Monday, January 30, 2012

People are nice: Nov. 21, 2010

When I was struggling, a lot of people helped me. They didn't have to. But they did anyway. That kind of thing makes me so glad to be here.

I’m grateful all that stuff we were taught about sharing is true

    Every once in a while, I wander into territory in this column that feels a little bit scary to write about publicly. I did that last month, when I wrote about my struggles with hyperthyroidism and the physical and mental fallout of the illness that have dogged me since late summer.

    The warm and supportive responses I received to that column reminded me that when I'm afraid to write about something difficult, there's a good chance I'll be overwhelmingly glad that I did.

    In the weeks since that column ran, I've received emails from women I've never met who have struggled through similar (and far more dire) circumstances. I’ve heard from friends online, on the phone and in person who offered kind words, listening ears and genuine empathy.

    I even received an envelope from a stranger who jotted her favorite Bible verses about strength and faith into a little notebook and mailed it to the newspaper with a note asking that it be forwarded to me. (Jean, thank you so much. I wish you had included your return address so I could send you a proper response.)

    In the past, when I've occasionally written on very personal topics (my mother's cancer; my son's health scare as a toddler; my confessions of exhausted, desultory parenting) I've been inspired and moved by the kindness that comes my way from people who have read those words. And I’m so inexpressibly grateful for that kindness.

    At the heart of it, I think this is why I write – and this is why we read: I think most of us have a fundamental need to share our stories, even when (especially when?) they lay bare some painful truths about our lives. We seek to see ourselves in other people, and maybe even to feel a little less alone in the day-to-day experiences and struggles that define us all at one point or another.

    One of my favorite bloggers has written periodically over the last several years about living with anxiety that has ranged from vaguely distracting to truly disabling. In the last few months, as my defective thyroid has amped up my own anxiety level, I have returned repeatedly to her site just to glean some comfort from her descriptions of her own Tilt-a-Whirl mind that remind me so much of my own.

    There's real power in the recognition I feel when I read her work -- and there is real comfort in the knowledge that this woman, a stranger, has felt what I'm feeling and has found a way to describe and survive it that illuminates not only her own struggles, but mine as well.

    I know from experience that I will see the other side of this difficult time. I have a family I cherish, a job I enjoy, friends who make me laugh – and who help me laugh at myself. And I have the privilege of sharing my stories and hearing from people who are compassionate enough to share theirs.

    Even on the days I struggle, I could not be more grateful.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nothing to see here: Oct. 24, 2010

This was a terribly low point for me. I hate this column. Let's just get it over with.

The very sad story of my very bad thyroid

    Sometimes I start to melt. Like a popsicle on a sidewalk, just sort of vanishing imperceptibly until suddenly the stick is showing. This is how it starts: First, my pants are kind of loose; then they're baggy; then I'm shopping for smaller pants; then those pants are falling off.

    And yeah, I know what you're thinking: Gee, I wish I had that problem. Our culture tells us that skinny is gorgeous and that a woman who is losing weight is a woman we all want to be. But I'm here to tell you, it is not gorgeous to be simultaneously manic and exhausted, to have a racing heart, insomnia and anxiety.

    The first time it happened, in the summer of 2006, it took me a really long time to finally head for the doctor and discover that I have a hyperactive thyroid. It crept up on me. I did notice some weight loss. And I started feeling tired. But hey, I had two little boys and a lot going on. Who wouldn’t be tired?

    But as that fall rolled in — as I cranked my belts down to the smallest hole to keep my flapping pants from falling down — I started having intense bouts of anxiety. I write the phrase ‘intense bouts of anxiety’ and it doesn’t really cover it. Words fail. I’m just not sure how to describe it. So I’ll tell you this: My then-22-month-old son began greeting me every time he saw me by looking concerned and saying sweetly, “Mommy cry?”

    The break came when I developed walking pneumonia. (You know things are grim when walking pneumonia is the break.) I finally went to the doctor.

    Yeah, he said, you’re really sick. And your blood pressure, which is normally quite low, is through the roof and you’ve lost nearly 25 pounds since I last saw you and did you say you’re profoundly fatigued and having intense bouts of anxiety and hey, look, are those tremors?

    THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG HERE, he told me calmly. Let’s get some blood work.

    So: hyperthyroidism, brought on by a combination of stress and some weirdness inherent to my thyroid, which we treated into submission with pills. By the end of 2007, I was fine. I was fine for several years. And now, suddenly, I'm not.

