Category Archives: Family

Owen and His Egg

In all the madness of moving, Owen’s school has decided to gift us with the opportunity for him to participate in a time-honored program designed to teach children responsibility….

THE EGG

Egg of Columbus. I ate it 10 minutes later.

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I remember this particular activity well. The child is entrusted with the responsibility of “caring for” an egg, which arrives in the classroom adorably swaddled in Easter grass and nestled snugly inside a small, easy to tote around box. Everywhere the child goes, the egg is supposed to go along, and their tandem journey is to be recorded in an “egg journal”.

The whole program is oh so adorable, and rich in layered lessons as well as a healthy dollop of language arts. A wonderful lesson.

At least, in theory.

The reality of this exercise out in the trenches, however, is that an eight year old boy, no matter how well-intentioned and enthusiastic typically has about as much impulse control as your average squirrel.

I knew I was in trouble when Owen came sprinting out of the school on day one of his Egg Odyssey simultaneously cradling his precious egg in his hands (“mommy he is so CUTE! I will call him batman!”) and plotting with his friend Nick about how they were going to pimp out his little eggmobile. This poor egg, profoundly adored by its guardian was to be the focus of all of Owen’s energy for the next week.

I shuddered as I thought of the potentially scrambled ramifications of my son’s devotion on something as fragile as an egg, and decided that I was grateful that his teachers had at least thought to hard boil the eggs before sending them to their foster homes.

My conviction that this project was probably not so appropriate for a bunch of second graders was reinforced when after testing the aerodynamic properties of his ovoid charge he decided that his planned modifications of his egg box needed to be revised to accommodate wings.

Alarmed that the project would end even before the first journal entry was made, I discouraged further flight testing.

Owen’s serial attempts to modify the egg box he was sent home with eventually resulted it its complete disintegration, and the egg spent the remainder of its ordeal in a recycled egg carton. As can be expected this egg became almost as much my responsibility as it was his. Supervising a rambunctious 8 year old supervise an egg seemed an impossible, if not cruel task to set to any parent, much less one trying to coordinate a long distance move on short notice.

The week of the egg odyssey eventually came to an end, and he did manage to bring most of the egg back to school on the final day. I was somewhat comforted when I saw some of the other bedraggled specimens, with their cracked eggshells held together with band aids, being brought back on that final day.

I do wonder, however, if all the children were as honest as Owen was in his journal. Several of his entries simply read “mom put egg in the fridge”.

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The Inertia of Stuff

Duct-tape Moving Van

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Packing for this move has given me the opportunity to sort through and actually touch at least most of the things in my house. It has been an interesting, and sometimes entertaining experience to open every drawer and box, reach into the back of every shelf and find all the things that time and indecision have led me to save, hide or treasure.

The things I have come across in my basement as I pack it all up range from the mundane (tote bags brought home as convention shwag, spare dishes and an extra set of silverware) to the unbearably adorable (old photographs of Frances enchanting her brand new parents as an exceptionally cute infant) to the slightly startling (an extremely dog eared copy of The Communist Manifesto…..which I am pretty sure is not mine because I come from a long line of diehard socialists).

Matt has changed jobs a few times since we have been together, and upon leaving each place, he would lovingly  pack all  his papers and records into a sturdy box, and bring it home to store, with the devout conviction that he would  need these things again, either at his new job or at some other, unspecified time. The truth, however, is that once stowed in the corner of the basement devoted to the storage of these boxes, he would NEVER open them, or need them, again. I had to loom over him, fixing him with a stern glare while shaking a large garbage bag to get him to sort and empty these boxes. Amazingly, a stack of 5 large boxes was reduced to a small plastic file tote.

In short, one of the more interesting things that I discovered that I already knew (but have been unable to accept much less act upon) is that most of the things tucked away into safe and cozy corners of the house for storage turn out to not to be “stuff important enough to save” so much as trash that we would probably never even know was gone if it were swept away in a flood.

