Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to School

Today was the first day of school. But not for the boys... for me!

The traditional first day of school shot that I do each year for the boys!

After 13 years of being out of college, I went back. But before you get too excited, please note that I'm only taking one class, four units of Japanese. I'll be going three days a week, during the day when the boys are in school. This week I've really been able to empathize with working/single parents who have to find some place to send the kids while they are at work (or school), since my kids are still on Summer Break. 

Today the boys got to hang with my in laws. Wednesday, my husband will stay home from work while I'm in class. Friday, my parents will have them for the weekend. Monday is a holiday, and then they start school on Wednesday when I go back to class as well. Whew! I never take for granted the fact that I get to be home with my kids and can completely work around them. I can do my job at 2:00 am in my pajamas from my home. I don't think I'd want it any other way. When raising kids, each day seems to go on forever, yet the years fly by, and I don't want to miss out on what ends up being an awfully short amount of time.

And yet... I'm very glad to be going back to school, breaking out of my routine and learning something new, even if it's just one class. When we lived in Japan, the company hired me a private tutor who came to our home twice a week to school me in speaking, reading, and writing Japanese. We lived in a suburban area near Tokyo where there were hardly any expats like us. I rarely came into contact with people who spoke English.  For learning a foreign language, this is the way to go. However, that was 8 years ago. I fear I'm letting those valuable language lessons go to waste. And my deepest wish is to move back to Japan at some point. So why not sharpen those rusty skills?

I took the boys with me to the campus last week to pick up my textbooks. Since they are starting a new school and are somewhat nervous about it, I thought I'd share my own nervousness about returning to school after being out for so many years. I was hoping we could have a little heart to heart conversation about fear of change. Instead, Nathan said, "Just be cool on the first day and you'll be the most popular girl in no time." And Benjamin said, "Mom, you're not afraid of anything. Don't start now." I got a lump in my throat at their sincere efforts to bolster my confidence. And I hope I can do the same for them when they start at a brand new school next week!

Friday, August 27, 2010


My husband has been out of the country for work this week. To distract the boys (and me!) from missing their dad, I've been planning lots of little fun things, like days at Disneyland, trips to Toys R Us so they can spend their money, and having lots of friends over. Today my house was filled with boys between ages 7 and 10. They spent most of their time laughing themselves silly by saying the names of various bodily functions and eating everything in my house. I sat in another room with my feet up, reading a book and enjoying the sounds of laughter and frivolity (even if it was borderline disgusting). I had a smile on my face, thinking about how great this life is, even though I'm missing my husband terribly.

 After the friends went home, I took the boys to Trader Joe's to restock the now-empty fridge and pantry. Benjamin had a little Lego mini fig with him, and he was making the little man jump off the shelves and into the cart. It was getting annoying as he'd throw his whole body at the cart with a loud screech to simulate the little man flying through the air, crashing into the cart. I kept asking him to stop, told him to put the mini fig in his pocket, and keep the noise down. Then Nathan started loudly complaining that it was taking too long, which was as grating as a kid chanting, "Are we there yet?" on a long car trip. Honestly, have you ever been to Trader Joe's? It's tiny. Three or four aisles, max. There's no way to take a long time there, which is possible to do at Von's or Ralph's or Food 4 Less with their dozens of aisles. I was getting annoyed at both of them for exhibiting the kind of grocery store behavior that I trained out of them when they were three or four. They'd just had a long, fun day that I'd arranged and now they were getting on my last nerve. How's that for gratitude, I thought. So much for my previous good feeling about my great life.

I went to check out and when I ran my debit card through the machine, the entire machine came right off it's stand. The cashier tried to help me get the card through, but it was chaotic. He handed me my receipt and I stepped away with my cart. But only Nathan stepped away with me. Benjamin was nowhere to be found.

Thinking Ben must be in one of the other checkout stations, I had Nathan walk up and down to look for him. He wasn't there. I had Nathan stand with the cart so I could look up the ends of the aisles, and there was no sign of him. I got a very metallic taste in my mouth and felt my knees buckle. I grabbed the cashier who'd rang me up and said my younger son was missing. He went into action, an employee at the door, an announcement on the P.A., another employee sweeping the aisles. I stared out the front door, looking at several cars backing out of parking spaces, and my vision blurred and my heart pounded as my imagination ran wild, thinking that one of those cars might have my baby in the back, being taken away from me. Just as I started crying, I saw Benjamin's head bobbing down the checkout lane as he skipped up to me. All the employees cheered and said, "we've all been looking for you!"

Benjamin had seen the bathroom in the back of the store, and since it was taking me so long to try and pay for my purchases on the faulty machine, took the opportunity to go use it. Without saying a word to me. This is a tough one. I am forever encouraging my boys to become more independent and self reliant, which is what Ben's excuse was for going by himself to the bathroom. But I still have a lot of work to do on the area of communication. I was shaking for at least an hour, trying to shut off the part of my brain that was imagining the phone call I would have had to make to my husband if things had gone in a much more tragic direction. And the boys and I had a long talk about not assuming someone has heard you unless they acknowledge you in some way (a lesson I'm learning from the fact that my husband is deaf in one ear and doesn't actually hear everything I think he does).

I hate to go back to making them walk next to me with a hand on the cart so I know where they are at all times like I did when they were toddlers and preschoolers. I don't want my actions to be motivated by fear. And it's hard not to live in fear every day, reading the headlines and walking alongside friends who have indeed lost a child through abduction which ended in horrible tragedy. All I know is that I'm grateful for the little boys peacefully asleep in the room behind me, even if they love to laugh at the word "poo" and make fart jokes and annoy me. I don't want to contemplate life without those precious annoyances.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thoughts on Pluto and Size

Four years ago on this very day, a group of 424 astronomers sat down and voted on the definition of a planet.

