Snakes, Sweet Potatoes, and Stethoscopes

Dear Family,

This week I harvested my bumper crop of sweet potatoes, from 24 plants which all had to be dug on Monday because of the frost.

It was a bitter, misty day, and I went down to the garden with two boys and low expectations. Then suddenly I discovered how incredibly cool it is to turn over a careful pitchfork of dirt, and find seven orange tubers lying comfortably in the soil.

At the same time, Ben discovered that centipedes get unearthed with every turn of the pitchfork. So he settled in for a long haul, hovering directly in front of me as I dug so that he could nab the critters and put them in his yogurt container. The conversation went something like this:

Jem: Whoa! BIG worm!

Me: Wow--that is large. [A few minutes later:] Whoa!

Ben: What!? What?! A centipede?!

Me: No--look at that ENORMOUS potato.

Ben. Oh. SWEET potato. [A few minutes later:] Whoa!

Me: What?! A sweet potato?

Ben: No--look at this ENORMOUS centipede! Now I've got 19!

Me: That's a lot. ...Gosh, this is going to take a long time, to get all these potatoes out.

Ben: SWEET potatoes. But that's good! If it takes a long time, then I'll get a lot of centipedes.

Jem: Millypeed. BIG worm!

Ben: That's NOT a worm, Jem, it's a slug.

Jem: Ohhh. BIG Lug.

Me: WOW!

Ben: What!? What?! A centipede?!


Grand total sweet potatoes harvested: a wagon load (must be 60 pounds or so). Grand total centipedes caught (and released): 39.


Ben and Jem do this thing lately where they argue and tease one another until I'm so distracted and annoyed that I want to bop them over the head. Then Jem WILL bop Ben on the head, and I'll lose it.

"Jem, you come over here right now, and STAY AWAY from your brother!!" Cries of sadness over this unjust punishment, from Jem.

And then Ben, of all people, looks at me rebukingly. "He just wants to look at this book with me. Right, Jem?" Jem nods, climbs onto the couch next to Ben, and they proceed to play with brotherly love and tenderness for at least several minutes, leaving me slightly unsure about the role of an effective parent.


My friend was telling me about this writing exercise she did with her class, where they wrote about what would happen on their "Most Happiest Day". The best part, my friend said, is that she realized that her own days pretty much contain almost all the happy things she wants in life.

I thought that was great, and I found that if I did the exercise in my own head, I had the same results. What a great life I have! I've been cultivating a Zen Mama outlook, of a person who enjoys and appreciates her children for who they are, not what they do, and who will thus have excellent and lovely memories of the days of their youth.

Except I took a break from that on Monday night. That was when Ben decided to start whining like a mad man, after I'd cooked a delectable, five-course dinner. He assured us all, in loud, high-pitched tones, that there was nothing he could possibly eat in this entire house. Except, maybe, an avocado. But then, he whined additionally, while shoving the avocado in our direction: he couldn't possibly spread the avocado on a rice cake by himself.

I took a quick survey of my emotions, as I looked at my rapidly cooling food, and I WAS PISSED.

"I AM NOT YOUR SERVANT!" I yelled, for the zillionth time in Ben's lifetime. And when he kept whining, I totally lost it.

I grabbed the avocado (and unfortunately, Ben's hand, which wouldn't let go of the avocado, which in retrospect was not a kind thing to do and for which I later apologized). And while loudly articulating exactly how Ben should go find a new mother if he wanted one who would be his personal slave, I took aim...

From experience, I can now assure you that avocados, when thrown at the bookcase, provide satisfying anger relief and explode just enough to provide catharsis while not wasting much of the edible portion of the fruit.


Ben has drawn approximately 150 sketches of snakes in the past week. The snake in a tree (they hang, in an upside-down U, over large branches) especially crack me up.

He thinks about snakes for easily 50% of his waking hours.

There aren't as many snakes to find, now that it's freezing outside, but today our neighbor discovered one in his garden and brought it over. Ben ran outside barefoot in his pajamas and spent an hour inspecting it.

Even asleep in the middle of the other night, he was still thinking about snakes. Around three a.m. or so, he said something like: "...I saw two snakes...but the other one was there already..."


Ben, holding up a picture he's just drawn of a lopsided creature with a long tongue: "It's half-snake, half-cow, and half-dog!"


In the woods, Ben gifts me with his deepest confidence. He's sure that I'm omnipotent, at least when it comes to moving large stones and branches in order for him to see what critters live underneath.

"Move this one!" he ordered on Tuesday.

"Ben, are you crazy?" I ask him, looking at the 79-foot-long pine tree, complete with branches and unearthed root system, toward which he's pointing.

"Just TRY!" says Ben. "You might be able to!"

"No way," I say.

Luckily, Ben was not put off for more than a moment. He quickly found an enormous boulder for me to turn over. "Wait a sec," I said. "This is another one that's super heavy!"

Nothing like a nearly-six-year-old to instill a mother with the spirit of competition. "Papa can do it," he assured me. "Just try it! You definitely can..." He pauses for a moment. And then, "...ANDREA [our new neighbor] could even turn it over!"

