Rituals are important. They say that rituals hold societies together. From Thanksgiving dinner to watching the Superbowl to church on Sundays to fireworks on the 4th of July. Ask any Catholic in the English-speaking world, and he or she will tell you we all say the same prayer before dinner. The same damn prayer.

Like all families, we have our own rituals. Like that same damn Catholic prayer. Or like kisses before I leave for work, kisses before bedtime, notes in lunch boxes. That sort of thing. Only the boys are making them complicated.

Tornado S has to be the first to great me with a hug and kiss or all is lost for the known world. All. Is. Lost.

Tornado S and Tornado A have to wave me goodbye in the morning. They get their kisses and then follow me outside, where I remind them to stay in the front yard, not the driveway. Then I pull out, with windows down, saying “Goodbye. I love you; do your best; I’ll see you later.” Then I make my left turn, and because we live in a corner house, the boys stand in the front yard until I make my next turn. They wave until they can’t see me any more. I wave until I can’t see them any more. Like the end credits to “The Beverly Hill-Billies.” It’s only annoying in the winter.

Bedtime has also become overly complicated. At least, the bedtime kiss has become overly complicated. I kiss each boy goodnight and tuck them into bed. Then we say our goodnight prayer about guardian angels because I hate that creepy Protestant bedtime prayer. Then I turn out the lights before turning on the nightlight. Then Tornado A has to kiss me goodnight.

He kisses me on the lips. Then the forehead. Then each cheek. Then my chin. (?) Then my nose. (I hate that; I wipe it off, but I’ve been doing that since I was little.) Then he has to rub noses. Then he has to give me butterfly kisses on each cheek. He does this, holding my head firmly so I can’t get away. I’m caught between thinking it’s cute and creepy. Halfway through the ritual, I get annoyed because it takes so long. I mean, dude, can’t you procrastinate by asking for water like a normal kid.

I worry about the next ritual.

A Moment with a Teacher

We sat where a tribe sat a thousand years before us, listening to a tour guide, instead of tribal leaders. Sitting in an amphitheater, sheltered from the wind, we could here the tour guide perfectly as she whispered. I was content to bask in the sunlight on sun-warmed stones. Tornado S’s teacher was equally content as she sat by me.

Me: (after the tour guide finished speaking and we began to move along.) Tornado E would love this.

The teacher: Why?

Me: The kid sun basks more than any kid I know. I call him the Lizard King. (She laughed. I nodded to Tornado S as he made his way along with the group.) We named Tornado S The Absent-minded professor. Professor for short.

The teacher: (laughed) Ohmygod. It fits him. Perfectly. What’s Tornado A’s name?

Me: Trouble.

The teacher: (laughed) His teacher says he’s very bright.

Me: That’s the problem. You shouldn’t laugh. You’ll get him in your classroom in a few years.

The teacher: The fifth grade teachers asked Tornado E who was smarter, him or his brother? You know what he said?

Me: Hmmm. I know what most kids would say.

The teacher: He said his brother.

Me: Huh.

The teacher: I know. I thought it was sweet.

Me: Me too.

You know. I think my boys are pretty awesome.

A Field Trip With 4th Graders, Snow, and a Very Big Hole

A week ago I woke up at 5am on a bus filled with 4th graders and parents in Northern Arizona. I was on a bus because every year the boys’ school has a 4th grader trip to the Grand Canyon, and I was one of the lucky parents to go. I was up at 5 am because Tornado S is a morning person, and unlike his peers, he fell asleep minutes after the bus pulled away from the school at 10 pm the night before.

I tried to doze the last half an hour, wishing for my own bench as Tornado S snuggled next me, watching the forest outside our bus.

At 5:30, we arrived at our destination to watch the sunrise at the Canyon. We were asked to wake our charges and that we could only occupy the hotel lobby bathroom briefly, hinting at better accommodations later. After going on several of these trips, I know this for a lie, so I grabbed my toothbrush, toothpaste, and travel facial pads and hide them in my sweatshirt pocket.

Along with a few other parents, I helped carry the cold breakfast to an outdoor viewing area along the Canyon. A father graciously gave me his box because the last thing was so heavy. As though I didn’t regularly carry an eleven year old over my shoulders. But it was 5:30 in the morning, and I assumed that any biting remark in my head was due to the time.

