Friday, October 31, 2008

Would it help if I Call it Grandma Bohon Day?

I failed to take a costumed picture of the boys before now, but I'd been wanting to show this picture for a while. I'll call it peek-a-BOO, and then it fits the theme. I don't know what it is about a Bohon boy in a sweatshirt, but it gets me every time.

I love Halloween. Pretty much any holiday really. Even the really obscure ones are kind of cool, because Michael works for the State and always gets them off. Seriously, he's off for holidays you probably don't really know exist. But it's these big ones that really make me happy.

I know some Christians feel we shouldn't participate in this one, but - well - we do. Pretty whole-heartedly actually. Autumn is just perfect to me, and it deserves a holiday. And it works for me that it's one in which we get to dress up. I've taken my children to the grocery store wearing their blankets as capes on a Tuesday - just a regular ol' weekday in the spring or summer. They loved costumes way before they knew that Halloween existed. No matter what movie they watch, you can pretty much count on a blur to race from the living room at some point so that one of them can return dressed as the subject of the movie. We really like our costumes. They have an entire box in their room of capes and gear and possibilities for their imagination.

The real hero of this holiday is of course Grandma Bohon. I knew they had discovered her powers when Drew came to me one day and said, "I know what I want to be for Halloween this year. Call Grandma." I think it was July at the time. She can make them anything they want to be. They aren't properly grateful of course, because they don't see her actually working the sewing machine. But they are grateful. They know she will always deliver, and it's one of those happy I-always-knew-I-could-count-on-it things that I'm so glad their childhood includes.

And that's what Halloween is to me. Michael and I were just talking about it last night, and we can't be absolutely positive that Jesus won't look at us on judgement day and say, "I can't believe you dressed them up on Halloween." But I'm pretty sure He'll agree with us on the wonder that is Grandma Bohon and how beautiful it is to make memories, to love each other, and at least every now and then to put on a cape.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

it just seems frivolous when we have two other gaming systems

I thought this would be a good time for another post on my road to publication. And what I have to report is a whole lot of nothing. And I'm so glad. I mean, I would rather be posting about an awesome book deal. But there has been a nice space here without any rejections, and that has become a thrill in and of itself. You know why? Well, not just because rejections h-u-r-t, nor because I just wasn't in the market for the toilet paper that some companies will make from your rejection letters - because, you know, ew. But also because from now on I can at least assume that my manuscript was carefully considered - that it took more than one quick read to come to the conclusion that they just couldn't take it on at this time.

It's very possible that the rejections I haven't gotten yet are simply because the manuscript is still sitting untouched on a busy editor's desk. But I don't have to know that. Getting published will be such a thrill and an honor. It doesn't stress me out to get a few no's along the way. But when the no comes too quickly, I'm left to wonder if they sat amazed that I even had the audacity to present my work to them as it was clearly not ready for the big time. (That, of course, is a terrible, terrible discredit to my agent, who obviously did think it was ready and has proven herself as a very good judge). But when the rejection comes after a length of time, I can fantasize away about the financial meetings in which the editors sat around and cried that they loved my book so very much but simply couldn't take a risk on a new author at this time, etc., etc., etc. It will be much easier to press on after that.

Speaking of my agent, her name is Holly Root at the Waxman Literary Agency, and they recently started a blog! An agent blog is indispensable for those who want to be published. I've learned a lot for instance from Nathan Bransford, a literary agent in San Francisco. His posts have more than once directly answered a question I had been wondering.

So this chapter in my road to publication is a lot of waiting, but I've been thrilled and surprised to discover that I get ideas as well. I'm working on a different book as so many people have advised, and I'm slightly obsessed with the idea for another one. Of course, I'm not fooling myself, or you, or my husband who has to hear Holly's name way too many times in a day as I talk about writing and TTYR and my hopes and my new ideas and how much I want to see NYC's area code on my phone one day with good news. But after all, I wasn't trying to fool myself - I was just trying to avoid the expense of a Wii.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Let's Talk About Music

I have a scene in my memoir - well, in my life I guess - where Felicity was trying to teach me the power of music. It's a funny remembrance tucked into a terrible moment when I was terrified and trying to fall asleep the night I was diagnosed with cancer.

