Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Brings up a quite sad point. Kirk and I (like most people we knew in the military community) were regular blood donors. Now though, because of concern over the new Mad Cow disease, I am banned from donating because of our time in Germany. Child 1 who is now old enough to donate is also barred. I feel a great loss at not being able to give something that could mean life, particularly in this time of excessive death.
The concern in the community has a terrible history behind it, and that alone justifies an extreme caution. I am also aware that adding tests to the already significant battery increases the difficulties faced and the costs but... I hope something changes in this situation. So many people I know are eliminated, people who have been committed and diligent donors.
When you have nothing else, being able to give life gains enormous significance.
We had a squashy marshmallow couch that fit the whole family together but smooshed us into a jumbled mass of arms and legs by the end of a page and a half; a great couch for reading together if you like eachother, but not recommended for people with firm opinions on sacred personal space. It also wasn't the easiest thing to extricate ourselves from, but luckily our Seuss book came with four volumes in one, so we were set for a good hour of reading before we had to explore how much circulation we still had in the more remote body parts.
But Kirk discovered that Seuss had other vital uses, beyond those of life lessons. He provided our count-down to The Day - The Day we would leave Texas. One night Kirk realized we had, starting the next day, 23 days to go until we actually drove away. Any fool could cross off Mondays and Tuesdays until arriving at the fated Day Itself. Not us. We were going to work through days like Bodkin van Horn, and Biffalo Buff. The kids were thrilled to have an entire day go by 'Marvin O Gravel Balloon Face,' and of course, what could be better than to drive away on Zanzibar Buck Buck McFate?
Amazing man, Dr. Seuss.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
There is definitely a continuum of desirable bases in the Air Force. We desperately wanted to avoid places like Louisiana, Texas etc., and equally desperately wanted to get back to Europe. Specifically, I wanted to get to England. [note - this is still true, so if anyone knows of a decent job going in, say, Edinburgh or Oxford, please let me know so I can fulfill two of my life's ambitions and a. live somewhere where I could do without a car and b. live in hopes that I'd run into Jaimie Oliver and he'd invite us all for dinner] I was quite clear with Kirk about this - Europe please, preferably England.
Kirk's class was incredible - lots of really bright people - so the competition was fierce. It was friendly competition though; one of the guys became Kirk's best friend. It was the sort of situation where Kirk thrived, and his scores got better and better. It was pretty clear that he would graduate in the top three. Then they passed out the assignment list.
No England. No Europe even. Several in the midwest, several in Texas, and only two that seemed remotely interesting: Alaska, and Hawaii. I'm always slow to cope with changes in plans; Kirk was ready to explore the possibilities while I was still fussing about not getting exactly what I wanted. There was no question we would want one of those two (everything else was too boring to consider), but they were both so remote, so far from everything else. And how to decide between frozen mountains and tropical beaches?
Assuming, of course, that the choice was ours.
Monday, May 29, 2006
These are people who know that at any time they can be asked to leave their family for weeks or months to fill needs around the world. They work long hours, taking on enormous responsibility, and yet make lower salaries than many of their peers. They move regularly, uprooting their families from friends and school at least every three years. And every one of them realizes that, should they be asked, they could be sent to a combat area where they will be at risk 24 hours a day. Meanwhile their families love and support them, fear for them and hope for them. They take on extra burdens when the service member has to leave, including the burden of uncertainty and concern.
We give one day - a day that is usually spent with friends and family enjoying a day off. And that's the way it should be, because being able to do that, being able to plan a picnic or a day trip is a simple pleasure we all take for granted. We can, because of the thousands of people who make it possible. We enjoy a lot of freedoms, but one of the most important is freedom from fear. Whatever your opinions on the current situations, whatever the motivation that got us there in the first place, it is an achievable goal to help the people of Iraq and Afghanistan establish the framework to someday enjoy that same freedom.
To our friends who are out there now - we love you, we're thinking of you, today and every day. And thank you.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
It usually takes an extra half hour per child to get ready to go anywhere. Add another half hour for each child under 5, and if you're in the middle of potty training double that final figure. In fact, if you live in a hot place the whole bathroom issue becomes something of a farce because you spend half your time trying to hydrate the little bodies, and the other half begging the child to just hold on for two minutes while you race down the aisles at Safeway. Jason Bourne might be able to suss out the best exit in a building in a matter of seconds - we had the far better ability of spotting a bathroom. By far the worst place is Home Depot. We could never stay in the garden center for more than 10 minutes because one child would stare, hypnotized at the fountain displays until... 'I think...'
Still, good parenting dictates that they must be given fluids regularly, so we gave each child a container of blue gatorade and started off. Before we left the drive child three had the bottle half empty. By the edge of town it was drained dry. Having thoroughly provided itself with ammunition, it was ready to go.
There are certain noises that can get a parent's attention more quickly than anything else - catlike reflexes are invoked. Child three made a small, cat-with-hairball noise, combined with a tiny 'oh no.' Instantly the car was at the side of the road and child three was being held (carefully) over a field of cotton, violently puking up blue gatorade. It's business as usual really - just one more little episode of disgusting bodily excretions. It even entertained the other two kids (ewwwww! It's throwing up blue!) and the state trooper who pulled over to make sure we weren't messing with Texas. Two minutes later child three is cleaned off with the inevitable wet wipes and we're back on the road.
