Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Dragon, A Blue Jay, and a Dog Named Spot (Babble)

Costumes!  I actually finished all my kids’ Halloween costumes in time!  And not just in time for Halloween (which, sadly, doesn’t mean anything here on the real day*), but for my girls’ choir rehearsal where they were allowed to wear costumes, and the school dance which happened mid-week before school let out for a four day weekend, for a small neighborhood party, and finally Trick-or-Treat on Saturday night.
It’s worth all the effort I put into making their costumes myself because it’s not just for one day.  They wear them for all the little seasonal events, then they wear them around the house, to birthday parties, the store…. They make up excuses to be in costumes like coming up with plays, or just decide life is better as something non-human for an afternoon with no attempt to justify it.  They wear their costumes for years, so I have to make sure they are washable and sturdy.  Mona’s giraffe costume was practically in shreds by the time I convinced her to let me retire it.  So I don’t mind the work of getting those costumes done because the kids certainly appreciate them.

I finished Mona’s costume first.  She wanted to be a dalmatian, and it worked out well.  She picked out black gloves at Target for her paws, and the final touch was her tag to put on her collar.  I just cut out some cardboard in the shape of a bone and spray painted it gold, then wrote ‘SPOT’ on it and added a small heart (per careful instructions).  From a distance her tag looks kind of like a bow tie, but she’s happy with it.  That girl makes a cute dog, romping around and barking.  And this relates to nothing in this paragraph, but I need to mention that Mona’s latest new expression is, “Quiet as a moth.”  I love ‘Quiet as a moth,’ especially since Mona isn’t.

Quinn had his heart set on being a blue jay for months.  His costume is particularly cozy and warm so he likes hanging out in it.  One of the most adorable things I have ever seen in my life is Quinn flapping around in his blue jay suit saying, “Tweet tweet!  Tweet tweet!”  (Before he headed out into the neighborhood with his pumpkin basket I suggested he could say “Trick or Tweet” but since I stayed back at our house to hand out candy I don’t know if he actually did.)  It makes me want to scoop him up and nuzzle his neck and tell him not to grow anymore.  How was he just a baby five minutes ago and now he’s this three year old who can read and jump on one foot and pretend to be a blue jay?  When I tell him he needs to go back to being a baby he laughs and says, “My age can’t go lower!  It can only go upper.”  I guess I don’t really want him to be a baby again, but I’m shocked sometimes at how fast it all goes.  I just want to hold onto the blue jay moment as long as I can.
And speaking of kids growing up fast, I can barely reconcile in my mind that Aden was once that tiny baby who taught me how to be a mom.  I asked her what she currently wants to be when she grows up and her list was interesting.  She wants to be a chemist since she’s curious about elements, a paleontologist, a baker, a barber, a person who works at the humane society, an artist, she wants to help me at the violin store, write a blog, and be a mother.  I told her she’s already an artist, and she can write a guest post for my blog whenever she likes.

Anyway, her dragon costume turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated and I’m glad I left as much time for it as I did.  I started out making the basic costume out of fleece, and then I figured I’d just sew the flimsy holographic scale print material she picked out over the top of it.  But I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to do that last part on the sewing machine and ended up having to stitch most of it by hand.  I cannot tell you how sore my fingers were from pushing that needle for a day and a half, but Aden would come hug me periodically and tell me how much she loved her costume so I didn’t mind it (much).  I just set myself up with a marathon of competitive cooking shows on Hulu and sat and sewed and occasionally made Aden try her outfit on to make sure I wasn’t slowly stitching myself into a proverbial corner.  One problem I kept running into was that the costume didn’t move the same way with the second layer of fabric on it, so even though, for instance, there was good freedom of movement in her arms in just the fleece version, they got more restricted when I added the scales.  Oh well.  I also ran out of time for adding wings which she really wanted, but there are limits and my fingertips reached them on Monday.

Aden actually helped with some of the sewing.  She’s interested in learning to use the machine, so I had her thread both the bobbin and the needle for me a few times, and even let her help sew simple areas like the legs.  She put the foam in all her spikes, and painted the lines on her horns and her belly herself.  I have a feeling next year her costume will be much more of a joint effort.
If I had it to do over there are a couple of things on the dalmatian costume that could be better, I’d stick with how I did the blue jay, and the dragon I would approach in a way that didn’t mean essentially sewing the whole costume twice, but overall I’m happy with this year’s effort.  But the important thing is the kids are, too.  The true test of their appreciation will be if they share any Kit Kats they collect!  (I already know they will.  That’s why making costumes for them isn’t a chore.)

(*  So, why, you may want to know, does the actual Halloween not mean anything?  Because Milwaukee uses a system for always having trick-or-treat in the daytime on the last Sunday of the month.  Which would mean something this year, except that Bay View, which is our little corner of Milwaukee’s south side, has switched to night time trick-or-treat on the last Saturday of the month.  The first year Bay View switched to night time trick-or-treat it was confusing because our specific block fell on the boundary, and we ended up doing both daytime and night time trick-or-treat which made my children very very happy.  When I lived in Columbus, Ohio, they had an even more confusing system for trick-or-treat so that it couldn’t land on Halloween proper for some reason.  I grew up in the Detroit area, where trick-or-treat was on Halloween and always at night.  That just seems right to me because it’s what I did as a kid.  Of course the night before Halloween Detroit has problems with people setting things on fire for fun, so some traditions I’m fine with letting go.  But trick-or-treat should be on Halloween.  And at night.  And on Halloween.  You know what we’re doing on actual Halloween?  Putting on costumes and visiting the frog exhibit at the Public Museum.  –sigh– )

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkin Fun (Babble)

Pumpkins!  I love pumpkins.  I even love just saying the word ‘pumpkin.’  I have yet to learn how to actually cook a pumpkin, but I make good roasted seeds, and this year for the first time the kids ate some with me instead of sucking on them for a moment and spitting them back out.

This year I also invested a couple of dollars in one of those little carving kits they sell at the grocery store.  Normally I gut all the pumpkins and have the kids draw where they want me to cut the faces out, but it was nice this time to have a couple of harmless mini-saws for the girls to use.  Aden and Mona did most of their carving themselves and only had me help out when something wasn’t going right.  Quinn simply pointed to where on his pumpkin I should carve and told me what he wanted.

I know people do astonishing and creative things with pumpkin carving anymore, and I like seeing what some of them come up with every year, but for myself I have no interest in doing anything elaborate.  I like to make a basic Jack-o-lantern and stick a candle in it.  Maybe I carve enough with wood that I don’t have a carving itch that needs to be scratched by going all crazy cutting up a squash, or maybe I have old fashioned tastes, but a couple of eyes, a nose, and a mouth and I’m good.

