Posts Tagged ‘Family’

The Apprentice Becomes the Master

So for years now, I’ve used a technique I call “Audiobooks for the Captive Audience” to introduce my kids to new books while we’re in the car and they can’t escape.

Mark has turned my strategy against me.

He’s playing a book in the car that makes my ears hurt and my soul feel like it is being rubbed across a cheese grater.

I have a high tolerance for adaptations, and a reasonable tolerance for allusions to / inspiration from other books.  I have no tolerance for flat-up imitations.

The book he’s forcing into my head, much like an ice pick, is basically a retelling of The Hobbit.   He knows this.  This is WHY HE THINKS I SHOULD LIKE IT.

There are four books in this series.



Mark:  “I want the superpower to make things out of nothing.”

Me:  “I have this superpower.”

Mark:  “WHAT?”

Me:  “I made four things.  Out of nothing.  It took a long time.”

Mark (cottoning on):  “Ooooo….that doesn’t count.”


Mark:  “I meant with my mind.”

(In my head):  I have to admit perhaps not enough thought was involved…

The Diary of Anne Frank

So we went to see “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Olney Theatre Center on Friday.  Given our other experiences with Mark and theater (Godspell  and A Christmas Carol, for instance), I figured I’d better give him a plot summary beforehand.

Mark (listening with widening eyes):  “Are you sure this age appropriate?”

Me (in my head):  That’s a fair question, actually.  We didn’t take you to “Angels in America” last weekend, so what exactly makes the AIDS epidemic age-inappropriate but the Holocaust okay?   Context.  Handling.  Nobody’s naked on stage.  I’m not necessarily convincing myself. because that’s a lame bottom line.  But I say, “Yes.”

Mark:  “This doesn’t sound fun.  Theater is supposed to be fun.”

Me:  “Sometimes.  But sometimes theater is supposed to educate.”

Mark:  “Hmph.”

He’s okay through the first act.  At intermission he asks to go home:  “I don’t want to see this.  Theater is supposed to be fun.  This is NOT fun.”

Me:  “Theater is supposed to educate too.  Sometimes that means making us uncomfortable.”

Mark retorts:  “Well, it’s working then.”

It’s not helping Mark that Otto Frank is played by Paul Morella.  Mark is a Paul Morella groupie.  He insists on going to the one-man Christmas Carol every year and usually mouths along (silently, mostly) to his favorite parts:  “Marley was dead to begin with…”  Mark is just devastated by Otto Frank’s epilogue, made worse because his actor-hero seems so seriously unhappy.  His fists are clenched when the lights come up.  “I.  Am.  Going.  To.  Invent.  A. Time.  Machine.  And.  Stop.  This.”

Good job, theater.  Seriously.  The response to overwhelming injustice should be This should not have happened.  I want to keep it from happening.   But humans being what we are, it’s hard to get there with numbers.  We get there with stories.  Stories about individuals.

This, child, is why we’re here.





Betsy, In Memoriam

Our cat, Betsystar Mousebane, went to hunt with StarClan yesterday.  I say ‘ours’ but she chose us.  I don’t know if cats, like wands, always choose the wizard, but she did, along with everything else she ever did.

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Betsy had, as we say now, serious leadership potential.

When we moved in 2004, we gave in at last to Paul’s ongoing begging for a cat.  It turns out that when you go to animal shelters with a second-grader, a preschooler, and a newborn, most cats cringe in their cages.  Not Betsy.  She stood at the bars, watching Paul as he walked back and forth, the other cats skittering back even farther as he got close.  “I don’t belong here with these losers,” her gaze said.  “Get me out of here, kid.  I’ll make it worth your while.”

Once she got home, it became clear Betsy did not think of herself as a house cat.  God no.  She was merely a very small tiger, who chose, for purposes of her own, to live with us.  When she stalked through the grass (good luck keeping her inside, btw–she was a master of waiting by the door and bolting when it opened), you thought were looking at a close-up of a big cat hunting a zebra.

We didn’t realize this wasn’t the normal state for cats until two others came to live with us.  They walk like house cats–pad, pad, thump, none of the shoulder-rolling stalking of Betsy.  Who took her new job as in-house hunter very seriously.  Good thing, too; our 110 year old house had lots of mice.  She ate only the first one (not sure I’ve had to do anything nastier than clean up the mouse head and leftover guts.  Ewww.).  After that, she just brought ’em to us.  According to my calculations, Betsy rid the world of:

1 rat

1 squirrel

38 moles

dozens of mice

2 birds (which is one less our house windows have–she clearly specialized in vermin)

She was particularly proud of the squirrel:


Why is the dead squirrel in my house?  Well.  There was a broken screen in one of the ground-floor windows, which ended up working as Betsy’s cat door.  ALL of the creatures she killed outside came inside…and once, a mouse that wasn’t quite dead.  It was still alive enough to crawl behind my kitchen cupboards in an unreachable location and die.  We called him Polonius.

