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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What A Wonderful World

The worship service took place in the shade, facing the lazy river and the multi-colored rock cliff behind it. The light breeze made the Texas evening heat bearable. So did the beautiful surroundings, both geographical and human.

We sat on the third of four rows. People we are very fond of but see only once a year filled the other seats. A group of them had just stood before us and delivered an energetic and moving reading of a portion of Genesis. They ranged from young children to the middle-aged to those long retired. We mix seamlessly here. It’s always magical.

To conclude the time together, the worship leader played a song to emphasize her message. As soon as the song began, the teens behind us began stirring.

“That’s from Shrek!” one said excitedly.

“No, it’s from Toy Story.”

“Madagascar.”

“No, I’m telling you – it’s Shrek.”

“Remember? It was playing while they floated in the boxes in the ocean.”

Their voices tumbled over each other, everyone talking at once but still hearing each other too. Jane and I looked at each other and smiled as the song continued on.

My husband turned his head to the side and stage whispered out of the corner of his mouth, “It’s from Louie Armstrong!” The kids all laughed and then settled down to listen. I closed my eyes to take it all in.

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The teens behind me were giggling. Just ever so softly. Not irreverently or disrespectfully, but they were obviously enjoying something. I opened my eyes to see what they were seeing. I didn’t see it right away but when the view collided with the words of the song, it didn’t matter. The images around me were so much better than those in my head.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you

And that’s when I saw him. One of the youngest members of the conference – a boy not quite school aged. A boy we had watched grow a little bigger over the last several years. He was running in giant, lazy, looping circles in the grassy space between us and the river. As he looped closer to the front row where his parents sat, he’d lift his arms out to his sides and dip toward them like a plane banking on a turn.

And then he’d be off again. Not in a hurry, not making a scene, just moving to the music. And it was beautiful.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

As the last notes faded away and the boy fell into his dad’s open arms, my husband summed up what had just happened.

“That was the most beautiful liturgical dance I’ve ever seen.”

And so it was.

The readers had practiced their lines several times and they did an outstanding job. But it was the carefree expression of the music delivered by a child that carried the day. Truly, you just need to leave room for the wonderful to happen and it will. The question is, will your eyes be open to see it?

When Parenthood is Like Solving a Mystery

One day, shortly after Daryl had allegedly mowed the yard, I noticed a large patch of uncut grass about 8 feet by 20 ringed completely by a strip that had been cut.

“Daryl,” I asked, “why didn’t you mow this?”

“I’m going to cut it with the weed-eater,” he said, a response that I found patently absurd.

I said as much. “That doesn’t make sense. It’d have taken you 1 minute tops to cut it with the lawn mower. It’ll take considerably longer than that with the weed-eater.”

“Not really,” he said in that droning teenager voice, this being the response I get every time I say something he disagrees with but won’t give reasons to support his position.

“Yes really,” I said. “Besides that, the weed-eater won’t cut it evenly. It won’t look as good. Always cut as much as you can with the lawn mower.”

“OK” – same monotonous drone.

“Did you see that patch of grass Daryl didn’t mow?” I asked my husband next time I saw him.

“I did,” he said. “I told him he should have mowed it.”

There wasn’t much we could do about it though because the lawnmower had returned to our friend’s house. Rats had chewed through our wiring harness so in a desperate pinch, we hauled hers out to our house.

About a week later, that friend was sitting at our dining room table.

“Did Daryl run over some telephone wire or something when he was mowing?” she asked.

My shoulders sagged as the pieces started to fall into place. “He didn’t say anything,” I said cautiously. “Why?”

“Well, we couldn’t get the blades to spin and when we got to looking under it, there was this telephone wire wrapped tight around the blades. I don’t see how he could have mowed with it like that.”

My husband and I stared at each other silently for an extended second or two before simultaneously calling out in a stern tone, “DARYL?!”

“What?” he asked as he sulked into the room.

“Did you run over something with the lawn mower?” I asked, now understanding why he had inexplicably stopped mowing before finishing a section he had obviously started.

“No.”

“Really? You just stopped mowing even though the mower was just fine.”

“Well, it started smoking…”

“It started smoking and you didn’t say anything to us?!”

“Well!” His tone got defensive. “I thought it was just out of gas.”

“Seriously, Daryl,” my husband said, “you are smarter than that. It doesn’t smoke when it runs out of gas. And you are supposed to tell us when it runs out of gas anyway.”

“This wasn’t our lawnmower, Daryl! We were borrowing it and you knew that! You have to tell us when something like this happens, especially if it isn’t ours.”

