Tuesday, January 31, 2012

One Thing That Made Me Laugh

Jack, in the car on the way to school today:

"Can I have a flamethrower? What if I promise not to use it in the house?"

Then he asked if we had any war bonds we could cash in to buy a grenade launcher. I'm blaming this one on Calvin and Hobbes.

*****

Do you want to know what is awesome? Big kids. Big kids that can buckle their own seat belts and fetch you beer and outwit you at card games. Read more about why I think big kids are awesome, over at the Wheaton Patch.

*****

Also, 2012 sucks balls.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

My Friend Susan

I love her smile.

My friend Susan is all I have been thinking about for the last few days. I love that woman so much.

You may have seen the slide shows that Teach Mama put together for her to watch. They're full of photos of friends of Susan's. They are beautiful. When making them, she suggested that we take photos of ourselves with a word that we felt describes Susan.

For a lot of reasons, I chose "THOUGHTFUL." I chose that word because it combines two things that Susan has so much of: brains and heart. There are so many times that I have watched her make thoughtful, active decisions when so many others (i.e. me) would just flail away and hope shit worked out. There are also so many times when she could have legitimately been focused solely on herself only to reach out to me about something going on with my family. I'm not the only friend she does this for either. She is an extremely giving person.

As I've been thinking of her so much over the past few days, so many stories and memories came to mind. I remember back in the day when I first knew her and her older son was such an adorable little guy then (still is, although bigger now) who would wander around during our moms' club meetings, winning the hearts of all the moms there. There was the night she and I and another friend got together to share our wedding photo albums with each other. I spent a big chunk of that night cuddling with her sweet second son, who was just a baby at the time. Recently, I would go over to her house with Big Gulps for each of us and we would drink them and talk. It's kinda our thing.

So many good memories. So much laughing. And every time I hang out with her, I swear I learn something. Her husband is such a great partner for her and has always managed to be charming and delightful when I've been around. (Even that day years ago when he was trying to work on his important, you know, SPACE STUFF on his laptop on the couch as I chased my three recalcitrant kids around their living room in an effort to extract them from his house.) I am grateful to have gotten to know him as well.

A couple of weeks ago, I was there when the sun came out from behind a cloud, activating this little solar powered rotating prism he had gotten for Susan. We sat in the swirling rainbows that her husband had given her. It was really cool.

And her kids. Everything is for her sweet, beautiful kids who have always been so kind, creative, and fun.

Susan is an extremely loving, present, smart, fun, brave, wonderful, strong woman. I love her dearly and am so grateful to have her in my life.

Susan has given a lot, be it to her family, to her friends, to women in science, or to women fighting cancer. It's our turn. I know a lot of you want to share your love with her too. If you are so inclined, share a memory or a love note with Susan on the WhyMommy Love Fest Facebook page. Send mail to her at her P.O. box: Susan Niebur; 11006 Veirs Mill Road, Suite L-15 #112; Wheaton, MD 20902. If you pray, know that she does too, and I'm sure she would welcome your prayers.

As for me, it's simple. Here is what I have to say: Susan, I love you. Always. I just want you to know that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

:(

Hey. It's not been an awesome couple of weeks, has it?

If you're looking for funny and self-righteous outrage, can we just pretend that I posted this column about how terrible homework is here?

Mostly, however, I just want to send my love to my friend Susan. She's one of the good ones.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Izz-Bird

I had a cat named Izzy. She used to be Isabella, but about five minutes after I brought her home, I realized that Isabella was way too sophisticated for her, and Izzy she became. Also, sometimes Izz-Bird, or more accurately, The Izz-Bird.

This is her:


Now, I'm sure YOUR cat is awesome and all, but Izzy is the best cat. She spent the first half of her life being a silly, playful cat and then she relaxed into a wonderful, cuddly cat for a long time. I used to have to fake sleep in the morning, because if she caught me with my eyes open, she would poke at my face with her paw so I would pet her.

She also spent a couple of years as one of Jack's best friends.

About a year and a half ago, Izzy got sick. Really sick. We weren't sure she was going to make it. She was in renal failure and it was touchy for a while. Soon enough though, we got her medicine and fluids under control and she stayed happily healthy on her maintenance plan. She was expensive as hell, what with her four twice-daily medicines, her special food, and her daily subcutaneous fluids, but she got her energy back and was fun and happy for 18 months.

