Archive for September, 2010

For Her

It’s late and I’m up, crushing chunks of powdered sugar into fine dust, grating lemons, cutting butter into chunks. My eyes are a little blurry, my hands coated in flour, I want it to be perfect. The best raspberry lemon cake she has ever tasted.

Because she is perfect.

The best anyone could hope for in a companion, a confidant, a friend. We knew each other, a little, when we practiced yoga together in a clean room painted robin’s egg blue, what seems like centuries ago. Before children, before Feeleez, before anything important ever happened. She left town at that time and it wasn’t until later, much later, when I saw her stroll past me in slow motion at the Farmer’s Market, her baby-belly before her enormous and beautiful, that her value struck me. My heart skipped a beat and she was lost in the crowd. Nathan seeing the look on my face nudged me forward, encouraged me to find her. So I did. Pushing past my personality, pushing past baskets of produce to find her, to tell her I like her. To seal, with a smile and an awkward shrug, a friendship.

It was one of the best things I have done in my life.

Happy Birthday my dear friend. I love you so.


September 27, 2010 at 4:00 pm 3 comments

Happy Birthday

Sure wish I could see more scenes like these.

Happy Birthday Dad.

September 26, 2010 at 9:40 pm Leave a comment


There’s a sheet of paper floating around the house right now. Scrawled in Bella’s nine-year old print, is:

“Special Club Members”

Bella: Club Leader

Xi: Tracker

Echo: Assistant

Doesn’t that sound about right as far as classic family dynamics go? Bella, the oldest, of course would not only come up with the idea of a club, but would also designate herself as the highest officer in the land. Next in line? The middle child, offered a post that indicates a modicum of involvement (as it turns out “tracker” is our girls’ version of secretary), without directly challenging the oldest sister’s superiority. And the little sister? Well of course she is given a role that satisfies her need for inclusion without offering any actual duties or tasks.

This hierarchy is kept in tact whether the game is Special Club, Gem Child, or Farm Game. Bella comes up with a stunning title and the most awesome character for herself, Xi complains of inequality, that Bella always gets the best name (Blue Star, Diamond Child, etc.), Bella concedes something slightly awesome to Xi, a title cool sounding enough to soothe Xi’s ego, and Echo flits about like a fruit fly, begging for recognition of any kind and then forgetting her role entirely. It’s like a template you could lift off at bedtime and then drag out again the next morning, to settle over the current fantasy scenario.

In fact this dynamic is so common at our house that yesterday when Papa was gearing up to pick up Bella for the weekend and Xi broke into tears we were outright flabbergasted. Xi, out of the blue, declared she was dreading Bella’s visit because in her mind Bella and Echo play all the time and leave her out. Nathan and I could barely pick our jaws off the floor. What?! We looked for clarification, peppering the middle child with questions. Are you serious? You really aren’t kidding? She was serious. Despite the fact that, by parental calculations, Xi and Bella spend approximately thirty consecutive hours each weekend, with heads bent, invisible strings of imagination binding them together, and eyes entirely blind to the rest of the world, Xi feels differently.

That’s the thing about life. To my great frustration, there is no official screenplay. There is only perception. Darn it all. Even though I know this, somewhere in my rational mind, I can’t help but drag out the dog-eared script, the thing I think must be the official version because it’s how I see it! I wanted to draw an illustration for Xi, two fused lumps representing her and her older sister, and a blurred orb circling around them representing Echo. I wanted to pull out graphs. I wanted her to see that what she was saying was pure lunacy. And we tried. At least a little. Reminding Xi that we, the parents, are almost constantly nudging the older girls to involve the little one, and if she conceded that fact then couldn’t she see that that meant she and Bella play together? A lot?

No, she couldn’t.

The basics of the situation were that a child was upset, and our usual response, at least our desired parental response during a moment like this, is to empathize. But it’s hard! When the feelings the kid is having simply do not make sense, it’s hard to find understanding, hard to dig up empathy. I become resistant, feeling like if I pat her back I will appear to agree with her perspective. If I wipe her tears I will be saying: You’re right honey. You ARE left out all the time. And she isn’t! Ever! But somehow we did it. We found empathy. In our minds we agreed to disagree and reminded ourselves that empathy is not agreement, it is simply acknowledgement.

Empathy is acknowledgement.

Empathy is only acknowledgement.

So we acknowledged.

You’re really sad. It’s upsetting to you to feel left out, even for a second. Yeah. Bella is important to you. You are so excited to see her and it’s hard when she pays attention to Echo huh?

