Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Ton of Projects and Three Blind Mice (Babble)

We have very little scheduled for summer here.  A few swim classes, the regular violin lessons toned down a bit for vacation, and a little bit of school review for the kids in the mornings so they don’t forget everything by fall.  I have work, a few rehearsals….  But overall summer break is pretty free form.  For most people it would look like a pretty lazy summer.

But my kids take after me in that the more time there is available, the more ways we find to fill it up.  No one here is ever bored.  My kids are up at dawn and squeaking, and there are a lot of projects.

Mona continues to crank out paper creations.  She has stepped up the level of her production since we started supplying her with colored duct tape.  One of my favorite creations of late was this cup o’ snakes.  You probably didn’t realize the world needed a cup o’ snakes until you saw it, but now you know.
Aden’s projects tend toward food (I taught her how to use the oven without help, and now she can make cookies from scratch completely on her own!), games, or science.  This was her own version of a kite last time it got really windy:
(Pretty good use of a grocery bag, I think.)

And the other day she made a volcano and invited us all into the kitchen to watch the baking soda and vinegar eruption.
What I’d like her to do is either finish or completely abandon the popsicle stick log cabin we started at the book club meeting we had about Little House on the Prairie.  One of the craft projects we did to accompany that book was build little houses, but Aden was being very particular about how hers would look and she took too long and now it just sits.  But she’s too distracted by all her new games and projects to do something with it now.
She also has a project to make a marionette made out of a baking soda can and a bunch of empty spools that never quite got done.  But how do you force someone to finish a marionette?  That’s just not the hill I want to die on.

Quinn continues to lay things out in rows.
(Quinn with his Bananagram game that we’ve never learned the rules to because he’d rather just lay out the letters in order and then make words on his own.)

He also wants to learn to play chess, but we haven’t gotten much past just teaching him how all the pieces move.  He’s not sure what to do on his turn without coaching yet, but I think by the end of the summer he should have the basics down.  In the meantime he and his sister play checkers.
In between projects there is a lot of bouncing, elaborate games that seem to use all of their toys at once, and when it’s not cold or raining they set up a lemonade stand.  As I said, they are not bored.

Most of Ian’s projects involve his computer.  I take it on good authority from people who understand what he’s doing that he’s quite brilliant, and I believe that because any old odd thing I ask him to make a computer do he can make happen, but I don’t get what’s involved in all of that.  He built his own router, for instance, to which I said, “Good for you!” but that had my brain-mapping brother’s jaw on the floor because he actually appreciated what it means.  The funny thing is that everything Ian does on the computer looks the same to me, so he could be writing code, reading a book, playing a game, and I can’t tell the difference.  But he politely listens to me say things like, “I planed my rib assembly taper and it came out 0.2mm low in the lower bouts but the twist is gone so I’m happy,” so it all balances out.

The main project I’m trying to work on is a new violin I’m building on commission for someone.  I end up doing most of the work very late at night after the kids are in bed.  It’s not that they mean to disturb me while I work, but I don’t like to turn away hugs or cuteness, and there is always the potential for disaster with kids around.  When my bending iron is plugged in I don’t like to risk that I may forget about it because someone needs a bandaid, and some steps like gluing can’t be interrupted.  So I wait until everyone is asleep.

This is what a bending iron looks like:
It’s used for bending strips of maple into the right shapes for the sides (ribs) of a violin.  (It’s also used for bending linings and purfling, which is just techno babble to most people but I mention it so my luthier friends don’t roll their eyes and say, “Well, it’s not JUST for ribs….”)

When all the ribs are bent I glue them to the blocks attached to my form:
(The form is just for building the ribs around–it gets removed before the instrument is finished, just in case anyone thought maybe that big piece of wood stays inside the instrument.)  This particular violin is based on a Guarneri del Gesu model from 1737.  It’s a fun model to build.

So, I’m making progress, but it’s harder to find the time for this project than I’d like.
What kinds of projects do I end up working on instead of my violin?  Things like repairing wind-up mice.  On Father’s Day we let Ian pick where we should go and what we should do, and we ended up at American Science and Surplus, which is a fun and eccentric store full of a crazy variety of things.  There were very cheap wind-up mice for sale that day, so we let each of the kids pick one out.  Within hours the plastic tail came off of Aden’s.  I told her I would replace it with a better tail.  So the next thing I knew, Mona had deliberately snapped the tail off her mouse hoping for an upgrade.  Then Quinn’s mouse lost its tail.  I sang them the song about the three blind mice and the woman who cut of their tails with a carving knife and they were horrified.

