Thursday, October 27, 2011

Filthy

God knows, I am no clean freak. I believe that a little bit of dirt never hurt anybody, and I don't mind a little clutter. Sometimes, when my bedding gets a little gritty from kids climbing all over the bed while still wearing their dirty shoes, I get out the broom and sweep the beds rather than actually changing the bedding. It's either that, or I convince myself that the grit is actually an expensive skin exfoliant, and I'm lolling at a luxury spa.

Despite the fact that I rarely use one, I do have an appreciation for a good vacuum cleaner. There's just something so pleasurable about watching all the dirt get sucked up. So when I am very rich, I plan to have a very fancy vacuum cleaner. Of course, since I will be rich, I won't actually use the vacuum cleaner myself, but I want to keep the help happy.

Although I don't mind a little mess in the house, it's still disconcerting to come home from the office, to come back to the bosom of my family after engaging in hectic public life, to return to my sanctuary and find this:


I would have thought the house was ransacked, except that we own very little that is worth ransacking for. If robbers came to our house, they would take a look at our lack of big screen television, iPad, Kindle, iPhone, DVR, surround-sound stereo system, and conclude either that our house had previously been robbed of everything of value, or that we were Amish. The kind of Amish that own a dishwasher.

David, who was in charge of the kids while this mess got generated, is much more tolerant of chaos and clutter than I am. He believes that before the kids go to bed, it's folly to make even a minimum of effort towards cleaning up the house, since they will just mess it up again. Of course, using his logic, it's also useless to pick up after the kids go to bed, since they'll just mess it up the next day. Basically, David believes we should just wait until Baby W turns 18 and then set the house on fire and start anew.

His approach does have a certain appeal.

This photo shows our house at its peak of messiness. Normally it's much cleaner than that. Our car, on the other hand, is unrelentingly filthy and cluttered. Once again, David has a narrative that allows him to justify the mess. He believes that it's a good thing to have the car filled to the windows with the detritus of family life, like board books, single socks, crusts of peanut butter sandwiches, and crumpled art projects, because in theory if you were away from home and found yourself in need of a particular object, you  might be able to find it among the 7,000 other objects in the car. In other words, if I'm ever away from home and have an emergency and need a dried-up banana peel and a crushed Culver's cup right away, I'll know where to look. (Under the passenger seat.)

The tornado that went through the house today exceeded even David's tolerance for disorder, and we both agreed that we needed to make a clean space for our family with a minimum of effort. So it sounds like David and I are on the same page: rather than cleaning up, it's probably easiest to just move.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Anniversary

David and I are celebrating our 15-year anniversary this month. Can you believe it?! I'm still amazed that after all this time, David and I still enjoy each other's company. At least, I think we do. We never actually get the opportunity to enjoy each other's company due to the constant drumbeat of "Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!" but I assume that were we given the chance to actually talk once in a while, we would find it pleasant. If we ever had the remotest chance to slip away alone together and do anything more extensive than talking, I assume I would find THAT more than pleasant too. Well, a girl has to have her crazy dreams.

By the way, one unfortunate side effect of Stella starting kindergarten is that she is learning to spell. This means that David and I are no longer able to use spelling out words as a method of communicating with each other without having Stella understand. So now, David and I have to get really creative, and say things to each other like "Hey, if the kids go to bed early, maybe we can get together and eat spinach," and then wink at each other. Poor Stella -- when she grows up she's going to wonder why her parents had such a leafy green vegetable fetish.

Here's David and I at our 15-year anniversary dinner out on the town:


If you're wondering why David isn't smiling for the camera, it's because he was born in the late 1800s, before smiling in photographs became the cultural norm. Back when David learned to pose for photos, cameras had just been invented and the exposure times were so long that people found it uncomfortable to hold a smile. And if you are wondering why I look a tiny bit deranged in this photo, it's because I've been in a 15-year relationship with someone who doesn't believe in smiling for photographs.

