Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bloggus interruptus

It's going to sound like I'm making excuses (because I am) but there are a few reasons I haven't been able to post very often. One of them is my utter lack of uninterrupted time at the computer. As I type this, Harrison has taken over Sarah's computer, tossing regular questions my way ("Dad, what does this say?", "Dad, where do I click now?", "Dad, can we get this?", and the always popular "Dad look at this. Dad look at this. Dad look at this."). In a few minutes Grace will approach wanting to use the computer, and a fight will ensue. Finally Harrison will have stretched his time as long as possible (the last 10 minutes just to annoy Grace as she stands there and whines), and she will sit down. Then she'll say "Dad, can I play the Strawberry Shortcake game?", which actually means "Dad, will you stand up and come over here, put the keyboard back where it goes, find the Strawberry Shortcake page, adjust the volume (or I'll scream!), remind me how to play (or I'll cry!), and then get up to help me every 90 seconds when I get stuck?".

I'm about ready to make each kid a computer, put it in their room, and tell them they can do whatever they want for as long as I want as long as they give me a little time to ...


... He wanted to register for a website. That's a guaranteed 10-minute pain in the . . . I mean, an opportunity to teach typing, computers, and Internet safety.

In other words, I could post a lot more frequently here (and also respond to emails, program, live a life of my own, etc) if it weren't for all this PARENTING.

Notice I haven't mentioned the twins. They're easy. Despite the hinted opinion of more than one relative that having the twins was a bad thing to do to Harrison and Grace because they sacrifice in a zero-sum parenting game, I don't think the twins are having a negative impact at all. The babies' needs are very different, finite, and predictable at this point. And what they give back to the whole family is immeasurable.

Ask me about this again when our driveway is full of cars, or we're paying college tuition for four.

I had much more to say, but a fight is breaking out over exactly how the desk chair should be positioned.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Only 37 days, 38 nights left to go

It's been raining. A lot.

My most regular activity for the past few days has been draining water off the pool. Just a few inches of continuous rain is enough to raise the water level above the top of the skimmer, and as water pours out of the back of the skimmer there's a danger it will erode the delicate sand under the pool as the water runs to low ground. So I turn on the pool pump from inside, grab an umbrella, and splash through the puddles to switch the pump to "waste," which pumps my carefully balanced crystal-clear pool water into the lawn. After my last effort I was so badly soaked from the driving rain that had blown under my umbrella, I considered just jumping in the pool. I was already wet. Why not enjoy it?

I pump the water to the lawn, but it still doesn't have anywhere to go. The ground had been bone dry until recently, but by sometime yesterday it became completely saturated. So the still-brown grass (which didn't even get a chance to use the water) is completely submerged in places. Fortunately we're on pretty high ground here. The next-door neighbors - well, I hope they've got a good sump pump.

To add to the adventure, the sump pumps were out for a while today, too. In the shower I noticed the pressure start to drop and then the water just stopped coming. The power had gone out, and once the water was gone from the pressure tank, there wasn't any pump to bring more water from the well. So as it turned out our shower was one of the few places today I couldn't get wet. I'm still kinda soapy.

The power was out for hours. Sarah took the senior children out shopping, which left me with quality time to spend with the twins for a few hours. After some time of cooing and smiling at each other, the quality time began to become noticeably lower in quality. The twins aren't very good conversationalists. Soon we were all bored. They fell asleep, and I was left to confront a lonely life without electricity. I couldn't program and I couldn't watch anything. All my reading nowadays is on a screen. I had let the battery on my iPhone get low, so I couldn't listen to or watch anything on there. Heck, and can't even sleep without electricity anymore. All this quiet time to myself and I couldn't use it at all. It reminded me of that show with Burgess Meredith where he loves to watch TV but the power goes out. Or was it that Batman broke his monocle so all he could do was train Rocky to fight? Something like that.

Anyway, it made for a long day. Fortunately the lights came on before it got so dark that I couldn't read old-fashioned paper.

Tomorrow it's supposed to be partly sunny. Which is good, because I've got a lot of mowing to do. Anyone know if they make pontoons for lawn tractors?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Second Grade and Poop Corner

Over the past week both Harrison and Grace started school. For Harrison, it was the beginning of 2nd Grade. It was both less exciting and less anxiety-provoking than the past two years of seeing him off on his first bus trip. Two years ago was his first bus ride as he headed off to kindergarten. Last year he was headed off to a new school and his first full day. This year that had all been done. Same bus, same bus driver, and same school. He got ready and headed out just like any day last year. The only differences, of course, were a new class of kids, a new teacher, and the absence of Luke.

I was strangely comforted when I learned this week that Luke wasn't going to be in Harrison's class. I guess that meant that Harrison's life won't be dramatically altered in a practical way on a day-to-day basis. Those who meet Harrison in his shy turtle mode would be surprised to hear that he was quite the chatterbox in school last year, and Luke was his most common accomplice. Knowing that losing Luke won't have a major impact on this classroom time is some consolation.

Still, Luke's absence hung over that first morning like a cloud.

I was determined to walk HJ out to the bus on his first day of 2nd grade, but as with anything around here there were logistical problems (by the name of Shepard and Kennedy). If I put them in the stroller and took them down the driveway they would probably be quiet and watch the scenery, but then it would all be about them rather than HJ. Also I didn't think I could deploy the NASA-designed folding twins stroller without Sarah's help (finding it is no problem, however -- it is always In The Way). If I stopped to feed them I wouldn't make it to the driveway until after the bus was long gone. But if I left them unfed I expected I would return to the house to hear them shrieking from abandonment, perhaps already having learned to dial the phone to report me to protective services and Oprah (Irresponsible Parents Who Leave Their Twins Home Alone). Maybe I would even be able to hear the shrieking from the road, the Telltale Twins announcing my irresponsible choices to the neighbors.

