Sunday, December 27, 2009

Little Guy's getting bigger

It's Little Guy's birthday, and he's turning six. He says he's happy not to be odd any more (as opposed to even). At the moment he's still sleeping, worn out from using up nearly four roles of Christmas duct tape and from seeing Snuggler's musical again yesterday. And from a little upset in the evening.

Last night Little Guy didn't want to fold his laundry. None of us wanted to, but there was dessert for everyone after clothes were put away, which made the task a little easier. Unfortunately, Little Guy's refusal to work lasted until after Mom's ice cream parlor closed. I snuggled him as he cried, and asked what he'd do differently if he could rewind the evening and start over again. He thought he'd eliminate laundry altogether. (I'm not entirely averse to the idea.)

We talked about how we all make bad decisions sometimes, and how the good thing about bad decisions is that they can teach us to avoid the problem the next time. Little Guy wasn't keen on the idea that we can learn from mistakes; he'd rather not make mistakes. But -- eh -- life isn't like that. 

While we were chatting, Little Guy got busy with scissors and construction paper, making strips that showed a kind of bar chart of the feelings he was having (his idea, not mine). A yellow sliver was for happy, a large blue block was for sad, and a large orange piece was for angry. I asked why he was feeling happy, and he said, "Because tomorrow's my birthday!" As he thought about that he started cutting out a different strip of yellow, this time much larger. And by the time he fell asleep (at an hour far too late to confess), the mix was half yellow, half blue.

Unfortunately, his clothes were still unfolded. I'm thinking I may be a nice Mommy and fold them as a birthday present.

Here is the book my phonetic speller wrote yesterday (you get the unillustrated version):

(cover)    Planit Wors!

p.1     and naw awr feechr presintatshin

p.2     The bala empire is invadng the rth!             (bala = ballet)

p.3     the rth has UFO sensrs!

p.4     oh no, the UFOs ar shooting at an

p.5     astroyd

p.6     the astroyd

p7      bloo up

Sounds like a boy to me! Happy birthday, Little Guy!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Odd gifts

This morning I went out into the cold, gray wetness of the day after Christmas to buy myself a new grocery/laundry cart. Our old one is well beyond repair. We jerryrigged it with string on the sides where pieces had fallen off, but it was a challenge to keep it functioning.

I walked down the street, feeling rather glum. There on the bland sidewalk was a shiny purple bow. I thought:

     "How sad! Someone lost the bow to a present!"

     "Nah... maybe the sidewalk is a gift. Maybe it wants to be a gift."

     "What a nice contrast, with that shiny purple brightening up the gray sidewalk."

     "I bet Little Guy could find something fun to do with that."

There are so many angles from which to approach life. When I'm feeling down, or angry, or sad it helps to step back and think of how else I could look at the situation. It's hard to step out of the feeling and to be objective. But it's really worthwhile.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Yesterday morning my kids (or at least several of them) seemed bent on proving that we are in desperate need of peace on earth. In a bid to get everyone a breath of fresh air so that emotions could settle, I took the three who are home around the corner to the pizza shop for lunch. There was a group of kids inside, laughing and huddled around what turned out to be a five-foot singing/dancing mechanical Santa.

Question: Does the world need singing and dancing mechanical Santas? In my pre-Christmas Scrooginess I thought, This is why our country is in a recession: we import Santas that sing ""Up on the Housetop" as they rotate their geared hips, instead of making things ourselves that have value. Meanwhile, my offspring sprinted off to squander an inordinate number of their carefully-hoarded quarters on made-in-China doodads from the gumball machine. Oy.

My youngest two thought the moving Santa was funny. Snuggler went over and pretended to waltz with him. Little Guy mustered his courage and went to turn on the  sound after it stopped, but when the machine suddenly called out "Happy Holidays!" just as he reached for the button, my boy was back in his seat in a flash.

Day morphed into afternoon into evening, and the last thing on the day's frenetic agenda was to go get our Christmas tree. Eldest and Big Guy didn't want to go, which was fine, but made Dancer very sad. Dancer loves family traditions, and until this year we all went as a bouncing mass to choose the tree.