I could never make it long in a vehicle before I was absolutely certain that I would die if I could not get out of the car and pee. Immediately. I was known for this. I'm still not great at it actually. One day we were only minutes away from home and I had to go so badly I was crying. Felicity was just sure that if we sang together I would forget about needing to pee. I told her that was ridiculous. But she wore me down, and she was right. As I harmonized with her, I stopped crying and forgot the pain. So, the night that I couldn't sleep because I was so scared of my cancer, I sang. And fifty miles away, Felic was singing herself to sleep as well.

You may have heard the tragic news about Jennifer Hudson and her family. It terrifies and angers me that crime like this exists in our world. A world in which I raise three sons. I've gotten better at facing this terror, and I have a certain kind of peace anyway when I think of such things. But still, it troubles me. And this morning, I went to Andrea C.'s blog. And I was so settled by her music there. I have the tab open still so that I can hear it as I work.

Many, many days after work when I have to move from the paycheck job to the rewarding-in-and-of-itself (wink, wink) job, i.e., cleaning the kitchen and fixing supper - I open my lap top and turn on my little iTunes library of songs that mean something to me. And after only a few notes, well, it's like the "Name that Tune" of soul settling. I love music, and I'm so glad Felic taught me to love it.

I had a theme song for each of my sons when they were babies. They got more sophisticated with age. John's was to the tune of John-Jacob-Jingleheimer . . whatever, only I sang his own name and changed the words to suit us. Drew's was "Hey Jude", only - again - the name change and other lyric adjustments. Jake's was Faith Hill's "Lucky One". You're mine / That's all I need to know / The sun shines / everywhere we go / It's all right / Cuz' I got you to hold every night / I'm the lucky one."

But now I've settled on a theme song for having sons in general. It captures the feeling so perfectly. It's from the animated film Spirit. And when the young stallion is born, Bryan Adams sings, Here I am / This is me / I come into the world so wild and free. The music, Adams' voice, and the lyrics all work together in such a way that it could not more perfectly capture the thrill of birthing a son.

I have more of course - like the love songs that seem to have been written just for Michael and I. The songs about faith that center me every single time no matter how uncentered I was feeling. The songs about heaven that make dying less sad. The songs about "someday" that thrill me. Music fixes me. If you need settled today, try Andrea's blog for a few minutes. Or go to You Tube or iTunes and look for the songs that matter to you. For me, it works every time.

Friday, October 24, 2008

You won't believe what I'm recommending this time

So, it was kind of the off season on our little family vacation the last few days.  Michael had a work conference at Lake of the Ozarks, and we all joined him.  So he sat in meetings all day while the boys and I wandered around looking for vacation-y things to do.  Miner Mike's is only open on weekends.  No putt-putt or race tracks.  We really felt worried when we noticed that even the Burger King play place had been taken down.  

So we went to Blockbuster.  As the boys looked for movies to play on the hotel television with our car DVD player, I talked to the lady behind the counter.  Tell me there is something fun to do with three boys in this town in October.  She told me about a park just past "the bowling alley."  That was when I really knew I was desperate.  "A bowling alley?  Do you think it's open?"  

But we didn't end up bowling after all.  We found a McDonalds play place and shopped at Osh Kosh and watched our movies and got ice cream.  It worked out.  Then on Friday I took them to a movie.  High School Musical 3.  (I know.  I mean, I really do know.  But I'm telling you - even the Burger King play place was closed, and I'm just not that into movies about little dogs who talk.)  And I loved it.  A movie that glorifies all the good stuff about high school and none of the reality?  And breaks into song and dance numbers every few minutes?  I'm there.  And it was not cruel and unusual punishment to take my sons there.  They have basketball scenes and - you know - an old truck and stuff.  And anyway, this one's big people.  One show-stopping number after another, and I actually did love it.  

Don't take that as an official review or recommendation.  Not unless you're at Lake of the Ozarks during the off season and you're so thrilled to be anywhere that even driving one place to another feels like an event and your two-year-old sleeps on your lap in his brand new Osh Kosh clothes while you breathe in the scent of his hotel-shampooed hair.  And you also need an excessive love for song and dance and pink, glittery sorts of things.  Plus, you should probably know that I have an achy, feverish cold and couldn't wait to sit down in a cushy theater chair for two straight hours rather than do anything that actually required energy.  If you go into it similarly easy to please, then by all means, take it as an official recommendation.  And then when you like it too, you'll understand why my new slogan is from the movie's finale:

I hope the rest of my life/
feels just like/
a high school musical.

