Water Fight

Over the 4th of July, we went to aunt Megan and uncle Matt’s house. Other family and their friends were there, but most significant for the two of you was uncle George. Your cousin Liam had a little pool, similar to one we got for your birthdays. But the water was a bit gross, and rather than just dumping it out, somehow all of the little kids who were there managed to get into an all-out water fight with George. It lasted maybe 20 minutes, and you were all just laughing your little tails off until you started to get cold, despite it being in the 90’s

But today, after we got back from our morning adventures, Lucas, you took it upon yourself to start squirting me with a squirt-gun. At some point, I grabbed it from you and turned the tables by squirting you back. You found another, and the war had begun. Now, dear Anna, lest Lucas and I have all the fun, you took a far more subdued and dare I say thoughtful approach. You grabbed a small watering bucket and coyly filled it up to play, drawing no attention to yourself. That is, until Lucas and I submerged our pistols into the pool to refill them, whereupon you promptly DUMPED your bucket down my shorts!

For but a brief moment, I was incensed, but recognized that you just wanted to play too, whereupon things started escalating. Lucas, you wanted to fill up a bucket that was bigger than you could carry. Anna, you grabbed another smaller bucket, but dropped it when I started chasing you. So I took up a stronghold position near the pool with the bucket while the two of you pelted me with your meager squirt-guns. All of us where getting quite wet, but Lucas, you said it was not fair, despite it being two of you against one. You said that you wanted the hand bucket and asked to trade, so I did.

But now that you had larger armaments at your disposal, I had to upgrade as well. So I went for the hose. It didn’t have a nozzle on it, so I controlled it by chinking the hose near the end. If you kept your distance, I left you alone. But anytime either of you tried to dump your bucket on me, you got doused. Once again, dear Lucas, you said it was not fair, and you wanted to trade, so I did.

Except that right after handing you the howitzer-hose, I ran farther down the line and put a chink in there that cut off your supply. But for some reason, you didn’t fully grasp what was going on, and when you went to look down the barrel of your newly acquired weapon, I… I… OK, I’m not particularly proud of this part, but I let the chink go and you got it direct in your face and chest before I stopped the supply again. You laughed, but still failed to grasp what was going on, so you looked down the barrel a second time, whereupon the exercise repeated, maybe a few more times.

As I recall this afternoon’s events here in writing, I can’t help but think that water fights simply don’t bring out the best in me, for there was another experience many years back between my brother and I when we were young. It started with squirt-guns, maybe escalated to water balloons, and it too ended with a bucket and a hose. Except that in this case, I had climbed up the outside balcony to Mom & Dad’s room, which was directly OVER the spigot to the hose. Darron desperately wanted to get the hose and turn it on, but he knew that the moment he approached the spigot, I would dump the bucket on him. Eventually, he did the mental calculus to figure out that one bucket was hardly equivalent to the continuous fire-power of the hose when I would be trapped on the balcony, and ran for the spigot. Naturally, I DID dump the water on him, but no sooner did he get the hose turned on when I simply opened our parent’s sliding glass door and went inside.

So, like I said… maybe water fights don’t bring out the best in me. But I do know that we all had a really good time getting soaking wet on a really hot day. Both of you said it was the best part of your day at tuck-in.

Where to Start?

My dear ones, this fall you will both start school at St. Luke. Coming from a family with two moms, even choosing a Catholic school was no small task, at least for me. But we got reassurance from the principal, as well as another gay couple that it’s not an issue there.

The larger issue was over whether to have you two start Kindergarten, or 1st grade next year. Your current Montessori teacher has been insistent that you both have to start 1st grade, and that if you don’t, Lucas, you in particular are apt to be board and get into trouble. That was less a concern for you, Anna.
About 2 months back, we had you both “assessed” by somebody at the school, but the two Kindergarten teachers were not there at the time, so they did not get to see you themselves. Based largely on your manual writing, they thought it better you start Kindergarten, but again your Montessori teacher was insistent. So that left Mom and I with two different professionals, making different assessments, using different data, to different standards, and we were left confused as to what the best choice would really be. Mom valued the school’s assessment, and I valued that of your current teacher.

So this past week, we had you both go back again for another day in class, this time with the teachers. This afternoon, we went to meet with the teachers and principal for feedback. Unfortunately, their comments were that it was NOT a cut and dry choice. For both of you, there were areas where you were far advanced of the other entering Kindergarteners, but also many areas where you were quite behind what the entering 1st graders would be doing.