The youngest two, especially Little Guy, made up for the gap in bounciness. He ran and jousted and pounced the whole eight blocks. We chose our overpriced evergreen, had it wrapped in masses of fishnet, plopped it in our granny cart, and headed home. Hot cider and carols made the tree decorating go quickly, and there was some consolation for Dancer in that her older siblings still enjoyed participating in that aspect of the day-before-Christmas Eve. We've never found a tree-topper that we like, so we put our favorite alien ornament near the top of the tree:

Afterwards, Little Guy put the tree netting to good use...

And then the three youngest kids slept in the living room, next to the tree. All of which, I think, is a lot better than a gyrating Santa. But maybe next year we'll make a trip to the pizza parlor part of our traditions, too.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Beautiful things

I went with some friends to hear Handel's Messiah last night. Here at home the family has been listening to the music for a couple of days, but it's not the same. Acoustics aside, when you're sitting down with nothing to do but absorb music, you hear it differently.

When I was young I thought it was weird that in Messiah people sing the same words repeatedly. Last night I was thinking that everything that's true and beautiful in life needs repeating many times. It takes a lot of comfort ye's or Who is this king of glory's before the heart starts absorbing what's being said. We are people of story, and the stories that proclaim (or echo) truth are stories that we by nature tell and retell.

I was also thinking how truth and beauty weave in and out of life, passing from one voice to another and  back again, changed just enough to be new but still a variation on a theme. 

I once heard a lecture about studies that show the effect different kinds of music have on the brain. Someone ran rats through a maze, to see how they performed after being forced to listen to different kinds of music for a couple of days. Those who listened to classical music completed the maze faster; those who listened to rock ran slower than they had originally, and those who listened to country music were the slowest of all. The theory was that the more complex the music, the more synapses have to fire, and hence the smarter you become. (This may be what prompted the Baby Einstein folks to claim that watching their videos would raise your child's IQ, but there were a few major gaps in their logic.)

I'm not sure of the validity of those studies, but it certainly takes more thought to listen to something like Messiah than to listen to the Beatles. During a break in the performance, someone wondered aloud if people had any idea, back when Messiah was first performed, that the piece would last hundreds of years. That prompted a discussion of what, if anything, is being built or created today that will last as long. We're certainly good at coming up with things that are catchy or that dazzle. There isn't much that glows in the heart, though. Which makes it all the more important to pay attention to things of lasting beauty.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Random wondering

The other day I wondered how many items are on the average mom's to-do list. I don't mean the yellow pad list, but the whole thing: dropping off the prescription, making sure your teenage boy takes a shower, putting tissues in a child's pocket before she leaves the house, reminding kids to chew with their mouths shut. Some days my list feels like an endless game of Whack-a-Mole; as soon as I hammer down one thing, another pops up.

Tangentally, I wondered whether I talk to myself more (internally) these days than when I was, say, in college. I don't remember the non-stop mental chatter back then. That could be because I never noticed, it could be that there's more to keep track of now, or it could be that it seems there's more popping around up there because some portion of my gray matter is defunct and the same number of thoughts take up proportionally more space.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What I learned from my pediatrician

We've had the same pediatrician since we moved here 13 years ago. One thing I like about Dr. G is that he's not highly interventionist; if you call him about an ear infection he'll tell you 80% of ear infections resolve themselves in 48 hours, and to give Tylenol for pain before we consider moving to antibiotics. Another thing I like is that he teaches you how to handle problems yourself. Over the years I've learned how to test for a broken bone, what the signs of respiratory distress are, and that a nearly-bit-through tongue will heal itself in about a day (no stitches needed!)

Perhaps the best thing Dr G has taught me, though, is how to keep problems in perspective. His philosophy is, "There are only three things that can happen here: things can get better, stay the same, or get worse. We only need to worry about one of those." Dr. G lays out the possibilities for what could be wrong, making it clear that we're not going to worry about the .0006% chance that we're dealing with something hideous until we've eliminated the 98% chance that it's something simple, the 1.5% chance that it's something moderately serious, and the other fractions of a chance that it's something weird. In other words, we work from the most likely to the least likely.

