Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When You Don't Have the Right Keys

The whole incident was about four and a half minutes.

There were tears.
No blood.
But many tears.

Can a mother who really does want to keep her children admit to turning her back on her 17-month-old for....mmmm...20 seconds? Or is there state intervention after 19 seconds? If "The State" should be monitoring presently, we'll say it was no more than 19 seconds. Certainly not crossing the line into negligent, but long enough to produce adrenaline when my back was no longer turned.

It was snowing. I had three kids with me, lots of bags, boxes, folders, and keys. I was juggling everything in an effort to unlock the south west door of the church even though I wanted to be in the south east corner. But my key only opens one door. I parked in a handicap spot not wanting to use a sled to schlep everything through sodden snow on my way to the door.

We managed to make our way inside, going from completely frozen to intolerably hot. Regardless of how often I push buttons on the thermostat in this room it holds itself in the "Perpetual Tropics" region of 80 generous degrees Fahrenheit. After opening windows I laid out bagels and cream cheese as brazen means of bribing teenage girls into doing my bidding for the next hour. There is no shame here. Teenagers require lots of food, and lots of bribing. I am not above this tawdry exchange. Neither are they.

I saw a red-coated man in the hall, but there are often miscellaneous people at the church in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. He had keys, which immediately placed him as legitimate in my mind, despite having never seen his face in my five years patronizing this church. While opening a locked door on one side of the room for an early comer, my little Cecily was heading out another door...towards the red-coated man.

After the 19 seconds discussed previously, I became aware that Cecily was no longer in the room and not visible down the long hallway before me. Just as I caught a glimpse of the red-coated man turning the corner at the end of that hallway, I heard Cecily scream.

For half a second I imagined Cecily, held tight under the deceptive warmth of the red coat, going away from me with a face I had never seen before and might never see again.

She screamed again.

The sound was too close for her to be hidden under a coat on the other side of the building. But I couldn't see her....anywhere.

Then she was crying long frantic sobs that came, unmistakably, from behind the library door, held fast with two heavy bolts, for which there were no keys on my ring.

"HEY!" I yelled. "HEY!", because I didn't have a name to go with my desperate call to the red-coated man. I bolted down the hall, leaving Jonah and Caroline to console the terrified Cecily trapped in complete darkness behind two inches of solid wood. I rounded the corner with still no glimpse of red. My heart can handle only so much adrenaline before it pounds itself into cardiac arrest. Who will have a key? How long will it take them to get here? How high up is the handle of the long blade of the paper cutter on the counter just to the left of the library door?

She was wailing, and I was flailing, and we were both of us frightened beyond measure.

There he was! The red-coated man bumbling about in a cleaning closet.
" daughter...the door...back's key...can you...please?"
I was catching my breath, having wasted it on the horrific possibility that Cecily had been whisked away under the red coat.

The same coat worn by the gentle man that smiled in front of me. "Oh sure," he said. "I thought you had closed the door to keep her out. She must have been pretty quiet. I didn't even know she was in there."

Ok, well, let's hope he didn't know she was in there, because the alternative is a little perverse.

He rescued her with absolutely zero level of urgency in either his voice or movement. A father who had apparently dealt with this sort of thing before with the realization that a child behind a closed door comes out fairly unscathed. I'm sure I was sufficiently scathed for everyone present.

The red-coated man turned back the bolt on both locks and swung the door wide. Cecily stood there in the dark holding her milk cup in one hand, her face soaked by great watery tears and mucus. She was instantly quieted at the sight of all of us crowded round the open door. I scooped her up, expecting the consolation to be long and painful, but she was done crying. No fretting, no scarring--just a "get me the heck out of here, if you please" and she was off to play with the other little ones that had joined us by then.

Later, after all the girls had arrived and they were salivating over Jackie's coffee cake, I told them we could start after I moved my car form the handicap spot. Someone suggested that, as a mother, I might be entitled to a handicap spot.

Handicapped by three kids and no eyes in the back of my head, as it seems all the other moms get.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What We Do Before the Cock Crows

Aside from his first months of life when Jonah seemed sustained not by mother's milk, but crying beyond the realms of colic, he has been a good and peaceful sleeper. At least until 6am, when his inner clock gives him a good 'thwack' from the inside, jolting him out of sleepy reverie and physically out of bed. He gets this jolt based entirely on the time and not the number of hours he has slept. Put him to bed at 7:30 with a story and a hug and he is up at six. Put him to bed at 10:30 with a "get your hiney into bed or I'll get it there for you," and he is up at six.

This schedule works for all of us because Matt gets up early and the two of them commune in the wee hours while we of the fairer sex rest on, attending to our beauty. Father and son might commune like this: Matt gets into the shower while Jonah lays on the hard tile of the bathroom floor soaking up the heat from the vent. Father and son might instead commune like this: Matt pours a bowl of cereal for each of them and they sit at the table together considering the confections they will eat when Dad finishes his 'book' and we have a mighty junk-food-party. And yet another means of communion might play out as such: Matt goes back and forth from bathroom to closet dressing and grooming, gelling hair, brushing teeth, and tying shoes while Jonah follows almost a full step behind chattering ceaselessly about Willie Scott, Short Round and Indiana Jones, making Matt wish we had 5000 more square feet in our home so as to avoid tripping over his son every time he turns around.

