life on the funny farm

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Grandparents are Great

My kids don't get to see their grandparents a whole heck of a lot.

My Mom lives a couple hours away. Fred's parents, sadly, have both passed. My Dad and stepmother live like, 11 hours away.

Fortunately for us, the latter just paid us a visit. They made the long drive out and spent some good quality time with us'ns. Quality time including:

Gifting, and then playing, lots of that lawn ladder game (ladder ball? ladder toss?).
Playing a couple of awesome family board games.
Taking the kids out for pizza.
Helping out with chauffering to dentist appointments, dropping my car off to the mechanics, running out for groceries, picking up eggs from the farm down the road.
Going for walks.
Slippin' the kids all some cash.
Heaping compliments on us all.
Taking some of the kids on a fun local tour.
Watching the kids while Fred and I went out for our anniversary.

For me, it was great not only to spend time with them, but to be afforded some new perspective. Sometimes in the thick of our chaotic lives, I fail to notice the positives. But with their visit, I got to see my children through their eyes.

I got to hear that they saw leaps-and-bounds improvements in James' behavior and melding with the family. Got to beam with pride as they gushed over the delicious dinner the children made when Fred and I went out. I was honored to see how impressed they were with some of the intelligent and creative answers the kids came up with during the board games.

So PawPaw and Granny Caggy, I thank you. For your help, for your perspective, for your fun and games. And the lots of love and laughs.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

History of a Romance

Year 1 Love at first sight. Well. Since we had been in classes together for six years, and had worked side by side for several months at the movie theatre, perhaps not "at first sight". But instantaneous, light-switch-flipped love, how 'bout that? As we gazed at each other over the shoulders of our respective prom dates.

Year 2 Adjust to the whole long distance romance thing. We attended colleges several hours apart from each other.

Year 3 "Will you marry me?" Maybe not on bended knee on a mountaintop with a 4kt diamond, but a simple college student's ring presented without fanfare in my college dorm.

Year 4 The love letters continued to pile up as we wrote to each other several times a week. In the days before the myriad options for how you wanted to contact a person, we were relegated to love letters and Friday night phone calls. We saw each other only a handful of times during the school year, but made up for it during the summers.

Year 5 First comes love, then comes marriage. We finally tied the knot five years and a month from when we began going together. I had at long last finished college and he had both finished college and gotten through his first year of med school.

Year 6 Time to play grownups with our first apartment, a one bedroom 2nd floor unit in East Brunswick, NJ. Mr., Mrs, dog and cat.

Year 7 I worked at my job as an Occupational Therapist, plus a little moonlighting, while he continued his studies at medical school, practicing his stitches on our hand-me-down couch.

Year 8 Medical school cap and gown time! And we loaded up the truck and we moved to Delaware.

Year 9 Fred started his residency, I started my new job, and our friends moved in with us. Our friends, plus their two little children, their newborn baby, and their Great Dane. Good times, good times.....

Year 10 We never found out what our landlord was doing with the rent money we paid him, but it wasn't paying the mortgage. Came home to a sheriff's auction sign in the front yard and so we moved again, to an old farmhouse in MD.

Year 11 An old farmhouse needs a horse to go along with it, and I was happy to oblige.

Year 12 Our first child, our son Patrick, was born. We were spanked hard as we entered the world of parenthood.

Year 13 Fred graduated his residency program as chief resident, and began his fellowship in Trauma and Critical Care.

Year 14 When he was all done being a good fellow, he took a job with this hospital where he did his residency. No moving required.

Year 15 We moved into our first boughten house just weeks before our 2nd child, our daughter Rosie, was born.

Year 16 Marked our 10 year anniversary. "Ten years and never had a fight".

Year 17 Two wasn't enough. One girl, one boy wasn't enough. We had our third child, our son Daniel. We were officailly outnumbered.

Year 18 This boughten house I mentioned? It was a 250 year old farmhouse on 11 1/2 acres. We (meaning I) continued to pour animals into the house, the barn, the fields. We (meaning I) added goats, sheep, ponies, and a pig to the property. For ambience.

Year 19 Kept busy fixing up the old house, mending fences, caring for critters, burying old pets.

