4/28/10

The Plan

I’m going to lose 15 pounds by the last week of June, just in time for our trip to Disney World.

I think that walking for miles, though the crowds, in the oppressive Florida heat will be a bit less unpleasant if I am a bit less…well, less.

Plus, if I lose weight I’ll be able to fit into the shorts I bought a few summers ago.

Plus, having a small goal with a definite endpoint seems much more manageable than having a huge goal with no endpoint (e.g., I’m going to diet my way down to a size 6!).

I won’t bore you with my tactics (other than to say: many salads in my future), but I will say that the toughest part is figuring out how to feed both myself and my family at dinnertime. It’s hard feeding us all even when one of us is not trying to lose weight. Sigh.

Anyway. Wish me luck, I’ll keep you posted.

4/26/10

Ants

This is a paragraph from a section of a novel called Anthill, by entomology professor/naturalist Edward O. Wilson. This excerpt from the novel was published in The New Yorker, to which I subscribe, and when I flipped to it my first thought was to just keep flipping, because who wants to read a story about ants? But then I read the first paragraph, and then the second, and by then I was so engrossed that I couldn't put it down, and I read the whole story and wished for more. Anyway, this paragraph is about an ant traveling to a rival antbed to gauge their strength:

As the elite scout left on her journey, she remembered the route more or less precisely. She had been to the Trailhead territory before, and she carried a compass in her head, using the sun as a lodestar. This reliance on the sun could have been the source of a huge error for an ant, because the sun travels across the sky, its angle constantly changing. However, each ant also has a biological clock, set to the twenty-four-hour cycle and run with a precision far beyond the capacity of an unaided human brain. Using her clock, the scout was able to adjust her trajectory and stay on track.

Fascinating. I also learned that a queen ant can live for twenty years or more. Twenty years! An ant! Also, anthills contain "burial chambers" where ants dispose of all kinds of debris, including the corpses of their fellow ants, which are detected by smell alone; the "corpse carrier" ants are shunned by other ants. Also, as ants get older and weaker, they are sent out to the nest periphery to forage -- the most dangerous job for an ant -- because the loss of a weak ant is less detrimental to the anthill than the loss of a strong ant. This is the major difference between our species, says the author: "Humans send their young men to war; ants send their old ladies."

So now you know something about ants. Don't you want to learn more? Or is it just me?

4/20/10

Fee-fi-feebee

Last summer, on our trip to Washington DC, Phoebe was playing in the swimming pool with her cousin Rhett. Rhett started to chase her, saying: “I’m going to catch you and lock you in my pirate cave!”

“No you’re not, because I can open the cave with my magic wand!” Phoebe said.

“Then I’m going to paralyze you with my jellyfish potion!” Rhett said.

“No you’re not, because that won’t work on my magical mermaid fin!” Phoebe said.

“Then I’m going to tie you up with my lasso!” Rhett said.

“No you’re not, because I can cut the rope with my sword!” Phoebe said.

Rhett finally turned to me, laughing, and said, “I don’t think I’m going to win this!”

This is the same little girl who was so shy, she wouldn’t even speak to my family when we visited two years ago.



I said to a friend the other day: “Phoebe is in this phase where she won’t let me out of her sight.” Then I thought a minute and added: “Wait, does it count as a phase if she’s been this way since birth?”

“No, I think then it’s a character trait,” my friend says.

No matter how involved she is in whatever she may be doing, Phoebe can always sense when I’ve stepped out of range. Then she’ll shout, in an alarmed way, “Ma-MA?” and roam around trying to find me. (Note: I never go that far. Our house is not that big.) If I say, “I’m going upstairs to switch the laundry; I’ll be right back,” she will follow me up the stairs. If I say: “I’m going to take this to the compost bin; I’ll be right back,” she’ll come out on the back deck with me. If I say: “I’m going ____, I’ll be right back, do not follow me,” she will follow me anyway (she even does this in the swimming pool, even though she can’t really swim – it only took one time to realize that I could not, in fact, count on her to stay in the shallow end while I swam half a lap and back).

“Would you just stay put?” I said to her once, exasperated, and she said: “Mommy, here’s the rule. Where you go, I go.”