I give this quality time to my boys each morning as a gift of the truest motherly love. I stay in my warm bed and let them enjoy the half-light without my influence so that Jonah will have these memories with his Dad forever. It is a gift I am possibly a little too happy to give. So, on mornings when Matt is not around to absorb the impact of Jonah's wakefulness I tend to struggle just a little bit. Mother and son might commune like this: Jonah comes to the side of my bed where I am effectively 'dead to the world.' "Mom," he says with a voice that has the raspiness of a shameful effort at whispering and the volume of a freight train. "Can I have some cereal?" Why would he ask this of me? Do we not grant him the right of eating cereal every day of his life? "Yes, you can get your own cereal. And then go read a book and let me sleep, Jo."
Our communion comes in other ways, at more decent hours throughout the day. My best self emerges with the sun.

While in Las Vegas for two weeks I began to tire of Jonah's sweet company in the dark of early morning. I went to bed too late and I wanted him to go away and let my body eek its selfish sleep in a heavily curtained room. One night (late, I'm sure) as my Mom and I sat at the table talking about going to bed, she mentioned how it might be nice if Jonah would get up in the morning and start his lessons on his own. This was a stroke of maternal genius that I had not gleaned from my own paltry experience as a mothering neophyte.

"That's it! I'll make a treasure hunt for him to follow in the morning when he gets up." This I did with all of the gusto that a person has left at 1:00 in the morning after a day of keeping three children alive and one adult sane. I used 3x5 cards strategically placed throughout the house to get the most mileage out of the activity. It started with a large sign on my bedroom door that said "DO NOT ENTER" and then some clue that led him far away from my bedside, out of ear shot. I gave Jonah several activities with which to amuse himself including his writing/copywork, and reading three or four chapters of his Magic Tree House book. At the end of all this I had Charlotte's Web queued up in the DVD player so he could push 'power' and 'play', giving me an extra two hours of sleep, giving him a more present and capable mother.

Jonah bought this whole thing like it was a trip to Legoland. He woke up, he came to my room with his freight-train-whisper on the tip of his tongue and found the clue on my door. He followed each direction, reading and writing on his own without any one there to nag him like his teacher might have considered absolutely necessary before then. He moved on to the getting-his -own-breakfast part, and finally to watching Charlotte's Web before he decided he had to wake someone up.

Jonah knocked on my bedroom door with no thought to waking the baby that slept in the room with me. I jumped out of bed lamenting the unsuccessful attempt at the morning treasure hunt. It felt far too early for him to have taken the bait. He stood before me in tears.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "Did you do the treasure hunt?"
"Yes," he sniffled. "I did all of it. But I'm too lonely. No one is waking up."
I pushed the button on the clock to illuminate the hour.

5:00 AM!

Jonah had eaten, copied a full page of writing , read four chapters , and watched an entire movie, and it was 5:00 in the morning. Maybe he and Matt have been communing earlier than I thought.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Driving North --- For a Really Long Time

Part I - Backing Out of the Driveway
There are four hundred miles and many hours ahead of us this day.
While I'm closing my door, before I put the car in reverse, it starts.

Jonah: "Mom, put the Penderwicks on."
Me: "Just a minute Jo. We're going to get gas first, and then I'll turn it on."

We reach the stop sign fifty feet from the driveway.

Jonah: "MOM, put the book on tape on. Please."
Me: "Jonah, wait."

Pulling into the gas station:

Jonah:"Mom, why can't you just turn it on so we can listen while you get gas?"
Me: "Look kid, you will have seven hours to enjoy Penderwick adventures, and I want to listen too. So cut it out, and have a little patience."

I love books on tape/cd/mp3. This conversation would have sent me into shrill guilt-ridden shrieks if it had been about the DVD player. But we opted for the Toyota Sienna without a DVD player...and not because of the money.
Thanks for paving the audio-way, Aubrey.

Despite giving Jonah and Caroline both a dose of dramamine, Jonah is wide-eyed for two hours while we listen. Caroline is asleep before we leave the gas station.

Part II. Car Dancing With The Black Eyed Peas
The desert can be beautiful. The desert can be monotonous. Coming through the gorge onto the Utah side I feel the signs of driver's fatigue and know that the sonorous voice of our narrator is going to put me to sleep even if the Penderwick girls are plotting grievous, sinful, provocative encounters.

Break out the mp3 and -
Give me a little "Let's Get it Started" by The Black Eyed Peas...with some volume.
And maybe a 16oz Coke - for purely medicinal purposes which I employ only when travelling and revel in under those circumstances alone. Shhh.

In the rear view mirror I see that after turning off the book Jonah is instantly asleep while Caroline is now awake and dancing with reckless abandon.

Part III. Can We Just Get Rid of Beaver?
You may not feel this way. I'm sorry if you have fond feelings for Beaver and I might step all over those feelings. But....
Beaver is Utah's black hole. I don't know why. I am not armed with terrible stories to justify such a claim. It's just not right. And I don't really believe that anybody actually lives there anyway. Sulpherdale residents man the Beaver gas stations to maintain the facade of township.
The only good thing that ever happened in Beaver was our family lying on the grass of the football field over at the abandoned high school and two-year-old Caroline says "I see the moon." It took us a LONG time to spot, but she was right - a little, faint sliver of moon was up there - staring at us.

When we left Vegas we didn't even need jackets.
We met winter in Beaver. It hung low in the air under gray clouds and a dirty haze. It felt sad and cold. I added a few more notches of speed to the cruise control.

