Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Table Manners R Us

Overheard in my dining room:

"Big Brother, get Little Brother a fork, please."

"No! Get me TWO forks!"

"You don't even eat with ONE fork. What do you think you're going to do with TWO?"

She's nothing if not contradictory

The same child who doesn't think that a long-term project constitutes "homework" casually mentioned to me today:

"I've got to start thinking of April Fool's Day pranks. I like to plan ahead."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Define "Homework"

Every day, Middle Sister comes home from school and I ask about homework. Usually she has some; not too much. She gets it done and packs it up. So, I think, it's all good.

Today she was hunting for poster paper, an old magazine, and some glue for a "project" she had to do for one class. It was a kind of scavenger hunt--she had to cut out representations of certain terms. I told her where to find the items she needed, and she headed up to her room to turn on some music and get to work.

Three hours later, she finished her "project." Then she complained that it had taken her three hours.

"Um, how long have you known about this assignment?" I wondered. "Did your teacher just assign this today?"

"No, she told us about it two weeks ago," she answered.

"But every day I ask you about homework, and some days you tell me you don't have any. You could have been working on this."

"This wasn't homework. This was a project!"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Collect 'em All!

Little Brother is in second grade this year, and he's excited because he'll be receiving two sacraments for the first time. This morning he asked me a little bit about Reconciliation, which he seemed fine with once he discovered that no one else will hear him talking and praying with Father. Then he listed all the sacraments he knows of. He could name 5 so far, only leaving out Marriage and Holy Orders. So I told him about those two.

"Then I'm gonna have to be a priest," he told me. "That way I can have all 7."

"Well, no," I answered. "Priests can't have the sacrament of Marriage. But deacons can, and deacons also have the sacrament of Holy Orders."

"I'll be a deacon, then," he declared.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

We Must Remember This

"In all things we must respond with love. And to respond with love in hard times, we must ask our Lord for grace."
--Father Kevin Russeau of Campus Ministry at the University of Notre Dame, quoted in What Happened to Notre Dame? by Dr. Charles E. Rice.

Multitasking as Rudeness

We're all tempted to multitask. As moms, many of us multitask almost constantly--we have to.

But there are times when it's just plain rude to do that.

Over the past two weekends, I have taken Big Brother to visit two universities that he's thinking of attending next year. We've taken campus tours; we've sat through presentations; we've checked out the curriculum fairs.

When short people like me don't wind up in or near the front row during a presentation, we can't always see the speaker or TV screen well. Sometimes our eyes wander in other directions while our ears listen to the speech. And when our eyes wander, we observe some colossally rude behavior.

Cell phone users, of course, were among the most obvious offenders. I've sat behind kids sending texts (and showing their neighbors the responses they got) and parents typing with their thumbs on Blackberries.

During an overly-long class on financial aid today, the woman in front of me took some hand lotion from her purse. I smelled this before I saw it (I'm extremely fragrance-sensitive.) After putting it on her hands and giving some to her daughter, she slipped off her shoes and put it on her feet as well.

In all charity, I don't think that any of the people who did these things intended to be rude. They were just not thinking. Which leads me to wonder: how many times have I been unintentionally rude to someone, just because I wasn't thinking?

Friday, September 25, 2009

What I Need Right Now

I crave routine. I really need it, and I miss it.

The lack of routine is what drives me crazy about summer vacation. That, and the lack of quiet. I need a good deal of both of those in order to keep my sanity about me.

This school year, I haven't managed to get the routine working yet. The kids have been in school 2 1/2 weeks and things have just not calmed down. Every so often, the non-routine of my days gets to me and I have a meltdown moment.

I'm wondering if this is all a reminder to me that when I put others' needs ahead of my need for routine, the whole world will not come crashing down around me. The dishes might not get done until 10 PM. The ironing will be pushed back another day...and another day...and maybe even another. (And my ironing will be pushed away completely, since I'm wearing sweatshirts on these cooler days, so no one can tell if I ironed my t-shirt!)

