Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tricks, treats

Hip-happy Halloween! (And ginormous birthday wishes to my sweet niece, Olivia, and my long-lost fairy godmother, Stuart. MWAH! Smooches to you both!)

Truth time: excepting the above great reasons for celebrating October 31, I'm not overly enthusiastic about this particular holiday. Not that I don't love the candy. (Because I do. I really, really do.) But the pressure to come up with fabulous, creative costumes that are lovingly hand-crafted: well, that's not my bag.

Happily, the muppers managed to look absolutely adorable in one recycled costume (Carter, the giraffe) and two snatched-from-the-bargain-bin foam shells (Spencer, the spider, and Katie, the pumpkin). Want pictures? Take it up with the big guy who's currently snoring on the couch. That's his domain.

Maybe next year I'll channel Martha Stewart and become a costume queen. Till then: sorry, kiddos.

One tradition I'd sincerely love to carry on is trick-or-treating with our neighbors, the Neylons. Carter and Daniel were so cute tromping around together: nudging each other to ring bells and knock on doors, pondering how much candy to grab when presented with a giant bowl of goodies and generally having a high old time. Our block wasn't very active, but we hit about a half-dozen houses (some neighbors we knew and a few we hadn't met before) and the boys didn't seem disappointed in the least when it was time to head home for some barbecue.

Surprisingly, our two young'uns held up pretty well this evening; poor Spencer has a nasty ear infection that kept him (and most of the Franklin five) awake for much of last night. To add insult to injury, their reward for suffering through the indignity of having their tender ears poked and prodded by our funny new pediatrician was: flu shots. But with cool band-aids! (Yeah, that made it better.)

Two bits of good news: first, K's ears got the all-clear. Second, they (the tots, not the ears) tipped the scales at 22.6 pounds apiece. I think that keeps them pretty firmly in the pee-wee categories, but it's always nice to get an update.

As always, there's so much more to tell than there is time to type, and I've just got to get a decent night's sleep. The big snoring guy has got the right idea, if the wrong location. So off to bed I go, with a belly full of miniature Reese's cups.

Tomorrow: NaBlaBla begins! Who wants to make bets on how soon I'll flake out?


P.S. It's not my news to share, so I will happily delete this if asked, but... dearest friends who have been so patient, persistent and faithful, we are over-the-moon happy for you and your sweet family tonight!! xoxox F5

P.P.S. The big guy is an early bird; see above. Thanks, sweetie!


Lots of time and not much to say... wait. Scratch that and reverse it. Actually, just click here and tell me what you think. Care to join me in this historic endeavor? C'mon, it'll be fun... all the cool kids are doing it! (Yes, TraBilCobb, I am talking to you. And you, DebStahl. And even you, Mojita Ma.)

Get ready, get set, WRITE!

P.S. Belated shout-out to the amazing, incredible blister girl Jenina: you are exempted from the above, as well as anything you don't want to do, pretty much ever again. Because when you walk SIXTY MILES in THREE DAYS... honey, you get to call the shots!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The name above the title

Two months into this blogography, I'm rethinking the name we arbitrarily slapped above our (gorgeous, thanks to Sugar) masthead: Franklin5. Concise? To be sure. Descriptive? Indeedy. Evocative of, say, The Jackson Five? Overlooking the fact that we are woefully deficient in both singing and dancing skills... well, why the heck not.

But I was struck tonight by what seems to be a running theme in this journal to date, and so I offer an alternate nom de plume: Things Spencer Has Misplaced.

If you're just joining us, here's the list so far:
1. Himself
2. My contact case
3. An unspecified number of small toys and puzzle pieces, many of them now residing at the city dump
4. Fifty-seven rolls of toilet paper, give or take a few
5. Quite possibly, the last shreds of my sanity
And, this evening,
6. My keys

The night began on an upbeat note. I garnered an invite from Jen to join her and funny friend Janet for dinner at Dream Cafe. Trey's in the Sunshine State, his second business trip in three days, so I was thrilled to have a social outing for the muppers and myself.

It had been a rainy day, so the kiddos had to content themselves with the indoor playground (i.e., the tables, chairs and fully stocked condiment cart) while the super-cool playscape taunted them from the other side of the glass. I was secretly happy with this set-up, because the four walls provided a nice barrier between Spencer and the parking lot. Still, he made do by periodically roaming out of sight and then returning to our table, often bearing souvenirs from other parts of the restaurant.