Part IV. If You're Going to Yell, Don't do it in Public
I wanted to take four-year-old Quentin and strap him into a seatbelt in my van and take him home with me. Thirty minutes at the Burger King in Fillmore convinced me that home life with Chris-the-Dad-angry-face-yelling-man is no trip to Disneyland. While Quentin's parents alternately yelled at him and ignored him we got to know him. He's a good kid. He would have gotten in my car and gone home with me. I smiled at him and made him, it was kind of underhanded not-so-fair-play on my part.

While we are on the subject of yelling,
Glenn Beck
is not invited to participate in my life.
In ANY way.
So all you gas stations out there or fast food places (like, say, the Burger King in Fillmore) - TURN IT OFF!!
Or put Discovery Channel on, Food Network, HSN, QVC, TLC, AMC, SYFY, ANYTHING.

Part V. Coming Home a New Soul
It's dark now, and although we enjoyed blue skies when we were sufficiently clear of Beaver, Northern Utah offers us a good deal of stop and go traffic that kind of bites. There's nothing like traveling 350 miles in five hours only to spend another two on the last fifty miles.
The kids are finally starting to ask when we will be home.
"Soon." I say and hope simultaneously. "See those lights coming at us in a big curve? Those are cars coming around the point of the mountain. Salt Lake is on the other side of that curve."

While we come around the point Yael Naim is declaring herself "A New Soul."
I feel like a new soul too.
Surviving a heart attack and open heart surgery with my Dad has been an altering experience this past week.
I am reforged of new stuff - mostly because he is reforged, coming out of the fire with no beard and new intentions.
My Mom and Dad will have to keep that fire lit together. I will offer what fuel I can as often as possible.
I love you both, even while driving away from you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Now Join Your Hands, and With Your Hands Your Hearts" --William Shakespeare

My brother's wife is pregnant. The baby is a girl. The girl has a heart, and this little heart has somewhere on it an "abnormality."
"Down syndrome" they are whispering. It could be...but there are tests, and then there is waiting.

My big sister has a heart. She thought she left it four states away yearning for friends and home seven years in the making. Sometimes she thinks her heart got left a whole country away. Out there past plains and rivers that cut down the middle, through forests and deserts, over the Rockies, just hibernating, waiting.

My little sister wed her heart to someone else who left it by text message slumped on the floor in the hall pumping anguish just as readily as it pumped joy a year before.

My Mom has a....well...the biggest heart you ever done saw. I think her heart makes her tears. It makes lots of them. Reserves from which she dips for every happy thought, every sympathy, every bout of consuming laughter, every hurt, every passion, every moment with the divine. I don't know that she lives a single day without dipping into that pool.
This week her reserves are dangerously low from excessive use.

My Dad has a heart. On Tuesday it betrayed him.
Or, rather, he has been betraying it for too many years now.
While I put my children to bed in an otherwise empty house his veins were refusing access to his heart. Well, we know what to do with veins like that. We bypass them...if we are surgeons, if we wear gloves and know how to open chests, and make microscopic stitches.

I have a heart too.
I'm not sure about mine.
It could break under the right conditions, which I would likely label the "wrong conditions" were they to occur. But that's just it - nothing is breaking my heart. I feel the fast and fluttering empathetic beats that come with troubling news, but I am still whole, still...happy...mostly.


These are hearts made alive by mingled blood, flesh of my flesh. They are as surely and intricately connected to one another as they are to the veins that are wound about each one delivering life.

Miracles are the stuff behind seeing my Dad and my Dad seeing me yesterday. Grace is the approbation for questionable words that might not leave his mouth on better days.
"Oh please...let me go home," is his invocation to all the life that comes after this, the life that would not have been his without a bit of sacred serendipity.

All our hearts break, and all our hearts heal.

My brother and his wife have no less love in their hearts for a child with down syndrome. My big sister was smiling today as she talked about the life she builds next door to the Sacred Grove. My little sister loves with, and is loved by a better heart than she has known before. My Mother ate cookies with me by the fire last night, her heart making new tears to cry over happier things, and my Dad... Dad beckons me to come close enough to hear a dry, slurred whisper, "Jesse, help me. You've got to bring me a knife. I've gotta cut these things off."
Yes, his hands are tied down because they are connected to arms that might be better described as sledge hammers, which are in turn connected to an oddly functioning brain at present. In short, he can pack a mighty punch, of which nobody wishes to be the recipient.

But the knife bit tells me he's on the mend. He's really stretching to gather his wits about him...such as they are.
Oh, alright, Dad. You've got pretty impressive wits. And you may brandish them at will in no time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Prescience...or Sophomoric Communion?

Caroline seems to be waxing
all kinds of lyrical at bed time these days.
Last night she uttered this plea in Matthew's behalf,
"Dear Heavenly Father, please bless the Holy Spirit to save Dad from all those gross bugs."

What I want to know is, has she seen something in my house that I have not. We run into the occasional uninvited spider, I may have seen a Box Elder bug...or two, but what's up with "all those gross bugs?" Is Caroline having nocturnal encounters with insects that would give her cause to pray for Matt's welfare?

I didn't question her about the content of her prayer. I mostly just give silent thanks when she decides she is willing to pray.
But I considered sending a few more details heavenward, like; "maybe You could work out some kind of insect-impregnable forcefield around Matt while he sleeps tonight."
There is the terrible prospect that the "gross bugs" she's talking about are.....(it's hard for me to even type the word)...ear wigs!*@!