In any case, I cut some strips of dark red leather that I had at the shop and used epoxy to affix them to the mechanical stumps that the plastic tails were once attached to.
(Prep for mouse tail surgery)
(Peppermint, Chocolate, and Cupcake, all with new tails.  Children should not name toy pets while hungry.)

That was time spent that I could have been doing violin work.  Now ask me how quickly after getting their mice back they all broke off the turnkey or messed up the springs inside rendering them immobile.  (Actually, don’t ask, because it’s sadder than the blind mice song.)

It’s harder to keep the house clean lately.  I’m tracking wood shavings all over.  Sometimes I look around my shop and think when people ask what I make I should just say, “Wood chips” and it would be a more accurate description of what’s going on.  There are bits of duct tape everywhere, and scissors and crayons.  You don’t want to know what kind of debris is left over from a volcano project.

But I like that we are a house of projects both big and small.

And of course if they run out of projects there is always hula hooping on rocks to do.
(Because that’s good for a mom’s nerves.  Sheesh.  Their dad lets them climb the rocks by the lake, and I’m just the worried looking figure off to the side saying “Be careful!” over and over, because I’m fun like that.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mystery Malady Update (Babble)

Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions or expressed concern when I posted about Mona’s mysterious medical malady.  The internet can seem like a crude and ignorant place sometimes, but my own little corner of the blogosphere is a pretty friendly neighborhood that magically stretches around the world.  I appreciate all of my readers more than you know.

So, to recap Mona’s odd illness, she was throwing up between three and four in the morning, but was otherwise healthy and happy and fine.  The vomiting was not particularly violent, but anything that involves barf is unpleasant, and of course we were worried since it went on a few nights in a row.  There was no fever, no fatigue, nor anything else to provide a clue about what was causing it.

When it happened four times in one week we were advised to take her in to the doctor, who ran all manner of tests.  (Blood, urine, stool, x-ray….)  So what was it?

No one has any idea.  All we know is now it’s gone, all of her tests came back negative, and now Mona is gun shy about ever going to see the doctor again after feeling traumatized by the blood draw.  It’s one of those health issues where I wish I’d just left it alone to disappear without ever involving the doctor, but you just never know.  I guess wrong so often about these things because all of my kids’ ailments look so much alike to me, but when it comes to their health I’d rather be safe than sorry.  (Although I’m still going back and forth in my head every night about Quinn’s tonsils.  Most of the time he sleeps peacefully, but anytime he starts to snore I wonder if I did the right thing when I canceled his surgery.  I just don’t know.)

But the interesting part?  Whatever this was that affected Mona is like some hidden epidemic.  I lost count of how many people have asked me to let them know what it turned out to be because “My son,” “My cousin’s kid,” “My neighbor’s little girl” are suffering the same thing.

More extreme versions of this malady have been diagnosed as Abdominal Migraines or Asthma, so if this sounds like your kid, those are things to explore with a doctor.
But most people I’ve talked to it wasn’t extreme enough to take to a physician, which is more like Mona.  She just threw up in the middle of the night and went back to being Mona.  We live in an age of so much information it’s hard to believe it when we stumble across a mystery, but our doctor was as stumped as anyone.

So whatever that was seems to be over.  To other parents out there experiencing barf in the night, you have my sympathy.  Keep them hydrated with something that has electrolytes, pick up some Febreeze, and try to get some sleep if you can.

In the meantime, here is a new mystery to contemplate (but this one should have an answer):

What the heck is this?
It’s growing next to our sidewalk, and at first it looked like it was going to be some kind of melon, but it just keeps getting taller.  (And we’ve had a lot of rain so it’s getting taller very fast.)  I’m no botanist, but I do like old horror movies, so I think it’s a triffid.
Should I be glad to have this thing?  Is it delicious?  Dangerous?  Should I cut it down?  Or should I spray it with salt water before it tries to eat me or my children?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Anything You Want (Babble)

In life there are a few big moments, and many smaller ones.  We’re reduced on our headstones to the dates we arrived in the world and when we leave it.  In between many of us experience rites of passage such as graduations, a wedding, the birth of children….  The interesting thing to me about the big moments is they seem often to be anchored by dates.  I remember the date when my grandfather died.  Anniversaries, buying a house, stringing up the first violin I ever built myself…all things I can pinpoint in time and find on a calendar.

