Saturday, June 26, 2010

'CAUSE I'M THE BOSS OF EWE

County fair conundrum - what's up with ewe, KKK?
"Don't do it, capitán," Mommy calls out to the driver in the F150 trying to cut her off on our way back from the county fair.

"What's capitán, Mommy?" asks Chago.

"It's a captain, son, like of a ship," she says. "Do you know what jefe is?"

"No," he replies.

"It means boss," she says. "Do you know what a boss is?"

"Yes," he says with a smile, "It's like you, you're the boss of Comcast."

"Welllllll..." she begins.

"And like Saia," he continues, ignoring Mommy, and now tossing his sister a sneer, "She thinks she's the boss of me."

And without looking up from her book, she calmly but firmly interjects, "But that's just 'cause I am."
...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

OH, APPLE, HAST THOU NOW SEDUCED MY SPAWN, TOO?

So only because we promised AND I just don't think I could take one more hour of "Mom, as soon as you feel better, can we go get my music?" I finally peeled back the covers and got myself together enough to get us over to Target. They don't really care there that I haven't showered in 3 days and totally reek of mentholatum.

But for the monsters' graduation from 1st grade, we got him a new Leapster. He really loves the thing, has a ton of games, files it second only to books, and completely used the first one so much that he got years ago from Santa that he has to pound the stylus on the screen just to get it to move, and toggle the on/off switch repeatedly to get the sound to come on properly. Basically, he was due, and thrilled to high heaven to be able tap gently again and to hear the instructions in full and complete sentences.

Saia, on the hand, specifically requested an iPod. Well, actually, she's been asking for a Nintendo DSi ever since Justin and Madisyn came to visit last, but we're not really ready to make that move into the gaming world yet. We were, however, willing to listen to the iPod argument, so long as it didn't involve the words, "Emily has one," or "Kelly says," or "I saw a commercial..."

But our Saia, she's a smart cookie. So, she started off telling me how much she loved the music they played over the loud speakers at their Walk-a-Thon (one of those Kids Bop CDs where they have kids singing popular songs and change all the inappropriate words so that you can save your therapy money for something else), and how much fun all the songs were from Alvin The Squeakquel, and how she could listen to all the music from The Princess & The Frog over and over agin, and, not to mention, how we comment all the time about how much we love to hear her sing along to the radio in the truck. Well, that and the fact that her Mommy and I are irrepressible music wh*res afficionados, it was really kinda an easy win for her.

So, we did a little digging and found the cutest little red iPod shuffle (those matchbook-size ones) on sale on the Apple website. No screen, no games, just music. Perfect size, perfect price. Done deal.

Both items arrived a few days ago. I just haven't had the energy or an evening without a pounding headache to get them going, nor have they really been on their best behavior to deserve a reward. But after their dinner adventure last night, and then Saia offering to make them both eggs in a nest this morning. Plus, they cleaned their room and made their beds and have been super generous with their hugs and kisses, and me being such a sucker for the XXXXs and the OOOOs, I couldn't possibly put then off another day.

One new Leapster game, 4 new movies, and 4 CDs of kids' music later (damn Target gets me every time), and then it was 3 hours of this, which is at least somewhat bearable compared to some of the other footage I shot, and yet still beyond creepy that they seem to start and stop on exactly the same words, even if the words are wrong.

video

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

PLEASE PACK YOUR PLASTIC KNIVES AND GO

So, as a result of my feeling like utter crap with these creepy cruddies all week, being glued to the sofa with my fever, buried under my favorite Costco blanket (yes, really) with my cough, and watching hour after hour of Top Chef marathons (which the kids just happen to love -- or, at least, they do now), out of the blue this afternoon they're suddenly all about the hey, let's cook something for each other tonight and then judge how well we did.

And I know what you're thinking, 'cause I was too, that it could've totally turned out to be a royal mess. But they were unbelievably awesome, listening to instructions, considerate of one another's tastes, and conscious of really trying to make a healthy and delicious meal.

Santiago went first.

"What protein do you want, Chago?"

"Well, Saia really likes shrimp," he says thoughtfully.

"Okay, and what grain?"

"Rice, I think," he says with his hand under his chin.

"Great. And now, your vegetable," I say.

"Hmm..."

"How about a mixed stir-fry?" I suggest.

"Oooh, she likes that! Does it have the red peppers?"

