Alexa

Our family might be getting a little bit obsessed with Alexa. We came to consider her part of the family when Jane received an Echo Dot as a school reward and offered to sell it to us cheap. We liked it enough that we bought a battery base so we could move it from room to room.

I quickly came to hate the battery base because people were not returning the Echo Dot to the kitchen, leaving me to wander the house calling for Alexa like a lovelorn fool, hoping for an answer. So when Prime Day rolled around, we bought a few more.

Now there’s a Dot in the bedroom named Betty (get it? Bed-ty?) and one in “the big room” named Bigelow. The one with the battery base is moving to my husband’s studio although right now it’s still in the Kitchen with the name Kitty, which will become the name of the one that will ultimately reside in the kitchen but still sits in its box right now. I guess I should let my husband name the one in his studio, but I’m partial to Stuart or Studebaker.

The names don’t mean much. It’s just more fun and instructive when accessing them via the Alexa app than “Your Echo Dot”, “Your Second Echo Dot” and so on. The wake words for all of them are still Alexa, although the one in the studio will answer to Computer, which really catches my husband’s fancy. I imagine he’ll speak to it in the stilted voice of Scotty from Star Trek.

Anyway, there was some discussion about whether the Echo Dots were far enough apart to allow them to all have the same wake word. I’m lazy enough that I want to just talk to Alexa whatever room I’m in and expect a response. I don’t want to remember that I need to call her Echo or Amazon or Computer in one room and something else in another. My children are quickly showing me the flaws in this desire.

The boys were recently participating in their Alexa song ritual where one of them tells her to play a song and soon after she starts playing it, the other one calls her name and requests a different song. Or she doesn’t know the song and so they start arguing over who can better construct the name of the song so she can find it. It tends to be very frenetic and loud.

Jane and her boyfriend were in the kitchen while this was going on and Jane soon banished the boys to their room. Their room is across from mine, where I stood folding clothes. I was perplexed at hearing Alexa’s name coming from their room but soon realized that they had taken Kitty with them and Hal was trying to get her to play a song.

Daryl felt he knew better how to do it so kept telling Hal to let him try. Hal got louder, trying to talk over him. Daryl would suggest they just look it up on YouTube on his phone. Hal kept trying.

Before long, Hal was running up and down the hallway loudly yelling “Alexa, play blahblahblah by the blahblahs” while his brother gave chase, triggering the other Echo Dots as they went.

Betty triggered on his request as he ran away so in the bedroom, Alexa announced, “Playing Hello by Adele.” Through Bigelow, she said she didn’t understand the request. And all the while, with Hello as background music, Hal continued his desperate attempts to get his song.

He had a wild look in his eyes as I grabbed him by both arms in the hallway. “You need to stop,” I said. “You’ve gotten Alexa all worked up. You can’t run from room to room calling out her name.” But once he was stationary, he was an easier target for his brother and the argument soon escalated to the point that I rescued Kitty and returned her to the kitchen.

All was then quiet on the Alexa front. Until…

A storm came in the night and knocked out our power. When it didn’t come back right away, my husband disconnected the wi-fi router hoping to spare it any damage from a storm-induced power surge. Three hours later, when the power came back on, Alexa felt it was necessary to loudly proclaim to me that she was sorry but she couldn’t connect to the internet. I had been asleep up until that point and after lay awake for hours.

At that moment, I was really not sure if Betty would be allowed to stay in the bedroom. She’s on probation right now.

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Whistle While You Work

I’ve been really proud of my youngest child. He’s mastered a tremendous skill that I have never, ever been able to figure out.

He can whistle.

Don’t laugh. I’m truly very impressed.

My whole family can whistle except me. So why am I proud of him and not the others? Because they were born able to whistle. My husband was carrying a tune before we met. I can’t remember a time when Jane or Daryl couldn’t whistle.

They’ve always been able to and they’ve always been amused by my inability. I’ve tried over the years. Unless it happens accidentally while blowing air to cool off my soup or while saying something that starts with an S, it’s just air passing through my lips.

Hal was in the same boat this time last year. He spent the first part of his eighth year of life trying to whistle and sounding just like his mother. I felt a camaraderie with him on this front. Someone to stand next to me when the whistle abuse rained down. We were a team. We were united.

But Hal didn’t want to be on the Bad News Bears of whistling. I think he wanted to whistle more than his siblings ever did. Of course, they didn’t appreciate it because it has always come naturally. He tried and tried day and night. And he never gave up.

And one day…

One day, he whistled. One short brief note. And then he shrieked in delight. And kept working at it.

