Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy birthday, Marian

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mommiest Moments: October 2008

Gail: I hope the vice-presidential debate will be entertaining. An experienced, gaffe-prone Biden versus an inexperienced, gaffe-prone Palin.

Jon: I wonder how her handlers are preparing her for it.

Gail: She's probably overwhelmed by textbooks, murder boards, and advisors chanting, “Drill, baby, drill!”

[Prepping for General Conference]

Danny: Mommy, the crossword puzzles are more appropriate for Eric and the coloring pages are more appropriate for me, even though I might scribble-scrabble. And I do the memory matching game to im- to get more memory.

Mommy: Oh! If you do it enough, will you gain a few gigs?

Danny: Yes.

"I will try to resist the urge to dance in circles around her, waving the report and making Indian war-whoops. But I can't promise I'll succeed."
--Gail, vindicated after a disagreement with an administrator.

Drat. This means I have to behave at that meeting.”

--Gail, after listening to General Conference. See above.

Well, I didn't get the chance to gloat in person, but I like Jon's theory that she wasn't there because she already knew the outcome and was avoiding us assiduously.”

--After the meeting, where the administrator was conspicuously absent.

Come, Danny. We need to go help do pumpkin math in Eric's class. Not that Eric needs any help with math, of course...”

--Gail, in the front office of the school, seizing the serendipitous opportunity to gloat—subtly--in front of aforesaid administrator.

Gail: Redeemer...but he signed 'Savior' not 'Redeemer!' 'Israel?' Aaah, that was too fast, do it again! 'happy' 'blessing'...What was that? Oh, curses! Wait. I shouldn't be cursing things on a Sunday while watching General Conference.

Jon: Is that ozone I smell...?

--I was trying to follow the ASL interpretation of Conference hymns. And got frustrated on occasion.

Twice a year for General Conference, the boys and I traditionally construct a tent in the living room. The boys can play quietly in there pretending they are camped out and listening to King Benjamin's great sermon. (Which, if you think about it, was General Conference: Nephite Edition.)

[Playing in the traditional general conference tent]

Danny: Mommy, you be the kid and I will be the grown-up.

Mommy: [Whining] No! I'm tired of that game! I want to do something else.

Danny: [Firmly] But human kid, I am the grown up so I say that we have to do it.

Mommy: [Throws a temper tantrum which includes weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. And kicking the carpet.]

Danny: Human kid, stop that.

Mommy: Why? And you can't make me!

Danny: [Looks trapped] Um...I will get you a toy?

Mommy: [suspiciously] Well, let's see it.

Danny: [goes upstairs, grabs a toy, and brings it back]

Mommy: [inspecting it] I guess it's okay. Do you mean that if I calm down, I can keep it?

Danny: Yes!

Mommy: Okay, I will calm down. That's a relief. Throwing a tantrum is exhausting!

--Jon was interjecting comments about how Danny had opened a dangerous door by bribing me to be good. I should note that we don't tend to bribe kids that way--except in advance, like before a big car ride--so I don't know why Danny tried it. I guess he realized he wasn't big enough to sit on me and make me stay in time out.

[Boys playing]

Eric: Who is there?

Danny: No, Eric, you should say 'whom is there?'.

--Technically that is not correct because it was the nominative, not objective case. But I appreciated the effort.

---Technically, the editorial note above is not correct because I used a sentence fragment beginning with a coordinating conjunction. But if you know the rules, yer allowed to break'em.

Jon has been inundating me with techno-babble all week. I don't mind, but I keep thinking, 'So if, according to the interviewer, only 1% of trained computer engineers got that question right, what on Earth makes Jon think I can follow the gritty, gory details?' Still, I grasped that the interview went well (which doesn't surprise me) and that Jon is very, very smart (which I already knew).”


Daddy, I only had to give Eric one assignment, and now all the clothes are cleaned up.”

--Danny. (He has been very bossy lately.)

Danny: Will you play with me?

Mommy: You know, honey, I just don't feel like playing today.

Danny: Why not?

Mommy: I don't know. I'm just not in the mood.

Danny: But I want you to play with me!

