Holding Court

Sometimes I get it right. Or maybe my kids are just in a more receptive mood. I don’t know. Sometimes it just all works out as it should.

I was taking my shower this morning when Hal came into the bathroom blubbering about something. He was holding his arm and speaking incoherently. When it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to hear the story with water cascading around me, I turned it off.

As I coaxed the story out of him, my mind analyzed the subtle clues. Is the crying real or forced? Is he truly in pain or just mad? Or are his feelings just hurt? Deciding it was real, I worked on piecing together the story of how his brother had come to squeeze his arm so hard and dig his thumb into the muscle.

Working backward from the point of injury, I learned that Daryl had squeezed the arm in response to Hal telling him to shut up. Hal had told Daryl to shut up after Daryl told Hal to shut up. When asked why Daryl had told him to shut up, Hal became reticent to continue unraveling the full story. Ahhh, I thought. I’m getting somewhere now.

Hal was being too loud. When asked whether Daryl had previously asked him nicely to be quiet, Hal claimed no. That’s when Daryl, who had apparently been lurking just outside the door interjected with protest.

The court is now called to order.

The defendant sits on a chair next to the sink. The accuser sits across the room from him at a safe distance on the toilet. The judge stands in all her naked glory with water dripping from her now-getting-cold body inside the glass judge’s box.

Before she can begin her questions, the defendant attempts a counter-claim. “He shoved me really hard before coming in here.”

“This was after you squeezed his arm?” she asks.


“OK, retaliation isn’t right but it was in response to you hurting him. Did you tell him to be quiet?”

“Yes your honor.” (So maybe I added the “your honor” bit, but wouldn’t it be nice?)

“Where was he when he was being too loud?”

“In our bedroom. And I could hear him all the way down in the kitchen.”

The accuser is, amazingly enough, waiting silently for the trial to progress.

“And where were you when you asked him to be quiet?”

“In our bedroom.”

“And did you invoke Charley?” (Our house guest sleeping in a room near the kitchen).


“Did you tell Hal why he should be quiet?”

“Yes. I told him he might wake up Charley.”

“Hal?” Says the judge, turning to the toilet. “Did Daryl ask you to be quiet first?”


“Did he ask you to be quiet?”


“And did you hear why?”


“And you didn’t do it.”


The judge, noticing the cold soaking into her skin and the slimy soap still hanging out where the sun doesn’t shine, is ready to deliver the verdict.

“Ok, see? This is where it started. A member of the family – it doesn’t matter who – asked you to do something and gave you a good reason why and you ignored him. Do you see that?”

Hal nodded dejectedly.

“Now,” the judge says, turning her attention back to the defendant’s chair. “It’s never OK to respond with physical violence. You understand that, right? What are you supposed to do when he’s not doing what he’s supposed to do?”


“Daryl, what are you supposed to do?”

“Come tell you or Daddy.”

“Right. And then I could have called him in here and talked to him.”

“But Hal,” the judge shifted her attention back to the accuser. “It started with you. It started when you disregarded another member of the family. If you had listened and responded appropriately, he never would have told you to shut up and then you wouldn’t have told him to shut up and then he wouldn’t have squeezed your arm. Do you see that?”


“OK. I want you to apologize to your brother for ignoring him.”

“I’m sorry I ignored you Bubba.” (For the record, this was a very sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“And now I want you to apologize to Hal for hurting him.”

“I’m sorry I hurt your arm.” (Another sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got soap in places I didn’t need it to stay so I’m going to resume my shower now.”

Court is adjourned.

Let Them Eat Cake… Or Not

Non-verbal communication is fraught with peril.

I arrived at work to find the place in quiet chaos Monday morning. The server migration that the system administrator had attempted on Sunday had not gone well. Rather than revert to the old one, he had stayed the night attempting to fix the problems.

He had not been successful by the time I arrived at 8:30 and I got an earful from my disgruntled engineers unable to make progress on their own tasks. After getting the state of things, I was standing in a hallway talking to some of them when Sam arrived at work.

Sam is very knowledgeable in all things sys-admin and is often pulled in to help when things go awry, as is Bob, one of the people I was talking to. When Sam came into view, Bob drew his hand across his neck in a slashing motion.

Sam stopped about 20 feet away and raised his eyebrows.

I widened my eyes and shook my head.

He gave us a questioning look and raised his hand, as if gesturing toward his cube.

I gave a thumbs-down.

Bob shook his head and mouthed Not Good.

I waved my arms in front of me.

Still a third person indicated the situation was not good.

Sam looked unhappy but shrugged and entered his cube.