We had a little routine, Izzy and I. Every evening for the past year and a half, I would go upstairs to my bedroom, where she mostly stayed, and I would feed her. I would lie on my bed and she would eat and then she would come sit with me. I would hang out with her for an hour or so and give her the medication and fluids that kept her healthy. I would scratch her under the chin and she would purr.

That cat purred all the time.

Then, a week or so ago, she started getting noticeably bonier. And more lethargic. And I couldn't not take her to the vet. So yesterday, I took her in and the vet did some tests and the results weren't good. Our options were to go "all in" with a blood transfusion, hospitalization, and IV fluids or to...well, that part was sort of left unsaid.

But even if we did go all in, there were no guarantees. It seemed like a lot—for us, for Izzy, for our kids—with little chance of long-term success. I had known for a year and a half that this decision was coming. I knew there would come a day when I would be sitting in an exam room and have to make the last appointment I ever wanted to make. But it was the right choice for my family and it was the right choice for Izzy.

She was cuddly. Always cuddly.

I made an appointment to come back the next morning, because I needed my kids to be able to say goodbye. They have all known Izzy for their entire lives. They deserved to say goodbye. And I needed to do so as well.

My kids were sad. Alex was sad. Sam was brokenhearted, but always practical, noted that he would have to try to make friends with Denali, our other cat, who does not like children. Jack went upstairs and laid down next to Izzy, put his finger out for her to sniff and said, "I love you, Izzy." Quinn giggled at how cute Izzy was and patted her on the head over and over and asked if we could make a poster to remember her.

I spent the whole evening with Izzy. The rest of Team Stimey came to visit now and again throughout the evening. Sam, Jack, and Quinn all made notes for Izzy to tell her she was the best cat. They all let her know how much they loved her. They were all very gentle.

This morning everyone said goodbye to Izzy before they went to work and school. I came home and sat with her until it was time to take her in. The whole event was very gentle. The vet gave her a sedative so she would fall asleep and I scratched her under her chin as she did.

She fell asleep purring.

I'm going to miss her. I'll miss her soft fur. Tonight, when I didn't have my excuse to spend a quiet hour upstairs with my furry buddy, I missed her a lot. But I'll be okay. She lived for almost 16 years, and she had 18 months of healthy life more than we thought she would. The munchkins are all very sad, but we're talking about it and they're going to be okay.

And that poster? The one Quinn wanted to make to remember her by?


It's beautiful.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rear Window

My family is having a little bit of a pet crisis today. It will be "resolved" tomorrow, but not in the happy way. I'll tell you about it later.

I decided to tell you about something different and light and funny because it is less sad. Somewhere along the line, I decided that the light and funny post should be about my rear windshield wiper. Because that is a logical leap.

I think I mistook "light and funny" with "stupid and boring."

I even Photoshopped a whole graphic about the rear windshield wiper story.


Then, I got ready to actually write the post and I looked at the notes that I'd scribbled earlier today that I thought were really funny at the time and it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I thought the windshield wiper story was funny just because it was not tragically sad, like my cat story.

Mental note: Don't judge humor whilst crying and clutching your sick cat.

Really, here is the story: The wiper was broken and loud. Alex told me how to fix it. I fixed it.

I am going to go cuddle with my kitty tonight. See you tomorrow.

*****

Remember the playground? You know, the scary one, where I rolled my kids in bubble wrap and refused to let them play, taunting them with the joy of the non-helicopter parented kids? I wrote about it again, this time over at the local Patch.com site I write for. I have a new friend over there in the comments section who HATES ME.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Finally. A Good Parenting Decision.

You know how I always dress Jack in camouflage, which is the dumbest thing ever because he likes to explore plants and dirt and whatnot, but always at the periphery of whatever location we are in? Well, Alex and I smartened up. After Jack took apart the zipper on his last winter coat (which was black with camouflage-y markings), making it substantially less warm, we bought him a new coat—in the brightest color the store had.


It's even brighter than it looks. We will never lose him again.

Also, because January is apparently spring, all winter coats seem to be 50-70% off. Awesome.