Year 20 Kept busy wiping noses, wiping bottoms, changing diapers, cutting sandwiches into fun shapes, arranging playdates, tending boo-boos, nursing babies, learning to function on a 1/2 hour of sleep, and cleaning up after Hurricane Children on a daily basis.

Year 21 Apparently three wasn't enough. Two boys and one girl wasn't enough. We adopted Bella, who turned six one month after arriving in America from Kazakhstan.

Year 22 Apparently four wasn't enough either. We began hosting exchange students. Enter Milly from Taiwan, who spent her junior year in high school living with our crazy family. She also got to move with us as we loaded up the trucks again and moved to our bigger house on a smaller property. Fred laughed nervously and said, "You're not planning on filling up those extra bedrooms, are you?"

Year 23 Exit Milly, enter Eun Hae and Felice, from South Korea and Hong Kong, respectively.

Year 24 Took a year off from adding students to our family, but worked on building up the animal headcount once again.

Year 25 Oh what the heck, I'll take another. Enter Nadya from Germany.

Year 26 Two empty bedrooms means two more kids. We adopted James and Julie, also from Kazakhstan, and when they came home to us they were 10 and nearly 14.

Year 27 OK, no more exchange students. But let's host a Fresh Air Fund kid. A little boy from the inner city to stay with us for a week in the summer.

Year 28 Has it really been 28 years together and 23 years of marriage? Looking back I can see that since we started this romance we've lived in six places, starting in Fred's Dad's attic and ending in our current seven bedroom home. We have cared for countless critters and have 42 currently. We have hosted four exchange students and one Fresh Air Fund child. We have added three kids to our family by birth and three by adoption. We have weathered the deaths of beloved pets. The births and adoptions of our children. We have lived through times with no money and times of comfort. We have attended the funerals of grandparents, of siblings, of parents.

We have sometimes faced adversity head on, rowing our lifeboat sitting shoulder to shoulder, but there were also times we sat at opposite ends of the lifeboat, scarcely looking at each other as we weathered the storm.
But through it all we've grown stronger, closer, more in tune with each other than we ever would have thought possible when we were first gazing at each other over the shoulders of our prom dates that night so many, many years ago.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Training Pippin

Daniel and I started training his pony Pippin to ride and it's been going supremely well.

Here's Pipp checking out the saddle.

Saddle on the back. No big deal.

Tying up the girth knot. Mine are the only boys I know that already know how to tie a tie without needing a lesson. Girth knot is same thing as a tie knot, so they've btdt..

Pippin seems to be thinking there's an overly large fly on his back.

Believe it or not, this is only the second time Daniel (or anyone for that matter) has been on Pippin's back. Does he get the coveted BPYA (Best Pony of the Year Award) or what?

A little pettin and scritch-scratchin' when all is said and done.

Doesn't look like Pippin is holding any grudges.

Another hard day's work done.....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Had an IEP meeting for Bella last week.

And I have to say, it left me flooded with emotion.

This is a little girl that started off in life pretty disadvantaged. Mother drank while she was pregnant, leaving my little girl dealing with problems of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum sort. As in, very low IQ, significant learning disability, speech disorder, reading disorder, distractible, the list goes on.

Then she was abandoned. Police found her when she was just a toddler, and took her to the hospital, where she stayed for nearly two years. From there she went on to the orphanage, where she remained for the next two years. No one there expected much from her because they couldn't understand her garbled speech and they felt she wasn't the brightest crayon in the box.
The adults didn't give her much attention.
The kids didn't give her much attention.

Couple years later, we fetched her outa there and brought her to America, where she promptly started Kindergarten.

Her teacher didn't really know what to do with her.
For the next couple years, her teachers didn't really know what to do with her.

But she got ESL services and speech therapy and Reading Assist. They worked with her best they could. She kinda-sorta repeated 1st grade ("Transitional 1st" and then regular 1st). But the child struggled.

A 504 plan was written up, and accomodations made for her disabilities. An IEP was started. She was put into classrooms with instructional aides. She attended summer school (sorry, "Extended School Year"). All these things have helped.

But this year has been her best yet. This year she had a PCA (Personal Care Ass't) who followed her from room to room now that Bella's in middle school. She has helped her keep her schedule and her papers organized. She has helped her learn how to study effectively. And along with her amazing teachers, she has helped improve her reading, her math level, her writing.

