Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Big Anchor

Ron asked me if I was going to explain the "big anchor" thing on this layout, and I probably should have, but it might be one of those stories where you had to be there to appreciate the humor.

When I am feeling wobbly walking from the car, Ron holds my hand to steady me. One day Annamarie wanted to hold my hand instead, but I was afraid I'd fall over and take her down too, so I said, "Thank you, but Daddy is a bigger anchor." Ron said, in a very wry voice, "That's me. Ron 'Big Anchor' Michener." It struck me as funny and I laughed so hard I nearly had to sit down in the parking lot.

It wouldn't be the first nickname he's had. A few years back Annamarie started calling him "Mr. Incredible." (He liked that better than her previous nickname for him: Gray Hair.) But it made me think about how he really is my anchor in a lot of ways. He balances out my flightiness and always sees the big picture when I get bogged down in details. He is just always there for me and the kids, and he very rarely ever loses his cool, whereas I am always flying off the handle.

I know that a lot of times he feels like an indentured servant around our needy household, and I feel bad that he doesn't get much time or space to himself. I just hope he knows how much the kids and I appreciate him. So many families are without a father at all, and dads like Ron--loving, gentle, patient, involved--are incredibly rare. I love you, Big Anchor.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Too weary for a title

My children are back in Thomas' room "playing together." There is a lot of suspicious banging, some screaming, and the sound of a football hitting the mini-blinds. But I am sitting here calmly (lie) not getting involved, because I am not a helicopter mom.

Well, I don't want to be one, anyway. There's something about the nature of my relationship with Thomas that has turned me into a control freak, and it's not something I'm proud of. His ADHD combines with his attachment issues to make our relationship very contentious most of the time. I love the boy and have always felt like God picked him out specially for us, but he has the power to make me madder than any human being on earth. That seems to create a vicious cycle: I tell him to do (or stop doing) something, he refuses, and I decide that I. must. win. this. battle. I threaten him with consequences (usually loss of video game time), and he acts out more. I take away the video games, he yells, "Who cares?" (he does), and the original behavior never changes a bit. We may not be related by blood, but our stubborn streaks look a lot alike.

We have given Thomas relatively little independence for his age, but he will be 13 before long and I want to give him the chance to make more choices for himself. I've got to stop worrying and micromanaging--so what if he screws up and it goes on his Permanent Record? (Has anyone ever gained access to their Permanent Record?)I certainly screwed up plenty myself.

The backlash of the videogame-taking-away system is that without his prized electronics, Thomas is glued to my side. "Mom, watch this. Mom, listen to this." And of course, "I don't have anything to do." I suggest that he read the library books he begged me to take him, he doesn't feel like reading. He has long wanted to be able to ride his bike around the neighborhood alone, so I say, "It's a nice day. Why don't you go ride your bike?" No, that's a terrible idea...he doesn't feel like it...blah blah blah blah.

Naturally, today when it is 65 degrees and pouring rain, he wants to ride his bike. And look! Look at me letting him make his own choices! Not hovering. But I start to worry when he's been gone an hour and a half. All the other kids in the neighborhood are back in school. Where could he be? I imagine his skinny little wet body lying in a ditch after he skidded off the wet road. Then I wonder if he has ridden, against our orders, up to the big road and over to the shopping center.

Just as I am pulling out of the driveway to look for him, he rides up. I manage to keep my mouth shut and get him dried off and warmed up. I make him a grilled cheese sandwich (he swears mine are the best ever), I listen to him play a hundred or so songs on the electronic keyboard, we play some cards, and wait for Annamarie to come home.

By bedtime we will be adversaries again, me directing and him balking, both of us yelling. And I will go to bed as I have every night for the past 10 years, praying for forgiveness and vowing to try harder tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Wages of Sun

Warning: If you are particularly squeamish about medical stuff, don't read any further. Go watch Matt dancing instead. Even if you do read on, go watch Matt dancing anyway afterward. It will just make you feel good.