And she felt better.

As we were hugging I remembered the family dynamic, the difficulty of the number three, everything I’ve read or heard about middle children, and my heart went out to the little pink-clad seven-year old. Nathan and I circled around her, smoothing her hair, squeezing her taut back, and said:

We love you so much. You are so important to this family.

Again and again.

September 25, 2010 at 8:36 am 1 comment

Conspiracy Theories

These are the true and uncensored reasons why I do not make it to the computer to post something new. In no particular order.

1. Lately the laptop, the heat of it, has been traveling through my wrists, into my forearms, causing an eery ache that permeates my muscles and bones, and makes my actual skin hurt. These sensations draw recollections of microwave warnings and all the articles my father has printed out and mailed to my home about cell phone use. Creepy images of nebulous tumors and modern-day diseases. Ew.

2. There is a particular three-year old running around these parts.

a. She has discovered on which a norwegian named Natasha reads classic fairy tales and the like. Although this website does not provide animation, said three-year old prefers to sit directly in front of the computer while the stories are read, thereby preventing a certain mother from doing anything at all computer related. And although said mother enjoys what listening to stories does to her child’s brain, she does not enjoy what these stories are doing for her productivity.

b. That same three-year old has a special sensor located somewhere within her brown and agile body that alerts her to any computer action. As soon as there is even a subtle move toward the corner, toward the keyboard, there are book requests, a sudden need to poop, vague but insistent needs to be held, or falling off chair accidents.

3. If I do not manage to wrangle a window of opportunity before the sun shines fully through the snake terrarium, the odds of writing go sharply down hill. While I can ignore the needs-to-be-swept- floor, my unbrushed hair and teeth, my got-dressed-quickly, still-don’t-have-a-bra-on, reached-for-the-first-thing-in-order-to-not-freeze-while-helping-the-child-unleash-her-morning-pee outfit while it is still considered morning, my awareness of them gradually increases as the sun rises. Before long their presence is pressing on me like that scene from the original Star Wars where the heroes are trapped in a trash compactor and the walls begin to smoosh inward. Tending to these things, the outfit and the disarray of the house, leads to the tending of other things and before I know it, the computer is a speck on the horizon, a missed rendezvous.

4. After the children sleep I like to pretend its my friday, like I’ve punched my time card and I’m heading out the door for a well deserved cigarette. But I don’t smoke. The closest thing I come to a smoke is some contraband chocolate that has been stashed on top of the fridge where children’s eyes do not roam. Permanently melty chocolate. But I like to act off-duty in some manner, even if it means laying on the couch. And although blogging, at least how I am currently doing it, is not work, it still doesn’t feel like a martini with fellow co-workers. Although, my co-worker is a bad influence in his own way. If I lay my desires to post before him he’d certainly let me type to my heart’s content, but most often his offers of a tiny tv screen, a movie, and snuggles on the couch, sound pretty off-duty to me and blogging quickly fades away.

5. I’m writing a book. This is kind of a secret. Shhhh! And mostly it means furtive scribblings in a hand-me-down notebook, that (I hope!) no one could understand if they tried. But nevertheless I’m a bit like my child, who narrates her every play move like a storybook: Then she dashed down the hill to save her baby. And then she looked over her shoulder and saw a beeeaauutiful unicorn! Only mine are more mundane: She sprinkled salt over the stir-fry, hoping to transform it from a pile of vegetables into something dinner-like. For the rest of the evening she’d catch tastes of her salty thumb and wonder… In any case, my brain is busy, and shy. When I absent-mindedly compose words for a post I can imagine those words marching right onto the computer screen. When I compose for The Book, my mind turns toward the corner, hides its face, whispers, and doesn’t go anywhere near something as public as a computer.