But often the moments with the greatest impact on our lives don’t look big.  They may not even be easy to remember, let alone possible to pin a date to.  Our lives are built of small things.  A smile at the right moment, a cold glass of water, a tiny breakthrough or failure that leads to something larger down the line.  These moments are lost in the greater scheme of things but we are created out of them like the cells that make up our bodies.

So far the calendar moments of parenting include the births of my children, first steps, starting school….  Last night I was thinking about the moments when I’ve felt most proud of them.  I’m proud of Mona when she takes the time to correct a note that is out of tune on her violin without being asked.  I’m proud of Quinn when he chooses cucumbers for a snack.  Last night I was proud of Aden.

Aden had a breakthrough recently.  It doesn’t actually matter what it was to the larger world, but it’s something we have been working toward for a long time, and I told Aden years ago that when she one day reached her goal I would take her to Target and she could pick something.  “Anything you want,” I said.  It was one of those desperate moments of parenting when you have run out of incentives and you just need change so you grasp at something new to get the child’s attention.

Well, she finally got there.  And last night on our way home from violin, just the two of us, we stopped at Target so Aden could pick out her prize.

What would you expect a nine-year-old child to pick?  With years to contemplate everything that exists in that giant store, what would you take if someone offered you anything you wanted?  I was bracing myself for her to pick out an iPod (because she loves music and has asked for one in the past), or a new bike (which she actually kind of needs because she’s outgrowing the one she has), or some outrageously large box of candy (because she’s a kid).

We walked up and down the aisles, picking out things we needed here and there as we came across them.  Aden held my hand and looked around.  We are still surprised at where things are as the remodeling progresses, but as long as you are not in a hurry it’s kind of fun not to know where anything is.  We were not in a hurry.

Eventually we found the toys and Aden spotted a pink and blue hula hoop.  She lit up when I said she could test it out in the main aisle.  She smiled and laughed and asked if it was okay to have it as her prize since her other hula hoop was broken.  She could have anything, and she wanted a four dollar hula hoop.

I told her since she’d picked such an inexpensive prize it was fine to also get a couple of other things I knew she had her eye on, like a sparkly jump rope and a glow-in-the-dark frisbee.  She looked hesitant, but then said she did need a longer jump rope, and it would be fun to play frisbee together in the field behind our house so she let me add it to the basket.

As we passed the candy aisle I was still feeling a little stunned at Aden not displaying any sort of greed in the store and I said if she wanted to pick out a treat she could.  My kids know normally not to ask for candy at Target, so Aden looked pleased to be able to contemplate the wall of candy in front of her.  She chose a little carton of Whoppers specifically because they would be easy to share with her brother and sister.

Aden helped me carry a package of toilet paper and other necessities, along with her prizes, back to the front of the store for checkout.  While we waited in line she looked again at everything she was getting, which all together still didn’t total fifteen dollars, and she looked at me nervously.  She asked if she was spoiled.

I told my daughter that spoiled implies something rotten.  I explained that she is fortunate.  She was born in a country of great opportunity to parents who love her and who have jobs that provide us with a home and food and enough money left over for hula hoops.  We are lucky to have the things we have but we are mostly lucky to have each other and that I know she understood that.  I assured her she was not spoiled.

Aden has had many ‘firsts’ that I have carefully recorded on film or in writing, and she’s had recitals and plays and moments both big and small that have both amused and amazed us.  It seems like minutes ago that Aden was just a baby in my arms at the hospital, but all those moments have piled up to form a really lovely person.  It is a privilege to be her mom.  And I am proud of her.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Really Good Father (Babble)

My husband, Ian, is a really good father.
(Ian with the kids heading off to school earlier this fall)

When I think about how last year at this time he was still in Iraq it’s hard to believe.  The deployments were so difficult that I’ve been happy to let them get left behind in memory and replaced with better things happening now.  I don’t like to go back to that place where we lived without him and holidays like Father’s Day made us painfully aware of his absence.  It was hard not to see all the good things as simply things he was missing.  But this Father’s Day has me focusing instead on the ways in which being a good father doesn’t come easy, and how extraordinarily well my husband fills that role.

