Monday, April 27, 2009

"We are defined by the lines we choose to cross or to be confined by."*

Looky! Thanks to Loretta, I now know this is out, a full SIX MONTHS before it will be released in the States. What, I ask, is the point of THAT? I am about to order it and pay for it in Canadian dollars. (Thank you, VISA.)

*A. S. Byatt

Sunday, April 26, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind...

My name is Babelbabe, and I am a snob.
(hangs head in shame).

Not a people snob (except I don‘t like stupid people). (Sorry, stupid people.)

Not even a food snob – I have been known to indulge in the occasional Pringle “potato” chip (er, should that be “potato” “chip”?) or Sno-Ball.

No, a book snob. I am sure this won’t come as a surprise to most of you.
But usually, I am RIGHT.

Danielle Steele? Check.
Twilight? Check.
John Grisham. Check.

All trash. Badly written trash, for the most part. Formulaic trash.

But today, I stand before you to tell you: I was wrong about Jodi Picoult.

Deep down, to the bone, WRONG. And I am so sorry.

On the recommendation of high school friends (did I ever post about the Every Child Left Behind weekend? I don’t think I did. The name says it all.), I read Jodi Picoult’s Handle with Care.

People, I could NOT put it down. I finished it in 2 days. I can’t recall the last time I did that, the last time I carried a book around the house with me, to read whenever I had a spare moment or two.

I was completely captivated. Picoult’s character development was flawless; I cared so deeply about even the unsympathetic ones, and I was able to at least somewhat comprehend their complicated and conflicted reasoning. Her plotting was intricate without being plodding. The book is clearly intensively and extensively researched, without being all “Look how much *I* know!” There were subtle turns of phrase, and even subtler turns of events, all which delighted and made sense within the story. Perhaps it’s because this is my first Picoult, but the ending blew me away. Her novels may be formulaic, but the formula is executed beautifully and, again, subtly. Subtle is key here. It is what separates Picoult from the other hacks churning out novel after novel after novel.

She may be predictable, but you don’t realize you’re being led by the nose until you’re done and the spell is released.

Dudes, I ignored my children whining for lunch to read this book. (My husband WAS home at the time.) I hid in the bathroom, pretending to take a shower, to finish it.
Doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know?

Now – I am requesting a few more of Picoult’s books from the library today, and we’ll see if she upholds this standard. Somehow, I suspect that she does. I am looking forward to finding out.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"You say it's your birthday (nananananananana)! It's my birthday, too, yeah!"

The trouble with 39 is that it’s the END of something. You’d think 40 would be more traumatic, but as with the end of my twenties, the -9 birthday is the problem. I feel old. I feel old and wrinkled and grey. When you turn 40, you’re BEGINNING something. Even if it’s another decade, it’s a START. Suddenly you’re young again, you’re “only” 40, to the people who are well into their forties already. I know it’s all in the perception – I KNOW this. But I am having a tough time with 39.
Not that I had a tough time with my birthday, mind you. I had a perfectly lovely birthday.

First of all, people, it was sunny and 70 degrees here on Saturday. B.L.I.S.S. Warm enough to wear a skirt and my Tevas, warm enough to open all the windows and blow the winter fug right out of the house.

Secondly, I was permitted to sleep in till eight. EIGHT. That’s bigtime sleeping in round these parts. (This is also how one knows she is entering her fifth decade, and not, say, her third.)

I was greeted first thing in the morning by this guy standing on my front porch.
My very sweet friend P dropped him off early in the morning, and he was welcomed warmly and stood up in the front hall. Seg is the only one who views him with complete equanimity; he walks by, pats him fondly, and says, “Hi, Ed!” The rest of us had at least smallish heart attacks at least once that day, and the baby eyes him with great trepidation and refuses to let go of my leg within a ten-foot radius.

Edward Cullen isn't sure he likes his new adoptive brothers. For one thing, even for humans they don't smell so good, and for another, they're so LOUD. Plus, Edward doesn't GET hockey.

Seg gave me his card almost immediately: How…odd. Edward is smiling. So is Bella. How very strange. And unlikely.
(Also - the red? He explained, "It's blood." Oh. Kay.)
Inside is – not me and him, as I originally suspected, but me and EDWARD. Oh boy. Perhaps an intervention IS in order. (I told him I’d rather spend eternity with him than Edward, and he beamed.)

The boys had hockey playoffs all day (Team Green lost in the first round. Boo!), and then we went to our favorite diner for burgers and chicken fingers and French fries and milkshakes (the boys) and pie (me and H). THEN we all came home and everybody took a nap (Except the baby and me. Wah! Not fair!)

