Planning Ahead

Charlie likes to plan ahead, perhaps moreso than is actually practical. He will save a sucker 'for dessert the next time that it is Tuesday and we eat macaroni and cheese' or decide that this toy needs to stay there until a certain child comes to play again (who may not come for months).

In June, we were driving in PennyVann and had this conversation:

Charlie: Why does Dixie always get the mail every day that there is mail in the mailbox?
Gretchen: Because it is her job. It's how she is a helper.
C: But what if I wanted to get the mail?
G: I suppose that would be fine as well. Would you like to get the mail today when we get home?
C: No, not today. (thinking) . . . What is the time that is before Christmas?
G: Christmas Eve?
C: Is that a day or a lot of days?
G: A day.
C: What is the time that is before Christmas that is a lot of days?
G: You mean November?
C: Yes. I think I will bring in the mail when it is November.
G: Okay. It can be your job to bring in the mail for the month of November.

A few minutes pass.

C: Is November a lot of days?
G: 30 days.
C: Does the mail come on all of those days?
G: Not all. It won't come on any of the Sundays, Thanksgiving or Veteran's Day. It will come 23 or 24 days, depending on how many Sundays there are in November. I have not checked.
C: That is too many days. Are there Fridays in November?
G: Yes, November will have 4 or 5 Fridays.
C: Okay. Then I will get the mail anytime it is a Friday in November.
G: Sounds like a plan.
C: Do not forget this. It is important that I have a job to do to be a helper.

I did not forget. He has brought the mail in three times now. I'm a little bummed we won't be in town for the fourth Friday in November--I failed to consider his heavy responsibilities while making holiday plans--but I'm betting Uncle Gary will go for his mail being brought in.


Performances, Planned and Impromptu

So tonight is the fourth grade music program. Six songs, twenty speaking parts, one song has three instrument parts and they break out into singing in four parts, one song has two part singing while twenty kids go stand in the back and play the recorder and the front row plays the tambourine, two songs feature kazoo, all sorts of craziness. And my girls have piano tonight. So life is already going to be a bit nuts.

Then they call a staff meeting.

Then, after the staff meeting, I learn that, as hospitality head, in charge of a bosses day gift for both bosses for Monday. So I deal with that.

Then I take my kids to my room so I can set out instruments, check the lighting with the projector, print out homework passes and tidy up so that everything will be ready. Then we can go home, eat, I can freshen up and then Dowlan can take the kids and I can go back to school.

Except that I walk in and toss my keys on the cabinet, the seven foot tall, twelve foot long cabinet that weighs 300 lbs empty and then they slide to the back and fall through the crack between the base and the credenza.


So I empty the text books, teacher editions, art supplies, 2 keyboards, sixty tambourines and composer statues from the top. Then I empty the four sets of handbells and chimes, 14 years of ballet costumes, etc, etc, etc from the bottom.

Then I still can't move it.

Meanwhile, the girls are trying on the costumes and Charlie is digging through my treasure box and then they all go onto the stage in the gym and start to make up their own show. I call to the fourth grade teachers' rooms and one kind man is there and willing to help.

It moved. Whew.

Along with my keys, we find a cornucopia of random, errant items that I happily abandon there. I turn around and realize that, in one hour, eighty five children are going to occupy this space that looks like a music room threw up in it because, well, it did.

I call Dowlan to come pick the kids up at school, as dinner and primping are clearly not going to happen.

We start out organizing and end up shoving. Dowlan appears to help and I leave him to it so that I can print out homework passes. I format, copy, paste and all that fun stuff and hit print.

Guess whose printer doesn't work?

Fun. More cleaning, more wires, more $(&)@!?.

My kids cannot possibly leave, as they have a very important performance to put on that we cannot possibly miss. With minutes before parents arrive and nothing set up yet, we go in to watch.

It was fabulous. Charlie announced them. Girls came in in tutus, girls danced. The plot was intriguing, the dancing exhilarating. Charlie came and sat next to us. The story reached a point where they needed a volunteer from the audience and, wouldn't you know it, Dixie picked Charlie instead of me.

More action, then resolution. Charlie informed us that "this is just chapter one; there are one hundred chapters" but we needed to save those for another day, as I heard people arriving for the 'real show'.

And while my show was good and I'm incredibly proud of my students tonight, I am so glad I paused long enough to enjoy the other show. It came from the heart.


9:32 a.m.

As I sit to write this, it is 9:32 a.m. I awoke at approximately 8:00 this morning, and have therefore been awake for 92 minutes.

On August 1st, I had sinus surgery. I'd taken the kids to my mother's the day before and she returned them to me yesterday. As a result, I think it's safe to say I've done more in the last 92 minutes than in the previous 168 hours.

For example: I awoke to the sound of Melody in the kitchen. She poured her own cereal and milk, brought them to the coffee table and then brought me coffee. (Amazing child, yes? You know you are all jealous.) In the next 30 minutes, I explained to her genetic traits, how geography and climate relate to skin color, how trade routes led to exploring then led to intermarrying amongst what had previously been isolated pocket cultures.

At this point, I broke out the pen and paper and taught my eight-year-old how to use a Punnett Square to diagram dominant and recessive genes, then explained about the 23 chromosomes and how you end up with the traits you have.

Which led to nature vs. nurture.

