Sunday, September 30, 2007

lost in Paris

In March my lovely daughter and I went to Paris for a week. We stayed in a lovely old hotel on rue du Grand Prieure in the Marais district. We left on Saturday afternoon and arrived in Paris on Sunday morning. Simply checking in to the hotel and taking the tiny lift up to our third floor room was an experience. We were exhausted from the trip, but too excited to rest for long.

Our first outing was to the boulangerie on the corner and down the block to a money machine for euros. We loved walking the three or four blocks to the Place de la Republique, looking at the unfamiliar shops. My daughter translated the French signs for me as we progressed, teaching me the words for book store, supermarket, and bakery.

We leisurely strolled back to the hotel to meet up with the group, eating pain au chocolat from paper wrappers. The side streets were narrow and every where we looked there was a sense of age that cannot be experienced in America, especially here in the Bible belt where my state is just now 100 years old. The staid buildings were punctuated with color on signs, awnings, and doors.

There were about twenty of us traveling together, my lovely daughter's French and Geometry teachers (husband and wife), their college-age son and his fiance, along with a couple other moms and the students, mostly girls with a couple of very happy young men in the bunch. We moved in a group up the wide sidewalks of the Place de la Republique toward Oberkampf station to catch the Metro and travel to Montmartre.

I had been to London a couple of years before and became familiar with the Tube. The Metro is similar, but much simpler to navigate, even in French. I noted the stations where we changed lines and the direction we travelled, mostly out of curiosity. I would be grateful later that I paid a bit of attention to our travel.

We came up out of the Metro into the street and walked to Montmartre. The street was full of shops, some displaying kitschy, touristy wares beside others full of clothing, fabrics and foods. The street was full and abuzz, despite the rain earlier in the day. We walked up the hill, stopping to look at this, touch that, or read a sign in French. As we neared the top, the street opened up into lawn with a pair of staircases leading up (and up, and up) to the gorgeous white Basilique du Sacre Coeur, or Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Most of the group took the stairs, climbing up among the lovers, musicians, tourists and schoolchildren. But the other adults rode the tram up to the top to save their strength and their legs. My daughter and I walked up leisurely, stopping for a picture of flowers in full bloom or to turn and look back at the street. The climb to the basilica was more than worth the stunning panoramic view of Paris. Leaning on the stone railing and looking to the south, we got our first glimpse of the sights of Paris we'd visit during the week.

We went into the basilica and walked through the darkened aisles quietly, stopping to light candles and look at the beautiful mosaic in the apse. We walked out into the sunlight and wandered around the exterior, taking pictures of beautiful details. After a half hour we realized we were alone in the crowd and began to look for our group. When our search came up empty, we started our descent, stopping to look at each level until we reached the street below. There wasn't a familiar face in sight.

We decided to find a place to sit at the bottom of the hill and found a lovely cafe with bistro tables on the sidewalk. I ordered croque monsieur for both of us with a carafe of water, and my lovely daughter, with her sweet tooth, ordered a crepe filled with nutella and coconut. We sat in the street, the sun just beginning to set, and enjoyed our inexpensive meal. As time passed and the sky darkened, I became concerned that we would find ourselves alone on the streets of Montmartre after nightfall. It had been an hour since we found we were alone and I was sure we'd been missed and searched for. A decision had to be made to go or to stay. After much debate, we decided to make our way back to the hotel. I considered a taxi, even though I knew the fare would be high, but we didn't have the address, just the name of the hotel. My lovely daughter, being sixteen and well aware of the ways of the world, suggested we go back the way we came. We strolled back down the hill, searching for a glimpse of someone familiar all the while. We piddled in a fabric shop, laughed at garish tourist ware, purchased a hat and gloves for my daughter to wear against the chill of the March wind.

At the end of the street, we turned and walked toward Anvers station. After one last look around we descended underground and boarded the train. We changed lines at Stalingrad station, taking the number five toward Bobigny and stopping at Oberkampf. We came out of Oberkampf station on Place de la Republique, but at the opposite end of the station. We were disoriented, having just been there once, and turned the wrong way, but knew we were off track within a couple of blocks when we encountered our money machine from that morning. We turned around and headed for the hotel, almost delirious with joy when we rounded the corner and saw the familiar Hotel Plessis awnings.