And, yes, Jack is giving the dog bunny ears for the photo above. It is endlessly humiliating to be our dog.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Little Bit About Everyone

I'm kind of avoiding a lot of stuff right now, so I decided to tell you about a few things that have been happening around here, things that might not make their own successful post, but will do nicely when stacked together.

Hey, do you remember Quinn's school photo? The one that was so bad that I had it retaken? The one wherein his eyes were closed? If you don't remember, you should go look at it now before you continue on.

Well, I sent him in for his retake and told him to try to keep his eyes open. Then I sat back and waited for the arrival of a retake photo in which Quinn's eyes were almost comically open.

It is even better than I had hoped.

I do believe someone combed his hair as well.

*****

The principal at Jack and Quinn's school is leaving for another job. And since he was already gone on a short-term assignment, that means he is just GONE. He's not coming back. I have feelings of distress about this for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggies is because I knew Jack was going to be sad.

See, for the first couple of years of elementary school, Jack was sent to the office on a regular basis, but the principal, you know, got it and managed to make Jack feel good about himself. Sometimes when Jack just needed to calm down a little lot, he would get sent to the principal to chill out. The dude was pretty much Jack's best friend for a while.

I told Jack this morning and he started to cry. I felt like joining him.

*****

As for Sam, well, he gets cooler every single day. I had no idea how fun age ten was. I also had no idea how much better ADHD medicine could make Sam's life. That dude has gotten so much more chill since starting his meds this fall. He's happier, he's less anxious, he talks more, he lets people do things like hug him. It's really amazing. If you would have described current Sam to me four months ago, I wouldn't have believed you.

Honestly, on a day-to-day, practical, count-the-meltdowns basis, he used to be my hardest kid. Now he is an absolute delight. He smiles more too. I love that.

Love that kid.

*****

I got a haircut today, but because I live with four boys, no one really noticed. I mean, I cut off probably 8 inches and now I have bangs, but my kiddos still haven't noticed. To his credit, Alex figured it out in under an hour.

I had to suffer through almost an hour of small talk for it (I think maybe that's why I only get my hair cut once a year or so), but I'm happy with the results.


*****

Alex did some stuff too, but they were fancy lawyer things, so I don't know what they were.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I Wish I Had Something to Say

I was hopeful that I would write a really fun post today, something to get us over the controversy of the playground, but I got nothin'. My kids are in school instead of being at home doing amusing things for your benefit.

Also, Jack falls apart at school every January, which means that school is kind of a shitshow right now. Which is kind of a bummer.

I also have this cyclical, chronic, low-level depression thing going on, but that isn't a lot of fun to talk about either.

Here is what I DO have:

• You guys, there is this awesome show that I'm sure none of you have ever heard of before, but holy shit, I've been watching Breaking Bad on Netflix streaming (*I* still love you, Netflix!) and I am in love. It's fortunate that I'm not sixteen years behind the trends or anything.

• As if living with other human beings isn't noisy enough, my dog, who spent the day right next to me, had a near-constant stomach gurgle for several hours today.

• We hired a cleaning service because I am terrible at, you know, house upkeep. However, the stress of avoiding them on the day they come is reaching epic proportions. This is mostly because I feel bratty for being home during the day, but not cleaning. The other six days of the week, however, are spent in sparkly clean joy.

• I had to go see Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. THAT was the longest six years I ever spent in a movie theater. I wrote about that movie in terms of the sacrifices of parenthood over at Patch.com.

• I'm hoping that that link right up there (^) can count as your post for today if this one doesn't.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

An Itemized Tour of the Most Terrifying Playground in the World. EVERYBODY PANIC!!!!!

Let's talk about playgrounds. Some playgrounds I like. Some playgrounds upset me.

Playgrounds I like include the following features:
1) Fences
2) Clear sight lines
3) Small areas
4) Few people
5) Easy parental access to all play structures
6) Fun playground equipment

Team Stimey went to a playground today that had exactly one of six of those features. Team Stimey Junior had a blast because that one positive feature was fun playground equipment. Team Stimey Senior had a heart attack because the rest of the park seemed ACTIVELY DESIGNED to aid kidnappers and kids who tend to meander off.

