Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Have News

So I have news.

Funny, even when you've perhaps -- just maybe -- celebrated your fiftieth birthday, say the word "news", and everyone -- and I mean everyone -- assumes the news is the kind that arrives in about nine months.

Well, I have news.

But it's not that news.

I want to type, "We are moving," but we're not moving for a while. I think about saying, "We're buying a house," and as long as I stick to the present progressive, that's true. The most accurate report would be, "We have a contract to buy a house." Our mortgage papers say, "You're almost home," but it doesn't necessarily feel that way day to day. It's a process, and as I'm learning, it's a l-o-n-g one.

The whole thing came out of the blue and spanned about the seventy two hours from House Is Available to Contract Signed.  As I told someone, Dave and I have put more time into buying a coffee maker than we did into buying this house.

There's nothing like a chat with a real estate agent or a mortgage broker to make you feel stupid with a capital "S". These people couldn't be nicer, but they speak another language. Oh, the terms! Oh, the forms! Oh, the documents! Points and earnest money, escrow accounts and mortgage insurance, inspections and termite letters. It's another world entirely. At one point I turned to Dave and said, "And this is why we do this every eighteen years."

Stage I is The Contract.

Stage II is The Financing. Stage II is far more complicated and time consuming than Stage I and essentially involves locating hard copies of every last shred of paper related to your financial life and converting them to electronic copies so that the mortgage folks can turn them back into hard copies, mail them to you Fed Ex, have you verify them, and return them once again.

Rain forests, beware.

A new level of crazy and totally exposes the myth of "the paperless environment" all those nice computer folks promised us long ago.

Stage III is The Yard Sale, and it took place Saturday. Words fail me here. I could pen a passionate and humorous post on the merits and pitfalls of yard sales, but let me leave it at this: There must be far, far easier ways to score a hundred bucks. We are so beyond exhausted.

The thought of moving, or more precisely the thought of showing our house, has been, hmmmm, motivating. See, Stage IV is Showing the House. The ink wasn't dry on the contract, and I was zipping to Lowe's to buy flowers for my front window. Curb appeal and all that. 'Cause twelve bucks worth of pansies will sell this house, no doubt about it. Seriously, this is a combination of people over for dinner, my tidiest friend dropping by unannounced, and my mother-in-law planning a lengthy visit.

I look at everything in a new light.

And this is all good except that it doesn't jibe well with Stage III - The Yard Sale, Subtitle: Relocate the Entire Contents of the Attic to Your Living Room. Lest you think I exaggerate, on Friday my living room looked like this:

It wasn't too, too bad because until the night before Stage III, the towering mess was confined to one room. I can deal with contained mess. Mostly. Then it was transferred to the front lawn. The unsold items were then transferred to Goodwill or The Fall Fare which, conveniently, is in three weeks. Maybe five items came back into the house.

For most of my adult life, I have considered myself a moderate minimalist. There's nothing like an impending move or a renovation to put that premise to the acid test. I have my areas of excess -- books and teapots, mostly -- but I really have worked to keep things pared down. We support two yard/rummage sales per year, and I have always fancied myself a great contributor.

Faced with a) showing my house and then b) moving the entire contents, I have gone to the darkest corners of the attic, plumbed the far reaches of every closet -- and discovered that any pretensions I have of being "A Minimalist" are so far off course as to be comical. I hereby surrender my Minimalist Card, exposing myself for the impostor that I am. I will don sackcloth leftover from an All Saints' costume and sit in front of The Dollar Tree shouting "unclean, unclean." A dozen lashes with those broken Christmas lights I've been hanging on to for ten years!

Everyone, I am convinced, should touch every surface, every item really, once per year.  Our current house boasts two spacious attics. This, I now realize, is not necessarily a good thing. My mother-in-law always talks about moving into a house with no garage, no basement. I see her point. If you have the storage, it will come -- and it will bring a few companions along for the ride. Things like certificates from high school Model United Nations conferences, notebooks from nuclear engineering classes taken a quarter of a century ago, a piggy back I bought when I was eight, the one and only trophy I have ever earned. Tennis. Most improved.

