Trampolines, Swim Fins, and Half of a Roasted Pig

Hawaii on the brain
Hawaii on the brain

I am jumping on a large trampoline in a spacious, overgrown backyard. There are at least seven of us jumping simultaneously as a breeze rustles the palm fronds overhead. It’s sunny, warm, and peaceful. I am where I belong. A friend suggests we go shoe shopping. “I love shoes,” I think, so I am all over this change in plans. We hop off the trampoline and begin walking down a city street to the store. Along the way I am discussing what I should spend my shoe budget on…casual flip flops or a pair of statement heels. I know I don’t really need shoes because I’m in Hawaii, and barefoot is as good as anything in Hawaii but I am excited to shop just the same. As we walk along, I glance down at my friends’ feet. They are all wearing shoes. I am the only one who is barefoot. Apparently this trip is all about me.

When we get to the store and begin looking around, I can’t find a pair of shoes I like. I’m not entirely sure how it’s possible to be in a shoe store and not have anything pique my interest. Something is distinctly wrong. Finally my eyes land upon a pair of Mary-Jane-style, black Crocs. With considerable chagrin I note that these are the most suitable pair of shoes in the entire store. “I am not buying Crocs,” I think to myself, brows furrowed in frustration. Resignedly I lie down on the floor and fall asleep on my stomach, head on my arms, still without shoes but at least no longer concerned about my shoeless state.

I wake up when I come to the awkward realization that someone is rubbing my back. What the hell? Who is rubbing my back and why? “Personal space, personal space,” my mind screams. I look behind me and see an old friend of mine. I haven’t seen him since college. I’d forgotten he lived in Hawaii. He hasn’t aged.

“Your lower back is really messed up,” he tells me. “See this, here? This is not right,” he says, pointing to a couple of vertebrae that are obviously protruding where they should not be. His concern is palpable. “What have you been doing?” he asks.

“Jumping on a trampoline,” I reply.

“Well, I’ve got to get you to my chiropractor,” he says. “This is serious.”

He shoves an oxygen mask on my face, and as I choke on the unsolicited gas I note that it’s not oxygen because my alert-level changes and I go to some sort of happy place only achievable with something reality-warping like nitrous oxide.

When I come out of my haze, I am walking through a casino with my friend. People all around are gambling. It’s noisy, packed, and chaotic. I feel under dressed. I hear an odd noise I can’t place. Panicked, I check my feet. Gratefully, I am no longer shoeless. Instead, I am wearing a pair of white swim fins and my feet are making a flapping sound as I proceed down the marble walkway in the center of the casino. No one seems to notice my fashion foible, so I press on. My friend points me down a side hallway to a door.

“His office is in there,” he says. “He’ll fix you right up.”

I waddle my way down the hallway, picking up my finned feet as I go. When I get there, there is a kind-faced man who appears to be from India. In heavily accented, proper British English he tells me they have been waiting for me. My eyes adjust to the darkened room before me. It is filled with wooden boards. On each wooden board rests an Indian man, eyes closed. The doctor ushers me to an empty board.

“This spot is for you. Lie on your back. Face the ceiling,” he instructs.

I can’t figure out what is going on, but I don’t see any other option so I comply. The room around me begins to vibrate with the chants of fellow patients. Various meditations fill the room. I remain silent, letting myself be surrounded with the peace and goodwill. I am swallowed by the moment and fade into another mental plane.

After a while, I no longer hear chanting. I hear casual conversation, dishes being clanked together, and the smell of Indian food reminds me I have not eaten in a while. I open my eyes and notice that everyone else is awake. I am the last to join them. I am in the middle of a reception in the doctor’s office. There are trays of Indian curries and naan bread. The men are all eating with their fingers and conversing quietly. The doctor approaches with half of a roasted pig, one that has been twirled on a spit and slow cooked. “It’s a half of a pig,” I remark to myself. It was sawed down the center and is now presented to me as a snack.

“Here,” he says. “Eat something.”