People often tell me I’m a good mother, and I appreciate the compliment, but honestly my kids make that easy.  I’m not saying they are perfect or that parenting doesn’t have it’s hopelessly difficult moments, but overall my kids are very good kids.  They are kind and intelligent and curious.  They don’t follow all the rules as well as they should, but the ones they break aren’t the end of the world.  It would be great if they put their laundry down the chute without being nagged or didn’t bring food into the family room, and lately Aden is developing a moody attitude that is a disconcerting preview into what her teenage years will be, but none of my kids are mean to me or disrespectful.  They are considerate in public, well-behaved in restaurants, and generally nice to be with.  Who wouldn’t look like a good mom toting them around?

On top of that I am fortunate that my kids don’t currently suffer from any debilitating disorders which would demand more of me as a parent.  We don’t struggle with challenges like autism, their bodies and minds function well, and I am not required to extend myself to care for them beyond pretty normal parameters.  If I were a superstitious person I would be frantically knocking on wood all around me right now, because I know how precarious good fortune can be.  We are all one proverbial (or literal) lightning strike away from everything changing, so I appreciate what I have while I have it, and what I have is great.

But I don’t know how good a mom I would be if things were different.  I remember as a kid saying to my mom once that I was glad I was being raised in a family that didn’t preach racism or hateful things, but that I wondered if I would still know that was wrong if I were raised in a different kind of family.  I didn’t know how many of what I considered to be my better characteristics were innate, or if they were based on my pleasant environment.  I felt untested.

My mom told me she’d often wondered the same thing about herself, since her parents were wonderful people and she’d had such a nice life.  But my father, on the other hand, came from a more complicated home, and in many ways had rebelled against his upbringing and chosen a demeanor and direction that he felt had little to do with how he was raised.  Therefore, my mom argued, I could at least be assured that my genetic makeup came from stock that was half tested.

The biggest parenting trials I’ve had to face were during my husband’s deployments.  I survived them, and overall I did okay, but I know now when under great stress how much more prone I am to yell or lose my temper.  There were so many times that I felt as if I were flailing about and not doing enough of what I needed to be doing as a mother.  Some days I rose to the challenge, and other days I felt like an utter failure.

Now I have better balance.  My situation is currently as close to perfect as one could reasonably ask for and still have it be real.  We have health insurance, our small business is doing fine, we have the freedom to make choices that interest us, but we also have ants in the kitchen, my husband and I don’t get enough time together as a couple, Quinn can’t snap his own pants….  That’s just life.  Everything that actually matters is great, so if I can’t be a good mom under these conditions than something is wrong with me.  My kids love me and they show it and it is easy to love them back.

But Ian faces different challenges than I do.  And I admire his parenting because I don’t know if I could do it as well he does under the same circumstances.  Because despite sharing the same marriage and living in the same house and having made these kids together, he sees our marriage from his own angle, he sees our house differently than I do, and those kids are not the same people with him that they are with me.

If you asked me to make a list of what I love about my marriage, depending on how long you let me make that list, I would probably include how wonderful it is that Ian does all of the laundry.  I don’t think ‘getting’ to do all the laundry would make Ian’s list.  So just because we are both in this marriage does not mean we are experiencing it the same way.  (Actually, I’d be scared to have Ian make a list because I’m quite sure I’m getting the better end of this deal, so let’s move on, shall we?)

It’s the same with parenting the kids.  Luckily we figured this one out early, because baby Aden responded to me differently from her father from the start, and we learned that making any statements about “Aden does this” or “Aden does that” did not always translate from one parent to the other.  I wasn’t just Mommy, I was a source of food, so of course she was a different baby with me.  Daddy has always been the master of getting kids to sleep.  My kids to this day don’t want to sleep when I’m around (because I’m just that damned exciting I guess) but will all be soundly asleep promptly at the official bedtime when dad is the only one at home.  I’m good to read with.  Daddy’s more patient about playing board games.  Tears from Aden or Quinn work on Mommy but not on Daddy.  (Tears from Mona work on anyone because they are rare.)

Ian and I have different expectations about how much the kids should be able to do for themselves, in what ways they should help out, and what are reasonable things to ask for.  Since they most often interact with us alternately it doesn’t really cause problems.  Ian is the stay at home parent so when I show up he gets a break.  The only times we experience really weird annoying behavior from the kids is when we are both right there, and I think they just don’t know what the expectations are in that case.  The possibility of contradictions can arise, and kids don’t like confusion.