She has helped her become a middle school student. A middle school student who has a locker, and knows her schedule, and talks and laughs with her friends, who has joined clubs and does her homework, studies for tests, has crushes, and doodles on the corners of her book covers.

And I sat in this meeting, at a small round table on a little chair, and I watched and listened as this group of 8 - 10 men and women told me all about how Bella is doing in history and science. About how she has learned to branch out with her writing to include so much more than the four or five topics she used to write about. I watched their faces glow with emotion as they talked about how special she is, how sweet, how kind, how helpful and compassionate to others.

Suddenly I felt the warmth of tears in my eyes as I remembered my little girl's beginnings.
No one to care for her.
No one to notice her special gifts.
No one to try to lift her up and challenge her.
No one to love her.

And I looked around this table at these people in her life.
People that truly cared about her and would find a way to teach her. Find a way to help her to be successful, to help her learn to navigate through life.

And with the tears stinging my eyes, I interrupted the meeting.
I tumbled out some words of thanks and gratitude for what they have done for my daughter. For doing their jobs so well, certainly, but most importantly, for caring. For seeing in her what I see, and cherishing that.

I don't think I did a very good job at expressing my thanks, and I quickly let them get back on track at going through the sheaf of papers we all had before us.

But as I sat quietly listening, I thought to myself,
Who would have thought that this little castaway girl that no one noticed would have all these people sitting at a small round table on little chairs, all talking about their goals and plans. All sharing with each other stories of what she said or did that showed how very special she is. All in love with this tiny girl, with the multitude of problems, that no one noticed....

R.I.P. Houdini

Fred had his work party yesterday. Lovely day. Kids playing in the pool, folks eating, drinking, laughing, talking about summer plans.

At one point I was looking out to where we had thrown the spent corn cobs and watermelon rinds and noticed there were only five goats munching happily, when there should have been six.

Where was Houdini?

As is probably obvious from his name, he is is our resident escape artist. From the time he was born, he has always managed to get out of whatever enclosure he was in.

So my immediate thought was that he got himself out of where he was supposed to be and into somewhere off limits and then couldn't get back. So I went searching for him, fearing he was stuck somewhere. I looked in all the usual places to no avail. Finally thought to look in the bottom of the kids' play ship in the pasture and found him down in the hull. Dead.

Poor little guy. He was a funny goat. Not as people-friendly as some of our others, and the polar opposite of his twin brother Ozzy who is cute, friendly, and jet-black. Houdini was bigger, anti-social and snow-white. But funny.

True to his magical nature, he left me left scratching my head over how he died. Only about 4 1/2 years old, he was the picture of health, fat and happy. Coat looked good, eating well, up to date on shots and wormings. Only thing I could figure is that two nights before he died, the barn doors got broken, and I know some of the goats got out of the barn and into the workshop. No grain this time of year for him to overload on. No rat poison or anything of that nature.


I've been working a lot on the hen house. When I get done working, I make sure I always take all my tools and supplies out of the barn and put them away into the workshop. So I'm wondering ... maybe he ate some nails? Could have punctured his stomach or intestines. There were no outward signs of anything, like a struggle with a dog or something.

And I've seen goats eat all kinds of things. Tin cans, spider webs, string, paper, my shirt as I'm wearing it. It's always kind of tickled me to see what-all they would consume.

But this time, not so funny.

So goodbye Houdini. Hope you're up in goat heaven, eating delectable weeds and things to your heart's content. We'll miss you ....

Here's Houdini with his Mama, when he was about 5 or 6 months old.

Here he is with his twin brother Ozzy.

(Summer) Break of Insanity

Just 3 1/2 school days remain.

Then they will be ....


I used to love summer break.

And I'm not just talkin' about my own distant childhood. I mean I truly and thoroughly enjoyed when my kids were home the entirety of the summer.

The last few years I've been clinging to my old phrases like a child clutching a security blanket.

I could hear the words coming out of my mouth:
"I love summers" I'd say.
"No alarm clocks. No after school activities. No homework, no projects to oversee. No papers to sign, no field trips to chaperone. Just endless days stretching together. Warm sun, the pool, the beach, fireflies, watermelon...."