Today after church the kids were playing in the snow as I chatted with friends. There was a coffee hour, and at some point several children went in (as did I) to warm up and get a little snack. Eldest and Big Guy asked to go home, and the other kids went back outside. A while later I came out to retrieve everyone, and Little Guy was missing. Couldn't find him inside, outside, anywhere.

Thanks to Dr G, my first thought was of what was most likely: Little Guy had gone home with the big kids. I stationed a friend at the church (in case Little Guy showed up) and headed home. As I scurried along I figured out the next most likely place to look, if he didn't happen to be at home. But I opened the door, and there was Little Guy. I said, "Oh, here you are! I didn't know where you were!" Little Guy replied, "I didn't know where you were, either!"

No harm done. No panic. Thanks, Dr. G!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Someone who DOES deserve a break

Our little friend Gracie, who is three, is in imminent need of eye surgery to relieve pressure on both eyes. The surgery she had about six weeks ago on one eye failed. However, right now she's very sick with the flu and the measles, so they can't operate.

I don't know exactly how many surgeries Gracie has had in her short life (somewhere between 10 and 15, I think), but the eye surgery certainly won't be her last. Those of you who are praying folk, please include her in your prayers this week. You might add her parents Claire and Lorenzo to your list, too.

Dr. Dolittle

Snuggler debuts as Jip the Dog this evening at 7pm. She's yipping with excitement. She's also in next week's matinees (3pm Sat and 4pm Sun), so in the extremely unlikely event that you are lacking for things to do, come and see her.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What we deserve

Last night I had to run out to pick up my thespian at play rehearsal, and when I came back one of my kids who'd stayed home was in a snit of hurt feelings. Another child had baked cookies, and though Child A had been allowed to have one, apparently it was offered with a begrudging, "Even though you don't deserve it..."

Sigh. I've long thought the whole concept of deserving things is problematic. It's so slippery. The "You deserve a break today" slogan from McDonald's used to irk me no end. What did I do to deserve a break? Work longer or harder than I would have liked? There are people in the world who suffer backbreaking labor from dawn to dusk but still don't have enough food to feed their children. I might want a break, I might like a break, and I might even need a break. Life is a lot easier when I get a break. But do I deserve one?

Every person deserves freedom, shelter, food and drink, education, health care, and human dignity. But beyond that the concept of deserving is a matter of judgment, and most of the time we're biased judges. We consider the fact that we put out some effort and think, "I deserve this. I earned it." We forget that we may be earning as much in an hour as an entire family in Indonesia makes in a month. We're scandalized by people who take what they don't deserve, yet if in the midst of daydreaming about that gorgeous cashmere sweater in the clothing catalog we were suddenly transported to the backstreets of Calcutta, we'd probably be just as scandalized by our own self-centeredness.

I'm all for cookies and cashmere sweaters, and for anything which brings joy and comfort and warmth to life. I suppose it's possible to become slightly more cookie-deserving than others if I bake the goodies myself, but that distinction is dwarfed by the fact that there's an equally-upstanding mother in a corner of Africa who can't ever give her kids cookies. In my wildest dreams I can't believe I deserve cookies more than she does, or that my kids deserve them more than hers.

This tells me that most of what I think I deserve I haven't (in any substantive sense) earned at all. I didn't do anything to merit being born in a wealthy nation at a time without war or pestilence raging at my door. I did nothing to deserve the DNA which gave me a good mind and good health. I have done what I could with what I was given, but the raw materials were given to me as a gift.

Perhaps none of us deserve cookies. We're simply blessed to be able to have them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Look carefully

Little Guy comes to me this evening and says, "Hey Mom, take a look at this catalog. Do you like it?"
I flip through a couple pages and come across the incongruous spread. A coffee pot in the midst of Christmas stockings?
"I dunno, Buddy. This looks pretty odd."
Little Guy grins. "That's because I Photoshopped it!"