I take the half pig from him. It is still warm and heavy, but not so heavy I can’t hold it without a struggle. I can see hair on its body. Its snout is tanned and rubbery. I stare into the half face of the pig. It stares back at me with one eye. The doctor waits by my side, rocking back and forth, expectantly. As I try to ascertain the best way to partake of this offering, other people begin pulling off bits of pig flesh and eating them. I wonder to myself if they are getting pig hair in their mouths. I look at the pig again. It blinks at me with its one eye. It’s still alive. I am astonished. How is that possible? It seems pretty awkward to take a bite of something that’s halfway watching me. I’m uncomfortable with the idea.

“I’m sorry,” I tell the pig as I grab a loosened part of its tender underbelly and tear it away. It blinks again to let me know it’s all good. He understands. I put the food into my mouth.

The alarm clock goes off.

Now…I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “This gal must live in Denver.” And you’re right. I do live in Denver where pot is now legal and readily available for home consumption and where all kinds of spaced out, random mental experiences are possible. But that’s not what this story is about. This is a story about what happens to me when I have curry for lunch and spicy Italian food for dinner. Although, now that you’ve brought it up, I wonder what my brain might come up with if I relaxed a little and ate an altered brownie? I suppose that’s another blog entirely.

I’m fascinated by what our brains come up with while we’re sleeping, perhaps as they try to work out and file away the everyday occurrences of our conscious lives. I’ve been marveling all day at how my brain reintroduced an old college friend whose last name is Bacon into a dream where I encounter an awkward situation with a cooked pig. Coincidence? I think not.



Crushing The Hulk

Mental peace = sunrise on Kauai
Mental peace = sunrise on Kauai

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately engaged in what has become a regular pastime of mine…pondering the unanswerable questions of life. Rather than being consumed by the everyday worries provided 24/7 via the cable news networks, I exercise my brain by contemplating topics like the potential for achieving emotional peace whilst circumnavigating the vast ocean of fluid interpersonal relationships. Is there a meaning of life? Is there a Hell? Are humans doomed to repeat their mistakes? Will there ever be another television program as brilliant as Breaking Bad? (Okay. Maybe not that last one, but it does deserve an answer.) While some friends find my need for intellectual exercise exhausting, as an introvert I rather enjoy my armchair philosophy. There’s something comforting in asking questions that cannot be answered. At least you’re certain your suppositions can’t be proven wrong.

Yesterday while my mind was entrenched in the question of whether a person can have true compassion for a friend without taking on any emotional burden of said friend, Joe came racing in from the cold to interrupt my mental machinations. He’d been outside sledding and wanted to share something with his brother who had been resigned to inside play after I’d discovered that his second-hand snow boots were falling apart (literally, the heel of the boot was flapping when he walked and he’d failed to mention this little tidbit to me for a week).

“Luke, you’ve got to come outside and sled!” he implored.

“I can’t, Joe,” came the disappointed reply. “My boots are broken and the insides are all wet. It’s too cold.”

“Okay. But we’re out there running over the Hulk with our sleds. We’re trying to destroy him,” Joe explained before beating a hasty retreat back to the sledding hill lest he miss any additional opportunities for destruction. Poor, plastic Hulk. He didn’t stand a chance against four preteen boys hell-bent on mowing him down in freezing temps.

Luke sat quietly for a minute or two and then he ran upstairs. He reappeared shortly wearing long underwear, fresh wool socks, and a hat with ear flaps. He ran to grab his snow pants. When he came back in, he began his verbal campaign as he continued dressing.

“I have to go back out, Mom. I don’t care if my feet get cold. They’re sledding…over the Hulk. How often do you even get that opportunity? It’s epic!”

I didn’t see how I could argue with this logic. He was right. You don’t get many opportunities to team up to destroy the Hulk, even if he is just a small, plastic shell of the big, green guy. Philosopher though I am, I understand the occasional sense of urgency to let go of the mantle of deep thought, logic, and rational behavior to seize an epic opportunity, warm feet be damned. Yes. My mind may be old and grown up, perpetually stymied by life’s deeper questions, but I’m still young enough to appreciate that sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind and crush the Hulk.

No matter what the bigger answers are, every day my children remind me what it truly means to live.

Downhill Battle

Joe is smiling because he’s enjoying his ski day. I’m smiling because things are finally falling into place. Hallelujah!

