Category Archives: Parenting

Know How to Receive This Gift

I owe y’all an update on the kitten! If we’re friends on Facebook, you already know the surprise ending (spolier alert: WE GOT A NEW KITTEH!) As with just about everything in my life, this adventure got me to thinking Big Thoughts that I like to share through Barely Adequate Words.

As soon as I wrote that blog post about the kitten in the tool shed, the kitten left the tool shed. And like the 100% sane and stable person that I am, I  started thinking, “Great–now that I’ve told everyone about the kitten, Huck probably ate it. This is all my fault!”

Nevertheless, the kitten showed up again. Turns out, it was living under the deck, in between the decking boards and the tin roof of the screened porch down below. I caught a photo of the teensy baby one morning when it came out to explore the sourwood tree. One golden leg like something out of a classical myth…

kitty tree

And then I made the mistake of giving Vivi my phone as a distraction at lunch and she saw the photo.

THE CAT WAS OUT OF THE BAG!

kitty vivi

Operation Kitty Katcher was launched about 20 minutes later when we got home. We deployed cheap tuna fish, long crinkly ribbons from Vivi’s birthday balloons, leafy twigs, and flashlights after dark. Vivi sat on the deck with her tablet in hopes of catching a photo. We got close a time or two, but kitten was too wily.

kitty ribbon

We dropped chunks of tuna fish through the railing and onto the tin roof below. Slowly but surely, the kitten began to trust us. I taught Vivi to tap the spoon against the wood every time she fed it to call the kitten out. We brushed our fingertips against the kitten while it ate. We wiped tuna fish on our fingers and eventually the kitty licked them clean.

kitty catcher

It was so stinking hot that weekend. Yellow jackets like tuna fish–did you know that? Me either. But we kept at it.

At one point, Vivi said, “How do you think the kitten ended up here?” I told her that Nana said Papa sent us the kitten. “I know that’s not really what happened, but I like to think of it that way,” I told her. Vivi knows I don’t believe in any kind of afterlife. Her thoughts flickered across her face then she smiled, “I agree with Nana–I think Papa sent us the kitten.”

We sat there together with our arms contorted through the deck railing, dangling our stinky fingers over the edge in hopes of luring the kitten out. “Well, even if Papa didn’t actually send us this kitten, he taught me everything I know about catching kittens. He taught me where they hide and how to feed them and ways to get them to trust us. He taught me that it’s good to take care of hungry little kittens. So in a way, Papa is part of us getting this kitten.”

This is the first kitten I’ve had in my lifetime that wasn’t handed to me by my father. There were allllll those kittens when we were growing up–Slick, Jasmine, Farrah, Wildfire (I gave my cats stripper names). When I was out on my own and ready for another heartbeat in the apartment, he found Jane for me. The most beautiful meanest butterscotch bitch you ever reckoned with. I thought she might be lonely when I started working full time, so I went back to see Daddy. He reached blindly into a cage of stray gray tabbies and put Mr. Kitty in a box for me. Jane bit him on the neck as soon as he climbed out of the box then she spent the next 15 years hissing and spitting at him. When Jane and Mr. Kitty both passed on, and Richard’s Nixon followed a year later, I went back down to Griffin for Thanksgiving and came back with Rufus and Jinx. Someone had thrown Jinx in a trash can when she was three weeks old, and Rufus had been dropped off in the parking lot. Daddy got an earful when Rufus gave Vivi ringworm right before school picture day. Anyway, I’ve had a good run of cats, thanks to Daddy. But now I’m on my own. And my daughter has been begging for a kitten. I’m the grown up in charge of kitten procurement now.

There are two things we can do for our children. We can give them gifts, and we can teach them how to receive gifts. My dad did both. He gave me kittens. He also taught me how to see kittens as a gift. How to receive another mouth to feed with joy and a light heart. How to see a kitten as an increase in love, not an increase in burden. How to spend a sweaty Saturday stinking like tuna fish and getting a crick in my neck because my daughter wants a kitten to love on. And her mama can give her that gift.

On the Monday before school started, I pounced.

kitty carrier

It’s a girl. She was Socks for a couple of days. She was Sammy Socks for a while. But she does that thing that kittens do–kneading her front paws back and forth with her purrbox cranked up to 10. One time I asked Daddy what the clinical name for that motion was and he said, “Makin’ biscuits.”

Meet Biscuits.

Thanks, Papa.

kitty puzzle

kitty biscuit portrait

This Space Is Yours: A Message For Our Daughters

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Four years ago, G and I took the kids to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch a real live rocket launch. Not just any rocket–we got to see the launch that carried the Curiosity rover away from Earth on its way to Mars. For a geek like G, this was a once in a lifetime deal. (I thought it was pretty cool, too.) The kids? Carlos was 11 months old, Vivi 4.5, Victoria 12. They were mostly thinking about getting back to Disney World.

