Sunday, June 6, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are: 9516 Ewing Drive

I am making myself write this down, because if I don't I'll block it and someday, when asked how our lives were at this time, I'll draw a complete blank. First, I looked at this week coming up as a miniature Fall of 2010 (when I will be starting work, Jack will be starting school, the kids will be starting before- and after-care to facilitate all of this while John leaves for Baghdad, all pretty much on the same day). At present, I am starting classes Monday, sending the kids to before care at the Y for just one week, Elle is picking them up after school, various sitters we love are stopping by to care for Kelbi (she is very picky about her people) just to facilitate John leaving for the week tonight. So just this week, while diving into the 8-5, eat-sleep-dream rigors of the Montessori course, I am going to have to negotiate end-of-year performances (I HAVE to go to Gabby's; Kit scored Hannah's appearance at hers) and a couple of yoga classes I am still committed to teach. This is followed by seven more rigorous weeks of insanity, but John will be in town.

With all that in mind, this weekend was about having all our ducks in a row, all the laundry done and outfits ready, food prepared, yard work complete, John packed up etc. so John and I could have a Saturday night date. So why is it 9:30 pm on Sunday, and I am standing in a veritable abandoned battlefield full of wailing and debris?

Yesterday afternoon at 5, Elle showed up to entertain the kids and I bolted upstairs to get dressed, John bolted downstairs to grab a shirt from the laundry. And that's when it ALL began. Only, we weren't really aware of the "ALL" part yet.

The washer hose, free of the sink it was supposed to be draining into was instead, filling the carpeted basement, turning it into one big, wet sponge. Every towel and blanket we could grab went to the floor, and every toy and book went into a very big pile on the "dry side" of the basement. Before six, with a yard full of towels and comforters, (and a very nice Persian rug draped over lawn chairs) we assessed the situation, grabbed a phone number of our trusted floor guy and the cell phone and said, "Let's go drink about what to do next."

This time, when I ran upstairs to grab my shoes, Gabby was busy with a paper towel and a spray bottle of Clorox Cleanup (read: bleach), "cleaning" our room: the dresser, our comforter, quilt . . .think little white dots and you get the picture. She was . . . cleaning. Undeterred, we said, well, the quilt could be turned over, and thank goodness she didn't spray the doorless closet with all of John's suits, and off we went. (One of my favorite yoga studios was throwing a soiree with gourmet chocolates and live music, and we were going to meet Geneva and Brian there, then head for margaritas.) In the car on the way we put our stories together and realized . . .Gabby had also been in the laundry room and freed the hose from the sink. Hmmmm...

But when we got home, everyone was happy and sleepy and we thought nothing more of it, until every time we left Gab alone for more than five minutes today . . . mischief (which is actually stipulated as a non-coverable cause under "water damage due to . . ." in our insurance policy. And so, by noon, after Gabby had broken her sundress strap at church, left us at same Mass to join another family (never met them before, but decided to stand between this chosen husband and wife and hold the lady's hand, and stand and listen like an angel as opposed to annoying her sister, slamming down the kneeler, whining, or reading while sitting on the kneeler); and at the Silver Diner, after she had ordered pancakes, fussed over how they were cut, refused them then insisted she wanted something else completely- something with french fries-then spent 45 minutes eating; and after returning home and moaning that her stomach hurt (really? why?) when I tucked her into bed she slithered out and slithered under my bed taking every dust bunny with her then spreading thick dust (that gathers quickly: the dog sleeps there) on our bed; and after I was trapped in the bathroom while outside the door I could hear her taking a picture and it's glass out of a metal frame, an act for which I drew ever so deeply to find the patience to bring her to the broken glass on the stair to show her that this was not a good thing only to have her step in a piece of it on the way and wail for 30 minutes (while I, Cruella, mused, "Huh. Just like the stove. Glass teaches it's own lesson.") . . . . well, I was not at that moment suitable for motherhood, Montessori and DEFINITELY not any thing yogic. So I gasp --- took her with me to Costco as punishment. ( . . or maybe it was self-preservation, because I knew if I left her with John and the others he would have to avert his eyes and then what? Would I have to unfork the dog from the ceiling?)

