Month: November 2012

Somewhat Accidentally Living Deliberately

Image 1

Let’s do this thing.

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”                      ~Henry David Thoreau

When we went to cut down the tree last week, we actually had two permits and cut down two trees. We do that every year. In past years, we’ve cut down one tree for the living room and then one for the family room. This year, though, we decided to make a change. We would cut one big tree for our living room and a smaller tree that I would use to make garland and maybe wreaths. Why would I do this to myself, you ask? When I complain each and every year about how I simply try to get from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day without running away from home what with the season doubling my average workload, why would I decide that crafting some fresh, pine decorations would be a wise choice? I’ll tell you why. It’s because I’m certifiable. Always have been. Always will be. If it seems like it can be done, I will find a way to do it because I’m a loon who at some point unconsciously decided that sleep is overrated. I had a grand plan to save us a bunch of money by cutting down a $10 tree and sacrificing it for nostalgic greenery. A grand plan is all I ever need to get myself into trouble. My life is filled with grand plans.

Well, that “extra” tree had been resting near our front porch all week. Every time I opened the front door, I felt that tree judging me. Oh….you had such big plans. Yet, here I sit…waiting to be burned in next year’s fire pit. Shocking! Yes. This is what happens when I am sleep deprived. I see dead trees. Sometimes the dead trees talk to me. (I really should get more sleep.) I began to despise that obnoxious, sarcastic, negative spruce. And, as lazy and exhausted as I felt, I vowed to put a stop to its derision. So today I found my way over to Michael’s where, for approximately $20, I bought some wire, some wreath forms, and some pre-made holiday bows. I was going to do this thing and stop the tree voices.

Yeah, baby!

Yeah, baby!

In the waning hours of daylight as we approach the shortest day of the year, as the sun began to sink behind the hills, I stood in my backyard with a dead tree, pruning shears, and green wire. Me. The one who gets rashes hanging ornaments on a fresh tree because I happen to be allergic to trees. I tried something new. I created a wreath. I actually did it. After years of buying fresh, evergreen wreaths for our home, today I made one myself. Tomorrow I will create its twin. I will hang them around the lights on the garage to decorate our home festively for the holidays. Every time I come home I will look at them and be proud of myself. And, I will cross this task off my lifetime list of things to try my hand at. Okay. Okay. Making a wreath was never actually on my list of things to do in this lifetime, but I’ll put it on my list just to cross it off because it feels good to do something I’ve never done before. Crossing things off my lifetime list has become my pastime.

The older I get, the more important it’s become to me to try new things. There’s a sense of urgency in my life now that there wasn’t at 20. At 20, I thought I would live forever or, at least, it never crossed my mind that I would die. But, I will die and as I look at the moments of my life as I leave this place, I want to know that I made the most of my time here. I want to know that I loved, that I created, that I gave back, and that I did not always shy away from the experience of living in even the smallest way. My life is a work in progress and someday it will be halted by death. When it is, I really hope I’m in the middle of trying something new, sucking the marrow out of life even as the life is being sucked out of me.

 

Selling My Sons To The Gypsies

Don’t let them fool you. They are not this quiet!

My weekdays begin in pretty much the same way every day during the school year. I don’t need to set an alarm because my boys, early risers that they are, wake me up by busting into our bedroom sometime between 6:15 and 6:45 a.m. They do this because years ago, when Joe was in preschool, we let him shower in our bathroom before school. Our brilliant logic was that 1) our shower is enclosed in glass, which meant less mess, 2) I’d have just one shower to clean instead of two, and 3) while he was showering I’d be able to lounge in bed and ease my way into my crazy day a bit more slowly. The arrangement continued to work great when Joe was in kindergarten and Luke began preschool. Two showers for the price of one, and I could be getting ready while that happened. Fast forward six years, though, and suddenly this arrangement is slightly less than ideal. Now they alternate showers, which means they’re using all my hot water. They also bicker about fairness like old ladies accusing each other of cheating at canasta. And, they’re doing all this in the space where I am trying to sleep. Not cool.

