Wenis and Wagina

It’s sad times when the mention of the word balls doesn’t make Leo snicker.

Leo is fine with showing his wenis…but not his wagina.

Fret not, we still have plenty of sophomoric humor at the dinner table. This time however, it is the boys that are schooling us. Steve is holding his Exploding Kittens cards close to his chest, the only one in the family that follows card etiquette (or really any etiquette at all.) Leo can’t let this be. He slides closer on the carefully sanded cherry bench and Steve thows a block with his elbow. Leo reaches out and pinches the skin crowing “I’ve got your wenis.” “My what?” Steve asks, looking down at his lap. “Your wenis.” Leo repeats. I stay silent, not wanting to reveal my old age. How can I not know what a wenis is? I know all the weird douchey words. Oliver, the kid who’s great fun in life is fractions, smirks at us with his first trace of teenage-hood. “YOU don’t know what wenis is?” A quick check on the phone confirms it. The skin on the outside of the elbow: wenis, alt wenus. So we count the wenis’ in the room, we talk about sagging wenises. It goes on for a while until Oliver, too excited to keep his seat stands at the head of the table.

“If this is my wenis, he says arm crooked, finger tracing his funny bone. Then this must be my wagina.”

I am both proud and sad that my boys had the best line of the night.

Soon they won’t need me at all.

Here is an old post where I was still able to teach them the important things in life.

I don’t mean to brag but my kids already understand penis jokes.

[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]I don’t mean to brag but my kids already understand penis jokes. @annawritesstuff[/Tweet]

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-9-41-43-amYesterday Oliver was selecting a banana from the bunch and held up his choice. “I like this one, it is long and hard.” Like any good role model I snickered. Leo looked at me from his kitchen stool. First his eyes were slanted quizzically. Then they opened wide with understanding. “You are laughing because a banana is like a penis.” Why yes I was.

The solid grasp of penis humor (see what I did there) began, as it should have, with geography. I know we weren’t the first family to do so but we deemed Florida America’s penis. I don’t think this can be argued against on any level. When we arrived for our last visit to Anna Maria Island the climate was decidedly different from Denver. As we exited the airport Oliver thrilled me with this gem. “Florida is America’s penis…which explains why it is so damp.”  Not to be outdone Leo crowed to his brother “You are a Florida.” “That’s right…I’m hot.” Oliver responded.  Pretty sure he nailed that one.

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-9-50-54-amBalls too are funny. Obviously. For my food revolution I eat apples and peanut butter every morning. You know what is even better than choking down the same goo every day? (That’s what she said) A little body fluid humor from my younger son. “Have you ever noticed that peanut butter has three bad words in it? Pee, nut and butt.” Well no…I hadn’t but it sure made my breakfast more palatable.

Game night always brings a chance to joke around. Nothing gets us laughing more than Apples to Apples Junior. Over time our sick humor and sharpies have combined to create a custom PG 14 version. Many many many of the cards have been amended to read “Your balls.” One of the highest compliments I was ever paid was by Oliver when he was eight. “Mama,” he said looking at me with love and admiration “you are really funny when it comes to ballsacks.” Sometimes though we cross the line. There was that one tough time when the Green card was “delicious” and one family member played your balls. That might have caused a bit of concern..but I was distracted by another card. Boy scouts. “Oh, mama” Oliver chastised me. “You really have to get over your cannibalist tendencies. Sadly this was one time I missed the sexual innuendo. I was going for the general misfit laugh. Instead with my kids growing more sexually aware I could have really gone too far. For the record I don’t know how Boy scouts taste.

The face of someone who gets it.
He gets it.

A new family pastime offers a new opportunity for testicle jokes. We have all started playing Pokemon go, the app where you encounter Pokemon as you walk around the world and throw Pokeballs at them to build your collection. At the beginning Oliver and I shared the app on my phone. He got frustrated though because my aim was terrible and I kept depleting the reserve of Pokeballs. One time when I apologized for leaving him with no ammunition he told me not to worry. “I always have two balls in reserve.” I guess this kid packs his own ammunition.

Years ago we read about pitching a tent and it went over my kids’ heads.

Tonight we will watch the Patriots game. I will laugh as the commentators somberly intone things like “Penetrating the hole. Going deep. He slipped that one in there.” I particularly enjoy the excitement in the announcer’s voice as he cries “Great snatch.” I will have to explain more than what to do with a Wide Receiver if I want them to be able to fully enjoy the game.

After all, there are vagina jokes too. I don’t want raise kids who don’t respect women’s bodies.

No more f’ing stuff. Holiday shopping for kids who have what they need

g8oopghaday-markus-spiskeIf your house is like mine you navigate a Lego minefield and dine amongst art supplies. You sniff stuffed animals for cat pee, refold unworn sweaters and search fruitlessly for the dice of a thousand board games.

We don’t need any more stuff.

