Friday, October 6, 2017

Things People Say #1: "She's Really Let Herself Go"

There are a lot of things that people say that make no sense to me. Either they're vapid to the point of being meaningless or they're rude and unhelpful, or they seem duplicitous, or some other thing that just sticks in my craw. I'm going to do several posts about these, and this is the first. If you have any thoughts, or any phrases that similarly bother you, please leave a comment and let me know.

The first one I want to take a look at is "letting yourself go." In the title, I used the feminine pronoun because, honestly, this is the one I hear levied the most. It typically refers to a female who perhaps used to be more conventionally "attractive" than she is now, whether it's because of hair color and style or weight or clothings choices. And when this woman is seen after a few years, whether it's an actor who's been quietly living for decades or an old church friend someone sees at the grocery store, some people will either say out loud (or in website comments) or think to themselves, "Man! She's really let herself go!"

Besides my basic belief that no one should feel comfortable judging the appearance of another person negatively at any rate, this line of thought bothers me because it makes a false assumption: That the lady in question used to care enough about herself to "take care" of herself, and now, through whatever life changes that have happened, she has apparently become lackadaisical about it and has just gotten uglier and let everyone down.

That is utter bullcrap, friends.

If you've followed me for long, or if you've known me for many years, you probably realize that my weight has fluctuated a lot during my life, mostly resting on the "higher than I'd prefer" end of the scale, but with three very dramatic weight loss events during my 20s and early 30s. If you met me when I was 26 and then didn't see me again until now, you might be tempted to think, "Geez. After she had kids, she really let herself go!"

But you'd totally miss the point.

I let go of stuff, but not of my self-care, self-esteem, or respect for my husband and family.

See, to maintain a weight that is below the level deemed by the medical community to be "overweight," food and exercise has to be the main focus of my life. I have to plan what to eat, buy those things, eat different food than my family does, track every single thing I put in my mouth, refuse random bites of food my toddler wants to share with me, spend lots of time fantasizing about the next time I "can" eat, puzzle how to consume the most amount of food with the fewest total calories, etc. I also have to take at least 90 minutes every other day to do strenuous exercise outside of the normal rhythm of my life.

For 20+ years, I worked out every other day, save about 3 months when I lived in a travel trailer in my mid-20s. I either did a combination of the Jane Fonda 1980s and Dolph Lungren 1990s workouts, or I went to the gym. Save Zumba, I never enjoyed a minute of it. I thought it was cool when I could run 5 miles (at 195 pounds, by the way), but I HATED running. I was proud of how many sit-ups I could do with no one holding my legs, but I never enjoyed the actual sit-up part. I dreaded working out, even when I did it at home while watching television.

I did both of these regimens because society, and in a couple of cases, people near and dear to me, told me that being big is gross, unlovable, and shameful. My natural base weight wasn't good enough. It had to be lower. And I took the message so seriously that no matter what I weighed, I never felt great about it. I never looked at the scale and went, "That's it, then. I made it!"

But even if I had, there's this myth in weight loss. It's called "maintenance." It's the idea that you have to work really hard to lose weight, but once you get it off, you transition to an easier phase where you just have to maintain that weight.

Actually, maintaining your lower weight is much more difficult than losing it. You can eat fewer calories, and you have to work out harder, especially if your work-out uses your own weight, ironically making the work-out easier once you don't weigh as much.

It requires a huge amount of energy: physical, emotional, and mental.

And for this chick, it just stopped being worth it.

I want to play with my kid instead of insisting on an early bedtime so I can get my work-out done. I want to eat when we go out for ice cream. I don't want to have to pull out my phone every time I eat a grape lest I forget to log it.

We eat mostly vegetarian meals, whole grains, and the like; and I get quite a bit of naturally-occurring exercise keeping up with my preschooler. It's not sustained target heart rate for fat-burning, but my body does what I want it to do and is quite reliable

If someone sees me and thinks less of me because I am not sad enough about not having worn a size 12 in 5 years, then they have it backwards. My life is fuller and happier and better now. I let go, yes, but not of my self-care or self-view. I let go of some vanity, and of requiring an approving eye to make me feel worthy of love. I let go of spending time doing something I found drudgery because I decided you don't make someone you love do stuff that sucks the life out of them.

I'll admit: a big part of this freedom to me has been living with someone who loves me unconditionally. Not being afraid that I'm going to lose the affection of the person most important to me in the world goes a long way toward giving me permission to be myself and feel comfortable about it.

So maybe your reacting negatively to your high school sweetheart's letting her hair go grey or stopping wearing heels says more about you and your need for an attitude adjustment than with her mental or physical well-being.

Maybe "letting go" isn't about not caring, but about caring for more important things. Maybe it's maturity and priorities and contentment. Maybe, instead of judgement, congratulations are in order.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Takin' it Slow

The other day, I had run into the grocery store... I can't remember the day, because I actually stopped into several grocery stores several days leading up to Mal's birthday. Anyway, it was one of those stops. I had just popped in for a quick trip. Mal was home with his dad and grandma. After I checked out and was walking back out to the car, I passed a cash register where a person was paying and with them was a kid, about 7 or 8 years old, swinging a backpack around, just waiting.

I don't know what about that strummed such a chord with me, but it suddenly revealed so clearly to me the very biggest reason I homeschool (and I say "I" because "we" homeschool, but James might have different reasons, and this one is true all the way back to the beginning, long before James was on board): Time. 

I've always said that *one* of the reasons we homeschool is because I like time efficiency, as in with one kid at a time, it takes 10 minutes to do something it might take 30 kids 2 hours to do. But that's not the only aspect of time, and not even the most important one, I see now.

One of the most precious memories I have, I promised to myself to keep forever as it was happening. D was about 5 and playing in the front yard of our house in Sherman. It was cool and sunny out, and I was sitting on the driveway for added warmth. I think it was early spring, because there were flowers coming out all over the lawn (weeds). D was running around wearing a Barbie wedding dress costume and chasing bees.

In that moment, time seemed almost to stop. I was hyper-aware of how magical it was. A fleeting thought was, "I wish I had my camera," but immediately after that, I knew I couldn't break the spell by moving inside to get it. So I swore I'd lock it into my vault for all time.

It was one of those things that was so ordinary, but somehow achingly beautiful. And it couldn't have happened if we'd been in a hurry. 

There were plenty of days that we had many things to do, and bounced from one place or activity to another. But, by virtue of the fact that we didn't have an overarching compulsion to be anywhere, those days were the exception to the rule. We whiled away many days doing whatever caught our fancy: Three days building a Christmas gingerbread train here. Full day driving around Dallas doing mystery shops and listening to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in the van there. Walking down the street to the "creek" to play in the water. Spending three hours at "the tire swing park." Sitting in the floor of the library, browsing every craft book for the best one. Meeting friends a Chick-fil-A and playing. Enjoying Chuck E. Cheese all by ourselves when everyone else was in school. Painting. Making balloon animals. Playing with cornstarch and water.

I know homeschooling isn't for everyone. I know everyone can have magical "slow" moments even amid the scheduling and activities of school. But for me, it would be overwhelming. I like to have room to breathe. I like to have giant margins. I am a planner and stress out easily enough as it is. I am grateful that, so far in my parenting life, homeschooling has always been an option. I pray it continues to be.

There are still a lot of boats to watch set out while lying on the dock. I'm up for a few more years of that.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Mal at (Almost) 3

A week from today, we'll have a newly-minted 3-year-old. Things are likely to accelerate this week, with visitors and errands and appointments and preparations, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to reflect over this auspicious occasion. I'm going to intersperse the unorganized thoughts with pictures I pulled off of the memory card in Mal's camera. All of these have been taken by him at some point during the past year (and, honestly, the vast majority of these photos are the fans in our various rooms and of our patio flooring... so, yeah, I'm cherry-picking).