If you don't know me "in real life," maybe you can tell from that tiny photo over there ---> that I am extremely fair-skinned. I was a teenager in the 80s, a historical period in which pale was NOT the new tan. I was sure that somehow, if I just spent enough time in the sun, got past that first blistering burn of the season, my pale pink skin would tan. Or maybe at least my freckles would merge, giving the illusion of a tan. I spent nearly every day of the summer at the swim club pool and swam on the swim team for many years. Our summer vacations usually consisted of trips to Myrtle Beach, where my mom would attempt to humiliate me by making me cover up with a t-shirt and zinc oxide, I would balk dramatically, and end up with a serious, painful burn. I would spend the evenings shivering uncontrollably in our air-conditioned room at the Starlite Lodge, somehow puzzled that this had happened again.

Just as an aside, I now know all too well the helpless feeling of watching your beloved child make really stupid choices because after all, they are 12, almost a teenager for crying out loud, and you are just old and you don't know anything. Sorry, Mom.

I shudder now when I remember the days my friends and I spent sunbathing in the backyard in our bikinis (oh, long-lost bikini body, wherefore art thou?), our bodies slathered in baby oil and our hair stiff with lemon juice. I compounded the sun exposure by moving to Orlando for two years in my early twenties, where I could bake in the sun for approximately ten months out of the year.

My dermatologist found the first skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma, thankfully, not the more malignant melanoma) about 11 years ago. I had thought she would freeze it off and the matter would be done with, and was thus surprised at the four-inch line of stitches left on my back. I joked that I would tell people the scar was the result of a sword fight. The doctor, with her gorgeous milky white Irish skin that has apparently never seen a ray of sun, cautioned me that there would be more such scars in my future. I became scrupulous about wearing sunscreen, but the damage was already done.

Today the same doctor removed my seventh skin cancer. And I thought of that saying, "If I can't set a good example, at least let me serve as a cautionary tale." My inclination was to crop this photo because heaven knows no one should have to look at that much of my naked flesh, but I realized that two of the earlier scars are visible at the bottom of the picture. I will spare you the two on my neck, one on my arm, and one on my forehead. They've all been basal cells so far, but I will not be surprised, and neither will my mom who really tried her best, if one of them turns out to be something worse, something requiring treatment more invasive than a bit of slicing and dicing and eight stitches.

Wear sunscreen. Make your kids wear sunscreen.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Just because it's my blog

Awwwwww. I love this girl.

Back to School, with trepidation

Annamarie started fifth grade on Wednesday. Fifth grade. I keep being shocked by the thought that I am the mother of two middle schoolers. Surely such a mother must be older than I am. Middle aged, even. Let's just move on, shall we? Hey! Here are a couple of photos of Annamarie on the first day of school.

I am filled with mixed emotions as I look at those pictures and send her off to school. I am so proud of how hard she works and how far she has come, but she is still so far behind and likely always will be. I am painfully aware that next year she will enter middle school, a scary place to send even well-adjusted, typically developing children. Annamarie is just beginning to realize that she is different, and just gaining awareness of the fact that many of the kids aren't very nice to her. She is sweet and funny and so interested in other people, but she doesn't have a clue how to have a normal conversation. It just doesn't come naturally to her like it does to most people, and it's an incredibly difficult skill to teach someone. It's sad and often funny to have to make rules before any social event. "Do not ask for anyone's jewelry. Do not touch anyone's artificial limbs (this actually applies to two people at the dog park). Do not hug strangers. Do not ask people if they have been arrested, grounded, or had a c-section. If you have asked a question and gotten an answer, it is not necessary to ask that question again. The only exception is, 'How are you?' and only ask that once each time you see the person." Sounds silly, but this is my life.

We are blessed by a number of adults who are very patient with Annamarie's incessant questions and who accept and love her just as she is, but she has never had a friend her own age. At ten, my joyful, loving, sassy little girl has never once been invited to a birthday party or to play at another child's house. Her peculiar interests (law enforcement, childbirth, anything medical-related) don't lend themselves well to conversing with girls her age who are into Hannah Montana and Webkinz. Her behavior is often just weird, to be honest, and my heart breaks for her because she wants so much to be liked. I have a terrible time finding a balance between loving her as she is and trying to help her fit in without hurting her feelings or making her feel bad about herself.

So it's not hard to imagine how I am struggling with the thought of sending this precious child to middle school. She is naive and trusting, and I am not. I know very well that the developmentally disabled are among the most often abused. How, then, will I keep her safe? How will I equip her to keep herself safe? She loves Jesus and she has a strong sense of right and wrong. But soon she will be a teenager, and I suspect that her desire to be accepted will only get stronger.