In past years I’ve had to spend a lot of time explaining to Mona that I couldn’t cut out the dozens of tiny teeth she always drew on her pumpkins.  But this year she was only limited by her own abilities, which are apparently greater than mine at cutting tiny teeth, so her pumpkin came out exactly how she wanted it.

Quinn wanted his to look sort of surprised and scared.  He ended up taking the little piece that came out when I carved the nose and putting it back into the hole backwards, so it sticks out like a real nose.  He calls it a 3-D nose.  This is him trying to imitate his pumpkin while posing with it for me:

Aden and I both went for scary angry looking faces, and I thought it was funny how similar they seemed when we were done and showed them to each other.  (Mine’s the big one and Aden’s is the little one peeking out from behind it.)  Anyway, I like when all the pumpkins are lined up, because it looks like Quinn’s is scared of the rest.  (Or scared of the dull knife on the counter–either way.)

We’ve had ridiculous wind storms here for the past couple of days, so the pumpkins are the only decorations we dare put out that we’re pretty sure won’t blow away.  I’m hoping the wind dies down enough soon that the kids can do more.  I put Aden in charge of hanging skeletons and the like however she sees fit this year, so I hope she actually gets the chance.

And this year Ian is home for Halloween.  That’s an anniversary I don’t like to miss, so it means a lot to me that he will be here.  He can help me solve my annual dilemma of whether it’s better to buy candy for handing out that we like to eat ourselves, or don’t care for.  (Maybe one bag of Snickers mixed in to snack on from our own bowl and the rest can be Smarties….)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pain Is Not a Competition (Babble)

All pain is relative.  We each of us live in our own skin and view the world through a lens crafted from our own experience.  Sometimes we are able to empathize, and sometimes we aren’t.  Some days I successfully put myself in another person’s shoes before voicing an opinion, and other days I fail.

My first experience with violin making was a brief amount of time at a school in Pennsylvania.  My bench shared a wall with the bench of my friend Matt.  I loved hanging out with Matt.  He was easy to talk to and he made me laugh.  One day I came in to school with four stitches in my thumb after a carving accident at home.  I had never had stitches before and was feeling quite traumatized.  I sat down at my bench and regaled Matt with the whole gruesome story of Ian having to drive me to a doctor and the icky feeling of the stitches tugging at my skin and how we went to the movies afterward to distract me from the pain. 

I blathered on and on telling my tale of grievous injury with Matt just looking at me, when finally, to my horror, I remembered that Matt had been in a terrible car accident just a couple of weeks before and had more than 80 stitches up one of his legs.  I was deeply embarrassed and apologized, but Matt just shook his head and said, “It’s all relative.  For you those stitches are a big deal.”  And then he went on to tell me that right after his accident he’d been bemoaning his fate to the new guy at the school, and it turned out the new guy had been in an accident the year before where he was declared dead on the scene and he got to meet the patient waiting for his heart.  The new guy by comparison was feeling pretty humbled by the fact that the man he shared his hospital room with had lost his wife and child when they were all hit by a drunk driver and he would never walk again.  My four stitches were starting to look like a gift.

So I know better than to try to one up someone in the pain and frustration department.  Everyone has stitches that are a big deal in their own context, and also I’m smart enough to know how ridiculously good I have it.  My struggles are all of an elite variety that don’t involve starvation or crippling poverty or chronic pain, but they are still my struggles, even if they are only four stitches long.  I try to keep things in perspective, but we are each entitled to our feelings even though there is always someone with a worse story.
That said, I feel like I’ve done a poor job lately of sympathizing with my husband’s struggles at home.  I want to be supportive but sometimes just find myself simply irritated.  I get frustrated and then I feel guilty for feeling that way.  It’s hard.

The bulk of Ian’s challenges, I think, comes down to the fact that he is now in a role where he doesn’t feel appreciated.  Parenting is like that.  The three year old will behave obnoxiously to him one day (because he’s tired or hungry or both and three year olds are cute but frequently unreasonable and occasionally awful), and Ian knows not to take it personally, but he can’t help it.  It must be very hard to go from a position of power and authority in a place like Iraq to being dad at home mopping up the messes of three kids all day.  Not that the war was easier, I’m not saying that, but to go from ordering people to do things and having those people respect those orders and follow them, to requesting very simple and reasonable things of children and have them essentially ignore you is maddening.

Our kids are good kids, but kids push limits, and they can be lazy and careless and obstinate.  They don’t know how to appreciate what they have most of the time because they don’t have much to compare it to.  I’m glad they don’t live in fear and that they don’t know hunger and that their lives are comfortable enough that they can indulge their creativity.  The downside of that is they don’t realize how special their situation is.  I tell them when I think they’ve crossed a line into being unappreciative or greedy and they are quick to apologize.  They are still learning where the lines are but that takes time and experience, and that’s okay.  Childhood should be a time to enjoy the good in the world.

However, poor Ian has days where he’s drowning in laundry and one of the girls can only complain that a specific shirt isn’t clean yet, or he finds their bikes lying in the middle of the sidewalk again regardless of any reminders or threats about that, or Quinn wants his mommy and there is nothing else that will appease him and I’m just not available.  I’ve tried to get the kids into a habit of always thanking anyone who prepares them a meal because I think that’s important to acknowledge, but there are too many things that go into parenting and keeping house that seldom if ever get notice or praise that it does feel thankless much of the time.  The clean bathroom has to be its own reward, as does the organized closet, the stocked pantry or the raked lawn.  If you stick around in the Army long enough someone will eventually hand you a medal.  There are no medals for ordinary life.  I remember the first time my dad read us the story of the Prodigal Son, and I asked him why the bad kid essentially got a party and the good son got nothing.  Dad told me that supposedly goodness is its own reward.  I think sometimes the good kid still deserves a party, but I can see why he gets overlooked.

In any case, where I fall short is that Ian will be having a hard time–an understandably hard time at that–and I can’t help but think about how much better he has it than I did while he was deployed.  If he complains to me when I come home from work about how he didn’t have an adult to talk to all day, I want to say, “But you only had to make it to the end of the day and here I am!  I didn’t have anybody here for years!”  Or if it seems like a lot to do his half of caring for the kids and the house I shake my head and think about how I had to do everything, plus I sold a house and bought another and moved us and ran the violin store with the kids in tow, etc. etc. etc.  I feel like he has four stitches and I have a thousand.  And I take a deep breath and remind myself those stitches are still real and they count and that it’s not a competition.