From the closest observation area, we looked out across a mile-wide lagoon to where the giant white rocket waited on its scaffold. The red countdown clock ticked each second as it passed. An announcer explained the built-in holds as each came up. They are cushions of time that give the team a chance to calibrate the launch to hit a specific window. After each hold, the clock started down again.

Rocket Family

Rocket Family

When the countdown clock dropped below 10 minutes, things really got exciting. As I put headphones on the little ones, the launch director started the “go/no go” poll of all the teams who had played a part in coordinating the launch.

Excitement swelled as we listened to the launch director call each team and its leader responded “Go!” Talker? Go! Timer? Go! FSC? Go! ACC? Go!

Years of work, billions of dollars, so many mistakes and so many victories–we got to hear it all distilled into two joyful letters–GO.

And I started to cry. A suburban mom standing there in the Florida sun with her kids gathered round and looking across the water at something that would leave this world and go to Mars. To get to witness people as they revel in the successful completion of hard work–what a privilege.

But what really got me crying was the fact that my daughters were hearing female voices declaring “Go!”

Want to be an astronaut? Go! Want to be an engineer? Go! Want to write a program that steers a robot on the surface of another planet? Go!

Go!

Go!

Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon in the summer of 1969, when I was about the same age as Carlos was that day we watched the Curiosity launch. My mom took me out into the yard to look up at the sky. “There are people up there!” She wanted me to participate in this historic event, even if I wasn’t old enough to comprehend.

I did something similar tonight. While Vivi used Scratch to code a game about cats, I switched the TV from Netflix cartoons to the roll call of delegations at the Democratic National Convention. We tuned in round about Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi. She poked her head up and said, “Is this for President?” I explained that this was how the Democratic party decided who they would back for president. “Sounds like Hillary Clinton is winning,” she said, her eyes already drifting back to the keyboard.

Jerry Emmet, 102 yr old delegate from Arizona. Image courtesy HillaryClinton.com

Jerry Emmet, 102 yr old delegate from Arizona. Image courtesy HillaryClinton.com

I walked into the kitchen to start dinner and found myself getting misty-eyed, just like that morning in Florida. The voices that stepped up to the microphone to declare for Sanders or Clinton–so many of them were female voices. One woman had been born before women won the right to vote. My daughter gets to hear people who sound like her cast their support in favor of electing a President that looks like her (albeit a little older and wiser).

We got to the moon before we got to here. But it’s progress.

I didn’t try to stop the tears. Rainbow leis in Nebraska. Puerto Rican accents. Black Lives Matter t-shirts from Wyoming. Native Americans recognized as sovereign groups by the delegates from New Mexico. Senator Sanders, a Jewish socialist, pulling us all together for the finale. All of those voices rising together to shout “Aye!” This is the country I want my daughter to see. This is the voice of America that I want her to hear.

Even if they seem busy with other things, our daughters are listening. I want mine to know that this is their space. Here. There. Everywhere. On the podium. In the laboratory. Pushing the stroller. Pushing the envelope.

Check out this photo of some of the women currently working on Mars (they tele-commute from Earth but they work on the Mars Science Laboratory):

Women of Mars Science Laboratory

Women of Mars Science Laboratory

One last thought from Sally Ride, the first American woman in space:

Sally Ride

Sally Ride

 

Ending The Week On An Up Note

On Friday mornings, ESP camp holds “Fair and Flag.” For the fair, each unit sets up a table filled with the crafts they made that week. The vocational class sold granola, muffins, and bread they had cooked (I can testify that all three are delicious). The older teens sold door mats that had been painted with different designs. I got one that has stripes like Charlie Brown’s shirt. The younger teens sold watercolors and Christmas ornaments. I bought the interlocking hearts.

Carlos’ class sold painted canvases–with one decorated balloon cookie thrown in with the purchase. I paid $5 for the one that said C-A-R-L-O-S in the corner:

carlos camp painting

 

Recognize it? That’s Carl and Ellie’s house from the movie “Up.” I would have paid $500 for this remembrance of a fantastic week.

The “flag” part of Fair and Flag is a crazy cheering circle that celebrates the kids and the sponsors and the parents who all pitched in to make the magic. Carlos didn’t like the noise, so we sat off to the side with his counselor, Miss Abbie.

carlos camp abbie

She was dressed like a member of Troop 54 just like Russell in the movie. Carlos counted the twelve yellow dots painted on her face with the tip of his finger. She giggled. He counted all the blue things in her costume. He was so perfectly himself. I finally walked over to join the cheering circle and in a minute, he came and stood in front of me so I could cover his ears with my hands. Abbie told me all the things he’s done this week, like making a Cheerios catapult, singing “Green Machine,” playing in a tent with JoJo (from his preK class!), and telling her all about his kitties, Jinxie and Rufus. He got a shout-out yesterday at Flag for being a great song singer.