So, I send him off to the freezer and pantry to collect his ingredients. And then into the cupboard to pull out the pans, and steamer, and rice cooker.

I did all the plugging in and turning on of appliances, of course, but he did all the pouring and seasoning. He was a little nervous that he might get burned (but that's mainly 'cause his Mama's a little accident prone), but he sucked it up and did his job. He tasted the chicken broth and decided to add that to the rice. He asked to taste and smell the lemon juice and garlic salt before he put it in with the shrimp saute, and then just added a pat of butter to the steaming veggies.

He chose a "fancy plate" and cup for her, and set her table. Proud as a peacock, he was.

Then it was her turn. She cooks with me regularly, so there was a lot less of the hovering that I had to do. She chose beef for his protein, which I thought was a little unusual, but she said he hadn't had any in a while, so we went with it. Then she picked whole wheat pasta shells and sweet corn.

As I was filling the pot of water for the pasta, she reminded me, "Mama, remember that the water has to boil first before we put the pasta in."

She asked for the meat to be cubed, so I did that and tossed it into her pan. She put in some olive oil, comino, sea salt, lemon pepper, a little A-1, and some cilantro.

As it was cooking, she kept staring at the meat as if she were thinking about something.

"What is it, Saia?"

"I think the meat needs something," she said.

"Ok, let's look in the pantry."

Beans, soups, mushrooms, couscous..."WATER CHESTNUTS!!" she yells. "He LOVES water chestnuts." So into the pan they went.

Then she said she wanted to pick a "manly" plate for him, which I found hilarious because she ended up choosing one of Mommy's favorite outdoor plates. But she got his table all set up, they said their thank-yous (we reheated her plate), and they dug in.

They finished every last bite, were so gracious to one another, and even helped clean up (sort of).

Mommy said it all kinda tasted like Benihana, which was sorta true, but I think it's because they were using minimal seasoning and only the basics. But hey, if I can just teach them to fling a shrimp into their hat, I may be able to put them to work long enough for me to finish my book this summer after all!
...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

WOULD THE MAKERS OF THE FRICKIN' TOY STORY FRANCHISE PLEASE COME CLEAN OUT MY KIDS' CLOSETS?

Months.

Months.

And, oh yeah, months of talking and coaxing and reasoning to get them to understand that it's once again time to shed ourselves of our old stuffed animals and toys and (bright side) make room for even more things.

This summer, then, we agreed, this summer we'd be cleaning everything out and hand-delivering our boxes to whatever charitable organization they chose, and yes, of course, they could include a note that asks the new recipient to please treat every item with tender loving care.

It was as good as done.

Then along came Toy Story 3.

Those Pixarf*ckers.

Our kids have never really been into Toy Story. They own the first one, but never watch it, and don't own a single toy. But once they saw TS3 and loved it, they bought into all the marketing campaigns and immediately began pointing at plastic things in boxes on shelves and squealing "I want, I want, I want!"

Then they just HAD TO see TS2, which I made the huge mistake of picking up on sale because I can't resist a markdown.

Well, THAT'S really the one that did it. THAT'S the one with the toy abandonment issues. THAT'S the one that convinced them that EVERY. SINGLE. TOY. in their room is alive and missing them RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT. And, oh, Mom, just imagine how sad they'll be if we close them up in a box and they get separated from their friends, and they never see us again, and they think that we don't love them, and...

Oh, Christ.

And now because TS3 is still in theatres (which, bejeebus, costs an arm and a leg to go to these days!) and it, of the three, actually does have some helpful guidance and gentle lessons about the good in the giving away of your toys, my monsters are only watching TS2, because we own it now, over and over and over, convinced that their toys would just be devastated if they ever abandoned them, refusing to even consider revisiting the donation discussion, and suddenly sleeping with ratty old bears I haven't seen in years because they were buried below miles of piles of multi-colored, anything but natural looking, faux fur, poofy stuffing and plastic googly eyes.

Because toy neglect, apparently, is totally okay.
...

Monday, June 21, 2010

SCOOTERBIRDS AND TANTRUMS

At first, they were excited about the idea. I wanted to go on my run by the lake. They thought it would be ingenious to take their scooters and not have to actually walk the 3.5 miles, up and down hills, over a combination of gravel, sand, and crackling asphalt.

