Thankful Thursday: End of Summer Vacation edition

I’m thankful today for a great summer vacation, in which my children…

  1. Learned that their not-so-comfortable-with-heights mother is not above (below?) flying head first down the Patriot’s Plunge waterslide with nothing but a swimsuit, some water, and a 2-inch thick foam mat separating her from certain death
  2. Stood three feet away from me with their jaws on the floor as my hairdresser unwrapped the highlighting foils from my hair and revealed for the first time anywhere a younger-looking, partially blond version of “me” (imagine if I made the switch to contact lenses—the kids might spontaneously combust!)
  3. Finally realized that when I say, “Do you want to go and take a shower/practice your trumpet/clean up your room?” I really mean, “Your world will self-destruct in 5 seconds if you don’t get your behind moving and do what I asked you to do.”
  4. Repeated back to me some of the things that I say, thus highlighting my utter ridiculousness (case in point, Hayley says, “Mom, when you say ‘cute’ do you mean ‘cute-cute’ or ‘cute juvenile’?” then looks at Craig, after which the two of them point at me and laugh her heads off)
  5. Showed me—and themselves—that while practice may not at first make perfect, it certainly makes progress…and that’s not nothing

Back to the lonely school year for me. Miss you, guys.

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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?

The Return of Thankful Thursday

Due to the grueling trials of our record-breaking amounts of snow this winter, Thankful Thursday has been on vacation at a secret, unseasonably warm, undisclosed location where you never, ever, no matter how badly you play, ever get knocked out of the ping pong tournament by the pool. However, with temperatures rising (sort of), Thankful Thursday has returned (mostly because he’s afraid that Big Melt 2010 will create a new swimming pool–in his basement).

With all of that in mind, I must confess that I am most thankful today that my family and I have finally been able to observe in our lives real manifestations of self-control, a “fruit of the spirit” promised in the Bible. The evidence is this: we’ve had Girl Scout cookies in the house for 2 weeks now, and we’ve still got some left.

I can’t say the same for the Grandma Utz kettle cooked potato chips that we had with our sprout subs this evening. Those things are GONE.

Baby steps, right?

Thankful for long walks…with the kids?!?!

When I enrolled Jake for kindergarten several years ago, the school secretary looked at my address and said, “He’s a walker!” If I’m remembering correctly, I think I said, “What’s a walker?” Back home growing up, none of us walked to school, so it was all news to me. It also sounded crazy, as there are .9 miles and 2 streets with double yellow lines between us and the school, meaning that as long as the children were still in elementary school, I would pretty much never feel comfortable with them walking all the way there themselves.

Walking to school has never been an every day of the week thing for us, but we’d do a morning or an afternoon a couple of times a week if the weather was nice. What I came to realize, though, was that those little treks to school were perfect for kid-initiated conversations about nature, school, friends—whatever.

Neither Jake nor Hayley attend our local elementary school anymore, so we don’t walk to school, but we do use that route for exercise sometimes. Jake jogs, I jog (believe it or not), and Hayley rides her scooter. Yesterday’s walk gave Jake the opportunity to discuss his lunch money bankruptcy issues, his progress report observations, his concerns over possible favoritism in the classroom, and his assessment that his teacher is just plain mean.

At one point, Hayley, who rides up on the sidewalk, asked Jake to jog down on the street. He harshly replied, “Why? I’m behind you” to which she said, “Oh, you’re not in my way. I just want to hear the conversation.”

That just about made me cry.

So today, I’m thankful for long walks with my children, who, with fresh air and a little exercise seem to open up about things they never would otherwise.

And if it’s not already too much, I am thankful for Scott Snyder and Dario Varga, who came to my rescue when my e-mail got glitchy to the point of unusability the other day. My email service is with my alma mater, Lehigh University, and I had no qualms about relinquishing control of my computer to two guys whom I’d never met, but who were sitting out in Bethlehem, PA throwing all they had at my little problem. You guys were great, and the email’s working great! Go Engineers!!

At just the right time…

Sallys flowers…Sally called.

I was in the midst of preparations for my evening book club, and my lovely neighbor Sally called with an offer of cut flowers from her garden. How could she have known I was wishing for exactly that? That I had already been to the market and passed up every last bunch? That I had 2 huge brownies in the cupboard to offer as a thank you to her and her dear husband, who is sometimes misunderstood, but unceasingly generous to me?