A good meal. A nice chat with fellow moms. Lots of screeching and running 'round from my three, but I'm convinced that minute amounts of food were actually ingested. Even the service seemed slightly zippier than usual. At last, it was time to say good-bye. A parade of moms and slap-happy children marched toward the door as I brought up the rear, idly digging for my keys en route.

No keys in the top of the diaper bag, but no worries: I could hear jingling at the bottom of the bag. I pawed through the contents, finally unearthing a jingly year-old baby toy, but no keys. Checked my purse; no dice. Retraced my path from the table, but found nothing keylike in the vicinity.

Jen and Janet, both ready to roll, were waiting for me outside. Kidlets, unleashed at last, were gleefully climbing the rain-slick playscape and splashing in mud puddles. "I'm so sorry," I said to J and J. "I can't quite find my keys."

Well. As my fabulous friend Karen said last weekend: if you want something done, ask a mother. J and J threw themselves into the task at hand, helping me tear through my bags, again, retracing my steps, again, and suggesting dozens of potential hiding places for errant keys. Sadly, we turned up nothing. I consulted our waiter, who pledged sympathy and support.

Just as sweet-cheeks baby Greta let Janet know in no uncertain terms that it was time for them to go, I reached the conclusion that the keys must be locked inside my car. Nevermind the statistical improbability of this, or the fact that I couldn't see inside the darkened Mommywagon to confirm their whereabouts; desperation won out and I decided to call a locksmith. Our waiter brought me the yellow pages as Jen tried to find the customer service number for needy Volvo types.

I was racing through a rather lengthy list of whatifs when our waiter, a prize of a human being who deserves 35 percent tips from this day forward, burst through the front door with a triumphant smile and yes, my keys. Which had been stashed on a little shelf behind the cash register, right at Spencer-level. But of course.

And of course, once we were home, that little scamp tucked into me when I picked him up to say good-night. Nestled his wild-with-curls head into the hollow of my neck, pulled his knees up against my chest and squeezed me with his arms for one long moment... then peeled himself away, grabbed my face with two pudgy hands, and smacked a big wet kiss on my lips.

So (you knew this was coming), I suppose that in order to be fair and balanced, I'd really have to subtitle the blog Things Spencer Has Discovered. Number one on the list: A cavernous space in my heart, large enough to hold a galaxy, filled to the brink with neverending unconditional love for this mischievous sweetheart with twinkling eyes and joie de vivre.

And then I'd need another subtitle to describe the equally cavernous and incredible heart spaces dedicated to his siblings, amazing creatures both. Not to mention their cute father, who kick-started this whole shebang.

Franklin5 it is, then.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Bored games

I've got a bit of the crud. It's a cold-flu thing, in that it feels exactly like the flu without one smidge of fever, thus achieving only cold-level status. And it's palindromic! Felt really lousy on Sunday, only marginally better on Monday. Greatly improved on Tuesday and practically perfect on Wednesday. Thursday, a big backslide, and today, I'm back to square one. Feel free to place bets on what tomorrow will look like, 'cause I'm at a total loss.

Calling in sick, of course, is not an option. My miniature tryannical bosses have no tolerance and, frankly, no mercy for my woes. Oh, C tries to be sweet. "Are you okay, Mommy? Do your eyelashes still hurt?" But three seconds later, it's back to "Need a straw for my smoothie. Need a straw! NEED A STRAW! STRAAAAAW!!" He instinctively knows that I lack the energy to cough and hack my way through yet another discussion of You’re Not Allowed to Talk to Mommy in That Tone of Voice.

S and K don't really care what I do or how I feel, as long as I provide them with a steady stream of milk for their sippy cups, and promise to say "no" at least a hundred times a day. It's their favorite word in the universe. They wriggle with joy when my lips begin to form the letter "o." And if I happen to furrow my eyebrows and point (or better yet, shake) my finger while saying "no, no, a thousand times no!" well, that's a job well done.

So, let's do the math. 1 puny me + 3 healthy them x 2 full days of being cooped up in these 4 walls = a rather impressive lineup of games and activities created from sheer boredom and excess energy. Here are 6 examples:

First, we laugh: This game was C's answer to what he deemed interminably dull (read: grown-up) dinner conversations. Without provocation or warning, C will announce, “First, we laugh!” He throws his head back and laughs; before we have a chance to launch into a lecture about Not Interrupting, S and K obediently begin to cackle.