We've made some fun discoveries.

There have been discoveries nostalgic -- I nearly swooned over Tim's first tennies.

There have been discoveries practical -- a brand new, never been used tea kettle.

There have been discoveries gross -- a set of crutches with arm pads that had liquefied in the balmy climate of our attic.

And there have been boxes and boxes and boxes. I'm talking empty ones. A few weeks ago, I found a box labelled "Empty Box," and I'm not even making that up. If I buy a skateboard or a radio or an iron, I always wonder if I'll need to return it. If it's gift, I wrap it and toss the box in the attic. Multiply this by eighteen years, and we've pretty well insulated the attic with cardboard. The good news is that a third of attic needed nothing more than flattening and tossing in the recycling can.

When I get a few minutes I plan to draft a brilliant and inspiring piece called "You Should Live in the Kind of House You'd Show Potential Buyers or Your Mother-in-Law." It's a working title -- a bit wordy, I know.  We all have To Do Lists, and sometimes they languish like so many good intentions. People have varying degrees of time, money, energy, and skill when it comes to home improvement. But the truth is, I thought about showing the house and planted flowers in the span of an hour. I plan to touch up the woodwork here, finally finish installing a doorknob there,  For at least a year, I've planned to get an estimate on recovering a set of chairs. I got the estimate. Forward march! We're not renovating the kitchen or adding a deck, but we're finishing projects and de-cluttering and sprucing up, and some of the results are startling. I showed Tim his clutter-free closet, and he put his arm around me and said, "Wow, Mom."

If we can accomplish "Wow, Mom" for other people, why don't we do it for ourselves?

Pep talk over.

When we close -- in forty-four days, but who's counting? -- I will post pictures. Until then, it seems premature. As I said, it's a process and a l-o-n-g one. We covet your prayers.

We are absolutely exhausted. We are excited. We are grateful.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Boy and His Fort

John had his buddy Henry over a while back, and they decided to build a fort. The Fort is now John's reason for getting up in the morning.
I can overlook "aloud" --  tricky things, those homonyms -- but the superfluous apostrophe? Ouch.

It started off rough. Then they added a mailbox. And if you're going to have a mailbox, you certainly need mail. John came to me with a sheaf of papers.

"Can I use these," he asked.

"What are you going to do with them," I wondered.

He leaned in slightly and in a conspiratorial tone said, "Secret stuff."

Secret stuff. Of course. And off he ran to do his secret stuff.

The next day he wanted to install carpet. Since I was planning a yard sale, I had an old rug to contribute. I had to laugh when John returned a few minutes later to borrow the vacuum.

Today the addition went in. I found John and his friend Jonah on the roof of the fort pounding planks into the roof of the addition. I wondered where they got the wood and then wondered if Dave would have to be resuscitated when he learned of this development.

No worries.

Our seven-year-old can pound a straight nail. Dave's one proud Papa. He headed for the workroom to grab a power saw and a drill. Suddenly the project became a father-son endeavor.

The addition, it turns out, is a jail.

Ainsley came running to me with a grim report. "If I get a bad grade," she told me, "John said he'd nail me into the prison."

I don't think he intended to nail her actual person. I think the door to the jail doesn't yet have a hinge, so the only way to close it is to nail it shut. Daddy will take care of that, no doubt.

Seven-year-old boys.

Absolutely precious.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Year of the Tooth

The past twelve months have found us spending an inordinate amount of time where I least enjoy it -- namely, the dentist's office. To be precise, I should type dentists' offices, plural, and add to that the oral surgeon's office, the orthodontist's office, and, worst of all, the endodontist's office.

Trust me, neither you nor your bank account should hang out in any of these places.

I had a cracked tooth which resulted in a crown followed by a minor breakdown in the endodontist's chair followed by a root canal followed by a second crown followed by the mother of all canker sores and two more breakdowns, one in the dentist's office which resulted in prescription that would deaden any level of mouth pain and probably a compound fracture of the femur and the second one at the pharmacist's counter.

