Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Rockin' Wednesday Night at Our House

We have a largely finished basement but there is a portion (it's actually under the garage) that is still unfinished and we call it the dungeon. The dungeon is where all of J's music equipment is - you might remember that he plays in a band from this post or this post.

The kids are only allowed back there when one of us is with them - so it's a big treat. All four of them like to play the electronic drums. The bigger ones are showing some interest in learning to play the guitar.

Here is a glimpse into some family time in the dungeon:

J on the Drums on Vimeo.

My 39-year-old playing the drums - and a few other folks.


The tricycle that H is riding? Was mine as a toddler.

And I didn't realize how anti-paparazzi C is.

M was there (you saw her briefly) but I think G was reading a book somewhere. Shortly after this was recorded, we left for Red Lobster. (And if you enjoyed reading about Red Lobster, you might need to check out the Red Lobster Server blog. Oh. My. God.)

This is how we roll.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Red Lobster

Today was the last day of school. Kindergarten? Done. First Grade? Done. Any hope of me regaining my sanity in, say...the next 80 days? Nada.

J and I decided to take the kids to dinner to celebrate the beginning of summer break. At Red Lobster. I don't know why.

J didn't think he'd been to Red Lobster in 20 years. Since a double date in college. Yep, that's my man - taking girls to Red Lobster. Smoooooth, that one.

I haven't been since a co-worker's craving for cheddar biscuits took us there more than 10 years ago (and hadn't been before that in probably another 10+ years). But Red Lobster was always my favorite as a child - so I thought my kids would love it. Fried everything. What's not to love?

My love for Red Lobster, though, is gone. A moment that has passed. A piece of nostalgia that cannot be created.

Two reasons. First, the food. I'm sure it was never particularly great - but breaded and fried popcorn shrimp dredged in cocktail sauce and/or tartar sauce was the most delicious, exotic, wonderful meal I ever tasted at age 8. And the hush puppies? Please tell me you remember the hush puppies - deep fried cornmeal fritters that were the second-most delicious, exotic, wonderful food I ever tasted at age 8.

They still have the popcorn shrimp (though it was served with ketchup, which is just wrong). The little shrimps still rock - but I was too embarrassed to order the adult portion so I just stole them off of my kids' plates. But they don't have hush puppies on the menu at all. A mother-f'ing tragedy is what it is.

And the menu was full of grilled and broiled fish and shellfish. Like fried food is bad for you or something. Oh, the fried platters were still there - but they push all of the more healthy items at you and make you feel like an asshole if you order the clam strips.

My second Red Lobster complaint: the decor. Back in the day, my mom used to take my sister and I to Red Lobster if my dad was out of town on business (he is allergic to shellfish). It was several towns over and a big night out. And it was an event to even walk in the joint. Dark wood, very nautical and Davey Jones-y, fishing nets, diving helmets, portholes, wooden lobster traps, red vinyl booths and chair seats. The lobster tank front and center by the hostess stand - huge and sitting on a dark wood paneled stand.

Now? The decor is like Applebee's or even a bad hotel restaurant with painted iron fish art. Totally blows the experience.

Red Lobster? We won't be back - though you probably don't care judging from the number of people who were waiting for tables (I am not kidding) when we left. Scary.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thoughts About the Cemetery

It's Memorial Day Weekend, which for many means an annual trip to the cemetery to honor lost relatives and friends. But I'd never done that before today.

My mother invited my grandmother to church this morning and then offered to take her to the gravesite of her (my grandmother's) parents because she hadn't been in quite some time. So, my two older kids and I tagged along after Mass.

I'm a history major and a genealogy buff so cemetery visits are really right up my alley, as morbid as that sounds. And an old cemetery? All the better.

My great-grandparents are buried in a Kansas City cemetery, a portion of which dates to the Civil War (most of it was "populated" after the 1920's though). We visited them as well as the graves of my great-great aunt and her son - all gone since the '40s and '50s.

The kids and I walked a good bit inside the cemetery grounds, talking about graves and names and soldiers and cemeteries. And a little bit about death and Heaven. We walked through a small section that was clearly Greek but the remainder was largely a mix of Irish and Italian Catholics - with a few other nationalities thrown in for good measure.