But I finally lost it a bit the other day when Ian was complaining about having a hard time with Quinn.  It had put him in a foul mood and I felt as if I was being put into the position of having to cater to two fussy egos and I just didn’t have the patience for it.  Against my own better judgement I said, “Well, then just be glad you didn’t have to deal with Mona at age three.”  I felt instant regret because there are so many things wrong with that.  The first is the one-upsmanship sound of it that is just not cool.  The second is that he missed most of Mona being three, both the good and the difficult, and I’m sure that pains him.  He doesn’t need reminders of the sacrifices he’s made.  The third is it reeks of the resentment I sometimes feel that my struggles were a result of his choice to be in the Army.  It’s hard to feel that being a supportive spouse makes me complicit in my own abandonment.

Ian’s reaction was to say, “So I feel like crap and I should be glad to feel like crap.”  And I wanted to say, “Yes,” but I said nothing.  It’s hard for me to make Ian understand that at his worst, Quinn is a million times easier than his sister was.  Mona’s tantrums were epic, and I was trapped.  That first deployment I had no close friends, no family around, I had to drag the kids with me on every errand, and poor Mona was stuck with a mother all day every day who was pregnant (or eventually tethered to a newborn) and exhausted all the time. 

When I hear people click their tongues at parents with a child who is having a meltdown in public as if the offending parents just aren’t conscientious enough to remove the problem child from the scene, I think about Mona screaming her head off one particular night in Target.  It was past her bedtime and she was beyond tired but we’d run out of diapers and I didn’t have any choice but to complete that errand.  She wanted me to carry her, I was 8 months pregnant and could not lift her, and she screamed for nearly half an hour in the store.  She would lie down, I physically could not move her, and somehow I coaxed her across the store where we waited in line for ten minutes with her wailing like a desperate animal.  A neighbor at that point at least offered to walk Aden home, but Aden was not a problem so I declined that help.  It was embarrassing and horrible and heartbreaking.  Quinn snubbing Ian on the playground and then telling his dad not to talk to him in the car just does not compare in my mind.  (But those four stitches still hurt….)

We had this terse discussion on the short drive from our home to the violin store, and by the time we got there and I was sitting at my bench I just burst into tears.  I told him he really didn’t understand how traumatic it had been to be scared for him all the time and to be responsible for everyone and to get no breaks and no sleep and no help.  When I think back to that first deployment I’m amazed I got through it.  I remember when Quinn was about a month old and I had mastitis, and I was up all night shivering under my blankets with the baby next to me and the girls asleep in the next room wondering how I was supposed to make them breakfast and get Aden dressed for school again, and I cried because the only person I wanted to talk to was the one person I wasn’t supposed to bother. 

It would have been dangerous for Ian to be distracted by problems he couldn’t fix, so I told him things were fine and he had no idea how hard it really was.  Ian put his arms around me (in the way I used to imagine he would do when he was gone) and said I always seem to handle everything so well he forgets sometimes how deeply some of these experiences have affected me.  (And then a customer arrived with a bow for me to rehair and I had to excuse myself to wash my face and somehow pretend I hadn’t just been balling my eyes out when he walked in.  Because I have great timing like that.)

So it’s a complicated balance between accepting pain for what it is and keeping things in perspective.  I want my husband to feel comfortable enough to complain about the frustrations that come with parenting without worrying that I’ll always have the worse story up my sleeve.  I know plenty of people with worse stories than my own, but my frustrations and pain are real, too.  All pain is relative.  Compassion shouldn’t be.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Mew-Mew By Any Other Name... (Babble)

For anyone interested in the outcome of our recent kitty drama, please read on….
After two weeks of pondering what to do with Mew-Mew Lilly we decided to try passing her on to a good friend of ours.

Mew-Mew had been straying farther and farther from our yard and I was getting really worried about her.  There were a couple of nights we even put out food where we didn’t see her at all, and then we caught a different neighborhood cat eating out of her dish.  I was giving up hope that her owner was ever going to appear, so we decided to invite her into the back room of our house for an afternoon and let her meet my friend Bonnie Jean.  Bonnie Jean is one of the kindest people I know and she has been wanting a pet, so it seemed perfect; my friend could have a pet, the cat would have a loving home, and we would still get to visit her.

It was so sweet for that couple of hours that the cat was in the house.  I promised Ian I would keep her in the back few rooms and then vacuum everything so it wouldn’t affect his allergies.  The cat was nervous at first, but trusted us, and eventually settled into a spot on the love seat where Aden petted her while watching TV.  It was very comfortable and natural having a cat lounging around.  If we ever find one as friendly as Mew-Mew that doesn’t make my husband sick I want it.

Anyway, Bonnie Jean was also taken with the cat, and after putting her in a pet carrier without a struggle, loaded her into the car and off they went.  The next report we got was that Mew-Mew was going by Caramel Cashew and doing fine.

Then Bonnie Jean took her to the vet where they discovered the chip in her ear which said she was registered under the name Toffee and lived a block away from us.  I felt like we’d done some cruel trick on my friend, dangling a sweet pet in front of her like that.   To all the people who commented that I should have the cat checked for a chip, apparently that was excellent advice and next time that’s the first thing we’ll do.  I was reluctant because I knew if we took her to the vet and there were no chip we would still probably have her checked out or possibly spayed and then she would suddenly be ours, and we weren’t ready for that.

The real owners were happy to get their cat back and reimbursed Bonnie Jean for the vet bill, and told her the cat’s name was actually Admiral.  (After running through so many names for the cat I keep thinking of the joke, “I don’t care what you call me just as long as you don’t call me late for dinner.”)

The kids still haven’t gotten around to removing the ‘Found!’ posters of the cat from our block, although it is truth in advertising.

So that was our brief experiment with quasi-pet ownership.  It’s got me thinking about real pets one day.

Oh, and unrelated to this post but worth mentioning:  Mona lost yet another tooth in front! She’s going to look like her baby pictures soon.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Tooth Fairy may have to just move in (Babble)

Mona has been losing baby teeth left and right lately, and showed me another loose one this morning.

