Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Down Side to Acceleration

Testosterone is everywhere, let me tell you.

He blames it on his "Staley temper", which is definitely a factor, but really, I think it's the testosterone. Hormones are a cruel trick.

There has been one project after another for Aiden. This month has been the Major American Author theme, with a project due every single week. Aiden chose his favorite author, Orson Scott Card. First there was a Timeline project, then an oral presentation (he did a game show), and now he's finishing up the book he chose by Card to write a report on it. (I write all of that like it was smooth sailing, oh no. Those were each mountains to climb.)

This is why today I am making Vanilla Pudding Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting. Because I'm gonna need some help, and cinnamon rolls have never let me down.

Aiden wants so much to do a good job. He has very specific ideas in mind of how he wants to do things, and he has very little patience at this particular time in his life. This can mean flying glue guns and staplers, and possibly even some tears.

The hard part is that he has very little time. He leaves at 6:15am and doesn't get home until 4:30pm. He has football practice and games three times a week, and he doesn't do homework on Sundays. He has good intentions of staying on top of everything, but time really does fly by when you're busy.

Yesterday after school and a very large snack, he arranged himself on my bed with his Kindle and the cat and set to work reading. He dozed off a few times, but tried his best. Several hours later he was almost in tears. He was so tired and still had 50 pages left to read to stay on track to finish by Wednesday. Worse, he said he was just not understanding what was going on in the story. My heart went out to him. I offered to buy the audiobook for him. He protested because he didn't want me spending my money on him, but I solved it with an "It's my money and you can't tell me what to do," and sent him off for my wallet. Turns out that because we'd purchased the Kindle book, the audiobook was only $4, so it was an easy solution. He can now go back and listen to the parts he didn't understand, and make use of his hours on the bus.

By this time it was 9pm though, and he still had a science assignment to do. This always happens on the days when I am ultra-exhausted. I didn't want him up working by himself, so I told him to bring it into my room. But by this time, he was tired and frustrated, and about shot for the day.

He brought in a worksheet full of charts to graph and formulas for velocity and acceleration. Kill. Me. Now. I started explaining, because apparently this teacher gives assignments before teaching lessons and wants the kids to figure it out and then come in the next day to see if they are correct. But I was tired too, and things weren't going too well. I'm talking him rolling around on the floor saying that the teacher sucks and this is so pointless and school is so stupid not going too well. Meanwhile, I'm narrating word problems, ignoring him, and trying to redirect whatever words have to be spoken to filling in formulas.

Man, I hate velocity and acceleration. Can't we just SLOW DOWN ALREADY?

He would have moments of pulling his act together, only to melt a few problems later. I was drawing question marks next to some of them, and he was worrying about how he was going to lose points. And I'm threatening to WRITE A LETTER.

At one point, I said to him, "Listen, Aiden, is this what it's going to be like for four years in high school, because this is going to be rough."

And then I thought to myself, "Are you kidding me? Four more years? That's all I have after this one? Son, you roll around and keep me up late with whatever you want. I'm here. Right here. We'll learn it all together. I got you."

So, we did it together. We'll do it again tomorrow, I imagine, like I did it with his brother and sister who grew up too fast.

And this is how I know he's growing. The next morning I got a text message from him that said:

"Heyy mom i just wanted to apologize for my irrational actions. I love you and i don't want to hurt u in any way. I don't know why i get so mad i just do. I'm sorry. I will work on it. I hope you can have a great day. Love youu."

Here's to late nights studying with my boy! And cinnamon rolls!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Conor's Moby Dick

Conor loves Moby Dick. Thanks to my homeschooling years, I have quite a collection of children's versions of classic literature, and one day when he was three or four, he brought me an illustrated story book of Moby Dick. I read it to him. He was totally into it. I can't even tell you how many times I've read that book to him. And he loves to recite the dramatic parts along with me, in his best seafaring voice: "Death! Death to Moby Dick!"

A few weeks ago, I decided to read him a more complex telling of the story, by Geraldine McCaughrean. He already knew the framework of the tale, but this added so much more detail and a few new characters. The vocabulary was rich, so from time to time I'd have to stop and explain, but he just wanted more and more. And when we finally got to the part, near the end, where Moby Dick makes his appearance, he could hardly stand the suspense, even knowing what would happen. 

The boy loves Moby Dick! 

A few days after we finished reading the book (which took us two weeks), I happened to find these simple directions for how to make a paper whale. Perfect! 

