Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Crappy Secret

My sedan is full of boys, ten and eleven year olds. They’re telling stories and they’ve stumbled upon their perfect topic combo: tattling on siblings meets toilet humor. We hear about pooh smears and a two year old eating a log like a candy bar, tales any sane child would keep to himself and every sibling delights in telling.

I hear my son pipe up. His voice sends up an entire drill team of red flags in my gut. He says, “My mom ate poo once, didn’t you mom!!” The car erupts in groans and howls.  “I was five!” I yell over the din. “And I want a new mouth now. Maybe a new son too,” I mutter as I take our exit, swooping over the freeway.

“What? How?!” They clamber.

The neighbor girl Debbi and I are five. One of us poops in the toilet. One of us wonders if it would taste as bad as it smells. Dares are levied. I wager no one will ever find out. Debbi and I would keep the secret forever. And so I reach down through the cold toilet water and… and… and I break that taboo, that utterly sensible taboo. I scooped a dab onto my pointer finger and quickly … It tasted like you’d imagine it would, like shit. And the secret kept until my son was three.

When he was three, he wondered aloud what poo would taste like. As any good mother would, I flung myself between my child and imminent health danger with an embarrassing memory on the side. I told him it tasted like it smelled, but slightly less flavorful than you’d imagine. And he wanted to know how I knew for sure.

I’m wishing just now, however, that I’d kept my cautionary tale to myself and my son had earned his own secret, one he’d be much more likely to keep. But how could I blame him? The tale is one of daring and courage and disgust and by someone’s mother no less! To a car full of boys, it was the grossest tale ever told, and to them gross is a synonym for great. 

And now all the pre-adolescent boys I know are sitting in the back seat in a hushed and hallowed awe of my son’s mother.

We arrive finally at the warehouse of trampolines. They all leap from the car and I realize my secret’s out now, well and truly out, exuberantly out, and bouncing off the walls.

Coyote got "new" records for his birthday
I imagine his story goes like this: It’s my birthday. Actually my birthday was last week. I’m 11 now. We are on the way to Sky High, my favorite trampoline place. Actually, it’s the only trampoline place I know. 

We pick up Bishop and Silas (but not in that order) and we’re all joking and laughing about everything. Someone, maybe it’s Bishop, he starts talking about his little brothers. He’s talking about them and about poop. We’ve all got stories about poop.

And I told mine. It’s not actually my story – it’s my mom’s. But it feels like mine. I can’t remember ever NOT knowing the story. I love this story. My mom ate poop, straight out of the toilet, on a dare, a dare she maybe even started herself. She was little, so it’s a little okay.

The boys love it. They can’t believe it. Of course nobody even believes their parents were kids, not just kids, but really stupid and weird kids. I think she must’ve grown out of it. God, I hope she did. What if my mom still eats poo?! I’m pretty sure no one else’s mom tried poo. Girls don’t try poo. Moms don’t try poo. It’s crazy is what it is. We’re laughing – we can’t believe it. Mom. Girl. Poo!
I can’t ever forget it. And I don’t think my friends will either. I’m the kid with the mom that was gross once and that makes me cool, forever.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Summer of Satisfaction

It's the first day of school in these parts and this means that I am 1) crying as my firstborn trots off to highschool and 2) happy to have use of my computer again. Logging on today, I notice a home page full of new games and a desk cluttered with Coyote's new PlayStation paraphernalia... And then I apparently needed a few weeks before I came back to my computer.
West Thumb Geyser Basin, a super hot spring on Yellowstone Lake

Coyote saved up his money from several years of birthdays and Christmases and ordered the step-up from his Wii. I worried that the only reason he wanted the PS4 was so that he could play the grittier games.  He was no longer was satisfied with Wii's Lego Batman and MarioKart (although who could possibly tire of MarioKart?! Not me! Never!) But Coyote assured me that there were plenty of great, non-first-person-shooter games available, namely Little Big Planet which he mastered in 3 weeks. He inevitably longed for a new challenge, a better game. There weren't any. There was only a horror game called Dying Light and if I didn't let him get it then the whole P$4 endeavor was wasted and he might as well throw the machine out.

So we let him buy Grand Theft Auto 5. Yes. We did that. Turns out the name is the most salacious part of the game. And kids have been playing cops and robbers, prey and predator, chase, whatever you want to call it, for centuries. Video games, like all games of all times and media, can be a way to play and pretend at things we would never want to act on. They can be a way to see an imagined situation through to its end without the risks of real life. And all his friends already have it. Or so I thought. One mom got all up in my face about it. It's okay to forbid the game, different parents, different kids and all that, and that you don't want your kid playing it at our house. Fine. No big deal. But the big deal comes in when I'm not even allowed to say that I do allow it. The "forbid" opinion is not the only right one. And if you get to tell me you forbid it, I get to tell you that I don't. And frankly, it's a really fun game. Silly and hilarious, I enjoy playing it with Coyote, although I hate looking my character in the face because he scares me and when the police show up I always scream and drop the controls. Playing it with Coyote allows for conversations about the things that come up in the game. We had no screens in this house for many many years, but now that the kids are of discussion age, if find it much better to allow and discuss rather than forbid and never speak of such things. The former is more complicated and takes more time, that latter is easier and apparently allows for the adrenaline shot of self-righteousness.