This morning was Groundhog Day all over again. Just starting on my sixth hour of sleep, the bedroom door flies open and as if the house is on fire the boys rush in fussing and yelling.

“I called it first!” Joe yelled.

“You were first yesterday,” Luke retorted. “It’s my turn to go first.”

“But, Luke, I got out of bed first so I could be the first in the shower.”

“It’s not your turn, Joe!” Luke complained.

I was livid. Well, I was as livid as an exhausted person who is barely awake can be. It’s not bad enough that I must wake up before 7 so the boys will be on time to the private school I chauffeur them to. Apparently, I’m meant to wake up to a noisy parade of foot stomping, whining, and caterwauling.

“Boys! Boys! Boys!” I yelled, without flipping over. “Please shut it. I don’t want to wake up to your fighting! Joe, it’s Luke’s turn today. Sorry.”

At that point, I rolled over to see at exactly what ungodly hour they had disrupted my REM sleep. It was 6:25. Are you kidding me? Twenty minutes earlier than my alarm was set? Then I noticed that Steve was still in bed. What the? He usually leaves for work by 5:30.

“Why are you still in bed?” I asked. He sat straight up.

“Why am I still in bed?” he asked right before he flew out of bed and headed toward the shower, boys still bickering over who was going to shower first.

“Your father. Your father is going to shower first because he’s late. Then, Luke will shower because you were first yesterday, Joe. End of story. Now stop fighting or I’m kicking you out.”

The rest of the getting ready process went smoothly. Steve was gone in a flash. Luke got through his shower quickly because his brother pestered him from outside the glass enclosure the entire time. I sat in bed waiting for them all to get out of the room so I could get ready and then make myself a latte, which I desperately needed. When I was a kid and we misbehaved, my mother used to threaten to sell my sisters and I to the gypsies. Are there still gypsies? If so, will they still hand out cash in exchange for random children? I try not to make empty promises, like the one where I threaten to sign away my legal rights to them if they don’t stop fighting. I mean, I’m fairly sure they know I wouldn’t really do that. At least, I don’t think I would. But, if they come in tomorrow morning yelling at each other before 7, I just might have to check into that gypsy thing a bit more seriously. Unless, of course, you know of someone who is in the market for a couple mostly sweet, slightly used, early rising children? You should know I’m not a great negotiator. I’m positive you could get a bargain. History suggests that I might be entertaining offers from serious buyers as early as 6:30 tomorrow morning. Only 24 days shopping days left until Christmas, you know.

Drawing The Box To Think Outside Of

They’re notes about Ben Franklin, obviously.

Kids come home with school papers every single day. When the boys were in kindergarten, I tried to save everything. Every paper seemed too precious to toss. Each drawing was a work of art. Each handwritten page a portent of the amazing stories yet to be told. By the end of Joe’s kindergarten year, I had a stack higher than I could manage. I promised myself I would go through them, select no more than 5 (or maybe 10 or perhaps 20 at the most) and toss the rest because I knew I could not keep every one of them. I’m pragmatic. I understood that if I saved everything we would have to move in three years’ time. Now that they’re older, the pieces of schoolwork I save are even fewer. I’m more likely to save an honor roll award or an awesome watercolor than I am a piece of their graded work. I’ve somehow created categories in my head of which work is somehow more important and trumps another piece of paper for the valuable space in the Save box.

Yesterday as I was going through Luke’s school folder, I came across a piece of notebook paper with Luke’s writing on it. In addition to words, there were drawings. I looked at it briefly and acknowledged that they were notes, but I couldn’t tell what exactly they were about.

“What is this paper?” I inquired.

“Notes for my Ben Franklin test,” he answered.

“When is the test?”

“On Thursday.”

“Oh. So these are your notes so you can study for the test?” I clarified.