Mal's vocabulary has exploded this year. He was certainly not "at level" when he turned 2, which is something like 75-200 words. But now, he pretty much knows all of the words and uses them correctly, including sarcastically and manipulatively. But as conversational as he is now, there are three "baby" phrases that have persisted: 1) boh-bos, for breasts; 2) dee-dees, for breastfeeding, his take on "nursies;" 3) la-la, which is to say "the other one," or "You're trying to put that shoe on the wrong foot; try the other one." All we have to say is "la-la" and he'll stop trying to put his shoes on and he changes feet. Or he'll look at me and ask, "La-la?" I say, "No, that's the right one."

Mal has experienced so many milestones this year, in addition to the verbal explosion.

The first time I visited my new church after we moved, it was January 1, and hardly anyone was there. The next week, they had childcare. At 2 years and a few months, Mal had still never stayed in childcare throughout the church service. I dropped him off, giving the attendant my cell number so she could message me if Mal decided he was through. I never got a text. He stayed the next week. And the next. And he has never looked back. In fact, in August when we had our student-led worship and so there wasn't "class," he cried, bitterly disappointed. He loves his playtime, and I love being able to participate in church for the first time in years.

Basically, he adores our church. From the minute we get on campus, he rushes to check to see whether the fountain is on or not. Typically, it isn't on yet when we arrive, but someone turns it on later. Somehow, in his brain, Mal has associated the piano music happening with the fountain being turned on, and he assumes that Darlene playing the piano is what activates it.

Then, as we head inside, he acts shy but loves being greeted by "Miss Jackie." Once we're in the sanctuary, he runs over to the coffee table to pick out a doughnut (usually pink or white frosted with sprinkles) and one chocolate doughnut hole. During the beginning of the service, he often goes into the "youth room" to hug the giant teddy bear or play with the foosball set. And he likes to get a name tag to "fill out"... and cut up.

When it's time to pass the peace of Christ, Mal usually says to me, "Mommy, hold me! I want to get peace!" He will high-five people and be generally charming, if, again, somewhat subdued by direct attention.

He's gotten to where he will sit in my lap for the children's message, and even hold hands during the prayer afterwards. But his favorite part is when that's over, Darlene plays "Jesus Loves Me," and he knows that's the signal that he can run into the other building for free play. (Sorry; he's not very spiritually mature.)

As physical as Mal is, gymnastics seems like it might be as good a fit for him as it was for D at this age. However, we took a free trial class a week and a half ago, and it was exhausting... for me. Mal just isn't ready to (or isn't in the practice of) pay attention to a sequence of instructions, then line up, wait his turn, and remember the instructions. They had about 40 minutes of structured class time, then 20 minutes of free play. He really enjoyed the free play, but not on their gym equipment! They have a big toy/book area where the kids can do stuff while they're waiting, and that's what he chose to do.

One issue I had with the class setup was that there were just too many kids. It might have been because it was the first class of the session, and a lot of people were like us, trying it out. But for a few kids, including mine, it was difficult staying focused in the long stretches between "turns." And there were only two adults: the coach and an assistant. So several of us parents had to walk our kids through the paces to keep them on track.

I was pretty tired after the whole thing, but since Mal enjoyed it, decided I'd let him try one more time (because they give you two trials before you have to commit), anyway. The next week, though, he made it easy on me. I asked the night before, "Do you want to go to gymnastics tomorrow?" He said, "No!" His answer was the same the next day, and I'm glad we were on the same page!

Mal has always been a big kid, weight well off the charts when he turned 2 and weighed 36 pounds. He was in the higher percentile for height, too, at about 90 cm (35.5 inches, more or less). During the past year, he has not gained a single pound! He has, however, shot up a few inches. I'll measure him later this week, but he's closing in on 39 inches, I believe.

We don't impose "arbitrary limits" on Mal, meaning that he pretty much decides when and what to eat, when to use and what to do on the computer, when he goes to bed and gets up, and that kind of thing. It's definitely made interacting with him more peaceful (compared to my first attempt at parenting a small person), which we really need, given Mal's naturally demanding personality (which my first did not possess, but was pretty phlegmatic).

While this might sound like a nightmare waiting to happen, it's panning out quite well at the moment. At two years old, Mal will often watch videos for twenty minutes, put his computer to sleep, and invite one of us to play with him. Or ask to get out the Play-Doh. Or go into his room to play with Paw Patrol. Yes, there are days (like Friday) when he goes back to the computer multiple times throughout the day. But there are also days like today when he doesn't think to turn it on at all, even though James and I were both ready for him to chill in front of some videos by 4 PM! Even though we (almost) never say "no," (unless, say, we're getting ready to walk out the door), we never suggest it, either.

Same thing with bedtime. Mal will play or watch TV or want to sit outside and look at stars or whatever, and then stop at some point and say accusingly, "Mommy! I'm tired! I need to go to sleep!" He knows when he's sleepy, and by the time he goes to bed, he's ready. Of course, there are exceptions that prove this rule. Tonight, for instance, he was going physically bonkers at around 7:30. I had to keep asking him to stop jumping on things or falling into things because he was going to injure himself. He's usually pretty coordinated, but when kids get tired, they get clumsy. Finally, at around 8:15, I asked him if he wanted to go for a drive. I felt like having him strapped in was the only way to keep him from harm, and he did want to go on a drive, but he wanted to end the drive at the park, wherein he intended to play on the playground.

He's gotten so bold on that thing recently that I didn't want to chance it. So he cried in the car for a good while, lamenting that we wouldn't take him to the park. "I'm really sad that we can't go to the yake." "I know you are, Mal, and I'm sorry." After about half an hour, he said, "I want the music class music!" I put the CD in and he listened happily the rest of the way home. When we got here, he requested that I carry him "like a baby" to his room, and he rapidly went to sleep.

To answer your questions: Yes, he still nurses to sleep. Every time (sometimes he *does* conk out in the car). Including when he wakes up in the middle of the night, which is frequently. How frequently? I don't count, but I'd say I consider 3-4 times "normal." It used to be 6-12 times, so we're improving. But, yeah, we usually "expect" a 3-year-old to sleep "better" and that is just not where we are. We're making it work.

Mal is a crazy sleeper, so we have a futon mattress on the floor. He rolls off of it almost every night. Many times when he wakes up asking for "deedees," he's lying with his feet on the pillow and his head toward the foot of the bed.

Increasingly, he has dreams. He'll say things, seeming to be awake, but that make no sense to me, so I'm guessing they're related to whatever is in his head. "Mommy, stretch it out. YOU CAN!" ??? He's also awakened at least a couple of times in the past month crying and scared. I went to pull him in one time, and he yelled, "No! I want my mommy!" I kept assuring him it was me, and he finally calmed down, pulling my arms tighter around him.

Once, we had to get up and walk around, as he insisted we get out of the bedroom and into the living room. We sat on the chair for about half an hour, then he was ready to go back to lie down.

Another remarkable thing about this little kid is that he expects to be taken seriously. When he says, "Let's go to the park!" he will start getting his shoes on because he has learned that we try to honor his wishes whenever possible.

He has his favorite places to go and things to do, but will often (as with the gym class, and sometimes even things like the library's storytime and other events) choose just to stay home. Any time we're gone for a while and come back, he croons, "Aww, I missed my home."

His favorite things to do are to go to the lake (and he has a circuit of playground, "gump rocks," visiting the doc - much to our horror - and then back up to the playground), to play and eat at McDonald's (4 chicken nuggets, strawberry GoGurt, apple juice or chocolate milk, and fries with ketchup or ice cream), go to the mall ("Mickey Mouse store;" indoor playground; inflatables playground - which he wants to enter but is terrified of the jump structures because they're loud, so we often argue about not paying $8-10 to walk around and do nothing for 20 minutes; window-shopping at Build-a-Bear; and newly a big fan of the escalator), Chuck E. Cheese, and to go to any store (drug, grocery, and even gas stations).

