lettersWelcome to the scavenger hunt at our house! I’m sure you’ll enjoy rifling through the eclectic collection of special treasures we have thoughtfully gathered in our home. Do your best to find all 10 items and you will win an exciting prize to be announced later.

1. One letter, number, or shape magnet that has been peed on. Don’t worry, you will not need to pee on any magnets yourself. You can find a whole bucket of said magnets, previously peed on, in the hallway. They were peed on by Zeke after his bath while I was searching for the diaper ointment. Randy put them in the sink to wash them off, but then he put Zeke to bed and didn’t get around to washing them off. I moved them into a bucket so Zoe could brush her teeth in the sink. No one has gotten around to washing them off yet. Bonus points if you volunteer!

2. A trail of cornstarch. Did I mention Zeke’s diaper rash? One of the remedies suggested by his babysitter is sprinkling cornstarch all over his parts. I have not yet found any targeted way to sprinkle cornstarch. But I did discover tonight after Zeke apparently somersaulted into Zoe’s bike chain (because Zoe’s bike is in the hallway) and got bicycle grease all over his beautiful new sweater that he wore for the first time today, that you can use cornstarch to remove bike grease from clothing! Generously sprinkle cornstarch all over the grease and let it absorb the grease. Then later, scrub off the grease with dish detergent. It works! You’re welcome to bring your own Ziploc bag or tupperware container and take home several spoonsful of cornstarch for your own personal uses. We easily have a year’s supply in the one tub we purchased. Actually, no need to bring your own container. Move on to #3

3. Tupperware with a lid that fits. We have a whole cabinet full of plastic containers and lids. If you can find a container and lid that go together, they’re yours! Use them for the cornstarch, or #4

4. Leftovers. The way food ingredients are sold and recipes are written, we typically make dinner for four people. While there are, in fact, four people in our family, one of them eats very little, except of course when he eats a lot. But you never know. We almost always end up with half a serving of food left. Or maybe one and a half servings. Or maybe three pieces of fish but no sides. Or a pint of couscous. We are not good at eating leftovers. Call us lazy, or excessively picky, or just call us when the dinner you’ve prepared is ready for us to eat. But we don’t want the leftovers. You can have them. Please fill up your containers.

5.  Things for Sale or FreecyclingWe have a lot of things we are trying to get rid of. We just have a lot of things. And a small house. And we don’t need all the things. We donate a lot of things to people and organizations. But we also would like a little extra cash, so sometimes we try to sell things. We post them on Craigslist and we get snarky replies from jerks. Occasionally someone buys something. But we have stuff that we just don’t want to throw away because someone might want it and someone might pay money on it and surely that Smurf or ET stuffed animal from the 80s will be super valuable on eBay. Really, we just want to make some space. So if you see anything you want to buy, just make an offer. Even if it’s not one of the things we’re trying to sell. Bring cash. Or just take what you want. We probably wouldn’t even notice it’s gone.

6. A Mixed Media Collage of Your Creation. This is where the scavenger hunt deviates from those you may have participated in in the past. Here you actually sit down and make art, using the wide variety of available materials. Some of these materials date back to the 1970s, but they’re still useable, because anything can be art! Create with clay, yarn, foam stickers, unused Valentine cards, rubber stamps, glitter glue, puffy paint, crayons, markers, pastels, watercolors, tempera paint, old postcards, construction paper, old Christmas cards, tax returns, receipts, cookbooks we haven’t used in years, and more. Just ask if it seems like it might be valuable before you start gluing.

7. Lint. Again here you will enjoy the opportunity to express yourself artistically by creating a lint sculpture. Bring home a treat for the kids when you can craft a lint doll or stuffed animal to snuggle with at night. Or, for the more pragmatic among you, weave a lint blanket to keep in the car for emergencies. If you’re particularly ambitious, gather enough lint to insulate the new addition you’re building on your house. We had to get a new washer and dryer last year after our dryer conked out and the repairman declared it impossible to resuscitate after three visits. Our new washer and dryer work great except for the lint filter in the dryer, which is not entirely willing to do its very basic job of collecting lint. Some of the lint is just free spirited and follows the advice of Fleetwood Mac and insists on going its own way. I feel like this wild lint is probably a fire hazard, so if you would collect it for us, that would be a huge help.

8. Laundry. You might say you have your own laundry and you don’t need ours, but you would be wrong. We have so much laundry that we are certain there’s something in there you would like. Any time of day or night that you happen to come by to participate in this scavenger hunt, you will find some laundry in the living room. This will be clean laundry. It may or may not be folded. Not to worry, the dirty laundry is in hampers or at least in a pile on the floor in front of the laundry closet, so you won’t accidentally pick something out from the dirty laundry, unless that’s what you’re into, and we’ll just pretend we didn’t see it. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time poking around in the unfolded laundry, you can look upstairs in one of the bedrooms or maybe even the hall and just pick up a bin filled with already folded laundry! Don’t even look at it–just take it and then when you get home you’ll be surprised by the contents. Will it be size 3T t-shirts, shorts, socks, and pajamas? A sleepsack you can hide your cat in? Or a kids’ martial arts uniform? Or grown-up jeans and dozens of t-shirts advertising computer programs, 5Ks, or our favorite bands. Anything you get you will love, I promise.

