Saturday, September 30, 2006


Today is one of those dates on the calendar that just makes me grin. Not only is it the birthday of one of our favorite kiddos (yo, big Lou), it's also the anniversary of The Day We Found Out. As I recall, it went a little something like this:

It was Thursday morning. Trey took sweet 21-month-old Carter to mother's morning out, then came back to the house to carry me to my 24-week appointment with the midwife. So far, this pregnancy was noteworthy only because I'd been horribly queasy during my first trimester. Experienced moms nodded and said, "Every pregnancy is different," but secretly I thought, "Maybe it's a girl." Within an hour, we'd know one way or the other.

For years, my father-in-law had boasted an uncanny ability to accurately predict the gender of a woman's unborn child. And then my niece Olivia proved him wrong. Now he was resolutely, maddeningly unwilling to register a guess about this wee one. We were getting closer to the clinic, and I wondered if I could get him to throw me a bone before my ultrasound. I called him in Houston: no dice.

Up in the clinic, Trey and I met briefly with Susan before she escorted us to the ultrasound room. She warned us that Cynthia, the ultrasound technician, wasn't especially talkative. Naturally, Trey took this as a personal challenge. As I stretched out on the table, he chatted up Cynthia, gave her our blank videotape and said, "You know, we've been through this once before, so you can't really surprise us. We just want to know what color to paint the nursery."

Cynthia explained that she would begin the exam with some measurements and analysis; after she was done, she'd start recording and tell us what she was seeing.

She put the wand on my belly and the monitor just behind my ear began to fill the dark room with hazy blue lights. Immediately, she glanced at Trey and asked with a straight face, "How big's that nursery?"

I was thinking, what an odd... no, impertinent question! Why should she care about our teensy shoebox of a nursery? I looked at Trey and noticed a peculiar expression coming over his face. He was staring at the monitor. Without a word, Cynthia tilted the screen so it was in my view. All I could see were two big blobs floating before me.

"What's that?" I asked. No one answered. After a pause, Trey said, "It looks like... two heads." Silly Trey, I thought, but then I realized that Cynthia was NODDING HER HEAD. My heart was pouding as I studied the blobs, and my brain raced to catch up. Two heads. Two heads.

"How many bodies?" I gasped. "Two bodies!" Cynthia said, finally breaking into a smile. In a flash, Trey was at my head, giving me a kiss and boasting the biggest (if a wee bit wobbly) smile I'd ever seen. My own warm, happy tears were streaming down into my ears. Trey touched the pair of silver bean earrings he'd bought for me when we discovered we were pregnant again. "I'll need to get you another bean," he whispered.

Pure. Bliss.

Within minutes, Cynthia showed us that Twin A was a girl and Twin B was a boy. They looked healthy and active, both. I exhaled for the first time in 10 minutes. Trey and I kept grinning at each other with shiny eyes, shaking our heads, unable to believe our incredible good fortune. Twins: it had never, ever occurred to me, not even for an instant. I felt blessed, as if I'd been chosen somehow, although I couldn't imagine why. I still can't, but I'm ever grateful.

Finally, too soon, the exam was over. I wanted to keep watching those babies, and I couldn't wait to race home to run the video again and again. On wobbly legs and with eyes as big as saucers, we started to follow Cynthia down the hall, when Susan appeared in our path. "Well?" she asked. My voice cracked, so I held up two fingers, and suddenly everyone seemed to crowd around us, laughing and offering hugs and best wishes.

We had a brief pow-wow with Susan before leaving the clinic, again to a chorus of congratulations. And then, we were back out in the sun and into the car, with cell phones at the ready. I remembered the happy day we found out that Carter would, indeed, be Carter, and I knew I wanted to call Houston first.

Ellie answered the phone, and we waited for Carter Long to join us. "Carter," I said, "I really need to know. What do you think I'm having, a boy or a girl?" More hemming and hawing. "I'm going to make this so easy for you," I said, trying not to laugh. "Just guess. You can't guess wrong." He began to argue with me, so I said, "Carter. You can't guess wrong."

Silence. And finally, Ellie, in a wavering voice that I'll never forget, said, "Amy... ?"

Oh, it was great. We called my mom next. When the news sank in for her, I could hear two dozen second-graders erupt with excitement in the background. Sisters, friends, our grandmothers, my dad... it was like playing Santa Claus, calling and sharing our joyous news with the ones we loved. Trey steered the car to Cafe Express, and we sat out on the patio on a bright fall day, passing the phones back and forth and answering the same incredulous questions over and over again. Gazing at each other, laughing out loud, and turning it over in our heads: two more.

And that's when the Franklin Five really began, on The Day We Found Out.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Toddlin' town

WHAT happened to this past week? I just put it down for ONE MINUTE, I swear... it was RIGHT THERE and now it's GONE. YES, I already looked there!! It's gone, I tell you, GONE! (Stifled sob... )

Know the feeling? I swear to you that I've accomplished absolutely nothing this week, although I have made some rather impressive headway toward catching up on lost sleep. (Wish I could bank the stuff.) The sleep has been good; I won't lie to you. But the to-do list mocks me and multiplies when I'm not looking. Tomorrow.

Tonight, I'm going to try to pin down some Chi-town memories before any more of them go fluttering off into the mist. (Side note to Those Who Were There: I am under no obligation to be brutally honest, much less self-incriminating. Get yer own damn blogs!)

First, the travel. Was nice and quiet, because I was by myself. Didn't even mind leaving the house before the sun rose, because my thoughtful husband had arranged limo transportation for me beforehand. Wasn't thrilled about glugging two bottles of perfectly good agua before going through security, but I had been warned. ("You're a FOOL!" actually proved correct this time around.)