Mal is kind of obsessive about color order. He has a series of "cubbies" in his room with drawers that are red, orange, yellow (on the top shelf), green, light blue, and dark blue (on the bottom). One time, after he'd taken them all out, James returned them willy-nilly and I just left them, because whatever, right? But a couple of days later, Mal announced, "Daddy made a 'stake," and switched them all back.

We also have a marble maze with two pieces that have things like "water wheels" for the marbles to go through. The way those pieces came, and are shown on the box, is that the piece with the yellow frame has a purple wheel and the piece with the red frame has a yellow wheel. Mal will not allow the maze to exist like that. He insists that the yellow wheel goes with the yellow frame, and anything else results in destruction since he can't take the wheels out without pulling everything to bits.

Mal's imagination is ramping up. Many times, he'll be playing in his room and I'll think he's fussing for me, but when I go in, he's just playing, acting out an argument between two characters. He makes up games and scenarios that he has to (and can) explain to us so we can play along. He is alternately a baby, or a monster, or a dog, or a "bad guy." He also talks about what other people are doing when they're not around. And what they might be thinking or feeling.

He also recognizes that the above-pictured cat is Rudy, which is his cat. He knows that Carol is D's, and might scratch him if he's not careful. And he knows that Aish is "the pretty one," so soft, and belongs to Daddy. He tells me that I need a cat, but I assure him that I have enough to take care of without having a cat of my own.

Mal still cannot sit through a meal, so we know where all of the places with play areas are.

His favorite foods are scrambled eggs, grapes, chocolate rocks, Runts-style bones, French fries, bananas, cupcakes (but only the frosting part), yogurt, straight sugar, and Mommy's soda.

Mal doesn't really have a lot of patience for sitting down to read stories, although he likes to look at certain books. He prefers books that have pictures but no plot, so he can chat about the pictures. His favorite picture books are: The Jellybean Book, Diggers and Dumpers, Colors, The Big Animal Book, and a collection of number books my mom gave him.

Those are tiny board books, with like 5 pages each, and on every opening, the left page will have the ordinal ("2") and the word spelled out ("two"), then on the right will be a picture of that amount of something (candles) with the word written underneath. This morning, we were looking through the first book, and before I could turn the page, he said, "Wait!" Then he pointed to the right page, "r, a, t, t, l, e... for 'rattle.'" Next, he pointed at the left page and said, "o, n, e for 'one.'"

This kind of decoding isn't anything we've ever done with him, and I'm not sure where he picked it up. Anyway, on the next page he did the same thing with a drum, then said, "o, n, e for 'one' again." I assured him it would be spelled the same way every time.

He "spelled" "one" on every page, but not the object. And by the time we got to the "2" book, he was just finished with that whole exercise. It was pretty neat, though.

Mal also recognizes sheet music for what it is.

There are so many other things James mentioned when I asked him for ideas, but it's almost midnight and I had to shoo him out and tell him to stop, because as much as we might want to record everything for posterity's sake, we just can't. If I've left anything notable out, he can write his own blog post about it (hint hint).

Suffice it to say that these are the magical times. As much as I don't adore being the primary caregiver for a baby, I absolutely relish the toddler and preschool years. Yes, even on the days when I'm ready for a mental health break by lunchtime. There's just something so cool to be able to watch a kid figuring things out and growing and becoming a person totally separate from you or your spouse.

Happy almost birthday, Mal!

Here's a goofy video of Mal dancing with my keys to distract me to keep me from leaving the other day. Sorry for the weird angle, but he's pantsless. (Which leads me to another thought: he's almost totally potty-trained, something I wouldn't have believed possible a month ago. #blessed.)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Marriage is Hard"

More than a decade ago, I read a story in a Christian book about marriage. This guy, Gary Thomas, was talking about how frustrated he got that his wife never refilled the ice trays. He said that every time he had to refill them because there wasn't enough ice available when he wanted it, he got more and more resentful. One day, as he was slamming stuff around and mumbling to himself about the whole thing, he thought, "Why can't she just do this thing? It only takes about seven seconds."

Then it hit him: It only takes seven seconds. Why was it such a big deal that he had to do it? Was he so selfish that he was willing to strain his marriage for something so small? He went on to talk about how being in such proximity to someone really shines a light on our "sin" and that maybe that's by design.

It's a convicting story.

It's also a tiny part of a bigger problem with the way the Christian church treats marriages. I've had many friends whose marriages were in crisis, including myself, be told, "Yeah, that's rough. But you know, marriage is hard. You just have to keep at it and trust God to work a miracle."

Which, I mean, is great advice if your marriage's problem is that your insensitive spouse doesn't refill the ice cube trays. Or forgets your birthday. Or if you're in a rut. Or if your kids are gone and you don't know each other and can't figure out what to do next. Or if you've allowed hurt feelings to fester and have covered them over with a veneer of carelessness.

But there is a difference between "He knows I wanted that cereal for breakfast, and he always eats the last serving," and "He took my phone when I got home because he said I didn't know how to use it properly as I texted him instead of calling, as he demanded." There is a difference between "She said she'd pick me up from work, then she forgot and went out with friends, and I can't get a hold of anyone," and in your wife talking on the phone to her paramour while she's taking a bath, and then gaslighting you when you explain that it's disconcerting.

There's a big difference between the myriad of "people brushing up against people in close proximity" problems that are common in the world and in consistent, repetitive, unaddressed habits that stem from chronic infidelity or undiagnosed mental illness or controlling and manipulative personalities. 

There are ways to abandon your spouse that don't include physical abandonment or sexual infidelity or violent abuse. There are ways to slowly destroy a person from within that might not be overtly visible.

And when the church tells these people, "God hates divorce" in an effort to strong-arm them into staying in an unhealthy situation, I believe they are incorrectly using the scriptures. When every single person and healthcare (physical and mental) provider says, "You need to get out" but the church says, "You need to stay and bring honor to God," it can't always be just that everyone else doesn't take marriage as seriously as they should.

There is a level of dysfunction that should never be summarily dismissed as "you're just selfish and you're not trying hard enough" by spiritual leaders. This, to me, is not only spiritual abuse, but it also does one of two things: Further batters the spirit of the person being advised, or pushes that person away... from that church, and maybe from all churches and even God. And maybe a combination of those two.

Here is something I've learned that I hope you can believe me when I tell you, because, really, I don't want anyone else to have to learn this through experience: Marriage isn't effortless. It takes attention and intention and sometimes just going through the motions because that's all you can do. But, you know what? There might be moments when it's hard... really hard... but it's not difficult. And it's not always easy, but sometimes... it is. If there's never a moment where you can rest in your marriage, then just know that's not how it should be. And if you're being told you're at fault for realizing there's something very wrong, then go somewhere else and get better counsel.   

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Notes From Hurricane Harvey

For the sake of posterity, this is really a series of emails that I sent Khrys.

Aug 26

12:21 AM

I've spent the past 2-3 days hearing about it probably being a
Category 3 when it hit land. But I just got a notice that it upgraded
itself to a Category 4.

Most of the nastiness is supposed to stop 4-5 miles east of us. The
only thing we're supposed to have to worry about is flash flooding.
And we have this nifty canyon just behind our back yard that should be
great for dealing with that sort of thing, as long as we don't
actually try to go anywhere.

Things might get nasty for some of our neighbors who are closer to the
lake, and a lot of awful things are going to happen (starting a few
hours ago) to the southeast.

We should be completely fine. Laura's only concern is that she only
has a 2 day supply of soda.

I probably should have grabbed more booze on the way home.

But I just got an announcement from the NWS reminding me that this
*is* a serious, life-threatening storm (there's some chance it will
spawn a few tornadoes). So we're supposed to let someone know that
we're alive and doing fine.

I don't know how long we'll have internet. I don't really expect any
power outages, but I won't be surprised if they happen.

Love you!