Just a peek at the Grand Teitons
More than vetting the video game itself, the extensive discussions we had before letting him buy it made it clear that we care about him, about what he's doing with his time and about his well-being.  This is the most important message we can ever give him about anything. Also, we do trust that he knows the difference between real life and imaginary. My kids have always been blessedly clear on the differences between real and imaginary things. In addition to being an atheist since she could speak (neither Huck nor I are), I once found Blue, who's always loved babies, bashing her doll against the wall. "Oh no! We don't want to do that to our babies!" At two years old, she looked at me with great concern, put her hand on my arm consolingly, looked deep in my eyes and said, "Mom, it's just a doll. It's not real."

Mammoth Hot Springs
Coyote also used this illuminating article to argue his pro-Grand Theft Auto points. Although, when sass becomes an issue, he knows the game is the first item of confiscation. Research, he's learned, is key to getting what he wants. Last year he wanted a game called Prison Break, where you design prisons and let inmates loose in them and that's how you discover your design flaws. It's actually a smart, problem-solving, auto-cad-teaching game but before I let him download it, he had to give me a well-researched report about the prison-industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects kids of color.

Meanwhile, Blue and I were nursing our addiction to West Wing. It's what we call a "pact show" which means we can't watch it without the other person. So I'm sitting here by myself now, fully aware that 10,000 episodes are available just over there. She'd never know right?

Yellowstone's Grand Canyon
Unfortunately much of our summer was spent inside due to a record-breaking number of days over 100 degrees. 100+ isn't even good beach or pool weather as the second you leave the water, you're screwed. Blue has passed out in heat before and I am also a wilty little pansy. Huck loved the heat as his reconstructed titanium knee feels heavenly in it. I predict we will be retiring in very different places. Although, at this point, I'm unsure what I would retire from.

On those hottest of days, I got up at 5 and worked in the garden for an hour. But I quickly tired of being grumpy and sleep deprived. During the hottest days, all of the garden grew at an astonishing rate, especially the weeds. I took a few days off of my 5 am risings and when I returned, the weeds were so large that removing them would have uprooted my plants as well. No matter, I still had tomatoes a month early. My determinant tomato plants actually produced through an entire life-cycle and died a natural, non-frost death. I have never seen it before.  Everything produced well and it was a miracle if I could find the fruits of my labor among the 5 foot tall grasses and weeds.

But even the 5am weedings had to stop when the month of smoke rolled in. Last year's smoke season brought me adult onset asthma. So much of this August was spent inside nursing on my inhaler and staying close to the air purifier.

But the highlight of summer was the un-plugged camping trip to Yellowstone, the first of it's kind since my head injury. Huck planned everything: menu, packing, itinerary. This all used to be my jurisdiction and I was happy to hand it over. I was simply along for the ride. And it was amazing. I forgot how incredibly much I love camping and exploring. My third time at Yellowstone, and I still can't even grok its marvels.The kids were in awe and wondered why anyone would go to Disneyland before Yellowstone. 10,000 thermal features, 2/3 of the world's supply, all in this little corner of Wyoming. Geysers, faithful and muddy. Steam vents named "Dragon's Lair." Rainbow colored hot springs and bacterial mats. The "standing dead" trees that don't decay. A million bison causing hours long traffic jams. Coyote suggested "Grand Theft Auto: Yellowstone." We found a warm-ish swimming hole through steep rocks, a hidden gem with parking and toilets but not featured in guide books. The kids jumped cliffs into a 70 degree river. We hiked and forded a river to get to the remote and gross worm-filled Huckleberry Hot Springs. When it rained, we played poker (butterscotch and Hi-Chew ante) and ate dinner in our tents. The kids had their own tent which was also reserved for anyone who's camp-food farts became unbearable. Yes, the park was crowded. Yes, it was exhausting. But we kept the itinerary at a pace I could handle and even at that, I couldn't handle much. Our first attempt at Old Faithful's crowds had me overwhelmed-sobbing and we had to leave. We returned days later and well-rested for an awesome bike ride through trails of hot springs and marmots. We rented a boat and let the kids cruise us around Yellowstone Lake. That afternoon I was too tired for the Elephant Back trail, circled in my guide book, and instead we headed to the Gatsby-esc Lake hotel for drinks. The next day, as it would happen, a park veteran was half devoured and half cached-for-later by a bear on that same Elephant Back trail.

Returning home, we stopped by Virginia and Nevada Cities, ghost towns that have lovingly haunted me since a family road trip when I was 11. It was as worthwhile as ever. The nickel arcade kept us occupied for hours for only $2. We watched 1905 porn which involved women in large flouncy knee-length nightgowns in a series of photographs that flipped through like a slow film. We visited Butte's Berkeley Pit superfund site because that's what you do when you vacation with an environmental engineer.
Mammoth hot springs

When we returned home, we found our garage freezer had quit and was full of ick and goop created by a week of 100 degree days. And we discovered Captain Jack on the back porch with a filleted and infected leg. He needed emergency surgery that night (which cost as much as our entire vacation) with three layers of stitches to sew the flesh back on to the bone. He's fine now, but it was a frightening moment and exhausting on top of it all.

Every day that was not smokey or 100+, we filled with friends and lakes and short hikes and bike rides and tomatoes and summer squash and I feel full of summer, topped off. The last two summers have left me mourning my inability to properly summer. But this one has been real and right, even with it's unbearable heat or hazardous air quality from this ring of fire in which we appear to now be living. I might finally be ready for the season's change.


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