Friday, December 30, 2011

The Gift of Losing

In a time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey.
- Beck from "Loser"

I'm not a terribly competitive person by nature, but I enter contests all the time.

I started paying attention to this blog in earnest because I lost a blogging contest this fall. I won a whole ton of new and delightful connections with such interesting people that I would not have made through the other blogging gig. I also won the freedom to write my own blog however I want to without trying to fit a particular mold. (As a friend of mine said shortly after we met: "You're not very mold-y, are you?")

I got to create this cake by entering and losing the Edible Book Contest.
Niel Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book"
I won the opportunity to see how amazingly talented some of my neighbors in this city are. I also won the opportunity to participate in one of the most delightfully nerdy events I have participated in since I was in Oddysey of the Mind in 6th grade.

I wrote the poem for tomorrow's post to enter and lose a poetry contest sponsored by the library last year. I won the opportunity to hear an 83 year old man read his poem about attending university on the G.I. Bill after World War 2. It was an amazing poem about not quite fitting in that awarded me the opportunity to weep openly in front of strangers at the library and feel all right about that. I also won another chance to see how amazingly talented some more of my neighbors in this city are. And as an extra honor, I got to participate in a drum circle without any sort of self-consciousness for the first time since college. That particular contest was a big win in my book and I can't wait to lose again this next year. 

In all of these and many other little contest endeavors, I have won the opportunity to show my monkeys without words how to take a risk and enjoy the process. I have certainly shown them how to lose gracefully. I have won the best cheering section anyone could ask for in my husband and kids. And I have won the satisfaction that comes with being a part of something

The sort of people who nod their heads and smugly mouth clichés will tell you "winning isn't everything". I disagree. You just have to know what you've won. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Gift of Innocence

The dinner music of choice this evening was the only Christmas album I will allow in my house: The Reverend Horton Heat's We Three Kings. For the uninitiated, The Reverend delivers up a selection of Christmas favorites in his surf rock, rockabilly style. They are soaked in bourbon and disillusionment and lost innocence and, in my humble opinion, go a long way to capture the actual spirit of the holiday season. The album starts off with a rollicking version of Frosty the Snowman that my jBird has loved since she called it "car seat the no-man".

As the album started, jBird commented between bites of blueberry pancakes: "Frosty is really the best name for a snowman." Which, of course, rattled loose a random memory from the Mama Vault.

When I was in 3rd or 4th grade - way back when the earth's crust was cooling and Soviets still roamed the land and public schools still had state-funded art and music programs - our entire grade worked on a papier-mâché snowman that, when it was completed, stood over six feet tall and had giant glittery LSD eyes. There was a school-wide contest to name the behemoth and the winner would be the lucky child to drag it across the stage on a dolly during our winter program while we all sang Frosty the Snowman. How cool is that?! Of course, the competition was stiff, but I was sure I had it in the bag. I had pulled out my ace in the hole. The best name for a snowman, ever: Hucklebug. 

I'm not entirely sure what I was thinking. I have no idea why I was so positive that all of my classmates would agree that Hucklebug was the quintessential snowman name, but I was completely shocked when I got not a single vote for my name of choice. 

"Hucklebug?!" jBird interrupted, "That's not a snowman name! No wonder no one voted for you! I think a good name would be Icicle or maybe Stardust."

"Ooh! Stardust!" the Hooligan piped up, "From now on, I want all of you to call me Mr. Stardust!"

jBird: "OK, Mr. Stardust. So, Mama, what name won?"

"Mr. Sparkles."

jBird made a face and said "Well, that's better than Hucklebug, but it's not terribly creative."

Exactly! That's what I thought then, that's what I think now and I'm sticking by it. In hindsight, the consolation is that the girl who came up with Mr. Sparkles was a shy girl who never won anything, so it was pretty cool that she got that honor and got to tote the teetering, careening giant snowman across the stage. I also am big enough to admit now that Hucklebug is not a good name for anything, much less a snowman. But Mr. Sparkles?! Really? You're telling me that's the best that all those bright young minds could come up with? I felt so vindicated that the jBird was pickin' up what I was puttin' down. 

We spent the rest of the meal trying to come up with the best snowman name. Well, three of us did and one of us kept insisting we call him Mr. Stardust. We were beginning to think that perhaps jBird was correct in her assessment from the very beginning - maybe Frosty really was the best name for a snowman - when jBird waved her hands around in the universal sign language for "Ooh! Brainstorm! Brilliance! IknowIknowIknow!"

"I have one better than Frosty," she announced proudly, "Whitey."

Innocence is truly a rare gift in these times. No need to take it away too early.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Gift of Faeries

Today I spent my day doing something I loathe and loving every minute of it.

But first, let me tell you a little bit about my jBird. She is my firstborn, so my pregnancy with her was filled with all of the excruciating clock-watching, book-reading, irritating all your friends with exhaustive explanations of your reproductive anatomy kind of wonder that first pregnancies usually are. Being a bit bookish and a bit of a perfectionist, I was going to do it the best. I read Spiritual Midwifery about 5 times and had the whole thing planned out. I knew better than anyone what my birth experience would be like - right down to the tie dyed, gender neutral onesie she would wear home from the hospital. Except that I didn't realize that it wasn't just my birth experience, it was our birth experience. The jBird's and mine.

My mental images of wandering the moors in my flowing white gown, gracefully pausing to exult in the next labor pain until it was time to squat and catch her myself while all of the leprechauns looked on - or whatever in the world I thought I would be doing - were completely (and thankfully) shattered before we even checked into the birthing center. She had her own agenda. An agenda that involved bouncing up and down, turning sideways, pooping in her water, completely tangling herself in her cord and hanging out for 17 hours inside despite my uterus' repetitive insistence that she move down. I'm pretty sure she waited until I actually voiced the words "I give up" before she decided to come blasting through. So tangled was she, that the midwife lost her heartbeat while she was on the way out and my baby girl flopped, blue and lifeless into a gray and exhausted world that April morning.

In my delirium, I mistook my husband's sobs for tears of relief and joy. I demanded that she be given to me. Why was it taking so long? Why wasn't she crying? For an extremely visceral few minutes, the flurry of activity beside me took shape and I understood why no one was paying attention to me. And then, finally: her voice. A righteous scream. As my mother-in-law said while watching through the crack of the door: "She's pissed!" That scream that grabbed every nerve in my body, cut through the haze of exhaustion and adrenalin, and named me "Mama". I have never wanted to hold anyone so badly in my life. And she has kind of been the boss of me ever since.

I threw out the books when she was 6 months old. They didn't make sense, they didn't apply to her. She never slept, but she rarely cried, either. She was content to look at everything in the whole world and smile. She was nearly 10 pounds when she was born and strong. She rarely wanted to cuddle. Even nursing, which she loved, was not a particularly cuddly affair. As she grew older, the personality that fought so hard to make it in those first few minutes continued to assert itself. She is so much a part of me, but wholly outside of my existence. She started talking ridiculously early and never really went through a baby talk phase and never really stopped talking, either. As soon as she was able, she kicked my gender neutral nonsense to the curb and embraced pink and frilly and princesses and accessories with abandon, single-handedly solving that particular nature vs. nurture debate.

She's the pink to my gray. The extrovert to my introvert. The confident to my retiring. The polite to my grumbly. But she and I have just enough in common to drive each other insane. Opinionated and right? Yup. Emotional and explosive? Sometimes. Ridiculously high expectations of ourselves? Oh yes. But she has been the balm to my ego. I am so ridiculously proud of her, yet she humbles me daily. I take no credit for her good qualities - they have been there since birth. It has merely been my job to encourage those as they emerge more fully. I didn't make her who she is. She came that way. I walked into her bedroom to check on her the other night and she sat up, still asleep, and said
"Mama, can you sense it?"
"Sense what, honey?"
"Just everything. In the whole entire world."
And then she rolled over and went back to sleep. That pretty much sums her up.