Yet the season of giving is steamrolling towards us. Our house features both eight nights of Hannukah and a visit from Santa. This means we are overcome with 9 days of wrapping paper and stuff to store and ignore.

This year things are going to be different.

With the exception of two Wii games and a six pack of socks every gift we are giving will be an experience.

I hit Groupon to get some ideas and some deals, and then looked a little closer to home. Here are twenty gifts my kids will be getting this year. None of which require batteries. Some of which are even free.

These cost some cash…but perhaps we would have spent it anyways.

  • Nerf battle for six.
  • Tickets to Star Wars.
  • An hour of snow tubing.
  • Sponsoring an animal in danger of extinction.
  • Upgrading to Sketch it Pro.
  • Having a star named after you.
  • Donating to your favorite Minecraft Youtuber so you get a higher rank. Whatever that means.
  • Giving a book to your school library in your name.
  • Giving you $25 to donate to a cause of your choosing. Which might or might not be your brother. (Like last year.)

The best of the bunch (free for you and me.)

  • A weeknight sleepover.
  • Getting to sleep in the big bed.
  • Ice cream for dinner.
  • A week off of contributions.
  • Breakfast in bed.
  • Bringing a friend skiing.
  • Two hours of your mom’s time to teach her Pokemon.
  • Having both parents watch Ant-Man with you.
  • Camping in the yard with your dad.

I can’t say I’m looking forward to everything on the list, but I will appreciate not having to clean up after any of them.

This post was previously published on Parent Co.

Five Fabulous Family Games you can play in Fifteen Minutes.

We own this. But it is not what we play with the kids. Yet.
We own this. But it is not what we play with the kids. Yet.

Every Wednesday we sit down for family game night. If you are like me the very phrase causes you to break out in a cold sweat. It will start out all fun and, well, games. It will inevitable evolve into catatonic boredom or shrieking accusations of cheating. If we are lucky it can be both of the above. Happily we are finally past the life stage where we play the game of Life, that endless game with no strategy.

We are not yet ready for full on gambling although we have begun the process of teaching the boys Texas Hold ’em. It’s math people. It’s good for them.

We have hit on a winning formula for game night. The games we play are short (ish), include some strategy but enough luck so winners and losers get spread out, and often make us laugh until we pee. Or I pee. Instead of slogging though Monopoly (just buy everything you land on) why don’t you benefit from our research and play one of this games that can be finished in fifteen minutes or less.

  1. Apples to Apples Juniorscreen-shot-2016-09-26-at-9-49-19-am

Apples to Apples Junior – The Game of Crazy Combinations
This is the PG version of Cards Against Humanity. (A must have super adult party game). A green descriptive card FLOPPY is the prompt to select a red topic card. The literal amongst us might choose “bunny, or hat.” Someone else might choose “cheerleaders.” Yet another one will choose “your balls.” The judge gets to decide the winner. Guess what wins in our house? The box tells us it is a thirty minute play time, but you can easily make it faster (or slower but who would do that) by decreasing (or increasing) the number of green cards that it takes to win. As a bonus you can use the green cards as a fun description of the player. Oliver might be “floppy, cheap, kind, and smart.” And apples to apples would be right. Again. PS. The “your balls” card isn’t stocked in the apples to apples junior box. We use sharpies to add custom cards at the beginning of each game. Teacher’s names and private body parts seem to make things more fun. As long as they aren’t combined.

2. Exploding Kittens. screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-00-28-amFirst off this game taught us that tacocat spelled backwards is tacocat. That should be enough of a recommendation right there. (Says Anna who loves a palindrome.) Imagine a game of uno where you can laugh at, well, exploding kittens. And target your brother for a virtual blow up. And possibly miscount the cards and blow yourself up. How funny would that be? At least to your brother… We play this half of the time. One round takes five minutes. So we play three or four times and pretty much everyone gets to win. (Hint…hold all of your special cards to the end for one very satisfying mega play.)

3. Golf, a game with regular cards.

this is NOT posed. I was so excited to get four sixes that Leo documented the day.
this is NOT posed.

Another regular game for Wednesday nights is golf. It’s a simple card game where you try to get the lowest score. In fact it is so simple that we added a twist. Sort of like shooting the moon in hearts (you all know hearts obviously) we offer ourselves -20 points for collecting 4 of a kind. It’s a risk really, and we want to encourage risk taking. If you want to play it safe you can always go for low cards like Aces and twos…but I don’t really do that. In the photo you can see the thrill I felt at getting 4 sixes. The best part was how much my boys were rooting for me. Waiting with baited breathe at each draw and discard. Hoping they could help make it happen. When I got the fourth six they erupted in cheers. It was our own private superbowl…and I expect they are working on my ring right now.


