Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

My father made all three of us girls participate in organized sports when we were children. Every year, we had to choose at least one sport through the DYA (the YMCA equivalent for military kids). Every year, my sisters gleefully discussed their options and chose a sport or two. I grudgingly tried every sport available. I stood daydreaming on the defensive line in soccer while the attackers flew past me with the ball to score. I made daisy chains in right field during softball games and struck out looking every single time. I had countless double faults before I gave up on actually serving a tennis ball over the net. And then there was the year I tried basketball.

I signed up for basketball in the fourth grade. The season was shorter than the summer sports, so I felt like I was getting a break. Besides, only 5 players were on the court at a time! Even with regulations that forced everyone to play, I would still get plenty of bench time. I thought I would run up and down the court a few times, never actually touching the ball, and then I'd be free of athletic obligation for the year. It was an ingenious plan!

The first day of practice was a horrible day. I don't remember all the details of the day. It might have been the day that I hit my archenemy Laura in the head with my umbrella. Whatever the reason, I know that we were running late for practice, my mother was irritated with me, and I was in a foul mood. I had to use the bathroom, but Mom must have thought I was stalling. She told me in that tone to hold it until I got to practice. As I ran into the gym, desperately searching for a bathroom, I wet myself. The team groaned. Not only did they remember my incompetence from soccer and softball, but I was clearly addled in other ways as well.

The season continued in much the way I had planned. I warmed the bench for most of the time. When I was on the court, I ran around the periphery while my teammates pretended not to see me. Then, toward the end of the season, the ball somehow managed to get into my hands. I glanced around in a panic. All of my teammates were on the other end of the court. All of our opponents were on the other end of the court. I had the ball and the basket was wide open. I took a shot as everyone in the entire gym shouted, "Nooooooooooooo!" Somehow, the ball actually swished through the net. My coach immediately pulled me from the game. I had put the ball in the wrong basket.

I went back to biting my nails in right field for the rest of elementary school, until my father blessedly gave up on me in sixth grade. Years later, I discovered that I really do enjoy sports. I love to play volleyball and I've played softball on company teams. I'm far from the best player but I've learned how to let go and just have a good time. I think that's what Dad wanted all along. He just never could figure out how to make it happen, how to draw my attention outside of my head for a while. It must have been frustrating for him to watch me fail in so many different ways. It certainly was frustrating for me! I swore to never force my kids to participate in any activity, athletic or otherwise.

Last night, Jake had his first basketball practice. I wasn't as apprehensive as I expected to be. Jake was so excited - he loves any team sport and any new experience. It's easy for me to catch his attitude. Claire was excited too! She and I sat next to the wall watching the big kids until she just couldn't sit still any longer. She joined the pack when Coach told them to run laps. I am so happy for them. I love watching them move for the joy of movement. I love seeing Jake laugh and joke around with his teammates, secure in the knowledge that he has something to contribute. I finally understand what my dad wanted for me.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Claire and Libbibiff

Last Saturday, my niece Elizabeth spent the day with us at my mother's house. She's five months older than Claire. The girls are like night and day. Elizabeth has dark curly hair, a round face, piercing blue eyes, and a reticent personality. Claire has smooth ash brown hair, a perfectly oval face with soft greeny-brown eyes, and an engaging attitude. I am constantly amazed because as infants, their personalities were reversed. Elizabeth's volume was stuck on high while Claire wanted nothing more than to sit in her sling and watch the world go by.

Elizabeth came in the door just as Claire and I were getting ready to make pancakes. "Libbibiff! You help too! Get a chair!" Elizabeth, ever obedient, dragged a chair over to the counter next to Claire and climbed up. She carefully watched while I measured the ingredients and chopped the apples. I gave each girl a slice of apple. Claire rejected hers, preferring to sneak bites off the board. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter, I suppose. "Libbibiff! Eat an apple. It's good apple. Yum!"

The morning wore on in that manner, with Claire ordering the obliging "Libbibiff" around. I started to get really worried that this would be the tone of their relationship - Claire the queen and Elizabeth her obedient servant. After a few hours, however, Elizabeth loosened up a bit and started to voice her own opinions. The girls played together for hours in relative peace and quiet. I'm hoping that this is the start of a long relationship for them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

How low can I go?

At dinner last night, Jacob told me that he was going to build a robot to clean the house. My internal smartass (or maybe jackass would be more appropriate) rose to the surface and choked off the more sensitive aspects of my personality. "If you can build me a robot that cleans, I'll buy you a game console." That got a blank look, so Nick chimed in with "Nintendo!" Jake squealed, pushed his plate away, and leaped into action. That is the point where I should have stopped the train. Instead, I kept concentrating on my yummy sausage.

A few minutes later, Jake headed up the stairs. I manage to wrest my attention away from the keilbasa long enough to tell Jake to stay out of my toolbox and have a follow-up argument about exactly whose toolbox it is. For the record, it's mine. He stormed back downstairs. I passed up yet another appropriate moment to end the farce. Instead of coming clean about the probability of Jake actually constructing Mr. Clean, I suggested that Jake draw up some plans first.

A few more minutes later, Jake thrust a page ripped from a composition book under my nose. I glanced down to see a stick figure with a broom in one hand and a mop in the other. By the time I looked back up, Jake was sitting in the middle of the living room floor with a pair of scissors deconstructing a Diet Coke box with cartoonish speed. I foolishly asked him what he was doing and he said, "I'm making a motor for my robot. I really want that Nintendo."