9. A Mouse. Ok, this might be tricky. I’m not really sure if there are any mice still living in our house, but if you find one and take it with you, then we will be sure there is one less mouse sharing our space. If you can’t find a mouse, I will accept a mousetrap and still give your credit.

10. Something We’ve Lost. This is kind of tricky because you don’t really know what you’re looking for, but if you can look behind and under furniture or in the tops or corners of closets and you turn up any object that any of us has been looking for a while and hasn’t been able to locate, you definitely win. If you come up with something that we wanted, we will keep it. If you find something that we didn’t even realize was lost and we really didn’t miss it, it’s all yours. We insist.

Found all 10 items? Hooray! Congratulations! You are like Sherlock, but not a sociopath (probably). And your prize is already right there in your arms, or in your complimentary tote bag that we gave you on the way in. It’s all yours! You found it, you keep it. Enjoy! And thanks for making our house just a little more livable. We’ll be happy to come to your scavenger hunt soon. You probably have some really cool stuff that we’d like.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 12.56.11 PMMy grades came yesterday. They were worse than I thought.

I am not in graduate school or even taking a class at a community center. This was my college transcript, from roughly two decades ago. In those 20 years I have built a successful career as a writer, editor, and communications consultant. I’ve worked as in-house communications officer for two organizations and launched my own business 10 years ago. People hire me because I am an excellent writer and editor and no one has ever asked about my grades from college.

Until now. I recently had this idea about becoming a substitute teacher at my daughter’s school. I asked Zoe’s teacher and our preschool director for letters of recommendation. I requested my transcript from William and Mary. And when I opened it up, I sighed. My grades were even worse than I remembered. I got a D- in a biology class my first semester. I remember going to talk to the professor after failing the first test, and his words of wisdom were, “you’re an English major, aren’t you?” as if my fate was sealed and I was wholly incapable of succeeding in his class. Things certainly improved from there, but there were many classes in which I earned grades that I did not feel reflected what I had learned. Granted, it’s a tough school, but I had plenty of friends who earned 4.0s or close to it. An illustration of their standards: when I studied abroad for a semester at Oxford University, there was extensive discussion back at William and Mary about whether to accept my transfer credit for a class in British literature. Because, you know, what if the Oxford don doesn’t know as much about British literature as the professors at William and Mary.Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 12.59.03 PM

Perhaps I sound bitter. I don’t mean to. I had a stellar college experience. I enjoyed my time at William and Mary immensely. I dedicated many hours to working on the school paper, which probably helped me in my current work as much or more than many of my classes. I volunteered at the campus child care center and the mental hospital off campus, both for my psychology classes, and helped a Japanese woman improve her English. I went on a work trip to do hurricane relief with my church group. I babysat for and developed strong relationships with families in the community. I made wonderful friends. I obsessively attended a cappella and improv theater performances. I took weight training as a freshman girl with my roommate and a bunch of football players. I rappelled down the back of the stadium in adventure games.

I do not regret not studying more. I enjoyed most of the classes I took. I learned a lot.

So why do I feel so disappointed in my grades? No one but me is judging me by my transcript.

I remember on one of my first days of college when our entire freshman class was gathered in William and Mary Hall. Some administrator welcomed us and talked about how collectively amazing we were. She named how many class presidents, newspaper editors, varsity athletes, valedictorians, etc etc were in our class. She held up one hand in the air, palm down, saying, “in high school, all of you were up here. You were the best of your class.” But any group has to have a spectrum, so now at William and Mary, some of us would be up there, and some of us would be down at the bottom, and some in between. I remember thinking, of course I would still be at the top. But I wasn’t. At least in terms of grades. Are the people who were at the top, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa, any happier or more successful now? I know some of them, and I would venture to say no. Not that they’re unhappy, but they have varying amounts of job satisfaction. They have families and houses and good lives. There’s very little about my life I would change, and anything I would change is completely unrelated to my poor performance in biology.

Apparently I made the Dean’s List one semester. I totally did not remember that. But I don’t think that matters anymore, either, if it ever did. If you want to discuss the psychology of humor, or poetry, or women’s history, however I’m down with that. And I did end up acing my writing classes. And I am a writer, so there’s that.

It may seem unrelated, but I am also struggling with my disproportionate shame about the state of my house when service providers come to fix things. I’m pretty sure they don’t care if we are messy and it makes no different to them as long as they can do their job and get paid. I know this is all in my head, but I’m not sure how to get it out.