“Yes. But, I don’t need them. I know it all already,” he replied.

I didn’t doubt him. He has a fairly good memory because, as I’ve said, he’s a great listener. What he’s not great at, though, is taking notes. As I glanced over the paper, I realized I could not understand at least a full two-thirds of what he had written. Luke’s spelling and handwriting are horrific which, I am now learning, is caused by dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is to writing what dyslexia is to reading. So, in Luke’s bi-weekly tutoring sessions, he’s working on cursive letter formations. I didn’t understand it at first, why he was writing when he should be learning to read, but it’s all interconnected.

I have to admit that when I saw Luke’s notes yesterday, I cringed. Joe used to bring home papers like Luke is writing now. When Joe brought those papers home, I cried. I only cringed yesterday because I know it gets better. I’ve seen progress in Joe’s work. It’s been slow, but it’s perceptible if you look closely enough. So, I know someday Luke’s written work will get better too. Still, when you look at a paper like that with your third grader’s work and you register that it looks like something a first grader would do, it’s sobering.

I shared Luke’s paper with a friend when I was looking over it yesterday. She tried to assure me that her daughter’s paper wasn’t much better and that she believed that, as her daughter reported, the teacher talks so fast during the note-taking, review portion of the class that it’s hard to keep up and be neat. Good friend that she is, she tried to help me believe that Luke’s notes were probably not that far off the notes of other children in the class. I appreciated her trying to make me feel better, but I wasn’t convinced. Then, tonight, she texted me this:

“I looked at Luke’s paper again now that I know more about Ben Franklin. And, it was really smart of him to draw the pictures. He knew what they meant. The lighting rod, the fireman, etc.”

When I’d looked at Luke’s paper yesterday, I was seeing only the writing. I looked past the drawings because Luke is always drawing. He’s been very artistic for as long as I can remember. He’s done elaborate battle scenes where he attaches page after page of lined notebook paper to each other so that he creates a mural that stretches 15 feet long. Luke always sees the big picture. He draws it too. Heather was right. His notes were filled with drawings, but they weren’t doodles as I had originally thought with my overly critical, left-brained parental eye. They were part of the notes. There on the page were the kite and the lightning bolt, a candle to represent his working in his brother’s candle shop, and a fireman to denote his work as a volunteer firefighter. Luke doesn’t think in words. He thinks in pictures. He knew he would have difficulty reading his notes, so he drew pictures so he would not forget. It was quite clever, actually, because what could be more difficult than asking a dyslexic kid who also suffers from dysgraphia to read notes he took with his own hand? Is that some sort of a cruel joke? That’s more painful than eating salt and vinegar chips when you have a mouth sore.

I am continually amazed by the way my sons have creatively adapted themselves to fit into the traditional school model that caters not at all to children with learning differences and difficulties. For all the days when I’m sad because they struggle so much, there are days like today that fill me with pride and wonder at their ability to think outside the box and see the big picture. And, you’d better believe that Luke’s note page with its innumerable spelling errors and non-existent grammar is going into the Save box. That paper taught me more about my son than any test ever could. I have no reason to be concerned about Luke. He’s light years ahead of his old mother. Not only is he able to think outside the box, but he can draw it first.

One Thing Leads To Another

The solution that became the problem

Today I want to share with you a cautionary tale, an example of how a small first-world problem can morph and change into another small first-world problem and another after that on into infinity. If you’re not careful, a tiny first-world problem just might cost you your sanity. My mother always said that you can tell the size of a person by the size of the things that bother them. If that’s the case, I’m smaller than I want to admit. (And, I’m not talking about the quarter of an inch I afford myself when I tell people I’m actually 5’5″.)

