Thursday, March 31, 2011

Life in a Case (Babble)

You can learn a lot about a musician from what he keeps in his case.  I see a lot of cases as they pass through my violin store.  You can tell if someone is neat, organized and prepared, or if he or she is the kind of stand partner who is always asking to borrow your pencil during rehearsal.  Small children keep odd treasures in the pockets like acorns and little bracelets and bits of string.  You can tell if someone has a cat.  If you rifle through their music you can figure out what they are working on, who their teacher is or was, where they play….  There are programs, scraps of information about old gigs, and there are lots of photos.  (For the record, it’s hit or miss in my viola case if I have a pencil, I should replace my rosin which is ridiculous since I own a violin store, and I have a picture from my wedding and every official portrait my kids have ever had taken.  The most complete professional photographic record of my kids from their hospital photo on is in my case.)

A lot of cases also get abandoned at my violin store, as well as instruments that no one loves.  Any violin can be repaired, but if the cost exceeds the value of the instrument and the owner has no sentimental attachment to it, more often than not people just leave it on my counter and walk away.  I have a lot of orphaned violins around that I just kind of pile in the window out of the way.
Tonight I had to work late.  I cut a new bridge for a cello today, but that particular job takes me about six hours, so even though I spent all day at work I decided to go back there after I’d had dinner and reading time with the kids.  A cello takes up my whole workbench, and I kind of wanted it done so I could make room for all the other projects I need to get to.  I got the bridge finished (which I did a mighty nice job on if I do say so myself), and even though it was almost midnight I took a minute to get my space cleaned up.  I like putting my tools in order and sweeping maple shavings off my bench.

After a little cleaning the only thing that was looking really cluttered was a stack of papers that I’d been moving around my work area since Monday.  One of my customers needed to borrow a case to transport an instrument home in, and I’d simply given her one of the abandoned old cases under my bench.  I told her she could just throw it out when she got home.  It was old and worn and not particularly safe, but it would be fine for one car trip.  I’d scooped all of the papers and odds and ends from the pockets out of it before handing it over.  Tonight I finally looked at all of that more closely.

It’s hard throwing things away that had meaning to someone else.  Some of it was easy to pitch, such as old strings and a broken bridge.  Some things made me pause and wonder what the significance was, like business cards from restaurants or a map of a nearby suburb, or information about various home improvement projects.

But the rest of it was kind of heartbreaking.  There were dozens of song lists put together for various gigs with old-fashioned sounding titles like ‘Waltz of the Bells’ and ‘Tyrolean Dreams,’ all written in the same careful hand.  There were postcards from Europe, with the same block printing exclaiming, “This was the hotel where we stayed!”  And lots of articles.  The more I read through, the clearer the picture of an entire life came into focus.

The owner of the case had apparently done some kind of work in the steel industry, but his passion was for violin.  There are articles from various local papers with pictures of “the retiree who loves to play.”  He was made an honorary member of the Musician’s Union eleven days after I was born.

And there are obituaries.  Some for other local musicians.  Most of them copies from different papers for his wife.  He continued to play and dance for years after his wife passed away, but he kept her close.  There is a letter from her that ends, “I promise to love you today, tomorrow, always forever.”

What do you do with such things?  I know for certain that whoever brought this case to me was not interested in its contents.  I’m very careful to make people look through everything before they abandon anything at my store.  The case has been sitting under my bench for a while, and I don’t remember what happened to the violin that must have come with it.  Maybe it was restored and given a new case.  Maybe it was donated and has a new life with another player who is grateful for it.  I doubt that it is one of the orphans in my window, but I don’t know.  I see so many violins.

I threw away the maps and the menus and the research on plumbing and furnaces.  I saved one gig list, a photo from what looks like a wedding reception in the late 1960’s or early 70’s, some of the articles, the obituaries, the union letter, the love note….  I don’t know this man, and yet I feel like I do.  He’s quoted in one of the articles as saying, “I will continue to play until I die, or I can’t move my fingers.”  He had a life.  It’s over.  But part of it was in his case.

I will bundle these things into an envelope and put them in a storage bin of letters I keep at work.  It won’t take up much room, and I think he would have liked these treasures that he stored with his violin living on in a corner of a violin shop.  It will matter something to me to know they are there.  Because you can tell a lot about a musician from what he keeps in his case.  Not everything, but usually the things that matter in the end.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Small Breakthroughs (Babble)

If I had to name the most surprising part of parenting for me, it’s not the amount of work or being responsible for whole other people or the vastness of the love or the endless grind of the noise or any of that.  It’s how completely absorbing the problem of the moment can be and how quickly it can be forgotten.  Whatever the problem of the moment is can feel like everything.  But when it’s done, it’s so rapidly replaced by a new concern that it almost vanishes.  Events that felt traumatic get relegated to quaint nostalgia status.  You can smile at other parents currently going through whatever it was and share a story or two and maybe impart some unsolicited advice, and then forget about it.

If your baby is at the Tummy Time stage, you think about it and figure out what that means for your child and Tummy Time can be a big deal.  It’s hard to imagine life ever existed that didn’t include consideration of Tummy Time.  Until it ends.  And in the new blur of the baby now rolling over on her own there are new considerations.  And Tummy Time has no hold on you anymore and becomes something you hear about other people doing.  I remember feeling panicked when doing Tummy Time with Mona because she nearly always fell asleep as soon as you put her stomach side down.  One, that was not the point of Tummy Time, and two, SIDS SIDS SIDS AAGH!  She learned to roll over freakishly early (hell, she crawled at 6 months and was walking at 8 months, so she’s always kept us busy) and we used to find her face down in her crib all the time.  The whole Mona on her tummy topic had my own stomach in knots for many many weeks.  And then it was over.  And my stomach was in knots about something new.  (Who knows what, I forget.)

When I think hard I can list the things that were of deep concern from years past, but it takes a bit of effort.  Aden and Mona weren’t milk drinkers when they were toddlers, so we bought orange juice with calcium.  We haven’t bought orange juice with calcium in years, but stocking that used to be very important.  Mona used to suck her thumb and Ian and I had many discussions about it.  Sometime before she turned three that just stopped and we didn’t have to think about it anymore.  I was worried that Aden might be a stutterer for awhile because she would repeat the first word in a sentence so many times before the rest of her thought would spill forth that it seemed odd.  But that went away.  Potty training can seem to take over your whole world.  With Quinn we had a lead poisoning scare.  Choosing a school kept me up at night for months.  So much research, so many discussions with other parents, so much time online or talking with our doctor….  All of it rendered irrelevant the moment there is a small breakthrough that changes the direction you feel like you’re facing.

