Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A walk in the dark

Eight years ago, I took a five week trip out of the country. It was an excellent trip, but a no frills one, without many of the comforts of home. While it goes without saying that I missed my family, my dog, and my apartment, what I was most looking forward to on the plane trip home was a tall glass of 7up over ice. When I finally got to drink it, I felt I must know what it felt like to emerge from the wilderness.

Two weeks ago, in the wake of Hurricane Ike, I had that experience again. It didn't get much national play, but after the hurricane left the gulf coast, it brought its rains and wind to the midwest. Here in Cincinnati, we were victims of the wind, knocking power out across the entire city. Many people got power back after a day or so, but here at the Small World, we were powerless for nearly six days.

While this surely was not a hardship on the scale of those hit hardest by natural disaster, and we were fortunate to not have any actual property damage, it was still a week we were pretty unprepared to endure. The rechargeable light I have on hand for emergencies was not fully charged, we had no backup D batteries for the flashlights, and though I have a full pantry and fridge, I really had nothing that could constitute a meal without electricity. We got a little gamey after a week without hot water for baths and showers, and learned to be creative with our grill. (ie: scrambled eggs and bacon, boiled water for Folgers crystals and tea)

But what did we miss most?

For J, it was the coffee. One morning, once the grocery store was back on line, he waited 15 minutes for Starbucks along with the rest of the town. Oh, and he had to watch the Browns/Steelers game on a 2x2 inch battery powered televsion he has had since grade school.

For O, it was his nightlight. J. had to lay with him until he fell asleep three nights in a row. Then I found a rechargeable camping lantern in stock at a store once it seemed that we were the only ones on earth without power. We weren't, it just seemed that way. We charged it up with the generator J. bought on day five. (so, we're pretty much ready for Armageddon now).

N. didn't seem to be fazed by a thing, but perhaps that is because my proposed weaning project was postponed, given our lack of resources to keep milk safe and cold. (even when we finally located some ice, I was a little wary of my makeshift cooler-fridge.)

Myself, I am ashamed to admit it was the television that I missed the most. I got a little panicky every time I realized I was not only missing a show, there was no DVR to catch it for later. I feared I would never see the season premiere of House or the season finale of The Closer, and started to even get concerned the power would not come on in time to catch one of Bravo's ten thousand replayings of Project Runway and Top Design.

To make things worse, once power was restored, I had to spend the entire weekend preparing to go back to teaching for a week (more details on that to come), so the shows I was able to capture on the DVR started piling up. They continued to do so last week as I was at work all day, and the wave of new fall episodes commenced. J. thought I was being a tiny bit crazy when I refused to watch the second episode of House without seeing the first one, and he wouldn't sit around my laptop with me to watch it once it went online. So, bonus from the power outage, he figured out how to hook his ipod up to our big screen!

But, the real hurricane aftermath for me? Not to make light of natural disaster, but I am kind of dealing with a flood of television programming. I'll come up for air again when I decide which are worth watching. So far, looks like 90210 is going to be a loser, The Mentalist is on the bubble, and Fringe is definitely a winner. Cheesy? Yes, but creepy and weird too, with Pacey to boot!

Other fall season reports:

I'm a little disappointed by How I Met Your Mother -- I cannot get on board with Stella, but I have to admit I like Barney's soft side.

The Office? Solidly wonderful, of course. I still think the bit about Holly thinking Kevin is "special" is priceless, and the appearance of Michael's goatee for seven scenes without comment was beautiful, knocked out of the park when Ryan appeared with his.

Not a fall newcomer, but Project Runway is finally starting to do it for me. I just wasn't into it much, and I think the editors kind of got that. How they convinced Kenley to go crazy is beyond me, but crazy she has become. I mean, you just don't mess with Tim, right? If I were Suede, I'd be camping out with a protest sign outside the judges' houses. And how in the world did Jerrell win with that trashy minidress??

Amazing Race? No clear teams to love yet, but I was surprised to see Terrence show so much jerk in episode one, as they looked like they could be cute. I'm always sad to see the old couple leave so early, even though it's pretty much a given. I wanted Anita to be able to get out the "save the bees" message via t-shirt a little longer.