In 10 days I will have a birthday. The big milestone birthday for the decade was last year, so this year isn’t anything special, but I’m sure at 41 I should be mature enough not to care about these things. Something to work on for the next 10 days. Or weeks. Or months. Then next year, I’ll be 42 — the secret to life, the universe, and everything, so surely I’ll have figured it out by then.

2015-03-20 18.22.06Conversation tonight at dinner:

Zoe: “I can’t wait for my sparring class tomorrow!”

Me: “Great! I’m glad you’re so excited.”

Zoe: “How could I not be? It’s awesome!”

After dinner Randy helped Zoe mold her mouth guard so it fits her teeth.

Last week I watched Zoe during her first sparring class and I was amazed. She was not shy or scared or holding back in any way. At first she was partnered with another girl who is about her age and size and who is the same belt rank. It was also her classmate’s first night in sparring class, although they’ve been together in martial arts class since kindergarten. So that didn’t seem so crazy. They were evenly matched and that particular girl is fierce but Zoe completely held her own. They even wrestled! I’ve never seen Zoe wrestle anyone except Zeke, who is not even two yet (although he can still tackle her and knock her over). But then as the class went on, there was an exercise where the students were divided into groups of five or six and each individual had to stand at the front with the instructor and spar every person in line, one at a time. Then there was the time the whole class was in two long lines and every few minutes they rotated, so Zoe started out against her original partner but eventually was sparring with much bigger, older, and more experienced students. In the picture above, she is sparring with a black belt, one of the student instructors. I think he’s 14. He’s also exhibiting supreme control. Master Emerson instructed the big kids to be very controlled with the younger ones, and they were. But they weren’t standing back and letting the younger ones beat up on them either.

I was really shocked at how exciting it was to see Zoe spar. While martial arts is, technically, the art of war, I have never felt like Zoe’s classes at Evolve All are about fighting. They are about discipline, respect, resilience, perseverance, teamwork, compassion, technique, and kokoro–Japanese for heart. They talk about the black belt attitude, which is about improving yourself and helping others, among other attributes. During the growth ceremonies, the candidates for black belt have to read essays, break many boards using a form they’ve created, and spar with their classmates and Master Emerson for several challenging minutes. The sparring has always been my least favorite part. This is not fighting–everyone is wearing protective gear but it is not the Karate Kid and no one is actually getting hurt. It’s all about technique and stamina. You can tell from watching it is very hard work for these kids.

So I’ve always known Zoe would eventually need to start sparring, but I wasn’t in any rush. What I was eager for her to do was audition for the demo team–the group of kids who perform really impressive techniques and routines during the growth ceremonies and at community events. This was the first year she would be eligible. But then they changed the demo team meeting time to a day that didn’t work for our schedule. And Zoe’s instructor Mister Christian said that sparring was more relevant to what she was learning in class and that would be a better place to start in terms of augmenting her regular classes. And to my surprise, Zoe expressed enthusiasm about sparring. She asked for sparring gear (not cheap) for her birthday.

Last week Zoe asked me if I thought she was a tomboy, because, she said, “I like things that boys usually like, like Star Wars and martial arts and soccer.” Not to mention the series of books about tribes of crazy fighting cats that she and all her friends of both genders are obsessed with. I told her that I thought tomboy was a silly and meaningless word, and that she’s a cool person with diverse interests who didn’t feel limited by stereotypes in her choice of things to do or enjoy. I probably used other words, but that was the idea. Later in the week she approached Randy with the same question and he gave her basically the same answer (yay united parenting front!). Clearly she is thinking about what, if anything, it all means, promoted probably by starting to spar. What I think it means is that she is a strong, independent individual. How great is it to start owning your strength and independence when you’re not even eight years old? I love the fact that when boys in her class write or read something about Star Wars they rush over to tell her about it, because apparently her Star Wars fandom is well known.

Zeke wishes he could spar too. He’s always trying to put on Zoe’s gear. I wish Evolve All would bring back the young masters class for three- and four-year-olds. But Zeke will have his day on the mat. In the meantime, it’s Zoe’s turn and she is not holding back.

il_340x270.546093839_oy2wLast week when I went to volunteer in Zoe’s classroom, her teacher was beginning a lesson about haiku. When I arrived, she said she had to leave the classroom in 10 minutes to help with a professional development activity and that she would be gone for about an hour. She said there was a sub coming in, but that I could go ahead and teach the lesson. She had given me no prior warning about this–it’s possible she didn’t know, since she is a seasoned teacher and reading specialist and she is frequently called upon to help other teachers with professional development. But surprisingly I wasn’t nervous. I expected to be nervous, but I was excited. She left, the sub arrived and introduced himself to me unintelligibly. And I read and discussed several haikus with the class and then worked with them to write their own.

