Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The first walks, the second falls, the third is pushed

I have always quipped: we carry our first down the stairs, the second one falls down the steps, the first two push that third one down when no one is looking.

It is too true.

My first, Andrew, loves information. He loves information so much, he expects to have fully detailed conversations about the pre-Cambrian explosion before breakfast. If you don’t happen to know the age of the earth, he will suggest you look it up.

“Go look on the internet, Mom! Uh, I mean, please could we look that up, Mom?” (4.5 B yrs)

My second one, Gladys, lives somewhat in the shadow of her brother. She wrestles better than most three-year-old girls. She comes to life on the soccer field. She used to sit on her younger brother, which caused him to be great at push-ups before he could walk. And, she has figured out that the best way to get Andrew to read you a book is to threaten to read one to him.

“Don’t worry, Andrew, I’ll just read one to YOU.”

She is solidly pre-reading, which in our case means she reads a few words and then tells the story however she likes it. But, she doesn’t get much of a chance, because Andrew will read it to her first, if she gets competitive.

George, my dear third child, is learning right along with them. He copies everything they do. When they read, he sits right next to them and pages through a book talking. His favorite game involves pulling letters off the refrigerator and banging them on anyone he can find until they tell him what letter it is. He will then repeat the letter and go get another one. Repeat. If you aren’t paying attention, expect a few bruises on your thighs from plastic letters. (Of course, I always pay complete attention to all my children, you believe that, don't you?)

He is such a persistent student. I take pride in my bruises.

But, just in case you forget that he is solidly the third child, please ask him to point to body parts.

He will point to his nose and say “nose.”

He will point to his eyes and say “eyes.”

He will point to his ears and say “eyes.”

He will touch his head and say “ow!”

Monday, September 29, 2008

Competitive Genes

Recently, a friend of mine asked if I am competitive. It was a friendly question. I laughed,

“Who me, competitive?”

I was being sarcastic. We were at a party, it was one of those exchanges where I wasn’t sure how she meant the question or how she would take the answer. What I wanted to say was that there are only three types of people who go to MIT: the naturally brilliant type, the extremely tenacious and competitive type, and those who are both. Since I have met plenty of brilliant people, I know that I have to fall into that tenacious category. I did not say that. I laughed and filled her wine glass. I took it as a compliment. I try not to be competitive with my mommy friends.

On Saturday, I was at my daughter’s soccer game. She is three years old. At three years old, soccer is more of a photo opportunity than a serious game, but the kids have fun and gain the confidence of having played before. I have never been a super-athlete, but team play is important. I am extremely competitive with myself. I try to spare my children.

Gladys became one with soccer on Saturday. She was raging down the field in purple striped pants, sparkly sneakers, arms flailing, tongue lolling out, unkempt curls waving in the wind, and complete control of the ball. She would stop it heading in the wrong direction, turn it around, dribble it down the field and score. She did it again and again: eleven goals. E-LE-VEN.

I started thinking about my field hockey coach in high school. He was a 6-foot 4-inch Vietnam Veteran, a marine. When he wasn’t teaching remedial math, he was pumping iron. He ran us hard; the good kind of hard that makes your eyeballs sweat, but leaves you looking forward to practice tomorrow. He ran up and down the sidelines during our scrimmages, shouting out encouragement, pointing out errors.

“Jennifer, you should have had that one, stick down, head in the game.”

“Pass it, pass it. Kristin, you weren’t ready, keep your feet moving, anticipate the play.”

During the games, he would give us a little encouragement, here and there, but mostly he was quiet. The ref would make a call and you would see him walk towards the bleachers, turning his back to the team.

Towards the end of practice one day, one of my teammates asked him about it.

“Coach, I thought that was really a bad call in the game Saturday. You didn’t say anything to the ref. Did you think it was a bad call? Wasn’t it a bad call?”

“I’ll help you ladies in practice, but the game is up to you. The ref doesn’t make you lose a game.”


“You ladies can win the game. You play to the call. Play your best. That’s it.”

The silence remained.

“Now, what do you think it looks like when someone my size gets upset about something he cares about?”

We were all looking at our cleats.

“Go! Five laps, give me all you got, then take it in.”

We did. We all gave it all we had. He did care. He cared a lot, maybe too much. We didn’t win very many games, but we all tried really hard. I ran sprints with my hockey stick on weekends. I charged the ball so hard once, the other girl was taken off the field due to a concussion. I bet it was hard for him to watch sometimes.

“Hey coach! Look! Maybe there WAS an athletic gene in my body. Maybe she’ll be as athletic as she is tenacious. Now, wouldn’t you have just loved that!”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Petticoats in the Middle of the Road

My great-grandmother had seven children. Just before her seventh was born, her husband died in an accident. That was in 1898. I have never been a single mother, but I imagine such a situation was not better in 1898 than it is now. She refused charity. She refused to “sell out.” She raised six of them to adulthood, losing one to a childhood disease. (My daughter shares a name with that child, completely by accident). She was strong.

