Brotherly love (sarcasm implied)

Dairy cow ready to milkYou’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get punched in the gut…

Ahh, as it is in the life of brothers. Well, at least when it comes to the brothers that I brought into the world.

Now mind you, I didn’t grow up with brothers. Just sisters. And we sisters NEVER fought.

(Sorry, Middle Sis and Little Sis, if that last statement just caused you to spit your chai latte all over your keyboard.)

Okay, so the truth is, we fought a little. But it was never my fault.

(Sorry, Middle Sis and Little Sis, if that last statement just caused all those feelings you thought you’d “dealt with” in therapy to resurface. Just send me the bill for your follow-up sessions.)

Okay, so the TRUE truth is, I picked, or caused by my lack of regard for anyone but myself, more than a few fights with my sisters growing up. I distinctly remember steering the white 1976 Cordoba (with robins’ egg blue pleather interior, mind you!) with my left hand, while successfully punching my middle sister with my right hand. On a gravel road. Going at least 65 mph, I’m sure.

And I’m pretty sure it was all my fault.

But I swear, we didn’t fight NEARLY as much as my sons do. And when we fought, we fought about things that were IMPORTANT, like whose turn it was to feed the cats (not a job to be taken lightly, or without full-body armor), who got to keep the Billy Squier “Stroke Me” cassette tape that was accidentally left in the floor model stereo my dad brought home from Pamida or who borrowed whose shaker knit sweater and then just left it in a heap on the floor (Yeah, that was probably me too). You know, stuff that MATTERED.

My boys, however, fight constantly. Sometimes I even convince myself that they’ve formed some secret alliance to drive Mom crazy by purposefully picking fights about anything and everything they can think of. And it’s totally working.

Last night I snuck out for a few hours after Husband got home so I could get some work done without distractions. Of course I went where any sane person goes for a little peace and quiet — the casino. Okay, I actually went to the lobby of the casino hotel, which is the only place in town I have found where I can get free wi-fi any time of day, so it wasn’t exactly loud. But I think even the dinging and ringing of the slot machines would’ve been preferable to the chaos at my house!

After I got home, I noticed that Boy #3 was asleep on the couch. Asking Husband why he wasn’t sleeping in his bed, he replied that Boy #3 wouldn’t stop talking when Boy #2 was trying to sleep, so Boy #2 punched him in the chest, causing Boy #3 then to think he couldn’t breathe. “I think he moved my spine!” Boy #3 informed me this morning.

Ahh, just another day at the office.

This morning before school, then, they were getting along fine, but it soon turned ugly when they got into a heated argument about — what else? — whether or not milking machines hurt cows. Why they were even discussing this is beyond me and frankly makes my head hurt just trying to think about. But it was a voice-escalating, finger-pointing, insult-hurling brawl. And I think the big loser in all of it wasn’t either one of them, but the one who was trapped in the van with them, me. And maybe the cows.

After this argument was quelled and I got them to “agree to disagree” until we can look it up somewhere or ask a dairy farmer, things turned ugly again, this time over that controversial topic that often pits neighbor against neighbor: fact families. Yes, as in arithmetic. Boy #3 was yelling, “FACT FAMILIES ALL HAVE TO HAVE THE SAME SUM!!!” and Boy #2 was countering, “NO THEY DON’T! JUST LOOK AT 2×3=6 and 6/2=3! THOSE ARE FACT FAMILIES AND DO THEY HAVE THE SAME SUM? HUH? HUH?!?!”

And all of a sudden I was in the middle of it as they were both yelling, “MOM? WHICH ONES ARE FACT FAMILIES? WHICH ONES?!” Of course, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what in the heck the definition for a fact family was, so I did what being married to a math teacher gives me the right to do. I told them to ask their dad. (I am knocking women’s lib out of the park when I do this, I know. “Boys, you know mommies don’t do math.” But frankly, when they’re both yelling and my head is pounding, I don’t really much care what Gloria Steinem would think.)

I’ve known parents who have said, “My boys get along so well! They are best friends!” And to them I reply, “So do mine!”

