Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oh, styrofoam, how I hate thee, let me count the ways... (Babble)

Few things things are more annoying to clean up than styrofoam.  I’ll concede that anything emitted from a living creature’s body on a rug is worse, but there is definitely a circle of cleaning hell dedicated just to little staticky balls of weightless sponginess that make me want to scream.

Easily one of the biggest differences between children and adults is realizing the consequences of a mess.  I’m sure unrolling all the toilet paper is a blast.  It looks like a blast.  I have vague memories of it being a blast.  But I could never do it at this stage of my life because I’d be too aware the whole time that I was condemning either myself or someone else to cleaning it all up again.  Kids don’t think that far ahead, and they freely enjoy the simple bliss that is unwinding something that completely. I get it.  But I can’t go back there.  I still like a good mess on some level, just not a pointless one.  When I’m carving a violin and the floor gets covered in wood chips, I love it.  Sweeping up the wood chips is even fun because it’s evidence of progress.  But wasting toilet paper?  Not enjoyable.

There is no mess my kids find more irresistible than a styrofoam shredding extravaganza.  Not mud, not finger paint, not sand, not even the aforementioned toilet paper.  When they see a hunk of styrofoam they cannot stop themselves.  They pick at it and crumble it in their fingers until it’s nothing but tiny balls that stick to everything.  They laugh and smile and throw it about as if it’s snow, and the happier they are the more desperate I feel.
Styrofoam is like the escaped lunatic of the trash world.  It moves away from you as you try to snatch it up, and when you do catch it, it won’t leave your hands as you shake them fruitlessly over the garbage can.  It finds its own way back out of the trash sometimes and sticks to everything.  I actually tried to vacuum a bunch of it up the other night and it RAN AWAY.  I had to drop the attachment directly on top of the styrofoam before I could suck it up.  (It was a new vacuum that went promptly back to Target the next day because if it can’t help me with styrofoam it can’t keep the job.)

I realize that as far as big problems go, this not only does not make the list, but it doesn’t even rank high enough to sit in the same room as that list, but still….  I think I encounter more styrofoam than the average person so it comes up at a rate that feels intolerable some days.  Most of the boxes shipped to me at the violin store are full of peanuts.  At least when they are the kind that can be dissolved in water I have a project that keeps the kids entertained at the sink for a good hour or more, but the regular peanuts just wind up everywhere.  Those are annoying, but not as bad as the blocks of styrofoam that end up in a million pieces.

I think I hit my stryrofoam limit when there was suddenly so much of it at home.  With the new house there has been new furniture to assemble and things shipped to us from near and far, and all of it has come packaged in styrofoam.  I tell the kids not to touch any of the packing materials, but the foam blocks call to them with their squeaky siren song, and my children forget any promises they made and crumble the blocks into sticky blizzards.  Bits of styrofoam drift into every corner and cervice and peek out at me from behind bookcases and under the banister.  It gets on all our clothes and in our hair.  It’s worse than glitter (which also never goes away once it’s been set free), because it’s not even pretty.  At least spilled glitter twinkles.  Styrofoam just finds its way into dust bunny gangs and defiantly loiters around.  I appreciate the good job it did in making sure my new furniture arrived undamaged, but I still hate it.

And thus ends my styrofoam rant.  I need to go out and get a better vacuum….

Okay, so right after I wrote this post, I was downstairs helping Aden practice violin, and through the glass door to the living room I see Quinn walking by with a crumbly chunk of styrofoam that he is busily shaking all over.  (I swear, I’m not even sure where he found it.  He must have been digging through the boxes piled up in the backyard that were headed for the dump the next day.)  He was covered, there was a trail through the living room into the dining room….  Aden ran ahead of me and came back saying solemnly, “Mom, don’t look in the kitchen.  Seriously, don’t look in the kitchen.  Or the family room.”  The epicenter was the loveseat in front of the TV, and you can see some of what I faced when I walked in, and then what was still under the couch.  You can’t see in the pictures how many teeny itty bitty bits there were everywhere, but between the rug, the pillows, the blankets, and the curtains, I had about one full episode of Law and Order’s worth of clean up.

*sigh*  —The money for that Dyson vac is sounding not so unreasonable right now.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mona the Inappropriate (Babble)

Most people like Aden.  She is bright and articulate and good at making friends.  She is very popular among other children and she gets along well with adults. 

Quinn has a hard time opening up to other people when I’m around, but once he does start talking he’s generally charming and everyone comments on how smart he is.  No one I’ve ever encountered has an extreme reaction to either my oldest daughter or my son.  They are likable, or at least inoffensive, and that’s enough.

