Old Man Leo

Because, you know, eight is so old.

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Leo would like me to explain that the poem he wrote last week about Bud Light is not about beer. It’s about sharing a light with your friend. (He was mortified that I thought it was about beer.)

He still loves to make up games, like Balloon Balloon Ball and Touchy Groundy and Guess the Commercial, which are too ridiculous to explain here. Kevin joins the games and demolishes Leo, which makes Leo laugh-scream and make more rules. Kevin finds the loopholes and makes Leo laugh-scream some more. But when I join the game, Leo slants the rules to help me win. He gives me redos or quietly slips me cards when I’m not doing well, meanwhile throwing everything bad he’s got at his dad.

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He shares ideas for novels and picture books with me, in case I ever get stuck. It breaks his heart when I have a rough week of writing, and he goes into Daily Affirmations mode, telling me I can do it! I got this! I’m the best writer ever!

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This week he’s into spinning. He spins and spins and spins, then tries walking and laughs when he bumps into things. Also, he has a joke for you:

What did the horse say when it fell down?
I’ve fallen and I can’t giddyap!

He has two beds in his room. He sleeps on the floor next to them.

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Leo is a perfectionist. I knew this about him from the time he was two. If he couldn’t make a toy do what he wanted the first time, he wanted nothing to do with it. At school, he can be sent into tears when he gets a problem wrong or when his teacher offers some advice. (Hm. Wonder where he gets it from?)

He’s an emotional child. He can suddenly turn on you if you ask him to repeat something or if you enter a room too loudly when he’s working on a book report or if your name is Rocco and you are within eyeshot.

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Leo’s teacher lets him pick three friends to work in a small group with him when I volunteer. It was torturous for him because it wasn’t fair to the ones who couldn’t come out, so he had his teacher help him make sure every classmate gets a chance. Bless his little heart.

He’s not into stuff. He couldn’t even do Pokemon trading at his birthday party because he had given all his cards away. “I just like to look at them,” he says.” I don’t care about keeping them.” This morning at breakfast, he gave his last piece of Nutella-chocolate sprinkle toast to Vincenzo just because. He happily fills his claw machine with prizes he’s collected and lets his friends win them all.

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He still likes me to help get him out of the bathtub. I spread the towel on my lap and he hugs his legs to his chest and I see if he can still fit all the way in the towel. He does. Barely. I carry him to his room while he smiles sweetly up at me, like an overgrown, blissfully swaddled baby.

People  often pull me aside to tell me how much they love Leo. Maybe it’s because  he leads with his heart. Maybe it’s because they just gave him a dozen Pokemon cards. Maybe it’s his speech impediment, which is as adorable to us as it is frustrating to him. (Six years of speech therapy, and counting!)

I’m happy for Leo that he’s 8, but I’m a little sad for me. It’s harder to shrink him down in my mind back to the all-smiles baby he was. There are things I’ve forgotten that he’s said or done in the past 8 years. It’s been a long time since he stumbled out of bed in the morning and crawled into mine to snuggle. His silly often overshadows his sweet.

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But the essence of baby Leo—the feeling that he is something precious and that holding him makes me feel there doesn’t need to be anything else in the world? Still there. The feeling that he is giving more than he’s taking? Still there. The feeling that I want to protect him because his heart might be too big for the world? Still there.

Leo is my little love. My heart. He’s my Bud Light.

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But like his brothers, he’s growing up too fast. I’m going to need some bigger towels.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Dinner @ Mom & Dad’s!

Pokemon Party

I did it! I threw an at-home birthday party and I didn’t go over the top!

Now, in the past I have made promises to myself and the general public to take things down a notch, but then I’d get swept up in the big birthday party planning wave and next thing you knew I had repainted the house and bought a miniature pony farm to go with the theme.

But not this time!

Leo chose Pokemon for his theme. Here’s a picture of the decorations.

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Oh, right…I didn’t PUT UP any decorations!!! I’m so chill!

I had to squish all the thematic food to one section of the island instead of it stretching from from end to end. Go me! I resisted the urge to cut honeydew to look like Bulbasaurs or assemble the blueberries into Blastoises.

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I didn’t even make homemade Peeps—I used the store bought kind! (Kevin named these guys “Peepachus.”)

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I couldn’t help but make a cake, of course. I mean, the whole reason I had kids is so I could bake cakes for them.

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Surprise!

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For party games, I sent the boys on a scavenger hunt. And if the clues happened to be rhyming poems, that was purely incidental.

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They did Pokemon energy sorting with Skittles, using plain, unmarked, drugstore plastic cups.

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And they played Pokemon Pong.