God bless the hapless, baby-faced cashier at Barney's pharmacy who had the misfortune of waiting on Kelly in agony following weeks of dental work. Our interaction ran something like this:

Hapless cashier, Day 1: You're here for The Wonder Drug. Our compounding pharmacist has left for the day. Would you mind coming back tomorrow?
Kelly in Agony, Day 1: ???
Hapless Cashier, Day 2: You're here for The Wonder Drug. Our compounding pharmacist has left for the day. Would you mind coming back tomorrow?
Kelly in Agony, Day 2: ??????
Hapless Cashier, perceptively suspecting that I did, in fact, mind coming back tomorrow: When did you need this?
Kelly in Agony: Yesterday. Y-e-s-t-e-r-d-a-y.
Hapless Cashier: Let me see if the owner is here.

There simply are no words. No words. None.

Meanwhile Tim, aged sixteen, had no twelve-year molars. This wasn't too terribly surprising for the kid who sprouted his first tooth at fourteen months, but a quick x-ray showed wisdom teeth coming in at odd angles and blocking the molars. On to the oral surgeon for an extraction that left us with a dopey but sweet Tim for a few days.

Not one to be left out, Kolbe arrived for his semi-annual dental check with two molars hanging on by a thread. Problem was, a month later they were hanging on by a tad more than a thread. Like Kudzu on a telephone pole, the thread just grew until the day Kolbe ran into our friend Larry who is a dentist. "Hey, Uncle Larry," Kolbe said. "Look at this."

Larry took a quick look and informed me that  those molars were no longer hanging on by any kind of thread. If we wanted them out, they would have to be pulled. So one shot of Novocaine and $250 later, those molars were gone, baby, gone.

Then John got into the action. He had  a loose tooth that seemed to growing less loose by the day. I told him the Tooth Fairy was running a special -- ten bucks a tooth but the offer expired at the end of the week. My kids will do a lot for cold, hard cash. Out came the tooth, and I figure I saved myself $115.

I was determined to avoid dental repairs of all varieties by a simple, two-step method: A mouth-guard at night would help avoid a repeat performance on the cracked tooth and more diligent flossing would do, I don't know, something positive I guess. Right? Because flossing is good for you. Or so they say.

And then my teeth started to throb. Again. And the pain was suspiciously like the pain of the previous year that cost me hours and hours in the dental chair and more cash then I care to calculate. I decided to do the sensible thing and block out the pain through a combination of denial and excessive amounts of Advil.

The pain grew worse as my dental exam drew nigh. At least they'll be impressed with all my flossing, I thought. Not so. I guess my flossing was a little too energetic. I managed to expose roots and this, apparently, is a bad thing. But cheaper than a crown. And much cheaper than a crown plus a root canal plus risking the life of a teenage cashier and all the legal issues that would have entailed.

Ainsley, John, and Kolbe headed to the dentist last week. No cavities! But John has a tooth coming in at a bizarre angle. And it's trapping a baby tooth. And now the baby tooth has to be pulled, and I don't think the Tooth Fairy Special is going to get it to budge. The dentist ran through the arrangements with me including the menu of narcotics that tend to make the process go smoother. I wondered aloud which drugs they offer the mother.

Sadly, the mother gets nothing but the bill.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Ainsley's signature week 1.
Ainsley's signature week 4.

Now teachers, they call this progress. Dave looked at it and said, "Ainsley can write an "s" correctly?"

Yes, dear, she can. But on the up side, she handed me this the other day:

At least the "Y" is still backwards.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Teenagers, Plural

So we've now experienced approximately eight consecutive days as the parents of teenagers, plural. Naturally, I feel compelled to write about the whole, albeit brief, adventure.

At last count we had two teenagers in the house. Now, plenty of families have three or more teenagers. My parents nearly had four. I did some rough math the other night, and I think my younger sister was twelve and three quarters when my brother turned twenty. My long-suffering parents nearly had four teenagers living at home at one point. Let the record reflect we gave them a run for their money, and it's not without reason that my mother has a bit of a nervous twitch.

