Saturday, September 30, 2006

Tony the Pet

At this stage in his development, Tony is more of a pet than a person.

Now, this may cause some of you humanists out there to gasp, but before you flog me for a violation of baby rights, let me assure you that we certainly don't treat him like a pet...he just fondly reminds us of one.

Tony spends most of his day crusing around the house independently, much like an enthusiastic puppy, visiting room-to-room to see who is where and what is going on. Tony doesn't walk yet but is a very proficient crawler, so instead of hearing approaching footsteps, we hear a shuffle-shuffle sound, like the scraping of paws along the floor.

Joey and I, in particular, enjoy this approaching sound when we are in the middle of lessons, and usually stop what we are doing to await his appearance in the doorway. We are generally rewarded with a huge smile and a distorted "hi" when he sees us.

Tony spends a few minutes in each room he visits, tossing items out of drawers, emptying the trash can, generally making a mess, and then moves on to see who is in the next room and what they are doing there. It is impossible to describe what a joy this is to us all.

Jay will be in his office, typing away on his computer, when he is happily distracted by his small visitor. After a hug and some slobbery open-mouthed Tony kisses that only a parent could love (and tend to remind one of dog kisses), he is off again, on his endless rounds of exploration.

Each day, Tony finds me in the shower, where his routine consists of coming into the bathroom, pressing his lips against the glass door, turning the water on in the adjoining tub (wreaking havok with my water supply), spreading my various toiletries across the floor, and joyfully moving on. It is almost as if he considers it his guard dog duty to be sure everything is as it should be and all things happen in their proper order.

He never fails to find me when I am unloading the dishwasher, and often travels long distances to be sure I never engage in this task alone. He loves to "help" by removing the silverware and spreading it around the kitchen, so that it needs to be put right back in for the next cycle. The way he comes at breakneck speed when he hears the dishwasher door open reminds me of how cats come sprinting through the neighborhood when they hear the can opener.

Tony is lightning fast down the stairs when he hears the refrigerator open, so he won't miss an opportunity to unload the ketchup and mustard bottles. A bit like a dog runs to the door if he hears his leash rattle.

And don't forget the laundry rotations, where, for whatever reason, he finds the placing of the lint ball in the trash can offensive and promtly removes it for me, as a cat goes after a ball of knitting yarn put away in its bag.

Tony moves through the house with the innocence and joy of a dog, and the independence and assuredness of a cat. He doesn't yet speak, motors on all fours, and greets us with the baby equivalent of a wagging tail. He is delighted to discover a ball to bat around, and chews on things he can get his hands on with the relish of a shoe-eating puppy. And, he looks just as guilty when a passerby identifies contraband and promptly removes it from his mouth (for instance, the lollipop he pilfered from his sister's party favor bag that she foolishly left within his reach).

Before we know it, Tony will be a walking and talking toddler. Until then, I am enjoying the pet-like person that he is right now. For no dog or cat I can imagine will ever delight me half as much with their pet antics as Tony does with his.

Friday, September 29, 2006

On the Culinary Defensive

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of going out for a lovely dinner. This is a rare treat for me and I was so excited that I went online days ahead of time and read the menu, trying to decide what I was going to have. There were so many choices that I couldn't make up my mind. Pastas of all kinds, soups and salads, delicious-sounding chicken dishes, Mahi Mahi...what was it going to be?

When we arrived at the restaurant, a well-meaning person who has known me a long time said, "I'm sorry, Suzanne, that they don't have burgers on the menu. I hope you can find something to eat."

I was stunned. How could anyone think I would order a burger, even if it were on the menu, when there were so many wonderful choices? I began to think this over, and did not like what I came up with.

It dawned on me that, for years, I have been defending myself against my father-in-law's (not in any way malicious) belief that I only eat at McDonald's. For the record, it is only when I have to, or when I have a strange pregnancy craving. Further, I realized that our good friends and former neighbors deemed me to be impossible to cook for and love to make fun of my eating habits. For the record, they are excellent cooks--and hunters--who make some mighty adventurous foods and, no, I actually won't eat some of the things they make. But I love plenty of others!

Suddenly, it became clear. I must defend myself and quickly before this becomes the stuff of folklore and legend, from which I will never recover! Somehow, I have developed a reputation for being a culinary simpleton. The equivalent of a Twinkie in a world of creme brulee. I have officially suffered enough abuse on this count and attempt here to set the record straight.

I will be the first to admit that my gastronomic origins were less than impressive. I was a kid who liked about 5 things, to my mother's chagrin. My mother loves to cook and has long belonged to local gourmet clubs, where a group of people gather periodically to try out cooking and enjoying exotic cuisines. For years this did not impress me.

