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Last Day of School

Ben and Lucy’s last day of third and second grade.  And last day at Oakdale forever.  Why did I not expect the torrent of tears that I shed as soon as I walked in the building this morning?  I managed to say thank you to all their teachers.  But I did not stay for the end of the year chapel and I’m not sure I won’t regret it.  I just thought I would seriously lose it and didn’t think the kids needed that. So I’m thanking God all alone in my heart for their years at a great school and praying for blessings on all the students and teachers next year, wherever they go.

Happy Easter

Happy Easter everybody.

It’s been a strange, un-Easterly day here.  Karl stayed home from church, sick as the guy in the Alka-Seltzer cold commercial with the giant, red, cartoon nose, snuffling and blowing and sneezing wall-shaking sneezes.  I asked Ben to please put on clean clothes for church, “not the ones you wore yesterday, which you wore to bed last night, which you are now wearing.  Not ratty shorts, not a scrubby t-shirt with words on it.”   Somehow, he managed to comply with all these strictures while still looking mismatched and resolutely casual, like he had been lounging naked and threw on the nearest thing to go answer the door.   Because I was busy putting together a fruit platter for the all-church brunch [and okay fine, making one more latte for the road], we were late for our church’s Easter processional, where congregants process in with plants and flowers brought from home to dress the altar.  Ben and Lucy had to put their foil-wrapped pots on a side table in the fellowship hall and skulk into the back of church with me.  The service was lovely, but I couldn’t recount the sermon for Karl when we got home and neither Ben nor I had our favorite song to sing.  Lucy and I finally started an Easter craft that I had been promising for the last 5 days.  It was not a transcendent mother-daughter moment, more of a let’s-do-this-now-because-tomorrow-I’ll-really-feel-like-crap-if-we-don’t moment. Now Karl is watching tv [at my encouragement — isn’t that what I have the kids do when they’re flopping about, too sick to play?] and Ben and Lucy are playing with neighbor kids who have been released from their family gatherings.  This Easter has felt weirdly off, like we just didn’t have our Easter mojo.

This is War

Oh baby, the gauntlet has been thrown.  Game on.  This is war.

Ben got us back for the room-wrapping escapade.  He had help and he played dirty.  He will pay.

On Thursday afternoon, Ben came up to me with his head bowed and, pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket, said “Mom, I forgot to show this to you.”

Can you put yourself in my place?  My vision dimmed.  The sounds of laughing children playing in the sun, celebrating the first day of a glorious spring break, hushed to a distant woosh.  I felt my heart slow and had a feeling I’ve had before:  I went into Management Mode.  I think I’ve described this before.  It’s a part of me that surprises me every time it happens.  Something big and distressing happens and I turn into the Generalissimo.  My inner clipboard appears and I feel as if I can see a mile down the road.  I was ticking things off:  1.  ok, fun is over.  Ben is in trouble. 2.  Go inside and get ready to have the Big Talk. 3.  Find stationery; Ben will be writing apologies to Mrs. Apol and Mrs. Braman.  4.  Call Karl.  5.  Berate self for not more aggressively addressing your son’s obvious problem in distinguishing what’s funny and what’s not [the old “if it bends, it’s funny; if it breaks…” rule].

This all happened in about 2 seconds, as if from the wrong end of a telescope.  Then Ben turned the paper over:

The telescope flipped back around and, if I had actually had one in my hand, I might have whacked him with it.  PUNKED!!!!  And with a teacher’s help.  Apparently she made one for each kid in the class.   Now what is the protocol here?  Can you punk your kid’s teacher?


Those close to me know that I am humor-impaired. I really just do not have a talent for it at all. So Nature provided me with Ben, a 9-year old boy who loves a good joke. Children sometimes do offer us an opportunity to try for more ourselves, to become better people. Ben has an enormous stuffed mouse in his room and I remember once putting one of those eyeglass/fake moustache/giant nose thingies on it. When he saw it, he was so much more delighted than I could ever have envisioned, just howling with laughter and literally begging me to “do more stuff like that mom.” I felt a tiny twinge, a flicker of delight and power that must wash over funny people in regular waves.

This year in school has brought a friendship with a real Class Clown, you know, a Jim-Carey type whose face just seems made for comedy—”Mom, Eric is funny even when he’s just smiling!!”—and an even deeper obsession with comic books like Calvin and Hobbes and Tundra. Aunt Ginny scored serious awesome-points when she presented Ben with fake poop. [And how she got it is a great story too—if only she’d blog about it].

Ben started pranking me this year when one of his more delightful teachers told them about how her son once wrapped a rubber band around the kitchen sink sprayer. I’ve turned on the water 4 times now to find myself and half the kitchen showered. This is highly irritating and a challenge to my previously-mentioned impairment.