(note tape holding the coffee pot on the page.)


This week Eldest and I have been eating breakfast by candlelight. I realized we hadn't lit the Advent wreath on Sunday, and it seemed a nice idea to light it Monday in the early-morning darkness.

There's something about the flickering warmth of candles that brings my thoughts around to mystery. Nowadays we illuminate our world brightly and crisply, and I think it gives us the illusion that we know much more than we do. We operate as if everything is see-able and knowable, or at least should be see-able and knowable. I'm not sure that's healthy. Much of life is not incandescent; people most surely are not! I've been married to Andrew for 16+ years, and while on most days I think I know and understand my spouse, there are others on which I look at him in confusion, as if he just popped in from outer space. With people there is always history we don't know, and subtleties we don't grasp, and patterns of thinking that are alien to our own. There is nuance. Like memories, much of what we know about the people we love lies on the edge of shadows. 

Gazing at Eldest eating her gingerbread in the soft glow of candlelight, I remember things about her that I don't remember under electric lights. There are memories of stories of Milky-Milky (a cow) and Walky-Walky (a horse) that I told at bedtime when she was a preschooler. My mind wanders to her ocean-themed birthday party when she was four. My arms recall comforting her the first time she forgot to do her homework. My ears remember the excitement when her much-beloved Alison arrived to teach math. By candlelight it is easy to appreciate that there is a certain miracle in the fact that this marvelous being across the table is my child. How did that happen?

I have been silently waxing nostalgic during breakfast lately, perhaps in part because early this week Eldest submitted the last of her college applications. Last night we heard from the school to which she applied early. She was accepted. Among my future memories will be the resounding shout of joy that burst forth from her as she read the news. This is my child. What a gift. What a gift.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Keeping busy

I had to go to a meeting (again) at Eldest's school last night, and in the spirit of keeping the home a peaceful place decided to bring Little Guy along. He's had too many non-Mom nights lately, and is cranky with the big kids. We had a slice of pizza together before the meeting, and a lovely chat about life... and his impending 6th birthday.

Here is what we brought to the meeting to keep him busy:
- a package of index cards
- a pair of scissors
- a hole punch
- a package of brass fasteners
- a pencil

Little Guy spent an hour or more happily drawing body parts, cutting them out, then putting them together with the brass fasteners to make people and dogs with movable limbs. When he tired of that he drew train tickets and punched them like a conductor. It wasn't a bad set-up: not too noisy, inexpensive, and reasonably easy to clean up (if your hole punch has a catcher-thingy so the punched-out pieces don't fall on the floor).

Monday, December 14, 2009


Nutcracker's done. Many days of working in a mid-size dressing room with 20+ adrenaline-charged girls has my ears still ringing. I did get to see the last performance, and it was nicely done. Dancer was able to see the second act, which she hadn't seen for four years.

Here are my observations from backstage:

1. Whenever you have to keep a group of kids quiet, it helps to start with the assumption that you're going to have to say "Shhhh!" about 100,000 times. That way when you hit "Shhhh!" number 87,256 you aren't annoyed, because you still have a long way to go. (This approach is good for things like getting your own kids to chew with their mouths shut, too.)

2. The techniques that work for getting a message through to three and four year olds work for eleven and twelve year olds, namely, a) insist on eye contact, b) put your hand gently on their arm while you're talking, c) require a response.

3. Walk toward the troublemakers. It's a subtle thing, but a lot of crowd control can be done wordlessly. If you're right next to a difficult child, she's far less likely to imagine she's unmonitored or free to ignore whatever you just said.

4. People who teach middle school are to be admired.

And now back to the work that piled up last week!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The unexpected

Last week at the dinner at Eldest's school honoring the kids who participated in the Intel competition, the speaker said something I liked. "Expect the unexpected, because even if you don't, it will happen anyway."