…air…air…air…whistle…YES!…air…air…air…air…air…whistle…YES!….air…air…air…whistle…air…air…whistle…whistle…air…air…whistle…air…whistle…air…whistle…whistle…whistle

Eventually, he could reliably whistle a note at will. Only one note and only of a short duration, but every time. And that’s when I got some revenge on the natural whistlers.

Because Hal, he loved his new-found skill. He whistled constantly, just a short toot-toot-toot stream. No melody, no variation, non-stop. And. it. drove. them. nuts.

He whistled in bed. He whistled at the dinner table. He whistled outside. He whistled in the car.

That last one is what really got to them and we soon had to declare the car interior a no-whistling zone. We had to restate the declaration every time we got in the car and usually multiple times on a typical in-town trip.

All the hard work and persistence paid off. Now, Hal can whistle multiple notes and carry a bit of a tune. He no longer feels the need to whistle during every waking moment as if he might forget how if he doesn’t keep practicing. In fact, I don’t hear it that much anymore.

But when I do hear it as he skips by me with his head in the clouds, I smile. A huge smile spreads across my face and an even larger one across my heart. He wanted it, he weathered ridicule, he practiced and practiced, and he overcame.

And now, my husband lovingly calls me Whistler’s Mother and I’m ok with that.

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This is an actual picture of me writing my blog. Ok, not really. Picture found on Pinterest and I couldn’t clearly determine copyright. If it’s yours and you want me to take it down, please let me know and I will. 

I Will Have A Good Day Today

I will have a good day today.

I will.

Even though I dropped my 4 month old Otterbox-clad Galaxy S7 this morning.

Even though that 4 foot fall damaged the video input to the screen and the bottom quarter is covered in a thick green bar and there’s little hot pink lines running from top to bottom.

Even though I didn’t work out this morning because I was dealing with the phone crisis.

Even though I am late to work and I hate staying late on Fridays.

Even though I felt this crushing frustration this morning that I seem to have very bad luck with phones.

I will have a good day.

Not because the phone is still functional, but difficult to use.

Not because I can afford to buy a new one if I want.

Not because we found my old thrice submerged Note 5 and it still works.

Not even because all of this is a little negative blip in an otherwise extremely blessed life.

No.

I will have a good day because I choose to.

That’s not a choice that comes naturally to me. My nature is to dwell on the negative. To wallow in self-pity and focus on what is going wrong. But not today.

Today, I will have a good day.

Even if I have to tell myself that a hundred times.

It. Will. Be. A. Good. Day.

I hope you have one too.

When They Are Them Instead of You

Much of parenthood is spent seeing yourself or your spouse in your children. There is something satisfying (or sometimes terrifying) about recognizing your idiosyncrasies in your progeny.

Well, of course they loves to read. We love to read. We’ve led by example and promoted a love of books their whole life.

The boy can’t find things to save his life! It’s like he’s blind. So much like his dad.

She’d argue with a brick wall. She gets that from you!

We often analyze our children and their behaviors by dissecting which aspects come from which one of us and what that means.

“Well, she’s driven to perfection like you are but then she’s got a healthy dose of me in her so she doesn’t quite apply herself as doggedly as you always did,” my husband once said of our daughter.

But sometimes – and these are the most fascinating and rewarding moments – sometimes they are all them. It’s one thing to do something with your child that you love too, indeed something that they probably love because you loved it first and instilled the same love in them. It’s a completely different thing to engage with your child in a love that was born and fostered completely within them.

I wonder sometimes if every parent gets to experience this or not. I did recently and I just sat there in awe as my 16 year old daughter did her thing. And what was this thing?

Makeup.

You might be rolling your eyes right now, but this isn’t trivial.

I basically don’t wear makeup. I haven’t worn foundation since I was a pimply teenager desperately trying to cover up my flaws. I wear mascara and a touch of blush. No eye shadow, no eye liner. I don’t pencil my eyebrows or really make any kind of effort at all. And I’m perfectly happy.

I never taught her anything concerning makeup. And truthfully, she often goes days without it as well. She doesn’t find it necessary. She just enjoys it – like makeup artist kind of enjoyment.

She follows various makeup artists on social media, reads articles, watches technique videos, and has stockpiled quite the collection of supplies, including many things I didn’t know existed. One evening, she looked at a dark blue eye shadow she had and – just for fun, she wasn’t going anywhere – turned her face into a credible impersonation of Mystique from X-Men. Just to see how it’d go.

She’s not afraid to try something. Just to see what happens. I was never like that. I had to know how it would go first. I know she gets this willingness to experiment from her dad, but the makeup interest – that’s all her. And it’s wonderful.

My husband recently planned a date night for us. As I got out of the shower, I thought of my daughter and her makeup. “Will you do my makeup for me?” I asked.

Her face lit up. “You want me to do your makeup?”

“Yes, I think that’d be fun.”