So I watch Ian’s challenges as a dad from a distance sometimes.  I check in with him on the phone from work and get updates at dinner or the end of the day.  He handles everything well, but differently than I would do.  That was a hard adjustment for me when he came back from Iraq, to let some of that control go, even as it gave me more freedom.  Ian’s adjustment to life on the kids’ schedule as opposed to in a war zone is still hard for me to fathom.

For the most part things have gone well with the girls since he came home.  Aden and Mona unabashedly adore their dad.  They missed him and were excited to have the parent back who lets them eat raw cookie dough.  Dad was the preferred parent at the after school pickup because he nearly always let them have fun on the playground before taking them home.  (If I pick them up they know I always have somewhere else to be right after, so they never even ask if there is time to play.)  When dad is around we use the grill, so they associate dad with s’mores.  Dad doesn’t hover.  Dad can solve computer problems.  Dad can fix bikes, arrange play dates, and is way more likely to let them experiment with food or get out all the paints.  The girls love their dad.  They may interact with him differently than they do with me, but they love him and trust him and it’s all good.
But Quinn is still adjusting to having his dad home.  I’ve written a few times about how hard it’s been waiting for Quinn to warm up to his father, but the boy is as stubborn as he is smart, and he’s not made this simple.  I don’t believe he necessarily remembers his dad being away at this point, but I know he remembers having me all to himself all the time.  Roughly a third of Quinn’s life has been spent with his dad away with the Army, so of course their relationship has suffered setbacks.  We’ve been as accommodating to Quinn as has seemed reasonable, but there are times it’s frustrating.  The boy is only four but he’s still entitled to his feelings, and we’re struggling with shaping his behavior despite what those feelings are.

When I pick up Quinn from school he smiles and jumps up and down with joy.  He makes it easy to feel like a good mom in those moments.  When Ian picks up Quinn from school, for the longest time he usually gave his dad the cold shoulder, and at worst threw a fit.  Ian handles it with grace, and tries not to take it personally.  But how unrewarding is that?  To do all the work of parenting, to deal with all the chores and all the mess and all the errands and indignities, and not get the love and snuggles in return to compensate looks incredibly painful to me.  I would not handle it as well.

We spent the entire school year trying to improve Quinn’s behavior at the half-day pickup.  We tried little things like having dad bring him a pop tart on the days he did the pickup, and making my pickup days as dull as possible.  But Quinn made a decision that he was not going to be happy to see his dad and he stuck with it.  Month after month after month.  And his dad took it in stride as best he could.

A few weeks before the end of school we had a painful experience at the half-day pickup when I went to get Quinn, and Ian was supposed to meet us at the violin store after he ran some errands.  Quinn came out of the building in the line of little K3’s and K4’s (there is nothing cuter than the half-day pickup) and when he spotted me he did a little happy dance.  I saw him mouthing the word “Mom!” over and over.  He smiled and fidgeted and could not wait to be released from the line.  When the teacher finally shook his hand and dismissed him, he ran to me, arms wide, yelling, “MOOOOOoooooommm!” and I scooped him up and hugged him and he hugged me back.  Pure bliss.  Then we spotted Ian coming across the playground.  He’d finished his errand early and tried to beat me to the school, and ended up seeing Quinn’s response to my picking him up.  He laughed a little and said, “Wow!  What a totally different reaction.”  As bad as that was for Ian it was like a knife to my own heart as well.

Ian deserves the same kind of love and sweetness.  I’m impressed beyond words that he can function without it.  I would be resentful.  Of course I look like a good parent when my kid wants to hug me and never let me go.  The truly good parent is the one who can keep it together when a kid makes love hard.  But Ian is amazing.  He is a truly good parent.
(Ian ready to catch his boy if he falls, whether Quinn knows it or not)

Luckily things are slowly but surely improving.  Ian’s patience for playing endless games of Sorry or Trouble has made their afternoons alone together nicer.  He makes his son grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch and Quinn appreciates it.  There is not much enthusiasm on Quinn’s part, but his resistance is crumbling.  He’s not trying to avoid his dad the way he used to.  Sometimes they get along very well, as if Quinn has forgotten his resolve to keep daddy at bay.  Those days are little by little becoming more frequent.
We’re getting there.  One board game at a time.  And I honestly think we will look back years from now and Quinn won’t believe us that he was anything but crazy about his dad.  Because how could he not be?  I married the best guy I know.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Not Just a Gig (Babble)

I just got back from a gig with a small version of the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra.  Two people playing first, two people playing second, a bass, a mandocello, a guitar, and me on mandola.  It was a last minute performance for a memorial service at the Milwaukee Athletic Club, which is a posh old-school kind of fancy place with pretty chandeliers and excellent service and food.