She was an angel, of course. Sat in the cart, used beautiful words to remind me of all the things we usually get: "Milk! Orange juice! Bread!" I was even beginning to like her again, and she, me.

It didn't last, of course. At home she turned the central ac to "heat" (it's like 90 degrees here), unplugged the ac in her room, hit her brother, threw cards at the ceiling fan . . .and these are just the things I know about. Finally, Kit and Jack and I stood at the front door saying our goodbyes to John (with Jack screaming, "No Daddy! Don't leave!") when we heard the final crash: forget Daddy leaving, she had climbed onto the counter to search for the chocolate chip cookies, thereby releasing, from great height, a full crystal sugar bowl.

Go ahead. Call social services.

John, my angel, my saint, stayed a few more minutes to sweep up the Barbie crystal sugarscape that the kitchen had become, and, as I love him so, I added another wet comforter and a few beach towels to the collection he took in large garbage bags, bound for a laundromat some evening this week after training (he's driving there). Now there's where this week's trip and Baghdad seriously diverge.

We all calmed down. The kids brushed their teeth, and I read them stories . . . rocked Jack . . . .and rubbed toes, and bellies . . . and pulled Kit's tooth out.

Her tooth! Her tooth! Finally! the second one! just when there was peace, she could not stop: "I am SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO exCITED!!!!!!!!!" she kept yelling.

. . . right. Pack four lunches, get books ready, write list for Elle (now bound to walk Kelbi AND stay for the flood repair people), do laundry, tear down barrier that was keeping kids from basement so flood repair people can get in, and, oh yes: don wings, sprinkle dust . . .

Friday, June 4, 2010


"Girls! Girls! Girls!" I remember calling out, trying to restore order to the chatty-wild young ladies in my Sacred Heart classroom many years ago in Hoboken. And everytime I shouted, I remember amusing myself thinking, "Geeze-I sound like a Camden billboard." (Yes, sometimes Billy Crystal lives in my head.) Admittedly it is hard not to draw a line to sexual innuendo at every turn when you are the English/P.E. teacher to a bunch of high school girls who are trapped inside a boyless institution for hours on end. I had to be prepared because they drew that line every chance they got. I always thought, when my kids ask, I'll surely be ready to answer. And I am.

I thought of my readiness again when Uncle Pat (my Godfather, the best one there is, a fact that is important) sent me an email-giggle regarding one of Kit's cute little sayings. "The day is not too far off when you will be hit with the big question of where did I come from and how did I get here, etc." he wrote.

We were both wrong.

Instead, one night before bed, my darling six-year-old with her covers tucked up under her chin told ME where babies come from: "May said that to have a baby, a man . . . " shall I save you from her clear and correct description? (If you are trying to think what it was like to be me, make sure you insert those two, big, innocent baby blues looking at you for confirmation. Blink. Blink.)

First, I silently forgave May (who has teenage brothers and clearly academic understanding of biology), then aided by angels, I answered "Yes, but that doesn't decide that there is a baby. That's still up to God. It's a big mystery. That's why some people have lots of babies and some people have none. It's alllll up to God."

Still young enough to cling to all things magical, she liked that, and I hadn't heard from her since. Until early this morning, when she was reading a newspaper and asked, "What's sex again?"

I decided to think animals, and came up with a cursory but usable definition for reproduction. I spoke slowly and clearly, with my heart stuck somewhere in my throat. Then I held my breath.
"No," she looked at me blankly. "I mean like here, it says "Sex:Female. What does that mean?"

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gabby's First Communion

Not everybody gets a message wishing them "Mazel Tov on your First Communion!" so thanks, Mini, for your message of love from Israel on Gabby's special day!

