Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Stand In

Every parent can remember those moments when your child makes you so proud you could just burst (or burst into tears) at the thought of it; those times when you simply cannot even express your profound feeling of delight in an accomplishment or a deed.

I believe those moments are to be savored and reflected upon, revisited and reinforced, so that they can be emulated and hopefully repeated in further iterations throughout the child’s life.

I had one of those moments with Batman last week.

My son and I went alone to karate that night.  His sister had announced earlier that same evening that she did not want to continue with karate lessons.  She had been kicked rather hard in the ribs when sparring during the prior class, and left the floor near tears and wincing with pain.  She is a tough kid when it comes to riding horses but she does not enjoy being pummeled, and though she showed some talent for the sport it was clear that karate just wasn’t her thing.

Batman was enthusiastic about his sister’s departure from their shared class.  As I said, Annabelle had a natural talent for the sport, and in the strict ranking system that is employed in their group she was one rank ahead of her brother.  Her leaving gave Batman an automatic rise in stature.  He thought that was pretty cool.

I delivered the news about Annabelle’s departure to Sensei Ed (the instructor) when we got to class.  He was shocked to hear that she was leaving, but agreed that karate is not for everyone.  Then he looked at Batman.  “You are going to have to work extra hard now to make your family proud,” he said. I don’t think either he or I knew at the moment just how literally that phrase would apply to class that very night.

The class started as normal, with the lower-ranked white belts on one end of the mats, with the higher ranked yellow and the single purple belt in a line at the other.  One of the white belts was lined up with the higher ranks, performing all the moves of the kata with the more advanced students.

Once the groups had finished practicing their kata, the warm-up sparring began, with the sensei picking out two volunteers to go hand-to-hand and foot-to-foot on the mat.  After just a bit of warm-up an unusual thing happened.

Sensei pulled aside the highest ranked white belt, the same young man who had been performing kata with the upper ranks before, and gave him an unusual command:  he was to choose someone to fight for him.  This had not occurred in our class experience to date, so all of the parents and students watched curiously.  The boy seemed unsure of what was taking place too, and after glancing around a bit he turned and pointed at Zach, who as the next lower rank was standing right next to him in line.

The Sensei turned to Batman and asked “Do you agree to fight for H?”  Zach nodded, having no idea at this point what was going on.  “OK,” Sensei said.  “Let’s get started.”

He pulled out the lowest ranked white belt and she and Zach squared off on the mat at Sensei’s command, then sparred for about a minute, with the instructor watching the clock carefully.

Karate Spar 1 (2)

When he called “Stop”, Batman and the little girl bowed to each other and Zach started to sit down.  “No Zach,” called Sensei. “You stay in.” Zach shrugged and returned to the middle of the mat, where he was met by the next-ranked white belt.

This routine continued on.  And on.  After about the first three rounds we all got our first clue about what was going on.  The young man who had selected Zach as his stand-in was not sparring, but sitting watching the action intently.  When his attention wandered for a moment the Sensei immediately stopped the fight and squatted next to the young man.  “You watch what is going on out there.  Zach is out there fighting for YOU!”

The boy’s mother was sitting a couple of chairs away from me and she rose and walked to where I sat.  “I think that Zach is doing the sparring for H’s yellow belt test for him!” she said.  Ah, that made sense.  She had told me the previous week that H had been hit hard in a sparring match and his ear-drum had been perforated.  He wasn’t allowed to spar until it was fully healed.  Apparently Sensei had decided to go ahead with H’s test, using a stand-in to exhibit the sparring skill.

It seems to be the norm that a student does not know exactly when their belt rank test will be administered.  Although we’ve been in karate for only a few months we have seen two or three yellow belts awarded, and the student never seems to realize he or she is being tested until the sparring begins and they begin fighting up through the ranks.

When a student is tested for the higher ranking belt they are required to spar with every student in class that night, from the lowest to highest ranking, fighting continuously with only a couple of quick breaks for water.  It is a true test of the candidate’s stamina and strength, not to mention commitment to the practice.  It can be almost brutal to watch but it is a required rite of passage for the discipline.

Batman knew that he was not yet being considered for a yellow belt, so I was sure he had no idea why he was sparring with every student.  Nonetheless, he fought courageously through all the white belts.  Then he started on the yellow belts.

Karate Spar 5

Some of the higher ranked kids were not only much more experienced than my seven-year old, they were also years older and a lot bigger.  Batman was not intimidated at all.  He even got some great hits in on the bigger kids.