So today. We had a very rainy day with not a whole lot to do. The Chief Lou was waiting around on a fire wood delivery and the monkeys were about to strangle each other. "Hey, jBird, let's go run a special errand, just you and me." Our special errand was to go 30 minutes north of my comfort zone into the suburbs where the cars get bigger and the bumper stickers get scarier and visit the brand new American Girl store. We don't normally indulge faddish playthings, but we reconciled ourselves to one of these dolls under the auspices of it being vaguely literary and because the jBird is a good kid who rarely has to follow the crowd. So today, in an explosion of hot pink and orange and screaming girls, my wee girl and I navigated around this wonderland of doll clothes and accessories that even I will admit are beautiful. It was really my worst sort of nightmare experience: mass consumption, the mall, lots of other people's children (girls, no less!), crowds, the mall, the suburbs, the mall.

But watching this rare little Bird's delight was worth every second of it. She had a designated amount of money to spend and a few ideas of what she was looking for. She asked for no more. She walked methodically around the store, weighing her options. She politely asked one of the sales clerks if an item was in stock and then calmly shrugged when it wasn't and thanked her anyway. After inspecting everything she decided on "the most beautiful gown in the world" and very seriously took it to the counter to pay for it. I, of course, had to get the accessories pack that went with it. When she busted me trying to slip it into the bag and pay for it on the sly, she insisted "No, Mama. I don't need that. You don't have to do that." And then we went out for sushi and discussed racism over lunch.

My relationship has never been what you would call comfortable with my little girl. We love each other with an intensity that often tips to extremes. I recognized very early on that she would not just be a miniature version of myself, that there were things in our respective worlds that we just wouldn't understand. I have tried with a mother's heart to accept and respect these differences every single day of her life, not to try to change her to how I think she should be, but encourage her to be who she is. Some days I'm better at this than others. She literally tore me open when she was born and when they patched me up, they stitched a little bit of her into me that burns white hot and aches for her.

A few years ago, I was talking to an Italian friend of mine about her. She asked me how the jBird was born, and when I told her, she nodded and said "That explains it perfectly!" My friend told me that in Italy there's an old wives' tale that children who have traumatic births are touched by faeries. That in surviving that first few crucial minutes, the faeries carry them and give them special gifts. And that's my jBird: the twinkling, smiling light in my life that I will never quite catch, never quite hold, but will grace me with her presence nonetheless and name me "Mama".  My gift from the faeries.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Gift of Imperfection*

One of the things that has stuck with me from elementary school Social Studies - besides the rap about Andrew Jackson that my friend, Sara, and I wrote and performed for the class ("My name is JACKS-on from WAX-haw!") - is a little fact about a particular Native American tribe known for their intricately woven blankets. Apparently the master weavers would intentionally weave a mistake into each of their blankets so as not offend the gods by being "perfect". (Now that I'm thinking about it, I may have learned this from Antiques Roadshow. No, I couldn't possibly have. I think I've known this longer than that show has been on. I digress. I will continue this discussion with myself later.)

Anyway, this notion of the intentional mistake is something that has really appealed to me over the years. I point to this concept whenever I am confronted with my own knitting errata. Oh, that? I did that whole row of lace backwards because I wouldn't want to consider myself equal with the gods of knitting. It works for just about any sort of situation, actually. Burned dinner? Can't have the kitchen gods angry with you. Wedged your foot between the bus step and the curb and fell flat on your face? Gotta remind the public transportation gods that you know your place. Wore your shirt inside-out all day? Lettuce stuck in your teeth? Garlic breath of doom? The personal grooming gods are a vicious lot and you certainly don't want to mess with them by daring to be perfect.

I am, by nature, a bit of a perfectionist. Far from perfect, but a perfectionist. It's not the sort of perfectionism that drives me to keep a spotless house or match my socks to my underwear every day. I have a lot of hairs out of place and the whole grunge movement got their look from me. I have always wished I was that sort of perfectionist. The kind that looks good. But no. I am a perfectionist in the things that I believe (whether they were or not) were entrusted to me. If I make a commitment to do something, by golly, I will do it and I will do it right, and I will do it the best I've ever done it. Whether it's recycling or knitting or smoking or breastfeeding or walking to school or reducing my carbon footprint or folding laundry or making birthday cakes or folk dancing.  This serves me well most of the time. It's exhausting sometimes, but generally means that I get things done. It certainly helps with the whole parenting thing. And the spouse thing. The flip side of this, however, is the crushing self-inflicted guilt for not measuring up to my own, bizarre, somewhat randomly determined standards. The hubris of this whole way of life does not escape me.

So, if I.... well, let's just say... make a commitment to post on my blog for every single day in December and then the day after Christmas, decide that my time would be better spent playing board games with the monkeys and curling up on the couch with a giant burrito and the Chief Lou and watching Harry Potter instead of writing something, well, then there's a bit of personal hell to pay. The strange self-recrimination for skipping a day. For being "lazy". For failing on my commitment to... what? At about 11:57 last night I said "Oh no! I forgot to post today!" and the Chief Lou said "Oh well." He's good for me that way, you see. He reminds me that I don't have to go full bore charging into everything in the whole world and that I sometimes can just take a day off. And he can gently remind me with two words ("Oh well") that while he's proud of me for the whole blog thing, spending time goofing around with my family is not exactly failing at anything.

Neurotic perfectionist that I am, though, I thought I'd just let the blogging gods know that yesterday was my intentional mistake. It is my flaw in the blanket. Because heaven knows this whole blog thing is serious stuff. Can't be messing with the gods of blogging, making them think that you think you're one of them or something.

*A note on the title. There is also a book of the same title by Brene Brown. It's a pretty good pop-psychology read for those of us folks who drive everyone crazy trying to be perfect and failing at it. This post has very little to do with that book, but I thought I'd mention it in case someone stumbled upon this post by Googling the title and was confused. And if you're the person who Googled "sleek-jowled" and found me, please leave me a comment and explain how that all came about. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Gift of Blank

My mind is blissfully blank.
The sort of blank that comes when I try to find words to describe the love I feel for my family.
The sort of blank that comes from being wholly and completely in the moment.
Nothing forward, nothing backward, just right now.
It also may be the sort of blank that comes from lots of espresso, Swedish meatballs, cheese and crackers and delicious homemade turtles.
It is the sort of blank that comes from being full up to the top of so many things.
Blank like a smooth, calm surface.
It is the sort of blank that floats and is fuzzy and warm and is nice.
Blank like a blanket.
A great big, happy, sated sigh.
Merry Christmas to all of you. Or Solstice, or Hanukkah, or Festivus, or Sunday, or whatever in the world you want to celebrate today. I like twinkle lights and ham, so Christmas it is for me and mine.
Blissfully blank and present.
My prayer is that everyone should at least have a taste of this at some point in their lives.
I know how fortunate I am to have such presence today and so many days of my life.
I know this blank is blessed.
I hope you have filled in your own blanks today!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Gift of This

This is my favorite part of Christmas. This twinkly, firelight quiet.
Monkeys are scrubbed and brushed and tucked away with books and kisses and hugs and drinks of water.
Little snores will be lilting down the stairs in a few minutes.
And this. It settles like a sigh over the house.
The planning is done.
No more shopping, no more traveling, no more making lists.
Just this.
We pad around and shush and giggle and shush again while we stuff stockings, wrap a few last presents and put them under the tree.
 No hurry, no rush. Just this.
This basking in my family.
This quiet teamwork with my soul mate.
The quiet pride in our little people.
The quiet time together to reflect on our year, our monkeys, our life.
This quiet, simple good.
The rest of the world melts away in the circle of warmth and light that surrounds us.
Nothing matters for a while  but the precious heads under this roof.
It's us and we're here and we're strong.
No matter what the year has brought us, we can always look back with joy.
We can always look ahead with peace.
There is faith here, there is love, there is safety, there is strength. There is this.
This is my favorite part.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Gift of Half a Brain

"Did you hear about Shannon?"
"No." There were about 56 Shannons.
"So, you know that disease where you throw up when you eat? Bulgaria or something?"
"Whatever. Well, she has that and she was, like, pregnant? And she didn't, like, know it? And last night she, like, threw up her baby. That's why she's not in school today."
"That's not biologically possible, you know."
"Whatever. I don't even know what you just said, but it's, like, true. Don't tell anyone, OK?"
"Yeah, I'll be sure not to repeat that."
-  actual conversation with an actual person who should have known better

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

-  Alexander Pope

If a little learning is dangerous, then no learning at all is downright deadly. But amusing sometimes.  Whatever.
Drink largely, my friends.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Gift of Vision

That's my word for 2011.
A dear friend and I have been exchanging words for the New Year for several years now.

