Thursday, October 31, 2013

They care.

It started as I would expect Halloween eve to start: I encouraged bites of burritoes and broccoli while Jon rushed around setting up the candy station for the trick or trickers and looking for the various glow devices grandparents had gifted for the occasion. When we finally located the luminescent accessories in a random drawer with dish towels, placed there "so I wouldn't lose them," we cut our losses and hit the road.

Jules was dressed in the awesome werewolf costume my mom designed for him but refused face paint. "I look cuter this way—not scary—so I'll get more candy." Kai had already dissed his werewolf on his way out the door this morning.


"I want to be Wolverine," Kai had pouted, tossing the furry hat to the floor. 
"Werewolves have big claws too," I reasoned.
Knowing how important it is for three-year-olds to be dressed like all of the other superhero three-year-olds at school, I quickly located the Batman costume. In the laundry room. Soiled with something that I hope to be chocolate (good chance: it was on the chest). Batman's cape/mask was missing but I managed to find some Spiderman headwear.  Kai was thrilled. Success. 

It was windy and rainy. I missed our old hood: Ri stopping by to see the boys, the sidewalks, the streetlights, the Jastatts. But the boys' excitement was contagious. They wanted candy—loads and loads of it. I'd expected this. What I didn't expect was everything else. 

Jules would charge up to each new door and shout: "Trick or Treat for Unicef!" and push the tiny cardboard collection box out for quarters, often before taking a piece of candy.

And Kai... Kai was just taking in the night. I'm pretty sure that strolling the (dark, dark) streets with Kai, aged 3 1/2, will remain in my top ten cherished-moments memories of our "young family" days.

About halfway through our trick-or-tricking, we caught up with some friends. Jules would run with the pack up to a door and I'd hang back with Kai, who continued to mosey along at his own pace. As the other kids were already racing up to the next house, he'd climb the stairs of the one everyone else had just left, carefully keeping his balance as he clutched his plastic pumpkin in one hand and glow sword with the other. 

When the door swung open, he'd shout "trick or treat!" and leisurely select a piece of candy. Often he would drop his glow-sword and his bucket to grasp the new treat with both hands and make a very theatrical (but sincere) show of smelling it. "It's peach," he told one neighbor, of the lollipop he'd plucked from her bowl. At another house, he told a Skittles-proffering woman that he "LOVED SKITTLES" and he'd already gotten some... and started digging around to find it as evidence. "But I like to have two." At the next home, he insisted on showing the man giving him a Reese's Cup a box of candy he'd received it because "the superhero on the box turns into a rock." At every stop, he made sure to wish everyone a "Happy Halloween," sometimes following that up with a "and have a good night." He took plenty of time to admire the Halloween decorations. Each and every one. 

And as we rounded the corner for home, Kai slipped his tiny hand into mine and whispered, "those last candies - there's two in there - I saw the picture on the box. One for you and one for me." My heart exploded. 

Back at the ranch (converted into a contemporary home with no categorical style), 5-year-old Jules engaged in the expected candy counting. Moving at a productive pace, he'd managed to accumulate more than twice the loot of his younger brother but was acting relatively generous about it all. On a quick FaceTime with my parents he even promised save some candy to share with them when we visit at Thanksgiving. But Jules' tear-jerker moment came later, when I was hounding him to brush his teeth "after all that candy." (Cliche parent, I have become.)

The kid was sitting at the table shoving coins and dollars from his little wallet into the Unicef box. Jon joined us at the table and Jules asked him, and then me, for more dollars. Carefully folding a five-dollar bill into the slot, Julian explained: 

"We need to get lots of money so we can help people. Look at the things we can get for them with this money..." He pointed to the illustrations on back of the box. "You can get fruit bars." (Protein bars.) "Or soccer balls. And they die early. So you can survive them if you get them shots. But I want to get all the way to the water. They have to walk REALLY far to get water." His eyes were wide. His face was flushed. "They have to walk as far as it is to get to my school," he said. "And when they get there it is MUD. They drink mud. I want to get them clean water." 

I get teary—again—writing this. That kid is getting an extra piece of candy tomorrow. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

It's not always about proximity.

The memories are vivid yet totally random. Aunt Cora leading us through the dusty trails behind the Bessemer quarries. We were looking for fossils and spotted a "bear" - a big black garbage bag. A visit to their old Toronto house, the one with the awesome pool patio. Parts of this memory are so clear I can almost feel the cool linoleum against my feet in the book-packed basement that was my bedroom during that stay. Pretty sure it was the visit launched "The Mickler News," the short-lived family newsletter, copied for distribution by my dad at the steel mill.

I remember the trip to Houston to see the Marcums when I was in, I think, 8th grade. The air pressure on the airplane messed with my ears so badly that I couldn't hear right for two days. I read a book at the Astros game that Uncle Steve had so sweetly planned for us. I hated baseball. It was during my total-asshole period. And another trip to Houston, many years later, for Liz's high school graduation. The girl cousins went shopping. The boy cousins got shirts that said "security" and wore them for the party. There was plenty of pool time. We mostly all drank too much. I'd gotten the flight on Priceline at the very last minute. Fuck the budget. Family trumped finances. It was so worth it.