There are practical parts to setting up a stage, putting up stands and organizing mics.  It’s nice to spend time with fellow musicians.  It’s fun to make music.  It’s odd being the hired help at an event where people are in mourning.

The service was for a man who was only 53, but who made a big impact in the area in terms of conservation.  I didn’t know him, but he sounded remarkable.

During the break in the middle of our set I got up to stretch my legs and grab a snack, and I wound up at the front of the room where easels were set up with loving tributes from the daughters of the deceased.  Pictures of sweet young girls about the same age as my own, hugging their dad.  One photo even showed the girls wearing uniforms for the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, just like my daughters have.  There were carefully printed notes saying, “You’re the best dad in the world.  I wish you weren’t dead.  I miss you.”

I have a post set to run this weekend about my husband in time for Father’s Day.  I just stood in front of those photos and drawings thinking about how impossibly hard this Father’s Day will be for those little girls.  How hard every Father’s Day may now be for them.

I am glad I have my dad.  I’m glad my kids have their dad.  I don’t take that for granted.  My heart hurts tonight for people aren’t so lucky and who will be missing their own fathers this weekend.

I think our group played well today.  Many people told us they enjoyed the music.  It’s odd, in a way, to be invited into an emotional event but set apart from the core of it.  We were there to do a job.  But music isn’t like any other job.  We are there to create beauty in the air.  I hope it helped make today less hard for some of the people there.  And I hope they know that even though we were hired help, we appreciated the meaning of the moment.  It was not just a gig.  I will not forget the little girls in those photos anytime soon.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tramampoline! Trabopoline! (Babble)

(That’s a Simpson’s reference in case you’re worried my spell check is broken.)

We put together our trampoline this week!
(Ian and Aden hard at work in the heat)

We found it on sale on the web and it came with free shipping, so we decided to go for it.  Best decision of our summer.  (Which is now freezing, by the way.  The temperature was 97 yesterday and 50 today, so we have everything out from tank tops to sweaters.  I feel like burning a thermometer in effigy.)

My kids do not like change.  Ever.  Even if it’s good.  So there was a lot of mourning over the fact that the trampoline would be on the octagon shaped part of our deck.  They insisted they need that space because they run on it.  I insisted they could run elsewhere, and that they would, in fact, love a trampoline.

Well, being the impressive psychic wonder that I am, they do indeed like having a trampoline!  I made the mistake of saying to Aden that it seems to have worked out, and she got sad for a moment, remembering the glory days of last week when she could run on the octagon.  Good times.  Gone forever.  Then she went back to bouncing until bedtime.

I like our yard to be a place my kids want to stay.  It’s hard keeping track of three little people when they spill out into the neighborhood in different directions.  The more they are able to do at home the more I’m able to get done at home.  I like having the neighborhood kids come to us so we can get to know our kids’ friends better.  When Ian was deployed it was hard to get to the park because someone was always napping at the wrong time and I couldn’t be both places at once, so we bought the play structure, thus bringing the park to us.  So the trampoline is another way to keep my kids close.  Plus, heck, I’ve always wanted a trampoline and I’m in my forties so it’s now or never.
The downside of where we put it is that it gets covered with seed pods and leaves, but so far the kids don’t care and it won’t be that hard to sweep out.  The upside is it’s in the shade!  No burning hot bouncing surface or added risk of sunburn.

Ian said after the half day pickup when Quinn has a few hours at home before his sisters get back, all that boy’s done is bounce, then sit on the trampoline and look at seed pods, then bounce some more.  We had his friend, Claire, over for lunch the other day, and at first she stepped on the trampoline, found it too weird, and immediately wanted off.  By the end of the play date she was bouncing up a storm.
(Quinn bouncing)

I don’t think we would have gotten a trampoline if it didn’t come with a net enclosure.  When did those become standard?  Because it is so obviously a good idea I wonder why that didn’t happen sooner.  Kind of like wheels on luggage.  I grew up in the stone ages where you had to lift your suitcase to move it, and everyone got hurt at some point flying off a trampoline.  I feel safer with my kids zipped up in the trampoline than I do with them on the ground, frankly.