    So this time, as I shop for smaller pants and take anti-anxiety and anti-thyroid meds, I know what this is. I'm not getting nearly as sick as I did in 2006 before I get to work on getting it under control. I'll take the anti-thyroid pills and I'll watch my blood work and I'll try to rest. (Man, I hate resting. My natural inclination toward tightly wound does not help any of this at all.)

    But here's the root of the problem, the part I'm honestly not sure how to fix: This illness is my body's way of throwing up flares to tell me I've wandered into territory I'm not equipped to handle. And when you find yourself where I am in life -- pushing 40, two kids in private school, breadwinner for four people, household drudge and all-around beast of burden -- where do you find some slack in the line? What do you let slide?

    This is usually the place in the column where I wrap things up, where I close the loop or offer the answer or present the punchline. But today I've got no answers and I've darn sure got no punchlines.

    Right now, I'm just trying to solve the riddle: when you find yourself where I am in life and something has to slide, where, exactly, do you find the slack in the line?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Play ball! Or whatever: Sept. 26, 2010

Sports blah blah blah more stuff about sports blah blah blah blaaaahhh. Thank god my husband is all over this topic because otherwise my sons would just have to go running with me and maybe learn the finer points of power yoga.

Parents in pursuit of the perfect sport
    One of the dozens of things I did not know about boys when I became the mother of a couple of them is that they need a sport. Not just any sport – they need the right sport. And apparently one of the roughly 8 million things we, as the parents of boys, are in charge of helping them figure out is which sport is the right sport.
    It takes a while to suss this out. Lots of false starts and seasons of lukewarm enthusiasm for a variety of pastimes. Most of it, I have discovered after about five years of standing on sidelines and sitting in bleachers, comes down to temperament. Are they social or solitary? Are they aggressive or laid back? Are they focused or frantic? How do they feel about getting hit with fast-moving objects? Or with fast-moving people?
    When I became the mother of sons, I just kind of assumed that, if they played any sport, they’d play baseball. That’s what boys do, right? (I read incessantly and rode horses a lot when I was a kid. My brother played baseball. This is the model I am working from: Girls= horses and books. Boys=baseball.)
All. The. Time.
    So when my oldest son expressed interest in trying Little League, we did baseball. He enjoyed it moderately and played it respectably for a few years, but decided to stop this year when two critical things happened: He turned 10, aging out of the coach-pitch league into the kid-pitch league, and his interest in golf bloomed into an obsession.
    Golf suits his temperament perfectly (solitary, deliberative, terrified of getting hit with fast-moving objects or people). He plays extremely well, and has even converted his father. They can disappear for hours and hours in to the rolling hills of a golf course.
    That left his little brother, who’s 5, in need of his sport. So this past spring we did baseball again.
Here’s the problem with baseball and my youngest son: Baseball involves some waiting. Some waiting and watching and standing and waiting some more. My youngest son is not wired for these activities. He is a whirling dervish, a perpetual motion machine equipped with surround sound speakers.
    His time in the outfield was torture for everyone involved. His times at bat worked out OK, except that he’d get bored waiting on base for something to happen and kind of…wander away.
    When the baseball season finally, mercifully, ended, my husband told me he was going to sign our little one up for soccer in the fall. So we bought the gear and showed up on a soccer field on a recent Saturday for the first time. And watched our youngest son find his sport.
    Endless running, incessant kicking, occasional falling and crashing into other players. This is a sport made for this kid. “What was your favorite part? “ I asked him after his fantastic first day on the field.
“I like the running and the kicking!” he crowed. “And the kicking and the running!”

    So now we’re a little farther down the road of helping our sons figure out what they like, what they don’t and how to capitalize on those things. And, most importantly, I will never again have to spend the spring hollering at my youngest son to stop lying down in the outfield.
The running and the kicking.
And the kicking and the running.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Texts just aren't the same: Aug. 29, 2010

For a word nerd like me, the rise of electronic communication has been bittersweet.

Taking note of the little things that have slipped away

    For more than a decade, I have carried a couple of scraps of paper around with me, tucked into my wallet between my YMCA membership and voter registration cards. They’re little notes my husband left me years ago – one letting me know that he had gone to Home Depot and would carry in the groceries for me when he returned, and another with an equally everyday but endearing message.

    I came across these bits of paper recently, and was struck by this thought: We never, ever leave each other notes anymore. Leaving notes used to be an almost daily occurrence – we are always running errands and tweaking our schedules and dashing off in different directions. For years, if I walked into our house to find it empty, I would invariably discover a scrap of paper on the dining room table with an explanation and the occasional affectionate aside or silly doodle.