4. Masterpiece.screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-16-10-am This one is a little less cost effective. I found mine for $5 at a yard sale. Actually a friend found it and I helped her out by taking it away and buying it herself. Amazon sells it for $70 freaking dollars. Click if you dare. I know they pop up on eBay now and then. Maybe set a search? In any case this is the game of my childhood where high quality (for 1980) images from the Chicago Art Museum (which makes Ferris Beuller even more fun to watch with your kids once they feel like art experts) are included in post card form. Each player pairs a painting with a price (1,000,000 to forgery- they haven’t been watching Sotheby’s results lately) and auctions them off. If you are playing with someone like Leo you may or may not have to collect the art pieces from around the house where he displays them like a curator of his own gallery. It’s not as funny as blowing up kittens but there is a combo of culture and vulture that is unmatched. Plus you can quit whenever you want and the game is magically finished. (Just stop bidding at 350k and math is with you.)

5. Risk. screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-34-10-amThis one is a bit of a fudge because never in the history of the globe has Risk been finished in 15 minutes. But there are times when I miss game night and the family patience factor is increaser by, well, a factor. So world domination is the name of the game. As a bonus the boys have learned a bit of Geography. And the little risk pieces can always march in miniature armies around the house, colonizing Asian art as well as Asia.


So there they are. The games that have taken game night from barely tolerable to totally terrific. I hope you enjoy them.

Do you have any to add to the list?

Choking…up. The highs and lows of parenting

Can you see the dinosaur bulge? Don't know what I am talking about...oh well. Plus look at the sun shining on my shining son. It happens sometimes.
Can you see the dinosaur bulge? Don’t know what I am talking about…oh well. Plus look at the sun shining on my shining son. It happens sometimes.

It is once again game night. Steve is back in Baltimore visiting his second family working so I have called in reinforcements. Our neighbors gather around the table with us to play Apples to Apples Junior. After several years of using Sharpies to customize cards the game has a decidedly less “junior” feel. There are about 5 cards that read “my balls” but lately the ante has been upped and there are “hairy balls” “big bald balls” and “your neighbor’s balls.” This one was particularly awkward with my neighbor at the table. It was all fun and game until the choking.

Oliver did something “unforgivable”. Something along the lines of winning a single card and Leo was out of his seat at Oliver’s side. There was a light tussle and Oliver’s face began to redden. At first I thought he was choking back laughter…lots of times their physical scuffles crack him up. Then I realized he was simply choking. Leo had his hands around his neck. I had been solo parenting on little sleep. I had even chaperoned a field trip that day…which is meant to imply that my reserves of creative and kind parenting were depleted. Add to this an audience and possible death and you can see the swirl of the shit storm that was rising up within me.

“Leo.” I barked. His hands dropped to his sides so I knew that I could eliminate death of my first born from the problem list. “You can leave the game or tell me you are going to keep your hands to yourself.” His fists balled, his eyes squeezed to slits.

“You don’t want me here.”

“I do.” I told him, although at that moment I did not. In theory I was speaking the truth, I wanted us all to enjoy the game and live to see another day.

“I love it when we all play together, but we can’t worry about someone not SURVIVING the game. Can you tell me you won’t harm Oliver?”


“Leo, he is in pain…you really hurt him…take a look at his face…can you tell me you will keep him safe?”


The neighbor’s kids were frozen with interest. This was obviously more entertaining than any Apples to Apples game, no matter how many spiky ball cards there were to play. I have spent a lot of time and effort not parenting myself into a corner. I try never to pit Leo and I against each other by issuing an ultimatum. I know from being raised by my father, and living with myself that that simply puts us on tilt. We are a line of angry spitters and we need a way out with grace or we will dig in our heels until the bitter bitter end. And that end can be quite bitter indeed.

There was a beat. Oliver’s face lost its beet like color, I took a deep breath. Leo stayed frozen…stuck. I needed to carve a way out. I needed to let him choose us.

“We all really want you to play Leo.”

The other mom chimed in. “We do…we want you to play.”

He walked back to his spot and picked up his cards. Looking at Oliver whose fingertips were gently rubbing his neck I knew I couldn’t quite leave it there.

“Leo. Please tell me you will keep your hands to yourself.”

In a little voice tinged with malice he muttered “I’ll keep my hands to myself.”

So we played on.

This is one of those moments in mothering that I will always second guess. Should I have reacted more strongly? Protected Oliver more fiercely? How do we encourage rather than demand kindness? How do I elevate my son who plays the victim without challenging his gentle nature, and how do I subdue my son the aggressor without leaving him feeling judged and tamped down?

Later, lying in bed with a boy on each arm I am thinking that it is hard work raising people. Even when I am a lazy mom there are still tears to dry…and sometimes they are not my own.

That black thing is the second water bottle. I wish you could see the Rockies helmet cap. It is the best part.
That black thing is the second water bottle. I wish you could see the Rockies helmet cap. It is the best part.