I am a big believer in the notion that God puts people into our paths when we need them, and these days I feel like I'm stumbling over all the people He's putting in my path. (Hang on a minute...this does relate to the school thing eventually.) Several months ago we met an awesome family at the pool where A & I swim in the winter. The kids were really sweet to Annamarie, and we have become friends with them. They kept mentioning a wonderful home Bible study group they attend, and invited us back in July. You know me: "ACK! Strangers! Social situation! I can't. Very busy. Might be sick that day." But God wanted me there, and we went, and I and my family are still there nearly two months later. Being with this group of Christian families every week is an amazing breath of fresh air. We sing and pray and eat and study the Word and I feel vaguely like I am cheating on my home church but I don't think you can have too much worship in your week. Thomas (!!!) and Annamarie love going there and hanging out with a gaggle of really nice kids of all ages. It is just exactly what I have been needing; fellowship and support and Jesus, and I am just SO GRATEFUL.

Now for the part about how this relates to Annamarie and school. Most of the families in the home group also homeschool. They are part of a co-op that meets weekly and includes about 400 students. Homeschooling is not something I have ever wanted to do. It scares the heck out of me, I fear I am not organized and driven enough, and if I am going to be completely honest, I cherish my alone time when the kids are at school. We have considered private school for Annamarie, but there isn't one in our area that has special education resources appropriate for her. So the options are to throw her into public middle school and pray for the best, or to homeschool.

I have not made a decision yet. I'm going to spend the next few months buying denim jumpers and flashcards researching and praying about it, and maybe you could pray too, if you are so inclined. Thomas is still on break until September 15, and will be at the same private school he attended last year. Seventh grade! Almost 13! How does this happen?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Notice anything different?

Holy cow. I like to think of myself as pretty tech-savvy, but customizing the appearance of this blog has tested my feeble skills to the limit. What do you think?

Edited to add: I asked Ron to look at my blog and see what he thought of the changes, and he said, "I don't see what's different." This is why he wouldn't be able to describe me if I was abducted from this room right now.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Southern Pride

For the most part, I love living in the south. Sometimes, though, my fellow southerners seem determined to perpetuate the myth that everyone below the Mason Dixon Line is a character straight out of the Dukes of Hazzard. Yesterday we were at Subway, and a young girl of about 15 or 16 came in with her father (who may also be her'll see) and she was wearing this t-shirt:

Just take a moment and study the image. There is so much redneck wrongness on this one shirt that it boggles the mind. Whose attention was this otherwise attractive young girl trying to attract with this stylish apparel? I'll just tell you one thing...even money says he has a pickup truck with a gun rack and no one has ever called him a metrosexual. ("Wha'd you call me, boy?")

Do not despair: You can purchase this fine shirt in your choice of 4 colors at Amazon. Order to early to prevent holiday disappointments.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Brushes with fame

Karen Russell posted on her blog today a hilarious story about almost meeting Heidi Swapp in an airport, and it made me realize I'd never posted about my embarrassing meeting with Tara Whitney. If you're a scrapbooker, you probably recognize those names, but if you're not, just suffice it to say that these ladies are all rock stars.

I don't think that Tara scraps anymore (truly our loss) but she is an amazing photographer and I have followed her for 7 or 8 years, first through Two Peas and now through her blog. I feel a special, although one-way, bond with Tara because our daughters share similar developmental disabilities. And even though Tara is way cooler than I could ever hope to be, I feel like we could hang out. She is real and her life isn't always postcard perfect and she's not afraid to let that show.

Anyway...Ron, the kids, and I were in Hawaii in January. I wanted to snorkel in Hanauma Bay, despite the fact that it was about 70 degrees and drizzly. The beach was pretty steeply sloped, and I can't walk even on flat sand without my braces. I really wanted to snorkel though, so I swallowed my pride and stuffed my chunky, milky white self into my matronly swimsuit and let the kids push me to the edge of the water in a borrowed beach wheelchair. Those things have huge balloon tires and there's really no graceful way to get out of them, so Ron just sort of dumped me out into the surf. After all, I wasn't going to see anyone I knew anyway. (Dun dun dun...foreshadowing!) When it was time to go because the beach was closing, I dragged myself back into the wheelchair and the kids pushed me up the hill to return the gear.