Mom was convinced K was the best and easiest choice. I needed far more convincing – not that K was better, but rather that it was really the best choice. And as i write, that is indeed where we will be starting you, but only after much anguish on my part. Are we essentially putting you in too easy a class, setting you behind by a year? Were we to put you in 1st grade, would we be setting you up for greater stress and struggle?

For my part, my loves, I know that it will all be just fine in the long run, and the major factors were that Anna, you are presently easily discouraged, and were you to struggle in 1st grade, it might set you up for struggle and feeling badly about yourself for a long journey. As a girl, your self-confidence is already under attack in society, so if this helps protect you just a bit more, then I support it for you. And Lucas, my love, you are still very much on the small side (5th percentile). And boys in particular can be cruel to the small or weak, and to have you go through all of school until puberty as the little-kid would not set you up for self-esteem or competitive advantage either. So by choosing to have you start in K, there’s a better chance that you’ll not be the smallest in class, and also that you’ll be in a better position to excel physically, which is so important to the boys.

Two Wheel’n with Awesome Anna

Anna, my dear, you went two-wheeling this afternoon.  Last spring and summer, we periodically went for a ride, and getting you to go was like pulling teeth.  You were slow, perpetually riding hard on your training wheels, stubborn, fearful, and an all around challenge.  Typically, since Lucas already mastered two wheels, he and I would ride ahead, and you and Mom would stay back for a delightful afternoon of frustrations and struggles.

But lately, you’ve been riding a bit better on the concrete in the back of our house, and so I had raised your training wheels. For practical purposes, they are gone, but for psychological purposes, they still serve as your safety net.  So today, we all went down to Log Boom park for a ride on the Burke Gillman trail.  Lucas was upset that I would not be riding with him, but I was committed to working with you today to help build your skills, bolster your confidence, and just spend some quality time with you this time.

You still have trouble getting started, but that’s OK.  I held my bike in my left hand, put my right on the back of your neck, thumb and forefinger on either side to help balance you, and I would simply walk my bike along as you ‘rode’ yours.  You were still so full of fear and drama (equal parts), but you were indeed doing it.  You would scream whenever I took my hand off of your neck.  But then I did it for just 3 seconds, counting as we traveled together.  “One, two, three…” and I’d put my hand back on again when you started to scream.  Then again, “one, two, three, four, five…. ” and again my hand returned.  

Mind you, at this point, I was fully confident that your barriers were nearly all psychological, but that does not make them any less real for you, my love.  And so we continued this process and in short order I was counting to 10, 15, 30, and more.  As my numbers got higher, and you were riding longer, you were also going faster.   You soon learned that it’s actually easier to ride faster, and I could no longer keep up on foot when you were doing stretches of 45 seconds or more.

And so at that point, I would merely get you going, allow you to calm your neves a bit, then hop on my bike to trail you and monitor your progress, offering safety points about staying on your side of the trail, breathing, focusing, looking ahead, and cheering you on as “AWESOME ANNA!!!”

And just as with Lucas last season, you had your little spills as well.   Once, you got too close to the side of the trail and fell off your bike.  You were not hurt, but it shot the fear right back up to peak levels.  Except that when you were lying on the ground screaming bloody murder and I tried to soothe you and figure out if you were hurt, it turned out you were most upset that you got your bike gloves dirty.  Seriously?!  I sighed, paused, and met you were you were in the moment, and made sure that you got back on again rather than letting the setback keep you down.  And with some reluctance, you did get back on and continue your progress.

One other time, again just like Lucas, you started losing control and took your feet off of the pedals rather than using them to pedal backwards.  It almost looked like slow motion, but you really were moving at just over a crawl, to the right, off the trail, down a slight incline, and… directly into the bushes.  You at least kept your hands on the wheel, but both feet were out fully to the side and you just sort of munged into the bush.  So I helped calm you down again, and again you kept going.

By the end of our afternoon out, you were most definitely making HUGE strides, my love, and all that you need now is more practice.  I told you over and over and over again how truly proud I am of you, my dear.  In part for learning to ride, but mostly for getting back on the bike again and being brave – choosing to act and practice even when you were afraid.  

At some point in your future, I don’t know if you will even remember the day we spent learning together or not.  But what I shall keep with me is the joy and opportunity I had to be by your side as you overcame something that had been a big challenge for you.  I am grateful that you let me guide and help you through your very own journey of learning, discovery, practice, and early mastery of this fundamental skill of learning to ride a bike together.