Then the other two woke up, we all got dressed and took off to take the girls to their Cheer Clinic at school. I could not see through the sap on the windshield and so I stopped on the way at a coin operated car wash. I could not do a drive through because of the window that is stuck halfway down. It's a good thing Melody brought me that coffee, because I was *that* close to going through the drive-thru. That could have been soggy.

The next few miles were spent explaining to Charlie that he could not go to Cheer Camp, as he is not a 3rd, 4th or 5th grade girl student on that particular elementary school campus, but that in high school he would get his chance.

After dropping them off, Charlie and I had a lovely discussion of public vs. private property and insurance liabilities. As we're discussing why he can't just go play on that particular playground because we lack permission from the owner and his property insurance just wouldn't cover any injuries, he asks me quite the question.

"Mommy, if I'm playing on that playground and my head gets broke open like a pinata, what if no one likes the candies that fall out of my head because they are too spicy and too sour?"

For the first time all morning, I didn't have an answer for that one. I think I need a second cup of coffee first. 


Only Melody

A few weeks ago, we were all in The Betty, driving to church.

 I don't think I've introduced you to The Betty, Dowlan's car. It's a 12-year-old white Buick that we bought from Granny. On the drive home from put hissing, she hit 30,000 miles. Since life is in my head is a perpetually word association game, follow along.  

Granny car 
White car 
Old White people 
Betty White The Betty 

Are you with me? 

Okay,so it's wednesday afternoon and the son is getting low in the sky, with rays shining boldly through the side windows. Melody starts making shadow puppets. 

Think of the shadow puppets you made at age eight: 

 Not Melody. From the backseat, I hear, "look! It's Governor GoodHair!" 

Melody has made a Rick Perry shadow puppet. I'm laughing so hard that steering has become a challenge, so she defends herself with"but it has really good hair!" 

At the next light, I glance at the back of the passenger seat, where her maneuvered fists have left the shadow of a head with perfectly coiffed hair and a handsome chin. 

 That's my girl!


Sew Cool!

During the last few weeks of 2nd grade, the girls' school had enrichment time at the end of the day. They were allowed to choose from a variety of offerings and Dixie chose sewing. She brought home a cute little apron, with only a few missed seams.

Yesterday, I finally got the last of my sewing and craft things put away and organized. After taking the girls to rehearsal, I made my way through my mending pile and then returned to it after dinner. I got fabric I'd bought years ago and never even touched made into a cute blanket.

Charlie amused himself with Legos, Melody read a book, but Dixie sat and watched me. "You know I can sew in a straight line now, right?"

I've long said that if you can sew in a straight line, you can sew anything. Dixie proved me right.



If you know Dixie, you know that Baby Elephant is sacred. She has had Baby Elephant since she was a baby and nothing absorbs Dixie Tears like Baby Elephant Trunk.


Baby Elephant now has a blanket, pillow and mattress, made from a fabric I bought years ago, in case my friend Deanna ever had a girl.


Since we had a conversation with Dixie today about her birthmother that made for a bit of a hard evening, some crafty bonding over Baby Elephant was just what this mother-daughter team needed. It might even make going to sleep that much easier.


Days with Charlie

This summer, I am working as the vocal coach for a local community theatre group. It's a children's summer program and we are putting on 101 Dalmatians. I've really enjoyed going to spend an hour or two a day with a small group of motivated kids. It's so different than my usual gig of 400 kids before lunch that I don't really know what to do with myself some days.
The cast was skimpy to begin with and a few kids had to drop out for various reasons. At the end of last week, the director decided to throw my girls in to bulk up the song and dance numbers. Because the program is designed as a day camp, Melody and Dixie are now at rehearsal from 9-4 every day this week and next.

While their summer has been rather packed with activities, this huge amount of empty has been hard on me.  I'm having to put away my own dishes, if nothing else. It makes me rather glad that my original plan of being a stay-at-home mom for a few more years didn't pan out. Charlie is so content to play in his own little world that he rarely lets me in. I am being forced to deep clean and exercise in order to stay busy.

But some mornings, if I find just the right moment, Charlie will let me into his world.  This morning, Charlie was being a kitty and allowing me to be 'da gwown up dat plays wif da kitty'. When he got tired of the strings and laser lights and no longer wished to be petted, he grew wings. "Dat is why dey call dem flying kitties."

I tossed him over a shoulder and we began to fly around the living room and kitchen. As the pathway were were taking became bolder and more adventurous, he protested. "You hafta remember I am a new flying kitty dat was jest born. You hafta be careful wif new flying kitties jest born."

After a good hour as a feline, he's got play-doh out and is making minnows and worms. They, too, can fly if they are bent at one end to be shaped like a candy cane. Just like toy cars can fly, but only if they have their doors open like wings.

I would like to fly, too, but no one is volunteering me a ride on their shoulders.



I'm convinced there's no piece of childhood summer that carries more magic than the watermelon. Without it, summer has not truly begun. There's just so many memories attached--just the smell makes me seven again, sitting on the back deck with a green and red smile of melon, juice dripping down my chin, trying my mightiest to spit black seeds further than my brother. I even lost a tooth in one once. When I realized it, I frantically sorted through my little white seeds looking for which one was really a tooth. Don't remember that I found it, either.