It was difficult to take a photo of the whole playground, because it is huge, which was awesome for the munchkins, but terrible for me. I do have this professionally marked up and annotated photo that can give you an idea of what we're dealing with here.

I felt too lazy to use the Type tool in Photoshop. Sorry.

Shoot. I used numbers up above too. Listen, I'm sorry that I have two lists of six in this post. You are just going to have to deal with them. God, Stimeyland has gotten confusing.

1) There is a long, raised wooden boardwalk dividing the playground. Note the fence, presumably to keep kids from jumping off of it, but effectively forcing parents to walk all the way around if they need to chase a quick, agile child. There are also child-size openings in the fence under the boardwalk. More on that later.

2) Off that way is the sandbox, the baby swings, and some bouncy toys. Also off that way is easy access to the untamed forest bordering the playground. I get that the park designers probably did this to keep little kids separated from bigger, rampaging older children. To that, I say, thank GOODNESS no little kids have OLDER SIBLINGS. Or that there aren't sensory seekers who will hang out in the sand, leaving their more active siblings wandering unsupervised. You know, in theory.

3) Swings and giant web climbing structure. Giant.

4) HUGE slides that start on one side of a raised area that has a fence/ladder system clearly not designed for adults and that let out on the other side of said barrier. Even the little kid slide is set up this way.

5) Other playground equipment. This was home to this spinny thing that Jack loved and on which he made friends with more than one girl who was interested in helping him spin as fast as he could. That was my favorite thing in the park.

6) Giant synthetic mountain. Honestly, pretty goddamn awesome. But also kinda perilous. Plus, the entire backside of it was not only (naturally) blocked from view, but provided a perfect unsupervised escape route for curious kids who like to check out what is happening in other, less populated parts of the park.

Enjoy your tour? I'd like to highlight some of the more stressful aspects of this park that brought out the neurotic parent in me. In my photos, I tried to include as few random people as possible, but it was difficult considering how crowded it was. Fortunately Alex was there to actually watch the children while I wandered around documenting how hard it was to watch your children.

It was also, like, 65 degrees, so we ran into every local friend we had who also decided to go to the park yesterday. Hello? January? Where are yooooouuuuu?

So. Let's start with that boardwalk, which not only divides the playground in two, but eliminates clear sightlines, so you can't stand in one place and watch all of your children. Other than the obvious, I have a couple of issues.

I know! Let's teach kids to play in drainpipes!

Jack loves that damn tube. And it's the last place you're ever going to look for him. It also provides a way for kids to quickly and invisibly dart to an entirely different part of the park. Yes, there is access for adults to squinch by as well, but that access also allows children to get under the boardwalk where you CANNOT REACH THEM.

Oh, hi, Sam. Running from me much?

Shortly after I took that photo, he scooted out of a small hole on the other side of the boardwalk. It was upsetting.

Honestly, at some point, I just gave up on Sam. I figured that he was the least likely to wander off or be kidnapped. Sorry, Sam. You're one of my very favorites, but this is the cost of competence.

Next, let's discuss the division between the top of the slides and the bottom of the slides. That division is a fence atop a six-or-so-foot cement wall that has grooves etched into it for kids to use as ladders.

To be fair, the slides are kinda super awesome.

I managed to capture Quinn in a demonstration of these ladders for you.

Step one: Climb the unclimbable ladder grooves:

Note the girl next to him that needed assistance.
There was a lot of that. It's a weird system.

Step two: Squeeze through the child-sized fence hole at the top.

Seriously. Not a lot of adults are getting through that.
At least without embarrassing themselves.

Step three: Change your mind at the last second and decide that you'd rather wander around unsecured on the DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! side of the fence.

What six-foot drop?

Speaking of Quinn and danger at the park, should we take a moment to discuss fashion dangers? Because, come on, Q-ball. GQ isn't going to come calling if this continues.

Second-hand karate pants are bad, but he HAS found
the only way to make Crocs cute.

Moving on to the giant web structure. I can't really nitpick about this one too much because it falls squarely in the fun playground equipment category, but I am always terrified that my kids are going to fall and then ricochet all the way to the ground.

Then Jack climbed even higher and started jumping. True story.

Fortunately, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue was there.

Although they may have just been watching their own kids.

