Monday, March 28, 2011

This is Only a Test

Last summer I finally purchased two 55-gallon water drums for the beginnings of our emergency water storage. Problem was, I never filled them. That would have been a real kicker, had something happened and we actually needed water. But for several months (no, make that years) I've felt the urging to make preparedness a priority, and the events in Japan only added to my feeling that we need to be ready, come what may.

So, first, I went to the lumber store to get two boards. Water barrels should be stored up on slats of wood, and never directly on a concrete surface.

Then we filled the barrels and added some of this aerobic stabilized oxygen, which makes the water safely storable for up to five years. This bottle treated both 55 gallon barrels.

I know it was a small thing, but having those water barrels filled is a thrill to me now, when I look out my back door and see them. I hope to get several more, but this is a good start.

A few hours after we got the barrels filled, the power went out, for no apparent reason. It affected at least several blocks around us, as people wandered out of their houses, wondering what was going on. It was lightly raining, but not stormy, as it has been for the last week. Adam was already planning on taking the boys to an internet cafe for some networked video games, so when he left, I decided to take Lyndsay and Conor in the other direction to the produce store. We loaded up on fruits and veggies and nuts, and hoped that when we returned home, the power would be back up.

Not to be. And it was dark by that time.

We unloaded the groceries from the car, but only put a few perishable things quickly into the fridge, leaving the veggies to wait on the floor, to preserve the cold temperature in the fridge. As Conor surveyed the situation, he clapped his hands together in an authoritative way and said, "Okay, here's what we need to do: we need to get the emergency candles and the emergency flashlights!" And with another clap of his hands, he was off, returning with an armload of handcrank flashlights. I lit some candles, and enjoyed the pioneer-like coziness of our now limited activity.

Soon the boys were home, and they got right into our "emergency" too. One got the handcrank radio going, and another lit more candles. Lyndsay, realizing that most of her life requires electricity, surrendered into her new, though temporary state of being, and sat on the couch to read in the dim light. Aiden rallied a group together to play a family game. He, Adam, and Dylan began a game of cards. Conor, like a sheepdog, wandered from room to room cranking his flashlight, checking on everyone's well-being.

The flash on the camera ruins the mood of this picture, but obviously, it was taken in pitch darkness, except for the light from the four candles burning there on the table, and the little camping lantern.

Only a few minutes into the card game, the power came back on.

The card game, once finished, was abandoned. Lyndsay got right onto the internet. The candles were blown out, flashlights turned off, and everyone scattered to different rooms. A movie went on in the family room, and iPods were once again connected wirelessly. I think it was only 2 minutes before I heard someone call someone else a "jerk", and somebody else be mean in another room.

"Goodness!" I called out. "What happened to everyone? Maybe I should just turn the power back off!"

Interesting how a temporary crisis brought everyone together in such a lovely way. Now to work on unity even with the lights on.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Laugh it Up

I'm laughing a lot these days. Like a weight has been lifted from my heart, and there's no string holding it to earth, it just keeps floating away with laughter. I'm not even sure what's so funny, but I love it. Laughing has to be up there in my top 3 favorite things (my children being lumped into one thing, of course.)

I hope to be able to have a decently nice camera one day soon. But fortunately, a friend that Adam works with loaned him his camera while he is away in Europe, so we've been having fun getting some pictures of the kids and the family. I got my hair cut last week, and Adam was all up in it with the camera. But he wouldn't stop making me laugh. Actually, he wasn't trying to make me laugh, but he is just so funny. He just strikes me as hilarious, probably because he is so subtle.

My favorite shot is the one above when I lost it again during the family picture and all of the kids start reacting to my laughing. I love how contagious laughter is.

But, finally, we---I---pulled it together, and we snapped a few family pictures, and even got a few of me (and the other kids.) It's kind of strange looking at close-up pictures of yourself as you get older. It's weird to see the morphing change taking over your face (and body), when inside you feel like you just walked out of the high school doors.

But overall, I like those changes. Especially the laugh lines.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I turned the kids' scones green this morning for St. Patrick's Day. It's tradition to have a green breakfast on March 17th, around here, like most other homes, I suppose, but I wanted something other than green pancakes, or green eggs this year.