First World Problem #1: A year ago September I got a new car. Well, it was a new car to me. It was actually my father-in-law’s car, which he had decided to replace with a newer version of the same thing. My new car was two years old when I got it, but it had one flaw. It smelled like my father-in-law. Now, this is not to say that my father-in-law is a stinky man. He’s not. In fact, I’m sure his hygiene is impeccable. After all, this is a man who safety pins his socks together so he never loses one to the black hole that materializes when you close the door to the clothes dryer. The car simply smelled like leather and my father-in-law’s cologne. No offense to my father-in-law, who is the kindest, most generous man I know (aside from his son), but I didn’t want to spend my days in a car that smelled like him. I merely wanted my car to feel like my car and I couldn’t feel like that when every time I opened my car door the aroma from within reminded me of Jim.

So, I went in the house, grabbed a scented car disc from the Scentsy company, attached it to my rear view mirror, and waited for the day when I felt like the car was mine. Sure enough, one day, I noticed that Jim had been replaced by a pleasant, cinnamon scent. The car was mine, and I kept it mine by replacing that disc every three months.

First World Problem #2: A week ago, I noticed that my car no longer had that pleasant, Welcome Home, cinnamon smell. So, when I got home I marched into the house to grab a new disc. It was then that I realized that I was out of my favorite scent. I had two choices on-hand for a replacement...Sunkissed Citrus and Coconut Lemongrass. After weighing my options carefully, I went with the second scent, installed it in my car, and forgot about it. Long about the time I needed to pick the boys up from school, the car was well-saturated with the smell of coconut and lemongrass. My car smelled like Thai curry. It was a distinct change from the cinnamon, but I’m working on dealing with change with more grace so I inhaled deeply and carried on. By the time I got back from chauffeur duty, however, I noticed that I was quite stuffy. I am a person who is sensitive to smells, and apparently the new scent was not agreeing with my nose. It’s no good to have a car air freshener that makes you ill. It had to go. Hubby removed the offender, I took some Sudafed, and I waited for the scent to fade.

First World Problem #3: It’s now a week later and the coconut-lemongrass smell in my car has lightly faded but is still pervasive. For some reason, it won’t skedaddle. So now, every time I get in my car, I smell Thai curry. Thai curry (especially green curry with tofu) is one of my all-time favorite meals, and my car smells exactly like that. It’s disturbing. For starters, no one wants to smell green curry at 7:45 a.m. before coffee. But later, when I get in my car in the afternoon just at the time I’m trying to avoid late afternoon snacking, my stomach starts growling at what seems to be the lingering scent of take out Thai curry. Then today, not unlike the reaction of Pavlov’s dog to the introduced stimulus, my mouth watered when I got into my vehicle. This is not a good development.

First World Problem #4: This afternoon I mentioned to hubby in a text that every time I enter my car now I want Thai food. His response? Ooh…Thai food. Apparently now hubby wants it too. Any guesses what we’ll be eating for dinner tomorrow night? I’m hoping that the combination of satisfying my Thai food craving and installing a new scented disc in my car will turn things around for me in this first-world problem situation. That way I can go back to being annoyed that the new LTE network in Denver isn’t quite consistent enough for me and my first-world-awesome iPhone 5.

I Found The Silver Lining

Luke and a juvenile red-footed booby in the Galapagos.

When our youngest was assessed a few weeks back as having dyslexia, I have to admit that it wasn’t a total shock. Luke had never shown any interest in reading. Working with him on it had been a drag. He wheedled to get out of it, wiggled when we made him sit down, and then winced his way through it. And, honestly, we whimpered as he messed up words like “that” and “what” and “there” and “where.” We put him through four weeks of reading tutoring in between first and second grade. In second grade, Luke’s teacher kept him after school once a week for six weeks to review phonics with him. The kid struggled. But, he was doing so well with other things and he was making progress, so we reasoned that sooner or later he would turn that magic corner and all would be fine. What we didn’t understand then was that for Luke and all people with dyslexia there is no magic corner.