At the age of 18, my grandmother was sent off on her own by her stepfather. She put herself through nursing school, working odd jobs. My grandmother married that seventh child described above. It was a mixed marriage (she was English, my grandfather an Irish Catholic). That was a big deal. She followed my grandfather onto a gold mine in Alaska, where she was the town nurse, postmaster, and ran the grocery store. She mothered six children.

On December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, my grandmother was on a ship between the port in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. They floated for 3 weeks in complete darkness in fear of a Japanese attack. She had three children with her, the youngest was only 7 months old.

I think about that when I am in the grocery store about to lose my cool.

That seven month old was my mother. She does not sit in the corner, a wilting flower. She is as strong as the women who came before her.

When I think of myself as another link in this chain of women, it is natural to ponder the circumstances of their struggles. I wonder if they were ever at liberty to ponder their own role as a link in the chain, if they even had the time to consider how their struggles differed and how their granddaughters might be faced with challenges vastly different than their own.

There is a story that says my great-grandmother was rocking my grandfather in a chair on New Years’ Eve 1900. She told his older siblings that this brother in her lap was the only one with a chance to see the year 2000.

Maybe she did ponder these things.

Maybe that is indeed what my grandmother thought in the darkness, cradling my mother, wondering if any of her children would see the year 2000.

In 2008, what is our struggle? I am sure we could list many this election year.

I will list one: understanding.

Our access to information is phenomenal, our ability to choose daunting, our expectations run higher than ever before. And yet, we wish the same for our children as we did one hundred years ago: a long and happy life.

It is easy for us to imagine that life is more difficult now. The enemy is not clear. The entrance to our best path clouded in fog. I once heard a story about soldiers from the North and the South stopping on the battlefield in our Civil War to celebrate a Thanksgiving meal together. There is a similar story of French and German soldiers in WWII. Were the answers really clear then, or do we just superimpose clarity over time? They were able to fight for their principles, while continuing to appreciate each other as people. Those are the stories in history I wish to repeat.

I am a Republican, and I do hope my party wins this election. However, I also hope that both sides are able to think, to understand, to recognize that every decision is clouded in darkness until our children can judge us with the clarity we judge our predecessors. (You understand that we don’t judge with clarity, right?)

So, in October, I am making a statement. Every day in October (okay, as often as possible), I am going to wear a skirt or a dress. I am celebrating my past. I am celebrating our future.

I want to let everyone who is fanatically blue or fanatically red remember to look for answers in a darker, cloudier, shade of purple.

Anyone in?

Authors note: It is not necessary (especially for the boys, well, unless you choose to, of course) to wear a skirt every day to be in with me. Invite a friend you disagree with to lunch. Read the other parties’ website. Ask me a question. And, for fun, send me a picture or a link of yourself in a skirt (every day if you want) and I will post them along with my own pictures in October.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Parenting rules (get over it)

In the past 24 hours, one week after San Francisco, I have broken many of my "rules." Not to say these are hard-and-fast rules, but rather the way things have come to be expected in my household. We all try to maintain a certain standard, until our tough love melts into the squishy variety. And, sometimes, until the car breaks down.

Rule 1 - My children eat healthy, homemade meals, especially for dinner. They do. I cook from scratch, I cook ahead and freeze meals. I buy far more flour and raw vegetables than I do processed food.

Last night, my children had fast food for dinner in the car. Andrew commented on it.

“Gladys, doesn’t it feel like we are on a special trip? Like we are on a vacation or something?”

We were going into Cleveland after a long day of school and activities to pick up my husband from work. His car broke down. I drove down to Cleveland savoring my double cheeseburger. No, really, it tasted really, really good (comfort food). I didn’t even know I was missing it. When I got home, my kitchen was clean. I turned off the lights in their rooms and ran off to play tennis; that was devilishly nice.

Rule 2 - I allow time for my children to do their homework. They read every day.

Andrew did part of his homework in the car, on a clipboard. He didn’t read. I’m not even sure his teeth got brushed. Ooops.

Rule 3 – My children take personal responsibility for their own things. If they forget it at home, then they don’t have it at school. They need to learn these things.

I saw my son’s snack sitting on the counter this morning, right next to the homework he had done in the car. I did it. I took his snack and his homework to school. How can you expect a kid to remember these things when he didn’t have a proper dinner and his backpack was still in the car from the night before? (I am sure every kid gets a proper dinner and has his backpack neatly on a hook every night – wouldn’t that be a world?). I was torn between feeling like an idiot and feeling some sympathy for a sweet six year old: not so tough love.

Rule 4 – My children do not watch TV, unless someone is sick or there is some other compelling reason. Needing to get a few things done does not normally constitute a compelling reason.

My sister called me this morning. Conversations with my sister are always amusing. If you could put a theme on our conversation today, it would have to be “get over it, already.” We were laughing, shaking our heads. I told her how I’ve been so behind since my trip. She laughed at me.
“Did you consider that you might actually be tired because of your trip? Lay down for 40 minutes.”