Unlike Mallory at this age, Phoebe has never come home complaining that someone at school was mean to her or that someone would not be her friend. I don’t know if this is because the kids in her class have been much nicer than the kids in Mallory’s, or because Phoebe doesn’t notice things like this, or because everyone likes Phoebe. (It is true that when she walks into her classroom, a lot of the kids will shout: “Look! It’s Phoebe!”) I think, actually, it’s because she’s just very…self-assured and self-sufficient. She loves to play with other kids, and she’s not afraid to ask to join in, but she also doesn’t mind being by herself (unless it’s Mallory leaving her out of something, and then it’s an entirely different story). I’m not sure how this will play out as she gets older, but for now I’m glad that only one of my kids has social drama issues.



Phoebe spends half of her time in a fantasy world, narrating as she goes. This is often amusing but occasionally tiresome, especially as someone is required to say “Okay!” at certain points in her story. (If not, she’ll just repeat whatever it is ad nauseam.) Also, sometimes she just can’t decide about certain details, and then she sounds like this: “This is my baby. Her name is Kara.” [“Okay.”] “No, actually, her name is Michaela.” [“Okay.”] “No, actually her name is Shalaya – her name is Shalayma.” [“Okay.”] “No, actually her name is Kelly.” [Silence.] “Her name is Kelly.” [Silence.] “ACTUALLY HER NAME IS KELLY!” [“OKAY!”]

When she’s frustrated, Phoebe will say, “Oh, barnacles!” When she wants something to eat [but can’t have anything], she’ll say, “But it’s starting to growl!” When someone tells her something she doesn’t quite understand, she says, “Well, that’s awkward.” When she wakes up in the morning, she wants her bekfrast. Lately she’s been confusing her adverbial phrases, so she’ll say “at least” when she means “even though” or “unless.” [“Why are they called pancakes at least they’re not a cake?”]



Phoebe is still a terribly picky eater. I’ve pretty much given up on her. Most nights, she gets a bowl of cereal for dinner (her favorite being Ricie Krispies). Occasionally she’ll eat a piece of pizza, although she prefers it without crust and sauce. The other day she requested a cucumber sandwich with butter for lunch and was upset that I had no cucumbers. I don’t know what I’m going to send in her lunch box next year.

Last week Phoebe made Mallory a card that said: “To the most perfectest sister ever.” She and Mallory formed a “BFF” club and demanded to throw a party for themselves. (“Haven’t you always been BFFs?” I asked, and Phoebe said, “No, we only just now realized it!”)

Yesterday the school principal called me and told me that Phoebe scored “slightly behind the curve” on her kindergarten screening test. I don’t know what kind of test this was or how they scored it, but I think they must have done something wrong. Then again, I’m not sure that Phoebe will ever have any interest on following anyone else’s curve in the first place. Which is okay by me.

4/15/10

Poems

It's National Poetry Month, I heard today, so tonight I pulled out my favorite book of poetry -- Poems on the Underground. It's a collection of poems that were posted on trains in the London subway system the year I studied in England. Here's one:

Sometimes
Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.
--Sheenagh Pugh

And:

Spring and Fall
to a young child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born fo,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins

4/12/10

Sweet Nothings

Chris and I share a fondness for irreverent humor and a dislike of sentimentality. (We more or less realized we were soulmates while swapping quotes from The Simpsons.) I couldn’t meet his eyes during our wedding vows because of the way our preacher led us to say to one another, “I will lodge where you lodge” – something about that line struck us both as really funny. (We were already on the edge of the giggles after hearing my ex-brother-in-law read, with great feeling, the line from 1 Corinthians 13, “I am a noisy gong!” which was an apt description of his personality.)

So it should come as no surprise that we took our Lamaze class, which we took before Mallory was born, a bit less than seriously. I had already committed to an epidural, so all this talk of cleansing breaths and guided meditations and so forth struck us both as unnecessary. During one practice session, while all of us pregnant ladies were sprawled on the floor, with our husbands kneeling beside us, our instructor urged the men to whisper soothing, encouraging words to the panting women. Chris held my hand, leaned in close, and softly said, “You’re doing an adequate job. I’m sort of impressed with you. You’re not quite living up to your full potential, but I guess it’ll do. You could expend a tiny bit more effort, but whatever.”

I’m sure the other pregnant ladies wondered just what I thought was so funny.