The unlucky news is that none of us owns any green clothing. Weird? Yesterday was Green Day at Conor's preschool, and I had a terrible time finding anything that he owned that had green in it. Why is that? And why can't they have Orange Day, because I have plenty of orange!

So, the kids headed out for school, ripe for the pinching. I wish them luck, on this Irish day.

I'm lucky:

I am in a good place with Adam. (Although that hasn't so much been because of luck, but rather a whole lot of hard work.)

I have a stack of books waiting to be read.

I almost have a year's supply of grains stored, and that makes me feel so lucky!

Conor gets to go to preschool.

I get to go to Time Out for Women in Fresno in a few weeks. (Thanks, Hilary!)

I have really bright children, who teach me, humble me, and make me proud.

I have the best friends ever. Really. You all should be so lucky.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tiger Momma

I just read the best book. Seriously. I loved this book.

Amy Chua is the daughter of Chinese immigrant parents, raised according to the "Chinese parenting model," and she writes this book, initially, to prove why the Chinese parenting model is better than the "Western parenting model."

You know how it is, stereotyped, ethnically or politically correct or incorrect as it may be, Chinese children seem to be top performers in anything they try. Musical prodigies, straight-A students, etc. Amy says there's a perfect explanation for this. Chinese parents expect more from their children and they make them work hard to achieve it. Western parents are too soft and we coddle our children, always wrapped up in their "feelings" and "self-esteem."

In the family Amy was born into, her parents expected excellence. She and her sister both attended Harvard, (Amy is now a professor of law at Yale, and her sister a medical doctor), and even their Down Syndrome sister, Cindy, holds two gold medals from the Special Olympics. Their mother was tirelessly and endlessly devoted to their development, as a good Chinese mother is.

Amy married a Jewish guy from New York, also a professor of law at Yale, and you get to read about the culture clashes and the compromises they made in their family. Basically, she gets to parent according to the Chinese model, but the girls will be raised Jewish.

Amy is one tough momma. The girls began their musical training at age 3, and included hours every day (even on vacation, even on lesson days) of practice, which she supervised. Western parents, she says, enforce 30 minutes or an hour a day of practice. To a Chinese kid, the first hour is the easy hour. The Chinese "prodigy" isn't so much a result of supernatural genius ability, but of relentless practice and hard work. And the Chinese mother is in the trenches with her children.

Did it pay off for Amy? Well, yes. Both of her children are incredibly accomplished musicians, performing in Carnegie Hall and auditioning for Juilliard even before high school. But there were also really tough times--screaming matches, iron will pitted against iron will, and what Western parents might even call verbal abuse. But the Chinese view things differently, according to Amy:

"Chinese parents have two things over their Western counterparts: 1)higher dreams for their children, and 2)higher regard for their children in the sense of knowing how much they can take."

Some of what you'll read is hysterically funny. Some of it is shockingly appalling (at least to a Western mind---she plainly admits that Chinese parenting is done in the closet). But all of it is so real, and I love that Amy is both confident and humble enough to put it all out on the table.
Her dedication to her children cannot be denied. She clearly loves them and is completely devoted to them. She believes that the best gifts she can give her children are skills and an appreciation for excellence. These children clearly work harder than the rest of us, and they sacrifice a lot to work so hard. On the back book jacket, here are what Amy's children were never allowed to do:

attend a sleepover
have a playdate
be in a school play
complain about not being in a school play
watch TV or play computer games
choose their own extracurricular activities
get any grade less than an A (including an A-)
not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
play any instrument other than the piano or violin
not play the piano or violin

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

"Never complain or make excuses. If something seems unfair at school, just prove yourself by working twice as hard and being twice as good."

"What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you are good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work."

"Life is basically forcing yourself to do things you don't want to do. The sooner kids learn this harsh reality, the better."

"Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result, they behave very differently."

Most of what Chua says I found myself agreeing with, though I don't practice it all in principle (I can't believe she has the energy! You will be exhausted reading about how much driving to lessons, hours of practice, drilling, etc. she does with her children---all the while she's a professor at Yale!) There is something to be said for hard work and excellence at a skill, and far too few of us have pushed ourselves (or been forced to push ourselves) to the level where we break through the boundaries and discover what we are really capable of. It's inspiring, really, in a certain way. But Chua has also taken a lot of flack for this book that is swimming in controversy. (and of course, I'm late to the game.) It's not a parenting book. It's a memoir, and a self-deprecating one at that. She's not saying she did things the right way, she's just saying how she did things, and what happened. And even the front cover hints at the shift that takes place, when it says she was humbled by her thirteen-year-old.