I explained to the kids what a soldier's or sailor's gravestone looked like - so they looked for them as we walked. They read names on headstones. Found graves of people who shared their first names and those of their brothers.

At one point, G exclaimed to his sister: "M! Look! I found Moses!" Although I'm fairly sure that "William Moses" who died in the 1950s isn't the Moses he was thinking of, G certainly thought he had a brush with biblical fame at a cemetery in Kansas City.

A few minutes later, in the Catholic cemetery, G said, "MOM! Look! Here's the grave of the Jews!" Mortified, I shushed him and walked to see what he had discovered. Instead of finding an out-of-place Star of David, I found a large monument marked "JOOS". Possibly the most confusing surname of a Catholic family I've ever seen...

In addition to the near-constant entertainment provided by my children, I drove away from the cemetery with a contentment. Not from visiting the graves of people I knew, for they had all passed decades before my birth. But from knowing that my history is here.

I'm not descended from any big-name founders of Kansas City, no society figures, no streets bearing my family name. But I can drive around this city and know that my recent ancestors lived in these neighborhoods for over 100 years. I can see names from my family tree on headstones in some of the city's oldest cemeteries. I can search for addresses that no longer exist or are now in rundown, bad neighborhoods and wonder what it was like when my family members lived there long, long ago.

For a history geek, that's really powerful.

The internet has made genealogical research so much more convenient than ever before - but there is something very real and even intense about standing at the final resting place of the people whose names and photos fill my computer's hard drive with the rest of my genealogical findings and explaining to my children that these people were in our family before we were in our family.

It was a good day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Moms vs. Moms

I've been watching women bloggers (some mommybloggers and some not) fight on Twitter and in their blogs over the last few weeks about product reviews* and transparency and advertising and whatnot. I get it. I understand the positions. I'm tired of reading about it. I'm hoping we're about done with the whole topic. Move on.

The thing is, though, there will just be a new topic to fight about a few weeks from now. Another reason for us to decide to rip into each other, get offended and pissed off, write angry posts and fire off insulting Tweets.

Why is it that some women on the internet (and, I know, in real life) just can't get along? Why the constant tearing-down of others? Does it really make you feel that much better about yourself?

I was talking last weekend with a writer who writes for a prominent national political blog and she mentioned that their commenters are often very clique-y and territorial. And I get that. It's politics. Positions, debates and passions are to be expected. Though I would hope that people can choose to argue civilly.

But even that writer - a savvy, sage writer who lived through the very vicious, drawn-out election process last year - acknowledged that she would NEVER touch the three dicey-est subjects on the internet: breastfeeding, vaccines and spanking. Too much heat and venom. This is from a POLITICAL writer whose entire blog is centered around ideological positions and differences!

I told her that the only other internet communities I had ever seen be "clique-y and territorial" were moms forums and mommy blog commenters. Some of the most vicious things I've ever read on the internet were written by mothers, directed at other mothers. Brutal. I don't get it.

There is a local mothers' forum that I find particularly exclusionary. (And I know of several others in which I've never seen anything unkind or hurtful written - so, clearly, some women know how to play nice.) But this one just runs by its own set of unofficial rules - made up by the "regulars". It's kinda like they decide who gets to play and who doesn't.

I watched them gang up on an unsuspecting PR person one day. The PR gal started a thread, looking for "influential" local moms to help with a word-of-mouth/blog campaign for her client. The piranhas attacked immediately with absolute rudeness. How dare she seek out the help of moms for an interesting opportunity on THEIR boards? I understand policing boards for over-marketers but this woman was smacked down in the most disrespectful manner. No moderators to calm anyone down.

So, this post is kinda ramble-y. Sorry.

Am I wrong? Is it just political forums and mom forums? Do other boards get so nasty and personal with one another? I have to admit that I don't have much experience with online forums and boards (although I've dealt with a few rude commenters and emails on other sites).

Is it a mom-thing? What is your experience?

*The argument, in a nutshell, is whether product reviews should be included in personal blogs or in separate blogs - and how to deal with the relationship between blogger and manufacturer/retailer/whatever. Should you disclose that you received the product for free to review it? Should you accept money to write reviews in your blog? Okay, that's not so much a nutshell - but you get the picture. (For the record, I vote for total disclosure, no paid reviews and whether you include reviews in your personal blog or not is up to you and your readers. I don't.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Workin' at the Car Wash


M had her third dance recital on Friday night. Hard to believe she's been doing this for three years!