Mommy: I'm flattered. I will probably play with you tomorrow. And I enjoy playing with you! Just not today.

Danny: [cannily switching tactics] Oh, but Mommy, if you don't play with me, you can't read books to me, either.

Mommy: [Surprised] You wouldn't allow me to read books to you?

Danny: Yes. [Nods sadly] That is the consequence.

Mommy: Oh dear! That would be a loss. What about reading books with you? Or reading you like a book?

Danny: No, Mommy, you will lose all your reading privileges.

Mommy: [Blinks in astonishment] [Successfully represses a smile] That is a convincing argument. It almost makes me want to reconsider. [Note: It really did. I almost caved.] But my original decision stands. [Mulls briefly] So, does this mean that if I play with you tomorrow, you have to read a book with me?

Danny: [Pause, trapped] ...Yes. Only, Mommy, you have to play with me today to earn your reading privileges for tomorrow.

Mommy: So, if I play with you tomorrow, you will considerately allow me to read a book to you the day after.

Danny: Yes.

Mommy: Very noble of you. I will miss reading to you today and tomorrow... [pouts] [Danny sees the pout and melts a bit, but holds firm] ...but I guess that's the result of my choice.

Danny: [Nods sadly, like a parent talking a wayward child through natural consequences.]

--Jon, by the way, was cracking up. I, however, managed to keep a straight face. [Preens primly] I believe this demonstrates that my four-year-old understands about consequences. So obviously I have done something right.

---Danny relented the next day. After I had played with him, he allowed me limited reading privileges for the day, meaning I was allowed to read him like a book. Obviously he is a pushover, and I will soon become deft at taking advantage of him!

[Eric was in charge of Family Home Evening.]

Eric: Simon says, 'Go downstairs and do whatever you want.'

Gail and Jon: [Glance at each other conspiritorily, race downstairs, and start kissing on the couch.]

Eric: Stop!

[Jon tries to stop]

Gail: Hey! You were tricked, but I wasn't! It's not fair for me to be 'out' because you refused to cooperate!

Gail: [Tries to say something but is interrupted by a huge yawn.]

Jon: Sorry, I don't speak Wookie.

[Mommy's wrist watch beeps an alarm.]

Mommy: Eric! Get your shoes on! It's time to go get you from school.

[Eric was tracked out, but my watch didn't know that.]

Why do people keep asking me if Eric and Danny are twins? I mean, apart from their height difference, Eric looks like me but acts like you, while Danny looks like you but acts like me.”

--Gail, to Jon.

The good news is, Jon expects to be laid off very soon. The bad news is, it hasn't happened yet.” [Pause] “I am fully cognizant of the irony, yes.”

--The issue was that if Jon quit, he'd have to repay several thousand dollars of tuition assistance. If he got laid off, the company would give him several thousand dollars of severance pay. The end result, Jon seeking employ elsewhere, was unavoidable, given his company's financial...distress.

[The following online chat transcript has been modified slightly for readability.]

Gail: ...three of Jon's major four leads are in Austin.

Mark: Do you need a passport to go to TX? Or a TX passport to visit the grandparents?...Texas is a big country. ;)

Gail: lol. But it would be long-term, so we'd either need a work visa or a change in citizenship.

I must say...if you subscribe to the 'torture the character' method of plot generation, this was brilliant. Making a fifteen-year-old boy the adoptive mother of a baby girl dragon really is sadistic. Forcing him to be the principal potty-trainer of a monster with highly acidic excrement is just diabolical. What better answer to the question, 'Now, what's the worst thing I could possibly do to this character...?' “

--Gail, after reading DragonHaven by Robin McKinley. you need to learn how to evaluate and weigh your sources. Let's look through these books and decide which we should take home with us. You can read through them, and then together we can plan what the castle will look like...”

--Gail, guiding Eric through the research phase of a lego-castle-building track-out project. The librarian was very taken with us and kept dropping by to foist new non-fiction resources upon us. :)

A MegaBloks tower bridge. The first twenty attempts to assemble it inevitably resulted in a collapse, crash, and cry of "They're all out of spec! I want Legos! Dad should do a TQM paper on this!" Eric got very frustrated and quit. I finally used Legos to modify, stabilize, and strengthen the design. And also to improve the architecture. (I added in the portculis and drawbridge chains, for instance.) Note: MegaBloks look very cool, but Legos are absolutely worth the extra money. They are definitely high-precision, quality-controlled tools.

