Friday, September 30, 2011

The End of the Season (In More Ways Than One)

Our interfaith family may be marking the beginning of the new Jewish year this week, but we’ve also borne witness to the ignominious conclusion to the season of the previously league-leading Boston Red Sox in the span of a handful of historic, horrific minutes the other night.

Taking the fall for this record breaking disintegration, if you go by the latest news reports, will be the chief, Terry Francona. And despite what general manager Theo Epstein said about not making Francona the scapegoat, that’s exactly what people will think if Tito leaves.

This morning, after I’d told the kids that some of the folks I follow on Twitter were saying Francona was a goner, I was perusing my morning newspapers and spotted an item about the possible bankruptcy of Friendly’s, a chain of restaurants where my father once worked when he was a teen, where I worked when I was a teen and where the three Picket Fence Post kids love eating, especially for the sundaes. My grandparents used to take my brother and me there quite a lot when we were young.

“Hey, they’re saying that Friendly’s may be filing for bankruptcy,” I said casually.

“I can’t take all this bad news!” The Girl said despairingly.

And I didn’t quite know what to tell her, as I was feeling the same way.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Falling to Pieces Over the Leaf Project

The seventh graders have a big assignment. Big. It’s called the Leaf Project.

Here’s what it is in a nutshell: Collect a few dozen leaves of different varieties. Identify the tree from whence the leaves came. Press those leaves. Mount the leaves in a book, along with info about the leaves. Hand it in.

Sounds simple, right?

Not so fast.

Neither The Spouse nor I had heard anything about this seventh grade Leaf Project until just before we walked into the science teacher’s classroom on Curriculum Night when another dad asked us how our kids were coming along with the project.

“What ‘Leaf Project?’” I asked.

He looked at me quizzically as we took our places behind the desks. It was during the science teacher’s presentation that we learned about the Leaf Project. She said she’d be taking the students around the school grounds a few times to ID trees. We just needed to give them a reference book to help them classify the trees, something I bought the day after Curriculum Night.

Still, it sounded fairly easy enough. No need to stress out.

Then I received an e-mail from a kind parent inviting my kids to a session with a forester from town who had volunteered to conduct a session with seventh graders at a student’s home, but my seventh graders wouldn’t be able to make it. And the Leaf Project became the subject of ample, anxious chatter at the sidelines of soccer games among the seventh grade parents.

My kids started freaking out over it and worrying, insisting that the only place they could search for leaves was on the school grounds, as long as I bring them to the school and hang around in my car waiting for them. On two different afternoons when I was supposed to be working.

“Why can’t you just go in the woods in the back of our house?” I asked them, irritated that they were asking me to truck them around as though my schedule was irrelevant.

“We can’t,” they said, protesting that there aren’t enough different kinds of trees in our woods. The only place to look, they were convinced, is at school.

“Why would we waste all that work we did?” The Eldest Boy asked, referring to the school leaf walks where the trees have already been identified.

“Why, you can’t just go outside?” I still didn’t get it, why they couldn’t just go into the woods and ID trees and leaves near us.

Then yesterday, The Eldest Boy and The Girl asked if they could stay late after school with their teacher and go on another leaf collection walk and take a late bus home. I said, “Sure,” as that option seemed preferable to me spending two afternoons hanging out in the school parking lot waiting for them. Then my daughter inexplicably decided not to stick around after school so she could get her own personal leaf time on Thursday, when the kids had the day off from school (for the Jewish New Year, which we’ll be celebrating on Sunday), and have The Spouse or me bring her to the school grounds while we wait for her.

However it poured last night (I tend to think it was the collective tears of crushed Red Sox fans). All the leaves are now wet. But since The Girl waited, she’s going to have to tromp through the dampness, collect and dry out the leaves.

Damned Leaf Project.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What's Up With These Early Fall Illnesses?

First it was The Girl who had strep, followed by a rash that internet medical sites told us was scarlet fever. She was home sick from school for three days last week.

Then it was me with a horrid cough followed by a temperature that spiked to 103.5 last weekend. (I’m much better now but still have congestion and a slight cough that won’t quite go away entirely, ‘tis quite annoying to The Spouse at night.)