We ate at tiny restaurant in our neighborhood, a restaurant so small that we were the only customers. There was only one person working there, who both waited on us and cooked the food. Unfortunately, the meal was pretty mediocre. And the small scale of the restaurant made it almost impossible for David and me to discuss the poor quality of the food with each other, because the cook/waiter/owner/dishwasher was never more than a few feet away. I almost felt like we needed to use code to prevent him from eavesdropping on us. Basically, it was the same issue that we have when we try to communicate without having Stella understand us, except that Stella doesn't make her caldo verde soup nearly as salty.

After our so-so dinner, David and I went to a movie! Yes! There were TWO grown-up activities on our anniversary night out, brought to us courtesy of my sister, who was babysitting our kids. David and I went to see Moneyball, which I enjoyed very much despite being convinced that watching baseball is technically a form of torture perfected by the CIA to inflict on enemy combatants.

Watching the movie, I felt like Brad Pitt reminded me of someone, but I couldn't quite put my finger on who. Then halfway through, I realized oh! He looks a little bit like David! After 15 years together, if your wife thinks you and Brad Pitt share a physical resemblance, I think things are going okay.

Yes, there have been ups and downs, but I feel like we're going pretty strong considering we've been together for 15 years. We are still able to make each other laugh and we're having fun raising our kids together. And you never know, one of these years we might get even a chance to eat some leafy greens.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Degree

Mother Nature has really given us some beautiful weather this fall, particularly on the weekends. This has made for idyllic trips to the park with the kids, crunching through fallen leaves. But as any long-time resident of Wisconsin knows, weather is a zero sum game. There's only a certain number of degrees in the universe, and if we use them all up in October, then we'll have to go without any in winter. A 70 degree day in October increases our chances of having one of those days in January where you're afraid to blink because your eyelashes might freeze shut.

And if we have a 70 degree October day on a Saturday, then we're doubly screwed. That means we'll have snowdrifts well into June.

Whereas normally, the snowdrifts are almost completely gone by Memorial Day.

Wisconsin: Tropical Paradise

I've been checking the weather forecast a  lot online before going out, since it's been so variable lately. Yesterday when I checked the forecast, it said in big red letters "SEVERE WEATHER ALERT!" Really? Like, hail or something? Yet the sky seemed pretty clear. Then I read further and learned that the SEVERE WEATHER ALERT referred to a frost warning. A frost warning, whoa! Put the kids in the storm cellar, and batten down the hatches, Pa! I think the basil's a goner!

Unfortunately I was unable to fully enjoy the gorgeous weather yesterday because I was more or less a zombie from lack of sleep. My precious little Baby W Snookums-Wookums, who is a fantastic little kid, has just one single fault (other than he thinks it's really funny to drink the bathwater after he has peed in it), and that is that he's an awful night-time sleeper.

Mr. 10-Wakeups Per Night

 I've chronicled Baby W's poor sleep (and by extension, my poor sleep) before, and complained fairly extensively about it on Facebook, to the point now where the first thing friends do when they see me is get a very concerned, kindly look on their faces and say, "How ARE you doing?" and pat my shoulder. And the second thing they do is then walk away briskly, because they're afraid they might catch the poor-sleeping kid bug from me. You never know, it might be contagious. I'd do the same in their shoes.

Since I was fairly wrecked by a rough night, David kindly took the kids to the park in the afternoon while I laid down and pretended to take a nap. But I couldn't sleep. What kind of unjust world is this, in which there is suffering and pain, in which evil triumphs over good, in which we are conscious of our mortality, and in which someone is incapable of taking a nap when given the opportunity?

My grandmother always said that lying down with your eyes closed was basically as good as taking a nap. I'm here to tell you that grandmotherly wisdom aside, that claim is completely and utterly bogus. How could lying down with your eyes closed come even close to having the benefit that a nap would? That doesn't even make sense! My grandmother knew how to pluck a chicken, though, so I'm going to give her a pass on this one.