She soon took over my bathroom with more makeup than I’ve ever owned in my life. And she started talking about the various items and techniques she could use. She talked about something she could use instead of foundation that would fill the pores and give a smoother look without the heaviness of foundation.

She asked my preference on a couple of different highlighters that had different degrees of sparkle to them. When I looked at her blankly, she rubbed her finger in each and then smeared a streak on her inner forearm to demonstrate how they’d look. She talked about why she liked certain ones better than others and when was a good time for each.

She asked if there was anything I wanted covered up. (The dark bags under my old eyes please…). She talked about contour and highlight and what they do and where they go. Talked about sponges versus brushes. She gave me a double-ended mascara stick and explained that I was to brush the white stuff on first – which would elongate and separate my lashes, and then I could use the black end to cover the white. She explained why she was going to skip eyeliner. She filled in the thin parts of my eyebrows as we laughed about the change.

The whole time she talked and worked, I sat there and took it all in. This was not me. This was not her dad. This was her. All her. 100% her. And it was beautiful. Glorious. She found this, she loved this, she learned it and excels in it.

It didn’t matter one bit that I have no interest in makeup. That it will likely be years – if ever – before I sit again for 20 minutes while I or someone else does my makeup. I didn’t have to love it. She loved it and I loved that she loved it. I enjoyed it because I was spending time with my daughter in her element.

I truly can’t describe the incredible feeling that welled up inside me that evening. If you’ve never experienced the wonder that’s tinged with a bit of “where did this love come from?”, then I fear you’ve missed out on one of the best parts of parenthood.

A Little Bit Older

We are all getting old. Some of us more than others, but still. We’re getting old. And forgetful. And sometimes we all get forgetful at the same time in ways that actually help each other out in our own forgetfulness. And sometimes it’s good for a laugh or two. Which is good.

I had a birthday recently. It was something more than 40 but less than 50. Closer to 40, at least for a little bit longer. I don’t publicize my birthday on Facebook, don’t tell a bunch of people, don’t remind folks, and… our administrative assistant quit posting them on the bulletin board at the end of last year. So I wasn’t expecting much. Life met expectations.

My husband and daughter wished me a happy birthday in the morning, but not my sons. My best friend from now and my best friend from days past each sent me a message in the morning before I got to work. My mom tried to call me around the actual time of my birth but got busy and called about 15 minutes late. I wasn’t at my desk so we didn’t talk until she called back later that evening. My eldest son then wished me a happy birthday when we met up at the restaurant complaining that “no one told me! I didn’t know!”

And that was that. And I was fine.

As we turned off the light and prepared for bed that night, my husband asked me if I had talked to either of my parents that day. I told him about my well-wishers and then said, “But it was strange. Penny didn’t say anything to me at work. She always wishes everyone a happy birthday. She’s got them all marked on her calendar on the wall.”

“Oh, shoot!” I said suddenly. “Grant’s birthday is coming up and I don’t have any more birthday cards in my desk! I’ve got to remember to get cards tomorrow.”

At which point I gave a mental thank you to Penny for forgetting my birthday and thus reminding me not to forget Grant’s.

The next morning, Penny slid into my office and I knew what was coming. “I forgot your birthday yesterday!” she said. “I’m really sorry. With this new job, I just don’t seem to look over at my calendar as much.”

“That’s ok,” I said, and then told her about my conversation the night before. “So, see. You helped me out. Thank you!”

But as you might guess, I forgot to buy a card for Grant that evening. I woke up the next morning, the day before Grant’s birthday and the last day of the work week. I was making small talk with my husband and told him about how Penny had given me belated birthday wishes the day before.

“Oh, shoot!” I exclaimed. “I forgot to buy Grant a card! Crap! I’ll have to stop at the store on my way to work, but man, I like to slip them in their office when they aren’t there. That’s going to be hard to do now.”

“You better hurry then,” he said, “so you can get in before Grant does.”

“Oh, it’s too late for that!” I said, laughing. “He’s already there.” Grant was always at work by 7, the time on the clock at that moment.

Nevertheless, I hustled along, actually remembered to stop at the store, and made it to work in just over an hour.

“You are lucky I’m here,” said Grant when I stopped to check on a project we were working on together. Expecting a tale of near-death, I listened with a certain amount of apprehension, but as the story went on, I became confused.

He and his wife had attended a wedding the night before. Which was strange, being a Thursday. The wedding had been at mealtime and the reception had been light on food. Was he telling me he nearly starved to death?

Not knowing the bride or groom at all, being present merely to support the groom’s parents, they slipped out soon after the reception ended and went out to eat. Ok, so maybe a near wreck somewhere along the way?

No, no wreck. They made it home safely. Spent a quiet remainder of the evening. So what had caused him to almost not make it to work?

