Archive | July 2012

90!

Today my grandmother turns 90. This is an amazing achievement in many more ways than one.

First, it is an achievement in the obvious way. 90. Ten years short of a century. And she’s still walking, talking, knows my name (and her own), and is as ornery as ever. How awesome is that? My grandfather didn’t make it past 71. She’s had sisters and brothers who passed away long before 90. Of the ten children her mother had, she is the second oldest. The only other sibling of hers that is still here with us is her very youngest brother. I call them “the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.” I have a very odd sense of humor.

Second, it’s an achievement because up until today my grandmother has been swearing up and down that she would die at 89. Her mother, my great-grandmother, died when she was 89, and my grandma didn’t think she’d outlast her mother. When she first said this, ten years ago, I asked her if she could consult her genetic oracle to tell me whether she would die ON her 89th birthday, mid-year, or the day before she turned 90. After all, I told her, I have vacations and things to plan, and I needed a more precise date.

She probably should have swatted at me, but I think she was recovering from a diabetic coma at the time. Of course, that was only the third time she almost succeeded in killing herself by hiding her medical symptoms, so she might have been conserving her strength.

So third, the reason this is an achievement is because of the many ways she has cheated death over the past, oh, I don’t know, 25 years.

The first time she was rescued from the teetering brink between here and eternity was when I was 19 and dating my husband who was a medical student. He had just brought home his doctor’s kit, and he was so very eager to try it out that he deafened me with his otoscope by pushing wax ALL the way against my eardrum. A few peroxide applications to my ear and some awful crackling noises later and I could ALMOST hear things not-as-if I was in a tunnel. I decided to see if we could find him a guinea pig that wasn’t me, and my grandmother saw him with his stethoscope and sphygmomanometer and said, “Hey! Come over and take MY blood pressure.” So there he went, all full of joy and pride. He put the sleeve around my grandmother’s arm, put the stethoscope in his ears and against her arm, and started pumping that little bulb. And then he stopped. His eyes got wide. He shook his head.

“What?” my grandmother asked.

He shook his head again and blinked. “I must be doing something wrong,” he said. “I’m going to do it again.” So he did. He did the listening, and the pumping, and the releasing, and the listening. This time his hand started to shake.

“What?!” I asked.

“I’ve gotta be doing this wrong,” he said. He got up and went into the kitchen to get my mom, who was a nurse. “Could you come out here for a minute and . . . . . . ” I couldn’t hear everything he said, but I heard my mom say, “Oh. Yeah. Really? I’m sure it’s not . . . okay. I’m coming.”

She came out of the kitchen drying her hands on a dishtowel, sat down in his chair, and started doing the blood pressure pumpy thing. Her eyes, like his, got wide. She blinked. She looked at my grandmother.

“What?!” my grandmother asked.

“Mom,” my mother said, “Normal blood pressure is usually around 120 over 80. Your blood pressure is 250 over 175. That’s . . . really high, ma. I think I need to call a doctor.”

Fortunately it was only 4:00pm on a Friday, and my mom knew some people, so she got through to a doctor fairly quickly. He wrote my grandmother a prescription for a fast-acting blood pressure medication called Klonodine. She went on it in 1990, and has taken it religiously ever since, because if she misses even a dose she would rebound through the roof and probably stroke out.

While my mom was on the phone calling doctors, my grandmother had moved to her reclining chair. I sat with her a moment. “You know,” she said, “it’s funny. I have been having headaches.”

“Really,” I said. “Did you tell mom? Did you think maybe you should see a doctor?”

“No,” my grandmother said. “I haven’t seen a doctor since your mother was born. I don’t intend to start now.”

This was, again, when I was 18. Eight-teen. My mother had me when she was 25. My grandmother hadn’t seen a doctor in 43 years. FORTY-THREE YEARS. Now, I don’t know about you, but I see a doctor every flipping year. And more than one doctor. I see my GP for an annual exam and any other time I feel sick. I see my GYN for my annual woman thingy. I see a dermatologist to check me for skin cancer. I see an eye doctor for my eyeglass prescription. I see an ENT when I have ear or serious sinus trouble. I see a breast surgeon to keep my lumps and bumps in check. I think I see at least one doctor each month–and I don’t mean socially. I mean in his/her office, getting something or other done to make sure I’m keeping myself as well as the average 40 year old woman can.

And my grandmother had seen NOT ONE doctor in 43 years. Insurance companies should make her a shrine. They really were the greatest generation. Didn’t they ever need an antibiotic, for God’s sake?

But, yeah, that plan of “not starting to see a doctor now” when her blood pressure was about to cause a massive stroke in her brain? No. That didn’t happen. She started seeing the doctor regularly. And she hated it.

But still, she hid things. About ten years later, in 2000, she was getting ready for cataract surgery because her eyes had gotten so cloudy she could no longer even read large print books, and reading was a major joy of her life. They had to do an EKG to pre-op her for the surgery.  The nurse putting the leads on her chest felt a  strange . . . something . . . and asked about it. “Yes,” my grandmother said, “they’ve been there for awhile. I’ve decided not to tell anyone about them. I’m not going to live forever, and I just want to keep it to myself.”

“Ma’am,” the nurse said, “I can’t NOT tell the doctor about this. That is a substantial lump.” And that is how we learned that my grandmother had not one, but TWO breast lumps, each the size of about an orange. Surgery revealed they were both cancerous, but that they were different kinds of cancer. None of the cancerous cells spread to her lymph nodes. They had stayed entirely contained in her breast tissue. She had been trying to commit suicide by cancer, but was foiled by her desire to have her eyes fixed so she could read a book.

Are you getting now the cause of that snarky comment about her regularly scheduled death? I’m not heartless. I love her. My grandmother raised me, fed me, clothed me, played games with me, walked me to school, and gave me all the love she possibly had. Still–the comments about knowing when she was going to die: She. Deserved. Snark.

Again, we had that conversation about her scheduled demise right after she’d returned from a hospital visit where they’d diagnosed her with geriatric diabetes. No one in her family had ever had diabetes. It just wasn’t in her history. So when she started acting lethargic she told all of us she thought she had the flu. And yes, I know. Why did we listen? WHY? After the last two things, why did we think she was self-aware enough to self-diagnose? I don’t know. I really don’t. I do remember I was pregnant with my first child–not Boo; I miscarried one before her–so I was a little out of it . .. but still. Alarm bells should have rung in my head.

Thinking she had the flu we decided we had best to hydrate her. With Gatorade. She said she was feeling nauseated, so we gave her some Coca-Cola to settle her stomach. Then the call came in from the blood test the doctor had run two days earlier: her blood sugar, on that test, was clocked at 800. Normal is 100. By the time she got to the hospital her blood glucose was at 1200, and she was losing consciousness. Yes, it’s called a diabetic coma. She was almost in one.

BUT, they managed to pull her out of that, too. And within a few days her blood sugar had stabilized and she was back home, predicting her end-game.