Oh no, please don't be earwigs. Such an invasion cannot be borne.

But Matt called me today and he seems well enough so either the insect-impregnable forcefield is working out alright, or Caroline is four, and says strange four-year-old things that harbor merit primarily in their humor.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A bit of "Not-Lonely" Please

We are a migratory clan, 400 long miles from the man who is "Dad" in our tribe.

It is bedtime - a torturous routine involving three children that always, every night, despite any efforts on anyone's part, end up asleep. I can't get them there fast enough. They would prop their eyelids open with toothpicks and ask for seventy-two "goodnight drinks" to avoid the inevitable slumber.

Jonah is letting slip a few I-miss-Dad tears as we go through our third round of hugs in the dark room. He decides a prayer will help. "Please bless Dad that he won't be lonely," Jo implores on Matthew's behalf.

One "amen" later Caroline refutes the prayer.
"Dad doesn't be lonely, Jonah. He be's with the Holy Ghost."
(The apostrophe in "be's" is poetic license based on my assumption that Caroline has created a contraction out of "be is". Thus - he be's...)

Well, I for one am feeling better about the state of my husband's potential loneliness. Lest I fear that a man alone at home misses his family, I need only remind myself that "he be's with the Holy Ghost."

And Jonah's tears are gone, so apparently the Holy Ghost be's with us too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Cat We Never Owned

This morning she brought me a bird. This night she is a cat from my past, curled up at the end of somebody's bed, in somebody's house, but not my bed and not my house.

It turns out Moxie's real name is Cuddles.


Moxie came to us in August when I thought our world was falling apart because I couldn't for the life of me figure out if schooling our children at home was truly the best thing for our family. Which indecision led to severe anxiety, which led to working over my six year old son to the point that he developed a head and facial tic, which caused me instant and terrible panic/guilt.

And here comes this gray cat covered in dirt from my back garden where she has been rolling around for two weeks under cover of six foot tomato plants, until we finally noticed that she never went home. It took me two weeks to consider that she might be thirsty, two weeks to hold the door open for her on purpose. It took me no time at all to see that she was THIRSTY, and no time at all to see that an open door led to an open heart.

The day I gave her water I called Matt to ask him to bring home cat food as well. I made this request to a man that has never, in his whole life, owned a cat or admitted anything resembling the slightest affection for the species.

He came home with cat food.

We gave it to her in a red cereal bowl from the cupboard. In the morning she put a dead mouse in the same bowl.
If it hadn't been for the dead mouse, I might not have ever loved Moxie. We might not have given her a name. We might not have bought the second bag of food when the first ran out. We might not have let her sleep at the end of the bed. We might not have taken her to the vet to make sure she was fixed.

She was fixed.

Moxie was also microchipped. This is new to my domestic-pet-lexicon. When I was a kid and we had a cat, and a cat, and a cat, we were responsible owners because our cats always had a collar with a tag. Evidently a collar is now retro. Animals have microchips hidden under some mysterious layer of skin with all this information on it about how I am not the real owner, but they are out there...somewhere...or, no...out there at this address and this phone number waiting to come take the cat back. Microchippers who expect the rest of the world to know this is the 21st century means of animal identification. Microchippers who are happy to come to my house at 4:00 and pry the cat from the bosom of my family.

Does this sound dramatic?

Yesterday I would not have thought I could shed so many tears over a cat.
This morning as Moxie curled up on my bed under my chin, licking my hand and purring lustily, I had a strange premonition that she would not be there tomorrow morning. I dismissed it, and entered a day of ridiculous devastation. My face is swollen and my eyes burn from all my crying.

They say animals can assume their owners' maladies. So, maybe I get a cold and by some strange, string-theory phenomenon, my cat steals it from me, expelling great, altruistic sneezes that leave me fit as a fiddle. Remember Jonah's tic.....well....Moxie did not develop a tic. She entered our life in customary feline fashion, locating a throne and perching regally within our household. Regal though she was, her reign was fraught with tender ardor. Moxie came as leg rubber, foot snuggler, lap layer, bed sleeper, hand nudger, purr box extraordinaire. All this she laid at the foot of Jonah's troubled moment. She didn't develop a tic, but as she loved my little boy, he undeveloped his.

Who is to say this cat did not know that when she got to our front door after wandering a mile from the door that fed her, she knew we were aching inside, and that she had something to offer? There were plenty of doors before ours.

She was a stray, and as such I eventually had to make sure that her growing belly was a return to health and not a brood of little, stray kittens. This is what landed her in the vet's office, under a gun that reveals the bar code of true ownership.

This is when Moxie became Cuddles. On principle the people at the Vet's office immediately dismissed the name we had given the cat we took in off the street. Cuddles has a family, or at least she has a woman. A woman of some years who was eager to reclaim her property.

My telephone conversation with Cat Woman was brief and tearful, and I made sure to mention that my three young children would like time to say goodbye to their cat. She made sure to bring her grandchildren to my door for the reclamation. "See," Cat Woman is saying, "I have children too, staking equal emotional claim on this animal." She scoots the disinterested children into my home, wielding them like pawns in this unorthodox exchange. Jonah had no qualms declaring his opinion that the cat "likes us better." Cat Woman didn't miss a beat in denouncing this opinion. I stood in the corner absurdly blinking away tears as though I should become uncharacteristically stoic to spare the feelings of Cat Woman and her mute phalanx.

But truth was on her side. Moxie had a microchip because Cat Woman loved her enough to put it there. I knew what was right...and inescapable. My pain does not inherently vilify her.