Mona, however….  Well, people have all kinds of reactions to Mona.  Mona behaves in extreme ways so people have more extreme responses.  If she takes an instant liking to you, she may squeal and hug you and bury her face into your belly, (whereas Aden or Quinn will politely say hello).  If you think such a greeting is funny, then you’d be inclined to really like Mona.  If all that six-year-old energy coming at you is alarming, well, then, Mona may be too much.

Now, in very practical ways she is my easiest child.  She actually listens the first time, so often I’ll call everyone to dinner and end up sitting alone for half the meal with just Mona.  I never have to remind her to put on her seat belt.  She never lies to me, even about things that get her in trouble.  But Mona takes a deft touch to deal with sometimes, because she doesn’t take criticism well, or even perceived criticism.  If I tell Aden that her hair looks nice, Mona’s face immediately falls and she says, “And mine doesn’t?”  I am so glad I decided to have someone else teach her to play violin or we could have seriously damaged the love between us by now.  (Her teacher earns every cent for those lessons.)

I’ve seen a couple of people lose it a bit out of frustration with Mona, and she universally wears people out.  But she’s adorable and hilarious.  She has a pretty big fan club of other parents who smile when they see her romping around the playground.  She gives me kisses on my nose if I look sad and makes elaborate paper birds and flies them around the house.  She says unpredictable things.  When she met my friend Miriam’s new baby in New York, her first response was, “Oh!  Cute baby!  Does it have a name yet?” and then she offered up both ‘Bob’ and ‘Booby’ as potential monikers.

School was a big adjustment for Mona, but she’s done very well.  Her teacher (who deserves some teaching equivalent of sainthood) is unflappable and gentle, and she’s impressed with how far Mona’s come.  She told me at one point if you’d asked her to predict when Mona entered the classroom as a K3 that she’d be this cooperative and civilized by K5, she’d have had doubts.  Mona’s teacher is accepting of eccentricity without letting it interfere with her classroom.  She has found Mona both a challenge and source of great amusement and there have been relatively few problems, particularly this last year.

So I was surprised this last week when I got a phone call from the school asking me to please bring a change of clothes for Mona because her outfit that day was inappropriate.
I had dropped the girls off at school and gone straight to work with Quinn, then went grocery shopping, so by the time I got the message on my machine at home it was only an hour before I was supposed to pick Mona up at the end of the day anyway.  I decided to let it go and deal with the issue at the pickup on the playground.  I spent the next hour wracking my brain for what Mona had worn to school.  I couldn’t remember, but Mona makes such weird clothing choices I don’t really see them anymore.  I was sure it wasn’t anything she hadn’t worn before, so I was really confused.

When she came bounding out of the school building with her class I looked her over.  She was in a pink tank top that was admittedly too large, but she loves it and she’s six.  She had on a pair of thick tights with pastel colored stripes and a pair of turquoise gym shorts, and patent leather dress shoes.  She was a goofy sight, but she didn’t strike me as inappropriate.  (And no, I don’t have a picture because Mona refused to pose for one after all the fuss about her clothes that day.)

The teacher smiled and said, “We had a visit from the principal today, and an administrator in the classroom, and of course who was in an odd position at that moment but Mona.”  Apparently Mona had been in the middle of the main rug working on some project, down on all fours with her butt in the air stretching her little shorts to thong like proportions.  Her baggy tank top also chose that time to flop off one shoulder so you could get a good view of the nothing underneath.  Her teacher is also sort of immune to seeing what Mona’s wearing anymore, so she said she took in the whole sight with fresh eyes and thought to herself, “Oh, Mona.”

The principal was shocked and said, “What is that child wearing?” and then the teacher promised she’d call me right away.  They put a large T-shirt from the lost and found over Mona for the rest of the day.  The teacher told me she didn’t really have a problem with the outfit, but that I should be careful because children who catch someone’s attention that way tend to continue to face further scrutiny.  Good to know.

So Mona and I had a talk.  I told her she could still wear whatever she wants at home, but that at school she should wear shirts under any tank tops, and maybe long pants for the rest of the school year.  As long as her clothing choices weren’t censored completely she was fine with that.  She declared, “So, I will have some things for anytime, and some things that are good for school, right?  Okay!”  She will still find a way to shock the principal I’m sure.