So maybe, those times when my routine is interrupted by the needs of those I love and care for, I can work in a new routine, and offer that interruption for the intention of the one who needs me most right then.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Don't Rush It!

It's that time of year again. The "Be A Scout!" signs are all over town with our phone number written on them, and I'm taking random calls several times a day from people interested in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and even Toddler Scouts.

For the record, Toddler Scouts does not exist.

And we don't have any Girl Scouts here. I don't have the Girl Scouts' phone number. All the children on the "Be A Scout!" signs are BOYS.

(Note to the National Boy Scout Council: It would be really great if you'd spring for the extra ink needed to print "Be A Cub Scout!" on your Cub Scout recruiting signs. That would save all of us moms who answer phone calls a whole lot of trouble.)

I'm used to moms of kindergartners asking if the Cub Scouts has a program for their boys, since the Girl Scouts has created the Daisy program for five-year-old girls. But today's phone call takes the cake.

A mom called, saying, "I got this number from the Scout sign and I was wondering if my son is old enough for Scouts yet."

"How old is your son?" I asked. "Cub Scouts begins with first-graders, in our Tiger Scout program."

In a disappointed tone, she answered, "He's three and a half."

Picking up my chin off the floor, I told her, "We don't have anything for boys that age. We'll be happy to see him when he's in first grade, though."

I wish I'd kept her on the phone and told her not to rush things with her little boy. I wouldn't have been sarcastic, saying things like "Cub Scouts don't wear Pull-Ups." But a three-year-old is so young. He doesn't need structured group activities like Cub Scouts yet. He needs time to dig in the sandbox and push Tonka Trucks around and dance silly dances to '80s tunes and run around and kick beach balls and build with Legos and color with crayons and learn to eat with a fork. (OK, Little Brother still needs to work on that last skill. But you get the idea.)

I feel kind of sad for this mom and her little boy. It's not that I don't think Cub Scouts would be good for him. I'm a firm believer in just how good Cub Scouting (and Boy Scouting) can be for a boy. But I'm also a firm believer in not overcommitting children, especially very little children. When Big Brother (my Eagle Scout) was three and a half, he wasn't even in pre-K yet. So far, his lack of a full slate of early-childhood activities has not seemed to have any ill effects upon his intellect, achievement, or ability to make friends.

I wish I'd told this mom to let her little boy enjoy being three and a half. There's plenty of time for Cub Scouts later.


...that Big Brother, who has had his driver's license for a full 8 days now, isn't in danger of getting any speeding tickets:

This morning I picked up the plastic-bagged newspaper off the wet front lawn, and put it down on the trunk of Big Brother's car while I chatted with a neighbor. I walked inside without the paper and didn't think about it again until Big Brother was long gone, on his way to school.

He made it more than half a mile to the jughandle, where he stopped for a red light and the driver behind him got out of her car, picked up the paper off his trunk and handed it to him.

I know he's not flying around the corners, or the paper would have sailed off by that point.

I'm thinking that this knowledge was well worth the 75 cents for the replacement paper that TheDad bought me.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

With Apologies to Laura Numeroff

I'm living one of those "If You Give a Mouse A Cookie" stories.

We have thermal drapes in the family room, hanging on the dreaded Tranverse Rods--the kind of curtain rods that have this little rope pull, and if you yank the rope in the right direction, the curtains open (or close.)

If you yank the rope too hard, the little plastic thingies that attach to the back of the curtain rod break off and fly across the room. Pretty soon your drapes aren't hanging on by much.

So I went to the store to get replacement plastic thingies. I admit that I was hoping that I couldn't find them. This way I could justify spending my whole freelance-writing paycheck on a new curtain rod and ring clips for my drapes. Unfortunately, I found the plastic thingies. I bought 3 dozen (this window is about 12 feet across, so there are a lot of hooks for the drapes.)

So, with my apologies to Laura Numeroff, here is my story.

If you buy replacement plastic thingies for your curtain rod, you'll have to take the curtain rod off the brackets to install them.

As you take the curtain rod down from the brackets, you will drop a screw. It will fall behind the couch.

