Monthly Archives: July 2012

My Case Against Bug Catchers

I’ve seen it all too often: a curious child with good intentions, a creature imprisoned for being interesting, different.

The terrified bug or worm hovers in a corner, unmoving as two pairs of giant eyes inspect its every breath and quiver. Crunchy dead leaves get tossed in, a few blades of grass, nothing in this animal’s diet. The putrid smell of death hangs from every surface of this place. Fear overwhelms the creature as it begins to climb the screen that surrounds it, desperately looking for an escape.

“It’s moving! Look, it’s moving!” the captors squeal. “Let’s get him some water.”

“You need to let that thing go in an hour,” I holler.

I’ve learned a thing or two about these bug catchers. The kids beg to keep their catch for just one night only to discover in the morning a crust of a being that Dad or I eventually dump or scrape out into a shallow, grassy grave.

We set rules: The kids can put something in the bug catcher to observe for a little while and then release it. It’s not fair to kill even a tiny creature for their amusement.

NC cicada

This guy was big.

Then the cicada came. My son stepped on it in the yard. What a find. It had just molted, leaving behind its intact brown shell. He put it in his bug catcher to show his dad an hour later, and then he was supposed to release it.

The cicada—a giant compared to other bugs in our yard—is a sight to behold, nothing like the roly-polies and earthworms the kids normally toss in this dirty bug graveyard. What we didn’t know is it takes awhile for a freshly hatched cicada’s exoskeleton to dry. So it sat, trapped, in our open bug catcher for a few days, shell hardening and darkening as we waited for it to fly away. Three days later it was finally gone. Sure, it was a process that was cool to watch, but we likely kept it from food during its short life above ground.

cicada shell

This is what we usually find.

Then the lizard came: a skink in my dining room. I’m OK with them outside darting lightning fast among my shrubs, but not between the legs of my dining room table. My son grabbed a cup and patiently tried to get the speedy baby. It camouflaged itself on a chair leg for a while, hid under a basket, and tried to make a getaway up a wall. My son told me to stop screaming because I was scaring it.

We finally got it outside and again my son wanted to put it in the bug catcher so his dad could see it, which meant I had to transfer a wiggling skink from a cup into the catcher. I agreed but said he had to let it go at lunch. When his dad came home, the bug catcher was empty. The skink had escaped.

skink

Escape artist.

I think our family has learned enough lessons here. I’m done with bug catchers and trying to get anything in them and dead shells out of them. If my kids want to watch nature in action, they’re going to have to do it the hard way: with no barriers.

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A Mom’s-Eye View of Home

I spy with a mother’s eye…

Notes that say simply “Mom” left in unexpected places

Half-full trick-or-treat bags on the pantry floor in July

A paper cup catapult ready to launch

Books about fish that fill my son’s head with more facts than Jacques Cousteau knew himself

A cluttered art table no one can seem to keep clean…ever

My red metal crab constantly repositioned on the bathroom counter to look like it’s hiding, walking, or a hermit crab

Metal hermit crab: "I'll rust if you put me in water."

Every time I went in the bathroom, this guy was in a different place.

A rocking chair where my daughter reads aloud in her room at night

Small fingerprints on our dirty storm door

Dolls ready for school

Toys scattered on the floor after a day of loud, in-your-face pretending

Tear stains on a pillow when one sibling decided playtime was over

An indentation in the pile of beanbags and pillows where the kids snuggled together

A drawing of a bird that looks more lifelike than stick figure, penciled by my son

Play people lined up along a table in the playroom

Pink barrettes on the kitchen counter that I’ve asked one million times to be put away

Purple plastic heels, size six-year-old

A desk in a boy’s room littered with lists of state names, book characters, city names, and types of fish

Drawings of rainbows in all sizes

A pink rubber ring with a 12-carat “diamond” that will hopefully be one’s wedding ring someday

A cardboard robot that appeared on my nightstand out of nowhere

A beaded pink tiara

Ugly Lego men painstakingly placed above my son’s bed

When will they come for us?

My son says these guys sometimes fall on his head at night. I think they are just escaping.

Paper bits under my daughter’s chair from an hour of just cutting

Sheets and blankets spread over every inch of the playroom floor

Drawings on a closet door of mushroom people named Snillwill and Lenny and Grent

…and two busy kids behind it all.