This may not sound revolutionary to you. It was just an hour with second graders talking about poetry. But it felt kind of extraordinary to me. I have always loved teaching and coaching and tutoring one-on-one or in small groups. Back when I was Presbyterian I taught some adult Sunday school classes and a few years of Vacation Bible School to little kids. No big deal. But teaching a classroom full of students in school has always intimidated me. A good friend of mine who is a teacher used to try to convince me to teach but I told her I couldn’t handle the management part of it. I liked the idea of teaching and discussing and working with the kids, but was terrified of the idea of trying to make the kids behave.

But Zoe’s teacher is so stellar–and she would give credit to the students for being a great group of kids–that there was no discipline required. She has worked hard to foster a kind and compassionate community in her classroom. Certainly, the fact that I’ve come in to work with them every week for the past several months helps too. They know me and I know all their names and have a basic understanding of their abilities, at least in terms of reading and writing. A couple times when the noise level rose even just a little bit–they are encouraged to help each other with writing and using their iPads, and they were supposed to write their final haikus in a haiku app that they had just downloaded–I used the teacher’s “1-2-3 eyes on me” technique, and every kid responded “1-2 eyes on you” and snapped to attention. It was kind of magical.

Afterward I was just so thrilled. I had spent an hour teaching kids about poetry and it was so much fun. Why hadn’t I done this before? I wondered. Then I went straight to my shift at the book fair, where I enjoyed selling books to kids and parents and teachers and chatting with the librarian and talking about children’s books that I love. What else could I want in life, really? I have always loved school libraries, especially in elementary school. I still remember with great fondness my elementary school librarian Miss Dusza. She read many wonderful books to us, including John Bellairs’ The House with the Clock in Its Walls. I made posters for her that she hung up in the library. I don’t remember what the posters were of, but I was very proud of them.

Later I asked Zoe’s teacher whether the sub really needed to be there since I was teaching the lesson and she said it was a legal requirement. I thought, “Hey, I could be a sub!” And then I kicked myself for not thinking of this last fall. Zoe’s teacher has had to have many subs when she is called out to lead professional development and I could have been there teaching the class instead of someone they didn’t even know who wasn’t familiar with what they were working on. Then I looked up the substitute application and saw a transcript is required and felt old and irritated by my less than impressive grades from my first semester of college. And I thought it was probably too late in the year to even consider this whole thing.

Then that night someone who is helping Zoe learn to ride a bike mentioned to me that he was a substitute elementary school librarian that day. What? They have substitute librarians? How cool is that? I had no idea. He said all you have to do to be a librarian substitute is have a librarian show you how the library computer system works. I could do that!

Then yesterday I ran into Zoe’s school librarian at Zoe’s Kitchen and floated this idea by her and she was totally on board. She said she rarely takes days off because she doesn’t know anyone she can trust to sub for her.

Of course I already have my own business to run and plenty of life to keep me busy. But I am really excited about the prospect of possibly substituting for Zoe’s awesome teacher and getting to work with her class even once or twice before the end of the year. And getting to be the librarian for the day! Wow. I am paying my $7 for my imperfect college transcript and requesting letters of recommendation. I am not scared anymore.

2015-03-10 13.15.22It’s disconcerting to see something moving across the floor in your peripheral vision when you’re in your living room and your kids are in bed asleep. Nothing should be scurrying about on your rug. No one should be darting under your furniture or hiding under your son’s toys.

Despite the fact that we have removed three mice in various states of incapacitation from our house, and I found another mouse–dead–in front of our front door yesterday, we do not seem to be rid of our mouse problem. Following Randy’s suggestion (see left), I have not had the courage to remove the dead mouse from in front of our house yet, but I suspect his fellow mice have not seen his current unfortunate state because they are inside and he is outside.

We had a repairperson here yesterday fixing a variety of things that have broken over the past months (maybe years?) and he filled some suspected mice holes. So either there are many more holes we have not yet identified, or a bunch of mice were already inside. Don’t they know it’s nice outside now? The weather has warmed up! They can go back outside and frolic! There’s no reason to stay in here, protected from the snow and ice. The snow has mostly melted! It’s not even raining. Go ahead, mice, go outside to the playground! Have a picnic in the park! If your holes are filled, I will gladly open the front (or back door) and let you out. Enjoy the spring, mice.

mousetrapLast night while Zoe was having a sleepover with her grandparents, I was hoping Randy and I could do some grown-up thing like watch an R-rated movie or play Bananagrams. Or if Randy had to do work, I would, say, read a book. Instead I had to guiltily dispose of one dead and two distressed mice.