To be fair, I am equally guilty of hoarding old papers.  In fact, I have been lugging TWO of those plastic file totes filled with the sum total of my career as a research scientist….approximately 450 photocopied articles (each averaging about 25 pages…do the math), numbered and indexed by keyword (or at least they would be if I had a MSDOS computer on which to run the reference management program I used to index them 10+ years ago). In fact, I honestly thought that I had disposed of these papers years ago, but I guess I must have chickened out at the last minute and stuffed them back into the crawlspace from which Matt pulled them last week.  What is really funny about these papers is how horribly useless to me they really are. I mean,  let’s face it, when am I going to have an emergency need for information on the electrophysiology of learning and memory in infants? This time I made double sure that these papers went out the door and NOT into our POD.

In another instance, I realized that I was sitting on the floor of my basement, patiently sorting through a pile of old artwork created by my kids at various times, which would not be so odd except that THIS particular pile of treasures had gotten wet at some point, and were distinctly moldy and more than a little smelly. So there I was, peeling apart the wrinkled and spotted pages, stuck together with a mixture of finger paint and something unpleasantly biological in search of items that I could salvage from this mess. Even as I realized in horror what I was doing, I found that I could not stop, and actually felt a pang as each spoiled and spotted page went into the trash bag.  I had not laid eyes on many of these things in over a decade, they were not in good shape, and perhaps even might meet the definition of toxic waste (who knows what kind of nasty byproducts result from the decomposition of school glue) but yet I could not let them go.

I have decided that the stuff we squirrel away in our basements and attics generates its own special form of inertia because it really seems like in many cases, when you keep something, you wind up continuing to keep it simply because you have already kept it so long, and in fact, over time, this thing becomes increasingly difficult to get rid of not because of any intrinsic value but simply because of the fact that you have had it so long.

And so I set off again for my basement to pack, making sure to leave room on the POD for that (already packed) box of my grandmother’s everyday dishes that I never unpacked from our last move much less actually used, and yet somehow find impossible to part with.

sigh.

A Tale of Woe?

The only thing more disorienting than the activity of taking your life and loading it into boxes is the affiliated activity of deciding which parts of your life merit “box real estate”. My strategy has been not to look too closely at things, and try not to touch any one thing for very long. Inevitably there will be the wrong call here or there, but it is not to be helped….the countdown is on and it is ticking down FAST.

One lesson that Matt and I have learned from our experience with this house is that the decision to move out is often paired with the necessity for major home repairs and renovations, which upsets me not only because it is expensive, but also because as home sellers we by definition do not get to enjoy the fruits of our investments.

That in mind, yesterday I had  the pleasure of sharing my day with a swarm of contractors who were only quiet when it came time to answer questions (each of which was greeted with a noncommittal shrug and a finger pointed at someone else). And I learned that the dirt underneath my basement floor, which I have never before seen (thankfully) has a rather nasty odor and that in general, the percussive song of jackhammers is about as soothing as having a death-metal band playing a lullaby.

Needless to say the constant noise and fetid aroma wafting from the nether reaches of my home was quite enough to drive me out of what is left of my mind, which is why when it came time to go to gymnastics I was READY to go. Three hours sitting in my quiet car waiting for practice to be over was infinitely preferable to another moment of staying in my chaotic, loud, increasingly box -filled house.

It was lovely and relaxing. Thursday is actually the one day a week that all three children have practice at the same time, so I do not have to entertain or listen to bored whining (or garbage pick for that matter). It is also an opportunity for some adult conversation, which I often take advantage of, but today I only craved silence. So after I ran a few necessary errands, I pushed my seat all the way back, opened the windows to admit the sweet (non-basement smelling) breeze, crossed my legs, plugged in my audiobook and got out my stitching. I spent the rest of my time happily listening to my story and blissfully stitching the tabby-striped foot of Frederick the cat who is whimsically sleeping between the (partially stitched) books on a bookcase.

As 8:15 rolled around, I packed up my stuff and prepared to gather my kids and head home. Owen practices at a different facility than his sisters, so I drove over there to pick him up and then returned to the main facility to get Ana and Frances.