Then today, The Youngest Boy, who has been hacking and coughing for a week (once so badly that his teacher sent him to the school nurse to rest for a bit), developed a fever. It was a low fever, but still . . . And even though he begged me to let him go to school (yes, I was as shocked as you by the fact that he wanted to go to school, but I suspect it was because he had gym class today), The Spouse and I insisted that he stay home, even if it meant that I had to miss my morning yoga class and attend to his various and sundry requests (make him comfy on the sofa, make him chicken soup, etc.).

A few days ago, I was convinced that I’d be on the receiving end of a mid-day call from The Eldest Boy to come and get him from school because he said his throat felt “weird” although he didn’t have a fever and his throat didn’t look scary. But he made it through school day okay, although he was a bit more fatigued than he normally is for a few days.

I’d hoped that we’d squeeze in a trip to an apple orchard this weekend, maybe get some fresh cider, cider doughnuts and pick enough apples to make lots of apple crisp, perhaps a pie, if I'm feeling Martha Stewart-ish. However all that autumnal goodness will be put on hold until I’m sure that The Spouse doesn’t become the final one to be felled by this parade of early fall illnesses.

Max the Dog Broke the 'Cone of Shame'

Because things were apparently too dull around the Picket Fence Post household for Max the dog, he had to go and start biting at his tail area so hard and so often that he cleared off a pink spot, giving himself an angry rash.

I brought him to the vet and, after the vet discovered the root cause of his itching (something that was easily, albeit grossly, remedied), she suggested that I put the “cone of shame” back on him to stop him from hurting himself. We still had the transparent, plastic cone from last year’s chocolate incident (when Max nearly died after he busted into our pantry and ate a whole lot of concentrated cooking chocolate and had to go to the doggy ICU . . . twice).

So I put the cone around his furry little neck on Wednesday as soon as we got home. And damn was he ticked off. The moment he saw the cone, his shoulders literally fell and he started to book out of the room.

Then there were the battles I had with the kiddos who thought it cruel to put that thing around his head.

“But Mom, he won’t bite his tail. I’ll watch him,” The Girl promised yesterday, pleading with me as she was working on her homework. Within minutes, after The Girl got distracted by something else, I heard the sounds of chomping. I poked my head out of my office. “He’s biting his tail!” I shouted. Realizing that being the tail monitor is a terrible job, she promptly put the cone back on him.

Her brothers also had their moments of pleading, followed by the realization that they too didn’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon watching him and preventing him from irritating his tail more than he already had.

This afternoon, Max took matters into his own paws by busting the cone. (I swear his face looked brighter and happier when I discovered that he’d detached the plastic cone from the part that goes around his neck.) So, for now, he’s coneless (see photo above where he's anxiously looking out the front door waiting for the kids to come home from school). Whether I have to run out to the pet store and buy another cone is entirely up to him.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Three for Thursday: Fall TV's Families, Early Risers & Bronchitis Blows

Fall TV’s Families

As the fall TV season kicks off in earnest, I’ve been paying close attention to shows that feature parents and families . . . at least those which tickle my fancy. This was the focus of this week’s pop culture column over on Modern Mom/Mommy Tracked where I previewed the shows which I’m planning to record on my DVR.

Among the returning shows I’m anxious to see are ABC’s Modern Family, CBS’ The Good Wife and BC’s Parenthood. (I reviewed the rather disappointing Parenthood season premiere here, though I’m fairly certain it’ll improve.)

Two new comedies about which I’m holding onto some lofty hopes are NBC’s Up All Night with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as potty-mouthed new parents (you can watch the pilot episode on the web site) and ABC’s Suburgatory about a single dad (Jeremy Sisto who was great as the messed up brother Billy in Six Feet Under) who moves his teenage daughter from New York City to the ‘burbs in an attempt to provide her with a more protective, wholesome environment. The sharp, snarky pilot reminds me of the freshman season of Desperate Housewives which expertly satirized the faux perfection of the suburbs.

What shows are you eagerly waiting for?

