Archive | April, 2011

tenant

30 Apr

I think we may get a tenant.  A college girl who is graduating in May needs a spot in which to light while she takes a few graduate-level classes.  Her degree is in elementary education and she student teaches at our neighborhood school.  She has been the daily babysitter for one of my friends’ three children, so I am pretty sure that nothing scares her.  Not our plethora of dogs, bicycles, children, big wheels, strollers, tricycles…Not only does she enjoy children, she is seeking a career that would involve being with 25 of them in one room for hours at a time.  I can’t really understand that motivation, but I am glad that some people have it.  I know that I don’t.  I would rather spend my time with criminal defendants and attorneys.  At least they don’t interrupt. 

I hope she will rent our little cottage apartment.  She seemed impressed with it.  I had spent all day cleaning it, except for the few hours during which I fell asleep with Henry during his nap.  It looks almost presentable.  I think it would be wonderful to have her here.  I could say, “hey K, I am going to Starbucks, the grocery store, the cleaners, and Goodwill.  Can you keep an eye on the kids?”  It would be just like being married.  Except she won’t live in my house.  Anna wants to know if she will eat supper with us every night.  I didn’t remind Anna that we rarely eat at home.  We are either out with friends or at church or they are with their dad, and I am eating string cheese or popcorn for supper in their absence. 

We don’t have loud parties.  We have some loud Saturdays spent in the driveway with friends, riding bikes, holding dog salons, tying wagons and bicycles and big wheels together with leashes to make a train.  We love to draw hopscotch courses on the driveway with chalk.  We do a lot of calling out to one another from yard to house, but in general, we are in bed early and live quietly, to the extent that you can do that with children in the house.

I think we would be a great home for her.  I hope she liked us.

updated application

30 Apr

I have six months of living as an unmarried woman under my belt now.  I think it’s been the most interesting six months of my entire life.  I have had some dates.  I have had some misunderstandings.  I have had a few moments of panic wherein I started to obsess that omg!  what if THIS IS REALLY IT?  What if I am going to be home alone on Friday and Saturday nights for THE REST OF MY LIFE?  What if my only friends are cats?  What if I die old, alone, and very, very well-read?  Should I be concerned that I am only interested in old books, Victorian novels?  With outdated manners and morals and customs?  Does Mr. Darcy exist? 

If he does, would he think I was cute?  And if he likes me, would I like him?  Would I want to marry him or just date him?  Recreational dating or purposeful dating?  Or no dating at all? 

There is a retro trend in those fundamentalist, homeschooling, quiverfull families called “courtship”.  They are essentially arranged marriages and dating is discouraged.  In the interest of doing whatever I can to learn about the habits and rituals of the human being in courtship, I am willing to try everything except promiscuity and staying out too late in the clubs.  So I have been reading all about courtship, and it is quite the foreign concept.  We should have coffee and talk about this.  It is completely worth a few riveting discussions.

The premise of courtship is that until you are ready to marry, you don’t go out on dates.  And once you decide that you are at the right stage in life to marry, you still don’t really go out on dates.  You just be friends.  You don’t spend much time alone together and you definitely avoid compromising situations.  And you save your first kiss for your wedding night.  I am serious.  I told you it was radical.  Apparently that’s how Jesus wants it to be.  I’m not really sold on the idea.

For one thing, my parents’ parlor and my Daddy’s shotgun are 750 miles away.  I have three children, so that cat is out of the bag.  It ain’t my first rodeo and even if you don’t get the milk for free, it’s still too late to shut the barn door.  The idea of saving the first kiss for my next wedding is laughable.  But the concept is interesting.  It’s about reclaiming your value.  Like I said, let’s all read about it and then discuss.

I am not going to Graham’s for Ladies’ Night or Men’s Night or Nickel-beer night.  I’m too old to dance in their cage or on the tables (although I do have the shoes for it).  I’m not going to the Dead Horse for Burlesque Night.  When I was in Austin, I didn’t even linger in the hotel bar, even though it is beautiful and cozy.  It may be safe to say that I’m not much on going out.  I did think the pharmacist was cute today, when I was there filling a prescription and he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, but that may just be so that he doesn’t get it all gummed up with pink penicillin and let’s not forget to mention his full and complete access to my health history, so he can see just how much pink penicillin and doxycycline we take at my house.  And he knows how many little people I am filling prescriptions for, and he can see that someone is always sick and it must be a very unhealthy place to spend your time.  All in all, I’m not hopeful about our future together.