Some fun guys, mushroom men.

Some of these guys have peg legs and walking sticks. Coming to a forest near you.

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It’s Summertime and the Reading Is Easy

Five weeks of summer have been dawdled away on quiet afternoons with books in hand, feet up, and minds lost in stories too good to interrupt. During the hectic rush of the school year, these are the days we long for: lazy summer days when there are more chapters than hours to read them.

But that hasn’t always been the case. Last summer was quite a different story. I had to beg my kids to do any summer reading. My husband and I read to our kids every night at bedtime. They love books, but they can be picky. Bookstores can be overwhelming. With a lot of patience, persistence, and the determination of a youthful heroine, I made sure this summer the kids found some hits. I’m glad because I just love happy endings.

Here are the books we haven’t been able to put down this summer, including a few simple ways I got my picky readers to try something new (in italics).

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. My son didn’t want to try anything new when he finally finished Harry Potter. He wanted to read that lengthy series again! I picked up The Lightning Thief and read the first few pages to him one night before bed. He was hooked. Riordan does a great job of getting straight to the action. We’ve had to rush to the library for the next book each time my son finishes one. Thanks, Mr. Riordan.

summer reading

A little summer reading. What series should follow Percy Jackson?

Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger. While Origami Yoda knew how to solve problems, Darth Paper causes a bit of trouble at the middle school. When my son found out this author plans a book signing in our town, he couldn’t wait to finish this book and has his sights set on the next one due in August.

Just Grace series by Charise Mericle Harper. My daughter was skeptical until I enticed her with the idea that these books were a tiny bit like Diary of a Wimpy Kid for girls, only because it’s broken up into really short bits like a diary and has cute child-like drawings so the narrator can show the reader what she’s talking about. But that’s where the similarities end. The books are cute, age appropriate, and well written. I love Harper’s style. Grace is a cool kid I don’t mind my daughter reading about.

Just Grace

Just Grace is a good series about a girl in a class with other Graces. She gets the nickname “Just Grace,” though she’s anything but ordinary.

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When my daughter read the American Girl series about Julie, the girl from 1974, she became interested in the Little House books because Julie was. I took advantage of the connection to another book and read them to her. We’re on the fourth book and love Laura’s antics and Pa’s wisdom. These are a great change of pace from modern life.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I’ve had this book for a while and put off reading it. I wish I hadn’t. I loved it and can’t wait to read the sequels. It’s a great summer read and more girly than I expected. My son wants to read it and I questioned the violence. When I finished, I told him what it was about. He said, “You lost me when you said it was about a girl.” Problem solved.

The Messy Quest for Meaning by Stephen Martin. Martin is a good friend of mine and this book tells about his struggle to find purpose in his life, what he learned from Trappist monks, and how readers can discover their own calling in the world. What, I have purpose other than wiping rears and messes?

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson. Funny. Books that make everyone else laugh don’t usually make me laugh. Parts of this made me cry. My husband read this too and every time he laughed, I’d say, “What part are you on?”

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz. I’m not very familiar with Grimm’s fairy tales. Evidently they’re pretty violent and gory. This book follows the formula. I don’t like that kind of stuff but I loved this well-written book. Clever plot twists move the story along and the characters really do deserve what they get. My son previously started this book and lost interest. When he saw me reading it, he immediately wanted to read it. But he was already into Percy Jackson, which is fine with me.

Even though we’re out of this stage, here are some summer picture books we have loved.

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla FrazeeEvery now and then my son still likes to read this book about two boys who spend a week with one of boys’ grandparents doing what they want to do instead of the fun nature things the grandpa has planned. The boys in it are funny and real and in the end, they really do get the point.

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne. This story tells the life of Jacques Cousteau, including his early years and his contributions to scuba diving and early marine conservation. To a kid, it’s a cool book about a boy, an ocean, and a passion.

Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root. In this heat, a day at the lake is in order. Can Poppa get the family’s rattletrap car to work long enough to make it to the lake? Maybe if the whole family pitches in. Some days I feel like this in our rattletrap van. “Son, hand me your razzleberry, dazzleberry, snazzleberry gum. I need it to fix the door.”

So tell me, what have you been reading this summer? Five weeks left. There’s plenty time for more in our house. 