Clarity of purpose. Clarity of thought. Clarity of health. Clarity of vision.

It's remarkable how much one little word can yank you back on track throughout the year.

I have a little ornament that hangs above my kitchen sink year-round. It's a little antique-looking engraving of two little girls walking arm in arm and it says "Happy New Year". I originally put it there several years ago when it was too heavy for the Christmas tree. I neglected to put it away at the end of the season, so I made up an excuse to leave it up. Every day is the beginning of a new year. I make New Year's Resolutions year round. But once a year, I think about the year to come and choose a word.

Clarity. Some days this year, I wished my word was Claret instead. Some days it was clarified butter. Tasty, tasty days. Some days this year, my word was Clarence because that's almost always a funny name. Mostly it was clarity.

I discovered a few weeks ago in my first visit to the eye doctor since 1995 that my blurry vision was not as a result of over 7 years of being really tired. So now I wear glasses. A childhood dream come true after it's no longer a dream. I wasn't thinking of that sort of clarity when I thought of my word, but it works.

I've been sporting about in my new glasses just looking at things. I am really kind of appalled at how much clearer everything is now. I had just gotten used to squinting or fuzzy edges or using trombone arm to read things. I just put up with it until I just could not read the liner notes on a CD no matter what kind of ocular gymnastics I did. What other things have I just been putting up with that are easily remedied?

Clarity. Clear out junk. Clear out old and useless ideas. Clear space for something new. Clear the air. Clear the cobwebs. Clear conscience.

It's kinda hard. Sometimes clarity in a situation reveals a troubling truth. Sometimes clearing out old ideas leaves you exposed and chilly. Sometimes it's too tempting to just continue to put up with something than to make way for something new. Sometimes the cobwebs are hiding more junk that needs to be cleared.

But I have a fabulous new accessory. Three fabulous new accessories, actually. The doctor suggested that bifocals might be an option. They most certainly weren't. So, cherry blossoms and movie starlet sunglasses for distance and hot pink stripes for reading. If I must, I must with flair. So these accessories change my face, but clear my vision. I hardly notice the lines around the edges any more. I don't like to be boxed in.

I can see clearly now. So, in these last few weeks of the year I'm looking looking looking to see what else I need to clarify. It's only fitting that this year of Clarity be concluded with clarity of vision. I wonder what I'll see next year? 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Gift of Magic

Dear Santa,
Rumor has it that you're magic. Being a rather magical person myself, I'll buy it. I'm not going to bring my kids to sit on your lap, though, because I'm going to keep all that lap-sitting to myself and I'm trying to teach them boundaries with strangers. Because seriously, if it were any other time of year, would parents line up for hours and pay for their kids to sit on a random sweaty man's lap? I think the kids who scream demonstrate a remarkable amount of sense for their young years. But I digress.

I don't have my kids make lists of things they want to get, so you won't be hearing from them. They do make lists of things they want to give, though. Surely you can forgive them for taking away some of your business. One less chimney, eh? Besides, our chimney is actually a rather narrow stovepipe and our roof has a steep pitch to it. There will undoubtedly be a roaring fire in the stove anyway and I don't want the scent of singed red polyester fur and beard hair to add to the other odors in my house. I only just recently got the fish smell out of my house from the unfortunate Homemade Fish and Chips Incident.

I do have a few requests, though, since you're magic and all. You won't even have to drop them off at my house on Christmas Eve. In fact, I'd rather you didn't because I will be busy wrapping a few gifts and putting them under the tree for my kids, not because they've been good, but because I love them and presents are fun. Because, let's face it, even the best of us is naughty from time to time and it's a great big burden for such small shoulders to feel like they have to earn tokens of my affection. Yup. My affection, not yours. I'm getting off track again. My requests.

When I am old, I don't want to wear purple. Or a big red hat. Well, maybe a big red hat, but I'll wear that now that I am young, too. No, by the time I am old - so far in the future - surely technology will have advanced enough to grant me this wish. Just in case it isn't, though, I'll lodge my request with you now. When I am old, I want to be one of those old men who sits on front porches. You must have seen them. The ones with the faces like the blossom end of an apple, a gimme cap and bib overalls - which I will most definitely refer to as "dungarees". I want to spend the end of my days watching the world come and go around me, telling ridiculous jokes and long stories, handing out nickels and commenting on the weather. I'd also like to believably be able to say things like: "Sarsparilly" and "If I had my druthers..." with a little bit of denture whistle in my aspirated consonants. And I want to do it in dungarees. You have some time to work on that one, though.

More immediately, I would like for you to leave a note for the folks who leave you cookies and let them know that they, too, are magic. That it is they, not you, who make this place a wonderland of mystery and discovery. You might also want to mention to them that they should stand up and take credit for this magic, because you might not know this being all put away on moth balls on the North Pole for 10 months out of the year, but that magic everyone attributes to you? It's theirs and it happens all year long. Every single day of the year, people all over the world are working this magic by thriving, surviving, overcoming insurmountable odds, reaching out quietly to others, doing their work well, loving each other, standing up, smiling, giving up their seats, holding hands, holding doors, planting flowers, laughing, singing, and just doing all the things that people do to make it through the day. Even heartbreak is a kind of magic. Fireflies alone are proof that you don't have the market cornered on magic.

I know that some people need you as that reminder, and that's OK with me, because that's part of what makes them magical. But as long as you're reminding them, please remind them that there's no season for being good or giving or nice or jolly. (In fact, I think some of those especially sticky days in the dead of summer could use a little something extra from you.) I think you could be instrumental in lifting all of our collective spirits and it might solve a lot of larger problems if you would just leave this little note for all the boys and girls of all ages that you visit:

You are magic, you are joy, you are peace, you are good will. Choose it, embrace it, live it.

And then if you could get to work on the gimme cap and dungarees thing, that would be peachy.

Tangled Up in Lou

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Gift of Full Frontal Nudity

My own house
in precious preschool hours.
Space for silence...
for shaving...
for solitude.

For warm,
scented spray,
unsullied by
sudden movement
of tiny bowels.

Stepping out
Forgot my underwear
All alone
No matter.

Picture window.
Broad daylight.
Merry Christmas,
Mr. UPS Man.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Gift of Time

It seems there are some of us who never have enough. Begging for extra hours in the day, complaining that we can't cram our plans into the allotted space. We all get the same allotment, but somehow, some have more of it than others.

Some people have too much time on their hands. Too many hours to fill with something besides ghosts of things lost, people past. The clocks that some of us glance at in our haste to make it to the next item on our list of things to do, sit and quietly mock them as the moments tick-tick by in a muddy interminable procession.

I will admit to being harried and hurried even as I try to forcibly slow life down to a human pace. I will admit to losing hours and suddenly being late or run-run-running from one thing to the next even after I've determined to limit the necessity for such. We live in a mostly hurried and harried world. Mostly.
There are people who fall through the cracks, though. People who see an empty day ahead not as a luxury, but as something to be endured, blurred with the days before and after. We don't like to think of those people. Perhaps we don't slow down enough to consider. We take for granted our brimming days and sometimes nights. We lose the ability to concentrate.

Today we load up the car. Presents and parents and monkeys and preparations. We load up the car and we slip through the crack. We take a few of our busy days and we give them away. We give them away when we'd rather guard them selfishly with our stalwart pajama-clad selves. We give these few days away when we need them so much to ourselves to regenerate, refresh, renew. We give them away because that is what we do. A gift means more when it comes with sacrifice. A gift means more when it is something someone really wants.

We'll take our busy-ness and our days and fill up some time for a lonely soul. A lonely soul who sometimes forgets how to see that things are good, who sometimes loses touch with what it means to care. A lonely soul who is wrapped so tightly in grief and longing, the needs of others recede into the far distance. We give because we love. Not because we can fix or change or because it's comfortable, but because it's what we have to give. Because we have these precious, overflowing hours of noise, of gaiety, of chaos. Because we can fill some bleak and empty time with our own breed of magic.