I still haven't gotten through Grey's Anatomy, Heroes, Without a Trace, and already Pushing Daisies and Dirty Sexy Money are coming back to double the volume of saved shows. I'll just have to bite the bullet and stay up an hour later until I get caught up.

Have any fall tv insight to share? I'm already drowning in shows, so what's one more to try out? Or, how did the hurricane affect your life?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Omniscient Superheroes and Hippowaddits: O-speak

In the car, on the way to tumbling class, trees waving around in the hint-of-fall breeze:
O: Mommy, is God blowing the wind?
Me: Yes, God is making the wind.
O: Does God look like a big cloud?
Me: No one is sure what God looks like. We have to imagine. What do you think he looks like?
O: Maybe a big cloud. Or maybe a tree. Everyone in our neighborhood is thinking about what God looks like. (Pause) Does God have a mouth?
Me: I don't know. Maybe.
O: I wish I would be a superhero so I could know what God looks like.

Getting into the car after playing at the park:
O: Hippowaddit. Hippowaddit. Hippowaddit.
Me: What is that word?
O: Hippowaddit. That's another way of saying great. You say it.
Me: Hippowaddit.
O: Great!

Leaving the library, trying to convince him we don't HAVE to watch the DVD we just checked out in the car:
Me: Sometimes I want you just to talk to me in the car.
O: Well, I don't really feel like talking to you today.

Following his crying sister into her room:
O: I know N. It is hard to be a baby sometimes. But you are growing up, just like I am growing up. (gives her a hug)

Stalling before bed:
O: Wouldn't it be great if all the things in our house were magic?
Me: What do you mean magic?
O: You know, like all the other things are magic. Like if there was a hole right here in the carpet, and then all the things could go down in it. Like my carpet and all my room could go down there and be downstairs!
Me: Would you like your room to be downstairs?
O: Mmmhmm. And then we could put all the other rooms in the house in other places. In all the town, our house could be around, like even in the road so no one could get through. It would be like a gate, (throws arms open wide) but with NO OPENINGS!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dear N., On Your First Birthday

September 5, 2008

Dear N,

One year ago, we welcomed you to the world. This weekend, we celebrated the milestone of your first birthday, but really, every day with you this year has been a day to celebrate.

I admit, when you're awake at midnight AGAIN and the only thing to keep you from screaming is me (or rather, my boobs), the only party I feel like throwing is a pity one. However, one of your smiles, animating your entire face and making those blue eyes even more luminous, helps me remember just how thankful we are to have you here.

One year ago, you were so small, and so unused to being in the world, happy only to be in the crook of my arm or sleeping curled on my chest. Now you're busy exploring the world and all that it contains, fascinated by each new sound, and determined to get every new thing into your mouth. But you still feel most comfortable watching from the safety of my hip, or peeping out from between my legs, and you still look up into my eyes while nursing with such relief and comfort to finally be back where you belong.

You've learned to pat your head, play peek a boo and patty cake, and thrill in walking around in your diaper, patting your stomach when I say "where's your fat tummy?"
You give me your baby's bottle to take drink and giggle when I do.
You hold your toy phone to your ear and move your mouth as if you are jabbering away on mute.

You are a funny girl, a comic who already thrives on making others laugh. You think your brother is the most hilarious person you've ever met, causing others in restaurants to turn and smile when he says "boo" and you laugh and laugh out loud.

We dance and dance every time O. wants to have a party, play instruments and circle the room before rolling around on the floor. You mimic everything he does, from yelling at the top of your lungs to sticking your tongue out as far as it will go, to running and sliding on the floor as fast as you can.
I'm amazed at what a difference there is in you and your brother, how you hug a baby up to your face with such nurturing and caring, and climb up into a chair to settle in and relax for a moment. You are openly affectionate, running over and pressing your face into my lap or Daddy's for a standing hug. Your favorite objects to drag around are not trains, but shoes. You inspect the contents of purses as if you'll find all the secrets to happiness inside. In the toy aisles, you purse your lips into an "O" when we get to the dolls, hooting and bouncing until you are allowed to get down and paw at the babies in the boxes. Most amazing to me of all is the way you toddle around entertaining yourself, leaving a trail of toys behind to rediscover on your next pass through.