We took the lift, just large enough for two (three if you know each other VERY well), up to our room and collapsed onto the double bed. After a couple of frantic phone calls all was well and we settled in for the night. My lovely daughter was asleep almost instantly, as she would be almost every night in Paris. I logged on the laptop to share our adventure with my husband, only to find out he already knew. The French teacher had called him in a panic, thinking she'd lost his family on the first night in Paris.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

little rewards

All of my children were home for dinner tonight for the first time this week. I made tomato soup from scratch and served it with grilled cheese sandwiches made from crusty French bread and gruyere. We sat around the table and talked about our day. My girl told us she needs a pair of character shoes for her play. Not knowing what character shoes are, I asked for a description. It was then I realized she was describing a pair of heeled dance shoes, the ones with straps that you wear for jazz or tap. After dinner I went into my closet and pulled down a pair, Capezio, buff colored, size seven. I can't find the remote for the living room television set, entire categories of my linens are missing, and I just found the junk drawer yesterday, but I can lay my hands on a pair of dance shoes in under two minutes. I could also dress her as a cheerleader from that closet, head to toe including letter jacket, in my high school colors. Or produce the lovely cream taffeta dress she wore in her Aunt Samantha's wedding -- when she was not quite three. I truly think I might need to reconsider my priorities.

The boys both had little to say about the school day, but loads to share about their afterschool skateboarding, scooter riding, sword fighting, and frog hunting exploits. I cleaned up the dinner dishes while the little man had a bath and the older two did algebra homework and test prep. Hubby played with his new ipod (a gift from his boss) and shared an NPR podcast with me about an amazing parrot that died this week.

We sent everyone off to bed. I jumped into the shower to wash off the day's grime, accumulated from changing light bulbs, hanging curtains and pictures, and cleaning bathrooms. I thought about the differences between my girl and my boys. She supplies me with a level of detail that could stand to be whittled down. The boys tell me they cut, bruised, or banged something when I notice an ugly wound and ask if they require medical attention. After my shower I went to the other side of the house to kiss my children goodnight and tuck the little one in. I found him crying in his bed.

Even though he is still relatively little, my baby does not really cry much, so I was a bit alarmed. I sat down on the edge of his bed and ran a hand through his damp hair. Wet lashes and red, slightly swollen eyes told me he had been crying for a while. When I asked why, he told me about a boy named Ethan who sometimes joins his class. I didn't understand what he was telling me at first. He was sobbing, and little boys tend to tell things in rushes of words and blurs of sentences. There was something about a finger puppet named Elmo that is special, that calms Ethan down, and how Ethan might have his feelings hurt if other children make fun of him. "He would know, Mom, even if they whispered, because Ethan can hear a train TWO MINUTES before you or me. He can hear them in the whole school." I asked him how he knew Ethan could hear so well and was told that his mother shared this with the class because Ethan's disease makes him special.

He used the word "disease", my eight year old boy. He couldn't remember the name but it started with an 'a'. I immediately supplied "autism" which he recognized as the right word. My little boy was crying over the imagined hurt feelings of a boy in his class with autism. I was dumbstruck.

I explained as best I could what I understand autism to be. We talked about mainstreaming and IEPs and special teachers. We talked about someone in my family with Down's and what his life was like. We talked about differences in perception and the special abilities that some people with autism display. I told him that Ethan's parents want the same thing for Ethan that we want for him: to have a happy and fulfilled life. I talked to him about the difference an education can make in the life of a child, special or ordinary.

I suspect other children are making fun of Ethan. I told my son it was okay to say something if he hears others saying unkind things. We decided he should say he doesn't think it's cool to laugh at others in a mean way. "I will tell them, Mom. I just didn't know what to do and it made me sad." I was thankful we were sitting in the dark.

I left his room with wet cheeks. His sensitivity and tender heart touched me and astonished me. I am sad and proud at the same time. And I am aware that some things just cannot be taught that well. My little boy is just like his father.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

when all else fails

I am in a foul mood today.