    Now we’re in pretty much constant contact by cell phone. We probably talk to each other four or five times a day: I’m taking the kids to the pool, there’s hamburger in the fridge for dinner, when is the cat’s vet appointment, did you send in the field trip permission slip?

    It’s nice to be able to keep tabs, but I kind of mourn the end of those little scraps of paper, not to mention the end-of-the-day download that has become nearly obsolete. By the time we all get home in the evening, there isn’t honestly that much to tell that we don’t already know.

    I’m not usually one to wax curmudgeonly about technological advances; I’m far more likely to wonder aloud how anyone ever did their jobs before the advent of the Internet, the rise of cell phones and the miracle of online maps.

    I did manage, somehow, to do my work before all of these things, but I rely so heavily on them now that my memories of those pre-Internet years are as fuzzy as a 1997 cell phone connection. I vaguely recall driving with a huge map of the city spread out over my steering wheel, trying to get to the scene of a breaking news story. That had to be just as dangerous as texting while driving.

    My sons, who I’m sure will never leave notes for anyone, offer me an interesting window into how fundamentally different the world looks to people who have never lived without all of this information. At ages 5 and 10, my boys are not acquainted with the concept of mystery. If I don’t know the answer to a question, no matter how obscure or nonsensical, they head for the Mac and ask 'The Google.'

    Speed of light. Feet in a marathon. What kangaroos eat. Length of the Great Wall of China. How to escape from a car that’s underwater. Winner of the first Tour de France. Why lightning bugs glow. How flies fly. How bees sting. Why skunks stink.

    But when they venture into territory where you just can’t count on The Google (Why do people have to get sick? Why can’t we live forever? Why do bad things happen?) they hit a conceptual wall.

    I tell them there are some things people really don’t understand. I’m resigned to -- maybe even comfortable with -- that idea.

    My boys think it makes about as much sense as leaving messages on scraps of paper on the dining room table.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A constant source of abject humiliation: Aug. 1, 2010

So there is this thing that you probably have not heard of called face blindness. The fancy-ass name for it is prosopagnosia, so it's really a real thing because only really real things get a fancy-ass name like that. The New York Times writes about it sometimes, and there are fancy-ass scientists doing smart-people research about it all over the place. Real. Thing.

All of this to say, I have this thing and it's horribly embarrassing. Most of my life I just assumed my inability to remember anyone was because I am an asshole who does not care about people. Which does not actually square with how I feel -- I tend care about people quite a bit more than is probably healthy (Pisces!) -- but I could not think of any other explanation. 

The first time I read an article that gave a fancy-ass name to this thing that is wrong with me, I almost cried. I was so relieved to know it was a real thing. And now I just wish I could go around handing out cards that read: 'I swear I am not an asshole, but I will not remember your face, even if we meet again in three minutes 15 feet from this very spot. I am so sorry. You seem very nice. And your hair looks good today.'

Life in the funhouse is sometimes no fun at all

    My brain is a funhouse. I have a weird, killer memory when it comes to recalling conversations, numbers, any and all dates, trivia about who was wearing what and when and where. I don’t know why I know. I just know. I don't even have to try.

    The flipside of the funhouse, though, is kind of a nightmare. People are impossible for me to pin down. When I am confronted by the face of someone I've known casually for years, I will blank out completely and stand there smiling and nodding mindlessly while they talk to me, hoping desperately that they'll drop some hint, some nugget of information, some social lifeline that will reveal to me our connection.

    Or, if I'm feeling brave, I'll decide I know who it is. That never ends well. I recently asked a guy I ran into at the pool how his pediatric practice was going. He smiled and said I had him mixed up with someone else.

    "Oh no," I said, feeling the painfully familiar blush creep into my cheeks. "I'm so sorry."

    He nodded. I waited. Finally, I had to cave.

    "So. Who are you?"

    When he told me, I was aghast. Our sons play ball together. I've been to his house several times for family parties. I know where he works; I know his wife's name and his sons' names and ages. I know his address! His face, though, like most faces, pulls no triggers at all in my mind.

    My husband understands that my reluctance to socialize is tied directly to this defect I have, and he has learned to shepherd me through the inevitable awkward spots. He is my complete opposite; he remembers every face, every name, every time. When he's not saving me from ghastly social implosion, he's teasing me about how few real friends I have.

    "I have plenty of friends," I pout. "I just don't know who they are."