In many ways, though, you and O. are remarkably similar, active and adventurous, climbing up on and into everything you can get a leg up onto. Already, the small chairs to our child sized table are making the countertops a surface available for exploration. Your new favorite game is "stand up/sit down as fast as you can on the rocking chair" until I take it and turn it to the wall, blocking you long enough to break the cycle of interest.
Like him, you need to size up a stranger and a new situation before you will allow anyone near you, often waiting quite a while before you make a tentative overture by handing over one of your toys.
It is amazing to me how animated and interactive you have become just in the last few weeks, able to produce a fake laugh when appropriate, and to hide behind a chair to make me laugh.

It has been a marvelous year helping you grow from a tiny swaddled bundle into the chubby grinning toddler you are becoming. There were moments that I thought I'd never have a free arm or minute to brush my teeth again, times when I prayed you had an ear infection so there would be a reason for your screams. But through it all, you've been a joy to get to know.

I'm looking forward to hearing your first real word, to seeing what you look like with real hair, and to discovering what kinds of books will hold your interest. I know this next year will be even more fun than your first.

Happy Birthday, Birthday Princess!

Love, Mommy

Dear O., On Your First Day of School

September 2, 2008

Dear O.,

Though today was my thirty-fifth birthday, I know I will always remember it as the day you first had a life separate from mine. Oh sure, you've been away from me before, but it's always been to stay at home, or with grandparents, not to do your own special thing. Starting today, you'll stay at school all morning and have your own routine with people I'll never really know except to greet them at the beginning and end of the day.

From now on, there will be a part of your week I'll only hear about secondhand, and often through the filter of your own three year old distraction and interests.

You're only three, and already, when I ask you what you did today, you say "I don't know" or "nothing" like the bored teenagers I used to teach. I can draw more out of you if I ask the right questions:

"Who got to sit on the star today?" "Wachel. But not my friend Wachel."

"What did you get to eat for a snack?" "Pretzels! Big stick ones!"

"Did you play with the dinosaurs when you got there?" "Yes, and there were other amimals too. They even have an anteater!"

Information also bubbles out throughout our daily activities, such as when I squirt some hand sanitizer on your hands and you lace your fingers together to spread it around, saying "I learned this at my preschool. You need to clean your hands before you eat, there are germs on there and you can't even see them."
Later, you are talking to your toy animals and I hear you say "Amen." Unfortunately, not a common part of your vocabulary. When I ask if you've said a prayer at school, you say "Yeah, it was for Jesus." And then you invented a birthday prayer for your sister: "And N. is my sister. And tomorrow is her birthday and I love her. Amen."

I was worried that you weren't ready for school. That you would hang onto my leg as I dragged you across the room, or run after me down the hall, screaming, as you've done other times I've tried to leave you with someone else. But, after a moment of panic and tears, you were distracted by the toy dinosaurs and cautiously followed the teacher across the room and away from me. And based on your report, you had a great day, painting, playing outside, having show and tell, and pretending to go to the zoo.

I worried that your teachers wouldn't get to know the funny, sweet boy that you are, one who invents his own language even still, and tells nonsensical knock knock jokes, and dances with great big stomping feet and curls up next to me on the couch to say "I love you, Mom." I was worried that you might come across as a little odd, putting your hand on your hip to talk and gesturing with your hand to tell just how things are going to be, as you sometimes do with new people. I was worried you would pretend you couldn't speak or that you don't know how to do all the things you do. I was worried you might get your spirit crushed by unkind children who didn't understand your sweetness. Just last weekend, you brought your blanket down to your almost five year old cousin so he could have it while he slept over at your house, and he looked at it like it was germy, and I was so glad you didn't notice. But as you have reminded me with delight and relief, "all the kids there are my same age!"