Still today, I can hear Aunt Mini rapping brilliant nonsense on a kid microphone in my mom and dad's basement after Angelo's high-school graduation in 1996. Hanging with Uncle John and Aunt Mini at the Johnson Club after Teta's funeral more than a decade ago. Mini was wearing my grandmother's fur coat (the one no one could bear to donate after she died) and a Rastafarian wig hat with dreads. Costumes, on this side of this fam, are a theme.

UB is always in costume—so I'm not sure why anyone was really surprised when a werewolf turned at Liz's wedding this past weekend, mid-reception. There are so many UB memories, new and old. In addition to costumes, most involve aggressive driving, chocolate, wine, dapper attire, gourmet food, relaxing jazz, runs and coffee. (In no particular order). Many involve surprise appearances. All involve multimedia recording devices. He's the family paparazzo. And the bon vivant. He's also the one with the crazy eyes—and the coffees—pictured up above with Aunt Mini.

Except for my Uncle John/Aunt Janet/Cousin Sam, the members of my mom's immediate family have always been at least a six-hours drive away. Yet my connections with this crew are incredibly close. Is it effort? (Probably not - I'm not that good at keeping up, honestly. UB gets the award for effort. Sister Kate comes in a close second). Must something else, like, we all got big chunks of the same DNA. Or something.  I wonder. For a bunch of people who grew up on all different corners of the country, we seem to share a lot in common: there are a bunch of talented musicians (I am not one of them) and another group of people who work in helping fields (nurses, therapists, etc.). There's sizeable group of  loud, like-to-dance types (I fit in there). Overall, we're an emotional bunch. Maybe that's it. I just don't know. But we really, really like each other—or so it seems to me.

Maybe we're just lucky.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sometimes he just knows.

It started simply. I'd been feeling frumpy. I blamed it on my growing-out hair and too little exercise. And decided that I could turn this all around by buying a new dress for my cousin Liz's wedding. Silly me. 

It was an impulse decision. Up until this point—less than two weeks before the event—I'd been planning to wear the same black dress I'd worn to at least a dozen formal events, and a half-dozen weddings, in the last fifteen years... jazzed up with a new scarf, perhaps, or whatever fun accessories I could steal from my sis. The same black dress I wear to "serious" business meetings with staid corporate clients. I didn't want to wear this dress. I wanted a fun one. 

My day job didn't allow time for actual shopping so my sister advised Modcloth and, there, I  found an instant winner—a turquoise vintage-y frock, if you will, by the (sort of) same designer in a style very similar to the flattering but summery red one I wore to two weddings this summer. I had no doubt it would fit. Perfectly. 

It arrived. I couldn't zip it. And then with the help of Jon and my mom, I could zip it. But barely. And it restricted my ribs. And my lungs just a bit. I flipped. I was angry for deciding to order a new dress at the last minute. Why did I have to be so frivolous!? Why didn't I just wear the tried-and-true-if-boring black dress? I was angry that it didn't fit. It's all that wine-drinking without running, I whined. (Not sure how that would slim me in the ribs but...) But the thing that bothered me the most: I'd have to take the time to return this damn dress. To actually put it back in the box, tape it up and take it to the post-office, less than a mile from work and mail it back. For free. HOW WOULD I EVER DO THIS? Needless to say, I overreacted. A little.  

Somehow, after working through all of this, my mom and I ended up at TJ Maxx just before closing. And I bought this: 

Dance recitals aside, I have never before worn something like this, which means I do not own any shoes one might consider wearing with it. So I went a step further and purchased tall, strappy heels that I would typically never wear in real life. Because I can't walk in them. Mom and I somehow convinced each other that I looked awesome.  I started thinking up the matador-type moves I could on the dance floor. Hell, I might even do a Paso Doble with Jim. Or UB. This was going to be fantastic.

I came home and showed Jon, who simply raised an eyebrow. I sent my sister a text. She did not respond. Jon convinced me to try on the blue dress again. I could zip it all by myself. It was still tight but seemed to have stretched. We agreed that I should take it to the tailor to see if she could let it out, just a bit. And that's just what I did. I pick it up tomorrow. (I also returned the dress above, and the sexy, strappy shoes.)  

In the meantime, Jon surprised me with this sweet pendant to wear with the might-fit, or might-not-fit let-out dress. It's labradorite, a shimmery pale blue-green stone that will look just right with teal. Or black, if that's the way things go. Which will be fine because, as it turns out (Jon had no idea), this gemstone is purported to have a calming and harmonizing effect, "making it a very good stone for quick-tempered people."  

Sometimes he just knows.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

MVP has taken on new meaning.

