Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Back to Basics

T.S. Eliot said "April is the cruelest month." I'm beginning to agree with him. I think May used to be the most hectic because it was the end of the school year and therefore the end of all the programs that run along with the school year. It was the month of dance recitals, band concerts, and year-end parties for every club known to man. It was also the start of baseball (little league games anyway) and spring weather begging the kids to be outside after school and after dinner because it's lighter out longer so who wants to do homework - and between all those activities (spread across two adults and three kids) there was very little time to breathe in May. So people got wise and moved some of it to April - but then more people got wise and pretty soon ALL the year end competitions and club parties and concerts, etc. were backed up a month. In other words, April is the new May. And there's still no time to breathe.

Every weekend our oldest daughter has been competing in some type of academic event - first Science Olympiad, then the History Fair - the regionals were at IIT in the city a week ago Saturday and once again she advanced to state. We're really proud of her and she's so excited they get to go to Springfield on a school day in May (her father promptly signed up to be a chaperone) Caitlin + Springfield + History + Luxury Tour Bus = uber excited Dan.

Finally a Saturday rolled around with no competitions for Cait (only a baseball practice for Ryan) and so I was all set to head down to Atlanta for my aunt's 90th birthday celebration weekend leaving Dan to mind the homestead. I was looking forward to seeing her and some cousins I haven't seen in awhile (it's a BIG family). I was a little nervous because it occured to me that I hadn't flown post 9/11. The last plane I was on was from San Francisco to O'Hare in September of 1990 after our ten year anniversary. I felt like I should bring a sign with to security - "Warning: Do not follow." I would have been the equivalent of a Sunday driver, causing delays with my excessive creams, lotions and nail clippers.

Turns out no sign was needed. My back went out on Thursday afternoon and that was all she wrote. There was no plane ride on Friday morning, no folding chair on Friday night, no picnic bench on Saturday afternoon and no 12 hour car ride home in my parents' Civic on Sunday. Instead, there was five days of laying flat on my back at home. And you know what? It was kind of wonderful.

When was the last time you had five unscheduled days of laying around with nothing but books, a T.V. and a cordless phone to entertain you? I read Andre Agassi's autobiography in two days. I read a LOT of stuff. I watched a movie or two, but for the most part I left the T.V. off. I prayed a lot. I looked up words in the Bible in the original Greek (although that concordance was really heavy so I only did that a few times). I asked my kids all about their days and listened to every word they said with undivided attention. And I slept. A lot.

It's getting a lot better now - so much so that I can sit at a computer for an hour or two at a time and type without wincing. I'm easing in slowly - dishes but no laundry -stairs but no treadmill - driving but no go carts (aka any vehicle lower than a minivan). Basically bending is still out. So I tackle small projects and then lay back down again. So instead of going on vacation I stayed home on sick time and...well...got a vacation.

Monday, April 12, 2010

She Blinded Me With Science

This weekend we took our oldest daughter Caitlin to the State Competition for Science Olympiad at the University of Illinois. Yeah, I didn't know there was any such thing either until my 7th grader came home one day wanting to sign up for some academic club. "Sure, honey, that sounds nice." I was clueless.

We've been secretly pretty happy that until this year; Ryan has only been involved in baseball, Maggie, while being extremely naturally atheletic, is also extremely unambitious and Caitlin, well...Cait's not into sports. So Saturdays have not been crazy busy and unlike most American parents we haven't been shuttling our kids back and forth to practices and games. Until now. Except the games are high level academic tests and you compete against 39 other schools when you make it to state.

So we trekked down to Champaign in central Illinois on Friday night - spent the night in a Drury Inn with 100's of other middle and high school kids-miraculously got a little bit of sleep and shlepped Caitlin to the campus by 8:30 am Saturday. Since this is our first year in the program we didn't know what to expect beyond what we'd seen at Regionals.

First off - U of I is HUGE. I mean it's one big sprawling campus for a 13 year old girl to navigate let alone her starry-eyed parents. She was equipped with a map to direct her to the different buildings she would be in throughout the day, and a lot of God given confidence. She had prepared to compete in three events; Ornithology (birds for you non-science types), Dynamic Planet (earthquakes and such) and Road Scholars (maps and more maps -my father-in-law would have loved this one).