This was a girl who used to wear her bathing suit backwards, and I would point out that when she had it on wrong you could see her nipples.  I figured this would help her figure out which way it went, but instead she would put it on backwards and announce, “My nipples are ready!”

We’ve got such a long, strange adventure ahead.  I may not survive it, but I’ll die smiling.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Blogging is harder without the internet (Babble)

Some things about moving are fun.  For me, organizing the new kitchen is fun, laying down a new rug and seeing how pretty it looks is fun, and discovering some piece of furniture fits perfectly in the new home is fun.

Transferring services?  Less fun.  The bank and credit card companies were easy to change over to the new address, but the electric and gas had some weird hoops to jump through.  And Virgin Mobile for my cell phone?  They have a way too cool for school voice mail menu that is useless.  I don’t think they need to know I moved anyway, since the billing is directly through a credit card, so they can call and listen to me be all hip for awhile if they want my new information.  We had a glitch in long distance which disappeared for a night because of the move, and the mailman is confused about which house he should be delivering things to.

In any case, it’s all getting worked out, but the last thing we’re waiting for is the return of the internet.  I don’t know why that takes at least two weeks, but apparently it does.  I’ve only been able to access email at work, and when I’m at work….well, I need to work.  Blogging is something I’ve been doing during those semi-down moments, like when the kids are in the bath and I need to be nearby but I don’t have to do much. 

My favorite time to write is that half hour after I put the kids to bed and I need to do something quiet until they’re out and I can safely move around the house without disturbing them.  I’ve obviously still been able to blog without the internet at home, but it’s been awkward.

Living without the internet, though, has been interesting.  You don’t know how addicted you are to something until it goes away.  I hadn’t realized just how pervasive it was in my home life until it stopped being an option.  I don’t think of myself as being tied to my laptop, but I’m used to checking it regularly.  I’m used to having instant Netflx and Hulu and reading other people’s blogs for entertainment.  I like listening to public radio online while I do chores.  I’m used to looking things up instantly, ordering things I need from helpful websites, and feeling up to date on current issues.  I’ve learned I’m online much more often than I realized.

I have moments where I stand around feeling like I should be doing something, but all the things that occur to me involve the internet, so then I just keep standing there.  Then I smile as I realize that for most of my life I didn’t have the internet and now it’s like being in some flashback to a less wired time.  I’d say a simpler time, except the internet makes a lot of things simpler so that’s just a silly thing to say. 

But it’s slower time.  When you can’t have things instantly you’re forced to sit still and wait.  I’m not used to that anymore, so it’s good to revisit.   I feel like I should be using this time to read more, but I have a hard time when Ian’s deployed getting into a book.  I start things, but it’s harder to get involved the way I want to.  When I really get into a book I like to dive in for long stretches and let everything else go, and when I’m the only adult in the house part of me is always alert in a way that makes that kind of enjoyable immersion more difficult.

The funniest thing has been watching my kids deal with the lack of internet at home.  They are 21st century children, and they don’t know life without Google or cell phones.  I remember taking a walk around the block with Quinn once when he was about two, and we passed a teenage girl listening to loud music on her ipod and my son informed me that he thought her phone was ringing.  In his lifetime, a ‘ringing’ phone could be any sound at all.

Mona is counting down the days when she can go on Webkinz again.  Both girls have virtual pets to care for and they miss them.  Quinn keeps asking to watch Dora or Caillou on my laptop while we fold laundry and I have to keep reminding him we can’t for awhile.  We can’t email Uncle Barrett a bug question.  We can’t try to Skype with daddy.  We can’t email him that we love him whenever we like.  I told the kids to think it real hard or just say it out loud instead and I promised daddy would know.

On the upside, since we still have internet access at work, it’s been much easier to get the kids to come with me to the violin store at odd times.  I needed to update a Craigslist posting so I asked the kids after dinner last night if we could run out to the shop for a minute, and normally they would whine about that, but Aden lit up and said, “Okay!  Work as long as you like!”  The kids all huddled around their dad’s painfully slow computer at the store while I unpacked boxes and worked on a violin for awhile.  They usually complain about how long it takes for the work computer to load, but they’ve been so deprived they didn’t care how slow PBSkids ran.

I guess I was surprised by how plugged in they are because I don’t think of us as a very high tech family.  We don’t have cable or satellite, we don’t have video games (unless you count the broken Atari set that Ian plans to tinker with someday when he’s home from Iraq), we don’t have any ipods, and my cell phone doesn’t even take pictures.  We still play records and tapes.  My kids spend a lot of time spreading toys all over the house and painting pictures, so I think of them doing mostly that.  But they have a couple of laptops to use, and I didn’t realize how much they used them until they started asking me every half hour when Webkinz World would be working again.