 2:12 PM

So far so good. We're fine. We good a lot of rain this morning, then a
long break. It looks like another round is heading our way, but we
seem to be on the furthest outskirts.

Laura has a couple of friends in east Austin who don't have power. One
of them since 2 this morning. And we have a public works truck that
keeps driving past, probably keeping an eye on the low-water

Laura said that it's downgraded to a Category 1, and is only expected
to last another day or so (as opposed to the week they were predicting
originally). Part of what made it so scary was that no one has been
able to predict anything about what it was going to do.

7:32 PM

It sounds like the really dangerous stuff is's down to
"tropical storm" levels. Now we're going to get pounded with another
week of heavy rain.

So we could still get some flooding, especially as the ground gets saturated.

But that will still all be southeast of us. Now I'm almost certain
that we're out of danger.

Love you!

Aug 27

1:01 PM

Not a letter to Khrys. Just a note about a conversation.

After church, Laura was thinking of taking Mal shopping, or to get food, or something along those lines.

But the driveway into her church has a dip. She was a bit  nervous about all the water flowing across it when she arrived. It had gotten bad enough by the time church was over that she wouldn't have crossed it to get in. She was afraid that anywhere she went would have even worse problems.

Aug 28

5:43 PM

Follow-up letter to Khrys:

We're clear. It's blowing eastward, and we started getting blue skies this afternoon.

The radio said we have a 20% chance of more rain tonight, then 40% tomorrow. But we never got enough to even get a little waterfall going into our gorge out back.

Sep 02


The storm revealed a minor roof leak, in the vicinity of our back porch. Its roof had some water damage when we moved in. Now it's quite a bit worse.

The frame for our back door warped enough (or maybe hinges wiggled loose...something went wonky) that it no longer opens.

There's a strange warp in our hall floor that we haven't noticed before. Almost as though some of the foundation pillars settled a bit. Or maybe we just haven't been paying attention.

So, really, we got away incredibly lightly.

Friday, September 1, 2017

More Stuff Mal Said...

There is a dark cloud hanging over my head right now, and I wish it'd go away. I know it's circumstantial: a mix of hormones, issues my immediate and extended family are having that don't directly affect me but that I bear because I care about them, and then some personal disappointment today when something I'd really been looking forward to doing didn't pan out.


To combat that, I'm going to share some stuff that Mal has said lately. It's like his vocabulary just went from nothing to every word in the universe all at once. That, plus now when he wakes up from a deep sleep, it takes him a while to transition, but he's still super verbal so will often say things that don't make sense or that are impossible.

For instance, he'd taken a rare nap yesterday, and the first time he woke from that, he woke up asking me to "fix it" an pointing vaguely at his leg. When I asked him what he wanted me to do, he said, "Pull that. Mommy, you can. Push it!" Then when I asked again what he wanted, he said, "I need batteries." I asked, "You do? For what?" He said, "My neck!" and pointed toward his throat. I laughed so hard at that, and so did he. Then he fell back to sleep. When he woke up the next time, it was to report that someone had stolen his books.

Last night, he woke up at one point asking for a dragon sucker. I told him we didn't have one, and he started crying. "Mommy, get one!" I told him I would. He said, "I want it now." So I said, "Okay. Here it is." Then he said, "I don't want that one. I want a Paw Patrol sucker." Then we had to start over with my staying we didn't have it.

When we were out today, Mal was very sad that I wouldn't plough more quarters into some machine he wanted, after having paid $8 for him to play in the "bounce park" where he refuses to go into the inflatables at all, because the ambient noise scares him.

Anyway, we'd gone into the restroom (still waiting for him to use the toilet in public; nothing so far) and he was bawling, complete with snot running down his face. He never likes for me to wipe his nose, and this time as I went at him, he said, "No! I just want to cry!" "You can cry!" I assured him. "No, I can't. You wipe it off!"

Oh, and last night he woke up, upside down and hanging half off of the bed, so I grabbed him up to reposition him. At that, he yelled, "No! No! MOMMY!" I said, "Sweetie, I *am* Mommy." "NO! Mommy! Not you!" I said, "Mommy has you, sweetie." Then I kissed him on the head. He softly cooed, "Aww, Mommy."

Last night, we'd driven out to see the sunset from Sunset Deck. In the picture above, Mal is telling me, "The dinosaurs are coming!" I guess dusk ushers them in?

Mal's latest interests involve: using tools to play with Play-Doh, playing "dirt" with his marbles and "instruction" trucks, and "driving" around the house in his "car" asking, "What's the problem?" and wanting us to give him something to fix.

There is more, but Mal has been asleep for almost five hours already, so I need to go to sleep NOW to prepare for the inevitable pre-dawn wake-up. *yawn* Did I mention that I'm 45 now? Not surprisingly, the frat boy schedule of a toddler is not getting easier as I "mature." But, goodness, what a fun age.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Updates... from another dimension!

I have a few random things to share here, starting with this most amazing one:

Yesterday, during the eclipse, I suppose some kind of weird time/space wormholey thing opened up and sent my shirt from 13 years ago into Mal's closet. I don't have timestamps, but am including pictures with my Pepa and D to show just how long ago I had this shirt. It must have shrunk during the time travel. But there it is.

Item the Next:
The weekend before last, during the children's message, Mary asked the kids, "What's something good you can tell me about your week?" A couple of kids answered, things like feeding their pets or getting some neat trading cards. Usually, Mal kind of tries to say something when it's his "turn," but is usually just silly or shy. But this time, he said, "I helped my mommy in the kitchen." So that's a notable first! He answered a group query appropriately.

He does help all of the time. If I get out the vacuum to clean up, he pulls out the carpet cleaner, pulls off every removable part, and "vacuums" as well. If I sweep, he pulls out the Swiffer and shoves my pile around. He even helps by being an encouragement. This weekend when I was spot-mowing (read: half of our back yard), he followed me around saying, "Mommy, you a good worker!" And, yeah, our lawn mower is electric, so I could hear him.

New topic:
I had a sort of epiphany this week. There are quite a few popular sites, like Stimtastic and ARK, that sell "chewable" toys. D has several, as well as some fidget toys. I've written about this in the past, but a now-subconscious habit I have had basically since I stopped sucking my thumb at the age of 5 is chewing on my fingers. I am not aware that I do it, but like sometimes I'll pick up my phone and can't do the fingerprint recognition because my fingertip is wet. And I have callouses on four fingers. It's truly weird, because if you ask me to stick my finger in my mouth and show you what I do, I really can't. It feels awkward. But obviously I do it.

I think it's likely that I have an oral fixation, which is one likely reason I start to panic (on a fairly low level) if I don't have something to drink, and that I use that oral stimulation as a way to deal with deep thought or stress. So my epiphany was: If these items had been around when I was a kid, might my hands be worthy of manicures today?

When I mentioned this to D, my rather astute teenager said, "It's never too late to start." That's true, but I can't imagine what mental gymnastics I'd have to do to switch, since, as I mentioned, I don't know I'm doing it, often until afterwards.

But also, I'm very glad for kids (and adults!) that there's more to address the issue than just, "Put your hands down!" "You're so pretty when you're not gnawing on that finger." "You're too big to do that." Ad infinitum.

Final entry:
Literally every day, at least once and often two or three times, my son will lift up my shirt and lay with his belly to mine, perpendicular, announcing, "Mommy, I love you body." Other times, he'll just rub my stomach and be so sweet, cooing, "Mommy, you body is hot." And every stinking time, it makes my day. I mean, I know he means that I'm warmer than he is (since I wear clothes), but it's still nice to hear.

I have other thoughts on that, but will end for tonight. Mostly because I want to play a game before head to bed. Night, all!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Brief Word on "... they'll just have to..."

There was an article in the paper today about how some area schools are starting back early this year, and how the kids are noticing. Someone commented (I KNOW! Never read the comments. Nonetheless...), "Just wait until you have a real job. In the real world, you don't get a summer break at all, so soak it up."