And those small breakthroughs are what I live for in some ways.

I think the best moments in parenting aren’t any grand gestures on Mother’s or Father’s Day, but those small breakthroughs when you get to witness your child making the transition from something of concern to something better.   It’s one of the most satisfying things in the world even though those moments are short lived.

Each of our children has had a small breakthrough recently, and I felt like jotting them down so I can appreciate them a little better before my focus gets trained on some other concern.  (Which will happen about ten seconds after I finish this post.)

Quinn is wearing socks.  It’s been a long wait for that one, but hey.  Socks.

Aden is finally doing better in reading.  That’s been a regular academic concern at school for a long time that she’s been a bit behind for her grade level.  Aden’s always had an excellent vocabulary, but she had an aversion to reading, so in the past few months I decided to try a couple of things.

The first was to pick up some books that I liked at her age and just leave them around where she might find them without my pushing them on her.  And that worked, because she started reading The Boxcar Children one afternoon and got hooked.  Along with that I told her that reading to herself allowed her to bend certain rules.  She can get out of certain responsibilities and even extend her bedtime if she is reading.  So reading now has a ‘getting away with something’ vibe that she finds appealing and that helps.

The second thing was making her read to me every night.  Most of the time I also read to her, but she can’t go to bed without reading something to me.  I should have been doing that with her much earlier, but honestly it would have been nearly impossible to figure out when to do that last year at this time when Ian was still deployed.  It’s hard finding time for it now, truthfully, but we do, and it’s helped.  We recently got Aden’s standardized test results back from her school, and the line on the chart showing her reading below the national level at the first testing then rockets up on a diagonal to above average now.  It almost perfectly matches the time line of when we started buckling down and making her read to us.  Parenting choices almost never yield rewards you get to see displayed for you neatly on a graph, so that was exciting.

Mona has suddenly been doing better on violin.  She started when she was four, and really only played because Aden was doing it.  Mona doesn’t like to be left out.  I figured it couldn’t hurt and their teacher is kind as well as talented, so why not?  Things got a little rough during the last deployment when I did essentially make Mona continue on violin when she didn’t seem to be enjoying it only because she had to go with all of us to Aden’s lesson anyway.  I did not foresee things going well if Mona had to watch her sister get little prizes and stickers each week at violin lessons and not have a chance to earn any herself.  But now that Ian is home we are able to schedule the girls’ lessons on separate days and Mona is much happier.  The two girls are working out of entirely different books so there is no way to gauge who is ahead of whom which cuts down on any sense of competition.  She’s doing it for her own reasons now that have nothing to do with her sister and that makes a huge difference.

Usually when I help her practice we do each little exercise one time every day and that’s enough.  But last week she wanted to do everything five times.  And not five times any old way, they had to be five really good times.  This week she is doing every exercise seven times.  She’s doing the equivalent of a week’s worth of her old practice every day now, and boy does it show.  It’s all really starting to click, and it’s wonderful to see (and hear).  I’ve decided I must be the antithesis of a Tiger Mom, because I find myself saying to Mona as practice time is stretching out longer and longer, “You don’t have to keep going!  You have done enough!” and Mona looks at me and says, “But I like it, and besides, I want to get better!”  Can’t argue with that.  Go Mona!

Soon enough it will fade from my consciousness that Quinn didn’t wear socks for the first four and a half years of his life, that Aden ever had trouble reading, or that Mona was scraping by on the minimum amount of violin required of her.  (If only I could believe the three of them might forget my own imperfections as quickly….)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Other F Word (Babble)

One of the bigger adjustments for Ian after returning from active duty in Iraq was figuring out when to exercise.  When he’s home he is the in house parent, and cooking, grocery shopping, and shuttling kids around is not conducive to staying fit.  My weight gain during his deployment when that was all my job is testament to that.  So both of us have been trying harder in the past few months to make exercise and eating better a priority.  In Ian’s case his weight and fitness level are literally part of his job as an Army Reservist, so when it’s not possible to make time for both of us to go to the Y his needs take precedence.

We try to head straight for the Y right after dropping the kids off at school, and there is just enough time before picking up Quinn from half day kindergarten for me to swim a mile and for Ian to get in a run on the treadmill and use the weight machines.  In theory we should be getting out to exercise nearly every day, but things come up.  There are early morning meetings with teachers, or one of the kids is sick, or there are dentist appointments, the frequent trips to Michigan aren’t helping….  There are a million reasons why getting in that little block of exercise time doesn’t happen because there just aren’t always enough hours in a day, but we’ve at least been able to make sure Ian can do some kind of exercise every day.  He’s looking good and feeling better and I’m proud of him.  He’s doing better than I am.

Aside from the exercise part of the equation there is food.  I have more trouble than I’d like with food.  Part of my struggle with watching what I eat is that I believe in family dinners.  They are short, but they are nice, and I like that time together when we can share a meal and talk.  But some days I shouldn’t have all the same things the kids are having.  They don’t really seem to care or notice if I have vegetables on my spaghetti instead of meatballs, but I want to make it seem that we’re all sort of having the same thing.  I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that Ian and I are eating differently.  Not that I want to be deceptive, but girls in particular can develop body image issues so early anymore that I just don’t want it on their radar screen if it can be avoided.  What they are eating is healthy and fine–for them.  They can have a bagel.  Most of the time, I shouldn’t.

So the other night we were having hamburgers and green beans and fruit and Ian and I decided we should have Boca Burgers for ourselves instead because the caloric content is significantly less.  I was kind of hoping the kids wouldn’t notice, but Aden asked why dad’s burger looked different.  He innocently said what for him was the truth, “I’d rather have what you’re having, but I’m eating this because I’m fat.”

I don’t normally think of myself as the kind of person who shoots her spouse a LOOK, but my head snapped toward him so fast he looked uncomfortable, and then I turned toward the girls and said, “We need to eat different things from you sometimes because we want to be healthy.  You are still growing, but daddy and I aren’t, so sometimes we make other choices that are better for us.”  Which seemed to work fine, and then the conversation turned to important things like lemurs and gym class and rice scooping work.

It’s funny the things you assume another person knows just because you are around each other.  Simply because I’ve obsessed about a particular topic doesn’t mean it’s something my husband thinks about at all.  How would he have any idea what my concerns for my kids and their potential body image issues are if I don’t discuss them?  He wouldn’t.