Karate Spar 6

After a candidate fights his way up through all the individual ranks, he must take on two competitors at once.  Before this round started, Sensei approached H and asked if he still wanted Zach to fight for him.  He said yes, so Sensei asked Zach if he was willing to continue fighting.  My son nodded solemnly.

Batman still had not figured out what was going on, but he fought gallantly against the two higher-ranked yellow belts.

Karate Spar 7

And then against two lower ranks.

Karate Spar 10

Next was the hardest test of all.  After fighting about a dozen rounds already, the candidate must do two rounds where they spar against three classmates at one time.  For this fight they get to choose their competitors, who are lined up in rank order on the floor.  Usually the student chooses others who are right around the same ranking as themselves for this portion of the test.

Batman stood for several seconds surveying his choices.

Karate Spar 13

When he made his choice, the other parents and I shook our heads in disbelief.  He called his competitors quickly, from left to right, starting with the highest ranked student in attendance that night, a purple belt who outranked him by a few years and many belt colors, and then the two highest-ranked yellow belts.

Sensei Ed gave a sharp laugh of incredulity.  “Are you sure you want to pick those three?!”  Batman nodded solemnly.  He had no idea why he was fighting, but he was going to make the most of it.

Before the match started Ed admonished the higher ranks to be judicious in their attack, and reminded them that Zach was but a lone white belt.

Karate Spar 14

It didn’t look like they pulled many punches to me.  Batman held his own, and once again got in a few good points on them.  Sensei kept yelling “Good!  Good job Zach!”

After that fight Batman had one match left.  This time he chose two white belts and one yellow belt.

He told me later he was getting a little tired by then.

When the last match was over, Ed lined the students up according to rank, with the  young H standing in front with him.  Then he did something we’d never seen before.  He asked Zach to come up and sit beside H.  After that he performed the ritual of awarding the classes’ newest yellow belt, with Zach sitting right beside him the entire time.

Karate Award Belt

Then Ed asked Zach to stand before his classmate, and instructed H to shake Zach’s hand and tell him thank you.  He then explained to the class and bystanders what some of us had already guessed: since H was qualified to test for the next rank but was unable to fight, Sensei exercised a very rarely used provision that allowed the candidate to choose a stand-in for the sparring portion of the test.

Finally Zach realized what he had been doing.

Karate Congrats Friend

The group got a break for some water, and Batman bounded over to me.  His head glistened with sweat and he looked exhausted.  But he was happy.

When class resumed a minute or two later there was time enough for a little more sparring.  Sensei Ed asked for volunteers.  I don’t know if he or I was more astounded when Batman waved his hand wildly in the air.

“Are you sure you want to go out there again Zach?  Aren’t you tired?” he laughed.

“Nope!” Batman asserted, so out he went.

Karate Spar 16 (2)

When class was over Sensei pulled Zach aside and talked to him privately for several minutes.  The only portion of the conversation I could hear was the teacher thanking him for fighting so hard for his classmate, and telling him what a great job he had done.

Finally Zach joined me and he was all smiles as we walked out into the chilly darkness.  “What did Sensei say?”  I asked him.

“He said he thought I was almost ready to be tested for my yellow belt!”  Batman beamed.  His hard work had obviously impressed his teacher.

I told him how proud I was of him, but I don’t think he really comprehended the absolute pleasure that I took in his performance.

It’s something only a parent can understand.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

The Further Adventures of Sparkles the Elf

Our Christmas Elf, Sparkles, has been with us for a little over two weeks now, and she is doing her best to entertain us with her antics.  While it is certainly impossible to top her Christmas miracle of locating and re-caging Batman’s beloved Wamstey, she has tried her hardest to do at least something every day.

Some of her efforts have been (quite frankly) a little boring.  Like appearing to bounce around in the various Christmas trees decorating our house.

Sparkles Little Tree

Leaving a message written in marshmallows on the kitchen table was only slightly more entertaining.


She has gift wrapped a variety of items around the house, like Annabelle’s NRHA plaques that decorate the walls in the living room.

Sparkles Wraps

And a couple of pictures in the hallway, matching Annabelle’s beribboned door.  To Batman’s horror, she reclined on top of one of the picture frames for an entire afternoon.  He implored me to utilize my mommy-elf-touching-dispensation to move her somewhere else.

He said it “didn’t look safe up there.”

