Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shimmy and shake

I do not like spiders.  I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Unfortunately Seattle is home to a wide range of these vile little beasts.  Granted, the chances any of the myriad spiders I encounter are poisonous are very slim, so that's a plus.  Even so, their freaky, creepy legs and general existence are enough to scare the piss out of me.  Figuratively at least, I have not yet actually wet myself at the sight of a spider, but I can't completely rule it out in the future. At one point I seriously considered selling my car when an especially giant spider went missing in my vehicle.  But as a mom I have other responsibilities. I've tried to hold my screaming in when I encounter a spider if the boys are near.  I don't want them to catch my arachnophobia due the size and severity of my reaction, but I really don't have all that much control over it.

Anyhow, in our crappy summer weather here in Seattle, today required coats.  It was raining as we left the house this morning and on the porch on our way to school, the coats needed to be put on.  Big Dog had slipped into his rain jacket and I was fumbling with Little Dog's winter coat since I couldn't find his lighter weight water resistant jacket when I felt something on my arm.  It turn out the coat I'd pulled from the back of the coat hooks where it had hung undisturbed all summer had a passenger, a huge black spider the size of a pygmy goat, clinging to the hood.  In my attempts to ready the jacket to be worn, I'd disturbed this monster and it decided to climb down my arm.  What was I to do?  I screamed.  A loud, girly, shrieky scream.  I also shook and squirmed in a full body shiver as I lost sight of the beast, fearing that every little brush against my skin was the legs of this giant gorilla of a spider.  I finally spotted him on the porch floor and he met his end at the bottom of my shoe.  I stomped a few extra times just to be sure.

The boys watched in wonder.  Mr. Dog came running from inside the house to ask what happened.  Again, trying to hide my fear from the boys, I spelled it out for Mr. Dog, "S-P-I-D-E-R!"  I said, still squirming at the memory of the legs brushing against my skin. 
"Where is it?" said Big Dog, reminding me that the spelling-shit-out trick doesn't work when your kid can read.  Dammit.
"Don't worry about it.  It's gone," I said as calmly as possible.
"What was it mama?" asked Little Dog.
"Nothing," I replied, trying to usher the boys the the car.
"Then why did you do this?" he asked, and started his own little shimmy shake of a dance, complete with girly squeals and stomps as a mischievous grin spread across his impish face.
Then Mr. Dog started laughing.  Sometimes I feel like they're ganging up on me.  Including the spider.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My little tomato

Big Dog is kind of a funny kid.  Sure, he'll eat up ice cream or cookies given a chance, but you know what really moves this kid?  Tomatoes.  He loves them. This kid will eat a good tomato just like an apple with big bites right into the round red orb.  He'll eat them any size, but the ones he likes best are the tiny little oval tomatoes I buy at Trader Joe's.  He eats them for snacks, munches them with dinner and even eats them along side his cereal at breakfast.

One Easter at Grandma's house, Big Dog sat at the table after the big Easter brunch slyly popping something into his mouth.  If you went solely by the look on his face, you'd assume it was Easter candy because he looked like he was getting away with something.  You'd be wrong.  It was these little tomatoes.

Sometimes I do my grocery shopping on my lunch break.  On those occasions, if Big Dog notices a package of these little tomatoes in the bags in the back of the station wagon, I can be assured they will be gone, the entire pound of them, by the time we make the short trip home.

Yes, my son loves tomatoes.  Maybe this was partly influenced by the small vegetable garden we had near the entrance to our house when we first moved in.  As Mr. Dog would walk past the garden with Big Dog on the way into the house, they'd linger and pop cherry tomatoes ripe from the vine right into their mouths.    Anyone who has ever eaten a ripe tomato, still warm from the sun knows that this can be a transformative experience.