Undoubtedly, the time will drag for some and be gone too quickly for others. Undoubtedly, it won't be enough. It's never enough. There's never enough life to make up for what's lost. There's never enough joy to make up for the emptiness of days. But we give because we love. Because we love and because it's ours to give. We give it away in order to gain perspective, to appreciate the time we have.
We take our days and slip through the cracks and we give the most precious thing we have.
We give because we love.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Gift of Carrion

Dead meat.
Squashed and mangled on the side of the road. Smelly and bruised and bloodied with bristly hairs sticking up at odd angles; bits of leaves and trash stuck to it. It used to be alive, vibrant and vital. Now it's just a distasteful lump. Avoided by gazes and by passersby. Don't want to get that on you.
This is me today.
Someone brought a cold home from school last month. And she shared. She's a loving girl, generous to a fault. Snuggly and sweet and shared her snot. And because we're a patient and caring family, we all took turns. Not everybody all at once. We savored the cold, passing it around like show and tell. Round 1.

It's all a haze of tissues and Tylenol and hot honey lemon tea now. Coughing, coughing, coughing. Eucalyptus steam baths in the middle of the night for little koalas who can't breathe to sleep. Stir crazy monkeys. Well enough to be grumpy, not well enough to go to school. Round 2.

Aching, spinning heads, wonky brains. Chills, exhaustion. Someone touched something somewhere. Didn't wash their hands. I'm positive of it. Someone thought that making blowfish on a glass door in a public place was a good idea. Or some such nonsense. A preschool holiday party that sounds like a TB ward. Sends me crawling out of my skin. Don't touch that kid, he's sticky. Someone shared again. Round 3.

Finally mending, first good night's sleep in weeks. Coughing has abated, color has returned. Personalities back to normal, whining ceased. Looking good for our impending road trip. Until yesterday afternoon, the Hooligan: "Mom! Mom!" an edge of fear in his voice, "Come here! I can't stop shivering!" I could feel the heat radiating off of him before I even touched him. Into the tub, onto the couch swaddled and Tylenol-ed. A night in fitful delirium, doing math problems out loud in his sleep, talking of trains and something is "f-f-f-fresh". Obviously not me.
I'm carrion.

But I will carry on.
This is the job I signed up for when that extra line showed up on the stick. This is part of the mission. This is the onus of parenthood.
 To carry on.
Without resentment, but with gratitude for strong and healthy children whose illness is only seasonal; for a faithful, dedicated partner in this endeavor. With purpose: to create a warm and safe and comforting place for little people to feel so bad. With one foot in front of the other.

To carry on.
Even when you feel like carrion.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Gift of a Tenacious Pear

The tree is older than the house and twice as tall.
The house is a hundred years old.

It's a remnant. A towering reminder of the orchards that covered our neighborhood before working-class Norwegians built sturdy, yet modest houses.

In the spring it's a three-story herald of warmer days to come. Magnificent in its blanket of tiny pinkish-white blossoms. Those warm days come and the tiny petals flutter down like sweet-scented snow, leaving a scene like the day after a wedding in our back yard.

When the pears start to appear, it means it's almost time to go back to school and the light in the afternoons will  have a bit more of an edge.

By the time the pencils are sharpened and the lunch boxes are filled, the pears will be ready. Ripe and voluptuous with their broad hips and dainty shoulders.

Don't let them fool you, though. These ladies are tough. Their skin is thick, their flesh is firm and dense, they are coaxed to tenderness by only the most ardent flames, tempered with some spice and the dark and yielding sweetness of brown sugar. They are not for the faint of heart.

They wait patiently on their boughs for little climbing legs to chase them, tiny hands to grab them and bring them in. But with the first winds of autumn, they who haven't filled their dance cards come raining down with heavy, impatient thuds only to be snatched up by squirrels and raccoons bedding down for the winter.

And then my tree is bare again.

Except for this year. Except for one tenacious pear.

It hangs right in front of my kitchen window. It has kept me company all these many months. I watch it every day as I go about my business. It is one of hundreds this season - thousands in the life of the tree - but this one caught my eye. I keep tabs on it. It keeps tabs on me.

It is small. Just larger than a baby's fist. It has steadfastly refused to join its sweeter, juicier sisters in developing. I have watched it and cheered. I am a quiet collector of the small, the odd, the different.
It, by virtue of its smaller size, has avoided the rain, the wind. It has clung to its bough in defiance of squirrels, of season, of gravity.

It hangs there: tough and hard and small. It is my champion.
It has taken the things that make it different and used them as tools of survival.
It is not conventionally pretty. Its skin is a little darker, a little speckled; it's too narrow for any traditional use. But it is beautiful in its strength, its courage, its tenacity.

They're predicting a hard winter this year.
But that's all right.
I've got my talisman. My tenacious pear.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Gift of Power

The only Asian kid in my elementary school in a small town in Vermont was Bruce Powers. We all had a crush on him. My brother had a crush on his older sister, Amy. She had strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles. I suspect one of them was adopted.

The weekend that we discovered we were expecting the jBird, the power went out across the entire northeastern part of of the United States. I suspect it was a portent of things to come.

A friend and I once sang Snap's I've Got the Power while doing a semi-choreographed dance on the Great Wall of China. I suspect we gave the locals a mistaken impression of what Americans are like.

The state university where I finished my degree had excessive P.E. requirements for graduation, so in my last semester I signed up for back-to-back Power Walking classes starting at 7:00 AM, 3 days a week. That was the semester that I also developed bursitis in my right hip. I suspect it was caused by my extra, crooked vertebra, not because I was a wimp as my instructor was fond of telling me.

My dad used to say "money is power". He always told me to give money to people rather than lend it to them because I didn't want to have that sort of power over people. I suspect he was right.

The power ballad, More Than Words by Extreme, came on in the grocery store the other day. I sang at the top of my lungs. When my monkeys protested, I said "What?! This is so about my life!" and continued to sing. I suspect this will fall into the category of suppressed childhood memories.

In my house, the sentence "I'm going to power out a deuce" is in no way a reference to either tennis or cards. I suspect that you probably guessed that.

I don't understand the "power nap". A nap for me is a long, leisurely, drooly affair. I suspect I have been sleep-deprived for too long.

In a social psychology class in high school, I learned this concept: Whoever has the least interest in a relationship has the most power in said relationship. I spent several years trying to perfect feigning disinterest. I suspect that was ineffective.

A friend of mine posted this article the other day about stereotyping powerful women. I suspect that the stereotyping will end when we stop speaking in terms of powerful women and powerful men and instead speak of powerful people.

I find most definitions of power to be suspect.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Gift of Pretension

This was written for Mama Kat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop. Check out her blog & all the fun stuff she has going on. This is a response to one of this week's writing prompts: 'Share an experience from your college days.'

I sat hunched over my smiley-face mug in the dim kitchen. The dark, wood-grained paneling contradicted the high, ornate ceilings in an argument that had continued since the day someone had butchered a lovely old house into college apartments. The dishes hadn't been done in quite some time, but that was OK. They were mostly coffee mugs already stained and ringed so badly that to wash them was merely a formality anyway. The hazy, green, fluorescent light was just a little too bright and gave the whole room a surreal quality. And at its center, amidst coffee stains, half-read books, works in progress and meandering cats, sat Sam.

Sam was the King of Surreal, himself: ruling from his kitchen on his chrome and vinyl thrift store throne. As I said, I sat hunched over my coffee mug. Hunched because it was the end of the coldest January western Kentucky had seen in decades and it was way too conformist to pay the gas bill. Hunched because Sam was speaking at length about a pet topic and I was listening intently - mesmerized.

His voice continued, soft and gravelly, stopping occasionally to inhale from the cigarette he was using more for punctuation than a nicotine fix:
"...and for a while I was all up in that scene, you know? Those cats who are all that. And they just come up with that stuff and all that. You know."
His long fingers darted about with the rhythm of his speech. Sometimes the fingers would suddenly shoot out toward me, accompanied by an arch of the eyebrows. This was my cue to nod. True to form, I hunched and nodded:
"I know exactly what you mean."
Because, of course, people like me knew exactly what it was to be all up in that scene.