Unfortunately we underestimated how much gatorade the child had actually consumed, and the fact that the stomach involved was apparently looking on the whole thing as a game of escalation. We were only able to lean the kid out of the door for the next round. The third one we thought was the real thing - entire backseat of the car, child's car seat, child's clothing down to the skin, and back of driver's seat all contaminated with blue goo. It took a box and a half of wet wipes to get the car to the point where anyone would even put a toe in, and child three was stripped naked and temporarily clothed in one of Kirk's t-shirts. We lined everything with plastic garbage bags (the emergency kit of a parent is a wonderful thing) and hoped for the best. No such luck - four and five got us right into San Antonio, and just as we pulled into the mall parkinglot the child suddenly stopped going green and white, smiled brightly and announced that it was 'really thirsty now!'
The oldest two had at least escaped the carnage, but the car was unbearable and child three was now clad only in a black plastic garbage bag. Just right for a family reunion.
Kirk took child two into the mall to get a new set of clothes - clothes that would forever be known as 'the puke outfit.'
And none of us to this day can face blue gatorade.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Texas heat was more like stepping into a sauna, then having a very large attendant firmly tuck an enormous down comforter around you. The kids still talk with awe about the Magnadoodle that was left in the car one afternoon and turned into a strange, warped piece of alien art. Put a pen on the dash and it would droop and sag within a couple of hours.
We lived like bats - staying inside during the heat of the day and only emerging, blinking, when the sun was safely down. Unless there was a tornado warning of course - then like all the other idiots around we would race outside to gape at the sky, because if you're going to be sucked up into the heavens you want to enjoy the whole thing. The entire neighborhood would be out there, pointing and trying to focus video cameras.
'D'you think it'll touch down?'
'Nah, that one's too little. Not like the one last year. That one near took off the roof!'
'Except it didn't touch down either.'
'Nah. But if it did, it would have.'
Thursday, May 25, 2006
The river has a particular smell to it. It's not necessarily a bad smell, just pervasive. The problem is that smell is also a taste, and it's inescapable. Most people we knew bought bottled water in massive bulk. The only thing we found that could kill the taste (sort of) was Koolaid. Normally we wouldn't let our kids near the stuff (mmmm- nutritious! Colored water with loads of sugar in!) but we figured for four months it was better to keep them hydrated and deal with the sugar dependence later. Making the stuff became a ritual. Kirk would fill a clear, sealable bottle with water, put in the sugar, and the three kids would gather around and start to vibrate with anticipation. He would slowly rip open the paper packet and dump in the contents with a flourish ('Ooooooooh' - magical effect of food dye making an inverted mushroom cloud), then cap the bottle tightly. 'Ready' 'Ready!!' 'Are you sure you're ready?' anticipation reached dangerous proportions. 'I'm... going... to.... ' 'Shake! Shake! Shake my sillies out...' The kitchen would fill with a preschool mosh pit.
We tried to picnic next to the river a couple of times but it seems every inch of ground is infested with tiny, vicious ants. It sounds minor, but I can't explain the evil nature of these insects. They don't just wander around cleaning detritus up and filling their important niche in the ecosystem - they hang about smoking little ant cigarettes and talking big to their friends, and when innocent people stop for a few seconds they leap on them, wrestle them to the ground and start chewing. Or maybe that's just what it feels like, but they're nasty, horrible little creatures. We threw away the wrappers from some KFC, then came back to the same trash can just a minute or two later to find it literally black with ants. Even typing this I'm shuddering and feeling those phantom, creepy little legs.
The wire hangers are a bit strange. We didn't have a washer and dryer in our small house (and for four months it wasn't going to be worth getting them) so every week we took our wash to the laundromat. For an extra dollar a load the owner would swap your stuff over which was, I thought, a darn good deal since other than boot scooting and bowling, hanging out in a laundromat is my least favorite activity. The problem was, she put every piece of clothing (socks excepted) on a wire hanger. Uniforms, slacks, button down shirts - all of those made sense. But we brought back arm-loads of neatly hung jeans, shorts and t-shirts as well. After two weeks the closets were filled with wire hangers. I was raised by a recycler, so I couldn't fathom throwing away something that technically was perfectly usable, but three weeks left us with dozens and dozens of hangers and more to come. I started taking them back to her with the dirty wash, but by then it was too late. The hangers had discovered the exceptional breeding environment in our closets, and began to quietly multiply. By the time we moved we were finding wire hangers in every room of the house, under furniture and inside cupboards. We packed them in boxes and quietly left them outside the laundromat. They would be happiest there.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
One night Kirk began talking about how he would like to build a cabin somewhere - nothing big or elaborate, just a simple house that he made himself. And I realized that I wanted to be part of that. No thought of long-term romance or marriage or anything; far more imporant at that moment was the warmth of friendship, and making something together.
We never managed it. There were a couple of reasons - no money for a long time, and too much moving around. But the idea of making a home remained in the background. The closest we ever came was that little house in Albuquerque. It was the only place that we could do a little bit of work on to make it our own.
There were any number of things that needed doing - most beyond our ability - but we did put in a new front door. We got a simple one, but solid wood, then stained it a lovely dark brown. I still don't know how we managed to hang it straight and true (we were low on patience as well as ability), but we did. And to finish it off we bought a brass door knocker, a lion's mask with a heavy handle that could just be dropped for a satisfying rap. When we moved away the knocker stayed with the house.
I'd like to build a home, build it ourselves, the kids and me. It woud be a small house of stone that would last for years; a place of permanance. I would paint the front door red. And there would be a knocker with a lion's mask.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Originally I was a computer science major, but I only got in one C++ class before we realized all my computer sci labs were going to conflict with Kirk's schedule. That was all the excuse I needed to switch to the highly useful and terribly practical History major. (To my irritation the College of Engineering were loath to let me go - not because I was a stellar student but because I was female. I was infuriated that I could have taken a competetive slot away from another, more qualified student just because of my gender. Grrrr.) I took hours of early modern history, alternated by medieval history and literature (and my incredibly valuable languages - Latin and Ancient Greek). What I wasn't doing was looking at graduation requirements and other little details.