I still remember the sight of mom spreading out the paper bags to catch the juice, getting the biggest chef knife and working on a melon with her ninja-machete skills. She'd start telling about when she was a kid and laughing at the slipperiness of the task at hand. Dad would start in with stories of his own as we were shooed out the back before we made a bigger mess in the kitchen.

Watermelons somehow got my parents talking. Acquaintances of my parents in their current era selves would never guess the hardship and poverty either grew up with. Mom talked about her childhood far more often than dad. Her adobe New Mexico home with four brothers and as many girls has happier stories, despite the hard work in the chile and onion fields that was part of meeting their basic needs. Dad's nomadic childhood involved six rapscallion kids with on-and-off-again parents and their addictions.  But for both of them, one of the joys of summer would be the day mom or dad brought home a watermelon.

Recently, Charlie lectured me that I needed to 'bwing home a watermewon fwom de stow de next time dat you are dere.' Who could refuse such an order? Since this is the week we have two bonus children, the timing could not be better.

Yesterday evening, as we dragged in groceries and luggage from our recent weekend at Oma's, I suddenly felt an attack from behind. Dixie was crushing me, jumping up and down and squealing about how I was the best mommy ever. Charlie was in bed already, but saw it there on the counter this morning and ran in for a rare mommy squeeze. Like most childhood magic, the rarity and anticipation sometimes eclipse the event itself.

BLTs and watermelon seemed like the perfect lunch for five children, so I sliced melon while the bacon sizzled and the toast toasted. Little hands grabbed pieces and got shooed out the back door before they made a bigger mess in the kitchen. Within a few minutes, all the seeds were spit, all the rinds in the trash and their arms had trickles of pink juice tracing up to their elbows. Mommy had told her stories and the sweet crispness of this fruit was certainly worth the anticipation and the mess.

Summer has officially begun.


Swimmers! We Got 'EM!

One of the things I've felt guilty about for awhile is that my girls are 8 and 8.5 and can't swim. In fact, at the end of the school year, the girls had a trip to the municipal pool as a reward and it was terrifying to send two almost-swimmers in amongst the hordes.

Two summers ago, Dixie could swim from me to the edge and Melody was almost there. I knew we were one summer away from little froggies.

Then we moved to Small Town, Texas, where I teach roughly 9% of the elementary-aged population in town. In suburbia, I could drive ten miles to a pool where I was far enough away to not risk running into my students. Here, that's not possible. (One of the ways the kids entertain themselves in Wal*Mart is by counting how many students we run into. We average 8 a trip.)

My students are not seeing me in a swimsuit. I am not seeing them in their swimsuits. This is simply not happening.

Also, last summer was crazy busy with traveling, not to mention record-setting heat. In a summer with nearly 100 days over 100 degrees, we were not going outside to get in warm water.

So this summer, I planned swim lessons for all three kids. I knew the girls needed just a little technique and encouragement to be swimming merrily along, but didn't realize how good they'd get and how fast.

By the end of Monday's 40 minute lesson, they were both swimming about fifteen feet independently. By the end of Tuesday's, they'd figured out how to swim on stomach and back and how to come up for air. Wednesday, they took their first dives in from the side, then both braved the diving board. Today, Melody did a forward flip off the diving board, landed in a relatively-coordinated fashion, and swam to the edge. Dixie is still getting the nerve up for that, insisting that she will conquer it tomorrow.

My girls can swim!

As for Charlie's progress--well, he's no longer clinging to the side in desperation. That's about all I can say about him. Can't win them all, right?

But the best part? I made a new Mommy Friend!


My Gymnasts are Not so Tiny Anymore

Melody's events are:
Beam was definitely her best, for you skimmers.

Dixie's events are:
Bars and vault were her best, but she was having a rough day. She's been through a recent eight pound and one inch growth spurt and her muscles haven't fully adjusted to the change.

We were supposed to do their meet first, grab lunch, then go back for Charlie's meet. He started getting mopey during the girls' meet and we didn't bother buying him food because he was grunty and resembled a lump. After 45 minutes in the restroom at Grandy's, we made a stop at Walgreens and went straight home. He's so miserable that I don't think he even realized that he was missing his time.

Thoughts from Charlie's Head

"Im starting to see my dream. The pictures flash like when someone takes a picture with a camera. But there's no person, and no camera. Flash, flash, flash. It's harder to see the pictures when the sun is up."

Charlie likes to sleep in complete darkness, no easy feat when he goes to bed long before the sun goes down. His shades are pretty good, but the four large windows allow it to creep in around the corners. Once, last fall, he got very mad at me because, "We go to sleep when it is the daytime and wake up when it is the nighttime and this just makes no sense."

He's right, but I didn't make the bus schedule.

At Easter we went on a family retreat at our new church. I was initially skeptical, but was sold by the notion of no dressing sugar filled children up in layers of fluff to endure an extra long, extra full church service then try to take those hungry children home and make them wait we while I throw together something fancy.

Instead we had church in our shorts down by the riverside in the cool morning breeze. The day before was like a scene from a movie. A couple hundred people on the green, soft hilly grass. Someone playing guitar with a guy beating on a djembe, people canoeing and swimming, bubbles blowing and kids playing. Talking, laughing, fun. It made me miss Austin. It felt like Austin. All that was missing was a dog with a frisbee and some teenagers with a hackey sack.