It reminds me of a Women’s Studies class I took in college where on the first day we were asked to fill out a questionnaire that included the question: “What do you think about when you walk alone at night?”  The few men in the class were completely mystified.  They looked puzzled, and said, “What does this question mean?  You think about whatever you think about.”  And every woman in the class got wide-eyed and said, “You get to think about whatever you want?”  We went on to explain that walking alone at night as a woman meant constantly monitoring who else was in the vicinity, which places were open that might be safe to run to, and being prepared to gouge someone in the eyes with our keys if necessary.  Letting your mind completely wander meant putting yourself in danger.  The men were stunned.  But how would they know?

So for Ian, the word ‘fat’ is just a word.  He certainly cares about being in good shape and thinks about the work it takes to get there and stay that way, but the word ‘fat’ is not used as a weapon in his world.  It’s just a blunt description.  For girls and women, it’s something else.  Something as tricky to grapple with as walking alone at night.  ‘Fat’ isn’t merely descriptive among women, it’s pejorative.  It’s painful.  It’s wrapped up more deeply than it has any right to be in our self-worth.

I explained to him later that I am very careful not to use the word ‘fat’ in front of the kids.  When I go exercise I tell them it’s because I want to be healthy and strong.  Yes, it will be great if I can fit into a smaller size more appropriate for my height at some point, but I want my kids to know that I’m glad to have a body that works.  It’s good body, and I like it, even if it’s flabby in places.  I don’t want to convey that I think of my body as disgusting.  I let my kids poke my belly if it makes them giggle and I try to laugh about it too.  There are days I’m depressed about how I look and wish I could magically fix it, but I don’t want my kids to see that.  They love me.  If they see me being overly critical of my body they will very likely start looking at their own bodies in a harsher light.  The longer they can be spared from that the better.

I wish I didn’t struggle with my own body image as much as I do.  Most days I think I do pretty well, because I do appreciate my health and my overall endurance.  I don’t want to look like someone else, I just want to be a better version of myself.  But it’s hard not to feel like a failure when something that matters so much seems out of my own control.  I’m trying, though.  I’m swimming my mile about two to six times a week depending on how much disruption there is to my schedule.  My hopes for blogging while using my treadmill have been thwarted in the past couple of months by a bad knee which hurts if I walk on it too long, but I plan to get back to that as soon as I heal.

The struggle is frustrating, and I’m annoyed by the fact that it exists at all.  It should not be this hard and it should not mean the myriad of things it seems to mean.  When I wonder what’s wrong with me that I can’t just maintain the weight I should be, I remember that if someone like Oprah Winfrey who can afford to pay someone to do nothing but swat cookies out of her hand all day has the same problem, it’s not a simple problem, and I try not to hate myself for it.  But it’s hard.

I look at my kids and their perfect little bodies and want them to not have to go through any of the ridiculous body image struggle I argue with myself about every day of my life.  And when I say their bodies are perfect, I don’t mean that they are flawless, I mean that they are unique and strong and functional and I love every dimple and toe and freckle and there is nothing lacking or in need of change.  Right now they seem to like the bodies they are in and I’m glad, because they are beautiful inside and out.  Why is it so hard to see myself that way?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Code Red World (Babble)

Sometimes when I observe my children I feel a comfortable sense of nostalgia, as if the things they do were things I did and the world has not changed much.  Activities like riding their bikes or playing with the hose or stomping in puddles feel timeless and sweet.  They play with friends, they read, they draw.  My children have their struggles like anybody else, but for the most part their lives are safe and simple and I’m glad.  There are many elements of their lives that are different from they way I grew up, but for the most part I see them repeating patterns I’m familiar with from my own childhood.
And then there are moments when I realize that the world my children inhabit works very differently from what I knew.

Tonight, after an exhaustive inspection of all the kids’ clothes where I made everyone try on everything so we could figure out what we’ve got and what we need and what we can donate, Mona crawled in bed with me for her evening midnight snuggle.  It began as it usually does with a review of what kind of project she’s working on at school (a report on beavers), what was for lunch (chicken nuggets), and the math she did (something with bead chains, which is a Montessori concept that I’m fuzzy on, but I own a calculator myself so I’m not going to worry about it).  Then she started telling me casually about the sorts of things that are on the agenda for tomorrow, which apparently includes a Code Red Drill.

Aden mentioned a Code Red Drill awhile back and I’d forgotten about it.  It’s so foreign to me I probably blocked it out.  Maybe some of you already know what that is, but for those who don’t, it’s like a Fire Drill or a Tornado Drill but in preparation for an armed intruder in the school.  The kids are timed at how quickly they can get away from all the windows and the doors and remain out of sight in silence in the locked room.  Mona told me that they were instructed not to hide under tables because that was an easy place to be spotted, and that the coatroom wasn’t a good place to go because if the bad person managed to get the door open they would be trapped and easy to see.

I find this chilling.  On the one hand, in a post-Columbine world I’m glad schools have thought such a possibility through enough that they have a plan in place to help protect my kids.  On the other….  Well, how sad is it that my seven year old is worried about how to evade an armed intruder?  I’m sure her teacher is preparing the class in the least scary way she can while still conducting an effective drill, but there is something so different about it in my mind compared to a Fire Drill or Tornado Drill.  Fires and tornadoes are scary, but they aren’t evil or deranged.  I don’t like the idea of my children having to contemplate that mindset.

Ian and I both told Mona that nothing like that has ever happened for real at her school, or to our knowledge anywhere in Milwaukee.  The same way her school has never had a fire or been hit by a tornado, the odds of a bad person wandering around the school trying to hurt people were very small.  She didn’t seem overly worried.  She’s been through the Code Red Drill before.

Maybe this is another example of how my children need to start looking at harsh elements of life more directly.  I’m not sure.  All I know is that after giving Mona a hug and an Eskimo kiss and watching her shuffle off to bed in her leopard print footie pajamas I felt like she deserves a world better than one that requires a Code Red Drill.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Three Divided By One-On-One (Babble)

I am glad I have siblings.  My brothers are a connection to my past and to areas of the world beyond my own reach.  I love them more than I can say, but I remember as a child the sense of competition that comes with having siblings.  Many times it was nice to have the attention of my parents diverted by my brothers, and the house was lively and interesting with the children outnumbering the adults. 