Yesterday we received an unexpected letter from Intel, saying Eldest's submission had been rejected because they didn't think she met the application requirements. Apparently they'd emailed her in November asking for more info, but she hadn't provided it. That didn't seem like Eldest (any self-respecting teen would freak out upon receiving a note like that, and she's uber-reliable, so I was pretty sure she hadn't gotten it), and on closer look I found the communication problem: Intel had made a typo in her email address.

Fortunately, I was home to receive the letter. Fortunately I did not have a deadline breathing down my neck, and could spend half a day on the phone with Intel trying to explain why Eldest was eligible to compete. Fortunately, as I glanced over the rest of the application I realized that the school had written down Eldest's SAT scores from when she was twelve, not her current scores. Fortunately, I found an express mail place right near Dancer's theatre to mail the submission back to Intel. I'm kind of in awe of how all that worked.

At any rate, I think we're back in the competition. Not that that is important to the running of the world, but I do feel like Someone is watching out for us here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Opening Night!

Last night was opening night for Dancer's Nutcracker. She was a gingerbread in the Mother Ginger scene, and will be dancing that role again tonight. Tomorrow and Sunday, for two performances each day, she is in the party scene disguised as a boy, and then in the battle with the mice.

There was a sign up at the theater that student rush tickets are available for $10 on the day of the performance. If you are interested, email me privately and I'll give you the info.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Little Guy: "Mom, I know what I want for Christmas..."

"Lottery tickets."


When you don't have a magic wand

I like this series of books. We have three: What to Do When You Worry Too Much, What to Do When You Grumble Too Much, and What to Do When Your Temper Flares. There are others in the series, including one for OCD, one for breaking bad habits (nail biting, thumb sucking), and one for sleep issues and fears. For about ten bucks (through Amazon) you get a couple thousand dollars' worth of therapy, though without the personal touch.

The books are written for kids to read and work through, and they're very engaging. It helps to have Mom or Dad there to snuggle up with, though. And the techniques take practice if they're going to be instilled deeply enough to work.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Efficiency and Stress

It's 6:59 as I start to write, and cinnamon muffins have been baked, one kid is out the door, and I've already finished proofing the piece that's headed to the printer this afternoon. That's good, because if I told you everything that has to happen between now and 10pm you'd tell me I'm crazy. The two big things this evening are that Dancer has tech rehearsal, and I have to run a dinner for 225-250 people at Eldest's school.

I'm not an efficiency expert like the dad in Cheaper By the Dozen. I've noticed over time, though, that I am more efficient when I am not stressed. My brain is better at finding solutions when I don't worry about how (or if) I'm going to come up with an answer. Several years back I hit on something that revolutionized my life: I realized that logistical problems belong in the puzzle-solving part of my brain, not in the worry center. When I treat them like crossword clues I can't quite get, leaving them alone while I work on another part of the puzzle, then coming back, I make surprising progress.

I have a lot of logistical issues in my life. There's a 90-minute gap today between when I leave to take Dancer to tech and the time Dancer's godmother can arrive to take care of Little Guy and Snuggler. The younger kids are going to a friend's concert this evening. I can't take them with me to drop off Dancer, because there isn't time to get home again before I have to be at the school.

Frankly, no one is going to die or be inalterably damaged if I don't figure out a graceful solution to this. [Key point: life is easier when we stop equating solution with good solution. There's a whole spectrum of solutions, and if we're willing to entertain them all we come up with something that works more quickly.] At worst, the kids don't get to go to their concert, the friend they're going to see is disappointed, and my guys sit around cranky and bored at Eldest's dinner. But no: it's worse if I freak out, act irrationally with my kids because I'm stressed, put them on edge, and trigger misbehavior and neediness. That actually can damage kids and relationships, and have a long-term effect.

I know that most of the time when I do stress out, it's because I feel trapped. I'm stuck in some way, can't see an immediate escape path, and don't think I have the time or resources to get out gracefully. Then I remember the basic test-taking strategy of setting aside the problem and going on to the problems I can solve. I can always come back, no? Usually when I do (and especially if I've used the intervening time to get other things off my plate), my brain is clearer and the answer is easier to see.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Making progress

I went to a meeting at Big Guy's school on Thursday. Although the topic was how to find the right high school for your child, the announcement called the meeting Discharge Planning. Big Guy attends a therapeutic day school; he has a severe anxiety disorder.