Which, to my everlasting joy, still has not come. Between then and now (let’s say about 8 years) she’s had a bajillion other things to deal with, the most serious being a nasty case of polynephritis (kidney infection) that came from an undetected and undiagnosed urinary tract infection that spread all the way up to her kidneys before she thought to tell anyone about it. “I just thought I threw out my back bending over to pick up some leaves,” she explained.

“YOU. ARE. 84. YEARS. OLD,” I gritted through my teeth. “YOU. ARE. NO. LONGER. GOING. TO. BE. DIAGNOSING. YOURSELF.”

“Well, dear, you know, I’m 84. I only have five years left.”

“THE 89 THING AGAIN?!!! GAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!”

And at 85 she only had 4 years left; at 86: 3, at a 87: 2, at 88:1, and now, at 89 . . . . . hahahahahaahahahahahahaaa! We can’t predict! Because she made it! She made it she made it she made it she made it!!! 90, baby. THE BIG 9-0. God bless her, her doctors, my mother (her own personal nurse) and her amazing genetics.

I only hope I got at least half of her survive-insane-medical-condition genes. Because, by God, I WILL uncover my illnesses and if I can mange to uncover them BEFORE they reach critical condition, maybe I can bounce back even faster. But find them I will. How could I not? I have more doctors looking over my body in a year than she had in almost half-a-century.

Happy birthday, grandma. I love you more than words can say. Here’s to you, modern medicine, and your awesome genes. I’m gonna put 90 candles on your cake, and light up every one. And I’m going to take an extra amount of pleasure with that 90th. HA!

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This entry was posted on July 27, 2012. 6 Comments

Please Don’t Eat The Daisies

The girls had a sleepover Monday night with a friend, and it was generally tame. They ate pizza, they giggled, they played video games, they wrote in a best friends’  journal, and they went to sleep. The night passed without incident and then morning arrived, birds chirped, coffee brewed, and the girls decided it would be a good idea to heat up last night’s pizza for breakfast. While I was on the phone in the other room.

Disaster? Of course. But not as you’d expect. Because the disaster didn’t happen when I was on the phone. Not a single mishap was performed while I was chatting, except that one of the slices of pizza was under-heated. One was perfectly edible, and one was still frozen. So I told my older daughter, Boo, to put it back in the toaster oven to reheat it. After all, they had reheated the first slice with no mishaps, so they’d just do the same with slice #2. Right?

Of course not. Because slice #2 had already been put on a plastic plate. So Boo put the pizza AND THE PLATE into the toaster oven. This escaped my notice despite the fact that I was IN THE ROOM at the time. If I was outside gardening, or upstairs talking to my contractor, or still on the phone in another room I could beat myself up for being a terribly inattentive mother. But I was Right There. I had my back turned to Boo, but was actually in the room. Which is why when she said, three minutes later, “Can I get my pizza now?” I walked over to the toaster oven and, reaching for the handle, glanced through the window. Which is when I saw pizza, and something that was definitely NOT pizza, in the oven.

“Did you put the PLASTIC PLATE in the oven??!!!” I asked, opening the oven door and seeing that, indeed, there was a totally melted plastic plate in the toaster, oozing between the grates like an orange blob of blown glass. I might have thought it was actually pretty if I hadn’t been so worried about inhaling potential toxicity.

Boo’s reply, “You didn’t tell me NOT TO . . . ”

My response to all the children in the room: “Run. Away. Now.” Which they did. Manhattan subway cockroaches exposed to a flood light do not flee faster than those three children did. They were GONE. Which was good, as I didn’t want them inhaling plastic fumes. I also didn’t want to whack Boo in the head with the now ruined toaster oven.

The problem was that I was less inclined to mete out punishment than to burst into laughter at my child’s latest artless destruction. And all because of that one phrase, ‘You didn’t tell me NOT TO . . . ”

When Boo was around three I read a book of essays by Jean Kerr entitled Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. If you’re a mom and you haven’t read it, you should. She was fabulous. The title story takes place the day of a dinner party that she is going to throw that evening. She has been spending the whole week getting everything ready for entertaining a variety of guests at her home, and everything is being set up. She develops a litany of things that her two young boys are not to do, and they are the standard admonishments that every mother recognizes–don’t mess up the table, don’t torture the cat, don’t drag mud in on the carpet. The dinner party guests are about to arrive and she comes out of the kitchen to find that the daisies in the floral centerpieces have been completely decapitated. Of course she calls in her two boys to ask what has happened here, and they tell her, “You didn’t tell us not to eat the daisies!”

This has been the story of my life with Boo. “You didn’t tell me I couldn’t eat a plastic lizard.” “You didn’t tell me I should throw up in the toilet rather than in the sink.” “You didn’t tell me that CDs and DVDs scratch easily.” “You didn’t tell me the cat had thrown up right there where I stepped.” “You didn’t tell me I should take off my shoes after walking in the mud.” “You didn’t tell me the stove was hot.” “You didn’t tell me not to feed those cheetos to the cat.” The amount of artless destruction and mess that my child has effected in her eight short years of life on this planet have led us to occasionally refer to her as Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds. She is absolutely a benign and natural destructive force. And so, yesterday on Facebook, I posted this:

Boo decided to re-heat some frozen pizza for herself, for breakfast, in the toaster oven, without informing or asking me. She just put it on a plate and put it on in there. The plate? Was plastic. Now I need to buy a new toaster oven, and Boo retains her nickname: Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds. Is it too early to start drinking?

Now, some might expect the usual comments to be split between judging that  my daughter shows a profound lack of common sense: who wouldn’t know that plastic would melt in a toaster oven? and claiming that her act highlights my failure as a mother: did you ever TEACH her that plastic melts under high heat? Fortunately, none of my friends said any of that, which just goes to prove that I have amazing, forward thinking, fun, and loving friends. These people are, quite honestly, the very best allies my daughter will ever have.

One of my newest friends wrote: “She just purified your family right into a renewed toaster oven. Nicely done Shiva!” I love that my friends don’t judge me even for my inaccurate knowledge of foreign gods.

A fellow school mom wrote:  “At least there was an attempt on her part to be independent and self reliant. 🙂 Sorry about the death of your toaster oven. :-(” And this is the blessing of friends who have older kids. They can always put a positive spin on things.

One of my favorite neighbors wrote: “That is a great story!! You now have a memory that will be priceless!!” And you know what, here it is, on this blog, memorialized forever!

Another dear school friend, and fellow blogger, wrote: “What a waste of pizza!!! haha **hugs Boo**” After I read that, of course, I had to convey the hug. Boo was happy to see her mom smiling and laughing about the whole thing.

One of my funniest college friends and I have a running joke that, even though he has no children, he is going to write a parenting book. I informed him that he will have to amend his book title to “Don’t stick a fork . . . OR ANYTHING PLASTIC . . . in the toaster.” He replied, “Well, I was going to put that under “Other Helpful Parenting Tips,” but in light of this morning, you’re right.” It’s amazing when a potentially dangerous episode with a child can be transformed into a writing workshop-like title discussion.