Her class danced to "Workin' at the Car Wash". It was darling. She was wonderful.

There's not much more to say except... Can you believe I actually got in a picture?!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Authenticity

Yesterday, for the first time since I left the practice of law almost three years ago, I attended a professional conference. I spent the day at Chicks Who Click/Kansas City with a room full of fun, cool and very interesting women. (There were four or five men there at different points during the day - a speaker, a conference organizer, a product presenter and a husband or two.)

The conference was a full day of speakers, conversations and networking - all centered around social media - blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other online social marketing tools. I feel like I learned a good bit and I'm most excited about meeting so many fabulous people. I'm really glad I went.

The resounding - if unintended - theme of the day was the importance of authenticity in your (or your client's) participation in online social media. Be yourself. Trying to be someone else will never ring true, will never gain someone's attention or admiration, will never inspire readers to return, will never help you navigate to the places you want to go in life.

That message (and the fact that I was handing out cards with this URL on it among others) made me think about this blog a bit. And what it said about me as a mother, a writer, a lawyer, a professional. Which is not much.

When I started this blog two years ago, I intended for it to be only a mother's diary of her children. The funny things they said, the cute things they did. And, by and large, it has remained that. And it will continue to include those things - probably as the primary topic even. They are obviously a huge part of my life (and the reason the blog is titled the way it is...).

But all the talk of authenticity really sparked some self-inspection. And I came to realize that this blog plays out much like my photo albums and scrapbooks. A fun and happy life for my children. With their mother nowhere in sight. I am the historian, the chronicler of our family - as I'm sure is true in most families.

I'm behind the camera, recording the fun and touching moments. Rarely in the photos with my kids. I'm behind the keyboard, writing about the fun things they did and funny things they said. But my life merely accompanies theirs, running parallel - as far as you can tell from my words here.

The thing is, though, is that it's not true. I am on all of those trips to the zoo and the dairy farm and the beach. I did go to those soccer games and dance recitals. And, every once in a while? I do something interesting without my children. Go figure.

So, authenticity. I'll probably write a bit more about what's going on in my life and my head here in the future. Four Funny Kids won't become my diary by any means (which was what my husband envisioned when I started the blog in the first place). It will just be a more complete picture of my family - not full and unfiltered disclosure, but a broader story.

More me. More authentic.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ebony and Ivory, 2009

So, my six-year-old is probably not all that familiar with the Paul McCartney-Stevie Wonder '80's duet "Ebony and Ivory." And maybe you're not either. If you're not, then...well...suck it. That means you're way younger than me.

M wrote a "song" that I found this morning on her father's desk. It is written on copy paper with yellow highlighter, otherwise I would have photographed it.

Without further ado, here's her opus:

"You are Black and I am Whiet
But sumtimes we wok together!
You are the baist
I am the Best
You are por and
I am rich"*

And there you have it. No idea where it came from or what it means.

*All spelling is hers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Simplicity of a Two Year Old's Perspective

I'm sitting here, scrolling through my Google Reader with my littlest child. As he sees photos, he remarks on them.

A photo of a sleeping child on a mommyblog? "Wook! A girl sweeping!" (It was a boy.)
A photo of Taylor Swift, 16 year old country singer/ex-girlfriend to a Jonas Brother? "Wook! Is Gwandma!" (My mom will now probably anoint him her favorite grandchild.)
A photo of Jon Stewart, short Jewish comedian? "Wook! Is Daddy!" (Who is actually a 6'4" non-Jewish guy.)
Farrah Fawcett? Also Grandma.
Jessica Simpson? Grandma.
Miss California? Grandma.

Such a thoughtful child. No?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I Can't Decide If Being Rich Sounds Boring or Awesome

Today on the way home from piano lessons, my seven-year-old said - out of the blue - "I wish we were rich."