“Now, we bang!” our fearless leader shouts, and begins pounding the table with his hands. S and K follow suit. In fact, now that they’ve been properly indoctrinated, the younger two will often initiate this game themselves, wordlessly laughing like maniacs and then banging whatever surface is nearest. Entertainment for hours is virtually assured.

Musical cars: Thanks to generous grandparents, we have no less than twelve ride-on toys in the house at all times. At any given time, however, only two vehicles are considered to be desirable. When two children (usually C and K) hop onto two randomly selected cars and begin wheeling them around the hallways, ONLY THOSE CARS will do for the child (usually S) who is left standing.

Vehicles that are bigger, faster and shinier may be offered up by Mommy; she fails to understand the angst of the standing child, who is now wailing and pulling his face, which assumes a distorted visage of despair and agony befitting Guernica.

Wide world of sports: Ever noticed the marvelous resemblance between a broom and a golf club? Or realize that, in a pinch, a large whisk makes a fine baseball bat? Did you ever stop to think how much fun it might be to play football with one of those giant exercise balance balls? How about dribbling a large grapefruit, in lieu of a soccer ball, until it dribbles back?

Uh-oh. What was that crashing noise? Suddenly Mommy emerges and tells you to cut it out, RIGHT NOW. No worries: just assume a pained expression and say, “But I want to be at the park! Isn’t it a beautiful day in the neighborhood?” She will look at you for a full minute... then her shoulders will slump and she will feebly return your sports equipment to you. Goal!

(Note: This defense may also help defuse Mommy’s reaction to discovering your latest wall art, rendered in sidewalk chalk, Sharpie, bathtub crayon or ballpoint pen. Creative expression is vital to a child’s development, after all.)

Do you understand me? This is a terrible synthesis of bowling and Mommy guilt. After a routine break-in to the pantry, the muppers recently found a six-pack of bottled waters. Once they'd carefully freed the bottles from their plastic case, C devised the rules and launched the game to great success. It goes something like this:

C lines up a selection of bottles on the coffee table, like an elevated bowling alley. He turns to S and K and says sternly, "Now, I don't want you to touch these bottles. Do you understand me?" He then takes his arm and sweeps the bottles from the coffee table so that they BOOM to the floor and roll to all corners of the room. His small audience cheers and laughs hysterically.

(A warning: if you happen to be in the bathroom the first time this game is played, you may think that a substantial piece of furniture has crashed to the floor. After a while, you barely even flinch.)

We wuv wipes: Fellow mommies, have you ever counted how many wipes you have in your house? We have packs of wipes everywhere, it seems: stationed at two changing tables, stashed in diaper bags, stored in closets and even (ahem) kept within arm’s reach in bathrooms.

I know exactly how many wipes we have. It doesn’t matter where they’re kept; my intrepid team of explorers will find them and, with rather impressive speed, root them out, one by one. As you stumble across one wet pile of wipes and begin restoring them to their proper container, rest assured that the team is working feverishly on another case elsewhere in the house. No, please... no thanks are necessary. Your utter exasperation is their only reward.

Addendum: when all wipes have been inconveniently stacked on top of the fridge, similar fun can still be had by extracting the contents of laundry baskets, dressers and the drawers that hold the dish towels, cloth napkins and placemats.

Whack-a-Mom: This team effort duplicates all the fun of the arcade game at your own breakfast table. The setting: you have a plate of food in front of you, as do your siblings. Mommy is walking from the counter to the table with a plate of her own. Now, wait for it... timing is of the essence.

The second she sits down, ask her to get you something, please. It can be obvious (a drink, a utensil, a napkin) or obscure (cinnamon sugar, the perfect accompaniment to cheese quesadilla), but be sure to pace yourself. Only submit a new request AFTER she returns to the table. Extra points may be scored if she’s sitting down and, at last, about to put a forkful of food into her mouth.

Just as she suspects you might be manipulating her, cue a sibling to drop a spoon, fling a sippy cup or ask plaintively, “More?”

Tomorrow is a new day. Let the games begin!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The printed word

Did you know this? I had absolutely no idea.

Carter's bedtime story selection tonight was the classic Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans. It's one of my own childhood favorites that's only recently been garnering attention against stacks of books about pirates, trucks, dinosaurs and all things noisy and smelly. It's such fun to reread it with thirtysomething eyes: I love the rhyming cadence, I love the illustrations that evoke happy travel memories and I especially love the fact that I don't have to squint to read the type, because I have every word committed to memory.

