Happy birthday, Little Man

Today is Little Man’s eighth birthday.

It’s not a “landmark” birthday like the one I just had last week, or the one his big brother will be hitting soon. In the grand scheme of things, turning eight is not a big deal. One year older, several inches taller, and just old enough to tell me at the school this morning that I can still hug him in public but no more kisses in front of his friends.

I snuck one in on the  top of his head anyway during my allotted hug. I don’t think anyone noticed.

It may not be a landmark birthday, but it’s a big day around here. He’s our bonus baby, the one who came along when his brother and sister were already half-grown. He’s old enough now to ride in the car without his booster seat. Next year, he’ll be able to get off the school bus without an older sibling, which is a good thing because next year he will also be my only child still at  home.

Little Man and I made cookies last night to take in for his class today. I had found a box of Strawberry Milkshake flavored cookie mix on clearance a few weeks ago, and we discovered last night just exactly why it was on clearance.

It was the single most complicated box mix of anything I have ever seen in my life. Things had to be “frothed” and “folded” and prayed over, and I think there is a remote possibility that we may have created an alien life form in the process. We ended up creating a sticky, paste-like pink substance that clung to the spoons like a living thing as we fought to drop gelatinous globs of it onto a cookie sheet.

They are delicious, but I swear the tiny chocolate chips look like eyes glaring at me.

For his ninth birthday, the boy gets Oreos.

Last night, his big brother whispered to him that birthday boys should get French toast and scrambled eggs and hot cocoa for breakfast for their eight birthday. He whispered it and muttered it and then announced it rather loudly until Little Man agreed.

For the record, his big brother can be a little bit of an asshole that way.

My kids go to a school that serves free breakfast to all kids every day. Let me say that again, just to make it perfectly clear. Free. Breakfast. To all kids. Every day. Free. I haven’t had to feed my kids in the morning for years.

Now, I work in the school kitchen, so I know the food is fresh and healthy. And let’s face it, it’s prepared on surfaces that are a hell of a lot cleaner than any of the surfaces in my own kitchen. In short, the people at our public school feed my kids a better breakfast than anything I’m going to make them at home.

And did I mention that it’s free?

Still, it wasn’t so bad starting the day out with homemade French toast and scrambled eggs, as long as I had access to plenty of coffee.  I even managed to get the syrup on the toast and ketchup on the eggs instead of vice versa, so I did better than I had really expected.

I gave the cookies to his teacher and I’ll be returning later in the afternoon to read to the class from The Stinky Cheese Man. Folks, if you haven’t read The Stinky Cheese Man, you are missing out. Even if you don’t have a child in the appropriate age range for bodily function humor and horribly groan-worthy jokes, you just have to read this book. I don’t know what I’ll do when my Little Man gets too old for it and I run out of excuses for reading it to anyone. That’s right, I am a fifty year-old woman who still laughs out loud over The Stinky Cheese Man.

I think there just may be support groups for people like me.

Apparently, I can be a bit of an asshole at times, too.

Tomorrow, the boys start Spring Break and I dive headlong into Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to reach my goal of 30,000 words in April — especially since April includes Spring Break, a final round of edits on Fat, Fifty and Menopausal, and preparations for my oldest son’s high school graduation — but I’m willing to give it a try.

April is going to be a busy month around here, but for today, the last day of March, our only plan is to have fun with a certain Little Man who is growing up much too fast.

Happy birthday, Little Man.

 

 

The Perfect Gift

Back when my sisters and I used to draw names and exchange gifts at Christmas time, I never really cared which sister got my name.  I could always count on one sister to give something practical that I would definitely use, and I could always count on the other to give some type of apparel (with coordinating accessories) that was guaranteed to look perfect on me.  It was a win-win situation for me every year.

They were not so lucky, however.  I freely admit that I am terrible at picking out the perfect gift for others.

At any rate, the year that really stands out in my memory was the year Practical Sis showed up with two paper grocery sacks stuffed to overflowing with used paperbacks.   Some people might have preferred a nice, new bestseller with a hardcover, but she knew me well enough to know that I just wanted books, books, and more books.   She took her full spending limit to my favorite used bookstore, and basically told Darryl, the proprietor, to “fill ‘er up!”

Those bags held romance, historical, science fiction, fantasy, mystery and classics.  There were books by everyone from Dana Fuller Ross to Patricia Cornwell to David Eddings. I devoured family sagas, time-travel romances, wizard and sorcery epics, cheesy Harlequins, and steamy bodice-rippers.   I read them all.

Okay, I didn’t finish Anna Karenina.  That book has become my personal nemesis and I swear to God I am going to read it someday.

Someday.

In later years, after we stopped exchanging gifts, Practical Sis always made a point of giving books to my children as Christmas and birthday gifts.  She is an educated woman with adult children of her own, and she loves to give books that are controversial and important, like the year she gave my son Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

(For the record, I read it, loved it, recommend it.)

Books are great gifts.   When you give a book to someone, you are sharing more than a bunch of words that may or may not help that person pass a couple of hours.  You are giving the gift of adventure, enjoyment, escape, education, emotion.  You are sharing a little part of yourself by saying “Hey, this book spoke to me, and I want to know what it says to you.”

A book doesn’t have to be scholarly to be good.  If you like it, it doesn’t matter whether it’s ever been on a bestseller list or part of a school curriculum.   It doesn’t have to be educational, and it really doesn’t even have to be memorable.  It can be all those things, but sometimes a good book is just  . . . a good book.  Something you read, enjoy, and move on.

I read Harlequin romances, and I read the works of Goethe.  I’m a fan of Twain, Austen, and Vonnegut, but I welcome the opportunity to spend an evening with Debbie Macomber’s newest tale.  I enjoyed Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as much as I adored Emma.    Absolutely despised Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’ll gift it to a friend if it’s what makes my friend happy.

I’ve read The Stinky Cheese Man to my kids so many times that I have memorized certain passages.    I love that book.  Sometimes, I get to laughing so much that I can’t finish.   Is it a literary masterpiece that’s going to change the world?  Absolutely not.  Is it hilarious?  Absolutely.  At least, I think so.

Maybe I’m a bad parent for letting them read books like that, along with Captain Underpants and Goosebumps.   My daughter grew up reading the works of Lurlene McDaniel with as much devotion as I had for Judy Blume and Paul Zindel at her age.  My oldest son went through a Rick Riordan phase, followed by James Patterson and others.

In this season of excess, when people are scrambling to buy the next game system or overpriced tablet, it’s easy to forget that books can be some of the greatest gifts to give.   We have Black Friday and Cyber Monday; we have people giving up on holiday meals with their loved ones so they can get a really good price on a new TV.

Why not give a book or two?

Welcome to Read Tuesday, December 9, 2014.  This is a day when authors across all genres reduce their prices or create special deals to encourage Christmas shoppers to do something a little different.  Give a book.  Give someone you love a chance to appreciate the beauty of words on a page.   Give the gift of literacy to someone who might not buy a book for himself.

read

Gift a gift to yourself as well.  On Read Tuesday, find a good deal and buy yourself a book you might not try otherwise.  Try out a new author, a new genre, a new series.  Grow just a little bit.

Let’s name some names in the comments.  What books would you recommend to others?  What books have you always wanted to read but never have?  I’d love to hear from you; maybe I’ll find a new favorite book or author.

Update 12/09/2014:  Practical Sis has given me permission to add the following picture here, just to let the world know that she isn’t always quite so practical.  She is the one on the left, and I have never been so proud.

Practical sis