We laughed about this yesterday…

Yesterday when I was waiting with my son for his ride to DC, we reminisced about this incident from last year. I originally posted this on April 9, 2014…

The cherry blossoms hadn’t quite popped yet, but the Cherry Blossom Festival was in full swing this weekend.

After lunch, we decided to go paddle-boating in the Tidal Basin.

Two people had to peddle in our four person boat. My three kids argued over who would get to peddle as if they were vying for seats on the U.S. Olympic rowing team. The man who was helping us into the boat solved the problem by suggesting that we return to the dock halfway through to switch positions.

“Remember! You’re not allowed to switch positions in the middle of the water,” he warned, “When you’re ready to switch, you have to come back here and we’ll help you do it.”

The boys took the first shift while my daughter and I relaxed:

Halfway through the hour, we returned to the dock so that my daughter could have a turn. My oldest son graciously gave up his coveted spot to switch positions with her…

…and immediately transformed into a crazed martinet. “FASTER! Peddle faster, you maggots!” he shouted gleefully.

His siblings bore his strident orders with good humor at first, but the relentless nature of his hectoring soon began to pall. Undeterred by my dirty looks and increasingly forceful requests that he put a sock in it, he kept goading his younger siblings. We were like the characters in Sartre’s Huis Clos, who eventually come to realize that they are in hell, and that their punishment is being trapped for eternity with each other.

To distract the kids, I suggested that we go investigate some white rocks I could see in the distance. I didn’t recognize them and wanted to get a closer look.

The two kids got the boat fairly close to the rocks, but not close enough for me to make out what they were.

“I still can’t see what they are. Can you get a little closer?” I asked.

My conscientious eleven year old, our family’s own Jiminy Cricket, advised me against this unwise course of action. “It will take us too long to get back to the dock if we get any closer to the rock.”

“But I really want to see what they are. How about you get us just a little closer?”

Meanwhile, my eldest took this as a signal to renew his taunts.

“CLOSER! Get CLOSER! Peddle harder, you maggots! I want to see bubbles in our wake!!!”

Against his own better judgment, Jiminy Cricket steered us close enough to the rocks so that I could see at last that it was the new(ish) Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial:

“OK, let’s head back now!” I said, sneaking a peek at the time.

“How much time do we have left to get back to the dock? NO! Don’t tell me, it will just stress me out. OK, go ahead and tell me.”

“Ummm, well, we have about ten minutes.”

Now Jiminy Cricket was pissed. He started scolding both of us.

“You HAD to see the rock! And NOW we’re going to be late getting back to the dock. Don’t blame me if they make us pay more for the boat! I TOLD you it would take too long, but NO, you HAD to get closer.”

“Don’t stress out about it! If we have to pay extra, we’ll just pay extra. It’s not a big deal,” I tried to reassure him.

All the while, his brother provided a steady dose of maddening counterpoint: “Is that the best you can do? We’re not even moving! Come ON! Peddle for all your worth, Maggots!”

Jiminy Cricket lost it: “YOU peddle then. I’m not going to peddle anymore!”

“I’d be glad to peddle, but we’re not allowed to switch.” (For some reason, now my eldest son switched to a velvety, smarmy English accent dripping with evil).

For dramatic effect my second son stopped peddling, even though I know it was killing him not to be making any progress back toward the dock.

“Well somebody has to peddle…,” I ventured, as the boat came to a standstill.

At that point we realized the youngest was not feeling well.

“I think I might throw up,” she moaned.

“Just stop peddling. STOP PEDDLING! Take your feet OFF the pedals. I can manage myself!” shrieked my poor little Jiminy Cricket as he resumed peddling as fast as he could, “UGH! My back is KILLING me! My legs are killing me!”

“QUIT your whining, you maggot and peddle!” (I whacked the boy to shut him up – to no avail). “Don’t tell me that’s the best you can do. Peddle harder!!!”

The ridiculousness of it got to me and I started shaking with silent laughter.

“You think this is FUNNY?!” asked Jiminy Cricket, apoplectic with rage.

“NO! I’m sorry! It’s not funny at ALL!” I said trying to get a hold of myself, “I’m sorry, I wish I could help you peddle, but….”

Finally, we made it back to the dock, about fifteen minutes past the time we were due. Fortunately, they took pity on us, and let us stagger off into the sunset without any additional payment.