Everyone dutifully filed out and piled into the car, and descended upon the bag of grapes and some cereal that I had for them to eat as a snack. I left the keys in the ignition so Ana and Owen could watch their movie in the car and ran over to have a quick chat with Victoria the girls’ coach (as well as a friend of mine). Our conversation lasted about 10 minutes, and would have lasted longer, but when Frances texted me to remind me that she had homework that still needed finishing I regretfully headed for the door.

I got into the car and turned the key…and nothing happened.

At first I could not believe that this could happen.  After all, my car may not be a fancy luxury car, but it is fairly new and kept in good repair…so I tried again with the same result. I do not know much about cars, but this situation I knew how to diagnose because the Honda Pilot, of which I was a proud owner, is very prone to this particular issue.

The battery was dead.

I think I can chalk this one up to losing track of things, which is easy to do on a regular day but with my life upside down I think the risk is even higher.  In any case, as far as I can reconstruct, the battery was killed by a combination of lights left on and DVD player in use with the car engine off for a grand total of about 10 minutes. I could go on about how ridiculous it is that the battery should die in such a short period even under such conditions, but that would not change the fact that it did, nor will it change the fact that I do NOT have jumper cables in my car.

A helpful stranger came and lifted the hood of the car, but since he did not have jumper cables either, and I have no idea what I am looking at, this did not help very much, no matter how well intentioned. In the end, I knew there was only one thing I could do that would be productive and that was to call Matt to come and rescue me.

For some obscure reason I can not  fathom, the fact that the car would not start also made it utterly uninhabitable to the point that none of us even considered sitting in the car as we waited for Matt to arrive. So it was that I found myself standing in the cold, dark parking lot with my three shivering kids and Victoria, who decided to keep us company as we waited.

We stood huddled in a circle talking quietly about not much in particular except to wonder why Ana refused to put her sweatpants on over her leotard (which would have gone a long way towards helping her warm up). After about 20 minutes we suddenly realized how silly it was for us to stand around outside when we had the KEY TO THE GYM and could just as easily (and much more comfortably) wait inside.

So Victoria let us in, flicked on a light and I suddenly realized that I was in the gym, complete with trampolines, trapeze swings and all sorts of fun stuff, and we had it all to ourselves.

It was about a second before I processed that we were all by ourselves, and there was nobody watching to enforce the normal rules of gymnastics-parent conduct.

In a flash I was ecstatically bouncing on the bright yellow mesh trampoline that I have spent years jealously watching my kids enjoy but have never been able to use myself.  I can definitively say that it was well worth the wait…I have been on trampolines, but this one totally takes the cake for sheer bounciness and fun. I went sailing up into the air, landed on my rear only to bounce back up to my feet….over and over, laughing harder each time I did it.

In short order, all three kids were squealing with laughter,  not only at Mom’s antics, but also with the joy of playing together in this, the ultimate gymnast’s playground. Victoria and I sat and watched them, laughing together as we watched them.

The highlight of the interlude was when Frances buckled Owen into the tumbling harness over the trampoline, and hauled him up into the air where he howled with mirth and executed 5 very noisy backflips in a row. Frances was laughing so hard she could hardly hold him up, which made ME laugh because she was so busy having fun she forgot that she was a teenager and that her brother is a pest.

Matt arrived in due time, and got my car started (as I knew  he would). Traditionally, a story of being stranded by a dead car should be a tale of woe, but I can say that this time I am glad that it happened because I got the chance to bounce.

Changes are afoot

Traffic lights can have several additional lig...

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Life in the NJ town we have called home for the last 7 years is pretty good.  We have great schools, nice neighbors and have met many people that I am proud to call true friends.

Our house, for which we overpaid, is a solidly built cape cod, built in the 50’s when particle board was unheard of. We have done a lot of work to it, bestowing upon it new siding, windows and roof. Unbeknownst to us when we purchased the home, there is a trucking depot so the view out our front window is often interrupted by trucks alternately roaring by or shrieking to a stop at the traffic light outside our door. The new windows we invested in mute the sounds from inside the house, but the front yard is only quiet enough to relax in on weekends.