I suppose it’s good to spend less time with my laptop, but especially without Ian around the internet has been my link to the world outside the house and minivan.  If I can’t have him to talk to at the end of the day, it’s nice to be able to surf around the web until I get sleepy, or email a friend.  On a really lucky evening I even get to chat with Ian online briefly before I go to sleep and he goes to work.  Some people like to look for the harm in anything new, but in our house the internet has only made our lives better.  I’m almost as anxious as Mona to get it back.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Goodbyes hurt more than a fat lip (Babble)

It was hard taking Ian to the airport.  I didn’t want him to go.  Two weeks of leave from the Army went by too quickly, especially since half of that got sucked up by travel to New York.  I’m really glad Ian was able to go with us on that trip, but part of me wishes the two events hadn’t overlapped.  The trip to see my brother was supposed to be a nice distraction from Ian being away, so obviously with him along it became something else.  It was great, and I’m glad he is a part of those memories, but we could have gotten so much more done that I need help with at home if we’d stayed in Milwaukee.  I guess what I’m really saying is we needed more than two weeks.  Three would have been better.  A lifetime would be best.
(Mona, Quinn, Aden and Ian on our new porch before going to the airport) 

In any case, we had our last few days together in the old house, then we went to New York, then we came home and finally spent the night in the new house.  Ian was incredibly helpful moving the last of the big objects left in the old place.  One of the lovely things for me about having a spouse is that I don’t have to feel beholden to him the way I do with anyone else.  We’re part of the same team, the same life, so when I ask anyone else to move something it’s a favor, but if I ask my husband it’s more part of a long term deal.  It’s his stuff too, so he should be helping move it.  I appreciate him greatly–I don’t mean I take him for granted–but his help is expected in a way that doesn’t apply to anyone else.  If a friend comes to my home and does a chore like my laundry, I would have to keep a running tally in my head so I could adequately return the favor one day.  If Ian does the laundry I can just give him a kiss and not worry about it.  It all balances out as we work together to make our lives run.  It’s part of what makes life easier with a partner.  I miss that.

The trip to the airport was sad.  It’s not even a ten minute drive so the kids barely had time to settle in before their daddy was hoisting his bags out of the back of the minivan and saying goodbye.  Mona and Quinn waved to him from their seats, but Aden’s eyes were full of tears and she had to get out and hug him.  She’d somehow gotten her days mixed up and thought we had one more day with him than we did, so Aden was still in a bit of shock that her dad was actually going. 

By the time Ian disappeared inside the airport and we drove away all the kids were wailing.  I gave them a moment to be sad, and then suggested that we go home and put together a package for their dad and see which got to Iraq first.  Ian needed a utility knife at work that he wasn’t allowed to take on the plane so we have to mail it to him.  I got the kids excited about making artwork to add to the box, and now Mona keeps asking me which is winning the race: the box or daddy?  (His flight was stuck in Atlanta the last I heard, so the box may have a shot.)

(Aden and her dad at the airport) 
After saying goodbye to Ian we ran some errands, and then spent most of the day in the house so I could work on organizing things.  (It’s so amazing to have a choice of closets to put things in!  Now I just have to make sure I can find stuff again.)  The kids watched cartoons and played, and at some point I reminded them that they needed to do violin practice.  Mona volunteered to go first, but then took a turn for the dangerously grumpy.  I made the mistake of correcting the position of her arm (I really should know better than to try to teach my own kids) and that was basically the end of violin practice.  I’m sure a lot of it was just about her dad being gone, but after the goodbyes I’m the only one left around to take her hurt feelings out on.  So violin was a disaster and we both got upset with each other and I left her alone in the living room where I heard her muttering about how much she hated me for a good ten minutes.

I ordered pizza because I wasn’t up to cooking and then I went into the living room to see if there was any way to cheer Mona up.  I scooped her into my lap and told her stories about what she was like as a baby (she always likes that) and made her smile despite her best efforts to keep a mean look on her face.  I nuzzled her and made her giggle, and just when she was starting to really warm up I tickled her and she thrashed the wrong way and BLAM I got a swift knee to the mouth.