Speaking of watching your own kids, there was some sketchy parental supervision going on as well.

Dear lord, THAT doesn't seem safe, kid in the green shirt.

Oh. Hi, Sam.

Christ, kid, use your hands!

Oh. Hi, Jack.

Oh, and let us not forget the dangers of not thoroughly considering who you will marry and who will then proceed to post embarrassing photos of you all over the internet a mere twelve years later.

Hi, Alex!

I don't have a whole lot to say about this next photo of the synthetic hill, but I thought you should see it. Also, I saw an older kid doing multiple cartwheels down it, which was terrifying to watch.

I did enjoy Quinn's shadow here though.

At some point Jack took a break on the top of a REAL hill. I took this next photo to demonstrate the woods directly adjacent to the park and how easy it would be to (a) wander off into them, or (b) hide in them and wait for an unsuspecting child to take a break on a real hill.

Remain vigilant, people.

Let's move on to the little-kid part of the park, which, incidentally, is the only place my kids were harmed. There were three injuries sustained, all by Jack. First, he pinched his fingers in the swing for disabled kids. (And then it took me a while to figure out how to unlock it and get him out.)

Plus, he kept trying to kick me. Seriously. Remain vigilant.

In terms of real injury, however, I am about to show you the most dangerous item of playground equipment at this park. Jack was injured TWICE. Those of you with nervous constitutions may not want to look.

I know. It's almost like they're ASKING for a lawsuit.

Jack banged his tooth on it and then he fell right off of it when he was sitting on its forehead. That last may have been off-label use, however.

Park designers: I am available to consult. Really. Call me.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Homework and Orange Love

I feel like there is one post that I could just put up over and over again, every six months or so. When Jack's homework tonight sent me into a tailspin that triggered doubts about the rightness of his entire educational plan, I was about to write that post again.

After more than an hour of coercing Jack into completing three answers on his homework (which was about 5% of what he was supposed to do tonight), I released him. I figured that if the prospect of doing all that homework felt incredibly bleak to me, it must feel even worse for Jack.

Then he went and played school in his room. I don't get him sometimes.

Tiger's View Elementary School, naturally.

I wrote an email to his teacher and I didn't send it. I started to write a post here and then I decided not to. I got in a fight with Sam and took a time out upstairs. I came downstairs just as Alex was putting the kiddos to bed.

A few minutes later, Sam came out of his room with several notes. The first one said, "Roses are red, violets are blue, but my love for you is orange." The second one said, "I'm very happy, but my love for you is larger." (I'm not quite sure what it is larger than, but that's okay.) This was the third one:

Rainbows have always been his specialty.

Somehow, even when I feel like I'm doing everything wrong, one of my kids comes along to show me that I'm doing something right. God forbid there is ever a day when all three of them send me down the rabbit hole at the same time.

I'll deal with the school stuff. I'll think about it tomorrow. But tonight, I'm going to enjoy some orange love.

I'm lucky to have those guys.

*****

Speaking of parenting and how I'm, you know, super awesome and infallible at it, I wrote a White Knuckle Parenting column on Tuesday about my parenting resolutions for the coming year. (Not to be confused with my running resolution, which I have been kicking ass at, by the way.)

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Pursuit of Happyness

Jack wanted to show me something this morning. By the time I wandered downstairs to see what it was, this is what I encountered:


In case you can't see what it is he had set up shop to sell, here is a close-up of his sign:


The only problem with his business plan is that he can't help giving away happyness for free. He kind of spreads it wherever he goes. It's hard to sell it when it already follows you around. Although this was a better try than his last plan, which was to sell empty boxes at his school for $20 each.

Maybe my favorite part of Jack's sales pitch is that he was offering incentives with his happyness. Jack's happyness comes with fruit juice and a bowl of goldfish crackers—as well as a reminder that you need to pay your $10 tomorrow for more happyness.


For a kid who works so hard and has a fair amount of odds stacked against him, Jack is doing all right. I check in regularly with him to see if he spends more time happy or sad and he usually ends up in the happy column. This week, he has happyness to spare. There is really nothing else in life that I want him to have more; there is nothing else in life that makes me happier.