When they’re not trying to kill each other, that is.

(The cute photo of the cow with bulging udders comes from rburgoss)

Another post about dirty laundry

Is it possible to drown in dirty laundry? If so, I’m a goner.

I am so envious of those people who actually “finish” their laundry each week. I have no idea how they do it, and I have no idea what that looks like. I think I have some kind of enchanted laundry that multiplies as it sits on the floor of the bedrooms, hallway and bathrooms in the hamper. Just when you think you may be nearing the end — abracadabra spraynwashorama — a knee-high pile of dirty underwear magically appears.

Here, we get excited when there are actually enough clean towels for everyone and when we don’t have to dig out the Scooby Doo beach towel to dry off.

Just where does all this dirty laundry come from? Yes, there are five of us in the house, but we can’t possibly be wearing all of this. I suspect someone is sneaking into my house at night and dumping off their dirty laundry, too. I think I’m going to have to set up a surveillance camera to catch them in the act. I’m pretty sure that is punishable by law. If not, it should at least require restitution for my pain and suffering.

I have fantasies about throwing all of our dirty laundry into the backyard, raking it into one big pile and lighting a match. That would be a bitchin’ bonfire.

I have also contemplated declaring our home a nudist colony. Boys #2 and #3 run around the house in their underwear the majority of the time, anyway, so going completely nude wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. (Side note: Running around in their underwear was kind of cute when they were 2 and 4, but now that they’re almost 7 and 9…notsomuch.)

The nudist colony thing, however, might be a bit difficult for me to adjust to. I don’t like to see myself naked, so I’m not sure I want the Schwann’s Man or the FedEx Guy seeing me in all my “glory” (which is a synonym for “flab”). And I’m pretty sure the owner’s manual for the lawnmower states that one should never mow naked. Although I wouldn’t have to worry about loose clothing getting caught in the blades…

Someday, when I’m rich (I can’t believe I kept a straight face when I typed that!), I’m going to live in a mansion that has its own laundromat. Except you won’t have to put money in the machines. Or sit on a hard, plastic chair next to a man you suspect is on the sexual offenders list while you watch the dryers spin.

Until then, I guess I’ll just have to keep plugging away at the bottomless piles of socks and jocks and try to keep my head above water. That reminds me — the dryer just buzzed. Time to switch loads.


Photo by 13dede

My little computer geeks

My two youngest sons will either grow up to be the next Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin (Mom, they created Facebook. You’re welcome.) — or they’ll be on the FBI’s most wanted list for their computer hacking skills. It could go either way.

All I know is that I’m amazed at what they not only know, but what they just plain figure out when it comes to the world of computers. Their latest obsession hobby is Minecraft. First of all, I don’t know how they even learned about it. It’s only been released in beta since December, and it’s not like I let them hang out on underground gamer chat rooms or anything. And I really don’t get the game at all. It’s some sort of indie construction game, where they build structures out of cubes that represent different materials. And of course, there are monsters. As I said, I don’t get it.

But even though I don’t get how the game works, I have noticed how much problem-solving they are doing, both in the game itself and in, oh, I don’t know — figuring out how to create their own server. I didn’t even know that was possible. Now they not only have their own server, but they are also building all sorts of “mods” for the game so they can change what they don’t like about it. Oh, yeah, okay.

Well, in 6th grade I distinctly remember playing a mean game of Oregon Trail on the Apple 2E in our classroom. I got skillz too.

And they’re not only brushing up their computer knowledge, they’re also learning some cool concepts related to engineering and physical science. A couple weeks ago, Boy #3, a kindergartner, threw the word “gypsum” into a conversation and later explained how carbon is the basis of many different elements.

However, even though he is rocking Minecraft, Boy #3 may not have quite mastered the inner workings of the information superhighway yet, as evidenced by my favorite quote of the weekend. After stomping downstairs, frustrated because his game was freezing, he told his dad in all sincerity (and in his loud whiny/yelling voice he seems to be perfecting), “DAD! The Internet is WORE OUT!”