And it was special, in so many ways! My Mom made it in, to help with all the last minute, frantic preparations. How were we going to entertain 30 people in this shoebox? I prayed. It worked. 70's and sunny, we spilled out mostly into the backyard. But not before we pushed out a few sweat beads in the church . . .

Gabby made her First Communion alone, not with her class. It was an option presented for families with other commitments, and we were happy to take it. On the official day, Kit and I had Girl Scout Encampment, and John, Gabby and Jack went to Connecticut to celebrate Bella's First Communion. This way, Gabby wouldn't be fussing in a sea of 50+ Communicants, we wouldn't be missing Fleming VIPs like Grandma and Pop, and Gabby would get to watch Bella, and anticipate her own big day. To add to that special weekend, Grandma Fleming took Gabby to buy a dress, and Bella passed on her veil.

Fr. Bill had met with us earlier in the week. That was a Fleming circus with all three kids running around the empty church. For single Communicants like Gabby, Fr. Bill usually invited them up on the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. It was clear that Jack was only going to be happy if he got to go where Gabby was, and it was clear that if Gabby was going to be on the altar, the only place for her was in the pulpit. So we decided against that bonus. We were already infiltrating the service with Auntie Kitty set to be a Eucharistic minister, to give Gabby her first sip of wine (thus saving her from drinking the entire cup); and the little bouquet of cousins, Kit, Gabby, Fiona and Hannah taking up the gifts. With 14 family members expected to attend the church, we reserved two pews.

So Saturday night came, we welcomed everybody in from Jersey, sent them back to their hotel to change and made it to the church on time. Well, we made it, but . . . "They'll be here," we assured Fr. Bill, and Mass began. Gabby processed in with the altar servers and Fr. Bill but was clearly not happy that she did not get to continue up onto the altar. So she stood in the aisle and pouted, like a little miffed bride.

That of course, was not nearly enough drama for a Saturday night, so we continued with the operatic strains of Jack who just wanted to go! So John took him out, leaving me, my mom, Kit, and Gabby in two big long empty pews.

When Gabby's Catechism aide appeared (wasn't that sweet? I think she saw how empty our pews were and came to join us), I leaned back to her and whispered "I think you're going to have to take up some gifts!" Fortunately, right before the Gospel (which is as late as you can get and still have Mass "count") the rest processed in. Even John came back with Jack. It was close!

So, aside from Jack's continual whining, and Gabby the hostess working the pews, making sure she sat next to every single family member, the ceremony turned out great. The diamond moment came just after taking the bread and wine. Gabby settled herself back into the pew next to Nora this time and Nora said, "I'm so proud of you Gabby! What did you just have?"

Gabby answered, "I ate Christ."

No on had ever said those words to her. They were hers alone. Later, her Catechism teacher would say, "Leave it to Gabby, of all the kids, to get it." We have to believe, in some way, that that's true.

The lobby afterward was filled with Jack crying and us not getting photos and everybody talking and strangers congratulating Gabby, two in particular I will remember. They were young, and obviously sent over to us by their father who I turned to see was talking to father Bill. Couldn't Jack have just unleashed my leg for one moment? I guess I was not yet meant to meet Tim Shriver (Eunice Shriver's son, the man who is carrying Special Olympics forward). Maybe another Sunday . . .

The rest was a real summer celebration, with lots of children, wine and glowsticks. And just when it really didn't matter anymore, a perfectly happy Jack.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Gimme Three Good Reasons. Ok, Four.

I asked a friend today, Is your name Mommy? Or, Mommymommmymommymommymommy? As usual, my life is too much chocolate cake. All good, just too much of good. It has been a long week! The anvil hanging over my head is that we are living like farm animals and have Gabby's First Communion next week. Lots of folks coming in town; John is out of town. Not sure how I am going to find the floors before then BUT. . . . in the meantime . . .