The school psychologist who tested him had very specific instructions for us when she gave us his test results. We were to get him a dyslexia tutor who specialized in a multi-sensory approach to teaching reading. We were not to penalize him for misspellings (which is a good thing because his spelling is appalling). And, to keep him up at grade level literature when he can’t read well enough to comprehend books at his grade level, we were to allow him to listen to books on CD rather than to force him to read them. One thing that struck me from our conversation with the psychologist was that, although Luke’s reading skills are about two years behind where they should be, his listening skills are more than two years ahead of most children his age. It’s not unlike that quote from The Sound of Music, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” Luke may not be the world’s greatest reader, but he is a phenomenal listener.

In preparation for Luke’s book report, which is due this week, we finished listening to his chosen book report book tonight. The four of us sat in the family room listening to The Mouse and The Motorcycle on our Bose home entertainment system. As we sat there, I thought about the days before television when people would gather around their radio to listen to the latest news, music, or program. When you use your ears and not your eyes, you’re more present with the other people in the room. There is something magical about hearing a story and noticing the acknowledgment and reaction in the faces of others. You’re present to share in their understanding. You’re simply more tuned in to the story and to each other. It’s pretty cool.

When I’ve mentioned to people that an accommodation we’re making with Luke now is allowing him to listen to books rather than actually attempting to read the book, I register a Hey…no fair look in their faces. Why should my kid get to listen to a book while their child actually has to read the book? I get where they’re coming from. I can see how it seems not right. Then I explain that although Luke can read words, he’s not truly reading. He spends so much time trying to figure out each and every sound in each and every word that he is unable to grasp the meaning of the sentence as a whole. Imagine trying to sound out “superficially” and then by the time you’ve finished sounding it out properly you have no idea what words preceded it. There is no fluidity. There is no comprehension. There are words, difficult, solitary, and devoid of collective meaning. Yes. He can read. But he can’t read.

I tell you what, though, that kid can listen. During our audio program tonight, I would pause the player every couple chapters to ask Luke comprehension questions. These were not easy, yes/no questions. These were designed to elicit specific contextual details from the story. What did the mouse do with his tail when he rode the motorcycle? What was the boy’s hotel room number? What killed the mouse’s father? Name some foods the boy brought back for the mouse and his family. Luke answered every question in great detail without missing a beat. When we sit and he reads text, he fidgets and squirms and has no clue regarding what he’s very clearly recited aloud. When Luke listens to a story, even when he appears to be checked out, he’s still getting it. This is the boy I’ve always known, the one who appears to be in his own world and yet when asked can repeat verbatim what was just said. Reading is an important skill. In fact, it’s crucial to becoming a successful adult. But, listening is a dying art. Luke will learn to read, but how many youth of today will learn to be effective and empathetic listeners? Luke may be living with the cloud of dyslexia, but that cloud’s silver lining may just make it worth the trouble.

Sorry — I Gave At The Office

Sometimes back lighting doesn’t work

Okay. You caught me. I am late writing this blog again. Why? Basically because, well, I am insane. I am normally a busy person. I don’t think anyone who knows me would dispute that. But, during the holiday season, I become the rough equivalent of an ADHD squirrel on four Red Bulls. I take my normal daily workload and add a few items to it. Today was our planned “lazy day” at home. In my head, I imagined watching football while casually stringing lights on the tree. Somehow, though, that leisurely day dissipated into chaos. We put the exterior Christmas lights on the house, hung the wreaths, washed and folded four loads of laundry, meticulously placed seven strands of lights on a 10 foot tall Christmas tree and then decorated it, adorned the boys’ tree with ornaments, posed for our annual holiday card photos, edited said photos, designed and ordered 100 holiday cards online, cleared the refrigerator of the last of the Thanksgiving Day leftovers, and did it all without murdering our children in the process. I think that’s a reasonably full day, don’t you? So, I hope you will excuse the fact that this is a brief and prosaic entry, devoid of pithy sayings and greeting card sentiments. I hope you’ll understand that today I gave at the office and have nothing left to offer.