In my own case, as a youngster, I mostly remember a friend of mine named Marty who helped me with the learning process.  I also know that I never had training wheels, and that I fell down a whole bunch.  I remember that when I got my first real 2-wheel bike at the store, the salesman wanted Mom to get me a bike helmet.  He said that a helmet is a lot less expensive than brain surgery, to which Mom replied that brain surgery was covered by insurance.  However, I’m still pretty sure that she did eventually get the helmet.

When we tuck you both in at night, I make a practice of asking you what the best part of your day was, and Mom asks you what you are grateful for.  Hands down, my love, being by your side as you crossed this milestone in your youth towards learning to ride a bike was the best part of my day… maybe even my whole week so far.  I got to share that with you, and you have no idea what a gift it was, and that you are, to me. 

My darling little girl, I will love you always.  And maybe 10 years from today, we’ll go through the whole exercise again when you learn to drive a car.  Dear lord, I know that 10 years will be here before I know it.  But for now, enjoy your bicycle, your youth, and your new sense of growing freedom on wheels.

Boo!

Both of you love to try sneaking up on me to go “Boo!”  It doesn’t help that when you do, I jump really high and scream like you just scared the dickens out of me, just to give you the satisfaction of having scared me.

When Mom picks you up from daycare at the end of the day, I know when you get home because I hear the garage door, and also because she lets me know when she’s coming, so that I can start dinner.  Still, you climb the stairs and walk around the far side of the hallway with all the stealth of an elephant with diarrhea, then pounce with joy each time I jump in fright.

Sometimes, however, you two will be watching something on TV when I get dressed in morning, and when I come out of my bathroom, there will be these two wriggling lumps under the covers on my bed saying “Shush” to each other just before I come out, and you’ll do the same thing.  But one morning, Lucas, it was just you, and you were so still that I really didn’t know that you were there.

I had just come out and was about to drop my shorts when BOO!  And my goodness you got me.  Except that from all my playing along earlier, you couldn’t tell this time from the others, but I knew… you got me.  The next day, however, I changed in the bathroom, and when I came out and saw the silent lump, I pushed on it.  Except that you were not under there… you were lying down behind Mom’s side of the bed and STILL jumped out and got me, you little bugger.
So I fear that I have inadvertently created a monster, and Halloween is still nowhere in sight.

But this monster is still nothing like the one that Darron and I created for Mom so many years ago when we were little.

You see, on this one particular night, Mom was staying up late to watch a Dracula movie.  She wouldn’t let us watch it because it was too scary, and on too late at night.  But we knew that when it was over, my Mom would come up to check on Darron and me, just as we both check on the two of you before going to bed.

But this particular nigh, Darron and I (well, OK, I did most of it) had built this gigantic “monster” in the hallway.  You see, we had a zig-zag  hallway upstairs with a right and then a left turn.  And around this second turn, I took a chair, stacked two bean-bag chairs on top, then capped it off with a basketball for a head.  I put tennis-rackets in the sides for arms, and I think I may have covered it with a sheet too.  It wasn’t a very convincing monster, unless it was late at night, in the dark, unexpected, and you had just finished watching a Dracula movie.

So the movie ended and I heard my Mom getting ready to come upstairs.  Darron and I were both lying in the hallway behind the monster just waiting, but I think Darron got so tired he just fell asleep there on the floor.  It was literally all I could do to keep from giggling as I heard her footsteps getting closer and closer.  Now at about this point, I should probably share that I did not really think through what I had expected to happen, and I certainly did not think much about the impact it would have on her.  And I definitely did not expect that when she turned the corner, she would SCREAM at the top of her lungs, flail her arms, back up into a closet in the hallway, and knock it off of its tracks.  Then, when the closet door started falling off and landing on her, she screamed all the more as she turned again, trying to get away from the falling door.  Except that getting away from the door sent her right back into the path of the monster which immediately started falling apart, beginning with that basketball-head which promptly rolled off its shoulders and landed at her feet.  So there, trapped between a closet door that was about to smush her, and a monster that was engaged in a vicious attack, my poor mother was left bouncing off the walls like the ball in a pinball machine.