I will say, however, that my children are not amused that I read this book. As I was reading it, I happened to look up in the living room I was sitting in, to see Aiden sprawled over the arm chair. Doing nothing. "Why don't you go do something?" I said. "Go develop yourself in some way. Let's not waste time." Then I saw Dylan walk aimlessly into the room. "What about you?" I asked. "What are you doing? Find something difficult and productive to do." And piano practice has stepped up to 100%, no excuses. At one point during her hour practice, Lyndsay stopped and called into the kitchen to me, "Oh my gosh. I see it! You've gone all Chinese on us!"

(Sometimes it's a good idea to keep what you're reading a secret from your children.)

Some people will say that the Chinese parenting model makes children grow up to resent their mothers and rebel, but Amy points out that she can't help but notice that while Western parents spoil and coddle their children and their feelings, Western children more often grow up and resent their parents, move far away, and sometimes even sever ties with them, while Chinese children grow up to revere and respect their parents, and stay close to them throughout their lives, dedicated to them, and grateful for their strict upbringing. Food for thought.

I could go on and on. A piano student's parent loaned me this book, and I loved it so much I want my own copy. So readable. So fascinating. A few, "well, at least I never said that to my children!" moments, and overall, to me, inspiring. Not that I'm going to "get all Chinese", but I agree with having high expectations and pushing children towards excellence.

I won't give away the twists, so go read it!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Laughing with Lyndsay

On Saturday night, there was a Stake dance. Maria's two daughters got dropped off here at my house for a ride up to it, but you know, the girls can't show up on time. That's lame. Nobody's there yet. "Fashionably late" is still going strong.

To make use of the time, I reminded Lyndsay that she was finally eligible for a phone upgrade from Verizon, so I sat down on the floor next to her with my laptop and we scrolled through the options. We narrowed it down to two, but she definitely preferred the teeny-tiny phone. She likes teeny-tiny things, only reinforced since she got the new iPod Nano for Christmas, which, if you haven't seen it, is teeny-tiny. With a touch screen, which cracks me up. I like to take my finger in the air and pretend I'm scrolling through the playlist at breakneck speed on that teeny-tiny screen.

To be responsible consumers, Lyndsay thought we should read the reviews for the phone she liked. The tiny one. There were about two hundred of them, overall very positive. But the negative ones? For some reason, they cracked us up. People have a lot of fire in them when they sit down to write out essay-length hate reviews on cell phones.

A lot of them had to do with the phone's tininess. People complaining about the "itty-bitty keys", and we were laughing, picturing a huge, stocky man with tree stump fingers trying to send a text with any semblance of precision.

Some people who didn't care for the phone didn't mince words:

"I hate it. It's the worst phone ever made. It just won Worst Gadget of the Year. Pros: None. Cons: Everything."

Why is that funny? I'm not even sure. You had to be there. But we were laughing so hard, with the girls on the couch undoubtedly feeling terribly left out, though we tried to reel them in. We had tears streaming down our faces. Mascara was everywhere. And we couldn't stop. Every review had us howling even more.

At one point, I read one and went crazy laughing, and then Lyndsay joined in. She looked up at the girls and said through her laughter, "I don't even know what's so funny this time. It's just that she laughs, and then I laugh!"

It was finally late enough to arrive at the dance and not be lame. I drove them out there, and before Lyndsay got out of the car, I thanked her. "That was awesome," I said. "Really, really fun. I needed that. It felt so good!" We threw a few tag lines from the reviews at each other for reminder chuckles, and off she went. I drove back home with a smile on my face.

I decided to remember that night for the rest of my life. Sitting on the living room floor with my almost grown-up Lyndsay, a year before she leaves the nest, totally in sync with each other comically. Laughing and laughing and laughing about bad cell phone reviews. Wiping smeared mascara off on our shirt sleeves, falling all over each other with hilarity that just serendipitously hit us both at the same moment. So that we could enjoy that moment for the rest of forever in our memories.