Eight years. It took us eight years to get our oldest son to spend a day downhill skiing and walk away from it saying he was excited to do it again. I’m not sure what it was that made today the day that everything changed. It was quite cold, downright blizzard-like at times, and he’d spent eight years crafting excuses and explanations about why he despised the sport his father and I love. Seemed to me like a perfect day for him to continue his protestations against a sport he’d never even given a chance. Perhaps he simply got sick of fighting with us about it and realized that after eight years of dogged determination on our parts he was never going to win this battle. No matter. Today was the day everything changed. That’s all I need to know.

“Life rarely gives us what we want at the moment we consider appropriate.” -EM Forster

I think about this quote (from one of my favorite authors) quite often. So many things in my life haven’t gone according to my appointed schedule. Oddly enough, the Universe does not seem to give a pink patootie about my carefully laid plans. For each time things have gone awry, though, I’ve become a bit wiser. I’ve learned that what’s meant to be will be when the time is right. And about that timing? Well…that’s not up to me, nor is it my job to understand why things happen the way they do. My job is to accept that I have only a modicum of control over anything in my world. Sometimes even something simple, like what to have for lunch, is foiled by a random microwave failure or a too-hot slice of pizza that falls from my hands and lands cheese side down. True story.

Now, I suspected that my son would eventually learn to enjoy downhill skiing. The majority of children who learn to ski end up enjoying it. That part is a no-brainer. As for the timing? Well…it took a little longer than I hoped (eight freaking years longer), but I’m becoming hopeful that we might become an entire family of downhill skiers at some point. It could happen.

Sometimes you just have to back off your expectations and give time some time to work. Thinking you have control over anything, especially your children, is a huge mistake. The Universe conspires to ensure things go directly downhill the minute you think you’ve got it all in place and nailed down. But, if you patiently allow time unfold, let go of your demands, and have faith, at some point in your future the stars might align and what you want and what is will become the same and all will be right in your world…at least for a moment. Then your job is to notice it and enjoy it while it lasts.

The Upside of Upchuck

The reason I'm mellowing...these kids have both puked on me.
These cute kids have both puked on me.

There are some good things about getting older, particularly if that getting older occurs along with parenthood. In my advancing years, for example, I’ve discovered that I have quite a bit more perspective now than I had in my 30s before I had children. My Type-A, uptight self has been given many opportunities to learn not to sweat the small stuff. I mean, there’s a lot of perspective to gain when you’ve spent hours agonizing over the perfect outfit to wear to an anniversary party at an upscale restaurant only to have your six-year-old vomit on you in the car just as you pull into the parking lot. That’s the universe’s way of telling you to relax a little and stop fussing over things that don’t matter. The universe has been working overtime to correct my anal-retentive tendencies. My mother told me once that if you pray for something, it’s not given to you. Instead you’re provided the opportunity to earn it. My life is proof that her belief is true.

Tomorrow we’re taking the boys up for the first of five ski lessons we’ve enrolled them in. I’m a little anxious because they’re not as excited about it as we are. For most of my life, I’ve been a Nervous Nelly before a new experience. Once, in college, I drank two shots of vodka before going out for Thai food with a date because I’d never been to a Thai restaurant before and there were so many unknowns I was petrified. (A therapist would make a fortune off of me. I know this.) As I’ve gotten older and lived for years with unpredictable children, though, I’ve found a coping mechanism that won’t end in alcoholism. I play the Worst-Case-Scenario game. For example, take our skiing day tomorrow. There are dozens of things that could go wrong. We could get stuck in a snowstorm. We could forget our skis. A kid could drop one glove off a ski lift. We could arrive late and miss the lessons altogether. One of us could tear an ACL. It’s all possible, but it’s not likely. I’ve learned that worrying about the “what ifs” is a colossal waste of time. If we forget our skis, we’ll rent them. If the drive is horrific, we’ll turn around and head home. If one of us tears an ACL, well….that would suck, but it wouldn’t end the world as we know it. The more I’ve realized how unlikely it is that we’ll reach Death Con 5, the less I trouble myself over the small stuff. Gradually, my Threat Level Red decreased to Orange and now at last to Yellow. I’m making progress. I doubt I’ll ever see Green, but you gotta have goals and green is my favorite color.