Early Risers

The Eldest Boy asked The Spouse and me to drive him to school for 7 a.m. every day this week in order to get a little extra drum practice with his teacher leading up to the middle school band tryouts next week. (Yes, we’ve got a drummer boy in da house. And thank God he’s good because if he wasn’t, I’d be buying myself some pricey noise-canceling headphone . . . and Tylenol by the gross.)

Meanwhile The Youngest Boy, who also plays the drums/percussion instruments in the fifth grade band, has claimed that he too is supposed to arrive early to school for band practice as well. Only he’s not quite sure when exactly, which makes getting him where he’s supposed to be a tad, um, tricky. I think he simply guessed that he had to be there early yesterday, so I hauled my fanny out of bed early – The Spouse had already driven The Eldest Boy to school – to drop him off at school. That afternoon he reported that he and another kid just wound up sitting in the office until school started because the band teacher wasn’t there. His mistake or the teacher's I’m not quite sure. (Last year The Youngest Boy missed a bunch of band practices because he hadn’t been listening to the teacher when he announced the dates and times.)

All I know is that I was up, dressed and had applied make-up every morning this week well before I normally would have and if it was for no good reason, I'll be. I’ve sent The Youngest Boy's band teacher an e-mail asking him when I’m supposed to roll out of bed early and bring my fifth grader early. I’m still waiting to hear back.

Bronchitis Blows

Last week it was The Girl who not only came down with a vicious case of strep throat which caused her to miss three days of school (after not having been in school for a full week yet), but she also developed what we believe was Scarlet Fever. (Yeah, sounds Dickensonian doesn’t it, or something out of a Jane Austen novel? But when you’re already taking antibiotics, as The Girl was, this side effect of strep isn’t a big concern, or so the pediatrician's office told us.) She rebounded nicely and was well enough to play soccer on Saturday morning.

A few days later, The Youngest Boy started complaining of a sore throat and of feeling poorly – a strep test was negative though – although he never became sick enough to stay home from school or stop participating in activities.

Then there’s me, who catches everything that goes by as if I’m fly paper. Although I miraculously did not contract The Girl’s strep (despite the fact that I’d been snuggling with her the night before she was symptomatic), I have developed a sore throat and vicious cough, the kind that you feel deep within your chest, like an itch that you just can’t scratch. (I only get relief from said itch when I pound on my chest to loosen the phlegm. Sounds awesome, right? You know you’re jealous.) Plus my voice has already started going hoarse, as it does at least three times during the fall/winter season.

A quick check of my symptoms on various, illustrious medical web sites indicate I likely have bronchitis, something I get rather often, and the only treatment is really no treatment at all. Other than rest, which I can’t really get with 14 million kids’ activities going on.

So when I sound like I’m coughing up a lung at Curriculum Night at my fifth grade son’s school tonight, hopefully the school nurse won’t march on over and hand me a face mask as the other parents inch away from me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Quick Hits from the Homefront: Strep Again, Broken Bulb, Calendar Chaos

Strep Again

The kids had been in school for less than a week when The Girl came down with strep throat and has been home sick from school for two days. Today, 24 hours after first taking her antibiotics, she's still feeling poorly. She's developed a strep-related rash, isn’t eating much, complains of pain in her throat and the rest of us in the Picket Fence Post family are crossing our fingers that we’ll be spared.

It’s simply too early in the season to get sick. I felt like I was sick for most of last fall/winter (including that bout with the swine flu). Seriously. I'm hoping this isn't a bad omen.

Broken Bulb

During a family barbecue over Labor Day weekend at the Picket Fence Post home, the good intentions of the environmentally conscious wreaked havoc in The Eldest Boy’s bedroom. He and one of his cousins were in his room when the clip-on lamp that had been secured to the top bunk of his bunk bed fell down and that curlicue light bulb (otherwise known as a compact fluorescent bulb) broke. Pieces fell onto his bed and his rug.

This led to panic among some of the folks at the event after The Spouse looked up the EPA’s guidelines for picking up a busted CFL because those bulbs contain mercury, albeit less than 1/100th of the amount of mercury in those old glass thermometers, according to the EPA. After The Spouse cleaned up the debris and opened the windows, we decided to throw out the old comforter upon which much of the debris landed. (I went out this week and bought a new one, as well as new sheets.)