I was waiting for Ron to do that, and I was freezing. The cold had turned me even paler, so I had taken on the slightly bluish color of skim milk and my hair was a matted sea hag mess. Suddenly I noticed a man who looked like Tara Whitney's husband, Jeff. And, oh my gosh, that's Nate, her son! Before I could stop myself, I called out, "Excuse me. Are you Jeff Whitney?" His puzzled look clearly said, "I'm sorry, but I'm sure I am not acquainted with any sea hags." I blurted out very excitedly, as if it explained everything, "I'm a scrapper!"

He did understand though, and said, "Tara's right over there." I introduced myself very inelegantly to her, totally quaking like a leaf. Her gorgeous children were even more so in real life, and Tara was very gracious. I was a babbling idiot. And I DIDN'T HAVE MY CAMERA! I have mixed feelings about that situation, because I probably would have fallen over dead with horror when I saw the photos, evidence that yes indeed, I did meet one of my photography idols looking LIKE THAT.

For the rest of the trip I would periodically say to Ron, "I can't believe I ran into Tara Whitney in Hawaii." He was not properly impressed. I sent Tara an email after getting home, and she sent a very kind reply.

It's ironic to me that Karen posted the story she did, because I am already quaking with excitement and nervousness about meeting her on the Ultimate Scrapbooking Cruise in January. I have taken classes with Donna Downey and Heidi Swapp and they are super inspiring and super fun, but it's Karen's class that made me bite the bullet and sign up for the cruise. I am just going to stand near her with my camera and hope that some of her mad skillz rub off on me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Weekend photo recap

Here I am again, sitting here catching up on my blog reading at 1:04 am, and I have to take Annamarie to the orthodontist in 7 hours. Can you hear that flapping sound? It is the $4000 or so that is about to fly out of our dilapidated little money market account and into the orthodontist's.

Anyway, we had a very nice weekend at my mom & dad's house. I believe they were truly surprised by the anniversary gathering. The three non-family couples who were there might as well be family...they have been friends with my parents my whole life and every one of them is just Good People.

On Sunday we went to church with Mom and Dad, at the church where I was baptized, grew up, and got married. Being there is a very bittersweet experience for me. The sanctuary is only about a quarter full these days, and so many of the people I loved best have either moved on or passed on. Still, my children are amazed that they are hugged and patted by so many strangers who seem to know them, and who feel like they do because they have known me for 42 years and have followed our lives through my parents since I moved away.

We kidnapped my brother's adorable son, Ford, for the afternoon, and I ate him up. Well, I could have, but instead we stuffed him full of delicious and messy treats, including ice cream:

and Oreos:

Ford is 21 months old and he is such a little person now. I spent hours asking him random questions just to hear him answer, "Ummmm, yes." The kids love playing with him, and Thomas is especially sweet and gentle with him. And as adorable as he is, the best thing about him is that his mommy takes him home when we are all worn out. Grammy (Ford calls her "Mimi") and I are old and need our naps. Because most of the time he truly looks like this:

A sturdy little blonde blur who is into everything.

Later I tried to get some good photos of Thomas and Annamarie on Mom's porch, which has great light and great reflected light because the ceiling is painted pale yellow. It didn't work out for me this time--it was heavily overcast outside and I am not sure that my lens is working properly. (I shot all of these photos with my Canon 17-85mm EFS lens, which I banged on a bench while we were out west, breaking my UV filter. I'm wondering if I damaged more than the filter.) This was the best shot I got, and it is very grainy.

Ford came back on Monday and we left him and Thomas to accompany Papa on his errands to manly destinations such as the hardware store, the tire store, and Circuit City. Grammy, Annamarie and I went to the art supply store, lunch, and the splash park. We dragged my sister-in-law (not Ford's mom--the other one. Keep up.) with us, and she delighted Annamarie with a ride in her little red convertible Miata. The splash park was pretty cool, but the green cover did not make for good photos.

I liked this one, though.