Apparently, it’s time to get a new Internet. I knew we should’ve bought the extended warranty…

Cool Minecraft graphic by

My kids’ reaction to Osama bin Laden’s death

I didn’t hear about Osama bin Laden’s death until this morning. My husband had been up last night and watched the breaking news unfold, checked reaction on Twitter and listened to President Obama’s speech. When he told me, I was immediately overcome with joy, which seems weird considering it was due to a person’s death. But the evil that he invoked and represented was gone, and that filled me with relief and thanksgiving.

Although I did not know anyone personally who was killed on September 11, 2001, I grieved with the nation. I was pregnant at the time, and I recall feeling a deep sense of guilt at bringing another innocent life into this brutal world. I fell into a temporary depression, as did many other citizens, although I’m sure hormones accentuated my emotions to a degree. Now, even I, just an outsider to the events, feel wounds (those I didn’t realize were still there) healing. As our president said, “Justice is served.”

However, the divide between generations became evident when I woke up my 13-year-old son this morning for school. “Time to get up,” I said after opening his door. “And guess what? We killed Osama bin Laden last night!”

“What?” he asked, still half-asleep.

“Our military found and killed bin Laden!” I repeated.

He paused, then asked, “Why are you telling me this?” in his oft-used annoyed tone of voice.

His question took me aback. Why was I telling him this? It was history. It was good news. It was a sign of our dominance over the terrorists in the world. It was justice. It was proof that God is here and God is good.

But he didn’t get that. Being 13, if it doesn’t directly affect him, it’s not important. That adolescent brain doing its thing. It’s not that he didn’t care, I don’t think. He just didn’t understand why I would find it important and relevant enough to share with him at 6:45 in the morning.

I went back to my bedroom, where my 6-year-old was laying in my bed, playing his Nintendo DSi. “Do you know who Osama bin Laden is?” I asked him.

“No,” he said, not taking his eyes off the screen.

“What about 9-11? Do you know what happened on September 11?” I pressed.

He gave me a blank stare and said, “No,” turning back to his game.

Chances are, he’d recall something about September 11 if I pressed him. Surely we’ve talked about it on the anniversary. He must’ve seen something on TV at one time or another.

My 9-year-old was the most interested. Although I’m not sure he realized what Osama bin Laden did, he did recognize that he represented evil. He knows what happened on September 11, at least to an extent. And his brain hasn’t yet developed enough to reach the self-absorbed, “what does this have to do with me” stage. I imagine he’ll mention it to his teacher, and I’m sure a short discussion with the class will follow. Third graders are a curious lot, after all.

But this “Why are you telling me this?” is sticking with me, like a popcorn hull wedged between my molars. Why am I telling my boys this? Why is it important that they know? How does it affect their lives?

So after giving it some thought, I’m going to answer Boy #1’s question, even though he probably won’t even read this. No matter. At least it will make me feel better.

Why I’m Telling You This

  • Because you were alive on September 11, 2001, and I mourned your future, uncertain of what kind of world you’d grow up in.
  • Because history is unfolding before your eyes, and you should be able to recognize it.
  • Because even though it doesn’t directly affect you, it indirectly affects all of us. Empathy is a precious and valuable trait.
  • Because we can never forget what happened, for fear that it will happen again. You need to understand so you can share it with the next generation.
  • Because good has overcome evil. Hope is alive in the world.
  • Because justice has been served. People do get what they deserve, even if it’s a long time coming.
  • Because I don’t want you to ever feel the sadness and bleakness I felt nearly 10 years ago when so much evil was unleashed on our country and our people.
  • Because I don’t want you to grow up in a world where people become numb to terror threats and accept them as the norm.
  • Because our men and women serving our country have not sacrificed for nothing, and they deserve for every citizen, young and old, to understand the events that have unfolded and just how dangerous and critical their job is.
  • Because we are so fortunate to live in America, and it’s important to understand this and feel the swell of pride that’s flowing through our nation.
  • Because some things take time. Yes, it’s been nearly 10 years since 9-11, but perseverance paid off, and the job has been completed. Work ethic seems to be lacking in this new generation. Instant gratification is seen as a right. Sometimes this is just not possible, or desirable. Sometimes this is not what it takes to get a job done correctly. And it should never be all about what makes YOU happiest or what’s easiest for you.
  • Because God entrusted you three with me, and it’s my job to make sure your eyes and heart are open to what’s happening in the world today. After all, you will play a part, however big or small, in shaping the future.
Image: By Carlos Latuff [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