A window seat. A small stack of books. Silent seatmates. Heaven. Some time after the cheerful anouncement that we'd be landing a little ahead of schedule, we were informed that there was a Spot of Weather Ahead. So, we circled round and round and round and round, till eventually my neighbor started getting antsy, and chatty.

He was, he told me in heavily accented English, from South Korea, but was currently an international student in Lubbock, Texas. Well, I just wanted to pat him on the shoulder right then and there and apologize for his misfortune, but he was much more focused on what awaited him in Chicago: an old girlfriend. They'd met seven years ago, and although I nodded politely at appropriate intervals, I didn't catch all of what followed, except that she was his first kiss and they'd subsequently lost touch. Now she was in Illinois, and they were reuniting. At one point, I thought he might cry.

After a LOT of lovesick-puppy dog monologue about the girlfriend, he asked me why I was going to Chicago. I explained that it was my mother's sixtieth birthday, and we were gathering to celebrate in the city of her birth. "Oh, yes," he said excitedly, "sixty is a special birthday in Korea." He explained that each year is marked by an animal (picture the paper placemats in the last Chinese restaurant you visited). It's a 12-animal cycle, so when you reach 60, you've completed five cycles.

"Wow!" I said. "I can't wait to tell my mom! She was born in 1946, so I wonder what her animal is?"

His face immediately clouded. "Oh, no," he said, "she's not 60 anymore. She's 61." Apparently, Koreans begin counting age before birth, so you're already one year old when you take your first breath. Sorry, Mom.

(By the way, I just found this handy-dandy guide to the zodiac animals, and, lo and behold: my mother and I are both dogs. I'm sure my siblings will find this incredibly amusing... at least, until Mary realizes that she's a dog, too. Arf!)

The conversation kind of dwindled after that, which was fine, because pretty soon we were landing in Chicago. The birthday girl, cheerfully deluded that she was still 59, was there to greet me, along with the news that my grandmother's flight was running late. Really late, due to that Spot of Weather. After a momentary regret for her inconvenience, we were off and running to baggage claim with a plan to grab my bag, snag sibs Mary and John, make haste to our waiting rental car and commence to eating.

All went relatively smoothly, once we all recovered from the shock that we would be riding in a tank for the duration of the weekend. Lord, this thing was huge. When we opened the trunk, Mom exclaimed, "You could fit a coffin in there!" I didn't argue with her, but I secretly prayed that we wouldn't have cause to test the theory.

And then, we were off. But slowly, as I gingerly navigated out of the parking lot and into the maze of expressways. We were more than halfway to Moondance, an old favorite out in the western suburbs, when Mary asked the sensible question, "Do you think we should make sure that Nanny's plane is still running late?" Mom was positive she couldn't be anywhere close to O'Hare, but a lengthy automated call to the airline confirmed, of course, that the flight would be arriving soon.

It was a tough call. Our destination was nearly in sight. Our stomachs were grumbling, our throats parched. And yet, our 88-year-old matriarch had no cell phone and decades of experience standing miserably in crowded airports looking for familiar faces. Sigh.

So, back to the airport, where a grateful Nanny was retrieved, unaware that she'd nearly been one-upped by a sandwich. Back to the car, back to the expressways, back to the western 'burbs. And finally, Moondance. I couldn't believe it when we walked through the door: not a thing was changed. During the five years Trey and I lived in Chicagoland, nary a week went by without a Moondance meal. Now I needed to make up for lost time: tortilla soup, check. Chicken salad, mais oui. Belgian waffle? What the heck?

Bellies full, we shuffled back to the car, which now seemed much smaller, and took a quick tour of Trey's and my old Elmhurst neighborhood. What used to be row after row of little aluminum-clad houses built on GI bills were now littered with brick mini-McMansions. Bleah. Still, I had a pang as we drove by the neighborhood elementary school: I could come back to this.

Finally, the city, with that gorgeous skyline shrouded in mist, appeared on the horizon. Finally, after several navigational errors, I found our hotel. Finally, we were checked in and escorted to our adoining rooms. Sleep-deprived siblings dropped like flies onto the beckoning beds. On cue, mother and grandmother began bickering, loudly and persistently, in the next room. "Please, please, be quiet!" we begged. "We're exhausted!" And then, "For the love of God, would someone make them stop?" Also, "SLEEP! All we want is sleep!" And once, "I hate our neighbors."

We must have gotten a good three minutes of shut-eye before it was time to pile back into the car, this time for the northern 'burbs. I was steering the tank through driving rain on Lake Shore Drive when the car began making a strange noise. Oddly, it sounded like a siren coming from the engine. We couldn't make heads or tails of it. One of Trey's favorite phrases, "trippin' on L.S.D.," which sounds illicit but it's really not, came to mind.

Only later did we realize: tornado warning. That Spot of Weather had, well, gotten squirrelly. Evidence of tornadic activity was everywhere, yet we drove on, convinced somehow that the car was possessed by demons.

At last, Skokie. Skokie Skokie Skokie. Funny, huh? Not only do I love saying it, I love visiting it, because it's the home of the Schobers. The Skokie Schobers. (Am now cracking myself up, which means I should probably crawl into bed.)

The Skokie Schobers are Milt and Arline, my grandmother's brother and sister-in-law, and their grown children, Betty Ann, Trudy and Allan. Allan and his family live in Amsterdam now, but the rest of the clan was present and accounted for, and only too happy to fete my delighted mother.