After my last post about the mouse I saw in the bathroom in the middle of the night, several friends offered to loan me humane mousetraps. Those people perhaps are better people than I am. In fact after reading this you may think less of me, but I am what I am at this point. I’m not going to change. Anyway, I had already called Phil, our exterminator, with whom we have an annual contract because we have had many unwelcome small creatures in our house over the past decade. He comes whenever we call because I don’t like the thought of tiny things attacking us or our children as we sleep, or infiltrating our food, or pooping on our stuff. So Phil had come earlier this week and discovered a mouse hole behind my desk and set several traps around the house. He said he thought there was only one mouse, and he didn’t see any signs of the mouse in the kitchen, although in past months and years the mice have definitely been in the kitchen. We thought maybe they wanted to check out the upstairs just for fun.

Then last night while Zeke and I were hanging out making block towers and kind of watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, while Randy went to pick up Vietnamese food from Four Sisters Grill for our dinner, I heard a squeak. You know when you read a book about a mouse or sing “Old MacDonald” and you say “squeak! squeak!” but that’s actually what I heard. It’s much more literal than when you say, “oink” for what a pig says, because if you listen to pigs they don’t really say, “oink.”

Anyway, I sneaked away and checked one of the traps and saw a very dead mouse. It was not squeaking. I did not want to attract Zeke’s attention to the dead mouse, so I moved an easel in front of it. But I still heard squeaking. Clearly it was not coming from the dead mouse. I couldn’t see any other traps. I texted Phil to ask where the other traps were, but he did not answer.

I resumed building and knocking down towers with Zeke. Actually he was doing the knocking down, but we were both building, and I was really impressed by his fine motor skills when he would carefully add blocks to the top of my already tall tower.

Eventually Randy got home and we ate dinner and he put Zeke to bed. While they were upstairs, I gingerly picked up the trap with the dead mouse and put it inside a large plastic cup from a restaurant, and put the cup inside a gift bag decorated with poinsettias left over from last Christmas which was inexplicably in the kitchen in that little space between a cabinet and a kitchen cart where we keep grocery bags. I threw it in the trash and tied up the trash bag and took it outside even though we’re not supposed to put trash outside until the morning when the garbagemen come, because I didn’t want the dead mouse in my house anymore.

I continued to hear intermittent squeaks, which seemed to be coming from the stove. I armed myself with a large metal steamer pot and a plastic plate in case the mice came darting out from under the stove and I was quick enough to catch them. I pulled out the drawer underneath the stove, where we keep pyrex dishes, and saw several glue traps that Phil had left, which are usually for ants or roaches. But stuck in one of the glue traps were not one but two mice, squeaking and immobilized. Great. They’re not dead, but they’re stuck.

I used a paper towel to pick up the trap and put it in the steamer pot and covered it with the plate, just in case they could escape. I went outside and crossed the street and tried to shake the mice out of the trap into the snowy grass by the sidewalk. They would not come out. I did not want to touch the mice. Then I did something I now regret, but I honestly didn’t know what else to do. I just threw the whole thing down in the grass and hoped that the mice would either miraculously escape or mercifully die quickly. I just didn’t know what else to do.

I went back inside feeling terrible about the mice, but also relieved that they were out of my house and at least three fewer mice would be threatening my family with their toxic poop.

Then, since I had found two mice in the kitchen where we didn’t think there were any, I did some investigating. I pulled out the kitchen cart and discovered a great deal of the aforementioned toxic poop. I started to cry, but I stopped because the vent in the kitchen is connected directly to the vent in the kids’ room and the last thing I needed was to wake Zeke up.

So Randy and I spent a good deal of the rest of the evening cleaning up toxic mouse poop and sanitizing the surfaces of the kitchen.

Then today I was moving things around in our minivan so I could give one of Zoe’s friends a ride home from Brownies. I had to clean out all the junk in the back to put up the third row of seats. In so doing, I found a bag containing two gourds leftover from Halloween which I had intended to bring to my sister’s house to compost. Then I found a third gourd decomposing underneath Zoe’s seat. It may or may not have eaten a hole in the rug. I was able to remove much, but not all, of the gourd. I’m not even sure what tool I need to remove the rest. And I had to go in to the Brownie meeting, where we made art, so that was lovely and it took my mind off the rotting vegetation in my car. I don’t know how it didn’t smell, but it didn’t. Maybe because it’s been so cold.

One highlight of the past week has been that we were lucky enough to win tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll for the first time. I am excited and I know the kids will have a great time even though they don’t really know what it is. Zeke doesn’t even know what Easter is. But Zeke has consistently said Daddy in reference to Randy, and he can breathe like Darth Vader (on purpose) and he said POP when we were making popcorn. And he said “I love you” to my mom.

But I could do without the rodent defecation or vegetation decomposition. And also it would be nice if Zeke would go to sleep. It’s 11:19 and he’s still awake. We saw comedian Maz Jobrani perform on Friday night and he described the tribulations of getting his daughter to bed. he said by the end of it he would be saying, “‘Lord Jesus please make her go to sleep!’ And I’m not even Christian! Moses! Mohammed! Buddha! Bahai! The first God who gets her to go to sleep, I’ll convert!” It’s a good thing we’re already Unitarians.

