Low key wins the day

The pendulum has swung.

Yesterday was my son Jake’s 12th birthday, and there couldn’t have been less hoopla. Not unless he was Harry Potter and still living in the cupboard under the stairs. No, I should correct myself. It’s not so much the hoopla quantity as it is the hoopla quality that counts.

When Jake was smaller, I was all about the big birthday. Family get-togethers! A dozen balloons! Major outings! All class parties! Homemade food! LOTS of homemade food!!!! Now that Jake is a big guy—and a cool guy at that—I’m all about the low key birthday. And, let me tell you, thank goodness he lets me get away with it.

I mean, if I were him, and didn’t have a summer birthday, and was stuck going to school AND to a mandatory scout meeting in the evening of MY BIRTHDAY, I would have been just a little bit of a pouting grouch. But Jake seemed to like it. When I delivered 6 inch (yes, homemade) chocolate chip cookies to his class, he actually seemed to enjoy it. When he got 3 rounds of presents from his dear old Dad and me, he seemed to revel in it. And when the presents gave way to an after-meeting, school night video game session, he actually seemed to glory in it.

I didn’t my low key treatment of the birthday would be enough, but it was just right. And I’m glad, because there’s that one birthday that I had as a kid, that didn’t even feel like a birthday, and I’m still bitter about it. For the life of me, I don’t remember anything about any other birthday I ever had, but darn if I don’t remember the one not-so-good one. My best friend forgot. We ate out at some diner. I might as well have eaten worms. Ugh. Why don’t I remember the good ones, huh? It’s just like me.

I know that birthdays can’t all be the best. But I’m glad that I’ve struck the right note this year, at least for Jake. And you know what? I just realized. My birthday’s next in the family.

Go me!



Yes, I know. I haven’t posted in over a week, and I know you’ve had one of two reactions:

(a) “Something awful must have happened, and Cheryl must be pinned under a large, overturned piece of mahogany furniture and unable to drag herself over to the keyboard!”

(b) “Something wonderful must have happened (on Cheryl’s Wheel of Fortune appearance), and Cheryl has been enjoying herself so much (on vacation in Aruba) that she hasn’t had time for her normally scheduled activities (like writing on her blog and dusting off her newly acquired porcelain dog).”

Truth is that by way of an unexpected chain of events, I have taken on some new writing work, for which I am very thankful, but which has given me a little bit of a challenge. In the last week, I’ve been wondering, how do I fit it all in?

This is the cliché of the working mother’s dilemma, isn’t it? And believe me, I’ve heard the advice—and I’ve even given some of my own. “You can do it all, but not all at the same time.” I think I remember reading that in a magazine article written by…oh yeah, me…at around this time last year. What can I say, but “Writer, appropriately prioritize thyself!”

I’m not perfect at the priorities thing, but I figure that even though I’m filling up more of my days with writing obligations, I am also needing to do the same things I did before, not so thrilling things like grocery shopping, laundry, and housecleaning, and much more my cup of tea things like cookie baking, tennis playing, and viola practicing. What I’m realizing is that I can fit it all in, but it just takes a little more planning, a little more waiting, and a lot more creatively fitting in-ing.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have a husband who picks up the slack. Boy, Craig, have you picked up the slack. Yup, lots of slack being picked up by Craig.

What I’m loving the most is that together times with the family have become more precious—more of a break, more of a reconnecting time. I didn’t think that a walk to the park to throw the Frisbee could be so refreshing, but, let me tell you, after a long day it’s a welcome change of scenery and a great opportunity for hugs, encouragement, laughter, listening, and real relaxation. I know the “honeymoon” may wear off, but for now, I’m glad.

The Driver’s Seat

I’ve been in homes where a certain seat was perpetually taken, set aside for Dad or Grandma or even for the dogs. But, except for the dining room table, the seating at our house has always been open to any comers. I didn’t really think anything like Archie Bunker’s chair would ever happen to us. I do find that we’ve got a related phenomenon happening right now, though. It’s what I like to call “the driver’s seat.”

Yup, one day I came home from picking Hayley up at school, and there it was in our den—one of the normal armchairs from our den, draped by Jake with a pink, king size, wool blanket, and repositioned directly in front of the television. And there in the driver’s seat was Jake, Wii wheel in hand, playing the seizure inducing crowd pleaser, MarioKart.

Now, I’ve seen different versions in different homes—the legless rocker, the leather recliner (a la Friends)—but no matter the iteration, the driver’s seats share a unified purpose: to create a direct line of sight between the gamer and the screen. And I’m thinking it’s a boy thing, too, because when Jake was out yesterday, guess who ended up in the driver’s seat? Right—it sure wasn’t the dog.

I remember getting a little anxious when the younger versions of my children would move furniture (usually their beds), but somehow the driver’s seat doesn’t bother me. It’s kind of a neat little dose of self-expression, like, “I’m into this game, and I’m going to stake my space right here, for ease of play and my viewing pleasure.” When the mini-fridge and foosball table move in, I guess I’ll start to worry, but for now I’m thinking, “Good for you, kid—make yourself at home.”