So when Kirk graduated in the Spring I still needed over 40 hours, and he needed to leave halfway through the school year. To further complicate things, we were really hoping to get another overseas assignment, and it would be difficult to finish my degree. At the very least I would probably be set back another semester.
Family to the rescue again. It wasn't an easy choice, but we decided to send Kirk on to Texas alone, while I finished my last semester. The kids would have to stay with me, which meant moving back to my parent's house. My mom would babysit while I took 21 hours of classes (and two CLEP exams). She took on all three kids - aged 7, 5, and 3 - taught them, played with them, walked them, took them to the library (and lived through the embarassment of child 3 pressing the emergency stop button complete with siren in the library elevator) for four months. I ended that semester with a 4.2, and was made a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and it is entirely and absolutely thanks to her. That, my friends, is a mother.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Now, I think it's pretty neat that this channel thing is supposed to anticipate my taste and learn about what I like to hear... slightly big-brother, but in an I-can-live-with-it sort of way. But I suppose I just learned that I still have a part of me that believes there's a little tiny man living inside the computer dishing out internet content to me.
Because when Perfect Circle (which I love and clearly marked 'can't get enough') was followed up with Boyz II Men, I was appalled. Not only because it was inconceivable that this thing would make that sort of musical non-sequitur, but because it honestly bothered me that the little tiny man had such a warped opinion of me.
Stop judging me little tiny man. I'm so much cooler than that.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
He had gone through the obligatory car phase - he owned a black mustang. That was before I 'knew him,' but I definely remember the obnoxious guy who peeled out of the parking lots at dances and rehearsals, stereo blaring. He converted it for drag racing, and said he used to be able to rev the engine and watch the fuel gauge drop. Actually, he's lucky not to have killed himself in that car. He and his friends used to go up at night to a deserted highway on the edge of town, park a mile apart, turn off their headlights and then drive at full speed towards eachother. While he was in Thailand, that car was stolen. The only thing they ever found was the bumper, wrapped around a tree.
He had gained (a little) intelligence and common sense since then, and had spent enough time swapping engines and doing maintenance in the army that he was no longer willing to be a car guy. So when we had a bit of extra money in the bank every month, it seemed reasonable to invest in a reliable car. Kirk wanted no maintenance; I just wanted one thing - four doors. Sure I was a master of the contortions necessary to get three kids in and out of car seats in a miniscule Honda, but somehow, it had lost its charm.
That's what domestication does to you. You find yourself in a car dealership going 'Kirk, watch me buckle these seats. Isn't that fantastic?' And he does.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
BCC: Pessimistic acquaintances
I regret to inform you that you are seriously over your Panic limit. (cf Chicken [little, one each] re: skies, falling; boy, wolf calling of) As a result I will be unable to work up sufficient concern over Asian bird flu, and might not be available for the next four major insufficiently vital crisis that emerge.
Please note the Guilt account is also severely overdrawn and it's quite possible I will no longer be able to feel personal responsibility for such items out of my direct control as the depletion of the world's coral, and the population numbers of British butterflies.
Sincerely yours, etc.
Friday, May 19, 2006
One of his best friends started there as well - a first generation immigrant from Brazil who was right out of a classic Hollywood film, and they quickly picked up a third - a captian who (and this was a charming, intelligent, delightful man whom I liked extremely) looked exactly like Pinky from the Animaniacs. Kirk, Zorro, and a slightly dranged lab rat. It was a potent combination. They didn't do anything too terrible really, although I came in one afternoon to find Capt. Pinky on a desk belting out Nine Inch Nails 'Head Like a Hole.'
But the thing I remember best was the day Kirk's first active duty pay stub was handed out. We sat down with a piece of paper and a pencil and worked it all out. After paying bills and student loans, we were going to actually have money left at the end of the month - every month. We went through the figures twice just to make sure. What do you buy when, for the first time ever, you actually have disposable income? We took the kids out and got them each one set of new clothes. Then we got nervous and went back home. This whole money thing was going to take some getting used to.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
One of the nicest things is that there is a place for family and friends. The new officer has to pin on rank - putting the 'butter bars' (single gold colored bars for 2nd Lieutenant) on shoulder boards and hat. Then there's the first salute - a pretty special moment that has a lot of history and tradition behind it. For this Kirk chose Grandpa B-.
Grandpa was new to the family. Actually, since he was well over 70 it's probably better to say that he was new to the cast. In fact, that's entirely appropriate, because he was, intentionally and with full awareness, a character.
Grandpa B was Kirk's birth grandfather, part of the birth family Kirk found when we came back from Germany. It was right at Christmas when we first met them - Kirk birth mother, his grandparents, and his sister. It was a bit disconcerting to find out that he and his sister had not only gone to school together, they had known eachother reasonably well and she had been a good friend of his brother.
Grandpa and Grandma were terrific though. She was tiny, and very sweet, with beautiful white hair that she had carefully set every Tuesday. She called him B-, because his last name was so unusual that when they met she couldn't remember it and took to using it to teach herself. He used to tell stories about her, most of which started or ended with 'she treats me dreadful.' 'She locked me out of the house the other day,' he said 'locked me into the garage and wouldn't let me in no matter how much I hollered. She treats me dreadful.' She was slightly deaf, and generally didn't catch what he was saying for a few minutes. Then she would click her tongue, 'Oh B-. You know that was an accident. Of course I let you in. Eventually.' He liked to carry a photo of her around and pull people aside to show it off. 'Now, wasn't she gorgeous? Wasn't she the prettiest thing?' The photograph was only a year old.