Now I'm worried you're far too ready for all of this. That it's all so commonplace that we'll stop valuing the victories of new things that up until now have been so hard won by the anxiety and struggles of separation.

My hope for you this year was that you would be loved by kind caring people other than your family so you could learn how to be a part of the world outside our house. Your teacher calls you "Mr. O." as she gives you a high five and a giant smile on your way out the door and I am glad. The teacher's assistant, a proud grandma who has told me about her two grandsons already though I've only had two brief conversations with her, had tears in her eyes at the end of the first week. Whether she was choked up about watching young ones reunite with their moms, or was laughing so hard she was crying, I don't know. Either one is fine with me.

You're in a good place. I like having another cup of coffee in a quiet house while N. naps. But I sure do like seeing you come down that hallway to me.



Monday, September 1, 2008

What Did You Learn This Summer?

In the spirit of back-to-school (O. starts preschool tomorrow!), I thought I'd share some tidbits of information I've picked up recently. I wish I could say I learned a lot about Chinese culture, politics and history from watching the Olympics, but in truth, much of the games passed me by without any impression.

I did, however learn that the divers stand under the showers while waiting for their scores to keep their muscles warm. And that black spider looking thing on the female volleyball player's shoulder? Not a tattoo, but a form of bandage, kind of like a high tech Ace bandage to keep her shoulder in the right position or something. That's all I've got for Olympic trivia.

On the observations while driving front: I have of late noticed a number of purple triangular objects hanging from trees. They looked at first like some sort of bird or bat house, and I kept forgetting to look into what they were designed to host. When I finally did, I discovered they are not homes of any sort, but rather traps. Here's a link with a photo. Here in Ohio, and apparently other areas of the Midwest, we are currently having trouble with Emerald Ash borers, an insect that is threatening the ash tree population. rThe boxes are not really a way to get rid of them, just a tool to survey the infestation. I'm still wondering why the bright purple was chosen -- for the ease of the collectors, or are these insects attracted to jewel tones?

New food terms discovered during my recent birthday dinner:
bottarga: cured and dried fish roe (caviar), sometimes grated into a dish, and described by our waiter as having an "anchovy" flavor, effectively ruling it out for J. to order. I only bypassed it because it came in a pasta with a habanero sauce, and I wasn't up for something that spicy.
soffritto: not really an ingredient, as I had thought, but more a descriptor of a technique or approach of aromatic vegetables such as onions or garlic sauteed in oil as the base of a dish. I guess I can start calling all of my dishes soffritto, as I we're always a little onion heavy around here.

And, finally, some dinosaur facts for you, courtesy of O's current fascination with them.
The dinosaur pictured here, is also found on my son's pajamas, along with stegosaurs, triceratops, and a T-Rex. I did not have a name for it. We discovered it is not technically a dinosaur, but rather a reptile called a Dimetrodon, and is from an earlier time than the dinosaurs: the Permian period of the Paleozoic Eria.

As for that long-necked dinosaur, the one you probably called a Brontosaurus when you were a kid? I knew that it wasn't called the Brontosaurus anymore, but I could never quite remember why, or what I was supposed to call it. So, I did some looking around, and discovered it's not really as clear cut as say, the "Pluto isn't a planet anymore" situation. I vaguely knew it had to with the naming rights, but it's not really about who found it first, but rather about confusion about bones and their assembly. This essay spells out the the entire story. Apparently, there were two scientists who didn't get along and worked out their dispute via published articles and racing to find the most bones. Marsh, the namer of both the Brontosaurus and its "new" name the Apatasaurus, had partial skeletons for both. Later it was determined that they were actually the same species, the Apatasaurus simply a baby one. The Apatasaurus was discovered first, so the naming rules dictate that it should be the name that takes precedence. However, Brontosaurus (thunder lizard) was the name that captured the public's fancy; Apatasaurus (deceptive lizard) never quite caught on. Even Stephen Jay Gould wrote an essay rooting for the technically incorrect Brontosaurus term. So now you know -- choose your own stance on the controversy. Personally, I think I'm going to side with Gould and keep calling it a Brontosaurus.

So, anything you've learned lately worth sharing?