I called Conor over and we started folding. It was really fun, actually, and I'll admit that I made about eight of them! But they were white, and of course, Conor made one of his whales Moby Dick.
It was bound to happen.

See, there are all the harpoons still stuck in his side, and poor Ahab, who's about to be caught in the harpoon rope and dragged down into the ocean.

Conor wanted a whole family of whales.

And it was while he was playing with his pod, that he said something interesting. He said, "What if Moby Dick was actually the one seeking revenge?"

I asked him what he meant.

He continued, "Well, it's all about Ahab trying to get back at Moby Dick for taking his leg, but what if Moby Dick took his leg because Ahab and other whale hunters had killed his family and other whales? What if a whole bunch happened even before the story starts?"

I love this kid's mind, I tell you.

"What if Moby Dick is not really mean and evil? What if he's just trying to be a whale and is sick of being hunted and is just trying to defend himself?"

Yeah. What if?

"What if Moby Dick wasn't born mean, but he got that way because of being harpooned and chased and his family being killed?"

Well now, there's something to think about. What if Moby Dick wasn't born mean?

You can imagine the conversation that flowed from that opener. Bullies. Schoolyards. Tragedies the world over.

He listened to all of that and seemed to tuck it away somewhere precious. But his last question forced its way out:

"Someday you're going to read me the "real" Moby Dick, right?"

I'm gearing up. That whale's kind of growing on me, too.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On That Day

I think everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news about the September 11th attacks. I do, but I've never talked about it before (except with maybe a close friend or two at the time) because it feels so selfish. But I also want to tell my story, and in doing so, I do not mean to equate my sufferings with those who gave their lives that day, or lost someone who did. I do not mean to distract from the events that changed our nation. I only want to fit the story of my life into that page in history.

In 2001, I was also under attack, and I was crumbling. Some days I thought I might die. Others, I wished, and even prayed that I would.

2001 was the year that my husband of more than ten years took me into our sons' bedroom and he, sitting on our oldest son's bed, and me rocking our baby, told me that he was leaving. It was in January.

The glider rocked back and forth. So did my world.

It was later that he told me that he had begun another relationship and was choosing her over me. He felt sure that I'd known. I hadn't. But I forgave him and begged him to leave her and come back to our family. His heart was pretty decided.

On the morning of September 11, I was in the master bathroom, applying makeup after my shower. The television was on in the bedroom, just outside the bathroom door. The Today Show was on, and I saw the breaking story of the first tower being hit. I remember a knot forming in the pit of my stomach. I remember feeling vulnerable in a different sort of way, and I remember the feeling to reach out and connect with someone, to huddle together, to find some sort of comfort, even if only telephonically. I called my estranged husband. He was the one I always wanted to call first, and those habits are hard to break.

Standing in the bedroom we'd shared, and with the news playing, I waited for him to answer, and he did. He hadn't heard yet, already out working I'm sure, and I started rattling off whatever sparse details I was learning from the news. And then the second plane hit. The fear got more intense. This was no accident, we were under attack.

He was just as surprised and in shock as I was, but his reaction was so much different. I will never forget his words to me, calm and collected:

"I hope you don't think that some national disaster is going to bring us back together."

I will never forget how his comment made me reel. Wait, what? As if the universe was manipulating events to emotionally reunite us and there was no way he was falling for it. As if life should just continue on as planned, and nothing should change. As if a terrorist attack in New York City and Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania had no effect on people who lived on the other side of the country.

As if that's why I'd called anyway.

So that day I watched the news all day long. I cried for the people who had died, and the people who were going to die. I cried for the fear and the pain and the why-why-why-whys? I cried for the little children who had lost their fathers and mothers, and the parents who had lost their children. I cried for the heroism of firefighters and rescue workers who walked into hell with a bravery I don't know that I possess. I cried because someone hated us enough to destroy us and call it honor.

And I cried because it hit me again, though I hadn't asked for a reconfirmation, that the twin towers of our little family were no more either. There would be gaping holes in the landscape of the lives of our children, and lives really would be forever scarred.

And just like that, life has never been the same.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's Gonna Be a Great Day!

Every morning as I drive Conor to school, I sing this silly song I made up called, "It's Gonna Be a Great Day!" This morning he said, "What if it's the worst day ever?" I told him that even on days when bad things happen, there are still good things that happen also. He wanted an example.

So I used last Thursday.

Last Thursday started out to be a really great day. There was no school, and my friend gave me three tickets she had purchased and couldn't use to Knott's Berry Farm. Aiden had invited two friends (who bought their own tickets), and the night before I had the feeling I should invite Adam to come with us too, if he could get a ticket. The park opens at 10am, and we got on the road at 8:15am, hoping to beat the crowds lining up to get in.