As an aside, it's weird to me that even people who don't have alt-ed viewpoints consider school something other than "the real world." Interesting. 

But the level of resentment dripping off of this - how dare kids be disappointed their typical break is shorter?! - is my main focus.

Look around and you'll see something: A lot of adults are really pissed off at kids in general. Pardon my English, but it's true. I think these adults feel like they've grown into productive members of society with good work ethics and a healthy dose of stoicism, and that kids "these days" are just whiny toots.

I'm pretty sure these same people would have had these same reactions as kids were the circumstances the same. Also, one of the kids interviewed was talking about how it was a challenge to get the summer reading assignments completed in less time. So this wasn't about languishing by the pool while the 'rents work their butts off.

My question is: Why do grown-ups seem to hate kids so much? Why do grown-up people decide to have kids, and then just seem to lose all compassion and empathy for them?

I have a kid who has anxiety, and we are dealing with that. One thing I've heard concerning not just our situation, but others', too, is, "Well, someday, they're going to have to XYZ 'in the real world.' You need to make them start doing it now, because the longer they ABC, the harder it's going to be to adjust."

May I tell you how ridiculous this is, whether it's leveled at a child or an adult? 

People who have phobias or other impairments that prevent them from functioning typically in any given situation might or might not find exposure therapy useful. I can tell you now, if you have a fear of snakes, I'm pretty sure that if I lock you in a box with 50 non-venomous snakes, you would not thank me later for assisting in your recovery. Or maybe you would. I'm not irrationally afraid of snakes, but I don't think I'd like that, anyway.

It is furthermore the height of self-righteous pride for anyone to tell a parent, "Here's what's wrong with your kid, and all you have to do to fix it is..." This might shock those of you who observe from the outside and then have the audacity to propose a simple fix, but I can promise you that parents have thought of EVERYTHING. They've researched, they've sought opinions, they've gotten opinions that they never solicited (including yours), they've second-guessed themselves, and eventually they have settled into what is working for their family. Your input at any point in this process is worthless, unless you, too, have been through the EXACT same thing and offer a viewpoint with the caveat that you truly understand no two people or situations are the same.

Lastly, any time a person says anything about how someone "has" to behave "in the real world," I am truly blind-sighted by how narrow a view of what constitutes a functional life so many of us have. Not everyone needs to be able to maintain eye contact for an extended amount of time. Not everyone needs to be able to drive. Not everyone has to wear close-toed shoes (shout-out to my friend Dave for that one :D ). People can and do create lifestyles they can manage all of the time. Now, can you get a high-paying corporate job if you can't do these things? Except for driving, maybe not. But not everyone's life needs to look the same. Some skills are worth honing because they will be useful, but not otherwise (like cursive; and please don't flame me). Not everyone needs the same social skills as everyone else. Not everyone needs to conform to the same box or boxes or cylinders or whatever. Does that mean the off-beat person's life will be more complicated? Maybe. But it's going to be more complicated, regardless. Some people just have a more challenging time with certain functions than others. That's okay. It's different, but it's not bad.

I have a bonus point: If you see a situation which you think is not ideal, whether it's a person you don't think is meeting their potential or a family you think could operate better if only they'd listen to this thing you've reasoned out... and if you really want to help... rather than offering an opinion unbidden, how about saying something like, "Your family really means a lot to me. Is there some way I could help you?" then be willing to do whatever they ask, if they take you up on it. Seriously, your unbidden input can only strain your relationship. Trust me, everyone's doing the best they can.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

In a Hurry?

Parents: "Kids want to grow up so fast! Why don't they just enjoy their childhoods?"

Parents, also:

In so many ways, we give our kids the impression that they're not fully people; they're people in training. But do you remember being a kid? Did you feel like an actually-fledged human being? 

I think we do this with really good intentions. We know our time with our kids is limited, and we want to "prepare" them to release them out into the world as responsible, equipped adults.

However, I'm afraid this often leads to our making long-sighted parenting choices when short-sighted ones would actually be better. For instance: If my kid's room is a mess, maybe it's just that they don't have the energy to clean it this moment, or even today... and it doesn't have to mean that OMG, they're going to grow up without any self-discipline and their house will be overtaken by roaches, and they'll get evicted and therefore I'm turning off the wifi until the room is clean, dang it.

Kids see this. So much that they know, as they get older, that even their education isn't important in this moment. Otherwise, why would they ask, infamously about algebra, "When am I ever going to use this in the future?"

How often has a kid, discouraged with an extra-curricular lesson or activity, been encouraged to keep going because, "Someday you'll wish you'd mastered *this* so you can do *this other thing.*" 

Do you know when I've learned the things I've needed to know as an adult, for the most part? Exactly when I needed to know them.

This might surprise you, but I never learned a darn thing about real estate until I had to "learn" it to take a test. And even then, I didn't *actually* learn it until I was working in the field. Same with insurance. And video production. And script-writing. And parenting. Yeah, pretty much all of it.

And I have a theory about why family vacations are so much fun for our kids (other than the splurging in terms of fun and money throwing-around and whatnot): When we're on vacation, we are in the moment with them. We're not planning for the next thing. We're enjoying the thing we're doing right then and right there.

What if we lived like that all of the time? Or most of the time? Or at least some of the time?

Maybe our kids would be more content being children if we let them know they're important *now.* They can do things in this day that have value. We don't always have to be projecting them into the future.

Nichole Nordeman tells a story of how she had volunteered to play a song at one of her kids' school events, and as the day approached, she hadn't prepared anything. Then this following song came to her. And although the song is directed toward the children, she said that, of course, the encouragement to "slow down" is actually for the parents. I'm trying. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Moving away from the guard rails

I started writing this in response to a post on a mailing list.

Basic idea behind the original post: I have a few decks of cards. I know that card seven in deck 12 tells me where I can start to find the 2 cards I can actually care about in decks x and y.

There's some personal stuff mixed into the middle of the career advice, so it seemed worth capturing the silliness that goes on in my head here.

I'm assuming the original poster wasn't just a troll.

There's a definite learning curve here.

Learn to spot these patterns.

Along with all the others. There's probably a Lifetime Achievement Goal for this one.

When you do something like (first xs) or (nth xs 3)...think about it!

Are you really just accessing the first element of a sequence?

I know that seems to be the "clojure idiomatic way." And, honestly, I think a lot of lisp literature probably supports this sort of approach. It's *great* if you're processing a seq by recursing over head/tail. that what you're really doing?

And, seriously, is there *ever* a really good reason to call nth in the middle of general-purpose code? (Yes, I know common lisp gurus *love* cadadar, but it gives this lesser mortal a headache just thinking about it).

In your case, it isn't. Or we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Personally, I haven't found a better solution to your dilemma than combing through the source code and looking for smelly parts like this.

One good (cross-language) rule of thumb I've run across is "If it happens once...OK. If it happens a second time, start being suspicious. If you see this pattern a third time, it's time to move it to an accessor method kind of thing."

I have the fresh wounds to be aware: I spent a good chunk of time today taking a namespace file that had grown too big for me to handle and splitting it out into multiple pieces. This meant a lot of digging through source code and updating specs for new namespaces. I'm still trying to figure out how this part actually works in clojure 1.9. I probably should have checked out Cursive again, and I haven't gotten further than installing CIDER 0.15.

There's another angle here that makes me suspicious.

Is what you're doing really complex enough to warrant "several thousand" lines of code?

I'm not saying it isn't!

I have absolutely no basis for judgement here beyond gut instinct. And no room to judge...I wouldn't pass this next check by any measure. I'm just asking questions here.

How good is your unit test coverage? How good are your commented-out REPL tests? Or maybe you moved those elsewhere to keep from polluting your production code base. (I'd personally rather see them right in the middle of what I'm testing as examples of how to call the code I'm testing, but I think I'm in a slim minority here).

I'm sorry for the long circle around your actual question.