Sitting in the school cafeteria the other night was the first time in the past seven years that I have been among other parents who have been through what we've been through. The social worker who led the meeting said, "Virtually all of you have gotten here the hard way." The daughter of the woman next to me has been hospitalized three times in the past two years. Big Guy has had extended hospitalizations twice, once at age seven and once last year. We've been to the ER many times, and had to call 911 many more. Having to call 911 on your own child sears the heart and bleeds the soul. You get better at it with time.

The social worker commented, "You've had to deal with the difference between the child you thought you had, and the child you were given," and we all nodded. I don't know the diagnoses of the other children at the school, but they range from being on the autism spectrum to early onset bipolar disorder and other severe mental illnesses. These parents have had it rough. There was one woman who said she has four children, two of whom are in residential treatment. I can't imagine that; it's a layer of hell I didn't realize existed.

Big Guy is new to this school, having started in July. His previous school was a cinderblock building in the middle of a treeless section of the city, a place that was all justice and no understanding. At least half the student body was there for behavioral problems, not emotional ones. The city mixes the two, as if it's not sure what the difference is. When we were looking at new schools last year, one administrator explained that because of budget issues the kids who get placed in private schools are increasingly the ones with behavioral problems. If a child has an emotional disorder that causes him to sink quietly, the school system will allow that to happen. If the child is interfering with the rest of the class, the system will find a way to remove him.

Big Guy's old school wasn't quite Dickensian, but no one ever returned to the mainstream from there. We visited schools that were worse, including one where the admissions officer told us cheerfully, "Things are a lot better since we stopped admitting so many gang members." Still, Big Guy had to deal with things at his school that would have made even a healthy person anxious. If we hadn't succeeded in getting him out of there, I do not think he'd still be with us today.

This new school is wonderful. It's beautiful, with over a hundred acres of greenery, paths in the woods, and a horticulture program. The staff are superb. They are caring, insightful people who truly seem to be able to work with Big Guy and make progress. Big Guy is happy, and he's working hard.

The school goes through ninth grade. My big question on Thursday was whether it's harder to get into a therapeutic high school if you apply in 8th grade or 9th. Thankfully, there's no difference. We can keep Big Guy at this school for another year. Deo gratias.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sometimes when it feels like your life is falling apart...

It is.

Two days ago, just before the light switch in the big bathroom blew ("No, you don't need to see in order to pee. Just go."), I put Little Guy in the tub. Oddly enough, the 1934-era drain didn't seem to be plugging up the water. I jiggled the handle (it's a long, tube-like thing), and it came off in my hand. The pipe had broken clean at the bottom.

The plumbers arrived today. Yeah, plumbers! Well... let's dampen that enthusiasm a bit. They came.

They destroyed.

They left.

They say they'll be back in a few days. But at least the tub and shower are usable again. And the super fixed the light switch, so next time the plumbers won't be working in the dark.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On Beyond Porcupines

I came home from a meeting last night with this observation: prickly people get under your skin, but toxic people poison the social environment.

Fortunately there aren't a lot of toxic people in the world. You know'em when you meet'em because:

1. The underlying message they send is You don't matter. What matters is what I want and you have no right to get in my way.

2.  Cues and verbal intervention directed at stopping the behavior are ignored.
3. Although you may have profound respect for other people in the room, you leave feeling you never want to go back there again.
4. Everyone involved ends up feeling unclean and soiled (not to mention insulted and angry).

How does one deal with a toxic person (TP)? I think there are a couple of approaches. The first order of the day is to operate at a safe enough distance that you are not sucked into acting the same way. I find I have to consciously tell myself I do not want to be this person. I have to remind myself that I don't want to live in the darkness that person casts; I want to live in the light. I can't fight on their turf. And I have to find the distinction between venting and gossip, letting my feelings loose only with those who can help me heal, and keeping my mouth shut when the only possible outcome will be to re-ignite my indignation or to inflame others.