About 25 yards in, the moaning and groaning started. And not just from me.

The handlebars were hurting. His back was aching. He couldn't keep it balanced with all the rocks. His helmet was tilting. His foot was aching. He was getting hot. He was tired. He was hungry.

Halfway down, he was dragging his scooter behind him, scaring away birds and disturbing all of the zen walkers with his huffing and puffing. I actually had to bribe them with popsicles once we got home just to get them to pose and fake smile for these shots.

Saia, however, knows exactly how this game works. And the more frustrated I'm getting with him, the more she suddenly begins to enjoy our outing. She's no longer complaining. She's smiling and pointing out things to look at. She's even singing songs and gliding along on her scooter as if she were walking on air.

Meanwhile, he's in full meltdown mode by the time we make the turnaround to come back. He's asking for a taxi. He wants me to carry him. He refuses, flat out refuses to get back on that thing, which he proceeds to throw and kick at least twice. The only thing that seemed to work to pull him out of it was allowing them to collect disgusting goose feathers, which they then implanted into their helmet, called themselves "scooterbirds," and grossed everyone out on the walk back.

But, you know, whatever works.
...


Sunday, June 20, 2010

MY DADDY IS THE SMELL OF RAIN

There's a picture of my father and I. It's buried in a box somewhere. But it's always the one I go to when I'm missing him.

I was about 4 years old. Sitting on a tabletop. My head was full of black curls.

My father was so thin and so young. So very Grease and West Side Story. Hair always slicked back in those photos. White t-shirt and jeans. He was just so young. Although, I never thought of him being young then. He's always been old to me. Not old, like silver fox with a cane old. But old, like when I get old, I wanna drive a truck like my dad's.

But when I was 4, he was only 25.

He still had his buddies that he hung out with. He still loved his stock cars. He still had these thick gorgeous sideburns that hugged either side of his face.

I'm certain he wasn't ready to be a father. And I'm even more certain he wasn't keen on the idea of letting go of all his rowdy ways and...gasp...raising a girl.

But I have a terrible memory. I do. My early years, especially, completely escape me. And visual memories, in particular, are so out of reach for me. And I hate that I can't seem to retain them, and that there are so many others I know who can rattle off what they were wearing, where they were, and what the weather was like as if it had just happened. I know that years from now I'll be begging and praying to recall something tangible. To remember specifics. Something I can hold onto. Some key piece of advice he gave me when I was growing up. Some major life lesson.

And there are some days when I float in and out of those memories. When a song or a sound or a smell takes me there, but just for a moment, just long enough to put the lump in my throat. Just enough for me to know it's there, somewhere, I just can't seem to bring them to the surface. Yet.

But my Daddy is the smell of rain. The sight of cactus. The line of old sweat inside a ballcap. He's the sound of diesel trucks. The Blue Angles. Deer crossing our path. He's the roaring of race cars. The smell of refineries. The monster truck competition commercials. He's the smell of fishing. And BBQ'ing. He's the sound of chicharras in the morning, sitting on the back porch, having his coffee. My Daddy is the smell of gun powder. The hums of lawnmowers. The nostril-burning smell of welding. He is oleanders. And fresh cut grass. He is every old man watering his front lawn.

My Daddy turned 60 last year. And the kids and I spent the greatest week back home with him, just hanging out with Grampa, doing a lot of nothing that was filled with so much something that the briefest recollection of that trip sends me into missing tears. And, suddenly, I don't think of him as old anymore. And I want him to take me camping again along the Frio. And I want him to take me to Astroworld and Six Flags. And I want to go hunting. And I want a turkey leg and a funnel cake and peanuts in my Coke.

And suddenly I'm hating living so far away and want to be able to have breakfast with him every Sunday. "Hi, mija," he'll say, when I show up and try to switch out his thick maple syrup for light agave nectar. And I want that so much for the kiddos. For him. And for me.

Especially today.
...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

SPERM, SUICIDE, AND 7-YEAR-OLDS -- GEE, THANKS A LOT, OPRAH!

Watching disc #2 of "Life," those amazing Discovery Channel nature videos narrated by Oprah (really would've preferred James Earl Jones), when Saia suddenly looks up from her dinner, rotini hanging from her lower lip, and says with a mouth full of chicken and peppers, "Mama, whath thspum?"