Oh my lord does that hurt.  I fell to the floor and clutched my mouth where I could feel my upper lip swelling, and Mona was so freaked out she couldn’t decide whether she should punish me more for making her feel bad about something new, or actually help.  I called for Aden who ran and got me a bag of frozen corn to put on my lip, and after I determined I still had all my teeth and wasn’t bleeding things calmed down and Mona burst into tears and gave me a hug.  Poor thing.  Mona was so nervous I might not love her anymore and I had to keep reassuring her through lips I could barely move that I knew it was an accident and I would always love her.  It must be scary for her to say goodbye to one parent and then worry about alienating the remaining one.  I told her she should add her knee to the mouth move to her arsenal of defense techniques that we talk about in case a bad guy ever grabs her, and that made her happy.  (If someone really had tried to nab her in Central Park that poor fool would have been bitten, kicked and eye gouged beyond recognition.  We have a strict no hurting each other rule in our house, but I’ve told my kids all bets are off against anyone who tries to lead them anywhere that seems wrong.)

Aden’s good in a crisis and made sure to get me ice and refill the ice trays.  She found me some ibuprofen and a glass of water.  She helped pay the pizza guy when he arrived because I looked a little too icky to go to the door.  The swelling has gone down a bunch and I can talk again, but I can’t smile yet.  My kids aren’t convinced I’m not mad about something, so I’ve developed a goofy half grimace to let them know it’s all fine even if I don’t look happy in a normal way.  I can’t decide if wearing lipstick to cover the dark red welt would be more noticeable on me than the welt itself.  I never wear lipstick so I’m guessing the welt is the better look.

So that was exciting.  My lip still hurts, but it’s fading.  I notice Ian’s absence more frequently than I notice my fat lip.  By next week my lip will be fine but Ian will still be gone.  It’s already hard to remember exactly how the knee to my mouth felt when that was happening, but I feel like I relive the goodbyes every day.  That hurt doesn’t fade.

As I sit here in my new bedroom with a view of my old house (and all the things in the backyard I still have to move), I can’t help but think what a double edged sword love can be.  I’m glad Ian was here for these first few days in our new home so that he could be a part of it, but now we’re all aware that a piece is missing.  It’s good we can picture him here.  It would have been very strange to establish a whole life and routine in a new place and then have to find a way to add him later, but it hurts to have a particular spot at the table be empty and know he should be there.

But we’re over the hump, I think.  Ian only has about six more months left in Iraq.  In that time my kids will finish the school year, we’ll sell the old house, I’ll figure out how to run the violin store with the kids along during summer vacation, we’ll proabably do some trips to Michigan and Ohio, the leaves will change and Aden will start third grade, Mona will start first, and Quinn (who already owns a purple backpack in anticipation) will start half days at the Montessori school with his sisters.  That’s enough to keep us distracted from looking too often at Ian’s empty chair.  I’m looking forward to Hello.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Big Apple, Little Legs (Babble)

We just got back from a week’s vacation in New York City!  Ian’s visit happened to overlap with our annual trip to see my brother and his family over spring break.  I started flying out to New York with the kids during Ian’s last deployment as a way to break up the depressing rut I was in.  Navigating airports alone with three kids (ages 5, 3 and 5 months at that time) was insane, but I survived it.  Every travel experience since has seemed easy, despite the trouble of getting so many little pairs of shoes on and off at security.

We have a nice little tradition going for Easter.  My kids get to do an egg hunt with their cousin in New York every year, and most of the time we are able to overlap with her birthday as well (depending on when Easter and spring break fall).   How cute are they with their baskets?  I helped Aden make her own out of cardboard and paper right before the hunt.

(Ellora, Aden, Mona and Quinn in New York after their egg hunt.)

It was a great trip.  We got to see friends and family and the weather was beautiful.   We got out a little, but as far as my kids are concerned, New York City is their cousin’s apartment.  At one point late in the week when we were trudging through Times Square, Quinn laid his exhausted little head on my shoulder and pleaded, “Can we please go back to New York now?”  Our first full day in Manhattan we took the kids to Central Park, enjoyed a carriage ride, ate ice cream, watched the sea lions eating fish at the zoo, climbed rocks, and rode many trains.

After getting out and about the first day to satisfy my need to feel like I’d seen something of the city, we were good to let the kids do what they really wanted which was play in the apartment.  Their cousin has a new bunk bed, a big cuddly dog, and a play room across the hall so they couldn’t have been happier.  They squealed and giggled and made up a million games that all seemed to involve making piles of stuffed animals on the floor.