The only thing that really got him cross was Grandma's old beau. He was a bass player ('Damn musician. Damn bass playin' musician. Slick fellow. Can't trust him.') who had played with a travelling big band for decades. But every year on one special day he sent her dozens of deep red roses, and Grandpa sulked the entire day. Made you realize what a fascinating woman she must have been.
They were thrilled to get to know Kirk, and Grandpa - formerly enlisted - was exceptionally proud that 'the boy' was becoming an officer. So it was never a question who would give that first salute.
He dug out his old uniform and had it meticulously cleaned and pressed. Once Kirk had taken his oath, and the ranks were pinned in place, Grandpa stepped forward and snapped him a crisp salute, keeping solid military bearing until Kirk handed him the traditional solid silver dollar, when he grinned all over his face. Then he cried.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
I still think it's remarkable that Kirk had enough faith and trust to just jump in the way he did. Now I can recognize that the culture of the Air Force is vastly different from that of the post-cold war army, but Kirk was able to see those differences at once, and believe that they were fundamental and pervasive.
It didn't hurt that the first real comparison to be made was basic training. Kirk went through army basic in 1988 - I believe some serious reforms have happened since then. He was at Fort Dix, NJ, and had been told right from the start that failure in anything at all, for any reason at all, would mean he would lose his intel job and be assigned something else at the whim of the army. The suggestion of latrine scrubbing and toothbrushes apparently breathed through the threat. I don't know how serious it was, but Kirk wasn't going to take a chance. He sustained a compression fracture in his heel less than halfway through the program, but was told he wouldn't be given any consideration for it. He finished training with the injury, running, going on full-pack hikes of 15 miles and more, and then spending the evenings literally crawling in pain. He finished with his unit, and with double expert (marksmanship and handgrenades I think - how can you miss with a handgrenade?), but he nearly destroyed himself doing it.
The Air Force however sent him off to Florida. Granted, officer training isn't a strenuous event anyway, but this was more of a tropical vacation. They had a 'survival' trial of a few days which just meant they were dumped on a beautiful beach and told to fend for themselves. Kirk and the handful of other cadets promptly dug up a large number of shellfish and had a wonderful picnic - swimming in bdu's (the only drawback of the place was an infestation of jellyfish - the bdu's solved the problem) while they waited for their dinner to finish cooking. They were finishing up when a 'rescue' crew came by with steaks, assuming the pathetic officers would be starving.
While he was out there he opted to take a parachute course, and got in about six jumps. The first time they went up, the instructor said, 'Now, about this time all of y'all are thinking "why the hell should I jump out of a perfectly good airplane?"' The guy next to Kirk shook his head. 'Not me man, I used to work on these things.' The instructor said it was the easiest class to get out the door on a first jump that he ever had.
But the real deal maker came the following summer. Kirk was selected to go up to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and go through soaring school. The school is run by Academy cadets who spend their summers as instructors. The glider planes are taken up on tow, then released to soar for as long as they can find thermals to keep them up. For the first week or so Kirk always had an instructor with him until he had proven himself enough and could solo.
He said the most terrifying moment is when the tow cable is released - a sort of clunk and a shock when you realize there's nothing but air keeping you up. But then there is no noise from an engine, no throb or sense of the spinning pull through the plane body - just absolute quiet and the response of the little glider to the rudder controls or the rising air. The Air Force couldn't promise him a pilot's slot, but they did give him wings.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
That meant that my long-suffering parents were able to get us out of their house (for a while), and we had, for the only time in our marriage, a house of our (sort of) own.
There were a few drawbacks to it. The shower had a wall without any tile on - just bare cement board, a couple of windows were broken, the front door was in pretty bad shape, the front yard was blessed with a vigorous grove of bamboo (anyone with experience of this grass variant is sending me huge sympathy thoughts right now), and the last tenant had left a massive amount of debris piled up in the side yard.
She left her stove as well, but she said this proudly because she seemed to think it was an extremely generous move on her part.
'And,' she said, to clinch the deal 'the dead mouse smell is completely gone.'
Monday, May 15, 2006
It's the end of baking season. It's too hot now to heat up the oven. Bread is out of the question. That's bad enough, because making bread is one of life's quiet pleasures. Kneading the dough, coming back after a few hours to see the magical transformation the yeast creates, the incredible smell of baking bread, and then the almost-too-hot loaf all steamy and soft... but there will be no cakes either, no brownies or cookies, and worst of all for my kids, no Toad-in-the-Hole. They've been learning to cook this year, all three of them, and the one thing they can happily and reliably cook (after asking once again for the recipe) is Toad-in-the-Hole.
It's comfort food done right, comfort food with practically no nutritional value, but all the bad-for-you goodness that you want on a chilly night. There's no pretention about it either - no 'avec sauce milanaise' or 'avec haricots vert' about it; just honest, solid, everyday food. It's a British dish - obviously from the name - like bubble-and-squeak or bangers-and-mash. We had it once every two or three weeks with the kids squabbling over who got to cook it. But the season is over now, and we won't see it again for at least five months.
For the curious, this is how we make our version:
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups flour (white please, no mucking around with healthy wheat or anything)
sage to taste
2 tbsp melted butter
Whisk the first six ingredients together until combined, then let sit to slake in order to remove the lumps (like pancake batter). Meanwhile:
Heat the oven to about 400. Should be good and hot, but altitude will cause some differences.
Heat an oven safe, large, high-sided skillet over medium high heat. Add a small amount of oil, and brown several sausages. We prefer the chicken variety, the nicer the better. When the sausage is browned, whisk the butter into the pudding batter and pour batter directly over sausages in the hot skillet. Place the skillet in the hot oven at once.