6. The seasons changed. This is a natural phenomenon, of course, one that Echo at least is delighting in. Mom! Look at the trees! I LOVE what is happening! And through her eyes I love it too. It truly is beautiful, but what a changing season also means is:

a. A shedding dog. An extremely sheddy dog. It turns out, who would have thunk it, that a dog lets go of his summer coat in order to grow a winter one. I personally would have thought it might be more efficient to add hair as preparation for winter but Henry thinks otherwise. He is shiny, silky, and just the softest pat of butter you’ll ever meet, but whereas I can get away with sweeping every other day in the off-season, twice a day is necessary during shedding season. Carpet scraping and giant dust-bunny(bison) herding is also necessary. A small thing really but when the window of opportunity is so narrow every second counts.

b. The great clothing trade-out. Currently, in our temporary, during-construction lodgings each family member has a personal tub of clothing, as there is no space for dressers of any kind. So when the weather turns snappy, no matter how much they rummage about, they will only turn over shorts, tank tops, bathing suits, and skirts, as I have shoved everything else into boxes. And those boxes are somewhere in the storage unit, the wild frontier of the storage unit, the dark tank that seemed so organized and simple as we were stuffing it last winter, but is daunting and mysterious now, seven months later. It’s only a block away but it might as well be cross-country in terms of practicality. Finally, when a sunflowered, thin dress just wasn’t going to keep Echo warm, we began the Great Trade-out. Strapping into the van, unlocking the tank, climbing about on upturned mattresses, shoving aside seemingly never before seen objects, re-locking the tank, wrestling boxes into the van, strapping in once again, and returning to not only wash every single summer item that every single family member has ever worn, but also trying on, re-folding, and re-figuring who wears what. It’s no small thing.

7. My man has a blog too. And he isn’t casual. I might leave a typo in my posts, I might say something slangy, I might describe with large brush strokes and let the reader form their own painterly understanding of what I am trying to say, but Nathan doesn’t. Each word he types is precise, it describes with absolute certainty what his meaning is, and if not, it is corrected before the next word hits the page. With a process like this, and with posts as long as at least a thousand words, you can not say that he whips them out. Oh no, you can’t say that. Did I mention that we only have one computer?

There you have it.

September 24, 2010 at 3:48 pm 2 comments

I Know Nothing

One time, during a bike tour with my sister and her boyfriend, we saw an epic battle between a daddy long-leg spider and a wasp. We were stopped in the middle of nowhere, our thighs rubbery from riding against the wind, looking for a snack at a faded signs, marshmallows, and kerosene kind of market. We sat on the pavement, days of dust and grime preparing us to make ourselves comfortable no matter the terrain. With our legs splayed in the sun, a high-calorie munchie in one hand, and contented smiles across our faces, a tiny movement caught our eye.

My sister and I are suckers for animals, shamelessly anthropomorphizing any beastly interaction, entertaining ourselves endlessly with alley cats, roadside horses, stray dogs, squirrels, any being from the animal kingdom, so a scuffle between two insects meant intense inspection, an almost nose-grinding, close-up view of the action. What we saw was a wasp holding the leg of a daddy long-leg, or a daddy long-leg holding the leg of a wasp. We couldn’t be sure. But it seemed like a tie, a never-ending tug-of-war without an obvious favorite, without a forecasted winner. In fact the foes were so closely matched that, to our greatest disappointment, we were made to pedal away without celebrating a victory.

Fast forward ten years.

To our garden, at the height of summer, to a peeking under leaves, to a search for hidden strawberries to add to our loaded bowl. Hazy orange summer light, fuzzy hummy summer sounds, and another movement catches my eye. It’s another daddy long-leg versus wasp contest, this time atop the raspberry leaves, this time right over my shoulder, in my own backyard. A ripple moves through my body, anticipation of satisfaction rises. Now, finally, all these years later, with the entire afternoon before me to wait out the battle, I will discover how these torturous, lengthy tug-of-wars end.

But it was over within seconds.

The wasp swiftly lifted the spider, plucked off its legs, one by one, like a de-feathering a spindly chicken, and then ate the ball of spider body like an apple. Crunch, crunch, gone. The wasp flew away leaving only a stack of spider legs on the raspberry leaf.

I know nothing.

A ten minute break during a bike tour allows for a perspective too tiny to understand the larger picture. Apparently, at no point is a daddy long-leg a true competitor when facing a wasp. My sister and I just happened to see a faltering moment, a momentary anomaly. We were young and naive, unaware.

This is why old people don’t envy the young. Sure they might miss the agile, nubile bodies, but they never want to trade places, to trade minds, to exchange their wisdom and experience for youth. The smackdown between the wasp and the spider makes me wonder what else I don’t know, makes me search for what else I thought I knew but really didn’t.