I point at my mouth and give her the look. She swallows quickly, wipes the back of her hand across her pasta sauce glazed face and says, very clearly, "Sperm, Mama, what is it?"

I'm fairly certain my own noodles fell right out of my own mouth and onto the floor. Or right outta my head. I couldn't really tell at that point.

Either way, I totally froze. Like a deer in headlights. Thinking this was gonna get really complicated really quick. That they were gonna ask about how they were conceived. That I'd need to pull out the 32-page packet of information that went along with the first nitrogen tank Fed-Ex'd to our door 8 years ago. That I'd need to pull up to the front of my brain the speech I'd been rehearsing for 7 years about our donor, about insemination, about -- gasp! -- how babies are made. And that Amy really really needed to be here for this. Where was my phone? I really thought we had at least a few more years. How fast could she make it over here, I wondered.

"Mom?!?!" she says with that helloooo lilt in her voice.

"Huh? Wha?"

"Sperm, Mom." And every time she uttered that word, my whole body flinched. As if she were shouting "Lord Voldemort!" in the middle of Hogsmeade, and all traffic came to a full stop, and someone whispered to her that she should really be saying "you-know-who" instead.

"Right," I begin, "you-know-what...er...sperm is what males produce to fertilize a female's egg to make a baby."

"Oh," she says, "Ok," and turns back to the clownfish eggs nestled deep inside the sea anemone.

And that was it.

Minor reprieve, I do realize, but a reprieve just the same.

Then, we're getting ready for bed. All tucked in. Harry Potter at the ready. And I ask, as we've been doing for a few months now, if there's anything they want to talk about or ask about that we didn't get to today?

"Yes, Mom," says Saia, and I hold my breath again thinking she's been pondering our discussion all day, feels completely inadequately informed, and is about to demand the whole story.

"What's suicide?" she asks.

"What?! Where in the world did you hear that???" I ask, stunned, relieved, then stunned again.

"On that show, Mom, when they were talking about the honey bees attacking the bear to save the hive."

[Oh, dammit, Oprah, you're really killing me here!!!!]
...

Friday, June 18, 2010

FIRST DAY OF SUMMER BREAK: OF DUCKS AND DUCKIE

"Good morning, second graders!" I say when they crawl under the covers with me this morning.

"We're not second-graders yet, Mom," she says.

"Well, okay, what are you then? 1st-2nd-in-betweeners?"

"We are NOT weiners, Mama!!" he says. [20 minutes of 7-year-old cackling ensues]

"Okay, okay, so what are you?"

"We're summer vacationers!" she says. "Let's go to the beach!"

And while that does sound like a pretty awesome plan, we've got a birthday pool party to attend this afternoon, presents to buy for it this morning, and breakfast to be had.

The beach may have to wait a few days.

So, while I was making breakfast, Saia tapped into her inner Rodin, pulled out her modeling clay and sculpted this totally adorable duck!




Santiago, on the other hand, was just bursting with energy this morning (ok, no, not ONLY this morning), so off he was sent to the keyboard. Within minutes, he'd discovered the demo button, and, baby, it was ALL over then!

video

Just try to tell me he doesn't remind you of Ducky from Pretty in Pink.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

AND SO FIRST GRADE COMES TO AN END IN A BLAZE OF FOOT-LONG FRUIT ROLL-UPS AND PLAYDATE PHONE #S

How is it that the last day of school feels 1000 times worse than the 1st? I'm tearful and joyful, relieved and exhausted. There's no way another year has come and gone. Did someone DVR it?

They already seemed older to me today. Something about the way they carried themselves. The way they kissed me goodbye on the playground steps. The way they ran off with their buddies only casually glancing over their shoulders long enough to toss me an obligatory wave.

But as much as it is emotionally wrenching to have to face the reality of their growing up, not even that seems to be quite as painful as this final week of school has been. No, really. Saying that it was a bit insane would be an insult to the insane. It was madness. Sheer chaos. And I just don't remember my last week of school ever having been this crazy, although I'm almost certain my parents would disagree.

One of the oddest and topsy-turviest things the kids got to do this week was a School Camp-out. So, here we go, rushing the morning of, to get them changed out of their sleep jammies and into "school jammies" (which really only means for us that all major body parts are adequately covered and then having to explain to them for the 150th time why they have to wear their underclothes with their pjs). Then we packed up their toothbrushes and a mini-toothpaste each in separate but equal ziploc bags. And packed up their lunches and a snack for 6 (times 2) to share with their assigned "sleepover" group.

