Meet Oswald, the High-Strung, Christmas Reindeer

So, a couple of weeks ago I asked Chris what he wanted for Christmas, and he flippantly said, “You could get me a really ugly holiday sweater that I could wear to work.”.   Mind you, this is his first Christmas at a new job.  So that was as good as a triple dog dare for me.  Several weeks later and a couple of trips to Goodwill and Michael’s, I feel I have met and exceeded the challenge.  So, without further ado I give you, “Oswald….the highly caffeinated, obsessively driven reindeer.”

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I gave it to Chris last night, and he assures me that wearing Oswald to the office holiday party at work this Friday, will cause no end of mocking.  This possibility, coupled with photographic documentation, is really all any spouse could ask for.  I am getting a warm, festive, holiday-ish glow just thinking about.

Peace to all.
tiff

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The Magic Ship of Morgan Hill.

Our first Christmas parade in Morgan hill was memorable, to say the least.   We arrived early and sat down to a very cheap, but nice dinner at an Italian deli.  Then walked to the center divide that cuts the main drag in half through the downtown section of Morgan Hill.  From there, we got an all-too-clear view of the gloriously fantastic seventeen and a half minute extravaganza that is the Holiday Parade.

The first third was predominantly civil service vehicles, fire trucks and an ambulance with lights and sirens blaring.  Next came a small dance group with tastefully high-necked, fur-trimmed, Santa dresses, doing a series of drill team type moves to “Let It Snow”.  Then came a series of brownie and cub scout troops, off-key middle and high school bands.  These were followed by another dance troupe that appeared to be from the opposite end of town and spectrum from the first one, as their costumes were shorter, tighter, and of a black and gold lame variety.

But the real corker for me, the thing that cinched this parade for a place in the top five of all time cheesy small town parades, were the last four entrants.     First came the requisite nativity scene, with the slight variant that Mary, Joe, and baby Jesus rode on the back deck of a convertible Chevy Chevelle, circa 1973.  Sandwiched between the free-wheeling Saviour and another convertible carrying a mousy brown-haired girl in a red sweater with a sash that said “Miss Mushroom”, was a band of Merry lesbians in a roller derby group.  They skated in circles and twirled to holiday music in their helmets and knee pads and faux zebra skin, daisy dukes over fishnet stockings.  Nothing screams Merry Christmas quite so loudly as that.  It was at this point that Sam asked, quite loudly, “Where’s the fake Santa?”.  We had come to the epiphany last holiday season that every Tom, Dick, and Santa that appeared in December could not possibly be the real one.  After all, some of them had graying, dirty beards and smelled faintly of Cutty Sark.  So I had explained as diplomatically as possible that Santa entrusts these roles to contract workers, but only if they truly believe and have the spirit of Christmas in their hearts do they qualify for the job.  I told Sam to be patient and keep his voice low ( as some younger kids did not know this “independent contractor” clause, so to speak.  Then finally, when my senses felt they could bear no more, the finale arrived.    Santa sat, like Papa Hemingway, high up on the center of a float that was shaped like a large crabbing boat.  It glowed with blue and green lights that twinkled mischievously in the balmy, seventy degree night air.

I was speechless.  I could not understand the connection of a glowing red and blue boat with anything related to the North Pole or Morgan Hill (which has about as much right to call it self a sea-side town as, oh, let’s say Torrance might.  My children, having not had 45 years of Santa Clause stereo-typing (as in, Sleigh-yes, Fire Engine-sure, why not….but a red and blue neon tuna boat–no, no way…now you’ve just gone too far.), were completely unfazed by this aberration to the standard Christmas parade finale.  It took me awhile to register that it had come to an end?   I have to say, the fat man in the red suit was a little anticlimactic after the schmaltz of Miss Mushroom and the pure wanton electricity of the derby girls.

The best part was when I asked a local mom at school the next day about the origins of the mysterious, blue, Santa cruiser.  Her reply describes most of what this country, particularly its traditions and politics, has been founded upon.  She said, “I don’t know where that came from…it is just the way they have always done it.  Hmmm.  Well Merry Christmas and a happy fishing season to you all.

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For the Four Year Old Who Has Everything….

 

Big Brother Tuxedo with his "person", Sam

Sam’s Christmas List

1. A live baby penguin.

2. A live baby turkey.

3. A robot that really works and can get me things.

4. A robot dog to keep the robot company.

5. The Lego Death Star.

I have tried to explain to Sam that Santa still needs to abide by all the State and Local health and safety code ordinances, so he may be unable to come through with the livestock… On a bright note, my boys always seem thrilled with whatever Santa brings.  I think Sam will be just fine, even if a robot doesn’t walk out from beneath the tree carrying a hatchling or two in one hand and a $400 Death Star in the other.