Betsy tolerated preschooler Sam and sometimes crawled into the car seat with baby Kate (and later, Mark) but she loved Paul.

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Nobody else could get away with holding Betsy like that.

She would sit on the back of the couch and lick his head, as if he were her kitten.  So we thought she might like, you know, real kittens.

We were wrong.  She hated Cloudstalker and Graytail every day from the time they came to live with us until yesterday.  And she was boss.  Betsy was, at her largest, only 8 pounds.  Cloudstalker has ended up 16 pounds.  About once a month for years, he convinced himself ‘I think now I can take her.’  Betsy would kick his butt and things would go back as they had been…for another month.

Cloudstalker is walking around right now nervously, as if she’s hiding and is going to spring out and kick his butt any moment.

Then there was the time she got caught in someone’s cat trap.  She was missing.  We were a mess.  I had 4 kids under the age of 10.  Betsy was my most common adult companionship.  Different species, but at least she was a grown-up.  We put up flyers.  We sent her picture to animal shelters.  Finally we got a call:

Animal Shelter:  ‘We think we have your cat.’

Me:  ‘Think? She’s microchipped.’

Animal Shelter:  ‘She won’t let us close enough to check the chip.’

Me:  ‘You have our cat.’

When we got to the animal shelter, she was sitting in the cage, making a noise I’d never heard before:  HUR. HUR.  HUR.  I’m reasonably sure it translates to “I’m going to hurt you.  Then I’m going to hurt your family.  Then I’m going to hurt your friends.  Then I’m going to hurt your family’s friends.  Then–”

We heard that growl in only two other contexts:  the drive to Maryland, and as she got older, vet check-ups.

Here’s how the four hours to Maryland sounded:

Gray (regular high-pitched meows):  “I don’t like this.  I really don’t like this.”

Cloudy (regular inquisitive meows):  “So, what are we doing anyway?”

Betsy (HUR.  HUR.  HUR):  “I’m going to hurt you.  Then I’m going to hurt your family…”

The cats had to stay in a kennel overnight because we weren’t closing on the house until the next day.  It wasn’t until I came back for them and saw Betsy’s posture that I realized she thought she’d been sent back to the pound.  I’m not sure anyone’s ever been so happy to see me but I felt terrible she thought we’d abandoned her.  Never.

We’d been told to lock the cats in the room with their litterbox at the new house and give them time to get used to it.  Betsy was having none of that.  She was out of her crate, scratching at the door, and had left to explore the rest of the house before Gray and Cloudy ventured out of their crates.

We loved our furry little badass, and we miss her.










Not really a holiday, exactly. But good question.

Me:  “Oh, look.  It’s November 5th.  Guy Fawkes Day.”

Mark:  “Guy Fawkes?  Who’s that?”

Me:  “He tried to blow up Parliament in 1605.”

Mark (incredulous):  “And we celebrate that?  WHY IS THIS A HOLIDAY?”

Successful Play-doh Extraction

So we’re at the doctor on Wednesday…

Doctor:  “Mark, um, the inside of your ear is blue.”  Looks some more.  “Did you put a bead in here?”

Mark (emphatically):  “No!”

Doctor:  “Does it hurt?”

Mark:  “No.”

Doctor:  “Do you have trouble hearing?”

Mark:  “Yes!”

(Inside my head):  THAT explains a lot.

Doctor:  “Well, it has to come out.  Schedule with the ENT.”

Scheduled with the ENT.  (I have to type it as ENT, not Ent–otherwise I has visions of Treebeard poking twiggy fingers into Mark’s ear).

Hastily rescheduled Friday morning after a sobbing Mark called from school that the 2 PM appointment overlapped the school Halloween costume parade.

ENT:  “Okay, Mark, let’s get that bead out.”

Mark:  “Will this take long?  The costume parade is at 2:30.”

ENT:  “Not if you hold still.”


ENT:  “Oooaaaakkky.  It’s crumbling, so not a bead.”

Mark (indignantly):  “I did NOT put a bead in my ear.”

