Tag Archives: parenting

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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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”

So there is this Boy…..

One day, as we drove to gymnastics together, I made innocent conversation with Frances by suggesting that The Boy who had sent her roughly 3000 texts in a single month, might just “like her” in that that special way.

This backfired terribly, as she vehemently denied such terrible slander, sniffed derisively at my shoddy parental detective work and defective intuition, and continued to tap frantically at her phone with her thumbs composing yet another text.

Already knowing the answer, but somehow not able to stop myself, I asked her who she was texting with. She looks at me sideways, and rolls her eyes at me in a way that lets me know that I have done it again.

The Boy.

Of course.

I nodded, and returned my attention to the road, chanting one of the commandments of parenthood to myself to keep from breaking out in gales of laughter:

THOU SHALT NOT LAUGH AT THY CHILDREN UNTIL THEY ARE OUT OF EARSHOT

Over the course of the ensuing year, Frances did finally admit that not only had The Boy “liked her” in that special way, but also that they had “gone out” for a while.

Of course, they never actually went anywhere, so I have to conclude that the modern translation of “going out” is that they spend their time texting, facebooking, and video chatting.  I think roller-skating would be more fun, but what do I know….after all, I can’t even tell when a boy likes a girl.

In any case, she insisted that this part of the relationship was old news now, although this assertion was somewhat undercut by the simple fact that the frequency of text messages had not appreciably slackened. When I dared to share this simple observation with her and she became adamant: The Boy is simply her best friend who she tells everything to, and needs to speak to constantly.

Granted, I am old, and everybody knows that once you pass the teenage boundary your brains turn to mush, but I do remember a time in the distant mists of antiquity that I once had a best friend of the opposite gender who I needed to speak to constantly and tell my deepest secrets.  I am also pretty sure that I had those kinds of feelings for that person.

I bit my lip to keep back the autobiographical information which she would more than likely view as completely unrelated to the current situation. I still felt the need to say something, despite my certain knowledge that she was not going to go along with any of my ideas and that she would be very likely detonate if I did not immediately cease this line of discussion.  So it was that over my own internal voice screaming at me to stop I heard myself wondering out loud  that perhaps The Boy might still like her.

I guess I had to say it, but true to my prediction, she goes off like a roman candle.

NO WAY, she insisted…That is just gross!!!! The Boy is my friend and I do NOT like him that way! The denials continued along that vein for quite some time, but even though I managed to silence myself, I had more than a glimmering of the truth now.

As the last sultry heat of August beat down on us, heralding the start of school, Frances became increasingly moody and withdrawn.  This in itself is not such a strange thing in a teenager, but it was accompanied by a dramatic decrease in the density of text messages from The Boy, so I was a bit suspicious and a little concerned.

Finally came the day when the dam broke.  In a staccato torrent of emotional declarations, the story emerged.

Apparently The Boy has had a long standing crush on That Girl, who apparently possesses just about every negative characteristic it is possible for a teenage girl to possess without actually being the spawn of satan.   Now, at long last, The Boy has succeeded in winning the hand of That Girl, and they are now “going out”. Of course, since Frances is not interested in The Boy that way, it does not particularly bother her that he is going out with someone in the abstract sense, she patiently explained to me. It is more that he is going out with this particular someone that bothers her. After all, she continued with profound sadness in her eyes, she has been warning The Boy about That Girl for quite some time, sharing with him her sure knowledge that That Girl was not right for him, and would bring him nothing but heartache.  She is upset and mad at him, she concluded with a tearful sniffle, because he did not trust her and failed to follow her advice to stay away from That Girl, therefore demonstrating that he is not as good a friend as she previously thought.

I nodded knowingly and suppressed the impulse to question the emotions underlying her pique.

I do NOT like him!!!! She cried, obviously seeing past my façade and hearing my unsaid comment.

This morning was the first day of school.

As went about her morning routine, taking quite a bit longer than usual,  I noticed that she had really put together quite a ”first day of school” look for herself. Gone was the carefree preteen athlete in her baggy sweats and faded t-shirt. She has done away with the messy bun and no longer wishes to rely on her dazzling smile alone to enhance her face.

Today, my teenage daughter is chic and put together.

