You Can’t Spell Diorama Without Die

Henry’s homework falls 100 percent under my purview. Monday through Thursday, while Bob “toils” away at “work,” I’m left at home to ensure math worksheets get completed accurately, vocabulary words are spelled correctly and stories are read with appropriate inflection.

This wouldn’t normally be a problem. However, managing the completion of what seems like an alarming amount of homework for a second grader is made monumentally more challenging when you throw a two-year-old and a four-year-old into the mix. Every night, through gritted teeth and barely contained rage, I toil away at the homework checklist with Henry, pausing every thirty seconds to take someone to the potty, throw Goldfish in a bowl, diaper a baby doll, settle a dispute and, ultimately, turn on the television. Because, just… whatever.

You can imagine that if Henry has assignments or special projects that fall over the weekend, I throw them in Bob’s face while yelling, “YOUR TURN!”

It was under these tension-filled circumstances that this past weekend we found ourselves knee-deep in sloths. The assignment: create a diorama of your assigned animal and the habitat where it can typically be found. While the instructions were simple enough, the execution was a nail-biter.

It started with me, of course, trying to micromanage every detail of the project I had decreed as, “not my job this time!” Even though I had turned over full scope and responsibility to Bob, it didn’t prevent me from asking every five minutes, “Have you started the diorama yet?”

“Better get going on that diorama!”

“How’s that diorama coming along?”

“You can bet, I’m not going to help you with that diorama at eight o’clock on Sunday night!”

My pestering only abated when I left the house for a CLEARLY NEEDED late lunch and shopping excursion with friends on Saturday.

Once the project was actually underway, delays set in almost immediately. The assignment detailed the dimensions the diorama should be: the size of a standard shoebox. Seems easy enough, if we had any shoeboxes. It appears I am woefully unprepared for the ramp up in grade school projects because I have nothing in my Elementary Closet Of Garbage That Really Isn’t Garbage. There was nary an empty shoebox, toilet paper roll, egg carton or plastic coffee container to kick around. And, while I briefly considered running to Target to buy new shoes just for the box, we Bob had to think of a work-around.

We eventually found a random gift box that was approximately the right dimensions while having the dual advantage of already being a solid color on the exterior since the project instructions (of which I had vowed to not be a part of) detailed that the diorama must be decorated on the inside AND the outside. Really? Really?

With the habitat structure secured and reinforced, we Bob and Henry moved on to crafting the interior. A Google search gave us the image of the sloth we needed to print while revealing that many, many people on the internet are really into sloths. We also printed jungle background scenes to color, gathered sticks and leaves to further the forest imagery and used so, so much glue. By the time we were finished, the habitat was basically 50 percent glue stick.

The final piece of the diorama puzzle was carefully putting the sloth-on-a-stick in place. The instructions clearly stated that the assigned animal must be prominently displayed. So, when Bob, as official Parent in Charge of the project, proudly approached with the finished habitat (long after Henry had retreated to bed), I was disconcerted that the sloth was tucked so far towards the back of the diorama. I mean, it was still there but I wouldn’t say it was PROMINENT.

I’m a tad ashamed to admit that for a good five minutes, we stood there and debated over the ideal location of the sloth inside the habitat. Bob refused to move it since he explained the sloth was delicately balanced over the fake river dangling from the fake tree JUST LIKE IN REAL LIFE. I was only concerned about following the instructions TO THE LETTER.

Finally, it dawned on me that I was standing in my kitchen, late on a Sunday night (the evening when all the good TV is on), arguing with my husband about the location of a sloth inside a diorama destined for second grade and then the recycling bin. I mean, Henry doesn’t even get real grades yet. The madness needed to stop. I conceded on everything and went to watch The Walking Dead while the glue (so much glue) dried.

If Henry gets anything below an “E” on this assignment, I’m blaming Bob and his sloth-appropriation skills.

This could have looked different.

This could have looked different.

Taking the Long Way

I believe there are two types of people in this world: those that run and those that walk. And, while this could serve as a metaphor for so many, many things in life, in this case, I mean LITERALLY that there are those that run for pleasure and those that walk for pleasure.

I am a walker. I’m married to a runner. When we were dating, I pretended to be a runner. But, that was just a smoke screen as part of The Woo. So, while I’ve done some running in the past, walking has always been more my bag. I just feel I can better enjoy the view at a slower pace.

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When I first started staying home with the boys, Charlie was a baby and Henry was still mostly a toddler. One of my first official acts as a full-time mom was to purchase an obscenely large double stroller – the kind everyone hates. Our urban setting meant walking everywhere was easier than driving anywhere. And, I soon discovered that strolling all over our neighborhood for hours on end offered some of the quietest moments of my day. Two kids buckled into that stroller meant containment and we had regular haunts that became part of our daily routine.