There have been some tiny glimmers of hope. Once every two weeks or so, Baby W sleeps a solid 6 hour stretch, so I know he's capable of doing it. I'm holding out hope that we can find some mutually agreeable arrangement that will improve my sleep, that I will be able to minimize any associated unhappiness on the part of Baby W, and that we can work through this as a family. I'm beyond holding out hope for the basil, though. It's toast.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hat

Last month I embarked on the most basic of sewing projects: making my niece a hat. This project had two results: 1) a hat, and 2) some really creative profanity on my part. When I dig out the sewing machine, I like to think of it as a fun mother-daughter project I do with Stella, but in reality I spend most of the time beseeching David for help and muttering swear words under my breath. But very quietly. Like this: "Fuuuuuuuuuucccckkk."

You have to admit, though, that the results of this project turned out pretty cute. Now, I grant you, this is already an awfully cute baby, but I think the hat enhances her cuteness by another 1% or so:



What? What's that, you say? You need more cuteness? All right, you asked for it, but don't say I didn't warn you. Here she is again, in the hat: 



Yeah. That was too much cuteness, wasn't it? I didn't think you could handle it.

Yesterday we got out the sewing machine and made another version of this hat for Stella. She was home sick from school, so we did quiet activities like reading, cooking, and sewing. The poor girl was not feeling good at all. I could tell, because she was extra nice to her brother. She just didn't have the energy necessary to give him a good clock on the head. Now THAT is sick. 

This morning, Stella still wasn't 100%, as evidenced by the fact that waited until nearly 7:30 AM to push Baby W down. I let her sleep in but then bundled her off to school mid-morning. If she's going to get into Yale, she can't be lolling around the house.

Actually, now that I think about it, we did do flash cards when she was home sick. That might help make up for the day of kindergarten she missed. Okay, Yale is back on the table. 

And you know what she missed at school when she was home sick? A field trip! How awful is that? The first field trip of kindergarten, which was to a pumpkin patch, and Stella missed it. Instead of cavorting with her peers through a field of pumpkins, Stella had a different kind of field trip: because she was home sick, she had to come along with Baby W, David, and me to the closing for refinancing our house. That's what adults do instead field trips -- we go downtown and sit at a conference table and sign documents for an hour non-stop. 

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that whatever bug Stella had doesn't cross over and infect the rest of the family. I think the chances are good that we can remain healthy, because stomach viruses don't seem to make that leap. On the other hand, when one of the kids gets a cold, I invariably catch it, possibly because when they have colds both kids wind up covered with an inch-thick layer of mucus over their entire face, making a mockery of any modest attempts at hand-washing or other germ-evading maneuvers. Hopefully Stella will be back to her normal ebullient self soon, and back on a schedule where she makes her brother cry no later by 6:30 AM. She'll need to be, if she wants to make it into Yale.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Handstand

Well, I haven't humiliated myself in this space for, gosh, days and DAYS. So naturally it's time for an update on how my gymnastics class is going.

I'm taking a gymnastics class for adults, along with my sister and her boyfriend. The class is a lot of fun, and it's a fantastic workout for muscles that I don't normally use. The only disadvantage is that all the spinning and turning upside down, especially when combined with strenuous physical exertion, makes me want to vomit. But I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Out of our gymnastics class has arisen a Plan, developed by my sister. You know it's trouble when a Cornelius gets a Plan into his or her head, and this case is no different. For Christmas, all my siblings, their significant others, their children, and my mother and stepfather are headed for Florida, for a lovely winter vacation underwritten by my mother. My sister has decided that we (meaning her, her boyfriend, and me) should all do handstands at the same time together on the beach, and document it by having someone take a picture. I'm thinking we could get the photo blown up to life size and then mounted on posterboard.

We refer to this course of action as the Handstand Plan. Although my sister had the idea in the first place, I love it and am enthusiastically promoting it. The only problem, of course, it that the Handstand Plan requires that all three of us be able to do decent handstands by December 25th. DETAILS!

To help advance the Handstand Plan, we have been hitting the gym occasionally between classes to help practice our technique. Last time we went, I took along the camera. I had been wanting to take a short video of my cartwheel, to see what I looked like. First I took a short video of my sister's boyfriend:


I call that not too bad. But then again, I believe the red hair means he is part leprechaun, so naturally he is good at tumbling and flipping due to all the tricks he has to perform to lure people away from his pot of gold. Apparently, during the first gymnastics class, the drawstring to his shorts broke right in the middle of a gymnastics maneuver he was completing, and he literally flipped out of his shorts. I'm very sorry I missed that class. It reminds me of my prenatal yoga class, when I missed the session when one woman's water broke right during class.

