was sad."
"Did you go through the five stages of grief? I only remember two: anger and acceptance. What are the others?"
"I can't remember. I'm sure there's denial..."
He explains a scene from a show about the stages of grief.
"We played a game today. Students against teachers. We had to guess the song. It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring."
"Who won?"
"We did, because Kyle remembered 'Mary Had a Little Lamb'."
"Good for you."
"Do you think I have fleas in my hair? Somebody call 911..."

Yes. Please. Somebody call 911. My head has exploded.

Feel free to reference this conversation if you have concerns that you, or a loved one, may have Attenion-Deficit Disorder. And yes, I did let him pat me down. When we were done with homework. TSA, here he comes!

07 October 2011

Ah, Friday

It's been an arduous week. I've had to fight to get Four on the bus almost every day, which is draining. He really doesn't like school. He may not mind it when he gets there, but he has no great desire to go. He has a few friends in his class, but I hear about the "bully" more often. The class and home work has increased this year, and we're still adjusting. So, every morning this week I've dragged Four up the driveway as he complains. I wrestle him into the van seat, talking, soothing, and occasionally threatening, until his anger fades to simple tears. It grinds my heart to send him off crying.

I feel for him. School is difficult and exhausting when you're brain is distracted. Four also has sensory issues that make writing tiring, something we're familiar with from One. It's a long day for my special boy, and when he gets home he just wants to crash on the couch. But I can't let him, because if we wait to do homework, he won't finish until after dinner. And then he's really fried. Instead, I bribe him with treats to get it done right after he gets home. We're having limited success.

It's mid-point through the first marking period for my older children, and Two's grades are sketchy. This depresses him, and me. He's committed to improving them, hopefully before I'm committed to an institution. I'm curious to find out about Three, because I think he's off to a good start. The middle school doesn't have electronic grade posting, so I'm in the dark until I get a progress report. It would be a nice change of pace, and a real lift for him, if his grades are high.

Cobie continues to relieve herself on my floors, even though I take her out all morning long. I've had to actually leave the house a few times this week, for an hour or so each time, and it never turns out well. We've been in contact with the national Wheaten rescue group, and we're pretty sure we can surrender her at the end of this month. It pains me to write that, and it was a difficult decision to make. But right now, I'm preparing for my mother and Pappou to move in, while juggling all my normal duties, and the dog has just pushed me over the edge. The rescue ladies are very sweet, and didn't make me feel like a complete failure. They understand her needs, and they think they can help her be successful with another family.

I'm wiped out, and that always puts me in a precarious emotional state. So, to combat the blues, I decided to look at some pictures that make me smile.
This is the view on my deck. I feel like I'm in a treehouse. I love sitting in my old Adirondack chair to drink my coffee. But autumn is on its way!

I have no idea what this blue flower is, but I'm searching for it again next year! It blooms like crazy for months!

Our famous assortment of athletic footwear. I just retrieved a pair of cleats for Four that used to belong to Two! It makes me smile when I see the ascending sizes. Two's foot is now larger than any pair of shoes in this bin.

As I pulled into the high school for Back-to-School night, I spied a giant rainbow. It was beautiful, and it lasted for a long time. It made me think of Two's friend, Sean, who passed away this year, as if he was welcoming everyone.

My huge Montauk daisy! I wait all summer for it to bloom. It is spilling over my retaining wall, and making the bees happy.

The little boys like to visit a small park near our house. It has a pond and trails. In the summer you can catch turtles and bullfrogs, if you're quick-handed.

Following my trail-blazers.

I already feel better.
Have a great weekend, everyone!

06 October 2011

Watching Where I Step on Their Dreams

I was driving Three home from a soccer game, and as we exited the highway he said, "I want to play CYO."

I almost drove off the road.

CYO is Christian Youth Organization basketball. Our church fields teams up through eighth grade. Two and Three both played for two years, until Two graduated from the program. Two's team was comprised of high-caliber travel team players. Three's team...was not. There were a few boys who knew how to play the sport, but most struggled. Three was underutilized, and the team lost most of their games. Three doesn't like to lose, so he was generally sullen, which doesn't go over well with coaches. After two years of dragging him to practice and games, I'd had enough. Mercifully, so had he. He didn't play last year, and I thoroughly enjoyed not having to drive anywhere on Sunday afternoons. So, when he mentioned those three letters, my first reaction was horrified disbelief.

"Why??" I asked, silently questioning why the Lord continues to test me. Have I not proven my love for my children over and over again? Granted, I had momentarily considered plowing one of them into a tree, so points off for that, but cumulatively I think I've scored high marks for dedication.

"To play more basketball," Three answered calmly.

Basketball is Three's favorite sport. He honestly believes he might get drafted by the NBA. I don't see that happening, unless he improves his grades (pathway to a good college team), or his practice habits (detour around the college). So, it was hard to argue his point. He knows the team will likely stink, but he wants to join anyway, to improve his skills. Furthermore, this raises an important question. Should I be steering my children away from their dreams?