On a side note….to the cyclist who chastised us for parking briefly near the front of our neighborhood while we used a self-timer to attempt to capture at least one decent photo of our four-person family for our holiday cards, thank you for starting off our holiday season with the kind of spirit we’ve come to know and expect this time of year. It wouldn’t be the holidays without a spoil-sport Grinch now, would it? Keep calm and merry on, friends.

Take Your Stocking And Stuff It

Guess which stocking belongs to my husband…

I’ve blogged a few times recently about traditions and about how we’ve struggled to create some for our little family foursome. Steve and I both came from families with fairly ingrained family traditions. When you start a new household, you ideally take some traditions from each side and then add to them or make them your own with a slightly different twist. One thing I looked forward to when Steve and I got married was picking out new Christmas stockings that would be unique to our household. Steve and I each had inherited the stockings we’d had with our parents. It sounds silly, I know, but I was adamant that I wanted us to start a new tradition for our family with matching stockings of our choosing. I couldn’t wait to purchase and hang our own stockings and to add to our collection of what would be hung by the chimney with care with each child we added to our happy home.

The first Christmas Steve and I were married, however, my incredibly thoughtful mother-in-law had a special stocking created for me, one that looked exactly like the one Steve had when he was growing up. The stocking is hand knit and has my name as well as the year I was born (I really wish I could erase that part). The funny part about my stocking is that it is quite obviously smaller than Steve’s. My mother-in-law swears they were created using the same pattern, but you’d be hard pressed to believe it if you saw his stocking that is big enough for a Cadillac or at least for twice the amount of gifts that mine will hold. I have to admit that I was not a great sport about the gift, at least not in front of Steve. He tolerated my tirade about how I felt the stocking was an intrusion and how it robbed me of my chance to start my own tradition. Although he understood then what I did not, that his mother was trying to be inclusive and thoughtful when she had a stocking handmade for me, he also understood my feelings and told me we should go ahead and start our own tradition.

So, we did. We ordered some holiday needlepoint stockings from LL Bean and had our names embroidered onto them. When the boys were born, my mother-in-law commissioned knit stockings for them, just as she had for me. I also got them stockings, stockings that matched the ones Steve and I had chosen for ourselves. I was hell bent on setting up this tradition for our family. I figured that since his parents lived in another state, it would not matter. We could keep the stockings my mother-in-law had knit for us and just put up the other ones in our home. No one would have to know. Well, then, my in-laws decided to purchase a home 30 minutes away from us and to come to Denver in the winter. The space between us dissipated and, as it did, the ability to put up the stockings we’d bought without creating hard feelings disappeared.

Now, seventeen years after my hand-knit stocking was gifted to me, those stockings are the only ones we put out. Oddly enough, the tradition I fought so vehemently is one I now truly enjoy. I love our stockings. They were created from a pattern that Steve’s grandmother had, and we know no one with stockings like ours. Because they’re knit they stretch to hold a ton of stuffers. And, I love to point out to anyone who will look that Steve’s stocking is gargantuan while the rest of ours are all the same, significantly smaller size. Although they look funny on our mantle with Steve’s stocking dwarfing the rest of ours, there’s a charm and a story in that which trumps the visual oddity.

Every time I open our box of Christmas decorations, I’m reminded about how pig-headed I was as a young bride and how ungrateful I was when my mother-in-law was simply trying to include me in her family. I’m also reminded that I wasted $140 on holiday stockings that we simply do not use. They stay in the box while we hang and stuff the knit ones instead. They’re the ones the boys recognize and are excited to see. Now, I have a yearly reminder that sometimes the effort is not worth the battle. Sometimes, the things we think are important are truly not important at all. I no longer want to tell my mother-in-law to take that stocking she had made for me and stuff it…unless, of course, she wants to stuff it with Starbucks gift cards and cute tops from Boden. I’d be totally cool with that.