I truly do. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wishful Thinking

It's parent-teacher conference time again.   And besides all the wonderful things I heard about my son (she'd like to clone him - our parent-teacher conferences for that kid are really fun), I also learned a crazy thing about myself.  Apparently at the beginning of the year when we were checking out John's classroom and tucking his brand new pencils into his desk - apparently that day I also signed up to bring treats to the Halloween party.  I italicize treats because the fact that I signed up for that task is critically absurd.  

I look back on that girl - and just shake my head.  I know what she was thinking, the silly thing.  This is the year I'll change.  I'll be super involved.  I'll find a way to volunteer at the school despite the fact that I can barely get my work-at-home hours in just taking my kids to and from.  I'll read every paper carefully and never throw away anything important (aside:  I cannot find my password to check their grades online), and apparently I'll learn my way around the kitchen and grow a new personality in which I don't save crazy tasks like classroom treats until midnight the night before.  (Aside again:  Cookies for John's birthday treat?  Bedtime.  Night before.  Pillsbury Ready-to-bake.)

She showed me that reminder somewhere between "I want to clone him" and "Here's his reading score".  I did keep listening, but I kept one eye strategically scanning that sign up sheet searching it for my name.  Surely she was wrong.  I wouldn't have signed up for treats.  I'm the cups and napkins girl.  I'm really good at cups and napkins.  But there was the proof right in front of me.  Maybe I read it wrong or skipped a line or something.  But no, I think it was that first idea.  I signed up for treats like the person who buys the smaller size and vows to diet their way into it.  I think I was telling myself to step it up.  So now I'm furious with myself as any normal person will be at their motivator now and then.

It's not that I never enjoy making special things in the kitchen for my family.  It's just that I know my limitations, and Halloween treats for twenty 8-year-olds is way over my stress threshold.  Darn that first-day-of-school feeling!  Stick a new box of crayons in my face and suddenly I think I can take on the world.  Or, you know, popcorn balls.  Is that a Halloween treat?  I don't even know.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Road to Publication: Slow Going

I added a new label for the blog called "Road to Publication" and tacked it onto a few of my previous posts. As an aspiring author I love to read about how other writers made it to the big time, i.e., a book on the shelves, as we say. Now, frankly, it's not been a very successful week for me. A couple of editors have already passed on the book, and I'm having serious doubts about its place in the publishing world. But as Felicity pointed out today, rejections are part of the journey. Every author has them somewhere in their past. And as much, much, more fun as it would be for me to wait until I'm an actual author and then look back and tell you the story, I figure it will mean even more if I document it along the way. So that's what that label is all about.

Now, the moment in my day that made up for this very slow and tear-filled road:

From Drew: Mom, I hope my daughter grows up to be like you someday. Because I can't imagine any person who would be more helpful to the world.

(I am not even kidding, People. Get yourself a 7-year-old immediately).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Through the Storm: By Lynne Spears

Where are the parents?

How many times have you heard (or said) that one while Britney was shaving her head, driving irresponsibly with her children, or beating paparazzi with an umbrella? I'll tell you where the mother was for that last one: Wishing it were her. Wishing there were less paparazzi out there and way more umbrellas.

And that's the beauty of this book. In all but maybe one chapter, it is not Britney's tell-all. It is the story of a mother. It's the story of a wife who had to navigate the troubling, not-so-easy-when-it's-you, waters of a spouse with alcoholism. It's the story of a very young bride who like many of us found complete and total fulfillment in her role as a mother.

Fulfillment, but not obsession. One thing I feel I learned about Lynne Spears is that her children matter more to her than anything else in the world, but they are not her identity. Her identity is completely her own, supported and encouraged by dear friends, and almost inseparable from her faith.

Lynne Spears's faith is one I can truly, deeply admire. It is vulnerable. It has answers, but not all of them for everything. It is un-shakeable but imperfect. And it grows but has always been.

All of these things are very clear in the book. The writing is simple and poignant. I was surprised to see it was actually a partnership, because Lynne Spears's strong, Southern voice comes through loud and clear in every paragraph.

