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					Dear Friends and Family: As 2003 draws to a close, Michael is pushing 4, showing signs of pending potty independence and making nice long 10-word sentences, unless you ask him a question in which case he feigns muteness. Jessica just turned 9 and fancies herself 13. She asked for a cell phone for her birthday. (No, we didn’t get er one.) Duncan is 10, and pushing the edges of pre-adolescence. His face is still cherubic, but his sense of humor is edgier and he can now do some real work like dog-walking and grocery-carrying. He is also experimenting with real teenaged brooding. Peter is 44 and fancies himself 11. He sometimes gets in real live fights with the kids over whether it’s his turn to play “Back Yard Football” on the computer. And you just can’t take him to a toy store. I turned 40 this year. On my birthday my joints started aching and I started saving for a face lift. So, did you notice I mentioned dog-walking back there? It may have been a little jarring since we have always been devout cat owners. In February the last of our cats, Chintz, died of what appeared to be a heart attack. Security being an ever pressing concern, we decided to invest in a vicious guard dog. Our home is now protected by Henri, the Bichon Frise. The puppy training book we are reading suggests many ways to establish dominance over your puppy so they won’t grow up thinking they are in charge. For instance, if we look Henri in the eyes, we are supposed to let him look away first or else he will think he is the Alpha puffy-fluff-ball. Actually, Bichon Frise means Curly Lap Dog, and he really is a submissive, cuddly, cheerful 6-pound extrovert of a puppy. Our vet said that Henri has an under bite. We consulted the American Kennel Club breed standard which indicated that an under bite is a serious defect that must be “severely penalized.” After several discussions about how to penalize him, we have decided to lock him in the kitchen until he learns his lesson. It appears that his ears may also be set too high. They are supposed to flop down, but they are almost always turned inside out and standing on top of his head. Duncan thinks that Henri flips them on purpose in order to look like a West Highland Terrier. Whatever the reason, he’s not going to be a show dog. Our home has been changed greatly by the addition of Henri. We now have an array of new things to argue about. Who has to walk Henri? Who gets to walk Henri? If she’s going, I’m not. How come she gets to go without me? I get to hold the leash! Why do I always have to hold the leash? But you got to carry him up the stairs last time! I get to pick up the poop in the plastic bag! Nuh-uh! You did it last time! Honey, Henri peed, come clean it up. Dear, I have cleaned up twice as much pee as you. Nuh-uh! But let’s talk about baseball. Baseball is still Duncan’s thing. Little League was good to him this past year as he had a supportive coach and got to play catcher most of the time, which is his favorite position because other kids heave hard balls right at you as fast as they can, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can get hit in the forearm or the shin and get a nasty bruise that takes weeks to go away. When you spend hours squatting in cleats you can also get tendonitis which makes you limp. He was so excited to make the North Central All Stars team. The All Stars practiced every day for weeks and Duncan was in HEAVEN. He only broke one window this year. The other windows were broken by the housepainters and some unknown force of nature. So far he hasn’t broken any of the neighbor’s windows and we’re thankful for that. Last Winter, during the off season Duncan turned his hand to writing literature. He figured out how to type and sat himself at the keyboard until he completed “The Eyelash Story” about an orphan boy who makes a wish on a loose eyelash. After many adventures the wish comes true. We all eagerly await his next work of art, but our young author says he is suffering from writer’s block. I know how that can be. I’ve been working on this letter since Thanksgiving and it keeps getting worse. I am paralyzed because I can’t use cute things the kids did as material any more because they can read. But then, bragging is just plain unattractive.

Resisting the urge to brag on my kid, I will simply state that Duncan has occupied himself with writing, learning Clarinet, reading books, playing soccer, baseball and chess, and perfecting our secret family salad dressing recipe. We’re pretty proud. Last year we wrote about Michael’s nasty run in with an everlasting gob-stopper. Fortunately it was not everlasting and eventually dissolved and went down after we made a $500.00 visit to the emergency room. Not long after Michael began complaining that his nose hurt. You may be aware that Michael isn’t much of a talker, so imagine our joy when he could put together a whole sentence: “My nose hurts me.” That’s four words! We figured he said it frequently simply because he could. One day Peter thought that there might actually be something inside of Michael’s nose, and took him to the Doctor’s office. Our fabulous pediatrician was unavailable. But the doctor we saw assured us that a little Neosporin would take care of Michael’s nasal irritation. A month later when Michael was still complaining Peter took him in again. With four adults holding Michael down the doctor was able to extract from his nose what turned out to be a yellow eraser from a Taco Time children’s meal. In April we began Speech Therapy and it has helped to get him talking. Unfortunately, one of his favorite new utterances turns out to be, “Shut Up!” In one particularly embarrassing public moment he expanded that thought to, “Shut the Hell Up!” We give him time-out when he says it, and now he will simply yell, “Shut Up!” and then say, “I’m going to take a time out in my chair.” I know you are all thinking that he got his potty mouth from his horrible mother. I can say very little in my own defense except that I think it was probably Jessica. OK, one more cute thing that Michael said and then I’ll stop. Peter and I saw a commercial for some show where George H.W. Bush and Barbara were going to speak out about how poorly their son