Five minutes with this group, and you completely understand why they're Mom's favorite people in the entire world. When Sarah and I were little, visiting Skokie was like gaining passage to exotica. The Schobers traveled the globe, had impossibly cool jobs, were friendly yet sophisticated, had a finished basement chock-full of treasures and all shared one bathroom. (This last bit still amazes me because yes, they still do.)

Ah, Sarah, who at this point in the story is stuck in transit hell, poor thing. Truthfully, I could wax rhapsodic about the Schobers for days, and maybe even tell you how Uncle Milt almost landed me on the Oprah show once. But after a kabillion keystrokes, I'm still describing the first TWELVE hours of our long weekend... and I just know that Jen is going to bust me on the timestamp for this entry. So off to bed I go, with full intentions to chronicle Toddlin' town, Part Two, before the weekend ends. Pictures, too! Stay tuned.

Love for now,

P.S. The timestamp is acting squirrelly, too... it's actually 3 a.m. on Saturday morning. Or is it? Hmmm.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet

This is a placeholder, in that it holds a place where copy should be. And copy there WILL be (pictures, too), but first there must be sleep. So for now, a brief synopsis and a pledge to provide details soon.

Chicago. Che citta! Some turbulence, both in the air and on the ground, but lots of fun and funny stuff, too. Too soon, back to Dallas. Not Chicago, but it's home now and that's fine. Kids are beautiful, shiny (newly shod) creatures who appear to have sprouted overnight. Husband is adorable and amazing, and in-laws are fabulous. Five minutes after my return, house is a pigsty and life is crazy once again. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da.

Love to all...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

On the ball

Whatta week! I'm too tired and frazzled to be clever, but hate to leave town without a quick update from casa Franklin. So here 'tis...

Another great school week for C; the MTW 9-3:00 schedule seems to be working well for all. (Except for the fact that by Wednesday night, I am utterly EXHAUSTED from the effort of shuttling everyone to and fro.) I was steeling myself for six weeks of turbulence as C adjusted to this new place, new faces, new philosophy, et cetera... and although it may not feel like "home" just yet, he definitely seems more comfortable and confident. I'm even seeing some benefits of the Montessori emphasis on practical life: tonight, he volunteered to sweep up the remnants of S's dinner, which had been flung hither and yon. Bonus!

On the heels of our fun evening with the Westwood parents last weekend, I attended a Java Mamas (and one Papa) get-together on Tuesday morning to kick off the annual school auction. No way would I have made it more than five minutes into the meeting if it hadn't been for Supermommy Jen, who escorted Carter to his classroom so I didn't have to unload S and K (I can't convey what a luxury this was), and then took S completely under her wing so all I had to do was handle Miss K for the duration of the meeting. I remember a time when he'd go to no one but me, but sweet S snuggled happily into her lap and generously helped her polish off her delish quiche. K, on the other hand, thought it would be fun to practice some Montessori pouring skills with my to-the-brim glass of milk. After I'd been splashed and soaked for the third time, I took her project away... guess how much she loved that? No worries: Jen whipped out toys and play-dough she'd brought specifically to distract the muppers. She is the MacGyver of mommies!

After everyone else had scattered, Jen and I stayed to chat with Jenina, this year's fabulous auction queen bee. We had a great time yakking it up till S and K attempted to uproot the nice big decorative plants outside of the cafe. They're on a real dirt kick lately, and while of course I hate to discourage them from becoming one with nature, I... well, screw that, I just want them to STOP IT RIGHT NOW. Which they find hilarious, of course. Sigh.

Another fun (and perhaps a teensy bit intimidating) activity this week: Carter had his first soccer practice on Wednesday night. I was under the impression that this so-called practice was really just pretense for a casual meet-and-greet for the pint-sized players (GOOOOO Dragonflies!) and their bemused parents, but Coach Dave actually managed to teach the kiddos a few basics and run them through some very simple drills. There's no telling how much information will actually stick, but I guess we'll see on Saturday for their first game. In any case, it was absolutely adorable seeing everyone running around and having an honest-to-goodness blast doing it.

Amendment to the next-to-last sentence, which breaks my heart a tiny bit: TREY will see how the soccer-ing goes on Saturday, as I'll be out of pocket for the big game. Yep, I'm boarding a plane in a few hours (yeesh, better wrap this up and get a little bit of sleep) for my kind of town, Chicago. LOVE the city of broad shoulders, where we lived for five years before moving to the big D; I've been pining and whining for a return trip since my last visit, when I was massively preggo with C. And now I've got a great excuse to get back north: my mom is having a milestone birthday, and has decided to return to the city of her birth to celebrate. Meeting me at O'Hare will be the birthday girl, her mom and my sibs.

At this moment, I'm feeling a smidge verklempt about leaving the muppers in their daddy's very capable hands... but just beyond that, I am absolutely thrilled about this trip. I cannot wait to see that skyline I know so well, breathe in the winds coming off the lake, retune my ear to a Midwestern accent, eat some old familiar meals and hit a few of the tourist highlights. And the raison d'etre: the priceless gift of time spent with my wonderfully wacky family, and even a seriously overdue visit with a dear friend. How lucky am I?

Meanwhile, I have no doubts that Trey will have a great time with the kids, who will be beside themselves with joy when Grandmommy and Granddaddy arrive on Friday afternoon to chip in. I just can't wait to hear all about it!

Much love to everyone...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hold on

"Hold on to your chairs," she said, "it's ready."

Hours later, I'm (ever obediently) sitting in my chair still, watching these pictures dance on my screen over and over again. Narcissistic? Maybe. Awestruck, moved, wistful, weepy, enchanted, overcome with gratitude and love? Absolutely.