One of my few remaining before-the-children-came-along university friends, who has helped me pull myself out of many, many bad!Mommy moments commented: “Haven’t we all done something similar? Foil in the microwave? Glass baking dish under the broiler? or is it just me?”  This made me realize that I was wasting a perfectly good teaching moment being upset about a toaster. I decided the best way to handle the situation was to turn it into a learning experience and realized it was better she made this error under the mostly-watchful eye of her mother rather than alone in a dorm when she’s 19. It led me to talk to the girls about all sorts of heating mistakes–don’t put a glass dish under a broiler (I even showed Boo and Critter what the broiler WAS!); don’t put aluminum foil, or any metal, in the microwave; don’t put plastic in the oven, on the bottom rack of the dishwasher, or on the grill. I even taught them the difference between silicone and plastic! And what was more, we had fun talking about all the mistakes I made as a young wife trying to cook in a very tiny, cramped, ill-equipped kitchen.

Boo’s dear teacher from preschool play and music classes, who we greatly miss seeing, asserted: “I’m sure [Boo] only meant this to be an important science experiment performed solo for maximum educational value! Hang in there. [Her duaghter] once tried a slice of cheese in the DVD player…imagine those results!” She made me realize that kids are going to sometimes even do things not out of artless ignorance but out of curiosity (this will most likely be more true of Critter than it will ever be of Beth) and that when that happens I will have to be understanding, resourceful, and forgiving as well.

A good childhood friend of my husband’s explained: “At least she learned a valuable lesson early-and some extra points for initiative. Boo-just make mom a mushy card and all will be well!” As it turns out, he is very wise, because all is well. It even has a happy ending! After the toaster  oven cooled off and the plastic re-congealed, with the help of our contractor-friend who was at our house yesterday, the toaster oven was SAVED! And the kingdom rejoiced! I did not have to take the money for a new toaster oven out of Boo’s allowance!

And ultimately, in the light of a new day, I can even more fully assert that yesterday my friends were absolutely right–what yesterday was frustrating and potentially horrifying is now humorous anecdote of the Jean Kerr/Erma Bombeck school. What I want to know is how Jean and Erma managed to find the humor in these situations without a world of friends at their fingertips on Facebook. Maybe times were simpler then. Maybe there were less distractions. Maybe interactions weren’t as frequent or as necessary. But I’m grateful I live in the time I do, because though it seems that the frustration of mothers at the insanity of their children has not changed, my electronic world makes it a lot easier to handle it all.

Toy Jail

Yesterday I took my daughter’s cardboard Build-A-Bear box and made a jail for their toys. It’s sad, really, that it has come to this. In all fairness, the toys have not done anything to deserve being put in jail. If anything, it should be called a “toy spa,” because those toys have been so abused, neglected, and strewn about that they could use some pampering. Maybe I will put a soft velvet lining in the Build-a-Bear box so they can recline in comfort. That would, however, defeat the psychological purpose of the toy jail, which is to make the kids want to earn the toys back by doing a variety of chores around the house. Because on the outside of the box is a little envelope in which I have placed strips of index cards with different household chores they need to do to release a toy from jail. So, of course the jail has to look sad and unappealing or the kids won’t want to break the toys free.

To be fair, I don’t think the kids want to free the toys anyway. If watching them is any indication, they are perfectly content to let mommy store the toys in jail for all eternity. They just don’t care about their stuff. Well, about most of their stuff. They are inseparable from their lovies (for Boo this is a stuffed lamb named Fluffles; for Critter it is her blanket which is aptly named Blanket) and would recoil in terror should either of those items ever make it into toy jail. Everything else? Feh. Not so much. Take it, leave it . . . they’ll find something else to play with.

I suppose here is where I could go into the litany of “The kids have too much. They take everything for granted. They have no respect because they didn’t earn it. They have no idea how spoiled they are. If I had the toys they had when I was a child, I would have treated them like gold. I barely had a sock and a stick to play with, blah blah blah.” Much of which is, of course, untrue. I had lots of toys. And I treated a lot of them like crap. So much so that when I was about five my mother decided to start threatening me with the arrival of the “toy fairy.”

Ah, yes, the infamous toy fairy. She was the supernatural precursor to the toy jail. She would come in the middle of the night to the houses of children who did not clean up their toys and TAKE EVERYTHING. So, yeah, one morning I woke up, stumbled down to the living room to play with the Little People village I’d set up (and not taken down) the night before, and it was gone. Everything. Gone. Totally gone. Nowhere to be seen. I was stunned. “Where are my toys?” I asked.

“I told you I was going to call the toy fairy,” my mom replied.

“She took my toys?” I asked.

“She took the toys you weren’t taking care of, and she’s going to give them to children who will appreciate them.”

“She’s GIVING AWAY ALL MY TOYS?!!!” I asked. That had not originally been part of the toy fairy profile. I knew she’d come and take them. I didn’t know she was going to redistribute them. When I tell my kids this story they say, “So the toy fairy was a DEMOCRAT?” (And there’s about the most politics you’re ever going to read in this blog, folks).

“Well,” my mom replied, “she’ll give away all your toys unless you call her to let her know that you’re sorry and will take better care of your toys from now on.”

“I can CALL HER?” I asked. Why hadn’t I been told that before? I thought only adults could call in the toy fairy. I didn’t know she could be contacted by children.

“Of course you can call her,” my mother said. “Would you like to?”

Because I was five I didn’t yet know expressions like, “Is the Pope Catholic?” but if I had, I would have said that. Instead I think I just nodded, terrified that I was now going to have to speak to Her. The Toy Fairy. The Maleficent of the plastic world.

My mom picked up a shopping bag with a picture of Santa on it and dialed the rotary phone. Chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck. Chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck-chuk. Another experience my children will never have. WAITING for the PHONE to DIAL. As it turned out, the number she was dialing was the general office number of the NY Telephone company where my grandmother worked. I had no idea that’s where the bag came from. All I saw was that Santa was on that bag. And all sorts of ideas started going through my head. Santa. The Toy Fairy. In the same place???!!!! It couldn’t be a coincidence. Did HE get his toys from HER? Was HE her redistribution machine? Was she putting the elves out of business? Did Santa not so much make toys as recycle them? My little five-year-old brain started to go down some pretty scary paths. Luckily, my mother finished dialing and someone on the other end of the line picked up.

I heard my mother mumble a bit, then say, “HI! Is this the TOY FAIRY? I have a VERY SAD LITTLE GIRL who wants to SPEAK TO YOU.”

I took the receiver of the phone like it was a snake, and put it to my ear. “Hello?”

“Hello!” said the voice on the other end of the line. I remember it flitting through my head that the voice sounded remarkably like my grandmother’s. It’s a wonder, in a child’s brain, that I could so easily dismiss that similarity because the number had been on a bag with Santa’s picture on it. Seriously. If that phone company bag had a flamingo on it, or the Empire State Building, or a picture of a phone my family would have been so busted! But Santa. I don’t think my mother knew how essential that Santa bag was to the whole charade.

“Hello,” I said again. “Is this the Toy Fairy?”

“Yes,” said the toy-fairy-who-sounded-like-grandma.

“Can I please have my toys back?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” the toy fairy said. “I’m not sure if you really WANT them back.”