This week marked my first kids yoga classes at the Y . . .as in Yeah! They were fun, and the kids loved them. Thursday's 5-7 year old group gave me the best compliment: a big moan at the end. "It's OVER??" "That's IT??" "That was like . . 10 minutes!!!!" But I think it was all about the foot massage during savasana. I'll make it longer. All those little toes . . . They have just started to learn that they love to relax. I know I'm still working on that!

The best part about Thursday, though, leads me to another "Why I LOVE the Y" moment. Stuck without a sitter, in desperation, I signed Kit up for my yoga class (actually she asked); I signed Jack up for a soccer class, and Gabby, well, they were going to throw her into an aftercare classroom. Very nice of them. When I showed up for my class they happily grabbed all three kids and threw them in the office with a big pile of books (nirvana for Flemings). Kit showed up to my class on her own on time. That was easy enough. When I got done, I learned that in order to get a stubborn Jack to soccer, they had Gabby take him. They added a counselor-in-training to the soccer class, kept Gabby in it and everyone won. She has never lasted in an outdoor class. All that green space calling her to run. But somehow they knew she was ready for this one. The coach wanted her there, and they did the right thing getting a backup in case she headed for the park or the woods. They really get it. So she is now signed up for rookie soccer. With Jack. It sounds like money suckage until you do the real math here: everybody gets an activity and I STILL make 10 bucks. Did I mention I love the Y?

Then there was the Mother's Day yoga workshop I did with Geneva. I was so wiped out by Saturday, and sick of juggling it all without John (who went to London) I really just wanted to take the class. I got Jack a sitter; Gabby and Kit came with me. Gab is one amazing yogi. It was a lovely workshop though not my best teaching moment. A long day, but a good one: any day spent with the Wattenpaugh family is a good one! Kit and Amelia were all sprightly and giggly. Afterwards, Brian and G brought burgers and wine. Brian took over my kitchen, managed to find everything (amazing!) and basically took care of us at chez Fleming while the kids continued to run and run and run around the backyard. G and I just needed wine and decompression.

Note this date in history: Gabby mastered the monkey bars! I had heard a rumor she did it Friday at school, but I got to see it for myself. She has been working diligently at this for over a year. She is one happy monkey!

So finally, after weeks of daily obligation, we had our first Sunday morning without anything to run to. (Sunday school is over for now.) And the kids were SO wiped out, I could see they were going to sleep for a good long while. Ahhhhhhh. Then someone's car alarm went off at 3 am. Undeterred, I fell back asleep. Until 6:30, when Kit woke me with the news that it is MOTHER"S DAY! And she JUST MADE BREAKFAST! She also made me a DOUBLE ESPRESSO!!!!
Jack and Gabby slept until late. Then Jack got up to give me his Mother's Day present: He said "I wanna go to church." And do you know, the little bugger made it all the way through Mass?! Too bad for him there were no donuts, so after a couple of passes on the monkey bars at Our Lady of Mercy, we headed to Dunkin Donuts (blechhhh!) bought an entire dozen, and went home for Mother's Day Brunch: Donuts and bowls of vegetables, with big cups of milk. See what John is missing?

So now it is heading toward midnight. Delays, I fear. We'll see just when he gets his volcanic ash home. Baby #1 needs a walk!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ommmmmmm My. Dear. Child.

Geneva and I are having a Mother's Day Mom and Me Together Yoga Workshop. This is Geneva's baby. (She has been amazing about pusuing her yoga teaching.) In any case, she is promoting it and holding it at the studio where she rents space. It will be a fun, relaxing, mother-child partnering affair. I'll assist, then take the kids in the end for a craft and more kid yoga, leaving a lucky bunch of moms in the hands of Geneva. (Geneva walks into a room and I feel better already.)

It's the craft we're still working on. We've been working on this idea of weaving words (using alphabet beads) into hemp bracelets. At one point we thought it would be meaningful to gather words from each mother and child, a special word, perhaps one that comes to mind when, say, the child thinks of the mother or vice versa.

So I took that idea to our R&D department for testing (that would be Kit, located conveniently on our swingset each and every afternoon). She loved the idea. What a special gift for mother's day! And you get to make it right there!