We live a comfortable life. I am able to stay home with my kids. We drive newer cars. My children have never wanted for anything (although we do try to teach them the value of money and try not to overindulge them). Other than the fact that my husband is currently out of a job (Oh! Have I not mentioned that? Well, let's just call that a story for another day. And there is a good deal of severance, so we're fine. Thanks.), we're doing just fine for ourselves. So, I'm wondering what it is that the seven-year-old mind thinks about being rich.

So....I ask him why he wishes we were rich.

G: So we could have a robot that does all of our cooking and cleaning and laundry.

Me: Oh. Well, then what would I do?

G: You could just relax and watch every TV show you want to watch. Or even just play on the computer.

Me: Wouldn't I be bored?

G: No. Mom, you just don't understand rich people's lives.

Me: I guess not.

G: Oh! And the housecleaning robot could turn into a jet plane and Dad could fly on it to work whenever he wanted to.

Methinks someone's been watching Richie Rich cartoons on Boomerang...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Reasons Aren't Quite As Inspiring as Karen's

I read Karen's post this morning at Chookooloonks about the reasons she left her law career and changed her life. It is titled "the reveal". I have nothing quite so eloquent or dramatic to disclose about my own decision to leave the practice of law after 10 years but I still saw much of myself in the her words. These in particular:

Why I practiced law for as long as I did:

  • After working that hard on both making it through law school and passing the bar exam, it seemed a shame not to use the degree and the license.
  • Despite the bad rep lawyers have, I liked that people assumed I was smart because I was a attorney. I'm not proud of this, but there it is. I also liked proving that not all lawyers are jerks, and would often find myself going out of my way to do so.
  • I loved drafting deals. I really loved it. I didn't so much like reading contracts, and I could take or leave the negotiation part of a deal, but the crafting of a document that was easy to understand, and captured the intents of both parties? I loved that. I like to think I got pretty decent at it, too.
  • I had some success in my law career -- I traveled around the world, I received promotions and recognition. I admit receiving accolades was pretty intoxicating, regardless of how I felt about the actual work.
I could have written the first two bullet points myself. When I was deciding whether to quit, I struggled with the fact that I spent $85,000, three years of law school and two bar exams in two different states to be an attorney - and now I was willing to just walk away from it. Like Karen, I never had a passion for the law. I was a litigator - strange for a non-extrovert and avoider of conflicts. I struggled with dealing with clients and their near-constant complaints and problems. I hated to be the bearer of bad news, even when that news was beyond my control.

But I loved doing the research, crafting the legal arguments and strategies, pouring over boxes of documents and organizing them (and my thoughts) for briefs, depositions and trials. And I was good at that. I received 10 years of compliments. I became a partner in my firm. It was nice - even if I didn't love what I was doing.

I know that relatively few people actually do what they love for a living and I would have (and still could) practiced law for a long time if need be. But at some point, I realized that I didn't financially need to AND I was missing out on some irreplaceable time with my kids. Their teachers and classmates' moms knew my aunt (my wonderful child-care provider) much better than they knew me. And maybe my kids knew her better too.

Ultimately, I realized that I wasn't doing the best possible job as a mom or a lawyer and I hated that. The obvious choice was my kids. I was (and continue to be) infinitely lucky to have the choice.

Fast forward two years after my "retirement" - I had two more kids (twins) and an atrophying brain. Via a story too long to tell here, almost by happy accident, I happened upon a writing opportunity for a legal blog. I started getting paid to write about the law, explaining it in simple terms to laypeople. And I loved it.

I've done many different kinds of writing since that first gig but much of my work has been writing about the law. I enjoy it. I feel like I use my education and my experience to do something I really, really like. And I get to do it from home, with my kids, on my own time.

Now, writing's not replacing my attorney income by any stretch of the imagination but it has provided a nice supplement for "extras." And I'm exercising my brain, engaging with adults and enjoying myself.

As I sit here in my driveway, soaking up sun and watching my two-year-old boys play, I know that I made the right decision for us. Okay, maybe the title to my post is inaccurate. Karen's choice to quit practicing to follow her heart in creative endeavors may be inspiring - but my four little reasons for quitting are equally so.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lessons We Learn at 37

Lesson: Don't make fun of the seven-year-old for having sore muscles before you've fully woken up. Because when you get moving and realize that your right arm from forearm to shoulder is achy and your lower back is stiff, you'll realize that you don't even have a cool excuse like Wii Boxing. Just five fucking rose bushes that needed pruning.

