Dispatch from the River: Washed Clean (and Not Just the Angry Bird Underpants!)

21 July 2013 SUN VALLEY 043-003

Southcentral Idaho. Peace reigns between the bots. Being in a new place does for Mbot what it does for me: washes out the mind like the rainstorm we drove through just south of the Nevada state line, like the ocean arriving all at once on our windshield, wipers arcing furiously to not quite keep up, white spray from the few passing trucks to the left obliterating the view—I think of the blindness that might occur temporarily if one traveled at lightspeed, or that occurs when I board an airplane to sit encapsulated for an hour or two or nine until deposited in a different geographic location, often thousands of miles from the point of origin, during which time (if one is traveling without bots) one has spent reading a magazine on home style.

On the first day of travel, we debarked at the splash park in Henderson, Nevada the first scheduled stop on our two day, thousand mile venture north, fresh out of the rain storm. The botmobile shined like it was new, the silky navy of the paint gleaming as though you could walk through it into another world.

And so we have.

Here, between the mountains and the prairie, the winds wash down from Galena Summit, thirty miles north, like an invisible river though the valley every morning, cool air seeking low elevations, warming through the day, and then flowing back up into higher climes each evening, cleansing the air ‘til every object takes on a crystalline appearance, sharp edges, unfiltered greens—that never fail to bring back the memory of my first pair of glasses, set on the bridge of my nose at the age of eight. How my environment snapped into focus–I could almost count the serrated green alder leaves and suddenly the towering blue spruces became communities of individual needles, where before the trees had loomed, undifferentiated from one another. Synapses that had lay dormant for perhaps years, fired the news: Vision! Vision! Vision!

And so it is, here: vision.

For as long as I can remember–ever since my family drove away from our house on the hill in New Hampshire and set off across the country in a VW squareback toward Alaska–travel has been as much about marveling at the wonders of a world that isn’t mine as much as turning to marvel from a distance at the wonders of the world that is. And then marveling at the marveling.

I sense the same neural dynamic in Mbot, for whom every Magna-Tile has taken on a new attraction in this place–as though the Magna-Tiles, and not the place, were new. Marvelously, his brother, too, seems to have acquired a certain sparkle (in Mbot’s eyes) in this high mountain air, and the bickering has dwindled to token poking, pestering and name-calling.

Gbot benefits from the attentions of Pam.

Gbot benefits from the attentions of the wonderful and talented Pam.  You, too, could be this cute if you came to Idaho. Pam could help. Although if you come here, visit Pam, and find you are NOT this cute, do not blame Pam.

This mental re-setting is a real thing, and I know enough now to recognize that it will always be an important part of how Mbot interacts with his surroundings. He and I will have to get out of town on a regular basis, to recalibrate our focus on not only our external environments far and near, but our internal landscapes.

Husbot, who has stayed in Arizona to take care of pets and business, isn’t wired this way. Gbot, too, is less influenced by his environment than by the internal Contentment Bug he’s hosted since birth. He’s truly the captain of his own ship, never mind the water and wind, and I’d trust him to get from here to there in any weather. Mbot and I are at the helms of our ships, too, but we’re buffeted by both the water and the wind, and we’re very busy looking at the view and wondering if we might go there and if we do, what here will look like once we’re there. It will not be easy for anyone in our regatta. But the journey will wash us clean, outside and in.

Mbot steers the HMS  "Huggie Mommy." I did not name her.

Mbot steers the HMS “Huggie Mommy.” I did not name her.

An Argument for Sweaters for Trees, Cheerio Bombs, and Brief Prison Sentences

Weebots ‘n’ Knit bombs

Although I’d heard of knit-bombing, I’d never seen it in person until we came across an exquisite example of the practice in downtown Ketchum. Although this might be crochet. The bots were taken by it. It’s a kind of graffiti–adding “wearable art” to public spaces or objects. And maybe because it’s literally soft and fuzzy, it gives a soft and fuzzy message. If John Lennon were alive today, he certainly would pick up knitting needles between sets.

he tank-cozy: An antiwar statement that’s aware of breast cancer, too.  (noeudnoir.blogspot.com)

My friend Solveing, who lives in Colorado and is a mean knitter, first introduced me to knit-bombing, also known as yarn-bombing and sweater-bombing. It is her fantasy to knit bomb the giant devil horse statue near Denver International Airport, although she hasn’t yet purchased the eighteen thousand yards of yarn it would take to realize her vision.