No matter what happens with our planned ski adventure tomorrow, I know it will all work out one way or another.  I’m grateful that the universe found a way to offer me practice in the things I need. I once thought I did not want to be a parent. The universe knew better. Now I have two boys who are providing me with a great deal of perspective. Because of them, I’m less of an uptight loon than I used to be. I try new foods (without requiring vodka courage). I visit foreign countries. I’m interested in experiencing new things. And I don’t even lose sleep over any of it. It’s incredible how having a little person vomit on you can change you forever.

Judging A Book By Its Cover

My imperfect book about imperfection
My imperfect book about imperfection

To help me along on my journey toward Zen (with a capital Z), I’ve been reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. If you don’t know anything about Brené, here is an excerpt from her web site bio: Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Brené is a self-described shame researcher. Her books illuminate some of the struggles of the human condition and suggest pathways toward living more bravely and authentically. Because I’m 45 and still muddling my way through midlife crisis, I know I could use some of that knowledge. I want to be more at peace on the second half of my journey through this life, so Brené’s become my guru.

Last week the federal government deemed my husband nonessential. He has been home with me since then, and my time for leisurely reading has been greatly curtailed. Tonight when I finally picked up my book again, I felt like I was starting over. I took a good, long look at the cover and noticed that there appeared to be stains on the cover. I didn’t recall those from before, so I scratched at them a bit to see if they might come off. They did not. I inspected them from several angles in different light and decided they looked too perfectly splattered to be accidental. I even sniffed the book. Nothing out of the ordinary. Same old book smell. And so I decided, “How clever of the book designer to create an imperfect cover for a book about imperfection.” I mean, seriously…that’s just genius. Good for them for thinking of it. Still…in the deep recesses of my brain, something kept bugging me because I didn’t remember those stains. I ran off to my laptop to verify this ingeniously designed cover and to put my perfectly pesky mind at ease.

Of course, I discovered that the cover was not designed to have stains on it at all. Apparently I put those stains there. I’m not entirely sure if they are residue from one of my daily soy lattés or from some of the neutral paint we’ve been slathering on the walls of our main floor while hubby has been temporarily unemployed. Either way, what’s interesting to me here is that I was so certain I could not have spilled anything onto my book that I thought it was an intentional publishing gimmick. It was easier for me to believe that the stains were a purposeful design feature rather than the result of my own, personal sloppiness because I don’t do things like damage books with foreign substances. I take better care of my things than that.

Oh. Dear. God. I need this book a lot more than I thought.


My Suburban Life On The Edge

Almoose but not quite dressed
Almoose but not quite dressed

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been invested in my appearance. Some might call it vanity. I call it self-respect, and my mother insisted upon it. We were not allowed to leave the house wearing inappropriate clothing. We could follow the trends of fashion as long as we were adequately covered, and our clothing was age appropriate. This meant my parents did not buy me high heels (3″ wedges) until I was about 16. As a teen I wore the requisite four layers of preppy era clothing, ensuring my parents did not have to worry about my leaving the house in short shorts and cropped tops like I see so many young girls wearing at the bus stop today. In college, I never once went to class in sweatpants. My ironing habit is legendary among my friends, most of whom have declared me insane for bothering with ironing when I don’t work outside the home. Perhaps ironing is not the best use of my precious time on this planet, but I can’t seem to get that monkey off my back.

This morning I woke up tired and not exactly at my best after last night’s bottle of Barbera. I desperately needed caffeine to wash down my Advil. Since my coffee slave had plans to ride his bike with a friend, I hopped in my car and headed off to Starbucks sans make up and sporting an entirely unkempt outfit comprised of a sleep tee, pajama pants with moose on them, and my flip flops. I was going through the drive-thru. I knew the Starbucks barista would overlook my slovenly attire. I’m probably not the first person ever to show up for drive-thru coffee early on Saturday morning in pajamas, right? It would be our little secret.