That was precisely why I was chosen to be a loyal subject to this King of Surreal; to sit in this hazy kitchen and stare at the poster of a movie he had never seen that was based on a book he had never read, to maneuver my way through ashtrays and coffee mugs, to hunch and nod, to lose feeling in my fingers and toes, to wake up aching and bruised from sleeping on the floor in the clothes I'd been wearing for three days. The pain of it all was just so delicious.

Sam continued his monologue and I sat in rapt attention, wondering if I should interrupt him to let him now he had just ashed in his coffee. Instead I hunched and nodded as the fingers, cigarette and all, launched toward me again as if sent by the cocked eyebrow.
"Yeah. I know exactly what you mean." Hunch. Nod.

The frightening thing about the whole thing is that I really did know exactly what he meant. Probably better than he did. Sam and I had that "I know exactly what you mean" sort of connection ever since our first chance meeting over an unending game of Monopoly. I don't remember exactly how it started or where it came from, but suddenly we were like brother and sister. Co-conspirators against the world and ensconced in the nightly ritual of imbibing massive amounts of caffeine, nicotine, and the fumes from our own hot air. We were intoxicated by our understanding. We shared such a common angst that complete sentences were totally bourgeois. Never in my life were the words that and it so laded with import.

We had figured it out and that made us all that.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Gift of Memory

I must have been about 4 years old because we were living in that big old 4 story house in Akron, Ohio. My brother and I were greatly anticipating a trip to King's Island with some friends, when we woke up to rain. My dad's response to our wailing about the weather was to get down on his knees with us and pray with us for sunshine. A few hours later, he came into our play room and sat us down by the window.
"Look at my hand. What do you see?"
"Uh... lines?"
We studied his outstretched palm, completely at a loss. Then he took a our fingers and traced the slant of a ray of light that was falling across his hand.
"Sunlight!" We jumped up and down and danced around. Our trip wasn't ruined after all. We hugged our dad and told him thank you.
"I don't think it's me you need to thank." He told us and quietly left the room.

I doubt if my father were alive today, he would even remember this ever happened. I doubt my brother remembers it, either. It was just another day at our house. I suppose if my dad had never talked to us like that, it would have seemed strange and stood out, but we were used to his object lessons, his frank practice of faith, and his showing us how to live by faith, not just preaching it at us. As we grew older, the lessons became larger, clearer, but at the same time, less overt. It was still just who he was, who we were in relation to him and part of how we interacted.

There is always a lot of talk this time of year about "making memories". My immediate and oh-so-mature reaction to that sort of talk is "you can't make me!" But really. You can't. Think back across the span of your years to the memories that stand out to you the most. Are they the ones that are gussied up with bows and shiny paper? Are they the ones that were carefully orchestrated events? Sometimes they are. But probably, mostly they're not. The dearest memorable moments to me are of everyday life. Small mental snapshots of moments of presence. And, because I am human, not all of my memories are good. Stuff sticks with us. A lot of times it's random stuff. Stuff that has a particular color or smell or glow or feel to it. Stuff that takes less than a second to think about, but can flood you with longing or joy or heartbreak.

My old cell phone ring = sick with grief
Theme song to Magnum P.I. = my mom, green shag carpeting and popcorn
Pancake restaurants = the birth of my daughter
Dave Matthews' Satellite = dancing, warmth, vacuuming the ceiling, safety in the midst of chaos
Season Six of the West Wing = labor with my son
The smell of canned soup = being 4 and visiting an old lady friend of mine, feeling independent and older than my years
C.K. One = Halloween, drag queens, pumpkins, coffee, intense friendship, feeling lost
Coffee = home, my Chief Lou, laughter
Honeysuckle = intense loneliness
A certain brand of scented candle = my sister
Leather and old books = my dad

These are only a few off the top of my head. A handful that I can even describe in any sort of meaningful way. At no point in my young life, did my mom sit down and decide that we would "make a memory" by watching Magnum P.I. together every Thursday night. But that memory is sweeter and stronger than any of my young Christmases combined. In large part because my mom was relaxed, doing something she enjoyed, unselfconscious, and doing it with me. I felt so grown up and included when she would comment about how handsome Tom Selleck was (even if he did have such a high voice, according to her). She wasn't sighing and  stressing in the kitchen, trying to make everything perfect. There wasn't a house full of company to entertain, there were no extra chores to be done. Nobody was looking, we could just be.

One of my favorite memories of my husband is not from our wedding, or even from the births of our children. It's from a time I sent him to the grocery for a gallon of milk. He called me from the store to tell me that right near the dairy section they were selling those huge rolls of raffle tickets and would I like him to pick one of those up, too? Please? Please? Just thinking about it makes me all warm and fuzzy. The gratitude I felt immediately that I lived with a man who understood me so well. The deep appreciation for the absurd, my abiding love of off-the-wall office supplies, and the knowing just how delighted I would be to own that big red roll of tickets for no reason at all other than to tear them off at random and play with them, possibly raffling things off to members of the family when it struck my fancy, and then taking the time to call me from the store to share all of that with me in just a few silly words.

I have no idea what will stick with my monkeys when they are grown. I sincerely hope it's not how I injured myself by getting tangled in my jeans and falling on my head the other day. But if it is, that's OK. Because that's definitely part of who I am: klutzy and strange and finding pants problematic sometimes. And because I know that anything we do together is possible memory fodder. I'm less anxious about making memories with them than I am about living memorably with them. Then it will be up to them what their wonderful memories of childhood are.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Gift of Truth

"'Beauty is truth, truth beauty', - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Thank ye, John Keats. A beautiful sentiment and often repeated completely out of context. (Don't even get me started.) And, it's all well and good for a piece of ancient pottery, but really? Is that really all ye need to know? I don't know. Maybe it is. I'm mulling around this maligned poetic fragment today for a few different reasons. (Not the least of which is because I have to keep the gray matter sharp. Ouch. A sharp brain seems like it would be a painful thing, indeed. Maybe I just need to keep it firm, yet gelatinous enough to keep some of those mysterious folds and electric information highways open and firing in the correct directions. Radioactive jello, if you will. And speaking of electric information highways, who on earth embeds some sort of spammy iPad giveaway in a scholarly website of poetic deconstruction?! Digression complete.)

So, truth. It's been a hot topic the last couple of weeks (or millennia) owing to a writing prompt and a couple of friendly blogger awards. I'm not quite cool enough to know exactly what GBE2 even means, much less participate. But I have been cool enough to have received a few of these awards. Namely, The Versatile Blogger Award and the Tell Me More About Yourself Award. I want to say, as I have said before, that I am really and truly honored that each and every person who reads this blog even reads my nonsense. Your enjoyment is the ganache on the torte. And the Belgian chocolate curls are the little bits of love that get sent my way.

 The gist of the awards is to share 7 (not 6, not 12) things about yourself. That's where the truth comes in and it all gets slippery. Perhaps I'm over thinking the whole thing. (Moi? Never.) It's a little bit hard for me to disclose (I typed "disclothesed" by mistake and that's funny. Freudian finger slips.) these "truths" about myself because I think in the very act of it we edit it around to the things we think will be the funniest or the most interesting or make us seem award-winning enough. That's not to say we're all a bunch of dishonest liar-liars. It's just one of those human nature kind of things. We, all of us, have our pants on fire a little bit. It's the nature of personal perspective. I also think that the truths that we discover about people, we discover indirectly. Out of the corners of our eyes, if you will. They are the things that shine through the stories we tell, our reactions to situations, our interactions with our worlds. Sometimes the things we most fervently believe to be true about ourselves are more a product of defense mechanisms or our expectations of ourselves. Over thinking? Yes. But if you've hung around the Periphery any time at all, you know that's what we're all about here.

I believe there are absolute truths to be known. By definition, truth must be one thing and not another. I'm just not entirely sure that I can tell the truth about myself. I can, however, make up some fantastic lies. Being versatile, and all.

1. I have a goiter the size of a pomelo under my chin. Rather than have it fixed, I'd rather paint a face on it every day to reflect my mood.

2. The entities that I refer to as "the Hooligan" and "my jBird" are actually my extensive golf ball collection and a Grecian urn of my dead cat's ashes, respectively.