And that, my friends, is when you come to accept that you're old. Rose bushes kick my ass in one afternoon.

Lessons Wii Learn at 7

When G came down from his room this morning, my husband asked the usual, "How are ya, buddy?"

The answer: "Not so good."

J: Why not?

G: My legs, arms, back and neck are not feeling very good.

J and I looked at each other quizzically. Then...

J: Hey! Bud, remember all of that Wii Boxing heavy bag punching you did yesterday?

G: Yes.

J: You're sore from that. Remember how hard you were working?

(He was sweating like a little pig, he was punching so hard...)

Me: That's what happens when you use muscles a whole lot that you don't use very often.

My kid who plays sports three times a week and rides his bike CONSTANTLY went to school this morning with sore shoulders from punching a virtual heavy bag. Which is at least more honorable and impressive than the few days after Christmas that I couldn't move because of Wii bowling.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I Actually Had a Conversation with Them About Farting in Church

Me (in the car, after Mass last night): Alright, which one of you was tooting all through Mass?

G: Oh, that was me...

Me: Okay. I know that sometimes you just can't help it. But if you can possibly help it, it is best to NOT toot when you're in a group of people, like at church.

G: Okay, sorry.

M: You know, Mom. If nobody ever tooted, that would be really helpful.

Me: Yes, it would be very helpful.

G: But no one would feel very good.

The conversation was capped off, I shit you not, by this:

Me: OKAY! Who just tooted in the CAR?!

M: Oops. That was me...sorry.

Not exactly the parental-type lessons I envisioned teaching my kids before I became a parent.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Weird Mommy Fail Day

It has rained every weekend since the beginning of April. The kids have played two of their regularly-scheduled six soccer games thus far. Rain-out make-up games have been rained out. Practices have been rained out. Fields are swishy and muddy and nasty.

But all of the cancellations have freed up my schedule a bit and that's been nice.

Today, though, we were supposed to have an 8am softball practice, a 9:30 soccer game, an 11am baseball practice and a 2pm soccer game. The first soccer game got called last night because of soggy, messy fields.

M and J left for the softball practice at 7:55 with droopy eyes and sweatshirts. A few minutes later, J called and asked me to confirm the practice location. I hopped onto my email and replied that practice was at the middle school. The one he was standing at. Alone. Ultimately, no practice. We still don't know why.

G and I left at 10:45 for baseball practice. We got the the elementary school ball fields and saw only one team of pre-k kids. I looked at my calendar on my phone and realized that I was in the wrong place. Nope, Saturday practices were at a different field. 20 minutes away. Frack.

I drove my monster SUV like a bat-out-of-hell to the other fields. Pulled into the parking lot at 11:25. Three of the four fields were in use. Field #4 was empty. No one. Nada. No team.

I called J and had him check the master calendar on the recreation department website. "May 2nd, 11am, Field #4" Yep. And yet no one was there. Frack. Frack.

WTF was going on? How did I miss TWO emails about practices canceled? Almost in tears, I headed out. Maybe I'll run some errands as long as I'm out.

At the post office, we wait in line for the self-service machine. I needed postcard stamps for a high school reunion mailer. Got the machine and, you guessed it, it doesn't sell postcard stamps. Had to get in the 15 minute line for a window clerk.

Got the stamps. Headed to the sub shop to order lunch for everyone. Ordered and sat down to wait for sandwiches. 20 minutes later, nothing. I walked back up to the counter and inquired. As the cashier disappeared into the kitchen to find my sandwiches, the guy behind me said, "I think I've got your sandwiches."

He had called in an order and picked it up a few minutes earlier. When he got home, he realized that the sandwiches in the order weren't his. They were mine. He turned out to be a high school classmate of mine, a close friend of a friend too. So, I just grabbed the bag from him and left. We ended up being there for over 30 minutes waiting on subs.

So, anyway, if this day doesn't start looking up soon, I'll be either heading to bed or to the liquor cabinet. Or maybe both.

Oh, looked through my email and found out that, despite every other team in the league starting practice this week, G's baseball coach decided to start next week. There never was a practice scheduled for today. Frack.