The story continued to the morning. He woke up. He went into the kitchen. He started taking care of some bills or something. Like he always does. He heard his wife wake up so he put on the coffee for her. She soon came into the room.

“What are you still doing here?” she asked.

He was confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“But she wasn’t giving it up,” he told me, starting to chuckle. “She was going to make me work for it.”

Eventually, she said, “You think it’s Saturday, don’t you?”

He was sitting in his pajamas, contemplating whether to fix sausage and eggs, when he would normally have already been at work.

“It’s funny you should say that,” I said. And then I proceeded to tell him first about Penny forgetting my birthday and thus reminding me not to forget his. And then me forgetting to buy a card anyway and remembering as I told my husband about Penny remembering the next day. And then my husband telling me to hurry and me telling him that Grant was already at work. “Except you weren’t, were you?”

“No!” he said laughing. “I was still in my pajamas.”

We laughed some more and he told me I didn’t have to give him a card and I told him I would anyway. And later on, after he found the card on his desk – me having successfully placed it undetected while he was sitting there, he came in to my office to thank me and say again that it wasn’t necessary, and that now he understood why I had had a bit of glitter on my lip earlier. The card having had several colors of glittered balloons and gifts on the front.

There are a number of very young people in our work area now and they sometimes make me feel very old, older than I actually am. But moments like this help me keep it in perspective. There’s a lot of “old” going around. And we manage to have a good time with it.

 

Poop

I wrote a couple of blog posts between the time that my father-in-law passed away and when I finally felt ready to write about it. I didn’t publish those posts because it seemed… trivial? Insensitive? To write about anything else before acknowledging his passing.

I wrote another short fluff piece about a week after finally putting some feelings down about our loss. It was obviously time to schedule these drafts before they stacked up on me.

I picked my favorite and scheduled it for the next day. Another I scheduled a couple of days later. Before scheduling the last one, another draft caught my eye. It had a title – not all my drafts do. This title was simple and succinct:

Poop

I wonder what that post says…

So I clicked on the draft, which I had started a year earlier and that’s all it said. Poop.

I never start with a title. I almost always tell the tale and then struggle for the right title. But this time I apparently had just the right attention-grabbing headline… and no story.

Wonder what I had in mind?

Who knows?

Whatever it was, I’m sure I was full of s**t.

ba-dum-dum… ching!

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll be here all night.

No really, I mean it. I’m sitting in my bed typing away at a laptop. I don’t even have to get out of bed to turn off the light.

Magical Basketball

There’s an elf on Hal’s basketball team.

I’m serious.

There are 5 normal, uncoordinated, barely-understand-the-rules, clueless little boys, 1 phenom that scores all the points and wins the games, and an elf (who also happens to be uncoordinated and clueless and barely understands the rules, but he’ll grow to have magical powers so it’s all cool).

As we sat at one of the recent games, I argued my case to my husband.

“Just look! I tell you he’s an elf.”

He just smiled at me.

“See his hair? It hangs down almost to his eyes and down in front of his ears in sharp points, which emphasizes his ears. Which aren’t pointy yet, but I think that’s just because he’s young. Give him some time.”

My husband laughed.

The elf boy is thin and fairly uncoordinated so at one point I said, “He doesn’t have the graceful movement yet but that comes with age too.”

“Oh, it does?”

“Of course it does. You read The Last Dragon! That poor helpless child elf was clueless and clumsy. He didn’t know how to do any magic but it came with time. Give this one some time. Eventually, he’ll be the most beautiful person on the court. Trust me.”

“So are you saying he can shoot arrows through brass rings at a hundred yards?”

“Not yet. Too young. He’ll get there though.”

“Mhhm-hmm.”

At one point, the magical creature walked close to us and I saw why his eyes had looked so big and dark at a distance.

“Look!” I said to my amused husband. “Just look at his eyelashes! No one has eyelashes that long except elves. I’m telling you, it’s true. I’m surprised no one else has noticed.”

“I’m glad you are so entertained by River,” my husband said.

“River? His name is River? Really?” I asked.

“You haven’t stayed for any basketball practices, have you?”

“No. But come on! The name bolsters my argument. That’s a nature name – elves are one with nature. It’s an elf name!”

I saw an adult man talking with River in a fatherly fashion near the end of the game. The man certainly did not look like an elf. Not at all. So I can only assume that since elves do not walk openly among us, this man had been hired to act in this care-taking role while in public spaces. The elves obviously wanted to give their boy the best opportunity to interact with other children. Because anyone who knows anything about elves knows that they don’t have children very often. There’s probably no one in his extended family close to his age.

So here he is, playing basketball with my son. Who, just like everyone else in the gym except me, is clueless he’s playing with magical greatness in the making.