If you have "lots of irrelevant stuff" that turn up when you search your code base for [first second nth]...what have you been doing?

If you've been slinging together a bunch of unrelated data structures into linked lists and expecting magic to come out the other end, then I feel your pain. Welcome to the real world. It doesn't work that way.

If you can pick apart the bits and pieces where you've been doing the same thing over and over again, you might be doing things that are easy to extract. Hmm...I'm calling (first (second (nth x 7))) a lot, to get to the same thing. I'll write a function that does this instead and then spend as much time as I can digging through my code to search for that pattern to refactor it to call that function instead.

Personally, I've never had any luck letting my editor do that step for me. It either finds a ton of false positives that breaks everything when I try to run my code in production, or it misses a ton of false negatives that leaves me wondering why I invested the time installing that editor in the first place. (Don't take my experience here as worthwhile: my experience is about 3 years out of date).

But, really, if you're doing the (-> x (nth 7) second first) sort of pattern often enough that you have to wonder whether you were looking for your uncle's telephone number or your sister's twitter feed...there's a bigger picture problem in your code base.

Figure that one out again. Recurse.


Personal historical perspective that doesn't add anything, except my personal amusement and possible historical interest:

I've been working with a couple of C++ developers on a python project,  and they've complained many times about this sort of thing.

I wish I had a better answer than "What did you expect was going to happen?" In a lot of ways, it feels like when I was doing C++ and everyone around me threw away days tracking down N-1 errors on their array accesses because STL vectors were just too slow/complicated.

It seems like there are probably XKCDs about this. If there aren't, the captions should be:

C gives you enough rope to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ gives you enough rope to blow your entire leg off.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fish Gotta Swim and Birds Gotta Fly

I had an epiphany last week. It's about fishing. I've never gone fishing. I like being on a boat, but I don't have any urges to fish, especially not catch-and-release. I can actually understand the draw of fishing for dinner, but the other? Well, I didn't really get it. Until last week.

In the past couple of years, since having put out bird feeders, I have become increasingly interested in birds. Since moving into this house, I actually joined the Facebook group Birds of Texas, where there are more experienced birders than I who are happy to identify birds when I am unable to do so. In our yard here, I have seen: House sparrows, house finches, Carolina wrens, Carolina chickadees, doves, cardinals, red-bellied woodpecker, painted bunting, black-chinned hummingbirds, and turkey vultures. It's interesting: I haven't seen nor heard any Mexican scrub jays, which were all over the place at the apartment in Oak Hill. I also haven't seen a roadrunner in our yard, though I've seen them in the area, including one that walked past our house in the street every day for a week or two. I felt like he was going to work, then coming back home with a lizard for the family.

Anyway, my parents moved to Temple earlier this year, and they live in an area with so much new construction that there aren't any mature trees. They put out a feeder, though, and are being inundated with visitors. When we were up there last week, I went to sit outside to see what birds I could see. Also, it was 100 degrees and about 70% humidity.

At any rate. I pretty quickly saw a dove sitting on their next-door neighbor's roof.


Then, I saw a couple of pairs of house sparrows and house finches.


You rang?
I also saw some grackles flying around in the area, but they never landed in my parents' yard.

If you've never watched birds before, they do this thing where they'll end up trickling into the same area, they'll all hang out for a while, then every single one of them gets a telepathic memo or something, and they all take off.

At one point, I was sitting there, staring off into space, waiting for the birds to come back. I thought, "Ha. I'm sitting out here in the heat, waiting to see more birds. Common birds. And I'm not sure when they'll be back..." Then I realized: I WAS BASICALLY FISHING. Just without the water. And I under no circumstances intended to eat any of these for dinner. My cats might have a different take on that.

But I felt a camaraderie with people who enjoy fishing just for the sport of seeing what you can catch, and enjoying the still silences (boredom) between active moments.

Also, bird-watching probably means I'm getting old, a fact that next month's birthday would tend to confirm.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Speaking with Mal

Here are a few snippets from conversations with my son this morning, in the space of about 2 hours:

MAL: Eww. Earwax.
ME: Yummy!
MAL: No! Earwax is gross. Boogers are yummy!

Later, Mal handed me something that looked like a seed.
MAL: What's this?
ME: (realizing it wasn't hard-shelled) Um, did it come out of your butt?
MAL: Yes.
ME: Then I think it's poop.
MAL: Not, it not.

MAL: Mommy, deedees!
ME: Sweetie, there's not any left.
MAL: I just need two deedees!
ME: We already did two.
MAL: I just need five deedees.
MAL: They're not tired! They're just closed! Right there!!

Permanent mood

And here's a bonus conversation with that child's dad, many many hours later.

ME: Good morning! Are you hungry?
ME: What sounds good?
JAMES: You want to do that thing you mentioned? With the pies and the cheese and the video games?
ME: Um, no. You can't do Chuck E. Cheese on the weekend unless you get there right when it opens.
JAMES: Is it too late for that?
ME: What time do you think it is?
JAMES: About 8?
ME: It's 20 'til 1.
JAMES: Wow. Thank you.

I think we can all agree I'm the best wife. I don't think I've ever even made a honey-do list. :)

Have an entertaining weekend, people!

Monday, July 17, 2017


Last night, I was writing my previous blog post out on the porch, enjoying the sunset and sounds of Texas summer. I'd invited Mal to come out with me, but he was watching videos in the floor of our bedroom.

Anyway, at a little bit after 9, Mal opened the back door and said, annoyed, "Mommy! I'm TIRED!" I asked him if he wanted me to help him go to bed, and he said yes.

We came in, and, of course, nursed for a few minutes, then he said, "I want to go outside now." I have to admit, part of me was like, "What? I thought it was bedtime!" but I went back out with him, and at that point it was pretty much dark. We looked at stars, he looked for fireflies (I guess it's too late for them now), and he desperately wanted to see a shooting star.

We started hearing a very high-pitched whinny, which sounded kind of like a cartoon version of a little pony. Maybe it was a baby fox? Or a bird? Anyway, Mal decided it was a horse, and it kind of freaked him out. He wanted to come in before the horse got us.

I actually had him sit in my lap outside a few more moments, explaining that horses don't really attack humans (but you don't want to walk around the back of one!), and that whatever it was was probably just crying for its mama.

When we did come in, he decided it was a baby horse missing its mama, who had gone to get dinner at McDonald's.

And he was asleep within 10 minutes of that.

It's not always that simple or easy, but it's a lot better than two hours of insisting "you don't have to go to sleep, but you have to stay in bed!"

I understand it's different for kids who have to be somewhere the next morning; no judgement here. Mostly just thought it was a cute interaction I wanted to remember. :)

And this is how he went to sleep Saturday night: we were driving to watch the sunset. We missed it. :)
This is the only thing that works besides "deedees."

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Strides in Unschooling

It's been quite a while since I realized we were "unschoolers." We'd been so in spirit pretty much from the beginning, academically-speaking. I was always willing to skive off the loose plan I had (we never bought curricula and always just had some random colorful workbooks around and some science experiments in the pipeline in case the desire arose) if something more interesting came up.

For instance, when I used to mystery shop, if I were able to schedule a whole day of shops, I'd do that and we'd listen to Dragon Rider or the Spiderwick Chronicles or Harry Potter on audiobook in the van. And I wouldn't feel like we'd missed out on anything, or that we were "behind."

And whenever we went on field trips, I never made a lesson plan in advance, or printed out a scavenger hunt, or made D take notes. We just enjoyed what we were doing, and what was interesting or important stuck.

Then a few years ago, everything fell into place and we had a label. At first, I thought it would just be academically. I read about radical unschoolers (parents who let the "they'll learn what they need to know without coercion" bleed into their home life as well as education), and it sounded for all the world like "unparenting" to me. It sounded boundaryless. It sounded like chaos.