So, now we've got their everyday backpack all bulging and ready to go. And we've got their sleeping bag backpack with attached water bottle all set and ready to go. And, of course, we've got a pillow each, a stuffed animal, and a nighttime book to share.

The pile of stuff outside of the classrooms that morning was just ridiculous. It looked like the back lot of a Salvation Army. And I was never more grateful that I hadn't been asked to volunteer than I was that day.

But, not surprisingly, the kids had a blast. They made fortresses in their rooms with sheets and tables. Their 3rd grade buddies came and read them bedtime stories. They ate a ton of stuff they'd never get from me. And came home with their robe pockets full of little pieces of paper with first names and phone numbers scribbled in color pencil and crayons in that undeniable first-grade handwriting.
...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I. AM. THE. MCGRUBERMAMA.

"Mom?" she sings sheepishly as we're getting ready for bed tonight.

"Yes, babe?"

"I need glasses, a shawl, a squirrel mask, and a tail," she rattles off at the speed of light.

"Wha? What? Now? For tomorrow???" I stutter.

"Yep," she bounces off to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

"Yeah," he chimes in from his bunk. "And I need a red pig's tail."

"FOR TOMORROW?!?!?!?"

"Yep," he hums.

"But it's 7 o'clock," I mutter, my mouth still agape. "And tomorrow's the last day of school. And what do you need them for? And how long have you known about this? BOTH OF YOU GET DOWN HERE IN FRONT OF ME RIGHT THIS MINUTE!"

They exchanged knowing glances, and somehow decided without uttering a word that Saia would take this one for the team and step up to the line. Santiago took two paces back. Evidently, these are the sacrifices you make for being able to hold over his head for the rest of his life that you are actually older, if only by 2 minutes.

So, apparently, the props were needed for the plays they've been rehearsing for the past couple of weeks. They're final performance IS tomorrow morning at 8:15. No reasonable explanation for why or how they managed to forget.

So, my inner McGyver, with which all mothers are blessed, kicks into orange alert. And within minutes, with a tampon and stick of gum...

Okay, no, not really.

But with...

some paper plates, a Hawaiian lei, and red bendaroos,

...we managed to fashion all of the necessary props and still have time to read a chapter of Harry Potter (we started year 5 tonight, Diana).

Sleep tight, my little monsters. The world is safe again.
...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

'TWAS BRILLIG, AND THE SLITHY TOVES DID GYRE AND GIMBLE IN THE WABE...

So, this post is two-part.

Part I: Review of the revamped Alice in Wonderland.

You may recall my singing the praises of Common Sense Media. I've contributed my review of Alice in Wonderland this week, primarily 'cause I happen to mostly disagree with the reviews on there with regard to this particular flick, and just want to make sure that our perspective is also covered.

The basic gist: we loved it. It was very well done, but requires a great deal of active parental participation, discussion, and artistic appreciation in order to ensure that the well-intended messages are, in fact, received.

Part II: The Very Merry Unbirthday
JABBERWOCKY
by Lewis Carroll

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood a while in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
This is one of my all-time favorite poems. The genius in being able to tell a story with completely nonsensical words is just an awe-inspiring feat for a writer. To my utter delight, Chaguito's been reciting this since he was about 2 1/2. No, really.

He IS the MadHatter, in so so many ways. And this week at school, to HIS utter delight, they had a Very Merry Unbirthday celebration. His costume of choice was, of course, the MadHatter. And he hasn't stopped callooh-callaying all week!!
...


Monday, June 14, 2010

MAMA, YOU'RE LIKE A MANATEE

Leaving school today holding their hands as we wait for the crossing guard's whistle to blow.

"Emma, sweetie," I call to a classmate of Saia's who's standing a little too close to the curb waiting for her mother to come pick her up,"why don't you take about 4 steps towards the fence so you're not so close to the street?"

And she does.

And we say goodbye and cross.

Halfway across the street, Santiago leans into me and without looking up says, "Mama, you're like a manatee."

"A what?"

"A manatee!" he yells gleefully. "But like a mama manatee, you know?"

"Umm...ok...well, thanks, Bubba, I think," and kinda suck in my belly self-consciously.