Sparkles More Wraps

The elf also wrapped the recliners in the living room.

Sparkles Bubble Wraps

And then used the same bubble wrap on the pillows of both kid’s beds.

If the wrapping looks a little cursory to you I urge you to bear in mind that Sparkles is a very busy elf, and sometimes it is better to do something a little quickly and imperfectly than to do nothing at all.

Sparkles Wraps Pillows

The elf was probably also in a hurry when she toilet papered both kids’ rooms last week.

Sparkles TPs

But she did take time to quickly dress-up the antlers that Batman got last year after Daddy’s deer hunt.

Saprkles TPs Horns

And then sat there all day the next day wrapped in the tissue.

Sparkles Antlers

It appeared that Sparkles had a little more time to prepare this snowy diorama on the dining room table.

Sparkles Rides Slider

This has been by far Annabelle’s favorite Sparkles adventure this year.

For an elf she has pretty good taste in horses.  She is riding NRCHA World Champion Topsails Rien Maker, or “Slider,” autographed by none other than Slider’s owner and rider, Russell Dilday.

Sparkles thru snow

Russell graciously inscribed “To Annabelle:  Keep on Ridin’ and Slidin’.  Russell Dilday.”  She cherishes the little Breyer toy.

Sparkles Slider Autograph

Sparkles and Slider are leading none other than NCHA World Champion mare Bet Your Blue  Boons.  We have “Bet” in the house because she is the maternal grandmother of our great little mare Freckles.

She sure looks pretty in all dressed up, doesn’t she?

Sparkles Decorates Bette

Last night the elf delivered some of me and the kids’ favorite cookies.  I say “some of” because apparently she got hungry on the way back from the North Pole and ate three whole cookies, as well as a small bite out of the one she was holding.

That’s the only explanation I can think of.

Sparkles Oreos

The elf has a little over a week left with us before she returns to the North Pole with Santa until next year.

I am hoping she will write the kids a letter reminding them to be good and stop chasing the dogs with the remote control truck and to brush their teeth without being asked.  And to stop fighting in the morning too, while she’s at it.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sparkles Performs a Christmas Miracle

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the kids (Annabelle, anyway) didn’t seem terribly impressed with the vehicle that Sparkles the Elf had chosen for her entrance this year. They weren’t unappreciative of the elf’s offerings, don’t get me wrong, but I think we all know that Sparkles has a pretty big reputation to live up to around our house.

When we awoke today, it seemed that Sparkles had hardly moved at all.  She reclined languidly across the top of the hutch in the corner of the living room, laying right in front of the model of Venus that I Annabelle had made for her science class project last year.  Her eyes appeared barely open, and she seemed sleepy and quiet.

Sparkles Rests

I had the fleeting thought that maybe Annabelle was right.  The elf was tired.  Or past her prime.  Or something.

Little did I know.

Sorry, I have to back up now seven or eight days to start this story properly.  Bear with me.

The kids and I took a trip to California last week.  We went to pick up a wonderful new horse that Annabelle has been given the privilege of riding for the next show season.  That story and the trip in and of itself is a whole blog on its own.  To be written, I promise.

Anyway, when we got back from the trip the kids were overjoyed to see their small house pets and play with them for the first time in several days.  Since Annabelle was suffering from an ear infection and couldn’t go outside, they amused themselves with putting on a few animal competitions with the pets at hand, namely their two hamsters and a fluffy white guinea pig named Polly.

Somehow during the initial zeal of competition that Tuesday afternoon, the top of Batman’s hamster cage was left, shall we say, unsecured.

I’ll add here that Batman’s hamster is actually one of the few rodents that we have owned that l like.  Her name is Snowball, I think, or maybe it’s Princess, but whatever, she is one of two of the several hamsters we’ve had that has never bitten anyone.  I realize that’s not a terribly high standard of gentility, but hamsters are just not always the nicest creatures, in my experience.  Snowball/Princess, whatever, (the kids actually call her Wamstey, some variation of Hamstey, which is, well, you get the picture) had actually gotten so tame that she would ride around on Batman’s shoulder, clinging no doubt in terror to his shirt or the skin underneath, but looking for all appearances like she was having a good time.  I could even hold her.

She was a nice hamster.