The driver’s seat is part of an interesting transition, I think. It’s one in which the children have started having preferences, not just for food (they’ve had those all along). For Jake so far, I’ve discovered that he likes classical guitar but not rap, cargo pants but not jeans, and those pain-in-the-butt mechanical pencils over the old fashioned kind. For Hayley, it’s also mechanical pencils and jeans all the way, but 2 hours at the mall and 7 pairs of failed “skinny” jeans later, and we’ve had to adjust our expectations on that one; stick a mechanical pencil in the pockets of one those, and you’ll perforate your keester faster than you can say, “I should have gone with boot cut.”

So, as with so many things, the driver’s seat isn’t just a thing that happened. It’s now an icon of growing up—growing into the pre-teen and teen years, when we’ll start rearranging the furniture to suit our gaming needs, getting picky about our school supplies, and buying clothing at stores with music louder than normal conversation.

I guess if they’re playing classical guitar, we’ll be in good shape.

Thankful for the me I see in them

from penguingeek.files.wordpress.com

Question: By what fractional part does four fourths exceed three fourths?

Answer: Ouch, can I have an aspirin for my aching brain?

Here in Delaware, the schoolchildren are plowing through state testing this week, with yesterday and today dedicated to math. It’s funny that such testing should coincide with Jake’s discovery (under his bed) of a little book from my childhood called How Many 3-cent Stamps in a Dozen (or How Logical Are You?). In the spirit of Martin Gardner, this gem contains questions designed to stump your friends, bug your teachers, and allow your grandparents to show off their vast and insightful knowledge of tricky little classics that they’ve already heard a million times over.

Take, for example, the straightforward “When you take two apples from three apples, what do you have?” Let’s say it all at once now, “TWO APPLES!” Or how about this one—”How many times can you subtract 2 from 21?” That would be once, because after that you’re subtracting 2 from 19, then 17, then saying “Darn you, you smart aleck kids for asking me questions way too fast that are meant to trip me up and make me look like I didn’t actually ace AP Calculus in high school. Yup, thanks a lot!”

Interesting, though, that as annoying as I’m finding these questions that the children keep asking and asking and asking, I can still remember, most vividly, buying this very book back in like 1980. I was 11 and on vacation “down the shore” with my aunt and grandparents. We had walked (as we always and everywhere walked) to the hardware/sundries/things to keep your bored kids from clawing their eyes out store, and that’s where I got the very book that my kids are so hooked on now.

Relatives have told me that Hayley is a little version of me, and I know that is true for appearance, but I wonder too if there’s a personality resemblance as well. If there is, then I can only imagine how the patience of Job was demonstrated that week in the bungalow after I shelled out the $1.50 for that book. “How many cubic feet of earth are in a hole that is 2 feet wide by 8 feet long by 3 feet deep?” “In which book of the Bible can you read about Abel slaying Cain?” “Would it be cheaper for you to take 2 friends to the movies at the same time or one at a time?” Come on, Grandma. Think fast!!!

So as Jake and Hayley are reading the book, memorizing the answers, and delivering the gotchas to Craig, me, and all their friends, I’m thankful that, once again, my children are giving me a little window into myself. They, like I, enjoy a little clever twist. They, like I, like all of us, want to know all the answers.

Speaking of answers, four fourths exceeds three fourths by one third. You were just about to say that, weren’t you?

No trouble with “Henry”

Please don’t think I’m bourgeoisie.

Doesn’t just using the word ‘bourgeoisie’ make you bourgeoisie? I’m not sure.

All I know is that I’m dying to share about my Saturday evening of Shakespeare in DC…without sounding like I’m the kind of person whose name appears in the program next to the word ‘Gold Circle Benefactor.’ Which, by the way, I’m not, but, you know, it’s Shakespeare, so the brow just seems a little bit higher than normal.

I went to see Shakepeare Theatre Company’s production of Henry V (which I had not and have not read), and, I must say that while I truly only partially understood the dialog (though my comprehension increased considerably as the play progressed), I believe that I did understand enough to get the play—and to find myself moved by it.

The set was impressive, the staging stunning, the theatre itself like being inside a piece of modern sculpture. The dinner before, planned by my friend, Ann, was absolutely a grand slam, diminished afterward only slightly by my near miss with a speeding car (although the feeling of Craig grabbing my shoulder to prevent me from taking the next, potentially fatal step will likely remain a precious marital memory).

Back to Henry, the story goes that Henry’s advisors tell him that he has some claim to lands in France, and when the prince of France sends him the insulting gift of (I’m not making this up) a papier mache version of Henry’s head, filled to the eyes with tennis balls, Henry decides to invade. The French, in taunts reminiscent of the Monty Python & the Holy Grail, are routed, but not before Henry starts to feel the regretful pain of dragging his countrymen into a potential mess of grief and loss.

