A Reflective Sort of Birthday

To Jennie, on her 19th birthday:

Girl, you are almost through with your freshman year in college, and what a year it has been. You are living away from home and meeting new people and finding out what life is like outside of your hometown. Occasionally you are learning that you know zero about the world, and even less about your place in it. Keep reminding yourself daily that you are clueless. Maybe it will keep you from telling that English professor that you don’t need his required English class. That cranky old man will make you a much better writer one day. So shut your mouth and listen to him.

In fact, you will eat a lot of your words that you speak as a 19-year old. So the less said this year, the better. But keep your chin up, girl. It gets awesome. Just you wait. People are being nice to you today, and your dorm door is decorated, and maybe a cute boy will say hi to you.

To Jennie, on her 29th birthday:

You are out on the town with your posse. You have flirted your way past all cover charges. The word of the night is “shots!” and you are hanging in there like a pro. Your hair is curly, and it’s staying curly. You feel skinny in that outfit. You can’t stop grinning. Your favorite cover band is playing all of your favorite songs. They even bring you up on stage and serenade you. Everyone is hugging you and wishing you Happy Birthday, and you love the world. You feel like a superstar. Best. Birthday. Ever.

Sometimes, there isn’t much to grin about. And sometimes, your hair won’t curl at all. You won’t always be the superstar. On those days, your real friends still love you. And that’s a much better birthday gift than a couple of shots. But the memory of this evening, and how happy you were, will make you smile for the rest of your life.

To Jennie, on her 39th birthday:

If you fall asleep on the couch tonight, you can always celebrate 39 again next year.


A shiner

Alice is generally the good kid in class who knows better, but one day last week, she climbed up on a table at daycare. Of course she fell, and banged up her eye.

Next day was picture day. Awesome.



Helen LOVES to draw. She goes through all of the scrap paper in the house. She has a huge bucket of crayons and markers. She is all about the craft and the scissors and glue and making stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. She gets mad if I throw out any of her work, but if I had to save it all, it would fill the entire living room. And we have a cathedral ceiling in that room.

She makes cards and writes notes and even builds hamster cages, complete with their own drawings on the wall. Seriously.

Brian and I have talked about getting her into art classes. She is super good at drawing just about any image she tries. She loves to paint, she loves to make jewelry, she constantly begs me to make her iron-on t-shirts, and she even wants to try pottery. I think if she could spend all day making crafts, she would be a happy camper.

Last month she brought home a stack of drawings from her art class at kindergarten. I took pictures of some of it. This is by no means representative of the bulk of her work, but it was art show worthy for her kindergarten.

This is a watercolor picture of a turtle with a highly decorated shell (look closely and you will see hearts and stars). His head, complete with eyes and a smiling mouth full of teeth, are off to the right.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall for this lesson, to understand how the teacher explained the concept of Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup painting to 5-year olds. The bottom right person has braces.

Even though we have never seen a Barnum & Bailey show, Helen drew a circus ringmaster, complete with a top hat and a long line of her classmates on the tightrope above.


Snow? Oh Man ...

This winter Helen's school had a record 9 snow days in 2 months. They only budgeted for 4, so a few professional development days for the teachers got cut, plus part of Spring Break, and they added some time to the end of the school year. Poor kids.

Anyway, I thought I would post pictures of one of the snowmen Brian and the girls built in the backyard after one of the bigger snows we got in January. Mr. Snowman is wearing one of my old scarves and has Oreos for eyes and a nose, and raisins for a mouth.

While I find it hard to send such tiny bodies outside to play in 10 degree weather, I tried to be very conscious of the fact that snow days have the potential to make memories for a lifetime, and I let them play a little bit in the snow. I truly hope they had some fun. But snow days don't mean the same thing to an adult. All I could think of is every time the TV news anchors delivered the school closing info was, that's one less vacation day. Is that wrong?

One of my most memorable snow days was when I was 8 years old. We got a week off from school due to a major ice storm. We had about 4 inches of ice when it was all over, and sub-freezing temps, and of course, no power. My dad had bought 2 of those big orange plastic saucers with little rope handles on the side. We took them out the next morning after the storm had subsided to see how they did on the icy hill in our side yard. I sat down on my saucer, and my dad gave me a gentle shove to get me started.