And then here's my sister and her cartwheel:


Not so hot, right? And then here's mine:



I was really bummed after seeing my cartwheel on video. In my mind, I was doing a half-decent cartwheel. Now that I've seen the video, I realize I look like a frog someone needs to put out of its misery.

So my cartwheel is highly questionable. Big deal. I've got a killer forward roll.

All this talk about cartwheels is fine, but it's the Handstand Plan, not the Cartwheel Plan. So how's my handstand? I'm happy to say that yes, I can do one. Feast your eyes:


Anyone who can actually do gymnastics, please refrain from pointing out the 37 things I am no doubt doing wrong in that photo. I'm upside down, my arms are straight. IT FUCKING COUNTS, OKAY?!?

Whether we'll actually be able to pull off the Handstand Plan is anybody's guess. All three of us can do at least a so-so handstand, but getting upside down all that the same time is going to be the sticking point. In the meantime, we'll keep going to class and practicing our handstands and cartwheels. And if the Handstand Plan proves to be ultimately beyond our reach, I already have an idea for Plan B. I call it the Forward Roll Plan.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Apples

Good lord, was that the most beautiful weekend ever, or what? It was almost 80 degrees here, and fantastically sunny. We took advantage of the wonderful weather to go apple picking. If there's anything cuter than going apple picking with two little kids, I demand to know what it is. (Maybe if baby kittens went apple picking....?)



Baby W made it his goal to take one bite (and only one bite) out of every single apple in the entire orchard. And then roll them in dirt.

Last year when we made our annual apple-picking pilgrimage, I picked a whole shit-ton of apples, and then made applesauce. Which no one would eat but me. I like applesauce, and I like the applesauce I made, but I learned my lesson. This year there is no way that I am going to cook up, puree, and then can a whole bunch of apples when the stuff from the store tastes just as good. I just have no gumption in that area. If I lived on the frontier, where you have to do things like can applesauce as a matter of survival, I would probably starve. And I would probably starve with cold feet, because rather than shearing the sheep, spinning the yarn, and darning my socks I would probably just try to buy new ones on Amazon, which of course didn't exist yet. 


Apple picking was especially appropriate because Stella is in the midst of unit in school that is all about apples. This means she counts apples, she practices writing the word apple, and she learns about the uses of apple. Stella's teacher talked about how apples are sometimes peeled, so now Stella is always trying me to get to peel our apples at home. And I refuse to peel apples. First, it's morally wrong to peel apples. Right? It's like cutting the crusts off of sandwiches. You just don't do that unless you lack a serious ethical compass. Second, WE'RE IN A RECESSION. EAT YOUR APPLE PEELS. 

By the way, Stella brought home a little "I Can Read" book from kindergarten, that she "made" by stapling together pre-printed pages. One page proclaimed, "I can read letters," and it had a bunch of letters, and another page said "I can read numbers," with some numbers surrounding it. And another page said "I can read signs," and it had a KMart logo and a McDonald's logo. Gee, thanks, school! You just undid the five years of work I put in into making sure that Stella was one of just 17 children worldwide who did not know the McDonald's logo! I worked my butt off to shield Stella from one of the world's most omnipresent symbols, representing the corporate promotion of unhealthy habits, and then kindergarten goes and blows it in the first week. Plus, KMart? Look, if we're going to brainwash Stella by exposing her to corporate logos in the educational setting, can we at least get someplace halfway classy? How about Macy's?