Y’all.

He has NEVER talked this much. I don’t know if it’s ESP camp magic or if it’s Vivi being out of the house this week, but his speech has exploded.

(I just had to take a break from typing this so we could have a sing-a-long at bedtime and teach Daddy the “colors song” and pretend to play “kitar.”)

He’s using expressive language, like “I love it there” and “Want to go back to camp.” He’s NEVER reported to me at the end of the school day about what he had done. Now, he talks about the Amanda Show and how she does tricks with rubber bands and he can name five of the kids in his unit.

He’s soaring.

carlos camp us

A Letter Home

Oh, Happy Day!

I opened up the mailbox to find a real envelope with a real stamp…a letter from Vivi at camp!

camp letter3

Before I even took it out of the mailbox, I was asking myself if I should open it right away or wait until G gets home. In less than a second, I decided he would be OK with me opening it right away. So I flipped it over…

camp letter2

And I began to get a little worried that I…

camp letter

NEVER TAUGHT MY DAUGHTER HOW TO SEAL AN ENVELOPE SO THE LETTER DOESN’T FALL OUT SOMEWHERE.

This kid knows how to sign in to her Google account, create docs, save and email them. She does not, however, know that you have to pull the little white strip thingy off the sticky part and smoosh it together.

Or maybe she’s pulling my chain?

Somebody Loves You That Much

I had been OK with Vivi being away at camp…until about 11 p.m. on her birthday. All afternoon, I had been hitting Refresh on the camp photo page. I know they celebrated her day by singing at meals, and her unit had cake, and she got that big pink care package that G and I left for her at the trading post, but I needed to SEE some of it.

The photos went up and within minutes I started crying. Out of 225 pictures, I only found four with her visible. In two, she was daydreaming in the back of a canoe, her paddle vertical in the water. In one, she was walking with her unit but she seemed alone, sucking on her finger. In the best photo, she stood with her counselor:

camp9

Simply seeing her face wasn’t enough for me. Is she happy enough? Does she look like a girl on her birthday? Is she OK? My mind whirled down the path of worry but there was just no knowing.

I hadn’t realized how much I was hoping to see a photo of her giggling with her tentmates or at the center of some shenanigans. I couldn’t stop the tears that sprang from my eyes. G gave me hug and reminded me that she is probably having a blast.

Still, my mom heart kept asking, “Is she happy enough?”

As I went to bed, I could hear anxiety and insomnia creeping up behind me on shuffling feet. It was 11:49 p.m. so I told myself that once the clock turned to 12:00 a.m., it wouldn’t be her birthday anymore and I could put down the whip. While I waited for the minutes to tick by, I remembered a conversation that Daddy and I had about birthdays and birthday cake.

It was sometime last year, probably at Cowtail because my Aunt Dixie was there. We started talking about birthday cake and I told Aunt Dixie, “I still remember the cake you made for Shannon for her second or third birthday–it had pink frosting and daisies with petals made from marshmallows and you had dyed the center of each petal with pink sugar.”

pink flowers

Aunt Dixie laughed and said, “Gosh, I remember that cake! It was a recipe from Good Housekeeping and those durn flowers took me forever.”

“Well, it was worth it because I still think of that cake and how pretty it was. Now that I’ve got kids I understand how much effort it takes….”

And Daddy finished my sentence–“when somebody loves you that much.”

Exactly. That’s what that pink cake covered in sugar sparkling flowers was–a visible way of seeing how much Aunt Dixie loved her daughter. Somebody loves you that much, enough to stay up all night snipping sticky marshmallows and dipping them in pink sugar just to see the delight in your eyes on your birthday.

Daddy used to make me cakes for my birthday. Coconut cakes because they were our favorite. He went to the trouble because he loved me that much.

That memory helped me understand why I was struggling with being apart from Vivi on her birthday–making a fuss over her has always been my way of showing her “somebody loves you that much.”

I looked at the photo of Vivi and her counselor again and my heart was soothed. See that book in her hand? That’s the sixth book in a series that she’s been reading. It was in her birthday care package that was delivered at camp. Look how much she’s read in one afternoon! I couldn’t make her a cake that day, but I gave her something she finds just as sweet.

She’s been gobbling up a story. A book that was ordered for her, kept a surprise, packed in a special pink box with glow bracelets and puppy stickers and a disposable camera and gel pens and a camp bandana…all because somebody loves her that much.

I hope she stayed up until she was finished with the book. She has her green camp lantern, and she has extra batteries. She even has books seven and eight waiting for her at home. All because somebody loves her that much.

Wobbly

When we were on the spring break cruise, Carlos felt the roll of the ship under his feet and got the funniest confused expression on his face. He shouted, “WOBBBBBBBBBBBBLLLLLY!” every time we swayed from wall to wall walking down the passageway. He still says it when he slips and falls or stumbles. Well, his summer has gotten off to a wobbly start.