With all this in mind—my handicap and Ben’s natural delight as a challenge—I resolved to punk him for April Fool’s Day. I think I scored a 5 or 6 with the breakfast cereal by putting a few drops of hot-pink food coloring in the bowl under the cereal. When Ben and Lucy added the milk, voila! Pink cheerios. But, the runaway winner, the prank I’ve been waiting months to pull, was gift-wrapping Ben into his bedroom. Last night, Karl and I unwound a few rolls of leftover Christmas wrap onto Ben’s bedroom door and secured it with lots of packing tape. This morning, Ben had to hack himself out of his room while Karl, Lucy, and I stood on and watched. It was awesome, a 10 if I do say so myself.

April Fool’s Day isn’t over, so if you have any brilliant pranks I can effect before the day is out, let me know. I’m on a roll.

Showing Off

Look at the awesome Art Shelf I put together yesterday!

Isn’t it great?!  Is it too late for me to be a preschool teacher?  Or maybe just a preschool-classroom-organizer?  You know how some people feel after running 5 miles?  I’ve heard talk of them endorphin thingies.  Well, putting that Art Shelf together [and I did even assemble the actual shelf] was my 5-mile run yesterday.  Need anything organized?

What I Am Celebrating

We took our yearly February trip to Florida last month. Neither Karl nor I can wait for the kids’ school’s official spring break, which happens in April. February is our winter breaking point. If we don’t see sun and green, things start to seem undoable. So, for the past few years we have taken advantage of excellent accommodations and concierge service at my parents’ house in Tampa.

This year, we did something different. Karl indulged a plan I hatched a few years ago to take the kids to Disney World. I remember being about their age when mom and dad first took us, Andy’s Rule being that you can go if you can walk all day. Ben and Lucy can definitely walk all day, even if Ben will deny it, and I will admit I find myself needing a bit of excitement. The twist to this family vacation is that we invited my parents to come with us.

Years ago, Karl and I realized a voodoo curse had been placed on vacations we attempted on our own. I offer as evidence our bejeweled trip to Santa Fe b.k. (before kids), meant to be a sort of second honeymoon as our first was (more evidence) a total disaster, if you count the bride unconscious for 3 days, ravaged by strep, a disaster. As our plane touched down in Santa Fe, we craned our necks for glimpses of sorrel-scattered hills and honeyed sunrays spilling over adobe rancheros. It was snowing. Then, in what was surely an unconscious act of retribution, Karl got sick and spent the entire vacation in bed.

After those trips, we decided to either visit people we know or take other people with us, people with better travel juju, and perhaps hardier constitutions. This has worked beautifully. Our trip to Italy with the LaGrands two summers ago was illness-free and lots of fun. They apparently have excellent trip karma and we will be using them again. Our visit to the Harlems of San Francisco was perfect in every way until they left us at the airport unsupervised, at which point some seriously bad travel voodoo took over and we found that we were exactly 24 hours late for our flight home.

So, for our Family Trip To Disney, we invited Grama and Grampa to come with us, hoping to confuse the gods of travel, averting untold disaster — attacks by Mickeys-gone-bad, children lost in Tomorrow Land, freak snowstorms in Orlando. They were meant to be our amulets against bad, bad travel.

Here’s our other rationale for Travel With Others: as Karl and I have traveled with or to other people that we love, the bigger rewards have been twofold: the shared experience with those we love and who we are when we are with them. Example: we love the LaGrands. We’ve known them for over 20 years and see them a lot. But how many of you have spent 10 hours on an airplane with such dear friends? Or slept in the same tiny apartment with 6 kids and cooked every meal together? Or tried to grocery shop via phrase book with them? Just a note if you try: even if you don’t understand the repeated announcements over the grocery intercom, once the store starts looking very, very empty, you may assume it’s closing time. Somehow, with a friend, that was very very funny.

To be frank, Karl and I are better people when there are witnesses. We try harder. We’re kinder, more patient, more interested, more interesting. Our kids too. On that same trip to Italy, we started borrowing 8-year old Helen and putting her between Ben and Lucy in the back seat. Voila! Better than a dvd player or a mediation counselor.

So we were partly using my parents — hey, who doesn’t do that?! — but also wanting to be with them, to share with them that concentrating experience of every day, all day together. Because honestly, when my parents are in town, getting them into our house for more than a few hours is not likely. Some inner alarm goes off inside my father and it’s suddenly time to go. The last time my mother spent the night in my house was when Ben was born. Thanks again for that Mom. The Mommy Cavalry.