“I do! I do! I love them! I want them back!”

“Well, you certainly didn’t seem to value them enough to take care of them.”

“But I do! I do! I just left them out because I’d set up the whole village and was going to play with them again in the morning. I love them! I want them back! Please don’t give them away to the other children!”

“You need to put them away every night. Will you do that?”

“I will! I promise! I will! I’m sorry!” At this point I was probably crying.

“Well then, I’ll bring them back tonight and you’ll have them tomorrow.”

So I lived for a whole day without my toys and the next morning they were back. It was like second Christmas. And I did put my toys away every night after that. Because my parents had totally upped the stakes. Put the toys away or they’re gone. Forever.

It wasn’t toy jail. It was toy armageddon.

For some reason I can’t bring myself to do that to my kids, even though I know how effective it was for me. And that, in the words of Yoda, is why I fail as a parent. I’m not willing to take the hard steps. I am, in essence, a marshmallow. Plus, I just don’t have the kind of determination it would take to get all the toys out of my house in one evening.

As a matter of fact it strikes me as both amusing and telling that my parents were able to take all of my toys away while I slept. I think, to get all the toys out of this house during the nighttime hours, I’d need a bulldozer and a dump truck. And where would I hide them? I’d need a storage pod or something.

Which brings me back to the point that my kids have too much stuff.

I know it’s rationalizing to say that the reason they’re so dismissive of their things is because they have too much. It’s almost like they can’t wrap their minds around how to organize it. But to be honest that’s just giving them far too little credit. They could organize and clean if they wanted to. They just have better things to do–like read, watch tv, play with their friends, and whine about cleaning–than to work to make my house look like a tornado did NOT just whip through it.

So how do you make a person–in this case, a child–do something they have absolutely no desire to do? Do I have to go nuclear and call in the Toy Fairy? Do I have to ultimately take everything away? Do I have to show them that mom is no longer someone to be trifled with? Or will the toy jail work?

I’ll keep you posted.

Don’t Blog Bored!

We have reached day 41 of summer vacation down here in Florida. (I’m not personally counting, but one of my dear friends is. She’s doing a photo journal of the summer, and posts one picture a day on Facebook. That’s kind of how I know). Not every state gets out of school at the same time, I learned a few years ago. Florida’s school year ends in early June (this year on my 40th birthday, June 8th) and starts in mid-August (this year on August 20th–so just about 30 days away). So, that Phineas and Ferb song–there are not 104 days of summer vacation. There are, like, 72 or something. How come they get an extra month?

We are thus just a little over midway through the summer and It has hit. Boredom. I’m bored, the kids are bored, everything has taken on this general feeling of, “Eh? Why bother? We’ve kind of done that already.”

Maybe it’s just the weather, or the barometric pressure, or allergies. I don’t know. Because there’s plenty to do around here, it’s just that none of us can work up any of the energy to do it. Some people call it “lying fallow.” I like that, the idea of letting things go and doing absolutely nothing so that I can recharge for when things really DO need doing. Except that it feels less like re-charging and more just like being on strike.

I want to work, I really do. I want to get it done. But something is stopping me, and I can’t quite name it. It’s frustrating. Maybe I’m just so overwhelmed with all that needs to be done that . . . well no. That’s not true. I mean, it’s not like I have vast amounts of things to do. It’s just that what I have to do is always the same: dishes, laundry, teach the kids something, plan a lesson, get Girl Scout stuff planned. Nothing grand or exciting, just the ins and outs of everyday life.

Day 41 of summer vacation is the Groundhog Day of summer. I’m getting the feeling of “Oh, this again?” at the same time as I’m beating on myself because I don’t know if I’m making this the BEST POSSIBLE SUMMER DAY IT COULD BE.

Did my parents worry about this stuff during my summers? Of course not. They didn’t wake up every morning saying to themselves, “How can we focus today so that Diane remembers it forever as the pinnacle day of summer break?” They pretty much did what they always did: woke me up, gave me something to eat, told me to call my friends and then either pitched me out of the house or watched kids invade. Granted, I only had, like, two friends, so it wasn’t much of an invasion, but still.

And, to be fair, I am not the kind of mom who believes I should entertain my kids. I interact with them. I care for them. I am always available for a hug. But no, I am not getting down and playing Lego’s or Littlest Pet Shops or Moshi Monsters with you. I’m more of a puzzle person, and a board game person. I’m always up for a game of Scrabble. Sadly, no one wants to play scrabble. Or play writing games. Or read books right now. So I’m bored. Bored bored bored bored bored.

Phineas and Ferb are never bored. Then again, that’s because they take the initiative to make each of their summer days the best day ever. Their mom mostly goes out and then feeds them snacks. I like that mom. That mom: she is my hero. Though I hope if my kids were building  a spaceship in the backyard I’d notice. But I love Linda (the mom) because she just leaves the kids to their own devices and doesn’t worry much. I would like to emulate Linda.

But it’s hard, because deep down inside I’m the sister, Candace. Only instead of busting the kids for doing something outrageous, I bust myself. “Mom! Diane’s not doing the laundry!” “Mom! Diane’s not playing with the kids!” “Mom! Diane’s not making dinner!” “Mom! Diane’s not putting away the dishes!” I tattle on myself, to myself. God, I am such a nag.

And this is why I should not write a blog entry when I’m bored. Because it shows how truly insane I can become. I don’t just talk to myself on occasion, I tattle on myself. But it’s a step up from when I was a kid and I used to play bored games with myself. And cheat so that my favorite board piece would win.

Then again, that sounds like a lot more fun than making dinner. Or laundry.

Getting Ready for New Year’s!

Now you probably think I’m one of THOSE people–the ones who have their Christmas shopping done and are already moving on to December 31st. Well, I’m not. I’m lucky if the Christmas presents are wrapped by December 24th. I’m not talking about that day at the end of December when people either get drunk or depressed or both. The only significance that holiday has for me is that it’s my mother’s birthday, and she’s such an awesome woman that the entire world, in every time zone, SHOULD totally throw a party on her birthday.

But no, I’m talking about the REAL New Year’s, or the one that has always been more real to me than December 31st–the first day of school.

I went into Wal-Mart today to get a new bristle brush (which, in our house, we call “tickly brush” as opposed to all the “hurty brushes” we have lying around). For some reason I cannot fathom, tickly brush likes to take vacations from us now and again. One minute it’s there, then . . . gone. For days. Then it’s there again. And it’s the only brush Critter will allow to touch her unruly locks without a whole lot of whining. I got tired of scouring the house for the tickly brush that is undoubtedly not going to show up any time soon, so I decided to run into The Mart to get another one. Which I know exemplifies everything that’s wrong with the United States, along with Big Gulps and Large Movie popcorn and televisions larger than some small European countries, but sometimes I cave to Capitalistic impulses to have more than one of something because I’m tired of wasting twelve minutes in the morning looking for an item that’s turned itself invisible.