The camp we were counting on for the first week of the summer was full. Oops. There just aren’t that many options for a five year old who melts down at noise and crowds, so he spent days bouncing back and forth between G’s office and my office. He carried his little Spiderman backpack filled with Matchbox cars, Paw Patrol stickers, and tablet like he was getting paid to do it. I let him push all the elevator buttons and we played I Spy from the glass bridge between buildings at least once a day.

For the second week, we had both Carlos and Vivi signed up for the children’s theater camp that she loves. After the first day, the director reported that he wasn’t interested in doing any of the camp activities. She asked if we could send something to entertain him until he warmed up. The second day he spent face down in his Kindle Fire. By the third day, they emailed to say that he wasn’t ready for that camp and they would be glad to give us a refund when we picked him up. Before lunchtime, please and thank you.

Sigh. I flashed right back to last summer when he was getting sent home from daycare for tantrums. I felt those old fears of “life for him is always going to be difficult because he doesn’t know how to fit in.” He spent the rest of that week at his internship with me.

Seriously…my kid gets drummed out of THEATER camp? Can’t he just be a tree in the big finale?

We were counting on two more weeks of that camp and now the summer plan was crumbling before my eyes. G hustled around and found a spot for Carlos in a Montessori camp for the weeks that we needed. Excellent–the summer was saved!

I mean, how’s he gonna get kicked out of Montessori camp…not composting?

Just in case, we went out and bought this composting bin and it’s Carlos’ new favorite thing. He spins it like he’s calling Bingo at the VFW.

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Dang, that kid is cute, even with his do-it-yourself bangs and that crazy-eye face he makes when he says “CHEEEEEEEEESE!”

Today he went to yet ANOTHER camp. He’s signed up for four weeks of day camp at Extra Special People. His pre-K teacher suggested it and I’m so glad she did. It’s a program “where individuals with developmental disabilities don’t just survive… they thrive!” At first, I thought he wouldn’t qualify–his challenges aren’t really that tough. We’ve ruled out autism and developmental delay. The stuff on his IEP is social interaction. He takes his shoes off when he’s not supposed to. He tunes out talking if it’s not interesting. He hollers if he doesn’t want to go along.

I felt guilty sending my kid to “special” camp when he’s pretty ordinary. Except when he isn’t. I even checked with the camp director to make sure that we didn’t take a spot from someone else. I actually said, “he could survive the Y camp, but he might spend part of the day curled up in a ball.” They assured me that there was a place for Carlos at ESP.

He seems to agree.

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When I picked him up, he was downright chatty! He told me about saying the pledgeallegent, singing Rainbow Submarine, eating lunch, and going bowling! There was a scavenger hunt and circle time and apple slices with peanut butter.

I hope I will always remember how he starts every sentence with “Mommy?” I do think I will always remember something he said tonight. We were talking about tomorrow being tie-dyed shirt day and he said, “Mommy? Today? I love it there.”

Not so wobbly any more.

carlos camp

This Isn’t About Me. It’s the Penguin.

Sooooo…Vivi is at sleep-away camp for the first time ever in her whole entire almost nine year life. Yep.

camp vivi

I’m fine.

Seriously. Totally OK.

But I’m concerned about Pengy.

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He stayed like this the whole ride home.

He doesn’t look like he’s OK with this AT ALL. I think he thinks that she’s growing up so quickly. I bet he thinks that he’s not quite sure what to do with himself without her. I can just look at him and tell that he’s wondering if she’ll ever come back and if she’ll still need him then.

I’m fine, but the penguin is struggling.

Pengy and Vivi have been inseperable since she was about 18 months old. We met Pengy on a trip to the Georgia Aquarium. Since that day, there’s been no other friend for Vivi. He sleeps under her chin every night. He snuggles under her elbow while she’s reading a book. He even sits beside her at the dinner table some nights.

Pengy has been to many cities and a couple of countries. The rule is, Mommy carries Pengy while we travel. We have lots of rules about Pengy–Pengy stays in the car if we go out running errands. Pengy stays home instead of riding to school in a backpack. Carlos is not allowed to touch Pengy.

And she’s gone for a week. Who is Pengy without his Vivi?

When she first started talking about sleep-away camp, the question of Pengy came up–would he be safe in the woods? Was he too old to sleep in a tent every night? Santa brought Vivi a Siamese kitty, which she named Artemis and declared to be her second favorite friend. Artemis went to camp. She’s young and strong and not afraid to sleep in the woods at night.

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Things change, right? Kids are supposed to grow and move on to other stages in life and sometimes we put away childish things. Pengy will always be #1, the original beloved. Nothing can take the place of Pengy. Still. It’s hard.

So yeah. I’m fine. But the penguin is lonely for his girl.