This was Mona back in July with a mouth full of teeth:

Then suddenly four of them were loose at once and there was much wiggling of teeth going on for several weeks.  Then it seemed like every day for awhile she was handing me another tooth.  She lost one at choir (I think while waiting in line for the drinking fountain, although it’s much more exciting the way Mona tells it), and she lost one at school and someone in the office put it in a tiny treasure chest for her so she wouldn’t misplace it before she got home.
Then a she lost another tooth on top during dinner and was left with one tooth sitting by itself in front for a couple of days.  I really wanted a picture of that because it was particularly adorable, but I didn’t get the chance.  The morning of picture day at school Mona lost that tooth while getting dressed.  It’s looking pretty vacant there in her mouth at the moment, but you’d be amazed how little it affects her ability to munch on carrots.
So we’ve had lots of visits from the Tooth Fairy lately.  Best Tooth Fairy advice I ever got (in case you haven’t had the chance to do this yet in your own home and need ideas) is to put the tooth in a plastic baggie before putting it under the pillow.  Makes it very easy to find in the night.

I don’t know what other people currently do for Tooth Fairy gifts under the pillow.  I should ask around on the playground one of these days, but I suspect most people put money there.  I thought long and hard about what the Tooth Fairy should bring when Aden lost her first tooth because I knew it would set a precedent for many years to come.  She was five, and money just didn’t seem interesting enough, especially since she didn’t have a good concept of it.  I couldn’t imagine what she would do with a dollar if she found one under her pillow.  Anyway, I decided to go with little toys.  At the time Aden was heavily into all things Pokemon, so she would get little Pokemon keychains and figures and she liked the added thrill of not knowing for sure what she would get when she went to sleep.
I keep a box in my room of cute little toys (mostly Littlest Petshop things which are what both girls like best at the moment) just in case.  Which is good, because the night Mona lost her tooth at choir I had rehearsal, so I didn’t find out until I got in at 10 at night and there was a post-it note from Ian in the living room letting me know I needed to slip something under Mona’s pillow before coming to bed.  The funny thing is that I usually end up sticking the baggie with the tooth in it into my top dresser drawer, and now every morning I rummage through all these bags of teeth while looking for socks and underwear.  That’s not something I would have pictured myself doing before I had kids.

My children are very serious about the Tooth Fairy.  Mona sometimes holds onto her tooth for a few days, debating whether or not a new toy is better than an old tooth.  Sometimes I even let them keep the tooth and still get the prize, as long as they write a note to put under the pillow explaining the situation.  I ask Aden from time to time if she’d rather the Tooth Fairy start bringing her money, but she still likes the toys.

We’ve had a couple of dramatic moments when the missing tooth disappeared before it had a chance to go under a pillow.  Aden once lost a tooth on a trip to New York, and we thought it fell out of her luggage during a transfer at the Detroit airport.  I had Aden write a note to the Tooth Fairy, and the Tooth Fairy (whose handwriting looks strangely like mine) wrote her back to say all was well, she found the tooth in Detroit, and Aden could still have a prize.  Of course, Aden searched her luggage more thoroughly afterward and did find the tooth, and she wanted to know why the Tooth Fairy would return it.  I told her I had no idea, and did we really want to speculate on what was reasonable behavior from someone who collected other people’s teeth?  Aden knows better than to look a gift fairy in the mouth and let it go.

I like the Tooth Fairy ritual.   It’s one of the few things about parenting that is pretty much the way I imagined it back when I tried to picture what it would be like to have kids.  Most of parenting is nothing like I imagined.  Parenting for real rather than in theory is just more of everything than I expected.  It’s harder and easier and better and worse than I could have known.  But a tooth under a pillow?  It’s just as weird and fun as it was when I was a kid hoping to find a quarter in its place the next morning.  (I just hope Mona manages to keep a few in her head so that she’s not gumming her food by Thanksgiving.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Costume Progress (Babble)

It’s almost Halloween!  I love Halloween.  And as one of those annoying moms who likes making costumes from scratch, I’ve been busy.  I don’t really sew, I just kind of make things up, but I do have to make my kids’ costumes from materials that can withstand multiple trips to the washing machine because they wear them until the costumes literally either fall apart or can’t be squeezed into anymore.  (They all still wear their kangaroo costumes from two years ago, even though the cuffs on the legs are now up to mid-calf.)
Last year Aden was a grey horse, Mona was a trumpeter swan, and Quinn was a purple cat.  This year the girls each changed their minds about a dozen times before Aden settled on wanting to be a dragon and Mona a dalmatian.  Quinn decided months ago that he wanted to be a blue jay.  I have no idea why any of them picked the things they did.  I’m not completely done, but two out of three of the costumes are essentially ready and I plan to tackle the last one (the dragon) this weekend.

I decided to do Mona’s costume first because it was the most straightforward.   The trickiest thing, honestly, was finding white fabric with black spots that wouldn’t make her look like a cow.  Everything in our local fabric store looked like cow spots (insert joke about living in Wisconsin here), and I didn’t want Mona having to tell people she was a dalmatian over and over.  (There was a little boy who came to my door last year dressed as Peter Pan who everyone, including myself, mistook for Robin Hood, and he looked so sad about it!  I put a high priority on trying to make costumes as recognizable as I can.)  I ended up ordering some fabric on eBay that looked dalmatian-like.

Since I don’t use a pattern I just have my kids lie down on the material and I trace them.  Mona is about as patient as your average six-year-old, which is to say, not very.  She spread herself out on the fabric the first time I asked, and when I had the pieces cut out and needed her to lie down again she sighed and said, “Oh, I’m so glad this is almost done!”–not realizing at all how much was left to do.
(Mona during an early ‘fitting’)

Anyway, Mona’s costume came out pretty cute.  She’s mostly excited that we bought a real dog collar at the pet store for her to wear with it, and this weekend I’m going to make some kind of dog tag with her name on it to attach to the front.  Here’s the finished dalmatian:
The next costume I worked on was Quinn’s.  We had a day last week where I kept him home from school and I did the bulk of it then.  (He’s been having a bit of a rough time with getting up early for school and not eating before he leaves, etc., and I think he needed a break.  Plus I miss him, and I figured skipping one day of scooping rice the Montessori way was not going to set him back academically in the long run.  I asked him at lunch how he liked playing hooky, and he looked interested and said, “How do you play it?”  When I explained it meant not going to work or school when you were supposed to he said in a shocked voiced, “There was school today?!”  So I guess we won’t be doing that again soon, even though we did have fun.)