After waiting in line for the bathroom and modeling to fourth grade girls that they really didn’t need to stand over the sink to brush their hair or their teeth, I met my charges outside. This year they trusted me with three. During Tornado E’s trip, they entrusted me with only two kids. To be fair, one of them was Tornado E, but come on, I know how to deal with more kids. Everyone knows my kids.

Within 5 minutes, I had lost Tornado S. Clearly I was not responsible enough to handle three kids. That was a mistake.

New rule. The three boys would stick together. Always. Don’t look for me. Look for each other. I can find a group of three boys.

I sent the boys to the breakfast line. I stayed in the back, wishing I had remembered my jacket, wishing I hadn’t left my wallet in the bus so I could get hot chocolate, trying not to go to the front of the line and organize the process of getting food. As I waited, I noticed kids with plates piled high with danishes, bagels, breakfast bars. As in, there’s no way an adult would eat that much, much less a skinny 4th grader. Stay calm, Fae; you don’t have to organize everything. Then it got worse.

A large, fluffy, white thing floated down from the partial cloudy skies. I was seeing things. Then another. Oh, God, no. Then another. I’m totally making this up. Then another. Then another. Then another. It was snowing.

Now I know that what I experienced was not even a dusting, which would make me the world’s largest wimp to many readers. But I’m a desert girl who puts up with hellish heat; I don’t do snow. And it was snowing at 6am, and I was up at 6 am, outside in the snow, with only a t-shirt, long sleeve SPF shirt, and a sweatshirt. I was unhappy.

But then there was the amazing view. And I had chocolate milk. Then 4th graders are hilarious. We had a hike along the Grand Canyon with funny, interesting guides. My boys were fast runners who wanted to lead, so the next hour was alternated between running to stay up with the boys and turning around and telling Tornado S to hurry up. Poor Tornado S. My little tortoise. On every hike, my chant is “Hurry up, Tornado S. Tornado S, get your hat on.” A chant that is taken up by many of the adults. That day was no exception.

Every time the group stopped for the tour guides to talk, I stood in a patch of sunlight, dreaming of the time it would be warm enough to shed some clothes, just like on Tornado E’s trip.

Except it never happened.

It was cold and windy when we left the rim. It was cold and windy when we got into town to watch an IMAX movie of the Grand Canyon. (Comfy chairs plus dark room means I have never seen the whole movie.) It was cold and windy when we got out of the theater. It was cold and windy when we had lunch at the Watch Tower. It was cold and windy when we went to a trading post. It was cold and windy when we went to the Wupatki Ruins. It was cold and windy when we went to Sunset Creator. It was cold and windy when we went to dinner.

The whole state was under a wind advisory that day. And Arizona is a pretty large state.

But hey, the kids had fun. I got a lot of pictures and got to talk to a lot of cool adults and hang out with a lot of cool kids. And I walked over 18,000 steps. That’s more than the SeaWorld trip.

But the most surreal moment was when I heard:

“You look so much like your mom it’s crazy.”

I looked around and realized the girl, surrounded with her little girl pack, was talking to me.

“Oh, she does.” “She does look like her mom”

“Who’s her mom?”

“Tornado S’s grandma! The one teaching us line dancing.”

“OH! She does!”

Um, thanks?



Battle Cries

Tucson has been flirting with 90 degree weather. (Fahrenheit, for those visiting from outside the States.) But as we are in spring in the high desert, at night, we drop 30 degrees. Which means the pool we have is about 60 some degrees.

But it looks so inviting in the 90 degree heat.

Sunday the boys begged and begged and begged to go swimming. I finally relented, thinking, “What the hell?” I mean, if they’re too cold, they’ll jump out.

So the boys strip to their underwear because looking for their swim trunks from last year was just to difficult.

Tornado A took a running start and jumped into the deep end, screaming, “This Is SPARTA!”

As the nerd I am (nerd for ancient history, nerd for comic books, nerd for comic book action movies), I was quite proud. It fit. A scrawny nearly naked boy jumping into freezing water to test his mettle.

Wait a minute. Where did he learn that?

The Birds and the Bees Part 3

So Tornado S eventually came out of his blanket caccoon yet still refused to name the boys who told him. I warned the teacher, who asked if I could investigate without pushing. Life went on as usual.

Then one day we were returning home from running a few errands, and as I jammed to music, I listened to the conversation in the back seat.

Tornado S: Tornado A, where do you think babies come from?

Me: Tornado S.

Tornado A: (Pause) Well, they come from mommies’ wombs…. And God makes us…. So God makes the baby and gives it to Jesus, who kisses the baby and puts it into the mommy’s womb.