There will come a day, I know with a heavy heart, that I won't be able to see Lyndsay every day like I enjoy now. I will miss her and my heart will ache for her. She'll be busy with a new life, but I'll squeeze in a phone call anyway and catch her on her way to this or that.

"Hey Love," I'll say. "Worst. Phone. Ever. Itty-bitty keys." And in that moment, we'll be transported back in time and space to the floor of the livingroom, feeding each other the best medicine ever. Laughter.

Pure bliss.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Our Best Bites, and a Picnic

I'm probably the last to know about Our Best Bites, the blog. I found it recently through a series of other blogs, and bookmarked it to keep coming back to. Practically every recipe they featured looked so delicious I couldn't stand it, so imagine my delight in finding out they had a cookbook! I ordered it right away. The cookbook is so beautiful. Large, glossy, pictures throughout, spiral binding--an absolute party for the eyes, even before the mouth gets involved. I've been trying out several of the recipes, with great success around the homefront.

picture from Our Best Bites

For Friday's Family Movie Night, I made Creamy Chicken Taquitos and Black Beans. So. Totally. Delicious. And then the Cookie Sundae Cups made our movie (Clash of the Titans) that much better. Holy yumminess. Boy, was I glad that last year I'd picked up six after-sale Valentine ramekins at Michael's.

Over the weekend, because Lyndsay had to go to the park anyway to do her running, I decided to turn it into a family picnic. Of course, I had all these great recipes in my mind, and I couldn't leave well enough alone and pack some sandwiches, no. I had to make everyone wait while I prepared A Picnic.

We started with the dough from the Breadsticks recipe, which we knew worked well, since we'd used it earlier in the week. Got that rising, and then we picked some lemons off of the neighbor's tree (with permission) and made some lemonade. Aiden did that part.

While the dough was rising, I made the Apple Streusel Bars and popped them into the oven. With the dough ready, I rolled it out and filled it with olive oil, Italian herbs, shredded chicken, spinach, parmesan, mozzarella, and tomatoes, for the Spinach-Chicken Stromboli. That went into the oven as the Apple Streusel Bars came out. But first, I should admit to losing it in the kitchen. I didn't adequately flour the counter when I rolled the dough out, and as I began to roll up the huge bundle, the dough stuck and began to rip. I growled and said, "I'm going to scream!" And I did. And Adam had the kids run for it. But then Lyndsay came and offered me her two hands to help in rolling the thing up (which I'd made way too big), and all was fine after that.

While the Stromboli baked, I prepared the glaze for the Apple Streusel Bars and put it in a baggie to squeeze out once it had cooled completely. I washed and cored a bowl of fresh strawberries, and packed up plates, napkins, and cups, and a quilt.

Lyndsay began her run and the rest of us set up the picnic and began eating and playing.

One of the toys the boys brought was an air rocket. It wasn't long before a missile was stuck up in a tree, and Dylan was up there trying to shake it down. Which didn't work. So, Aiden and Adam on the ground started throwing a golf club up to try to knock it loose, but then the golf club got stuck too. The sight of the three of them trying to free the missile and golf club (by throwing up the football) was so funny. Lyndsay and I laughed ourselves silly on the quilt, and wondered what the world would be like if men had to solve every problem in the world. To give them credit, they were ultimately successful. And very tired.

There was a football catch between Adam and Aiden.

Aiden's football improvisation.

Dylan did some chipping practice.

And Conor gathered golf balls.

A good time by all. And the food? So worth the effort.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hear Me Roar

I'm taking an art history class on Monday nights. I've been very excited about it for several reasons:

1. My mother studied art history in college, and I like feeling connected to her.

2. I love art, but would love to understand it better, as I'm really quite ignorant.

3. It isn't a grueling, stressful science class.

4. It doesn't bear any weight on my acceptance to the RN program.

The professor is artsy, as one would expect. In her sixties, crazy frizzy hair piled up on top of her head, green-rimmed glasses, and clothes that nobody but an art professor would put together. You know what I mean. But she's also engaging, dynamic, funny, and able to bring art down to a level that a student can begin to interpret. Or, maybe she's bringing the students up to the level of the art. I'm not sure. Either way, each week has been enlightening, intriguing, and so much fun.

This week, however, she took a detour, becoming increasingly familiar to me in the college/academic world, and started teaching her own philosophies as truth.