But I also remember how complicated things could get the more individuals had to be added into any equation, in terms of sleeping arrangements away from home, what we could eat or how many could fit in the car, etc.  The logistics of living with multiple children is a whole special skill set.  One of the biggest challenges I remember was to eke out time with a parent alone, to not feel overlooked, to feel loved and special apart from the ever present group.

Now I’m experiencing the same issue from the point of view of the parent, and it isn’t any easier.  Lately the need for my undivided attention has led to bruised feelings and frustration.  I’m not sure what to do.  What I need is more time and I don’t know where to find it.

When my husband was deployed my kids had me all the time.  Now that Ian is home and in the role of the stay at home parent, I’m back at work and my kids miss me.  It doesn’t help that recently I’ve had to take a few trips to Michigan without them, which also means more time away from them when I come back because I need to catch up on the work I missed while I was gone.  On a typical school day I don’t see my kids until I get home from work a little after 5:00.  There is dinner, violin practice, reading time, midnight snuggle.…  That’s a lot to cram into not a lot of time before they are all supposed to be in bed with the lights out by 8:00, and they all want time with me alone.

When I’m helping Mona with violin practice she loves that it’s just the two of us, but more often than not Quinn will discover I’m sitting with an unoccupied lap and join us.  This gets on Mona’s nerves, even if all Quinn wants to do is sit there.  Sometimes I tell her to relax, and sometimes I encourage Quinn to wait in the other room.  Either way, someone is unhappy.  When it’s Aden’s turn to practice, Mona then wants to cuddle with me, forgetting completely how annoyed she was moments before when she was the one trying to practice sans siblings.

Sibling interference is complicated enough in our house that we have to have the girls actual violin lessons (with the same teacher) on different days, even though this is inconvenient for us.  The stress put on Mona to do a lesson before or after her sister made her harder to teach.  Now that she has violin on her own day she’s enjoying it much more and improving faster, so it’s worth the effort, but that doesn’t make it less annoying as far as our schedules go.  My children are different when you get them one-on-one instead of as a set, and the violin lessons are one way we are mindful of that.

To help my kids with their reading skills we’ve been reading together in the living room every evening before bed.  Each child reads something to me, and then I read something to each of them.  Mona and I are making our way through the ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ books, and Aden and I are almost done with ‘Little House on the Prairie.’  Mona doesn’t want anyone else around when I read to her because she sees it as her time.  She glares at anyone else who tries to sit down on the couch, too.  Aden won’t read aloud in front of her siblings for some reason, even though she’s reading things they would enjoy.  What should be a nice time for us all together taking turns reading can get contentious.  If I play it just right I can get us all under one blanket and we can read as a group, but often I end up sending some children away so we can read one-on-one, and again, someone is always unhappy.

I get time alone with Quinn probably more often than anyone because he’s only in school for half the day.  Sometimes Ian will bring him to the violin store when I’m working, and on the alternate days when the store is closed I’ll spend the afternoon with him at home when I can.  Aden manages to carve out time with me for help with homework or playing heart and soul on the keyboard.  She also has moments when she needs a hug or a cry and she’ll corner me on the couch and keep me there alone for as long as she can. 

The person most in need of one-on-one time for awhile was Mona, and she’s found ways to solve that herself.  Sometimes she’ll come with me to work for an entire Saturday (even though it’s boring for her, really) just to get me alone.  She also invented midnight snuggle.  She cuddles up and reviews her day and asks me questions and gives me hugs and Eskimo kisses.  It’s lovely. 

But Quinn has been worming his way into it whenever he can.  It bugs Mona to no end that her brother wants to be in the bed too during midnight snuggle time, but I just focus my attention on her and tell her it doesn’t matter, and then I make it up to Quinn later.

Recently I got a note from Aden that she put in my room one morning letting me know that being excluded from midnight snuggle made her sad.  (The note was complete with an illustration of her weeping, just in case I missed the point.)  I talked with her about it, and she said she can hear us talking and giggling from her bed and she feels left out.
It’s hard making time for each girl’s violin practice, and for individual reading, and I can’t do midnight snuggle with each child or we really would be up until midnight to do it.  I told Aden I was really sorry, but that I have three kids, and sometimes that means doing things with one that leaves the others out.  I reminded her of the pottery classes we did together, and how many times we’ve been able to do things just the two of us because she’s the oldest.  I told her she can’t begrudge Mona or Quinn for wanting times like that, too.  She says she understands, but she still doesn’t like it.

It’s not that my kids don’t get along.  For the amount of time they spend together I’m shocked they get along so well, frankly.  But it’s like I’m some rare commodity that throws everything out of balance, and there is only so much we can cram into those couple of evening hours.  We can’t split up the time by doling out some of the reading or violin or midnight snuggle to their dad because that’s not what they want.  They love their dad, but he’s more available in general, and they don’t seek him out for the same activities.  Sometimes everything has been going fine until I get home and then unhappiness and mild chaos ensue.  So every evening I hope for the best and wish for extra time to spend with each of my children.

The irony is when they are old enough to stay up later and we could have a little more time they probably won’t be interested anymore.  And I’ll wonder why I ever thought spending time with my kids was considered a problem.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How Have You Lived Without Crayon Pockets? (Babble)

My kids are always doing projects.  It’s in their genes.  Ask me how many different things I’m working on at any given time and the list includes any number of writing projects, a violin I’m (supposed to be) building, a coat rack that will be really cool someday, and dozens of crafty ideas just waiting for their turn.  Ian has been consolidating our online computer equipment in ways that are way over my head, but he’s always got some project going on too.  The kids are no different.

Most of Mona’s projects involve what she refers to as her “paper creations.”  These are some really out of date examples from back when she was six of the kinds of things she makes, a couple of which I rescued from the trash because I love them even when Mona thinks they are not good enough:

She’s not content with things being flat, so she always makes folds to pop things up a bit, and often wraps tape around wads of paper or tissue to make them three dimensional.  (I love the beak on that bird!)  Back in the Fall she wished she had a toy kangaroo, so she used scraps of Halloween costume material and masking tape and whipped one up in about an hour.

Luckily Montessori school caters to kids’ interests, so Mona has managed to tailor most of her lessons around her paper creations.  She makes models of particular animals and then writes a report and builds a display and gets to do presentations for her class.  To date she’s done presentations about blue jays, lemurs, flashlight fish, and the current one is about water walking lizards.  Anyway, Mona always has a project or two or ten going.