However, the spirit of frugality and restraint took hold of me today and wouldn’t let go. First, today was one of those days when I walked into Wal-Mart and the glare of those fluorescent lights and the sheer amount of STUFF in the place nearly got me dizzy. This happens when I’ve been away from Wal-Mart for a long time. Maybe it’s all the colors of all the stuff stacked together, or the way it’s so very bright, or the sheer size of the place that’s so overwhelming. I immediately felt like a deer in headlights, and nauseated, and I just wanted to get out of there. So I rushed over to the hair aisle to find they had absolutely no tickly brushes. None.

By then, of course, I had gone through the fluorescent adjustment process and was feeling much less overwhelmed, and I felt that having gone through the trouble of parking, walking through the lot, and smelling those awful Subway sandwiches on the way into the store (the outside of that shop ALWAYS smells like vomit), I should at least spend a few minutes there in case there was something else I wanted to buy that I couldn’t remember right that moment. So I started to wander the aisles right at the front of the door and that’s when I saw them: school supplies.

“It’s only July! She wants the kids back at school already?” you might ask. Of course not. I want summer to last for the next two hundred years. I love my kids’ school, and I love my friends there, and I love that my kids like to go there. But I’m not ready to start that getting up at 6am, packing snacks and lunches, nagging them to find their shoes routine that I am so thrilled to be freed from for two whole blessed months. As a matter of fact I was thinking that if school could just start an hour or so later, at 9am instead of 7:45am, my life could feel so much more civilized and in-control. But I don’t think that amendment is going to pass, so I’m not even going to propose it.

So, no, I don’t want school to start again. I miss my kids when they’re at school. What I want is The Notebooks. The Pens. The Post-It Notes. The Folders.

*Shiver*

New school supplies are to me what shoes are to that Sex in the City character who I don’t like and never watched. But I knew she really had a thing for shoes. I could care less about shoes. Or clothes, furs. Granted, I like jewelry. But not the way I like school supplies. Other than the obvious increased chance of paper cuts, I could SO see myself in a room full of empty notebooks feeling wave after wave of joy washing over me.

I walked through every school supply aisle, slowly, and felt my eyes start to glaze and my breathing start to hitch. I leaned forward and grabbed one notebook and it smelled so new. The pages were all tightly packed together and just waiting to be opened. Oh, that CRACKLE of a just-opened notebook. And the smell of fresh paper-a clean, unblemished sheaf of paper just begging to be written on. Full of hope and promise. What might I write on you, beautiful, beautiful notebook. Mine. My own. My precious.

It took a great deal of struggle to put that notebook back. When I did, I felt like Galadriel from Lord of the Rings when she didn’t take the One Ring from Frodo.  As the notebook slid back into the box my brain said, “Ah. I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Diane.”

What is it about new school supplies, the new school year, that sets my soul pulsating? And why, at 40, do I still see August/September as the only new year’s that has ever been, or ever will be? Because no matter how long I’ve been away from it, and no matter what else I’ve been doing in the meanwhile, I am a teacher and a learner, heart and soul. Writing, teaching, and learning are my all-consuming passions. I’m not kidding when I compare myself to Galadriel. For her, the ring was the ultimate temptation, the epitome of power, joy, and achievement. For me, it’s teaching. It’s what I trained to do. It’s what I love to do. It’s one of the only things I can truly say I do consistently well. And yet, it is dangerous, because it drives me to distraction. The world falls away when I write, and read, and comment on student papers, and plan lessons, and teach. I’m in another dimension where I almost feel like pure energy. The time flies by, and what I thought was ten minutes was actually an hour.

I left teaching when Boo arrived on the scene. I just didn’t see how I could juggle the baby and the career. It was a tough decision to make because I had just landed a tenure track position in English and Writing at a wonderful local university. I was living the dream. But my daughter became my new dream, and I couldn’t find space in my mind or heart for both. So I had to choose, and I chose Boo. It was a smart choice, I think, seeing as how, two years later, I became so amazingly ill when pregnant with Critter that I couldn’t move most days. I couldn’t even catch my breath. I don’t know how I would have taught classes. It was the right thing to do.

Yet I missed it with every fiber of my being, some days. Other days I just threw myself into being the teacher of my kids, and it got better. But when Critter started five-morning-a-week preschool I immediately decided to go back. It was exhilarating to be back in a classroom again. It was like I’d never left. I’d been away for seven years, and I slipped back into that professor persona without missing a beat. It was like slipping into a warm bath, or opening a brand new notebook. Being back in the classroom, with my students, and the writing, and the computers, and the books . . . ohhhhh. I could have gotten lost there. And part of me did.

I was talking with a student one day and he remarked at how happy I was when I talked about writing. Without even thinking I said, “I love doing this more than I love doing anything else in the entire world.” Then, on the drive home, I called my dear friend who is also a college professor and mother, weeping near-hysterically. “How could I say that?” I wailed. “I love my kids. I love my husband. I love being with them. I should love being with them more than I love doing anything else in the entire world! Why did I say that? I’m A HORRIBLE MOTHER.”

“You’re not a horrible mother,” my amazing friend said. “You’re a wonderful mother. You’ve given up your career for your family. And of course you love being with your kids and husband more than anything else in the world. I listen when you talk to me. When you and the kids and your husband are away on vacation, or at the beach, or bopping around town, you’re truly, honestly happy. And don’t tell me you would rather be teaching than you would be walking through the Magic Kingdom on a mild Florida day with your family.”

“No,” I sniffled. “I really love that.”

“I know!” she said. “What you DON’T love, my dear, is housework. And laundry. And cooking. And dishes. And playing Candyland for the 275,000th time. You don’t love nagging people to do their homework, and picking underwear up off the floor, and finding wet towels on the bed, and not even having a moment of peace when you’re on the toilet.”

“Okay,” (see what an awesome friend she is, and how much better she was already making me feel), “that’s true.”

“You LOVE being a mom. You LOVE being a wife. You LOVE being with your family. And I bet that if your kids and husband could be in the classroom with you, you wouldn’t mind. Right?”

“That’s . . .true.”

“Right. So what you’re saying you love more than anything else in the world is living in a world of ideas, rather than a world of laundry.”

“Yeah. Yeah. That’s it! That is true! I like having conversations with my kids. When they’re not talking about poop. I love having conversations with my husband when they’re about something other than why we can’t get the kids to stop talking about poop. But you know what–not a single one of my college students EVER SAYS THE WORD POOP in class. I REALLY LIKE THAT. And they don’t follow me into the bathroom. Ever. That’s really nice.”

“Yeah! See? You’re not a bad mother! You’re just a really awesome TEACHER.”

So I persevered through that semester until the day came that Teddy Bear Pajama Day was scheduled on the same day I had to teach. I tried to make it work. I really did. I let my students come in an hour late so I could be at school first thing in the morning. But morning announcements ran long, and by the time I had to leave to get to my class, which was already starting an hour late, the kids had just started singing. So I had to duck out right as Christa was doing a teddy bear dance, and I couldn’t even say good-bye.

I cried the whole way to work.

Then I got to my classroom, where my students were wonderfully up and awake, having had an extra hour to sleep, and I tried to pull the, “Everything’s fine over here! Don’t worry about me! I just decided to come in looking like a tear-y eyed mess to give you all something to write about!”