    When I first became a newspaper reporter, this missing piece of my brain became a pretty serious problem. Reporting is full of the kind of superficial, occasionally recurring interactions that are my exact mental blind spot.

    In the small town where I started out, I would see the mayor and council about once a month, when they'd meet. That first meeting was no problem -- it was socially acceptable to walk around introducing myself and asking questions about who people were and what they did.

    I knew, though, that while I would recall every word of every conversation, I would have no memory of any of the faces. So I scribbled frantically in my notebook while I talked with all these new people. They probably thought I was dutifully recording their comments, but I was really taking notes like this: (Mayor has bushy white eyebrows, black-rimmed glasses and crooked front teeth. Chairman of the ways and means committee has big ears, thick brown hair and a cleft chin.)

    I did this throughout my career, carrying descriptive cheat sheets with me until I had met often enough with specific people for them to have a firm spot in my mind. It usually took about eight meetings -- and if I saw them out of context (running into the mayor and his bushy white eyebrows at the grocery store, for example), I was right back to zero.

    The notion that I might somehow, miraculously, grow a social memory is one I abandoned years ago. But, honestly, the whole thing never gets any less embarrassing. I'm just glad my husband is around to whisper our friends' names into my ear at parties.

    (Curly auburn hair, blue eyes, white gold band on third finger of left hand.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Because we can: July 4, 2010

Normally, I'm a big believer in considering multiple viewpoints and trying to remain reasonable and moderate and as deliberately thoughtful as circumstances allow. The only thing I fanatically oppose is fanaticism.

Every now and then, though, I think it's OK to indulge in a bit of mindless, swaggering celebration. So every year on the Fourth of July, we join in festooning the 'hood in streamers, drink beer, blow stuff up and agree that America kicks ass.

It's hard to resist our annual red-white-and-blue spectacle

    I wait all year for this weekend. The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday, and by the time you read this, my neighborhood will have done it up right.

Hecho en Guatemala
    We'll have a boisterous little two-block parade of families down to the neighborhood swimming pool featuring bikes, scooters and wagons all decked out in red, white and blue. People will decorate their dogs, their cars and themselves in all things patriotic. My kids will help me festoon the mailbox with sparkly stars and wear their American flag T-shirts (made in Guatemala because Americans love irony.)

    Then we'll spend the day swimming, sunning, eating barbecue and watching the kids hurtle down inflatable water slides. And when it gets dark, the fireworks will bloom noisily from driveways in every direction. In my little corner of suburbia, if you want to see a dozen different fireworks shows, all you have to do is take a leisurely walk.

    Honestly, what's not to love? The big tasks for the day are to eat hot dogs and hamburgers, swim, watch fireworks, write your name in the air with sparklers and think America is terrific.

    There are no presents to buy, and there are no complex familial obligations or religious subtexts to turn it all into a debt trap or a guilt-fest. There is virtually no cooking and even less cleaning (who needs a bath? You just spent the day in the pool!)

Ben loves the excuse to skip his bath.
    Best of all, this is a holiday with my all-time favorite redeeming quality: It's educational. My sons may think they're just playing all day on a water slide in their star-spangled swim trunks and sneaking their third red-white-and-blue-iced cupcake off the dessert table (I saw that!), but what they're really doing is celebrating our history. They are participating in the collective, joyful observation of the birth of a great nation.

    And, OK, yes, their mom does fret 364 days a year about the kind of world we'll leave our children and their children. I try to show my sons that honest dissension is the soul of patriotism, that mindless jingoism is self-destructive, that independent thought is the path to a stronger community for everyone. I struggle to give them informed, even-handed answers to their endless questions about war, prejudice, poverty and why we
would go looking for oil a mile under the ocean.

    Maybe that's part of what makes the Fourth of July that much more fun for me: It's permission to celebrate all that is wonderful about our country, regardless of how deeply imperfect it may be. It's a day when, however far apart any of us may be culturally, socially or politically, we can all pretty much agree that birthday parties are a blast.

    So please pass me a sparkler, and excuse me while I go grab another barbecue sandwich.

Gary does not like fireworks.
He secretly hates America.  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

OUUUCHHH: May 9, 2010

I exercise kind of a lot. I have found that I need to in order to be (relatively) sane and happy. Two years ago, I started working out regularly with a friend who also happens to be an incredible trainer, and that experience has added an entirely new and wonderful dimension to my adventures in exercise, sanity and strength.

When I say it's wonderful, of course, I mean it's truly awful. These are probably the most difficult hours of my week, every week. And I sure do love it.