I woke up that way, but it got consistently worse. Lovely daughter is driving my car to school and work until we decide what to do with her sad, wrecked vehicle. I went outside to evaluate said vehicle, started it up and drove it a bit. It smelled funny, like it was a little hot. I pulled into the driveway, popped the hood, and checked the antifreeze. Bone dry. So I thought I should probably check the oil. Two quarts low. Hubby is always prepared for the end of the world, confirmed pessimist that he is, so I went into the garage, picked up a bottle of antifreeze and two quarts of oil and went to work. Damn, I showed her how to do that at least twice, and asked her once a week if she'd done it. Sometimes I think that girl will be the death of me.

Back into the truck, off to Wal-Mart. I actually despise Wal-Mart, but I needed to replenish hubby's doomsday stash, pick up some OJ, a plant for my youngest boy's aquarium, and a couple of scatter rugs to save my back from the tile on my kitchen floor. Yes, I hate Wal-Mart, but where else can you do that in one trip?

Back from shopping, I unloaded the truck, let Jack out of his crate and put on some music. I selected one of my favorite play lists on my MP3 player and logged on to the computer to check in with you, lovely readers, my favorite bloggers. I've made the rounds, made a few comments, and voila, I am boucoup better.

What cheered me up:

Missing You by John Waite
Hurt by Johnny Cash
Open Arms by Journey
Beth by Kiss
The Road Between by Lisa Marie Presley
Love Don't Live Here Anymore by Madonna
I Want to Come Over by Melissa Etheridge
Torn by Natalie Imbruglia
Northern Sky By Nick Drake
How You Remind Me by Nickelback
Don't Speak by No Doubt
Champagne Supernova by Oasis
Is it a Crime? by Sade
When I'm with You by Sheriff
Redemption Day by Sheryl Crow
It's Been a While by Staind
Don't Stand So Close to Me by The Police
Free Fallin' by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Drops of Jupiter by Train
The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia by Vicky Lawrence
A Horse with No Name by America
Maggie May by Rod Stewart
Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin
Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O'Connor
Walk Away by Bree Sharp
China Girl by David Bowie
Bringing on the Heartbreak by Def Leppard
Jolene by Dolly Parton (although the White Stripes version would do)
Kissing a Fool by George Michael
Beautiful Boy by John Lennon
David Duchovny by Bree Sharp

I know every word of every verse of every song. These are songs I love. I put this list on when I am feeling blue and want to feel better. I am usually the kind of person who listens to whole albums, in order, but there are times when a list is just better. Today this list fit the bill.

A little eclectic, maybe a little boring, but it's one of my favorite playlists.

I thought it might be fun to see if anyone else has my taste. This is a tad obscure, but I have given you the name of the artist in my list. Do you know the song or the artist?

I stutter like a broken clutch
When you touch me too much
My tongue gets twisted in your twirl
You say I'm not your kinda girl
A spider underneath my skin
I want you out
I want you in
The venom and the vaccine swirl
You say I'm not your kinda girl

What kind of girl should I be?
The kind of girl who doesn't see
That you're lookin' at me
Like you wanna be seein' someone else
Somebody else

You rip the sureness from my stare
And throw the pieces in the air
Your fingers string me like a pearl
You say I'm not your kinda girl
It's not a secret anymore
What you keep me around for
And my excuses all unfurl
I'm not that kinda, kinda girl

What kind of girl should I be?
The kind of girl who doesn't see
That you're lookin' at me
Like you wanna be seein' someone else
Somebody else

See somebody else
See somebody else
See somebody else
See somebody else

I want you to see somebody
I want you to see somebody

I want you to see somebody else

Saturday, September 8, 2007

sometimes . . .

it sucks to be me.

Yesterday was one of those times. The morning started nicely. Hubby was off work as it was his birthday (happy birthday sugar). We slept in and the children got themselves up and ready for school. Such good kids! Hubby and I had a leisurely breakfast and lingered over coffee (him) and tea (me). He had golfing to do and I had shopping to do. I left the table first to shower and dress. When I returned to tell him the shower was his, I got a terrible look.

"That was your daughter's principal." Why is she always MY daughter when he's unhappy? I politely ignored the incorrect pronoun and asked why. There was an accident. Our lovely daughter hit another car in the truck my father gave her. Well, not another car, exactly. A bus. A schoolbus. Full of children. With her brother in the front seat.

