Friday, March 28, 2008

Rhymes with . . . fiancé

Dogs are a big topic of conversation around our house right now.

My youngest was explaining to a friend how his aunt and uncle just got a puppy, a male dachshund named Vinny, and his nana and grandpa have a little female dachshund named Rosie.

Someday the dogs are going to get married and mate.

But right now they are Beyoncé.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day Aftermath

My family really enjoys the traditional corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes on St. Patrick's Day. And the soda bread. But just a precaution: the day after the meal, avoid confined areas, like the car, if you have three boys.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I've Got Baseball All Over My Calendar

I finally got all the Little League games and practices for all my boys on my calendar. It is all color coded for who needs to be where when. It looks like an Excel spreadsheet threw up on my calendar.

For example, there is only one day this week when we don't have a game or practice for someone. Every day after school we will be choking down a quick snack and searching for all the various baseball uniform items; pants, socks, belts, undershirts, jerseys, hats, sliding shorts, cup (this item travels all over the house, I have no idea how), hat, and cleats. All items are constantly in various stages of being clean or dirty. In the beginning of the season we spray all the grass stains with stain-remover, attempting to have the boys look clean. We usually give this up by the third week or so, and have them wear the pants in whatever state they are; clean or dirty, stained or not.

After long practices and even longer games (sometimes 2.5 hours) there is little time for homework and preparing and eating dinner and showering and reading and bedtime. No playdates, no television. My friends and family know that I am always out at the baseball field or driving to or from, and never call my home phone during Little League season.

And yet, call me crazy, it's kinda fun.

Hanging With the Girls in Gold Country

Last week I went on a three-day, two-night field trip with my middle son's fourth grade class. Fourth graders in California study California history, so what better place to go than the site of the discovery of gold in 1849? Yes, all the fourth graders, two teachers, and six parent chaperones went to the spot where James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill in Coloma California.

My son is privileged to go to a school that participates in the Coloma Outdoor Discovery School, a non-profit program whose mission is "to foster environmental stewardship, community and individual responsibility through dynamic, integrated learning in an outdoor setting." It is a fantastic program, and the website describes very well all the activities that go on so I won't repeat them.

For some of the fourth graders, this was their first trip away from home, and nerves were running high as we waited to leave that morning. I must admit my nerves were a little on edge as well. You see, I was not going to spend three days with my son. I was going to chaperone seven girls. Of course my son was there with us, but he was being chaperoned by a dad, who by the way has one child, a girl. Now that I think about it, he might have been more nervous than I was, or at least he should have been.

I was nervous because as ridiculous as it may sound, I am no longer used to girls. I mean, I grew up one of three girls, and I am a girl, but I am not around them very much. I felt like I was out of touch with the girls. Did I have to know anything about Hannah Montana?

Girls in my group

At the least, I thought, I would have a lot to write about on my blog about the difference between boys and girls. It turned out that there were not nearly as many differences as I thought there would be. Yes, the girls in my group cried a bit more than the boys. There was a crazy kind of contagious teary homesickness thing that started late in the evening on the first night. One of my girls got sad and started crying at the square-dancing hoe down. As I was comforting her, another of the girls noticed the tears and started tearing up herself. Although she is nearly as tall as me, I had her sitting on my lap. Then, another girl noticed what was going on and didn't want to be left out either. Luckily, the teacher also noticed what was going on and came to help out. All was soon calm. The teacher checked to make sure I was okay, and I told her if I started crying, then there was a problem.

As it turns out, the crying was pretty much the only difference between the boys and the girls. Some girls snore just as loud (or louder) than boys. Their clothing was everywhere in the cabin. They couldn't find their socks. They didn't want to shower or comb their hair. They whispered for a while before falling sound asleep (ok, the boys apparently had a massive pillow fight before falling asleep). They woke up in the morning and immediately began discussing what was for breakfast, EXACTLY like my son would do.

Girls in my group held hands out of friendship. Boys this age do not hold hands very often.

I really enjoyed being one of the girls, instead of the only girl. It was a lot of fun. And by the way, knowing something about Hannah Montana would have been helpful, but not absolutely necessary.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sick Day

Why do we do it? Why, when our child vomits, do we LOOK at it and try to identify what they had to eat or what they are throwing up? I try to stop myself but can't help it. This is the reason I cannot even stand the smell of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and none of my children like hot dogs.

It's times like these that I wish I had one of those washing machines that has a sanitizing cycle. That is one stroke of marketing genius, no doubt created by a parent cleaning up vomit. My washing machine with it's hot water heavy soil cycle seems somehow inferior.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Three Boys and a Funeral

It was a sad day this last Friday. Our first pet died.