When I was about 9 years old, I distinctly remember falling out of my chair at dinner, making undignified gagging noises, when a Chinese exchange student who was living with us prepared an authentic meal. I remember this so distinctly because of the punishment I received, although it did little to endear Chinese cuisine to me.

When I was about 11, I went on a wonderful tour of Thailand. I spent most of the time searching out the few restaurants in Bangkok that served Corn Flakes or hot dogs while my mother shook her head in despair over having such a pathetic excuse for a daughter.

Around age 13 I went with my gymnastics coach on a sports exchange to China. Through Beijing, Shanghai and Canton I survived on steamed rice, losing several pounds over 3 weeks, while I counted the days until our arrival in Hong Kong, where I raced across the border and straight into a McDonald's.

I am the first to admit that these beginnings were less than glamorous. But people do change.

In my early 20s I began to genuinely like ethnic food. Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, not to mention Italian (and I'm talking capers and garlic here, not marinara). I began to like condiments on my food and all sorts of vegetables. But on one thing I remained consistent: meat.

Now, my rules for meat are not difficult to understand. I like chicken, beef and some pork so long as it is well-cooked and processed enough so that I cannot tell what it originally looked like. Call me squeamish, crazy, whatever you want, but I like ground beef, boneless, skinless chicken breasts and not much else. I don't want to see fat, bones and certainly not any tendons or tubes of any kind. I won't eat lamb, bear, reindeer, rabbit, or anything else that, to me, tastes gamey and like, well, dead meat. I can say this because, yes, I have tried these things. Once, and that was enough.

Not liking meat (and, admittedly, most kinds of fish) does not make me a foodie oaf. It makes me a quasi-vegetarian. I love pasta with all sorts of vegetables and seasonings. I adore bean dishes. Shrimp and scallops (so long as they are ultra fresh) thrill me. There are few restaurants where I can't find something to enjoy. Even the deep pit BBQ places my carnivore husband loves have chopped beef sandwiches, which I can enjoy with sauces and plenty of pickles.

Let's be clear. You will never see me biting the heads off of crawfish and sucking out the juices. I'm not the one gnawing on the giant turkey bone at the Renaissance Fair. And I don't relish dripping, bloody roasts of any kind. But if you happen to have me for dinner some time and you serve Osso Bucco, don't worry. I will love the sides. And, didn't you know man can thrive on bread and good company alone?

Yes, I enjoy a good burger and various other fast food offerings from places like Subway, Taco Bell, Carl's Jr. (McDonald's is at the bottom of my fast food list, except for the fries, which I love). But I don't ONLY enjoy these things. I would always prefer a salad or pasta dish, a good bowl of soup or a grilled sandwich. Going out for a good meal is a joy. Being served one at the house of a friend, even more so, no matter what is served.

I hope this sets the record straight. I, for one, feel much better!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Jesus Party

Today Sam, age 5, asked how long it would be until his next birthday. I had to tell him it would be 11 months still.

"Too bad, because I already know what kind of party I want to have," he said. "A Jesus party!"

This pleasantly surprised me, so I stopped and asked for more information.

"We'll play Pin the Wings on the Angel," he began, "and we'll put a nativity scene on the cake."

"Oh!" chimed in Lindsey, "I have an idea. Let's get favor bags that look like the cape that boy had where the roses left a picture of Mary."

"You mean the Virgin of Guadalupe." I clarified.

The planning went on for about 10 more minutes and then the kids went off to play.

Just as I was feeling thoroughly satisfied that my 5 year old loved Jesus so much that he would do the honor of theming his birthday party after Him, and just as I finished convincing myself that I was doing a good job of raising Godly children, Sam came back.

"Actually," he said, "I think I'm going to have a ninja party, and the pinata will be a bad guy whose head flies off when you bash him. That's how the candy will come out."

I knew it was too good to be true.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Good Weather, Happy People

I don't think there is anyone happier than me that fall is officially here. Here in the desert, we have long, hot summers, long, cold winters and about 20 minutes of delightful fall and/or spring weather in between. We are currently enjoying our few moments of loveliness, and I am appreciating each one.

It is not so cold that we must lug around jackets, but not so hot that I need to be sure I have a gallon of water along to prevent dehydration. Sitting in either the sun or the shade works fine, depending on how heavy our clothes are. Kids can really run and play without falling over with heat exhaustion, yet they don't catch cold the minute they stop because the sweat freezes on them.

I used to take this kind of weather for granted, having grown up around Santa Barbara, where it is perfect nearly every day. But now I know what a gift it is, and realize how much my mood is tied to the weather. Everything is easier when the weather is suitable.