One of the things about New York that’s hard to impress upon people who have never been there is how it is really a collection of little neighborhoods.  Yes it’s dense and busy, but in some ways it feels more friendly than a typical midwestern experience.  There is nothing charming about the giant chain stores I depend on in Milwaukee.  Many of the shops in New York are tiny and personal.  Three times on one lazy day we had to run out for groceries, and each time Ian or I went out with whichever one of the kids wanted to come along.  We walked to a different little market just blocks from home each time.  When Aden and I picked up milk on one of those trips she was thrilled with a tabby cat sleeping in a little bed on one of the lower shelves.  (No cats pouncing on flies at Pick ‘N Save or Home Depot.)  So when sticking to the immediate neighborhood, a visit to my brother’s home in New York with three small children is simple.  Things are convenient and the kids are content.  Getting to anything beyond that is a more complicated story.

Most of the parents I know in New York city only have one child.  This makes sense because it’s an environment where the expense and difficulty of additional children is tangible.  I don’t know anyone in the midwest who chose not to have another child based on available space.  You may have to make compromises or get creative, but in the midwest you can find more room somewhere.  In New York it’s a real factor to consider because one more bedroom could bankrupt you.  In any case, getting more kids than you have hands on and off the subway takes a little practice.  Teaching Mona not to lean out over the tracks looking for the A train keeps you alert.

For the most part my kids do really well in New York, but the biggest challenge was all the walking.  My kids are very active, so I don’t mean they aren’t physically up to it, it’s that the kind of walking you do in the city they aren’t accustomed to.  Once we hit the park or the zoo or a pile of wood chips they were ready to run for hours, but the sort of fast paced, single file, keep your head down walking for many blocks just to find the subway entrance or a restaurant was not easy for them.  My friend, Alice, met us one morning near Washington Square Park, and she commented on how different the city looked when you walked it at my children’s level.  It’s slow, and you look in every window and check out every street vendor, and a block is suddenly not a short stretch anymore.  Quinn did the best he could, but often I’d end up scooping him up and carrying him for a block or two before having to set him back down again.  (His dad was willing to carry him, but when my son is tired he just wants me.)  Overall I was really proud of how well Quinn kept moving along on those little legs, especially when you remember his only view much of the time is of other people at about waist height.

The only really hard moment with the kids was after Ellora’s birthday party.  She had a party at a restaurant called Mars, which was like Chuck E Cheese’s but red and with martians walking around instead of a mouse waving at you.  It was a great time, especially since my brother put on some crazy face paint and stole all the hired martians’ thunder.  (My brother is incredibly fun and spent most of the party under a pile of happy six year olds.) 

But afterward we went to Central Park so the kids could run around, and it was another one of those moments when you realize how differently you navigate certain situations when you have multiple kids.  You don’t think too hard about keeping track of one kid at the park, but when you have more than one you need a plan.  The weather was gorgeous and the playground was packed, and Mona was tired and pouty because she had managed to lose her balloon and her goody bag from the party (and didn’t want to look at me because I had predicted all of that if she didn’t take my advice and now she was embarrassed).  I’m still not sure how it happened, but we all got spread out a bit, and the next thing I knew all the kids had scattered and I couldn’t see any of them but Quinn.
Normally when we enter a crowded place I make sure my kids know where we should meet if we’re separated.  I didn’t get a chance to do that, and I ended up handing Quinn off to Ian so I could cover more ground and figure out where the girls were.  I spotted Aden pretty quickly, and made sure she and her cousin knew where the meeting place was, but it took a long time to find Mona.  When I say a long time, I mean about ten minutes, but ten minutes of your mind racing through all the possibilities of losing your kid in Central Park are agonizing. 

Luckily Arno can move with an effortless speed that is astonishing, and he was able to cover every part of the playground quickly and track Mona down.  She was fine, of course, pouting in the sand pit area where she buired and lost her last toy.  I stuck to her like glue for the rest of the afternoon much to her chagrin.  I don’t know how anyone survives really losing a child like that.  I was physically ill for those ten minutes.  Any real length of time would probably kill me.  So as far as bad experiences go, this one was more of a reminder of how fortunate I am, and not anything actually bad.  I’m not letting those ten minutes that turned out to be nothing hijack the memory of a perfectly nice day, because the rest of it was pretty great.