You could here the pride in his voice as he figured out the solution to Tornado S’s question.

Tornado S: Not even close.

Me: Tornado S!

Tornado A: Tell me!

Tornado S: I can’t. You’re too young. It’s a secret.

Me: Tornado S.

Tornado A: Tell me! I’m not too young!

Thankfully, we had just pulled into the driver.

Me: It’s not Tornado’s responsibility to tell you. That’s my job. Tornado S, out of the car and into my room. Now.

So I marched Tornado S back to my room and started the part of the lecture series in “So Help Me God, Child.”

Me: You do realize that Tornado E was explained sexual reproduction at your age. Did he ever tell you? (No.) That’s right because he was mature enough to know that this is a conversation between a child and a mother, not brother to brother. It is my job to talk to Tornado A about this, not yours. I will tell him when he’s ready, not when you want to show off your knowledge. Do you understand? (Nod.) You will not talk to your brother about this. (Pause) You will not tell your friends about this (Pause) until you’re in high school. And you will only talk about the facts as you have learned them from me. And if you do tell your little brother, the consequences will be severe. Video games disappearing severe.

Sure, that’ll work.

At least, Tornado A still doesn’t know where babies come from.

The Birds and the Bees Part 2

So the other day, we were having dinner when Tornado S popped up with some news.

Tornado S: I learned the sign language sign for penis!

Me: Oh? And what is it?

Tornado S made the gesture. It was not the sign for penis. In fact, it was a sign for a sexual act. One so taboo that most people don’t do it often.

Me: That’s not the sign for penis, sweetheart. Where did you learn that?

Right away Tornado S sensed something was wrong and clammed up.

Me: I would like to know where you learned that.

He shook his head.

Me: No dessert then.

Tornado S: Fine.

Me: No video games either.

Tornado S: NO!

Me: Then just tell me where you learned it. No one will get in trouble.

But it was no use.

After a day went by, I realized I had to try a different strategy. But I also needed to move up The Talk by a month because I couldn’t have Tornado S repeating the gesture.

Me: Tornado S, do you know what that sign means?

Tornado S: No. Tell me.

Me: Tell me who showed you.

Tornado S: No.

Me: (sigh) Fine. But I’ll have to contact your teacher, your den leader, and your sensei.

Tornado S: No! Why?!

Me: Because the gesture you used is a grown up gesture that is so taboo that most people don’t use it. Nana has never seen it. Papi has seen it a couple of times. (Though I thought that was weird from a cop.) The adults around you need to know that other children may be using the sign without knowing what it means, and their parents need to know to help teach their kids what it means.

Tornado S: (whispering) I learned it at school.

Me: When?

Tornado S: During the Valentine’s Party.

So it was a while ago.

Me: From who?

He was silent.

Me: Fine. Do you want to know what it means?

Tornado S: Yes.

Me: Well, first we have to talk about puberty and sexual intercourse.

So we had The Talk. When it was time to generically explain the sex act, Tornado E was walking by, so I pulled him to the room and explained what a sex act was and that the gesture was a sex act on a woman. I showed them a diagram of a woman’s sexual organs. Tornado E nodded and left the room.

Tornado S hid under my ultra soft through for twenty minutes refusing to get out or talk.

I took pictures.


Early Bloomer

Tornado E: Mama? Remember in third grade when the kids didn’t get my jokes?

Yes. Like when your teacher came up to me to tell me how bright you were and how advanced your humor was, that your classmates didn’t understand your jokes or sarcasm. Like when I started sending school notes with corny kid jokes to expand your humor to something closer to your peers. Like when you wanted to give your best friend a My Little Pony Pinkie Pie for her birthday because she had a nightmare about it and that would be hilarious.

You’re right. It would’ve been. If you were older. Like teenagers. In college. Adults. Not third grade.

Third grade when I had to explain it was ok to tease someone but when that person is hurt or offended, you apologize and never make that joke again. It’s ok to make a mistake and cross a boundary you didn’t know was there. But it was never ok to keep hurting a person like that. Sometimes people won’t be able to tell you they are hurt, so you have to watch for physical cues, and then you back off when you hurt someone. Always.

Me: Yes.

Tornado E: They get my jokes now. They think I’m funny. They try to copy my jokes. They like insulting each other now. They’re trying to be sarcastic. It’s kind of funny.

So it only took them three years to start catching up to Tornado E. I’d pitch him against any of my freshmen any day of the week.