Quinn, by comparison, is more into writing.  He spends long stretches at a white board we have propped up in front of the fireplace working on his cursive.  He also likes to cut out pieces of paper to color, either making valentines or money or rainbows or small invitations.  I once printed him out a bunch of cursive practice pages I found online and it kept him absorbed at the violin store for a whole afternoon.

He’s also still actively lining things up in rows and putting things in things.  So Quinn is always busy.

Aden’s projects tend to be more tied to some kind of display or performance.  When she was about five she once made a whole natural history museum in the living room with legos.  Last summer she enlisted a friend to help her make the family room into a zoo, complete with maps and tickets.  She likes to put on plays and magic shows–anything that requires rehearsals and costumes and props makes her happy, especially if she is in charge.  I’m constantly coming across odd scenes like this:
I think it was a restaurant game of some sort, and the bicycle basket is a cornucopia, and the flowers are a nice touch, but I don’t know why Quinn is in his kangaroo costume or why Mona is peeking out in a unicorn suit.  The table cloth?  That’s the sheet off Aden’s bed.  We have many discussions about not using non-toys in games, but it never registers.

The latest big Aden production was back in Michigan when we all visited for the gallery closing party.  She invented the “Pipe Band Girls” and kept her sister and cousin in the basement for hours of rehearsal and ticket making.  The show was actually really good, despite the fact that both Mona and Ellora suffered stage fright and wouldn’t do their solos, but Aden soldiered on and reveled in the applause at the end.  Here’s Quinn being enlisted as the ticket taker (tickets were a penny apiece), and Ellora, Mona and Aden playing an assortment of bottles tuned with different amounts of water and other objects found in my parents’ basement that sounded good when you hit them with sticks:

So have you been sufficiently distracted by this tangent or are you still wondering what crayon pockets are?  Well, I’m almost there, I promise.

Recently Quinn went on a drawing binge that included “hanging things up.”  The dining room is getting filled with Quinn art, which mostly consists of rainbows and the alphabet in lower case cursive over and over.
Mona was also busy cranking out drawings the same day that Quinn was “hanging things up” and decided that a giant tub of crayons was not convenient enough.  Why have your creativity delayed by walking to the craft shelf to get the crayons?  It was pure hell, apparently, because Mona began installing “crayon pockets” in every room.

See?  There are now crayons in the kitchen (which is a few steps from the craft supply area where we keep the tub of crayons), crayons in the dining room (about four steps from the kitchen) and–inexplicably–in the craft supply area right next to the tub of crayons.

But what do I know?  Apparently not much about the necessity of crayons at your fingertips at any given moment.  Of course, they have neglected to keep the crayon pockets stocked with crayons, and now they are just sad looking little paper cocoons taped to my walls.  Which I’m hoping by the time you read this I will have managed to take down and clean up in order to make way for the next important project.  (Please let it not involve glitter….)

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything (Babble)

Happy Birthday to me!  I’m posting this at the end of a very long day, so by the time anyone reads this I’ll be in belated birthday status, but still, yay birthday!
Birthday flowers that Quinn picked out at the grocery store while I was at work today:
I have nice birthdays of the past to reflect upon (coming in 6th at a Rubik’s cube competition on my golden birthday when I turned 14 comes to mind, getting a whole crate of grapefruit from my grandpa once, and parties with long dresses as a little girl when my dad used to conduct an annual poise contest where my friends and I would walk around the house with books on our heads–all good times).  The birthdays when Ian was deployed were the hardest.  But the birthday that taught me the most about perspective was back in college.

Nearly every Sunday during the five years I spent getting my bachelor’s degree at Ohio State, I would enjoy the day with my Grandma in a nearby suburb of Columbus.  She would drive down to the campus and pick me up, and at her home I would do laundry, sometimes practice or study, but most of the time just hang out and play Spite and Malice and enjoy the wonderful dinner she would make.  Grandma used to cook my favorite things and delicious desserts, and even have on hand a bowl of freshly washed grapes or other snack for when I walked in the door.  I was always welcome to bring a friend, and when I met Ian he became a regular guest at Gram’s table on those Sunday afternoons.  Sundays at Gram’s kept me grounded during my college days and they are some of my warmest memories.

One year in Columbus my birthday fell on a Sunday and I was depressed.  I had to work in the morning and it made me grumpy.  I sat behind the art counter at the local campus bookstore getting more irritated than usual at the people who couldn’t seem to read labels on products themselves.  I was bored and feeling unappreciated.  I wanted my birthday to be special.  All we were planning was dinner at Gram’s, but we always ate dinner at Gram’s.  How was that supposed to feel different from any other Sunday?  How was that special?

I remember trudging home through slush after work and feeling sorry for myself.  But as I walked I thought about it, and it hit me:  My regular Sunday was better than the average person’s birthday.  What more could I really ask for?  A home cooked meal made with me in mind, sharing the day with people who love me, fun, maybe a nap, and clean laundry to take home wasn’t enough for me?  The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous I felt that I had spent any time at all feeling anything but grateful.  How obnoxious and stupid.
So I was happy when Grandma picked up Ian and me and I drove us back to her house.

And when I pushed the remote to open the garage door, there was my parents’ car inside.  They had driven down just for the day.  It was my first (and only) ever surprise party!  My mom thought that seemed like a pretty lackluster means of being surprised by spotting their car first, but I assured her there was nothing second rate about it.  I was thrilled.  And then an hour later (because they are usually late to family events) my uncle and his family arrived, and it was like getting round two of a surprise party.

It was a wonderful party and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I was glad that I had come around to appreciating the day before I realized people had gone to extra trouble.  It’s too easy to become acclimated to good things.  We often think of ourselves as becoming callused to harsh realities, but I think it happens both directions.  When you never go hungry it’s hard to appreciate the miracle of being fed every day.  I have a house, I have a job, I have my husband and kids all together….  Those things are hard to see clearly when you look at them all the time.  We get desensitized to the good as well as the bad, and I try to be mindful of that.

Last night as I was shutting off the lights downstairs to go to bed I hesitated in the kitchen and wondered if I should make myself a cake.  I wound up flipping through a binder of my Grandma’s recipes a came across her rice pudding.  I loved her rice pudding.  It’s complicated to make because it cooks for a long time on the stove, and when it moves to the oven in a casserole dish it rests in a pan of hot water, but it’s full of raisins and nutmeg and it’s delicious.  I stayed up late and made a batch and helped myself to some for breakfast this morning.  I miss my Grandma.