Her clothing is simple and flattering in shades of black and grey set off by carefully layered bright necklaces. Her lightly freckled face is framed by her painstakingly straightened hair and she has lightly lined her eyes with a bit of black eyeliner (parentally sanctioned, of course) to accent her thick lashes and the pale blue of her eyes.  She is not overdone, and she is devastating.  I know I should have snapped a picture, but I suspect she would have regarded the lens of the camera as akin to the face of the gorgon and run.

She glided out the door, heading for the bus stop, yellow binder in hand, too cool for a backpack. I mentally fumbled with the idea of a photograph again, and in my hesitation the moment slipped away.

If asked, she would probably insist that her sudden interest in fashion and makeup has nothing at all to do with boys in general or The Boy in particular (that she most definitely does not like). In fact, she recently told me that she was so disgusted with The Boy and That Girl that she has decided that she is done with boys until they regain their collective IQ points.

I translate “boys” roughly as The Boy….who I think is in for an interesting time.

The Ol’ Rusty Gazette: a look back

Trailer Date: Summer 2009

The trip did not start out soggy, but when it began to rain, the effect was no less than spectacular.

On the first night, the five of us were first jarred awake by the deafening clamor of a storm hovering over our heads. Lightening cast stark shadows through Ol’ Rusty’s cloudy plastic windows, and the thunder seemed to be strong enough to shake us off the earth altogether. Silently, we lay in our beds, in awe of the power of the storm, yet feeling snug and safe in our portable little home.

There is definitely something to be said about experiencing the raw power of a storm in the woods and we all shared that elemental joy as we lay in the deafening silence.  We knew that there was little to fear from this stormy night.  We were all together, the rain could not touch us and we did not need to fear the lights suddenly going out.

The next morning dawned bright and clear, and we took advantage of the abundant sunshine to try and dry out our gear. The storm had insinuated fingers of moisture into our trailer despite our best efforts, and there were quite a few things that needed to be hung out to dry. The reality of weathering a storm such as that one is that we can endure it, we can admire it, but we can never truly escape it. On a more concrete note, Ol’ Rusty was so named for a reason, and she does leak a bit around the edges.

We enjoyed our slightly damp day enjoying the smell of the water, squishing around camp and tromping through wet leaves in the woods. By days end, my toes were unpleasantly withered and white from the constant wet. I kept my smile and my sense of humor, but there was a rather large part of my heart that longed for surfaces not spattered with mud, my clean(er) house and my soft bed.

That night, another storm rolled in.

This storm lacked the awesome power of the first night. It was not a storm of rolling thunder and cracks of lightening, but rather, more of a medium sprinkle that was just enough to create puddles on the leaves of the trees above us that then descended to the ground in irregular sloppy drops creating a legendary stew of mud.

In the face of these meteorological conditions, Frances and I did what we deemed sensible, and retreated into the camper and burrowed into our sleeping bags. We took turns cranking our wind-up lantern so we could read. Our precautions helped us stay as dry and warm as is feasible in such conditions.

A bit of honesty here: I love camping, and am a big fan of nature, but I am not as big of a fan of mud, and I despise being cold, so I would just as soon escape the great outdoors when the sky begins to leak.

Call me a wimp, but there it is.

Matt and the younger kids decided to embrace the mud instead of hide from it. Frances and I shook our heads ruefully and told them not to bring mud into the camper when they were done.

Not much of a fire was possible in the damp drizzle, but the three of them capered around the fire pit anyway, sloshing in the mud, giggling and singing songs. Matt is well known for rewriting songs on the fly to suit his fancy, so trying to sing along with  him can be an interesting  proposition, but the kids valiantly tried to keep up with him and they would all howl with mirth when he sang the wrong words on purpose.

At some point during the festivities, the squeals of delight suddenly turned to frightened cries, and I bolted from the camper to find Matt standing somewhat unsteadily beside the fire pit with the side of his face covered in blood.

He insisted he was fine, and tried to revive the dance, but he was very unsteady, so I had to talk him out of it, and try to convince him to sit for a minute so I could get a look at his head.

As I stood next to Matt with a clean towel pressed to his head, looking critically into his eyes without knowing quite what I was looking for, I realized that this might be serious… but life not being as definitive as it might be, I was not sure.

I had questions such as:

Is the wound serious?

Is there a concussion?

Does it need stitches?

We are in the middle of the woods…where do we go?

When I looked around for someone to ask, I realized that all eyes were on ME to give the answers.