See for yourself.

Jen, you are a marvel, a rare talent and an incredible person. We are beyond lucky to count you as a friend. Thank you, thank you, for capturing our sweetly crazy family just as we were on that steamy summer day. I'll treasure these images for a lifetime.


P.S. Ellie... that one picture of our two Carters, III and IV, gazing at us with those strong, clear eyes... aren't we just the luckiest mommies ever?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Wild hair

It doesn't happen often, but Friday night we (fanfare, please) called in a babysitter (summer nanny Jill, now returned to her real life as a seminary student). The occasion: Westwood's annual parent social. Gun-shy about leaving the muppers, who regularly fall to pieces when we excuse ourselves to the bathroom; fairly insecure about my rusty socialization skills and woefully disorganized closet, bereft of anything resembling "Westwood Chic;" and just generally exhausted and irritable from the previous week: oh yeah, we were ready to par-tay, bay-bay.

And then the strangest thing happened: we had the BEST time. I had a smidge of wine (fantastic stuff, that wine; check it out for yourselves) that magically made me funny and charming and, yes, chic and able to converse with anyone on any topic at a perfectly normal level of volume. Trey had lots of wine, so he was all of the aforementioned and much, much more. (Able to slam-dunk in an impromptu one-on-one basketball game! Not at all shy about describing details of my childbirth to total strangers! You get the idea.)

At some point I must have realized that even a smidge of wine was perhaps not best on an empty stomach. Noting that the party was starting to wind down and we still had a good hour before our babysitter turned into a pumpkin, we dragged the Weintraubs and another couple out to a late dinner at Houston's. More wine, more witty banter, more good time had by all... UNTIL someone noticed that ours was the only occupied table in the place and that it was, in fact, five minutes past pumpkin time. I love how Jen described what happened next, so I'm just going to quote her directly:

You have never seen three couples move so fast, or look so guilty when arriving home to their various sitters. It was seriously one of those high school flashback moments where you missed curfew.

It was comical. I very nearly drove over two parking medians as I left clouds of dust in the restaurant parking lot. We screeched into the driveway, burst through the front door and startled poor Jill, who'd fallen asleep on the couch, and threw wads of money at her as we begged her forgiveness.

We should really get out of the house more often.

So today, we did, albeit avec les enfants. In the brief time that this blog has been up and running, how many times have we used the term "road trip?" Well, throw another log on the fire. Today, we pointed the Mommywagon toward Winnsboro. Why? Here's the backstory:

When we were in college (yes, THAT far back) we liked a singer-songwriter named Sara Hickman. Over the years, we saw her perform at places like Cactus Cafe in Austin, Mucky Duck in Houston and Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. Then we became parents and quit going to clubs. Meanwhile, Sara continued to make fun music for adults as well as little people. A few months ago, a playgroup friend told me that she was playing a kids' show at Poor David's in Dallas. Why not? We packed up the kids, headed downtown and had a heckuva time in Sara's thrall.

Since then, Carter has, like any good fanatic, kept her CD playing constantly and begun referring to her as "Sara, my friend with the guitar." So late one night last week, I thought, "Hmmm. Wonder if she's playing Dallas again anytime soon?" Checked the calendar on her whimsical, wonderful website (be sure to check her fun blog) and, sadly, found no Dallas dates, but noticed that she was playing at this groovy little coffeehouse in Winnsboro.

Well, heck, I thought, that's just down the road. It'll be fun!

It took a while to convince Trey of the inherent wonderfulness of the plan, and to parse the meaning of the phrase "just down the road," but he did roll with it. (Thanks, sweetie.) After a fattening breakfast at nearby Kel's, we traveled east on I-30 to the quaint main street of Winnsboro. Sitting right in the middle of the block (how had I missed this before?) was Crossroads Coffeehouse and Music Co.

What a treat! Within a few minutes of our arrival, the proprietors, Lynn and Lindy, greeted us and thanked us for coming. Offered us snacks and drinks from the old soda counter and let us pick a table for the show. Didn't seem to mind one whit when the muppers careened, punch-drunk, from one corner of the old hardware store to the next; even invited us to the back of the place to poke around. It felt so completely cozy and comfortable and cool.

And, of course, there was Sara: funny and talented and engaging and zany and endearing. When Carter became suddenly shy and reticent to join the big kids sprawled on the floor at Sara's feet, she gently and gradually coaxed him into participating and, in short order, having an absolute blast. She even (oh, how I wish I had taken pictures of this) solicited Trey's help in leading the wee ones in song and (yes!) dance, thus earning him the nickname MackDaddyTrey. The whole thing was just much too much fun.

So we were a little bummed to hear that Crossroads is trying to find its financial footing and hoping to make it to its first birthday celebration in November. Not sure how much we helped with our small purchases (happy early birthday to Carter, who's now the proud owner of a cool harmonica and an even cooler ukulele), but it made us feel good to support what appears to be a wonderful endeavor. Lynn and Lindy really seem to have their hearts invested in the place; please don't hesitate to make the drive and see for yourself.

At the same time, Sara is navigating the ups and downs of launching her first adult CD (the ambitious Motherlode) in quite a few years. (I bought it last week in Austin and adore it; without going into too much detail, let me just say that the parental anthem "Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?" in and of itself makes this a must-buy.) If you get the chance, check out one of her CDs or try to find a show near you.