As luck would have it, though, the drive-thru line was approximately 96 cars long, extending out well into the parking lot while parking spots directly in front of the store remained wide open. Sigh. Apparently I was not the only lazy person in Littleton attempting to stealthily access pricey, espresso-based caffeine in pjs. This would not do. I had to get home before my coffee slave went for his day-off ride. I did the unthinkable. I pulled into a spot directly in front of the door and jettisoned any attempt to maintain the persona of a respectable, 45-year old woman. I entered a business establishment in my pajamas.

I know that many people won’t understand what the big deal is. So what if I stepped out in totally age-inappropriate moose pants, right? Who cares? There are thousands of families in Colorado who are currently homeless due to the recent flooding. In the grand scheme of things, this is less than nothing. I understand that. But this was one of those “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” moments for me. I put myself out of my comfort zone. I stood there in my pajamas and ordered and waited for my usual tall soy latte while striving to appear wholly comfortable in my moose-laden pants. I practiced what I readily preach to my sons and I tried not to take myself or life too seriously. This is not easy for me as I was raised to be decorous…especially in public. Thanks to little moments like these, though, it is getting easier to relax in the pajama pants I’m in. Take that, pride! Today, expedient coffee won out. Now I just have to convince myself that I’m evolving rather than simply becoming a bigger slob. One growth moment at a time, I guess.

Queue George Michael’s 1990 Hit…FREEDOM!

Harry Flufferpants, Esq.
Harry Flufferpants, Esq.

One of the best things that has come from our sons’ beginning at a new school is the stress it’s taken out of my life. For years our boys were struggling to keep up in class, an issue that was never more obvious than when they would pull out their homework. Every night was a battle. Homework that, according to their teachers and reports from friends whose children were in the same class, should have taken no more than an hour or an hour and a half each night took our boys upwards of three hours. There was non-stop whining, pleading, bargaining, and crying, and that’s without even mentioning how hard the boys took it. Five evenings out of the week (because, let’s face it, the weekend’s homework was not worked on slowly over two days but was instead busted out in one heinous rush on Sunday night), there was no peace in our house. Math assignments, book reports, and spelling troubled me more than any other thing in my life, including midlife crisis and the amount of time I had to wait for the next season of Downton Abbey. Those days are gone.

In their place, we have creativity, laughter, and family time. Because the boys work so hard all day at school to overcome their learning disabilities and because the school understands that, our boys currently have a manageable hour’s worth of homework each night…with a little extra time needed when special projects are assigned. And as if the one hour limit didn’t provide me with enough solace, the school also offers a homework club each day after school. For a reasonable fee the boys can stay an hour after school and complete their work in a teacher-supervised classroom with other students. It’s pure genius. When I pick up my boys at 4 pm, they are finished for the evening. We are currently mulling over which outside activities they could do, like music lessons and tae kwon do, because they will at last have the time to partake. I’m giddy simply thinking about it. They are finally getting to experience what life has been like for their friends. I’m excited for them. It’s about time.

In the meantime, our boys have taken their extra time to try new things and exercise their imaginations. Joe has been discovering graphic novels (books with more pictures than words that are perfect for dyslexic kids…get your minds out of the gutter, people) and Luke has been engaged creating the Museum of Cute. He’s using his iPad to print out photos of cute things, like teacup-sized Pomeranian dogs and mini pigs wearing rain boots, and organizing a collection, which he plans to tour our families through in a few weeks on opening night. Tonight there was an explosion of cute when he brought me this picture of a tiny, white Pomeranian with a mustache. The photo is labeled, “My Lawyer, Harry Flufferpants, Esq.” I can’t make this stuff up.

I also can’t seem to get the chorus from George Michael’s 1990 hit Freedom out of my head. Normally, this would be a problem for me, but I’m so relaxed after my new nighttime ritual mug of chamomile tea that I can’t even find the residual daily angst to care. I think my zen just got a bit closer.