I’m updating the Application to Date Me.  Maybe I should rename it “Questionnaire of Consideration for Eligibility.”

Here are some possibilities.

1. Will you expect to your intended wife’s wedding vows to include the O word?  As in Obey?  Why or why not?  

2. Do you have your own health insurance?

3. Do you call when you say you will?  And generally do what you say you will?

4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how deceitful are you?  (hint, I am a 1.  As in pretty much an open book.  Or oversharer. However you want to characterize it.  I don’t like deceit, including half-truths and omissions.)

5. Will you require your own closet?

6. Do you know how to fix things around the house?  In the alternative, do you know someone who does?

7. Do you know how to apologize?

8. Can you admit when you are wrong?

9. Do you hold a grudge?

10. Of which school are you more a member in terms of marriage: “we do everything together” or “let’s get together for dinner a couple of times a month”?

11. Do you believe that the world needs more pageantry?

12. Are you capable of leaving your cell phone in the car or at home during an evening out?

13. Are fresh flowers ever a waste of money simply because they die?

14. If she’s a mother, but she’s not your mother or even your children’s mother, do you celebrate Mother’s Day with her?

15. What was the last book you read?

16. Do you like pina coladas?

17. How do you feel about getting caught in the rain?

18. Would you be embarrassed to be seen riding in the car with someone who was singing her heart out?  What if they were showtunes?

As I review these questions, it occurs to me that I am a little less terrified to go out on a date now than I once was.  Maybe that’s what they mean by time heals all wounds.  A friend wants to set me up with a game warden.  Says he’s kind of “game-warden-ish.”  Like that’s a negative.  You see, I am a prosecutor.  Meaning we would have our self-righteousness in common.  And a general disapproval of shooting more than one’s limit and other unsportsmanlike behavior.  A love for rules.  He’s armed.  Hopefully not dangerous. I think it sounds like a match made in heaven.  We will see how he does on the questionnaire.

choices

28 Apr

A lot of my friends are facing a dilemma.  So many of us have gone through the same valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side, myself included.  The particular dark valley I refer to is Life-After-St. Luke’s (hereinafter LASL) and it lasts for as long as you live after the age of 6.  It never gets any better.  St. Luke’s will always be the pinnacle of your existence.  So sad to peak at such an early age, but I cannot pretend otherwise.  It’s just heaven there, with the sweetest teachers and oldest facilities and finger paintings in the casement windows.  It is so fabulously old-school.  And I know the correct name is St. Luke, but the only person I know who says it that way is the director and they pay her so she has to. 

But all good things must end, or so they tell me, and St. Luke’s doesn’t do first grade.  So our precious ones have to go out into the big, bad world to real school.  Where to send them is always the burning question on every parent’s mind, and I have friends with children at the Catholic School, at Cornerstone, at our neighborhood public school – Santa Rita, at the gifted campus – Ft. Concho, and of course, my own wee ones attend Ambleside.

School decisions are hard.  I hate making decisions like this, and the only thing that helps me figure out what I think is to write about it.  Therefore, to be able to formulate an opinion on what they should do, in case they ask me for it, I shall now sort out what I would do if I were they.

The good news is something that my dad told me a long time ago when I was trying to decide between committing to Sewanee or staying on the waiting list at Davidson College.  (I had already just said no to Vanderbilt, Tulane, Rhodes, Trinity-in-San-Antonio because I didn’t like Texas.  The fates are laughing with me, I am sure.) Iska was going to Sewanee, so I would have a good friend there, but Davidson was closer to my beau, who would be at Wake Forest.  That beau is now a tired-looking man, driving a sideswiped car with two babies in carseats at the liquor store in Atlanta on a Saturday morning recently.  Let us remember that Davidson had not actually accepted me.  It was just a possibility.

And my dad said this: Don’t forget that you are choosing between two good options.  Neither one is a bad choice.  You can’t make a bad decision.  Isn’t he smart?  It’s a rare situation when both choices are good.