has been treated by the media. Over dinner I said, “I can’t wait to hear what the Bushes have to say about their son.” About two minutes later, Michael asked, “The trees talk to you, Mommy?” Our middle child, Jessie, will give almost anything a go, which is good for now. We can imagine how this will become problematic in middle school. This year she tried softball, and while she had no particular love of the sport, she seemed to have a great time sitting in the dugout with her friends spitting sunflower seeds. She also likes soccer, working with clay, painting, Brownies, and helping people. Jessie has a natural gift for healing and seeing the future, which is most certainly inherited from Peter’s side of the family. She can make a headache go away with her hands, and gives a terrific massage. Despite all of her accomplishments, when she had to write about herself and tell her teacher what she is good at, she wrote, “I’m good at watching T.V.” We’re so proud. This fall we had her mouth fitted with a row of deadly spikes. If you stick a thumb in her mouth, it will come out pierced and bloody. We are told that this will help her to straighten out her overbite more quickly than starting braces when she’s a teenager. She has also found it useful on the playground as a threat to anyone who might chase her. Speaking of pierced and bloody, Jessica is also the proud new owner of two pierced ears. Grandma came along for the piercing ceremony, and it was very special. Jessica chose light green stones for her first earrings and they look really cute. They were her big reward for breaking a long standing bad habit which lead to the installation of the hideous spikes mentioned above. In September Jessie decided that life could not go on unless she had a mouse. Having seen Jessica’s literary output to that point Peter and I knew we could buy a month or two before we had to make a decision by telling her to write a 5 page essay explaining why she should be allowed to have a mouse. We are convinced that a fairy godmother intervened on her behalf because she went to her room and came out at midnight with a 5-page dissertation which covered everything from proper rodent care and how to choose a mouse to my remedies should she fail to care for the mouse.

The mouse is named Daisy. It is a boy. Jessie thinks it is a girl. We all love Daisy, who is cute and animated, but has the bad habit of waiting until you pick him up to defecate. If you come over, we’ll let you hold him. As we approach gift-giving time and realize that we will have to give plenty of toys away to make room for new ones, we worry that our children have become spoiled. We keep trying to impress upon them that Laura Ingalls had to get up at 5:00 to milk the cows and gather the eggs and feed the chickens before walking miles to school. And for Christmas she would get a corn cob doll and a small piece of peppermint that she would try to make last for weeks, and she was GRATEFUL! For some reason, every time we start this lecture they start whining and making faces…Duncan informed us yesterday that we don't even have chickens. Jeez! Speaking of baseball, when it came time to plan the McKinnon Family Vacation for the summer, we noticed that the Mariners were playing the Red Sox in Boston the same week we were free. So of course, we decided to take our vacation in New England. We flew to Boston and drove through New Hampshire and Maine. The driving parts of the trip were great. We listened to Harry Potter 4 on tape and enjoyed the scenery, but the flights were not so fun. On the plane Michael screamed all the way across lake Eerie until we dosed him with Benedryl. We hit bottom or our return flight, when we realized with horror that we had packed the Benedryl in our checked bags. Except for one small incident when Duncan was almost turned off a tour bus for asking, “What’s so bad about being traded to the Yankees,” we found that Red Sox fans were not at all the bawdy, confrontational, rival-haters that we had come to expect. In fact, most people who noticed that we were Mariners fans were amused and welcoming. They’d ask if we had really come all the way from Seattle (pointing out that I-90 extends all the way from Seattle to Boston) and they showed sincere sympathy at our impending loss. It was fantastic to see Fenway Park. The stadium itself was claustrophobic, and the game was delayed 45 minutes because of a rather violent thunderstorm. From inside the stadium the thunder was booming with dramatic, growling echoes. When the rain stopped and our seats were soaked, we sat next to the green monster and watched our beloved team lose to the Red Sox. The best part of the trip was visiting cousins James, Paris and Oliver in Gloucester. They gave us a grand tour, let the kids pilot James’s boat, and took us to their community beach. James brought Duncan and Peter out lobstering in stormy seas. They pulled up 4 keepers and we ate them for dinner. Our last day in Gloucester we took a whale watching tour. Hundreds of dolphins jumped around our boat and we saw several hump back whales, including a mother and baby. In other vacation news, Peter and I went on a cruise around the Hawaiian islands with Jeanne’s brothers and sisters. I know you’ll be most interested in the night we nearly died, so I’ve included it as a supplement to this letter (unless you were there). Between the time I started this letter and the time I finished, a lot has happened. The dog has grown and is nearly, almost, close to being housetrained. At least now he goes near the back door. Michael has stopped saying, “Shut up!’ and has started favoring a string of rhyming sounds that keeps us jumpy: “mucker, lucker, wucker,…” Jessica had a puppy-themed 9th birthday party, and her school informed me that she may need glasses. I have four new wrinkles and I’ve gone wacky decorating for Christmas. (Peter says it looks like I’m trying to compensate for something.) Peter has created a new business card (enclosed) and gone wacky trying to figure out the dog’s schedule. So that’s the update from our family to yours. We hope that you have a peaceful and comforting season and that we all have many happy tales to tell in 2004. With Love, Peter, Jeanne, Duncan, Jessica, Michael, Henri and Daisy McKinnon