The highlights of the trip for me were meeting my friend Miriam’s adorable baby and Satra’s lovely wife and daughter, and spending a little time with my friend Alice and my cousin Mary.  We ate some great pizza and rice pudding.  We got to see all the flowering trees in bloom (and then come home in time to watch everything start to bloom here, too).  I got to visit my niece’s school and read to some of her classmates.  My brother and I stood in the little rose garden near his home by the Hudson River one warm evening and listened to a man singing powerfully from a high up window we couldn’t pinpoint.  I got a night out with just my husband and we saw Hair at the Al Hirschfeld Theater (it was amazing but that’s a whole other post).  I bought Aden a small locket from a street vendor in Soho and she wears it every day now.  Did I mention the rice pudding?  And Ian told Mona if she caught a healthy pigeon she could keep it, so watching her chase birds with that weird mincing run of hers was beyond entertaining.

But most of all I got to spend time with people I love while taking a break from thinking about moving or that Ian’s leaving again soon or when a million appointments are happening.  That’s spring break at it’s best, even with tired little legs.
(Aden, Quinn and Ian on the A train)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Glasses Are Weird (Babble)

I’ve had my first pair of glasses now for a few weeks.  I’m getting used to them, but it’s definitely a lifestyle change.

Apparently what I have is astigmatism.  The eye doctor informed me that astigmatism isn’t something that occurs with age, and that I probably always had it and should have been wearing glasses forever.  Something isn’t quite right about that or I wouldn’t have just recently decided something was off about my vision and I needed to get it checked.  In the past couple of years I noticed that I could see objects clearly at closer distances with my right eye than with my left by about five inches.  I’ve also felt myself heavily favoring my right eye in general, and that small type was blurrier with my left eye when I used it alone.  All those things seemed like good reasons to go to an eye doctor.

My unaided vision isn’t bad, just a little blurry.  The biggest difference I notice with my glasses on is that dark things are darker.  Since the contrast is better, and the lighter areas aren’t bleeding into the darker ones, there is more dark to see.  I didn’t realize how much clearer all the details around me could be.  Some days when I don’t remember to put my glasses on in the morning I wonder again why I have them, but if I’ve had them on all day and take them off I’m surprised by just how fuzzy the world looks.

The super nice woman who helped me pick out my first pair of glasses said I should not go with anything too bold to start.  I like what she picked.  They are light, I don’t notice them much, and supposedly they are hard to break although I hope we don’t get to test that anytime soon.  People who know me best have remarked on them right away and said they look nice (except for my daughters who don’t like them).  Some people have said nothing, and then there is a surprisingly large group of acquaintances who seem to remember me always wearing glasses and don’t know what the fuss is about.  Ian feels like I have a whole Tina Fey thing going, so I’m not going to complain about that.

(First picture of me in glasses, taken by Aden when I was doing volunteer work for her choir.)

I thought I would mind how I looked in them, but they’re kind of nice.  I don’t wear makeup or have pierced ears, so by just putting glasses on it’s like I’m making some kind of effort with my face for a change.  I’ve also started really noticing just how many other people wear glasses too.  There are so many types and styles and it’s a whole world I never really paid any attention to before.  I check out other people’s eyewear all the time now.

There are weird things, though, that come with wearing glasses.  Some of these are normal weird that anyone who wears glasses will relate to that I’m just discovering, and some might just be me.

Having the edges of the glasses in my periphery is hard to get used to.  That, and the way things bend around the edges.  That bit of distortion happening just to the side of everything I’m looking at is strange.  It’s a shock to open the oven and have my glasses steam up.  I haven’t figured out yet if there is a way to change my shirt without taking the glasses off first.  I had no idea my eyelashes were so dirty–I can smudge up the lenses with them pretty fast.  I’ve already gotten into such a habit of adjusting my glasses that I’ve found myself reaching to push them up on my nose when I’m not wearing them.

With the new crisper edges to everything, I’ve also had a return to seeing the red and blue lines next to bright objects.  My brother the brain researcher specializes in vision and has done work in holography, so he was able to give me a term for the red and blue edges.  It’s called ‘chromatic aberration,’ and he termed it ‘not desirable.’  I loved the red and blue edges next to things as a kid and I used to amuse myself by shutting one eye and lining up the sight of the edge of my nose against the sides of bright things across the room to make them stand out more–blue on the right, red on the left.  My brother’s concerned that my glasses aren’t adequately doing everything they are supposed to do if I’m seeing all that red and blue, but I think they’re fine.  It’s subtle, and it’s pretty.

I’ve already been warned that someday a small child will elbow me in the glasses and it will hurt.  I have been told that coming indoors with them on in the winter will take getting used to.  I’m already annoyed with the way they slip as I tilt my head down all the time to do my work.  I have been told that dependence on them will be frustrating at times, espeically as they get lost or misplaced.