Charlie thought about God that weekend and told me that, "God must have two hands, that way He could make us both." I was drawn in by that beautiful, loving image and was thinking to myself for just a moment that Charlie is really growing things up, really thinking things through.

But just for a moment, because he then informed me, "And God made chickens so they could rule the galaxy!"

This notion has cracked me up for weeks now. I asked him once why we ate them, if they do indeed rule the galaxy. He informed me that this was part of their plan . . . once they are inside of us, the takeover can begin.

So perhaps vegetarians are saving us from a fowl future?

He also told me this morning that "My life is very hard." Unfortunately, the poor sweet boy is right about this. He gets so angry and he can't stop. He says, "When I am angry, it never goes away."

He has come so far on so many fronts, but his anger and rage are wearing us all thin. It is not a constant, but seems to pop up at moments that are supposed to be happy and fun, but out of the ordinary. I spent church on Mother's Day outside with a screaming boy and then Thursday I pulled a wagon of screaming boy through a parade at the girls' school.

He is so high functioning that I forget sometimes how much he needs structure, planning and control. Since I tend to be very spur of the moment and am all for spontaneous fun, I'm not always good at preparing him for what is happening. I think our busyness doesn't always work in his favor.

But there are three of them. Five of us. His needs can't always dictate our plans. The girls are learning so much about compassion and patience from having Charlie as a little brother, but sometimes I'm worried that his needs hold them back. So then I try to make sure they get to experience everything while limiting his world to the things he can handle and preparing him for the things that can't.

And then I am frequently told I look tired.

I am.

But I just have to eat more chicken and hold out until they take charge. Perhaps they can do a better job of it all?


Enough, already.

I forgot to update, and I'm sorry.

 Dixie's heart is fine. The cardiologist saw the concern on the old EKG, said it was still within the normal range and he probably would not have even considered looking into it, but his colleague that read the original is more cautious. He did a new EKG and an echo. Her heart muscles, valves and walls were all in great shape.

Now on with it.


Enough already. We have enough already.

Dowlan got paid today. We got tax money from an error a few days ago. I got paid for a secondary project at Pearson last week and there is more coming in next week. We have a considerable amount of money in the bank and nothing to do with it.

It is the strangest feeling.

I even sat down today and got completely caught up on all medical things and there is money left. And I found out that since I'm dropping my health insurance at work my paycheck is going up by like 700 a month and my next check will have a refund for May's health insurance premium. And I'm doing another brief Pearson project at the end of the month. And since my employer pays $350 a month to my health insurance and I might as well use it for something I can have secondary coverage on just me, which means the sinus surgery I'm having this summer won't cost nearly what we thought it would.

This is the strangest feeling, having enough. It is just as terrifying as not having enough, because I'm afraid I'll screw it up somehow. Or that the shoe will drop. Something enormous will go wrong soon because it is there.

The money he made while working out of town helped us get caught up on a lot of things, and life has been cheaper now that we don't have to travel to see each other. There are a couple of conveniences that we no longer use now that he is home, like the Schwann guy, the housekeeper and delivered pizza. Mostly it's just that a steady diet of paychecks has been good for our household. We are about to buy Dowlan a better car, I'm about to bring our school cat home for the summer and the will be vet bills, there are summer trips and camps to pay for.

But last week I spent about $400 on my van and I didn't have to even think about how to pay for it. No need to squirrel anything away or decide what to not pay quite yet.

It has been a long time coming, but enough. Already.


Oh good. A new doctor.

I've avoided saying much because it is likely to be nothing. But just in case it is something, we could use your thoughts and prayers. Dixie has been on ADHD medicine for the last year and the medicine she is one is a stimulant. Because her birth mother had a congenital heart defect, the psychiatrist we've recently started working with wanted to do an EKG just to double check that all was well before continuing on meds that can be hard on the heart. We got the results jack about a month ago. We are either dealing with a defective test or a defective heart. Tomorrow we go see the pediatric cardiologist at 10 a.m, heavily hoping it is the first option.



At christmastime, my mother, aunts and I had all commented about how incredibly well my children got along compared to other sibling groups. How they would get frustrated at times, but really didn't fight, yell, hit or scream.

It was nice while it lasted.

While I still think I have quite good kids, some doozies have broken out lately. The most impressive of which was a week or so ago when I was fertilizing the front yard and had to run to the backyard and break up the screaming match on the trampoline.

I'd you ever needed proof that my family was strange, here it is.

Charlie was mad because the girls had uses this springy fabric tube that the kids can crawl through to build a portal to another dimension and it didn't work. If those ridiculous girls had placed it in a slightly different spot on the trampoline, the spot where he wanted it, he wouldn't even be there to phase to put up with their incompetency or have to 'use his imagination' as they so ridiculously keep suggesting.


Book Review: Lost and Found

In the five years I've been writing this blog, I have talked a lot about my favorite things: Dixie, Charlie and Melody. I've also talked a lot about my least favorite things: unemployment, autism and exhaustion. Today we're branching out in a new direction: books. Specifically, book reviews that are through the book club section of the network my blog ads come from, blogher.com.

So, yes, I'm getting paid a bit. And, yes, this is still my honest opinion.

While books are one of my favorite things to talk about, this book is about most people's least favorite things to talk about: money and food. Specifically, losing both.