I'm happy his food of choice is healthy and I let him eat them whenever the craving strikes him.  Why wouldn't I?  If you had asked me a few days go, I might not have come up with a good answer, but I have one now.  The other morning when Big Dog woke up for school, there was an odd crinkling in his bed.  Unperturbed, he fished around under the blanket and pulled out a container of little tomatoes he'd swiped from the kitchen during the night.  "For snacking if I got hungry," he says.  There was another pack of them in his bed the following morning.  And while I may be supportive of his tomato addiction in general, I keep thinking that this is going one step too far.  Apart from just being odd, I can't help imagining the laundry should a few tomatoes go astray in the bedding until laundry day.  That's not a challenge I wish to take on.  Maybe he could just have them right when he wakes up.  I don't think that's unreasonable.  Do you?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Paradise Lost

Warning: this is one of those cases in which I use my blog as my own personal therapy.  There are not cute kid stories, not funny quips, just Psych 101 and "self discovery".  Feel free to skip it.

I spent the weekend with my family.  Not just Mr. Dog and the boys, but Stan, Auntie Chihuahua, Maria and our families.  The Walter Street family.  When I'm with these people it can feel like time stands still.  Like I've entered a time warp and been transported back to the comfort and warmth of our own little San Francisco era.  It's like I shrug off my responsibilities and revert back to a more carefree time.  Discussions of what we're doing in our own current lives seem somehow less real and more like an abstract discussion of something hovering someplace in between now and the future, but not really to in the same world we're inhabiting right this very moment. There is a pleasant separation between the stress and worries of my daily life as I shrug off Laura as she is now, and pull back on the Laura that I used to be.  In my mind it is as though the parallel lives of this little group cease to exist and they wait for me to reappear from my "real" life and then we pick back up where we left off with our last visit. I'm aware of these other lives and while I'm talking to them at a distance, they are real and compelling but my mind has them suspended when we're together and our connections are always instant and comfortable.
Stan turned 40 this month, and to celebrate his big day, he planned a weekend getaway together with old and new friends. I've been anxiously counting down the days to the big event.  Once we arrived at the rental house, a giant hilltop home complete with a pool and hot tub, in Sonoma county Stan and I quickly assumed our traditional roles.  We got the boys settled with Mr. Dog and Stan and I took off to Santa Rosa to stock the kitchen with food for the next 4 days.  This simple task ate up the next 3 hours and I'm sure Mr. Dog was having memories of the days he'd refer to Stan and me as "the black hole of time."  We got back, unpacked and I started preparing dinner, another of my traditional roles in our little family of the past.
Mark and Maria arrived later with two sleepy children who were soon taken away to bed.  Meanwhile, we finally got dinner together and settled in.  And late that evening when I finally put the kids to bed, I fell asleep with my squirmy children missing out on the very late night drinking and bonding time with my friends.
The next morning, as the boys played in the pool, I got dressed and headed back to Santa Rosa to pick Auntie Chihuahua and Thomas up from the airport.  I left early and stopped off to pick up a couple of other forgotten items, like Corona Light, though why anyone would choose to drink that remains a mystery.  Friday was spend with friends, relaxing in the sun, enjoying the pool, but a few strange bumps kept it from really feeling settled.  At least for me.
By Saturday it was as though the veil between my worlds had been lifted and all I could see was the ways this no longer fit.  Worse yet, the newly glaring light of truth exposed one particularly nasty fact; we are all getting old.  Older at least.  And if they're all growing up, that means I'm going to have to face facts; I'm old too.  The truth is I'm racing up against 40.  I am a thoroughly uncool mother of two small kids.  I drive a station wagon.  My idea of an exciting night out is dinner and a drink, and yes, one drink will usually do it, because I have to drive home.  My wardrobe is pieced together from selection of chain stores.  I am chubby and tired and look very much the part of an exhausted mother of two. I am no longer young and edgy.  I'm old and settled.  And that depresses me.  I mean, what in the name of all that is good and holy happened to me? 
And it wasn't only that I'm getting old, it was that we all were more involved in our own ongoing lives than the old comfortable patterns we usually occupy.  I'm not sure why it was more glaring this time, but maybe it was the new location, the celebration of Stan's big 40th, the mojitos and wine, or possibly some combination of the three.
After a fairly unbecoming meltdown, a few teary hot tub conversations and a heart to heart with my best friend, things smoothed out.  Or maybe I just adjusted to the new strangeness a little after forcing myself to air it to others.  The last day was relaxed and felt more natural.  The only sadness was that the vacation had drawn to an end and I was still missing my friend.
We're going to fix this.  I'm going to deal with my Peter Pan syndrome when it comes to this little group of friends.  We're going to do a better job of upping the face to face time one way or another.  And as far as me getting old, I guess I'll just have to learn to deal with it.  I'll gracefully accept my new maturity, stock up on moisturizers and embrace my role as former hell raiser and mother to the next generation of bad asses.  Or maybe I'll get another tattoo, chop off my hair or pierce something just to spice things up. It's hard to know what's going to work, but figure it out.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Overheard: Little Dog special edition