"MegaBloks are for architects. Legos are for engineers."

--Gail, for obvious reasons.

Gail: We just don't have the resources to make a good castle. Even a few hundred gray bricks would help so much. And we are orders of magnitude away from a superlative castle, like Bob Carney's creations. *pout*

Jon: A few hundred? How many bricks does Bob Carney use?

Gail: Oh...twenty thousand or so.

[Gail and Jon gape in awe at pictures from the website linked above]

Gail: Wow. WOW. [drools] Oh, wow... You know, Christmas is coming...

Jon: That looks...expensive.

Gail: I could create a wishlist and you could purchase small bunches of bricks here and there...

Jon: That still sounds expensive.

Gail: [Gazing at Jon with big, innocent, slightly-hurt, liquid puppy eyes] When we got engaged, you promised me a castle. I've waited years and years for you to keep your promise. Perhaps you could consider a Christmas present of a few hundred legos as a minimally-expensive downpayment toward redeeming your word. After all, it would be something like a 1/100th scale model. And I'd provide all the labor myself...[Flutters eyelashes irresistably. And unfairly.]

--I should mention a few things. First, I am not completely lost to economic reality. Lego castle bricks are not a necessity of life, and I shan't insist upon them. Given a choice between books and legos, I'd choose books. Given a choice between legos and children, I'd choose my children. Given a choice between starving and selling my books to feed my children, I'd...[mournful pause] feed my children. [Whimper]

Second, at the time, I was in manic-project-mode. In another few weeks, my acquisition addiction will fade. Jon knows that if he waits a bit, I will likely find other things to obsess about.

Still, the persistent vision of a 3,000 square-foot house, with a small room filled with thirty-thousand legos and huge scale models of castles...well, it's not very practical, and not as compelling as a $2 million castlesque home, but it's much more plausible than a real castle.

My second attempt at a castle. This time I designed everything myself. Sadly, Eric did not end up helping much. Even more sadly, I had only enough brick for a single tower, not several concentric walls with turrets. Sadliest, I'm ashamed to say it was flimsy construction, due to the poor materials. Even sadliester of all, it wasted several hours because it kept collapsing halfway through construction, forcing me to start over. My Lego double-reinforcements helped it survive the photo shoot, but soon there was "not left here one stone upon another."

"This is totally a schloss, not a burg."

--Gail, pouting to Jon, explaining that her new tower, though aesthetically pleasing, was not built to withstand a siege of hyper-active children. In German, a schloss is a castle that is more of a palace. A burg is an actual defensive castle. And a festung is a super-fortress! According to a high school teacher, French also differentiates between chateaux de guerre (castles of war) and chateaux de renaissance (palaces). Note that my blog title translates to "Berry Castle," and my email address, roughly, to "unconquered castle." I like renovated fourteenth-century castles, which are modern enough to have amenities, but old enough to have real defenses.

"I would prefer to create castles that are well-built! The whole point is to have some redundancy engineered in! Something that can withstand a two-year-old kicking it and take minimal damage! As my father's daughter, I am appalled at how flimsy the thing is! You shouldn't have to tiptoe around, worrying about carrying a castle wrong. If a giant picked up Hohensalzburg with reasonable caution, would it implode into rubble? How would my poor tower hold up against a three-inch cannon, I ask you? Or against a Papo-figurine-sized catapult?...Okay, I'm done ranting."

--Gail, ranting about the above tower. Have I mentioned that I want grey lego bricks for Christmas?

Festung Hohensalzburg, one of the largest and best-preserved medieval fortresses in Europe, towering above the city. From our trip in March, 2003.

Jon threatened to make Danny live in a cardboard box in the backyard today. (Danny had been banging, slamming, messing, and destroying things wantonly. Not in a temper-tantrumy way, but just exuberant carelessness.) Danny didn't even notice, but Eric became very concerned on his brother's, behalf. “What about food? Would he come inside to eat? What if it gets cold at night...?”

