Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Today the kids and I have a snow day. I am still working, but from home. Since EG works from home, he is here with us.

At six thirty this morning, he suddenly decided to fix the silverware drawer which has been broken for several months. He is a verbal person, so his repair job is accompanied by a running commentary in both English and Spanish, reminding me of the furnace repair scene in "A Christmas Story" if it were shown on Telemundo. The kids are hanging around nearby, hoping to expand their Bilingual Vocabularies of Useful Words We Don't Use In Front Of Mom while staying far enough away to keep from being drafted into assisting.

This reminded me of when I was a kid. We didn't have a lot of money, so my father, who wasn't necessarily mechanically inclined, did home and car repairs, many times after work and supper. My sister and I were drafted into helping. I can still remember being outside, feet numb from the cold, sleepy, and hanging over the engine compartment, holding the flashlight while my father got his car running enough to get him to work the next day. Many times, I would doze off, the flashlight wobbling off to illuminate the weeping willow trees until my father would bark and wake me up again.

At the time, I did not appreciate what he did. Now I do. And I still remember those words he taught me then.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

We are an odd family

We are an odd family. My kids know all the lyrics to La Bamba and Low Rider. We eat beans and tortillas for Thanksgiving dinner and submarine sandwiches on Christmas Day. I am the only white person in the family, and I am the only one who loves greens. Despite having two parents with graduate school degrees, all three kids are in remedial courses. My husband plays the harmonica and wants to learn the accordion. I am about as musical as a tube of toothpaste. My kids won't watch too many cartoons because, in the words of their aunt, the cartoons aren't smarter than they are; instead the kids watch Nature and This Old House. My oldest is a rabid Democrat and at eleven is totally engrossed with the presidential race. Rocky plays guitar, an African-American kid emulating Van Halen.

However, despite the stresses we had in the past, including Rocky's attachment disorder and Nita's health issues, we are also pretty normal. The kids go to Catholic school. We go to church as a family--two sing in the choir. We volunteer at the kids' school. I drive a minivan. We grocery shop, and we go to Kmart after church on Sunday. We eat supper together every night, and we laugh and talk together and spend time as a family.

And in this enlightened age, we still get stared at when we go out in public. Sometimes, when we go out, we feel like a circus sideshow. Yes, we have two Mexicans, two blacks, and a white mom, but interracial relationships and transracial adoption aren't all that uncommon anymore. I am fiercely protective of my kids--when people stare, I smile and say hello, just to acknowledge their attention, not to judge it. Most of the time, people start and mutter a response and wander off. I would be happy to talk to people and answer any questions they may have, but most don't get that far.

However, worse than that are the people who give us money. The most recent time was when the kids and I were in the Salvation Army, and they were Christmas shopping for one another. They did a beautiful job of choosing books for each other and were thrilled with the bounty they got with a minimal amount of cash. Part of the lesson, though, was that the kids couldn't buy all that they wanted and had to make choices about what they were going to get. In the midst of the discussion, this lady rushed up to us and handed each of the kids money. I tried to object, and she didn't listen to my reasoning, just rushing away while I chased after her, and the kids, for once remembering their manners, chimed "Thank you!"

I wonder if that lady would have given cash to an intact family or one which wasn't so obviously blended.

Friday, February 22, 2008

I don't know you do it...

Once my previous physician said to me, "I don't know how you do it--two special needs kids, a job, and a house to take care of."

Then she said, "I don't know how any of us do it."

One of my students is a single mom who works at a bar and goes to school. She said, "We do it because we don't have a choice."

Profound words from this lady.

Yes, I do exist and attempt to function in a state of controlled chaos much of the time. However, things could be a lot worse. Once my youngest was hospitalized overnight with asthma. When she fell asleep, I wandered down to the hospital cafeteria. A young woman was there. She was all of eighteen, and she said that, when she got pregnant in high school, her family disowned her. The father of the baby stayed with her, but then the baby was diagnosed and given only so many more months to live. The father of the baby couldn't handle the stress and left this young woman for a more "normal" relationship--the neighbor woman, who had three children. The mother of the baby called her family, and they told her she had to live with her choices, so here she was in the hospital, with the only family she had dying.

So, yes, things are hectic and stressful. But the kids are healthy, and I will see them grow up and become whatever they can become. I am not in a deserted, fluorescent-lit cafeteria, getting small comfort from a stranger.

I don't know what happened to this young mother--we talked a good part of the night, and then I never saw her again, but I remember the grace she showed in what, to me, was an unbearable situation. And in her grief, she gave me a great gift, the gift of perspective.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Attention Deficit

I never really watched "Mad About You," but the one time I saw the show, the wife asked the husband, "Who did you ignore before you married me?"