Surely a sweater would make this less ugly. (hickenpooper.com)

I thought it was a splendid idea, but she pointed out that the hideous thing is on Federal property, and she just wasn’t sure a Federal prison offered an environment in which she would thrive, what with no knitting needles allowed (I’m guessing?) and that sort of thing.

Back here in Idaho, yesterday morning, Gbot Cheerio-bombed his placemat. It was the first time he’d actually dumped a whole bowl of cereal, organic milk and all, upside down in a fit of anger about being too big a boy for a booster seat. He is two.

He got a time-out, without his bear, during which he bawled and bawled. This is not normal Gbot behavior. A time-out usually presents him with an opportunity to look at me sideways with a mischievous grin while trying to escape a disciplinary act he does not believe in. Yesterday he just sat and wailed out his argument. He knew he needed the booster seat–when I had removed it, before the bomb, in an attempt to let him make up his own mind about whether he was, in fact, too big a boy, he cried about being too low to eat his cereal.

It was clear that he just needed a reason to cry. He’d been fuss-free since arriving at Nanny and Poppy’s three days before, and the equanimity had obviously taken its toll. He needed to wail for a while. So I let him. And after about fifteen minutes of sadness, he climbed up into his booster seat and ate a new bowl of Cheerios.

One mom’s ingenius (if messy) way to turn that frown upside down: douse the O’s in glue instead of milk. (prairiedaze.com)

The Cheerio bomb made a little more work for me and Nanny, but the payoff–a happy Gbot with a full tummy who’d let off steam–was well worth it.

With that in mind, I think we should all pester Solveig to complete her mission of knit-bombing the Evil Equus. We’d all feel so much better afterward, and it would mean just a little bit of unpleasantness for her. I’m sure she would receive enough chocolate from fans while doing time to make up for the narrow cot, bad food, and really unfashionable outfit. Who’s with me?

Mother Finds Something Resembling the “V” Word in South-Central Idaho

Take me home, country road.

We took the Strider bikes around the block our first evening here. The block in Idaho looks a little different than the one back home.

In the haste of coming off the conference and packing for an unfamiliar airline, which meant packing differently–only one big suitcase and three small carry-ons, I forgot my good camera. Which is a shame, because the bots are finally big and independent and trustworthy enough to give me small moments to fool around with stuff, both technical and non, without destroying the order of the universe.

“What’s the weather like up there, Cap’n Mbot?”

There is a pirate ship in the back yard.

“What else do birds like in their nests, Mom?”

There are ingredients to build birds’ nests. We came back from a walk down the dry creekbed with pockets stuffed with the wormlike tips of cottonwood branches, coin-sized river rocks smooth as gumballs, yellow-gold leaves, grasses, and even a few oriole feathers. After drawing directions for how to do it, Mbot carefully built a nest on the porch railing. He put a few pretzels in as bait. We check them periodically.

Bushwacking to the bewildered* garden (*a garden that’s nearly taken over by wilderness.)

The weather is perfect: frosty or close to it at night, mid-sixties at midday. Aspen leaves shiver in the chilly breeze and the light glows golden under the tall, tangled cottonwoods. We have practically lived out of doors since arriving. Out of doors in the Wood River Valley is my favorite place to be. It is apparently Mbot’s new favorite place, too. After our long creekbed excursion, while Nanny was preparing lunch, Mbot asked her, “Where will you move after this?”

“We won’t move,” replied Nanny. “We like it here.”

“But when you die you’ll move,” Mbot pointed out.

“That’s true,” said Nanny. “We’ll move to Heaven, I suppose.”

“Mom,” said Mbot, turning to me, “Can we move to this house after Nanny dies?”

I explained that we were lucky that Nanny wouldn’t die for a long, LONG time. And then we agreed it was much more fun being here while Nanny is alive.

And then we ate lunch, and went back outside to play–the bots chasing each other around the towering lilac bush, climbing the rigging of the yard swing pirate ship together, swinging in the hammock together, and discovering the bewildered garden together. It’s as though someone waved a cottonwood wand with a crisp tawny leaf at its tip and pronounced us the family of peaceful playing and quiet cooperation.

This has begun to acquire the feel of a vacation.

It’s That Time Again….

My wine key broke the other night–good thing I own a tool box. It doesn’t exactly relate to my post, except that innovative problem solving is always a must when traveling with bots. And wine, afterward.

…time to get on an airplane with bots.