Making a blue jay costume wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.  I figured as long as I got the black stripes and the white feather tips right, people should be able to tell he’s a blue jay.  I used some upholstery foam left over from a chair cushion I worked on over the summer to pad the wings and the tail.  Quinn refuses to wear the beak I made, insisting his nose is the beak.  He looks really adorable flapping around, but he won’t pose for a decent picture so you’ll have to get the idea from these:

This weekend I dive into the dragon costume.  Aden picked out this really cool fabric we found on sale that is silvery-holographic stuff with a scale pattern on it.  It’s too flimsy to use for any of the structural elements of the costume, so I’m just going to make a basic jumpsuit out of fleece and then baste-stitch the shiny stuff over the top of that.  The really fun thing is that Aden has shown great interest in learning to sew for herself, so we had a lesson last night where I walked her through threading both the needle and the bobbin, and I showed her how to use the pedal and the reverse button.  When I took home economics in Jr. High we practiced by sewing along little maze tracks printed onto sheets of paper, and I asked her if she wanted to try that and she was really enthusiastic.  I don’t see any reason she can’t sew the large basic elements of her costume herself, so I’m going to try to make that happen.  Imagine just how much more proud she’ll be to wear it then!

The two of us made a trip to the fabric store together and brainstormed a bit about how we should make her horns, what color the spikes down her back and tail should be (we went with blue since there is a bunch of it left from Quinn’s costume), and it was really nice.  Especially since the other night we had a frustrating confrontation about how she wasn’t doing several of the things we’d asked her to do.  I explained (AGAIN) that the clutter of toys around her bed was unacceptable because if I needed to get to her in the middle of the night it wasn’t fair to make me also run an obstacle course.  She should want to move the toys because they hurt my feet.  (I’ve always thought those people who walk over hot coals should really make their way along a trail of jumbled legos if they really want to impress anyone.) 

Anyway, Aden got a little snotty with me saying that she just didn’t feel like picking the toys up, so I suggested that because I had to use my time doing the things she was supposed to be doing, that with the time I had left I might not feel like making her a costume.  Now her floor is clear and her shoes are away and her backpack is hung up.  I wish I had that kind of leverage more often.

But so far so good.  The Halloween dance at the school is less than two weeks away, so I’m feeling a little ahead of the game for a change.  It’s fun playing with my sewing machine, but I really should get back to working on my new violin.  (I’m tempted now, though, to carve a blue jay into the scroll!)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Okay, so at what point is this officially our cat? (Babble)

I got home after taking the kids to school and going to the Y the other day and there was a message on our answering machine.  A neighbor a few doors down called to say, “Your cat is up in our pine tree and we thought you should know.”  YOUR cat.  Meaning OUR cat.  Meaning there is a cat in the neighborhood that is our responsibility because it belongs to us because it is our cat.  Really?  It had been hanging out on our deck for fewer than five days at that point.  And the neighborhood was referring to it as our cat?  Does that make it so?
The cat has been living in our backyard since we found it sealed in our deck.  We fed it because we were worried about it.  We’ve posted pictures of it around the block in the hopes that its owner will come get it.  The girls call her Mew-Mew and Quinn calls her Lilly, or sometimes Spotty or Spot (Ian still calls her Spaz but he’s the only one), and Mew-Mew-Lilly shows up in the morning and evening for food, but otherwise spends her days exploring the rest of the street.  She doesn’t seem to let anyone else pet her, but she’s affectionate with us and occasionally comes when I call.  She’s nice to have around, but is she ours?  When does that become official?

Did she become our cat when we fed it?  I feed kids in the neighborhood too, but that doesn’t make them mine.  I turn them loose and assume they go home and don’t feel like they belong to me.  The birds and squirrels aren’t mine if I feed them on my property.  If we stopped feeding it and it continued to live in our yard, is it still our responsibility?  At what point are we wrong if we stop feeding it?  If we decide it is not our cat and stop feeding it after a week I don’t think anyone would fault us, but what about through the winter?  At what point have we been feeding it long enough that we have to arrange to have someone else feed it if we go on vacation?

Is it our cat just because we decide it’s our cat?  What if the original owner finally comes to claim it a day after we declare it to be our cat?  At that point of course we would give it back.  But what about a week after?  Sure.  But a month?  Or a year?  Can someone who didn’t own it before simply announce it belongs to him or her one day?  If the neighbors across the street decided the cat was cute and put a collar on her, would we have any grounds to protest?  What if the cat just started hanging out next door instead?  If we have been calling it our cat do we have a right to scoop her up and drag her back to our own yard just because we want to?  That seems strange.  If we don’t feed it and it only steps on our property from time to time, can it still be considered our cat if it’s in name only?
Is it ours when we provide it medical care?  I would do the same for a bird or squirrel or other wild animal that needed help on our property, but that doesn’t mean any of those animals are mine.  Do I have a right to spay or neuter any animal that wanders into my yard?  (What about putting funny hats on them?)

If we ‘let’ the cat live in our yard does that really make us responsible for it?  If it does damage on someone else’s property is that now our concern, even if we don’t officially lay claim to the cat?  How does that work?  Is there some sort of common law relationship status you can have with a pet where if enough people believe the cat is yours it becomes a legal reality?  Can you really have any control over an outdoor cat?

I feel like the cat is ours if we put a collar on it, and we haven’t.   I’m not ready to say this cat is ours.  I think it would prefer to be an indoor cat and with Ian’s allergies we’re just not going to do that.  My first choice is to figure out where it came from and return her; my next choice is to find someone we know willing to take it in so my kids can still visit her.  My last choice is to adopt the cat as an outdoor pet, but with each passing day that seems to be where we’re headed.

I’ve been looking into what’s involved in keeping an outdoor cat, even though I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep an outdoor cat in the city.  I don’t entirely approve of outdoor cats, especially since one killed our first pet bunny while it was playing in the backyard when we first moved to the neighborhood.  I don’t think it’s fair to have a pet that wanders into other people’s space, and I worry for cats near too much traffic.  I’ve also read enough articles about how many birds are killed by house cats to feel good about knowing I’m somehow contributing to that situation.

In my head, having a pet is supposed to be a clearly defined thing.  You have a pet or you don’t.  If you have a pet you care for it, take responsibility for it, you take it to the vet, you name it, you arrange a pet sitter for it if you go away for any significant period of time, and you promise to do the best you can for it for its whole life or until someone else is officially named its owner.  Our relationship with this cat if it becomes ours would be very different from any of that.  It’s more like a random guest.  Lately we don’t even see it when we put out food.  I don’t know where it is most of the time, and I’m not sure what’s expected of us.  The boundaries are not clearly defined because they have been dictated by the cat.  If the cat’s making the rules, what does that make us?