When he exited to put his breakfast in the microwave, I approached and said, “Even though the server migration didn’t go well, I need you to stay focused on your project. We can’t afford for you to help out.”

“Ok,” he replied. “But what does that have to do with my cake?”

“What?” I asked.

“My cake. Why was my cake bad?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, I walked in and everyone started making all these gestures about something being bad so I held up the cake I was holding in my hand {which he had retrieved from the front sharing table} and everyone made more emphatic gestures. And I didn’t see how the cake could be that bad but figured if you guys felt that strongly about it, I’d just throw it away.”

“Wait. You were holding cake in your hand?”

“Yes and I threw it away.”

“But we were talking about the server migration!”

“I see that now.”

“The cake is wonderful!” said Bob.

“Well it’s in the trash can now and I don’t think they change the liners that often so I’m not going to retrieve it.”

“Oh man, we didn’t mean that!” one of us said as everyone dissolved into laughter. The laughter resumed when Sam returned to the table to find that all the cake was now gone.

Meanwhile, in a nearby cube, Dan glanced at his cake sitting next to him. He didn’t catch the whole conversation but heard that the cake was bad. He pondered for a moment. And then he broke off a small piece and tasted it. He shrugged. Tastes fine to me! he thought before quietly consuming the cake.

So the lesson for today is this: Don’t attempt silent communication unless both parties know sign language… or you are an accomplished mime.

Oh, and trust but verify. Be like Dan, not Sam.

Or be like Sam… life is a lot funnier for the rest of us!


How Did You Know?

Returned home late from a meeting last night and the kids were already in bed. But just barely, so I headed in to say goodnight.

First stop was the boys’ room. As the door opened, I saw a flurry of movement in the top bunk that ended with Hal flopping onto his belly with his elbows out and his hands resting under his chin as he looked at me.

“Goodnight Hal Monkey Bear,” I said as I climbed enough rungs of the ladder to reach him. Instead of going straight for the hug, which he wasn’t leaning over for anyway, I stuck my hand under his pillow.

He made a desperate noise and attempted to press his full seven year old weight onto the pillow. He deflated a bit when I extracted the 3DS.

“You know this is supposed to be in the living room on the charging desk,” I said before turning to his brother, who freely sat up from his bed for a hug.

Outside of their room, I turned into their sister’s. It was dark and there was no glow of a phone. Yet as I approached her bed to say goodnight, I could see that she was still holding it.

“You need to go to sleep, sweetheart. Put your phone away.”

“I know. I usually slide it up here,” she said, moving her phone up to the corner of the bed and sounding disoriented. “I don’t know why I hadn’t yet. I was falling asleep.”

“If you continue to have fatigue problems, we may get you an alarm clock and have you put your phone out on the charging desk so you don’t talk to people too late into the night.”

“I don’t! I’m always too tired.”

About then, her phone buzzed.

“Sounds like you are actively in a conversation right now.”

“Well, I was but then I fell asleep.”


I then returned to the living room, where you might think this story ends. But you’d be wrong. I have three children, remember?

“I think we need to check for electronics more closely,” I said to my husband as I showed him the 3DS.

“Is Daryl’s iPod over on the desk?” he asked.

“I see his red case and it looks like something is in it.”

“He got a new case. You better go check.”

So I walked over to the desk where they are supposed to store and charge their electronics and picked up the case. Turning it over, I saw that there was indeed an iPod in it. But it seemed strange that he hadn’t plugged it in to charge. The boy may be irresponsible and forgetful about many things but charging his iPod isn’t one of them. Even more baffling was that it wouldn’t even power on.

I mentioned these discoveries to my husband who then asked to see it. After a brief examination, he confirmed my suspicions. “Go get his iPod from him.”

So I re-entered the boys’ room. Daryl’s hand slid slowly toward his hip and he looked up at me calmly.

I held out my hand. “Give me your iPod.”

The calm facade broke, replaced with an embarrassed and surprised smile. As he handed it to me, he asked, “How did you know?!”

Oh, son… How did we know? Maybe it was the old case the day you got a new one. Or the fact that it didn’t power on. And wasn’t plugged in. And didn’t actually fit the case since it was an even older iPod that you stashed in your old case as a decoy. Or maybe it’s your age. And the evidence of your siblings.

We were young once too. And devious as well. We might not have had portable electronics, but that doesn’t mean we never tried to pull one over on our parents. You are getting better at it. Your deceit is well thought out and your tells are subtle and easy to miss. But this night, at least, we weren’t too tired to catch them.

Did You Brush Your Teeth?