Once again, the DeBoer-Swedberg Vacation Protocol worked. I don’t think Ben and Lucy could have been nicer. I felt like I might be willing to move to Disney World if they would only get along like that forever. I did notice a clause in the hotel bill prohibiting taking up residence [I’m serious!], so I’m guessing this has worked for other families too. Sharing that vacation with our kids was great. Watching them share it with their Grampa and Grama was a whole ‘nother layer of celebrating. Disney is BIG on celebrating. When I made our reservations, the agent wanted to know what we were celebrating. Stifling other, less magical answers, I said “my mother’s birthday,” which, sure enough, produced an enthusiastic greeting at our hotel. There are little button booths throughout the parks where you can pick up buttons to broadcast your personal celebration: “Just Married,” “Sweet Sixteen,” “First Visit To Disney.” When Lucy lost her tooth there, I joked to one of the women that we were celebrating a Lost Tooth. She made Lucy a button on the spot. When we first arrived at the Magic Kingdom, we took this photo:

Celebrate Today! And we did. We visited 3 theme parks, rode lots of rides [even ones some of us shouldn’t have, Mom], saw the most fantastical nighttime light parade [my favorite part] and more than one 4th-of-July-in-April fireworks show. Sleeping in connecting hotel rooms was almost like a slumber party.

But you know – here comes my super-blogger insight — meaningful experiences are often joyful and sad. Karl and I went to a wedding this summer — a super-hip, world-is-our-oyster wedding with paper birds hung from the ceiling and a flower girl in cowboy boots and flower arrangements created on the fly by all the guests — and as the pastor exhorted the couple on the gravity of what they were doing, I leaned over to Karl and said “why bother? there is no way they can possibly grasp what he is saying right now.” But the people in the congregation who had 10 or 20 years under their belts could. I did. Dude, marriage is serious shit. Here’s another example of that joyful and sad thing: being pregnant. I was purely happy to be pregnant with Ben. It was as if I was gestating a permanent fetus, a forever baby. But that first night I brought him home, I sat in the darkened nursery and wondered what the hell I had been thinking. This wasn’t birthday-party happy. This was scary, scary, serious, profound, cosmic. Happy/sad. Wild joy/utter terror.

So taking that trip with my kids and my parents was both joyful and sad. My parents provided the expected talisman against travel disaster and family crankiness. Their presence enriched our experience. Watching my kids run around Tom Sawyer Island, shooting the same air guns in the fortress that Andrew and I shot more than 30 years ago while my parents looked on was a delight and a trip. But it also reminded me that time moves on. Here I was, making hotel reservations, planning each day, managing assorted suitcases of kids’ clothes, supervising kids in a pool, and gauging energy levels and impending needs for meals for all. Weren’t my parents just doing all that for me? Mom and Dad were valiant on this trip, up for everything — every ride, every experience, every whim. But I could see it cost them. My dad didn’t say no when I handed him a couple of ibuprofen. My mother didn’t deny that yes, she was hobbling after walking for 6 hours. They are –and I am– so much older than when we were last there as a family, me in my Holly Hobby overalls.

Every day, as a friend reminds me, we are all dying. Some of us pretend we’re not, but we’re all spending our days, conscious or not. A bride at the altar or a mother thick with child are both already on the journey of marriage or motherhood, even if all they’re thinking about is a wedding or a birth. They’re in it. We’re in it. No, maybe not what Walt Disney had in mind as they exhorted us to “Celebrate!” [can you imagine the button for that one? “I’m celebrating the Passage of Time!”]. And I may have undermined any chance of your accepting an invitation to join us on a future vacation [“Morticia Goes To the Grand Canyon!” “River-Cruising Scandinavia with the Grim Reaper!”]. But there it is. And I’m trying to celebrate it, in a cosmic, life-affirming way. I think I subconsciously knew I would experience our trip in that way. When I wrote a note to the kids’ teachers to explain their upcoming absence, I said something about the unique opportunity to take a trip with the kids’ grandparents who are still alive and healthy and what a blessing that was. At the time, I thought I was laying it on a little thick to assuage my anxiety about taking the kids out of school, but that is exactly what it was — a blessing. I am celebrating that.

I feel like I should apologize for the seriousness of that reflection. On a lighter note, here is an exchange I had with Lucy a few weeks ago. We were looking at a little weeble-wobbly thing that I had bought in sheer admiration of its design.

Lucia: I wonder why that stays up if it’s made of two spheres.
Mom: I don’t know.
Lucia: I wish you and Dad were scientists.
Mom: Yeah, well, that’s not going to happen.
Lucia: Yes, because Disney is the only place wishes come true!