And sometimes they are happy tears. That morning I trudged along Dinosaur Ridge with 62 third graders. It was the site of the first reported Stegosaurus discoveries. There are bones and tracks and fossils. That said my mind was flipping between counting my little charges and wondering how the hell these tour guides could make dinosaur bones boring. It was quite a feat. I shifted from foot to foot and wondered when lunch was. I would be a crummy third grader. Or maybe just a typical third grader. Leo was loving the field trip so when he asked me what was wrong I told him I was jealous of his water bottle with a strap…mine was getting difficult to hold. It was some quick thinking not to bring him into my pit of immaturity at the edge of the excavation.

“Lets’ trade” he told me holding out his beloved black Rockies bottle and reaching for my bright blue one.

“No thanks babe, I got it.”

“Let me help you…let me hold yours.” His eyes were looking up at me, wide open, he wanted to help. So I handed over the bottle. He whispered “I love you.”

Choking up with sadnessFrom behind another mom, who may or may not have been enjoying the field trip nudged me. I looked back and she made the saddest face, holding up the two water bottles in her hands. My son bore the burden of both bottles, and her daughter’s arms swung free at her sides. Her expression was perfect and I had her pose for a follow up picture. She pointed at Leo. “Get one of him with both bottles too.” So I did. It turns out I might not remember the igneous rock or dinosaur bulges but I will remember this moment. I didn’t know how soon I would need to call it to mind. So here I am in bed with the boys, three hours past choking, 12 hours past my son tending to my needs, and 300 million years past that first fossil choking up myself. I hold each boy a little tighter and then push them away. I need a little breathing room, and some time to fill the reserves so I can be mom tomorrow.





What you can learn from a loud group of fifth graders.

fifth graders
The whirl of activity is semi-represented.

My husband is away in Baltimore. He goes there quarterly and we joke about his second family. Does this wife cook for him? Do those kids listen? I am pretty sure he sits in generic conference rooms and tries to move along a project between one part of the government and another, captain of a ship whose movement has to be measured miles per month rather than miles per hour.

Left behind I order pizza and have to coach the fifth grade Destination Imagination team.

DI, ostensibly, is team building, imagination rewarding, iterative work for eager young minds. The teams meet for 8 months building vehicles for a structural challenge while creating a story around it a beautiful blend of science and art showing all of us how we can’t actually tease subjects apart and expect the world still to turn.

Running across the street from school they enter our house before I get there. The snow is melting in the 65 degree Colorado sun so I trip over a pile of shoes as I push past the door to join them inside. There is an immediate crisis. Problem solving is just the sort of thing that we work on in DI. By we I mean the kids. The adult coaches are supposed to keep their mouths shut. So I let them weep about the fact that there is no snack.

“But Aaaaannnnnnaaaaa “ on of the more dramatic students asks “how can we build a hover craft on an empty stomach?” It is true. These kids are on the verge of death. They are STARVING. So I raise my arm and gesture towards the cabinets which they swarm like the vultures that they are.

They dump their feast onto the long table that they have already pushed aside in the dining room. Cookies, bananas, pepperoni, crackers, cheese. I had no idea that we had all of those things and in the time that it took for me to speak that thought it became irrelevant. The bananas had been eaten, the pepperoni slices sucked down and the crackers pulverized into crumbs on the floor. The only thing more impressive than their eating is the noise that they make while working. This group is particularly loud…my son the main culprit as he perpetually screams when he is excited. He raises his voice to a deafening pitch when it seems people aren’t attending to his message. Both excitement and being ignored are the natural state of DI so he is always at full volume.

I have complained about it for two years and mostly I love it. It is the sound of kids who are enjoying themselves and are engaged in their work. Who expects that to be quiet. This project is different. They are building a hover craft so their is a leaf blower going almost all of the time. There is also the teammate warning, loudly, that they shouldn’t run the leaf blower all the time because we will WASTE THE BATTERIES and I totally would agree with her if she wasn’t gesticulating with a power drill buzzing away in her hand. It is small and I have trouble keeping my ideas to myself. On of the team members is carefully patching the holes that the staple gun made in the thick plastic with matching black duct tape while another sits aboard the hover craft cutting holes into its bladder with big scissors. He is afraid it will explode without a vent. Which is sort of how I feel so I leave the room. I am not supposed to make suggestions and I find it very hard to watch him cut up two weeks of work.

The others are objecting and he is cutting and finally one of them distracts him with building a steering wheel and while he turns his attention some one is slipping away with the scissors. If slipping away looked like a galloping figures swinging large scissors over his head screaming “I got them I got them.”