But you know what?  The first thing I saw with my new glasses was Aden’s sweet face looking up at me.  I slipped them on, and every strand of honey blonde hair on her head was suddenly clear in a way I’d never seen before, and her impossibly blue eyes had sparkly blue rays in them that I find amazing.  She laughed as I kept looking at her over the tops of my glasses, and then nudging them into place so I could enjoy the contrast again.  Who knew I could enjoy looking at my kids any more than I already did?  Glasses are cool.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Daddy Sounds (Babble)

The nice parts of having my husband home on leave from Iraq are easy to imagine for most people.  We’re happy to spend time together, things are easier with two parents around, etc. and so on.  It was a treat to have him here for Friday Night Movie Night.  I can run errands easily for a change.  Good, predictable things.

Then there are odd adjustments that take me by surprise.  The main one I’ve noticed this time is having to get used to the sounds of a grown man in the house.  We’re not accustomed to that anymore, and it doesn’t help that all the sounds in the current house are exaggerated at the moment since it is getting progressively emptier as the move continues.  Daddy sounds are bigger, and decisive in a heavier way, and everything echoes in our house right now.  It’s interesting how adding Ian’s footfalls to the rhythm of our days is so noticeable.

The trickiest thing is Ian’s attempts at keeping the kids in line.  He can say the same thing I would in the same tone of voice and at the same volume, but it just sounds more threatening coming from a man.  He raised his voice at Mona the first day back because she appeared to be ignoring something I’d said, and she burst into tears.  She hid behind me for about fifteen minutes, telling me that she was too scared to go near her dad.  He felt terrible, and we agreed that during this trip he should forego any disciplining of the kids at all.  Mona’s long over it, but it took lots of assurance from her dad that he wouldn’t yell anymore before she would trust him again.  Not that what he’d done had even crossed the line into yelling, but to her it felt like it.  Men just typically sound different, and to kids in particular different can be scary.

The kids need time to get used to the general sense of having daddy around so they’ll have a baseline to work from.  Eventually they will associate the sounds of daddy with feeling protected again.  Unfortunately, just as they get comfortable now, Ian will have to go back to Iraq.  Then we will adjust to him being gone all over.   But I will file this experience away as one more thing to keep in mind when this deployment finally ends.  (After having had just a few days together again, that can’t come soon enough for me.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Spring (Babble)

Ian arrived home on leave along with the warm weather.  Life is feeling pretty great.

The thing about spring in the Midwest is that it feels like a miracle.  Winter can have some nice moments; falling snow is beautiful, sledding is fun, the glee with which Mona makes snow angels alone makes it worth living here.  But winter in Milwaukee is long, and most of the fun requires you not have to get anywhere in particular.  Bundling everyone up loses its charm months into getting everyone out the door for school on time.  Winter means obstacles in the landscape.  Snow plows create barriers along the edges of the streets.  Some days it’s a struggle to take out the trash.  Waiting for the kids outside of the school at the pickup sometimes feels like torture.

But the first really warm day makes you feel alive in a way you nearly forgot you could.  I stepped outside without a jacket and the world was welcoming.  Spring feels both new and familiar at the same time.  It’s like being released from captivity, and you’re happy to just be.  I stood outside my violin store yesterday and enjoyed the sense that the world was large, and not just the size of whatever room I was in.  My kids keep pointing out that there are buds on everything, and plants are pushing up through the ground everywhere you look.   We watched a worm for half an hour on our sidewalk and followed ladybugs around the playground.  To step outside and have the breeze touch your face as if it’s friendly and not an assault makes you see everything differently.

I wish it weren’t true that you need contrast to really appreciate some things in life, but I learn that again every spring.  There is a muddy, ugly transition period through most of March, where somehow everything thaws but it’s still cold.  All the trash that had been trapped in snowbanks is littered all over the neighborhood, and the salt residue from the streets makes everything dingy.  But just when you start to lose hope while trudging along from one errand to another, the temperature gets warm.  Everyone wants to be outside and all the yards get attention and the trash disappears.  The birds are back and there is music all around us.

That’s what it’s like having Ian home.  We don’t get to keep him for very long, but to be reminded even for just a little while of what our lives as a complete family are supposed to feel like is wonderful.  There is a muddy transition period that isn’t easy, but being in his arms again is warm.  The only good part about being separated for so long is getting to appreciate how lucky we are anew when we’re back together.   Even if this particular part of spring will only last a couple of weeks, we know to appreciate it that much more.