“Sorry…”

This scene played out again a few days later when we discovered that his recent abysmal weed-eating performance was due to there not being any thread in the weed-eater. Rather than telling us as much when we got home and questioned his completion of the task, he just kept repeating that he had weed-eated. Even though every tree and fence post and porch or sidewalk edge had tufts of grass surrounding them. Every. Single. One. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later when we set him to weed-eating again, that the truth was uncovered.

Seriously. I don’t know how they expect to get away with this stuff.

You Have an Uncle?

My children and I were sitting around the dinner table last night, having a rare, slow evening. I asked them what they were looking forward to the most about summertime. After a bit of animated response, Daryl asked, “Are we going anywhere this summer?”

“Denver,” I said, reminding them of our annual trip to visit my husband’s family.

“Anywhere else?”

“Well…,” I said, “If your sister doesn’t get that wild card spot to Globals in Knoxville, we were talking about going to North Carolina.” I said it in a tone that hinted I was annoyed with her possible wild card berth.

“Oh, my!” she exclaimed in false excitement. “North Carolina!! Oh, my goodness! I’ve always wanted to go to North Carolina. It’s just so exciting!! I’ll totally give up Globals for that! I mean, come on. It’s North Carolina!”

I rolled my eyes but otherwise ignored her.

“What’s in North Carolina?” Daryl asked.

“My uncle.”

“You have an uncle? I didn’t know you had an uncle.”

“Yes, my Uncle Matt and his wife and their daughter Anna and her husband and their kids. Here,” I said, showing him a picture off of Facebook.

“He looks just like Grandpa Ted!”

“Wow!” injected Jane. “They must be related!”

“They are brothers,” I said.

“Well, I didn’t know! I’ve never met him before.”

“Yes, you have,” I said. “You’ve been to his house even. You just don’t remember it. You were pretty small.”

“I don’t like visiting family I don’t know very well,” Daryl said quietly. “It’s uncomfortable.”

“Yeah,” said Jane, who then started in with a loud and energetic voice tinged with that homey sweetness that older family members often use: “‘Oh, sweetheart! You are looking so good! My goodness, I haven’t seen you since you were THIS tall. You sure have grown! I remember when you could barely walk. How old are you now? Are you in High School yet? I bet you’ve got all the girls lined up waiting for you, don’t you! Quite the ladies’ man, I’m sure.’ See?” she asked, dropping the fake voice and turning to me, “I’m ready to be an old family member. I’ve got this down.”

I hate to say this, but she’s kinda right. The older we get, the more obnoxious we seem to get when we see people, especially young people, that we haven’t seen for awhile. But having had the occasional “Oh, wow! You look just like your mother!” or “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown up!” slip out of my mouth unplanned, I’ve gotta say, she doesn’t have to fake it. By the time she gets there, she’ll be doing it too.

I just hope that I can continue to stop it after the first sentence and not go on with the annoying attempts to relate and sound cool. Thing is, kids are so aloof that it seems to me to not be a very comfortable event from the other side either.

When You Talk and They Only Hear the Teacher from Peanuts

Children are impressive creatures. And not always in a good way. I’m surprised by how much they continue to surprise me.

My husband and I were preparing to leave the house. I searched out the boys and found them huddled on Daryl’s bed, Daryl playing a game on his phone and Hal on his Kindle Fire.

“Boys, listen to me,” I said to get their attention. They glanced up quickly and then looked back at their screens.

“Daryl, I want you to put this basket of laundry in the washing machine. Are you listening?”

A brief nod.

“And then I want you to move it to the dryer when you can. There are clothes in the dryer. I want you to dump them on my bed. Do NOT leave them in a hamper – they are delicates, okay?”

He looked up and nodded.

“I also want you to fold your laundry that is in the green hamper at the end of the couch. Okay?”

He nodded.

“Both of you. I mean it. If that laundry isn’t folded when we get back, you are both losing your electronics for the rest of the day. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” said one, looking up.

“Yes,” said the other.

“Don’t put it off. Don’t think you can just do it later because you’ll get busy and distracted. Go ahead and do it soon. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

When we returned a couple of hours later, the first thing I saw was two boys sprawled on the couch watching TV. The second thing I saw was the Kindle Fire in Hal’s hands. The third thing I saw was the green hamper still full of clothes at the end of the couch.

“Give me your electronics. Right now – hand them over. And turn off the TV. Now!”

“How much is left in the episode,” my husband asked as he passed through.

I ignored him and picked up the green hamper and shook it in the general direction of the boys.

“I told you. I told you I’d take away your electronics if you didn’t get this laundry folded.”

“Oh,” said my now clued-in husband who walked on.

“Did you put the other laundry in the washing machine like I told you to?” I asked as I headed toward their room to find out.

“There wasn’t any laundry in our hamper!” protested Daryl.