At lunch after our visit to the Children's Museum, Little Dog is eating his cheeseburger.  More specifically he is chowing through a pile of dill pickle chips that are on the plate next to his hamburger.  "I think you really like pickles," teases Mr. Dog.
"No," says Little Dog firmly. "I'm just eating them to get them out of the way."

At dinner with Aunt Kathleen's boyfriend Allen, Little Dog says "What's your name again?" (He has his father's knack for remembering names alright.  Kathleen has been living with Allen for the past 3.5 years, he's met him many times.) "My name is Allen," says an amused Allen.
"I love you, Allen," he says.
"Thanks, Little Dog, I love you too!"
"But, I hate my butt," he quickly adds.
Interesting side note, it took Kathleen and Allen quite a while to figure out how long they've lived together.  Apparently they have memory issues as well.
After washing his hands in the bathroom with Aunt Kathleen, Little Dog finishes and heads out.  On his way, he switches off the light.  "Hey, I'm still in here," says Aunt Kathleen.
"I'm going green," he says and heads off leaving her in the dark.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bully for you

Pecking orders issues seem to be popping up everywhere.  As much as the hens have it down, people seem to do a pretty good job of keeping each other in their places too.  It's more subtle.  Well, unless you're talking about children.  Kids have thrown subtlety out the window.  It's complex, multifaceted really.  And I seem to be fighting it on all fronts lately.

Big Dog, who has always been easily popular and able to get along with anyone is struggling with his first experience with bullying.  Well, maybe not technically his first, but the first that he really understands.  He's spending the summer at Little Dog's school in a program for school aged kids.  It's made life kind of simpler for me since I only have one pick up and one drop off, but it's also added an edge that not as simple.  There is a child in the class who is immune to Big Dog's near-universal charm.  At first it was just a matter of Big Dog not being allowed to play games with this boy, later it evolved into more classic chasing, mild threats and general intimidation.  I've talked to the lead teacher, and they're dealing with it, but every night when I hear this child's name come up as a point of frustration and sadness.  It seems he has teamed up with another child as the kings of the playground and Big Dog seems to be getting a fair share of the serf treatment at their hands.  After a particularly hard day at school, Big Dog says from the back seat, "Mommy, I wish that more people liked me and didn't want to hurt me."  I nearly drove off the road.
It turns out that the second in command had taken to pinching Big Dog and the other boy refused to let him play.  Another boy had also joined in with the teasing.   Big Dog had come to his breaking point.  We talked about it more and Big Dog agreed that there were plenty of kids in his class that liked him a lot, and that those kids were nice and he liked to play with them.  I decided to talk to his teacher the next day.  I did, and it I've heard less about these particular boys the last few days.  He's talked more about the kids he does like, the ones that he does like to play with and the ones who make him feel good about going to school each day.  And I get to breathe at least a temporary sigh of relief.

