This was the best we could do as far as a picture of Carol's 10 grandchildren. Baby Avery is supposed to get photoshopped into Erin's arms. Ash was out in Seattle. Carol was less-than-thrilled about Dan's beard and hat, but it was "No shave November"
The whole McDonald family got together at the shore for Thanksgiving. Pat was in from California. He spent the entire time cornering people to simultaneously lament the demise of his relationship with the woman we used to refer to as “Crazy Eyes” (She is really cool, but she’s 35 and wants kids, and he’s 52 and just married off the kid he had inadvertently.) and to boast the long list of beautiful girls in their 20’s and 30’s who are pursuing him via “OK Cupid.” Mike, also in from California, spent his time delicately trying to explain to Pat that he no longer has a job in California because their company lost a big account, insinuating that perhaps Pat would be more valuable helping with all of the projects he’s got back in Philly with Tim, and urging him to rejoice in “dodging the bullet” of starting a family with Crazy Eyes. Johnny, who was responsible for the turkey, and is ALWAYS hours late for any event was juggling his sick infant daughter, his rambunctious, cross-dressing 3 year old, his wife who’d just been diagnosed with both Strep and Mononucleosis and doesn’t love McDonald get-togethers in general, and the fact that the house they were supposed to have moved into for Thanksgiving was looking nowhere near being finished in time for Christmas, which they are hosting both her family and a portion of the McDonald family. Tim was desperately trying to convince Pat that HE NEEDS him for the chaos of his mother’s upcoming renovation, so Pat should move back to Philly while also trying to assure his mom that he’s got the project under control. All of these conversations bled into the dinner we were having 2 hours late. The kids were wrecked because they’d been watching screens and eating junk food for the whole day except for a short park/boardwalk jaunt and a couple hours of dress-up.
I decided to make a drunken toast to pull everyone out of his/her individual psychological wormholes. I tried to say something great and thankful about everyone in the room. On my way back to my seat, my ass sideswiped a chocolate pie that landed facedown on the white carpet. Whatever the toast didn’t accomplish my ass did. After dinner I plucked “Good Will Hunting” out of the pile of VCR tapes to watch en masse. I remember it being a heartwarming film with the added benefit of Robin Williams and funny Boston accents. It went ok, but I’ve been trying to dodge the question, “What is a blow job?” from my kids ever since.
Which reminds me of an incident that happened last summer involving Jack Peter and a friend’s son. We’d all gone swimming in the Wissahickon Creek. The boys were upstairs changing. My friend walked in, and they both had boners. She was HORRIFIED. I was un-phased. Tim had caught JP and another friend looking at raunchy stuff on the iPad, and we found some naughty pictures JP had taken of himself on the cloud that he had deleted from the iPad. In light of my friend’s horror, we decided to have a wee talk with him and Steel about appropriate behavior. During the talk I had a memory of JP’s asking me what a “hummer” was. I’d given him a response about an army vehicle, but it occurred to me that he’d read the word in another context, and my evasive answer was going to thwart his asking me about anything in the future. In the middle of the talk I queried: did he remembered asking me about the word, “hummer?” He did, and my definition had fit perfectly into the comic book scenario. We went on with the awkward conversation, and I prayed that the hummer detour would be forgotten. Not my boy…the next day he asked, “Mom, why did you ask me about hummers in the middle of our talk yesterday?”
It’s interesting to be going through the same schoolwork JP had 2 years ago with Steel. I was quizzing her on science for her test. I’d never done anything like that with JP. Honestly I’d never been aware of ANY tests in his academic career. Scraps of ripped paper would come home with spelling words on them. They invariably had 15/15 on them. I’d sign them as I would his other perfect score things, but it never occurred to me that they were the basis for most of his grades. Steel had a study guide to complete about bats. The questions were detailed. I didn’t know the answers; neither did she. We came across her artfully written notes that had every bit of information she needed. They were beautiful. Some of the letters had curly q’s on them. She had NO RECOLLECTION of their contents; it was as if they'd been written by someone else. That’s MY GIRL!!! The inside of our brains is kind of like the jellyfish scene in “Finding Nemo” everything’s pretty but hazy. We have to get stung for something to click. She got all of the science down really fast, and always gets perfect scores as well; she just has to focus on it exclusively. All of this is fine because her attention span is vast; she can focus.
I have never seen a page of notes in JP’s stuff. I know for a fact that he’s horsing around because he gets those often off task/distracting others comments, so he uses 50% of his brain to listen to a lesson while drawing "Powerful Carrot farting" cartoons and showing them to his classmates. And yet, all of the information presented is IN THERE. His brain looks like an IKEA. It’s got storage in storage and Velcro and hooks, and everything is neat and organized, and there’s endless room for more information. Tim has to keep a RIDICULOUS amount of information balanced when he’s running a project, so perhaps JP’s brain is like his although Tim also forgot who his Secret Santa was last week and that he’d already gotten him a gift, so let’s hope JP doesn’t end up like that.