As we walked on, my sweet Jiminy Cricket said, “Thanks so much for taking us on the awesome boat ride, Mommy.” I looked at him suspiciously to see if he was mocking me, but he continued with earnest sincerity, “It was so much fun!” (That one’s a keeper, I’m telling you)!

The three siblings reconciled…

and we headed back to meet up with my sister for our ride back to Arlington.

 

Fifteen

Our birthday boy is now 6’1 and needs to shave. It’s much more difficult to nag and scold a boy when he towers over you. In any case, there’s far less cause for nagging or scolding these days…To my great joy, nowadays more often than not our conversations are easy and filled with laughter.

Other things have changed too…Every once in a while, my son used to sing with a beautiful, pure countertenor voice that would make me drop whatever I was doing to listen. I had to be surreptitious about it; he would immediately clam up if he thought anyone was paying attention to his singing. When his voice fell, the sweet tone that once held me spellbound became harsh and ragged. He still hasn’t been able to find his singing voice, but he’s still making beautiful music…These days he can often be found at the piano or at his laptop with headphones on, creating beats.

Some things never change…We sent our son off this morning on a trip with friends. Packing this morning involved lengthy and heated negotiations. As we stood shivering in the unseasonably cool weather, waiting in the designated spot where his friend’s dad would be picking him up,  I realized I never retrieved from the dryer the one pair of long pants he was planning to wear – a pair of jeans I had stayed up late to wash and dry for his trip. While we stood waiting for his ride, we made idle talk. He described to me at great length the bout of “sleep paralysis” he had experienced for the first time this morning, complete with a hallucinated “dark figure”. He was freaked out initially, but then exhilarated for having experienced a phenomenon he had only ever read about. My side of the conversation was far more prosaic and pretty much boiled down to the same request phrased in different ways. “Cool story. Hey! Remember to text the woman who gave birth to you to let her know you’re still alive. You owe that much to her. Oh, wow! You felt like the dark figure was sucking you in, but you couldn’t move?! Must have been so scary. So anyway, I’m sure you can find time to send me a one sentence text or even just a photo once or twice a day, right?” (It’s 9:30 pm and I haven’t heard a peep from the boy)…

I re-read this post from April 25, 2013 and had to smile.

The past two weeks have shaken us all to the core and have left us feeling raw, exposed, and vulnerable. There was the vicious bomb attack at the Boston Marathon, the devastating fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, and the catastrophic earthquake in China. Closer to home there have been great sorrows that have not made it into the news cycle, but have made the people around me painfully aware of how precious life is and how cruelly capricious the tides of fate.

This morning I realized how much these events have crept into my psyche. I had been up to 2:30 am (the only time I could find to write) and had woken up at 6 am to help my son get packed for his three day school trip.The night before, when he had announced that he was too tired to pack and would wake up early to do so, I knew with absolute certainty that this was a terrible idea. I knew this morning would not be pretty, but I didn’t have the energy to argue the point or to start the packing myself.

So this morning at 6, I sat on my bedroom floor with an open suitcase and my laptop opened to the emailed packing list my son’s teacher had sent.

“Bring me three pairs of long pants and three long-sleeve shirts!” I called out to him.

He slowly shuffled into my bedroom with one pair of pants and one t-shirt.

“THREE pairs of pants and THREE LONG-sleeve shirts!'” I bellowed with exasperation, “CHOP CHOP!”

Seasons changed, my skin began to sag, and more grey hairs sprouted as I waited for him to reappear. Finally he showed up bearing…another t-shirt and a sweater.

When I protested, he claimed that he couldn’t find what was asked for in his drawers.

I rifled through his drawers myself and discovered one or two of the things he needed, but confirmed the fact that the rest of the items simply weren’t there. They were buried deep in the mountain of unwashed laundry that I hadn’t been able to get to all week.

You can probably imagine the snarling and generally churlish behavior that ensued, but we finally did get him packed. Already running late, I began getting myself ready for work. As I was getting out of the shower, I could hear that my husband was about to leave the house to drop him off at school for the field trip.

There was one crucial thing I had forgotten, and I didn’t want to miss my chance. If I’d learned anything in these past two weeks, I’d learned that sometimes you never do get a second chance.

I raced out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around me and my hair streaming with water. At the top of the stairs, I barked out his name.

He turned around, and from the bottom of the stairs he looked up at me with a doleful stare and sighed, “Yes?”