And then D got older, and wasn't quite the people-pleaser (or mom-pleaser) that the younger version had been. I had to decide how to handle that: bow up against it and assert my "parental authority," or lean into building the relationship we'll have as adults, and invest my energy into something that will outlast what happens "under my roof." I chose the latter. It's taken a while, but it's changed everything, and I wish I'd done it sooner.

So Mal gets a different start than D did. We're starting him without the authoritarian model D had as a young tyke. And it's fascinating to see how it's going.

When D was newly-minted, I really thought that I had to provide "educational" stimuli every moment, or I was missing opportunities. Think things like saying, "This is your nose" or singing the alphabet song, or narrating literally everything I did. It didn't occur to me that entry into the world is stimulating enough. That kids learn by watching and imitating. That talking to them naturally rather than didactically is better.

Yesterday, Mal asked me to read "Thomas and the Ten Balloons." First of all, that was cool because he's a lot less into reading than D was at the same age. And we don't assign value to any of his pursuits over others, as a rule, but it's just interesting how different they are, and I really enjoy sitting a kid on my lap and going through books together!

Anyway, for the first time, Mal counted all of the balloons on the first page correctly. He can count to ten, and will do it "right" much of the time. But pointing to the balloons in sequence, without skipping any or counting one more than once, was a first. And whereas I'd counted out loud, counted objects, encouraged counting, and drawn numbers over and over, "working" with D, I've never done any of that with Mal. Yet somehow, he's managed to pick it up.

On the radical unschooling front, there's that Mal eats and drinks whatever he wants. I never made D eat at certain times, but, for instance, I made laminated "tickets" in the shape and color of little cups when D was about Mal's age. There were 2 "apple juice" cups, 2 "chocolate milk" cups, and like 8 "water" cups. They were in a pouch on the fridge, and D would get one ticket to bring me, I'd fill the order, and I'd put the ticket on top of the fridge to be recycled the next day. I did this because I felt very arbitrary about when I said "yes" to juice and when I said "no," but I "knew" that parents aren't supposed to let their kids drink a lot of juice, because sugar and obesity and whatnot. So I made a scapegoat and though it was brilliant.

Another time, D didn't eat the mandated amount of broccoli at dinner, and I insisted that would be the next thing consumed. Breakfast rolled around, and D instead opted out. Then we met friends a Chick-fil-A, and I brought that stinking (literally), cold left-over in a snack baggie. Half an hour into playing and desperate for a kids' meal, my poor child choked down those sad trees so we could all get on with our lives.

Again, at the time, I believed it to be a battle of wills I'd needed to win. The only problem with doping it like that is that it makes the kid the "loser." Winning and losing is fine in competition: sports and games... but not parenting. We're supposed to be working together. If it ever feels like the kid is "against" us, then it behooves us, as the hopefully better-able-to-think-rationally adult to see what's going on, what the conflict is, and how to navigate forward.

So, cut to yesterday: Mal had had three doughnuts to start his day A different mindset might have limited this to one or two before "encouraging" the child to eat something "more nutritious." But we just let him have what he wanted (actually, he walked into his room eating one that he'd gotten himself... and that was supposed to have been D's!), and no one made any big deal out of it. Whatever he ate throughout the day wasn't memorable, and then at dinner -- this is particularly ironic given the anecdote I just shared - as we were sitting down to the potsticker soup I'd made, Mal wanted none of it and instead requested broccoli.

Actually, there were a couple of tries with the soup, during which I realized that he seems to think the refrigerator is like the microwave, but for cold. He'd ask me to put the soup in the refrigerator because it was too hot, and 45 seconds later, he'd start fussing that I take it out... then scream when it was still "too hot."

So I only heated the broccoli 30 seconds, to knock off the cold rather than to heat it up. Mal inhaled it and asked for more. He probably ended up eating 3 servings, enthusiastically, with no "reward" in sight. He ate it because it's what he wanted, and he was happy.

It's so much easier and enjoyable that way.

In terms of learning... well, my son knew what a feller buncher was several days before I did, and I have more than four decades on that kid! D is an even more amazing artist than ever, and learning all sorts of exciting stuff I'd love to share, but teenagers and privacy and respect and all of that. It's just a treat to see my kids learning things I've never thought of learning, because it's where their interests are taking them.

Yesterday, when Mal was playing and being a little too rambunctious, and getting in my way when I needed to get something done, I asked him repeatedly and without shielding my frustration to please move so I could finish. Whether he moved or not, whatever he was doing, it occurred to me that he has no fear of disappointing or displeasing James or me. He does what he does, and if he does something "wrong" like hurting one of us or breaking something, he pleasantly and genuinely says, "Sorry, Mom!" but doesn't blanch and wait for the other shoe to fall. He's secure. He knows he's loved. He doesn't worry about what we might do when we find out this or that happened. It's a pretty amazing thing.

I believe there are two main reasons a lot of people wouldn't consider unschooling, on any level, but maybe especially whole life unschooling.

The first is a negative view of children (and probably humanity in general). "If you give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile." Well, that might be true if you've stingily meted out centimeters their whole lives and are "doing them a favor" by letting them have a "little" taste of abundance. However, if you just throw the whole rope out for their use, it's actually easier to reel it in when you need to, because they trust that you're being as generous as you can, since that's what you always do.

For instance, this morning, we were out of Lucky Charms, which Mal requested (specifically: "marshmallows with cereal"). He was disappointed, but I managed to sell him on Quaker Oatmeal Squares with bananas by telling him the truth, which is that it's my favorite cereal ever. And he knows we'll get more sugar bombs another time. He knows we say "yes" as often as we can, so he trusts our "no"s when we have to give them.

The second reason, I believe, is something akin to jealousy. "Why should this kid get to decide how to spend his time? I never got to do that." Often, this is stated as something more benevolent-sounding, like, "They have to learn to do what people tell them because once they get out in the real world..." Well, except... they're kids. They can probably pop on into regimented scheduling and being told what to do for hours on end fairly easily. And if they can't, maybe they'll create their own "thing" so they don't have to be beholden to someone for those moments of their days.

Regardless, I don't harbor any resentment against my teenager, who decides when to go to bed and when to get up and when and what to eat and how to fill the weird hours of wakefulness. I think it's exciting, and wonder what I might have done with that freedom. I used to make newsletters for my grandma on our computer (printed with the dot-matrix printer!). And write short stories for friends. I loved to walk while listening to showtunes. I liked sitting out on "the bluff," overlooking the Arkansas River. Who knows what might have come of unlimited hours to indulge in my own thoughts, plans, and schemes? How grateful I am that we can give that treasure to our children. Once they get older, they necessarily will have to choose more "mature" and less "fun" pursuits (though hopefully still leaving room for those; I do, in as much as I can!), so that they can experiment and while away hours and binge-watch and try to cut down trees with sticks and get trapped on the bed for 45 minutes because there's a cat sitting there like a paper weight... It's something I'm supremely glad I get to witness and in which I am privileged to play a role.

My first "high speed" wreck...thank you, 1431 (and Capital Metro!)

Some context:

Today (well, yesterday now) was Krispy Kreme's 80th birthday. So I took something like my 4th lunch since I started this day job to basically spend an hour standing in line to get a dozen of their original plain glazed doughnuts for $0.80. After I bought an assorted dozen for regular price.

I have to wonder how much money they made/lost today. I'm sure that the overworked people behind the counter were the ones who really paid for it.

Anyway. I had a couple dozen doughnuts in the passenger seat when I headed home from the day job at 17:02. Leaving at that time of day was dumb,
but I was at a stopping point, and I didn't want to open
any new cans of worms.

Drivers were more aggressive that I'm used to today. Maybe it was just the time.  At one point I had
to jog a smidge inside my lane to dodge someone who was weaving
around to pass me on the right, then immediately slam on my
brakes to avoid someone else who decided to cut me off on the

That threw the assorted doughnuts out of the passenger seat
and into the floorboard.

It also kicked my adrenaline into gear, which left me extra
alert. I think that's why what happened next wasn't much worse.