Thus ends this philanthropic call-to-action, and thus ends our rocking weekend. Hope yours was swell!
Big love... F5

Thursday, September 14, 2006

All together now

Yes, the eagle has landed: Trey is home from Chi-town. Hip hip, hooray! This was a blessedly brief business trip, but even one Daddy-less night can throw the whole brood into a funk. All's well now, though: we're reunited (and it feels so good; please enjoy this earworm with my compliments) and heading into a blissfully unscheduled weekend. To celebrate, we went downtown for dinner at Dream Cafe, where kids ran wild 'round the play area while grown-ups relaxed under the jasmine-trellised patio (and, at regular intervals, raced across the lawn at breakneck speed to scoop up muppers in peril). Very little food was ingested, yet a good time was had by all.

Trey's welcome home was overshadowed ever so slightly by a boisterous playdate with two of C's longtime playgroup buddies, gathered under the same roof for the first time in much too long. And yeah, the boys had a terrific time tearing up the place, which was a hoot to watch... but the big payoff was some seriously overdue mommy time. M and L, I am SO glad we were able to visit! (And S, it wasn't the same without you, birthday girl, but don't worry: we'll reschedule a.s.a.p.) I'll nag Trey tomorrow to post a current picture of tres amigos, but in the interim, here's a blast from the past: the boys and sweet Coo, just three short years ago. LOOK at those baby feet!

Finally, a political note. The stars in the Texas sky are a little dimmer tonight because of Ann Richards' passing. I ran into the governor once in an Austin grocery store, and I doubt that I could have been more awestruck or impressed if Queen Elizabeth had been standing there holding a triple pack of ultra-absorbent paper towels. There are lots of funny and wise things being said about her today, but here's my favorite thus far:

Late in her term as governor, the Houston Chronicle asked Richards how she viewed her gubernatorial legacy. "How about, 'She changed the economic future of Texas,'" Richards replied. "And that really beats what I feared my tombstone was going to say, which was: 'She kept a really clean house.'"

I can't imagine where it might be, but I'm going to attempt to unearth my "A woman's place is in the dome" t-shirt and wear it in her memory this weekend.

I'd like to think that she might like this, too: it's a clip from last night's Daily Show. I have tried and tried again, but so far cannot watch more than three seconds of it without giggling uncontrollably.

Off to bed. Much too late, as usual, but I'll try to get back on track this weekend. Enjoy yours!
Big love... Amy (Mrs. F5)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Two cents

Here's a little parenthood quiz for you.

How do you respond when your barely-to-pre-verbal offspring begin to criticize your decisions, both large and small? Do you applaud their burgeoning independence and recognize, with a rush of pride and awe, that distancing themselves from you is the first step in becoming the human beings they are meant to be?

Or do you literally have to bite your tongue to keep from spitting out the words: "HEY! Who asked you?"

If you answered mostly Bs, then by all means, sit next to me.

Since I can remember, I've heard my mom recount the time she was getting an 18-month-old me dressed for a holiday party, when I suddenly stamped my tiny foot and said, "No! I want the RED dress!" To this day, she sounds a little stunned that I might have had a say in the matter.

Fast-forward thirtysomething years, except this time it's the sacred cow of music that's up for debate. I accept the fact that when C is in the car, he is the great and powerful Oz who dictates what emanates from the stereo. (Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain, begrudgingly feeding CDs into the player on command. "No, Mommy, not that one. THAT one.") But when I leave him at school, I reclaim my rightful role as disc jockey extraordinaire. Texalternative? Fusion jazz? The worst pop music from the 80s? An occasional sappy c & w ballad? Liberal talk radio? (Well, maybe not Diane Rehm; her voice even scares me sometimes.) Hey, I'm not discriminating. It's mine, all mine! Nevermind the two small passengers seated behind me.

Not even out of the school parking lot this morning, K started to fret. "Here's your milk, sweetie," I said, passing the sippy cup behind me with one hand while I maneuvered the radio knob with the other.

The sippy cup came hurtling foward from the back seat. Hmmm. An omen.

A few blocks away, I was still searching for the perfect song and, I'll confess, adjusting the volume as needed to muffle the mewing from Her Highness. She wasn't settling down; perhaps a diaper change is in order, I thought. Suddenly it occurred to me that every time I changed the station, there was a momentary pause before she began to yelp louder.

And then, I found it: ELO's "Evil Woman." (I am NOT making this up.) Great strings, that snappy 70s sound and cringeworthy memories of skating rinks long bulldozed. It wasn't quite the Gap Band's "Burn Rubber," the song that is absolutely guaranteed to instantly pull me out of any blue mood, but it would do just fine for a Wednesday morning.


Beg pardon? Yes, my only daughter was livid. At my musical selection, apparently. I tried to hold my ground. She turned red in the face. Oh, fine: I auditioned other radio stations, eventually offering the classical station as an olive branch. She ranted and railed louder.

FINE. I turned off the radio. And the car was blissfully quiet. For one minute. Until S started to wail. Sigh.

Opinions. They're like... well, in this forum, I'll say elbows. Everybody's got one. (Although most people have TWO elbows, so that's not really a good substitute for the word that usually completes that sentence. But you get the gist.) I'm usually pretty interested in hearing other people's opinions. What did you think of the book? How'd you like that restaurant? Be honest: do these pants make me look fat?

But the tots, they don't filter their opinions. A friend (svelte, it must be noted) told me today that her preschooler has started calling her "Squishy Mommy." At first she thought it was cute, even complimentary. Now she's not so sure. I know how she feels: tonight, I was preparing to read bedtime stories to C (THREE books, 'cause Daddy's out of town). I sat on the floor with my legs crossed and a lap ready for my sweet sleepyheaded boy, the apple of my eye, my darling...