"No, mama, you don't get it. Mama manatees don't only protect their own babies, they protect all the other manatees' babies, too. And you do that all the time."

[melting.]
...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

STUCK IN A DRAFT STATE

I have 14 posts in DRAFT state right now, at least one of which goes all the way back to January.

FOUR. TEEN.

JA-NU-ARY, people!

It's June now.

Am thinking this says way too much about my life, about me as a person, and about my caffeine intake.

[So, pay no attention to this man behind the curtain.]

It's the same reason my novel, collection of short stories & poems, and children's book series are all in a state of incompletion.

It's the same reason my suitcase from my trip to Indy is still sitting at the foot of my bed, only partially unpacked.

It's the same reason there's still a box of framed pictures in the living room, just waiting to be hung, begging to be freed, for 10 months now.

It's the same reason I can't even walk into my walk-in closet for fear of impaling my foot on the pile of heels and sandals congregating right there in the middle and extending out to cover every inch of the closet floor.

It's the same reason I've convinced myself that consulting is fine for me when all I really want to do is get back to working full-time and feeling like part of a team again.

It's the same reason it's been for the last few years.

I'M in a state of incompletion.

I'M stuck in a DRAFT state.

And somebody really needs to tell me how to just suck it up and push SEND already, and preferably before I order those Professional Procrastinator Seeks Perfection (aka, Unobtainium) business cards I've only half-completed on VistaPrint.
...

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

GET-WHAT-THEY-WANT GIRLS. YOU KNOW THE KIND.

I've known a few of these in my time.

Some might even accuse me of being one. (No need to assent here.)

But Chago recently pulled the "please, please, please, Mama" thing today as we were leaving school as he tried desperately to negotiate a playdate with a friend I'm not very fond of, and then immediately upon seeing that that was obviously NOT working, decided to launch full force into the Puss-in-Boots-big-kitty-eyes routine, and we hadn't even got past the gates.

The thing is, and he knows this already, that I absolutely do not care how adorably cute he looks or how much he makes my ears bleed, begging, verbally or optically, does not and has never worked in this family.

Evidently, though, it is a very common tool employed by many of his classmates. His female classmates.

And I'm absolutely certain their parents would be mortified to know that these little monsters not only know exactly what they're doing, they're actually sharing tips and tricks with one another. And what's worse, they're then bragging to their friends about how such-and-such tactic got them an extra day in Tahoe, and this-or-that tactic got them another hour at the arcade and $5 bucks in tokens.

Yes, really. They're GLOATING!!!

And when Santiago (according to Santiago, of course) tried to explain to them that he's already tried those things on me to no avail, they pretty much just told him that he wasn't doing it right. AND PROCEEDED TO PROVIDE HIM WITH STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS!!

"You must not have looked cute enough," one of them concluded.

"Or loud enough," the other one chimed in.

"You need to reaaaaaally whine until they cover their ears," the demons continued.

"That means you're getting ready to get what you want," the other banshee cackled.

And then he turned to me as we were crossing the street to the truck and said, "Why do they think that, Mama?"

And the thing is, he knows. He's not Mr. Innocent, although he likes to play one on TV. He knows full well how to play the manipulation game, and a part of that act includes asking questions that he already knows the answer to.

Saia, luckily, is not quite as good at it. And, very matter-of-factly, without lifting her head from her homework, says to him, "That's because they're get-what-they-want girls, Santiago. Everybody knows that."

[Ahhh. That's my girl.]
...

Monday, June 07, 2010

A NOTE TO MY HIGH SCHOOL BAND TEACHER UPON HIS RETIREMENT

A few years ago, my grandfather's brother died. My aunt, his daughter, asked me if I would play Taps at his funeral back in my hometown.

I had come down from the East Coast, where I was living at the time. I hadn't played my trumpet in years. But when I went to open up the case, that same familiar smell wafted through the air -- that intoxicating mix of valve oil, musty faux fur, and glistening aged brass that only a true band nerd could love.

I reached in with both hands. A little embarrassed. As if it would somehow know that I'd been neglecting it all these years. As if it would somehow hold a grudge.

But it felt exactly the same in my hands as it did when I was 15. The heft of it was like an old friend. Cold at first, unsure of my intentions. But it soon warmed beneath the heat of my skin and then readily gave in to my touch. The valves still pumped smoothly. The mouthpiece reciprocated my long-lost kiss. And the sound, although muted at first from my own timidity, was as full and soul-shaking as it always had been for me.