And as for me, I don’t know, maybe 10 or 12 years old at the time, I had a front row seat to the whole affair which somehow seemed to take place in slow motion, and I started laughing hysterically as only a 12-year old can.  It was maybe another few seconds before mom came to her “senses,” if I can call it that, and what was only moments early a state of abject terror was instantly transformed into pure, unadulterated rage.  At that point, Mom became the monster, flinging the closet to the side with one hand, growing like Godzilla, and literally decimating the monster I had built by hurling the bean-bags to the left and the right on her juggernaut march to the space behind the monster where the infernal laughter of her 12-year old child was emanating.  Now, I saw this whole thing, and had I had but an ounce of sense at that point, I would have been the one in abject terror for my very life, for I can assure you that at that moment, it was most definitely in mortal danger.

I remember lying on the floor, still buckled over with laughter, staring at my gargantuan mother, arms raised so as to extinguish my very life.  Part of my was fully aware that she was quite literally going to kill me, but I could not stop laughing.  I should have run, hid under my bed behind a locked door, or maybe even jumped out of my window she was so angry.  But I just laughed from the floor, staring at the hand of death that was about to smite me, and as I stared at her flaring nostrils, something changed… she softened a bit.  It was but a moment of hesitation, and perhaps for just that moment, she was able to see the absurdity of the situation, and she spared my life.  She started to laugh too, but could not fully reconcile the fear, anger, rage, and humor all at the same time.  So she sent me to my room and back to bed where I should have been all along at that time, and I somehow managed to live to this day where I’m able to tell the story.

And so, my dear ones, as you get better and better at you little schemes to jump out from behind the corner and go ‘Boo,’ I anticipate that between now and when you leave the house for college, my mother is going to extract her revenge upon me through some little act of terror that you two have yet to even imagine.  

I Am Loved

October 14, 2000 – The day I married my very best friend.

I-Am-Loved

For Love of Granola Bars

We woke up from camping this morning, had breakfast, then packed everything back into the car. The plan was to go on a 4-mile round-trip hike to go see a waterfall. Both of you whined a bit, but you, Lucas, took it to an art-form. You would sit down in the middle of the gravel road in protest, and we would just keep walking. Before we got out of site, you got up and ran towards us, screaming all the way. At one point, you managed to walk off the gravel road and apparently came into contact with some nettles, then started screaming in agony. We told you what it was, but that didn’t matter. You were hurting, my love, and started asking “WHY DID GOD MAKE SUCH A TERRIBLE PLANT!”

Needless to say, that incident did not help your cheerful disposition about going on the hike. It helped when we got to see some wildlife. We saw a squirrel, a garter snake, and finally a newt. The Newt let us pick it up, and you both wanted it on your hand/arm. Other than that, it was mostly a slog getting you to go, until you learned that when we got to the waterfall, we would have granola bars. When we finally got to where the falls were supposed to be, it turned out to be a very steep downhills scramble over loose dirt, using roots for hand and footholds. At first, we were not even sure we were going to go down at all it was so steep. But I went down, and assessed that you would be OK with close spotting.

Lucas, you went down first, and were definitely a bit nervous. I had to help you out with hand and foot-holds, but for the most part, you were able to manage yourself well. I sat you down at the bottom then went back up for Anna, who was considerably more anxious. Anna, the hard part for you was keeping yourself facing the hillside. You kept wanting to turn sideways, or to face downhill, despite my insistence that you were more stable the other way. We stopped a couple times half way down, and I asked if you wanted to stop, or to turn around and go back up. You were quite insistent that even though you were scared, you still wanted to go down rather than back up again. At a couple points, you were literally trembling you were so scared, but refused to stop. So I carried you over a few minor patches, and we all met at the bottom for those famed granola bars.

It took me all of 5 minutes to go down and then back up again. Getting you two down took us nearly 45 minutes, but there was no complaining about wanting to go home for a moment of it. Going back up, however, I put you on my back, had you hold on tightly and wrap your legs around my waist, and I carried you up. Lucas, on the other hand, you were close behind me, scrambling up like a monkey with Mom right below you for safety.

When we got up top, I took each of you one at a time and let you know how proud I was of you. Not for having made the journey down or back up, but because there was something that you were scared of, and that you kept going anyway, not letting the fear get the best of you. I was proud for the journey too, but mostly in who you both are, in the choices you made, and in the persistence that you showed, and in the opportunity you took that will build your own self-confidence in the face of future obstacles that you think you cannot do.

Whistling & Reading

Anna, you whistled for the first time today. We were in the car, going to daycare when it happened. I don’t even think you were trying, but it was just a noise you made, then you did it again and proudly exclamined “I WHISTLED!!” Then you could not stop for the rest of the drive in.