I suddenly felt very alone.

One of the things I learned as I left my childhood behind is that life is painted in shades of grey. As a (so called) adult, finding answers is not as easy as asking a question. There is often nobody to ask for guidance, and you simply have to stumble along as best as you can.  When you add parenthood into that equation you not only have to stumble along, but you have to ACT as if you know the way or risk scaring the kids.

This would really be so much easier if there were a procedures manual, but failing that having a partner helps a great deal. Unfortunately for me, my partner was in questionable condition, and needed me to take the helm alone on this one.

Honestly if I had known that this is what it meant to be an adult and in charge, I am not sure I would have signed up voluntarily.  For that matter, when did I become a grownup anyway?

Returning to the problem at hand, I tried to assess things objectively.  Scalp wounds bleed a great deal, I told myself, so the amount of blood does not necessarily equate with the severity of the injury.  On the other hand, I had heard too much about sneaky injuries that can look fine, but have catastrophic consequences down the line unless promptly checked by qualified medical practitioners.  Of course, these stories were gleaned from the tabloids and medical tv shows, so the truth behind them was suspect at best.

As I tried to decide whether to drag my reluctant, and very muddy husband to the nearest ER (wherever that might be), he continued to insist that he was fine.

I wavered, and by reflex I almost capitulated to his insistence, but in the end, I decided that it was better to be cautious, and I made my decision to take him in, and I dragged my now complaining, and still very muddy husband out of the campsite and back into civilization.

The GPS answered the question of where. Civilization is not as far away as it seems when you are camping in the woods, after all.  The doctor in the ER, after eyeing Matt’s extremely dirty feet, examined his head, and ordered a CT scan and some socks.

It did not turn out to be terribly serious.  He had a mild concussion, and needed about 5 stitches. These days, the dent the experience left in his forehead is only visible from some angles, and when he regained his wits the next day, he thanked me and acknowledged that the trip to the ER was not a total waste of time.

On a more profound note, the whole experience illustrated how relative the experience of adulthood really is.

Sometimes the blind really do lead the blind.

As for me, I am glad that I have a partner to help me navigate the darkness.

Owen goes to the Orthodontist

Owen has crooked teeth.

Basically, his two bottom front teeth are in front of each other instead of next to each other, resulting in certain esthetic deficiencies as well as the practical problem of how to keep the corn from lodging between them at a barbeque.

Our dentist noticed this quite a long time ago. In fact, the day in kindergarten that I brought Owen in for his first evaluation and cleaning the Doctor shook his head and advised me to start saving my pennies for braces.

In fact, several months ago when I last brought the kids in for cleanings, I was advised in no uncertain terms that THIS was the time to take him to the orthodontist. It seemed a bit early to me, as Owen has only lost 3 of his baby teeth, but times change I guess. Early intervention works in education, so why not in dental engineering?

Even so, the very thought of bringing Owen into the den of the dreaded orthodontist shredded my heart. I had no desire to inflict on my son the social stigma, physical pain and esthetic disruption associated with the installation of assorted metal hardware into his mouth.

I remember the tales I had been told in the period before I learned the reality behind the metalmouth myths. The pain…the suffering…the total deprivation of all things chewing gum related.

The truth, as I experienced it, was much less sordid. The wax that they gave you to cover the sharp bits of the studs was very well suited for sculpture, and was fun to chew during class. The tiny rubber bands were wonderful for securing the tips of tiny braids, and if you were exceptionally skilled you could hook one end of a band around a single stantion, covertly draw it back so that rubber band would become a tiny projectile capable of sailing an impressive distance.

About the only thing that lived up to the horror of the tales was the night brace. I, like every other person I have ever spoken to about this private night time torture of youth, hated that horrible contraption. I tried to wear it, but inevitably I would forget to put it on at bedtime or I would take it off in my sleep. Considering that my teeth became straight despite my non-compliance I imagine that its true benefits were considerably overrated.

Even more serious was the fact that the thought of paying large sums of money to make Owen’s mouth even larger consistently made me break out in hysterical giggles. Not a good situation in which to start a professional relationship with a new medical office.

In the end, it took me about 6 months to get it together enough to actually make the call, despite the numerous reminders I left for myself scrawled on sticky notes stuck to my computer monitor or scrawled large with double underlines in bright yellow chalk on the kitchen blackboard.