(This post is dedicated to the Eric Carle book, “Have you seen my cat?” which has to be at the top of my list of the most annoying books my kids have ever requested at bedtime.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Beyond the Baby Steps (Babble)

It’s hard to remember life before my first baby.  I know the details and can recall much of it, but I don’t feel connected to it in the same way I do to my memories since adding Aden to my world.  Maybe that sounds strange, but the transformative effect of having children has added a depth to my experiences that leaves many other things that preceded it slightly hollow.

In many ways that’s good.  The angst and despair that came with my middle school years is interesting to me now, but doesn’t cause me real pain anymore.  Some of that is simply time allowing me to change, and I’m not the same person today that I was when those particular struggles were everything.  It’s like remembering a good book that I can analyze because the main character isn’t really me.  But I’ve noticed that a lot of the things from my past that still hurt do so because of the added dimension of knowing my children.  Losing my grandfather back in high school was traumatic, and remains so but in a different way.  I mourned then because I missed him.  I mourn now because I wish he had lived to meet my husband, and he would have loved my kids.

I wasn’t much of a baby person before I had my own.  I liked small children, but babies didn’t interest me much.  They seemed either dull or exhausting.  When I had Aden I fell completely in love.  Even though I was inexperienced I felt like I knew what to do.  It was like the first time I tried teaching violin lessons.  I’d fretted about how to do that for a long time, but the moment I was actually doing it my instincts kicked in and I was confident about how to handle it.  The thing that was lovely about the small baby stage was that it was so simple.  Aden was healthy and slept and ate well, so there was not much to do but change her and feed her and bathe her and put her in little outfits.  I loved hearing the doctor say how wonderful she looked at each appointment.  But I mostly loved the feeling of being enough.  There was so much in life that I was never going to do as well as I should, but to be able to calm my baby by holding her close and to know she was completely content was wonderful.  I loved that feeling of being enough.

As Aden got older and started to roll and crawl and walk and dance, the challenges grew, but everything got more and more interesting.  There is so much to marvel at in toddler land, and despite the frustrations the overwhelming cuteness of children just beginning to explore the world is remarkable.

Then I had my beautiful Mona and learned that my ability to love was so much bigger than I had ever believed it could be.  It’s hard to imagine after the first baby that you could ever love anyone as much, but miraculously it happens.  Aden taught me what love is, and Mona taught me that love can be infinite.

Around the time I was feeling dazzled by all of Aden’s new abilities and was consumed with baby love for my Mona, I remember having a rare moment to talk alone with my Aunt Charlotte.  Charlotte is an amazing person.  She’s a family court judge in Ohio, and she tackles difficult issues with intelligence and compassion.  Every time I hear people complaining about how we shouldn’t leave things up to the discretion of judges, I think to myself that I would completely trust Charlotte.  My aunt was visiting my home in MIlwaukee for the holidays, and both of her grown children were there, too.  Watching her talk and laugh with my cousins made me wonder about what parenting must be like at that stage, when you are involved but not in charge of your children’s lives anymore.  It seemed a little sad to me, because it was so far removed from where I was and I loved where I was so much.

So I asked her, “What’s it like to have your children all grown up?”  And Charlotte looked at me with a characteristic brightness in her eyes that anyone who knows her is familiar with, and said with great sincerity, “It’s wonderful.”  I still couldn’t quite grasp it, since I love my cousins, but watching them didn’t seem as entertaining as all the adorable things tiny children do, so I asked her to elaborate.  Charlotte agreed that babies and toddlers are sweet, but she said being able to have adult conversations with her own children, and to share ideas and laugh and disagree and learn was exciting and remarkable.  She didn’t mourn what was past, she wholeheartedly enjoyed each new phase.  Charlotte has a way of seeing the world with a genuine sense of appreciation and joy despite whatever ugliness might threaten it that somehow does not cross the line into being a Pollyanna.  It’s a trait I admire.

I think about that particular conversation often as my children continue to grow and change, and I realize how much more I enjoy them all the time the more they can do.  I loved the newborn phase with each of my children, and the toddler stage, but there are tradeoffs.  I miss the baby hugs, but I don’t miss the lack of sleep.  I miss the cute tiny clothes, but I don’t miss having to dress my children all the time.  Each new stage brings new and wonderful things that until you arrive there don’t look as if they could possibly be as good as parts of where you are at any given moment.  Some things you have to wait and experience first hand before they can develop any true meaning.

The stage where I am now with Aden is particularly special.  She’s eight, almost nine, and she’s lovely.  She drives me up the wall when she makes me repeat myself over and over, and she’s easily distracted, and she’s lazy about some things, but that just means she’s a real kid and not some kind of pod person.  And the thing I’m struck by at the moment is how much nicer it is to have someone be with you when it is by choice.  When you have an infant or a toddler with you every minute it’s because you have to.  It can be nice, but it can also be a little like holding one another hostage.   Aden is old enough to have a say now.  She doesn’t have to be right in my line of sight every moment.  If she’s standing next to me and holding my hand it’s because she wants to.   Most of my life as a parent up to now has involved deciding for my children where they will go and what they will do.  Now we’re in new territory.  Aden often sets up her own play dates and then checks in with me or her dad to see if it’s okay.  If she doesn’t want to go with me to the store or on other errands she usually doesn’t have to.

Recently I had a concert with the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra celebrating the 110th anniversary of the formation of the group.  (The Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra is the oldest organization of its kind in North America and great fun to be a part of.)  The concert was a bit of a drive away and started at 8:00pm.  Mona was scheduled to go to a sleepover party that night, and we lined up a babysitter for Quinn, but I asked Aden to decide what she wanted to do.  She could stay home with the sitter, or go to the concert with her dad.  She chose to come to the concert.

This touched me more than I can say.  Aden’s been to her fair share of my concerts.  I love seeing her in the audience when I perform, but she’s never been there because she specifically chose to go.   She was there because we decided she would be there.  This time was different.  She asked if she could bring her pink bunny to hold while she listened to the music, I told her that was fine, and she was excited.  She waved to me during sound check, she hung on my elbow back in the break room, she helped herself to cheese and crackers and grapes and looked pleased to be among the other musicians milling around before the show started.  She sat in the front row next to her dad (ironically in the one spot they couldn’t see me most of the time because there was a stand in the way, but oh well).  Aden hung in there long after her normal bedtime and clapped enthusiastically after every number and was genuinely pleased to be at my concert.  It was wonderful, and easily one of my favorite performances ever, even if I didn’t play my mandola as well as I personally would have liked.  On an emotional level it was very satisfying.