I got into my car and drove to the high school. The ladies in the office sent for her. She started crying when she rounded the corner and saw me looking her way. She wiped her eyes. I told her she looked pretty good for a girl who had an accident that morning. Her response, "Well, this is really good mascara, Mom. It's waterproof." We got into my car and drove over to her parking lot (it's a pretty big high school). My husband had been told it wasn't a bad accident. I was expecting a dented bumper.

What I saw: a passenger door that wouldn't open, a cracked headlight and annhilated turn signal cover, a crumpled hood and hanging bumper. That was when I started to cry. Not one, but two of my children were inside when it was hit. Or, more accurately, when it hit something.

We did some serious talking and I told her things would be ok, then sent her back into school. I started making the necessary phone calls. First, Daddy. I told him what happened, that I was sorry, that she was alright. My father, who almost literally hit the ceiling when I had my first accident, said, "Baby, it's just a truck. Drive it home to me and I'll get it fixed." And I started to cry again. Daddy then reminded me of his birthday the year I was sixteen. When I wrecked his truck. Caved in the back of the cab with an oil field motor. With two of my cousins inside. And he laughed. I can assure you he did not think it was funny at the time.

By now it's 11:00am and I haven't even started the shopping. I had a cake to make for the elementary's cake walk and cookies to make for the middle school's bake sale. (Does it never occur to the powers that be that a family might have children in more than one school? I actually have one child in each of those PLUS another at the high school.) At this point there is no way I can shop and bake and drop everything off by 3:30pm, so I do what any resourceful and harried mother would do: I fake it. I buy a frosted cake and two dozen cookies at my favorite local bakery, take them home, put the cake into the box the school provided, put the cookies on a paper plate, cover them with saran wrap, and proceed to deliver them to the schools as if I had made them myself. So sue me. I'd had a bad day.

And it wasn't over. I inadvertently locked poor little Streudel in the master suite with no food, no water, and no litter box. I have a lovely bathroom with a tile floor. He did not choose to urinate there. He did not even choose to urinate on the carpet. The damn cat peed on my bed. Twice.

I think that's about it. Oh, wait, I didn't even tell you about taking hubby to the after hours clinic. He played golf and pulled a muscle deep in his shoulder somewhere. On his birthday. He did get some really good muscle relaxers, though. I think I'm going to take one and go to bed.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

the high school play

Lovely daughter came home with wonderful news yesterday. Actually, she called me from school because she was so excited. The she called her daddy and her grandparents and her friends... She has been cast in one of the main parts of this year's school play!

The high school is doing "Our Town". A bitty, tiny little girl with a sweet, adolescent voice has been cast as Emily. Lovely daughter, with her deeper voice and more grown up figure, has been cast as Emily's mother.

This is not her first play. She has had speaking parts previously in "The Odd Couple", "Amadeus", and a couple of student-written productions. She served as stage manager and assistant director, and the voice of Myra, for a production of Neil Simon's "Rumors".

But this is her first play at the new school. She is taking theater production this year. Her teacher had already spoken to her about the assistant director spot because of her current class and her previous experience, but after tryouts, the teacher called her in and asked if she'd mind being cast instead because the teacher thought she was "perfect" in auditions. Pretty cool.

As has been previously noted, our lovely daughter is somewhat dramatic. When she was little and became upset she didn't just cry. She worked up to it. First, she would check for her audience. Then she would begin by poking out her little bottom lip. Next, the eyes would fill with tears and her nose would wrinkle. She would screw up her tiny little face and start to sob quietly, then throw herself over, bending at the waist onto whatever surface she was on, whether it was the bed, the sofa, the changing table, or the tile floor in the kitchen. I can remember thinking she was going to give herself a concussion. Then the sobbing and wailing would begin in earnest. I used to put a blanket in her bedroom floor, lay her on it, and leave the room. Once her audience disappeared, it was quite amazing how quickly the sobs would stop.

Honestly, I'm grateful that she's found an outlet for all that drama. She's far too big for me to pick her up now.

Picture one: Lovely daughter is on the left in black and red, onstage in "Amadeus".