Agony: It's the gift that keeps on giving

    I recently bought myself a little Mother's Day present: six weeks of routine, painful overexertion that often borders on torture.

    Three evenings a week, I cut out of work at 5 on the dot, don my workout clothes and pay a perfectly nice woman to make me totally miserable. Running, push-ups, weights, lunges, more running, squats and maybe, for good measure, endless abdominal exercises of utterly improbable variety and difficulty.

    It's pretty much the longest hour you can imagine. And it's absolutely wonderful.

    What makes it really wonderful is not just that I am getting stronger and fitter and feeling great about it and setting a good example for my kids by challenging myself physically and teaching them the importance of exercise. Those things are all good. But what's really wonderful is that when I am engaged in this hour of torment three times a week, all I am thinking is, approximately: Ouch. And sometimes: This is never going to be over. Or even: Oh God, please don't let me throw up.

    I am not thinking about work, and I am not thinking about chores, and I am not thinking about my kids or my house or the bills or my deadlines or the dog needs to go to the vet and the truck needs an oil change or the laundry pile is taking over the bedroom or how on Earth can my baby boy be 10 years old already?

    No, for that hour three times a week, there is no room at all in my head for any of it. Not one iota of space for any thought that isn't connected to: Ouch. And sometimes: This is never going to be over. Or even: Oh God, please don't let me throw up.

    I have about a decade of experience in trying to balance the mental demands of life as Mom, wife, employee, daughter, friend and household drudge. I have tried a little bit of everything in my quest to carve out a tiny corner of mental and physical space that is just mine. But I am -- and have always been -- a miserable failure at relaxing, emptying my mind, letting stuff go, just being in the moment. I just don't seem to know how.

    But this works, and it works completely. It is the only thing that ever has.

    One key to the success of this system is that I don't even have to decide what to do. I show up, I do what I'm told to the best of my ability and I try to survive it. That's it.

    There is no guilt associated with the time I'm stealing from my job and my family because what I'm doing falls into that noble category of 'exercise,' and no one with a shred of decency begrudges anyone their exercise. And there is even, occasionally, a teeny bit of praise for my efforts from the woman who directs this whole endeavor. So the uber-nerdy people-pleaser in me even gets the small, rare thrill.

    So now I know. If I truly want to empty out the deep, cluttered purse that is my mind, I have to flip it over and fill it with something that leaves no room at all for anything else. I have to stuff it full of: Ouch. And sometimes: This is never going to be over. Or even: Oh God, please don't let me throw up.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oh, Ben: April 11, 2010

My Ben is just different, y'all. I've never met anyone like him. We have no idea what might happen next, but we're certain we'll never be bored.

Life with a Komodo dragon can be complicated

    There’s a Komodo dragon in my house. There’s also a leopard, a tiger, a big alligator and a mean snake. When I come home in the evening I never know what kind of aggressive creature will wrap itself around my ankle and hiss or growl or roar. 

    It’s maybe not the most relaxing way to end the workday, but it certainly keeps thing interesting.

This is a scary lizard tongue that can kill you. Or so I am told.
    I’m assuming it’s somewhere inside the range of normal for our son to spend much of his time inhabiting animal alter egos, and refusing to acknowledge that he is, in fact, a garden variety 5-year-old boy-type creature.

    “How was your day, Ben?” I’ll ask, as he latches onto my legs and bares his teeth.

    “I’m NOT BEN,” he roars (or growls or hisses). “I’m a mean snake” (or a Komodo dragon or a leopard or… well, you get the idea).

    Ben also has a truckload of stuffed animals, all of whom have distinct and separate names, personalities and evolving personal dramas. There is a lot of conversing back and forth among them, and I sometimes run into the living room or out onto the deck after hearing Ben shrieking ‘Mama mama help!’ only to find that he is voicing a character in one of his elaborate plays.

Stuffed animals have many uses.
    “Are you OK?” I ask, dashing to my son, wide-eyed, heart thumping.

    He looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind. “Yes,” he says coolly. “Chuppy Puppy was falling off a tall bridge, but he’s all right now.”

    This whole thing is fascinating to me, in part because it’s such a total departure from what we experienced with our older son, who is about to turn 10. That kid was so relentlessly grounded in reality that we could not convince him to dress up for Halloween for first 5 years of his life.

    “What do you want to be for Halloween?” I’d ask every year, hopeful that he’d finally understand the potential fun of pretending to be someone else for a night.