Even if you have only a passing familiarity with the story, you're probably aware that there were twelve little girls (in, yes, it's coming back to you now: two straight lines) living under this one roof of... what? A boarding school? Some sort of camp for potential nuns? It's never been clear to me. In any case, the girls go about their daily lives until our tiny protagonist is rushed to the hospital for a brief spell.

Closing in on the end of the book this evening, Trey asked, "Now, how many little girls were left in Madeline's absence?" Geez, Trey, I thought, you're going to be no use whatsoever when the kids start asking us for help with their math assignments. "Eleven," I answered, in my most patient Mommy voice. He pointed to the picture of the sad faces gathered 'round the communal dining table, clearly pining for the smallest member of their group. "Count 'em," he said.

Sigh. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven... twelve. Eleven little girls returning from the hospital, brushing their teeth, going to bed and being soothed back to sleep by Miss Clavell. But in that one small illustration in the series, Bemelmans got it wrong. Not sure I'll ever see it quite the same way again. I do, however, adore these tidbits about the story and the author-illustrator here and here.

Words. Sometimes, they're just not enough. Oftentimes I worry about using the wrong ones, and so I say nothing at all. I'll probably err on both sides tonight, I'm afraid. These words aren't mine, but they've been rattling around in my head all day long. Here, they're meant for Ellie, my amazing mother-in-law... and a wonderful, loving, caring sister. You are on my mind and in my heart tonight.

...Days, weeks, months, years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat,
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town;)
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
"For there is no friend like a sister,
In calm or stormy weather,
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands."

-- Christina Rosetti, Goblin Market

Monday, October 16, 2006

Happy happy joy joy

To get the full effect of my happiness and joy, you should really click here and, by all means, turn up your speakers. Don't worry; I'll wait for you.

Okay. Ready? Here we go.

1. Trey is home! Trey is home! Thank God almighty, Trey is HOME! (In fairness, it should be noted that he may be slightly less enthused about this turn of events than the rest of the household, who have not given him one moment's peace since he walked through the front door.)

2. Very shortly after walking through the front door and peeling the muppers from his calves, he began searching for my missing contact case. He has incredible luck with this sort of thing, which is why I didn't allow myself to completely melt down at the possibility of never being able to see or drive again. And so we casually poked around the house, waiting for the luck to kick in.

One hour went by; we dismantled the scene of the crime.

Two hours passed; I forlornly picked through toy bins and laundry hampers while he picked through (blech) the garbage.

Hour three ticked by. We found ourselves looking in places that the muppers couldn't possibly have reached, even if they'd banded together to form tiny pyramids. Desperation was beginning to kick in. I could see Trey's forehead crease with worry: a bad sign.

We were just finishing dinner and getting the muppers ready for bathtime when Trey got up and walked over to the stereo. I thought he might be getting ready to spin some nighttime tunes when...

(this seems so utterly obvious now that I'm kicking myself for not having thought of it first)

... he reached his hand into the mouth of the VCR and retrieved MY CONTACT CASE. Thirty-six hours after its last sighting, the case was now nice and hot, and most of the solution had simmered away, but the contacts were there and seemingly intact. And yes, I am making an appointment TOMORROW to get fitted for a new pair.

Spencer Samuel, it's a good thing you're so cute, son.

3. In this happy space between October 16 and 17, I'd like to extend hippo birdie two ewe wishes to a few friends, near and dear, young and old, near and far: Hailey! Anna! Kandace! John Mayer! Dylan! Emma! Steph! Evel Knievel! and, I'm sure, many more. Happy birthdays, all!

4. And speaking of birthdays: yes, it was crazy, but we had the best time(s) at back-to-back birthday parties on Saturday! First up was a Halloween-themed sibling celebration for Alex and Chris, where wee ones in various costumes laughed themselves silly in a big bounce house and gobbled up pizza like they might never eat again. The muppers had a high time, despite the fact that I dropped the ball and failed to buy them new costumes. So, they were squeezed into last year's get-ups. Sigh.