Best Weight On My Shoulders Ever

The miracle blankie
The miracle blankie

I think by now it’s fairly well-documented that I have a deep disdain for my sons’ bi-yearly dental cleaning visits. While they’re blessed with cavity-free teeth (and thank sweet baby Jesus in a manger for that), they’re horrible dental patients. Joe is a non-stop fidgeter, and Luke is a serial puker. They must put the hygienists at Southwest Pediatric Dentistry through some sort of post traumatic stress disorder therapy because I’ve not seen even one duck and cover when my boys roll into the office. And these are women who’ve had their eye glasses knocked off their faces by Joe’s flapping hands just before getting to wear Luke’s revisited lunch for the rest of the afternoon. If they didn’t require me to be present for the visit before beginning work, I would drop Joe and Luke at the door and skulk in my car until they at last emerged with their pity-earned treats from the prize box for “good” patients.

The past two dental visits, Dr. Scott (best pediatric dentist on earth) suggested that we use nitrous oxide to sedate Luke so that Luke could finally, at long last, have a puke-free dental cleaning. It worked! It was a thing of beauty. Luke had his teeth cleaned, and I didn’t have to catch any vomit in my hands. So yesterday when we walked into the office I was sure we’d be back in the corner space with the laughing gas machine. But when the hygienist walked us down the hall to a regular room, I began to stress. I scanned that room for any sign of a nitrous machine. Sadly, there was none. I was heavily debating whether asking her to drug my son would raise red flags about my parenting skills while she made small talk with Luke. She had him pick his toothbrush, got some cool rainbow shades on his eyes, and asked him to pop up onto the table. Then she did something new. She told him that because it was cold in the office she was going to cover him with a blanket.

This brought me out of my nitrous dilemma, and I walked over to check out what was going on. It was weighted like one of those vests they put on neurotic dogs that freak out about thunderstorms. I quashed an eye roll. Seriously? They thought a blankie was going to stop the kid who once puked while viewing a preview for How To Eat Fried Worms? Ha. Good luck, lady. I went to check on Joe while the getting was good.

When I returned, though, there was no sign of distress from either hygienist or patient. Luke’s legs were relaxed, his feet drooped to the side. Then I realized the hygienist was actually running the power brush…in his mouth. I was shocked. I wanted to comment but was afraid to ruin the moment. So instead I sat with my mouth agape, shaking my head with disbelief. When hubby arrived to serve as backup troop, I couldn’t even speak. I just pointed to Luke in the chair. He nodded as if he understood, but I knew he did not.

“No nitrous,” I whispered.

“What?” he responded as if he didn’t believe me.

“NO nitrous,” I repeated. Then I clarified. “Weighted blanket.”

Hubby inched forward to check it out.

“Wow!” he mouthed.

“I know,” I mouthed back.

And sure enough, with nothing but a blanket Luke survived not only a cleaning but a flossing and a fluoride application without puking on anyone. Was this the end of our little Luke-a-Puke? I felt like I’d won the Mommy Lottery. All because of a blanket. Dr. Scott explained that the blanket calms the nervous system and eliminates the need for sedation. It sure seemed to work that way for Luke. He also mentioned that his three sons sleep with them every night, and they have worked wonders to improve the quality of their sleep. I told him that Joe has never slept well, presumably due to his ADHD, and he gave me the business card for the sweet woman who makes the blankets for the dental practice. Needless to say, when we got home I immediately ordered one for Joe. I’m counting the minutes until its arrival. I might yet get one uninterrupted night’s sleep before they go to college.

Truthfully, I have a feeling that I will probably end up ordering a blanket for each one of us because heaven knows we could all benefit from some non-prescription sedation. The more I think about it, the more I’m thinking that what the world needs now is weighted blankets all around. Put down the chemical weapons and pull on a blanket. Okay. Maybe they’re not quite that powerful. But, I’m still thinking that with a blanket, some noise cancelling headphones, and some wine I might just survive the boys’ teenage years without winding up in a monogrammed straightjacket.






Thank God My Son Is A Geek

Sample of a text message I received from my son
Sample text message from my son

The other day I was talking to my sister about Joe and how he’s growing up. I told her that he’s now texting his friends from his iPad. Personally, I find the whole thing reasonably amusing. Joe is not exactly the world’s greatest speller and when he texts me I often have a hard time deciphering what he’s trying to say. I imagine the process is even more difficult for a 5th grader who has less experience with the English language and with Joe’s spelling missteps than I do. My sister is more of a worrier than I am, so her mind immediately went worst-case-scenario on me.