After you move the couch to retrieve the dropped hardware, you will notice that the sheer curtains between the drapes and the windows are awfully dusty. You will decide that as long as you've got the drapes down anyway, you might as well wash the sheers.

When you put the curtains in the washing machine, it's not a full load. So you will go back upstairs and take down the living-room sheers as well, and put them in the washing machine.

Heading back to the drapes, you will decide that you can't hang dusty drapes over clean sheers. You will remove all the pointy metal hooks so you can wash the drapes next.

As you remove the pointy metal hooks, you will poke your finger. You will need a Band-Aid. Then you will notice that some of the pointy metal hooks are missing. You will remember that you had spare hooks from the last time you took down the drapes.

(You will try not to think about how long it has been since you took down the drapes.)

You will rummage around in your "spare parts" stashes in the basement. You will knock a package of light bulbs behind the water heater. You will remember that you have more light bulbs that you just got at Shop Rite and need to put away.

After you find the bag of spare pointy metal hooks, you will put all the other pointy metal hooks in the same bag. You will gather up all the drapes, which no longer have pointy metal hooks stuck to them, and put them next to the washing machine.

Then you will sit down to install the new replacement plastic thingies. You will find that they slide in easily from the end of the drapery rod. You will also find that they get caught on the remnants of the old plastic thingies that broke off when someone yanked the rope too hard.

You will try various tools in an attempt to remove the pieces of the old plastic thingies. Nothing will fit. You will go hunting for your Swiss Army Knife, which you took out of your purse before you went on vacation, because you didn't think it would pass through security.

And finally, you will finish installing the new plastic thingies, put the drapery rod back up, hang the clean sheers, stick the pointy metal clips into the clean drapes, and put the drapes back on the rod.

And you will curse the day that you chose such terrible window treatments.


Little Brother, at seven, is at that "in-between" stage where clothes labeled SMALL are too small, while clothes labeled MEDIUM are too big.

His closet and drawers are overloaded, because he's got some of each size going on in there as he makes the transition to a bigger size.

Over the summer, when I stocked up on school uniforms, I bought him a new sweater. Compared to his old SMALL one, the MEDIUM looked gigantic. But this morning he needed his sweater, and the sleeves on the SMALL didn't make it to his wrists anymore.

He struggled into his oversize MEDIUM sweater, with sleeves that pass his fingertips and a hem that hangs below his butt, and told me, "Mom, you should have got me a small and a half!"

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

He Doesn't Have One, And Never Will

Little Brother has Spanish homework tonight. He came over here asking me how to spell my maiden name, and then said he had to write down TheDad's maiden name as well.

"Daddy doesn't have a maiden name," I said, confused about what he was trying to do. What are they teaching him in school?

"Oh, then I know what to do," he answered. "I'll write my first name, middle name, your maiden name and then our last name."

Now I get it. They're writing their names the Latin-American way.

That's a relief.

Come to the Quiet

I don't think I have ever said that this house is too quiet.

Quiet is the thing I like most about my kids being back to school. The only one making noise in the house is me (and the washing machine, which pretty much hums nonstop around here, but I barely notice that.)

Other than listening to The Catholics Next Door on satellite radio, I rarely have any radio, TV or music on during the school day when I'm not out running errands. It's just me and my quiet. (I do talk to myself sometimes. It's good that there's no one else here to hear me and think I'm nuts.)

I really do need and appreciate that quiet. When the kids were younger, TheDad used to send me out of the house for some "bookstore time" so I could recharge my batteries a bit. That was always welcomed and wonderful, but the music in the store--someone else's choice of music--just became another source of noise pollution in my world. I'd find myself hurrying out of there to get away from it.

It's good--really good--to get away from all the noise that surrounds you everywhere. It's good to be home, in the quiet, where nothing's louder than the washing machine, the crickets and the sparrows.

Things Parents Say

"Little Brother, don't pull out any more loose teeth right now. Just eat your breakfast."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When he sits still know something's not quite right.