This leads me to wonder what’s going to happen when regular, incandescent bulbs are no longer available. When you have kids in the house, lamps are going to get knocked over. It’s a part of life. And light bulbs often break. If we have to fret about whether we should call a Haz-Mat team every time a bulb breaks, I’m going to have to start doing lots more yoga.

Calendar Chaos

I knew it. I knew it. I knew it!

I spent a good hour or so on Tuesday morning working on coordinating all the disparate calendars under my purview (school calendars for two schools, two different soccer calendars and a hockey calendar . . . not including my yoga or work calendar) and inputting all the appointments into the online calendar I share with The Spouse as well as writing them down on the paper calendar we keep in the kitchen.

It was bad enough that for Saturday we already had on the youth sports schedule: The Youngest Boy’s 7 a.m. hockey practice, The Girl’s soccer game two hours later and The Eldest Boy’s game in the afternoon, plus The Youngest Boy’s 6 a.m. game on Sunday morning (we'd have to be there by 5:30) followed by the starting of the church year and my religious education teacher training session at 9 (I’m going to be a teacher for The Youngest Boy’s church school classes for half the year).

But, just this afternoon, we received an e-mail scheduling a new hockey game, in less than 48 hours, for Saturday morning, meaning that instead of the Saturday practice, we will have to get The Youngest Boy to the ice rink by 6 a.m. meaning we'll have to leave our house by 5:30 a.m. Calgon, take me away, please!

So, I’ve decided that I'm not going to maintain any more illusions that the family calendar is manageable. It’s not. It just isn't. And it’s not my fault. It's an uncontrollable hot mess that's beyond my control. I’m just going to have to roll with it, buy cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and try my best to get to where I need to go. If I don’t make stuff, if I'm late, it won’t be the end of the world. We can’t do everything . . . at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Image credits: Mamas Health, Calendar Clip Art.

Friday, September 2, 2011

16,000 Pages

When the summer began, the Spouse and I issued a challenge to the Picket Fence Post kids: Set your own reading goal and if you reach it, you’ll get a (reasonable) reward of your choosing.

The Girl picked the ambitious goal of reading 10,000 pages. If my resident Rory Gilmore made it, she asked that she be taken to Legal Sea Foods to lunch by one of her parents. No brothers allowed, please.

The Eldest Boy -- who was busy “studying” for his fantasy football team draft and playing on his drum set throughout the summer – set a goal of 5,000 pages. His request if he achieved the goal: “Financial help” from The Spouse and I to purchase a particular cymbal for his drum set for which he’d been saving up.

As for The Youngest Boy, my resident reluctant reader -- with whom The Spouse and I are still reading aloud the Harry Potter series (we’re roughly mid-way through book six) -- he selected a somewhat more modest goal: 1,000 pages and asked to be taken to play laser tag if he reached it.

The Girl reached her goal weeks ago, no sweat. She's always reading, so I never worried she'd fall short. On Tuesday I paid up and we enjoyed a lively lunch together at Legal Sea Foods (wonderful lobster salad for me, grilled scallops for her, plus she got Boston creme pie for dessert). No brothers.

Things weren't as easy for The Eldest Boy who'd put off his reading. As the first day of school grew closer, he realized he was in danger of not making it to 5,000 pages. For the past week, he holed himself up in his room voraciously reading so he’d be eligible to get his reward. There was one night last week when I asked him if he wanted to watch an episode of The Mentalist with me – that’s “our” thing together – and he said he absolutely couldn’t which was surprising because he rarely passes up a chance to watch TV. “Mom, if I don’t keep reading I’ll never make it,” he said. But he did make it and with his reward, his birthday money and money he'd saved, he got his cymbal.

The Youngest Boy thought he’d achieved his 1,000 pages a few weeks ago, until The Spouse took a look at his reading list and told the kid he needed to recalculate as he hadn't quite made it yet. The 10-year-old hustled and reached his goal at the end of last week. Now he’s waiting for his laser tag (to which I'm hoping The Spouse takes him).

The reading incentive worked so well, that I'm thinking we should do another round of it, maybe every four months so the goals would seem reasonable. For the 10-year-old who’d rather play video games, the more we can get him to read, the better.