I asked the kids what they would like to do for summer vacation.  At some point we will visit relatives and friends in Michigan and/or Ohio, but there are no solid plans.  Mona and Quinn both want swim lessons, and the girls will still be taking violin, but aside from that they want to make their own fun.  I tell them every year there are classes in dance and cooking and art at the rec center for only about $10 a session, so they can sign up for whatever they want, but they want freedom more than anything in the summer, and I can respect that.  They want to make a baking soda and vinegar volcano and to learn how to make grandma’s banana bread and I’m scared to guess how many paper creations will be piled up by fall.  And now they need time for bouncing.  That’s more than enough to keep them happy and busy.

I have a feeling summer is just going to fly by.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Summer! (Babble)

We seem to have skipped spring entirely here in Milwaukee, which is a shame because my favorite temperatures are the upper 60’s and lower 70’s and I think we got about two days of those.  We still haven’t put away our winter coats because that will jinx everything, but I am so excited that it’s not 40 degrees and I’m not hearing about frost warnings upstate that I don’t even care that we jumped straight to the 80’s.  We’re sweaty but happier.

So what does summer mean here?  Well, even though Leon’s is open and busy year round, summer is really the right season for frozen custard.
There’s a lot of good frozen custard around here, but Leon’s is our favorite.  We stopped there the other night after Mona’s traumatic day of getting blood drawn and that improved her mood.  It’s a drive-up, and there is no place to sit, so you end up eating in your car but that’s okay.  Leon’s has never screwed up our order despite the fact that it’s full of overly specific kid requests (one chocolate in a cup with chocolate sauce and lots of cherries, one cup with chocolate on the bottom and vanilla on top with caramel sauce and lots of cherries…. etc.).  Leon’s has never disappointed us.

This summer we are finally attempting to do something with the backyard.  Last year I was too busy trying to organize everything on the inside of the house after the move and before Ian came home from Iraq.  We had the new garage built and painted our ‘Welcome Home’ mural on it, but beyond setting up the play structure in our new space the backyard was fairly neglected.

But this year we are going to use it!  We lay down new sod where there used to be little rocks (the rocks looked pretty but were hard on small unshod feet), we finished moving a bunch of big rocks and logs that just got piled up last year, and we are awaiting the arrival of our new trampoline that I found on sale.

There is this spot in our yard that once upon a time held a hot tub:
But we are not hot tub people.  When I get in the one at the Y I always feel like I’m in a stew pot waiting for someone to add carrots.

Last summer we had the sandbox on that octagon, but we’ve moved it to a shadier spot on a different part of the deck where it works better.  We’re going to try the trampoline up there instead and see how that goes.  It’s at least an interesting way to see over the fence.

Tonight was so pleasant that we ate outside.  We’re still in the market for a decent table for the deck, but no matter:
I’m not sure why Quinn thought it would be a good idea to eat on the slide, but he sort of managed.  He slid down twice but didn’t lose his pineapple pizza.

We still have almost two more weeks of school to go, but we’re looking forward to free concerts in the park and parades and fireworks every weekend and ice cream trucks.  Our lives are like night and day compared to last year at this time.  A two month wait to have Ian home again seemed interminable, and there was so much more tension.  I’m looking forward to our first summer in this new house together as a complete family.  I think we’re off to a great start.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

No One Likes a Mystery Involving Barf (Babble)

Well, there are probably a lot of family dogs that would enjoy a good barf mystery, but me, I’m not so keen on it.

Mona has been sick recently, but no one can figure out with what.  She has no fever, she is not fatigued, she’s eating everything she normally eats….  In fact, to look at her in the daytime she is about the healthiest thing you’ve ever laid eyes on.  Yes, she’s a little pale, but she’s my daughter, and my mom once declared me to be the palest person on earth so that’s DNA.  No, if you saw Mona laughing and running around the playground and racing her scooter around the block you would be hard pressed to say she doesn’t look like the healthiest person you ever met.

But!  For three nights in a row last week between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. Mona threw up in her bed.  She’s also had diarrhea, although she doesn’t complain of any discomfort.  Mona seldom complains.  She doesn’t want comfort or attention for any kind of ailment, so she doesn’t even call out to us when she throws up, we just hear it happening and run to her side.  Poor baby.

Anyway, having had experience recently with Quinn and dehydration, we at least know how to keep a kid pumped with enough fluids and electrolytes so that we don’t end up in the hospital, but I called the after hours nurse to find out how we know at what point to bring Mona in to see the doctor.  Based on the fact that there was no fever or anything else going on and that the vomiting was not repeated within an eight hour period, she said it was probably a virus and to just monitor her at home.