They didn’t buy it.

“What happened?” they asked. I thought it was sweet that it wasn’t just the cute young girls that looked concerned. The boys looked truly alarmed.

They had reason to be, because I proceeded to make them all exceedingly uncomfortable when one tear slipped out of each eye as I explained, “I had to leave in the middle of teddy bear pajama day! And this is the LAST teddy  bear pajama day! It’s MY BABY’S teddy bear pajama day.”

“Diane,” (yes, I let my students call me by my first name) my students said, “We love having you as a professor. You’re, like, the best professor most of us have. But you really need to be with your kids right now. Anyone in the world can see that.” (I LOVE college students. Really. I think they’re almost universally made of awesome).

So, I toughed it out through the semester, had some fun, and took yet another teaching hiatus. I’ve kept busy, of course. I volunteer at the kids’ school like a madwoman. I write some, more now that I have this blog. I have projects I work on. I’m teaching a writing summer camp for Kindergarten through 3rd graders this summer. But, oh. To go back to teaching. To have that thrill of excitement for what the new semester will bring! To have a fresh new syllabus ready for review, to have the first two weeks of lessons generally planned, to look at a new list of fresh names and wonder who these wonderful new people are going to be! Even knowing that, by 1/3 into the semester the optimism of the unknown will have sunk into the pessimism of the “Oh GOD they know NOTHING, and will NEVER, EVER, EVER GET THIS!” which will evolve to the realism of “Okay. We can do this. I’m good enough to teach them this, and they’re good enough to learn most of it” which will then morph into the desperation of “Just get me to Thanksgiving, Lord, and I promise I’ll give everyone an extension on their paper so they can, maybe, get a B” to the elation of “Last week of class! Screw it! I’m done! Go home, finish your last papers, actually PROOFREAD THE DAMN THINGS THIS TIME and no, I’m sorry, spell check is NOT going to help you distinguish between the words ‘loose’ and ‘lose,” “their,” “there,” and “they’re,” or “it’s” and “its” so actually run your eyes over your own papers FOR ONCE.”  I still would be so happy to be back there.

Well, someday. I hope. Until then, I’ll just start planning all the volunteer stuff that has to be done this year. I’m sure I need a BIG notebook for that!

Pay. Attention.

No, not to me. As a matter of fact, it’s probably better that you pay me no attention at all. Though I like it when you do. I especially like it when you comment. Because that’s FUN and ENCOURAGING.

No, when I say pay attention, I’m talking to myself. And I’m reminding myself to pay more attention to my kids.

And the irony, of course, is that as I’m writing this I’m paying absolutely no attention to my kids. Granted, it’s 9:53pm, and they should be in bed already. So I shouldn’t HAVE TO pay attention to them right now. The only reason they’re still awake is because daddy is allowing them to play Rock Band with him. And when they’re rocking out, I’m mostly off the hook. Though I do play a mean fake guitar.

What’s even more ironic is that I’ve decided, today, to write about how I’m starting to realize that I should be paying the MOST attention to my kids when they’re playing video games. Because if I don’t, according to some things I’m reading, my kids may one day kill themselves. Yes, I know that sounds a bit extreme. And yesterday when a friend of mine linked to an article, “How Video Games Kill the Mind and Body” on Facebook I had a knee-jerk, “I call bullsh*t” reaction to it after just reading the title, and  after a cursory read of it, I got snarky. My friend called me out on my snarkiness, and so I stepped away from the computer for a little while and spent much of the day thinking about that exchange. After talking with my dear friend M. about some video game concerns, I realized that my friend L. was right. I was playing Devil’s Advocate, I dismissed the concept too soon, and, while it’s extreme, it probably is something parents of young children and teen-agers need to become more aware of.

The article I’m referring to is an interview conducted with Mrs. Elizabeth Wooley, who founded an organization called Online Gamers Anonymous after her son, an avid–and some, including me, would say addicted–online gamer, committed suicide. He started online gaming and became so obsessed with his online life that he stayed up all night playing, quit his job, and became unable to support himself.  A little over a year later he killed himself. She says that after her son died she came in contact with many other families whose children had become so addicted to online video game play that they fell into deep depressions, abandoned their real lives entirely and, after becoming destitute, homeless and unable to get away from the gaming life, killed themselves. She talks about parents who allowed their living child to die of malnutrition because of their utter and complete attentiveness to a game, women who’ve left their husbands to be with men they’ve met gaming online, fathers who neglect their families to play with their online friends, and brilliant teens who lose scholarships because, once on their own in their college dorms, they do nothing but play games all day and night.

I have to say this woman is remarkably fair-minded. She’s not demonizing games. She may be broad-blanketing things a little bit–I, for one, would say that she really needs to clarify that’s she’s talking about ONLINE games rather than all video games; Wii Mario Kart, Kinect Adventures and Rock Band do not share ANY of the characteristics of the games like EverQuest to which she’s referring. But all in all she’s only calling for awareness, moderation, and supervision rather than banning, outlawing, or legislating.

To be fair to me, the visceral reaction I had to this article was borne of a childhood full of scapegoating the media, pushing for regulation and banning, and outright demonizing everything from t.v. shows to video games. I vaguely recall, in my teens, people trying to outlaw Loony Toons, Tom & Jerry and other cartoons for breeding recklessness and violent tendencies in children. Then there were the accusations that Dungeons and Dragons games were making kids violent. Then, video games. And now, the accusation that video games are making kids suicidal. My opinion on these accusations had always been “I never got violent, and I watched Loony Toons ALL THE TIME” (after all, we had a total of 3-5 television stations when I was growing up. What else was on?); “I played Dungeons and Dragons. I don’t think I’m really a sword wielding elf in real life;” and “I play video games. I don’t go outside hitting people with baseball bats after playing Grand Theft Auto.” However, after my friend called me out on my knee-jerk snark, I realized two other things: I have made it a point to NEVER play online video games, and the one time I did play one (Farmville) I found very quickly that I had to get away from it as soon as possible. After all, when my real cat’s food and water bowls were empty and stayed that way for five minutes because my online dog needed to be fed within five minutes of my returning home for the day, I knew there was a problem. I withdrew from the game that very day.

Here are the differences, I think, between online gaming and traditional video games:

1. You can become an entirely other person online. And you can create every single thing about that person, from how they look to how they talk to what their skills are. And these things can be diametrically opposed to who you are in real life. An online gamer can, quite literally, reinvent herself. In the games my family and I play, our characters are pretty well-defined. For instance, I’m a HUGE fan of the Final Fantasy series (I think we’re in the middle of playing XIII now), which is essentially a quest novel in video game form. The main character is always a young Japanimated boy with spiky hair and a bad attitude. Also, he has no parents. And he doesn’t know who he is. Or where he comes from. So we play the entire game as an ill-tempered amnestic orphan. Certainly not an identity we would create for ourselves. And our role is VERY well spelled out. We get stronger, so we can fight proscribed battles that are already programmed into the game and are thus not determined by any choices we make. Just like in a novel. Page 125 is going to come no matter what choices you make. Nothing’s gonna get page 125 there faster or slower except for how much time you put into reading the book. It’s page 125. And nothing is going to change what’s on page 125. The video games I play are predictable and pretty much plotted. Which brings me to my second point.