The word was imbued with that unique teenage inflection that makes it abundantly clear that behind that monosyllable is irritation, a lifetime of suffering, and the sure expectation of more unreasonable parental behavior…

I tried to modulate my own tone, but failed.

“I LOVE YOU!” I snapped.

A momentary flicker of surprise registered in his eyes and after the briefest pause, he muttered “Love you” and ambled out the door.

Easter

My husband and I had wanted to have a baby for a long time and we were beginning to worry that it was not going to happen for us. We were thrilled when we discovered that our first, long-awaited and much longed-for baby would be born on Easter Sunday. One Sunday morning early on in the pregnancy, I began spotting. We made a trip to the Emergency Room. After a brief examination and ultrasound, the doctor told us that there was no heartbeat and that I was having a miscarriage. He offered to do a D & C to remove the fetus right there and then. Distraught and brokenhearted, I went home to grieve instead. I returned to the hospital a few days later for a follow up appointment. After a puzzling result from a routine blood test, the doctor sent me for another ultrasound. In a small, dark room we saw the steady flicker of our baby’s heartbeat on a monitor.

Ever since he was no bigger than a kidney bean, this boy has never been one to play by the rules or to go by anyone else’s timetable. Instead of arriving on Easter Sunday, he surprised us by showing up a couple weeks early. On the day he was supposed to be born, we took him to church for the first time. On this, our baby’s first Easter, we joyfully celebrated the miraculous resurrection of the son of God, and of our own beloved son:

Here are a few more photos I dug up from Easters past:

We’re heading up to Arlington today to spend Easter with family and friends. Hope you have a wonderful, wonderful weekend!

Panoramic Sugar Eggs

For the past couple of years, I’ve been taking my kids to the Lorna Sundberg International Center at the University of Virginia to decorate panoramic sugar eggs. When we’ve gone, all the hard work has already been done for us. All we have to do is show up and decorate our already-made eggs. If you’re feeling ambitious, making the eggs from start to finish would be a fun project for Easter or to do over the spring break.

Panoramic Sugar Eggs

  • Whisk 2 egg whites until frothy. You can add food coloring to the egg whites to make a colored egg.
  • Place 5 lbs. of white sugar in a large bowl. (Superfine sugar will give the eggs more sparkle).
  • Create a well in the sugar and pour in whisked egg whites.
  • Mix with hands 5 minutes until well blended.
  • Pack sugar mixture firmly into a mold. You can buy special egg molds, or just use a plastic Easter egg like this one with a flattened base:
  • Scrape tops of packed eggs with a knife to flatten, then remove from mold and place on a baking sheet flat side down.
  • Bake in preheated oven at 200 degrees for 20 minutes.
  • Hollow out the center of the egg halves with a spoon until the shells are about 1/2″ thick. (You can reuse scooped out sugar to make more eggs, just place in bowl and cover with damp paper towel).
  • Cut off the front of the narrower end of the egg and continue to hollow out the viewing window as necessary.
  • Let air dry for 2-3 hours, or put eggs on their backs into a 200 degree oven for another 45 minutes to finish hardening.
  • Gently rub two halves together to smooth edges.
  • Create a scene inside the egg by arranging small figures, candy, and “grass” inside egg. Secure everything with royal icing. (Beat two egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Add 4 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar and beat for another minute. Add more egg white or sugar as needed. Tint with food coloring).
  • Pipe royal icing along an edge and press two halves of egg together. Run finger along edges to remove excess icing.
  • Use pastry bags filled with tinted icing to pipe borders and other decorations on the egg. A decorative border will hide the seams where the egg halves come together. You can pipe your own flowers onto the egg, or buy frosting flowers and attach them with icing.
  • A vertical egg can be made by cutting through the flat egg half, using the flattened area as a cutting guide to create the window. Try creating a base by packing sugar into the rounded wider edge of a plastic egg that opens vertically. Fasten the egg to the rounded side of the base with royal icing.

Eggs can be displayed for Easter, then wrapped in plastic and kept in a dark, dry place. Sugar eggs will last indefinitely.

Here are some eggs the kids and I made a couple years ago:

4/4 Violin

My daughter has been growing like a weed and is ready to move up to a full size violin. I caught her as she was opening up the first of the two violins and three bows she has on trial this week. She’s having a ball trying to decide which combination she likes best!