Despite the noise, Matt has invested time and energy in learning about gardening on the fly, and has produced a lovely yard full of lush, neatly trimmed hedges, flowering bushes and green lawn that he lovingly mows in different directions each time.

We have painted the walls in colors that please us, ranging from bright primary colors in the kitchen to a deep eggplant on the walls of our bedroom. The color of the walls hardly matters, however, since the majority of the space is covered with our eclectic collection of paintings, photographs and objects d’art that we have collected over the years.

In short, we have made ourselves at home.

We have had wonderful times with wonderful people and life here is good.

This is not to say that life is perfect. We have had our hard times under this roof.  Matt and I have spent many evenings sitting in our living room or laying together in our bed puzzling over the traumas and agonies that come with lives not led in isolation from the world, or your parents.

It was within these walls that I retreated in terror when I found out I had cancer, and here where I lay in the shelter of Matt’s arms and cried for the fear I would not see my children grow. This house sheltered me as I endured the poisoning that they call cancer treatment, and it was also here that I again embraced hope and celebrated the life that I now knew I would live to see.

Several months ago, Matt went to Cambridge to interview for a job at Harvard. He has a job that he likes, so he went into the interview with no expectations and a minimum of anxiety. He unleashed his inner librarian during the interview, giving the search committee a good, unobstructed look at who he really was and what  he could offer. He figured that he had nothing to lose by being honest and intense, and assumed that they would be frightened off.

Much to his surprise (but not so much to mine) he was very enthusiastically offered the job, which as it turns out, is perfect for him.

And so I begin the long, hard goodbye to this house that has been our home.

I packed my first boxes today, so it has really sunk in that I am really going to be moving. I know that this will be a positive move, and I am looking forward to living in a picturesque New England town….but yet It is so hard to contemplate breaking the continuity of our lives that have led us to this moment, the strands of friendship and shared experiences, the gut knowledge that I have developed about what it means to be from Edison. I am afraid, but I know that the strands that have woven into the tapestry of my life until now will not unravel once we leave this place, but will create the foundation for pattern of my days to come.

One Man’s Trash…….

Four and a half hours is a long time to have to wait in any one place. I know that because I have did it four days a week for the entire summer.

All I have to say is that being a gymnastics mom is not for the faint of heart.

All three children are competitive gymnasts, and although they all go to the same gym, and in some cases even on the same day, they very rarely all go at the same time.  The convoluted schedule that we must follow dictates that at any given time there is likely to be at least one child spending time with me in gymnastics limbo.

Of necessity, I have developed a variety of strategies to help me pass the time. There is nothing that sets my teeth on edge more than a bored child whining in my ear.

One of my favorite things to do with the kids is to take them out walking.  The gym is in a nice residential neighborhood and is local to a downtown area with shops and parks. I rotate destinations regularly, and sometimes we just go out walking for its own sake. Owen always resists the suggestion, whining that he is soooo tiiiiiired, or that his feet hurt or some such nonsense, none of which I place any credence on, mostly because I know that once we get past the first block, he comes over into my way of thinking and he will start to scamper, babble, and generally enjoy the fresh air and the relatively rare chance to chat with a completely undistracted mom for a while.

In fact, the chance to be enjoy the kids without other responsibilities or stimuli interfering is probably the think I like best about these walks. The conversations I have had with the kids during these times have ranged from the profound (why are humans on this planet?) to the pedantic (what kind of plant is this?) across into discussions of their social interactions with friends and even (particularly with Ana) into literature.

In any case it was Thursday evening, Ana and Owen had practice during the first shift from 4 to 6:30, and now I had them for two hours while we waited for Frances to finish her practice.

I was more than ready to step out for a bit,  having waiting in the gym for the younger ones to finish so before the first whine could ring out, I announced that we were going to go walking.

Ana has learned the joys of a walk with mom, so she was bright and shiny about this, and eagerly pulled on her shorts over her leotard.  Owen dragged his feet as he usually does, but in the end, he obediently went with us.