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(I wish I could be there the day my boys are at college and someone pulls out the red solo cups and ping pong balls and they say, “Oh, Pokemon Pong! I love Pokemon pong!”)

(Also, yes you do see a couple decorations in the above picture, but the sign was borrowed and crepe paper doesn’t count.)

I promise I’m not writing this post facetiously—this party was super scaled down, despite the well-meaning parent who kept exclaiming, “This is so amazing! I can’t believe you did all this! You are so amazing!” I wanted to say, “Pipe down! You’re blowing my cover!” But I figured a few compliments wouldn’t hurt.

Despite  the lavish praise, I had a lot of fun.

And I think these guys did, too.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Heart-shaped calzones
Regular-shaped Salad
Heart-shaped sugar cookies

Leo, Buddy

Hoooooo–hokay. I’m still wiping my tears away from this one. We celebrated Leo’s birthday today. His actual birthday is tomorrow, but I want to share with you a poem Leo wrote today, February 9, 2020, on his last day as a seven-year-old. (the squished words say “to buddys”)

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He says he got the idea because they’re learning about compound words at school and also because I’ve been reading him Shel Silverstein poems.  It’s even better because he wrote it with his brand new rainbow colored pencil.

I looked at Kevin with those tears in my eyes and said, “He’s got the gift.”

And now we have another budding poet in the family.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Bud Light for everyone!

Hard Times

What to blog about? Do I write an Eeyore post about how writing a novel is hard and how it takes so long? And how Kevin snickered when I told him I didn’t know it would be so long and hard?

Sure, I’ll write about all that.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks with the novel. I keep fantasizing about taking a break. Kevin tells me maybe it wouldn’t hurt. I panic. If I take a break, how will I know I’m not quitting? If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I am not a quitter. So I keep showing up, sometimes just to open the computer and cry; sometimes to spill out 4,000 words that feel like nothing. I’ve never been closer to the end of my novel and I’ve never felt farther away from the end. It seems the harder I try to move forward, the more I slide backwards. This kind of not-getting-anywhere scenario has always haunted me in my dreams and now it’s happening in real life and I’m confused about whether I’m sleeping or I’m awake.

Deep down, underneath all my insecurities and doubts and self-flagellation, some part of me knows that what I’ve written is good and important and the novel will get finished. But the part of me that opens up the computer each day does not believe it.

Hey Buddy, that deep down part of me says. Hey, relax. You got this. Of course you’re going to finish the novel. You’re doing great! Its voice is so calm and soothing, I want to take a bath in it.

Then this other loud, grating, Gilbert Godfried voice says, How do you know that? Can you see the future? What if you die tomorrow? Who’ll finish it then? What if you get lazy or excuse-y or have a mental breakdown? What if you’re all out of words? What if it actually is too hard and you just can’t do it?

Yeah. So that’s what I have to listen to as I go through my days. It’s almost always there, that voice. Sometimes I can turn the volume down but sometimes the knob seems to be broken.

It’s hard for a person like me who regularly sets specific, measurable, achievable goals and then works her tail off to meet those goals, to embark on such a nebulous task as writing a novel. An assignment with no guidelines—no grades to tell me I’m doing well, no due date, no graduation date. No medals or ribbons or awards ceremonies. No guarantee I’ll finish it or sell it or anyone will  buy it or read it or love it or share it. Not a single guarantee.

I thought it would take me a year to write a novel. Then I thought it would take two. I’m on my third year and now thinking it might take  five years. Maybe ten. Maybe the rest of my life (provided I don’t die tomorrow, or anytime during the next five or ten years).

I have learned so much about myself over these past 2.5 years. My writing skills have bloomed and blossomed. I’ve written things that have made me laugh out loud and have made me cry rolling tears. (Not all the tears I cry are in frustration.) I remind myself that I’m here by choice. I’m here because I love to write. I’m here because writing stories is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl.

Yes writing a novel is hard. So go ahead and laugh, Kevin, but quitting?

Quitting would be even harder.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken & barley soup
Pita pizzas
Salad

Shoebox of Life

Mom gave me a shoebox of old school papers, journals, e-mails, and drawings from my childhood. It was a shoebox full of butterflies in every color of Crayola and of smiling, neckless little girls. Of wide-lined paper full of fat, rolling handwriting and of college rule paper with skinny, slanty, curly cursive.  I looked through the papers and saw my rainbow-loving self in there, who never drew a flower without drawing its roots reaching through the soil, and it was like Littler Me had all the answers that Bigger Me is looking for.