Fall is my favorite season, and I am getting ready to turn on the oven, light the fires, and cozy up with good books (OK, maybe that part is in my dreams, but one can hope, right?). The leaves will turn their brilliant colors soon.

Our choir is practicing Christmas music (already!) and, unlike last year, I am welcoming the pending season. Life is more settled for us now so I can focus more on why we celebrate Christmas instead of all the things I have to do because of it.

Although life is never perfect and problems persist, it is easy to find happiness amidst it all when the weather is good. Here's to a nice, long autumn in the desert!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


For today, a few questions I have been pondering.

Why do one year olds with runny noses play contentedly all day until the exact minute you put on a pair of black pants for a meeting, and then decide to pull up on your leg and wipe their noses all over you?

Why is the grocery bag your little helper drops always the one with eggs in it?

Why do schools allow children to have chocolate milk on picture day?

Why, when your child is very well-behaved in class, do teachers move the worst-behaved child in the class to sit right next door? Do they think your child's good behavior will rub off on the poorly-behaved child? I'm inclined to think the opposite will be true and my hereto well-behaved child is about to get busted for messing around in class.

Why do groups host mandatory "informational" meetings that are interminable, require the hiring of a babysitter and could have easily been handled with a memo?

Why do terrible fires create such beautiful sunsets for those in the neighboring valley? Well, for this one, at least, I have an answer. Out of everything, comes some good, as is God's wonderful plan.

As for the rest of them...who knows?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

This and That

In the "She's Either Really Smart or Really Not, I Can't Tell Which" category:

Mom (observing 3 year-old Julia jumping off the arm of the recliner chair): Julia! You know better that that! We don't jump off furniture.

Julia (looking apologetic): Yes, mom.

A minute passes, while I am speaking with an adult and my attention turns away from the living room.

I refocus on the living room and see Julia perched once again in her jumping position.

Mom (in her "I Really Mean It" voice): Julia! I don't want to see you do that ever again.

Julia (no longer feigning apology and looking completely exasperated): Well, stop looking at me!

Now, why didn't I think of that? No witness, no crime. Smart girl or dumb criminal? You decide.


Speaking of dumb criminals, I can't stop laughing about my friend's 7 year old son who got in big trouble this week at his small Catholic school for carving his name into one of the freshly refinished picnic tables during lunch. He is the only one with his name in the school, so it wasn't hard for the yard duty to figure out who to punish. No, he didn't really think that one through.

I should clarify that the reason I am laughing is NOT because I think this will never happen to any of my children. As a matter of fact, this situation reminds me of something one of my children in particular might do someday. I suppose I am laughing because it is endearing and a good reminder that children are not adults and really do not have the same reasoning capacity. But, whatever the reason, I am still laughing.


Finally, in the "Shameless Maternal Bragging" category, I can't stop myself from reporting that the Green Monsters (U-6 AYSO soccer for those keeping track) have, after a sad and scoreless first game, posted a score this week. Two goals, both knocked in by my very own Sam "the animal" Di Silvestri. Now, I know this is U-6, there are really no scores kept, and I am supposed to acknowledge that this was entirely a team effort. So, forgive me when I say, "Woo-hoo, my kid can play soccer!!!" But he can, and I am glad for him because it makes him happy

I should probably mention that the second goal, had they been keeping real score, wouldn't have actually counted due to the illegal nature of the throw that preceded it. To be more specific, Sam was throwing in an out-of-bounds ball and took a running start with it that carried him about 6 feet into the playing field before he let go of the ball. This positioned him nicely for a solo run all the way down the field for a completely unfettered goal. He was so proud and had no idea he had done anything illegal because of the kind opposing coach who let it slide with only a muttered, "Hey, I don't think that really counts." Sam's complete determinism amused us all.

I can hardly wait to see what happens next week.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Middle Aged

Today is my birthday. I am 35. Officially middle-aged, if I am not mistaken.

As my years pass, I have noticed a natural tendency to shift my perception of what old is. 60 is the new 30 as far as I'm concerned, since it is now becoming clear that someday I will likely actually be 60. When I am 50, I am guessing 80 will be the new 40. Self preservation, perhaps, but also familiarity and a higher comfort level that getting old isn't really all that bad. What the body loses, the mind (at least at this point) gains in comfort, wisdom and maturity. I would never go backwards in age for a youthful body--it's not worth it!

Faith, of course, plays a huge role in how comfortable I am with getting older. I am now absolutely positive that the really good part starts at the end of this life, so what is there to dread, really? This position sheds light on why we celebrate birthdays, a.k.a. aging, at all.