I turned over the freaking rock.


At our CSA pickup

Ben: Mama! Jem wants me to go play in the sandbox with him, but I don't want to.

Jem: Sandy Bock!

Me: Okay, well then don't play in the sandbox.

Jem: Sandy Bock!

Ben: I'm NOT, Jem! I don't want to. Mama, Jem wants me to!"

Me: Okay, then don't play in the sandbox. He can go without you.

Jem: Sandy Bock!

Ben: I don't want to play in the sandbox!

Me. OKAY! Don't go play in the...

Ben: I want to play in the sandbox! MAMA! I'm going to the sandbox!

Ben is one of the least self-conscious people I have ever met.


We go by the every-three-weeks-if-you-need-it-or-not rule when it comes to washing the boys' hair. This past Friday was the day, and I'm surprised that you couldn't hear Jem in NJ, because he did NOT think that it was a good day for a "sampoo."


About Jem

When Jem hurts himself, he gets these incredibly big eyes, that literally well with tears, and he asks you to "pet" the spot that hurts.

Jem is having a hard time with the transition of seasons. He _really_ doesn't like his jacket, and he really _really_ doesn't like his mittens. I tried to do the whole Let Him Learn From Experience thing, but that produced a freezing, crying child with red, raw hands who didn't want to wear his mittens. Sometimes I really wonder about how humans have become to the dominant species we often appear to be.

Jem calls bananas "namen"s, and so if it's a banana of Ben's, it's a "Benamen."

Jem is learning to count. So far he can get up to, "One, Three, Two!"

When Jem eats arugula salad made with greens I've grown, the cockles of my heart are warmed more than I can possibly say.

Jem now naps at noon, give or take very few minutes. I really like routines. I hope this one lasts a few more weeks, at least.

The other day, Jem was trying to push his way underneath several bicycles to reach some toy. "I can hand it to you," I said. "What are you trying to get, Jem?" "Through!" he answered, which I think is actually grammatical except that his personal pronunciation was "Froo."


Jem's syntax is something that perhaps some of my more scholarly siblings could analyze helpfully:

"Fly bird tree." (The bird is flying to the tree.)
"Hommy eat Jem." (Jem wants to eat hummus.)
"Come Ben Mama." (Ben and Mama should come.)
"More come car road." (Jem wants more cars to come down the road.)
"Jem run road." (Jem wants to run in the road.)
"More road nuts!" (There are more hickory nuts lying in the road.)
"Up sky airplane!"
"Up panty leg spider." (A spider is crawling up mama's PANTS.)
"No eat Jem spider!" (Jem doesn't want the spider to bite Jem.)
"Puppy donk Jem!" (The puppy knocked Jem down.)


The Terry A. Matilsky Honorary Carport has been gifted to us as of this week. Our bikes have an official new home, out of the weather, and photos of our new storage unit will be forthcoming.

We are truly appreciative. :)


How to know when you have a bad zit storm:

You two-year-old points to the pimple that is erupting prominently between your eyebrows, and says with concern, "Ow!"


Partly against my better judgement, I took Jem in for his two-year "Well Child" visit with the pediatrician last week. We have a lovely doctor, who is very sweet, but the point of these visits is mostly so that we can sustain the good graces of the medical practice, which is currently not accepting any new patients.

Because the whole idea that these visits being important so that children develop a "relationship" with a care provider...well, when was the last time that a two-year-old you knew developed much of _anything_ with a person he sees once per year?

Jem walked into that office with no pretenses. He did NOT want to step on the scale (even though it had streamers), he did NOT want his head to be measured with a tape measure, he did NOT want a stethoscope against his chest, and finally--this was at the end of the appointment--he absolutely positively DEFINITELY didn't want anyone to look in his ear with a tiny bitty light on the end of a scope.

Well. I could see it from both sides, but in the end, I nixed the earscope attempts because it just wasn't worth it. (Knock on wood, pooh pooh pooh) Jem is currently quite healthy, has never had an ear infection, and...well, I didn't need a medical exam to tell me this.

We did do a lead test (his levels are "fine"), which was even less of a hit with the audience, but at least this procedure felt somewhat justified, despite the temporary pain involved.

Mostly, the whole thing just stressed out our morning.

I've decided that the reason for these Well Kid visits is actually so that _I_ can develop a relationship with our doctor, and so I can have ongoing practice in being an advocate for my child in a relatively low-stress medical environment.

I'll get to practice again in a few short months.


We went to a corn maze today! It was lots of fun, except that Jem took his job seriously, in that he kept taking off around a corner at top speed, and we lost him a couple of times for a few brief moments.

And this was after Jem's and my epic morning, where he walked at least two miles. We were out for 2.5 hours, which is a lot longer than it would take me to walk the same distance, but I'm keeping my eyes on he future when my son will be pacing me...

I really hope he sleeps well tonight.


Goodnight, everyone! If you made it this far, you get an award. And you also must like our kids, because these days, it's all about them...