For her imminent eighth birthday, Zoe has asked for sparring gear (so she can participate in the sparring class at Evolve All, where she takes marPrincess Leia legotial arts), a Jedi robe (in part so she can be Luke Skywalker for Halloween, after having been Princess Leia this past Halloween), action figures from Big Hero 6; and Legos. Oh, and to get her nails done with me.

I don’t know what exactly this means, but she is a far cry from the fairy princess she used to  pretend to be. Her favorite books right now are a series about clans of cats that fight each other to establish dominance. When she asked her grandfather to guess what she planned to be for Halloween this year and he said Princess Leia, I reminded him that she had already been Princess Leia, but that he was close. I meant close as in someone else from Star Wars, but he thought I meant another princess, so he said, “someone from Frozen?” Zoe scoffed. She does like Frozen, and we watched it again just last week, but not as much as she loves Star Wars, and she said, “I would never be a princess from Frozen.”

Certainly Zoe still loves her American Girl dolls, and has taught her brother how to properly brush their hair, because he wants to get in on the grooming action. He loves to take care of her babies (and the baby–Sam–that he received for Christmas this past year) and is often stuffing pretend food into their mouths. But Zoe also has her American Girl dolls teach her baby dolls how to do tae kwan do. I think her dad is relieved that the days are over when Zoe wants to play mommy-having-a-baby or be a princess with Randy acting as prince.

She also loves to play board games and word games and sometimes she beats us at Othello and Trivial Pursuit. She loves to draw and she has created a cartoon superhero named Pet Girl, who takes care of lots of animals. She still draws lots of rainbows that say “I love you Mommy.”

She is stubborn and argumentative and has already mastered the teenage glare although she’s still five years away from adolescence. She loses things and doesn’t pay attention and asks over and over for things she know she can’t do or have. But she is also the sweetest big sister who deeply adores her little brother, even though she does get annoyed when he gets into her stuff, which happens all the time. She is thoughtful and compassionate and curious. I love the person she is and the way she is learning to see the world and her place in it. I love that she would rather look in the boys section at Old Navy for Star Wars or soccer t-shirts instead of the girls’ section for Hello Kitty. Although she did wear a sequined panda shirt today that she recently picked out. I love that she wants to wear matching clothes with her brother and take baths with him. And she wants to be elegant and beautiful and go to royal balls and tea parties and try on makeup. I don’t love the makeup. But I get it.

Part of me cringes at the thought of her sparring, and I wouldn’t let her do it if it weren’t part of the instruction at the martial arts school we love so sparring glovesmuch where they teach you that the black belt attitude is about caring, responsibility, respect, determination, and patience. It’s not about fighting. I imagine the sparring will help build her strength and confidence, which is a good thing for any kid. And you won’t be able to see her manicure underneath the sparring gloves, but her nails will definitely be lovely.

Unfortunately this is NOT the mouse I saw in my bathroom at 3am.

Unfortunately this is NOT the mouse I saw in my bathroom at 3am.

The worst part of last night, at least for me, was not Zeke’s persistent crying and refusal to sleep horizontally (although that was quite unpleasant) but rather the fact that after I plopped a weepy Zeke on our bed with his dogs Kirby and Uh Oh Dog and woke up Randy to keep an eye on him while I used the bathroom, when I turned on the bathroom light I saw a mouse dash out of the bathroom, across the hall, and into my office (also our guest room), which caused me to pee in my pants. I am not typically one of those people who is terrified of mice (although I don’t love them cohabiting with my family) but seeing a mouse vacate the bathroom in our bedroom and relocate to another bedroom, all on the upper floor of our house, where we sleep, does not sit well with me. Suddenly my mind switched from exasperation over Zeke’s restlessness to fear that the mouse (and perhaps his whole family) would be crawling over our faces if we ever did get back to sleep. tiny slug

A few weeks ago when our family was suffering from round after round of stomach viruses, twice during wakeful, messy nights, I spotted a tiny slug in the corner of the kitchen. The slug’s presence was disconcerting, but not alarming. First of all, it was tiny. Second, it was as slugs are wont to do, moving quite slowly, so I didn’t feel like I had to attend to it immediately. Slugs are notoriously easy to apprehend and Randy removed both slugs to the backyard without incident. This happened in the kitchen and I never once worried that slugs would crawl over our faces as we slept, leaving poisonous trails of slime. But a mouse. Those things are dangerous. Our exterminator told us to use gloves and masks when he reminded us many times to remove the mouse poop from the utility shed behind our house. You’re not going to want to come over for dinner now, are you?

Not that we can have anyone over for dinner these days anyway, because we are always sick or trapped inside by snow and ice. Not really trapped, Boston-style, but stuck inside because where are we going to go when it’s snowy and icy anyway? Our weeks of isolation began on January 29 when Zeke was first struck with norovirus, which he generously shared with all of us in turn. We were supposed to have friends over for dinner a few days later but had to cancel. And every weekend since then, someone has been puking or feverish or something yucky. School has been closed or delayed. I have postponed and rescheduled work meetings and personal appointments and social events over and over again.