Little Brother and TheDad didn't get their usual seat in church today. Instead, they sat in a different pew where I could actually see them (normally my view is blocked by the altar and pulpit.) During the homily, Little Brother was hanging all over TheDad. This is not abnormal in itself, but usually Little Brother is much more wiggly. This time he was just sort of hanging there. Big Brother noticed it too, and whispered to me that Little Brother looked really tired. I wondered if his cheeks were also flushed, or if it was just shadows from the lighting.

But as the afternoon has worn on, it's becoming clear that Little Brother is just not feeling quite right. He's alternated between playing (somewhat crabbily) and lying around. He felt a little warm earlier but didn't have a fever, and now is complaining of a headache. After he hung all over me for a little while, he got himself up and went outside to play basketball with Middle Sister. That lasted a whole five minutes before he came in complaining that she's being mean, and hit the couch again.

I guess I'll be breaking my "no shopping on Sunday" rule, because we're almost out of milk, and tomorrow I might have a kid home sick from school.

UPDATE: Well, whatever it was, it has come and gone. Little Brother had a fever last evening but he woke up feeling "ok." I kept him home anyway and by midafternoon practically had to SIT on him to keep him quiet. So he's all set and ready to go back to school tomorrow.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


At first, it was anger. How could this happen?

Only later did the regret come, for the words not said, the opportunities missed.

"While we have time, let us do good." But had we?

And what good can come from mourning those unsaid words, those missed opportunities?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Power to the People

This evening as I laboriously covered Middle Sister's workbooks in contact paper (per her teachers' requirements) I received a phone call from some political survey. They had a captive audience in me at that moment.

I answered the usual questions like "if the election would be held tomorrow, would you vote for the incumbent or the challenger" in the race for governor of my state. I rated my trust level of the various candidates on certain issues on a scale from 0 to 100. For the record, nobody got 100 on anything.

And then I was asked a question that quite surprised me: had my labor union contacted me and encouraged me to vote for one candidate or the other?

"I'm a homemaker," I replied. "I don't belong to a labor union. And if I did, I wouldn't let their opinion of how I should vote influence my vote."

After I got off the phone, I started wondering what it would be like if homemakers did have a labor union. It's not like we get paid or anything (not in money, anyway.) What kind of circumstances or events would inspire the Homemakers' Union to stage a strike?


Friday, September 04, 2009

Curb Appeal

Dropping Middle Sister off at a friend's house just now, I passed a very lovely-looking house for sale. It looked great, until you checked out what was parked in front: a decrepit dark-brown hearse with "666" painted on the tailgate and "Serial Killer" on the driver's side doors.

Makes you wonder if they want to scare buyers off, or intrigue the curious.

The Ultimate in Awesomeness

I just picked up Little Brother at a friend's house. On the way home, he raved about how his friend's mom had brought a thermos of lemonade to the park for the kids.

"Sounds really good," I commented.

"It was," he sighed. "My friend's family is awesome!"

And it's as easy as lemonade. Who knew?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

I'm not talking football

Well, OK, I'll talk football for a minute. Because I could never give up my Irish football. But that's not what I'm really talking about.

I've written before about my dismay that my alma mater invited President Obama to speak, and to be honored, at this year's Commencement.

As I said, that won't impact my enjoyment of football games. But it does impact my opinion of the University. It impacts the guidance that I give to my own college-bound child.

Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama is not an isolated incident in the University's history. Instead, it is the culmination of thirty years or more of accumulated activity, at Notre Dame and other colleges. I saw some of this for myself twenty-one years ago when I was a student there (but let's not dwell on the length of time that has elapsed since I received my degree). The rest is detailed in Notre Dame professor emeritus Charles E. Rice's book, What Happened to Notre Dame? Newly published by St. Augustine's Press, the book also demonstrates that what has gone on at Notre Dame is symptomatic of events at other religious institutions of higher learning.

I recently received a review copy of this book and, though I've only just begun reading it, I'm finding it fascinating and disturbing. I'll definitely be discussing this book in more detail as I finish reading it. But I can tell you right now that if your interest in Notre Dame is not limited to its football team, you might want to pick up this book.