Yesterday, I was responsible for opening the church so after my run and a quick shower, I left my family to their morning routine and headed to the church. When I returned, I found my boys lounging in the living room.

“Are you guys ready to go?”


“Hal, did you brush your teeth?”


This is a dubious claim when coming from him, one that always requires verification.

“Let me smell your breath.”

He let out an audible indicator of frustration as he hopped up, slammed down what he was holding, and began stomping right past me toward the bathroom.

He grumbled as he went, “No one ever believes me!!!”

“So did you brush your teeth?”


“You think that might be why we don’t believe you?”


This routine is a twice daily occurrence in one form or another. And he wonders why we don’t believe him.

Whose Fault Is It?

A certain seven year old someone was slow to get up on this, his fifth day of second grade. When he finally managed to climb down from his bunk, he entered my room in just his underwear, whiny.

“Mommy… I want to wear my pants today but nobody did laundry.”

“That’s because we normally do laundry on the weekend. If you needed pants, you should have said something. You know that,” I said as I followed him to his closet.

“I don’t need laundry. I just wanted to wear pants but since I only have one pair…” He reluctantly reached for a pair of shorts.

“You only have one pair because you are growing so fast that Daddy didn’t want to buy you a bunch of pants that you’d grow out of before winter.”

“Well! You never told me that you only do laundry on the weekends.”

“There are lots of things that are true that I don’t specifically say to you. The fact is, if you wanted some laundry that wasn’t available you should have said something. We could have done something about it last night.”

You didn’t do laundry, you didn’t buy me enough pants, you never told me.

I (essentially) have two teenagers and a baby-of-the-family. The entire parental side of my being revolves around something not being right in one of my progeny’s life and it being someone else’s fault, no matter how convoluted the logic gets.

Regarding my Mother – Edith

My mother’s name is not Edith.She does not have a pension with Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust. She is not dead.

I’d be OK if her name were Edith although since my middle name is her first name, maybe I wouldn’t. It doesn’t flow well between my first and last. I’d be OK if she had a Boilermaker-Blacksmith pension – especially if it meant she’d go ahead and retire. I’d NOT be OK if she were dead. Not at all.

Fortunately for me, she is not.

The same is apparently not true for another woman who shares my name.

In July, I received the following letter. I initially thought it was a scam, but as I read on, it seemed unduly complicated and put considerable burden on me to collect the money. It was a pretty stupid scam, if that’s what it was.

Suggesting that I hire Legal Counsel isn’t something the average scammer does. Such an act is counterproductive to their objectives. It also didn’t give me an “act now or lose it forever” ultimatum or instruct me how to wire administrative fees or create any sense of urgency in me at all. Not to mention calling my mother Edith, when her name is most certainly not Edith, is not very convincing.


So if not a scam, then what was it? I Googled the Trust and didn’t find any indications of it being dubious or untrustworthy. I Googled Edith’s name and didn’t find it linked to any scams. Finally I Googled Edith’s name and mine (first and last) together and came across an interesting find.

Edith and her husband, either Fritz or Harold (or maybe one was her husband and the other her son), had a place of residence in a town not too far from me. The website also showed that there was a resident with my exact name there. First, middle, last. Another me less than an hour away. Her husband was also a resident, although his name was not the same as my husband’s name. Thankfully. That would have been too much.

So it must be this other me that Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust actually wanted to get in touch with. Not the me me, after all! Intrigued by this information, I resolved to call the other me.

A month went by without me getting around to it. We were gone for a portion of that time. I forgot about it another portion. I spent some time imagining how the conversation would go, though. Would the other me think the me me was attempting to scam her? Oh, the irony.

“Hello? Is this Jane Anne Doe? It is?! Hi, my name is Jane Anne Doe too!… No, really, it is… I’m serious…So I got this letter in the mail and I think it was supposed to go to you. I’d like to send it to you if you don’t mind giving me your address… No, really… no, wait! Don’t hang up!… Really, I’m not trying to scam you!… Wait… Is your mother’s name Edith?… It’s on the letter – that’s how I know. Has she passed away?… No, I haven’t been looking in your records… Really, it’s not a scam.”

Eventually, when resurrecting my to-do list notebook, I wrote down “Call the other me” on Sunday’s to-do list. Late Sunday, I transferred it to Monday’s to-do list. I got so little done on Monday that I just wrote Tuesday under Monday and kept the same list. Didn’t call her Tuesday either. What if after 8:00 was too late?