The "highway" out to our house has a lot of curves and hills.
It's nothing like the sheer cliffs, sudden tunnels, and winding craziness
between Nederland and Boulder, but it seems to have a lot more wrecks. Maybe
the serenity lulls drivers into safety.

Or maybe it's just that this road has a lot more traffic.

It doesn't even have the lane switches (if you've never driven that road, it's a maddening combination of two or three lanes, with the three lane stretches set up at exactly the places to make it most difficult to pass someone whose care can't really handle the grade) to help
you stay awake. It's just a wide-open 4-lane stretch, with
nothing that resembles a median.

As soon as I told co-workers I was moving out here, they started
warning about the dangers of this road.

Apparently there's a major accident at least once a week.

Laura's just barely missed a couple. Our neighbors
across the street had their car totalled a week or so ago
when a driver who was supposedly behind them drifted
into their back tire (at least that's the version of
the story that I heard 3rd hand).

Today was my turn.

Traffic was flowing along pretty well, though it was
also pretty tightly packed. I was in the right lane.
A smallish Capital Metro bus was in the left lane
directly in front of me. I was making it a point to
give it plenty of room, in case that driver wanted
to get in front of me. There were a bunch of
drivers in a hurry who wanted to pass both of us.

We were all flowing along nicely at about 50 mph.

About a mile and a half before my turn off (which
is the part of my drive that scares me the most, because you have to stop for oncoming traffic right after you crest a hill),
I spotted a driver topping a hill (and a curve)
in the right lane coming the other way.

That's the way I remembered it the first time through, anyway. The lack of a real hill in the pictures that follow is a great example of the fun games our minds play on us when they reinvent the past. Then again, we went out later to get pictures of the skid marks, and it's a pretty serious hill from the other side.

Anyway, I didn't see what went wrong. According to the bus
driver, his wheels slipped onto the shoulder. I've driven past the skid marks a few times since it all happened, and I think they bear out this version of the story.

I just saw him suddenly veer over in front of the

I was positive that he was about to die. I was
pretty certain that my little clown car was
going to plow into his smoldering wreckage.

I slammed on my brakes, halfway expecting to
go into a skid, flip my car, and cause a huge

It's one of the only times I've ever really felt
ABS in action.

Somehow, the bus driver managed to slow down
enough the he really only clipped that car. It
scooted and spun around past him, bounced off
the guard rail (I think...that's the only explanation
I have for how everything, including the big
dent in the rail wound up...I had enough adrenaline going
in that instant that I don't really remember it), and
then drifted back.

I'd somehow managed to stop.

I slammed it into reverse and managed to back up
4 or 5 feet before what was left of his bumper
just sort of pecked mine on the cheek.

I'm firmly convinced that that bus driver
very narrowly managed to avoid killing the
guy who lost control.

I sent Laura a text about it at 17:52, just to let
her know that I was fine.

The guy who was in the car directly behind the
bus got out to
1. make sure everyone was OK
2. call the cops (he wound up calling someone who was
on vacation because main dispatch wasn't answering...I
love living in a small town)
3. decide he didn't have time to wait around for this
4. just swerve around everything and abandon the scene once
the people with flashy lights started showing up

Everybody else pestered the bus driver to clear
the lane and get out of the way, but he wisely
refused to move until the cops got there.

I can't blame them. After all:

Blocked a surprising amount of traffic:

This might have been 2 minutes after the wreck.

When the cops did arrive, their first concern was to clear a lane to try to keep someone else from plowing into the back of the pile and turning it into a real mess.

It took a while to convince them
that the at-fault car started out heading the other
direction. Even though you could see the skid
marks from his tires.

If I hadn't seen this happen, I'd think that bus had clipped the lancer's rear bumper. Or something along those lines. Especially if I were looking at the damage to the front of the bus.

That would be completely and totally wrong.

The guy driving that Lancer lost control and started its skid about where the truck is in this photo.The bus managed to slow down enough that it only lost its front right headlight, sending the Lancer into a spin. I'm pretty sure it bounced into that guard rail, then skittered backward into my car. (Well, it definitely did the last part...I got its paint on my bumper to prove that part).

It looks worse (well, ok, not much) when you can actually see it up close and personal. I think everything's probably OK, and a few minutes with a buffer can probably clean it right up, but you never know until you've had a professional check it out.

Have I mentioned that I was cruising along at 45-50 mph when this happened?!

The dude driving the Lancer made it a point to apologize, and I feel awful for him.

I'm pretty sure he's the only person who got hurt. I wish I'd gotten pictures. He was growing this big goose-egg on his forehead, and I have people I love who have been through something along these lines with traumatic brain injury and didn't realize it for a year or so.

He specifically mentioned that he thinks he probably needs stitches in his ear, but that isn't worth the price of an ambulance ride. I can't blame him for that, but I really hope he gets himself checked out..

I feel like every muscle in my body has been stretched out and wrung to dry, and all I did was stomp on the brakes.

When the EMTs asked me if I needed to go to the hospital, I'm pretty sure I would have answered "No," even if I'd needed a tourniquet. And I hadn't just suffered a nasty blow to the head.

The kind of blow that he took can change your life.

If you're ever involved in this sort of thing, please, please go see a doctor.

I just scheduled an appointment, for the sake of following my own advice. I think I clicked all the wrong buttons, so they'll probably think I'm suicidal when I get there. In 4 days. Maybe I didn't click anything seriously wrong after all.

When I got home, Mal calmly announced that I'd had an accident. I suspect Laura might have mentioned it...maybe she was preparing him for the possibility that my car had been smashed. (In case no one's ever mentioned this, he gets *really* attached to stuff).

He had what looked like a new bruise over his eye, so I asked if he'd had an accident too. He got indignant.

It turns out that was just paint, and he'd done it on purpose.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Childhood is Magic

This morning, Mal found the basting brush in a drawer, and decided that he wanted to "paint food." So, we toasted a slice of bread, melted a pat of butter, and mixed some green food coloring in with the butter.

And after that, we added jelly on top, because Mal just doesn't appreciate plain butter toast like I do.

Then tonight, at about 9 PM, after he'd watched the "Nighttime" episode of Daniel Tiger, Mal decided he wanted to go outside and "find out what's special at night." At the time, I was in the middle of a very long hold waiting for customer service to fix an error. But James manned the speaker phone while I took Mal out onto the porch.

After we'd handled that business, Mal said, "Okay, let's go in the car!" So... We did. James, Mal, and I got on shoes and decided to go to the lake to see what was special at night over there. I'm glad we did!

First, when we got there, we drove through a scene where the police had their high-beams on and were talking to two people with very large dogs. We decided to go in the far entrance, and then park.

As we pulled into a space, we saw a frog under a tree. It's funny, because that's one of the things Daniel Tiger sees on his night walk, and Mal had (wrongly) said on our porch, "I hear the frogs!"

Before we got out of the car, James and I got to see the frog catch and eat something. Then we walked over, and the frog was nonplussed by James's flashlight pointed at it. I told Mal, "If you want to pet it, you can. It will jump, if you do." So he did, and the frog hopped away. Mal was tickled.

See the vertical-ish line to the left and about in the center? That's the frog's back.

Then we went over to the playground, where a little girl was actually playing in the dark as her family packed up their stuff from an afternoon on the water. There were boats coming in, and a surprising amount of activity, for it to be 9:30 at night.

It was actually pretty nice, Mal getting to play on the playground without burning his legs on the slide, and without my having to hide under the play structure for shade.

When we left, we were going to drive around a bit more and decided to stop by Sonic. Mal ended up falling asleep on the way back from Sonic, without even eating any of his French fries. So guess what he's having for breakfast tomorrow?

If we didn't have a toddler who wanted to explore after dark, we probably wouldn't have gotten out this evening. I'm glad we had a tour guide who wanted to explore the magic.

The moon through our trees.

Cloud cover