My kids (with help from grandma) baked me a cake this afternoon. All on their own, they planned a impromptu "party" for me that included homemade streamers cut out and strewn all over the floor and a game of musical chairs completely set up and administered by them. They jumped out and surprised me with a Happy Birthday song when I arrived home and gave me the best, most sincere hugs and kisses I can ever remember receiving from them. Could there be anything better?

This little party was a complete surprise to me (in fact, I had a doctor's appointment planned in the afternoon that I completely missed due to my delight). When the kids woke up, they did not know it was my birthday until Jay told them, and they figured out after school, on their own, what they wanted to do for me. I loved their spontaneity, creativity, and the way they gave of themselves so purely. I will never forget this, as it meant more than any planned party ever could have.

I went out to lunch with my parents at my favorite restaurant (Japanese, where they cook on the table in front of you), and had phone calls, well wishes and unexpected gifts from good friends and family alike. I have another celebration to look forward to with my in-laws tomorrow. But best of all, Joey had a really good school day. Few struggles, high accuracy the first time through everything, work completed in a timely manner. One of the best gifts of the day! How can I bottle this?!

I suppose it is exactly because every day is not like a good birthday that makes one so very special. But the very best elements of today--kids, husband, family, friends and faith--are part of my everyday life. Lucky, lucky me.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Dose of Reality

It can be troublesome, being both teacher and mom:

(as I'm tucking Joey in for bed tonight...)

Me: Let's have a good day of school tomorrow, OK?
Joey: I can't choose that. It just happens or doesn't.
Me: Hmmm (with a smile, because I believe him 100% and appreciate his honesty)
Joey: I love you, mom. I wanted to say that now because I might hate you tomorrow.
Me: Yes, I suppose you might, so let's enjoy this moment, shall we?

I'm not sure why, but I really enjoyed this moment.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Firsts for Sam

The last few weeks have been filled with "firsts" for Sam. It's almost too much for a pregnant, emotional mother to take all at once!

First Day of Kindergarten

I can hardly believe that my 3rd child has begun school. Yet, here is the proof, as Sam and Lindsey were ready to walk out the door for their first day as a Kindergartener and a First Grader. Lindsey has been so sweet with Sam, showing him the ropes of the school and giving him lots of tips about his teacher and classroom, which were hers only a few short months ago.

First Pledge of Allegience in Class

No one here is threatening to take out "one nation under God", thank goodness! Rather, it was with gusto that the new Kindergarten class recited the Pledge of Allegience, causing even non-hormonal mothers to reach for the Kleenex.

First Game of First Real Sports Team

Sam is officially a Green Monster, as he is playing soccer for the first time. While his team did not fare so well today against the seemingly bionic Rattlesnakes, Sam himself made an excellent showing, earning the nickname "animal" from his coach. Could I be prouder? Not a chance. More than anything, it was his broad grin throughout the game that brought me joy.

As an aside, we brought chairs to sit on during the game, but as we settled into them we noticed that Tony was screaming and reaching to get out of his stroller. So we let him out and what do you think he did? Shoved his mother right out of her seat and claimed it for himself, happily watching most of the game perched in his very own lawn chair. Now, who could have predicted that? Next time, he gets his own chair, since I am now washing grass stains out of the seat of my shorts.

Welcome to boyhood, Sam. You are not a preschooler anymore. Now, give your poor mother a rest before you grow up any more, OK?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Grateful for Grandparents

This week Danielle Bean is hosting a discussion on gratitude, so I was inspired to post on this as well. Specifically, on how grateful I am for the children's grandparents (and step-grandparents) and the roles they play in our lives.

I am fortunate enough to have my mother and mother-in-law both within a few miles of my house, and my father just over an hour away. It is a rare day that passes when the kids don't see one (or more) of their grandparents. One or another is always calling, asking if I need help with the children or if so-and-so wants to do this-or-that. This is a joy to us all, children, grandparents and parents alike.

I honestly don't know how I would raise such a large family and be able to do all I do without their help. Babysitting in the quantities they provide would cost a fortune (as well as being inconceivable in general). Because of their help, Tony and Julia get loving attention most homeschool mornings while I focus on Joey. I get to sing in the church choir and regularly volunteer at the kids' school. Most important, the kids get one-on-one time where they can really be individuals, both with me and with their various grandparents, who each bring out something unique and wonderful in the children. This extended family of mine reminds me of the phrase "It takes a village to raise a child". It really does, and I am so happy that my village literally surrounds me.

I always have someone to call if I need to go to the doctor, a parent teacher conference, or Christmas shopping. The biggest bonus of all is that since there are so many grandparents nearby, I can split the kids up so no one person gets the burden of five all at once (well, very ofen, anyway)!