We were talking about bipolar opposition, where pairs of concepts are historically linked together and considered black and white, with no gray in the middle. One is valued over the other, and they are seen as being in conflict with each other. Examples would be:


We were looking for these themes in art, specifically the Male/Female bipolar opposition. Historically, the male is considered the valued of the two, and is shown in art as being bigger, stronger, more angular, enjoying more of the light of the painting, while the woman is traditionally softer, rounder, smaller, weaker, emotional, and in the shadows.

The professor put up on the huge screen images of toys and ad campaigns that continue, even today, to reinforce these traditional gender roles. Go into a Toys R Us and you walk through the computer games and boy toys first. (Boys are more "valued".) The colors are bolder and brighter, and the toys encourage strength, competition, strategy, and outdoor play. When you finally work your way over to the girls' toys, the colors become soft and pastel. The toys are for indoor, domestic play, and for vanity and appearance.

She showed a side-by-side of G.I. Joe and Barbie. You can all picture this. G.I. Joe is angular, muscular, and dominant. Barbie is unrealistically skinny, beautiful, and well-dressed. Not much good for anything but looking amazing. Picture their hands. G.I. Joe's hands are huge! Barbie's hands are impossibly small. Again, not much good for anything but powdering her nose.

Now, I'm getting all of this. For the record, I think Barbie is stupid. I was not allowed to have Barbie as a girl, and my daughter never had a Barbie either. Barbie spends way too much money on tight clothes and high heels and fancy cars, and vacations. But go back to the gender roles programmed into toys in general. The boys should be tough, girls should be soft and domestic thing. From here, my professor took a meandering path.

She started ridiculing traditional gender roles, calling them archaic and destructive. She said that back in the day, women had to be at home, pregnant all the time, because the mortality rate was such that survival of the species was in jeopardy. Men and women's lives revolved around survival, but now, now? There are too many people, she said! Women should stop having babies and staying at home. People live a long time. The way of the old gender roles should be abolished, shunned, and in fact, women should throw off the chains that have bound them throughout history. What everyone should be doing instead, she advised to a group of impressionable, young students, is forget about gender roles and just go to school as long as one possibly can and then start thinking! Thinking and finally solving the world's problems! That's the solution, she believes. That's the way to fix this mess we're in.

I sat there with my head down, the Spirit long since gone from the lecture hall. This woman is a mother. I thought of all kinds of contradictory statements, but instead held my tongue, knowing that nothing I would say would alter this woman's point of view. But when I got home, I let it all out to my husband, who was waiting up for me.

"Throw off the chains?" I said. "That right there is archaic! Thinking that motherhood or traditional womanhood has a woman bound in chains! Motherhood is the single most powerful position to hold in this world! Nobody affects the community, society, nations, the world, as much as mothers do! How can she say that? Sure women can do anything that a man can do (except maybe some heavy lifting), but that doesn't mean that they should! Look what has happened since women left the home! This is progress? So her suggestion is to create a bigger problem and then have everyone sit around thinking about how to solve it, while ignoring the fact that they caused it?! If mothers would be in the home, a lot of the problems we now have would be gone! Women act as if motherhood is some part time gig they can swing in their downtime, after they do their "real" job! They're missing the point! And how can there continue to be positive personal growth without the callings of womanhood and motherhood? Huh? Huh? We should all just be the same? That's ridiculous! Why does everything have to be the same? Why are we so concerned about fair? We have our own stewardships and divine possibilities. We have our own roles! As soon as we start equalizing everything and switching it all up, bad things happen! A society can only be as strong as its mothers! Mothers are stronger and more influential than Presidents, than Kings! What was she talking about? And all those kids in the room, hanging on her every word, forming their opinions about the rest of their lives! She has no right to mix that in there with Michelangelo and Coatlique!"

Adam was unprepared for all of that. He was silent on the bed. Finally he ventured, "I can see how you would be totally and personally offended by that," he said.

"Oh, but I'm not personally offended," I countered. "I do not feel a need to defend my decision to be a mother. I know who I am and how important I am in that role. I'm offended that she would teach this worldly and asinine opinion as truth! It was wrong! It was just wrong! Who does she think she is?"