All spoken while wearing the grin of a simpleton.

But nowadays


when I begin to think of my kids being home
all day
every day


my teeth begin to rattle ever so slightly, and a thin stream of drool leaks from the corner of my mouth.

Oh there are plenty of good times. Many a Norman Rockwell-worthy picture of my kids riding bikes, drawing chalk pictures on the driveway, playing basketball, fishing in our pond, swimming in the pool, laughing with friends. Eating corn on the cob, watermelon. Picking cherries from our trees then gobbling them down and spittin' the pits.

But then there are...

the dark times.

The times they bicker. They whine. They yell and fight and glare. They make faces, argue about whose turn it is to do what, whose turn it is to sit where, who ate their last water ice, whose drank the last of the iced tea and didn't make more.

She's wearing my shirt, he pushed me, she smells bad, are you ever planning to wash your hair, it's my turn to ride shotgun/to pick the radio station/to have a friend come with us to the movies. He broke my goggles, he rode my bike without asking, she's sitting in my spot, she had a friend over last time, it's my turn, it's mine it's mine it's mine.

[cower in corner and suck thumb while eyes glaze over]

And I know nothing really works. Suzy Sunshine Mom makes an appearance for a while with grand ideas about arts and crafts, daytrips and pool games.
But then she blows it with her sing-songy motivational team-building speeches for a cooperative work-together attitude for all the pool-cleaning, weed-pulling, house-cleaning, grass-mowing things on the to-do list.

Then the whining kicks in and Nurse Ratchet Mom moves in. She tries to control the situation with her steel glint, her even tone, her drama-free temperament that is never shaken.

But the kids beat her the hell out of our house and on her heels storms in Roseanne Barr, screaming at the kids, commanding them, out-whining them.

I like Roseanne.

Forget Nanny 9-1-1, who's got a direct line to Roseanne? Mary, my celebrity sister? Do any of your people know any of her people? I would even be tempted to trade in my invitation to see Mr. Clooney at the premier if I could get Roseanne to move in with us for a couple weeks to whip my little b@#*&^ into shape.


I was playing Scrabble with Rosie and Julie last night.

What should have been some nice, relaxing quiet time with a couple of my girls was anything but.

At any given time I had at least three people asking me something, telling me something, complaining about someone. The puppy was running around willy-nilly and I was trying to keep an eye on her so she didn't pee, chew, eat our little dog Cindy or get out the door.

I also had an eye on the clock b/c I needed to go pick up my oldest from a party, and oh yeah, there was dinner.

About the third round of the game I found myself yelling at a good two or three of the kids simultaneously to "JUST BE NICE TO EACH OTHER!"

It was right about that time Rosie played her word.


No, I'm not painting the scene here, people, that was the word she played. Dramatic.

That sucker was worth 28 points when you figured all the double word and triple letters and what-not, and then she got a 50 point bonus for using all seven of her letters.

78 points!

About that time I looked up at the clock and said, "Well, whaddya know, time to leave to get Patrick."

We did resume the game when we got home.

Guess who won?

Smarty pants.

Party Pooped

James had a party yesterday. Kind of an end-of-the-school-year thing. So I had seven or eight boys over
what, am I supposed to have an exact count of how many kids I'm responsible for or something?
all of whom are 15 - 16 years old. Not including my own two 16 yr old boys and my nearly 12 yr old son.

In addition, Rosie had a couple girls over. So we had my three 13 yr old girls, plus another two. Said girls are all blossoming, and I'm not just talkin' about their personalities.
Said girls were all in two piece bathing suits of varying degrees of skin exposure.

Do the math. (10) 15 - 16 yr old boys, + (5) 13 yr old girls. Bathing suits. Pool.

A lot of playing musical chairs for me.

There were times they were all in together, and I was pretty much right there poolside with an eagle eye.
Other times we used the pool by turns. Especially once the sun went down and they decided night swimming sounded like fun. And the hot tub.

Separate but equal, that's my motto.

You watch a movie, you go in the pool.
You go play football, you go in the pool.
You eat some pizza, you go in the pool.

And on and on like this most of the afternoon and evening.

I'm pooped.

I'm party pooped.

And I know it's only going to get worse over the next couple of years when the boys are 18 (and 14) and the girls are 15.