So everything is going pretty much as I expect when I settle into the loveseat a room away with a crossword puzzle and a bottle of whiskey. Or one of them. I hear… “Where did the axe go?” and I feel I need to pay some attention. Turns out they simply wanted to chop firewood into perfectly square pieces to use to mount the wheels onto the hovercraft. (I know hovercrafts don’t have wheels and so do they actually its just that the DI challenge requires each vehicle to have two methods of movement and two means of propulsion. Plus a story. With costumes.) So my little guy heads outside with an axe to make his perfectly square pieces of wood. He seems to learn pretty quickly that the ax is designed for splitting not for squaring but unlike his mom my kid is not a quitter. He hops around outside with a reddening face set in stone. This wood will submit to his will if not his axe. He is turning himself 360 degrees with each chop. Sometimes the axe gets stuck in the wood and he has to slam it a few times against the patio. Sometimes he misses entirely and has to jump back. It is a losing proposition. The inefficacy of his tool of choice, his lack of coordination, and the fact that he will not admit defeat.

Slowly his team members gather to watch. First one drifts over to check on his progress then she calls the others and finally they are all there. Laughing at him. It seems as though maybe they are laughing with him but  I am pretty sure they are not when they scream that he needs turn towards the glass sliders so they can watch his face when he fails. He looks up to them ax and wood connected in his hand. “Do any of you want to try this?” He ask. “This ax is not maneuverable” he explains, maroon faced and blue eyed. Its design doesn’t allow for you to cut across the wood fibers. I knew that he knew this. His largest teammate slides open the door at the request of the girls on the team. He steps through, takes the ax wood combo and hits it once, sharply to the ground and the wood splits in two. The onlookers applaud and whoop and my son protests. “No. No! I know how to split wood!!! I was trying to shorten its LENGTH.” The other boy knows how to play this out. He hands my son the axe and slips back into the house with the two equal pieces in his hands. “Now YOU try again Oliver” shrieks on of the girls with laughter. Yeah, says another kid, I want to get this on YouTube. I have not defended him. I figure he can do that. But I wonder if I would have stepped in if it were one of the other kids being watched like a zoo animal on the other side of the glass. Just when I decide I would have my son rushes past in tears.

“What?” “Why are you crying?” “Why are you upset?” they chorus after him as he runs away. One of them turns to me, I’m not sure if it is in the capacity of coach, mother, or generic adult, and asks “Why is he so upset?” “You are his teammate” I answer. “You should work on this problem.” So they do, loudly, voices tumbling over each other footsteps thundering up and down the stairs as they search for my weeping child.

Finally they are all back. He is red eyed and damp, his team gathered around as he explains again that he COULD do it. No one mentions that squaring off fire wood might not have been useful anyways just like no one mentions the fact that they wanted to record his dances with wood. They are back at work. Now with a vacuum cleaner in the mix as a teammate cleans up the wood chips from our dining room. One of them is sitting on the hovercraft with the leaf blower set on high. If she turns it down the hovercraft will deflate the way my kids has. Sitting on the edge of the bench watching his team with uncharacteristic silence.

Like everything in the Ferber of fifth grade this is short lived. By the time they have reset the room he is back to full volume as they descend on their shoe pile tossing mates to each other preparing to head across the street to play in the school yard as the team they are.

Taking a deep breath in the quiet I list what j have learned, we have more snack than I think, upset can be set aside, and a random rumble of kids can come together in work and play. Not such bad lessons on this Thursday.


Have you ever stood at a curb and considered the single step it would take to put yourself in front of the Staples Truck that is barreling past you?


Me neither.

Except this morning. But obviously I didn’t do it.  And it wasn’t for the sadness and endingness of it all that I considered taking that step. It was for the novelty.

I am not a fun mom. I can be fun-ny, but physical humor and play have pretty much been out of my repertoire for as long as I can remember. Walking to the sundial park a few weeks ago Oliver skipped a block ahead and then doubled back to me, figuring out a way to integrate my plodding pace into his jubilant progress.

“You know mama,” he said slowly, carefully, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you run.” This was patently unfair and I told him so. “Just last June I ran on the tennis court.” “Oh….right…” he responded nodding his blond head. “You weren’t so bad either.” He was off, racing his elongated loop down the street.

Seriously I had run this SEASON, how could he not remember?

Last night was game night and we were playing my second least despised game, the card game of golf. We were on hole 8 and I had no idea where I stood in the standings. Or sat, because I was cross legged under our vintage starburst brass and glass table. I felt the crumbs beneath my shins. I needed to clean the carpet. I would probably get to it. Likely even before I ran again.

I held up my ball jar of water.

“What would you guys do…if I just dumped this over my head?”

Steve looked up from the scorecard which he kept with the care of an engineer golfer and raised an eyebrow. Leo bounced out of his seat. Oliver hadn’t heard the question.

“What a funny thought” I thought to me, as I dumped the jar of water over me head. The water felt so cold running over my head, down my shirt and onto the crumby Turkish rug. As the boys shrieked with laughter and Steve transitioned from amused to bemused I wondered.

Would I still have to clean the carpet?

I’m all thumbs.