Yesterday I attended an all-day conference an hour away put on by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Tomorrow at 3:55 a.m., the bots and I leave for the airport to fly to Idaho. In between, we have to run a thousand errands and pack three small carry-ons and one medium suitcase to bring on Allegiant Air, whose low fares (the airline is affiliated with casinos) are less ridiculous only than the hoops they make you and your baggage jump through to get onboard. Fares do not include a seat or any luggage beyond a single “personal item” no bigger than 7″x15″x16″. I am betting on the fact that since the occupants of two seats have dimensions of approximately 40″ x 10″ x 7″, the staff will not charge for two very large stuffed bears.

Once I selected my flights online (a choice of flying either Monday or Friday), then I was sent to a seating chart, where each seat was assigned a different price. Not an extra price if I wanted a choice berth, just a price for sitting down. And they don’t allow you to stand up the whole time, although the bots would probably prefer that option.

My question: Can they factor in where the guy with the body-odor problem who jiggles his knee like he’s got a potty problem, chews gum with his mouth open, and sniffles every thirty seconds is seated? Shouldn’t you get a rebate for occupying the seat next to him? Fortunately, my seat companions are not the devils that I don’t know, but the devils that I do. It’s a nonstop flight, and we’ll be at Nanny and Poppy’s by noon, so I am trying to focus on that.

More on the very informative conference once we are on our way. Wish us luck.

Yesterday’s Mystery Post, Take Two

Sorry it’s so dark. But it IS a cave. Mbot is modeling the giant bat ears that demonstrate how well bats can hear. So here he is hearing the story of the unlucky sloth, told over and over again, really really loudly.

For those of you who read yesterday’s cryptic post before I discovered that most of it was missing, I apologize. Now, in today’s few bot-free minutes, I will try to recreate it:

11,000 years ago, a sloth fell through a crack. It fell into a cave. It couldn’t get out. It died in the cave.

The kind docent in the Shasta Ground Sloth cave at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum told us this story on Sunday when we were admiring the fossilized skeleton and the ancient sloth poop that I managed to not delete in yesterday’s post.

The bots listened with great concern and then baraged the docent with questions. “Why did he fall through the crack?” (I was going to answer, ‘because it didn’t come when it’s mother called it’ but she beat me with ‘Sloths don’t have very big brains.’) “Why could he not get out?” (There was no door.) “Why did he die?” (Because he couldn’t get out of the cave.) While Mbot tried on a giant pair of bat ears which magnified all the cave sounds, Gbot stood rooted in place beside the docent, craning his neck upward to look at her and repeating the questions. Perhaps hoping for different, better answers. But the answers didn’t change.

On the way home, he retold the story many times.

Gbot: “The three-tailed ground sloth fell through the crack. He fell into the cave. He couldn’t get out and” (voice lowering sadly) “he died in the cave.”

Over the next few days, the story was told over and over again. To Daddy, to Aunt Susan, to Grandma, to Nanny over the phone, to Miss Mary the music teacher. It was obviously sad and disturbing. How was I to know it was going to turn into a story of rescue and redemption?

On Wednesday, from the backseat, Gbot told the story again. “But Mama,” he said, “we could use Bob the Builder’s tools!”

“You’re right!” I exclaimed. “A jackhammer can cut through concrete and rock.”

Gbot: “Yeah, and we could make a door and he would say, ‘What a wonderful door you made, Mama and Gbot,’ and he would go through the door in the cave and he would go home to his mommy. And we would go home and talk about how the sloth fell into the cave and got out the door. And the sloth would say, ‘Thank you for making my door in the cave.'”

I praised his creative solution to the sloth’s big problem. Now, perhaps, we could stop hearing about the sloth in the cave. Although it was awfully cute.

But of course, as all answers do, this one led to another question. After a brief pause from the back seat, Gbot asked, concern edging his voice again,

“What if we were sloths, Mama?”

“We would be careful sloths, Spice Bear,” I said. “And we would always carry jackhammers, just in case.”

More about the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum later this week. There were many moments to savor. Today’s recommendation, which would have been yesterday’s recommendation if my post hadn’t fallen through a crack, is: Go there!

 

Unlucky Sloth’s Lucky Day

Ancient sloth poop at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

“But why could it not get out?” they asked, again, several times, with great concern.

“There was no door,” she replied.

* * *

I guess I should have named this post “Lucky Betsy’s Unlucky Day,” because when I came to see that the post had been published, it had, minus 99% of the story. The only thing that remained were the two lines above, from somewhere in the middle of the post. I have no idea how this happened. Nearly my entire text fell into oblivion, just like the giant sloth did 11,000 years ago. I’d stolen time to write about it while my niece watche  the bots, and now she’s gone, and so it will have to wait for a moment when the bots are trying to spread yogurt all over themselves or open up the new apple juice container or tip over my coffee by themselves. Oh well. The sloth waited 11,000 years to be discovered by us; I guess it can wait another day. Sometimes I believe that motherhood and blogging are about as compatible as a ground sloth and an underground cave.