Anyway, I had a great time apple picking with my two lovely children, at least one of whom does not recognize the McDonald's logo. The orchard also offered horse-drawn hayrides, which we didn't have time for this weekend. We also didn't have time to take advantage of the pumpkin picking. But I'm thinking that next weekend we can head out to another farm for more fall harvest fun. And this time I'm definitely bringing the baby kittens.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Worms

My brain functions much differently than it did before I had kids. Now I expend my limited brain power on much different topics. Here's a chart showing the types of things I thought about before I had kids:


And now that I have kids, here's how things stand:


One of the main reasons I spend so much time thinking about sleep is that the sleep that I do get is complete crap. (Would that fall into the "sleep" portion of the pie chart or the "poop" slice?) Despite showing early promise, Baby W has proven to be a very temperamental sleeper, who wakes up at the drop of a hat. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that he wakes at the literal drop of a hat, since the tiniest sound can wake him. The sound of someone dropping a hat in China could wake him, especially if it was one of those bamboo ones shaped like cones, as I imagine those are quite noisy when dropped.

I don't like getting woken up three or four times a night by Baby W, but I am resigned to the fact that he is still very small, and I'm holding out hope that his sleep will improve soon. But I do get quite irritated when Stella adds to the problem by waking me up another time or two. Too many wakeups makes it hard for me to get through the day, and I can only spend so much time dozing at work face down on the keyboard before my boss will begin to suspect something.

After one night when the kids seemed to be in competition as to who could wake me up the most, I staggered downstairs in the morning and wrote out a list of night time rules for Stella. Then I posted the rules on the bedroom door, much the way Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door. Or as Martin Luther would have, if he had had access to Scotch tape:


I realize you can't actually read the rules from that photo, so I'll summarize:
1. Don't wake me up in the middle of the night.
2. No seriously, don't wake me up.
3. Look, I'm not kidding. If I don't start getting some sleep around here I am really going to lose it. Do not wake me unless it's an emergency.
4. "My pillow is crooked" is not an emergency.

By the way, when David and I were discussing the new rules, he told me that in school he and his friends referred to Martin Luther's demands as the "95 Feces." David's parents were not well off, but they scrimped and saved and pinched pennies so they could send him to Catholic school, where they thought he would get a superior religious and academic education. Little did they know that he would repay them by thinking up obscene nicknames for important historical events.

As an aside: I have retained very little about Martin Luther from my high school history days, but I do remember the Diet of Worms. "Diet" refers to a type of assembly, and Worms is the city in Germany at which the assembly took place, at which Martin Luther had to defend his habit of eating nightcrawlers. Diet of Worms! Diet of Worms! You know, I could just say that all day long, although naturally I would want to take a break in order to say Imperial Diet of Worms! which, according to Wikipedia, is technically the correct way to refer to the body. I imagine that the sign welcoming visitors to the city of Worms gets stolen all the time. Probably Martin Luther stole the sign himself.

Okay, I feel like I'm getting some blank looks here. Does anybody else remember the Diet of Worms? Anybody? One thing I like about David is that by golly I can count on him to know about topics like the Diet of Worms. Of course, I can also count on him to launch into a comprehensive, not all that interesting description of the Diet of Worms and the effect it had on later...sorry, I stopped paying attention.

Are the new night time rules going to have any effect on improving my sleep? My guess is that I will be able to work with Stella to cut back on the number of times she wakes me up, but I really have no idea as to when Baby W's sleep will improve. Mostly I'm just trying to hang in there and hope that the problem solves itself with time. Until then, I'll continue my over-reliance on caffeine and do whatever it takes to get through the day. And by all means, I'm going to avoid a Diet of Worms.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Classroom

There's a new wrinkle in Stella's kindergarten experience, which is that she is being moved to a new classroom, with a different teacher. It turns out there were so many kindergarteners that the school needed to open an additional section of kindergarten in order to make classroom sizes manageable, and Stella got tapped to make the switch to a  new classroom.  Given the size of the cuts in education funding that he championed, I am holding Governor Scott Walker responsible for the overly large size of her original classroom, as well as anything bad that occurs in her school experience, up to and including lukewarm school milk and any gravel she may get in her shoe on the playground.

I had heard that Stella's new teacher was originally from Chicago. Ho ho! Now there ought to be a teacher who knows how to keep classroom order. I figured she'd have any rowdy boys trussed and hogtied before nap time rolled around. Basically, I was picturing Brian Urlacher but with that really nice handwriting that kindergarten teachers always seem to have.