Bake until pudding is puffed up and golden brown. Serve at once.
We had a mutual favorite - a medieval history professor we both took. In Kirk's final semester we both signed up for his class and arranged that only I should actually attend (I take copious notes unlike the illegible three lines of miniscule scratching Kirk produced) just so we could get in as many classes with this guy as possible. He was viewed with a certain awe by the rest of the history department. There was a story going around that soon after he was hired on, a colleague spotted him avidly reading in the library - rapidly turning the pages and completely engrossed. He came up behind to see what book could be so enticing, to find this prof speeding happily through a medieval latin text.
He would show up for class each day in a rumpled collared shirt with the tails coming out, hair everywhich way, and a Mr. Rogers zip-up cardigan. This last he would carefully remove, and neatly fold over the back of his desk chair. Once he looked up and gave us a charming smile 'I have to do this for my wife; she likes me to be tidy.' His finals were a grueling marathon, completely exhausting but exhilarating. I learned enormous amounts from him, and will always admire him. To me he embodies acadmic integrity.
But every campus has a character as well, and ours was the Classical history professor. This is the guy who wore a sumo-wrestler's wrap (for reference see here, but be warned it is not for the faint of heart) to jog in - he weighed about 150lb soaking wet with boots on - and was arrested for indecent exposure. He successfully argued that he was wearing recognized athletic gear, and was actually given a letter of apology from the police chief which he proudly carried around. He had to give up the practice though; he kept getting beaten up.
My favorite story was told by his wife, my latin teacher. They loved to play croquet and had set up a croquet lawn in their front yard. Somewhere they had learned that Leon Trotsky was also an avid croquet player, and the thought of this rabid revolutionist playing a staid, Victorian lawn game tickled them so much they put up a large sign: Leon Trotsky Memorial Croquet Lawn.
On July 4th, because he is this guy, they were flying a large British flag on their porch. A truck came to a screetching halt, disgorged an irate driver who stormed up to the porch, ripped down the flag, and threw it on the lawn. The guy was large, and clearly drunk, so they decided to be discreet and just took down his license plate number. The next day they managed to track the man down and knocked on his apartment door. As soon as he saw who it was, he burst out - 'Oh man, I'm so glad you found me. I'm so sorry about that; I was drunk and it just made me mad you know? I wanted to call you and everything and make it right. I tried to look you up and apologize, but I couldn't find Leon Trotsky in the phone book.'
Friday, May 12, 2006
However, luck doesn't hold and child three attends a school with music on the schedule so concerts are now part of life. (I love child three. Child three is fantastic, and musically talented. I support that. Don't send me hate mail) Next week it's the cello and J.S. Bach, today it was rock and rhythm, drums and vocals.
It was definitely an experience. In fact, I can honestly say that this American junior high band with self conscious and completely immobile vocalists gave a performance of God Save the Queen that I will never forget. Ever. The drums were great though.
I think it's the parental curse kicking in. The one where your children are going to put you through all the stuff you put your parents through and so on and so on. If so, it's completely unfair because I'm getting Kirk's stuff.
He had a band, Radical Technometal. They didn't sing; they techno-screamed. They had two particularly brilliant songs (now lost to the world I'm afraid). Phlegm, a deeply felt saga of loss and yearning (I have phlegm in my voice, I think it's really choice), and their love ballad - I Want You: 'Ooooh, yeah, I want you (ugh); ooh, yeah, I do (wah); ooh, yeah, I want you (ugh); ooh, yeah, it's true [techno-scream].
This afternoon I can honestly say that our son is entirely worthy of that heritage.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
1. Human beings come in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes. This makes me question anthropologists who assume entire species based on a single incomplete skeleton.
2. Just about anything useless or poorly made can be sold quickly and easily by putting it with other equally useless items (not necessarily related), wrapped in cellophane, and labelled 'kit' or 'gift pack.' Couldn't this truth be exploited in other ways? Maybe we could get foreign nations to accept our excess and irritating public figures by packaging them up tastefully... we could have the scientology six-pack, the botox bunch etc. Worth a try.
3. The greatest threat to America today is that some terrorist will recognize the potential inherent in the trained response we have to Costco snack carts. The sight of small paper cups on a shiny steel cart causes everyone in the vicinity to a. shut their brain down completely and b. swerve violently in the direction of the cart. You can tell a. because it doesn't even have to be food on the cart - I've seen it happen with dishwashing tablets and sponges. Further thought made me wonder if this behavior is actually an extention of what happens around voting booths, but unfortunately at that moment I saw a Costco snack cart and my brain shut down so I couldn't work out the connection.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Kirk understood that stuff though.
One summer my parents (note this down as one of those reasons why my parents have visible nimbuses and are on the sainthood shortlist) took the two oldest children out of state with them for an entire week. That was amazing enough, but then one of Kirk's childhood friends took the youngest child for a full night (I think it was a practice parenthood thing - either that or a save-the-sanity-of-the scary-people thing) which meant that for a whole day and a whole night we were, for the first time since 10 months into our marriage, ALONE.
We were lying on the grass waiting for a tennis court to free up at 11 at night, and it was fantastic - so fantastic that I was thrown into unbelievable parental guilt. Until Kirk turned to me and said, 'isn't it awful - this feels so amazingly good that I wish we had never had kids.' And because he could say it, and we talked about it, it was okay. The youngest came back the next day and was cute and funny and good to be around, and the older two returned not much later and we were happy to see them.
But it's important to note that, while you love them, there are times when you don't want to be a parent. And that's just fine. Because before you were mom and dad you were friends and lovers, and before even that you were your own self. And now and then it's good to remember that, because sometime those kids will be gone and that, too, is a good thing.