Airplane Tip #28: Traveling With “Help” May Not Be Helpful

If only I could just carry on the whole rental couch, traveling would be SO much easier.

…Unless the help is hired, in which case they should fear being fired and so will respond favorably to a dirty look thrown at them with the force of a grenade. Help in the form of relatives, however, especially older adult relatives, cannot be fired.

I gleaned this tip, which I’m only guessing is #28, on Friday, traveling home from the beach, with Grandma, Uncle Marty, and Uncle Sammy.

When you’ve got a 30-month-old and a 48-month-old, no one travels quite like you. I did not realize this until we stood twelfth, thirtheenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth in the security line at John Wayne International Airport. “It will be so much easier for you, flying with us,” Grandma said.

Now, unless “easier” has been redefined to mean “more stressful and irritating,” she was wrong.

Imagine that I use the word “stood” is the loosest of terms, at least in relation to the bots. They were weaving in and out between legs and wheelie carry-ons and spontaneously squatting to snuggle with bears who were strapped to their wheelie carry-ons. I manage these behaviors. I do not restrict them. Do I like my children collecting cooties on the airport floor? No. Do I like that it takes several seconds to corral the bots for a three-foot move forward? No. That they don’t stand still? No. But you makes makes your choices and you takes your chance and this–accomanied by bots–is how I choose to travel. And it always works. We have not contracted any major life-threatening contagions. We have never missed a flight. We have never been the subjects of a lawsuit or been to jail.

On Friday, I was never so aware of our unique way of traveling, pointed out to me by the three adults who felt it necessary to “help” us.

I appreciate a little help from strangers–someone who pushes my fifth bin along the x-ray belt when my hands are otherwise occupied. Or who makes the bots laugh, and therefore stand still, for twenty seconds while I am shoving our boarding passes back into my bra. But I do not need or appreciate others dictating the speed at which we travel or the directness with which we move from Point A to Point B. I say, get a job with the TSA if you want to do that.

But I also realized how strange our travel has become. I realized, standing in the Starbucks line with a fidgeting Mbot and not minding it at all, that the bots and I have become our own little solar system, two little planets revolving at varying speeds and in erratic orbits (that sometimes intersect) around a sun, with one fluffy, oversized moon orbiting each planet and various interplanetay detritus present, asteroids and meteorites in various shapes and form that wreak their own havoc. It is a young solar system, alive with eruptions and quakes–although the sun is gaining mass as it passes through middle age. The whole shebang migrates on an unpredictable course through space, and woe be unto the force that tries to alter that course or the speed at which it progresses.

I realize that we have evolved this way without my realizing it. The universe is expanding, and the space between us and the single, childless travelers and parents who do not fly with their small children–is widening.

Now if I could only stop the expansion of that solar system’s sun….

The Beach, #2: The Nitty Gritty

Surf’s up, sand’s up. Noses and butts, that is.

One thing I enjoy most about reading blogs is being reminded of how many different ways there are of doing things, or feeling things, or thinking about things. It’s like walking down Broadway in New York City–seeing all those people who are all those colors and shapes and wearing all those different styles of clothes and shoes and hair. For me, it’s enormously liberating and each time I do it I feel more comfortable in my own skin.

But it’s easy to forget.

I didn’t think twice about the fact that, when I returned home, I shook a tide’s worth of sand from every shirt, pair of shorts, and set of underpants. I thought nothing of burying my snout in each garment before dropping it into Lake Dreft (well, not the underpants). I grew up vacationing near the north shore of Massachusetts and on the leeward beaches of Maui, and if I could turn that keen sea smell into a room freshener, I’d do a brisk business selling it to myself.

I will be digging sand out of ears for weeks. I do not mind. I see the bots’ faces and wonder why exactly it looks like they’ve been at the beach; they live in Arizona, for god’s sake–what’s the difference in the appearance of that tan and the one you get on the shore, even when you’re not trying for a tan, even when you’re slathered with a healthy dose of UVA/UVB spf 50 sunscreen? I actually put some thought into it last week and realized that it’s due to two factors.

One: the ocean. There’s a reflective glare off the water that sends the sun to the upper inner parts of the cheeks, on either side of your nose, and up under the bridge of my sunglasses. It gets your whole face. Two: we’re exposed this way, from multiple angles, from hours at a time. If we were at home in the desert, we wouldn’t be out in the sun for hours at a time. I will always associate that kind of tan not with melanomas, hyperpigmentation, and the premature onset of looking like a dried apple doll, but with health and laughter. I will always associate a trace of sand in the bathtub with a happy day.