When my mind is forced to spend those days (and nights) home with sick kids, or sick husband, or sick me, it tends to wander off toward dark and dismal destinations. I was fairly convinced throughout February that I was a terrible parent, incapable of compassion or patience, and also to blame for everyone’s illnesses. I was sure I didn’t have any real friends and somehow my children and I were being excluded from all fun things that were happening everywhere. I spend a lot of time worrying about all the things anyone could possibly worry about, and then I create some new things to worry about. I embrace my tendency toward worst-case-scenario thinking. Meaning, I am always on some level planning what to do if I need to take someone to the ER or what if someone never comes back from that errand or that trip, or what if we lose power and so many other what ifs that actual reality has no room to exist in my brain. I’ve struggled to figure out how to extract myself from this hole. Everyone I know seems to have crap they’re dealing with, much of it significantly more challenging than mine. Or everyone is just sick. During one of my doctor visits in February, my doctor said there were three groups of people in this area: people who’ve recently been sick, people who are sick now, and people who are going to get sick soon. He said the virus season this winter is the worst he’s seen in a decade. Still, knowing other people are sick does not at all make me feel any better, or even absolve me of responsibility for our germs. We wash our hands all the freaking time. While toddlers are not known for their hygeine habits, even Zeke loves to wash his hands, wipe up spills, and bring out the dustbuster when there’s a spill. We bleach, we wipe down, we spray. And yet the germs circulate and attack us again and again and my mental and emotional state deteriorates. So it’s been hard for me to reach out. I don’t like to complain (maybe you can’t tell that from this post) and I don’t like negativity. I am an optimist. I don’t like whiners. But the past five weeks, which feel more like five months, my sense of hope and positive attitude have diminished. My creativity and confidence have crumbled. I’ve felt increasingly lonely and isolated. I am an extrovert (or to be more accurate, according to my reading of Susan Cain’s work, I’m an ambivert, but still I need some outside stimulation). It’s not been good.

One bright spot during this time has been the sermons by Rev. Aaron McEmrys at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. I’ve been a member of All Souls Unitarian for nearly a decade, but for a variety of reasons it’s become untenable to attend services there. Recently a friend invited Zoe to participate in the sex ed (appropriate for second-graders) segment of the Sunday morning religious education class, so I figured I would go to services while Zoe was in class. I’d been to UUCA a couple times before in years past and found it pleasant but not powerful. This time, though, I was surprised and moved by Rev. Aaron’s preaching. I find his sermons to be thoughtful, challenging, exquisitely written, and passionately delivered. And this week he challenged the congregation to do something fun or frivolous or whatever it was they needed to do to be more resilient–to live more and work less. By example he told physicians in the room to work five fewer hours this week and do something entertaining or fulfilling instead. But he said he didn’t know what we all needed–we did. And what I needed to do was write this. It is embarrassing to say you’ve felt lonely and sad. I was raised not to feel sorry for myself. But sometimes you just need to say how you feel. I also, as a writer, constantly struggle with reluctance to put words out into the world unless they are fully formed and somehow worthy. Unfortunately, I just don’t always feel worthy. But I still need to put words out there before they burn a hole inside me, as they sometimes threaten to do.

So I am praying for spring. For health. For sleep. For the mouse that is upstairs in our house to move out. For a new show to materialize that makes me laugh as much as Parks and Recreation did. For more books like Wonder, which I read in a day sometime in February and would recommend to everyone. And for you, if you are in a hole, to find your way out as well.

imagesAt her annual ophthalmological checkup today, the eye doctor confirmed what I had suspected, that Zoe has convergence insufficiency. Actually I didn’t know that particular phenomenon was the problem, but I knew something was wrong. Zoe loves books and reads at a high level, but in recent months I had noticed her gravitating back to picture books instead of reading chapter books when given the opportunity. And I had observed that after the 20 minutes of required homework reading Zoe would often claim she was exhausted or had a headache. I knew something wasn’t right.

So I made a two-hour appointment (not covered by insurance and not cheap) with a developmental optometrist after hearing about a girl who sounded a lot like Zoe who was a capable but reluctant reader because of a previously undiagnosed vision problem. Then I filled out an extensive inventory of Zoe’s health and academic history and asked her teacher to complete another form.

Meanwhile Zoe became obsessed with a series of books called Warriors, about tribes of cats who fight each other (I don’t get it at all, but that’s another story). She devoured the first book and I thought maybe her reading reluctance was a passing phase. Her teacher filled out the form and said she didn’t notice anything amiss about Zoe’s work in class or behavior while reading. So I cancelled the appointment. And I figured that since we had her checkup scheduled for today, if there was anything wrong, the doctor would find it.