Oh, fun.

In Geneen Roth's book Lost and Found: One Woman's Story of Losing Her Money and Finding Her Life, an author and speaker who usually delves into the world of compulsive eating and spirituality takes on a new direction. She tells the story of the day her friend called to tell her the shocking and life-altering news: that Bernie Madoff had made off with 30 years' worth of savings, earnings and retirement.

Her description of that dizzying afternoon reminded me of the day my world changed. The day I laid on the bedspread, propped on my elbows, staring at the phone. I could not believe my husband, the supporter of all five of us, was out of a job soon.

There were times where I had trouble relating to a married woman with no kids struggling with money despite two incomes when we had three kids and no income. Somehow, still, our experiences were so much the same.

Roth describes the suffocating feeling of standing in a high-end clothing store with a friend who was excited about all the beautiful things around her while she was panicking at the thought of each and every price tag. I cannot tell you how many times I did this in Target or at the grocery store.

Different scale, same anxiety. Same need to re-center and find a new normal, which both of us eventually did. Her interpretations of spiritual life are far different than mine, yet we both needed to reexamine what we really needed in life and what our decisions about money say about ourselves.

Because so much of her adult life has been spent working through her own food issues and then helping others do the same, many of her reflections and thoughts tied in money, food and self. Roth states, "I saw there wasn't a huge difference between problems with money and problems with food: Most of the world doesn't have enough of either, but those of us who do seem to always want more and, for the most part, refuse to believe that the problems we are experiencing 'out there' originate--and need to be solved--'in here.' "

If money and food are internal struggles for you, she has provided an excellent framework for self-examination as she processes through her own struggle.

More discussion can be found here: http://www.blogher.com/bookclub/now-reading-lost-and-found


Life in the Car Pickup Line

Two days of the week, I get Charlie off the bus and immediately head over to the girls' school to pick them up from their afterschool enrichment program. Because his bus arrival at my campus can arrive anywhere within a twenty minute window, there are days where we make it by the skin of our teeth and there are days where we arrive with quite a bit of time to spare.

I've tried a few things on those early days. It's never quite enough time to run an errand or make a stop anywhere, but too long to just sit there. One day with twenty minutes to spare I tried letting him play on the playground at their school, but it ended disastrously. First, we'd gotten halfway back to the car before realizing that he'd left his socks under the slide. We went back for his socks and I told him to take off his shoes and put them back on. He did it with a little more flare than I'd intended, chucking his shoes over the fence. After retrieving his shoes, he refused to walk and crawled like a cat through the weeds. When I tried to pick him up to carry him, he shrieked like a child being kidnapped.

Needless to say we were late to pick up the girls that day. You might also, rightly, assume that this option was never given again.

Today Melody stayed home sick, so I had two bored children in the back of my hot PennyVann as we awaited the emergence of the Dixie from the school. The entire drive, wait and drive home were spent in deep analytical discussion of a subject dear to Charlie's heart: PopTarts.

We discussed every size, flavor and temperature preference. We discussed favorite locations and days for PopTart consumption. Eating techniques were dissected--do you crumble around the edges first, start in a corner or just chomp into the end? Is it better to eat it frosting side up? Included in this analysis was a detailed explanation of Evan's PopTart preferences. (Evan is Charlie's school friend.)

It was excruciating.

By the end of it, I learned that Tuesday and Wednesday are my PopTart days, but only if there are blueberry or cherry available for me to eat cold in the mornings in the PennyVann on the way to school. Any other PopTart eating variance is unacceptable. The girls had slightly more permissible options and Charlie's PopTart consumption was given complete free range.

I thought you might like to know.


Charlie would like

Charlie would like his bedtime to be "ten-thirty-more-minutes" and I have to hand it to him--it's quite clever. It smacks of the "jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never ever jam today" plan from Alice In Womderland.

He has also found wisdom in having his turn last. Last bedtime story and last bath have their advantages, as does last at the dentist. If only he'd discovered this earlier--had he been content to be last to use the toilet, Melody's glasses might not have gone down it.

Speaking of which, many of you have asked about their fate. Despite being without scratch or bend, the rubber parts on the ear pieces and nose pieces had absorbed the smell. After over it soaks in vinegar and a day in the sun, it was still lingering. Had the perpetrator and owner been one and the same, I'd be content to let a child live with sewer-scented frames, but Melody did not deserve to have to go through the next few months with those on her face.

I took them back to Walmart with the intention of purchasing new frames, but they were kind enough to swap them out for free. Yes, they were under warranty against breakages, but I'm not entirely convinced their fine print encompassed our situation. Their kindness was much appreciated.


The Scoop

Oh, what a Spring Break. What an awful, wretched, broken break.

Except for the most awesome part. And truly awesome it was! Dowlan begins a job HERE in town after Easter. A job. A REAL full-time job with excellent benefits, decent pay and room to move up. 

It started with weeds. Well, for me it did. Dowlan went Saturday morning to an 8 a.m. job interview while I faced my nemesis: hip-high weeds filling huge sections of our half-acre yard. After two days of pulling, the front yard was ready to mow, only we didn't have a lawnmower that worked.