I already know what I would do because I am doing it, but I need to see if I can articulate why that is.  Primarily I love Ambleside for the same reason I love St. Luke’s.  Because I know beyond all reasonable doubt that my children’s well-being is the teachers’ and the director’s primary concern, and that nothing is going to happen at that school that won’t be handled lovingly and appropriately.  And if there is a problem at some lower level, the director will address it.  The children absolutely come first.  There is no bureaucracy, no administration, no red tape.

When my carefully propped-up house of cards fell apart, my mother uttered these wise words: “Between You (me), Miss Pat, and Ambleside, I think the children are going to be fine.”  Could she have said that about another elementary school?  Maybe.  But I knew exactly what she meant about Ambleside.  She meant that they were being taught excellent values, the Christian virtues, good literature, classical composers, art (actual, practical art) and art history, to play the violin, they would read Charlotte’s Web and Little House in the Big Woods in the second grade, and all material would be the very best that Western Civilization has produced for children.  They would learn to be respectful of one another and to be kind.  To be attentive and to be polite.  In those words.  Rudeness and disrespect would not be tolerated and no special consideration to political or social issues would be given to excuse such behavior.  Ambleside is not answerable to the taxpayers or any special interest group.  The thing I was most afraid of when we started there is that it would be too religious for our family, but for various reasons, that has been the least of my concerns.

I love that the values that matter to Miss Pat and me (pick up your room, be helpful, play nicely, and go read something) are reinforced every day at school.  I love that Ambleside encourages healthy meals and discourages holiday parties where parents are to bring a bunch of candy or stocking stuffers from the dollar store.  I love that the Christmas program is held in a church sanctuary and features little children wearing holiday finery playing violins and singing the beautiful, classic Christmas hymns instead of secular drivel.  There is no multi-culturalism.  We are all Americans and we have a beautiful Veteran’s Day chapel where the junior high recites the constitution and the lower school sings patriotic hymns and recite poetry.

We have a Shakespeare festival where preschoolers and kindergartners dance around a maypole and recite sonnets.  Then my tiny, reserved 3rd grader will perform as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  A classical education with a focus on learning good citizenship and habits is a rare thing these days and I feel very lucky that we have access to it.  It is one of the reasons that I haven’t tried to leave this town.

And certainly the school doesn’t advertise this service, but if I can’t be there on time to pick one of them up, I can call and ask them to keep the child an extra few minutes.  When I have had a bad day, Anna’s teacher has brought me flowers.  One day Wade’s teacher asked me if I wanted her to bring him home after golf lessons.  I gratefully accepted her offer.  When field trips leave early, at 7 a.m., teachers ask me if they can come pick mine up because they know I don’t want to get out so early with Henry.  When they were returning from a field trip in San Antonio, I could not be at school to pick Anna up, so the driver brought her to me at the Wall football game.  When one mom was busy decorating for the fundraiser, I picked her daughter up at their house and transported her to piano lessons so that mom could carry on with the decorating.  And the other parents would do the same for me. 

It’s a family.  A very dear one.  My littlest child has been welcomed since he was a wee bairn.  Every child knows his name and when we visit, he is taken out on the playground and fawned over by all the big kids.  It is a rare oasis in the big, scary world.  It’s a place where the innocence of childhood is nurtured and protected.

testify

27 Apr

When you feel something intensely, you want to write it down — if anguish, to stanch the bleeding;  if delight, to prolong the moment.

That was your daily Lanterns on the Levee for this Tuesday, April 26, 2011.  Just as true of writers in 2011 as it was in 1941.  It must be the memoirist’s curse.  All this intensity of feeling.  Far better to write it than to alienate all your friends with bitterness or overwhelm them with your effusiveness.  People in the delta can handle expressiveness.  It is expected.  Out here in the proverbial desert, they are quieter, unnerved by too much Southern gushing.  Some men think that I am in love with them and have asked to marry me and others think I must be a stalker, but they just don’t understand good storytelling.  It’s a combination of really wild experiences painted with good conversation and a colorful vocabulary.