Mona was looking so good the first morning after she threw up that we let her go to school.  She loves school.  She desperately wanted to go, so we let her, because it looked like a one time fluke thing and we thought we were in the clear.  Of course an hour after getting to school she threw up all over the art table.  The teacher wasn’t able to get a hold of us because she tried calling our cell phones (which we just don’t use since the majority of the time we are either sitting near a phone at home or a phone at work).  She called a neighbor who brought Mona clean pants, and eventually found our work number and told us what had happened.  The teacher wanted to know what we wanted to do because after throwing up Mona seemed great.  I left it to her, because if she were willing to risk another barf bomb going off I knew Mona would much rather stay at school, but I understood completely if she wanted me to come pick her up.  The teacher let Mona stay and she was fine the rest of the day.

But in the night, again, she threw up between 3:00 and 4:00.  This time we kept her home from school, which she didn’t like, but she dutifully drank juice and ate toast and bananas and looked bored.  I actually told her to stay in bed in the morning, but after her brother and sister went to the kitchen for breakfast she got dressed on the sly and tried to sneak downstairs.  Ian and I heard these tiny little creaking sounds in the hallway, and when I said, “Mona?” she bolted, and I saw this brief flash of purple shirt and black leggings before she disappeared down the steps.  I don’t know if she seriously thought she could stowaway in the minivan and make it to school, but she gets points for trying.  In any case, she was perfectly fine all day.  No fever.  No runny nose.  No coughing or sneezing.  No pain or fatigue.  Just Mona being happy Mona.  That night, like clockwork, more vomit.

Now, at least Ian and I have a system worked out where any kid emergency in the night that involves soiled bedding we hop up together and he gets stuff in the wash and remakes the bed while I calm and clean the kid.  This kind of thing was much harder when Ian was deployed because doing all of that alone was complicated and took much more time.  It’s nicer to be able to concentrate on cleaning up the kid and checking symptoms and then returning him or her to a bed that has been magically made with fresh sheets.
Anyway, we were confused about what to do.  Mona was obviously not well, but didn’t seem sick enough to take to anyone.  It was weird.

Then it stopped.  For three nights in a row, nothing.  We thought, great, it was just a stomach bug, it’s over, hooray.

Then again, between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m., more vomit and diarrhea.  At that point the nurse said we had to bring Mona in because she had technically been vomiting for a week and needed to see a doctor.

The doctor was stumped.  She said a virus would not cause Mona to vomit on a schedule, and the time Mona was throwing up was past the point where you could connect it to food or reflux.  She needed more information to decide the best course of treatment, so they had to draw blood and collect various samples.  I don’t know if I feel worse for Mona or Ian, because Mona freaked out and Ian’s the one who had to hold her down for the blood draw and talk her down for the X-ray.  Ugh.  We haven’t heard any results yet.

Normally I don’t share a lot of stories about vomit or poop because, first of all, EWW, and second of all I don’t want to embarrass my kids.  But Mona threw up in class so it’s not a secret to anyone whom she would care about, and as a famous book (possibly Shakespeare) once intoned, Everybody Poops, so I can’t see her world being shattered one day by discovering I told people she was sick when she was seven.  We’ve all thrown up, we’ve all had intestinal distress, so in my book it’s gross but not particularly embarrassing after the fact.

The only reason I’m writing about it now is that I’m wondering if anyone else has a clue what might be going on.  Has anyone known someone with these symptoms?  Last night Mona was perfectly fine again, but I don’t know what that means.  It’s awful to feel helpless in the face of something happening to your children, and I just want Mona to be well.

But since this is what Mona looks like when she’s sick maybe we should all wish to be as sick as Mona:
And in case Mona does come across this post one day and is disgusted by my over sharing, let me show off her latest paper creations that she made for some projects at school.  One is a tiger and the other is a rainbow trout.  (We go through a lot of tape in our house.)  Mona’s amazing, either in sickness or in health.

(I had to snap these pictures fast before she left for school because the rainbow trout she made for her friend, Sammy, and I think the tiger was for someone else, too.  I didn’t know if we’d ever see these particular paper creations again.  She seems to have become the go-to person among the first graders for building props for presentations about animals, so she’s always cranking out something new after school.)