"Wow. Your feet are really rough, Mommy. I mean, it's like touching crust or something."

Please. Tell me how you really feel.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Where were you?

Just over three months beforehand, we had moved from Chicagoland to Dallas, where Trey's company was headquartered. We were renting a cute but quirky little lopsided house in the shadow of downtown, just the three of us: Trey, me and Muddy Waters, our sweet old lab mix.

We were happy to be back in Texas, but I felt like a fish out of water in Dallas. It certainly didn't help that I'd successfully eluded gainful employment (and, by extension, social interaction) up to this point because I was, I insisted, still unpacking. (Yes, I am rolling my eyes at this.) But my slacking days appeared to be numbered: the previous week, I'd interviewed for a public relations position at Children's Medical Center, and I had a good feeling about the job. It would take me back to pure writing (and back to a salary I hadn't seen in a while, but that was fine) and give me the opportunity to write about something meaningful, rather than muse about the risks of junk bonds.

Hard to imagine that nowhere in our house were there diapers or sippy cups or itty bitty socks. Our conversations about procreation had shifted from the purely hypothetical to the possibly potential, especially since the birth one year before of our darling niece Isabel. But I still wasn't convinced that I was mommy material, and whenever Trey tried to talk seriously about having a baby in the coming year, I bobbed and weaved.

The night before, I could feel a cold coming on. So I woke up with no aspiration to leave the house or, for that matter, change out of my pajamas unless absolutely necessary. After watching Muddy sniff around the backyard for a bit, I sat down at the computer to e-mail an editor friend in Chicago; I'd submitted her name as a reference at Children's and wondered if she'd heard anything from them. The phone rang: it was Ellie, my mother-in-law, calling from Houston. She asked if I'd turned on the news yet. No, I said. Why?

A plane flew into the Trade Center in New York, she said. Really? That's weird, I responded. I said I'd check the Today show to hear what they were reporting. I hung up and tuned in. There were Katie and Matt, still puzzling through what had happened, when another plane flew into the frame... and then simply disappeared into the adjoining building. Everything. Slowed. Down. And the world was never quite the same.

How surreal were the hours that followed? I called Trey immediately, of course; they were aware of what was happening at the office and were checking the TV when they could. I couldn't bring myself to step away from the television for even a minute. I watched Jim Miklaszewski report live from the Pentagon when, suddenly, the background was filled with noise and commotion: another plane had been used as a missile. I can't recall who called whom, but in short order I was on the phone with my sister Sarah as we tried to piece together Daddy's schedule. Wasn't he supposed to be at the Pentagon that morning? (Yes, but his meeting had been pushed back to the week before, and he was safe at home.)

Sarah and I were still on the phone when, unbelievably, the first tower fell. Sitting on the couch in our den, I began shaking like a leaf. My mind was racing with the names of my Morgan Stanley colleagues who worked in that building. I'd last spoken with a portfolio manager there to tell him I was leaving Van Kampen, and he'd kindly wished me well. Was he okay? (He was; I heard later that every Morgan Stanley employee had safely evacuated.)

Somehow, in the sea of terrible news and mind-numbing ramifications, the banal occasionally bobbed to the surface. When everything seemed utterly dire and hopeless, the phone rang: it was a publications editor at Children's extending a formal job offer to me, which I numbly accepted. When I called Trey and begged him to come home, he gently refused: his office had previously scheduled a golf tournament that afternoon that was to benefit United Way, and the decision had been made to keep the date and up the fundraising ante.

Eventually, he came home. I turned off the television, at least for a little while. The nation grieved. The world extended sympathy and support to our wounded and mourning populace. And then, tentatively, life began to resume an air of normalcy, albeit under a cloud of apprehension and fear that my generation had never known before.

I went to work. Made friends. To my shock, conceived. Gave birth. Fell in love. Bought a house with room to grow. Grew. Fell in love again, times two. Now, here I sit, five years later.

But that day still seems like yesterday.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Jiggety jig

Home again, home again...

First and most obviously: the game. Was bad. A little heartbreaking, actually. I know, I know: it's only a game, but it was a Big Game that carried with it Great Importance and garnered National Attention. Some other time, I'll go into detail about why I even care about football and, perhaps, indulge in a psychological and sociological analysis of why it is that I, and others like myself, gain or lose degrees of self-esteem and self-importance because of what a dozen 20-year-old boys do on a large grassy field with a pigskin ball. But tonight, I'm just too sad. Harumph.

I'm also still bearing a tiny grudge against our adjacent season-ticketholder seatmates, who capitalized on the game's high demand by selling their tickets (for a very pretty penny, I hope) to a trio of Ohio State fans. Result: I was nestled against a loud-mouthed, red-jerseyed, nut-necklaced large Buckeye who prattled on about His Wonderful School and All Things Ohioan (-ist? -er? I neither know nor care) for four straight hours. I really hope my mama and Mack Brown are proud of me: I was gracious, I was hospitable, I Made Texas Proud and, bygawd, I did not relinquish my seat even when the game was essentially over.

But now it IS over, which is great because I can move on to all the happy stuff. Namely: whether my mama is proud of me is for her to decide, but she was unquestionably my hero this weekend. One her! Three them! She fed 'em, changed 'em, BATHED 'em, entertained 'em, even (I still can't get over this) attempted to organize their slop-trough toy bins. Veni, vidi, vici? That would be Nana! I can't tell you how many times Trey and I nervously checked our cell phones before the game kicked off, anticipating cries of help, but she did not call. WE LOVE HER. We are so impressed, so relieved, so grateful... and so rejuvenated after 28 hours of no parental responsibility whatsoever. Even dragging our weary feet back to our haunted hotel after the game was kind of a treat: no double-stroller to push, no diaper bag to lug. Did I miss my sweet blond babies? More than words could say. But I knew they were in good hands, and I just adored being back in Austin with my handsome husband, steps away from where we'd met 18 years ago.