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In Moment of Grief, I Could Have Been a Better Mom

A year ago I said good-bye. My grandfather was slowly losing his fight for life. My kids never got one last chance to see him.

I had taken the kids back home for a fun summer visit and he suddenly took a turn for the worse the day we arrived. He had rebounded before, but I knew it would be the last time I saw him. You just know.

Before I left to come back to North Carolina, I went to the hospital hoping he’d wake up and know I was there, say something, anything. The day before I couldn’t wake him so I tried one last time. I held his hand, pulled the blankets over his legs, nervously ran my fingers over his soft, white hair. Did he know he was dying? How do you tell someone you love good-bye, that you won’t be back? I felt so inexperienced at this, not that I wanted more. He said my name. He said he was glad I came. I didn’t get to tell him everything I wanted to say, but I don’t think he would have heard me. I don’t think I could have choked it out. I’m not good at good-byes. I hide from them like a child under a bed.

I’m not sure I made it out of the elevator or the lobby before coughs turned to sobs. I’m not sure how I found my car through the flood of tears. I don’t know how I started the car with shaking hands. But I clung to the steering wheel while grief overtook my body in a way that both surprised and relieved me. It came in a time and place when I could just let it sweep over me and I didn’t hold back.

When my grandfather died, my son wanted to go to the funeral. They had been close, some inner pull you can’t see but you know is there. I told him no. At age 8, I didn’t think he was ready. Funerals always scared me as a kid. They scare me now. I was afraid he’d get there and change his mind, seeing his great-grandfather’s body but no signs of the jolly, gentle soul that he loved. The truth is, I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t handle it. I am supposed to be the adult, but in that time I was still the child, seeing my grandfather’s body but no signs of the jolly, gentle soul that I loved.

I regret that I didn’t take my son, didn’t give him that chance to say good-bye when he knew he was ready, even if I wasn’t. I felt like the kid. I’m the one who doesn’t like funerals. I said my good-byes. And I regret that I took that chance away from my son. At the funeral, I was still the granddaughter who couldn’t comprehend seeing a lifeless body of one I loved. In my moment of grief, I couldn’t also be the parent.

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A Refreshing Sip of Summers Past

In the pitch-black of early morning, my dad would gently shake me from heavy sleep. I’d agreed to go fishing with him, but from within the comfort of my cool sheets, I’d nearly changed my mind about this 5:30 wake-up call. We’d set out for the country roads, bouncing along in his pick-up truck and stopping at a gas station on the way to pick up our lunch. Nothing would taste better on the lake than that soggy sub and a bottle of Cheerwine.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had Cheerwine, years, but recently when I took a swig of the distinct Southern cherry soda, memories of summer mornings with my dad on a quiet lake came rippling back.

Cheerwine soda

Cheerwine takes me back to days on the lake fishing in Virginia with my dad. It’s a soda born and bred in North Carolina.

I remember baiting the hook with slimy worms, weaving them back and forth like ribbons. I’d lost too many from poor technique in the past. We’d cast our lines and wait. We never said much. We didn’t catch much. Often the only sound was the water gently lapping against our rented canoe. But those were some of the best times with my dad. Sure, there was that big one on my line that got away. My dad tried so hard to tell me how to reel him in, excited and patient and set on letting me do it. He still tells the story of how big that bass was. I never got a good look. It could have been a tiny catfish for all I know, but Daddy was proud whatever it was.

Looking back now, I see that as a parent I don’t need to try so hard to make memories. It’s not about always being fancy. It doesn’t need to be much. It’s just time spent one-on-one that matters, with no interruptions. Well, except to reel in a big one. That’s OK.

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A Fun Fourth in My North Carolina Hometown

While thousands of others hit the roads for the July 4th holiday, venturing to big city bashes or small towns for a slice of Americana, my family stayed home as we do every year and celebrated a fun hometown Fourth with friends.

colonial band, mominthemuddle.comWe kicked off the day downtown with a parade. This band of Colonial actors set the tone early on…

hula hooping, mominthemuddle.comBut plenty of funky goodness brought out the kid in all of us.