Sorry kid. If happyness is your product, you're going to have to get used to giving it away for free.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I Choose to Run: Reprise

I like the first post of the year. It feels very blank slate-y. It is also very pressure filled. Like, for some reason, my first post of the new year can't be all, "And here is a funny photograph of a mouse." Unless, of course, it is a REALLY motherfucking funny photo.

And I don't have one of those.

The first post is also a good time to post a resolution, which I usually don't do because, c'mon. Resolutions? That just smacks of, what's the word I'm looking for here? Oh, yes: TRYING.

It seems terribly unhip to, you know, TRY to do something. It also seems...hard.

But there is one thing I really, really want to do this year: run. I started this effort last year and had some success, but not as much as I'd hoped. I had been running most days and then October and November and our bad luck sidelined me and then I got out of the habit. But I'm back, baby. This year, I RESOLVE TO RUN. 2012 will be the Year of Effort for me. I am going to Try.

I originally posted what is written below at The DC Moms when I started running this fall. I post it again here because I plan to treat this resolution like it's my fucking job. I still have time before spring. I'll get there.

*****

I used to be a runner.

I mean, I wasn’t a marathoner or anything, but I was someone who would run 15 to 20 miles a week and who could run six miles in an hour and still feel pretty okay.

I worked out up to mere days before the births of my first two children. I ran a 12K race up and down San Francisco streets six months after my first son was born. I loved the way it made me feel.

Then inertia gripped me with her warm, cozy hands and told me tales of a lifestyle full of sitting on couches and not running up and down flights of stairs, which I used to do not because I left my bowl of ice cream upstairs, but because it was good exercise. That inertia is trouble, man.

This marriage with inertia has led me to a place where when I look at my life, the one thing that stands out that makes me unhappy is my lack of fitness. Here’s the great thing about this unhappiness though: I can change it; I can become more fit. Hopefully if I do, my husband will stop telling me that I’m not very jolly for a fat person—and my follow-up with a punch to his gut will be stronger.

Which brings us to my current effort to run every day that my kids are in school. I put my running clothes right next to my bed, so I can roll out of bed in the morning, tie up my shoes, drop my kids at school, and hit the treadmill. If you see me at 2 p.m. still in track pants, you know I failed in my running goal for the day.

I started by queuing up all 23 discs of The Wire in my Netflix account, dusted off my treadmill, did some stretching, and set off for Day One of Project Improvement. This is how it went:

Minute One: I am awesome! I feel great! I am going to run my way into fitness!

Minute Three: I. Am. Going. To. Die.

Here’s something you may not know—if you don’t exercise for six years, that first step back on the treadmill will likely hurl you off the back into a bookshelf. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

I think you can imagine how that first workout went from there. About 25 minutes into my run, which was rapidly turning into a run/walk, I started wishing that I’d begun my running regimen with Entourage, or any other half-hour show on the planet, up to and including Two and a Half Men, which I would have happily watched if it meant I could have gotten off of the treadmill at 22 minutes.

Note: I do not endorse watching Two and a Half Men as an exercise technique or, really, for any other purpose.

At 45 minutes, when I realized that The Wire was an HBO show and therefore has no commercial breaks, meaning I had to keep moving for a full hour instead of just 42 minutes, I started to cry.

Okay, I didn’t cry, but I was a little sad. And I might have said some curse words.

Here’s the thing though: I kept moving for a full hour. Then I did the same thing the next day and the next day. And I hope to keep doing it. Sure, I only traveled three miles in that hour instead of six, but that’s three miles more than I traveled last week.

Now that I’ve broken up with Inertia, I have to find a way to start a relationship with Perseverance. I’m awesome at starting things, less good at following through. That’s why I’m watching a multi-season TV show to keep me interested.

By the time I work my way through The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Sons of Anarchy, I figure that I’ll be down at least a couple of dress sizes and be able to run to the school bus stop without breaking a sweat—and probably have picked up a nasty drug habit, based on my entertainment of choice.

I want this to stick this time. I need this to stick this time. Clearly my desperate attempt to blend couch potato with runner shows you this? And before you say “Go outside,” I should let you know that I’m not ready to run with (or near) The People yet. Maybe by spring.

Because by spring? I’m going to have to find a new thing to be unhappy about.