2. From what I understand of online games, they are totally open-ended. If your avatar (or electronic self) decides to go left rather than right, the entire game is changed forever. It’s like living in a real world rather than a novel. That’s not an option in the games I play. Again, page 125 is going to come to my snarky, amnestic orphan whether I decide to turn left or right. If I can even turn left. Because in the games I play the game makers have ways to prevent me from going left if I haven’t unlocked the plot point that allows me to do so. The idea of playing a game that would allow ONE decision in gaming to change the ENTIRE COURSE of my character’s future terrifies me from a game perspective. You mean I can NEVER KNOW what would happen if I’d just turned right? NEVER? But I can see how, if I let myself get into it, I could find it addicting. I mean, tomorrow, in my real life, the only thing that will happen if I turn right instead of left is that I’ll have to make a U-turn, or go 20 minutes out of my way, to get my kids to summer camp. Other than that, no major change will occur in my future or my fate. But in an online game if I turn left, I could meet my future online life-partner. Or co-quester. In an online game, I would think that amounts to the same thing. Which brings me to my third point.

3. In an online game, the “other characters” are REAL PEOPLE. To be honest, this is the #1 exact thing that has always kept me away from online games. Because, and I say this even to my friends out there who play games online, I am terrified of you. Part of me is terrified of you in the “stranger danger” way. How do I know you’re really you? More importantly, even if you are really you, how do I know that online you’re not pretending to be a kindly elf when in reality you’re a maniacal clown? So there we’ll be, playing along for weeks, or months, hunting trolls together, and I’ll turn around at some point and instead of looking at Lord of the Ring’s Legolas fighting next to me I’ll be looking at that clown from Stephen King’s “It.” SCARIEST. CLOWN. EVER. And then I will have to flee from my computer and hide in a dark closet, rocking. But then I’ll realize I’m in a dark closest, which is where evil clowns from 80’s horror movies like Poltergeist always hide before they kill people, and I’ll have to run out of the closet. And then I’ll see the computer and your maniacal clown face will be there looking at me, laughing. And I’ll cry. So no, I do not want to play Everquest with you. Ever. Also, another part of me is worried that I’m so incompetent at the game play that I’m going to totally wreck your experience, and you’re going to hate me forever. And who wants to play a game to make enemies? Especially of people I love talking to in the school parking lot. Finally, I’m just not a particularly social person, game-wise. If I want to socialize, let’s meet up at each other’s houses to have a glass of wine or something (I’m having a purse party on Saturday! Local friends are welcome to come over!) Or let’s get the kids together for an afternoon swim and have a cup of coffee and some apple strudel.

I’ve digressed there, haven’t I? Okay, maybe a little. The point is that online games bring gamers into contact with real people. And while that terrifies me for all the reasons stated above, I can imagine that for young people whose human interactions are less than stellar, the idea that you’re “meeting up” with your friends online, living a life as a person who is far more awesome than you think you are in real life and does things with far more skill than you think you have in real life, with perhaps more friends than you really have in real life–well, that could be addictive. Which brings me to the fourth difference:

4. Online video games can literally allow gamers to live a second life. I mean, isn’t one of the games out there actually called “Second Life”? That, alone, should tell us something. Especially if our kids are playing it. Kids, teen-agers, twenty-somethings should not have a second life. Second lives are for spies and people in witness protection, not for young people who have not yet gotten their first, real, only life off the ground. Because while sometimes life can resemble a video game (and during my days when I played a lot of games, I often found myself saying to my husband–then boyfriend–you know, this is JUST like in that video game!), a video game life is NOT a life. There is no programmer at work behind all of this. Nothing is pre-written, or proscribed (I mean, unless you believe in predestination. At the risk of sounding like the band Rush, I always choose Free Will. And this could take me on an ENTIRE tangent about God, religion, and all that. But I’ll save that for another entry).

How I want to conclude this one is in saying this:

1. Hey. L. I’m sorry I was snarky. You were right. And now I’m going to post a link to my blog on your page so you can read this and see how you. inspire. me.

2. I’m probably not going to let my kids play online video games. We’ll stick with Rock Band. It gives them a nice introduction to good music, allows me to discuss “inappropriate vs. appropriate dress choices,” and helps me teach them that “Crocodile Rock” does NOT really start with, “I remember when rock was young, Gnomeo and Juliet had so much fun.” )Elton John, I love you, but WHY did you do that to your song? It was a cute movie, it was great that you could actually make “Romeo and Juliet” work as a fairy tale about Garden Gnomes, but WHY did you mess with that song?) Also, “Just Dance” is good. The song “Pata Pata” is Made of Awesome. But the song Lollipop is not the one from the 50’s. It’s a lot . . . less . . . innocent.

3. My friends who really DO play online games, and who I know read this blog because you commented before. And you’re in SCIFI with me (something else I’ll post about later). And any OTHER readers out there who play online games. What do you think? Are they addictive? And if and when you play, do you have a hard time pulling yourself away? And what advice would you give to parents who are okay with their kids playing video games normally, about allowing kids to play online? And this could be not just games like EverQuest and Second Life, but games like Farmville, Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters? Because the girls REALLY want to play on the Moshi Monster online game, but it’s got some of those same “living online” elements that these other games have. Other than only allowing them to play under supervision, limiting their screen time, only allowing them to play after they’ve completed homework and chores, and all that, do you have any other advice?

4. And hey, husband! I think you’re awesome and I’m coming to bed as soon as I publish this. But what do you think about all this?

And finally:

5. What do you all want me to blog about next? I’m taking requests.

Now I’m going to go hug my kids who are still awake, through no fault of my own. I sent them to bed ten minutes after I started writing this. Because I was paying attention.

The Ubiquitous Backpack

Two years ago my then-four-year old, who for the sake of this blog I will call Critter, began toting around what I liked to call “a backpack of random stuff.” Okay. Those who know me will assert I did not actually use the word “stuff,” but this is a family blog and I don’t want to risk losing readers by using a word that begins with a “c” and ends with a “p,” but is not spelled “carp,” because that’s a fish. And if there’s one thing she did not carry around, it was a fish. Fish are not particularly welcome in our household. But I digress.

I blamed my older daughter, who for the sake of this blog I will call Boo, for this development. For years Boo had filled bags with the oddest assortment of things. Once when I opened one of her toy purses I found two plastic pieces of play-food (like half a green pepper and a doughnut), a blue plastic lizard, two marbles, a twist-tie from a bread bag, three scraps of paper, one penny, a Polly Pocket dress (sans Polly Pocket) and a small hat.  I would open it the next day and find a bottle cap, a fake cell phone, a real but defunct cell phone that I gave her to play with, a chap-stick, a used gift card, and a toy bird. The third day would be completely different. I had three theories on this: 1) Boo was the future MacGyver. 2) Her purse was a random plastic generator that aliens had beamed down to earth to experiment on unsuspecting children. Or the most likely, 3) Boo was a very special kind of hoarder–one whose gathering and storing showed absolutely no consistency, rhyme or reason.