A few days on now, and we are doing well.

I am glad we discovered we can be "cat people", and perhaps we will be again someday.
But this cat....she was a bit on the perfect side.

I agree with my sister's boyfriend who says:

I like Moxie's moxie.

But, in the end, I have to admit that just as much, or maybe even more,

I like Cuddles' cuddles.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Holy Crud ----- The Toothless Man"


Don't let this confuse you. I know. You are also the tooth fairy.
It's one of those universal titles. Like when you are walking around in the grocery store and there are little people everywhere saying "Mom", and they are not your children, and it grows ever more confusing that you are just one of many millions of women with the same name. So it is with "tooth fairy". Except in this scenario you are just one of many millions of women (or men) who are complicit in the harmless charade that there is that one, solitary fairy, flitting about from bed to bed collecting little dead bits of our children's bodies that fall out of their heads.

Jonah is "at that age". The age when little dead bits of his body fall out of his head. He's lost four now, and I'm growing less mournful at the loss of his "milk teeth." His mouth is moving and spreading in the strangest of ways, giving me no choice but to hope for a better world. A better world being one wherein Jonah's mouth does not resemble that of a 50 year old English, drunkard. At present he is leaning in that direction.

Two days this week have ended in a stealthy transaction in Jonah's room. I slip four quarters into his tooth-pillow while removing the small mark of his childhood. I'll not admit to him, of course, that they could very well be the same four quarters he got last time he transacted with the tooth fairy. I dip shamefully into his "Disneyland" jar to reconcile these debts to tradition. My integrity would have me withdraw real money from my real bank account and deposit it with clinking finality into the jar Jonah so naively leaves on my dresser. This would do much to ameliorate my guilt whenever he declares his intent to save these new quarters in his "Disneyland" jar. Thus far those "new" quarters have all been "old" quarters already living in that jar, because I have NO quarters of my own. I have plastic that will, most assuredly, not be traded for a tooth.

I will count the remaining milk teeth and repair to the bank this week for a sufficient supply of dollar coins, and if we're going to concede interest, I might as well slip a twenty in the jar while I'm at it.

Behold the evolution of a six-year old mouth in just five days time.

"Snaggle Tooth"

"The Toothless Man"

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Does "Whole Foods" Mean Eating the Stem?

Cecily eats whole pears. She devours them from stem to stern, in great, greedy bites, leaving only the stickiness of her fingers as evidence of the edible encounter.
Who gave her that pear with a stem still attached? Who strapped her into her booster seat and slapped down uncut fruit on her tray? That pear might as well have a label fixed to the stem that says "My Mom can't be bothered with a knife," or "My Mom is too busy washing dishes," or "I am child number three."
We could call it lazy...but let's not. I do have my mental health to look after.

When Caroline was two our plum tree brought forth branches so heavy with fruit that a few of those branches couldn't hold their own. In the dark of night they buckled under the weight of luscious, ripe plums. This became Caroline's sustenance for the week that followed. Several times a day she would make her way out the back door to gather the harvest. She would squat and suck the nectar from as many of those little purple orbs as she wanted. I couldn't say for sure that she never swallowed a pit, but I can vouch for her having never choked on a pit.

This is the way to feed children...whole foods, in the purest sense. Yes, it comes of being busy, or being tired from being busy. It comes with the addition of more hungry mouths, but mostly more hungry whines and words. whole consuming affair picks at my consciousness like the vexing drip, drip, drip of the Chinese water torture. Filling our vacuous bellies seems so...stone age, like we could have moved past this tedium around the same time penicillin moved us past the tedium of dying from a cut.
My Mother maintains that the day of "the pill" will come.
No, not that "pill". That one is old news.
She means the one that really liberates women. The pill we set down on the table with a glass of water in front of each famished member of the family that has gathered for a bounteous meal, and tell them to "dig in." Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub.

And I sometimes think I would buy that pill and dish it up guilt-free to my family three times a day...

Until I eat one of those pears that Cecily has been feasting on. Not the pear from the store, but the one off the tree in my back garden. I am a "God made the earth so it could bring forth perfect strawberries" kind of person. Although in late August we would just switch that strawberry bit out for "peaches." And then came the house with the pear tree. After five years of owning this house and this tree, I have finally figured out when to pick them. There is a thirty minute window between the time a single fruit reaches its full size and then begins to ripen. It is a different thirty minute window for every pear. This is too complicated for me, so I guesstimate and pick the tree clean in two harvests about a week apart. I empty my refrigerator of insipid things like milk or bread and fill it full of not-quite-ripe pears. These I remove four or five at a time to sit on the counter and ripen to...perfection? I marvel that I could think such a thing of a fruit that has so long been just bland, gritty flesh to me. But I tell you, every last fruit off this tree is perfection. It's like a new species. It is an ambrosia tree in my back garden.

I know food is heavenly beyond many things in this life. My pears keep me anchored to this reality. So I blame the absence of a dishwasher in my kitchen as the source of my food rancor. Well, no dishwasher and three kids. Ok, no dishwasher, three kids, and no one to cook or clean for me.
Oh no! That really is called lazy.
I need a new food paradigm. One that doesn't torture me.
It starts with feeling good about "whole foods" as distributed a la me. Giving a kid an apple doesn't dirty a dish, and it's good for my psyche.