... just found this: 3hive.com
Indie music for every genre (except classical - sorry dad!) beautifully presented and nicely written up too. Unfortunately my home computer is allergic to its sound card, but it made for a happy music day at work yesterday!
And hey, 3hive guys, pump up the punk section, okay?
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Things your kids do that amuse the heck out of you and that you therefore do not correct or discourage will look entirely different if you then move back near relatives of delicate sensibilities. Such items include:
A child who has recently learned to name items of clothing, but cannot say its 'r' yet so points to its chest and shouts 'shi(r)t' loudly in public.
A child who cannot say 'tr' so substitutes 'f' AND is obsessed with large vehicles.
A child who at an amazingly precocious age learned to swallow air in massive gulps to produce window-rattling belches.
I came home one day to find that he had given everyone Sumerian names (one child was Meskiaggasher, one was Lugal-Zage-Si - my father was Sargon The Great). I admit I wasn't that thrilled to have the middle one, aged 3 call me Lugulbanda.
But the lessons were well learned. One afternoon I was telling the oldest child the story of Sleeping Beauty. The king and queen, I explained, had no children, and so they were terribly, terribly sad. The child sighed deeply. 'Just like the Mesopotamians,' it said. 'Their gods hated them!'
Monday, May 08, 2006
There wasn't really a whole lot of choice. I could either wear my high-school prom dress, about which the kindest thing to say was at least it didn't have a Gone With the Wind crinoline, or the nicest of the casual dresses I owned (none of which was newer than three years). Hmmmm.... Gunny Sax Laura Ashley flashback or pink shapeless cotton thing? I opted for pink on the theory that I might be invisible in that, while Laura Ashley was impossible to hide. I still think that was the right decision; I wasn't invisible being front and center with the toilet bowl and all, but that old prom dress might have pushed the poor cadet over the delicate to-spew-or-not-to-spew line.
So I spent the evening inwardly writhing and hoping I didn't make Kirk look like an idiot for dragging along someone who didn't care enough to dress up. I wasn't going to say anything to him about it - we both knew we couldn't afford new clothes at the moment so what was there to say?
Two weeks later Kirk came downstairs to our bedroom carrying a large, flat box. He had quietly sold some of his Soviet things - including his prize KGB watch - and carefully shopped for a dress. It took him a week to find exactly what he wanted, a week of going into stores he would never normally notice, a week of describing me to salesladies and trying to understand the mysteries of colors men can't even see. It's carefully wrapped now in acid-free tissue paper - love, in ecru satin and antique lace.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
So my first real interaction with the Air Force came with the Spring Dining Out. It's a formal dinner - military style. We had never been to a dining out in the army, whether because Kirk didn't want to, or because peon enlisted people weren't invited I don't know, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
For those who aren't familiar, a dining out is a carefully choreographed event with a long history. The whole evening is full of tradition, and the goal of having them for the ROTC was to introduce the cadets to some of the finer points of being in the Air Force.
Dress is formal. Those who have them wear mess dress uniforms - a sort of military version of the tuxedo (sorry, tried to find a good image and only found 'materinity mess dress' which, while interesting, isn't quite applicable), those who don't wear class A's. They even print up a nice program for every seat that outlines the evening's events and details how to respond to each one.
But most important are the Rules:
Thou shalt arrive within 10 minutes of the appointed hour.
Thou shalt make every effort to meet all the guests.
Thou shalt move to the mess when thee hears the chimes and remain
standing until seated by the President.
Thou shalt not bring cocktails or lighted materials into the mess.
Thou shalt smoke only when the smoking lamp is lit.
Thou shalt participate in all toasts unless thyself or thy group is
honored with the toast.
Thou shalt not leave the mess while convened.
Thou shalt ensure that thy glass is always charged when toasting.
Thou shalt keep toasts and comments within the limits of good taste
and mutual respect. Degrading or insulting remarks will be frowned
upon by the membership. However, good natured needling is ENCOURAGED.
Thou shalt not murder the Queen's English.
Thou shalt always use the proper toasting procedures.
Thou shalt not open the hangar doors.
Thou shalt fall into disrepute with thy peers if the pleats of thy
cummerbund are not properly faced.
Thou shalt also be painfully regarded if thy clip-on bow tie rides
at an obvious list. Thou shalt be forgiven, however, if thee also
rides at a comparable list.
Thou shalt consume thy meal in a manner becoming a gentle person.
Thou shalt not laugh at ridiculously funny comments unless the
President first shows approval by laughing.
Thou shalt express thy approval by tapping thy spoon on the table.
Clapping of thy hands will not be tolerated.
Thou shalt not question the decisions of the President.
When the mess adjourns, thou shalt rise and wait for the
President and guests to leave.
Thou shalt enjoy thyself to the fullest.
If there are rules, naturally enough there is some enforcement. This is not something I was aware of, so I was a bit taken aback when we were shown to our seats in the dining room, and mine was directly in front of a table on which was placed, like a sort of porcelain altar, a toilet.
Now, it was a clean toilet, a gleaming example of plumbing perfection. But it was still a toilet. Right in front of my seat. Apparently Kirk had forgotten to tell me a few things.
The toilet bowl held the grog (well, a steel bowl inside the toilet held the grog). Each class sent up a representative who read out a poem (poor), and added a few items to the bowl. Then they poured in a significant amount of 7-up to dilute the mess, and stirred it up. On this occasion the ingredients included gummy worms, tabasco sauce, clam juice, and a thawed package of frozen strawberries.