By the new definition, Pluto didn't make the cut. Goodbye planet Pluto, and any number of mnemonics that helped us all learn the order of the planets when we were in grade school. 

I remember discussing this at the dinner table with my husband. We thought it was hilarious. We made jokes to each other while the kids (then ages 5 and 3) ate dinner. We thought of the poor kids of the future who will never know the ending to "My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine..."  They'll be scratching their heads, wondering just how Excellent a Mother she could possibly be for just trailing off like that, leaving them with nothing!

Much later that night I was peacefully asleep, facing the side of the bed, when I was startled awake. Nathan was standing there staring at me with wide eyes, tears streaming down his face.

I sat up and grabbed him, concerned because Nathan has never been prone to nightmares or wandering about the house in the middle of the night. Or tears for that matter. I asked what was wrong, and he said, "I don't understand how Pluto was a planet yesterday and now it's not a planet today. Who has the right to make that decision? And why would they ever do that? It's not like Pluto ever did anything to them." And then he just sat there and quietly sobbed.

I was absolutely dumbfounded. I mean, a five year old should not be worrying about that, right? Right? I didn't think Nathan even knew what planets were! Shortly after that little middle-of-the-night conversation, we got him a book about astronomy and planets. It was meant for a much older kid, but he devoured it, in the same way he later devoured books on human anatomy, machinery and robots, and perhaps the oddest one to catch his fancy, a National Geographic book about the Titanic, complete with photographs and theories on what went wrong that fateful night. You want a surreal experience? I remember debating with Nathan over different ways they could have saved more people if there had been a slight change to the design. He was six. (Our current topic of debate? Nuclear fission and nuclear power in general. Someone help me!)

Throughout Nathan's childhood he's been treated poorly by people who think he's much older than he is, including yours truly. His height makes people guess his age at up to two years older than he really is. His first week of first grade he was called a liar by the yard duty lady when he did something he shouldn't on the playground and she wrote him up. She said as a third grader he should know better. She didn't believe he was only a first grader and didn't yet know all the rules. And his intelligence and knowledge about a wide range of subjects fool us into thinking he's more mature than he really is. He can talk to the doctor intelligently about blood cells and clotting, and he's always coming up with questions about things I've never even thought about. When Nathan does something ridiculously childish or developmentally age-appropriate,  everyone  comes down on him much harder than anyone ever would to Benjamin, who is blessedly average in size and demeanor.

I hope that when Nathan hits adulthood things will level out a bit as the other kids have a chance to catch up in height. I hope he won't continue to be the subject of scorn and derision for what looks like immature behavior for a kid his size. It's tough. Just like poor Pluto getting kicked off the team for being the wrong size, he just can't help it. Today's anniversary of Pluto's banishment from planethood is a good reminder for me to treat Nathan like the kid he is. One who may be smart, but is a kid all the same.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

July 17th

Sure, we're already a month past July 17th, but I wanted to point out a few things that happened that day.

First, Disneyland turned 55 years old.

Second, this here little Boy Wonder blog turned two years old.

And third, the Chase Family pulled up its roots and moved.

We lived in our old rental house for four years and two months. This beats our previous record from up in the San Francisco Bay Area where we lived for 23 months. In fourteen years of marriage, we've moved twelve times. It was nice to stay put for awhile, but unfortunately, things weren't going so great there. We've had major problems with the house, and when the owner became ill and could no longer manage those problems, she passed the house off to a property management company.

The property management company took a look at the house and fixed only the biggest of the laundry list of problems. Despite months of gently prodding them to come fix the rest of the things, nothing was happening. Well, that's not true. What was happening was I was growing depressed over our house being the 2nd ugliest on the block and growing bitter every month I wrote a very big rent check for a house I was embarrassed to have company in.

One night I clicked onto Craig's List and looked at rentals in the area. One place jumped out at me. I printed the listing and tossed it to my husband. He was interested enough to call and we went over to look at the place. Compared to our old home, the place was like a posh resort. The owners were incredibly friendly and so nice that we ended up chatting with them for a couple of hours instead of the 20 minutes we promised the baby sitter. We thought it over for a few days and then jumped.

Of course, we jumped right when my husband is working six to seven days a week, 18+ hours a day. Which meant that the bulk of the move fell on my shoulders. But it's not like we haven't done this before! I point you toward Exhibit A: we moved to Japan for a year with a newborn on exactly four weeks notice. Or Exhibit B: I managed to get everything packed for our move to Hong Kong with two toddlers underfoot and a husband who was out of the country for the entire month before our move. This should have been a piece of cake, right?

Actually it was a tough move. I did 95% of it in my minivan with the help of teenage friends. The new house is three miles away from the old house. I put 250 miles on the van in five days. You can do the math to see how many trips that represents! I've never been so happy to be done moving in all my life!

We love the new place, we actually gained an extra room which has been turned into my studio/office so I don't have to work and sew in the dining room any more. We did lose a yard. But we gained a ten acre park with a pond which our bedrooms overlook, and we have two good sized patios. We lost our huge garage for a smallish one. But we gained a pool, spa, dry sauna, and clubhouse. We lost the 2nd ugliest house on the block and gained the best landlords we've ever had in twenty years of renting. And, the boys gained a two-story home, which they've been begging for since they discovered that some houses have stairs. And we're gaining better looking buns from going up and down those stairs all day! Can't complain about that!

So there you go. My explanation for why nearly two months have passed with no posts. There will be more soon. We're having lots of adventures and enjoying the new digs. Life is good. Glad you're here to share it with us, even if it's only via the web.

Goodbye, Old House.
(Photo taken after we locked the door for the last time and started to drive away.)

Hello, New View.
(Photo taken just now from my bedroom window, as the sun is starting to set.)

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