He got it. Thank goodness, he understands. And he let me vent and rant and rave all over the bedroom. And then I got into bed, and into his arms. Safe and protected and validated. His roles.

I'll take emotional, and soft, and even round any day as part of my own role. But never weak. No sir. The power and value of woman is one of the least understood and misunderstood truths out there today. Women have never really been in the shadows.

After all, who's raising all those strong, courageous, capable men?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Weird Kitty

Our cat is odd. He likes to sit on anything but the floor. Sometimes he chooses the furniture, like he's some sort of king, but if there's anything on the floor, that's his favorite spot. Like, one piece of paper. He's on it. A board game left unattended. Under the cat. An open book. Swallowed up in kitty lard.

I have to say, though, that when I let the boys dump out all these Legos (and it's hard to appreciate how huge this pile is in a picture), that I never anticipated finding the cat tip-toeing painfully up the mountain to nest on top of it.

And there he stayed.

How can that be comfortable?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I Hope They Call Her on a Mission

Lyndsay participated in Missionary Weekend. (That's her, second in from the left. Incidentally, next to her is Maria's daughter, the one that invited her to go with them to Mexico this summer.)

At first, she wasn't thrilled. Not about the missionary part, but about the pouring rain part and her hair, and how those two things would mix. Also the part about giving up an entire weekend to pouring rain and bad hair, when these days her time is very, very stretched.

I was so excited for her to get to participate, as I've heard the youth praising this experience for years--how great it is, how much they learn, how much love they feel. I baked cookies for Lyndsay and her "companion", tucked them into a brown paper bag, with a letter, telling her how proud I am of her, and how I hoped that she would feel the Savior's love as she spent time in His service.

Pretty much everyone equates the Mormon Church with missionaries. Missionary Weekend is the weekend when all of the youth aged 16 and up get to "try out" a mission. There was a Missionary Training Center set up at one of the church buildings, where the youth gathered after school the first day. They were, from that moment on, to follow mission rules. (No cell phones, iPods, etc.) After talks and training on missionary work, they went to sleep at someone's house (a YW leader, in our case) and in the morning, they were paired up with Sister missionaries, or Elders, as the case may be. They spent the day with the missionaries, following their schedule, keeping their appointments, talking to strangers, and bearing testimony of Jesus Christ.

She got home late Saturday night, exhausted and, more importantly, all aglow. Her mission ended up to be in Santa Monica, starting at the Temple there, and working in the surrounding neighborhoods. She told me of each person they visited, how adept the Sisters were at working with the Spirit and being genuinely interested in each person they talked with. She told me how she even found herself bearing her testimony of prayer, of the scriptures, and of the reality of her relationship with Heavenly Father. She watched the expressions on people's faces change, soften, with the message. She felt love.

Oh, my heart sings! She felt the love. That's what it's all about.

And as it happened, even the sun came out.

Monday, March 7, 2011

If You're into Voting...

. . .Go vote for ME!

The voting is now open for Best LDS Female Solo Blogger of 2010. I totally forgot to tell you the voting had started, and everyone else is campaigning harder than me. Oh well. But if you're so inclined, click on over and help me not be too embarrassed!


A Preschool for Conor

Last Monday, I went to get my brake light replaced and ended up at preschool.

I have no idea how that exactly happened, but there we were, talking to the director, who told us that they don't usually take new students so late in the year. She said we were welcome to stay, though, and see how we liked things.

Conor got right to work on the toys. And when it was Group Time, he found a seat on the bench, incidentally, next to the other little boy named Conner. When questions were asked, he raised his hand. If he had something to add, he raised his hand. For example, the teacher read the story of the creation of the world to the children. When Adam and Eve came along, they were noticeably undressed. Conor raised his hand.

"Um, why doesn't God just make them some clothes? I mean, he made the whole earth!"

A very valid point.

About halfway through the day, during a toy time, I told Conor we really needed to leave. I had not anticipated this preschool thing in our plans for the day. "But what about Snack Time?" he asked. "They're having salad," I told him. (This week was Letter S week.) "Oh, okay," he said, and with that he put away his toys.

The director had given me a stack of papers. She seemed open to the idea of Conor joining the group, even this late in the year.