I still can’t fathom how having all my kids grown up and moved out will do anything other than break my heart, but I believe my aunt that it will somehow be great.  I couldn’t have pictured the joys of Aden being a third grader until we got here.  I love that girl.  And what’s even better is that I know she loves me, too.  By choice.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Found! (Babble)

So, the first thing to mention that was recently found is Mona’s paper chameleon.   Aden spotted it poking out among some leaves between the school playground and the street.  It’s a little worse for wear, but it’s intact, and the Lizzy drama has officially subsided.  But no one looks at Lizzy anymore because the other thing we found was a cat.  A real live cat.  Sealed inside our deck.

After we had the new garage built, the deck was left in tatters around the edges, so we hired some great deck people to come out and fix it up.  They filled in the gaps between it and the garage, built new steps, replaced a few bad boards, and covered a hole that the kids kept losing balls in.  The deck takes up most of the backyard and has no place to get inside it.  It’s a box with no escape hatch, and when Quinn dropped a frisbee between the slats a couple of months ago we had to tell him it was, for all intents and purposes, gone forever, because there was no way to retrieve it from under the deck.

About three or four days after the deck carpenter left, I was heading out the back door on my way to work and stopped on the deck for a few minutes with my husband to discuss our schedules a bit.  I kept hearing a meowing sound.  We figured it was probably the cat next door, but we didn’t see her, and then Ian thought it might be one in a window across the alley.  But I could have sworn it sounded like it was coming from our yard.  There wasn’t any time to ponder that right then so I went to work and got to hear later how after school the kids were just beside themselves because they had indeed found a cat under the deck.  The afternoon’s entertainment had been dangling a piece of yarn between the slats for the kitty to chase.

Ian tried valiantly to remove some boards to let the cat out, but the old screws were too stripped and the new ones required a screwdriver bit we didn’t have, so I called the deck people.  They came over at the end of the day, unscrewed a couple of boards, and the cat was free.  I can’t figure out how the cat got in there, short of sneaking in while the carpenter was there and not getting back out in time before the last hole got covered.  It didn’t look like a cat that had been stuck in a deck over a three day weekend, but who knows?  The deck people are coming back soon to saw us a hatch, because that just seems like a good idea now.

In any case, it’s an adorable cat with no collar, sharp claws, and the un-savvy mannerisms of a creature that has lived a pampered life indoors.   The girls call her Mew-Mew, Quinn calls her Lilly, and Ian calls her Spaz.  She kind of looks like an Olivia or a Dolly to me, but I don’t think I’m going to have any say.  She responds to everything you call her as long as you look like you might pet her or give her food.  I’m tempted to just call her ‘found.’  Mew-mew-Lilly seems quite at home on our deck, but is very interested in coming inside.  We’ve given her water and fed her some cat food our neighbor was nice enough to hand us over the fence until we get some of our own.  Not that I believe we should have her around long enough to be investing in cat food, but it’s hard to know what to do at this point.

Ian is allergic to cats, so I never even contemplated having one.  I explained to the girls that if the cat was still around after the first night we’d put up posters and try to find its owner.  Someone must be missing this cat because it is too friendly and healthy looking to be a stray.  But what if no one claims it?  It was hard enough for the kids to give up baby squirrels after a night.  A cat that wants to be with them is going to be harder to let go.  I told Aden that I love their dad more than I could love a cat, and it wasn’t fair to him if we kept it.  She agreed that her daddy was more important than a cat, but asked if maybe he could just wear a mask like doctors sometimes do.  I told her that wasn’t much of a solution.  I gave the kids posters to tack up around the neighborhood, but I know they are hoping that effort fails.

We had our neighbor take a peek at the cat to see if she recognized it, and though she’d never seen it before she remarked that it sure looked at home.  When I opened the side door of the deck it made no move to leave.  The cat leaned out briefly, then marched back across the deck to sit by our back door.  My neighbor laughed and said she’s always believed that pets pick their owners and not the other way around, and that it certainly looked like that cat had made its selection.

I wish there were a way to keep the cat in the yard, but it gets too cold in Milwaukee for that, plus loose cats are bad for wild birds.  Ian is already resigning himself to the idea of lots of sneezing or pills in his future, but I refuse to put a cat before my husband’s health and comfort.  I’m still hoping it turns out she belongs to someone in the apartment house behind us and we can hand her over to a place where we know she’ll be safe and loved, but with each new can of food I crack open I start to wonder if this is part of some new pet owning phase we are embarking on.  (If only we could make a little heated cat house for the deck that somehow wouldn’t attract other creatures out there….)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

While it still exists, let me tell you about the Gallery (Babble)

This is not quite a eulogy, because that would be premature, but it’s hard to know the days are numbered for something you love and not be in mourning.

My parents have run their own art gallery in Michigan for nearly my entire life.  It began in Detroit as a joint venture with friends called ‘The Klein Vogel Gallery,’ and moved farther north to Royal Oak to eventually become ‘The Arnold Klein Gallery.’  My father is an expert in fine prints and books, and my mother is a talented artist who has provided for her family primarily through her work doing custom framing.  Running their own business has meant that they didn’t have a clear plan for being able to retire, but my dad is in his eighties and the economy in the Detroit area has become depressingly bad, so my parents announced recently that as of Valentine’s Day, 40 years to the day that it opened, the gallery will close its doors.

I can’t quite imagine life without the gallery.   It’s been an extension of my childhood home as long as I can remember.  On more than one occasion when there was a power outage in our neighborhood and we’d drive the 15 minutes north to the gallery to make dinner on the hot plate or simply hang out where the heat was working.  Works of art would move back and forth between the two locations.  We grew up looking at exceptionally beautiful things on our walls, the only downside to that being that every once in a while I would ask something like, “What happened to that print of the zoo I had in my room?” and hear, “Oh, it sold.”

In my home growing up, rearranging pictures was common and regarded as pretty simple.  The first time I saw someone else hang pictures I was surprised at what a production it was.  There was measuring and tape and pencils and pondering and it took my aunt and uncle all evening to hang three things.  They could see I was confused and they just said, “Well, we’re not your parents, we don’t do this all the time so we have to be careful.”  My best friend is married to an engineer and when I volunteered to help them hang a print I’d given them as a wedding gift, he couldn’t believe I’d hung it before he had a chance to get his ruler and his level.  I simply hung it where it looked good, because that’s all there is to it.  If you’re off, pull out the nail and move it over.  My friend’s husband just kept asking, “But how do you know it’s really centered?”  And I explained that if it looked right it was right.  It could measure out perfectly and look wrong sometimes.  It’s not science, it’s art.  It’s one of my odd little life skills that I learned at the gallery.