The idea is that if anyone violates the rules of the mess, someone else can accuse them of their crime. The accusation has to be done in rhyme, and then the Vice decides if punishment is in order. If so, the following takes place:
The individual proceeds to the bowl promptly, squaring all corners in a military fashion.
Upon arriving at the grog bowl, the violator:
a. Salutes the grog
b. Fills the cup with grog (at least one-third full)
c. Faces about to the mess, raises the cup, and declares “To The Mess!”
d. Drains the grog from the cup without removing it from the lips
e. Tips the cup upside down over his/her head
f. Faces about to the grog, replaces cup, again salutes grog and returns to his/her seat
g. The violator is not permitted to speak during the process except for c. above
Naturally if anything is done wrong, the poor victim has to repeat the whole thing. Oh, and if the accuser's poem is really and truly vile, they are often sent to the grog instead.
It all went fairly well - some poor soul had to demonstrate proper grog procedure, then a few scattered accusations started. But after several people had gone, the liquid was beginning to ebb a little, meaning that they started to have to dip into the chunks at the bottom. So one poor guy was sent up, filled his cup like a man, toasted the mess and as he drained the contents hit a large semi-frozen strawberry. Kirk said he had this horrified sense of dread watching the guy as he struggled, gagging and twitching with repressed heaves. His future Air Force career was riding on this cadet's ability not to spew all over me.
He held it in. Just.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
Kirk came home from university one day and said he had done a bit of research and he was think about joining the air force. Keep in mind we had spent three years of misery and several months of total hell getting into, living with, and painfully getting out of the army. Now this idiot was sitting on the living room couch and calmly saying he wanted to step right back into the military. I was beyond dumbfounded.
He did have a reason though. It turns out that getting out of the army isn't enough. Although he had his honorable release papers, although he'd signed things AND we'd done the traditional slinging of the boots off a power wire (I decorated them myself: tasteful pale green with scattered pink flowers all over. Apparently they made local legend) the army wasn't quite done with him. He was on 'inactive reserve' or something which meant that at a whim the army could call him back up and make him serve again for months at a time. He would be in this situation for the next four years, and if they called him up it would (apparently) reset the clock and extend his inactive reserve time. At least that's how Kirk understood it, and how I remember it.
However, if he were a reserve officer in the Air Force the army wouldn't be able to touch him. Also he would have a guaranteed job when he got out of college, and would qualify for a scholarship which, given our shaky finances, was a good thing. I still wasn't convinced. To me, the military was the military, and I didn't want any of it. Kirk however had talked with the ROTC unit, met with the officers and was amazed at how different the culture was.
Does it sound paranoid? It did to me. However, a couple of years later, after his commission, Kirk received a phone call asking for him as 'corporal.' The guy was incredibly rude and arrogant until Kirk answered as 'Lt. von Ackermann' at which point he became almost stupidly obsequious. That same week an army friend who had gotten out at the same time Kirk had called us to say he had been called up for six months border patrol duty in Texas. If Kirk hadn't joined the Air Force he would have been in the same situation.
Friday, May 05, 2006
So before anyone gets hot and bothered over the parenting choices that will be revealed, I think it's important to state that the kids are fine, healthy, happy, intelligent (combined gpa? A sweet 4.0 thanks so very much), beautiful and NORMAL darn it. That could be their incredible resilience overcoming our mistakes, or it could be that parenting is a day to day thing fraught with mistakes and triumphs and in the end if no one is actually wielding explosives you must be doing something right.
Of course, I still think one of the worst moments in any parent's life is at the door of the hospital when you realize these idiots are going to let you walk out of there with the baby. They don't even check if you're holding it right side up! They just ask to see the car seat, hand you a cardboard box full of sample products (like one diaper and three wipes are going to last until you get home), and push you through the sliding glass door. In fact, they look at you funny if you try to leave without the kid. Anyone who survives that moment deserves a bit of slack. Even on the internet.
I didn't actually catch a glimpse of a star, or even a star stand in. But I did see someone with duct tape in a special holder hanging off his belt, and I'm pretty sure the guy who winked at me was a gaffer. Now I can check that off my list of things I want to have happen before I die.
When they were quite small though it was another story. All the usual trials and life events are multiplied tremendously. Potty training, for example, in our family was a two year saga. If I concentrate I can pull out individual events (the child whose legs regularly went numb because it would get so interested in the book it was reading it wouldn't get up until someone went to find it; the child who figured out that sitting backwards on the toilet provided a handy book ledge...), but it's mostly one long memory. One unfortunate side-effect is that it's only fairly recently I've stopped asking people if they have to pee.
So, life was slightly frantic. But the brilliant thing, the really amazing thing about getting out of the army, was that suddenly we had time. We had no money, we had no space or peace or anything like that, but we had long stretches of time to spend together, time in which no one was going to make threats or demands. It felt fantastic, if a bit strange.
When the first child was born Kirk was in language school - an extremely high-pressure situation by itself without adding a new baby to the mix. With the second child we figured out that he had missed 9 months out of the first year of its life; when he came home from the field the poor baby would scream at the sight of him. He used to wrap the child up in a blanket and rock for hours while the struggling kid would sob and sob until it fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion. With the third one, after about six weeks Kirk suddenly turned to me: 'you know what? I actually like babies. I never knew that!'
He made up for lost time though. By the end of the year the two kids who could talk were able to sing the entire Bugs Bunny theme song, recite much of Monty Python's Dead Parrot Sketch, and could accurately signal a touchdown, false start, and unecessary roughness. Now that's good parenting.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
I think it's important to state here and now that a man offering, unasked, unprompted, to get a vasectomy IS saying I love you.