"What words might you choose?" I asked her. "What makes you think of me?"

"Oh, Grocery Store. Tired. Yelling. Like that."

Slap that one on a Hallmark Card and send it to your Momma.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Love from all of us with wishes for lots of springtimes blessings!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter Bunny

Redeemed!!!!! 3/6/2010

Gabby had her tear-duct tubes surgically removed on Wednesday. Once again, she had no fear, was patient in the doc office, a darling for the medical staff. Last time I whispered a little fantay/ meditation story that went with the bubble gum anesthesia as she drifted off on the table. Something about Barbie. This time she chose "orange!" as she scrambled up onto the operating table and flipped onto her back, like anesthesia gas is a treat or something. (Then again, if someone offered me a really good nap I might just get excited, too.)

But that's not what this story is about. It's about a moment of clarity in the car on the way there. Sometimes Gabby is so clear in her speech, and when it is, you get this glimpse inside her head. It must be fun in there.

"Mommy, you know what?"
"I think Daddy is the Easter Bunny."
"Really! Why is that?"
"He has pink ears."

I marveled at all this cognition and then realized she must have been looking through the family photos. Still, John does make a fine Easter Bunny.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Dear All: I promise promise promise to catch up someday soon. Snowmaggedon has us a bit behind, but I couldn't miss writing tonight, not with the very few of you I blog, all of whom I thought might appreciate a little Lenten Oy Vey.

Gabby is receiving the sacrament of reconciliation tomorrow. It isn't a big-white-dress affair, in fact as with the Jewish Yom Kippur, the Church has kept this sacrament solemn, private. In a way, recognizing your wrongdoings, and then learning that these can have eternal ramifications, is pretty heavy stuff. Of course, learning that there is a way to salvation through reconciliation with God is bigger still. One of the ways to get to this understanding is to pray "Stations of the Cross." Kids in Catholic school do them often enough. John remembers well being a Roman soldier gambling for Jesus' clothing in a passion play. If you've ever walked the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, that's the real trail. In every Catholic church, you'll find artwork depicting the 15 stations from Jesus' initial sentence to death through falling, being forced to carry His own cross, meeting His mother, all the way until they find His tomb empty. It is a heavy meditation.

Tonight, our church had a family pizza party followed by stations of the cross. If it sounds casual, it was. Our church does a nice job of nurturing, especially young children who do not attend the school (and this really was for us "public school" kids). There were about twenty kids and as many parents. Ponytail-ponytail-ponytail, Gabby, Kit and Caroline followed Fr. Don to each station. So this is great: Fr. Don will hear Gabby's first confession tomorrow, and they are getting to have a nice moment praying together tonight.

But this is better: the fireworks going off over Kit's head. She is reading now, and praying aloud at each graphic depiction of torture one can't imagine, each meditation and prayer revealing a horrific act and the soul-wrenching lessons we are to take from it, made all the more real since these are child-centered: "Lord, let me see you in every person, even those I don't like or who bother me . . ." This all sounds dark, but she was actually excited. She had about a million questions ranging from "If Jesus is the only one who ever rose from the dead, then why was Elijah and that other guy [that would be Moses] there at the mountain? "(i.e., Tabor, during the Transfiguration. What, weren't you listening last Sunday?) to "Wait . . . is there a big lake there?" (confusing Jerusalem with the Galilee.) And the clincher: the my-best-friend-is-Jewish-so-now-what-do-I-do response to "Why did they kill Jesus?"

Me: "Well, the Jews didn't believe that Jesus was God's son."

Kit: "Oh, no! Shouldn't we tell Riley?!!"

Me: {dead silence/muffled snicker/silent prayer]

Kit: "Well?"

Me: "Did you know your father studies religions all around the world? (phew!) Let's ask him."

Me silently to self: Weren't you the kid who corrected my "Alleluia" way back when when you were two ? "No, Mommy, it's Allah Rabi!"