I was given a ticket to a backyard hockey game between the Winston Animals and the Groveland Stuffers. (Now, I am a Schinkadabonketa fan myself, but apparently they got knocked out in the first round also.) (Don’t ask me, Primo made up all the team names a long time ago. I just root for whom I am told to root for.) Once I put my foot down and told the boys I would watch 6-minute periods, NOT 20-minute periods, they broke out the sticks and their stuffed animals and gave me a rousing spectacle of a hockey game. For the record? The Stuffers won, which isn’t surprising since all the biggest stuffed animals play for the Stuffers.

When the mail came, my high school friend J had sent me a copy of my favorite (so far) Georgette Heyer! Do you know how hard it is to find used Georgette Heyers? Almost impossible. But she bid for The Grand Sophy on eBay and won it, and sent it off to me. How sweet is that?!

Round about what would have been dinnertime (but we were all still too full of pie and milkshake to contemplate more food), I opened my “real” gifts: a gift card to Borders, and a gift certificate to the spa, and this volume, which it must have pained my husband greatly to buy:

After the boys were in bed, I went to my friend E’s, and we sat on her porch and drank cocktails and ate tortilla chips, and talked for hours in the balmy spring air. It was lovely. (When I got home at midnight, Flat E gave me a heart attack again, and I took His Vampireness upstairs to my sewing room, where my deftness with a quilting needle will impress him wildly and make him desire my blood. Like, um, Sleeping Beauty, or something. Yeah.)

When I thanked H for a wonderful birthday, he looked at me like I was nuts. But it was fun and busy and it’s always nice to find out how many people care about me. I got awesome, thoughtful gifts, and lots of Facebook greetings and emails and phone calls, and I felt very loved.

My mom always said her forties were her best decade; I am looking forward to mine. After all, I have a year of being 39 to get my act together.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"The third engineer promised to show me the propeller shaft!" *

I keep dreaming about being on the beach with my children, and watching a rogue wave coming towards us on shore, looming ever closer and ever larger. I watch it begin to crest, craning my neck upward to see the foam at the top. I know it is bigger than any wave I have ever seen before, and I know I cannot possibly run fast enough with my children – or even by myself, for that matter – to outrun it. And yet I try, I MUST try. Every single time, I try, and every single time, I wake up before the wave breaks, before we are all engulfed, just at the moment when I KNOW there is no hope.

Yeah, I don’t need a psychiatrist to tell me what this dream means.

I can’t recall my life ever being this crazy before.
And it’s not like it’s glamour-crazy, jet-setting and polo matches and charity galas and evening gowns.
It’s not like I am running for VP.
It’s not like I am singlehandedly running a Fortune 500 company or engineering buyouts.

I don’t know what it is.
I find it difficult to believe that only one small baby, despite being the fourth, suddenly created this tsunami of activity. Or one eight-year-old and one six-year-old with friends to see and sports to play. Or one small three-year-old who cheerfully goes along for the ride, no matter what the event.

I know this:

I take the boys to school and pick them up from school. I take them to piano lessons. I take them to hockey practices and games, or stay home and watch the younger guys while H takes the older boys to these things. I take all 4 boys to the eldest’s soccer practices and games. I take them to the dentist and the pediatrician. I drop them off at their friends’ houses or pick up their friends to come to our house. I take the little ones to playdates or the toy lending library or the zoo. I go to the library and the post office and the pet store and the pharmacy and the dry cleaners and the office supply store. I call the plumber and the handyman and the pediatrician and the babysitter and the other babysitter and my mother-in-law and the school.

I construct approximately 20 pb&j sandwiches a week and pack ten lunches and fix real food for dinners (that no one eats anyway) and nurse the baby and change a dozen diapers a day and swab down bathrooms and pack away summer clothes and unpack winter clothes (and vice versa) and supervise homework and distribute snacks and grocery shop and give the little guys baths and supervise the older guys’ showers. I clip toenails and clean ears and trim hair. I read Pokemon books and Goodnight Moon and Dr Seuss, each night, every night, at bedtime.

I buy them new underwear and new socks and new backpacks and new sneakers and new gloves and new notebooks, and more socks and more notebooks. I buy H new jeans and new sneakers and new underwear.

I buy storage containers for their dress clothes and new markers to replace dried out ones and Playdoh and more Playdoh and power cords for the computer and lampshades for the new lamps and new running shoes. I buy Christmas and birthday presents and stash them away. I fill Easter baskets and make or buy cupcakes and treats for school parties.

I run the dishwasher and unload the dishwasher and load it up and run it again.

I sort the clean laundry and put it away and gather up all the dirty clothes into another mountain of laundry. I start my day by putting wet laundry in the dryer and another load of dirty clothes into the washer, and I end the day the same way.

I ask Terzo roughly twenty times a day if he needs to pee or poop in the potty. I supervise these attempts and then change his clothes and bathe him when he waits too long and has an accident.