As far as birthdays go, this one was not action packed.  I went to work and rehaired violin bows and straightened bridges and set up a new rental viola.  When I got home Ian had started dinner and he took Aden to her violin lesson while I finished making the food and set the table.  We ate one of those fast meals where we weren’t coordinated enough to have everyone at the table at the same time but that’s okay.  I got to eat with everyone in turns.  I got a couple of nice presents from Ian’s mom, a Valentine made by Quinn presented to me in crumpled paper, and look at these amazing watercolors my mom did of me when I was a baby!

My kids still use that ducky blanket in the first painting, and I own that green lamp now in the second one.  Those were a pretty amazing birthday surprise.  Aden made me a necklace and a beautiful card.  Apparently she also made me a special breakfast a couple of hours after I left for work and was heartbroken that I wasn’t home to eat it.  I told her tonight that I appreciated her thoughtfulness and that one day she would make a great mom.  She looked very proud.

So today wasn’t out of the ordinary.  Not even the gifts, really, because the kids make me things all the time and my mom doesn’t limit her kind presents to special occasions.  Particularly after watching so much shocking footage of the tsunami in Japan over the past couple of days, it’s hard not to treasure the most ordinary of circumstances.  I had a truly average birthday.  I can’t think of anything more special.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Habits, Observations, and Walking the Dog (Babble)

It’s strange being untethered from the children and my normal responsibilities.  It doesn’t happen often, and when it does it’s like being in a foreign land where I can look at things from a different perspective.  I’m amazed when I talk to people without children what they don’t have to factor into their thoughts or plans.  When you go on an outing–any outing–as an adult in adult company, the concerns are figuring out where and when.  A trip to the museum means thinking about what you will see at the museum.  When you do all your outings with small children it doesn’t matter as much where or when.  "Where" will boil down to car seats and trips to the bathroom, and when is whenever you finally get there.

The last major trip I took to a museum I saw none of the museum.  It wound up making more sense letting the unencumbered adults go off and I stayed in the play area with all the kids.  I hated to miss out, but I know even if I had gotten into the areas with art to see I would have had to keep all my attention on the kids and making sure they didn’t wander off or touch anything. My kids are very good, and we have gone places and done things, but it’s work in a way that unless you’ve done it you don’t understand.

Anyway, before I leave Michigan I feel like jotting down the odds and ends of my thoughts during my time here, because soon I will be back in tot-land and drowning in violin repairs and it will all fade.  And not that most of these thoughts may be interesting to anyone, but they are mine and this blog is mine and what the heck?

First:  Habits.  I am fascinated by the fact that you can resume old habits that you didn’t even know you had when you return to an old place.  Staying in my parents’ house again is so crazy, because in the strangest ways it’s like I never left.  I know which light switches are installed upside down and always reach for them the right way.  I can’t help myself from scratching at the varnish on the upstairs railing.  I still instinctively veer away from the spot in the driveway where there used to be a big dip even though that was filled in years ago.  I know how long I can run the hot water in the upstairs sink before it gets too hot.  I am always nervous I will bump my head going into the basement. 

On the negative side, whatever progress I’ve made about being mindful of what I eat at home, the minute I’m in Detroit it goes out the window.  I just don’t care and I don’t know how to make myself care.  I want to eat at the favorite Chinese restaurant of my childhood and not stress about it.  I want to go out to breakfast with my mom and enjoy bacon and say yes to whipped cream.  I want to eat my mom’s cookies and have thick slices of bread with cherry preserves and share sandwiches and pastries with my dad and indulge in middle eastern food the likes of which I can’t find outside of Detroit.  I will recommit to better health habits when I get home, but frankly food/stress issues are just too much for me when I’m here.  Oh well.

Second:  Observations.  I never ever noticed until this year that the house across the street from my parents didn’t used to have a garage.  There was a gravel driveway on the right side, and I remember people parking in it all the time, but I just assumed it kept going behind the house and there was a garage there somewhere.  Nope.  The latest owners put in a new driveway and built a two car garage on the left side. 

But how did I walk past that house a gazillion times my whole life and never notice the absence of a garage?  I’m not saying the garage itself matters, I’m saying I think of myself as somewhat observant, and I missed that.  The neighborhood I grew up in is filled with interesting and elegant houses from the 1920’s and 30’s, prior to a time when a garage would have been included as a standard item, so that’s not insane at all.  But if you had asked me I would have told you every house in Pleasant Ridge, Michigan had a garage.

And I would have been very wrong!  There are two houses on just this one street that still don’t have garages.  Once I started looking I was amazed at how many houses there are that only have a little drive along the side of the house and that’s it.  My dad thinks I’m being silly with my new garage obsession, but I’m mostly intrigued with seeing what I thought I knew in a different way.  Also, on the two longest streets to the west of us, I used to have a paper route, and I still only tend to look at the houses I delivered to.  I spent so many years only focusing on the houses where I had customers that it’s hard for me to see the houses between.  I made myself look at each house on this trip just to really see them.  (And I still remember every house that gave me grief or didn’t pay me.  What kind of person rips off a 13 year old paper girl?)

Lastly:  Walking the dog.  Specifically this dog:

I love this dog.  Which surprises me because I’m not really much of a dog person.  I like them, but I as an adult I’ve never wanted one.  Too much work, too much hair, too much mess, too much poop, too much added responsibility.  No thanks.  But Barrett and Kristie left their dog Inari behind while they went to Washington D.C. for the week, and I’ve been walking her.  I like to get out and walk but don’t do it often because at home it lacks purpose.  When I can I walk to work, but for me just walking without a destination feels like a waste of time. 

But walking a dog has purpose, and it’s fun.  I’ve liked having an excuse to go out every day regardless of the weather.  I don’t mind a walk in the rain, but wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have to.  Walking the dog is great.  I also just love having the dog around.  She’s curled up in my bed as I’m typing which is very sweet.  (I think she’s planning to spend the night at my side which is rather flattering.)  She is thrilled when I come in the door, she is beside herself when I offer to take her out, and she makes the house feel welcoming.  She is cute and quiet and gentle.  If I could find a dog with as endearing a disposition that didn’t make my husband sneeze I might get one.  I can’t believe I’m even considering that, but my children will be thrilled if it happens.  That is the power of a truly adorable dog.  I think when my kids stop greeting me at the door with wild enthusiasm I may start scoping out canines at the humane society.