The day after returning home, after I had done the laundry and thrown away the Q-tips, I had a chance to not quite catch up on a few blogs, and was amused by Deni Lyn’s report of her beach vacation, (Diary of a Relectant Mother) in a rental house, with a baby and relatives. I was ridiculously surprised to discover that a surpreme aversion to rental carpet (and the fact that the vacation was actually more work than real life, as any mother who travels with her work I mean children will tell you), (oh, and a genuine liking for our relative-in-laws), was about the only thing we share, as far as opinions of the beach go.

Lyn got supremely peeved at her husband for even taking their weebot onto the sand and dipping him in the waves. “Filthy” is the word she used to describe sand. It’s true that her bot is much younger than mine, and there was a nice clean shady pool nearby, and she pointed out that her bot has years ahead of him to wallow about on the beach. But I couldn’t help but think that mine were rolling around in such filth at eighteen months (and I grieved that it wasn’t earlier)–granted, wearing a rash guard, long shorts, a hat, and enough sunscreen to fill a hollowed-out pineapple.

I don’t care for the crunch of sand between my teeth. But all this time I’ve thought of the ocean as one of the great natural cleansing substances, unless you’re taking a dip off the shore of Tijuana, under the Brooklyn Bridge, or around a BP drill site. I will never begrudge another mother’s pleas for ease and a nonsunburnt bot. And I love Lyn’s writing, and I’d love to share a bottle of wine with her, and I love how different her point of view is. But as for me, I’ll take the surf with my turf, cuz I yam what I yam.

The Beach, #1: The Carrot Suit is Dead. Long Live the Carrot Suit!

Back in the days when he was a pliable twenty-month-old pawn to my fashion sense.

We just arrived home from three days at the beach with Grandma, Uncle Marty, and Aunt Alicia’s small tribe of nearly-grownups. I’d assumed I would toss together a few sun-kissed pictures for the blog, but on Day #1, all three USB ports on the netbook failed in an unspectacular but effective way. So I figured I’d be able to throw together a few salty words. But on Days #1, #2, and #3, naptime failed in a really spectacular fashion, and crashed that hope like a surfer whose luck just ran out.

I was also unable to crank up the Cuteness Factor as high as I’d planned, due to opinions like,after Gbot’s dramatic pronouncement, “BRRR! I’m COOLLLD,” accompanied by theatrical hugging of self and shivering: “NOOOO! I don’t want to wear my bear suit! I don’t want to be a bear!”

But I continued to snap it on Gbot’s wiggling body–it fit perfectly this year, and it was so warm and snuggly and CUTE.

Me: “Okay, Bug–it’s not a bear suit. It’s a carrot suit!” (It’s all I could think of. We’d been romping on the beach since daybreak. Naptime was two hours past due.)

“A carrot suit? I don’t want to wear my carrot suit!”

Followed by much pushing of hood and wrenching of snaps and flailing of arms.

The carrot suit, barely worn, is dead. Fortunately, I have a friend who is due in September. A boy.

Long live the carrot suit.

 

Texting at the Wheel is Nothing Compared to This

image from livingthetravelchannel.wordpress.com

On this, the fifth day of my mother’s visit, she awoke from a dream about her grandchildren. Now, Nanny is known for her vivid and amusing dreams (see Passengers in Zone 4, Please Board While Doing the Charleston) which take reality and give them a Coen brother’s twist. So this morning, after five days of nonstop bots–swimming, Stomach Center, more swimming, library craft hour, watching the bots while their mother went to traffic court (er…more on that later), water fights at Grandma’s, trying (in vain) to get my camera to work again after Mbot’s last photo shoot (it was ancient, it was time for it to die), etc., etc.–she told me the dream she’d had moments before waking.

She was driving, in a car on an interstate. The interstate was deserted except for a lone police car cruising in the opposite direction. Gbot was sitting on her lap.

Steering.

Suddenly a tollbooth appeared up ahead, resenting the imminent need to drive straight and decelerate. She decided it was time to take control. She awoke from the dream as she was trying, in vain, to pry his plump wee fingers from the wheel.

That pretty much sums up our week. We’ve taken the scenic route, but the bots have sped right by all the rest stops.

And now we’re off to the dinosaur museum. I’m going to drive. At least literally. Figuratively, I think we all know who’s at the wheel.