Then came the throwing up. Charlie threw up Sunday morning, but just a few times. Mostly he laid around watching TV and looking dreary, weary and bleary. This gave me ample opportunity to pull weeds for 10-15 minute stretches, checking in with him between bouts. Dowlan and the girls came back from church about the time he perked up and then the weeding became a family affair.

Monday began with dentistry. The numbness had not yet worn off when it was time for me to take Charlie to see the psychologist for his first time. The therapies we've done in the past have run their course and I'm trying to figure out what to do next. The 'next' is going to the psychiatrist for meds to help with his overwhelming anxiety and enormous peaks of rage. About halfway through, my feeling started coming back into my face, and talking through the tingling/itching/drooling was indeed awkward.

Then more weeds are supposed to be in order, but I quit after not much effort. I'm blaming my misery on the dental work. Feed the kids. Say good-bye to Dowlan as he heads out of town, only a belt snaps and he doesn't make it off our street. I thank God that he did not try to take his car to his interview Saturday and that PennyVann had gotten him there safely.

Fix the car. Pack for camping. Sleep.

Tuesday had the worst beginning of all--Melody barely made it out of the carpeted room before throwing up. I barely got her on the couch and comforted before I began throwing up. Dowlan began mopping. Melody and I laid on opposite ends of the same couch, a bucket between us. At some point, Schrödinger begins to throw up as well, but at least he can be tossed outside. At some point, Dowlan heads back out of town to work. Melody and I are still not going very long at a stretch. At some point, he calls to tell me the excellent job news, but it scarcely registers.

Wednesday our entire bodies hurt. At some point that afternoon, the lawnmower gets bought and I get the front yard looking passable.

Thursday is time for more doctor appointments. I go to the ENT, where we determine sinus surgery is necessary this summer. Then we take Dixie up to the radiology department for a quick test, then a "quick" trip to the counselor turns into about four hours. (Don't worry about the radiology visit--they're just double checking her heart since she's on a stimulant. All is good.) At some point that day, Charlie is angry to find Dixie using the bathroom when he wants to use the solo toilet in the household. He begins screaming and throwing things. I scarcely remember it, as he screams and throws things a lot these days, but this becomes quite important later in the story. Also that night, we realize that the toilet is not flushing well.

Friday morning we wake up early so that I can take the kids to gymnastics day camp so that I can head to a different medical specialist for a "quick" and  minor procedure, only I have to take a Wal*Mart detour for plumbing supplies. I work on the toilet for about an hour before heading to the doc. After waiting in the office for over two hours (as the doc was called in for emergency surgery that morning) I finally get called back and taken care of.

The procedure may have been minor, but the pain and misery are not. I go home and work on the toilet a bit more, clean a bit, then nap. Toilet, clean, nap. Go get kids, go clean, go plunge. Call my Mommy for help.

The next day, mom comes to watch the kids while I add a plumber's snake and driving to the gas station bathroom to my cycle of activities. Snake, clean, Stripes, nap. Snake, clean, Stripes, nap. Call my Daddy for help. Since he can't come until after church Sunday, mom takes the kids home for the night.

I sleep a lot. I sleep in and miss church, which is frustrating for a bit, but then I sleep some more before heading back out to the weeds. Poor Melody had woken up throwing up that morning as well. She was having some rather urgent trips to the bathroom to boot, which made bringing her home a rather frightening prospect. She and Papa stay home from church.

Papa and the kids arrive around 2 and he has The Big Guns when it comes to tools. He snakes from the toilet. He snakes from the pipe outside the house. He snakes from the top of the roof. Nada. He removes the toilet and sets it upside down in the shower and we all run into the hallway for the big reveal. Wrapped in soggy, used toilet paper is . . .

Melody's glasses.

We'd been missing those and knew they'd been in the bathroom during Charlie's tantrum, but neither Dixie nor I saw them go down the hatch and it never occurred to me to connect those dots.

Dad buys me a better weed puller on his trip to go get a wax ring from the hardware store. Toilet back in place, he goes to check how the line is from the house to the city's lines while I begin scrubbing the foul funk from every surface in the bathroom.

I clean up the glasses, which are completely unscratched. No bends, no scratches, no breaks. The only problem is that smell is not coming out. I leave them in a bowl of vinegar while I vacuum and steam mop all the floors and wash the rugs. There's no telling where all we stepped and what all was on the bottoms of our feet.

By bedtime Sunday night, my house is clean, my weeds fairly well taken care of, my kids all healthy again, my toilet working again. Just in time to enjoy the my vacation . . .



Now it is time for a round of Guess What Angry Charlie Flushed Down the Toilet. Winner gets $5 PayPal. Leave your guesses in the comments. No cheating Oma and papa!

If no one gets it I all tell you Tuesday.



Nine years ago tonight, I left my brother at the veterinarian's office and drove to church to walk down the aisle, wearing a veil and talking on the cell phone.

It was every girl's dream.
See, a month before our wedding, I moved into our new house. And Simon the Cat did not love the new house, therefore he would not use the litter box. Apparently, a large backlog of urine is decidedly not good for cats or their kidneys and emergency veterinary care was needed before we left on our honeymoon.

Because I had to get to my wedding rehearsal, which was just slightly more important than my Orange Boy, I left my brother with him after checking in and explaining, "This is my brother. I am leaving him to make any and all decisions regarding the cat's treatment including major procedures or putting to sleep, if it comes to that. I completely trust his judgment*."