The second full block away from the gym door has a small bridge spanning the creek that runs under the road.  We often stop on the bridge to watch the water and look for any wildlife. As we drew near to the bridge, Owen forgot his complaints, and ran ahead with Ana to peer down at the water.  After examining the family of ducks that were alternately waddling and swimming in the shallow water and discussing the likely components of their diet (bugs and water plants they decided) we walked on, wondering aloud if the purple markings on the edge of one of the duck’s wings meant that it was a male. By the time Ana had made her case that it probably was male, based on the fact that in mallard ducks only the males had bright colors we had found our way to the next usual stop on this particular walking route, a well tended corner garden that contains a wide enough variety of plants that something is always in bloom, and there are often bugs and butterflies to stop and examine.  Since we have been walking past this particular garden for several years I have learned the names of all the plants that grow there, and the kids love to ask me to identify them.  I am not sure if they simply do not remember the names and want to know or if they just enjoy testing my knowledge. In any case, this particular exercise has convinced them that mommy really DOES know everything….about plants anyway.

There was to be no quiz today, however, because the owners of the house directly across from the garden had apparently done some housecleaning and had set several large pieces of furniture out to the curb.

Owen loves to collect things. In Owen’s world, his room is a transdimensional space that has a miraculous capacity to store stuff that he likes.  Owen’s world, of course, only bears a slight relationship to the real world, and his room only seems bottomless to  him because I periodically go in there and make stuff he no longer likes miraculously disappear. Sitting at the curb, calling to him, was an old fashioned wooden desk very much like the one that Frances and Ana have in their bedroom. He took my hand and all but dragged me across the street to check out his find.

Unfortunately, the desk was well past decrepit.  I am not above some garbage picking, as Matt will attest (with a roll of his eyes I am sure) but I do have standards.  At one time, it was certainly a nice piece, but its useful life probably ended about 10 years before we came over to investigate. I managed to convince Owen that the desk was not worth his time after he insisted on a minute examination of it’s condition and opened each crookedly hung drawer to peek inside.

The two dressers that stood next to this sad specimen were another story altogether.

From across the street, they did not look worthy of a second look, but the up-close view I received courtesy of Owen’s thwarted desire for a desk revealed that underneath the very scuffed and scratched surface were a pair of very sound, solid maple dressers that were old fashioned in a very spare and pleasant way. A bit of sanding and some fresh stain would do wonders. In fact, my curbside assessment was that these dressers were high quality and would be well worth the work to restore.

I experimentally pushed at one of the corners of the larger dresser to see how heavy it was, and consistent with my identification of hardwood construction, I found that it was much too heavy for me to be able to move on my own, even with the help of the kids.  Matt would have come to help me if I called him and asked him, but I was not sure these dressers warranted an extra 40 minute drive and a second car. After all, we were not in dire need of new furniture, and I realized that my desire for the dressers were more along the lines of an “impulse buy”. With some regret, I took the kids by the hands and turned our steps back onto our walking path.

The dressers dominated the chatter for the rest of the trip up the road to the playground that we knew lay at its end.  The two of them spent considerable energy trying to convince me that we should try and take the dressers home, even going so far as to decide not only that we MUST do so but also portioned out the goods between them, deciding who would get the tall one and who would get the low one.

We reached the end of the road, sat on the swings for a few minutes and then started back, retracing our steps to the gym. As we again approached the spot where the dressers stood waiting, we noticed a pickup truck pull over and slow down.  As we watched, a couple disembarked from the truck and began walking around the lawn where the furniture was. I felt a sudden totally irrational pang of anxiety about the dressers, some insane part of my mind having gone rogue and possessive of this garbage picking opportunity that I had already passed over. Then the cells in the rational centers of my mind chimed in, trying to drown out my anxiety by reminding me that I had decided to let them go.

I heard my own voice calling out to to the couple, who were now examining a headboard propped up against a tree, to inform them of the hidden high quality of those dratted dressers. They stopped and smiled, with the easy camaraderie of fellow garbage pickers. They agreed with me that the dressers were certainly a great find, and we both shook our heads at the thought of the terrible waste.