I practiced in the bathroom. I practiced outside. I'd forgotten how loud it was. How the trumpet fills the air, blasts the clouds, rattles the windows. But I wanted to be sure. I needed to get it right. I simply couldn't, could not, make a single mistake this time.

On the day of the funeral, I was sitting in the truck waiting for my cue. I was heartbroken at the loss of my uncle, emotional at being around my family, back in my hometown that I'd fled so long ago, and visibly trembling at the thought of, once again, having to perform a solo.

A few minutes before it was time, a young boy arrived with a trumpet case in hand. He'd been sent over from the high school. To play for the funeral. Just as I had been so many times before him.

And although this was MY uncle, and I had been asked by MY aunt, I didn't want to discourage him, a young hopeful musician. I didn't want to deprive him of the profound and meaningful experience of playing the last song anyone would ever hear before their loved one was buried and gone forever. It was an honor to play for the mourners. An honor to play for the dead.

So, I dragged him back to the truck in his blue & gold gym clothes, and we practiced as a duet. And he was trying to keep up. He was. He was trying to harmonize, but he just couldn't pull it off. Because although I've never ever been a natural musical talent, I knew the one thing I always had over my competition was heart, as trite as that may sound. And although he did his best and did play with me that day, I honestly don't even remember his name. I don't remember what he was wearing or what he looked like. In fact, I don't remember even hearing him at all.

I could hear nothing but the melody I was playing. Everything else, the wind, the train, the traffic, was drowned out by the notes that were swimming solemnly over the flag-draped coffin, soaring triumphantly up past the trees, and back into the heavens. Where they belonged.

CLICK TO PLAY "TAPS"

'Cause the thing is, I was the one that loved to play.

I did. I loved it. Through and through.

And you saw that in me. And you let me have that.

Being First Chair. Playing solos in concerts and on the field. Bringing home medals from competition. Those were awesome, unforgettable memories for me.

But being able to play something as simple and as pure as Taps at my uncle's funeral, is something I never could have done, would have done, or would have been asked to do, if it weren't for you.

So, besides the fact that I got my first real kiss in the 6th grade band hall (oh, trust me, I was NOT the only one), you will always and forever hold a very special place in my heart.

Thank you for everything you did, for everything you taught us, and, most especially, for all of the things you never even knew you gave us.

Congratulations on your retirement, Mr. L. I'll imagine you always on a white sandy beach in Havana with the trumpets playing softly over the warm breeze under a blanket of starry skies.
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Sunday, June 06, 2010

BIRDHOUSING AND GARDEN STONING ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON

What an awesome little 'possum we have.

A few Sundays ago, she pulled out her Garden Stone kit, donned her scary bird-flu-looking mask, strapped on her latex gloves (just stop), and mixed her first plaster mold stepping stone.

She added little plastic jewels and made a giant "S" with the colorful mosaic tiles, and off it went into a cozy corner of the garage to dry.


Yesterday, she pulled out her Birdhouse kit. Once she got it all put together, fit all the pegs into their respective holes, tied the string and inserted the dowel perch, I went ahead and hammered in a few tiny nails 'cause, you know, we got some heavy fowl out here in Northern Cali.


Then it was time to paint. And, after a little coercing, she very generously allowed her brother to help. But he was relegated to the right and back sides of the house ONLY. And, even then, she repainted it when he was done. Man, she is SUCH the minime.

The final product, I thought, was pretty darn great. Her colors were gorgeous. Her designs were really creative and fun. She even wrote "Welcome" right over the door. What bird wouldn't want to come hang out here for a while?

Then it was time to paint and plant the garden stone. This one, she didn't allow him to touch. But we sprayed it with varnish so the rain and sprinklers wouldn't wash away all her hardwork, and she even dug the hole herself, which, I know, at this point is really not a shocker with this girl.
Awesome 'possum, I tell you. Indubitably.
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Saturday, June 05, 2010

CUBIST DRAGONS ARE FOR SQUARES

For his final project this art session, his art teacher thought she would challenge him a little.

His task was to create his own version of the Picasso-esque dragon on the left.

This rendition on the right was his final interpretation of it.

God, I love this boy!
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