During the rehearsal, the vet kept calling to ask questions. Then, as an entire room full of people are waiting for me to walk down the aisle one last time so we can go eat our brisket, they call back.

"We need a decision."

"That's why Trey is there. To make whatever decision is needed."

"Oh, he's not the owner. He can't make a decision for your cat. You have to make the decisions."

"A decision about what? I've answered a lot of questions, but I know nothing as to what is going on. I don't even know what 'decision' you're wanting me to make."

So they fill me in as I walk down the aisle. He will be fine, but needs a minor procedure that they can do that night. Then he'll be ready to come home Monday.

"I won't be here Monday. I won't be back in the state until Saturday."

"Can your husband come get him?"

"I won't have a husband until tomorrow. I am getting married tomorrow. Then we are leaving on our honeymoon. Tomorrow."

"Well, I guess you could come get him tomorrow if you take him on your trip. He can't stay unsupervised yet."

"I am not taking my cat on my honeymoon."

Simon has been one of the few constants in our crazy almost-nine years of marital bliss. We'd been dating 2 years when Dowlan drove me out to the no-kill shelter to pick him (and Abb . . . y**) out and bring him home. It was the same shelter we'd gone to to pick out Cassie, who had died of feline leukemia a few months earlier. We'd known she was positive for it when we first got her, which is why she could no longer stay in the home where she'd been. It is contagious, but she was healthy and had almost two good years left.

Simon is scraggly and scruffy and a complete wimp. He would purr and try to nuzzle cats who were trying to fight with him. Even when Schrödinger is at his pounciest, Simon never gave him a 'What?' look and a tail twitch. He was so considerate that he'd meow in the kitchen until we fed Cracker, the saltine-colored cat who gave birth to a litter of short-lived kittens under our old house one day and then stuck around for the next 6 years.

We used to joke that Simon Says was never any fun at our house, because all Simon ever Said was "Meow." He was a good kitty even if he did smell funny those last six months and occasionally drool too much. Simey was definitely a 'kneady' animal, especially on cold days when he caught you curled up under a fuzzy fleece blanket.

Sweet Simon passed away last Saturday. By our best estimate, he was 14 years old, having been guessed at 3-4 years when we got him 10ish years ago. It was a good, lazy kitty life and now he rests behind our barn.

Thanks for being a part of our marriage and family, Simon Boy.

*Disclaimer: When it comes to cats.
**Abb . . . y's fully name is Abbreviated Kitty. She has no tail. Abb . . . y is the abbreviation for Abbreviated Kitty. Nothing like a grammar joke for a cat name, especially one that mocks her disability. She has gone to live at Oma's House and Kitty Sanatorium as Schrödinger irritated the ever loving daylights out of her and put her even closer to the brink of psychiatric ruin.


After school yesterday, the kids and I dropped by happy hour with my coworkers to say hi and eat some quesadillas. Charlie, between sugar packets, asked me, "First you kiss da bride, den you have babies. Is dat how dat works?"

I pointed to the pretty, single, child-free kindergarten teacher next to me and said, "Ask Miss Stacey. She'll know."

As Miss Stacey's laughter and surprise prevented an immediate response, Melody stepped in with additional information. She stretched her hands out slowly. "Well, in the middle you need 'the process' " she said as she applied the appropriate finger quotations at the end of her sentence.


Family Fun

Dowlan's in town for the weekend. I'm normally guilty of using his weekends home as a chance to nap and do things without the kids in tow, but we're in serious need of some familial bonding.

This morning we endured church together, then ate at Wendy's. We attempted to have actual conversations at a table with some success. After nixing the dessert idea, we stopped at the house just long enough for a few clothing changes before the girls had a Girl Scout thing, Dowlan and Charlie went to the park and I had a nap. (I couldn't pass up the opportunity for solitude entirely.)

After returning home, the kids decided it was time to count up the money in their piggybanks. The girls were up to nearly $40 and Charlie was over $12. He and daddy took off in pursuit of a Lego set. There wasn't quite enough change left for Hot Wheels, but his set was SuperAwesomeCool, so that was forgivable.

Then it was time. Time for Star Wars in 3-D.

The total ticket cost of $48.50 nearly knocked me over, but all five of us love Star Wars, Jar Jar and all. As we were settling into our seats with our snuck-in water bottles and $7 worth of popcorn I realized that we've never gone to a movie all together before.

I was a little worried about how Charlie would do, but he was far more quiet than the grown man behind us. Halfway through, Dixie got tired of the seat collapsing in on her and spent the rest of the movie on my lap. Melody sat riveted throughout.

As we were headed to the car, I saw an ice cream shop and thought, 'Why not?' Three kids cups later, we had a really nice time talking about the film.

We needed that.



How are Things? Hard.

Exhausting and trying in a way they have never been before. So very tested, so very alone.

While I have shared a great deal of this parenting and life journey here, there are Things I have kept to myself. These Things are currently overwhelming all else right now. While there are many of you readers I would love to share them with, the success of this blog has made it too public a forum.

I will be back when I can.