--Gail, talking to Carolyn online.

[Another minimally-modified online transcript.]

Gail: *sigh* How can I work with the bedtime story prompt, "And I want it to be a story about the whole family goes camping and the stuffed animals come and there is a sympathy card on the pillow."

Carolyn: lol. I think you could do quite an admirable job

Gail: (I should note that I have already told MANY camping stories. And camping stories with stuffed animals. And camping stories where all the stuffed animals play "Capture the Flag" in the dark in the woods. Etc., Etc.)

Carolyn: I see

Gail: Well, I admit that the "Capture the Flag" one was fun. But other than that, it's getting old.

Gail: But...this is WRONG.

Carolyn: ?

Gail: Tennessee at Georgia. SEC. Dixie.

Carolyn: what are you talking about?

Gail: Georgia just scored, and their band started playing "Battle Hymn of the Republic".

Carolyn: hahahaha

Gail: "Glory, glory, Hallelujah..." I'm not kidding. It's insane!!! I mean, Georgia! It's like they don't remember Sherman burning Atlanta! (And everything else.)

Carolyn: maybe those confederate wounds have finally been healed?

The playset has completely recouped itself.”

--Gail, after enjoying the wonder of a simple birthday party. I let the kids run around outside and I didn't even try to structure very much.

'Oh my ears and whiskers!' At least we're doing something right!”

--Gail, after listening to a radio program about under-privileged kids and vocabulary. They cited a study which said that the single-biggest predictor of an adult's success is the number of different words he's exposed to during early childhood.

And I had a brilliant plan and so I got some of Daddy's pieces but not all of them.”

--Danny's report after playing chess with Jon for the first time.

Jon: I was sweating. And if I had lost to a seven-year-old, I would never live it down...”

Gail: I lost to a four-year-old once...

Jon: Yeah, but you probably never saw him ag—wait, who was it?

Gail: Ronald. He might have been five. But it was embarrassing. He had put me in check the turn before, but I hadn't noticed and had failed to protect my king, so then he “captured” my king with his rook. I started to explain that, technically, the last two moves had been illegal and we needed to back up, but quickly realized that even if I could bring myself to snatch away his brilliant victory, I probably couldn't explain the nuances of the situation, and he'd refuse to believe that he hadn't won. [Pause] Of course, in my defense, I would have been eleven or twelve. For you as an adult...Well, there's no real shame in losing to Eric.

Eric: But, Danny, I don't want to be screw-drived!

Mommy: [Pedantically] Screw-driven.

Mommy: So, Eric, if the base price is $1.30 and I have a coupon for 50 cents, what would I end up paying out of pocket?

Eric: Is it a store coupon or a manufacturer's coupon? Because I think a manufacturer's coupon would double...

--Eric helped me to do grocery math while he was tracked out. He assisted in figuring out which deals would get a lower price per ounce. At one point, he got furious at me because I “skipped” a step when I said “...and this 50 cent coupon doubles so it's $1.00 off...” before asking him to figure the price per ounce. He accused me of ruining the problem by helping him.

Eric? Where are you? Errriiiic... Oh no! Where did he go? [Melodramatically] How will I ever explain this to his Daddy? I will have to call Jon at work and say, 'I only turned my back for a second and your son disappeared! Vanished into thin air!' Oh, this is dreadful! Daddy will be furious, and he will never trust me with children again! [pause] And why is my shopping cart giggling?”

--Mommy. It was an amazing shopping cart. It not only giggled, it also talked and did math problems!

No, you didn't crash, you just fell.”

--Eric, leading Danny around by the hand. Danny had put a pillowcase over his head and was pretending to be blind. This was inspired by my asking if the cane he had constructed out of k'nex pieces were for physical injury or vision impairment.

This time you will be blind and I will lead you down the stairs.”

--Danny, to Eric. Fortunately they didn't crash into—excuse me, fall—into a ditch.

[I was editing a paper for Carolyn.]

Carolyn's paper: "Walking the halls of Westminster each day I seized..."