So, I woke up this morning to the Central Texas sun in a clear blue sky, and a quiet room with no small sharp-cornered toys underfoot. Next, a luxuriously long shower: heaven. After Trey woke up, got ready, and checked us out of the hotel, we got in the car and headed for campus. Breakfast at Kerbey Lane seemed like the perfect way to start the day. (It was.) We lazily leafed through the newspaper after placing our order; I never even noticed if they had high chairs. I almost slipped when the waitress took our order: I began to ask for an extra stack of napkins, but then realized that we would probably be just fine with the two we'd been offered. (We were.) After eating entirely too much food, we had time for one stop, and the choice seemed obvious: Waterloo Records. How much money have we spent here over the years? I'm pretty sure we toppped ourselves today. We wandered through the aisles picking up the most random selections, and it felt like any Sunday afternoon in the early 1990s. Nice.

Watch check: it was time to hit the road again. Gut check: it was time to see those cherubic faces again. The miles flew by as we spun our stack of new tunes (some hits, some misses) up until the last block before home. And home was... well, calm. Somehow, Mom had gotten everyone down for a great nap, which actually left her with a few quiet minutes to grade papers. (Not at all sure how she kept her eyelids propped open to do that, and am fervently hoping those kids take it easy on her this week.) The quiet was short-lived: Carter woke up and gave us some award-winning big bear hugs, and then it was time to take Mom to the airport. When I got back home, Spence and Katie were awake and cheerful, too... we went to the park, ate dinner, negotiated bathtime, said good-night and now life is back to normal. And aren't we incredibly lucky that it is? Yes. Oh, yes. A thousand times, yes.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Road

We now return to our regularly scheduled program, after an observation and celebration of labor. (The less painful but more drawn-out sort, that is.) We kicked off said celebration last Friday by pooling the fruits of our labor (both sorts) for what was meant to be a mini road-trip to San Antonio. Somehow, we ended up spending 18 hours in the cramped Mommywagon, much of it to the tune of “WAAAAAAAAAAA!” and “SKREEEEEEEEEE!” (Translations, respectively: “Kindly stop the car, Father, as my wee legs have lost all sensation,” and “I understand, dear sibling, that you want this [toy, sippy cup, appendage], but surely you know that possession is nine-tenths of the law.”)

And yet: sandwiched between the tears and backseat squabbles, we had a great weekend. Granted, some of it was in retrospect. But first, there was the road.

Once the Mommywagon was packed with kids and kid accessories, and the Dallas skyline was finally in our rear-view mirror (several hours after our planned departure time), we made haste to Corsicana’s Collin Street Bakery for all manner of baked goods (all the better to placate you with, my dears) and a very decent bathroom. From there, we meandered down a pleasant stretch of Highway 31, which took us to Waco. It’s just a hop down the interstate to Salado, which we highly recommend as a place to stretch your legs, purchase some freshly jerkied beef and give your eardrums a chance to recuperate before permanent damage is incurred. (“She just wants to be held,” Carter told us after Katie’s screaming jag ventured into its second hour. That did it; Trey veered for the nearest exit.)

Happiness was, of course, short-lived, but we pressed on to Austin. Children were wild with joy but grown-ups sported grim expressions and clenched jaws when we finally pulled into the parking lot of Threadgill's, a college favorite. The classic southern food was as good as we remembered. Our offspring begged to differ. Our fellow diners stifled the urge to applaud upon our departure, and for that we were grateful.

We took the long way back though town to I-35, driving down Lamar and Guadalupe Streets to catch a glimpse of the 40 acres. Misty with sentiment, I pointed out various historical spots to the kids, who were mightily unimpressed. (“Look! The Wok-n-Go is still standing! And over there! It’s that nasty bar where Daddy… well, never mind, but his fraternity brothers thought it was hilarious. Oh! Remember when we exchanged weepy good-byes in that Burger King parking lot before I drove back to Mississippi that one time? Ah, memories.”)

Finally… finally, finally, finally, we arrived at Nana’s house. This was the first visit for S and K who, of course, were asleep by this point and could have cared less where we'd landed. However, they rose with the sun and immediately began to explore their gloriously unchildproofed surroundings. On a whim, we decided to cart the brood back to Austin to see if we might be able to sneak the three of them into the stadium for their first-ever football game. Our two tickets were, in fact, deemed insufficient for the five of us, so (my hero) Trey selflessly volunteered to wrangle S and K at the goal-post club while C and I joined the throngs of orange-clad fans massing at the stadium entrance. We had the great fortune of running into our longtime friends Monica and Steve, who kept us company along the way. (If you don't know Monica and Steve, you don't know what a treat it is to be in their company. They're smart, sweet, successful and funny as hell... and they somehow manage to make parenting look as easy and natural as breathing. Truly, I've never seen them break a sweat at anything, except the occasional triathlon.)

Now, Carter’s had plenty of exposure to Texas football in his young life… just never in three dimensions. He knows the hand signals and the songs and the mascot’s name. And he was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to see real, live football players, although he struggled a bit with the concept of perspective. (“They’re very small?” he asked. “No,” I said, “they're actually pretty big guys, but they’ll look small from our seats.” Blank look.) I did explain that everyone around us would be making lots of noise so the team could hear us cheering for them, and that it was all part of the fun. But how do you really prepare a preschooler for the deafening roar of 85,000 hyper fans? And what happens if you forget to mention that a large cannon will be fired repeatedly, and often without warning?