If the weather was cold, I would brew a travel mug of coffee and bundle the boys in blankets and we would stroll to Potomac Yard to watch the massive construction equipment move giant piles of dirt around. I would throw the brake on the stroller and we would take up residence for a bit on the sidewalk overlooking the site. The boys were thrilled to just observe. I was thrilled to drink coffee while it was still hot. The construction workers would almost always wave at us and occasionally, some of the big machine operators would drive over so the boys could get a closer look at their dump trucks and bulldozers.

If the weather was stifling and oppressive, as it often was so close to the river in summer time, we would hop in the stroller, cross a busy Route 1 and explore Target’s toy aisle. Any guilt over fostering consumerism at such a young age was short-lived. Looking at the rows and rows of Legos and Matchbox cars was the perfect way to spend the seemingly endless amount of time between when naps ended and daddy arrived home.

We ran many errands in that stroller and I soon figured out which stores’ threshold could accommodate the width of the stroller and which ones couldn’t. I could pick up prescriptions at the drug store but couldn’t fit through the aisles at the tiny neighborhood grocer. We had to leave the stroller outside at the custard shop but could park it just inside the doorway at the antiques store.

We hit up parks and watched trains, munched on snacks and talked about the weather and wildlife. I got plenty of time to study other people’s homes and watch progress on their renovations in our gentrifying neighborhood. Most of all, our long walks gave me time to regroup, reset and have thoughts that were all my own.

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Our current neighborhood is suburban. It doesn’t have all of the conveniences of our last but it does have a certain charm all its own. The homes are designed in a classic Williamsburg style that I can appreciate and when it was built up, the developer took pains to save as many of the tall pine trees and big oaks as possible. It’s lovely to walk through and there’s something to be said for the nice, wide streets where the double stroller fits without forcing anyone from the road.

All last school year it was Millie’s turn in the stroller. She took Henry’s old spot every morning after he boarded the bus, right next to Charlie. Around the neighborhood we would walk. Searching for red-tailed hawks, hunting for salamanders, studying trees, looking at houses and talking about funny mailboxes.

Charlie grew into a conversationalist so our long strolls involved more talking and less solitude. He wanted to chat with everyone we passed. Ask questions about everything we saw. Pester his sister until any quiet was broken. With Charlie, our walks never offered the respite from all of the background noise that I needed so desperately. Instead, it was mostly me shouting, “Speak up!” to the kid asking things in a whisper from underneath the large canopy of the stroller.

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Now that fall has settled in to stay, my long walks have resumed. For the first time in years though, I’m pushing our single stroller. With Charlie in preschool, it’s just Millie and I now. And Millie, much like her mama, enjoys the view. She sits quietly on our long strolls, content to look and listen and just be.

Our walks afford me the opportunity to sort out the mayhem in my head. The jumble of to-do’s and schedules and grocery lists and must-get-done’s. It’s quiet, reflective time. Time where my thoughts are, once again, all my own. Sometimes, our walks are the best part of my day.

Since Charlie is closing in on five and stays on his feet most everywhere now, we sold the double stroller. It was taking up valuable real estate in our attic. A lovely woman – a runner – came to purchase it a couple of weeks ago. She wheeled it out to her car assuring me that it would get lots and lots of use.

I can’t help but think our stroller days are coming to a close. Where once there was two, now there is only one. Soon, there will be none. My, how my walks will be quiet then.

Serving

The story goes that in the spring of 1978, my future husband, a senior in high school at the time, was a bit aimless. With graduation on the horizon, his mother and younger brother approached a Marine Corps recruiter at a local grocery store and provided him with Bob’s name and their home phone number. The recruiter called and that July, Bob left for boot camp.

I adore this story for many reasons, not the least of which is my mother-in-law’s impressive ability to know exactly how to best help her children.

Bob with his sister, Judy, in the driveway of their home the day he left for boot camp.

Bob with his sister, Judy, in the driveway of their home the day he left for Parris Island, South Carolina.

Running into that Marine Corps recruiter was a fortuitous event. It set Bob on a path of service that he is still on today. His years spent serving in the Marines has led to many, many more years spent in federal service. Although he is modest about his time as a Marine, I am not. I am extremely proud of the work he did as a member of our armed forces and just as proud of the work he continues to do for his country now. We talk about his achievements a fair amount around here as I want our children to understand this part of his legacy.

This photo is captioned, "November 25, 1979, Aboard USS Juneau enroute to Okinawa."

This photo is captioned, “November 25, 1979, Aboard USS Juneau enroute to Okinawa.” Bob assures me that is an L.L. Bean catalogue.

I was only two years old when Bob entered the Marine Corps which is both hilarious and ridiculous and proves that everything kind of equals out in the end. The impact felt the most from his time in the Corps is what we refer to around here as the “Marine Corps Voice.” The Marine Corps Voice is brought out when little ones need to be brought into line, boot camp style. You know someone has gotten themselves into a huge mess of trouble when Bob hollers with the deep, guttural, bellow of the Marine Corps Voice. It is an extremely handy parenting tool.

So, in celebration of the Marine Corps Voice and all the other amazing adventures that have come our way as a result of your time in service, I wish a happy Veterans Day to my favorite veteran!