Here's the part where we learn the moral of the story is "planning ahead." I slid down the side yard hill at record speed. Good times, right? But our side yard faced a long downhill to a cul de sac, and to this day my dad insists that watching me hit the street, he realized I had no way to stop. He stood helpless on that icy hill, watching his daughter hurtle down the street on a thick sheet of ice, and was sure I would end up with something broken, or at the very least, come to a stop somewhere in the next county. To me, it was just exhilarating and a little bit scary. I came to rest, very suddenly, against a mailbox. I was stunned by the unexpected bonus part of the ride, but fortunately unharmed. Clearly, I knew I was invincible.

Getting back up the hill was another story. My sister immediately declined to ride her saucer. And we didn't play outside much that week. Ahh, snow days.

What are your favorite snow day memories?


Happy Birthday, Jane

She turned one late last month, and here are some long overdue pics of her happily demolishing a chocolate cupcake, Wyatt style.

Here she is crying because the remainder of the cupcake is covered in frosting. She was not a big fan of the frosting. But she devoured the cake. Atta girl.


Sirens Everywhere

Two weeks ago during a stormy afternoon at work, the tornado sirens starting blaring. Everyone in my high-rise office building downtown marched down the stairs to the basement to wait out the danger. Helen was in an elementary school hallway 15 miles west of me, curled up in the "Official School Tornado Drill Position" along with all of her kindergarten classmates. When I arrived later that evening to pick her up, I learned that the power had been out at the school for several hours. The teachers all seemed a little frazzled, but it didn't seem like a big deal to Helen. She was very matter-of-fact about all of it.

A few days ago, I was cleaning out her backpack and found a picture crumpled up at the bottom. It doesn't show up as well in the scan, but she drew a little word balloon next to her head that says, "Oh no."

I talked to Helen about the time she spent in the hall on the way home that day, and she told me that she was not scared, because the teacher would occasionally pat them on the back and tell them they were doing a good job. That's a good message to hear at any age.


Tales of the Daycare Teacher

There is a little boy in Alice's class, who I will call Tyler. They spent some time in the nursery together as infants and later in the one year-old room. But he was having a hard time with the transition to the two year-old group, and cried over and over again one morning for "Mama." Eventually, they made it to lunchtime, and everyone sat down at their tables to eat. This little boy continued his crying at the table.

At that point, as the quote goes, that's where the wheels came off the wagon. Alice stood up, slammed both hands down on the table, and said, "Tyler. YOUR. MAMA. NOT. HERE." And then she sat back down and ate her lunch.

Y'all, she's TWO.

The teachers were caught offguard by her outburst, then promptly fell over laughing, and raced to tell the teachers in the next room what just happened. The story spread like wildfire around the center. By the time I arrived that evening to pick up the kids, two teachers had shared it with me before I even made it to her classroom. Over the course of the week, nearly every single teacher laughed with me about that story. At the end of the week, I cautiously asked, "Has anyone told Tyler's mom that story?" Turns out, no, they hadn't. And that evening, after I left, Tyler's dad arrived to pick him up. Tyler's dad normally drops him off later than we do in the morning, and the few times I have crossed paths with him, he always tells me that he is a huge fan of Alice, that she always has a smile for him or greets him when he comes in. So when the teacher told his dad the story, he roared with laughter. Then he looked at Tyler and said, "Son, I'm sure that won't be the last time a woman tells you that."


Here come the girls

Helen is enjoying her first year of kindergarten. She is soaking up the skills – reading, math, science – as well as learning to navigate the social aspect. Her teacher is handling her first year in a classroom with poise and grace. I think this exposure to such a great teacher during a very pivotal year may have gotten Helen interested in being a teacher herself. This news comes as no surprise to my mom or my sister, who have noticed Helen’s tendency to boss everyone around, right from the start.

Alice is my strong silent type child. Her language skills are rapidly developing, and while it’s harder for outsiders to understand her, she’s speaking in full sentences and has plenty to say. But in a crowd she’s definitely minding her own business and doing her thing, and it usually doesn’t involve telling me her plans. Typical middle child behavior, I think. We do have some time together alone on the way to daycare and back home, and she chatters away and tells me all about her day. She sounds like the class clown. Her teachers adore her. They write funny notes about what she did that day and it’s been endlessly entertaining for all of us.