Conversations with a 6-year-old

With my youngest being nearly 7, I think it’s starting to hit me how precious and fleeting innocent little-kid conversations are, before they start to censor their thoughts and words. I find myself trying to draw out these conversations and linger on them as much as I can before they mature and change, from innocent and honest to schooled and guarded.

These are our stories. Duh-duhn. (A little shout-out to “Law & Order” there if you didn’t catch it.)

The other night I was watching a cartoon with Boy #3 (“Adventure Time” if you’re a Cartoon Network connoisseur, or just have boys like me). He was sitting on my lap, and while he was watching TV he was stroking my hair and pushing it behind my ears. In the episode, a crazy dragon-ish creature in the middle of a labyrinth was granting wishes to Finn (the heroic boy), Jake (his magical dog/BFF) and some little hot dog soldiers (Yes, it’s a weird show). Pretty soon Boy #3 turned to me and in all sincerity said, “If I had one wish I would wish that you were a prettier mommy.”

The thing is, I knew he meant it as a compliment. And the fact that he wanted to waste his only wish on me made me fight the urge to be a teensy bit insulted even harder. I know that little boys love their mommies, and little boys love for their mommies to be pretty. For Boy #3, putting my hair behind my ears transforms me from Plain Mommy to Pretty Princess Mommy. (I really have no idea why showing my ears makes me prettier in his eyes, but it’s obviously his thing. It could definitely be worse!) I know he already considers me pretty (I think all little boys are born with rose-colored corneas when it comes to their mommies) and making me “prettier” was his gift to me. I’ll take that.


Tonight after reading “Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend” with Boy #3 before bed, we read the blurb about the author and illustrator on the back flap. Knowing that he loves to draw and also make up elaborate action sequences for his Pokemon and action figures, I asked Boy #3 if he was going to write a book when he grows up.

“No, I’m going to be a cop,” he said.

Oh, yeah. How could I have forgotten that he had dressed up like a cop for Career Day at school earlier this month? (“Do cops get to carry knives?” he asked me as I was dropping him off at school that day.)

“So what are you going to do when you’re a cop?” I asked him.

“Save people,” he answered.

“Will you save me?” I asked, ready for nearly every answer except the one I was given.

“Unless you’re dead.”

Taken aback at this response, delivered in such a matter-of-fact tone, I said, “I won’t be dead. Why would I be dead?”

“Well, you might be,” he said.

And he was right. I might be. And apparently if you’re dead you don’t need saving. I guess that just plain makes sense.



A birthday party match made in heaven

Princess the Alligator. She has very soft hands — really! One of the volunteers kissed her on the mouth. I’m so not kidding.

Snakes and iguanas and alligators, oh my!

Boy #2’s birthday was January 26, but true to my nature, I failed to schedule his party within the same week — or even month — of his birthday. Fortunately, however, it seemed to be worth the wait.

His party was Sunday at the Iowa Reptile Rescue, and it was a HIT. I don’t think there could be any more perfect venue for 9-year-old boys. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend the IRR for birthday parties. The staff there made a BIG impact on my boys.

Boy #2 and his friends petting a BIG snake.

For the first 45 minutes or so, the IRR closed the rescue to the public, so we had the whole place to ourselves. One by one they brought out snakes, iguanas, a bearded dragon, turtles, a baby giant tortoise and even an alligator. They told all about these animals, where they came from, and what they’re like. Then we all got to pet each one. (Yes, I think I touched every one. I was very proud of myself.)

Boy #2 petting Iggy the Iguana. He likes cake. (Boy #2 does, too.)
Hulk the Iguana. He can break bones with his tail! And yes, I even touched Hulk. He was cute in a frightening sort of way.
A baby giant tortoise. (I love the oxymoron.)