I'm gonna needs me some shotgun.

This Wrong Will Be Righted.

Eyes on the ball.
Side step left.
Feel the burn from the scraped knee.
Feel the sweat running down.
Run to the right.
Yell out instructions.
Flex fingers inside the padded gloves.
Crouch low.
Dive and catch the ball, getting run over in the process.

Save the game!

Such is the life of a soccer goalie.

My daughter is a soccer goalie. Has been since partway through her first season on the travel team she joined when she was nine years old. A few games into that fall season, it was discovered she had quite the talent for it.

She was a natural.

And she loved it. Goal tending was her life and she couldn't get enough. She was at every practice and every game. Being the only keeper for the team meant she got a lot of game time. No subs.

At her first tournament she was honored to be named the team's MVP.

A few seasons later she was asked for by name to guest play for a different club at a tournament. They recognized her talent and wanted her to lend them a hand. Being the good sport that she is, she played for this team and didn't hold back, diving, leaping, catching, punting, swatting game after game till she was exhausted.

I kind of felt like a celebrity's Mom at that game, when other parents would come up to me and ask, "Are you the goalie's Mom? What's HER deal? She's amazing!"
I'm sure I was blushing.

Why am I telling you all this? Just to brag on my daughter? Partly, I'll admit it.

But mostly to illustrate how mixed up some adults can be.

See, my daughter was just cut from her team. Cut after playing for them for 10 seasons.
Did her skill level drop? Was there a flood of girls at tryouts for this team that Rosie simply couldn't compete with?
No. Sadly, she was cut because she has the misfortune of being the daughter of a Mom who would speak out against the board and the coaches when they were in the wrong about 6 months or so back.

Was she the only one cut?
No again. There were four other girls that got cut. All children of parents who dared to speak up against a wrong. All children, whom I have been told by another parent, were among the best players on the team.

Surely this team must make cuts all the time. Isnt' that just part of being on a travel soccer team?
Once again, no. In the history of our team, they've never cut any players but once. That year, about a year ago, there were record numbers of girls trying out for our team. Two of our most junior girls were cut, and two very strong players were added.

This year's tryouts? The only girls I saw were the ones already on our team, plus a couple more who had guest-played with us.

And yet, in the form letter e-mail we received as notification of the cut, it was stated she was cut b/c there were many more girls trying out than were spots available. Then it was suggested she might be able to find a nice rec-level team to join if she still wished to play soccer.

I was stunned.
I was hurt.
I was outraged.

My daughter is actually taking this way better than I am.

I have asked questions of the board president. Questions he has refused to answer.

I have pored through the by-laws of the organization, but have found nothing to support the president's claim that the information I have asked for cannot be released publicly.

I have asked questions of the coach, and the coaching director, only to be referred right back to the president.

I don't know if I've ever encountered another human that has acted so despicably. To use 12 and 13 year old girls as pawns in his ridiculous game of vengeance leaves me feeling sick to my stomach.

Oh there are worse things in the world, to be sure. But for him to hold himself up as a pillar of the community, someone who is doing good deeds "for the children" when in fact he is using those very children to spite their parents is just wrong on so many levels. He has manipulated and lied and hurt children when he is supposed to be supporting them. Lifting them up to the world of sports, passing on a love and learning of the game and building their confidence.

Instead he has left them feeling like they have done something wrong. Like they weren't good enough.

Girls, let me tell you right now. You ARE good enough. You're "among the best". You have done nothing wrong. You have played the game honorably and handled this situation with a grace far beyond your years.

And let me also tell you. I am not going to handle myself with the same degree of grace. I am in Mama Bear mode.

And I am going to


Throttle Mode

Poor Bella has had a bad cavity for a while now.
Saw the dentist, who recommended extraction.
Referred us to an oral surgeon who takes our insurance.
Appt made, antibiotics begun one week before the appointment.
Motrin dispensed daily, plus lots of hugs and kisses, to help ease the pain.

Finally the day arrived (yesterday) for the appt and Bella had mixed feelings: trepidatious about undergoing a major dental procedure, thrilled at the prospect of the pain coming to an end.

Picked her up from school and drove nearly an hour out there.

Waited over an hour past her appt time.