(Baby Quinn crawling around the gallery in 2007)

The Arnold Klein Gallery is located on Woodward Avenue.  Woodward is the Detroit area’s main drag.  (The first mile of paved road was on Woodward around 6 Mile by the original Ford factory.)  It runs at a weird slant through the city and suburbs and for years people suffered with an uncoordinated address numbering system that meant every new place Woodward ran through the numbers changed, so you could be driving along looking for something and the numbers would go from the 200’s to the 9000’s and down to the 3000’s in a matter of blocks.  The original address was N 4520, but at some point someone declared that all the numbers on all of Woodward needed to go in an order people could understand, and the address changed to 32782 (and the N vs S distinction was removed in the new scheme).  I had to look up that second number because I’ve never gotten used to it.  (In my head the address is always 0254 N in a mirror image because I spent most of my time looking at it from the indoor side of the glass.)

Detroit is designed with driving in mind, so Woodward is not an easy place to walk.  When I was in college I would ‘gallery sit’ for my parents on occasion so they could travel together somewhere, and I remember sending a friend who came to hang out with me on one of those days down the street to get lunch.  It took her forever because she couldn’t tell where she was from the sidewalk.  She had to keep walking out near where the cars were zooming by to see any of the signs, because that was where they were intended to be viewed from.  Woodward was not an easy location to run an art gallery, among the dry cleaners and audio stores and ever changing restaurants.  But it was a street anyone could find, and my parents made it work for decades.

(Happy Mona in the gallery)
The gallery was generally quiet.  Because of its location foot traffic was not really a possibility, so customers had to know where to find it.  My parents established a loyal clientele, but an average day at the gallery was usually empty with my mom working furiously in the back.  When I opened my own business I envisioned having uninterrupted time to build instruments or write a novel, but my husband pointed out that that idea was based on what happened in the front half of my parents’ gallery, not my mom’s half.  It’s very unusual for me to have a day at the violin store where no one comes in, but at the gallery it was normal, and kind of nice from a kid’s point of view (as opposed to a grown up with bills to pay point of view).  I used to occasionally go with my dad on some Saturdays to keep him company.  I would wear a nice dress, and we’d have soup and crackers for lunch.  (For some reason we always had different soup at the gallery than we had at home, and oyster crackers and Lorna Doones never made it to our house either that I can recall.)  There was a hobby shop a couple of blocks down called Tiny Tim’s that my dad used to let me walk down to after lunch.  He’d pay me $5 for working at the gallery and I would buy model tanks to put together the rest of the time I was there.  Other regular activities my brothers and I did when we ‘worked’ at the gallery were arrange the mat and frame samples, organize dad’s desk drawers, stack the acrylic blocks my mom used to lay prints flat, draw with brown and black felt tip pens, and make small sculptures out of kneaded erasers.  One of our favorite games if we were all there together was to flip through the display bins of prints and try to come up with an adjective to describe the next piece of art before we saw it.  (“Blue.  Yay!  That one’s mostly blue!  Happy.  No that one looks pretty sad.  Messy.  No, those flowers are pretty neat.  Exciting.  Hey, I think those scribbles are kind of exciting!”  Etc.)  There was crazy brown shag carpeting to roll around on, warm juice to drink (until my parents added a mini fridge to the bathroom, so cold drinks are still kind of a thrill to me when I’m there even though that’s ancient news), classical music on the radio, and time to think.

When I was in sixth grade my class went to the gallery for a field trip to see a one man show by Dick Cruger whose work is playful, dramatic, and fun.  I was so proud to have my class in what felt like my home, and that there were so many cool things to show them.  Dick Cruger himself was there to give a tour of the show, and he’d made a box of simple foam-rubber alligators to pass out to all the kids to keep.  (I kept mine for years until the green faded to yellow and it became too worn to be recognizable.)
There have been so many marvelous shows at the gallery over the years that it makes my head spin a bit to think about them all.  My parents were able to showcase the artists they knew and admired, and often they were people my brothers and I just knew as family friends.  William H. Peck is an Egyptologist my parents knew from their days at the Detroit Institute of Arts, but he also did wonderful origami and they gave him a whole show of his charming work.  We knew Donella Vogel and Larry Blovits who have done our portraits.  I met Arthur Secuda one time in the gallery when he was showing my dad some new pastels he’d done, and I got to title one.   There are so many wonderful artists to have made appearances at the gallery, like Lynn Shaler, Bob Mirek, Carole Harris (she made us a pillow for a wedding gift that I keep in our living room), Megan Parry….  I’m leaving out dozens more I can name off the top of my head, but it’s too much for this post.
There were some great theme shows at the gallery, too, where they would have just trees, or each artist would get a number or a letter of the alphabet.  One of my favorites was a show of prints of birds and fish.  My dad came up with a list of possible titles for the show, and he and my mom decided they liked the list as a whole better than any individual line, so the announcement card for the show was:

Many Birds, Few Fish
Many Birds and a Few Fish
Forty Birds and a Few Fish
Forty-four Birds and a Few Fish
Fifty Birds, Fewer Fish
Fifty Feathered Friends and a Few Fish

(Anytime I have ‘many’ of anything I tack on in my head, “And a few fish.”  I have many violins, and a few fish.)

I’m pretty sure my dad still hand addresses and stamps all of the announcement cards for a show.  That was quite a production when we were kids, doing an assembly line of sorts at the dining room table, where we’d fold letters or stuff envelopes or put on stamps (before self-adhesives, so we used a damp sponge in a little dish to wet each one).  My dad was very particular that everything was straight and neat, and to this day it bugs me if I accidentally put a stamp on crooked.

(Quinn helping my dad at the gallery)

Forty years is a long time for a gallery to survive.  My parents used to apologize to us as kids when we couldn’t afford to do something (not that we ever lacked for anything that mattered) saying, “We’re sorry, you’re supposed to be rich and then open up an art gallery, because it doesn’t work the other way around.”  Everything in Detroit hinges on the health of the auto industry, and that they managed to keep their business running all this time despite the ups and downs of GM, Ford and Chrysler is amazing.  They may not have gotten rich, but they have been an overwhelming success.  They have much to be proud of.

I’m going to miss the gallery.  I know my parents are excited to be moving on to new projects and will enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tied down to a business, so I’m happy for them.  But it’s a real loss to the community that the Arnold Klein Gallery won’t be around anymore.  If you happen to find yourself in Royal Oak, Michigan before Valentine’s Day, go check it out.  It’s one of my favorite places to be.