And how is my dad doing?  Okay.  Remarkable, actually, considering that anyone recovering from a broken arm and gastro-intestinal surgery would probably still be feeling the effects even if they weren’t in their 80’s.  The worst part of chemo so far was having to listen to The Price is Right blaring in the background, but I read a book aloud to my dad and we were able to block out the TV. 

My dad has stage 4 colon cancer and chemo is his only option, assuming he can tolerate it.  We are facing a lot of uncertainty, but for now we have a course of action to follow and we have hope.  It’s been a lot of work getting dad to all his appointments and dealing with so many medical issues, but we’ve also had time to play Scrabble, talk about the world, and laugh.  It’s a week I won’t forget and I am lucky to have been here.  My brother, Barrett, told me before he left at the beginning of the week that the past month and a half that he’s been here caring for dad he wouldn’t trade for anything.  I know how he feels.  It’s a strange transition to go from dependent child to feeling protective and responsible for your own parent.  I hope my own children know nothing of that for themselves for a long, long time.

(Minor UPDATE:  The dog did sleep next to me all night.  Maybe she sensed I needed a close up snuggle.  If I didn’t love my brother and his girlfriend so much I would steal this dog.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Long Distance Snuggles (Babble)

I’m back in Michigan this week.  It’s my third trip here this year, which considering it’s only March I think is a new record for me.  My brother, who has been here taking remarkable care of my dad for the past month and a half, was invited to speak at the Smithsonian about cultural entomology and his research about sleep and bees.  He was concerned about going because my dad was starting chemo and needs somebody here.  I cleared my schedule and told him not to worry about it.  (I hope his talks go well!)

In the meantime, it was hard to say goodbye to my husband and kids again, but I’m glad to be able to help my parents.  Helping my dad means keeping track of his constantly misplaced cane, reading to him during chemo, and driving him to and from various appointments at the hospital and physical therapy.  Helping my mom means pulling up episodes of Project Runway to watch together while we drink peach-ginger tea.

It’s very easy to focus on the person with the illness when doling out care, but there are moments when the ‘sick-adjacent’ need help too.  I think mothers in particular can relate to how easy it is to take on responsibilities to another to the detriment of their own needs at times.  My mom may not be going through chemo herself, but it still has a direct impact on her own life.  She’s been through a lot lately, and she has such an overwhelming amount of work to do closing down her business that I worry for her.  There is only so much I can do to help, but I’m making sure we get a little time to hang out and do nothing more taxing than cheer on Tim Gunn as he tells people to make it work.  It’s nice.

My children are being pretty understanding about my absence this week.  At home Mona has developed a recent habit of crawling into bed with me for a cuddle before going off to her own bed to sleep.  She calls it “midnight snuggle” and she’s very serious about it.  I’m not sure what was its inspiration, but it has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the day.  We talk about projects she’s working on and things she’s interested in while we lie with our arms around each other and she gives me intermittent Eskimo kisses.  (The only problem is it’s such a nice time that Quinn wants in on it, and announces he’s there for midnight snuggle, too, which really gets on his sister’s nevers.)

Mona was concerned that my being in Detroit would doom the midnight snuggle, but we’ve been doing it over the phone.  She sits on my bed back in Milwaukee and we chat and hug the receivers.  I can hear her hugs because her footie pajamas make a scrunchy rustling noise when she holds the phone close.  Then she takes the phone around to Aden and Quinn and has them say goodnight too before hanging up.

It’s complicated to be needed in more than one place, but it’s nice to feel needed at all.  I keep thinking about how hard it was for my grandma when she began to really seem old to not be able to help with things.  She was used to being the person who cared for others, and having someone else make the meals or prepare the beds or clean the counters just never sat with her right.  She enjoyed those things because they made her feel useful.  I think I’m at the most responsible, most needed, most useful point in my life so far and much of the time I feel stretched too thin, but I’d rather feel a bit overtaxed and making a difference than bored and unproductive.  Which is good, because it doesn’t look like I’m in danger of getting a break anytime soon.

So I will take my midnight snuggles over the phone for a little longer while being useful in Detroit, but I’m looking forward to the real thing.  (I even kind of miss the claustrophobia inducing ‘pile on’ my kids do when they find me in bed some mornings.  One of them shouts, “Pile on Mama!” and then there is a weighty heap of kids on me and a lot of giggling.  My parents are fun but they don’t do that.)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Making Money (Babble)

Money is one of the strangest topics in the world.  It’s fictional, but we depend on it.  People die over money.  It governs many of the decisions we make, a number of which we would insist have nothing to do with money even when it’s not true.  Money dictates who gets health care, which children get a good education, where we can live, what we wear, where we go, and who we get to talk with.  Money shouldn’t change everything but often does.

My monetary aspirations have always been to have just enough that I have the freedom not to think about it very often.  When you don’t have any it can dominate your life.  My winning-the-lottery-fantasies all involve paying off the student loans in my family and setting up college accounts and funding school orchestra programs.  I have everything I need and much more.  Unexpected millions would be exciting to give away or do something meaningful with, but not necessary for any of the things I want for myself.  (I think it would be really cool, for instance, to have a pool table.  But honestly, if I had a place to put it and desperately wanted to make that happen, we could figure out how to do it without the lottery.  So it’s a matter of will, not money.)

Our own situation with money at the moment is strangely ambiguous.  We had nothing for a long time.  We weren’t in debt but we had almost no savings.  Ian and I were used to breaking even when we combined our resources and expenses.  We couldn’t afford health insurance and paid for the birth of our first child out of pocket.  We were one medical emergency from complete ruin.  State aid in the form of Badger Care (which provided health coverage for me and our children) gave us peace of mind when we had our second baby, but we still roughly broke even with most of our living expenses and that was okay.  We didn’t need much. 

Then Ian got deployed, and suddenly there was money.  Many of the military families I read about suffer financial hardship when the breadwinner gets called up because the combat pay is often a pay cut compared to what they earn in the civilian world, but for us it was a significant step up.  It was weird for me because there was money in the bank but no husband to share it with.  I kept thinking of things Ian and I could suddenly afford to do together, but then remember he was in Iraq so it didn’t matter anyway.  Then Ian came home and we used the deployment money to open our own business, so there were lots of expenses and much less income.  Then he got deployed again and I used that money to buy a bigger house

Now he’s back.  I currently have no idea how much we make and how much we spend.  The fluctuations in our expenditures and income have been so extreme and there have been so many changes in the past few years it’s hard to have a sense of where we are now.  We suspect the violin store is doing well enough that we could live on what we earn there without the Army money, but we aren’t sure.  Fortunately we have just enough of a financial cushion that it’s not crucial that we know that immediately.