“That’s because it was all in the white hamper in your room,” I said as Daryl continued with, “and we did fold the laundry. I didn’t know about that hamper!”

The pieces all fell into place as I heard his words and saw the empty hamper in the center of their room.

“Did you fold the laundry in that hamper?!” I asked incredulously.

“Yes.”

“But that was the DIRTY laundry! Seriously, guys?! Did you put all the dirty laundry away in your drawers?”

“We didn’t know! You didn’t say!”

“I most certainly did! And you didn’t notice any of those clothes were dirty? So where are the clothes that belonged to…”

My husband called from our room as intuition led me to head that way, “So what are all of these clothes?”

“They’re dirty!” I exclaimed.

“You told me to put your clothes on your bed,” tried a defeated Daryl.

“The clean clothes from the dryer!”

“You didn’t say…”

“Yes I did.” And I proceeded to recount my original instructions as Daryl looked on in confusion and Hal looked like he was going to cry.

“I didn’t hear all that,” Daryl said.

“Yeah, I picked up on that. How could you not notice that any of this was dirty? The clothes on our bed stink to high heaven!”

“That’s because they are workout clothes,” laughed my husband.

My initial anger abated and I started to see the humor and need for grace in the situation. Daryl and Hal were both ill, Hal very much so. They had nevertheless attempted to follow what they thought my instructions were and had put away some laundry.

“Listen guys,” I said, taking a more conciliatory tone and hugging Hal. “I won’t stick to the punishment if you will get all your dirty clothes out of the drawers and put them back in this hamper and fold the clothes in the green hamper.”

“You tried to do what I said,” I added, laughing.

Then I turned to the closet, where a pair of dress pants were hung very neatly. They were hung so neatly that you would have thought I had done it. Hal never hung his pants so well. But this time he had. He had very nicely hung up the pair of pants he had vomited on the night before.

“Hal, you even hung up your vomit pants, buddy?”

“Well, I thought you had washed them,” he said as I looked at all the obvious spots along the front.

No, dear, I don’t think you thought at all. You or your brother – the entire time we were gone. Bless your little hearts. I think I’ll blame it on the fever.

Tag Team Parenting March 24, 2014

{Continuing my dig through my drafts… Curiously, this one is two years old and was apparently telling a story from a year before that. I think I must have started the draft on March 24, 2014 and then a couple of years ago, brushed it off. I didn’t want to lose track of how old it was so I put the original date in the title. I think I’ll leave it. I have no idea why it didn’t get published. Here it is unedited. Three years ago, Jane was 13, Daryl 10, and Hal 5.}

Our first evening after my husband returned home from his eight day trip was illustrative as to why having two of us is important.  It wasn’t as busy as many of our evenings are so was shaping up to be an easy night.  There was only one event: a two hour meeting at our church.

I worked right up until the last moment to pick up Hal and made it to the church just before the meeting started.  My husband had food waiting for us, which I ate as the presentation started.

The rest of the family made it home before I did.  When I walked through the door, Hal was calling out that he needed to go poop.  Jane was sitting motionless in a chair with her viola under her arm, staring at her music stand.  I asked if its sound quality was good from that position.  She didn’t respond.  There was a constant low wailing coming from somewhere in the house.

I went searching for the sound and found it in the form of Daryl, sitting on his brother’s bed, both hands clutching ears, crying a strange cry.  My husband entered the room and told him he’d get some Tylenol but Daryl needed to get ready for bed.  He then asked me to take Daryl’s temperature.

As I held the thermometer in place, my husband tried to coax Jane into playing the music on the stand.  Even from the end of the hall, I could hear her crying.  She snapped at me when I asked what was wrong and she was soon screaming (ironically) that everyone was too loud and her head hurt.

Once Daryl’s temperature was noted at being just under 100 degrees, I migrated to the bathroom, where Hal was ready for someone to wipe his bottom.  My husband told Jane to put her instrument away and went to retrieve medication for her.

I couldn’t help but think how differently the night would have been if there hadn’t been two of us.  Everything – except the viola practice – still would have gotten done but I would have been frazzled and exhausted.

Iron Man

{I just found this post in my drafts folder. I guess I wanted to add more to it or add some commentary or something. But I think I’m going to let it go as is. Because sometimes kids just don’t make sense and there’s no point in doing more than just putting it out there and letting people scratch their heads. Or laugh. Or both.}

Sitting at a traffic light in front of a thrift store, Hal gazed out our window into the store’s window and announced, “Hey, mom! They have an Iron Man costume in there. We should get that for me to wear for Halloween.”

“Nope,” I said. “Not gonna happen. Your daddy hates Iron Man.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I do too. But it’d still be cool to dress up like him.”