Sally’s offer really made my rainy, rainy day. A not-so-random kindness. A blessing.

No drama mama

scripts

Children’s Theatre auditions for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe were Tuesday night, and they brought out in me every ounce of self-conscious insecurity that I’ve been toting around since my own childhood. My children, Jake and Hayley, decided to both stick their necks out for this one, a play with around 25 parts for which 84 (!) children tried out. Those 84 included the amazing Sydney, currently playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Eric (playing Oz himself), and Kyle, who is both the mayor of Munchkinland and the president of the William Henry Middle School Student Council. Stiff competition, yes?

But that’s just the thing. I don’t want to look at the other children as competition for mine. I hated myself for thinking, “They wouldn’t choose a kid who’s swaying like that,” or “I can’t understand a word she’s saying,” or “Is that kid serious with that British accent—show off.” Petty, petty nonsense. I can see now how stage mothers are born. That seed of comparison creeps in, and before you know it, you’re taking your kid out of 4th grade and homeschooling her in the car on the way to acting lessons in NYC just so she can come out on top.

Despite telling myself to cool it on audition night, I found the day after a little challenging. Will he get a part, I wondered. Will she? What if he does and she doesn’t? What if she does and he doesn’t? What if neither of them do and both are so devastated and hateful toward the theatre that they swear it off forever, squandering what could be the two greatest stage talents of the 21st century? What then?

When I came to my senses, I realized this: if I am a believer in a God of the universe who listens to our prayers and orchestrates things for our good and His glory, then why am I worried about this? So I prayed, “God, please let the children receive (or not receive) whatever role is best for them…even if it means their disappointment…or some other child’s disappointment. All I want is what’s best for them.” And then I waited for the call.

So Jake (age 11) starts rehearsals tonight for his role as a member of the evil army. He was excited, and Hayley (age 9, and without a role) was excited for him. We all learned a lesson, I think. Jake learned that it’s worth taking a risk. Hayley learned that not getting a part isn’t the end of the world. And Craig and I learned that one disappointment (or even more than one) does not a loser make.

It only took us 40 years on that last one, but here we are, and we’re thankful for it.

Thankful for…

jumbo muffins
…my jumbo muffin pan

…the smell of fresh-baked banana nut muffins when I walk in the door

…boxed brownie mix

…my electric blanket

…author Ian McEwan, and every heartbreaking page of his book Atonement

…websites that let you turn your pictures into products (shutterfly.com, zazzle.com, cafepress.com, moo.com)

The Adventures of Flat Alonzo (our “Flat Stanley” friend from Ms. Von Steuben’s class at Ebert-Palmer Elementary School)

…mall walking with Hayley in the morning, before state testing

…straight A’s on Jake’s room cleaning report card

Craisins

Thankful that practice makes [almost] perfect

sheet-musicI am a mediocre musician. And I’m not just saying that, either. I took up the viola in the third grade, but the reason that I am mediocre is that I didn’t start practicing until about four years ago, after I showed up for a high school musical pit band rehearsal and pretty much couldn’t find my place for two and a half hours.

From this experience I learned a very important lesson:

Practicing (that is, practicing your butt off) really does make a difference.

After I’d picked up all my belongings from the twisted wreckage of the derailed locomotive that was that rehearsal, I decided to throw a little practice time at the music. At the next rehearsal, I found myself thinking, “Has the conductor slowed the tempo down, because I’m kind of getting 80% of the notes now,” and “Hey, I didn’t play that sour note! It was that horn over there!!” and “You know, it really does sound better when you play all of the flats in the key signature.”

So now here I am, less than two weeks before the first Dover Symphony Orchestra* performance of the season, and I’m practicing pretty much every night. I probably would have started sooner, but I’m finally familiar enough with the melodies that go with the alto oompah-pahs in my part, that I can kind of make sense of them in my head. I think I’m making progress (the kids asked me to “play the fast part” tonight—bless ‘em, they actually think I can play it!!!), and I’m thankful that they’re around to observe my conscientious work ethic (which by some might be interpreted as robust procrastination followed by desperate scrambling, but, seriously, since I’m the one putting in the bow mileage I’ll call it whatever I want).

Yet more proof of good results comes from my friend Trish, who told me today that she hears beautiful music coming from my house and asked me what instrument I play.