By Wednesday, I was determined. I would call the other me. I informed the kids I was making a phone call and to keep it down. I went to my room and closed the door. I took a deep breath, excited and nervous to finally be calling Edith’s daughter – because I had absolutely convinced myself that it was her and that this was her number.

But when I finally hit the green button to place the call, I was told the number wasn’t in service. I sat there on my bed, staring at the letter, thinking Wow. That’s kinda a let-down. Now what?

That number had been other me and her husband’s number, so I tried the number that was listed for Edith and Fritz and Harold. That number was disconnected too. I Googled poor Edith again. I found her obituary on a tribute page. Here’s what it said:

Edith was born on July 16, 1927 and passed away on Thursday, February 17, 2011. Edith was a resident of xxxxxxx, Texas.

And that was it. Her middle name was included on the header at the top of the page but there was no other information. No survivors. No indication of where to make a memorial. Nothing at all.

She was 83, making her daughter definitely older than me. Interestingly enough, when I imagined talking to the other me, I imagined her about my age. But, no, other me was probably about my mom’s age or a bit younger. Had she died too? Or moved away?

I think I’m done playing detective although I’m still insanely curious about Edith and other me. The letter tells me to write to the Pension Department if I’m not going to pursue getting paid this money. If I could send an email, I would. But if I can’t even write to my own grandmother, put a stamp on the letter, and get it in the mail, what’s the likelihood of me writing to this trust? Besides, they told me to give contact information for another person and the only contact information I’ve got for other me isn’t any good.

Maybe Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust sent the letter out to other possible descendants of Edith. Maybe there are lots of other me’s across the country. Or other Fritzes or Harolds. Or maybe they’ll just have to put the $3,121.10 back in their coffers. Either way, I wish them well.

Goodbye Mommy. I love you…

Summer is over and school has begun. Everyone in the house is now up early each morning instead of just me*. So our patterns will change again and I’ll lose one small endearing moment.

When I am leaving the house before my children, which really only happens when they aren’t in school, Hal has a very sweet ritual.

“Goodbye Mommy. I love you. Have a good day at work.”

I get this every morning, often multiple times. Always the same.

You might claim this is just perfunctory and he’s not even thinking about it, but you’d be wrong.

You see, every morning of the summer when I would leave for work while the children were still in bed, I’d walk in and say goodbye to each of them. Jane would typically not respond much and if she did, she was usually irritated that I was waking her up. Daryl, now entering the teenage stage of life himself, never stirred. He never acknowledged my presence, never said goodbye, never even woke up as far as I know. So much for the mamma’s boy.

But Hal? No matter how deep asleep my youngest child was, no matter whether I spoke or just delivered a soft kiss to the cheek, Hal always stirred and said his goodbye phrase and hugged me tightly. Even if he wasn’t ready to open his eyes.

One time, he got his phrase swapped with his bedtime phrase and said, “Goodnight Mommy. I love you. Have a good day at…{pause}… Goodbye Mommy. I love you. Have a good day at work.” We both smiled and hugged. It was sweet.

Ok, so you might look at that and say, “See? It’s perfunctory. He’s not even thinking as he says it.”

But remember when I said “often multiple times”? Yeah, it wasn’t multiple times while he lay in bed. The other times came as I opened the door to leave, as I got to the car, or if I walked back into the house.

That little boy, with no personal need to rise from bed, would climb out of his top bunk and run (run!) down the hall calling out, “WAIT MOMMY! I need another hug!” He’d embrace me by the door and then say, “Goodbye Mommy. I love you. Have a good day at work.” Sometimes he’d even get out of bed and lay on the couch waiting for that opportunity to get another hug and send me off properly. And I’d say I had a 50/50 shot at him opening the door and running down the sidewalk barefoot to do it all yet again.

No, he’s not robotic. It’s just very important to him that I get sent off properly every single day. Of course, now school is back in session. Everyone rises early and struggles to get ready to leave the house. People get crosswise with each other. Hal gets frustrated and whiny and yells at everyone. And I try to calm him down and tell him to have a good day at school. I don’t get my sending off. I don’t get my “Goodbye Mommy. I love you. Have a good day at work.” I wonder if he’s even aware I’m going to work.

I’ll still get my “Goodnight Mommy. I love you.” every night. But all those “Goodbye Mommy”‘s from the summer will have to hold me over until the next summer. Maybe I’ll get a little recharge over Christmas break. We shall see.

Goodbye little buddy. I love you. Have a good day at school.


*Jane will point out that with band camp every day of August, I wasn’t the only one up early. I find that a superfluous detail to this tale. That’s just August and it still wasn’t the entire family, but she would be right. Her school year, in a way, started August 1st.