Cecily may have swallowed a few pear seeds in her time (all fifteen months of it), but she is none the worse for wear. So far no pear trees are sprouting out her ears.

I'll keep cooking dinner (most of the time). But I am working on my gardening skills, and someday I will do as my husband's grandmother and announce to the family that "dinner is in the garden."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Curiosity With a Voice

Caroline comes to the garden with me, a great festering mess of rotten tomatoes hanging from rotten vines that need throwing out before snow renders them immovable until spring. We work at unwinding the gratuitous lengths of wire I laced around my six-foot tomato cages and the rebar stake meant to anchor each cage to the center of the earth. She is surprisingly adept at this, her little fingers making quick work of the tangle that my bumbling, gloved fingers struggle with. Behind me she hums and talks aimlessly to herself until she realizes she's pretty good at what Mom is having a hard time with.

"Mom, did you ever know that you would have a four-year-old who is not so big, who is a helper and works hard like me?"

"No, I didn't know I would have a four-year-old like that."

She returns to her quiet work for a moment, then declares "I'm a Jesus girl."


We are in the van driving to meet Granny and Auntie Maren at the park for a fall picnic. Jonah and Caroline are in the back seat coexisting, for this brief moment, in peace. Caroline threatens the peace with an innocent question.
"Jonah, I think we're near the park. Do you want to take your jacket off before we get there?"
"Why?" he asks.
"So the people at the park won't see what you look like," she says with an implied 'of course'.
She asks this as if he wasn't wearing an ultra cool, height-of-kid-couture, GAP hoodie with an outline of Mt. Everest embroidered on the back. And he is wearing that hoodie!
"Like what?!" he demands to know.
"Well, your jacket has that funny thing on the hood that sticks out."
He's mulling it over. Weighing the consequences of a six-year-old fashion faux pas at the park.
"No," he replies, completely unoffended. "I'll keep it on."
And we carry on, pax romana intact.


Caroline stands on the fourth stair. I don't know if this is fourth from the top or from the bottom, but I do know that the fourth stair is, for Jonah and Caroline, the pinnacle of stair-jumping bravado. It is Greg Louganis on the high dive, only we hope Caroline's jump has a more auspicious outcome than Greg's famous "whack."
Matt is Caroline's only audience. She readies herself while he watches intently, poised with saving arms should the fourth stair prove beyond her means. Caroline closes her eyes, puts a steady hand to her heart and pleads "Jesus, help my heart."
This must be the dramatic indicator that she is about to leap.
But no!
She has a thought, a question for which she requires an answer before her feet leave the fourth stair. Caroline opens her eyes and asks, "Dad, would it be bad to say 'Jesus, bless my little broken body'?"
I'm guessing Jesus has been asked to bless significantly less holy things than Caroline's little broken body.
But wait!
Such a question is more than alarming to the father waiting for the jump.
He might think to stop her at this point, the vision of her question being too much for his natural propensity to caution.
But Caroline is ready, her curiosity satiated, mind turned back to the inhuman feat ahead of her.
Before Matt can voice concern...
she bends her knees just a bit...
and flies...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Put "Triage" on my Tool Belt

I could cradle her, but it's a gamble.

I could lay down next to her on her bed where she has been spending the last lone hour and ask "Did you do any laughing at pre-school today?" But she would likely say "No!" - with an implied post script of "get out of here and leave me alone" attached.

I might ask if she wants to read a book with me, help me put away toys, go for a walk.

Caroline has a cup full of vitriol that she regularly splashes in my face. That cup runneth over and never seems to empty. I may think she has used it all up or slept it away, but she has hidden reserves.

Even now I bid her "Good morning" as she comes sleepily into the room, my arms out to pull her up on my lap.
Head down, she gives me a kind of "back off" grunt-whine and drop kicks her stuffed snowman at me.
Ahhh, a bright new day has dawned.

How do I make friends with a four-year-old-girl who just doesn't seem to like much of anything? Matt says she smiles for him. He says she is delightful and fun. Does he have a secret code word that liberates her inner angel? I am the Mom - I should have all the code words.

Here are the two abilities that comprise my mother-skills as developed with my first child:

That's it.

Jonah has never been too bothered that I have no imagination to make up games or stories, or magic spells to jolly him out of a scraped knee. If I should rest awhile from the banal duties of the house to spend time with a child, I will read to them. This I do with a complete lack of interest in or ability to make up games. Many thousands of people before me have published their magic words and pictures to be read to this very child of mine on this very couch with no effort at all from me. I spent all my effort long ago pushing the kid out of my body. Thereafter I take the easy road.

And talking. I can ask a hundred questions. I can respond to questions. This is actually a true skill. Matthew has helped me develop this over time. Matthew is better at it. But never mind.

So, there you go - reading and talking - my mothering prowess in all its grandeur.

Caroline laughs in the face of my mothering prowess. Well...really she whines, or growls, or screams in the face of my mothering prowess. Laughing would be altogether too jovial for her.

In light of this I am putting a new arrow in my quiver. I call it "Triage".

We have a dear old friend called Chuck. Once, Chuck came to our house delivering a box of food stuffs I had purchased through him. Considering Chuck is around 80 and recently had knee surgery I would normally have carried the box into the house myself. But I happened to be about nine months pregnant at the time and therefore helpless even in the eyes of the one-kneed-eighty-year-old. While coming in Chuck inevitably tripped and fell up three steps into our kitchen. He came away with a bloody shin, but alright overall.