Jane turned a year old at the end of March. She’s been my tiniest child of all, which was a surprise for me. I didn’t know my genes could produce “petite.” But it’s been a great way for me to hold onto the illusion of having a “baby” baby for a little longer. She crawled later, and stood on her own later, and still hasn’t officially started walking. There’s been a step or two here and there over the past month, but no real walking. But she has been babbling and cooing at me from a very early age, and I think she’s learned the word “no” this week. She and Alice spent the car ride home last night shouting at each other.

Jane: (what sounded like) NO!

Alice: I say Yes ma’am.

Jane: NO!

Alice: I say yes ma’am, baby!

Jane: NO!

Alice: Mommy, baby say No and I want her say Yes ma’am.

Me: That’s motherhood for ya, Alice.

Pictures coming soon.


This One's Sad. Read with Kleenex.

After I graduated from college, I moved away from home to take an accounting job in Charlotte, North Carolina. I had a month between graduation and my first day at work, so after securing an apartment, I went home to rest, relax, pack, and plan for the move. At some point during that month, my mother told me I would be taking the family cat with me.

Abby the Tabby was 12 years old and finicky. We got her the summer I turned 10, and she pretty much ruled the roost right from the start. We had a couple of dogs along the way - large Labrador Retrievers - but size never mattered to her. All 8 pounds of tabby cat were definitely in charge at our house. She had her moments where she loved us, usually involving a can opener, and quite a few moments where she was an outright terror. I'll never forget her nightly escapades where she chased my little sister down the hall or up the stairs to her room each night for bed. And then she would sit on the bed, right next to her face, and watch her fall asleep. My sister used to fake snoring just to get her to hop off the bed. I bet she was the one who suggested that I take the cat.

Anyway, Abby and I moved together to Charlotte that summer. The drive was excruciating - the first 3 hours she spent howling at me - and I know it was a huge change for Abby. She must have been miserable not having a whole family to boss around any more. But we grew pretty close over that first year, and I watched her turn from a bossy and demanding pet into a very loving and sweet cat. She followed me everywhere, and it was really nice to have her around. The next year, I made plans to visit the family for Thanksgiving. I was going to drive straight from work, and had left a big bowl of food & water for Abby to last all weekend, but I forgot my ATM card at home that morning. So I headed home to pick it up after work. When I came in the front door, no cat greeted me. I found my ATM card and then went hunting for her.

Abby was under the bed, panting hard and not moving toward me when I called to her. Alarmed, I dragged her out from under the bed and carried her to her food bowl. She sort of sat there, continuing to pant, but not touching her food or water. So I put her head in the water bowl, and she kind of sipped at it. I called the vet, who at that hour of the evening was already sending calls to the emergency clinic, but said to touch base in the morning if we needed her. I took Abby to the clinic, and they proceeded to do a bunch of tests. She wouldn't walk - I had to carry her. She just panted and kind of moaned once in a while.

After a lot of crying, I ended up leaving her at the clinic overnight for testing. I went home to tell my parents that I would not be driving home yet, and I cried a lot more that night. This was the one pet we'd had forever, and this was a very sudden change that I was not prepared for yet. I was so worried and upset. The next morning, the clinic couldn't tell me anything new. They'd checked everything and done a ton of tests - $250 worth, to be exact - and still no sign of what could be wrong. So I drove to the vet's office.

This was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, at 8 am. If you've ever been to a vet on that particular morning, you already know that the parking lot was full and the line was out the door. Everyone in the county was dropping off dogs to be boarded. Me, I had a box lined with a towel, and a sick cat lying inside, panting and hooked up to an IV. To top it off, I'd been crying all night. So I went to the front of the counter and asked quietly if I needed to be in line, since I actually had an appointment to see the vet. The lady behind the counter said yes. She claimed there would be other people in line ahead of me who were also waiting to see the doctor. I told the last person in line, a kind older woman who was just down the steps outside the door, to please save me my place, because I'm going to sit in the waiting room with my cat in a box. And everyone shuffled slowly past me, some giving me sympathetic looks, others trying hard not to look, and a few brave enough to ask me what was wrong. It was pretty darn clear what was wrong. To this day, I will never forgive that lady behind the counter for making me sit there, and not letting me go sit in an exam room. Needless to say, not a single person ahead of me was there to see the vet that day.

The meeting with the doctor was short. We went over the results from the clinic. I vaguely recall having an x-ray for her to see. She couldn't see anything obviously wrong to cure, either. I think she had planned to take the long way toward a discussion of what was going wrong and how to best make Abby comfortable, but after that much crying over a long night, I had really come to the decision already. Abby was suffering and it was time. So I said goodbye and then the vet gave her the shot, and that was it. The end of an era.