3. I make and wear pillbox hats out of old tuna cans. Sometimes I rinse them out first.

4. I only eat foods that begin with the letter M.

5. I am actually a retired rugby player (New Zealand All Blacks) who is writing this blog as a therapy exercise in "getting in touch with my feminine side".

6. When I was 6, I fell into an open manhole cover and was raised for 4 years by CHUDs until I was spotted on a reconnaissance mission to the grocery store for Mallomars. That's when the goats took over my upbringing.

7. I was once in a car full of underaged, drunk, naked people who got pulled over for failing to signal a turn. We were let go with only a warning. It helps to have those CHUD connections.

Now, anyone who has made it to the end of this nonsense intact gets an award.

Also, in all sincerity, go check out The M Half of the M-n-J Show. She's smart, she's got a rapier wit, she does weekly grammar lessons, she writes fiction, she obviously has eclectic taste in blogs because she gave me this award along with some other blogs that are good, and she lives in one of the coolest cities in the country. She's one of those people who is great to have around to keep you on your toes and keep you laughing. Who doesn't want someone like that around?  She also has a thing for parrots and pirates.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Gift of Lilacs

Her writing style is chatty and sweet. She writes with such earnestness and sincerity, you know she is exactly the sort of person who you would want by your side in a crisis. You just know she would listen, she would console and she would uplift without ever seeming preachy or smug. She is the genuine article.
Her story is fascinating. She's done so much, been so many places, but she's got this quiet humility about her. A simplicity of speech and authenticity that you can't help but love.

She is a woman of faith. She and her family have been putting that faith in action since she was born. This is a comforting thing in a world of half-truths and instant gratification. To know that there are people who live by their principles, no matter what, no matter where. Who have the patience to see which bend their journey takes next, and to do it with grace and good humor.

She reads my blog, so she must have a sense of humor. Or a lot of grace. I'm not sure which. She bestowed my blog with the Versatile Blogger Award, which is an honor. But the larger honor is that this woman would read at all. I am graced by her quiet presence. In fact, I didn't know until yesterday that she even knew I existed, even though I stop by and watch the pretty snowflakes fall on her blog.

Her screen name is Social Lilac, which even though I don't know her personally, seems perfect. Delicate, yet surprisingly strong flowers that can fill a whole house with the fragrance of their sweet presence. Instead of following directions (and including 7 tips for dealing with me and listing my favorite bloggers in no particular order) I will, instead, pay it all back to her. Because I feel a strong connection to her and to her story and I respect her for seeming to be a lot of things I am not.

So when you get a chance, go check out Papa is a Preacher for a dose of good sense, good grace, humor and light. And snowflakes.

**Update: I just discovered this morning via a comment on CdnKaro's blog that Larissa the Lilac is 17 years old. Seventeen! Now I am at least seventeen more times impressed with her.**

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Gift of Secret Codes

Ch 2, fpdc in first dc, (bpdc in next dc, fpdc in next dc) around, ending with bpdc. Join with sl st in first dc.

42296, 42517, 48903, 48968, 49271, 49202, 49106

2 C gran. sug., 2 C unsw. inst. tea, 1 1/2 C Fr. van powd., 1 1/4 C powd. cr., 1 1/4 C br. sug. packed, 3/4 C NF dry m., 2 1/2 t gr. cin., 1 1/2 t gr. nm, 1 1/4 t gr. card., 1 1/4 t gr. clo., 1 t gr. allsp., 1/4 t wh. pep.

harchau, armacion, dowze, nylor, rozon, boomeas, batsi, oblecoo, zings, whings, futhy, candecha, nabbee

"Should you pick up a chucket of bicken while you're out?"

My day has been dominated by secret codes today. Little bits of valuable information encoded in nonsense. A gray and misty Saturday spent with the people I love the most, doing my puttering with assistance. Puttering with purpose today, with the holidays approaching, but puttering nonetheless.

Cozy by the fire with my jBird, still in jammies, drinking coffee (Me, not her. Never her. The child never sleeps as it is.) and putting the finishing touches on a tam I'm crocheting for a dear friend. The soothing ritual of yarn and a hook dancing together to make beautiful fabric. Each stitch a thought, a memory of my friend, wound with the warm and snuggly contentment of this day.

A drizzly bike ride with the jBird to the market. Our list is of bulk spices for making delicious holiday treats for dear ones far away. The process of pumping legs on pedals followed by scooping, filling, labeling tiny plastic bags. The smells of a dozen different spices combined with a calm and happy pride as my baby girl reads the labels and prices, hunting for spices, her small unsteady hand making sure the 9 is the right way round.

In the kitchen with my monkeys. Tiny hands measuring, spilling, tasting, mixing. Taking turns, reading the recipe, little lips that move haltingly along the trickier words. Learning these codes with me: Which one is the big spoon? The T or the t? Practicing fractions the best way possible. More gifts for dear ones: This is my favorite part of Christmas, Mama.

Taking a break, sitting down to wait for the timer to ring. My new world of friendly strangers who stop by and gather little bits of my heart as it leaks onto the screen. Leaving bits of themselves behind. I marvel each time I look. Someone read. Someone liked. Someone took the time to say. Something I said reminded someone of something they know. It reminds me we're not alone here. Experience is common, it just needs to be discovered.

And this, my favorite code of all. The secret code we speak to each other. The years of jokes and songs and movies and malapropisms tumbling into everyday speech. The shorthand that says so much. The silly ways to make each other laugh in the simplest of communication. The glue that holds us together in the long run. It's a living history of us, adding new vocabulary daily. What started all those years ago has grown, enfolded two whole new people and become their code, too.
The thousand different ways we say "I love you."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Gift of Dynamite

 It gets me every time.
I don't know exactly why.

Maybe it's the way he's so earnest and concentrated.
Maybe it's because it is such a bizarre and true act of friendship.
Maybe it's because it's such a statement.

Every time.
He dances, I cry.
I have seen the movie several times. I own it. The first time I watched it, I was taken completely by surprise. I knew the dance scene was coming, could feel it all heading that way. I expected to laugh. But no. The tears sprung up and I made some sort of chiffon excuse to leave the room and collect myself. Now when I watch it, I know it's coming. I know the whole thing by heart. And still, I cry.

Maybe it's because he is so buoyant throughout the movie.
Maybe it's because I know that some of the most interesting people aren't always the most popular.
Maybe it's the triumph of something genuine, if strange, over the false hierarchy of high school.
Maybe it's because I admire the strength it takes to just be your own weird self.

I don't really identify with him personally. His plight was not mine in any sort of obvious way. Mine are not the cringing tears of all too familiar recognition. I know the movie is supposed to be funny, and it is. But usually the things we find the funniest, hit the closest to home. My home would have been across town from his. I would have been the girl who is embarrassed by her friends' meanness yet too afraid to stand up for him. So I cry.

Maybe it's because sometimes the least appreciated people are the strongest because they endure.
Maybe it's because it's so self conscious and raw.
Maybe they're tears of joy, though.
Maybe I'm so glad to see someone finally stand up and dance.

Every time.
He dances, I cry.

This was written for Mama Kat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop. Check out her blog & all the fun stuff she has going on. This is a response to one of this week's writing prompts: 'What is it about that movie that makes you cry every time?'

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Gift of Hot Dog Lemon Tea

Think of it as a stocking stuffer. There has been much discussion, both domestic and abroad, about the inadvertent advent of Hot Dog Lemon Tea. So, since I am a housewifely sort, I will divulge my recipe for this new taste sensation. It's more a method than a recipe and it takes rather a lot of preparation.

Starting at about 10:30 AM - Boil a fresh pot of water for the Hooligan when he begins demanding hot dogs for his "second breakfast". Leave the water in the pot because the boy can eat anywhere from two to six hot dogs in one sitting. You just never know. (Also, don't judge me. No, I don't know exactly what's in hot dogs. No, I don't want to know. Yes, I buy the nitrate-free kind because I heard somewhere at a meeting of the Conscientious and Competitive Moms Society where I was lurking outside the windows looking for discarded canapés because they wouldn't actually let me in that nitrate-free is the way to go.)