I wipe down the kitchen counters and table and wipe them down again when the boys spill juice on them or smear peanut butter or jam on them. I open yogurts and peel bananas and apples and grill cheese and butter bread.

I wipe out lunchboxes and then pack today’s lunch into them.

On days when I have my babysitter, I edit other people’s papers and format their references and check their spelling and then I invoice them and keep track of who has paid what invoice and whose paper is due when.

I do know that I feel like I never have a moment of unaccounted for time.
I am rarely alone.
And when I am, I should probably be sleeping.
I am not complaining.
I am truly just trying to figure out, where does my time go?
Am I mismanaging my time?
Should I punt the fifteen minutes of yoga every morning, to get more done of...what?
To shower every day instead of the every other day I am averaging now?
I need four hours a week to run, and am not managing to carve that out.
I desperately need a haircut.

H got a promotion that we have been waiting on for a while; I am very pleased and proud of him, but his work hours just got longer. He went from 8- to 9-hour days to 12- to 13-hour days. He leaves even earlier so he can get to the gym to swim. He routinely works Sundays now. This won’t be the case forever, but for the foreseeable future, it is.

He has told me, We have more money coming in now. We will get you help. But I don’t even know where to start. What sort of help do I need? A housecleaner? A gym membership with daycare? A regular babysitter? Swimming lessons and a life preserver?
I have never been in this situation before, and I don’t know what would be most useful and most thrifty.
Suggestions, comments, input?

*Robin Shelby, "The Poseiden Adventure"

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Excuse me, but what's an Easter?"

When did Easter become the new Christmas? When I was a kid, we got an Easter basket full of drugstore chocolate, and jelly beans, and these really cool caramel popcorn bunnies. Each kid got a 1-pound chocolate egg, with filling of choice (mine was always coconut cream), from a little candy store in my town called Duffy’s. And we were allowed to EAT all this crap.

Since we (oh so modern parents) limit the sweets my kids eat, a basket full of chocolate would just be taunting them. I would probably find chocolate-smeared wrappers jammed under the couch cushions (like I used to find Twizzler plastic stuffed down the laundry chute before I wised up and hid the Twizzler box).

Honestly, I wouldn’t even have begun this crazy Easter basket tradition, but my next door neighbor’s kids went on and on about their Easter baskets to my wide-eyed boys, so one Saturday-before-Easter night a few years ago, I made emergency baskets for my (then only) two children – fruit snacks, and Teddy grahams, and some stickers.

This year, hockey cards, and stickers, and new socks (yeah, that’s the way I roll, dudes – but seriously, what do these kids do, gnaw on their socks with their razor-sharp teeth?), and some jelly beans and a few pyramids of Toblerone, and some gel pens and mini notebooks (what did we do before the dollar bins at Target?). And so the ridiculous tradition is upheld.

I don’t mind dyeing eggs – especially since we go to our church to do it. Everyone shows up with their hardboiled eggs, and a few parents deal with dye and stickers and crayons and whatever hot new egg-decorating trend, and at the end of the afternoon, everyone goes home with some eggs and leaves some eggs to be hidden for tomorrow’s egg hunt after the service. With any luck, when a child (and it’s ALWAYS one of mine) overturns a dye pot, it’s onto the linoleum floor and easily mopped up. It’s perfect. (We will be leaving all of our eggs as I am the only one round these parts who will eat hard-boiled eggs. And even I won’t touch the ones that have been sitting outside under the bushes and tucked in tree hollows and manhandled by dozens of snotty-nosed toddlers. Hence, my purchase of four dozen medium size cheap (read: NOT free-range organic) eggs.)

As for Easter finery, *I* will be wearing whatever I can jam my fat ass into. Which probably means the same A-line skirt I wore last year, topped with the same green blouse. Or maybe, my new linen camp shirt from Old Navy (why can’t this shirt come in some other decent colors, like black or dark green?)

As for my kids – my children look like homeless people on the best of days. I doubt we will be trimming their overgrown, rockstar hair this evening. I will be happy if I can get them into decent, collared shirts, and their “nice” shoes (read: fashionable sneaker-y type dress shoes) with a minimum of screaming and tantrums.

And even happier if I can get them to keep those clothes on to go to Grandma’s for Easter dinner.

For which I am making a lemon pound cake.

And taking my knitting along. (I am making this. In purple and lime green and turquoise. For a college friend’s first baby.)

Because the only thing more boring than the “12 Days of Christmas” sing-along we are required to participate in on Christmas Eve? The plastic egg hunt for the kids at Easter dinner.

So, happy Easter to all of you who celebrate it.