Steel’s teacher, Mr. Ferrante, is constantly marveling about the difference between JP and Steel. “Night and Day” was the phrase he used. Mr. Ferrante has gotten a bad deck this year. Steel and 2 of her friends are the only easy kids in his class. He got rid of Michael, the kid Steel considered her charge, for Brent. (Steel told me in Kindergarten that she knew Michael would always be in her class because she’s the only one who can handle him) Steel was lamenting the new kid, Brent’s existence and praying to get Michael back. I asked her why he’s so bad. She said that he’s a jerk to everyone, but worst of all, he’s a jerk to Mr. Ferrante. Mr. Ferrante sent me an e-mail telling me that Steel had earned a dress-down day for good behavior. I responded that what she’d prefer is the opportunity to hit Brent in the nose. Mr. Ferrante wrote back that he appreciates that. Apparently every now and then he’ll ask Steel if everything is going to be OK. She’ll look him in the eye, nod her head and say, “Yes, Mr. Ferrante, everything is going to be OK.” It makes him feel better.
Toby is still a wild card. One thing she is that the others are not is COMPETITIVE. She’s constantly comparing herself to them and to others. Her report card comment was the best I’d seen because it mentioned how considerate and community-oriented she is. I told her no one had gotten as good a comment, and she’s told EVERYONE she since then. She still seems like such a baby. She’s cuddly. She has a tiny little lisp that’s fading daily but is still there. She needs hugs and kisses and cuddles more than the others. And she’s so cute and shapely that everyone wants to snuggle her still. She’ll call out in a worried voice from the stall in a public bathroom to make sure I’m still waiting for her. She’s really sensuous. She can’t bear a paper napkin; she needs cloth. She likes everything to be served on a plate. The others eat with their hands still if we aren’t there to nag; Toby needs a fork. She’s got a short temper, but can be talked off the ledge. Steel takes a while to blow, but when she does, she’s irrational and cannot be reasoned with for HOURS.
Unlike the others, we are actually getting to witness Toby’s learning to read. It happened overnight with JP, and we were too busy to watch Steel. Toby will ask what things spell or how to spell things. We make her do it herself, and she can, but she’s not got their confidence to just go ahead alone. She still says super cute kid things. Tim was holding her and squeezing her, “toushie;” she said that whenever he uses that word, she envisions her bum being filled with Kleenex tissues. I was all decked out for a date and bent over to kiss her. She said, “Mommy, I love it when ladies with boobs bend over and I can see the dark space in between them!” “Yes, Toby, everyone loves that. It’s called cleavage, and I only have it if I’m wearing 2 bras.”
Both girls have starting wearing “crop tops” every day under their shirts. They are little sports bras. I wasn’t comfortable with it at first. I was haunted by the Susie Kinder assertion that little girls should not be sexualized, and they shouldn’t wear things that refer to boobs that aren’t there. My friend Karen has the opposite point of view. “Let them wear them! The more clothes the better in that area, I say!!!!” I was so uncomfortable with my own body when it changed. My mom took me kicking and screaming to buy bras. I was sure that everyone was staring at the straps underneath my shirts. Might as well avoid that scenario. It is a little jarring to see the straps underneath shirts on Toby’s little hourglass back, but I’m used to it now.
Maybe my input can help in another parenting scenario; it takes a village. My neighbor’s daughter has just been slammed with the idea that her period might come. The terror in her eyes as she spoke of it was palpable. Her mom’s first period story was as follows: she was wearing WHITE overalls on a winter trip with school to Manhattan. It was well-below freezing, but she'd convinced her teachers that she didn’t mind the cold. Her parka was tied around her waist as it looked like she’d been shot all over the back of her overalls. I said, “OK, Samantha, that is ONE scenario. I came home and noticed a stain on my underwear and wasn’t even sure it was blood.” The only trauma I suffered was a 4-hour inability to put in a tampon. My mom just said, “Keep trying; I can’t do that for you!” In hindsight perhaps I was dealing with a hymen???? No one ever talks about hymens anymore. Isis probably does. I hear there's a hybrid Ford Hymen coming out in 2016.
We are DRIVING to Florida right now. All of my “no screen time” parenting has flown right out the Minivan window. By the time we hit Savannah, they’ll have logged 5 DVD’s. Marley and Me was the best. They were all crying their eyes out. Toby recovered the quickest. She was screaming at Steel, “STOP it’s JUST A MOVIE!!!!!!” Tim and I were screaming, “TOBY, LET HER CRY!!!!!” and JP whimpered, “Can we watch Guardians of the Galaxy now?????
Speaking of parenting ideals going out the window, I spend all year wondering why my kids act so spoiled and saying, “NO!” and then Christmas comes. First of all I wanted to get everyone bikes and skates, and we bought 4 bikes at the silent auction for our school. I felt so blessed that money I was planning to spend anyway was going to the school, and I was getting REALLY NICE BIKES that I’d have been too stingy to buy. Then it occurred to me to buy skates on ebay because I couldn’t justify buying new leather skates for my girls because they’d grow out of them in a season. I HATED my vinyl skates growing up. I loved the worn-in shabby-chicness of the leather ones that the rich girls had. My girls would probably prefer new to anything, so I spent 3 hours with some white nail polish and scuff remover giving them the vinyl freshness that I hate.