I will probably still ask where the parents are with many of the troubled celebrities today. But not with her. I'll know exactly where she is, because she told me - and I believe her - that she is on her knees. She is praying, which is the only way to begin and the only thing with which you are left when the child grows up and gives you barely more than that as your role.

The most haunting paragraph in the book, for me, was when Britney was dating Justin Timberlake. They were having serious talks about life, and Britney came to her mother one day and said, "Mama, I just don't know if there really is a right and a wrong anymore. I mean, is there really a wrong?"

Lynne Spears says that she wrote this book for her children, and I believe that too. She gets a few digs in there, tells a few stories for our benefit so that we will know what she has to endure and what was really happening when we were making our own judgments about her - or believing the ones that were fed to us. But the strongest message in the book is definitely her love for her children, what she hopes and believes for them, how proud she is of their successes, and how hopeful she is that they will rise above their failures.

In the end, almost as if she has forgotten we are there, she prays for them that they will return to the faith she wishes she had practiced with them more. And I didn't wonder what her children will think of that or if they will feel attacked. I simply felt glad for them that they will at least know they are loved.

I appreciated this book, and I feel it accomplished its goal. Despite the unbelievable world Britney finds herself in, I think you'll believe Lynne Spears that at the level of the heart, we're basically all the same.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Waiting For You

An empty bassinet waiting in the corner of the living room, the tiny sweaters we saw at Baby Gap, the crib I slept beside each night - this weekend was packed with new baby goodness and anticipation.

I never knew for sure if I had a very strong bent toward mothering a baby. I knew I wanted to be a mother, but I think it was more of an expected part of my life than a passionate dream. And babies in general had never really done that much to stir my heart.

But after having done it three times and found my greatest happiness ever in its many ups and downs, I feel beside-myself giddy for Charity and the achy-wonderful that's awaiting her.

This is the very time of year that I was nesting for my first baby. He was due nine years ago today. All those sweet empty things waiting for his arms and legs - like the crib and cradle and bunting - crowded all throughout our tiny apartment.

This time of year is the anniversary for that happiness. It's not that I've forgotten the midnight feedings and baby blues and (regrettable) stress over whether or not I was doing nap-time correctly and feeding him at the proper intervals. It's just that the happiness so far exceeds these. I know Charity will have her moments, her tears, her own regrettable stress. But she will also have those moments where she will know she never truly lived before them.

I would never tell someone who cannot conceive that they cannot truly live. And I would never tell someone who has made the choice not to have children that they are wrong. I'm just saying that I really agree with the person who wrote a thought like this, which Charity recently read: Babies are such a cool way to start people.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Journey Stuff

In book news, my agent is submitting my manuscript under the title, The Thank You Room. Don't get attached, as editors sometimes change these things as well. But that's the best news - some more editors will be looking at it soon.

She sent me a note today about some of the editors who will be considering it, and she referred to it by its initials. TTYR. This is my new mantra. I figure I'll say it over now and then like a prayer, willing this book into publication existence. TTYR. While performing the sign of the cross. I know this is wrong. And I know it actually crosses the border of sacrilege. And I know that I should be praying for His will and not my own. But I just have one thing to say to that. T-T-Y-R.

Thankfully I'm off to Omaha this weekend for my younger sister's baby shower. That will be the perfect distraction. After that, my agent says I should invest in a Wii.

Did I mention the list? She sent me an actual list of the editors who will be looking it over. Rejections have to be, like, what - ten times as tragic at this level? I'm sure I'll be able to get back to you on that.

In the meantime, I'm going to revel in the journey, right? And also read the memoir by Lynne Spears, mother of Britney and Jamie Lynn. Awesome Thomas Nelson sent me a copy to review. The offer was open to anyone. I figured since three of my top labels are motherhood, Hollywood, and faith - it was kind of in my genre. If I like it I'll put it next to the ones by Tammy Trent and Brooke Shields - a celebrity memoir I really loved - and I'll tell you all about how refreshing and thoughtful it is. If I don't like it, I'll put it next to Sydney Poitier's, which disappointed me.

