Dragonflies and Chicken Parts

There is a dragonfly in my freezer.

At the school my sons attend, the infamous “bug project” gets assigned in fifth or sixth grade. Every child is expected to build a collection of dead bugs, pin them to poster board and then do a presentation.

Some kids have the advantage of having scientists or outdoorsmen as parents. Some have mountain homes where I swear the bugs are significantly larger. Others will travel to exotic places and then illegally smuggle equally exotic insects back in their suitcases. My kids will benefit from none of that. And I don’t like bugs.

So yesterday, when I walked outside to pick up the Sunday paper and saw a perfect dragonfly upside-down on the sidewalk, I put it in a sandwich bag and stuck it in the freezer.

It only twitched once.

What my kids will benefit from is a mother who starts early. They are in third and fourth grade. Which means, I have a dragonfly in my freezer now for at least a year and a half.

I have since been bemoaning the fact that science teachers seem to enjoy coming up with projects that drive mothers crazy. This year, my son claims he will get to touch a human brain.

And there’s a dragonfly taking up freezer space.

Then I remembered my third grade science teacher. We dissected chickens, and then had Charlie’s Special (which is chicken chow mein) for school lunch. And the best thing was… we got to bring home chicken parts – gizzards and hearts and tracheas and legs and whatever we wanted.

Our garage smelled for months.

And I thought, my mom put up with smelly chicken parts for me. The least I can do is stash a dragonfly in my freezer.

I Got a C in 4th Grade This Week

My son’s fourth grade teacher is encouraging the kids in her class to be more independent, to take responsibility for their work, as well as any achievements or failures.

She must be really working hard, because after blaming me for something he got wrong on his homework the other day, my son’s eyes went suddenly wide, and he apologized.

Wow. I am impressed and grateful.

Yet after she has made such amazing, quick progress, I sent this note to school this week:

“Please send my son to Study Hall, where he can work until his piano lesson at 3:45. This is his first time going to Study Hall or making his way to his lesson on his own. If you happen to be covering Study Hall today, will you please remind him that he needs to head over to the Music Room at 3:40? Thank you!”

I deserve to have that note returned to me with a big, red C on it.

The only reason I am granting myself a little credit, is that I did let go just enough to let him find his way from the Library to the Music Room without me. C+?

The Blessing of the Animals

A church near our house posted a sign out front advertising its upcoming Blessing of the Animals.

My boys’ school also holds a Blessing of the Animals this time of year. It is held in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi’s love for all creatures. Francis of Assisi’s feast day is October 4, so I guess sometime that week, the school will send home a note that any student with a pet can bring it to Chapel (held outdoors that day) to be blessed with Holy Water.

The funny thing about the Blessing of the Animals is that the ones who really need God’s grace and forgiveness – like our crazy dog – cannot come respectfully into a crowd of excited children and their procession of dogs, cats, hamsters, iguanas, turtles and even snakes.

Our dog, Star, would wreak havoc on the proceedings and get herself kicked out… literally banished from the Garden. She would jump and bark and try her best to be in the middle of everything even if it meant knocking over the Pastor, the Headmaster, and a class of very cute preschoolers.

So the day they bless the animals, we will keep ours home and hope that God knows it is for the best. Maybe we can ask the Pastor to send home a vial of Holy Water with the boys, and we can douse Star with it.

Saving her, however, may require more.

Mealy Bugs and Me

I am not a plant person. Our plants survive despite my lack of a green thumb. The fact that I have now spent hours trying to rid our cactus plant of mealy bugs doesn’t fit. I never even liked cacti before. They are mean. Spiky. If there were genres for plants, I would place the cactus in modern art, which I also don’t like much. You have to look for its beauty, because at first glance, the cactus is uninviting.

The problem is that we inherited our cactus. It was in wonderful shape when we brought it home. And it is huge.

I feel like I would be dishonoring the man who helped it grow for the years before we owned it if I let the mealy bugs beat the plant. And since it is such a large cactus, filling the window behind our living room couch, it is a presence that would be missed. Like him.

I went to the plant store a few months ago asking about the strange white cotton-like balls appearing on our cactus. That’s when I learned about mealy bugs. Gross.

I spent an hour wiping them all off, my hands getting cut by cactus needles. I sprayed the cactus so much that it dripped on to the table, which then had to be cleaned.

The mealy bugs were stronger than the spray.

I returned to the plant store. The plant expert shook her head sadly. Those mealy bugs are hard to beat. Once you have them, they are nearly impossible to contain. She instructed me to dip cotton swabs into rubbing alcohol and wipe down our cactus.

She could not have understood what I meant by “huge cactus.” It took an hour and a half, and I couldn’t get them all.

Her second step was to pour some mealy bug pesticide into the soil, and wait.

I wait now, as if peering over the hill at dawn scanning for the tips of the enemy bayonets. Wars have been fought for less, I guess, than honoring the dead.

Dinner with Boys

“If you’re happy and you know it, go like this. Meow, meow, meow, meow. If you’re happy and you know it, go sit in the corner and rethink your life!”

My three boys break down in laughter for the sixth time after the oldest one acts out the lines from some television commercial…again at dinner.