I did something novel today.  I testified in a civil case.  I prosecuted a man for child abuse last summer and he was convicted and imprisoned.  The state child welfare department has sought to terminate the mother’s rights to the child because they say she should have known the abuse was occurring and done more to protect the child.

I testified about my education, my training, my employment experience.  The steps I go through when making decisions to charge people with crimes and how I examine the evidence and prepare for trial, and a lot of specifics about this case.  Today the gist of my testimony was that in my opinion as a prosecutor who had scrutinized evidence in this case, as a mother to three young children, and someone who is intimately acquainted with how hard it is to get your apparently healthy baby in to see the pediatrician, that this mother could not have known that the assorted strange occurrences were symptoms of child abuse, nor should she have been expected to take the child to the emergency room for a rash.

Tragic.  All of it.  Painful to relive.  But feeling like I did the right thing by telling what I knew?  Very satisfying.

I was direct-examined and cross-examined and I got to say “could you please repeat the question” and “I don’t recall” and my integrity was insulted and I was accused of being someone who cares more about securing a victory in the courtroom than making decisions that are in the interest of justice.  It was a banner day in mudslinging. 

And I just loved it.  Even though my face turned red and my voice raised the second time I said “That is not how I make my charging decisions.”

The judge has not ruled.  He took the issue under advisement.

In other news, Wade told me today that I could be a teacher at his school.  I asked what I could teach, and Anna piped up “second grade!” and I said “absolutely not.”  I mean, really.  Is there any age who thinks they are as grown up as seven and eight year-olds?  Fun, but oh my!  The energy level and the self-assurance.  They would totally do me in.

easter

24 Apr

Happy Easter.  We are winding down around here.  It’s 5:00 p.m.   Certain among us have been up since around 6 a.m. and she has been bouncing through our house like a chocolate energizer bunny ever since.  Henry is finally taking a nap.  Yes at 5.  Yes, I know I am going to regret this, but it seemed like his best chance of living to see tomorrow, so I put him down, even though it’s technically too late.  Wade was threatening not to play with him anymore, Anna had said she wasn’t going to be his friend, and I?  Well, let’s just say that I am always looking for someone to lay down with for a nap.  Whether at 1 p.m. or 5 p.m., so I didn’t mind wrestling him into his bed and listening to soothing African lullabies in a darkened room, under a slow-moving ceiling fan.  It actually seemed like a very civilized thing to do.  I will do it again around 9 p.m. when he will again thrash around, tears rolling down his sticky little face, sobbing “but I am not tie-ward.”  After three days of nothing but candy and toys and egg hunts, I would bet a dollar that he is tie-warder than he believes, but my principle rule is to not engage, and I already violated it once this week.  I have met my quota.

We had such a great day.  Church and then lunch at the home of the Stevensons.  We are orphans, and we are their family mission project.  I always miss my family, but holidays are the hardest.  Even when I have my children with me.  I was the oldest of six grandchildren on my dad’s side and we always had Easter egg hunts and ham and potatoes and something green and Sister Schubert’s dinner rolls and real butter and several desserts, and we would eat and eat, and then we would talk about how good everything was and then we would talk about how we’d all eaten too much.  And then we would have dessert and coffee, and the bigger kids (me) would always re-hide the same old eggs (emptied of their candy) for the little ones, and we would do this over and over.

And the men would all sit back like they were exhausted from all the cooking that their wives had done, and the women would wash dishes and put up the food and say they needed to go for a walk.  And that is exactly how it was today at the Stevensons’ house.  Except that the men at this gathering tend to be a little more active in preparation and cleaning than the Carters.  Probably everybody in the world is.  The Carter men like to watch football and talk about the weather and who they know and what everybody’s doing.  In the den.  While the aunts and grandmothers are in the kitchen.

Today, there were two babies, two three year-olds, some pretty little girls, my children and a couple of really nice tweens who are almost-12 and 10.  Lots of children.  Lots of easter eggs.  Candy, toys, temporary tattoos and stickers.  Some elderly ladies.  grandparents and young parents.  Maybe 25 people or so.  A full house.  The children all sat together at a table outside.  The bigger kids took care of the little ones.  They let the little guys find their eggs first.