When I finally got a chance to meet the new teacher, I was surprised by how soft-spoken she was. I have heard nothing but good things about her. David is less certain, but I keep trying to reassure him that although he may have suspicions, he has no solid evidence that she is a Bears fan. Remember: innocent until proven guilty.

Here's Stella in her new classroom:


Stella has also been bringing her school work home. It's fun to see her writing skills improving, and always amusing to get a glimpse of how she portrays her home life. The other day she brought home a book that she had made in class, all about her family. As part of the assignment, she had to draw pictures of each person in her family. She pretty much nailed it. In case you've never met David or I, that is exactly what our hair looks like, to the point where here drawing could almost be classified as photo-realism.


I do feel a bit sorry for Baby W, though, who got completely left out of the count of family members, and is represented either not at all in the drawing or by an insignificant doodle in the bottom corner that might also be an orange peel.

And in case you're wondering why Stella drew herself with two arms up above and...um...four legs down below, I was originally going to say that it is because she is part arthropod. But after looking at the Wikipedia entry, I realize that it would be much more accurate to say that she is actually part hexapod. See, you learn new things about your kids all the time.

Stella's move to a new classroom means she has left some old friends behind, but there will be plenty of opportunity to make new friends. She likes the new teacher very much, and so far from what I've seen, the dynamics of the new classroom seem favorable. My expectation is that she will complete the transition to the new classroom without a hitch. If she does have problems, though, you can be sure that I will hold Governor Walker accountable.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Beverly

My mom visited this weekend. Here's my beautiful mother:


She's the source of the curly hair gene in our family. Well, she passed down the curly hair, my father passed down the genes for hair that sticks straight out like a mad scientist who put his finger in a lightbulb socket, and I split the different perfectly. Ah, genetics.

The kids were excited to see my mother. I have worked hard to help the kids develop a deep-seated respect for their elders, so naturally they greeted my mother while wearing underwear on their heads. Look, a Tiger Mother I am not.


Whenever my mother visits, she always takes us shopping. This is somewhat of a joke because I intensely dislike shopping under most circumstances, although when I go with my mother and sister it's really quite fun. David was surprised to see me cheerfully head out to the mall, but I told him not to worry, that I'd probably only buy three or four pairs of Mahalo Blaniks. That would probably throw a little more fear into his soul if I actually knew how to pronounce that shoe brand, the really expensive one that people wear on Sex in the City. Mahelo Blahnicks. Maloho Blahinsk. You know what I mean. 

Joking aside, Stella actually does have an eye for fancy shoes. Here she is at Kohls, trying on suede peach platform high heels that had a zipper up the back. To complete the outfit, she is wearing a Cookie Monster stocking hat. Fashion sense like that has to be born, not made.


My goal for the shopping trip was to get a pair of winter boots. REAL winter boots, not those fake Ugg-style so-called boots. Those might work if you're worried about looking good while engaging in some fairly undemanding activity in a relatively mild weather, like checking your IRA balance on a unseasonably cool March day in Dallas, but this is Wisconsin. If you want to keep your feet warm while they trudge through eight inches of snow topped with two inches of freezing rain, you need REAL winter boots. Here are my mother and sister helping me in my search for REAL winter boots, which are surprisingly hard to find, even in Wisconsin. 



And here's an unwelcome development that I just discovered:  Many boots now only come in whole sizes, not half sizes. Is that something new? It sure made it hard to find boots that fit. Perhaps it's a result of the recession. I'm sure the lack of half sizes is Bush's fault, but I have yet to figure out the mechanism by which he wreaked this additional small bit of havoc on the world.

After bemoaning the lack of REAL winter boots at store after store and sounding like a world's oldest, most crotchety 37 year old, I did manage to find a pair of boots that I liked. Kids these days, they're all too busy playing with their jet packs to know what REAL winter boots are.

The kids also got winter hats and mittens. This was maybe just a little bit cute.



After a quick two-day visit, my mother returned to Pennsylvania last night. We'll see her twice more between now and the end of the year -- once when I travel to Washington, DC for a conference and she will come to DC to babysit the kids, and then again at Christmas time. I'm already looking forward to seeing her again, and who knows, maybe we'll go shopping again. I never did get that pair of Maholo Blernicks.