Much love to all,

tiff

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Moments of Clarity

Moments of Clarity

Through the lattice in your backyard, I can see

two pairs of feet…one in white tennies and the

other in tiny black cowboy boots.  You are

picking tangerines with my Spitfire.  He is my

heart, and my lesson from God in humility.

You show him how to pick just the right ones;

how to breathe them in, and feel that magic of

energy and life that comes in the shape of a

tangerine tree in his Nonie’s backyard.  And like

a wave swelling up to shore, I can feel the past

pushing up to meet me here.  I am five, and we

are on the dock at your house in Huntington

Beach.  Your legs are long, lean, and tanned

next to my short, pale ones.  We are counting

the boats that putter by.  Naming the colors

on their sails, and waving to the men and women

working the lines.  I try to teach these boys

the way that you taught mom, and the way

that you both taught me.   I am at the tiller

and working the sails, and trying to help them

see all the colors and the friendly faces and the

ripe tangerines, and the beauty of the sun as it

plays on the wind-rippled waters of the harbor.

Thank you, Norm

I miss you so.

All my love, Rosie

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He Peed in the Shape of Hawaii

 

Alex walked into our bedroom the other morning and told us very matter-of-factly that he had put Marley outside because he peed….in the shape of Hawaii.  I was still half asleep so it took me a moment (duh) to comprehend what exactly had transpired, and then I asked, “Was it the big island or the whole chain?”.  Alex replied, without hesitation, that it was the whole chain.  This boy never ceases to amaze me.  Obviously, I am referring to Alex and not Marley (since any canine with half a wit could pee in the shape of Hawaii).  Alex, on the other hand, has this uncanny ability to view the world in a way that is so elemental and undiluted, and so different than most people’s short-sighted take on the world around them.  He realizes that the white space between the letters has just as much weight and gravity as the dark black symbols that seem to tell the story.  He knows that the raw, unfinished edges of the canvas that are stretched over the frame and unseen by most, are actually part of the picture, part of the telling.

Six years ago I was sitting propped up by pillows in a hospital bed, slowly breathing my way through a very long labor.  The doctors had decided that Alex did not have enough fluid in his swimming pool, so he was being evicted.  I was not ready.  Of course that was only baby number two, so I had yet to really grasp the reality that I would never be ready, ever, for ANYTHING.  You try to be ready, you prepare and take the appropriate classes, or read the recommended books.  You dissect and diagnose all the possible elements and risks of a thing, but then at some point you find yourself flying through the air toward the water with that deep and dreadful certainty that you can’t swim.  And no amount of preparation changes that.

By this time, six years ago, Chris had fallen asleep in one of those oh-so-comfortable hospital chairs.  He had left the television on, having forced me to endure several hours of a Law and Order marathon, and now I was attempting to reach the remote by circumnavigating the huge land mass that was my belly.  With the t.v. finally off and the noises of the hospital din as my soundtrack, I continued breathing and counting  and rocking  through the night as Alex and I came to an agreement over the terms of his eviction.  He finally arrived on the scene just after noon, which is fitting since Alex’s day is really just an endless and unnecessary series of pauses between snacks and meals.  He looked for all the world like a tiny, baby turtle.  And his eyes were so dark and piercing, as though he was already realizing that what you see isn’t always all there is.  There is so very much more than that.  Thank you, my little turtle, for reminding me of that every day.

All my love,  Alex’s Mom

 

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“I’m okay…I’m okay.” Subtitle: See Mom, you didn’t screw up too much.

Alex followed the golden carrot a few weeks ago.  Bribery and threats are the core of our parenting style.  When Zach first learned to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels we rewarded him (see Bribery in Webster’s tome) by letting him pick out a Lego toy.  Well Alex finally succumbed to the deep desire to try to best his brother, and also the unending lure of a new Lego craft.  He went out with Chris several weeks ago and was working on that push-and-lift thing that you learn just before the thrill of pedaling comes.  Anyway, they called me out and I had my video camera.  I watched the monitor as he wobbled, then steadied himself, to ride back and forth on our street between the four houses around us.   At one point, tears were streaming down my face.