So that's my Friday post. Kind of a hodge podge. Sort of like Jake's new bedtime routine. He suddenly graduated from getting out of bed and lying on the floor. Now he stays in the bed but he wants the door open and he calls me into the room at least three times for various things - the dog, the blanket - get the cat off my dresser - stuff like that. Then the last time he calls me in, he asks me to close the door. I do. And then I don't hear from him again until morning. Since he finally eased out of that last routine, I think I'll just enjoy this new one. It's kind of fun really. And that's my new thing - enjoying the ride.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I'm Afraid I'll Be Glad When It's Over

This is Sarah Dunn, previously mentioned in the comments section on another post and also the friend who gave me her seat ticket from Regis and Kelly one very big year in my life. This time, it's not a ploy to get you to comment, Sarah. It's just that I'm watching the debate and planning to bring up politics again, so I thought a picture of you, the girl who went to a political rally for her tenth wedding anniversary, would be appropriate.

Most of you dear people who read my blog would say that the only way to vote responsibly is to study the candidates. Some of you would add, "and to pray." I admit when it comes to studying, I'm failing this course. I study writing and parenthood and books I need to read and educational attractions in Washington D.C. and museums in Chicago. But I just haven't made the time to compare voting records, figure out what the heck they were actually voting on, and research the financial data that would tell me once and for all what's wrong with our economy and which guy has the right idea for fixing it. Truthfully, I have begun to wonder if that is even possible.

Is it possible to truly understand what's wrong with our economy and who has the right idea for fixing it? Is it truly possible for me - a girl in small town Missouri who is much more obsessed with her 2-year-old than with foreign policy - to understand today whether or not we should have gone to Iraq? Whether or not withdrawing now would be a defeat? If the leaders of our nation can't agree on that, can I even begin to understand it?

I feel that because I have failed to study, and because I have lost a bit of faith in my ability to hear God speak on something like that - I've lost that faith because I know too many Christians absolutely convinced in opposing directions - I feel that because of those factors, what I'm left with is trying to figure out which candidate I believe. They fundamentally disagree on all of those big things - and fundamentally disagree is their phrase for it - the economy, Iraq - even each other. They disagree on each other. They tell me the other guy isn't telling me the whole story about his health care plan. They tell me the other guy is lying about what he supports, because he voted for this or that thing that proves it.

They each think they know what to do. And I feel that all I've left myself to vote with, is my heart. And whether or not I believe them.

Perhaps, without slinging anything too ugly or hateful, you could just give me some suggestions on how you came to your decision and what else you'll be carrying into the booth besides your heart. And if you even carry that - as I know of course, it can be misleading.

Pajama Day

Yesterday my 8-year-old went to school wearing pajama bottoms. He meant for me to double-check the note and back him up on it. But I didn't. I figured it's homecoming week, so it probably makes sense. Plus, this is John Michael we're talking about. He doesn't really get that kind of thing wrong.

But on the way to school, the fact that I couldn't absolutely confirm that it was pj day kind of started to get to him. He grabbed his flannel leg with his fingers and said, "Man, I hope I'm right about this." Welcome to Monday, Buddy. And apparently to upper elementary. And to life.


He was right about it of course. But you know I would have whipped that car around in a heartbeat if we hadn't seen at least two kids walking into the building with their own versions of flannel. He may be old enough for "Man, I hope I'm right," but he is definitely too young to have to be wrong all day long about something as flamboyant as pajama bottoms.

John's little moment with the pj's evoked such empathy in me. I could literally feel his pain. I think it's the feeling a lot of us will have in the voting booth this November. The way we feel when we make a job change or move.

I feel it with an intensity that can only be described as wonderful but excruciating pain as we make decisions about our children. School, church, sports, television, video games, bed times, dessert. Every little thing I decide for them. I don't know which is worse - the fact that the feeling never goes away, or the fact that the reason it doesn't is because every now and then we actually will be wrong. We'll be shouting at them through a bull horn some well-studied decision, and all the while we're standing there in our pajamas.

Poor kids. They have no idea how hard it is for us to figure this out. How hard it is to protect them and guide them and shower them with affection they know they can count on no matter what else happens - all while actually trying to get out of the way so that God - as I believe it, and even life itself, can do its work. And every time we step in, and every time we get out of the way, we'll be thinking one thing. Man, I hope I'm right about this.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Book Review, A Friend Review: The Miracle Girls

I recently won this book on one of my favorite blogs, Anne & May.  I couldn't wait to devour it so that I could give them a glowing review.  I'm not exactly objective, because I love Anne & May.  By the end of this post, hopefully you'll know why.  And hopefully you'll know enough about their latest book to buy it for your nieces, little sisters, your daughters, and your friends. 