My heart sank from my chest down my left leg into my pinky toe. "Um, Jake? You know that you can't really make a cleaning robot tonight, right? Robots take a long time to make. You need to learn about motors and stuff first. I'm sorry. I was joking when I made that promise and I thought you knew that." Jake threw himself onto the couch and sobbed. Before I could say or do anything else, he threw himself back off the couch and screamed at me. I couldn't even process what he was saying - I was too upset with myself for letting the whole joke get out of hand, or really, even for making the stupid joke.

Nick heard the screaming and thankfully put two and two together. He took Jake upstairs and they did some robot research online. Nick pointed out that no one had ever made a robot that can clean every mess, not even engineers with tons of experience. Jake came downstairs calmer, if no less angry with me.

Jake and I talked a bit more and came to an understanding of sorts. We're going to build a robot together. Maybe not a cleaning robot, but some kind of robot. I know next to nothing about motors and moving parts. I guess I'd better get to learning.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Public Service Announcement

Christmas starts on December 25th. It ends twelve days later on the eve of the Epiphany. Advent starts on December 2nd this year. It starts four Sundays before Christmas and is therefore of varying length. However, Advent has never been long enough to start the day after Halloween. That is mathematically impossible.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monday Menu

Inspired by KC and constant dinnertime irritation, I'm going back to my old habit of menu planning. This time around, all of the reasonable members of our household can contribute ideas to the plan. We're on week three and it's going well. So far, Jake's two contributions to the weekly menu have been identical: mac & cheese one night, spaghetti another. I do believe the child would eat the same meal 21 times per week. I require a little more variety.

We plan seven meals per week in no particular order. The lovely chef (that would be me) chooses which meal to make on a given night. I use a complicated selection formula. First, if any family member has made me particularly happy then I make one of their selections. Failing that, I determine if any family member has made me particularly unhappy in order to narrow down the selection field a bit. Then, I calculate the cooking time available and the relative dislikes of the remaining family members (no one deserves to eat non-preferred food two days in a row) and make a choice.

The only hard and fast rule of the menu plan is that no one may make a single complaint about dinner. Those who complain lose a choice the following week. I do make the occasional exception for my own grumbling, since I grumble alone while cooking and manage to paste a yum look on my face for the actual meal.

The Menu

  • Mac & cheese, peas, fish
  • Spaghetti and meatballs, mandarin oranges
  • Chicken and veggie pasta with garlic sauce
  • Grilled chicken sandwiches, sweet potato fries
  • Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas
  • Apple-walnut pancakes, sausages
  • Tamale pie, oranges

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Time for a new plan.

Nick and I fight about three things: housework, sleep, and my Time magazine. I have had a subscription to Time for as long as I can remember. I read it from cover to cover every week, except for the Man of the Year issue. That one gets pitched immediately. Many years ago, I'd read the entire magazine the day I received it. After I married Nick, I handed it to him once I was finished. Once Jacob came along, I couldn't read the magazine that quickly. It takes me all week to get through it now, in 5 or 10 minute bits. And therein lies the problem.

Nick somehow manages to carve out entire hours of his days to read magazines. Once he makes it through his two subscriptions, he starts eying my Time like a vulture eyes carrion. As soon as I leave it defenseless, he swoops in. Then he takes it off to some secret hidey hole. Well, perhaps not so secret. He generally takes it into the bathroom, out onto the back stoop, or to a truly secret location. Later in the evening, I sit down with my tea and a cookie to and discover that my reading material is not where I left it.

I really don't mind sharing my magazine. What I mind is Nick's complete lack of understanding that it is my magazine. He can read it, but he needs to put it back where he found it. This is a tricky concept - this idea that things belong in certain spaces. If he wants to drop his own magazines all over the house, then that's his business. But I expect my magazine to be returned to me. And so the fight begins again.

In the past, I have threatened to buy Nick his own subscription to Time. It's an empty threat and I know it. Not only am I too cheap to shell out the cash for two subscriptions, I know that Nick will lose his own copy and steal mine anyway. On Monday, purple with rage after a 15 minute hunt, I wrote "PUT ME BACK! I DO NOT BELONG TO YOU!" in black marker all over the front and back of the magazine. Then last night, I saw it on the back of the toilet, which is most assuredly not where it belongs.

I think I'm going to start hiding it. I have the perfect location - near my chair but out of sight. Nick will be a little less informed of the world's affairs, but we'll be fighting about one less thing. It's really for the good of our marriage.

Monday, November 5, 2007

There must be a grillion ways to say grillion.

I am a linguist by temperament, if not by training, and I am forever reminding people that language is a living, changing entity. If I am able to communicate my ideas, then language is fulfilling its role. There's no need to run around a la Chicken Little bemoaning the Decline of Grammar as the First Sign of the Impending Fall of Civilization.

Then last night, the acorn dropped on my head. Settle down, Goosey Loosey! I'm getting to the point. I was watching some trashy tv - if you must know, Turkey Lurkey, it was an episode of Men in Trees. The main character used the word "grillion" in a hyperbolic statement. I enjoy a bit of hyperbole now and then and I generally have little problem with words bastardized for effect. However, the whole -illion thing is getting completely out of hand. We have million, billion, jillion, kajillion (which I admit using on occasion), zillion, squillion, and now grillion. If there are fifty ways to leave your lover, can we not at least come up with ten ways to express "lots" without resorting to -illion? A plethora, hordes, many, scores, countless, masses, need I go on?

Ducky Lucky et al., our collective vocabulary is collapsing! We cannot go to tell the King because, well, we overthrew him a couple hundred years ago. I'm pretty sure the President has priorities other than our ever diminishing vocabulary. So who to tell? Everyone! If we don't spread the word about words, we shall find ourselves limited to grunts, gestures, and l33t by the end of the century. It's up to us, fearless barnyard poultry, to save the language. Grillions of precious words are depending on us for their survival.

Saturday, November 3, 2007