And she did. Apparently this problem is quite common and just as treatable. Surprisingly, the convergence insufficiency is hereditary, but Zoe didn’t get it from Randy, who has a history of strabismus, but from me. The doctor said many people are walking around with it but have never had any symptoms or problems. She did a quick check and said I definitely have it and could not blame Randy this time.

The cure for Zoe’s convergence insufficiency is eye exercises, which she can do with the help of a computer program, and reading glasses. I was thrilled to hear this seemingly simple remedy. Zoe was not. Our conversation on the way out of the doctor’s office went like this.

Zoe: “I am not happy about this. I do not want glasses. I never thought I would have to get glasses. I’ll look different.”

Me: “I’m sorry you’re not happy. You will look great with glasses. We’ll pick out some really cool ones. And I’m surprised you never thought you would have to get glasses because I’ve had glasses since I was in fourth grade and Daddy used to have to wear glasses so it was pretty inevitable that you would end up with glasses at some point. Besides, glasses are cool. Remember in Heidi Heckelbeck where Heidi’s friend got glasses and she was jealous because her friend looked so great, and she pretended to have bad vision so she could get her own glasses?”

Zoe: “I’m not the same as Heidi Heckelbeck. First of all, I’m not a witch.” [Heidi Heckelbeck is a witch, of the friendly Harry Potter and Hermione Granger variety]

Me: “That is true, you are not a witch.”

Zoe: “I do not want glasses.”

We went to the drugstore because the eye doctor had advised us to get a pair of over-the-counter reading glasses to see if they helped Zoe before investing in a pair of custom prescription glasses.

As soon as we found the glasses rack in the drugstore, Zoe was excited, drawn toward the animal print cases and sparkly frames. I found a pair with the right magnification and handed them to her to try on.

Zoe: “Wow! I can see so much better!” She tried on at least a dozen pairs and we took pictures. She got even more excited when she saw another rack of options that also included a shelf of colorful cases, which were free with a purchase of reading glasses. She started picking out a case to match the pairs of glasses she was considering. I told her to find the right glasses first and then we could find a case.

Finally she settled on red frames with blue earpieces and some shiny blue dots on the front. They are too big for her face because they’re adult glasses, but they’re ok for a trial run. And she loves them. On the way out of the drugstore.

Zoe: “I love my glasses. They are so cool. I can’t wait to show everyone. My friends will be so surprised. Zeke won’t know what to think. I can’t wait to show Daddy. When we get the real glasses can I get a hard case? Can I buy a cloth to polish them with? Can I wear them in the car? These glasses are so cool.”

At home I asked Zoe to read a few pages of her Star Wars novel without the glasses and with them and tell me what was different. “The words were so big and so easy to read,” she said. Well there you go. We’ll see what happens this week, and when we get the eye exercise program. But convergence sufficiency seems promising. And this is a good reminder that as a parent you should always trust your gut. Even an articulate seven-year-old can’t tell you that her eye muscles aren’t working together and that reading makes her eyes tired. I can’t wait to see what opens up for her when all those interesting words become bigger and easier to read.

Another Friday night, another adventure at the laundromat, with the woman in the fur hat scrounging through the trash retrieving crumpled lottery tickets, the telenovelas blaring above the whirr of the washers and dryers, the little boy racing back and forth between the lollipop machine and his family.

Our clothes and sheets and cloth napkins that at this moment may not be that good for the environment are spinning in six 40-lb. capacity machines. The beauty of arriving at the laundromat at 10pm on a Friday is that you have the whole row of jumbo machines to yourself, and everything seems to have just been tidied.

The pollo place adjacent to the laundromat is still open, although you’re full of slow cooker shredded beef tacos which were an experiment and you thought at first a failed one but they turned out all right and your husband and even your daughter cleaned their plates and declared the tacos delicious.

Perhaps tonight when you get home you will go online and order a new washer and dryer, since the repairman declared your dryer unsalvageable after four visits to your house with two sets of replacement parts. The washer works fine but they are part of one unit so must both be replaced, yet another appliance inconvenience you never considered when you bought the condo a decade ago. It turns out there are only a handful of washer dryer models that will fit into your laundry closet. But at least you have a Home Depot credit card and the promise of six months of interest-free financing. There’s always that.

And you are thankful that your husband is home keeping the kids in bed so you don’t have to chase children here, just sit and watch the laundry spin. And you are thankful that it’s a new year and mechanical inconveniences are just that, and that you have a loving family and a roof over your head and you can plan summer vacations and really you are surrounded by everything you could want. Even though washer 78 is making a terrible racket right now, it’s probably just your son’s overalls, which are very cute if somewhat impractical.

And hey, you found a quarter in washer 76 after you put that load in the dryer. Maybe it was your quarter to begin with, but either way it’s your lucky day.

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