She had plenty of time between events and spent most of that time off in their miniscule "homeroom" for the day in the English building playing DS and eating homemade snacks one of the veteran mom's had brought along for the day. It was 74 and sunny outside.

Dan and I and the twins hung out on the quad throwing around a football, occasionally walking the campus (until we all whined and complained about how our ankles/calves/legs hurt respectively) and people watching. People watching on a college campus on a warm spring day with special events is quite entertaining. There were cheerleaders and big burly co-eds throwing them up in the air like paper airplanes to inspire Maggie to clap and Dan and I to resolve to maybe start working out a little bit more. There were business men and women there for some expo looking stiff in suits that suited a snowy day more than the one they were stuck wearing them on. And of course there were a ton of undergrads lying around making the most of the summer-like weather.

But the Science Olympiad crew were by far the most entertaining. These kids are proud to be geeks and if you couldn't pick them out by their appearance (which you generally could) they wore shirts to tip you off that read things like; "If you can read this you're standing too close to my awesomeness", "Float Like A Lepidoptera, Sting Like A Apis mellifera." Or, my personal favorite, "The only thing we date is Carbon 14." If you've never seen the movie "Real Genius" with Val Kilmer from the 80's, rent it. Seriously. They were like that.

And then there were the parents. Oh the parents. They were hard core, tail-gaiting, matching-T-Shirt-wearing cheerleaders with signs, mascots and really bad jeans. Although I can honestly say that next to these parents, our school's were rock star cool.

So finally after several trips to the student union - where there is a bowling alley, billiards room, lots of flat screen T.V.'s and most importantly fast food, we made it to the awards ceremony. It began at 5:00 pm.

We were all corraled in the wrestling gym where it was about 92 degrees. There was some illustrious profressor who wanted to inspire the kids to pursue science both in college and as a career and he droned on for quite awhile. I'm sure certain people in the crowd were captivated, but not even the biggest self-professed nerds were interested after the sweat began flowing. Then the MC took over (who was movin' it along, thank God) but it still took almost two hours to distribute all the awards. Caitlin didn't place in any of her events, but four of her teammates did and the school got 6th overall place out of 39 so that was pretty impressive. By the end of the day she just wanted to eat and sit in a cool car instead of a hot gym.

We got home around 11:15 pm last night (Saturday) and were so exhausted we let the kids sleep in and skip church. Caitlin, such a trooper, spent her last day of the weekend doing homework and practicing the french horn and talking about how cool it will be next year when she's in 8th grade and Mead will make it Nationals.

Sure, honey, that sounds nice.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

It's the beginning of April and the past week we have seen warmer weather in Chicago than we had the majority of last summer. We broke a record one day last week when it was warmer here than in Hawaii. I remember two years ago when the kids and I built a snow bunny in the front yard after it snowed 8 inches on Good Friday. You just never know what you'll get in the way of weather in Chicago in April.

There was a hailstorm last night that was so loud I thought the house was coming down. I remember how my parents shook their heads sadly when we told them 11 years ago that the house we put a bid on wasn't brick. This morning I was in the shower when a thunderstorm broke out and when I opened the bathroom door there were my ten year old twins huddled together at the top of the stairs wide-eyed and hearts beating fast.

Later today after all that damage the sun came out and it hit 75 degrees. The climate can change on a dime around here and often does.

Have you seen those "get to know you" emails? They're like chain letters that go on and on but sometimes the questions are interesting and you play along. Like, "Storms: cool or scary"? I always answer "Yes."

We just finished celebrating Easter (or as some of my pastor friends like to call it, 'Resurrection Sunday') which is the perpetual annual reminder of the hope Christians have in Jesus. Church attendance always shoots up about 1000 people in our church on Easter. That tends to include a lot of folks who don't normally make their way into church. Some of them are experiencing circumstances that are as volatile as the weather.

In the midst of these storms, when we're whipped around by wind, pelted with hail and drenched in the outpouring from the sky...it gets scary. So it's kind of miraculous when we find ourselves on dry ground under partly sunny skies with a mild breeze so soon after. To be in the presence of something so powerful one minute, so gentle the next, without having any control over it is definitely scary. And cool.