I have friends who will one day be able to say they have five teenagers under the roof. Hello, Rachel! Click here to get Rachel's observations on life with teenagers. You can survive and even thrive, though your grocery budget may not.

Yes, it's true. They eat everything in sight. The grocery bills are astounding. Their clothes aren't cheap. Their shoes cost even more. So all of you moms of littles who hit the yard sales and consignment stores, keep it up. The pickings are slim once puberty sets in. You don't often find a bargain on size 11 men's shoes.

Hanging on.
But while sticker shock is, well, shocking, the real challenge for me falls under the category of  what I call The Agenda.

Here's a typical scenario:
Nameless Teenage Boy: Yeah, well, we're all working on our t.v. commercial for Civics and it's worth 900 points and it's due tomorrow and we have to get together and we're headed to the river and it's totally fine with all the other parents and we're leaving in a few minutes . . . oh, they're here right now, so can I go?
Bewildered Parent: ?????
Note that every Agenda has three required components:

1. It's Now!
2. It's New!
3. You're the only parent in this limitless solar system who has ever had the slightest qualm, misgiving, catch in the old spirit about whatever it is.
Hanging on.

Let's examine these points one by one.

1. It's now!

Nothing is ever Next Saturday or The Day After Tomorrow. No, no, no. It's now or never. The future tense barely exists for the average American teenager. They are in the driveway, revving the engine, late, late, late for a very important date and the only thing gumming up the whole works is YOU.

2. It's New!

New is far more troubling than Now. This age is chock-full of Firsts. Deodorant, driving, shaving, braces, acne, checking accounts. Now Firsts can be nerve wracking at any age. I remember when it dawned on me that John really, truly could walk two doors down to the neighbor's to borrow a cup of sugar without any fear of repercussions from the Department of Family and Children's Services. I recall when John and Ainsley could play in our backyard without me hovering over them. When Kolbe could ride his bike to a friend's house.

Hanging on. 
We all struggle with these Firsts, of course, but Teenage Firsts are extra worrisome and when they're your First Teenage Firsts, they're downright alarming. Because they involve cars or boats. Because they usually happen at night. Because they're typically unsupervised. Because they might even include girls.

3. What's Your Problem?

To hear a certain nameless teenager talk, no one else in the state of Georgia spends Sundays with the family. No one else is expected to dine at home on a regular basis. No one else is hampered by such trivial matters as homework, orthodontist's appointments, piano lessons, chores, sleep, Mom's sanity, the family budget, etc.

Every other parent  -- and I mean every. last. one. of. them. -- is a-okay with (insert something never done before, something you've never even envisioned your child doing).

(Here I should admit that there is a slight element of truth in this, just a shred. Tim is an oldest child who is friends with a whole bunch of youngest children.  Many of these parents are grizzled veterans. Been there, done that, don't sweat some things that are, in Tim's vernacular, epic to his uninitiated parents.)

I remember running a youth ministry event when I was young and single. The phone rang. It was my good friend on the line. Her oldest daughter was en route to the party and was driving alone for the first time ever! Would I please call back and tell Mom that Daughter had arrived and do it all clandestinely so that Daughter wouldn't know that Mom was on her knees with a rosary and a box of Kleenex wondering how Daughter had graduated from a Barbie bike with training wheels to a mini-van in the blink of an eye and who on earth decided that sixteen was a reasonable age to issue a driver's license and Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers, pray for us.

I get it.

My dear friend Bob V, father of many, had a stock response when his kids would come to him with the dreaded Agenda: I'll let you know in ten minutes. Ten minutes. Enough time to ask the question: Am I crazy or is he? Enough time to confer with the spouse because if there's one absolute in parenting it's United We Stand; Divided We Fall. Enough time to assess other priorities and to offer a Yes that is confident or a No that is reasonable and not simply a knee-jerk response to the fact that, ready or not, you're going where you've never, ever gone before.

Teenagers, plural. Just hang on.