On that Tuesday afternoon Wamstey escaped from her cage.  Into the messy, disheveled maelstrom that is Batman’s room.  I wasn’t feeling so swell myself at that time, having what I learned a few days later was strep throat, so finding the hamster wasn’t on the top of my priority list.  In our two or three-year experience with small furry pets, we have lost several, and found them all.  The longest gone had been Annabelle’s previous pet hamster Copper (the other hamster that never bit anyone) and he went missing for one whole day before being discovered in her underwear drawer, where he had chewed holes in a whole week’s worth of new Barbie underpants (they had Barbie on them, they didn’t belong to Barbie, FYI).

I kind of forgot about the missing rodent that day, and at some point the next day I asked the kids if they had found her.  No, they answered, they had not.  Even though Annabelle was really pretty sick, I made them both go into the room and empty out the toys and other rubble that was under the bed and look more carefully for Wamstey.  No luck.

I remembered at this point the one time before that Wamstey had escaped.  She had only been gone for about ten minutes that time when I walked into the dining room, the furthest room geographically in our little house from Batman’s centrally-located bedroom, on an unrelated errand.  I heard some faint scratching in the corner.  Wamstey had somehow traveled through the whole house unseen to arrive in record time at that far wall.

This might be a problem.

Another couple of days passed.  Batman had the audacity to ask if we could please go to Petsmart and get another hamster since his obviously was not coming home.  Absolutely not, I answered.

The kids got on YouTube, on the Hamster Channel (yes there is a Hamster Channel) and looked up how to find your lost pet hamster.  That afternoon they removed the hamster cage (an aquarium, actually) from the dresser where it usually sits and placed it on the floor.  They took some big books from Annabelle’s bookcase and made steps up the side of the aquarium and sprinkled hamster treats all around the floor and up the steps.  It reminded me a lot of the bird/rabbit/squirrel traps that me and my siblings used to set in the yard featuring a cardboard box propped up by a stick and a long piece of string.  I humored them, sure that the hamster was gone for good, or at least from that room for good.

Milo ate all the hamster treats approximately five minutes after the kids put them down.

That evening I voiced my concern to DH over the fate of the hamster.  We have a couple of outside cats, barn cats more or less, that do come in the house on occasion. They had been inside non-stop since we had returned from California.  While these cats do wear baby clothes and sometimes ride around in a stroller, they are stone-cold killers, and I regularly find dead offerings ranging from mice and birds to the occasional squirrel on our back porch.  We also had Milo, the hyper and prey-driven mutt who would definitely devour any loose hamster in sight, as well as Maddie, who is old and deaf now but has killed more than one mouse or gopher in her time.  The hamster may have met her demise right here within our walls!

DH dismissed my worries about our hamster prey animals, mostly.  He correctly pointed out that if one of our hunters HAD assassinated the hamster we would have probably discovered evidence of some kind.  Icky but true, I decided.

Last night when I was tucking Batman  into bed I picked up the aquarium and sat it on the dresser where it belonged. I was tired of tripping over it when I put his clothes or toys away.  My son screamed in outrage.  “MOM!!! YOU CAN’T PUT THAT BACK UP THERE THE HAMSTER WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO REACH IT!!”

“The hamster’s not coming back, son.  It’s been a week almost.  She’s not even in this room anymore.  I’m sure of it.”  I said this gently.  I did feel bad for him.  “No, mom.” he said.  “Sparkles is here now.  She’ll use her magic to get the hamster back in her cage!”  “OK,” I sighed, “we’ll give it one more night.”  I sat the cage back on the floor and straightened the books.  “NO MOM, the books have to stay like that.  They are steps so Wamstey can get inside.”  I rearranged the books and gave my delusional son a kiss goodnight.  Then I walked back into the dining room as I had several times already, to see if I could see or hear the hamster.

No luck.

This morning I looked up at Sparkles relaxing on the hutch.  I was proud of her for moving during the night, since she was so tired and all.  I made some coffee and watched a little of the 6 a.m. news, and went outside and fed the horses, bunny and cats.  I filled up Winston’s heated water bucket on the back porch and poured him two cans of kibble.  Then it was time to wake up Batman.

I walked into his room and glanced at the mess surrounding me.  The room was in even more disarray than usual after being tossed several times in search of the missing Wamstey.

I glanced at the hamster cage on the floor as I walked by, thinking I was going to clean this whole mess up when the kids left for school.

When what to my wondering eyes did appear?  Two beady eyes and white rounded ears.

The hamster was back in her cage.