Thumbs on mapWalking past the door to the TV room/guest room/playroom I hear Leo tell someone that he has two brothers. He is on Skype so the person on the other line doesn’t have any reason to question him. This anonymous player will never meet Leo’s brothers, real or imagined.

I wonder briefly why someone who often laments the existence of an actual brother would create a second, but I don’t linger physically or mentally to figure it out. I need to get back to Oliver.

Wednesday is game night. I would prefer game night not exist. But Oliver is so relentlessly positive about board games that he can’t imagine that anyone else would feel less than thrilled to play.

He and Steve biked to the toy store after school today to pick up his final birthday gift. A Star Wars x wing bored game. Spelling intentional. As he began setting out the various incredibly important pieces of cardboard and snapping small bits of plastic together his chatter was so fast and constant that I couldn’t hear his words. I have a mental picture of the the Tigers in Little Black Sambo (the children’s book that has since been pulled from all bookstores) holding each other’s tails and turning into butter.

His words are spinning that fast. I wonder how he will assemble these small fighter craft with butter fingers.

He is sad about something now.”I’m sorry Mama, this is a two player game.”

I offer to sit by he and Steve while they endlessly review the rules and I go to grab Steve’s lap top. Today I planned to blog, and “not game night” seemed like a perfect opportunity. So I pass Leo and his two brothers and steal Steve’s computer. It has been so long since I used mine that I don’t know where it is. In fact I have a pretty good idea, but if I check and it isn’t there my “not game” time will turn into tear the house up for the computer time. What a waste.

It turns out not to be so simple. Steve’s computer doesn’t have the word press log in
Screen bookmarked. I am trying all sorts of -admin and -login and -admin/php. So
Many in fact that Steve and Oliver have done the impossible and moved on from
rules to a trial run.

I take a break from trying to break into my blog and watch as Oliver methodically moves the food from one end of the counter to another. He slides the take out containers and leaves a slimy trail of ginger sauce. Then he gets a sponge and wipes the counter with concentration. He is not a natural sponger. My mother sponges with frantic quick strikes flinging bits of water up as she stabs at the counter with her weapon of choice. Steve bends down closely and scrubs at areas of dirt. The stickiness has no chance against Steve. The rest of the counter will do fine. It will not even see his sponge. Leo clears everything off. Then he sprays and sprays. The counter is a lake, the sponge his boat. The streaks of his cleaner can be seen from the front door.

Oliver has the tip of his tongue between his teeth. The garlic sauce is gone. He is trying the wipe the wet sponge trail with his hand. Now his shirt sleeve. He is wearing a t shirt (the same one as yesterday obviously) and to get the sleeve to the counter he had a chicken wing arm. This takes effort. Now he has almost knocked himself over.

I have found the url.

I have forgotten my password. I know that I will be locked out after three tries, but I am stubborn and, 96% sure that this one is right. So I change my user name and try again. Shake. The login screen jiggles back and forth as if shaking its virtual finger at my combination of forgetfulness and hubris. And maybe also judging me for how long it has been since I have written. I ask its forgiveness in the form of a password reset.

This is Steve’s computer though so I have to log out of his gmail and into mine to get the reset email. And have forgotten my password. This time I am like 99% sure that I know it. But I only try twice because I can learn, see. My phone is close so I reset the password from there.

Going back to his laptop I am disproportionally excited to see that the Shelburbia log in page is still open. I don’t know why it is a surprise. The last time I closed a window Bill Clinton was in office. I do that little finger warm up. That jazz finger thing that pianists and great American novelists do. I enter the fresh off the presses password. And am denied access because my IP address has been blocked.

So I am writing this with my thumbs on my phone.

I’m going to stop this. Many of my non thumbs are numb. Hopefully my computer is where I think it is. I am 92% sure.

rules of the game

A bit of family trivia. My father’s parents were really good at bridge.

Julius was president of the world bridge association and one of the main prizes in the wide world of bridge is called the Rosenblum Cup. Pause for research. Turns out it is a tournament and not so incredibly important. But it goes on today in New Orleans where my father grew up and got kicked out of school.

I always imagined I would play cards. I spent so much time that it should have been my major in college. My roomate and I, and our friend Kirby had an entire notebook dedicated to potential “fourths” for our not quite Bridge card game. We played a spin off that had the spirit of Bridge but not the rules. They were too tricky to navigate.

Our family plays cards now. Oliver loves it, and as with many things he loves he plays at full volume. Screaming about his strategy, talking over himself to explain card math, and struggling to shuffle. Leo is our begrudging fourth. He needs to be gently coaxed into playing, and if all goes well he will win and stay with us. We don’t cheat, or at least we don’t throw the game to him, so he wins a little less than a quarter of the time.  He clearly doesn’t enjoy it though, and is at the table just to make the rest of us happy.

Oliver has never met a board game he didn’t like. I remember that feeling, following my parents around trying to get them to play. Then playing alone, using several cars at life, several “guys” in sorry, the dog, car, and hat in monopoly. On the plus side I always won. And lost. And came in second. And second to last. Sometimes I would try to change the rules to encourage a three way tie, but that brought about as much satisfaction as you can imagine.