But within minutes of getting on the freeway, my van started making very loud clunking noises. Noises that scared me, and stressed me out. Thank goodness Adam was driving. (I was instantly grateful for the prompting to have Adam join us.) I am just so tired of car problems, and since I drive a 2000 van, I have had my fair share of them. They always come when I have no money too. I had just had the transmission fixed, gaskets replaced, tires rotated, and new spark plugs put in. I had noticed that the van seemed to chug a bit when idling or in reverse, but I hadn't had time to deal with that yet, and I was so hesitant to take it back to the mechanic who had done the other work, for some reason. But these noises were frightening, and having no idea of their origination, I suggested we get off the freeway. Adam heartily agreed.

"I know a guy," I said. Just a week before, the father of two of my piano students had told me in conversation about buying Lyndsay's car, that he is a mechanic. I took his card immediately. Someone I trust! As we pulled off the freeway, I called him, and he told us to carefully drive on in.

Of course, I was worried big-time. I had a car full of boys who were so looking forward to a day at the theme park, and three of them had paid for tickets. I had no idea what would be wrong with my van, how long it would take to fix, and how much it would cost. I was scrambling for a Plan B, just in case we received a worst case scenario.

I tried to play it cool, but inside I was falling apart. I clasped Adam's hand, so grateful that I was not alone to deal with this. He's great under pressure. Calm and steady.

The boys got drinks and sat outside in the shade, waiting. They were good sports.

Miracle #1 was that I had a new mechanic come into my life whom I trusted. Miracle #2 was that he was at work early that day and was close by and could take us right away. Miracle #3 was that he figured out right away what the problem was, and it was an easy fix.

Apparently, when the other mechanics had replaced the spark plugs, they had slit the wire fitting over it leaving a big gaping crack in the rubber. The electrical current was arcing out of that and causing the sputtering and the loud noises. He replaced the wire. And bless his heart, Adam paid for it for me. We were back on the road in a little over an hour. I was saying prayers of gratitude.

We made it to the park an hour after opening.

And another wonderful surprise: The parking lot was nearly empty!! There was no one there! Which meant that even though we'd missed an hour of ride time, it was made up ten-fold by the fact that there were no lines on anything!

Here are Aiden and his best friends Zach and Nick. He's known these guys since Kinder and 3rd grade. They go to the same magnet school that he does, and they play football with him too.

We let the big boys go their own way and hit all the roller coasters. Adam and I took Conor around. Conor wants to ride everything he can ride, and I pretty much want to ride nothing, so I was again grateful that Adam was there. Besides, he needed a fun day with Conor.

This ride (they have one at almost every theme park) is one of Conor's favorites. That's Conor and Adam up there at the end of the ship. They are the only ones on the ride. They rode it a total of 5 times. Scared me to death.

Then crazy Conor wanted to ride this spinning, swirling atrocity. Adam rode it with him, but didn't fare as well afterwards. That one's a doozy!

Conor was all about maximizing his experience.

We had a really good time. I did ride on a few rides. The Bigfoot Rapids was probably my favorite, even though I got soaked. We rode that one twice. Other rides I just had no interest in riding, and one thing I appreciated so much was that Adam never made me feel like a wimp (even though I know I am one.) If I wanted to ride he was cool. If I didn't, he was cool with that too. For the last ride of the day, 15 minutes before the park closed (which was 6pm), he and Conor asked if I'd please do the log flume ride with them. I really didn't want to, but they were so excited to do it all together that I decided to be brave.

We had such a great day together. The boys rode every ride at least twice, some of them up to nine times. (CRAZY!) By closing time, they'd had their fill. There were so few people in the park, it felt like we'd all gotten to know each other as we kept seeing each other throughout the day. I got to talking with one man who was there with his grandchildren, who was from St. George, but had grown up in Snowflake, Arizona! I asked him if he knew about the temple there, and shared my involvement in that with him. We talked a bit about the Church. He knew some. His mother was a Mormon, and one of his sons is a Mormon, who married in the temple. Such a small world.

Four tired, but happy boys! A great day made possible by a dear friend (thank you, Jenn!). And even though there was a possibility of things turning south with the van problems, in the end that just turned out to be another bunch of blessings.

"So, see, Conor? There were bad things that happened and good things. But how do you remember the day?"

"Good!" he shouted. It was definitely a good day. No, a great day.