Next up was a fabulous shebang for another pair of sibs, the adorable Sam and Ben. Also a costume event, this was a too-much-fun fiesta with more cool grown-ups than you could shake a pinata stick at, and cute kiddos who had the time of their young lives running wild in the backyard, riding ponies (including a pink one with a unicorn horn; Katie was utterly enthralled), painting pumpkins, giddily consuming their body weight in sugar and making friends with everyone they met. Loved. It.

5. One more Weintraub note: we had the great fortune to snag a last-minute mini-session with Jen last week in an attempt to garner some Christmas-card-worthy pictures. Wanna sneak peek? Click here, scroll past the other beautiful (and, I see, well-behaved!) families and be sure to read Jen's intro. LOVE her description of our high-octane munchkins! Also love, love, love her sweet picture of the three of them. Makes me want to sneak into their rooms right now, wake 'em up and cover them with kisses.

Instead, I think I'll tuck into my own bed and meet them in dreamland.


What is the sound...

... of one mupper hand clapping?

I don't know the answer to this Zen koan, and I don't know the answer to the following question, either. But maybe putting it out into the universe will yield some much-needed enlightenment.

If you were a missing contact case, where would you be?

In all seriousness and with a fair amount of desperation, I overheard my mother asking C this very question earlier today. He wasn't able to provide any helpful clues, nor was his inarticulate brother. S, we suspect, is the one who actually thieved said contact case from my nightstand as I slumbered, deep in a dream that I had befriended my favorite of the Wilson brothers, Luke. He was rather patiently teaching me the rules of Go Fish as I prattled on about how much I really, really loved his work. Especially Bottle Rocket. So clever!

But I digress.

In my dreams, I can actually see objects like a deck of cards and the untamed eyebrows of Mr. Wilson without benefit of corrective lenses. In my waking life, alas, I can't see much of anything, ever. Nor can most of my family members. This is why I feel giddy when C points toward a distant moving blob and says something like, "Look, Mommy! A train!" and I think, oh, please please please have your father's eyesight.

Now, I have a pair of glasses that hold up reasonably well for things like changing diapers and popping frozen waffles into the toaster for the kids' dinner. (Hey, they didn't complain.) But for more important tasks... like driving C to school in the morning or, apparently, searching every square inch of the house (yes, I already checked the toy bins, trash cans and toilet bowls) for my lost contact case... they fail me miserably.

If I could see the clock right now, I'd be counting down the minutes till Trey's return, sometime tomorrow afternoon, from his annual football weekend with the boys...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Mama musings

Nothing too thriling to report from casa Franklin tonight, so I'll borrow others' words. Follow the links, if you're so inclined...

1. Spotted this article over the weekend; simultaneously loved the realization that we're but a wee family of five, and found myself thinking, if only for a moment, "See, one more wouldn't be so bad... "

(Trey. Honey. Please peel yourself off the floor; it was just a passing fancy, I promise.)

2. In a rare (nonexistent, lately) fit of organization, we dug out our entry table this weekend: bags and bags of never-read magazines and newspapers now have a happy home in the recycling bin. (Note to self: make guilt offering to Sierra Club.) I still suffer from CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome), as every other corner of the house is littered with junk, but at least now I won't have an anxiety attack if some passerby glimpses what lies just beyond our front door.

Anyway. I decided to actually READ this week's New Yorker, instead of just smirking at the cover and tossing it aside. Good stuff, and not just the ever-hilarious cartoons. If you're at all interested in the topic of childbirth and aren't overly squeamish, you should definitely read this provocative article on c-sections and other interventions.

I've had two uncomplicated unmedicated births and one emergency section (Miss K, the drama queen) and feel strangely fortunate to have had both experiences. I can't say that I would voluntarily choose the surgical route, although I know some who have. What do you think about the argument that c-sections seem poised to be the childbirth choice of the future?

3. Finally: whilst supervising los hooligans at the library last week, I stumbled upon a book that's not cardboard and (gasp!) includes not one zany picture. Another complicated, thought-provoking read, it's The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra Robbins. Part MTV reality show, part cautionary tale, it invokes a few cringe-worthy memories of my own high-school years and many more that's-not-how-we-did-it-in-MY-day observations. I can't put it down. It's had me thinking about my brother, navigating his way through high school in San Antonio, and, of course, the world that awaits my three chickadees. Shiver.

That's it for one night. Perhaps Papa F5 will share some of the fun mupper pictures he took yesterday?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Oh, you.