The boys were so good — they were great listeners, asked fabulous questions and were careful with the animals. They were so good, in fact, that Robin, the owner, brought out a very special iguana. Rocky was paralyzed on his back legs and tail, and he wasn’t used to being around people yet. But since the boys were so good, Robin brought out Rocky and the boys carefully petted him. Rocky had just started eating on his own and was making good progress, so Robin wanted to start introducing him to small groups of people. I think the boys felt honored to be the first group that got to meet Rocky up close and personal, and I think Rocky liked it too.

Rocky the paralyzed iguana. I think I love him.

After the reptile show and a tour of the rescue, Robin opened the front of the shelter back up and we still had the back half for cupcakes, ice cream and presents. And YES we sanitized our hands well before eating! I bought cupcakes from Target, took off the Happy Birthday rings that were on them, and substituted them with stretchy lizards that I had found and bought.

Boy #2 enjoying his cupcake (sans salmonella since we sanitized thoroughly after touching the critters)!

We made goody bags for the boys to take home that included a big snake or lizard that I found at Target, gummy worms and alligators, and a blower thingy. The snakes and lizards were a hit; only boys would discover that the mouths were just the right size to fit onto and stick to their chins.

Boys will definitely be boys.

When we got home from the party, Boy #2 told me he was going to treat his rubber iguana like a real pet, and Boy #3 was all over that idea. We had a few extra animals, and soon we had our own reptile rescue of sorts at home. I was pretty impressed with the boys’ commitment to their fake pets! First, they borrowed my computer to do research on each of the types of reptiles. Apparently, the species of each reptile was printed on the bottom of it, so they knew what to search for. The boys then determined what kind of habitat their pets needed, what they ate, how much light they needed and many other facts about each one.

We go by the “RRF” for short.

Pretty soon they started asking me for supplies, and I resisted objecting when they grabbed one of my Longaberger mixing bowls as a pool for one of the snakes. They staked claim to part of the family room and set up their center, which they named the RRF, or Reptile Research Facility. They created signs for each of the animals, just like they had at the Iowa Reptile Rescue, and set up a desk where they could perform their research (with my laptop, of course).

This is the home for Jango the anaconda. I’m a little disturbed that his home does not have a lid…
The boys learned that anacondas eat small birds. So apparently they sacrificed their Webkinz in the name of science.
Wendy is a Burmese Python. Apparently they don’t even need cages. Eek!
The boys provided rocks for Burmy the rattlesnake after learning they live in rocky, desert terrain. They must eat little Pokemon as well.
Max is a Frilled Lizard, who eats, as Boy #2 put it, “salad.” I don’t think the boys have figured out yet whether Max prefers Ranch dressing or a nice vinaigrette.
Two of the lizards share this abode. That’s another one of my Longaberger bowls, along with some “salad” and Boy #2’s reading light. I think these reptiles live better than I do!

This is probably why my house is always a mess. Oh well. Someday I’ll have a clean house, and I’ll probably be really lonely.

The Reptile Research Facility

Seeing your job — through your kid’s eyes

Today it was “Take Your Sick Kid to Work Day.” What—you weren’t notified? Hmm, maybe I was the only one who got the memo…

It all started at bedtime last night. We let the boys stay up a little later to watch “American Pickers,” which we had recorded on our DVR, with us. This may seem weird to you, but my boys LOVE the Pickers. Last night we watched the episode where William Shatner and his wife hired Mike and Frank to help them decorate their country home, and the boys couldn’t miss picking history! (Yes, we are geeks like that.)

So after Pickers concluded (SPOILER: “Bill” Shatner and his wife LOVED how it turned out), I headed up with the boys to get them into bed. I noticed Boy #2 was moving kind of slow, but he does that sometimes. And as he was climbing into his loft, he said, “My stomach hurts.”

I think I’ve told you before about Boy #2’s tendency toward hypochondriachism: he’s either got a broken leg or can’t see out of his left eye or has a sore on his tongue that prevents him from speaking or eating… It’s okay; I get the “middle child” thing. And he has legitimate issues that really do warrant him a license to complain. But all of his maladies have caused me to tune out once I hear the “Moooom” whining start. It’s bad, I know, but most of the time he’s blowing little scrapes or twinges way out of proportion.