Caroline was almost three at the time. And I'm sure she almost felt sorry for Chuck. But what she mostly felt was total fascination. "Was he bleeding, Mommy? Did he cry, Mommy? Can he still walk, Mommy?" In the first day of the accident I must have recounted the story of Chuck Falling on the Three Stairs at least two dozen times. Books? We don't need no stinking books. Chuck Falling on the Three Stairs became our bedtime story, our morning time story, our I'm bored story, our stop-the-fit-throwing story. Caroline is four and a half now and we still get serious mileage out of this story.

A month or two later another dear old friend had an accident. My sweet 86-year-old Reva decided she was going to walk to church on her own because her ride did not show up. She (purposefully I'm sure) forgot her cane. She always says she doesn't need "that silly old thing." A block away from her house she fell flat on her face. A neighbor called an ambulance, and despite our worst fears Reva came away with only two black eyes and a few sore spots.

Caroline could not get enough of it. We added Reva Fell on the Sidewalk to our repertoire of stories.

We now have a rather august collection of Triage stories.

Mom Split Her Chin Open at the Pool
Aubrey Slices Her Leg Open in the Garage

How Dad Got a Harry Potter Scar

The Horse Stepped on Mom's Foot or The Horse Stepped on Aubrey's Leg
Mom Burns Her Hands Cutting Chili Peppers
Nana Breaks Her Arm Falling off the Porch

Tickle Grandpa Nearly Cuts His Arm Off While Fishing

Granny Breaks Her Wrist Delivering Christmas Cookies

So long as people we know continue to hurt themselves I have found a way to get Caroline in my lap and....connect. I'm not sure yet what this reveals about Caroline. She is not laughing at people's pain. It's more like she is absorbed in the horror of it. She doesn't like her own blood, and she DOES NOT like stories about her own wounds. I suspect there is a little bit of entertainment in it. I can tell a pretty good story if it is true, I just can't make one up as I go. But I also suspect that knowing each of these stories ends with survival is a wee bit comforting for Caroline. She gets hurt A LOT. Knowing other people get hurt - with blood even- and move on to enjoy chocolate ice cream again is promising.

So, "Triage" because it's kind of like nurses getting together to have a "cold one" after work and swapping emergency room stories. And "Triage" because it is my own emergency room effort to create a relationship with Caroline.

Now the label on my mother-skills arsenal declares:

Who knows what Cecily might put in my box.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

His Imaginary,Telepathic, Pen-Pal

I miss Gavin-Height

He wasn't here for long and I would like to have known him better.

As a kid I had lots of friends; neighborhood friends, school friends, church friends...sibling friends -whose particular brand of friendship sometimes hovered dangerously close to fatal- but I do not remember ever having an imaginary friend.

When Jonah introduced us to Gavin-Height it was not the "Here is my new friend standing-beside-me-can't-you-see-him-Mom" variety of introduction. I really don't remember a specific declaration or "Nice to meet you" experience. Gavin-Height came slowly into existence. Like Pinocchio, he bandied about with a pseudo identity until one day - poof - he was a real boy, and we happily accepted him as such.

We never talked to Gavin-Height, only about him.
I never observed even Jonah talking to him.

How Jonah got his information I don't know. Jonah was four when this started. He would have understood validating the source of his knowledge about Gavin-Height with a claim such as "G-H sent me a letter, a postcard, an email, he called me, I saw him on the street..." But Jonah never revealed how he knew what he knew.

And this is what he knew:
Gavin-Height and Jonah were cousins
They were the same age
Gavin-Height had blue hair
Gavin-Height lived with his grandma
The grandma was not Jonah's grandma
Gavin-Height and his grandma traveled

Jonah and I went through a phase of reading about different countries. We built a repertoire of impressive facts we could cite about far off places that really existed. Someone might say "Wow, Jonah is so smart. I couldn't even tell you where Pakistan was on a map, much less what they like to eat."
But it's not about smart, is it? Jonah is curious. Jonah is willing to accept whatever attention his mother offers and if that comes in the form of reading a book about children in Sri Lanka he doesn't turn me away. Kids are pretty universally curious. Nothing is old hat. The world is new with every new mind that enters it. The complexities and beauties of life will settle upon them like raw wool with which their minds will spin radiant threads of knowledge. They will happily spill out all the silky ribbons of information flitting about in their heads to any willing audience. We adults might have turned off 'curious' or abandoned 'learn new things for the sake of it' in lieu of making dinner and earning a living. We forget that it is not "smart" to know that Pakistan is sandwiched between India and Afghanistan, it is "smart" to want to know.

I'm not sure that Gavin-Height was so much an imaginery friend as he was a kind of imaginary, telepathic pen-pal. He didn't eat dinner with us, he kept us abreast of his travels with grandma.

Jonah: "Mom, Gavin-Height is in China today."
Mom: "What's he doing there?"
Jonah: "He's going to school with Xui Li (pronounced shoe-lee)"
Mom: "What's his grandma doing while he's at school?"
Jonah: "She's fishing."

We met Xui Li and her parents in a book about life in China. In the book we went to school with her and saw pictures of many little Chinese children that all look very similar to our western eyes. Identical school uniforms did nothing to diminish the differentiation troubles we Occidentals have. We met Xui Li again through Gavin-Height and his wandering grandmother.

Over several months Gavin-Height carried us away to Israel, Paris, California, Iran, Maryland, Italy, and Idaho. His expeditions were both reactionary and innovative - his trail sometimes winding its way through books we had already traveled and sometimes breaking new ground requiring that we read to catch up with him.