Lucas, you were a bit anoyed, either that you could not do it yet, or that Anna would not stop. But then Anna tried to help you by saying what it took for her to do it. “You put your tongue here, on your bottom teeth…”

Anna, I was so glad to see that your response was to try to help him rather than to gloat, and also that it was something you were working at for quite some time.

Another milestone over the past few weeks has been that you’re both starting to read by sounding out words on your own. It’s not something we’re pushing you to do, but you both have the excitement of learning to decode the written messages all over our world, focusing especially on cereal boxes.

One night last week, Anna, I told you how proud I am of you, not for being “smart” but for your continued effort trying to learn this new skill. You may have taken it too far, because you wanted to stay awake all night practicing. You said “I want to learn how to read every word in the WHOLE WORLD! TONIGHT!” I told you that learning makes your brain grow, and that for your brain to grow best, you also need to sleep. You begrudgingly relented and let me turn the lights down.

Anti-Branding

When my brother and I were little, we LOVED McDonnalds.  We got those calendars with new coupons each month that brought us back, and it was the ultimate reward for us.  Mom also described it as a “training ground” restaurant.

With you two, my beloved, you have yet to set foot into that pit of gastrointestinal oppression, and from a very early age, any time we even passed the Golden Arches, we made a point of saying “That’s the place that serves greasy food.”  And when you saw the ball-pits through the windows, we made sure to let you know that little kids play in there and throw up on the balls, making it an utterly disgusting place to play.  But there is one thing that we let you know McD’s is good for… they have spotless bathrooms.  If every you need a quick place to go pee, that’s the place to go.  And that’s why the arches are yellow, I told you.

It’s worked so far… sooner or later you’re going to find yourself inside one of those diabolical denizens of duodenal destruction, and then we’ll have to explain why that poison actually tastes so good… because they want you coming back for more icky stuff that your tummy loves, but your body hates.  It’s a branding war…. the millions and millions of dollars of McD’s advertising, against our ability to indoctrinate you from an early age of the real dangers of fast food.

Dental Cheerleading

Yesterday, you two were playing with each other in the morning when I went into my bathroom to brush my teeth. I’ve got an electric toothbrush that has a 2-minute timer built in, with 30-second intervals for each quadrant of the mouth. So Lucas, you came into my room just after I started and asked “When are you going to be done brushing your teeth?”

I replied “Ifm wilfm befrd dfme im foom ifmutes”  But since this thing vibrates with 3,000 strokes/minute, that’s about 50 per second, which means in no time flat I can almost completely cover a mirror with splatter marks.   So answering before turning it off was a bad choice.

Lucas, you replied “Umi, I can’t understand you!”

So I gave you the timer to stare at and that kept you occupied for another 30 seconds, wherein it awards me a “star” on the screen.  Then, my darling Anna, you come in and demand “UMI! YOU PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT NOW AND PLAY WITH ME!”

I had to refrain from laughing more toothpaste all over the mirror, but then Lucas showed you the timer and says “Look, Anna, she still needs to get two more stars,” referring to the screen.

You both stare for another 20 seconds to see my third star awarded, then Anna, you become my personal dental cheerleader by dancing and chanting “Go Umi! Go Umi!” And of course, I’m smiling so large that I can get to every one of my teeth with ease.

I’ll clean the mirror after you two are in school.

Thank You For Your Curtessy

For the past few weeks, Lucas, you’ve picked up a rather odd (but appreciated) behavior.  You will be sitting on my lap, or right next to me, then instantly and without warning you will bolt up and run to the other side of the room, only to return a few moments later.  What was that?  I ask.

You then tell me that you did not want to fart on me, and so left you fart over there instead.  Awe…. how cute.  It’s a little odd in the moment, but endearing in the long run.

On the opposite side of the scale, when I was little, my brother and I had to share a bed in a hotel during family travels.  We took the bed covering and rolled it up like a big tube,  then put it down the middle of the bed as a divider.  My little brother, however, was full of gas.  His nickname was ‘stinker’, after all.  So while we were in bed, that little devil lifted up the boom in the middle, passed gas UNDER the boom and onto MY side of the bed, then rolled over and went back to bed with scarcely a giggle until 10 seconds later when he heard me starting to gag.

He was far too young to know anything about the Geneva conventions about gas warfare, but old enough to know full well what he was doing. It’s an experience that stuck with me ever since.  Not that I’m still holding onto anything, or that I’m incomplete about it.  No, no, not at all.  But I remember it as clear as the fog that filled the room.

I got him back when he was old enough to appreciate it.  But I dare not say how in writing.  He knows.