When I told him that I had made an appointment for him, I expected him to be reluctant, or perhaps a bit scared, but he was fairly calm about the whole thing almost seeming to look forward to the new adventure. It was not the reaction I was expecting, but I went with it, assuming that he did not have enough background to have developed a scary scenario for himself.

So it was that I was more nervous that Owen when I brought him in for his initial evaluation.

Bracing for the worst (so to speak) I held his hand as we walked through the door. Just inside the door, greeting us before we even laid eyes on the receptionist, was a pair of arcade style video games sans coin slots. As predictably as any dog in Pavlov’s lab, Owen smiled and drifted towards them with thumbs outstretched as I walked to the receptionist’s desk to check in.

Sitting behind the desk was a woman with the whitest, straightest teeth I had ever seen. I wondered if the office required a dental evaluation as part of an application for employment, and if denial of employment due to an overbite would be considered discrimination under current law.

As Owen played some games, she sat me down in a graciously appointed office to sign papers and give me the orientation talk. Her coverage of the nuts and bolts of the procedure consisted primarily of some vague gestures towards the model teeth. I felt my heart begin to sink as she spent a significantly longer period of time covering the financial aspects of the arrangement. I was startled to find out that she possessed an incredibly detailed understanding not only of how dental insurance worked in general but also knew off the top of her head the specifics of how my particular type of coverage worked in particular.

Braces are expensive. This was not a surprise to me. What was a surprise, however, was that this office did not work on the pay-per-office-visit model that the rest of the medical community operates under. Instead, they work more like an auto body shop. An estimate is given, the work is done, and then the bill gets paid.

Very tidy.

As she wrapped up the orientation talk with a bit about follow-up care, she slipped in the fact that she was 48 years old and that she still wore her retainer every night. I am not entirely sure I needed to know this about her, but it certainly explained the almost eerie perfection of her smile.

The orientation talk done, Owen and I were led into the office for our tour. The office consisted of a row of standard dental examination chairs, each facing a flat screen television displaying a current movie piped in from Netflix, and I was told that even though all the screens play the same movie, they will take requests.

I also learned that the braces themselves have had a 21st century makeover. Instead of the standard gunmetal grey, today’s brackets are now fastened to the ever present wire with tiny colored bands that are available in a rainbow of colors, can be installed in an infinite variety of color combinations and patterns and are easily changed to suit the chromatic whim of the proud brace-ee.

There were two chairs occupied in the office on the day we were there. One, we were told was a young man getting his braces off. It went without saying that this was an important day in the life of any self-conscious adolescent. The other chair held a young girl who was getting her braces put on.

I received a blinding sliver of a smile from our guide as she indicated the chair that held the girl with the newly minted metal smile and told me that this girl has been looking forward to the day she would get her braces since her older sister first got hers. She paused after this announcement to look at me expectantly, which good because I had stopped in my tracks as I processed this last comment.

Owen had drifted back to the video game as the tour and exam wrapped up. As I peeled the controller from his hand on the way out the door, he looked up at me, and with the light of excitement in his eyes asked me when we would be coming back.

Complete reversal of orthodontically related urban lore and public opinion in a single generation.

Years of propaganda and market research seem to have finally paid off….although Owen would probably say that it was just the video games.

The Ol’ Rusty Gazzette Vol 1

June 13 2010

Another camping trip in Ol’ Rusty.  She looked a bit out of place among the rows of miniature houses on wheels that line the street of the campground.  And yes- Ol’ Rusty is, in fact, a girl.  This was decided when we first brought her home.  Upon reflection, Ana determined that the camper HAD to be female since she holds us inside her belly.  How do you argue with that kind of logic? In any case, Ol’ Rusty is a moderately decrepit, 35 year old Viking pop-up camper. We considered trying to get historic plates for her, but I am not sure that you can get those for a trailer in New Jersey.

Campgrounds like this always crack me up.  Generally when we camp we set up on campsites that contain little more than a picnic table, some dirt and a fire pit.  Our camping equipment is similarly simple, a small propane stove, my trusty cast iron skillet and some assorted seconds from my kitchen cabinets.

My favorite  is a stainless steel percolator which makes delicious coffee that is so scalding hot that you have to let it cool for at least 20 minutes before attempting a sip.  So there I am, in the middle of this suburban camper jungle, staggering out of our camper into the cheerful morning light with my hair mashed in at least three different directions, percolator in hand in quest of a likely place to set it up to heat.