I learned of Anne and May back in 2005 when I saw a book listed in a magazine called Emily Ever After.  The title alone made me know I would love the book.  The premise had me hooked as well since it was about a small town girl trying to make it in New York City - with her faith intact.  Unfortunately, I got cancer and pregnancy shortly after, which really hampered my joy-reading.  Plus, my wish list for books to buy always exceeds my book-buying budget, and I let this one slip through the cracks.

Felicity found the Anne & May blog a couple years later (how did that happen, Lic?), and I was hooked forever.  

Their writing is a partnership, which fascinates me, and they say they wouldn't want to do it any other way.  You have to admire people who have learned to give and take so brilliantly.  Their writing is also deliciously witty.  Their blog makes me smile, relate, and feel I've made true friends.  The first few pages of their second book, Consider Lily, made me laugh to tears.   

Anne & May's first three books were chic lit while The Miracle Girls is Young Adult.  In The Miracle Girls and the three sequels to follow, they intend to explore the crazy difficulties of growing up.  The heroines are four teens trying to maintain important friendships while navigating high school and the sometimes tricky bridge between childhood and independence.  Through it all, each character searches out the relevance of their faith in an unbelieving world.

The Miracle Girls made me love Ana, Riley, Zoe, and Christine.  I was embarrassed when they were, traumatized by their Mondays, in love with their crushes, and so glad they had each other.  There were a few sanctuary moments in the book in which I felt I was there with them, remembering what it is I believe and how deeply it affects me.  The relationship between Ana and her parents grew beautifully throughout the book.  It was both realistic and miraculous.  

I love that Anne & May have taken on the dilemma of those terrible but wonderful years of high school.  I love that they have made it their mission to inspire girls and women, to relate to them, make them laugh, believe in their dreams, and help them apply their faith to this hazy, unpredictable life.  I love their Miracle Girls.  And I cannot wait for sophomore year.  

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Finding the Happy Place

I discovered a book the other day that I haven't read - so this is probably poor blogging etiquette - but its premise just fascinates me.  The title is Happiness is a Serious Problem.  And the author suggests that despite the fact that we're all always shouting from the rooftops that everyone has the right to be happy, very few of us actually are.  People are unhappy all the time because they are satisfied with nothing.  The author then says that we all have "an obligation" to our children, to our spouses, "and to society" to be happy.  

I haven't read the book, so I can't thoroughly argue with or back up his reasoning.  All I know is, it feels true.  

I do feel that I owe Michael a certain amount of contentedness.  I fail a LOT.  But I like to think that I jump back from the failures more quickly than I used to.  I feel that I need to love what I have - and in those things I'm still seeking, somehow find joy in the journey.  It doesn't seem far-fetched, right?

I laugh a lot more since the whole cancer scare.  That out loud, good medicine, uninhibited laugh that I used to give Michael all the time before we were dating and I thought every word out of his mouth was the most clever thing I'd ever heard.  When I laugh like that, there's no room for anything but happy.  And I like that feeling.  And I like the effect it has on the people around me.  

I hate it when I wake up one day and realize I've been in a bad mood for so long that I can't remember why it started.  I hate it when I complain to Michael about the same thing all the time - some circumstance of my life that I simply cannot change.  I hate it when someone says "how you doing" as their greeting and I don't know what to say because I can't imagine that they have an hour.   I know all those moments will still happen sometimes, but that's why I want to read that book.  So I can quote it to myself and remind myself what I owe.

I think it's possible.  Two-day vacations at the Holiday Inn?  Awesome.  Half-hour less on the time card because Jake has a cold and needs extra attention?  Irreplaceable.   And our small, really old house is a lovely place to build memories.  And potty training doesn't last forever.  And if we can't buy every single thing we want, we can sure buy more than we used to.   And who needs that other stuff anyway?

It's really not that awful of an obligation.  The author of the book says happy people are more generous.  On the society level I think it looks like feeding the widows and the orphans.  At home I think it means a laugh.  That no matter what reaction Michael gets at work, no matter what the boys experience at school, they can always count on me to get it.