Whew: whatta week. We played lost and found, had some ups and downs, and ran 'round and 'round (and 'round and 'round some more). It was the kind of week that left me desperately wanting to check into a spa, or perhaps a padded room, for some serious rest, reflection and recuperation.

Instead, today Trey and I went to, of all places, the State Fair, for a whole lot more of the aforementioned. The kiddos stayed home with Jill, our summer sitter, who'll probably wise up pretty soon and change her number so we can't contact her again. But today, she put on a brave face and watched the muppers for the better part of the afternoon while we grown-ups battled ungodly traffic and throngs of people, all reeking of corn dogs and beer, under a blazing October sun.

Why would we willingly do such a thing? To see the 101st match-up between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners. This will stun my sweet husband when he reads it, but I have to confess: as much as I really, truly love Texas football, I wasn't completely convinced that this was the most romantic date idea. A quick mental calculation had me thinking that the fair market value for our tickets, plus the money we'd spend for babysitting, parking, etc., could probably fetch us a couple of nights in a beachfront hotel.

Well. The hotel may be swell, but we had a no-regrets heckuva time in the Cotton Bowl. I can't believe how great our seats were: we were 20 rows behind the band, the cannon and Bevo himself, with a gorgeous, up-close view of the gridiron action. Seated on the exact center point of the Texas half of the stadium, we could see the dividing line between the orange Texas faithful and the red Oklahoma fans. Spied the players jumping up and down before they ran through the tunnel onto the field. Felt the stadium shake as three fighter jets flew over us before kickoff. Heard the bands and the fans goad their opponents.

All the noise, all the emotion and all of the excitement: it's impossible to describe. To get just a sense of how thrilling it was, check out the DMN's multimedia presentation. (Turn up your speakers for the full effect.)

Adding to the fun: on a concession run, Trey ran into some friends from our Chicago Texas Exes days who were, coincidentally, sitting just a few rows behind us. (Hey, Kvapils! It was great to see you again!)

And, oh yeah: there was the game. A shaky first half, in which we quietly pined for Vince Young to magically materialize on the field and lead us to certain victory. Happily, this was followed by an amazing second half, in which the boys who were there somehow pulled it all together and just plain dominated. Yee-haw!

(Conciliatory shout-out to my Sooner friends: you might be amused to know that, although I did wear the obligatory burnt orange into the stadium, I left wearing red and white: a seriously sunburned forehead, beak and chest in sharp contrast to the two enormous white rings around my eyes where my sunglasses were perched. I am a vision of irresponsibility.)

Sunburned and weary but grinning ear to ear and holding hands all the way back to the car: now that's a great date. Thanks, sweetie.

Tomorrow: F5 time. Hope you all have happy, healthy weekends with the ones you love.

P.S. For a little while now, S and K have called C "Dahtah," which of course we find unbearably cute. This week, they've finally given each other names. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce: Bepper and Daydie.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


This morning, Carter woke up clutching his stomach and complaining of owies. The real deal or a psychosomatic hangover from yesterday's drama? I wasn't taking any chances... and secretly, was relieved to have an excuse for a mommy-mupper PJ day. We built couch-cushion forts, danced around the house when we felt so moved, broke out some fresh jars of play-dough, even (gasp!) turned on the boob tube for a little bit.

Why do I hate children's television so? I can't rationally explain it without sounding like the lone village idiot walking around with a tin foil beanie and muttering things like "vast wasteland" and "subversive purple dinosaur." As my mother is fond of reminding me, I regularly watched Sesame Street as a kid and managed to survive without too warped a view of life. Of course, I also grew up in a time when seat belts and car seats were merely suggestions.

But the gigglefest that ensued when I turned on a Baby Einsten video that hadn't seen the light of day since I was a mother of one: well, it was well worth the half-hour flirtation with ADHD. My three chickadees piled onto Clifford, the big red couch, and collapsed with laughter as puppet animals danced across the screen. Katie provided a running narration of the action in her standard I'm-so-excited decibel level that only dogs can register. Periodically, they all burst into simultaneous cheers and applause.

For your viewing pleasure, we've selected a sampler of soccer pictures from last week's practice and Saturday's big game. Feel free to cheer, screech or giggle as you see fit.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Amazing grace

Okay. Let me see if I can get through this.

Trey frequently employs the phrase "comedy is tragedy plus time." Twelve hours later, nothing about this seems comedic to me, but I'm beyond grateful that it wasn't tragic.