We drove home today after a stop at Concord Mills mall for a bit of back-to-school shopping and lunch at Sonny's Bar-B-Q. We were glad to see Ron and Ruby, and I will be happy to sleep in my own bed. I will not be there nearly long enough.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Scrappin' and Travelin'

Hello! Happy Friday! In just a little while the kids and I are going to head down to see my parents in North Carolina and we'll be there until Tuesday. I have neither packed nor showered, and I have to pick Annamarie up at camp in oh, an hour and 45 minutes. To answer your inevitable question, no, we don't ever stay home. My mom and dad are celebrating their 45th anniversary this weekend, and my sister-in-law was thoughtful enough to arrange a small gathering of friends and immediate family at the fish camp. (If you're not from the South, suffice it to say that a fish camp is a particular type of seafood restaurant. It's a southern wouldn't understand. ) Mmmm mmmm, I will be clogging my arteries with some hush puppies tomorrow night.

I have been scrapping the past couple of days and I'll share a couple of layouts. They're nothing fancy, but I am in git 'er done mode again and just want to get some events and photos scrapped and in albums. OK, in a stack over there in the corner, but it's a step closer to being in albums.

A couple of people asked about my Alaska album layouts. I didn't scan any because they are so incredibly simple, but this is the first two-page spread in the album. You can click to see it bigger if you're so inclined.

For each place we visited, I had one of my favorite photos printed in an 8x12 size at Scrapbook Pictures. Their prints are gorgeous, they ship fast, and their prices are very reasonable. I added a title to each big photo in PhotoShop before I uploaded them. Then I printed out Ron's lengthy journaling on vellum, cut it apart, and stuck it with the appropriate photos. Very simple, as I said, but I would be crazy bored with the project if I tried to do an embellished page for all the photos I want to include.

Now I am starting to panic about the packing and the showering. Have a great weekend!

Colt Camp

Annamarie has been at Triple C Camp every day for the last two weeks. It's a wonderful traditional summer camp where the kids can pick a "specialty," so needless to say Annamarie picked Colt Camp. She has come home absolutely FILTHY every day, which I take as a sign that she's having a super time. Well, that and the fact that she says approximately 47 times a day, "Mom, I love Colt Camp." Today's her last day, and Ron went by to take some photos of her.

That girl loves horses.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I Am Woman, Hear Me Sob

I can't be the only one who sniffled all the way through the next-to-last episode of So You Think You Can Dance. (Maybe I can be. What is today's date?) Hormonal or not, I love that show, and the top 4 have been my favorites since the top 20 were chosen. They are all amazing, the trained and the untrained, but I will divulge that I cast my vote for Joshua. I also believe that he is madly and transparently in love with Katee and I can't tell whether she returns the feeling but I suspect she is going to break his heart. It kills me that I may never know the outcome of that situation. The finale is tomorrow night: Between the hours of 8 and 10PM I will not be answering the phone or getting anyone a glass of water or letting anyone outside to go potty fourteen times in an hour.

In other tear-jerking news, I am just about done reading The Shack. I don't want to provide any spoilers, but is an amazing book that clearly arouses strong emotions in almost everyone who reads it. Readers either love it or see it as the work of Satan. It does undoubtedly contain some dubious theology, but I was deeply moved by the characters' conversations about the depth of God's unconditional love for us and why bad things happen to good people.

Wow, I just went from reality TV to religion in one paragraph. Any other unlikely topics I can throw in there? Hmm, I did get my hair cut and colored today, and I went back to my natural color, which is quite a bit darker than I've had it for the past few years. At least I think it's my natural's been so long that I had to try to get some idea from the few roots that weren't gray.

Also, today was Thomas' last day of school until mid-September. They had a dance last night, where he danced with a girl and wanted to know if it was normal that his hands were very sweaty afterward. He also won five awards, academic and athletic, and we are very proud of him despite the sweaty hands.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Never let it be said that we are not patriotic here in the Michener household. We have dragged the Fourth of July out all month, and last night we let the kids burn six boxes of sparklers. I got out my camera and told Thomas to keep his body still and wave his arm in a circle, but that was too mundane for him, so he drew a star.

Of course Annamarie wanted to draw a star too.

Then Thomas drew a heart.

And Annamarie ear.

Thomas started getting fancy and writing words. (I did reverse the photo)

Annamarie doesn't write quite as fast...she was going for "Mom." Awwww.