Conor and I both were elated. There had been such a sweet feeling in that preschool, and I wanted it for my little guy. He'd had such a good time with all those new people and new experiences. I've never had one of my children in preschool before, but for some reason, this felt right. I talked with Adam that night, and even though it definitely stretches our budget, he loves to please me, and he trusts me when it comes to the children.

The rest of the week we set about filling out paperwork, getting immunizations, seeing the dentist (not required for the preschool, but the appointment was already set), and finding a doctor for a physical. Conor had three fillings, four immunizations, a TB test, a urine test, and a prick in his finger for a hemoglobin test. The kid went through it.

On Friday, we went back to preschool, but I had to stay with him the whole day since his doctor's physical paper hadn't been received yet. The Director shared with me her concerns about Conor joining the group so late (like, March is a month full of field trips, and maybe the lack of routine will be hard for him? Will he be able to adjust to the routine after that?) I don't see those things being difficult for Conor. He loves new adventures, structured or not. She agreed to take Conor, since he had been doing so well with the group, and allowed for a two-week trial period during which time she would hold my tuition check and either she or I could break the contract.

Conor feels so big to have a school to go to like all the other children in the family. He needed the activities and engagement with other kids his age. He needed the "warm-up" for kindergarten, sitting and listening, following directions, being aware of other children. The lesson plans are sweet and thoughtful, with fun little activities, outdoor play, story time, and only about ten minutes of worksheets. He comes home with stories to tell of new friends and what's coming up next time.

I now have the doctor's signed physical form, so today, I guess, Conor can stay at preschool without me having to stay with him. He's fine with that. It feels a bit weird to have all of the kids gone at school, and strange that my little guy will not be my trusty sidekick three days a week from 9am to noon. It's just one of those things, though. Parents must constantly reassess the situation, consider each child's needs, and readjust accordingly. I have loved the companionship of little Conor. I adore his company, but I know how much he will grow from having this experience added to his life.

Besides, today is Police Officer day at preschool, and I can't really compete with that.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Of Little Boys and Mexico: A Maria Story

A few people asked me last month when I was going to be visiting Maria again. It delighted me. It meant that already you are beginning to love Maria, as I do. This month's visit took place at my house, oddly, because my brakes were bad in my van and I couldn't drive it, but I'd scheduled my visit with Maria prior to that. Remember how she has to drive all the way down a dirt road, through the canyon, stopping several times to open gates and close gates? Well, I got up the gumption to ask her if she wouldn't mind just coming to my house instead this month, and she was gracious enough to oblige.

Maria has invited my Lyndsay to travel to Mexico with their family this summer for two weeks. Her large family of eleven siblings, with their families, is gathering at the family ranch to spend time with their aging mother. Since Lyndsay has become close friends with Maria's oldest daughters, they wanted Lyns to come along on the trip. I was delighted for Lyndsay to have the opportunity to visit another country, especially with a family. Now she can finally put all her Spanish to the test! And, she can witness the blessings of her life, that so many of us take for granted.

Maria and I always talk motherhood. Her struggles, my struggles. The difference between mothering young children and mothering teens. The difference between mothering boys and girls. And inevitably, Maria takes me back in time, to her little town in Mexico, when she was growing up as a child in another world.

Maria is the eleventh of twelve children. She has a brother, number ten, who is three years older than she. He had, what some might call, "wanderlust", or "an independent spirit". Parents would call it a nightmare, but it makes for a pretty good story, which she gave me permission to share. I don't know her brother's name, so I'll call him Ten, for the story.

When Ten was six years old--six!--he ran away from home. Not your typical pack a backpack and go to your friend's house until dinner and his mom sends you home sort of running away, no. Ten left without a bag packed, told no one, and hitchhiked to Guadalajara, the major city about an hour away from their small town. Now, you think to yourself, who picks up a six year old? (And Maria tells me that he was a teeny tiny six year old at that.) Well, I guess a kind Mexican man who believes what he hears when a teeny tiny six year old tells him from the side of the road that his parents have died and he has no family and he needs to go to the city to work. So, Ten gets a ride to Guadalajara, and as they arrive in the city, Ten asks the driver to let him off there, at a roadside taco truck.