“Who does he text?” she inquired.

“A few of his classmates,” I replied.

“Boys or girls?”

“Some of both, I think.”

“What do they talk about?” she wondered.

“I don’t know,” I answered, surprised at the question.

“Well, don’t you read his texts?”

I have to admit this threw me. Honestly, the thought never occurred to me to infringe upon Joe’s privacy. Maybe it’s naive of me, but I simply don’t see my nearly 12 year old son becoming involved in anything nefarious or sordid via text messaging at this point. First off, he’s barely one step off thinking girls have cooties. Secondly, when Joe texts me he sends me little emoticons of elephants (my favorite animal) and chickens (which he labels as “Kauai Super Chicken). Lastly, he’s the most forthright kid on earth. On the few occasions he’s been dishonest, overcome with self-inflicted, internal, gut-wrenching guilt he has confessed before I even suspected he had lied. And why would I have to read his messages when he tells me what he and his friends talk about all the time?

“No. I don’t read his texts. I have no reason to,” I said confidently, certain that my boy was sweet as seventy pounds of pure cane sugar.

“Well, don’t you want to know what’s going on with him?” she chided.

“Ummm….honestly, no. I don’t really need to read about who has a crush on whom and what episode of My Little Pony has them cracking up.”

“Huh,” my sister replied, somewhat judgmentally. “I’d just want to know more about his life, I guess.”

“Well,” I said, “I guess that I want him to know that we trust him and because I have no reason not to I’m going to let him have some privacy.”

The conversation ended there and we moved onto another subject to avoid a potential argument. But after our call I started to wonder if I was being too idealistic in my approach to Joe’s texting. I mean, I suppose he could be having conversations I might not approve of. He is getting older. They did just have “the talk” at school. He’s a shy, sensitive kid, but those are sometimes the ones you have to watch out for the most. After discussing it with hubby, we decided to take a quick look at the last texts Joe sent. The conversation was with a female classmate and it went exactly like this:

Friend: What are you talking about?

Joe: The realm of gondor

Friend: Ok??

Joe: Middle Earth

Friend: Ok??

Joe: Next to the realm of mordor where mt doom is where the ring was forged

Friend: Is this the lord of the rings?

Joe: Yes. It’s ausome (sic)

Upon reading this little tidbit, I wanted to run to my sister and tell her that I was right. I have nothing to worry about with Joe and his text messaging…at least not yet. He is just a sweet, innocent kid who deserves some trust. But I didn’t do that. Truth is I felt dirty and downright shameful for not sticking with my original instinct. I had been right to trust him in this instance and knowing that I’d violated his right to a private conversation with a friend when I had no cause for suspicion made me feel lower than a downward-facing mole on an express elevator to Hell. (And although I would not hesitate to do some snooping on my son if I did ever suspect something was seriously amiss, I have no plans to make a regular habit out of sticking my nose where it does not belong.) I still feel rotten about it. And that’s certainly not anything to call up my sister and brag about.

If there’s a plus side to this whole experience, though, it’s this…given the substance of this conversation between Joe and a female classmate, I doubt he’s going to be having any unseemly conversations with members of the opposite sex for quite some time. Unless Joe happens upon a preteen girl who obsesses more about The Lord of the Rings, sharks, and Marvel superheroes than she does about make up and the cutest member of One Direction, I likely won’t have to check his texts for at least a few more years.



Vomitoriums, Clone Troopers, And The Sahara…Welcome To My World

On Floreana Island in the Galapagos with the monkeys I'm not totally certain belong to me
On Floreana Island in the Galapagos last August with the monkeys I admit I’m not totally certain belong to me

Some days I wonder if the children I parent are even mine. They certainly resemble their father more than me and, if I hadn’t actually seen my belly shrink approximately the size of a child and then watched their wrinkled, newborn faces as they screamed their way toward the ritual of their first weigh-in (I scream every time I weigh in, so I understand), I might not have accepted this gig as their full-time, gainfully unemployed, tutor, chauffeur, cook, maid, and all-around-slave. I mean, it’s a thankless job and I know someone has to do it, but without even so much as similar eye color to go on, I have to wonder sometimes.

