The last post of 2013:
Hope you all have a wonderful, wonderful holiday!
When we get together, my family tends to do a lot of “sitting in the basement.” This is family code for sitting around the house all day long chatting with breaks for eating. Being an indoorsy sort of person, this inactivity suits me to a T. This weekend we would have carried on as usual but for the fact that the weather was so freakishly warm and that my best friend invited us over for a Christmas party. It turned out to be a busy but most wonderful, wonderful, and out of all whooping kind of Saturday.
Feeling morally obliged to do something outdoors with the kids, I took them to the National Zoo. My dad gave me a transformative piece of advice as we left the house: “It’s one long hill. Park at the bottom. When you’re tired after walking around, it will be easier to walk downhill to the parking lot.” This simple suggestion turned what usually is a Metropolitan Museum of Art sort of slog into an efficient Guggenheim sort of experience. We parked at the bottom and walked all the way to the top of the hill, not stopping at all until we got to where the pandas are housed. We made our way leisurely back down the hill, stopping off at the enclosures and exhibits along the way. At the Small Mammals building, the kids were captivated by the Golden Lion Tamarin Monkeys.
They were so enamored of the little creatures, they were ready to trade in their beloved dogs for a monkey. They got so carried away with their little fantasy that they started arguing about in whose bedroom their new pet monkey would live.
Their favorite spot was Amazonia, a building that’s all the way at the bottom of the hill. It’s somewhat hard to find, but it’s definitely worth the effort. The two-story exhibit is designed to be like a tropical rain forest. There are huge fish on the ground floor level.
The second floor opens out onto lush vegetation and birds and animals everywhere.
What makes this part of the zoo special is the fact that there is no separation between you and the animals. We spent some peaceful moment communing with a couple of older sibling monkeys who, according to the docent, used to get in trouble all the time, but in their old age now spend their days grooming each other and napping in the trees with their tails entwined. She told us to look out for the Roseate Spoonbill who had just woken up from her nap, and we were delighted to spot her just around the corner.
That evening we headed to my friend Janel’s house for the best Christmas party ever:
After dinner, we gathered in the living room, where I couldn’t tear my eyes away from this gorgeous display of origami birds swooping across the wall. Janel made it herself:
Wonder Woman also made Christmas crackers filled with crowns, riddles, lollipops, and some bling, too!
We sang Christmas carols:
Had a quickie photo session:
And then it was time for “Minute to Win It” games:
In the first game, a tissue box filled with ping pong balls is tied to the player’s waist. The player has to get all the balls out of the box, while keeping both feet on the floor:
In the dice game, the first person to stack six dice on the end of a popsicle stick held between the teeth wins:
The thrill of victory:
The agony of defeat!
The last game involved very attractive headgear made out of tights with a ball in the end of one of the legs. The object of the game was to knock as many filled water bottles as possible with the ball-in-tights-pendulum-hat, while keeping one foot on either side of the line!
The kids were having so much fun, they begged for one last bonus round before we headed home. For this game they had to start with a cookie on their forehead and move it down to their mouths, using only facial muscles!
T had a tough time of it:
…but her persistence eventually paid off:
It was a lovely way to start the holiday season. The only thing missing was Colin, who is still feverishly trying to finish an article before we set off for our travels to Princeton. We’ll be spending the holidays there with our family.
Tomorrow I’ll post our annual Christmas video, starring my daughter, and then I’ll be back here again in the New Year.
My daughter and I have been hard at work on our Christmas 2013 video, which I will hopefully be able to post on Monday. Meanwhile, here’s a recording we made about five years ago, when my girl was three or four. I’ve added some photos and video to our very rough-around-the-edges Garage Band recording. Towards the end we both start cracking up. She gets fed up with my giggling and starts hiccuping to boot. I remember thinking at the time that we would eventually tackle it again and do a better recording. We never got around to it. Now, when I listen to this, the imperfections are exactly what I like best about it. It’s a pretty good reflection of our life – kind of a mess, really, but full of love and laughter.
I was trawling around my computer the other day and rediscovered some video clips and recordings that had been made years ago. I’ve been obsessively watching and listening to these, including this clip of my daughter when she was 3:
I’m so grateful for the gifts of photography, video, and recordings, which restore to me these precious, extra/ordinary moments in time that would otherwise be lost forever.
Things were looking dire for my middle child this morning. Yesterday, he spent the entire day in bed without eating a thing. This morning he felt even worse. He looked gray and was hunched over in pain. He clutched his belly as he hobbled down the stairs. My husband was convinced he had appendicitis.
With zero medical training between us, we are swift and confident in our diagnoses. We’ve read WebMD and have had three children after all. We were especially confident that we were dealing with appendicitis, because our oldest child had it three years ago.
We quickly made a game plan that involved a complete shift in our usual routine. Colin took our daughter to school and I drove my son’s carpool. Colin would take our sick child to our family medicine practice to be evaluated and I would leave work to meet them there once they arrived.