Maybe I just used up all of my board game time back in my childhood. Now I am the mom ducking the kid with the game. Lately I have been saying yes a lot more. While we play the talk turns beyond the “strategy” of the game. Oliver tells me that he diagrees with the phrase “alls well that ends well.” I ask him to explain. He pauses then says “If we were at war with Canada and millions of people died, but then we won the war anyways…that might have ended well but all would not have been well.” Right.

So we play and talk a bit. Then I start to notice time stretching longer and longer. There are 9 holes left in the 18 hole golf card game, there is half a board in life. Forget monopoly, I’m not sure anyone under the age of 10 has ever finished a game. I feel itchy. I try not to rush him though his turn. He is dancing. Dancing and I want him to sit and play. So we can finish. My game patience is lower even than my general patience. I have been playing my own drinking game of how many times I can keep myself from rushing him.

I am drunk. And despite the cheer of my son not truly enjoying playing.

He looks at me. He wants to quit. He is done now. I try not to sound too eager. Are you sure? Shall we leave it out to finish later?

“No. It will just sit there and annoy us, lets clean it up.” He begins to stack the cards, semi neatly, and makes the pieces fit in the box. The lid can’t quite close and he opens it to check on the alignment of the board. He has it sorted now.

This is 8.

Eight talks while playing, and looks ahead to future messes, and cleans up and then, when I am almost out of the room, he says “Thanks Mama for playing. I know it isn’t your favorite game and I appreciate that you played with me.”

It is amazing how he has learned the rules of the game.





Stranger in the house

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 8.42.25 AMLeo runs to grab some more apple slice and calls out over his shoulder “be back in a second.”

Steve and I are in the kitchen. Oliver is upstairs. He is speaking ostensibly to no one. Or everyone. In fact it is someone with whom he is playing Minecraft. From Germany. On Skype.

Earlier this afternoon I was un trimming the christmas tree when I sneezed. My cute sneezes have morphed into something that would wake the deaf, sleeping, dead. Its those boys. They have big heads. If you don’t follow you are doing something right with your life.

In any case I pretty much screamed out my sneeze, and a crackly little voice said. “Bless you.” I looked toward the computer. Leo, as usual had left it on, and whichever faction he was playing with was still present in our living room. At least virtually.

We have dined with pre-teens. I hear him negotiating with them. “Its dinner time, I need to be away from the keyboard.” “How long?” They ask accusingly. 15 minutes he replies. “That’s tooooooo long”, whines the response. Leo flips his hair and laughs. “I’ll do my best to hurry, but we eat together here.” They will call out to him during the meal with anger over stolen goods, or excitement over great discoveries when he forgets to mute them. He rushes out of the room to silence the Skype, whispers a word of encouragement or celebration, rejoins us at the table and apologies politely.

One of his newest friends has throat cancer. He found this out after chiding him over his funny voice and cough. Now we have spoken at length about chemotherapy, cancer, its known and unknown causes. A bit of power drained away from him during this talk. Even kids can get it.” He tells me, face pulled down. “Yes.” At the same time he has a new battle to wage, his friends treatment and remission, the fear of randomness quickly replaced with the kinship of a war waged with witnesses.

He is glad this friend has minecraft. He can play from his bedroom and never feel alone.

Yesterday from two rooms away I heard one of his skype buddies refer to a kid in another faction as a “faggot.” I dropped my non intervention stance to yell out. “That word is NOT acceptable, nor is the sentiment behind it.” Then I had to explain it to both boys who were interested in my outburst. “Why would you tease someone for that?” asked Oliver. “People love who they love. Leo might marry chicken skin.” As Leo returns to the computer with the 14 year old faggot slinger I hear the teenager deliver another brutal insult. “I pity anyone who uses a mic.”

I am grateful for the mic. Despite its intrusion into our family life it allows Steve and I constant ”fly on the wall status. We have been able to discuss bad language, threats, getting dumped by a group of friends, property rights and all kinds of complicated elementary school issues and beyond. It is our spot at recess. But there is no need to deal with kickball.

Leo has grown a thicker skin. He used to cry when his home and base were destroyed, lamenting the time in and reading into the feelings behind the destruction. Now he has a zen like, entrepreneurial attitude. He feels he learns from building, and will always be able to rebuild. Minecraft allows that. Thousands of hours of minecraft has taught him that there will be other friends, other bases, and improvement through iteration.

I used to describe it as a virtual lego set. I would tell anyone who asked why we had such lax screen time policies that Minecraft taught Leo to read and write. And type. It deals with construction and manufacturing from core elements. States and countries are integrating it into education. All of this is true.