She was good as gold, my little angel.

She was finally brought back, had an x-ray taken, and the dentist came in to talk with us briefly. Never looked in her mouth, asked whether we would rather go with a local or general anesthesia. We discussed that for maybe 30 seconds and he sent us right back into the waiting room again.

I was all like, 'what the....?'

Then the receptionist began to ask me when I would like to bring her back.

"Bring her back...?"

"Yes, for the procedure."

"But that's what we're here for today."

"Well, he can't do it now. It's already 5:19."

"What does that have to do with anything? Our appt time was 4:00. And besides which, we've been here for over an hour and we live an hour away."

"I'm sorry, it's too late. He can't do it now. You'll have to bring her back another time. You'll have to understand that's the nature of surgery, you run into unforseen circumstances and it throws the schedule off."

Unforseen circumstances my A**.

So now we've wasted four hours of our day, she's taken a week's worth of antibiotics for nothing, and she's still in pain. Took all the saints in heaven to tie my hands behind my back and clamp my teeth down on my tongue to not rip her and the "oral surgeon" a new one. I had some creative ideas of what I'd like to do with some of the instruments I saw when we were in the exam room.

Grrrrr. Insurance be damned, I know a GOOD oral surgeon a lot closer to home that I'll be calling today.

2 - 12

Picked up Daniel from school.
Drove over to our other school to pick up Julie and four of her friends for her belated birthday party.
I now have my 11 yr old son, plus five 11 - 13 yr old girls in my car. The girls all immediately begin whipping out cell phones and texting with blinding speed.
All except two: Julie, who asks me for mine so she can follow suit. She doesn't have her own yet but rushes to tell her peers she'll be getting her very own cell phone when 6th grade is over. They kind of sigh in relief. And her friend L, who sits morosely and stares at her thumbs lying lifeless in her lap. She has to wait till her birthday. In August. Collective gasp of horror and looks of pity come from the other girls, who understand that August is a lifetime away.

Five 11 - 13 year old girls change into bathing suits and jump into the pool.
Two 13 year old girls sit in the bathroom with me as I play nurse, trying to give a lesson in matters feminine so they can join the others in the pool. There are books involved. There are demonstrations and gestures that would make Vanna White proud.
Two 13 yr old girls change into bathing suits and gingerly make their way to the pool to join their friends.

Seven 11 - 13 year old girls, still wet from swimming, sing happy birthday to Julie. She blows out her candles before we finish singing, then looks up, sheepishly, to explain that she forgot to wait and make a wish. Everyone laughs and finishes the song anyway.

Seven 11 - 13 yr old girls belt out songs at the top of their lungs as we drive down the road. Windows are open b/c the spilled milk from two days ago still smells like a possum rotting in the Louisiana sun. But nobody seems to care.
I cringe as they scream out pop music lyrics, including but not limited to:
sex in the air, I don't care I like the smell of it
whips and chains excite me
first I'll disrobe you, then I'm gonna probe you
fill me with your love, inject me with your poison
abduct me, I wanna be your victim

I try in vain to educate the girls to the objectification of women but no one's listening so I give up.

Seven girls carefully select the best seats in the theatre, hold out their paper bags for me to fill with popcorn, and giggle incessantly while they wait for the show to begin. The lights from the screen flicker across their faces in the darkness of the theatre, creating the illusion that they are little girls whose feet don't quite touch the floor. I would never dare share this with them.

Sit patiently at our booth at Friendly's.
Help girls make their dinner selections.
Try to keep the noise level down.
Play tic-tac-toe and hangman.
Tell them no more inhaling the helium from the balloons.
Tell them no more than two to the bathroom at a time.
Tell them to let go of the drama over the attitude of one of the girl's boyfriends.
Tell them to stop texting each other when they're sitting right next to each other.
Tell them to finish their dinners.
Tell them to say thank you.
Tell them to finish their ice creams.
Tell them to buckle up.
Tell them to open their windows.
Tell them those lyrics are awful because blah blah blah....

Give reminders about Dorito crumbs in the bedroom.
Give reminders about noise levels after midnight.
Give orders about no sodas.
Give hugs.
Give smiles as the girls tell me this is the best birthday EVER!

Fall into bed and let exhaustion do its thing.


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