Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Sweetest Two Minutes

As I mentioned in a previous post, The Boy got a cell phone for his birthday. It's not a fancy job, just a basic phone with few bells and whistles. It's not the cool flip-phone, it didn't come in fire engine red and it doesn't have a camera. The worst of it is, it only has as many minutes of air time as his mom buys for it. It's a prepaid.

I was very impressed though, with the way he hoarded his minutes. He wanted to use his high-tech present so badly, but didn't want to waste precious airtime so he would announce "I am calling you, but don't answer the phone". A few minutes later he would ask me to call him though he had no intention of answering. It was just to experience the joy of dialing and listening to it ring. It was also a good way for him to learn how it worked and try out all the programmed numbers, so I didn't mind. He would make a few aborted phone calls and then promptly turn the phone off, so that no one would call him and accidentally waste his minutes.

Of course, they are all gone now. After a few days, he couldn't resist the urge to call his best friend's cell phone and of course, there were the school bus conversations between us "We're behind a really big truck blocking our way, I think we're going to be here a while", "Are you almost home yet?" and the one time his sister sat on it, accidentally dialing an aunt whose answering machine recorded several minutes of children bickering before it beeped. I did warn him that minutes would be doled out in a most miserly fashion, so it is a little disappointing that he went through his first 20 minutes so quickly.

But the last few minutes he used were the most precious. My cell rang yesterday about midday. When I saw it was The Boy calling, I was concerned. He was still at school, wasn't he? Was he hurt? Was he sick?

"Hi mom", he started. I quickly ran down the list of my fears, to each of which he replied "no". He wasn't sick or in trouble or lost or hurt.

"I'm calling from the bathroom", he whispered. "I just wanted to say Hi because I missed you".

Of course, you just know who bought himself another 20 minutes of airtime with that phone call.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kids, Photos and Christmas Cards

At times it seems like there's very little holding polite society together. In years past we had Emily Post to show us the way, but rumor has it that she's dead. One custom that still indicates that civilization has not entirely ceased to be is the sending of Christmas Cards.

For many years now, I have failed my duty. I have been one of those scatter-brained and impolite few who do not send out Christmas Cards, while proudly displaying and crowing over each card I have received. So many of my friends have been generous, and rewarded me with greetings although I sent none in return. However, over time, the lack of reciprocal greetings has started to cause me to be dropped from a few Christmas lists. Like Scrooge, I jealously guarded my take while never thinking to give. And like Scrooge, I have had a revelation: it is better to give than to receive.

I don't know if my redemption has come too late to restore my name to card-sending lists, but it doesn't really matter, I am not too late to order the Christmas Cards. VistaPrint says that I can create and receive them in only three days. I suspect that not a few of my friends and relatives will probably faint on the postman's shoulder. What's more, I am going to go the whole proud mommy route and put a photo of the kids on my Holiday cards. Maybe wearing Santa hats.

I might go for the amazingly inexpensive postcards or do the thing up right with folding cards. I just have to choose the design. The one with the little penguins is very cute or maybe something with angels. You know, little angels, my children. Well it's just an idea. Now if I can just get the kids to sit down next to each other without fighting just long enough to take the picture...

School Bus Tales

Monday was The Boy's first day on the school bus. Oh, I know school started months ago, but we hadn't planned on needing the bus at first. Initially, I was going to continue to drive him to school but then those plans changed. Then, for a while, his friend's mother had graciously offered to pick him up and drop him off. The circumstances that made that possible then changed and the bus was the only option left. It was a hard sell.

The Boy has always seemed all-confident to me, in every endeavor. Like most boys, he thinks he can do anything and often he is right. He has compared his mother's continuous cautioning -"don't do that, you'll get hurt" - with the usual outcome - "see, I didn't get hurt" - and this has only strengthened his conviction that Mom is a worry-wort and he's invincible. So I was unprepared for his nervousness about the school bus. He simply told me "I am not going to get on the bus".

To tell the truth, I was nervous too. It's my job, I'm a mom. I was careful to try to hide it although, it may have shown through in the fact that he did get that cell phone for his birthday (for emergency calls to Mom in case he got lost) and the fact that I may have told him 20 or so times to make sure he didn't get out of the bus until the driver assured him that this was his stop, and that we went over all the subsequent numbers he should call (all programmed into the phone) if for any reason I didn't answer.

In my defense, I had a hard time of it when The Girl took the bus. We had several incidents where the bus didn't stop to pick her up, a new driver didn't drop her off, she purposely stayed on the bus past her stop and they had to bring her back and once when she went off with the neighbors without telling me and we had everyone including her teacher out looking for her. I ended up following the bus to school in my car for three weeks before I finally felt secure.

But it wasn't fears of getting lost, or of not knowing what to do, where to sit, where to get on or off or any of the fears that crossed my mind that were bothering The Boy. He just didn't think he would know anyone on the bus and as he explained to me "Mom, I'm shy".

So when he saw the little boy next door waiting for the bus, that was it. Once this small and brave kindergartener who was a bus veteran agreed to take over the care of my second-grader, all fear vanished and I was told to leave the area.

The next day he refused to let my husband walk him to the bus stop, but I insisted that he remain at the end of the driveway to actually view him go aboard. I thought I was fairly calm, I didn't ask him to identify the vehicle. After all, I figured it's hard to miss the yellow monstrosity and so I decided against asking "are you sure it was the school bus?".