Last night, the Captain and I sat at the table and listened as Two complained about the irrelevance of  his Spanish and Chemistry classes. Two wants to be an actor. He is performing in "The Tempest" this fall, and he was selected to join Madrigals, which is the most elite of the choral groups in his school. I take him to voice lessons once a week, and he wants to begin auditioning for outside theater productions.

But seriously, "NBA Star" and "Actor" sound like vocations chosen by six year-olds. Shouldn't Two and Three understand their limitations by now? Don't they know how many people say they want those jobs, and how few attain them? Isn't it my job to be prudent and point them toward actual money-making careers?

I spent my first few years in college studying bar hopping and random promiscuity, and I got my degree in drug addiction before retiring to rehab. When I got clean and went back to school, my only goal was to complete my B.A. If I had been sober the whole time, I might have studied creative writing, or filmmaking. Perhaps I would be finishing my seventh novel now, or producing the screen adaptation of my first trilogy.

I had an opportunity to work with filmmakers the first year I was married. I spent my weekdays with a young commercial director, and on the weekends I worked on an independent film. The Captain was very supportive of my endeavors, as he is today, but my jobs were small and more clerical than artistic in nature. Eventually, I got pregnant, the small storyboard company I was working for had to close, and life took a turn.

I don't regret any of the events in my life, because they all led me here. But perhaps my early struggles to be a creative person have influenced the way I view my sons' choices. I wasn't successful, so I don't believe they can be. But Two often says, "I'm not Megan Coakley, Mom" when I try to get him to understand my flawless reasoning. He's right. He's a better singer, a better actor, and more singularly focused than I ever was in high school. He and Three have defined goals, even if I think they're far-fetched. Maybe my job is to simply refrain from saying that, and let them try. And if they achieve their dreams, Three can finance my movies, and Two can have the leading  roles.

I'm beginning to like this plan.

P.S. If you enjoy my diary entries, go check out my post over at The Bettyverse today. Then you should hang around there for a few days and soak up the Betty wisdom. It's full of sparkly goodness, and Universal Positive Regard. It's possibly better than chicken soup for your soul!

03 October 2011

Built-In Obsolescence

I spent Saturday night in bed with Five. He had lain on the couch for most of the day, complaining of stomach pain and a headache. I felt his forehead, examined his pale, wan body (which is always pale, but rarely wan), and noticed excessive swelling on his arm. Ah ha! He had gone for his yearly physical on Friday, and received his flu shot. His aches and pains were a reaction to the vaccine. He developed a fever during dinner, and went to bed shortly afterward. I gave him a Tums and rubbed his back. He fell asleep within ten minutes, and rose thirty minutes later.

Five is a sleepwalker.

Our first experiences with this behavior were much more frightening. Five would come running, terrified, out of his room. I would grab him and try to get him to recognize  me, but he was locked in a nightmare. I could feel his heart racing, and there was nothing I could do to calm him down. Eventually, I would carry him back to bed, and spend the night working to keep him in it.

The night terrors have subsided, and now the sleepwalking only occurs when he is ill. It still takes me a minute to recognize it. His first time out of bed last night, he came and found me in the kitchen. He didn't say anything when I asked if he was okay, so I took him to the bathroom and back to bed. He was up again in an hour. The Captain got him that time, and they had a brief conversation.

"You have to pick up the pieces."

"Okay, Five."

"But they're really small. And they're everywhere."

"Okay, Five, we'll get them in the morning."

"But they're small."

That's when I climbed in bed with him. Later that night he told me, "They were right about the tree." And twice he woke up and said, "I'm scared." Then he would roll over and wrap his arms around mine, clutching me to him. I was in Four's bed, which you may recall is pushed next to Five's, but not flush. I draped my body across the five inch gap between the mattresses, laying on my outstretched arm for most of the night, because my baby needed me.

I joke about how dramatic Five is, and  impossible to please. But the truth is, he's just honest. When he tells me "school is torture, Mom, six-and-a-half hours of torture," that's how he feels right at that moment. I appreciate that he shares his feelings, because that emotional candor doesn't age well. I have no idea what's going on with Two most of the time. I imagine all is well in his world, but he doesn't divulge details. I get a little more information from Three, but I think he only shares it to get ahead of any potential negative fall-out.

The teenagers don't ask me for help with anything other than homework. The other day Two was sick, and he asked if his girlfriend could come over.

"No, Two. It would be rude to share your germs."

"I don't want to make-out; I just want her to comfort me."

I've been officially replaced.

I know this is part of growing up. The boys have to learn to negotiate their way through life. But it's exactly at this point in their lives that I could be their greatest resource. I remember my teen years acutely. I've made more mistakes than I hope they ever will. I want to help them make the right decisions.

But Five is the only one reaching for me in the dark.