That has become my mantra lately. Case in point: our neighborhood grocery store (I use this term loosely, as the store is in the next county, and we have to drive to it) had prepackaged chichirones (pork rinds to you Anglos out there) in the Mexican section. The one bag which was left was expired, but the manager reassured me that the store would carry these on a regular basis.

I came home and reported what found to EG, right down to the story of how I found the bag near the deli, and the manager who went through the store aisle by aisle to help me, eventually discovering the place the rinds were regularly kept. EG got excited when I told him that these were also by one of the big Mexican food manufacturers.

Today, EG ran over to the store to mail some bills (this is also the site of the nearest mailbox), and he came home to report that the deli and meat departments had no clue what he was talking about when he asked about the fresh-made chichirones. Then he reported that the staff at the store thinks he is nuts.

So which is better? Nuts or not paying attention to his wife?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Oil can

I have a dog with a squeak. Oddly enough, it is worse when he is crated and seems to be exacerbated by his barking. Bark, bark, squeak, squeeeeek, squeeeeeeeeeek.

Since we can't figure out where to oil him, we have been generally squirting him with a water bottle. It works in the short run, but next think I know, we get the bark, bark, squeeeeeek, squeeeeeeeeeeeeeek, squeak again. He squeaks when he is hungry; he squeaks when he wants out; he squeaks when he wants attention or water.

For a dog who is such a bruiser, the squeaking is a bit disconcerting. However, it does appear to be his nature. This same dog, called by the nickname Nene, or baby in Spanish, had to go to the vet for stitches on his eyelid because he got into an altercation with Dirty Harry, our other dog. When I took Nene to the vet to get the stitches removed, the vet stuck his face right by the dog's eye, magnifying glasses in place, and removed the sutures. The entire time the vet is saying, "Yes, I know, you're just a big baby," I am envisioning those long pearly white canines slashing the vet's face to ribbons. However, when the vet finished the procedure, he mopped up a puddle--Nene, the bruiser, had wet on the floor from fear.

Is all that toughness potential I see in Nene really an illusion? Is Nene, who looks like he could and would take on anyone or anything, really just a squeakbox who wags all the time; as his nickname says, is he a baby?

Or is it like the characters in the Wizard of Oz--he doesn't see himself as he really is, and he won't until he is tested.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Plumb passionate

In keeping with the previously mentioned holiday tradition around here, this Valentine's Day, we are doing plumbing repairs under the kitchen sink. It all started when I noticed a wet spot on the floor of the cupboard. I reached up to touch the pipe, and my finger went right through the elbow.

EG got under there to find that there was a four inch gap between the drain and the remainder of the drain pipe, a plumbing job which was obviously completed by my father when he was in the later stages of his dementia.

We celebrated our holiday by taking two trips to Home Depot and one trip to the hardware store at the county seat.
According to the web site, this guy is "well tooled." It figures. I think the new Valentine's gift trend is going to be PVC from now on.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Dreaming of chocolate...

I gave up candy, and especially chocolate, for Lent, along with cakes and cookies and pastries.

What, exactly, was I thinking? Dreams of dark chocolate, creamy frosting, and crispy rice bars have taken over my night life. I have already informed the kids that I will be eating sweet rolls and chocolate bars for Easter breakfast.
Which led me to wonder: where do we get this tradition of giving up something for Lent? After investigation, I found that "giving something up" is more of a Catholic tradition, and that this freeing us of things is supposed to bring us back to purity and simplicity.
What is not pure is my interrupted sleep from dreaming about things like this cake, and the whole situation is far from simple. So I wonder about the spiritual lesson which is in store for me over the next 35, or so, days.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I have been giving some thought to grieving lately.

In the spring of 2006, we left our church because of questions about the handling of parish funds and the resulting hard feelings and ugliness (I was on council and supported the investigation, but it didn't make things any easier); the kids' school, which was affiliated with the church, closed; one of my uncles died of cancer, and the other, a very vital person, died in a house fire; my old dog's hips were getting worse, and he would get down and be unable to get up, so I made the choice to have him put to sleep. That May, my father died, in June my mother moved into an apartment, only to decline to the point where she moved into a nursing home in August. In July, we moved from our little house, leaving our friends and much-loved neighbors, to this house; our neighbors here are aloof or in the event on one, obnoxious and nosy.

Needless to say, I didn't have much time to process one event before the next one hit us. Now, nearly two years later, I'll be going along fine, only to have one of the events sneak up behind me and smack me in the head, saddening me.

People say that God doesn't give us any more than we can handle, but I disagree. If we had only what we could handle, why would we depend on each other, never mind on God. I guess I am a hard case--I had to be given a lot of hard challenges at once.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Yesterday we went to the West Side Market in Cleveland. It is on the near west side, in a neighborhood called Ohio City, a quaint area which has become what most people called "gentrified." While there is an open air produce market in the summer, the market's meat and bakery stalls are indoors year round.