    He’d look up from his equation notebook and narrow his eyes at me, bewildered and slightly suspicious. “I’m Jack,” he’d say firmly. “I’ll be Jack.”

    The Halloween he was 6 – the same year his brother appeared – Jack finally got it and put on a Power Ranger costume. I can’t help but think the arrival of another kid helped loosen up Jack’s outlook some.

    And the arrival of this kid, in particular, has left all of us with a high tolerance for long days of having to remember not to call him Ben. Because he is a scary Komodo dragon that can kill a buffalo and eat it, and if you call him Ben he will wrap himself around your ankles and hiss at you.

    Maybe when Halloween rolls around he’ll consider dressing up as some kind of human creature. You know, just for a change of pace for that one night.
Ben reassures this goat the he will not kill it and eat it because he is not
being a mean Komodo dragon right now. He is being a nice puppy.
The goat is clearly relieved. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The total collapse of my standards: March 14, 2010

There's a narrow, twisty road between the place you start out as a parent and the place you end up. Along the way, you do, say, buy and permit all kinds of things you never thought you would. I have quite a few friends who haven't had kids, and who talk a lot about how they'll raise them, if they decide to have them.

Y'all, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but we're all terrific parents -- until the babies show up.

The journey from soy milk to plastic pistols

    My oldest son will be 10 in a couple of months so, in honor of this milestone, here is a one-sentence summary of everything I have learned about parenting over the course of a decade: The process of becoming an experienced parent is the slow erosion of all your fancy ideas and na├»ve dreams, until you are transformed from a soy-milk-drinking, public-television-watching pacifist to a person who lets her 9-year-old drink Cokes and argues over which episode of The Three Stooges we’re going to watch once this wrestling show is over.

    OK, it’s possible that I am exaggerating. I don’t really let my kid drink Cokes. But if you are a parent, or if you know any parents, you probably know what I’m getting at. We bring that first, impossibly fragile newborn home from the hospital with the purest of intentions, into the most baby-proofed nest you can imagine, our heads full of child-raising expertise gleaned from the 467 baby books we pored over during the world’s most obsessively documented pregnancy. There would be no mindless TV, no junk food, no raised voices, no dairy, no dyes, no cotton that was not organic, no music that did not get synapses firing, no toys that did not expand that amazing, limitless baby brain.

Someday I will cure cancer. Because of this baby play gym.
    It’s cute, how we start out like that. And, at least in the case of my husband and me, we had a couple of years of pretty rigid adherence to most of our principles. TV was educational, toys were constructive, food was rich in all kinds of necessary nutrients. But we had just the one kid, you know. It was pretty simple. And he was a really sweet, compliant kid, with a genuine attraction to gentle play and civilized toys and quiet pastimes. Like I said, it was all very cute.

    But a couple of things happened kind of all at once: our son developed friendships with other kids – kids who had access to all sorts of exciting, never-before-seen wonders (TOY GUNS!) and we had another kid, another boy, and this one did not come equipped with his older brother’s gentle nature. This one is a human pinball with an air horn for a voice and an astonishing ability to break, within 18 seconds, absolutely anything you hand him.  

    So our oldest son discovered that the following things can be fashioned into toy guns: sticks, shampoo bottles, Tinker Toys, toy trucks, toy trumpets, K’Nex, recorders, kazoos, Legos, the cat, candlesticks, binoculars, boots, lamps and loaves of French bread.

    And at the same time, our youngest son began the process of driving us to the brink of collapse, leaving us little energy for the kind of idealized parenting we engaged in with our oldest. Really, it became a survival game: If we were all still alive at the end of the day, my husband and I won a night of shallow, intermittent sleep.

Merry Christmas, my little sniper.
    The boys got bigger, and things got a little easier, but they were never the same as in those early, dream-like days of one kid, public TV and soy milk. Now there is wrestling in the living room, and Cheetos, and throwing things in the house, and yelling and probably not enough baths.

    I knew we had crossed some kind of line around Christmas 2008, when I bought each of the kids their own toy space gun, complete with laser noises and spinning lights in each plastic barrel. The boys were elated, and they whirled through the house all day shrieking at each other along the lines of ‘Bang bang I got you no you didn’t yes I did I got you no you missed me no I got you bang bang.’

    My husband and I just shrugged and laughed, figuring we had both played with toy guns as kids, and we both became adults with no interest whatsoever in guns or violence (unless you count The Three Stooges).

    So, 10 years after the grand experiment that is our family began, we may not be living the life we imagined when we started out, but we sure are having a good time.

You talkin' to me?