Other dinners have included the same Garfield joke over and over again. Or the lines of a funny youtube video. Or knock-kock jokes. My husband eggs them on until all four boys at my dinner table are laughing… and I don’t get what’s so funny.

The night of the “rethink your life”-induced laughter, my husband remarked that we should mark September 19 in our calendars for all time. Family history should be preserved, and our eight year old had snorted his milk out his nose for the first time ever. Of course, that led to more laughter and more milk snorting.

I don’t have that silly boy sense of humor. I enjoy it. Who can help but be happy when your dining table is surrounded by laughter?!

It reminds me though of my father sitting at our dinner table when I was growing up. The exact same table, passed down through three generations, at which my family of boys cavorts around (they can barely stay in their seats) once served my family of girls. Just my Dad at the head of the table, the lone male, trying to keep up with the conversation.

Our conversations bounced quickly from one friend’s mishap or drama to one teacher’s, and he would ask, “Mary…?”, because we each had a friend named Mary, and he was never sure which one we were talking about. I’m sure he didn’t get our jokes either.

I felt a little sorry for him then. Now, happy with my laughing goofball boys, I get that he too enjoyed our dinners even if we talked too fast and had too many friends with the same name.

He would have loved last night’s dinner, when we made up a song with verses that all ended, “But nobody drinks like the Irish!” So much boy-giggling! We’ll have to reprise that one when he comes for Thanksgiving…because boys never seem to tire of them same joke.

Family Dinner and the 4th of July

The Declaration of Independence opens with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” What our founding fathers meant was that there are certain things we do not need to back up with research, prove, or debate as a citizen of this country.

As a parent, there are similar truths. “Talk to your kids” is one of them. “Spend time with your kids” is another. So is, “Show them you care.”

The Sunday Review section of the July 1 New York Times, my favorite few pages of newspaper all week, included an editorial called “Is the Family Dinner Overrated?” by Ann Meier and Kelly Musick. I was tremendously disappointed. According to the opinion piece, a recent study found that family dinner is not as important to the health and happiness and future success of our children as originally thought. You actually have to talk to your children during those dinners.

First, I realized why higher education is so expensive. Universities are paying their top professors and researchers the big bucks because they spend months, if not years, trying to debunk concepts like eating dinner with your kids. Why?

Second, I was disappointed that anyone, especially experts in the field, felt they had to study family dinners and point out that the dinner isn’t the important thing. It’s the talk around the table. Isn’t it obvious that the reason psychologists have been pushing family dinners is specifically because it provides an opportunity to spend time with your kids, talk to them, learn about them, and show them you care? It’s certainly not the chicken nuggets or pasta with butter.

I remember hearing a story about dinner at the house of my grandfather’s when he was a young boy. He had one younger brother and a number of sisters, but only the boys were allowed to talk at mealtime. The girls could answer a question if their father asked one of them, but other than that, conversation at the dinner table focused on the boys.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Talk to each of your children. Do we really need to conduct a months-long study on that one?

Anyway, with my disappointment raging in both universities that apparently sponsored this research, and the New York Times for highlighting it as an impressive new body of information on parenting, I thought about the last few dinners around our table.

Night One: Our nine year old, who had just completed a week of sailing camp told us about the huge fish that jumped out of the reservoir right near his boat. When he learned that his Dad once took sailing lessons, he named every possible boat that he might have sailed.

Night Two: I groaned often as the boys and their Dad recited, over and over, the lines from a youtube video of a talking dog disappointed that his owner ate all the maple bacon. Then they went into repetitive recitation of the lines to the baby broker e*trade ads.  An hour of giggling around the table.

Night Three: The eight year old’s radical improvement after only three swimming lessons was lauded by all. The story of his epic chase after our runaway dog the night before was recounted with gentle reminders that we would rather lose the dog than the boy. “Please stay close to home, don’t get in a stranger’s car, and can everybody please tell my our address and phone number?”

Night Four: The three boys reminded us once again of the many attributes of their Bey Blades, including their favorites, which ones they wanted next, and plans for a lemonade stand to earn money so they could buy more on ebay, where they pointed out, they are cheaper.

Night Five: An hour of really bad Knock Knock jokes, some completely misunderstood because they were told by a four year old. Much laughing.

Night Six: New nicknames for all. Puddin’ Brain was a favorite for the most academic of the three. Then we discussed what to get Mommy for her birthday, without, of course, including Mommy in the conversation. Loud whispering.

Night Seven: An announcement that the boys would read the Declaration of Independence for the 4th of July.

Hopefully, when they are parents, they will already understand the self-evident truths of both our nation and life as a parent… and not need the New York Times to explain them.

Yes, as parents, “we hold these truths to be self-evident.”

Family Ping-Pong

After disappointing defeats to their Dad last night at ping-pong, the boys woke up at 6am to spend their Sunday morning slamming ping-pong balls against the living room wall adjacent to one of my favorite paintings.

As I worried that an orange plastic ball might put a hole through the smoky background, the nine year old mused:

“If Star [our dog] were a person, I bet she’d be really good at ping-pong.”

He did not voice his next thought, which i know was:

“…and we’d beat Dad!”