A year after Kirk's surgery later we were invited to a 'happy vasectomy' party a friend's wife threw after their fourth child. It was difficult coming up with an appropriate gift, but Kirk and I collaborated on a tasteful heraldic crest. The shield was split - half carpeted with spermatazoa, the other half with a male symbol, or, with the arrow thing tied in a knot. The crest was a surgeon's mask, and a single gloved hand with a scalpel. I wish I could remember the appropriate latin tag we came up with... I have no doubt it occupies a prominent place in their house to this day.
So early morning hours on The Day I've been awake for about four hours; Kirk has been blissfully asleep. This is the third child so there's nothing new here, no reason to get everyone all worked up until it's the right time. Besides, I hate fuss and bother and would rather have a few peaceful if painful hours at home than hang about in a university hospital while sleep deprived interns try and remember which is the business end of things.
I probably should have recognized that Kirk wasn't going to spring awake fully cognizant though - so it was a leetle too clever to wake him up with
'Honey, we need to get Dad's birthday present.' To which he answered: 'What?!? We're not going shopping!' beat. . . beat. . . 'hey...'
Quick note to sleep-deprived interns: if a woman comes into your hospital in full labor but in complete control of her own senses and talking logically and calmly do not treat her as an idiot. Further, if she assures you that this is her third child, and that the second child arrived fairly quickly and easily on the scene, do not then pat her on the head and inform her you're off to get a bit of sleep, you'll check back later. Finally, when the baby arrives thirty minutes later, without your help, do not scold said woman for not waking you up. That is, don't do this if you wish to maintain your own ability to procreate. There are many sharp, sterile instruments in a hospital, and the nurses would have helped me.
Also, because I have a deep, wide evil streak (actually, I'm probably mostly evil with narrow strips of reasonably good on the sides as window dressing), I am happy to say that the next day I walked down to the 'here's the lecture for two-year-olds on how to be a good mommy in three easy steps' wearing jean shorts (yes, zipped) and sat crosslegged on the couch while the other new mothers glared. Three kids earns you some rights.
Two days later we brought home the third child and sat with our family. Kirk looked around at our three healthy, happy, bright, beautiful children and said the most wonderful thing he had ever said:
'Honey, I'm going to get a vasectomy.'
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
California (Pacific Grove / Monterey)
Basement apartment - one room (1)
Overpriced apartment (1)
Houses subtotal: 2
VW bus (1)
Car with no brakes whose make I can't remember (1)
Honda with no starter, which is fine if you live in Pacific Grove where everything is a hill. (1)
Cars subtotal: 3
San Angelo Texas (Take One):
Apartment which we couldn't afford to air condition. In the summer. In Texas. (1)
Houses subtotal: 1
Same Honda, now with starter because we no longer live in Pacific Grove and push starting in the heat is just not fun. (0)
Cars subtotal: 0
Top floor of house where they thought we were gypsies (1)
Apartment over the cow barn - no extra charge for flies (1)
Military housing, off base (1)
Houses subtotal: 3
First BMW (1)
Second BMW (1)
Can't kill it with a large guage shot-gun station wagon, named Bob (1)
Cars subtotal: 3
New Mexico (The Story So Far)
Long-suffering parent's basement (1)
Houses subtotal: 1
2 door Honda. Important to point out the number of doors as we will soon have 3 car seats. (1)
Cars subtotal: 1
Houses Running Total: 7
Cars Running total: 7
Except for Karl. We met Karl outside his daughter's Imbiss stand - Kirk was still in uniform so it was pretty obvious who we were. 'Sure I fought in the war. I fought the damn Americans! I fought damn hard too until they captured me. Then those bastards sent me to some hell hole they called New Mexico!' Then he remembered that most of the daughter's business came from GI's. 'Americans are okay now though. But I'm never going back to that damn place.'
He was, to be honest, a thoroughly nasty old man. His language was foul, he hated the world (and talked about it for hours whether anyone was there or not), and he didn't smell very good. But when we first stepped out into the blasting heat of a New Mexico summer day, we remembered Karl, and we felt a deep spiritual connection.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Not that there was much to grab. Anything that wasn't fresh was imported from the states. There was some inside group that seemed to know when the shipments came; the rest of us just hoped we hit the right day. Even when the unit moved and we had a much larger commissary there was the same amount of stuff, just spread out more. We made it worse of course because as soon as something did hit the shelves everyone would buy as much as possible because you didn't know when you would see it again. You could tell when something particularly popular arrived because of the rising dust from the mini riot. People would trample eachother for chocolate jello pudding.
I don't think I've ever had a clearer lesson in culture and economics than I did the first time we shopped in an American grocery store. I admit we got a few stares though.
'oh my gosh. Kirk look - LOOK.'
'How do we choose?'
'Well, what did we used to get?'
'... I don't remember. Should we just grab one?'
'I guess so...'
But we stayed there, mesmerized by the abundant choice of ketchup.
Monday, May 01, 2006
It's a bit passive isn't it? It assumes a burden on the part of whoever provides the home, and an equal or greater burden on you because you're going to be such a chore for someone. Maybe there's virtue in that for both; being the person who lands on the doorstep and the person who opens the door, but Frost's quotes seem to take the choice right out of it and I have a hard time seeing virtue without choice.
Besides, I've plumbed the depths of home - only there are no depths, at least not in mine. There is no limit that I've discovered although there are certainly guidelines for the sake of mutual sanity. I know better than Frost, at least in this.
Home is where, when you show up with no money and two children, pregnant with a husband, they take you in and tell you they love you. They share their rooms, they shove over their furniture and their hard-won silence to allow you in. They do it with generosity, they do it with grace, and they do it knowing full well what it will mean. That's home. And that's what I have.