Last Monday, after taking Carter to school, I took Spencer and Katie to the Arboretum on a whim. Great timing: it was the first day of the autumn festival, and Mommy & Me Monday to boot. I talked it up to a neighbor mommy, and we agreed to go together, along with another neighbor and her toddler. Not long after we'd made our plans, I remembered that Carter's school is closed for the first part of this week; I had more than a moment's pause about handling three kiddos by myself, but my neighbors volunteered extra eyes and hands if needed.

So, I got the kids up and ready this morning (always a challenge) and met Kirsten and Barbara and their two boys in the Arboretum parking lot. After several minutes of digging through the car to find three sets of matching shoes while everyone waited patiently for me, I finally pulled myself together and we strolled through the gates en masse.

The lot of us picked out a nice spot in the vast pecan grove to park our strollers, and then let the kids loose. First we frolicked in the pumpkin patch, then we tackled the hay bale maze and finally we visited the barnyard, where goats, fluffy chickens, a sheep and a bunny submitted themselves to the curious poking, prodding and petting of dozens of wee ones.

After generous globs of hand sanitizer had been applied, we spread out a few blankets and broke out lunch. More of it was worn than eaten, but I was still pleasantly surprised at how leisurely the morning was going and how cooperative the muppers were being. Sure, Spencer went wandering every now and then, as he's wont to do, but Carter and Katie seemed content to stay put, which made it much easier for me to go chasing after their brother when he strayed too far. More often than not, they tend to go running in seventeen different directions at once and my head spins like a top while I decide which one to pursue first.

Just past noon, all five kids started to get restless, so Kirsten and Barbara began to consolidate smushed-beyond-recognition sandwiches destined for the trash bin, and we all started to prep for a smooth departure, with high hopes that long and happy naps lay just over the horizon.

Standard first step before leaving anywhere: sippy-cup check. Carter and Katie were still ensconced on the blanket with their drinks, but Spence was crouched in front of a nearby bush, furtively draining Kirsten's son's sippy cup. I retrieved it, returned it with apologies, started to gather my trio's belongings and glanced back over my shoulder at the bush. No Spencer. Hmmm.

"Where's Spencer?" I asked Kirsten and Barbara. Nine times out of ten, when I ask this question, someone has to gently point out that my child is standing right under my nose. Duh. But this time, three mommy heads swiveled, and then swiveled again.

Okay, I thought, he must have toddled beyond the bush. Relieved that Carter and Katie were under four watchful eyes, I strode toward the bush and peered underneath, then through it. No Spencer. Just beyond that patch was the horse and carriage we'd all watched trot by earlier. Of course! I walked just close enough to see that my son's curly blond head wasn't among the group of kids gathered 'round.

Instantly, my heart started to beat faster, as it is right this minute at the memory of it. "Spencer!" I called out, walking briskly to the next patch of trees and bushes. "Spencer!" I looked back over to the grove and saw Barbara, nearly nine months pregnant, walking around, looking high and low.

From where I stood, I could survey much of the grove and the walkway leading to the great lawn, but no sign of Spencer. I felt queasy. I jogged toward the entrance and saw a couple walking my way. "Have you seen a little boy with curly blond hair?" I asked, out of breath. Nope, sorry, they said. Behind me, Barbara was still searching the area where Spencer had just been, just one instant ago. Oh, God, I thought. Is this happening?

I spied an Arboretum employee in a cart and ran toward him. "Help!" I yelled. "Help! I've lost my son!" The words sounded absurd to me, but he said, "Get in," and started to drive as I babbled, as coherently as possible, about Spencer's description. Immediately, he picked up his walkie-talkie and relayed the details as he drove toward the grove.

No, not the grove, I thought, I've already looked there! He doesn't understand how important this is! I leapt from the cart and sprinted toward a sunken, shady spot between the grove and the great lawn. A man was sitting on a bench. "Have you seen a little boy? Blond, curly hair?" I panted. In broken English, he said he'd seen a boy walk through about 30 minutes ago. Although the seconds were dragging by in a weird time warp, I knew it wasn't possible that a half-hour had passed. Still, I followed the direction of his pointing finger, toward nothing.

On cue, the cart circled back around and I hopped on as we headed to the great lawn. There's no way he could have come this far so quickly, I was thinking, but then... there! A little boy with wild blond curls in a pale blue shirt! My heart caught in my throat just as I realized that that boy was wearing khaki shorts, not Spencer's navy ones.