The looks of horror were hilarious, and several of our camping companions did not even recognize this arcane implement that I held in my hand.  Of course, I matched their horror with my own astonishment as I examined the blenders, toasters and microwaves they had hooked up to their campers. All the comforts of home, but in the great outdoors.  The campsite behind us even had a wraparound porch complete with deck furniture and covered grill.  I was, however more than willing to sustain a bit of ribbing because I knew that in the end my coffee would be so much better than their electric dripped filtered brew just like they get every morning at home.

In the end I think I had the last laugh on that one.

I do not mean to imply that I did not like this campground. In fact I think we will go back there, perhaps even before the summer is over.  It was, however, a bit of culture shock for me.  I guess I am more of a hardcore camper than I realized…I always thought I was a bit of a wuss because I will not camp anywhere that I do not have access to running water, and will only use an outhouse in a dire emergency.  A campground with cable TV hookups available? THAT is a perk that I would never before have associated with camping. I think even my MOTHER could camp at this place!

We were camping with the family of one of Frances’ oldest friends who we have recently started to socialize with on an adult level. This trip was apparently a yearly tradition and involved at least 4 other families. Honestly I am not sure how many people were in our group and I certainly could not keep track of all the names.  I will say that there were at least a dozen kids ranging in age from 3 to 16, and they ran in packs accordingly.  Owen found two other boys in the 7 to 9 year old range, and the three of them spent the entire weekend tearing around the campground on their bikes toting loaded squirt guns and eschewing shirts.  I imagine there were spitting contests and so on but I chose not to notice.

Owen is very proud of his bike, which we recently purchased for him.  He even has a coiled steel bike lock in an attractive shade of lime green that he carefully keeps wrapped around the base of his seat.  A bike lock is pretty necessary in Edison, but on a campground….. not so much.  Owen, however felt the need to ‘share the joy’, and in order to demonstrate how cool it was to fasten a bike to a tree, he not only locked up his own bike but also the bike of one of his new buddies. This was great fun until he dropped the only key we had with us somewhere in the grass.

Despite his confident assurances that his mom had super vision and could find anything, I was not able to find that tiny key lost in the field, thus leaving two nice red bikes safely locked and in no danger of being stolen…or RIDDEN for that matter.

Needless to say, Owen no longer has a nice lime green bike lock.

Frances was in her element, since almost-teenage girls (much like prepubescent boys) tend to run in packs. Packs of girls tend not to be as noisy and gross as the boys. They do seem to involve a lot of walking in aimless circles and clutching of cellphones.  Frances spent a great deal of time texting with her friend Johnathan who she claims is NOT her boyfriend. I am not sure I buy that because I find it difficult to believe that he would invest the time to send her hundreds of text messages a day if he were not interested I her that way- nor would she respond so avidly if she did not reciprocate his interest.

Frances, of course was way too cool to sleep in our old decrepit camper with us, preferring instead to cram into a single bunk with two of her friends and sleep in air conditioned comfort.  The only time I resented that was when a huge beetle dive-bombed me in the middle of the night and I had to dig it out of my shirt.  Times like that certainly engender a certain wistfulness for creature comforts that do not involve little crawling creatures.

My darling Ana fell into the donut hole on this trip.  Although she is technically old enough to run with the big girls, she is too much of a tomboy to be interested in doing so.  Riding bikes with boys would have been right up her alley, but she is still girl enough to be grossed out by spitting, and she definitely was not interested in running around without her shirt on. She instead spent her time floating between the two groups, escaping the girls when they got too giggly, and abandoning the boys when they got too gross or exceeded her threshold for war games.  In between, she came to me for mommy time, something that I have little to complain about. She helped me cook, then let me thoroughly dunk her in the pool. In a tangentially related episode. she learned, the hard way, that she is NOT allergic to bees.

Matt went out kayaking with the guys and had a great time, even going so far as to say that he found a moment of nirvana floating in the center of the Delaware river with no responsibilities except to paddle home. Although I concur that he could really use some nirvana to offset the stress of everyday life in the work grind, I would have been more likely to agree to a kayak if the purchase price did not also include a new camper being pulled by a new truck with dirt bikes for the whole family. I swear that man is such a boy sometimes….of course that is part of his charm.