Sometime soon when Ian and I have a block of time to sit together we’re going to figure all that out.  It would help to know what a reasonable budget is for trips to the grocery store and Target.  I’m not a crazy spender, but if the kids want to buy a DVD for movie night instead of trying to find it at the library, can we afford it?  I’m not sure anymore and that makes me uneasy.

In any case, I told Ian that when we do sit down and make a list of hard numbers of what we make and what we spend, I want to show it to Aden.  I never really had a clue about what it cost to run our home when I was a kid, and I think it’s important.  Aden is old enough I think it would be enlightening for her to see all the places our money goes.  I’m sure she doesn’t associate the gas in the stove with an expense or know how much it costs to keep the phone working, or that leaving the water running is another way of spending money.

For the most part my children all have only vague concepts about money.  For her last birthday Mona received cards from relatives that she opened along with her other gifts, and one had a one dollar bill in it, and another had a fifty dollar bill in it.  She was equally thrilled with both, and said, “Oh!  This will go great with my bank account!”  All my kids know they have bank accounts that we put their money into, but none of them knows how much is in there.  Quinn likes to have bills to save in his wallet, even though the wallet never leaves his room. 

When the weather is warm Aden and Mona like to run a lemonade stand outside my violin store.  They sell lemonade and give away business cards and handmade fans.  It’s exciting for them to be able to attract people to where they are and interact, but the money is only a barometer of activity.  Most of the the time when they close the stand down they just hand me the money when they come inside.  I’m always surprised and ask, “Don’t you want it?” and they shrug and say not really.  My kids don’t get an allowance.  They point out things they think they want when we’re in stores, but they don’t whine or beg for anything.  Occasionally if they want something inexpensive or useful I’ll ask if they’d like me to buy it for them, and that makes them happy.  They know they have a lot, and they aren’t greedy.

But money is still interesting to children, even if they don’t understand it or know it’s value.  They know the lemonade stand should involve money, even if they don’t care about it.  They talk about earning money raking leaves or shoveling snow, even though they can’t answer the question about what they would use the money for.  A thousand dollars sounds the same as a million dollars to them.  My goal with their financial education is to make sure by the time they go out in the world they understand the hidden costs of credit cards, know how a checking account works, and have a realistic sense of how to budget.  Luckily we have time to get there.

In the meantime, Quinn has come up with his own system for making money.  It involves paper, scissors, and markers.

He’s been very busy making money.  He’s collecting it in a paper bag.  He wants to give it all to our neighbor, Julie.  We haven’t seen Julie as much as we’d like lately, and when my kids ask why I tell them she’s usually working.  Quinn knows people go to work to earn money, so I think he’s hoping if we give Julie a bag of money she won’t need to go to work as often.  I like that as vague as my kids’ ideas about money are they have their priorities and hearts in the right place about it.

I’m very thankful that at this moment in time that money is not a stressful point for us as it is for many people.  That can change in an instant because life is unpredictable like that, but right now we are okay and I’m glad.  Having enough money means freedom from it in my book.  My kids know just enough to know it’s not something to take lightly, but they aren’t worried about it, which is quite a luxury.

I think it’s fascinating that Quinn is interested in making money in his own fashion.  But you know what else Quinn makes?  Rainbows.

I’m glad our life is such that he can devote so much thought and effort into creations of pure beauty.  I like that he wants to keep the rainbows, but he made the money to give away.  I hope in his adult life he’ll have the security and freedom to continue to do so.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Did you hear the one... (Babble)

…. about the mom who canceled her son’s tonsillectomy because his snoring stopped as soon as she scheduled the surgery?  Because for weeks and weeks he slept in perfect silence with no hint of a struggle to breathe?  And since the snoring had been his only symptom suggesting his large tonsils should come out that removing them now seemed crazy?

Well the universe has a sick sense of humor, because I did cancel my son’s surgery after standing over him at night and analyzing his every intake of air for anything that sounded bad and hearing nothing but peaceful slumber.  So when the nurse called to give me instructions to prepare him for surgery the next day, I explained to her that we were canceling.  He no longer had any symptoms suggesting his large tonsils were a problem, so unless the doctor had any other reasons for still recommending surgery we were not going to do it at this time.  And the very morning of the day he was supposed to go to the hospital?  Snoring like a little buzz saw.  I wanted to scream.

Since then he’s been sleeping quietly again, so I’m not beating myself up now.  My thinking is that he’s very young, we can always schedule another surgery if we change our minds, and why take risks with something so serious if there is no evidence that it’s necessary?  So as hard as it was to overrule doctors I trust, I’m the mom and I have to go with my judgment and my heart.

But it’s amazing how much of parenting is a never ending cycle of self-doubt and uncertainty.  Quinn snoring the morning of the canceled surgery was like a punch in the gut.  I felt tricked, and foolish, and unworthy of making decisions for my son.  We want so much to do whatever the right thing is for our children, but based on our experience and understanding of the world what looks right varies from person to person, situation to situation, and often isn’t very clear cut.

I’ve come across more negative comments than usual on recent parenting articles and I think it’s really unfortunate.  You can have strong feelings about an issue without saying those who disagree are stupid monsters.  I can’t believe how mean people can be about topics like cloth diapers, or organic food, or circumcision, but I suppose it’s easier when you don’t put your real name by harsh words.  All the parents I know think long and hard to come to the decisions they do about what is best for their children.  Often those decisions are different from ones I would make.  I’m positive there are people reading this who will think I should have just taken Quinn to the hospital and had his tonsils removed and been done with it. 

Quinn himself was disappointed that his surgery was canceled, but I’m sure only because I did such an impressive job of preparing him for a week’s worth of chocolate ice cream and a new toy from the hospital gift shop.  But even when the answers aren’t completely clear I have to trust myself and hope others allow me that freedom.  Parenting is hard enough without anonymous vitriol adding to the stress.

As of today I am comfortable with my decision to cancel Quinn’s surgery.  The scariest sounding complication of large tonsils is reduced oxygen to the brain causing damage that can lead to learning problems.  But here is a picture of the kind of thing Quinn does for fun, practicing letters in upper case, lower case and cursive forms.  He taught himself to write and is already reading and he’s only four.

I’m not too worried about his brain.