The simultaneous, almost-goes-without-saying thing to do is to make sure the TP doesn't know how you feel about him or her, so you avoid becoming a target. I lucked out last night because the TP was so absorbed in her tantrum that she didn't notice the gaping look of horror on my face.

Within the parameters of keeping yourself safe, you can develop a plan of action. Last night's situation had a relatively straightforward next step, because this TP has a boss. I sat down to write the boss an email, and it took me well over an hour to write four short paragraphs. To be effective, I knew the letter had to be about the problem, not about my feelings about the problem. I'm slow: it takes me a long time to figure out exactly what I want to say, and then dozens and dozens of drafts to extract the emotion. As a final check I passed the letter by Andrew before sending. He found a few more things that he thought it would be better to leave out.

The letter's done and sent, and now there's one more thing to do. When someone depletes the world of good, one thing I can do is try to add a bit more back in.  That's my project for the day.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Yesterday on the subway en route to swimming, Little Guy was telling me about a kid in his class who was getting on his nerves. I could tell this was heading into a rant, so I stopped the tirade with a shrug and my by-now stock comment, "Hey, everywhere you go in life there's going to be at least one annoying person."

The people surrounding us laughed out loud. Guess they'd never thought of it that way. But what are the statistical odds that in any given group of people every single person is going to be pleasant? Life's a lot easier when you assume that there will always be someone in the room you'd rather not have to deal with.

I once saw a book in a catalog called How to Hug a Porcupine. I love that title. I've remembered it for over a decade, though I never read the book. There are almost always ways to get along with prickly people safely. The key is remembering that the goal is to get along with them, rather than make them go away. (Once in a while distance really is the best solution. But not always.)

Like many people, I have occasional quill-like tendencies. As a young adult, I congratulated myself on having blunted most of them. Then I had kids, and discovered I have more prickles than I'd previously imagined. Kids'll do that to you: reveal your flaws. It's one of the good things about having children.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bad luck, good people

We were slated to go see the Magna Carta today. It was a homeschool group trip, so we headed to the subway at about 9:00 to allow ample time to get there by 10:15. The train went one stop and promptly... stopped. It stopped for a long time. At first we were told there was an emergency a couple of stations ahead (I'm okay with emergencies; a heart attack takes precedence over my field trip any day), but then it turned out to be the usual train with mechanical difficulties. I always think that description sounds a bit like it belongs in an IEP or something.

As the minutes ticked and ticked and ticked past, it soon became clear that our chances of getting downtown in time were going to be small. We were all sad. The kids kept asking if we'd make it, and sometime after we finally started moving again I looked at the time and said, "No, we're not going to get there before they start." When we emerged from the train, still a 15-minute walk from our destination, it was 10:42. Pooh.

I was all for going to Plan B (whatever that was), but Snuggler was indignant. "We can't give up without even trying, Mom! Can't we try?" I hadn't known the Magna Carta meant so much to her. I hadn't even been sure she knew what the Magna Carta was.

So we meandered a bit further south, looking at other good and interesting things on the way. It started to rain. We headed toward the museum, mostly just to show the kids where it was and what it looked like. As we approached, Dancer said, "Hey, look! There's our group!" They'd just come out of the tour.

I crossed the street to proffer my apologies for our absence to the woman who coordinated the trip. She said, "It was a great trip. But you know, the docent said that if anyone else from our group came and wanted to see the Magna Carta, they could. Let me check!"

There are some pretty strict rules on how many people can be in the viewing room at once, and unfortunately the last school group of the day didn't have room for four more people. The docent came back and said, "Oh, you really have to see it! So this is what we'll do. I'm going to assign you a guard, and you can go in the back way. You just take your time looking at the rest of the museum (which is closed to the public), and then when this group comes out we'll slip you right in before we close."

How amazing is that? There's someone in this big, tough world who wants as many kids to see the Magna Carta as want to see it, and who's willing to do something a little unusual to make it happen. So we had a private tour, and plenty of time, and then we had the Magna Carta all to ourselves.