I thought I didn’t want to be an artist. I saw my mother painting, carving out space in the back of our garage, moving car sponges and screwdrivers to make room for her palette and paints. I thought it looked like a struggle. I thought it looked penniless. So I studied other things. I went to a science based university. I memorized the periodic table, I worked math problems that stretched for pages. But my mother went on to show in museums, in galleries across the country, and during class, while the professor rattled on, my fingers led a life of their own. The margins of my notes held portraits of every student between my seat and the lectern. My heart rattled and turned over, like an old car sputtering to life. I thought I could choose a “real-career”. I didn’t know that art chooses you, and like the spider, we are helpless against it.

I know nothing.

In my twenties I thought if I were to have a kid I would do it differently than others around me. The child psychology and development part of this notion was vague, not clearly outlined, not even on the horizon really, but the part I was sure about was the aesthetics. I saw parents loaded down with pastel diaper bags. I saw yards and houses filled with primary-colored plastic and thought, yuck. I thought my house would be different. I thought my diaper bag would be svelte. I didn’t know how much I would love my children, how rocked I would be by their presence in my life. I didn’t know I would want to stuff my bag, to fill it with soft cotton, replacement outfits, and beloved tear-stopping toys. That the trappings that enhance a child’s happiness are weightless. I didn’t know I would want to purchase primary-colored plastic. To wait expectantly while she unwrapped something bouncy. I didn’t know that the love I felt would eclipse my aesthetic grumpiness, that the mountain of emotion would make me color-blind.

These are the first two examples that come to mind. I am almost loathe to look any further, to torture myself with the myriad ways in which I thought I knew something only to discover different. But knowing that they are there, dappling my past like sunlight, is actually a comfort. If it happened before, it is happening now. I don’t know anything, which means there is no cause for worry, for plans, no cause for mushing my reality into the mold of what I think I know, either about myself or the world at large.

If I know nothing I can follow my daughter’s lead, instead of lording over her with my years of experience, my arguable knowledge. If I know nothing I can look at the world with wonder, watch the birds in the cherry tree instead of quickly passing with a cell phone to my ear.

If I know nothing then everything is new, nothing is decided, and everything is possible.

September 21, 2010 at 1:06 pm 2 comments

Hot Cocoon

I felt a bit like a bozo the other morning as I wrote triumphantly of sickness conquered, of having fought my way through puffy tonsils into the land of the living, of having passed the baton of family life into Nathan’s hands so that I could sleep my illness away. I was up early the day I wrote, full of the kind of energy that one feels after having suffered the anti-energy of sickville. I packed Xi’s lunch, swirling about like Mary Poppins, giddy with health. I wrote the “I was sick but now I am better!” post in record time, hitting the publish button before the household had even roused itself for the day.

But almost immediately after that I realized a different baton had been passed to Echo, that icky tonsil baton.

She called from the bedroom and I scooped her up, a docile, hot cocoon*.

Like me the day before, she attempted to go about her normal business, but after climbing into her chair, the herculean type feat that toddlers accomplish all the time, she muttered softly to herself, Oh, I’m a little tired. Our girls never say those words. I watched her carefully, and she encountered each and every one of my symptoms within a matter of minutes. Mama? My throat hurts, right here. Mama? My tummy doesn’t feel so good, I don’t want this cereal. Mama? My head hurts when I walk.

I’ve passed a lot onto this child, it seems my mongrel genes are determined to carry on. To be fair, I can not be absolutely sure that any physical trait Echo displays comes from me, but when I look at her I can’t help but see myself. The creases on her forearm, permanent evidence of baby fat. The wild, Barbie-like tangles. The knees that hyper extend. These things are little winks, a genetic nod to our relationship. When I see them, when they catch me unawares, I am filled with love for her, but also for me, for the kid that I was once was.

But there are some things a mother does not want to pass to her daughter, like acne, a tendency toward tooth decay, or pain of any kind. As Echo staggered toward the couch my heart leaned toward her, feeling guilt for having delivered the illness to her door. The acute knowledge I held, of what exactly that kind of tonsil pain felt like, exactly what she meant when she said the spot over her eye ached, made it all the more difficult. I wanted to commiserate, tell her how accurately our symptoms matched, but I held back. I know what it’s like to receive oh that happened to me once instead of empathy. To meet a girlfriend for coffee for help with a breakup, only to hear how her boyfriend cheated on her too, and all the details preceding and following. Moments like that leave my feelings untouched, unrelieved and left at the bottom of my heart while the rest of my emotional being tends to the needs of another.

My girl doesn’t care if my tonsils felt the same the day before, or that I too experienced head pain while walking. Her experience is personal, unaffected by what came before for someone else. So I was careful, as Echo described her ailments, to keep my responses entirely empathetic.