The facts of the game, with its endless mods, and servers are not what interest me most. It is the incredible developmental social aspects that keep me fascinated. Minecraft as Leo plays it is the wild west, a melting pot, and lunchroom rolled into one. Kids (boys mostly) from all over the word come together to meet and join forces and battle against one another. They create new worlds, and find their footing in existing ones. They call each other names, talk behind one another’s back, get dumped by whole groups of friends, and live to play another day.

Leo applied for his first job (system admin) and got it. There was a poorly formatted (kid made) application with both short answer and essay questions. The application was filed and he needed to wait three weeks to hear back. It was college acceptance letters for the grade 1 kid. When he got the job he was so excited. And power mad. His character began to fly. He gave all sorts of access to his friends. He banned and unbanned people from the server. Then the natural consequences caught up to him and his privilege was removed. Those were tough hours in the Palmer house. But like each destroyed home there is always another job. He has applied and been accepted. This time he took the rules more seriously, and is having fun granting nicknames and policing for bad language, rather than using his post for personal gain.

How many 7 year olds have been fired?

I know we are at the extreme end of the spectrum. Leo plays 15 hours of Minecraft/ day on weekends.  Oliver dabbles in it. Mixing in sledding, and playdates, drawing and reading. It is a struggle to get Leo out of his chair. So we don’t struggle. We focus instead on positive lessons, and know that he spends tons of time outdoors. Online.



Twist tied

I imagined twist ties, Velcro, double stick tape. At some point during the job Steve talked about bringing in the chainsaw.

For 6 years across three homes the computer cords have driven me crazy.

I’ve asked him to tape them up, wondered why the engineer who packs the car”just so” for a 45 minute car ride can leave these danglers like so many steamers from New Year’s Eve 1999.

We have what I imagined to be a minimalist set up. Clean looking Mac on a Paul McCobb table from the 1960s. Slowly things have migrated to the table. The phone base. The router. The theoretically better router, Apple TV, some sort of sonos bridge. The back up drive. The drive that looks like a Lego that holds our photos and music from half a decade ago. It became a bit cluttered. And each of these devices seem to have tails. Yellow, black, orange white, they tangle towards the floor and make their way across the room. Making themselves known. At least to me.

Sometimes I wonder if the ability to see cords is mapped on the X chromosome. Each x can see 4 cords. So Steve is topped out at 4 cords. The rest disappear to him, making these dissonant cords just a minor nuisance.

I am forceful enough in my critique that he agrees to take on the project. Instead of heading to the drawer with the tape and string he is off to the garage, he has decided to disassemble the media cabinet and have these electronic pets join the wii u and the portal of power (and the old portal of power) and the other blinky winky devices. This required the removal of shelves and the drilling of back and the wishing for a slot wide enough for all cords and Steve suggests the chain saw and I have to stop that.

He is in the basement drilling through the floor to re route the cable and everything is everywhere and the router is down so we have the full attention of Leo. All of a sudden those little streamer tails seem not so bad.

He takes a break for dinner and picking up Oliver and he is back at it.Deciphering the language of blinking lights of the modem, holding each box one at a time, considering its future placement.

The router has not reconnected.

The electronic pets do not have a new home.

I would have finished this job an hour ago, but it would not have been so different from where we started. I wonder about the A- effort that got me through school and graduate school. I’m pretty sure it never required a chain saw. Why was this Steve’s job anyways? I am good with Velcro. I can even braid. That might have been nice, some chromatically braided cords.

He is on the phone having comcast reset the router. I don’t know if I am more amazed that it has come to this..requiring action from outside our house, or that he is willing to make the call. I want to apologize. I shouldn’t have seen the cords, and if I did see them I shouldn’t have complained about them, and if I did complain about them I shouldn’t have asked him to fix. The job has mushroomed to a size beyond my abilities so the best I can do is stay in the room, and try really really hard to neither smirk nor suggest.

He is muttering now. Drill down, doors wide, shelves fully extended. It is as though the media cabinet has turned itself inside out. There is some important small piece missing. Indescribably really except in its importance. Oliver, the one who can’t see shampoo in the shower, is helping to hunt it down. You need a strategy…you need to think like it. He takes the flashlight and finds some strange noisemaker and is reclined on the couch whistle singing, shining the light in Steve’s eyes, now mine. His helpfulness such as it was has ended and he has repositioned himself as entertainment. He is either mildly or not at all entertaining depending on who you ask. We have a kids cd (no means of playing a cd in our entire house) an oversized branch pencil, co-Ol, a cat nip toy..no important plastic piece. Now I know what it is…a second leg for the wii. This is the first potential use for a 3d printer that I can imagine. A replacement wii leg. A wii prosthesis. Big market for those.

Now that I think of it I could have printed some clips that might have bundled the cords together. But they wouldn’t have worked as well as the twist ties.

I wanted to live blog this whole experience…but I am out of words before it is over, and of course, I can’t post it anyways…we’d need wifi for that.