Pictures cannot capture the color, motion, and energy of this place, the small details which have to be experienced first-hand. Even something as simple as crossing the alleyway between the meat/bakery section and the produce is a sensory orgy, discarded smashed tomatoes lying in the snow, the smell of diesel exhaust in the lake scented air, the rattling of bags and squeaking of shopping carts, and the neighborhood ladies mingling with the suburbanites and chivvying the vendors.

Plus, the good looking young men who work in the booths truly understand that flirting oh-so-slightly with the fifty year old ladies is good for business, not to mention this lady's morale. And a lady who smiles at the vendor has a better chance of getting the pick of the produce.

Years ago, my father worked at the Terminal Tower in downtown Cleveland, and nearby was the Central Market, which was not nearly as well-known or large as the West Side Market. However, every year, my father would find some exotic produce for our Christmas stockings: pomegranates, star fruit, Clementines. And he made sure we had the opportunity to experience the markets, which were so much of the Cleveland tradition. Nowadays, the West Side Market has pasta, herbs, and more upscale offerings, such as artisan breads, bison meat and exotic cheeses, but the tradition is still there. Part of the fun is seeing what is available at a good price. And, of course, flirting with the vendors.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sick of being sick

I don't do "sick" well. I believe it is because I don't do enforced stillness well, either, unless my brain is firing on all eight cylinders and I am concentrating on something.

A friend who is a physician once said that, when I die, the funeral home people will have to tell me, "Lie down! We're putting the lid on your coffin now. No, lie DOWN!"

Anyway, I called off work today because I have this beastly cold and am a real germ spreader. So there I sat, grading my online course, checking the email, attempting to watch daytime television, which is a really depressing medium with no redeeming value, and longing for spring.

I do know that I drive myself too hard, although I have gotten wiser as I have gotten older. I used to work NO MATTER WHAT, pushing myself despite developing pneumonia or acute gastroenteritis, going to my job despite symptoms I might be having telling me to do otherwise. Instead of forcing myself to perform my duties until I pass out and end up in the emergency room, which was a biennial occurence, I now allow myself to be sick for a day or two, no matter how depressing it is. I also schedule "pajama days," where we have enforced downtime as a family and do very little except hang out together and vegetate.

However, too much more of "my best friend's father is my social worker's cousin's ex-wife's sister's baby's daddy and is taking a DNA test to prove it," and I might end up in intensive care.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Stupid Cupid

All my life, from middle school on up, I missed out on romance. I didn't have a boyfriend the entire time I was in public school. There were several reasons for this--a job, lack of maturity, and a long, long list of requirements for a potential mate including dark curly hair and brown eyes.

My relatives would ask me at every family function, "So, do you have a boyfriend yet?" No.

When I went to college, I had reduced my list somewhat, but still restricted men by their job or career, their height, their level of intelligence, whether they were accepting of other people and cultures, and whether they had strong family values.

My relatives would see me and hurry to ask me, "So, do you have a boyfriend YET?" No.

Then my younger sister got married. I really had been whittling down my requirements, becoming willing to settle for someone who was anywhere over my height with good family values and a good job; I awarded bonus points if he was an interesting conversationalist.

At my sister's reception, I was asked, "So, do YOU have a boyfriend yet?" Still no.

By the time I got to graduate school, my relatives started asking in an alarmed tone of voice, "So do you have a BOYFRIEND yet?" and my list had been reduced to the point where I would have accepted a monosyllabic misogynistic midget, as long as he was male.

Finally, once I gave up completely, I met EG. While he has absolutely none of the requirements from my original list, he does have the one quality on which I based my later search for a life partner--he is a good husband: faithful, supportive, and honest, and he wants me to be happy.

We dated briefly before getting married, and I had one lush and wonderful Valentines Day celebration in there. Once we said, "I do", I realized that it obviously meant "I do hereby no longer have to buy cards and flowers and remember romantic days." I was disappointed at first. And to make things worse, I worked with a woman whose husband did wonderfully spontaneous and romantic things like fill her car with balloons, send flowers, and whisk her away for a surprise weekend, arranging everything, including child care and packing clothes. The two of them moved into a beautiful home, and they had an apparently easy, lovely, stress-free life. I wondered what I was doing wrong.

Suddenly, my co-worker andher husband were selling the dream home and getting a divorce.

So while I don't get balloons or flowers, EG tells me how much he loves me every day by warming my car up in the morning, getting up with sick kids so I can sleep in, putting gas in the car if he is out and notices it is low, digging up the opening to the septic tank, finishing a load of laundry when I am distracted, and vacuuming without being asked. He will also take all three kids to run an errand so I can have some time alone, even if it is with three Labs.

So, to those of you who never got much romance yet, hold on and keep an open mind.