And, it is because I wonder that I so heartily appreciate it when the Universe provides me with proof that these spawn truly do belong to me. This evening we were driving home from dinner. The three of us were having a stimulating discussion, the kind we often have when we are trapped in a moving vehicle together. First, Joe attempted to educate me about the vomitoriums of ancient Rome, at which point I had to tell him that a) yes…I am old enough to have knowledge of such a thing but not old enough to have firsthand knowledge (thank you very much), and 2) no…it is not what you expect it is. Google it, my young apprentice. The conversation turned then to a discussion of the stop-motion animation video they planned to make when they got home and to which Luke had already assigned the pre-production, working title The Suite Life of Rex and Cody, after the Lego Clone Troopers he planned to turn into stars.

While the boys excitedly discussed Clone Trooper stage blocking directions, it began snowing. When it begins snowing at any point after the end of January, I begin cursing. Once the holidays are over, I see no point for the snow. I graciously allow winter a full-month to vacate once the holidays are in my rear view mirror, yet tonight winter was mocking me. It’s not the snow I hate as much as the cold and, glancing at my car’s thermometer, I registered it was a balmy 19 degrees outside. This, of course, caused me to interrupt their conversation with a pseudo-expletive.

“Cheese and rice!” I exclaimed mostly to myself. “I hate the cold. Have I ever told you that I hate the cold?”

“Yes,” they replied in unison with a bit too much annoyance.

“I like the cold,” Joe ventured. (Joe is the one who least looks like me. Did I mention that?)

“Really? You would rather it be 0 degrees than 100 degrees?” I responded.

“Yep,” he replied with confidence. Of course, this is the child who told me his dream vacation destinations include Antarctica and Nuuk, the capital of Greenland.

“What about you, Luke? Would you rather be hot or cold?” I queried.

Before Luke had the opportunity to answer, Joe and his impulse-assisted mouth burst back into the conversation to persuade Luke to his side.

“Luke….100 degrees is torrid. It’s a warm spring day in the Sahara,” he shared. (Joe pronounces Sahara as sah-har-ah rather than the more common US pronunciation suh-hair-uh. It’s positively British of him. He won points for that even though he was busily arguing against me. But, I digress.)

“Joe,” I asked, “did you just say torrid or did you say horrid?” I knew he knew the second word, but I’d never heard him utter the first.

Torrid,” he repeated as if my elevator didn’t reach the top floor. Then to make matters worse he added, “it means oppressively hot.”

“Gee…thanks for the explanation, Joe. Believe it or not, I am perfectly well aware of what that word means. Why don’t you spell it for me?” I asked.

“T-O-R-R-I-D,” he answered both quickly and flawlessly.

“Wow,” I said, duly impressed. “Good job, Joe.”

“I would rather it be 100 degrees,” Luke chimed in, perhaps fearing we’d forgotten about him. “I could always take my shirt off.”

“Keep your shirt on, Fabio,” I replied.

“Who’s Fabio?” Joe asked.

“Oh…never mind,” I said, disgusted and depressed that I had dated myself by decades.

The conversation returned to stop-motion videos while I wondered at my son’s new word. According to the most recent educational report we received about Joe and his learning disabilities, both his working memory (the ability, for example, to mentally add 26 + 54) and his processing speed (the amount of time it takes him to do such a math problem) are well beneath average for a child his age. These deficits make school quite difficult for Joe. The one bright spot the tests illuminated, however, was in Joe’s Oral Language skills. Turns out that as a 5th grader he currently has the language skills of a 9th grader. I smiled to myself at his use of the word torrid. The kid did inherit something from his ancient mother with the BA in English and the MS in Professional Writing. Genetics did not grant him my blue eyes or my freckled fair skin, but he did end up with my curiosity and a sturdy vocabulary. For a brief second, I spied something of myself in my son, something we had in common. Tonight, for a few seconds, I was 100% positive he was mine. And, while one could argue that the things I determined we had in common are more likely derived via nurture rather than nature, I don’t give a flying fig. I’ll take it.