Charlie had all this to say on the way to school today--

We didn’t go to school because it was Martin Day. It was Monday, but we didn’t go to school because it was Martin’s special day. He did not live a long time, but he did a lot of good things. He told guys to be nice and use nice words. He made a speech about a dream and it was a very good speech. Martin’s color was black. He wanted good people to be nice to everyone. Someone shot him one day. He fell over and then he went to heaven. If I go to heaven, I can see him someday.
Rosa went to jail. She sat in a white man’s seat on the bus. But she was tired. When they said, “Get up!” She didn’t and so she went to jail. She was just tired. Now bus guys can’t say that. You have to be nice to everybody on the bus. If you go to jail, you won’t see Martin because he’s not there. He’s in heaven. And I think Rosa is in heaven, too, even though she went to jail because she is not a bad guy.


Tic Tac Toe

Having spent a lot of the last month entertaining themselves in waiting rooms, other people's houses, restaurant tables and on long car rides, my children have developed an affinity for tic tac toe. The desire to win and inability to develop sufficient strategy has them taking many approaches.

In Olive Garden one night, I'm playing TTT with Charlie. Now there are Charlie-imposed RULES to doing anything with Charlie, but especially this game.

1.) He has to have the green crayon.
2.) You can have 'any color dat you want to have' but it better be red.
3.) He is never the X.
4.) He always goes first.
5.) You have to help him see where he can block you if it's on a diagonal.
6.) You can never win.

Well, you had me til #6, kid. I have no problem with taking you down. I will try to have an even mix of cat games and maternal victories, but I'm not going to let you win.

After about ten games, he starts developing his strategy. He'll go, then I'll go. Then he hovers his crayon over each spot and looks at my face. I assume he's looking for a sign that I don't want him to go there so that he can pounce. (Signs that his therapies are working! Looking for facial cues! Woot!!)

Once I've given him several misleading looks of horror, he goes for a more direct approach. Before he makes his move, he asks me, "Where do you tink you are going to want to go next? I need to block you."

I tell him a few times before I start to lie. He 'does not love dat' approach. So he has a new idea, "I will go to turns, den you can go two turns, den I can go two turns and den win!"

Huh, that worked. And it was the exact number of turns before you win. Every time. Good thinking, kid.

Thankfully, the food comes before we have to go down any more paths.


On the long road trip to Oklahoma, Dixie was annoyed to find herself the only backseat denzien still awake and so she started playing TTT with her imaginary friend. Dixie's either very generous or not very bright, because the imaginary friend won every game.

Someday, that girl is going to have to take the comedy act on the road. I wish I could remember the dialogue she had with herself. I was laughing too hard to drive in a straight line to the nearest bathroom and more than one type of accident nearly occurred.


The girls were playing one day in a waiting room and decided to expand the game to be a 4x4 grid rather than a 3x3, but couldn't agree on if you'd then need 3 in a row to win or if you had to go for the 4. They were also having a visual discrimination problem with the larger grid, especially when it was hand drawn and slightly wonky. They never could forsee strategy sixteen positions rather than nine.


Melody has a different TTT hang-up than Charlie's obsession with the big win. She wants to know why the cat gets all the credit for winning, when he's not even in the restaurant.


Cocoa Puffs with the Dark Lord

Friday morning, I had breakfast in my kitchen with Darth Vader and a Clone Trooper. Melody had just discovered the book Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark and was reading them ghost stories while they ate Cocoa Puffs. Not only did the masks make it difficult, but, being a literal person, Melody had to read the stories in the dark.

We're back into the swing of things. School's been in for three days and, now that my computer AND voice work, classes are so much more productive than they were for the entire month of December.  Charlie's bus driver has requested that we arrive earlier, as he now has another kid added to his roster. Dowlan's still living and working in another town and, despite a few interviews right before Christmas, that doesn't seem likely to change soon. We did get to be together as a family for holidays and travels and it made it that much harder for him to leave again.

Today's Lazy Parenting Tip: My Pampered Chef pizza stone sits in the bottom rack of my oven all the time. It catches drips from the top rack and is easier to store that way. As an added bonus, any time I make prepared freezer kid foods like corn dogs, fish sticks, chicken nuggets or frozen pizzas, I just plop them on there to warm. No large bulky dish to wash. It's also convenient for quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches. 


Mornings with Charlie

This morning Charlie woke up, walked into the room and asked, "Is it morning?"

"Yes," Daddy answered as he made waffles.

"Is it Chwistmas?" he further inquired.


With that information, Charlie turned around and walked back to bed. If it isn't Christmas, it isn't worth getting up for.

Once he was re-routed into the kitchen, Dowlan finished a waffle. "Is that a good-looking waffle, Charlie?"

"Yes! It just needs chocolate and marshmallows and spwinkles on it! Huwwy, put it on quick before time runs out! But don't spill anything! Huwwwy, huwwy Daddy! You time is wunning out!"

Whew. The waffle wace was won.

Yesterday morning, Charlie found some stocking candy before he found the breakfast table.

Dowlan: What are you eating, Charlie?
Charlie: It tastes a little like watermelon. I do not know what it is called. I think I will call it 'Joey'.

Edited to add:
Charlie just told Dixie, "My bellybutton went on vacation."

Curious, I asked where his bellybutton had gone on vacation. Dixie leaned over and whispered, "Tell her 'Disneyland' so we'll have to go get it!"

One "-Land" is enough for this week and we've already been to Legoland Discovery Center. It rocked Charlie's little world (and Uncle Trey's)