I’m starting to see that awareness of money seep into my kids’ lives. Toby wants a nice, big house. Jack Peter wants everything, and Steel wants everything her cousins have. We got a call from school the day of the book fair. The kids are supposed to make a wish list, bargain with the parents that night, and buy the compromise books the following day. JP wanted NONE OF THAT. He wanted to take that book fair BY STORM. He brought his entire life savings of $240. He was spotted with his wad by the dean of students who saw it fit to bring JP into his office to explain to him that he shouldn’t be walking around with that kind of $ and called us to give us a “heads up.” I can’t be mad at his wanting to spend his own money on books, and I also admire his anti-authority initiative.
Jenner and Erin are Mike’s girls. They live in California in a beautiful house, and they have really nice stuff. Mike and Jill each wear apple watches, they drink really good alcohol, and they spend $800 on professional lice treatments rather than torture themselves and their children with olive oil, mayo and nit-picking. They make more money than we do, and they like the best of everything. At Ash’s wedding their girls opted for the $50 professional hair/makeup that I denied my girls. Jenner and Erin are beautiful, smart and charismatic, so all 3 of my kids love and look up to them. I foresee multiple anguished conversations with the words, “but Jenner and Erin get to….” Hopefully it will be character-building for all of us.
If I had balls it would just be the bikes and skates, but I got bargains on both, so then I went out of control. I think my sense of money got skewed when I went to New Jersey to sell my friend, Jennifer’s jewelry at a Catholic school holiday fair. It’s in Summit New Jersey. I was SO MUCH BETTER at selling her jewelry than I am my own pottery. I sold a $1200 necklace to a blind woman and got her to add a couple $200 rings as well. I had some help from Jen’s mom who led the sheep to the slaughter, but I was pretty masterful. Jen’s dad had died suddenly, and his wake and funeral conflicted with her show. Despite feeling that Jen deserved to do well at the craft show, I was feeling rapacious about the blind lady until I discovered the woman is supporting Donald Trump; now I wish I’d pushed for a couple of bracelets as well.
I actually adore Christmas. I love making presents for teachers. Isn’t a belt for the long-suffering music teacher showing the first bar of “Hot Cross Buns” a stroke of genius? Samantha actually gets design credit for the “eat bugs” belt buckle for the entomology-obsessed science teacher. I was going to do something with a microscope, but a microscope really close to the genitals of a man who is 6" shorter than I am didn't seem appropriate. Apparently his insect cooking films have rendered him an internet sensation, so the cricket flour Jen thought was such a great idea is just a normal thing in his pantry. The owl cup went to the science teacher who awards a kid daily with the coveted “owl-standing scientist." Mr. Sylvan’s belt was a forest (I remember very little of 8th grade Latin, but "silva" is one thing I do remember) of sage leaves. I’d used the sage because it was what I had at the studio. I was thrilled when JP came home to tell me, “Mr. Sylvan says he likes pizza better than his daughter.” I said, “What’s her name?” “SAGE!” Being a potter does make this stuff easier. I can always trade for Jen’s jewelry if I’ve given too much pottery in the past.
Pre-Christmas week at school is traditionally a time for JP to behave badly. At the silent auction we bought him “A day with Ms. Kim Birkmire.” On Tuesday of the 3-day week before break, he had to arrive at school at 7:30 am to help her direct traffic. He had to make announcements on the loud speaker. The head of school now calls him, “The laminator” because Kim put him to work on signs. She took him out to lunch for a cheesesteak, and gave him the power to dole out a conduct referral to the dean of students for inappropriate hall behavior. He was in heaven as was I. That conduct referral might’ve gone to him had it been a normal school day. Perhaps not, his teacher, Mr. Sylvan, identifies with him, so he has him under control. I’m assuming that JP will NOT get into the magnate school, Masterson, because of his behavior scores. I’m hoping he doesn’t anyway. It will not be fun deciding between keeping him in this amazing environment where everyone has his back and putting him into one of the best free academic institutions in the country. (where there are 33 kids in a class who all have their shit together)
One of Toby’s classmates asked me if I am Toby’s grandmother. I’d been expecting that at some point, but not last Monday. I took solace in the fact that the kid is black and is often picked up by his grandmother who is pretty cool. “Oh he doesn’t know any kids who live with their actual parents…”
So I’m vain and racist. I am also cursed with a love of ornamental cabbage. I didn’t realize how much people hate it. I need a support group for overly-confident-about-their-appearance, bigoted cabbage lovers. I’ll get right on that for 2016. Happy Holidays!
(I posted these images on Facebook, and my friend, Martha told me the cabbages are lucky they have me.)