Before I knew quite what was happening, the man was encouraging me to go get my car, promising that he would help me load them up lest they get carted away with the trash.

Thoughts of Matt’s rolling eyes, as well as more practical matters such as what I was going to do with these dressers once I got them home fled from my brain in a rush of garbage nirvana, as I realized that it was simply meant to be. Before I knew what was happening, the kids and I were hoofing it back to the gym at top speed to get my truck, and it’s wide open cargo spaces.

Ana and Owen scampered around me in a flurry of excitement, chattering about the benefits of recycling, and scorning those wasteful people who were ready to trash perfectly good furniture that only needed a bit of work to restore to almost-new condition. They negotiated ownership of the dressers, wondering if the fact that there were three children but only two dressers was going to cause problems.  In all, it seemed like it was going to be a fun adventure.

I drive a Honda Pilot, so I had plenty of cargo space for most purposes.  The first dresser went in fairly easily, but second one proved a bit stubborn. With some sweat and teamwork we shoved and jiggled and I climbed inside the car to guide the second dresser in.

“Its not going to fit” said a little voice at my elbow.  It was Ana, standing and watching the procedure with wide eyes.

“Sure it will honey”, I said to her, not wanting her to lose her previous enthusiasm for the exercise. I gave another mighty shove, telling her “It is almost there!”

“no Mommy,” she insisted, a thread of tears creeping into her voice “it is NOT going to fit”

I kissed her and told her not to worry as my anonymous friend gave the dresser one last shove, and we decided it was as good as it was going to get.  He and his wife got into their truck and left, as I worked on tying down the slightly ajar hatch with a bungee cord.

“See sweetie” I said to her proudly ” I knew we could get them in there!”

Ana continued to watch me with those wide blue eyes of hers, and I noticed that her distress did not seem to be abating.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her “we are all done here, lets go get Frances and head home”

That was when I realized that I had unwittingly made a terrible mistake.

The tears spilled over and she began to wail “Take it OUT! Leave the dresser I don’t want it!!!!” In a most unexpected fashion she had erupted into a full blown panic attack as she begged me tearfully to take the dressers out of the car and leave them behind, utterly, and irrationally, convinced that when we started to move, the dressers would either fall out of the car or slide forward into the main cabin.

The easiest solution, of course, would have been to ditch the dressers. The problem, of course, was that there was no way I could get these things out of the car because not only were they way too heavy for me to move alone (hence my original decision to leave them) but they were now very tightly wedged into the back of the car, and it was up to Matt, waiting for me in blissful ignorance at home, to help unwedge them.

I did not want to dismiss her feelings as trivial or irrelevant, so I did try to calm her with a bit of reason (“they are NOT going to budge sweetie…”) as well as an internal reminder to myself about the emotional rollercoaster that prepubescent girls are sometimes forced to ride.

By this point the emotional climate rubbed off on Owen, who started in on a tirade of his own. I will never know for sure if he was genuinely upset by the dressers, or if his outcry was a reaction to Ana’s.  The truth is, that it really does not matter why it happened because I was still stranded in this horrifying alternate reality where my kids, who formerly had begged for the dressers were now in dread of the same items and were standing on a darkened streetcorner in the middle of a residential neighborhood screeching as if they were being tortured.

In the end, there was no other solution than to force them, screaming, into the car, pick up Frances early from practice, and get everybody home as fast and as safely as I could so Matt could extract these now hated items from the back of the car.

With help from Frances, we managed to convince Owen and Ana only to scream halfway home by telling jokes and funny stories.  Even with that, it was a long ride.

Epilogue:

The dressers made it home and nobody got squished.

Matt rolled his eyes and put them in the garage.

Last weekend we sanded off years of scratches and dirt to reveal, as I originally predicted, beautiful wood underneath.

The kids are now back to fighting about who gets which dresser

…..and now whenever we go out walking they sternly instruct me: “NO GARBAGE PICKING”