She's home

I could not believe my eyes.  There she sat, burrowed in the fresh bedding the kids had installed, washing her face contentedly.  I laughed in delight and whooped and woke Batman. “Look!! LOOK who’s back!”  Batman climbed out of bed and stretched, a big smile on his face.

“I told you mom.  Sparkles is magic.  She used her magic to get Wamstey back.”

Who Me

When I got home from picking the kids up from school this afternoon Sparkles had moved from her perch on the hutch to the top of Wamstey’s cage.  She appeared to be watching the hamster sleep happily in her fluffy blue bed.

Sparkles Watches

The kids took this as proof positive that she had in fact found and returned Wamstey to her cage during the night.

I can’t say I disagree.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Elfed Again in 2014: Sparkles Returns

As fall winds down and Christmas edges ever closer to the horizon, the kids in the Desperate Household have been getting increasingly excited about all the pomp and circumstance that comes with the holiday season.

Yesterday morning I was signing Batman’s reading log for school and he squinted at my writing in puzzlement.  “What’s the date, mom?”  I told him December 1, and he shrieked with glee.  “That means it’s almost Christmas!!”  Yes, I told him.  Nearly.  We had a brief conversation about how long, exactly, it was until Christmas.

When we got to the number of weeks, Batman’s eyes got big.  He looked at his sister and said “Sissie!! We only have three and half weeks before Santa comes. We better hurry and be good!!”

I agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment.

Annabelle and Batman are at the age now where they have each, independently, heard rumors at school and in various places that there is, in fact, no Santa Claus (shudder).  They have made the (I think wise) decision to continue to Believe.  As my astute little Annabelle put it “I think, Mom, that if you don’t believe in Santa then he won’t come see you. If you do believe in him, he will.”  She backed up this analysis with the fact that the kids at school who believed there was a Santa always got presents from him.  Those who didn’t, never did.

It makes perfect sense.

In conjunction with the visit by the fat man in the red suit, the kids have been overjoyed with anticipation over the impending arrival of Sparkles the Elf.  Sparkles has come to spy on our family for the past two years, and performed such a number of exciting escapades during her visits that I am honestly not sure what she can do to continue, let alone top them, this season.

Really, I mean I have no freakin’ idea.

Anyway, arrive Sparkles did, yesterday while the kids were at school.  Her manifestation this year looked like this.

Shes back

I thought she was fairly clever to spell out “Be Good” with the M&Ms, and she had written a well-worded letter telling the kids that basically they’d better stop fighting or Santa was cutting them off, for reals this time.  She said how she hated to have to give Santa a bad report on a family, then, for good measure, she added a paragraph about how tired she was from making toys and how the kids SHOULD NOT FREAK OUT if for some reason she did not return to the “shop” (Sparkles has gotten pretty casual with us by now) one night, because it did not mean she was sick or dead or paralyzed or anything at all really, she was probably just resting.

She brought her now-traditional Christmas mugs and a brand new can of hot cocoa mix, along with two stuffed reindeer and a Christmas Countdown calendar for each child.  I thought she was pretty generous.

The questions started just as soon as the kids approached me in the pickup line at school.  “Had I left the house?” (Sparkles has a history of only showing up when no one is home) and “Had Sparkles come?”  (I said I couldn’t answer that question), and so on and so forth, over and over again at an increasingly higher pitch for the whole five-minute drive home.

I had not shut off the engine in the truck before my excited progeny were out and bounding toward the house.  They whooped with excitement when they spied Sparkles at the top of the little tree.

Then they settled in to read the note.

Reading Note

Annabelle read the whole thing out loud, carefully sounding out any words that were somewhat unfamiliar.  Apparently Sparkles and I share the same propensity for using expansive and unwieldy language, preferring two or three words where one would do nicely.

The reading took her a bit.

Reading from the Back

When she was finished reading the note, the kids summarily destroyed the carefully designed M&M message that it had probably taken Sparkles at least fifteen minutes to design, stuffing as many of the red and green candies in their mouths as possible.

They opened their individual Christmas Countdown calendars and devoured the little chocolate snowmen hidden under the flap marked #1.  Batman expressed his delight over the calendar, but his sister was less than impressed.

“She brought us this same thing last year,” Annabelle said matter of factly.  She started to walk away, then stopped and turned, briefly.  “I’ll bet Sparkles was tired from all the flying to get here.  That’s why she didn’t do much when she got here this time.”  Then she continued on to her room.


I guess Miss Sparkles the Elf had better get her game on.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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