MVP doesn't mean Most Valuable Player. Not anymore. Not in my new world. 

These days, MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product, a simple solution that can be deployed quickly. It's not perfect. It is attainable. It's what you can produce right now to fill a need, to solve a problem. Feedback welcome. 

This aiming for what's attainable is a new approach for me. Oh, I've tried it before. In fact, I'm a big fan of Anne Lamott's school of shitty first drafts. In theory. I've never been one to stop myself from over-editing. Overanalyzing. Over-thinking. To the point of paralysis. Because I have a problem with perfectionism. (Which, by the way, never leads to doing anything perfectly.) 

Anyway, lately, I'm realizing perfect isn't the point—and reaching for it doesn't pay off. I'm learning this at work but I'm applying it at home. When I'm packing J's lunch, I ask myself a very corporate sort of question: What's the low-hanging fruit here? And I'll tell you: it's the fresh already chopped pineapple that I picked up at the EatingWell farmer's market (free giveaway from the test kitchen), the leftover lasagna that simply needs reheated. It's a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie that I made from a tube of Cookie Love batter. 

It's good enough. Because, in the end, nobody cares about who played things best. Just get in the game. Focus on your best assets. Keep evolving the rest. Am I right? 

Monday, October 14, 2013

It's time to put down the coffee.

It's not like I was checking Facebook. It happened while I was attending to the little guy—who was shouting through the window to shut the door "so mosquitoes wouldn't get in." Mosquitoes only would have gotten into the mudroom, plus it was 7:30 am, but that's besides the point. I wanted him to feel he was being heard. (And I wanted reinforce this way of thinking, in a house that typically has at least one door totally ajar.) I stood up and shut the door.

It was an awkward half lounge/left-handed door shove, and I was gripping a canary-yellow coffee mug (that I don't even like very much) in my right hand. And what happened as a result was that drops of my cafe au lait showered down onto Julian's Fossils of Lake Champlain coloring page.  My heart skipped a beat. But Jules started laughing (an automatic reaction, it now seems) so I thought we were good. I expected bad—after all, my autopilot coffee-sloshing had ruined his work—but all seemed good.

So I said this: "Let it dry. You'll have tan spots but it will be okay. I'm sorry. It was accident. It was my bad - but totally an accident." 

It was the apology that seemed to stoke the reaction I'd first expected: cry, following by rubbing (which ripped a hole into a yet-to-be colored coral creature of some sort), followed by accusations and demands that we go to back to the museum to get another page to color RIGHT NOW.

We couldn't go now -  the bus was 2 minutes away. He had school. I had work. We would go on Friday when I was taking the day off, when he was off of school. The promise did not placate. Jules was pissed. With good right. I mean we all make mistakes but it doesn't seem okay that a careless coffee-splashing door-slammer should be able to get away with ruining your art in a single sloppy lunge. And without any apparent consequences.

It was a wake up and smell the, um, coffee moment. I move mindlessly from moment to moment of my day, coffee cup in hand. It's sort of ridiculous when you think about it. So I'm imposing a penance: Only 2 cups of coffee today. Sitting and savored. I'm sorry, Jules.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bull sharks live on land.

I was the kind of kid who spent many gorgeous summer days lying on the glider with a book. A biography of  Helen Keller or Babe Ruth, another installment of Sweet Valley High. Didn't matter. If I started it, I didn't want to stop until I finished. On these days, I didn't care who was playing baseball, racing bikes, swimming at the quarry or selling lemonade to fund the acquisition of GI Joe guys. I just wanted to read. 

So you can imagine how excited I am now that my boys love books and that Julian, ever since starting kindergarten some weeks ago, has stopped pushing away my finger when I drag it along the words of the books he's picked out at the library. The boy has taken a serious interest in learning to read.

He asks what the letters spell and now, each night, it's become our routine to have him "read" a book to me and Kai. For about a week that book has been about Star Wars Heroes and Villians. Eh. But tonight, that hero/villian book could not be found. And so I suggested my recent and fantastic Goodwill find, a book about sharks and rays. If you know me at all, you know that this equals awesome.

Pittsburgh Zoo, Fall 2009
But it gets even awesomer. Because when Julian reads, I mostly just listen to whatever story he gleans from the page. (Right... wrong, I don't know—but I'm going with right because it seems to be a great confidence builder.) Anyway, these are the fantastic things I learned about sharks today:

  • Great white sharks have really big, big teeth, which makes them FIERCE. And they have pink tongues and they are white. And great.
  • "Hammer sharks" (I couldn't resist correcting this one) have eyes on the the end of their heads.  Hammer sharks, I mean hammerhead sharks, are really FIERCE and they like to bang their eyes. Hmm....
  • Bull sharks are really FIERCE and they have really big teeth. And they eat bulls. (There was a illustration of a bull on the page, people. This was a logical conclusion.) And that's why bull sharks live on land some of the time.  

I love age 5. So, so much.