Little Dog, on the other hand, has put himself in the position of being the 2nd in command of the bullying duo in his class the last few days.  I just found out about this, and it was like being punched in the stomach. After being the victim of the class bully, he has decided he really wants to be his friend.  It's like he's suffering from Stockholm syndrome, his fear and anger with his tormentor had turned to admiration.  He wants to be like him.  The teachers have been trying to steer him away toward the other kids in his class that he plays with more nicely.  The ones that don't tell him to hit or punch other kids.  The ones that don't need him to try to cover for him with the teachers confront them.  In describing the strangeness of the situation one of the teachers actually used the word "henchman" to describe Little Dog's role in things.  It's weird.  Instead of being bullied, he's opted to become a bully.  And I am absolutely not ok with that.  I'm working on it with him.  The teachers and I have discussed a strategy for nipping this new role in the bud.

One of the things I've done is to buy some books to help get him to talk about bullying.  He's opened up about things that have been done to him by this kid and another boy in his class.  As we read one book in particular and discussed the questions posed by the author, Little Dog described this child as both his friend and his bully.  I think it was the first time he thought about the way this child was making him feel and the way that he was making other kids feel.  I think it is the first step in a longer process, but I'm hoping for the best.  Little Dog has always had a thing for the tough guy role, I just don't need him to also have a need to play the bad guy role.  (And yes, I know these two boys aren't bad, they're probably just doing the best they can, but I don't have to like the bullshit they're putting my two kids through, even if one of mine is playing along with it.)

While we were talking about it, one little bit of trivia was revealed.  After listening to both boys list the wrongs they've endured (and again, I understand this is only one side of the story, but Christ, I can't ignore it) Big Dog paused.  "Isn't it kind of weird mom, that they are brothers?"  Turns out it may run in the family.  I just hope it runs its course early and these kids grow out of this soon. No one really needs another bully.

Side note: A while back I wrote about my own experience with a "mean girl."  She was a terrible bully.  I had always thought it was just me she tormented.  Guess I was wrong.  Through the wonders of facebook, I recently discovered that there was a whole group of kids, now adults, who had to survive her abuse.  I take some comfort now, 20 years after the fact, that I was not alone in suffering this "horrible witch." 

UPDATE: Well the books and talks seem to be working.  Little Dog is not being as aggressive and today when he was being pushed toward bully territory by this kid, he decided to leave and find another friend to play with.  It also sounds like his new resistance to be wound up may have changed the dynamics a little bit in the relationship.  Although the teacher still described it as "frenemies" which is not all that great, at least the balance of power is shifting a bit.  Or so I hope.

Wordless Wednesday: Progress

From this:

To this:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Perspective shift

Many years ago, back when I was young, REM had a pretty big hit with "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"  Since then I've probably heard that song about a million times.  At the peak of its popularity I knew the words by heart, and could keep up with Michael Stipe's rapidfire delivery.  Not that's this is any special accomplishment, anyone listening to "Alternative" radio at the time got this song on a steady stream since it was in such heavy rotation.  At the time it just fit.  We were at the end of the Reagan administration.  The end of the cold war was not too far off, but we didn't know that.  I spent my high school years living in fear of a large scale nuclear war. The Russians were the enemy and they were very well armed, our arms race made sure of that.  Who really knew what the future would hold?  Thinking back now, a lot has changed.  Granted, maybe the players have only shifted a bit and the overwhelming feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop remains the same, but that's not the point here.  That song summed up that feeling for me, for many, perfectly.

Since then this song has become a classic.  It is used in movies, and tv shows.  It was aired by many tv stations when they switched from analog to digital.  It played on Fox when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004.  It is used, used and overused.  Despite this, it's still a great song.

The other morning on the way to work, I heard that song again on the radio.  As I listened to the words, it suddenly dawned on me.  Not only does this song perfectly sum up the great fear of the unknown in the world, it also sounds a lot like every freakin' day at my house.  The clincher was when, at the end of the song, Stipe repeats, "It's time I had some time alone."  I think every mom can identify with that feeling.

Just in case you're a little younger than me, or maybe you were really into late 80s power pop at the time, I've copied the lyrics below.  Read it and you'll agree.  This is a lot like being the mother of two small boys.  And really, for the most part, I do feel fine.