Ten gives the owner of the taco truck the same sad story. He has no parents, no family, and he's willing to work. He doesn't ask for money, just a job and a place to sleep. So, the (fortunately!) kind man, sets up a big tub of water and soap on the sidewalk outside of his stand and puts the little boy to work washing dishes all day long. At night, he locks Ten inside the taco truck to sleep and "take care of the business," in case customers come. Ten is happy as a clam.

Meanwhile, back at home, Maria's mother calls the family for dinner. Ten doesn't show up. She figures he's probably out playing in the sugarcane plantations near their home, but hours go by and he doesn't come home. Maria's mother gets worried. Now, Maria was not even four years old at this time, but she said this memory is permanently engraved in her mind because the emotions surrounding it were so intense. Her mother was scared to death. In the dark of night she loaded the other children with flashlights and they all went into the sugar plantations, searching high and low for Ten. She remembers carrying the big flashlight and looking for her brother. She remembers how serious it was because her saintly Catholic mother was already dressed in her black mourning clothes as they searched. The older kids were just mad that they were out in the dark hunting for the little rascal. He was nowhere to be seen.

The police were alerted. The mother, deep in worry and mourning, went to the radio station. Everyone around was on the lookout for little Ten. Maria remembers worrying that if Ten didn't come home, her mother would die from the ache in her heart, and if she died, then the rest of them would die without her. A three-year-old's anxieties!

Days went by. In Guadalajara, Ten was living it up. As he scrubbed dishes during the day, strangers would walk by and marvel at the little scrawny boy working so hard. Ten would tell them his story, orphan that he was, just trying to get by. In pity, they would give him money.

A week with no Ten. (Can you mothers even imagine?)

Well, one day, the oldest brother, who happened to be in Guadalajara for college, was riding in a bus through the city. As fortune would have it, he was sitting in the window seat, and as the bus drove down a street, this brother did a double take at the little boy bent over a tub of water busily scrubbing dishes next to a taco truck. "Hey! That's my brother!" He jumped out of his seat and begged the bus driver to stop. Running off the bus and back toward the taco truck, he called out to his little mischievous brother. Of course, he had heard of the missing boy, but never expected to see him here in the city.

As he approached the boy, calling out to him, Ten looked up, thrilled to death to see his big brother. "Hi!" he greeted. "You have got to try these tacos! They are sooooo good!" Those were his first words to his brother! He hadn't a clue that he was in trouble, or that people were looking for him, or that his family was distraught with grief. Just, "try these tacos!" The brother told him, "You are in so much trouble, little one." And the owner of the taco truck came out to see what was going on.

"You know this kid?" he asked.

"Yes, it's my brother!"

"Your brother? He told me he had no family and he needed a job. I'm sorry I didn't know."

And so big brother dragged little brother, I imagine by the ear, back home to the family ranch in their little town, Mother still dressed in her black mourning clothes.

Well, everyone was so happy to see him! He was safe! He was alive! Ten was home! And it felt like such a party to him, that he never realized that what he had done was wrong. Plus, his pockets were full of cash, which he gave to his mother. "Look at all the money I got, Ma!"

Well, Ten would pull that stunt over and over again throughout his childhood. Just pick up and leave without anyone knowing. He got kicked out of school after first grade because he kept telling the other children about his runaway adventures and how lucrative they were and the directors of the school feared he would influence the other children to follow in his example. It was the only school in the town, and his mother worried about what to do with her boy if he couldn't get an education. Ten's response? "Don't worry, Ma! I can already read! I don't need school, I can work!" So at six years old, that's pretty much what Ten did, never going back to school. Of course, life has been hard for him, now a father with several children, and without real education. He still works hard, job to job, carving out a meager living for his family.

Maria and I had laughed and laughed at the craziness of this story. It seems more movie-like than real life, and yet we were talking about her brother! Ten loves Maria. She's always been his favorite because she was his little sister, and he looked out for her. Well, when he was home, I suppose.

The great thing about that story is that now I feel so much better about that time when Conor got out of the house when he was two and toddled down to the end of our street alone, while I was in the bathroom. The garbage lady (female sanitation worker?) spotted him, blocked the street with her garbage truck, picked him up and carried him back to the door that he said was his house. Imagine my horror and embarrassment to open the door and see the garbage lady (female sanitation worker?) standing on my porch with my toddler in her arms. Mother of the Year, right? Well, at least he hasn't hitchhiked to Los Angeles. Yet.