“Poor T. I hope he’s ok,” I fretted as I drove his older brother and his friends to school.
“Me too. And, I hope if he does have appendicitis and he has to have surgery, you don’t do what you did to me when I had it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Remember how the doctors wanted me to stay an extra night, but you were so desperate to get out of the hospital you made me walk around the nurse’s station to prove that I was ready to leave? And I was in so much pain, but you made me do it anyway.”
Ummm. This absolutely shocking and horrible allegation is sort of true.
I was desperate to get out of there. But in my defense, as I’ve mentioned before, my son feels things more keenly and expresses those feelings more vociferously than the average child. After his appendectomy, the doctors and nurses kept checking on his recovery with their pain assessment tool, the one with a series of faces grimacing in increasing degrees of anguish. You could tell they were expecting him to point to the slightly frowny It’s OK, I Can Take It Face when asked how much pain he was experiencing. Instead, he’d always, always point to the Holy Mother of Pearl, I’m In Mortal Agony Face.
Staying in hospitals is awful for so many reasons. What made it especially miserable this time was that we were sharing a room with a little toddler whose parents weren’t spending the night with him. The poor boy cried all night, but I wasn’t allowed to pick him up or comfort him myself. Instead, I had to repeatedly call for a nurse to come attend to him throughout the night. It was heartbreaking.
I had to get out of there, and I was convinced that it would be much better for my son to rest and recuperate at our own house. The condition put upon his release was that he would have to be able to walk without too much difficulty. To prove that he was mobile, he would have to walk all the way around the nurse’s station.
I whispered a little pep talk in his ear before he set off.
“I know you’re hurting, but try not to make it seem like such a big deal, OK?”
I know. I’m Caligula’s eviller twin sister.
Hunched over like a shrunken, little old man, clutching his IV pole, the poor boy staggered around the nurse’s station as if he were on the last mile of the Bhutan death march. I hovered in the background whispering encouragements, “Come on! Straighten up a little! Put a little pep in your step! You can do it!”
He was discharged.
I fully expected my middle child to be admitted this morning. I was mentally preparing to atone for my past sins by letting him stay as long as he needed to in the hospital. Instead, as soon as he got to the doctor’s office, he magically came back to life. He regained his color, his appetite, and his vim and verve. And despite the fact that the doctor looked like he couldn’t have been more than twelve years old, and made his diagnosis without even consulting WebMD, we gladly concurred when he declared that he merely had a virus and sent us on our way.
There was an awkward period of time when, for the life of me, I couldn’t define the nature of the relationship between me and my future husband.
We met when we were both graduate students in New York City. We were in a singing group, and soon started spending a lot of time together outside of rehearsal. At first we hung out with a group of singers. Eventually, we started doing things on our own.
“So are you dating?” my sisters would ask me on the phone.
“I’m really not sure,” I would reply.
I was getting some seriously mixed signals.
“You have the hands of a pianist,” he remarked one day.
I instantly understood that he was trying to flatter me. I imagined all of the things he was surely thinking…Your hands are so elegant! Your fingers are so long and tapered!
As he was obviously trying to find a pretext for paying me a compliment, I obligingly gave him the opening.
“Really? You think?…What do pianists’ hands look like?”
“Well, they have really chunky fingers,” he replied promptly and earnestly.
It never ends well when my husband and I discuss how the nature of our relationship was eventually clarified, but the resolution once again involved my hand. As I remember it, one day we were walking down Broadway, about to cross 113th St., when he held out his hand for me to hold. I took it, and that was that. From that moment, we both knew that we weren’t just really good friends who happened to take note of each other’s physical traits…We were dating.
My husband remembers it differently. One day he had the nerve to imply that I had made the first move.
“What?!” I protested, “You’re the one who grabbed my hand! Remember?”
“It was icy. I was just holding out my hand to help you down off the sidewalk,” he replied, “And then I was really happy, because you kept holding my hand.”
I had to resist a very strong urge to throw something at him.
That was seventeen winters ago. We were married a year later. We still argue about things. We still walk hand in chunky hand.
The theme of the weekend was: “Missed (But Not Really) Photo Opportunities…or: Clearly, I Need Professional Help”
I told my daughter she should dress up, because we would be heading straight to the boys’ recital and her dad’s concert right after school.
Seeing her stricken expression, I reconsidered my position, “Well, maybe you could change really quickly as soon as you get home from school.”
“Oh, good,” she said with palpable relief, “Because I’m pretty sure I’m going to be playing football today, and that can get really messy.”
My little football player:
The boys’ piano recital:
Sadly, before I could get any photos of Colin, I had to bolt from the concert when I started feeling sick.
I felt much better after an early night and was able to help a little with “Ashton’s Birthday Wish.” This is a drive started by a remarkable boy, who decided that instead of having a birthday party, he would collect and distribute winter coats to people in need. His mom told me he was crushed that he couldn’t be there. He had just gotten out of a wheelchair after surgery, had overdone it, and was in terrible pain. This is when being crazy and always toting a big fat camera in my bulging purse pays off! I took a few pictures so she could share them with her son.