I was repeating his description again, unsolicited, to the driver when I heard his walkie-talkie crackle, "We've found him." My mouth went dry and I began to exhale when, unbelievably, another message came through, "No, it's the wrong child." In the background, I could hear Kirsten describing Spencer's clothes, his hair, his age, his size.

My mind whirled with every possible worst-case scenario: they don't bear repeating (and I couldn't bear giving voice to them), but they're the scenarios that all mothers read about, hear about and hope never materialize for them or anyone they might ever know.

For one second, I didn't move; I just sat on the vinyl cushion of that cart with my hands clenched in fists by my side. But in my head, I hit my knees harder than I ever have in my entire life, and I prayed. I don't know exactly what I said to God, but I begged Him to return Spencer to me and made sure He knew how important this litle boy is to our family.

Fueled by adrenaline, I jumped from the moving cart again and began running, now barefoot, toward the barnyard area. I called Spencer's name over and over, shouted his description to anyone in sight as I ran back to the strollers. Carter came running up to me with a worried face and asked me to hold him. "I think Spencer's at the maze," he said, so I scooped him up and dashed toward the maze with him in my arms. No Spencer.

Kirsten came over with an authoritative-looking, impressively calm Arboretum employee who told me with quiet conviction that everyone was looking for my son and that he would be found. I thanked her, I think, and I must have returned Carter to Kirsten, because soon I was running again, this time along the perimeter of the gate.

Again, the cart came around to retrieve me. I wasn't crying, but I was barely controlling my hysteria and I was sure that I looked every bit as crazy as I felt. I could sense everyone around me asking that awful, terrible question that begins, "What kind of mother... ?" I started to think of Trey and then had to push his face out of my mind or I knew I'd collapse in a useless heap on the ground.

Voices came over the walkie-talkie, repeating the same information as I looked and looked and looked... and then, after an eternity, one voice said, "We've found the lost child. He's reunited with his mother. Everyone can return to their normal channels." Suddenly, we were back in the grove... and there, oh thank God, thank God, THANK YOU GOD, was Spencer in Kirsten's arms, looking perfectly blase.

I staggered toward Kirsten and she put him in my arms and I smelled him and held him and, finally, allowed myself to burst into tears. Poor sweet Carter came over and asked to give Spencer a hug. The world spun like a top around me. I could see other mothers in the grove hold their hands up to their faces and then pull their own children closer to them.

The kind Arboretum woman walked over to me and smiled, pulled out a tissue, and said with a comforting little laugh, "We never lose one. An occasional mother, maybe." In fact, Kirsten told me, it had been another mother who had carried Spencer... once lost, now found... across the grove until she'd located the ones who were looking for him. Somehow, he had wandered in the direct opposite direction of that bush, toward the frog fountains.

I couldn't and still can't imagine how he maneuvered away from us in, literally, the blink of an eye. More than ten minutes had passed since that blink.

I'm not exactly sure what lesson I'm to take from this, but it must have something to do with gratitude, faith, perspective and that heady mix of earth-shattering love and mind-numbing anxiety that courses through our veins the second we are literally, inexplicably, irreversibly transformed from ordinary woman into MOTHER. Life can never be the same once you see that sweet, trusting face that needs everything you have to give and more than you could possibly imagine.

My heart is still pounding, my knees are still wobbling and I know I'm not making any sense. But here it all is, for the remembering and the retelling, when he's old enough to properly embarrass. God willing.

Terra firma

How do we know, even without benefit of articulate expression, that the muppers had a terrific weekend?

They are filthy. Despite multiple hand washings, their tiny fingernails remain gleefully grubby. There are stains in the knees of their trousers that will never be removed, no matter what combination of cleaning boosters I apply. Some have queso matted in their hair, and crumbs of blue crayon on their chins. Their bathwater, which we implore them not to drink, appears brackish and leaves a ring of soil and multicolored glitter around the tub after it drains.

Now they sleep, dreaming of dirt. Happiness.

Tomorrow (promises, always promises) I'll try to post a slideshow of Carter's first official soccer game. (Happily for me, last week's game was canceled due to rain.) On an unseasonably hot Saturday morning, our beloved Dragonflies were trounced by the all-girl Fireflies 27-1, or something equally shocking.

But who scored the lone goal for our green shirts?