Your head hurts? Darn. Right here? Ouch.

Does your throat hurt when you swallow? Shoot.

And with the energy of newfound health, I was able to give her empathy through action as well, holding her while her head ached, or carrying her if she lacked the energy to move herself from room to room. We soaked in hot water to soothe her tender ears, we read stories, and snuggled, her feverish body heat warming me against the rainy afternoon.

Of all the sicknesses a child suffers in their lifetime, fevers are my favorite. A fevered child is warm, docile, and sweet, one that craves closeness, one easily contented with blanket tucking and special stuffed animals. I like that. I also like the delirious, languid chatter. The not-forecasted statements, To me, all pigeons are boys, and the tender declarations of love:

Mama? I want to be buried under the same stone as you. I want to lay with you in death.

This girl. How firmly she has hold of my heart.

* Cocoon. Apparently only moths make them. The caterpillar to butterfly transformation is a classic theme in childhood, as we all know. I’ve always used the general term, cocoon, to describe the magical hammock that opens to reveal the surprise butterfly, and every time, apparently, I have been wrong, The proper term is chrysalis. I thought you might want to know this as well. Oops.

September 20, 2010 at 9:47 am 3 comments

Out of Commission


It’s been a rough couple of days. Not the rain, not the early school mornings, not the sibling fist-fights, that stuff is just normal rough. No, the giant lumpy tonsil in the back of my throat, with the pustules, is the culprit. The put-it-off-until-the-last-possible-second-because-it-hurts-too-bad kind of sick. The lay on the couch, the bed, the floor, from morning until night, walk to the mailbox and need to recuperate kind of sick.

It’s been almost two decades since I felt like this. Senior year in high school. Stretchy, tight, white eyelet t-shirt, loose boy Levis, a field trip with Spanish class, and painful tonsils. That time around I limped through the day, speaking as little as possible, until I could make it to my mom. Like only a mother can she had me on antibiotics and tucked under her covers before nightfall. I knew if I could just arrive at her door and deliver the bare minimum description of my state, and I could be done, finished, no longer in charge.

But this time around things are different. The alarm went off at seven, and because it’s what I normally do, I was at the kitchen counter assembling bread slices before I realized just how bad things really were. The peanut butter was a new jar, needing to be mixed, the oil congealed on top in that unappetizing way. I gave it a weak stir, a bit of juiciness sluicing onto my wrist, and I had no other choice but to give up. My head reeled, my stomach turned, and I had to retreat to the couch for a spell. I lay there, eyeing the jar and giving myself a pep talk. Its only peanut butter. I can do this. Men and women all over the land stir peanut butter. The oil will mix with the nutty paste, it is sure to do just that. I’ve done it before, I’m sure I can do it again. There is only the sandwich left, after that I am scott free. I stumbled once more onto the battlefield, I stirred and stirred, I spread, I jellied, I cut the beast into bite-size pieces for the girl who’s just lost both front teeth. Victory music was playing in the background now, slow-mo. I clicked tupperwares, I taped the special note, I zipped. Wha-bam.

A quick pee, a hand washing to spare myself the nauseating nutty smell, a goodbye to the schoolgirl and I was out. I tagged Nathan, you’re it, and I was done. For the whole day.

I would have to be sick, really sick, to do nothing. To wind my scarf over my eyes and sleep against the light of the afternoon. To watch the children scratch each other’s eyeballs out and just weakly stroke their tangled locks. To feel the boring eyes of a particular yellow dog, a dog that hasn’t missed more than a handful of walks his entire eight years, and still pull the covers up, if not to sleep then to lie there, simply lie there.

And I didn’t have my mom, although I reminded myself of that fact in order to juice up a little more self-pity, but I did have phone calls from intuitive caring friends, pushing past my stoicism, letting me know how ready they were to help. Witches brew from my village-mate, delivered in a steaming, giant, mug, and offers of dinner. And I had Nathan. A house-husband at heart, given the chance to shine. After I passed the baton he was off and running, school drop-offs and pickups, a toddler field trip to the children’s museum, an evening dog walk,  dinner, conflict mediation, tooth brushing, story reading, dishes, and occasional tonsil inspections.

A flurry of action contrasting my inaction.

And now I am able to swallow, to stand without swooning, to speak above a murmur, and filled with gratitude for this body, this family, this man, this community.

Once again reassured that I can fall and be caught.

September 17, 2010 at 7:33 am 2 comments

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