But at least Boo only filled tiny little purses. Her younger sister fills BACKPACKS.

I will admit that I have, over the past few years, indulged the girls in buying them a new backpack every school year. My intention, of course, is to clean out and donate the old backpacks to the children in our church mission in the Dominican Republic. Yet as soon as the backpacks are emptied of wadded up tissue, half-empty water bottles, random pieces of artwork and yard mulch–and then run through the washing machine and dryer–the kids magically decide that they are made of awesome and cannot part with them. They don’t want to show up at school in the fall with the same backpack, but they’ll keep it in their closet in case there is a “backpack emergency,” thank you very much.

And so they probably each have about three old backpacks in their closets. And when I’d go in there I’d look at them, giggle, remember when they took them to school, and then close the closet door. Until Things Started to Go Missing. And I don’t mean Polly Pockets. I mean underwear. And dresses–not play dresses or day dresses or old dresses or doll dresses, but good dresses. Church level dresses. Dressy dresses. They were NOWHERE to be found.

Initially I thought the clothes might be at my mom’s house. Maybe I’d left a bag there, I thought. Or maybe someone had mistaken one of their dresses for something of mine. Yes, this quite honestly has happened, though I don’t quite know how ANYONE would think I’d fit in a child size ANYTHING. I can barely fit into a normal adult size (thank you forty-year-old female metabolism, lack of endorphins, and Girl Scout cookies). Still, I went through every closet, every drawer, and called my mom who went through every closet and every drawer. Nothing.

So I started looking again and noticed those backpacks were looking a little fuller than they were before. They weren’t laying in the bottom of the closet all empty and deflated. They were . . . bulging. And so I picked one up. And what did I find? The missing clothes! But far more than I had thought were missing. The bags were full of socks, underwear, good dresses, nightgowns, shoes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo–it was a “go bag.” Seriously. The children could have easily just grabbed those bags and been ready for a trip in less than five minutes. Bag, blanket, pillow, go.

I was amazed at the organization. So I called Boo over to both praise and yell at her for packing the bags. “That’s where those dresses went!” Boo exclaimed. “I’ve been looking EVERYWHERE for those!!!!”

So I turned to Critter. “Did you do this?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Did you pack bags for yourself AND your sister?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

The four-year-old did a better job of packing for herself and her sister than her father does for just himself. He invariably forgets something. Usually it’s underwear. Or socks. But once he forgot the pants to his suit. That he was supposed to wear to church. To a Christening. At which he was the GODFATHER. Had the jacket. Had the shirt. Had the tie. No pants. Twenty minutes til the Christening. No pants. We had to BORROW pants. PANTS!

Critter would have checked to make sure he had pants. I decided to put her in charge of packing everything for everyone from then on. She hasn’t done a bad job. She always packs extra underwear, which comes in handy because Boo never packs enough. And they’re only two years apart in age, so while wearing each other’s underwear is slightly uncomfortable, it’s better than going commando.

“Why did you pack these bags?” I asked.

“We have to be ready to go to college,” she answered, nodding sagely.

“College,” I replied.

“Yes, like our babysitter is going to college. You have to pack all sorts of stuff to go to college. Your BEST stuff. Your FAVORITE stuff. Because you’re leaving home. And you won’t be coming back for a LONG LONG time.”

Now, I knew the girls knew that our babysitter was heading off to college. I had no idea my youngest daughter was taking the idea so seriously. I still don’t know if she thought our babysitter was taking the girls with her, or if my daughter just wanted to be VERY PREPARED, VERY EARLY, but that was essentially the beginning of The Ubiquitous Backpack.

Critter is now firmly six years old, and she traipses around the house with her blanket and her backpack like a soldier in basic training. She’ll have some friends over for a play date, and they’ll be running around the house hunting the cat, or something (is it really a hunt when your target just lays there, sleeping, on the same chair all day?) and Critter will run out of the hallway behind her friends with this backpack just slapping against her back.  I have taken to calling her “Sherpa,” because the backpack is absolutely bursting with . . . things.

“What do you HAVE in there?” I asked her the other day. Because after that first time with the clothes, she knows that clothes have to stay in her closest. At all times. No More Hiding Clothes in the backpack.

“My favorite things,” she said, smirking.

“Like what?” I asked.

“I’m not telling,” she said, then wrapped her arms around the backpack and ran into her room. Because, yeah. I so desperately want her sack of randomness. That is the fulfillment of all my wishes as a parent. To steal her bag.

Her reasoning for carrying the bag has changed since those college days. Between the ages of four and five she carried the backpack around because she wanted to have her stuff with her when I’d drag her to various meetings and volunteer things I did during the day. I’d bring her into a clinic where I volunteered and she’d happily sit under a table with her backpack and pull out–I kid you not–seven books, her blanket, a stuffed animal and a floor mat. A FLOOR MAT. I don’t even know how she got the mat into the backpack. For a moment I thought she might have found that Harry Potter spell Hermione put on her bottomless bag or something. But no. She just squished it in REALLY good.

Between the ages of five and six she carried the backpack around because she just liked having her stuff. “No matter where I go, mommy,” she said, “I can be sure to make myself a happy place!” And she always did. No matter where she went–she was in school all day, so I no longer dragged her to all that many volunteer meetings, but we did go to friends’ houses, my mom’s house, hotels on vacation, places like that–she’d cordon off an area for herself that was hers and hers alone. Boo would have, like, a stuffed doll, some lint, and a fake lipstick, but Critter would have seventy-two items carefully selected from every toy bin in the house. One vacation was almost exclusively Littlest Pet Shop creatures. Our latest trip to my mom’s was a bag full of Moshi Monsters. But it’s always some sort of collection with a very specific theme and selection of items. No randomness at all. Very. Precise. And she does not share. “Boo can just pack her own bag!” she tells anyone who will listen if Boo dares to even glance at one of the items Critter has spilling out of her bag.

The latest reasoning for backpack toting was stated just yesterday. Boo and Critter were exhausted from staying up too late and so came home from summer camp and fell into a nice nap. Boo woke up hours later and climbed into my lap on the couch for a snuggle. Critter woke up a few minutes after her sister. She came out of the room with her blanket in her arm and her backpack on her back, then climbed up into my lap next to her sister with the backpack on. “Hello, Critter,” I said. “I trust you slept well,” and then I gave her a hug. “Hello backpack,” I said. “I don’t know why you’re here, but there seems to still be enough space on my lap for you.” The girls giggled, because the naps had put them into an excellent mood. “Why do you have this backpack attached to you today, Sherpa?” I asked.

“In case of a fire,” Critter said. “I want to have all my most important things with me.”

College. Entertainment. Happy place. Now fire preparedness. Is there anything this backpack CAN’T help with? I think not. And so I have a feeling that it will be lugged around with us for a long, long time. Which is not a bad thing. Especially if Critter always makes sure to pack an extra pair of underwear for her sister, and pants for her daddy.

This entry was posted on July 11, 2012. 5 Comments