About 10:45 AM - Remember that the boy has to go to school, throw the appropriate number of food items in the appropriate combination of peak organicness and healthfulness into his completely re-usable, 100% post-consumer lunch kit and roar off to the nature park where he has school in your inexpensive, yet socially conscious car. Avoid eye contact with the mom who wears fur (fur!) to drop off and pick up at the NatureKids Preschool because she gossips and terrifies you and you're afraid one of these days you just might not squelch the urge to pet her coat.

11:15 AM - Stop by the grocery store on the way home (Must mind these carbon emissions, you know. Combining the trips and whatnot.) to pick up a few items for dinner (that are neither refined nor prepackaged, mind you.)

12:15 PM - Exit blinking into the real world after having entered into some sort of portal into another galaxy wherein they were shouting things on megaphones and giving away free samples and singing Christmas carols all at the same time. Few items purchased for dinner have mysteriously transformed into 3 skeins of yarn, 5 bags of assorted gourmet chocolates, 2 tubes of toothpaste, a ball of twine and a jar of queso. (I wish I was making this up.)

12:15 - 1:15 PM - Enter into a kicking fight with what might be the worst thing you've ever written (including some of the bad, bad love poetry of your late teens.) Take a break from kicking fight with writing to get into a slap fight on Facebook with an extremely grumpy friend. Get up and go stand in the garage for 3-5 minutes to cool off. Sit down, get ready to give it another go, answer ringing phone without first checking caller ID.

1:15 - 2:15 PM - Try to write while nodding and making mmm-hmmm and tsk tsk and uh-uh noises into the phone while lonely person on the other end tells you everything they hated about yesterday. (I also very much wish I was making this up.) Give up writing and use the last few ounces of creative energy you have typing nonsense doggerel to grumpy friend who refuses to cheer up. Suddenly realize that you didn't do anything you were supposed to do this afternoon and that it's time to go pick up the Hooligan.

2:15 - 2:30 PM - Extricate yourself from the phone call while dodging the foghorn blast of guilt coming out of the receiver and then play Jack Johnson and Ben Harper's With My Own Two Hands on repeat in the car to try to regain balance.

2:30 - somewhere that seems like the end of time but is really only 5 minutes later PM - Extricate the Hooligan from preschool while dodging the foghorn blast of fur coats and flying galoshes and temper tantrums and excessive baby talk on the part of both children and grownups and leap from foot to foot over stray toddlers while trying to regain balance.

2:35 - 3:05 PM - Get caught not once, not twice, but three times by the same drawbridge, extending what should be a 5 minute trip between schools into a thirty minute extravaganza. Pick up the jBird who is out of sorts because her beloved student teacher's last day is today.

3:10 - 5:30 PM - Referee wrestling matches, pick up someone's pajamas still on the floor since morning. Start a fire because it's dark already and cold out and your only heat source is wood. Wander aimlessly around the kitchen and wonder why you don't have everything you need to make dinner. Think about writing and how much it sucks today, think about scrapping the whole blog thing because who cares anyway? Think about the new skeins of yarn you bought and how you'd love to just go cuddle up with them and some needles someplace. Think about how Word Girl is clearly the most intelligent show on television. Think about how your kids watch television in the afternoon after school instead of going to chess club or violin lessons or tutoring in French. Snicker to yourself because the Hooligan watched Star Wars in French today and that counts. Oh crap! What are you going to make for dinner? Ask the monkeys nicely in your best mom voice to "Put the furniture back together and throw away the evidence before Daddy gets home." Start making dinner based on what will be the quickest and use the fewest pots.

5:30 - 7:30 PM - This will all be a blur. There will be the shrieking and wrestling for joy when Daddy gets home. There will be the inexplicable rolling around on the living room floor that seems to take place every day at about this time. There will be the setting of the table for dinner, the requisite "I didn't want to eat this" while shoveling it in, there will be the homework beat down, the naked run around and dance-a-thon otherwise known as "getting ready for bed", interspersed with trips out to the garage to get fire wood, vitamins of all shapes and sizes and flavors because they just might not be getting enough nutrition and yes you have to eat the fish ones I know they're nasty but just chew them up with something else they make your brain grow no thank you I won't eat one my brain is big enough already. All culminating in that magical moment when hugs and kisses are doled out and "good-night Mama"s are said and everyone disappears upstairs. It is the perfect time to sit down and focus on writing something and you think you'd like a cuppa tea.

Rewind 11 years to the tragic day that the tea kettle that was shaped like a giraffe broke, never to ever be replaced again. Its neck was the handle! It was a giraffe! Besides, you can just boil water in a pot.

7:45 PM - Surprised and delighted that there's a pot with water already on the stove, absentmindedly turn on the wrong burner under the wrong pot of water because you were distracted thinking about fur coats and really bad writing and whether or not there is a hobo living in your garage and wander away to the computer while waiting for it to boil. The rest, as they say, is history.

In my defense, Stash Meyer Lemon Herbal Tea is very strongly scented and sometimes herbal teas have a bit of a meaty smell to them anyway. Don't believe me? Close your eyes and have a sniff next time you make a cuppa. I think because they are similar herbs to the ones used in stuffing turkeys and whatnot. Olfactory association or something. As for the flavor, it may catch on in Asia and then end up this side of the pond in a few years at $20 an ounce in fancy fusion restaurants as an apéritif. It's a bit murky and viscous and leaves a bit of a film on the palate, but if you add enough raw evaporated cane juice, it's all right.

The Gift of Early Literacy

The Hooligan learned to read about a year ago. I take no credit for this, whatsoever. He just started reading things one day when no one was paying attention. That's kind of how he operates. There are definite upsides to this: I forget my glasses in the car? Hey bud, why don't you read these directions to Mama. While you're at it, can you tell me what that street sign says? The very best advantage to this is that when everybody gets all up on Mama's nerves, they can go to their separate corners and read a book. Oh yes, the sweet muttering of new readers.

So, tonight at dinner between knock-knock jokes, the Hooligan rips a belch worthy of The Marshmallow Viking and keeps on talking. Careful not to interrupt, I wait until he finishes his sentence and then ask:
"What do you say?"

Without missing a beat, both monkeys stand up and applaud and holler "Encore! Encore!"

Copyright 1992 Bill Watterson.
From Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons
Thank you Bill Watterson. Somebody has discovered Daddy's stash of the complete Calvin & Hobbes. I haven't decided yet if this is one of the upsides or downsides of early literacy. 

The Gift of Silence

Listen. Isn't it nice? Sometimes the yammering and hammering on the keyboard should cease. The empty spaces leave room for more to grow.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Gift of a Great Big Bleeding Heart

Word Nerd saves the day! I had been trying to bludgeon a post into submission for the better part of the afternoon when I decided to take five. Bloodied, winded and growling, I thought it best to put down the baseball bat and instead check and see what nice things people had to say today. Lo and behold, what should I find but an award and the whisper of a promise about cookies from the lovely Word Nerd. She speaks, you know. She speaks so touchingly, so eloquently, so hilariously about things (quite literally) from A to Z that I am quite honored to have been included in her list of people of whom she has requested 7 things. I feel like I've been asked to sit at the popular table. And quite a table it is. Go check out her list. Fabulousness abounds.

So, it's the Tell Me More About Yourself Award, wherein I will divulge 7 things about myself and then choose 15 other people to tag. (Can I just say that if this were taking place in, say..., a bar? Would not be the same sort of honor. Nevertheless, I digress.) So lucky for you, my merry band of faithful readers, the very post I had been kicking around with steel toed boots earlier was rather a twaddly self-reflective one and it was almost as if I was preparing for this very moment.

1. I anthropomorphize things often and with reckless abandon. Not just in my writing, but in my everyday life. It helps me get things done if I think of it as hanging out with a friend or vanquishing a foe. Just yesterday, in fact, my jBird, ever literal, asked me: "Why do you keep referring to the marshmallows as 'he' and 'she'?" Why? So that we will be gentle with them, of course.

2. I have always wanted to be interviewed by Charlie Rose. Not for anything in particular, just kind of to sit and shoot the breeze with him. Kind of like a Charlie Rose Tell Me More About Yourself Award. I don't just want him to interview me. I want him to think that I am intelligent and witty. I also want to say something in the course of the interview that would cause him to either do a spit-take with his water or let loose a great big snorty belly laugh. Preferably both.