ENT:  “I think it’s play-doh.”

Mark:  “Oh.  That.”

(Inside my head):  The paper wad up the nose.  Now this.  You’re out of easy-to-retrieve-from orifices, kid.

In the car:

Me:  “How DID you end up with play-doh in your ear?”

Mark:  “I sleepwalk.”

Cooking Something (anything!) Up

So apparently Mark thinks Brian doesn’t know how to cook.

Me (trying to lure Mark to help with dinner):  “Come on, kid, I’ll show you how to make pesto.”

Mark:  “Why?”

Me:  “Someday you will need to feed yourself.”

Mark:  “I already know how to make ramen.”

Me:  “You might want to eat something besides ramen.”

Mark:  “I LIKE ramen.”

Me:  “Fine.  But someday you may want to impress a girl, and we love guys who cook.”

Mark:  “Then why doesn’t Dad know how?”

Since I’m leaving Friday and will be gone for a week, Mark’s belief in his father’s inability to navigate the kitchen has moved from a curiosity to a source of grave concern.


Mark:  “I think we should go to the grocery store.”

Me:  “Why?”

Mark:  “We need some frozen dinners.”

Me:  “Why?”

Mark:  “So I can eat while you’re gone.”

Me:  “Dad can cook.”

Mark:  “I think it would be a good idea to have some frozen dinners.”


Mark:  “I think we should go to the grocery store and get some frozen dinners.”


Mark decides to stay silent but is obviously skeptical.


[We are at the grocery store filling a prescription]

Mark:  “While we are here, I think we should get some frozen dinners.”

Me:  “You know, I have successfully left children alone with your father and none of them died of starvation.”

Mark:  “I DON’T WANT TO DIE AND I DON’T WANT TO EAT RAMEN FOR A WHOLE WEEK.  Can we PLEASE get some frozen dinners?”

On Determining Gender in (Magic?) Cats

Overheard from the backseat on the way to Target this afternoon:

Kate:  “If Cloudy were magic and could turn into a human, I’d marry him.”

Mark:  “Why?”

Kate:  “He’s seen me naked.  And he’s a boy.  I’d HAVE to marry him.”

Mark:  “Maybe he CAN turn into a human but he doesn’t, because he only likes you as a friend.”

Kate:  “Cloudy LOVES me.”

Mark:  “Maybe.  And how do you even know he’s a boy?”

Kate:  “He MUST be a boy.  His farts are TERRIBLE.”

Dr. Frankenstein, I presume?

So we had to revisit Electrical Safety at our house…

Mark has an ‘Inventing Table’ in our dining room and was having a giant fit because he couldn’t get the Lego minifigure attached to a D battery.  Finally he got frustrated and left.

Yeah, I should have pegged earlier to what he was trying, but I didn’t.

Which is why when I went upstairs, I found an alligator clip wire attached to the wires of an exposed outlet (in an area we’re working on–I KNOW, but they should be old enough to leave such things ALONE), a mini-screwdriver hanging from the other end, and a Lego dude on the floor.

Which is when I figured out what he’d been trying to do:  make the Lego minifigure MOVE by running electricity through it.

Obviously, our next Audiobook for a Captive Audience (what we listen to in the car) needs to be Frankenstein.

AND Brian got cornered into explaining Electrical Safety to him, as well as clarifying why the Lego minifigure wouldn’t have moved even if he had managed to run electricity through it.

Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, the information that the plan was flawed from the beginning was more effective in getting Mark not to try it again than the information that electricity could STOP HIS HEART.

Superhero Island

Mark almost never shuts up.  I don’t know how they handle this at school, but at home, after a while we have to ask him to leave the room in the interest of maintaining what little sanity we have left.

That’s okay, he wasn’t talking to us anyway.  Mark spends most of his time in imaginative play–it just has to happen out loud, apparently.

Given what I’m hearing, I’m becoming convinced that he’s a future TV producer.  Remember the game in which the Army pilot rescued people and committed other acts of derring-do, all with his collie in the co-pilot’s seat, with his own special dog-sized helmet?  That would run for 6 seasons on CBS.

His latest offering:  Superhero Island.  In which the Avengers, among others, end up on Survivor.  He has a set of action figures and provides them with conflict and snappy dialogue:

Wonder Woman:  “Wolverine, you didn’t do the dishes.  Again.”

Wolverine:  “Growl.”

Wonder Woman:  “Don’t growl at me.  I’m not doing the dishes just because I’m a girl.”

You KNOW you’d watch this.

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