Chris gave me that “What are you doing?” face, and I just laughed.  On Alex’s last pass back toward the safety of our driveway, with a big grin on his face, he wobbled to a slower speed and delicately fell into the side of Chris’s car.  He leaped up, grabbed the bike, and with that smile still on his face,  said, “I’m okay….I’m okay.”

Since then, he has had several skinned knees and elbows, but he keeps leaping up with that same mantra.  We all do it, some better than others.  We say, “I’m okay.” to convince ourselves that we must just get up and try again.  Despite all the pointy, mean things that leap up in our paths, (like parked cars, judgmental people, overdrawn checks, dead batteries and angry words), we usually can jump up and dust ourselves off.   Lately, I find myself saying it a lot.  I can do this, I can.  Whatever the “this” may be.  I know I am just trying to suck it up and find the courage to move on.  I found a Mother’s day card a week or so ago that said ‘Behind every great kid is a mother who is pretty sure she is screwing it up.’  I think that pretty much sums me up.  To all the moms out there who are raising some pretty great kids, despite what you think, you are not screwing it up.  I hope you all had a great Mother’s Day that was relatively free from pointy, mean things.

Much love,

Tiff

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Zen and the Art of Goldfish Maintainence

When I was in my twenties and working and going to college, I had a fish tank that occasionally housed actual live fish.  Periodically, and for no apparent reason, and oddly, often on my birthday….these fish would die on me.  I was attempting to get my psyche in order at the time, so the fish would usually be single (like myself), and named after famous shrinks (because I was taking Psych. 101, but also because for several years prior I had tried on several therapists in an assortment of sizes and colors).  So, I was confounded by my inability to maintain the simple bodily functions of a solitary goldfish.  How hard could this be, really?  The eat, they poop, and they swim around.  I imagine they also slept, however this was something I never actually observed.  But in any case, they seemed very basic in their needs and expectations.  So it was very disappointing to come home from work or wake in the morning to find Sigmund (a.k.a. “Siggy”), or  Skinner, or Carl floating belly-up in the water.

Eventually, I stopped buying fish.  It took me a long time to accept the fact that I was incapable of keeping a fish alive.  I mean really, the goldfish is little more than an aquatic Chia pet, yet I had managed to kill most of the major psychiatric pioneers of the 20th century.   For several months I kept the fishless tank full of clean water and with the requisite plastic fern and bubbling pirate’s chest, but the actual living fish I left safe and sound at the pet store.  Eventually, the tank was set out at a yard sale.  I had finally decided that I simply wasn’t the nurturing, caring soul that could support a fish or a Chia pet, for that matter.

These are the thoughts that have been waltzing through my brain for the last week, as the boys have each battled different versions of this croupy, horrible virus.  How can I possibly be entrusted to care for and heal three little  human beings if I am the same person that couldn’t keep all those simple scaled critters alive in the 80’s?

A few nights ago, Sam came wobbling into our bedroom.  I usually hear the door open even before he reaches the side of my bed, but this night I woke to find him right next to me.  His face was pink and flushed, and his hair was curling away from his neck and forehead in sweaty little commas.  I got out of bed and scooped him up.  His temp was 103, which would have terrified me, but for the fact that Sam is the third pancake so I know to watch and wait, rather than flip that thing too soon.

For the next two hours he slept fitfully on my chest while I sat in the dimly lit living room.  Even his tiny feet were hot to the touch like a handful of coals, and I watched his heartbeat pulsing in his neck.  His heart was fluttering against my chest like a hummingbird caught in a net.  The only sounds in the whole house were his erratic little wheezy breaths, and the two beeps every ten minutes as I ran the thermometer across his forehead.  Finally, his fever broke around 2 a.m., and I let myself loosen the unconscious belt of fear that I had cinched down tight.  I may think I have all this confidence in my abilities to watch over them, but deep down I still carry the fears of that twenty-something girl that couldn’t care for even the simplest charges.

They seem so bold and tough at times, the boys, I mean.  Sam charges into the room, boasting, “Wook out, here comes Captain ‘Merica!”.  The reality is that they are so very fragile, and require far more than the basic needs of a goldfish.  I am not the same person I was in that one-room studio with the Murphy bed and the empty fish tank.  Some people might have melancholic yearnings for those selves they use to be, but not me.  I am immeasurably grateful that I have transformed into someone who, despite huge insecurities and voracious fears of the unknown, can hold these little sneezing, wheezing, raspy, hummingbird-hearted creatures safe in my arms and in my heart.  I still can’t keep a Chia pet alive, but I think I can live with that.