I drove home to my family after that, crying the whole way. It was a 7-hour trip. My contacts were a giant layer of salt from all the tears, and I had to stop about 4 times to clean them so I could see through the blur. Really, it was one of the worst days I had ever had in my whole life. When I got home, my dad said that my mom and my sister were out shopping but should be back soon. I took my things up to my room, composed myself a little, and heard my mom & my sister arrive. I headed back downstairs. My sister rounded the corner with a tiny black kitten in her arms, and my mother right behind her. My first thought, which I did not say out loud, was "Oh, how incredibly tacky. I just put Abby to sleep this morning, and they want to replace her with another cat ON THE SAME DAY."

And then he looked up at me and meowed. Oh my lord, that meow. It was like sweet music. I took him in my arms, and I didn't put him down for 4 days. The rest of the trip was a blur. I'm sure I helped cook Thanksgiving dinner, but I don't remember it. Sometime that next day, I named him Max. I drove 7 hours back to my place on Sunday, and realized my family was really thinking about me. I didn't have to show up alone that night and see all the reminders of Abby everywhere - I had a little kitten to distract me! And I promptly found a brand-new vet, one with a staff that was awesome.

It's hard to tell what kittens will turn into. My mom and my sister wanted to get something that wouldn't remind me of Abby, so they bought a male black cat. He turned out to be a long-haired one. Who knew? Plus, he was massive - 13 pounds. But he was adorable and awesome and I basically doted on him.

About 2 years later, I moved back home with my parents, and Max promptly became their first grandkid. He'd wait for them next to the treat drawer whenever they appeared with grocery bags, and 100% of the time, he was rewarded for that minimal effort. Max went out on their screened-in porch nearly every day to watch the birds and enjoy the breeze and sleep in the sun. During the summer, tiny lizards used to crawl in between the boards. My mighty hunter was waiting for every single one of them. He got nightly pampering from my dad who had dubbed himself as keeper of the king-sized lap. They missed him when I moved out on my own again, so I brought him to visit Camp Grandma frequently.

As much time as I've spent brushing his fur off of every single thing I own, that guy is mine, all mine. He's the nicest cat on the planet. He put up with me bringing other cats home, and moving across the country and back, and switching apartments every 3 years. He put up with my late nights during my single years, and even later nights during the infant years. He patiently tolerates my children who yank on his fur. Last fall, he turned 15. I sent a couple of texts to my family and gave him a lot of hugs and thought about how fast 15 years has flown by, and kept on going.

There's a lot of kitty throw up that you tolerate as a long-haired cat owner, but daily for a couple of months is a bit much. He's gotten pretty skinny in the past few months. So this past Saturday, I took him to the vet. The vet did about $250 worth of tests (hmmm, I'm sensing a pattern here) - but the short answer is kidney disease. He's not getting good nutrition, and he's pretty dehydrated. There's a plan, not a great one (it involves pilling a cat - woo hoo), but it's a plan.

I'm not sure what to expect in terms of how long. Right now he seems fine. He loves everyone, and he plays, and he cuddles, and you would never in a million years guess that he is 15. But the vomiting is a problem, since he's not getting food or water to stay down long enough to keep him in good health. I can see where this is headed, much slower this time. I can stop and appreciate him and hug him and care for him, and it will still hurt like hell when he's gone. It dredges up awful memories and tears to think of that morning with Abby, and it was really just me handling it on my own. Thank god I'm wearing glasses while I'm writing this. I'm not sure another pair of contacts could take it.



So, finally, I'm clueless

Last night, driving home from work, Helen asked me what was for dinner. I told her that dad was picking up pizza from the nearby Jet's Pizza.

Helen sighed. She has a favorite spot elsewhere, and Jet's is not it, and the entire family knows it. She prefers a local pizza parlor called Pizza Perfect, complete with a game room (where half of the arcade games and air hockey tables actually work). They do make a yummy New York style thin crust pizza. But you get more for your take-out money from Jet's, so we often go there instead.

Helen: Mom. It's called Pizza Perfect. Because the pizza? is PERFECT. Pizza. Perfect. Okay?

Jennie: (stifling urge to giggle) Okay.

(By the way, if you're a girl, you probably could guess that her line was delivered with THAT TONE.)