I’m thankful that the practice is paying off, so I guess I’ll keep it up. For the Symphony, for the neighborhood, and for me.

*This first DSO performance this season will be on October 18th at 3:00 pm at the Schwartz Center in Dover. The program is called “The Dover Symphony Goes to the Animals” and features The Pink Panther, Memory, a Swan Lake medley, music from Jurassic Park, and more. Adults are $20 and kids are (get this!!) FREE! Call 734-1701 for tickets. And if you like cellos, we’ve got 13 of ‘em this time around—hopefully the stage won’t tip to one side (although that could make for quite a show).

Thankful for a sports wardrobe

SOCCER_GRAPHIC

This morning, 11-year-old Jake woke up in a T-shirt and soccer shorts. Then he changed for school, into a Little League baseball training workshop shirt and an identical (but fresh…I hope) pair of soccer shorts. When I folded what was in the dryer yesterday, I came up with a blue DJ Rockers shirt (Spring soccer ’09), a purple Dover Litho shirt (Spring soccer ’07), and, you guessed it, yet another pair of swishy black soccer shorts.

To be honest, we’re not a huge sports family, but let me tell you: if it weren’t for sports, that kid would be naked.

I remember those guys in college who walked around in shorts all winter, and you know what? I get it now. They weren’t athletes, I don’t think. But they were probably athletes once. And they had a lot of T shirts that they acquired for playing something, somewhere, with someone. And the numerous, identical (I’m hoping there was more than one) athletic shorts with their elastic waistbands that those guys wore every single day really worked for what I can only imagine were their ever-increasing Thursday/Friday/Saturday drinking guts.

Yup, Jake’s one of those guys (without the drinking and the gut, though, right?). He hasn’t got a world class baseball cap collection yet, but I’m sure that’ll be coming down at some point, and it’ll come in handy when his hair inevitably starts to thin. For now, I’m just glad for the triple blessing of kids’ sports: physical fitness, good lessons in teamwork and sportsmanship, and major daytime and evening wardrobe supplementation.

My favorite kids’ soccer shirt of all time is actually my daughter’s, from the one and only season she played. Her team sponsor was the First State Funeral Services. Their team color? Black.

My husband thought they should be called “The Undertakers.” Win or lose, you gotta love that.

Fortunately…Unfortunately

Love this cover, from a customized book all about me, that my mother had made when I was a child

Love this cover, from a customized book all about me, that my mother had made when I was a child


Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do some gardening yesterday.

Unfortunately, I was gardening barefoot and dropped the garden shears, point down, sending them slicing directly into my toe.

Fortunately, I didn’t need stitches.

Unfortunately, I was bleeding badly enough that even a novice CSI team could have tracked my movements from the garden, up the driveway, across the porch, and up to the front door.

Fortunately, 9-year-old daughter Hayley doesn’t mind the sight of blood and was very willing to get me a paper towel, splash a pitcher of water onto the bright red puddle pooling next to the doormat, and ignore my gasping and rocking as she swept my bodily fluids into the ground cover.

Unfortunately, the first thing my husband Craig saw when he came home was me limping out to greet him.

Fortunately, he sent me into the den to watch the US Open Women’s Doubles Finals on TiVo while he made dinner.

Unfortunately, we’d planned to paint our bathroom that night, and I was still having trouble stopping the bleeding.

Fortunately, I had it in me to tape off and paint the trim.

Unfortunately, the color that we had deliberated about, voted on, and eventually purchased turned out in real life to be a ridiculous shade of poolside blue.

Fortunately, it takes less than $50 to change a paint color.

Unfortunately, I am completely preoccupied with the wrongness of the color, the potential for scathing judgments from other people, and the sucking sound of more money (albeit not much money) leaving my wallet.

Fortunately, I was watching the US Open on Saturday night and witnessed Serena Williams vs. the meek little line judge lady, live and in off-color. With that in mind I have realized that I have this to be thankful for:

I may have chosen the wrong color for my bathroom, but at least I didn’t break my tennis racket (a cost that for Serena is surely upwards of $500, conservatively), receive a USTA fine ($10,000…for now), or royally double fault on my reputation in front of millions of tennis viewers around the world.

Yup, I’m OK…unless the world’s tennis fandom starts stopping by to use my bathroom.

Now that would be truly unfortunate.

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