Happy Passover to the appropriate people (although, really? Happy? What with the plagues and whatnot, happy is not necessarily the greeting I would choose. IS it Happy? Ah, my friend D to the rescue: Hag Sameyach.)

And as I have decided to begin my own Easter tradition, here: have some David Sedaris: Jesus Shaves.

“The virgin birth, the resurrection, and the countless miracles - my heart expanded to encompass all the wonders and possibilities of the universe.
A bell, though, that's fucked up.”

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

"May his soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen."*

What has been dubbed "The Stanton Heights Tragedy" has been on my mind so much these past few days. New details emerge - horrifically, the 911 dispatcher neglected to mention the suspect had weapons in the house. (Yesterday there was another incident about 6 blocks from me involving a home invasion and the Pittsburgh police and the SWAT team. The poor guys can't catch a break, but I am also telling you criminals out there, now is NOT a good time to be shooting at a police officer in this town.)

All three of the officers were from our neighborhood's zone. It's distinctly possible that one or any of these men responded to my or my neighbors' calls when our vehicles were broken into, or we smelled gas, or someone stole our trashcans (don't ask).

I am doing all I can - holding them in my thoughts and prayers, donating what I can to the families. A friend and I took a cake and some muffins up to the police station yesterday - you know me, my knee-jerk response to just about anything is to bake, and who could use comfort food right now more than the colleagues of the slain officers, who are themselves also always in danger?


Officer Kelly


Officer Mayhle


Officer Sciullo


"To protect and serve."
These men could not have done a finer job. Thank you, and may you rest in peace.

*Litany at the Time of Death,
from the Book of Common Prayer,
The Episcopal Church

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Thin Blue Line

I started several different posts last night, after the family birthday party hullaballoo. The cousins and grandparents departed; Seg, asleep on the couch, not feeling well all through the festivities, was finally tucked up in bed; I settled down with a cup of tea.
What was I reading?
How was the weekend down the shore?
Why after all was the end of nursing my babies so sad?
But my mind kept racing. I almost obsessively clicked on site after site of local news stations and newspapers. I kept returning to this:

Gunman Kills Three Pittsburgh Police Officers

In short, Pittsburgh police were called to a domestic dispute around 7 a.m. Saturday, in Stanton Heights (a quiet, fairly safe little community) and when they arrived, the man inside the house opened fire with an AK-47. In the end, three policeman were dead, two more seriously wounded, and the suspect was captured alive. His mother, holed up in the basement, was safe, as were the rest of the family.

I will save the editorializing.
I am heartsick.
This sort of thing does not happen in Pittsburgh.

But this sort of thing just did.

And three men who were doing their jobs, with dedication and honesty and integrity, are gone from this earth.
They leave behind grieving wives, small children, a fiancee.
Families, friends, colleagues.

A community who weeps for them.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

"Take a sad song and make it better..."

My little Segundo is 6 today.

My April Fool's baby.

His was the easiest labor, the easiest delivery, and probably the best story (We were rear-ended at a stoplight on the way to the hospital at 11pm. H was practically dancing with rage in the road, I have never seen him so angry. The poor teenage girls who hit us were too frightened to get out of the car. I just kept timing contractions; they were 7 minutes apart at the stoplight, and by the time I got to the hospital 6 blocks away, they were coming every two minutes. I slept through labor, all night, before he was born at 9am-ish, and when I pushed him out, he was so ready to emerge into this world that he practically hit the far wall.)

He looks like his dad, but with my fair coloring. He is my only baby to stay blond. He has intense blue eyes, and a sharp, pointy nose, and long legs, and he is beautiful.

He is sweet and steady and slowly beginning to feel his way through his world, dealing with his at times overbearing older brother, and his oh-so-charming younger brother. He delights in the baby. He is gentlemanly and kind; the gravitas he displays is beyond his years.

But he can laugh. Oh, he can laugh. He loves potty humor, and silly puns, and stupid knock-knock jokes. He was the only one intent on fooling me today.

He can be stubborn, even downright contrary. But he is merely testing the waters, as any healthy young child should do.

He is smart; his excitement when he figured out he could read was delightful. He is a dedicated artist, and an earnest musician. Watching his piano lessons this past year has been a joy. The way he squares his skinny shoulders and lays his fingers on the keys makes my heart clutch in my chest. He practices just about every morning, not only without complaint, but eagerly.

He will be the son who cares for me in my old age (should I be lucky enough to get that far). He will do it willingly and happily, and I pray I am never ever a burden or embarrassment to him. All I need to put a smile on my face is to picture him running out of school, flying down the steps and slamming into me, into my arms for a hug, with laughter and joy and love.

Oh, how I love him.
Happy Birthday, my sweet darling boy.
The day you were born was one of the happiest of my life.

*"Hey Jude," The Beatles