After participating in the high-five world record–breaking attempt where just under 3,000 people high-fived at the same time (we didn’t break the record), we needed to refuel and cool off.

beef burger, greensboro, nc, mominthemuddle.comThat retro hamburger joint untouched by time? This is the place. Why we have waited so long to eat here is beyond me. The fast-food style burgers don’t cost much and that means you can get in line again for another…and some milk shakes and a Cheerwine slushie because your husband’s looked soooo good.

cheerwine slushie, mominthemuddle.comHave you been introduced? Cheerwine is a Southern staple, y’all. It’s a black cherry soda, but so much more. And Beef Burger has gone and made it into a slushie. It’s good.

super balls, mominthemuddle.comDo we really need another super ball? Because I thought twenty was enough. No? Twenty-one is the magic number? OK.

neighborhood parade flag, mominthemuddle.comAfter lunch, we met up with other friends and participated in their neighborhood parade, which has been going on annually for 64 years. The kids decorated their bikes and scooters and rode the parade route as onlookers watched from shady lawns.

After hot dogs, baked beans, corn on the cob, watermelon, and more, we ended the day with fireworks. Instead of heading to a crowded amphitheatre, we opted for a grassy, out-of-the-way area where the kids could run, burn sparklers, and experience a bit of their own freedom.

fireworks, mominthemuddle.comThat’s a family-style Fourth in our American hometown. And I’m proud to be a part of it.

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Tech-Challenged Mom Trying to Stay Ahead…of the Kids

“After dinner, we’ll show you our PowerPoint presentation,” my son said.

That’s not our normal Sunday evening, and the kids weren’t talking about schoolwork. The kids have been making PowerPoint presentations just for kicks featuring sports teams and now penguins. I’m not sure I can do anything beyond open the program. My husband and I tried to figure it out one day last year when we got our new computer. We sat scratching our heads and a few weeks later my son clicked away on it. “How did you do that?” I asked.

He gave me some pointers and I got lost in all the mumbo-jumbo.

I am a technology-challenged mom. My kids attend a science and technology school. It won’t be long before they know more than I do. I know my lack of skills limits me in many ways, but I get by with the help of Google and a husband with a pretty firm grasp in digital media.

But it’s starting to dawn on me that my kids may catch up to me sooner than expected.

They use iPods and iPads at school and I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve used them. My kids still have to show me how to turn them off, and my husband has to show me how to get to the screen I need. I just prefer to navigate my enormous computer screen.

When I began tweeting, I couldn’t wrap my head around the logic. I had to see it in action for a while and I couldn’t figure out why people kept tweeting the play-by-play of their favorite shows or who was talking to whom. I admit, my husband set up my Twitter account and even sent out my first tweets. I do manage my own now.

He helps me with the technical side of blogging and any computer issues I have. But for all of his knowledge, he can still be a dinosaur right along with me. When he left his last job of 13 years, of course he was sad. But leaving behind his cool Droid phone and going back to our pay-as-you-go plan stung a little. Well, it stung a lot. Being in the digital market, it’s hard for him to not have toys like the big kids do. But neither of us talks on the phone much and we don’t see a need to pay for a big plan.

flip phone, mominthemuddle.com

Hey, at least it’s not a bag phone. Remember those? Anyone?

So when my husband started his new job with a company full of fresh, young employees, he described the meeting scenario: Everyone grabs a seat and places their hip mobile device in front of them on the boardroom table. Everyone but him. We screamed at my husband’s suggestion of him placing his outdated flip phone on the table so he could join the crowd.

One of his first days on the job, he called me because he couldn’t figure out how to turn his snazzy new computer on. If only the kids had been home to help. No doubt they would have known from school. I Googled it and watched a video to instruct him over the phone. At least I’m resourceful even if I am challenged.

At some point, I know my kids will surpass my brilliance in some aspects of my life, but I always assumed it would be in math. And I didn’t think it would be this early. If they keep this up, I’ll be going to them with my technology woes instead of my husband.

Is this what parenthood is like? Not letting your kids know they’re getting smarter than you? I’ll hide it for as long as I can, but it won’t be long before my kids are helping me with my blog design and programming my phone, when I finally do graduate from the flip. They already know how to push my buttons.

The thing I hate about technology is just when I think I have things figured out, everything gets upgraded and I’m lost again. I try to do it on my own and inevitably my ignorance shines. Like not so long ago, when I wanted to send a message to a fellow blogger and tweeted two direct messages…to myself.

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