Gail: LOL!!! Um, dangling participle. This makes it sound like you put the halls of Westminster on a leash and dragged the recalcitrant puppy outside for a daily constitutional stroll in the park.

Carolyn: hahahahahaha

Gail: I know!!! I am laughing and Jon is like, "What???" And I'm laughing so hard I can't even tell him what's so funny.

But, Mommy, falling asleep only makes me more tired!”

--Danny, whining about bedtime. Obviously I should let him stay up all night so he'll have more energy.

There's a Mommy and Daddy watch!”

--Danny, after bedtime. The forecast was quite accurate. Environmental conditions were indeed rife: children talking loudly, sneaking out of bed, and playing after lights-out do tend to breed suspicious, stormy parents.

Eric: [Proudly displays his tinker-toy creation]

Mommy: Oh, a cube—no, a rectangular solid. Very nice.

Eric: And I ran out of regular sticks so I used two smaller ones instead.

Mommy: Excellent. You used the materials available to solve the problem. That's real engineering; engineers can't always implement the perfect solution, but they can design the best possible, most efficient and cost-effective practical one.

Jon took an Artificial Intelligence class in college. On the first day, the professor stood up and said, 'Rocks are brilliant. Rocks are amazing. Rocks can add up huge columns of numbers in their heads! Unfortunately, they have rotten I/O interfaces.' It's the same for autistic kids: they might be geniuses, but if they can't communicate, how would we know?”

--Gail, at a parent-teacher conference, agreeing that while getting Eric differentiated curriculum is important, it is also very important to help him practice expressing his ideas.

Even though Mommies don't roll over, can I use a Mommy from one night for the next?”

--Eric. He meant that the boys are only allowed two “Mommy...”s per night after being tucked in. Even though he can't hoard them (spend only one tonight and then three tomorrow), he wanted to know if he could take an advance (say “Tomorrow night, I would like...”). The judge issued a firm ruling: no. [Slams gavel]

Well, pretend that Modern English has two cousins: French on it's mom's side, and German on it's dad's...It has a lot of simple words and grammar in common with German, and a lot of fancier, longer words in common with French. French and German are not all that similar...except that they are third cousins themselves, since all the languages I just mentioned come from Proto-Indo-European. It's like how you are very similar to Danny and somewhat similar to your cousin D-, but you have very little in common with D-'s other cousins on his dad's side...”

--Gail, drawing a (very simplified) genealogy chart for Eric after he asked a question about...something. Synonyms or “stock words” or something. We got out the language map in my dictionary and he asked tons of intelligent follow-up questions and we had a marvelous, educational track-out morning! Have I mentioned that he'd be fun to home school?

I am proud to say that even in transition, screaming at Jon to go faster and run red lights, I still refrained from cursing.”

--Gail, describing Danny's dramatic birth in a conversation with the neighbors.

Walk, don't run...go around, not through...personal reverent...I sound like a traffic cop.”

--Gail, directing the boys' audobon driving in the country lane church.

Eric: Mommy?

Mommy: Yes?

Eric: Mommy... [stares off blankly into space]

Mommy: Yes, Eric?

Eric: Mommy, I...Mommy, I want...[long pause] Mommy, I want...[longer pause]...

Mommy: A predicate. I want a predicate.

Eric: What?

Mommy: A verb. A direct object. Anything!

Daniel. Your father is more important than you are.”

--Mommy. That sounds harsh, but the child has to learn not to interrupt. And he'll be happier in the long run if he's not egocentric and if his parents have a good marriage.

But, Mommy, there will be a surprise next week and that's why I am not going to tell you anything about my day today.”

--Danny, after preschool. I ascertained that he had imposed a gag order on himself lest he slip and reveal classified information. I thought it demonstrated remarkable discipline from a four-year-old who normally likes to chatter.

Mommy: I'm sorry, Daniel. I thought I knew the way to the farmer's market, but I must have taken a wrong turn. I have called now and gotten directions, but by the time we get there we will be very late. Would you rather try to join your class field trip late, or would you rather go to the church and help decorate for the Halloween party?

Danny: Go to the church! Because, Mommy, I know you won't get lost if we go there!

Mommy: [Blushing] [Mutters] I am duly chastened.