It was not the first loss of a pet. We had a cat who ran away. But there is a big difference between a pet running away, with its uncertainty and lack of closure, and a pet dying.

Our pet rat, Summer, officially belonged to my middle son, but all the boys enjoyed playing with her and taking care of her. Last week she swelled up, stopped eating or pooping, and couldn't move very well. On Thursday night she was listless and my middle son became alarmed. So did I. I was alarmed because I thought she was going to die. My boys were alarmed because they thought she was pregnant. I told them she couldn't be, there was no boy rat around. They had some crazy immaculate conception theory starting which I had to flat out reject without much explanation. The topic here was death and I couldn't get distracted.

Friday morning I called a few different vets in my town, only to be told they don't see rodents. Rodent? She's not a common rodent! Oh I guess she is.

I didn't know what to do. Taking a rat to the vet might seem absurd to some, maybe even to me, but the poor thing was clearly suffering. So I called my mom. I had pet rats when I was young, and I asked her if we had ever brought any of them to the vet. She said, "Well, maybe once, I'm not sure. Your rats didn't get sick, they just died." She offered to call her vet, in a more rural town about an hour away. Sure enough, they see all types of animals there and she got me an appointment. And then, because she is my mom, she went with me to the appointment.

We stood outside the building looking at the two front doors, one labeled "Cats" and one labeled "Dogs." Hmmmmm. We had a little debate as I carried Summer in her cage across the parking lot. Which door? Cats because they are closer in size to a rat? Dogs because cats eat rats? We went in the Dog side and much to my relief saw that there was a room between the two which was either a quarantine area or neutral territory. It probably should have been labeled "Not Cat or Dog." We sat and waited for Summer's name to be called. Although everyone in the office was friendly, I felt there might have been a few smirks behind their backs at this city woman bringing her rat to the country vet. I don't know, maybe it was me.

Once Summer was gently examined by the very kind vet, I was asked if there were any boy rats around. Jeesh, do I have to defend her virginity again?? Then we discussed the three options. Exploratory surgery (no). Aspirating the fluid in her abdomen and seeing if it comes back which the vet told me it would (no). Or end her suffering and euthanize her. I decided the most humane thing to do would be to end her suffering.

As I said goodbye to Summer, I got choked up and started crying. It was much harder than I thought. The vet asked if she should leave and give me a few minutes. No, I said, it's okay. Tears streaming down my face, I held Summer, stroked her, and said goodbye. The vet said, "She's been a good rat." My mom whipped her camera out of her purse and took a few photos.

I asked to have Summer's body so I could bring it home and the boys could say goodbye to her. An important part of having a pet is learning about death, so I brought Summer home in a little cardboard box. The boys knew there was a possibility that Summer would have to be put to sleep, but they were sad when I told them that evening. My oldest, to cover up his sadness, smirked uncomfortably, and pragmatically informed us that rats don't live very long. My middle son wanted to know what was wrong with her, why she got sick, and how the vet put her to sleep. As I told them the story and the three options the vet gave me, my youngest said, "So the three choices were death, death or death?"

The funeral was held on Saturday after baseball practice. I prepared them, letting them know exactly what was going to happen and how it was fine to feel sad and cry if they wanted to, but also fine if they didn't feel like crying. All five of us proceeded to a spot my husband decided would be a good place, under a huge old oak tree, for the burial and funeral. My middle son and my husband dug the hole. We opened the box and looked at Summer, lying peacefully on her side, and the boys said goodbye. Tears welled. We got out the list the boys had made about Summer and my middle son started to read it. His voice cracked, he choked up, and had to pass it to his little brother to continue reading. Struggling through part of the list, he then handed it to my oldest, who by now had huge tears rolling down his face. My husband and I added a few kind words, and then they filled in the hole with dirt, and made a marker with sticks and a few flowers. Walking back to the house, my youngest was very sad, and we cried together while I reassured him that it was normal and okay to feel sad. What, he asked, are we going to do with her cage? A little later the boys were curious to know exactly what would happen to Summer's body in the ground, and it was my cue to remind them of the cycle of life, and how her body would turn back into dirt eventually.

Death is such a difficult concept to discuss, especially with children who have different levels of understanding about it. But we had some good practice this weekend, thanks to Summer, who was a good rat.

Summer the Rat
You were
Very playful
Willing to move her cage
Very explorative
She had fun anywhere
Very affectionate
When I was sad she helped me feel better
Very happy
She would like to come out of her cage when we opened it
She was very snuggly like going in the hood of our sweatshirt.
Eulogy written by the three boys

And immediately starts the discussion about who would like what pet next. I had to tell them I did not want to discuss that for a few days. I need some time. I think this was harder for me than it was for them.

Thanks mom for being there with me.