One evening Jonah sat at the dining table coloring as I made a cake. I greased the two round cake pans then put flour in to coat the surface. Tapping it this way and that to ensure no spot was left uncovered. Jonah watched intently. I turned the pan over the sink and slapped the bottom a few times to get rid of the excess flour which came away in a white cloud sailing down to the drain.
"Do you know what that's called, Mom?"
"No, what?" I asked, not entirely sure what he was referring to.
"It's a 'Huff'.
"What is a 'huff' ? I wanted to make sure I understood.
"When the flower falls down like rain."
"Where did you learn that?"
"From Gavin-Height........he learned it from his grandma."

I think that was one of the last things we heard from Gavin-Height. Maybe he settled on a country he just couldn't bear to leave. Maybe he turned five and had to go to school. Maybe grandma ran out of money with which to bank roll the globe-trekking. Maybe Jonah didn't need him anymore. I think maybe I needed him to stay a while longer - I knewJonah just a bit more through him.

I like that he had blue hair. I wonder what they thought of that in Israel.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Peter Rabbit and Higher Education

My institution of higher learning has two classrooms; my kitchen and my car. I imagine there are those erudite professors who might shake their head at the inadequacy of such an environment dedicated to my education. But this is where a mother spends most of her time, and this is where I have opportunity to listen to public radio. Granted, their are distractions; one six-years-old, one four, and one just over a year.

Surprisingly my children are very accepting of the constant flow of information that comes from the radio. On occasion-but not often-I will grant them an "Itsy Bitsy Spider", but their main auditory diet consists more of Steve Inskeep, Diane Rehm, and Neal Conan than the beloved little contrary Mary who grows a garden on cockle shells. Although we recently listened to an interview with an author that compiled a book of all the nursery rhymes he could discover. Mary was mentioned that day.

I began my University experience as an eighteen-year-old freshman at the University of Utah in 1994. I remember the thrill of a clean notebook and a new syllabus evolving into tattered pages filled with my quick scrawl about Dionysus' indulgence, or the rate of rotaion of the moon on its own axis combined with its rate of revolution around the Earth resulting in our only ever seeing one side of the satellite.

My notebook today is a Peter Rabbit shopping list with a magnet on the back that keeps it fixed to the refrigerator. My note taking is most often done while I am either cooking or washing dishes. Inevitably the picture of Peter is smeared with tomato sauce or oil, or wrinkled from the dishwater that drips from my gloves as I try to write the name of someone or some book before I forget. This is a snapshot of my notes as they stand today:


Ibu Patel

The Foreigner's Gift- Frada Jami

Erin McKean - Dictionary Evangelist

kalamata olives
curry powder

American Theocracy - Ken Phillips

Last Child in the Woods - Richard Louv

It is a shopping list for my kitchen and my enlightenment. Sometimes when I am not in my kitchen I forage for scraps of paper on which to quickly record these bits of information that will turn into trips to the library, an internet search, or a conversation with my husband. Periodically I make a sweep of car, diaper bag, desktop, and any other liable, cluttered corner, to collect all the scraps and save each gem in a file on my computer. Otherwise what might have been instructive, or even revelatory becomes merely clutter and then just gone.

I am not done with universities. But until I return as a "mature" student, I'll keep the radio on and send my meager offering during the public radio fund drive. After all, it's the cheapest tuition I've yet paid.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Slow Like Mo-lasses

Yeats has gone posing this fundamental question: "Perfection of the LIFE or of the WORK?"
(Question mark added)
My husband has gone borrowing the question- embedded in the text of an entire poem on this theme- and placing it in my bag where I will discover it in the first months of our marriage. I will be at work that morning while he is still in bed, yet to start his day at University. I will feel sick to my stomach because it is early, and I am allergic to early. I will loathe where I am because it is perfection of nothing. But there are dollars to be had at the end of the day, and we are in great need of dollars.

We are ten years on from my discovery of Yeats' poem in a frame in my bag. I kept it in view during every hour I ever worked for pay. I could rest my fingertips on the keyboard at my desk, close my eyes and see the words speaking to me, insisting that the choice is living, it demands deliberateness.

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it takes the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story's finished, what's the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day's vanity, the night's remorse.
W.B. Yeats

Well, I am no fan of remorse. Neither was Yeats, and he published his own choice through the image of a good many of his poems. Here is the one that paints my picture-my choice.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and waddles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavement gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
W.B. Yeats

So.....obviously the new fundamental question becomes - what is the address of the "bee-loud glade"?
I am confident I am not allergic to early in this place.

Is Yeats testing me? Is my husband testing me? I could sell all and seek the "purple glow" in a little corner of Ireland. But surely, perfection of the life can be had in my back yard. I don't have a cabin-I have a home of bricks and mortar made. I don't have nine bean rows-I have five. I don't live alone-I live with love, from husband and three children.


This is not the beginning of a poem. This is my admission to family, the world, and these witnesses, that my peace does, indeed, come dropping slow. Slow like mo-lasses. Slow like a big old oak tree. Slow like a three-year-old putting their shoes on. My peace comes dropping so slow that the last detectable drop was in 2003 before that first child came to my Innisfree.
Yeats had peace, I have children. Would I trade? No. He paints a pretty picture, but it's a bit of a lonely pretty picture.

Mine may be a children-loud glade, but my glade is is perfection-of-the-life-good.