3. I'm not terribly vain (or maybe I'm so horrifically vain that I feign not to care) but I am still a girl. So when, a few months ago, the young man at the deli counter in the grocery store elbowed his co-worker and said "You ever watch Weeds?" and then nodded in my direction, I did not leap over the counter and kiss him on the mouth like I wanted to. Instead, I left my shopping basket in the middle of the store, ran out to the car and called my husband and screamed: "THE BOY IN THE DELI THINKS I LOOK LIKE MARY-LOUISE PARKER!"  He totally got it. Which leads me to number...

4. My husband was the 9th person to ask me to marry him. He was not my 9th choice. He is my first and only and ever choice. I'm not entirely sure what the other 8 had in mind, but it wasn't me. I had pretty much decided that as far as dating went, it was either settle or abstain. That it was pretty much hopeless to ever think I could connect with anyone in any sort of meaningful and lasting way. Most of my dating consisted of my hiding large swaths of myself for one reason or another and the result being that the boyfriends would fall in love with some other person that they thought was me. Then I would have to break the news to them that no, they had never had full access and I thought they knew that and oh! the crying and the vomiting and the moving out of state and not dating of women any more and the joining of the military. The other half of my dating consisted of men who thought that they knew me pretty well and as one of them said "wanted to tame me." Uh, scary. No. Very scary. So this, my friends, is why my husband is the most amazing man on earth. He caught me off guard and I splashed crazy all over him and not only did he lap it up, he celebrated it, adored it and cherished it and wanted to live with it just as it was for the rest of his life. We've been married 13 and a half years and my mom says we still act like newlyweds. We actually just act like us.

5. You may be wishing Word Nerd didn't include me on her list at this point. I am an avid coffee drinker. I can drink just about anyone under the table when it comes to a steaming hot cup of joe. I take mine straight up, neat. The stronger, the blacker, the better. If you were stuck in the Donner Party with me and were forced to eat my meat, it would taste like Arabica. (It would also probably be a little stringy and need to be marinated first, but I digress.) But on wintry evenings such as tonight, I like to have a cup of tea. I am drinking in Stash Meyer Lemon Herbal and I think I may have inadvertently made it with hot dog water. I'm going to drink the whole cup just to be sure, though.

6. I'm not that great with children. My own are just used to my methods. I try to treat mine as much like little people as I can. So no, not everything they do is fabulous. Sometimes they have bad days. Sometimes they bug the ever-loving crap out of me and I need to walk away. But just like with any strong healthy relationship, there's room for give and take. I'm completely honest with my kids about things including admitting when I am way off base, explaining that sometimes I get scared and confused too, telling them I love them and I am proud of them as often as possible, and giving them a clear idea of what my goals with them are, what their boundaries are and why. I think they deserve that and so far they rise to expectations and far exceed them. I get some flak for my parenting style, but I say the proof is in the pudding.

7. Confession time: I am part of the 1%. No, not that 1%. Would I be sitting here blogging and drinking hot dog lemon tea if I were in that 1%?! No, I am in the 1% of people who, according to the Myers-Briggs personality inventory are categorized as INFJ. I have taken this personality inventory countless times in countless situations and I always end up with the same results. If you really want the skinny on me, click the link and it's a pretty apt description that I didn't write. I am uncomfortable with direct self-disclosure for a lot of reasons. It's a lot more interesting to discover things in the course of discourse over time. Keep reading, friends, and you will know more about me. Because try as I might, I really can't hide my great big bleeding heart.

Word Nerd hogged several of the people that would have topped my list: Masked Mom, Just Jane, The M Half, Kelly... so check them out, too. But maybe not Kelly because she cheated and took my idea of an open award to anyone who cares to read this here blog. Here are some people whose brains I would love to pick for innumerable distinct reasons:
Green Goose
Scary Duck
and I would add Nicole, but she just did the most delightful 100 things about herself the other day. Read that.

And many more, but my 7-year-old laptop is about to create a black hole and disrupt the time-space continuum from the cutting and pasting of links and the Chief Lou is so very patiently waiting for me to watch Season 2 of Torchwood. In all sincerity, I would like to thank each and every person who clicks this way from the bottom of my great big bleeding heart.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Gift of Marshmallows

When the Chief Lou was in law school and the jBird was a baby, we lived in a charming old brick house in a neighborhood that was predominately students and really old people who hadn't yet died so their offspring could divide up their houses and rent them out to students. Our neighbors across the street were an ever-evolving group of guys who were really enjoying being out on their own.

I was new to staying at home full time with a baby, so I spent a lot of time watching their comings and goings through our picture window while I jiggled, patted, paced, burped and rocked my wee girl who never slept. She would smile out the window and I'd say "See the trees? See the squirrel? Look! There's a frat boy! There's his truck. Vroom! Vroom!"

We used to watch them haul out giant, fragrant laundry bags and pack them off for the weekend; returning with bags of groceries and folded clothes. We watched them cart in kegs and chairs and lots of plastic cups for assorted festivities. One of my personal favorites was watching them on the evenings of said festivities, sitting on their front porch, cups in one hand, cell phones in the other: "Are you coming? Are you bringing those girls you said you knew?" I would always cringe along with them and really hope that if those girls did show up, they would be treated kindly and with respect; but also kind of rooting for the boys, hoping their party didn't turn into a lame sausage fest. Most of the time their friends with the girls would come through and things would swing into full gear right about the time we headed to bed. We would lay there and listen to the drunken shouts and the music and laugh and hope the baby didn't wake up and feel smug and relieved that we weren't part of that whole scene any more.

One morning early - far too early for anyone across the street to have actually gotten up yet - I was in our little kitchen getting breakfast for myself (read: coffee) and nattering on to my jBird when I heard a bellowing across the street. There in the gray dawn, in all of his splendor, stood one of our neighbor friends. He was a big fellow, tall and broad and the beginnings of a beer gut. He may have played football for our little University, he had that look about him. But this morning, oh, this glorious morning! he stood in only his drawers and a viking helmet (not a Minnesota Vikings helmet, a Leif Erikson metal hat with horns) on the front porch, seemingly untouched by the chilly winter air. He took a swig of his beer, stretched and bellowed: "Waaaaaterrrrrrrrmeeeeeelllllllooonnnnnnnn!" Oh, the absolutely splendid absurdity of it! I ran and dragged the Chief Lou out of a much deserved sleep in and made him come watch with me. The Viking Giant conducted a complicated series of scratching activities, belched and took another swig: "Maaaaaarrrrrshmaaaaallllllooowwwwws!" We three in our little kitchen danced with delight and watched him continue his proceedings until he went back inside and we went back about the business of being "grownups".

I have no idea what prompted his Valkyrian multi-syllabic morning constitutional, nor do I know what ever became of our neighbor. Hopefully he went on to graduate from University and to further contribute to society. But I do know that no one in our house can say "marshmallow" without bellowing it. So today as the Hooligan (who reminds me of a frat boy rather more often than I'm entirely comfortable with) and I were making homemade marshmallows for Christmas goody bags, I wonder if our Viking Giant's ears were burning somewhere in the Midwest as my Hooligan and I bellowed above the whir of the mixer:


Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Gift of Gold

Dear Ms. F,

Please excuse the jBird from being tardy to school on Friday. You see, there was something in the air.
Surely you understand as both a teacher and a mother that I am constantly in awe of this little person who decided to take a chance on me. She is such an independent child, so surely you understand how I spend a lot of time trying to convince her to lay all her love on me.

I know that school is important, especially in this particularly competitive school where the winner takes it all. And she's a mild mannered child, without an attitude of gimme! gimme! gimme!, so I realize she may fall behind her peers, but I really doubt being a few minutes late will be her Waterloo.

And I'm sure you can imagine my delight in seeing her shining like the sun; dancing, having fun, feeling like a number one. She was the dancing queen, dig it, the dancing queen. I know she'll have a little extra work to make up, but I'm sure she'll be fine. She's a super trouper.

Again, I apologize for her tardiness, but please mark her excused because I have a dream - a fantasy - to help me through reality. I don't want my jBird to grow up and remember that she was on time every single day to school. I want her to turn to me and say: Remember that time in 2nd grade I was late to school because we had to have an ABBA Gold dance party?

Surely you understand.

Tangled Up in Lou