It was exactly what a holiday should be, but I missed my family.  I hate that someone’s kindness and inclusion can result in anything except a warm glow of appreciation, but there it is:  the ugly side of gratitude.  It hurts to feel like a widow or an orphan.  You can become painfully aware of how you don’t have a spot in this world.  An automatic place to gather for holidays.  I do have that, but it’s a 12 hours’ drive, and if we showed up, my mother would possibly check into a hotel.

On the way home, I told them that they had been so well-behaved and I was really proud of them for being the kind of children who can be invited anywhere because they are nice to have around.  People’s hospitality is a gift to you, and your appreciating it and being good company is a gift to them.  That’s why you were invited.  Because the party is better when you are there.

Like my mom and I decided a long time ago, the world could be completely transformed if everyone were taught some good manners.  I am working on it, one exhausted child at a time.

playdate

22 Apr

Let me put it this way: The dogs are hiding out in my room, under my bed.  The box of milk bones is empty.  It was full two hours ago.  There are six children here, ranging in age from 3 to 10.  A 3, a 5, two 8’s, a 9 and a 10.  The 8’s are girls and they are more trouble (or one of them is) than the entire remaining group.  The troublesome one has changed clothes no less than 5 times in the few hours since she got out of bed.  She wants to go on a bike ride, but will only wear skirts and dresses.  She is not concerned when I tell her that her hems will get caught in the pedals and the chain.  I am concerned that she is not simply putting on bicycle-appropriate clothes when I tell her to.

The girls have “trained” the dogs.  The dogs are all sleeping now, exhausted from their intensive session.  Every toy in the house is out.  Every article of clothing Anna owns is on the floor of her bedroom.  I have caught her at least three times in my closet trying to sneak away with my high heels.  “Do you have anything higher?” she asks.  “No, I don’t, and put those back.”  “But Mo-o-o-m…”

I was just drawn away from this posting by the slamming of a door and the sound of someone screaming.  You all know what that means.  The girls were coming in to “annoy” the boys and one of the boys (the one formerly known as the “good” one) slammed the door to keep the “annoying” girls out and the fingers of our five year-old guest were the recipient of a hard slam.  But the slammer and the slammee are sitting together in a chair right now.  Both of them crying, but more sobbing now, one in pain, one in penance.  I have lectured the whole rowdy group of them, and there have been a lot of apologies all around.

I told the boys we don’t slam or even close the doors against each other and I told the girls that they must not antagonize.  In fact, they have an obligation to be people that the boys want to be around.  That’s probably overstepping what was actually required, but I don’t like teasing and annoying and antagonizing.  Anything designed to provoke frustration or screaming in another is out-of-bounds behavior as far as I am concerned. 

With three children in the house, there is always a lot of noise, but there doesn’t have to be unpleasantness.  I discourage squabbling and fighting.  I do not accept that acting ugly to each other is part of being in a family.  I know there will be disagreements, but I hope that they can learn to work those out or simply walk away.  They will probably all be in therapy for the rest of their lives from not being allowed to show their true feelings for each other in the family-of-origin, but that’s a chance I am willing to take for the sake of my own sanity.  I don’t think there’s anything particularly redeeming about immature persons being encouraged to act out their feelings.  I say this from experience. 

I just got a call from the mother of two of our guests.  We are going to meet for a late lunch.  3 adults (two moms and a dad), seven children.  Low end of the age range will be in 2 instead of 3.  Wish us luck.

be still, my heart.

21 Apr

Let’s all just die a little bit together over this beautiful prose:

“In what better way could a little boy learn that the austerities of living are not incompatible with the courtesy and sweetness of life?  I never heard them over their juleps express a philosophy of life, and if I had it would have been incomprehensible to me, but a philosophy was implicit in all their thoughts and actions…
Perhaps it is all contained in a remark of Father’s when he was thinking aloud one night and I sat at his feet eavesdropping eagerly:
 
“I guess a man’s job is to make the world a better place to live in, so far as he is able — always remembering the results will be infinitesimal — and to attend to his own soul.
 
I’ve found in those words direction enough for any life.  Maybe they contain the steady simple wisdom of the South.”
 
Lanterns on the Levee, by William Alexander Percy.