Be Well.

love,

tiff

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Sacrificial Dust Bunnies

We went to the doc yesterday to get a buy-one-get-one-free deal for Alex and Sam.  Both spiked fevers and were barking out coughs like trained seals vying for fish.  We are now midway through a five day course of absolutely vile antibiotic treatment.  We can put a man on the moon and send our voices to one another via a satellite in space, yet we have not been able to formulate an antibiotic for kids that doesn’t taste like a blend of raw kale and Jack Daniels.  Perhaps it is a lack of funding or maybe a subconsciously sadistic side to scientists who feel that as they were tortured in their youth, so shall this generation be.

For Alex this foul flavor is a nuisance, but he understands it will make him well; and the result will be that he returns to school to see his buddies rather than spending the day with his incredibly tedious and boring mother.  So I put his in a little shot glass that has measuring lines on the side and then give him a “chaser” of apple juice.  Back when Chris and I were childless and wild, that shot glass saw many pours of Jagermeister, but in the last few years the only action it gets is goopy pink kid meds.  Alex tosses back the bitter swill and gulps down the chaser, so he can race back to the Lego pile.

Sam, on the other hand, is unwilling to see ANY benefit to this poisonous cocktail.  He sees me coming at him with a dropper full and he immediately tries to bolt.  When I finally reach him, I have to pin him down and slide the dropper along the side of his furiously clenched teeth.  All the while, his eyes streaming tears and glaring up at me in case I haven’t gotten the point that I am violating every mothering rule in the book by trying to kill him with this stuff.  The chaser does little to soothe him or his wracking, post-tizzy fit sobs.  At what point in ones life does that concept of cost versus benefit become valid.  The idea that certain rewards are worth some sacrifice is obvious to Alex, yet incomprehensible to Sam.

As for myself, I go to the dentist now and have some strange woman chisel and poke at my gums, so that I will be able to bite into an apple twenty years hence.  I eat fiber and forego that apple fritter so that my heart will continue pumping without too much blockage over the next several decades.  But then, there are plenty of times in my day where I clench my teeth and glare at that dropper of medicine coming at me.  I put off my annual physical with the rationale that I am healthy and not pregnant or lactating, so there is really no need for it.  I step over the free-weights on the floor, or I let my fingers trail over the pilates video on the shelf and land instead on a crossword book.  But then there are the sacrifices that give me both instant and delayed rewards.  For instance,  I sacrifice a clean house or a well-planned dinner in favor of a morning spent sitting on the living room floor building Legos with the boys.  Yes, vacuuming and dusting in the morning would allow me to go to bed earlier which, according to Dr. Oz, will extend my lifespan.  But, what’s a few extra months at the end, really, compared to helping Alex find just the right “two-piecer” to complete his escape pod right now.  And when I am about to strip sheets and start the endless daily cycle of laundry and Sam says, “Ack-chewee, Mom, can you snuggle wiff me?”….I will always sacrifice that laundry schedule and choose the snuggle.  I may have five pounds of dust bunnies frolicking throughout the house and the washer running at one a.m., but the rewards are limitless.

Be Well.

Love,

Tiff

 

 

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Sam Becomes a Fuller Brush Man

Chris has been needling me for a year and a half to get Sam’s hair cut.  I have been trimming it here and there.  Sometimes I do it while he naps.  Sometimes I trim it while he is playing with Rocket and Leo in the bath.  But all along, I have been trimming it in a futile attempt to put off the inevitable real “First Haircut”.  Ask any mom, and they will tell you, there is a physical and emotional change that occurs when your baby gets their haircut for the first time by a professional.   In little boys, the voice deepens, the sweet little “Why?” questions become a demanding “MOM…….HOW COME????  As in, “How come I can’t have a single scoop ice cream cone for breakfast!!????!”  Before the haircut it was, “Mommy, why are grasshoppers green?”  See the difference?  It is subtle, but painful.  They also begin scouring the pages of the Auto Trader, slouching, and asking for money.

So you can understand why it is with some reluctance that I took my last baby to be shorn like, well….like Samson.   And, Yes, he is my last—for any foolhardy soul out there that thinks I could possibly handle any MORE boys in my home.  We have officially entered the Soccer portion of our parenting program, and have firmly taken leave of the gestational portion.

We have a regular barber that has been a staple in the boys lives for the past four years or so.  He is one of those old-fashioned barbers with the red, white, and blue pole, the checker board for the gents that are waiting, and a mirror that runs the length of the joint.  He is pretty great.  Suffice it to say, he is on our Christmas card list.