Unfortunately, my father-in-law lives far away (in Guadalajara, Mexico) so we don't get to see him as much as we would like, but even through this distance we feel his love and offer ours.

Thank you, grandparents, for loving the children in your unique and unconditional way. Thank you for encouraging their interests and skills, and for giving them experiences I simply don't have the time or energy to give. Thank you for helping me every time I ask (and so many times even before I ask). Thank you, step-grandparents, for loving the children as if they were your own flesh and blood. Thank you, all of you, for the joy you bring us. We love each of you very much.

Monday, September 04, 2006

My Budding Narcissist

He can't talk, yet he sings. He can't stand unassisted, yet he performs with gusto. I think we're in trouble.

Yes, Joey's sing-along karaoke system has found new life in Tony, who crawls at breakneck speed from wherever he is in the house at the first sound of its switch being thrown. Upon arrival, he wrests the microphone from whomever was silly enough to turn it on when Tony is on the loose and proceeds to make loud, echoing "aaaaahhhhh" sounds for inconceivable stretches of time. He then howls in protest when, at last our tolerance has been exceeded, and someone turns it off.

Indeed, we were in need of a new sound to add to our cacophony...and now we have it. Watch out, American Idol, 2021!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Friday Family Movie Night--High School Musical

I know it isn't Friday anymore (no matter how much I wish it might be) but I had to go back and post about our wonderful Friday night movie, High School Musical. It was so good that we had an encore presentation tonight.

I didn't know very much about this movie when I rented it, only that I had heard quite a bit of "parent buzz" about it. All reviews had been favorable and assured that it was appropriate for kids of all ages, so I gave it a shot. I'm so glad I did!

It is about a boy and girl who break out of their usual roles of basketball player and academic decathalete to audition for the high school musical. This has all sorts of social ramifications for them that ultimately result in a feel-good film with a message about being who you really are, not just what people expect you to be.

The music is very catchy. The kids were singing along almost immediately, and I heard the songs all weekend long. (I must admit, I sang them too.) There is a character for both boys and girls to identify with, so no gender wars sprung out over it being a "girl" or a "boy" movie. Both parents and kids liked it. There was absolutely nothing offensive or even uncomfortable in the film. No bad language, no inappropriate sensuality or innuendos, nothing. WHY CAN'T THEY MAKE MORE MOVIES LIKE THIS?!

Think of it as a totally clean "Grease". Albeit not quite as entertaining, but really good nonetheless.

I give it an A++, my highest rating for a family film.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Homeschool Week in Review

As I close my first week of homeschooling Joey, there is only one word to describe me: exhausted.

I am left wondering, how do people do this with more than one child at home? My hat goes off to all of you multiple-children homeschoolers out there, because this is a lot of work, both physical and mental, and I can't imagine multiplying it over several children, grade levels, subjects and curriculum.

Physically, it is about 5 hours perched next to my son's desk since he is currently unable to complete even a little work without me sitting next to him every second. (We are going to work on independent study, pronto!) In addition, it is about an hour and a half each evening preparing the next day's lesson plans and materials.

But it isn't the physical part that is so exhausting. (I figured the physical part would be about like this, at least at first.) It is the mental part that leaves me begging for a nap each afternoon shortly after lunch. The mental strain is not the course work itself--after all, this is 3rd grade. Rather, it is figuring out how to encourage, motivate, correct, push and ultimately be solely responsible for my child's education, all while building his self-esteem. Whoa. This is heavy stuff.

An example: spelling did not go well this week. My dilemma: how do I show my child, who really practiced his words throughout the week, that he got only 8 out of 20 correct on his test and present this in an encouraging, positive manner that makes him want to get right back on the horse? Especially since he missed most of them by one letter only and I was so proud of how close he came! A dilemma indeed, since any 3rd grader knows 8 out of 20 is a dismal performance. And this is just the beginning, because as soon as this is navigated I must look at my curriculum, my teaching style and all the work we did all week to see where I went wrong and how I must fix it and fast! It is like shooting darts in the dark, praying that you pop a few balloons.

Overall, though, a lot went well this week. We got through the work we were supposed to, and without too much struggle. All lesson assessments were passed easily (except for spelling of course) and the one math lesson Joey had trouble grasping ended up with his lightbulb going on at the end, which was incredibly rewarding to me. I can already see how happy he is to be home and I absolutely believe that it was the right decision to do this.

So why am I so tired? Where is that energy borne of conviction and determination that a homeschooling mom is entitled to? Anytime it decides to take up residence in me, I welcome it.