Later that day, a couple of my son’s friends came over for a sleepover. The idea of three thirteen year old boys in the house at once had been terrifying to me, but it was surprisingly sane. It almost killed me not to take photos, but I managed to restrain myself in order to preserve my good relations with my son. (OK, it’s possible that I may have surreptitiously taken a few).
Our new washer and dryer were delivered. My son and I nerded out, watching the first load go through its cycle:
We had a few quiet moments this afternoon…
And then we went to Lessons and Carols, my favorite service of the year. My daughter was singing in the choir for the first time. I tried to resist the urge to take photos, because church policy forbids it. I failed.
It doesn’t really count as a violation of the policy if you take blurry pictures with your phone, right? Still, I was punished anyway, when my daughter rolled her eyes at me when she saw me taking photos.
The candlelight service was beautiful. People all around me were breaking down in tears. I was undone by this verse from In the Bleak Midwinter, a hymn set to a poem by Christina Rossetti:
Angels and archangels may have gathered there.
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air.
But his mother only in her maiden bliss,
Worshiped the beloved with a kiss.
I’m still working on this year’s Christmas song and video and am hoping to get it recorded and posted by next week. Here’s last year’s video for now…
I crave peace and quiet, especially when I get home from work. But, in the immortal words of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards: “You can’t always get what you want.”
Yesterday when I got home, the kids were bouncing off the walls. The strange thing was that my normally quiet-as-a-lamb, ultra-responsible, rock-solid middle child was the instigator.
My son has always been a quiet child, who doesn’t talk much, and certainly never about himself. About a month ago, he brought home a semester’s worth of school work. At the bottom of the stack was the first assignment he had done for language arts: a typed, single-spaced letter that filled an entire page, introducing himself to his teacher.
“You should know that I am a very quiet kid. Every day my family has to tell me to speak up.”
“I am kind of athletic because I play soccer but other than that I run slow and I can’t do push ups very well.”
“What I like to do before school when I’m not trying to get ready really quick is to draw funny pictures and cartoons, which I share with my family. I like doing this because I love to make people laugh.”
“Some things you need to know about me is that I suffer from back pain. I assume its just long term affects of my limes disease, which I had about a year ago…So if you see me fidgeting a bit it’s just my back so don’t worry about it.”
By the time I got to the end of the letter, tears were rolling down my face. His letter was so sweet, gentle, honest, and open. It felt unbearably sad to me that I had gotten my best glimpse into my son’s inner life through a school assignment.
Lyme Disease did terrible things to my son. What was even more upsetting to me than the fact that he was suffering from aches and pains, was the change in his personality. He started acting like a grumpy old man and became even more uncommunicative than usual. I would have to say that even now, about a year and a half after he was first diagnosed, he still has not bounced back 100%.
Last night at the dinner table, however, he was unusually animated and jovial. His eyes were sparkling. His playful mood was infectious. His siblings were caught up in the novelty of his high spirits and were getting riled up.
“Who are you and what have you done with my son?” I asked him.
He held his hand out to me to shake and said, “Hello, I’m Dale Thomas and I’d like $13,000, no, let’s make that $15,000 dollars ransom for your son.”
Dale turned out to be quite a character: a slickster, a charmer, a merry hooligan, a man about town, a comedian, and a rabble-rouser all wrapped up into one…His siblings were spellbound and completely and utterly in his sway.
“Come on, eat your dinner,” I kept urging as the antics escalated to a feverish pitch.
“T might like chicken, but I don’t particularly care for it.”
I glared at T/Dale. He continued to pick at his plate, as he redoubled his efforts to keep his audience of two highly entertained. I kept having to ask the kids to calm down, take it down a few notches, be quiet…PLEASE!
As we were finally finishing up, I asked him to wipe the table after dinner.
“Aren’t you being rather rude, asking a guest to do chores?” T/Dale asked me with a mischievous grin.
The last straw was when the kids got so swept up by the highjinks, they started loudly drumming their feet. I lost it. I barked out a peremptory order for SILENCE!
That night I popped a couple Advil and crawled into bed. I finally had the peace and quiet I had wanted so desperately. I also had the time to reflect upon the evening and was stricken with remorse and filled with regret. Why couldn’t I have been more tolerant? Why did I have be such a buzzkill? Why hadn’t I played along with my son’s rare display of exuberance, rather than try to squelch it?
This morning I gave him a hug and apologized for having suppressed Dale so meanly.
“I’m sorry I was such a jerk about Dale. He was so much fun. Everyone was having such a good time and I ruined it by being so crabby. Do you think he might come back for a visit sometime?”
There was a twinkle in his eye as my son said, “He’s upstairs hanging out in my room. He may still be here when you get back from work.”
I hope so.