The Boy did call me on the cell from the bus on that first day. He was about 5 minutes into his trip and announced "I will take the bus again tomorrow". To my relief, he does still like to have someone in the background, slightly out of view but present because I need a witness that he actually got on the bus or I will be calling the school to check. This is day three now, and I have only done that once.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Warming Up to First Friday Artwalks

It's that time in New England when winter carefully creeps in, stealthily taking over from autumn. You can hear it in crispy brown leaves underfoot in the morning, see it in ever-waning light in the late afternoon and feel it in that subtle chill that surrounds you in the evening, making you not so much cold as just not-quite-warm. With Thanksgiving just past, there's a lot of winter yet ahead. Actually, there's nearly a month to go before Winter even officially starts, and then...well, it's no wonder so many flee to Florida for a few bone-warming weeks.

Here, in the state of the first Thanksgiving, there's a certain stoical acceptance and a feeling that if our pilgrim ancestors managed to make it through a harsh New England winter, then so can we. Of course, the truth is that most of them didn't make it that first winter, about half of them died. Even our belief that they were the first, great pioneers in America is slightly incorrect. The city of St. Augustine, Florida is much older than the Plymouth settlement, by more than 50 years. Of course, they had much better weather.

Although I primarily consider myself a writer, I have always wanted to try my hand at other art forms. Alas, despite dogged determination, I show no promise in my attempts at drawing, painting and other artistic endeavors. Regardless of what monstrosities I myself have produced, I will confess to being an art lover and believing I know good art from bad art. My tastes in art may not always be classical or even popular - it's more a matter of whether or not I am touched by the inner spark that urged the artist to create. That's why this event caught my attention. The First Friday Weekend Art Walk in St. Augustine, Florida. I wish they had something like this around here.

The First Friday Weekend Art Walk is a walking tour of art galleries that's held between 5pm and 9pm on the first Friday and Saturday of every month. They have twenty galleries participating in the St. Augustine Artwalk with art exhibits, music and entertainment. Trolleys and sightseeing trains offer free transportation to most of the galleries on the tour.

Of course, I am a stoical New England pioneer type. That means I mustn't consider running away in the dark depths of winter to a city of lights, music and art. I am just saying, that if you want to, it's okay. And if you see me there, let's do coffee.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Joy of Christmas Trees

When I moved away from home and began my new life as an apartment-dweller, I switched from having real Christmas trees to artificial ones. By this time, the miniature lights had become the popular fashion and so the larger, hotter and more dangerous 7 watt bulbs were out. Made of spage-age polymers first developed for use in space by NASA, the tree is more likely to melt into a great, green puddle than to go up in flames. That, together with the cooler lights, seemed to make the whole business slightly less worthy of emergency fire department visits when the tree stayed up too long following the big day. In fact, if I leave the tree up until March, what's the harm?

The delicate nature of a real tree demands that you do not purchase and set it up too many days before Christmas, or you risk a brown tree with razor-sharp needles that might poke Santa (express ticket to the naughty list) or give you a nasty tree-rash when you take it down. An artificial tree can be put up at anytime, but traditonally (my tradition) I think the weekend following Thanksgiving is soon enough. It seems appropriate as the day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, is the start of the holiday shopping season and also when Santa arrives in town at then end of our little holiday parade.

But this year, The Boy wanted the tree up even earlier. Judging his sense of restlessness and how unlikely it was that I would get any peace until it was up, I agreed to allow them to put up the tree on the weekend before Thanksgiving. This is the third year in a row that I have had little or nothing to do with putting up the tree. The Boy and The Girl do it all themselves. As The Boy gets older, it goes more smoothly. This year he didn't have to ask at all about the letters on the branches or which order they go in. He's even tall enough to help The Girl put up the lights. I am not even needed for my height anymore.

Of course, the tree doesn't have that elegant, coordinated, Tiffany look. There are no less than three different colors of tinsel garland and they are wrapped around the tree at various levels, so that it is red at the top third, then white, then gold, like a striped tree. They also insisted on having as many strings of lights flashing as they could find flasher bulbs for. My tree should come with a seizure warning, like the ones they put on video games. The ornaments are placed haphazardly and those favored by The Girl usually have a photo of her on them and are grouped at eye level on the front of the tree for maximum exposure.

But you know what? It's beautiful.

It's beautiful because they are so proud of it. It's beautiful because it has special meaning to them. It's beautiful because it's a product of their own creativity. It's beautiful because it represents sibling cooperation.

But mostly, it's beautiful because I didn't have to do it myself. It will become a lot less beautiful after Christmas. It's much harder to find good help to take it all down again.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Girl Who Cried Wolf

The Girl is home from school today. I had to say yes, because she is complaining of all the same symptoms I have been experiencing. If I am going to give myself the pampering I think I deserve when I am sick, then I can't deny her illness.

Although occasionally it is hard to know if The Girl is really sick, she has a flair for the dramatic. She may limp about for days after stubbing a toe - unless you catch her in an unguarded moment. As emergency medical attention is not always offered when she bumps an elbow, she will rig up a sling made out of a winter scarf or a long stocking. The effect of a pink sling with snowflakes and Santa on it may not be as devastating as she would like to believe.

I watched in amazement when, at 18 months of age, she alternately practiced laughing, smiling, looking surprised and looking sad in her crib mirror. I shook my head in disbelief when at 4 she told the pediatrician that her legs sometimes went into spasms and she couldn't walk. As the doctor and I both stared, wide-eyed, at her demonstration of a girl using those "sticks that help you walk", her objective suddenly became clear to me. "She's trying to score a pair of crutches", I explained to the baffled physician.

I have told her the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf many times but it hasn't made an impression. What good are stories with a moral if they aren't going to scare children? I think Hansel and Gretel would be a better choice. She might think twice about eating all the school snacks in one afternoon - after all, she might need them one day to find her way out of the woods.