The day before Z. began second grade and Alex started Kindergarten, I decided (what was I thinking?) to get Zach a haircut, and then see if Sam was up for his first one, too.  It was silly of me to even think that Sam had been the one dragging his feet all along.  I mean, this is the kid who already owns a backpack, a lunchbox, and dresses in his best school clothes even though his only place of matriculation has been the Kid Corner at the Y for 45 minutes at a time.

So sure enough, after Carlos (I think he actually goes by “Charles”, but the kids have locked him in as Carlos, so that is who he is to us) had finished Zach’s “doo”, we asked Sam if he wanted one.  He was up in the chair before I could have even screamed, “WAIT, I’M NOT READY!”.  So I watched, and took pictures over the next twenty minutes as Carlos transformed my sweet, chunky-cheeked little Sam into a three-foot tall Fuller Brush man.  For those of you not older than DIRT, as I am, a Fuller Brush man was a door-to-door salesman in a shirt and tie who would attempt to sell brushes and cleaning paraphernalia to housewives in the 1950’s.  The only thing Sam was missing was a pocket protector and a clipboard.

I blinked back tears and I paid Carlos for ripping my heart out.  Then I told Sam what a big, handsome boy he had become.   I have lots of amazing memories from this summer.  We went on a Pirate boat in SB; I took my 91-year-old Gram down to the Sea Center on the pier, and we all touched a tiger shark; we went to Disneyland for two days  in the middle of summer with just a few kajillion other people from around the world (yeah, I know….crazeeeee!); we walked through hundreds of butterflies at the Natural History Museum; and finally, I walked out of the door one morning in August with two school boys and one curly-headed toddler, and when I came back home that afternoon, I had three little men.

They don’t come with warning labels, you know.  They should.

 

Warning:  they will suck every ounce of energy from your body daily; they will force you to listen to the “Batty-Bat” song on the Sesame Street CD 582 times in one afternoon; and they will take your heart in their grubby little hands, and love, stomp on, hug, kiss, and torment it until they feel like handing it back to you for “safe-keeping”.

I hope you all are well and safe and holding tight to those hearts that have been through the ringer.

love to you all,

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We Have Lift-Off

Last night as the shadows grew long on our quiet street, Zach reached for the brass ring and grabbed it.  He rode his bike alone—no extra wheels, no dad or mom hand on the back of the seat.  And I have got to tell you, the swell of pride in my heart was enormous.  I think I was more thrilled for him at that moment—-with his face lighting up, doing the happy dance and saying, “I did it!”—than I have ever been (and that includes law school and passing that dastardly bar, too).

I don’t know if I have ever mentioned our very complicated parenting style, but essential it can be defined with two simple terms—threats & bribery.  Chris had told the boys at the beginning of the summer that when they learned to ride their bikes without training wheels, they would be allowed to pick out a Lego toy.  Hence, the bribery portion of this parenting lesson.  He was ecstatic.  Not that he is a ho-hum kind of kid anyway, because I can make Tuna Casserole and he will say, “Wow, Mom this is the best Tuna Casserole I have ever tasted!”  And he says it with so much heart and conviction, that I don’t want to point out that it was the only Tuna Casserole he has ever tasted.

Anyway, he was so proud of himself for the actual unsupported bike flight that he had completely forgotten about the carrot that we had dangled before him for the last two months.  Chris reminded him and I thought Z. might just pass out from the euphoria. The two of them drove to the store to purchase said carrot, and needless to say, he is floating somewhere over the moon, but this side of Jupiter.

My sweet Alex, on the other hand, had a much more difficult time swallowing Zach’s major accomplishment.  Alex is just a little competitive (she writes, sarcastically), so seeing his older brother master the two-wheeled dragon AND drive off with Dad to purchase a new Lego……well, it was almost more than any ferociously, ambitious four-year-old should have to bear.  It was a sort of learning moment (what isn’t?) because I reminded him that he would learn to ride a bike before Sam, and then Sam would be feeling just the same way.  I told him he should try to remember that feeling, so he could be a little kinder to Sam when it was his turn.

Sometimes learning the skill of empathy comes painfully and slowly.   Alex wants to be the best at everything RIGHT NOW.   His ambition and passion will serve him well all of his life, but realizing that sometimes that drive is preceded by setbacks and disappointments that we all experience—I think that is what will make him a good and compassionate man.

Much Love to All,

Tiff

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