4/6/10

True Love

How much does Phoebe love this dog?



A whole, whole, whole lot.

(I have other, and better, pictures from this weekend, but I'm having data transfer problems. Check back later for more!)

4/1/10

Amen

We probably won’t go to church this Easter. We don’t, actually, go to church all that often, but Easter is particularly problematic because it’s almost impossible to get a parking space or a seat, unless you arrive way ahead of time.

We will be going to church in about a month for Mallory’s first Communion. And we went last month for her first Confession. This is all a bit strange to me, because I’m not Catholic. For many years, in fact, I was somewhat anti-Catholic. I was raised in a church whose doctrine was “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, freedom,” so I suppose it’s not that surprising that I wouldn’t take to a denomination where everything is spelled out and there are highly codified rules and beliefs. My biggest beef, for a while, was that I – a baptized Christian – was not allowed to take Communion in the Catholic church. “It’s not right to exclude people like that!” I protested.

I enrolled in an RCIA class – for adults interested in converting to Catholicism – when Mallory was two or three, and when Chris and I started to discuss the possibility of sending her to Catholic school. In the class I realized that much of what I thought I knew about Catholicism was wrong. I learned that much of Catholic thought and tradition is quite beautiful. I concluded it was ridiculous for me to resent the Catholic church for its beliefs, even when I disagreed, because their beliefs were what, after all, made them the Catholic church to begin with. I decided, in the end, that although I was no longer anti-Catholic, I nevertheless didn’t want to become a Catholic. I understand where they’re coming from now, on most issues, but I still disagree with just enough of their teachings and stances on social issues that I cannot convert with a full and open heart. In a way, I now feel that joining the Church, feeling as I do about certain things, would be disrespectful, both to the Church and to my own self.

I've accepted the fact that my kids will grow up Catholic, and that, for now at least, they will be educated in a Catholic school. (There were lots of reasons for choosing their school, many of which have nothing to do with religion, but that’s another story for another time.) Sometimes it’s been strange – seeing Phoebe make the sign of the cross for the first time; helping Mallory write reports on saints and transubstantiation. Mallory has realized that if she has a question about Religion, she should ask Chris instead of me. She’s asked me why I don’t take Communion, why I don’t know the Mass responses. I tell her that I grew up in a different church and we did things a bit differently. I’ve always thought to myself that I don’t mind that she (and Phoebe) are Catholic, but I’m glad they know it’s not the only way to be.

Perhaps because of that, I’ve always had an attitude of…somewhat ironic detachment when we do go to Mass together. I’ve matured since the first time Chris and I went to Mass together, when I whispered, “It burns! It burns!” as the priest flicked us all with Holy Water (I was joking), but I’ve never allowed myself to totally relax into the experience either. I don’t make the sign of the cross. I haven’t learned the responses. I used to not kneel when others knelt; now I do, because I realized that if I don’t, I'll be in the way of the people behind me. I don’t go up during Communion to get a blessing from the priest in lieu of the wafer. I never remember to stop after “and deliver us from evil” when saying the Lord’s Prayer (because I learned that it concluded with, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever”).

Watching Mallory approach the priest for her first Confession, however, it struck me that maybe I’m doing her – and Phoebe, in a few years – a disservice. This is important to her; I could tell by the look on her face. This is not something that I should be taking lightly. Parents are often called upon to feign interest in or excitement about their children’s doings. We laugh at the stupid knock-knock jokes, we exclaim over the scribbled drawings, we clap at the antics in the pool or the playground. It’s becoming clear to me that my children’s religious beliefs, however, require a deeper response than that. It’s not that I’ve suddenly decided to convert, mind you. It’s just that…I’ve realized that by excluding myself from Catholicism, I’m not participating fully in an important part of my daughters’ lives (and, if the Catholic church is the only place we go to worship, I’m also not participating fully in my own relationship with God, which is also another story for another time).

I am not sure what to do about this, frankly. In fact I’ve been sitting for ten minutes trying to figure out how to end this paragraph. Hmm. Nope, nothing. Well, here’s something. Many years ago, when my older sister was herself on the verge of converting to Catholicism, she said: “I think God just wants us to do the best we can.” I completely agree with that. I think that I just don’t know exactly what my best is supposed to be.

So. Happy Easter!