So I strapped them into their vibrachairs and held bottles for each of them while Harrison got ready. They only got a few ounces before I took the bottles away and left with Harrison, but it was enough. They only looked mildly (and quietly) impatient when Grace and I returned to the house.

In keeping with the family tradition started by my Mom, I got a "first day of school" picture of Harrison before he got on the bus. I did break with tradition somewhat in not requiring him to stare into the sun while I took the picture. First-day-of-school pictures of Amy and I show the strange combination of excitement, pride in our new metal lunchboxes, and retinal burning.

The bus arrived, Harrison hopped in, and found a seat. In a few moments our new second grader was out of sight. I had the typical, can't-win parent attitude: Relief that I was down to three kids to care for quickly changed to sadness that I only had three kids to care for. Is it just me, or do all parents manage to find sadness in every happy milestone?

That Friday Grace got to visit Pooh Corner, the preschool run by Saline Area Schools. This was the same program Harrison attended when he was four, so it felt to me like Grace was a little too young. When we got there, though, there were lots of kids her age. I think she'll do well.

There were two major requirements for Grace to attend Pooh Corner:
  1. She had to be completely potty trained. They don't do toileting at Pooh Corner.
  2. She had to stop calling it "Poop Corner." It was an understandable mistake considering how much we kept telling her about item #1, but I can't imaging what kind of a place she thought we were sending her. A place called Poop Corner where you have to go potty on the potty?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Grief, Hope, and the Obamatron

It was a rough night. Sarah and I, being somewhat experienced at grief, are plowing right through it, alternating between grieving for Luke himself, grieving for our lost delusion that this can't happen when parents follow all the safety rules, and feeling terrible for Luke's parents and siblings. Harrison is approaching it more slowly. Every once in a while he thinks of something he won't be able to do with Luke anymore and he gets very sad, then slowly recovers. Then the cycle starts again. He also gets angry with "why" questions, and just plain angry with the person who ran the stop sign.

This morning we decided that as a diversion we would keep our original plans for today: Attending Barack Obama's Labor Day speech in Hart Plaza. As part of her new job, Sarah has some access to the UAW-Ford National Programs Center (NPC), which is right next to Hart Plaza. We planned to drop off the twins at Grandma's, pick up Sarah's new coworker Anna and her husband Nate in Dearborn, breeze into the underground parking at the NPC, and saunter over to Hart Plaza. This plan can be simply diagrammed as follows:

What actually happened is much tougher to diagram.

It turned out the road to the NPC was closed. I drove up to the policeman manning the entrance, asked Sarah to do the talking (expecting she could hit him with some important-sounding names and acronyms and apply her forceful persuasive powers to get us through to the UAW-Ford building), and rolled down the window. It was then that Sarah, known for her powerful skills of getting things done with difficult people in difficult situations, apparently went into passive mode. Maybe it was the gun. "Uh, can we get through there?", she asked apologetically. The slightly amused cop directed us to Cobo rooftop parking. I dove away while making fun of Sarah mercilessly, which I intend to keep doing until she threatens me (I don't carry a gun).

As it turned out there was lots of parking left at Cobo. So the plan was adjusted. We would walk to the NPC like the common folk and then pick up our VIP plan from there. As we neared the building, Sarah redeemed herself by talking the police into letting us pass, although they told us we wouldn't be allowed to get into the NPC. We smiled politely at their lack of understanding of our special status. They didn't realize that we were "on the list."

At the NPC, of course, we were surprised to find that we couldn't get in. While the NPC security people were sufficiently impressed with Sarah and Anna's name and acronym-dropping, regular security didn't control the building at that point. The Secret Service did, and the Secret Service doesn't speak Ford.

So we went to stand in line. Actually, the word "line" hardly begins to describe it. It was more of a serial crowd winding up Jefferson, then Washington along Cobo Hall, and then through a convoluted set of folds on downtown side streets. It was like we were waiting for the "Detroit" ride at Disneyland, enjoying the carefully reproduced ambiance. The line moved but as Obamatime approached and we still couldn't even see Hart Plaza, we knew we wouldn't be shaking hands with The One. The strangest part was people didn't seem very upset about it. It was a pleasant, mostly shady walk downtown. We all figured we would see or hear something, and the whole event had a slight air of history to it. Harrison and I kept a running joke going between us of spotting undercover Secret Service agents. "See that bird?" he would ask. "Secret Service."

Every once in a while Harrison would get a little sniffly and say he was "still sad about Luke." I took that as a healthy thing. He's learning that life goes on, even if not as happily for a while and never in quite the same way.

As we finally turned the corner on Jefferson the line just sort of broke up and turned into a crowd. Apparently they had finally closed off Hart Plaza. So we stood in the intersection of Jefferson and Griswold and watched the huge screen erected for the occasion. Apparently they hadn't considered that people would want to actually listen to the speech though. There might have been some small speakers, but I got the impression we were listening to the sound system from the stage in Hart Plaza. We heard The One sing to Aretha Franklin, heard his clear, declarative sentences in support of organized labor, and could tell that much of the speech was actually about helping hurricane victims. I missed the fact that there was a moment of silent prayer, which was probably just as well.

By then we were in the sun and the kids were wilting. So when the speech ended after less than fifteen minutes we weren't disappointed. We worked our way back to Cobo and the car, dropped off Anna and Nate, and were having lunch at a Chili's within an hour. Sarah and I can't take the senior kids to a restaurant very often so we didn't feel too guilty about taking advantage of Grandma for an extra 30 minutes.

So the last day of summer vacation turned out to be a pretty good day, all things considered.

There are more pictures on our Flickr stream.