It’s taken me many years to finally start writing books. I always loved writing but thought I didn’t have anything to write about. I didn’t start writing novels in high school, like so many acclaimed authors. I never thought that writing was the only thing I wanted to do in life. I did not major in creative writing. So I’ve felt a bit like a poser and a fraud.

But now I have a shoebox that says what if you’re not?

There’s a story I wrote in the second grade about a Leaf and his cousin, Beaf, the only two leaves left on a tree.

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We are the only leaves that are left on the tree. It gets lonely every once in a while. Sometimes I think we are falling down.

I could write a poem on just those lines.

Sometimes I think we are falling down, I  wrote. I didn’t realize how very little wind it took to blow a leaf out of a tree.

The two little leaves try to make the best of things but eventually Beaf blows away in a big gust of wind, leaving Leaf all alone. In a moment of heroic bravery, the little leaf finally decides to let go…and is reunited with all her cousins on the ground.

Did I know what I was doing, metaphorically, at age 7??

Maybe. Maybe I did.

Other things in the shoebox made me laugh. Like when I wrote: I always get mixed up on spelling. This is what I once spelled for hope, hop. Wher’s the e?

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(I wish I could say this is an example of budding comedic genius, but alas, it’s just bad speling.)

Sometimes I used my writing in powerful ways, like to document complex interactions between family members.

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Such raw emotion! Sad Me gets it.

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In the third grade, I wrote the following story (apologies for the eye-bleeding cursive—there’s a translation below):

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It’s a story of a lady who was tired of keeping house so she built a robot to keep house for her, but that robot got tired of keeping house and built a robot to take its place, and so on and so on until one very smart robot organized all the others to ambush Mrs. Krinket and wire her to be a robot so she could do her own housework.

I mean, that’s a story!  That I wrote!

Happy Me gets it.

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On up through the years the shoebox went, reaching into high school, where I penned this poem after breaking up with my boyfriend:

I wash my hair of you
Strawberry shampoo
Rinse the residue
Ribbons flow
Where you once grew

That poem comes back to me sometimes when I step into the shower, and I whisper it into the steam. I don’t know why. I didn’t get the highest grade on it; my teacher said I should stick with lyrical prose and avoid so much rhyming, but it’s the one poem that keeps following me around like a loyal puppy, and I love it.

The shoebox showed me that all those years I wished I were a writer, all the years I’ve wondered if I’ll ever be a writer—all those years I already was a writer.

It showed me that I wasn’t just plopped down on this earth all big and adulty, like it sometimes feels.

It showed me that sometimes I felt happy and sometimes I felt sad. Even then.

When I finished looking through the papers, I sighed. I wished there were more. I wished that first of all Littler Me were here with Bigger Me and that second of all she was still writing more stories for the shoebox.

And then I realized that first of all, she is.

And that second of all, I am.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Pasta with your choice of vodka sauce or lobster sauce
Spinach salad
Millionaire’s shortbread

Snowballs!

Vincenzo and his friends spent a couple hours sledding unchaperoned yesterday. He came back and said he had a great time and mumbled something about how they had built a snow man. “Fun!” I said. An hour later, I got a text from V’s friend’s Mom.

Her: Did you see what they built?
Me: No. Why?
Her:

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I call it simply “Snowballs.”

Please note: my son is not in this picture and said he had no part of building the Snowballs. Good, I said. Someone needed to be on lookout, as this was built on a CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY CAMPUS.

I showed the picture to my mom, who needed an explanation and who then said, “Well, they must have had a ball building it.” She didn’t understand why I started cracking up, so I needed to explain that to her, too. (This is the same Mom who named our cat “Kinky” because the cat had a crooked tail and Mom didn’t know kinky could mean anything else.)

Well, anyway, at least we can all agree that yesterday’s snow day had a happy ending.

(Mom, DON’T CALL  if you need an explanation on that one.)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Apricot chickpea soup
Roasted cauliflower
Chocolate lava cakes

80% Chance that it will Snow 100%

What is the matter with our city? I checked the weather last night and this message popped up:

WINTER STORM WARNING! 2 TO 4 INCHES OF HEAVY SNOWFALL PREDICTED!

Give yourself a second to take all that in.

Below it was an hour-by-hour prediction of snowfall for the night, ranging from 30% to 80%, and below that was stated 100% CHANCE OF SNOWFALL TONIGHT.

We’re not too good at weather around here, or math either. And as you can see by that sentence, I guess we’re not too good at grammar neither.

But in the end we did get 2” of HEAVY SNOWFALL and school was canceled, probably for the rest of the month.

But oops, looks like we’re not all that good at putting on snow clothes, either.

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Fortunately, it was an easy problem to fix.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Beef stroganov
Buttered broccoli
Fruity Pebble Cupcakes