It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
That's great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes,
an aeroplane - Lenny Bruce is not afraid.
Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn,
world serves its own needs, regardless of your own needs.
Feed it off a knock speed, grunt no, strength no
The ladder starts to clatter with fear of height down height.
Wire in a fire, representing seven games, a government for hire and a combat site.
Left her, wasn't coming in a hurry with the furies breathing down your neck.
Team by team reporters baffled, trumped, tethered cropped.
Look at that low plane!
Fine, then.
Uh oh, overflow, population, common group, but it'll do.
Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed. Tell me with the rapture and the revered and the right - right.
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched.

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

Six o'clock - TV hour. Don't get caught in foreign towers.
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn.
Lock him in uniform, book burning, blood letting.
Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate.
Light a candle, light a motive. Step down, step down.
Watch your heel crush, crush. Uh-oh, this means no fear cavalier.
Renegade and steer clear! A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies.
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline.

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it. (It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it (It's time I had some time alone) and I feel fine.
(I feel fine)

It's the end of the world as we know it. (It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it. (It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it (It's time I had some time alone) and I feel fine.

The other night I tripped a nice continental drift divide. Mount St. Edelite
Leonard Bernstein. Leonid Brezhnev. Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs.
Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom!
You symbiotic, patriotic, slam but neck, right? Right.

It's the end of the world as we know it. (It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it. (It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it (It's time I had some time alone) and I feel fine.

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it (It's time I had some time alone) and I feel fine.

It's the end of the world as we know it. (It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it. (It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it (It's time I had some time alone) and I feel fine.

It's the end of the world as we know it. (It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it. (It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it (It's time I had some time alone) and I feel fine...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Greed is good. Right?

We're laying sod.  Ok, technically we're not laying sod yet, but we've been prepping for it.  Mr. Dog leveled the yard with fill dirt from under the house, then he got a crap load of compost to mix into the fill dirt so the sod would have something to grab ahold of other than the dusty, rocky fill.  He rototilled, he raked, he rototilled some more.  After the last bout of leveling, he invited the boys to help pick out the big rocks so the sod wouldn't have big lumps right under the surface.  They declined.  Then he offered them a penny per rock.  Guess what, Big Dog still wasn't interested.  He decided to negotiate.
"Maybe 2 cents per rock," he countered.  We quickly accepted.  If we gave him more time to reconsider he'd up the price again, he's like that.
Once we settled on a price, Big Dog got Little Dog excited about making money they could spend on toys or ice cream.  They worked quickly and with great focus.  It was about 15 minutes into their work that the boys started to quietly discuss renegotiating their deal.  Big Dog came across the yard and took my hand.  He asked me if they had to share the money or if they each got 2 cents per rock.  I said they'd each get 2 cents since it would be difficult to know who collected which rocks.  He went back to his brother and I could hear them talking again.  If we asked what they were saying, in unison, the boys would all too quickly reply, "Nothing!"
My favorite was when Little Dog says, "If we got him to give us 5 cents per rock, we could buy all of the ice cream!"  Ahh, the dreams of an innocent youth.
After filling a bucket and part of a wheelbarrow, the boys decided they were done.  Yes, most of the large rocks, sticks and lumps of stuff, all carefully verified as part of the financial deal before being added to their collection heaps, were picked up, but they were tired and thirsty.  They wanted to go inside.  They also wanted their money.  They wanted us to count the fruits of their labor right then and there.  We still had stuff do to, so we told them we'd do it that evening.  About every hour they'd come back and ask if it was time to count yet.
When it was time, I abandoned Mr. Dog to that task.  Turns out our boys had collected up 315 potential lumps under the sod.  True to our bargain we promised them $6.30 each, to be paid at a later date because honestly we just don't have cash and these kids don't take ATM cards quite yet.
I'm starting to wonder what other undesirable tasks I could outsource to the kids.  Laundry folding?  Probably not, they're still far to amused by the underpants of others to be productive.  Don't worry, I'll keep thinking about this and let you know what I come up with. And as always, I'm wide open for suggestions.
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