I was particularly moved by this soliloquy, in which Henry contrasts the lot of a king—who spends sleepless nights with the world on his shoulders—to that of the laborer—who, though he works hard, boosting up the king and his cronies, nevertheless sleeps well, enjoying the security afforded by the king:

And, but for ceremony, such a wretch,
Winding up days with toil and nights with sleep,
Had the fore-hand and vantage of a king.
The slave, a member of the country’s peace,
Enjoys it; but in gross brain little wots
What watch the king keeps to maintain the peace,
Whose hours the peasant best advantages.

I understand the sentiment, but I respectfully disagree with Henry. I know this is far from Shakepearean, but it’s all relative, right? I mean, no one with the last name of ‘Obama’ is down in the White House basement at three o’clock in the morning because the dishwasher malfunctioned in the White House kitchen and is now raining down water all over the basement. George Bush certainly wasn’t responsible for changing light bulb over the garage that’s been out for 3 months. And I’m pretty sure that somebody other than Hilary took care of things when the dog threw up in Chelsea’s bed.

Not that those respective folks haven’t done their own version of a service to our country. I’m just saying, the last time I had a flat tire, no member of Congress showed up to help me. Presidents lose sleep, kings lose sleep, doctors lose sleep, bus drivers lose sleep. Even kids lose sleep over some things. Thankfully, we don’t all have to worry about all of it all the time.

So, Henry, chill. Next time France sends you tennis ball, grab your buddies, go to the courts of the court, and hit a few. And while you’re doing it, keep in mind that most of the time, it all works out in the morning—no invasion necessary.

A little light reading

In this busy week during which I have realized some new and exciting challenges in my life (all good, all good), I also found myself power reading my Book Club’s March selection, Little Women. Not surprisingly, the busy-ness of the week and the stupor in which I found myself after completing the eternally long biography, Edgar A. Poe: A Mournful and Neverending Remembrance (which I’d been reading since January), I miscalculated the number of pages per day I’d have to read of LW in order to have it completed for today’s meeting. Starting on Monday, and allowing four days for reading, I calculated that I’d need to read 170 pages per day to get through the book’s 775 pages. Whether or not you’re on the ball mathematically, the calculator in your head is probably exuding smoke and making strange pinging noises right about now, because, alas, 170 times 4 is only…680: 95 pages short of the end of the book.

It reminds me of the time I was reading Steinbeck’s mammoth East of Eden and realized somewhere in the 600’s that the book was 900 pages long, not 700 as I had thought. Like a blind man whose sense of hearing has taken over, so are the halves of my brain.

So, even though I’m shy of the finish line, and even though I have left my book at the home in which we met, still, I can say that I found Little Women thoroughly delightful and refreshing. Reading it as an adult, I’ve realized that it’s not a book for children or adults, but one for all ages. There are so many things about the March family that I hadn’t see back in 7th grade: Marmee confessed to a temper, Father was an army chaplain, Meg struggled to prioritize her husband, Jo was right to turn Laurie down, Beth made an incredible showing of accepting her terminal illness, and Amy didn’t exactly steal Laurie away. It’s funny—the characters are drawn in so much more relief for me now. I am reminded of my re-reading of Catcher in the Rye several years ago; as a married woman and mother, I realized that Holden Caulfield was kind of an irresponsible jerk and not exactly the relationship material that the teenage me had dreamed he might be.

In a reading year when I was practically knocked off my chair with the shockingly unsettling revelations in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I must say that it was a pleasure to have a truly rated G read. I’m wondering whether, if I lived there in my reading chair all the time, I would be a generally cheerier person. It’s hard to know, I think. Still, I’m thankful to have (almost) read Little Women, and I’m looking forward to finishing it…too bad it’s back on Jennifer’s coffee table. Oh well.

For those of you who may be interested, the next few months of Book Club selections stack up as follows:

April – The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (a novel) by Jamie Ford
May – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (a mystery) by Alan Bradley
June – Waiter Rant (a memoir) by Steve Dublanica

Spelling strategies that just don’t werk

All our snow days here in Delaware have conspired to provide not quite enough data points for grades so far this marking period. One bugaboo for Jake was a not up to par spelling test, which, with not much else to factor into the average, has brought his progress report to an all-time low. Not that I’m disappointed or worried (it’s not that low); it’s enough of an encouragement to me that Jake was disappointed (and worried), which tells me that he still has a conscience and everything’s going to be ok.

The funny thing is that in his effort to study up for the next spelling test, he wrote a set of flash cards based on this week’s spelling words as jotted down in his notebook. Unfortunately, he misspelled and then transcribed 4 out of 10 of them. They’re words like ‘maneuver’ (spelled ‘maneneuver’ by Jake) and ‘radio’ (spelled ‘raido’ by Jake). And then when he did the assignment of writing each word in alphabetical order, Jake wrote ‘orbitor’ instead of ‘orbiter’ (and told me that the ‘o’ was really an ‘e’ just without a very big tail).

Unfortunately, like forging a twenty dollar bill, your spelling test results are only as good as the model that you start with. Let’s hope that Jake’s middling performance in spelling doesn’t lead him into that kind of living.