Fortunately, my mother’s instinct kicked in last night when he said, “I think I’m going to throw up!” Instead of holding him off with “I’ll check on you in a few minutes and see how you’re feeling,” I immediately went and got the big red bowl. The one we reserve for either puke or popcorn. As soon as I handed it to him, he made good on his threat. Out came supper and what appeared to be an entire aisle full of Valentine candy. And yes, thanks to the Fun Dip, some of it was electric blue.

So this morning, he had to stay home from school, and I planned to stay home with him all day. But after  noting that he hadn’t a fever and didn’t really look sick, and hearing him describe the two sugar cookies with a huge blob of frosting in between that he ate at school along with much of the candy he received in his Valentines, I reasoned that it was more likely a case of a Valentine hangover and less likely a case of the flu. With deadlines hanging over my head, I asked Boy #2 if he wanted to come to work with me at the newspaper.

We packed a bag with a pillow and blanket so he could lounge in a little cubbyhole behind my desk and play his Nintendo DS or read a book. I put some change in a baggie for him so he could hit the vending machines if his stomach started feeling better. He was ready for what he thought was going to be an exciting day.

The parking ramp was a source of intrigue, as was the elevator we took to get on the skywalk. Unfortunately, this was probably the highlight of his day.

When we got to my desk, which kind of sits out in the middle, I don’t think he was too impressed. “Why don’t you have an office like that?” he asked as we walked past the editor and vice-president’s office.

He watched in anticipation as I started my computer, opened my email and other programs, and immediately encountered a technical glitch. His eyes glazed over as I emailed our tech director, talked to another copy editor, and finally managed to open the program I needed. Whew! A half hour’s work done.

Boy #2 was not impressed.

“When are you going to actually edit something?” he asked as I worked on typing in content for our Kids and Family Events page of Datebook.

“In a little bit,” I told him.

“Uhhhhhhh!” he said under his breath as he plunked on the floor and played his DS for a while.

Later on, I opened a story and began to copy edit, so I told him that I was “finally” editing something. He sprang onto the chair beside my desk and put his chin in his hands as his elbows rested on my desk. He stared at my computer screen, and he was so close our shoulders were touching.

I’m pretty sure he was expecting something to happen — anything to happen. I mean, editing sounded kind of exciting, didn’t it?

“Can I help you find things that are wrong?” he asked.

“Well, I already read through it, and there’s really nothing wrong.”

He looked disappointed.

“Ooh! Here are a couple periods that don’t need to be there.”

Still not impressed.

Granted, we were editing a review of a local restaurant, not hard-hitting news, so I’m not sure how exciting it could really get, but I’m pretty sure Boy #2 expected more.

He did seem to perk up when I let him “help” me write the headline for the story: “Find fresh, inventive pizzas at Gusto.” “Can we read it in the paper on Thursday?” he asked. I assured him we could. My cool factor went up just a smidge.

Later on when my boss came by and asked him if he was having fun, he answered with the “so/so” hand gesture. Yeah, he wasn’t going to lie, but at least he was tactful.

He didn’t get the answering emails, meetings and writing I had to do for the few hours we were there. “I thought you were an editor,” he said. “Why aren’t you editing?”

I believe his favorite things about my job are the vending machine where he can order Bugles and the popcorn cart in the newsroom (which wasn’t even full of popcorn at the time). Oh, and the fact that I can take the skywalk to Burger King. (Isn’t that all anyone wants in a job?)

I feel bad, though, that I demystified journalism for him. I didn’t mean to make it seem boring. I don’t think of it as boring. But I guess when you’re a 9-year-old boy, you expect something with a little more flash and a little less spell-check. When you’re a 9-year-old boy, boring is bad. But for me, boring means I met my deadlines and managed not to screw anything up.

I’m guessing that the next time it’s “Take Your Sick Kid to Work Day,” he’s going to ask if he can go with his dad instead.