Well, I’ll tell you: said preschooler is not very amused and, although he tries very hard to put on a brave face, is pretty rattled by the whole shebang. And whereas Dallas benefited from some nice cooling rain in our absence, Austin was hot. Damn hot. So there we sat on an aluminum bench, sizzling under an unfiltered high-noon Texas sun, snuggled up next to a small town's worth of our sweaty Longhorn brethren. For a while, Carter kept his face buried in my neck, occasionally whimpering, “Is it going to boom again? Tell me when it’s going to boom again!” When I promised him that the opposing team had the ball and, ergo, the cannon was unlikely to go off again, he began to relax and have fun. He charmed the heck out of our seatmates, who promptly rewarded him with a church fan (you know, the kind you wave at yourself, and all of the friendly people sitting around you) and generous swigs of lemonade. (Hey, we’re all family up there.) And for the first time in two years, I got to see a little football. (Yee-haw!)

By the time the cannon boomed to signal the end of the first quarter, we’d had enough. Carter’s happy face was flushed and sweaty, and I was ready to trade places with Trey so he could see some of the game, too. But by the time we found him, he had relocated S and K to the Alumni Center, reconnected with Monica and Steve, and all were having a great time shooting the breeze. Factoring in the time and the heat, we decided to call it a day and head back to San Antonio. (It was a good decision: I found out later that 400 people were treated for heat exposure during the game.)

When we returned to Nana’s house, Aunt Mary and Not-Quite-Uncle Albert were there to greet us with an invitation we couldn’t refuse: a late-afternoon trek to Schlitterbahn, the old-school water park by the lazy Comal River. We donned swimsuits, climbed back into the car (which, as you can imagine, the kids just loved) and took I-35 yet again, this time stopping in New Braunfels. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, being a procrastinator has its rewards: our early-evening arrival garnered us nearly-half-price admission and a sparsely attended park. No waits on rides! No obnoxious drunk guys in the wave pool! Our choice of tubes! Duuuuuuuude. We all had a blast.

By the time they closed the park and slammed the gates behind us, we'd already experienced a pretty full afternoon, if not weekend. But Trey voted that we push our luck one inch further and try something different for dinner. I was thinking different as in Wendy's rather than Whataburger; he was thinking an entirely separate town. Too tired to debate, we buckled the muppers into their car seats for the seventy-eleventh time in 24 hours and took a winding road to neighboring Gruene.

What can I say? When he's right, he's right: it was the perfect ending to the day. Trey described it this way: can you evoke the happy buzz you have after a day at the lake with your closest friends, many beers and no cares? That genial, gentle, keep-the-party-goin' feel just vibrated through the small town's night air. We breathed it in for a bit, then gratefully grubbed on a dimly lit patio at Janie's Table. Bellies full, we wandered over to historic Gruene Hall, where Texalternative music was wafting through the screened windows. (How is it, Mary wanted to know, that as much as we love Texas tunes, Trey and I have never seen a show there? We couldn't conjure an answer, but pledge to rectify this soon.) Finally, wistfully, we said good-bye to Mary and Albert and took the wee ones back to the car. No arguments about reuniting with their car seats this time: after changing our sweet muppers into pajamas in the back of the wagon, they were asleep before we'd even turned the key in the ignition.

The next morning, we hung out at Nana's till lunchtime. Still mourning the loss of our neighborhood EZ's (and still nursing a grudge and a personal boycott against 7-11 for razing its historic building), we headed to one of the Alamo City locations for some good kid-friendly eats. And hey, what's a few hundred more calories after a basket of cheese-covered curly fries? That's the kind of justification I used to drag the fam to a nearby Amy's ice cream outpost. Mmmm... bovine, so fine.

Unfortunately, all good things must end... and so it was that we reached the most dreaded portion of our trip: the repacking of the Mommywagon and the false promises to the children that the trip home would literally fly by if only they would sleep. And eventually, they did sleep, but only after hours upon hours of shrieking and wailing from the back seat, intermittently interrupted by negotiating and outright begging from the front. Los hooligans did simmer down after a dinnertime stop at a Waco Cracker Barrel, although I think it's best that we don't return there until they've had a significant turnover in their waitstaff or we've grown older and are no longer recognizable as "that family that caused such a ruckus 'round here." Y'know, whichever comes first.

So now we're home. And some of us will stay home this weekend. But some of us will be sneaking out the front door on Saturday afternoon for a return trip to Austin and another pass at a (well actually, THE) football game. Not so fast, little people... you'll be in good hands with your Nana while we're gone. Please, please be kind to her. (Nana, rest assured that we will be contacting Elizabeth Arden herself to ensure that her red door is swung wide open for you as a gesture of our appreciation.) Gentle readers, we gratefully accept any supportive and encouraging thoughts you wish to send this way for happiness and harmony. In turn, we, as always, send you our very best.

Love, F5

V.I.P. P.S. Mad props go to Jen for the fabulous banner she created for us (see above). We are so thrilled and grateful! (And, as always, in awe of her photographic prowess.) She took this picture of C, S and K on a steamy summer afternoon at the Arboretum when all five Franklins were out of sorts and uncooperative. (The next day, poor S was diagnosed with a double ear infection, which helped to explain his misbehavior. The rest of us were just cranks for no good reason.) Somehow, in the one nanosecond after they'd been liberated from their shirts and just happened to be looking in the same general direction, she captured this image. LOVE it. Love her! And, of course, love them.