“Oh, right, what about these kids in my house?”

“Oh, that’s right, you don’t plop them down in front of the TV like normal people do.”

That is what she said. But, I heard what she didn’t say too.

“Get over it. Get off your high horse. There is no help for the hopeless.”

Everyone needs a sister.

Mine is not for the faint of heart, but I’ll get over it.

Did I mention that my kids were watching Sesame Street when I wrote this post?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gourmet Club

Several years ago, my aunt described in great detail how she enjoyed the gourmet club she had recently joined. I listened, nodding my head, wondering how I could assemble such a group of friends.

A week later, Ohmommy and I were strolling our children through the park on an unusually warm December morning.

“Are you and Jay having a Christmas party again this year? We had such a nice time last year, I was hoping it would be a tradition.”

We had been over each other’s homes countless times in the summer. They had just hosted a party a few weeks prior. Jay and I love to entertain.

“Ohmommy, I have an idea . . . “

A little cajoling of our playgroup friends and Gourmet Club was born. Our latest event was this past Saturday.

Jay and I wandered in the front door. Friends were assembling on the beautiful back screened in porch. Jay slipped his homemade ice cream in the freezer. I left the roasted rum pineapple on the table, thrilled to arrive without a sticky mess on my funky silk dress.

Our hosts were on the porch, offering cocktails.

Let me introduce you to Mrs. Iowa farmer, debutante. She is the only woman I know equally comfortable at a campsite or a 5-star restaurant. She can make a full dinner, multiple home made pies, homemade ice cream, fresh bread, and still appear in a little black dress, as if the caterer had just departed.

“Oh, honey, its really not that big of a deal,” she would say.

Her husband, we’ll call him “Mr. Iowa farmer” (tee hee). A successful business man and devoted father, I drunkenly admitted to him that I love his kids so much I hope they date mine in high school. These are my friends.

A few minutes later, Ohmommy and the Dentist arrived. Somewhere between the fresh cut bangs and stilletto heels, the boot camp trophy sashayed through the back screen door. She speaks for herself.

Indy and Mike were already there, relaxed on the couch. If you haven’t found her blog yet, you should. If you don’t know what to say, say what we all say,

“Weren’t you in Vegas recently?”

Meet Sir Townie and Lady Hospitality. When I was a kid, the so-called townies wore mullets and had rings worn into their back pockets from chew. This “townie” nickname has stuck because he is the diametric opposite. Yet another successful businessman, you will find him in a collared shirt and slacks on the golf course. He is a townie only because he grew up here. And, in case I forget, I don’t think I have ever had a conversation with him that didn’t include,

“Oh, yes, I know her, she’s my cousin’s wife.”

He knows everyone in town. Well, if he doesn’t know them, his wife does. And, they have invited them over, brought dinner to them once, or see them at the club frequently. These are my friends.

Meet the Goddess and Holy Husband. Now, you might readily assume when I say “Goddess,” I mean domestic goddess. No. This woman prides herself on NOT cooking. She is also a former model, but that isn’t it either. No, she is a Goddess because Mission Impossible to her is all in a days work. She knows everything, is everywhere, and gets everything done all at the same time. I frequently see her children at events she does not attend. She could tell you all about it though, because I am sure she was in three places at once. She called me one day after George was born.

“Do you need anything, Dear?”

“A gallon of milk would be great,” I replied, “but only if its easy.” I was desperate.

She called a friend who was at the grocery store. That friend passed the milk to her when they traded kids for carpool. She handed it to another friend, who was heading in my direction. A few minutes later, I had a gallon of fresh milk. No problem. I am not sure I could write a computer program to figure out how she transports people and goods throughout the community.

And, what about Holy Husband? This translates into “Holy Cow, what a husband.” I have heard stories of him bringing coffee to the Goddess before she gets out of bed. When Andrew’s eye was bleeding and I drove to the ER, panicked, (my husband already on the way from downtown) the Goddess was not available to calm me down. Holy Husband rushed to the ER to help me. I saw him in church today with two out of three kids without the Goddess. She had a good excuse, but it confirmed the name.

This brings us to our last couple, Mary Kay and MacGyver. Mary Kay is an understated, detail-oriented, principled, self-made woman. What she may appear to lack in world-travel, she makes up for in personal journeys. Stillettos would simply get in the way of keeping both of her feet firmly on the floor. (She looks awesome in them, its just soo not a priority for her). Wise beyond her years, I always expect she leaves the evening giggling at the folly of her girlfriends. I caught her this morning in church too. Her boys sat sweetly in the front row. She was perfectly groomed, perfectly calm, but I caught that polite little yawn that betrayed the time she had carved out for friends.

I end with MacGyver. Faced with making mojitos for our party, he found he did not have the proper tool to crush the mint. He whittled his own pestle from cherry wood. Yes, MacGyver is the right name for him.

This is our Gourmet Club.

Right after George was born, they each made dinner for us. They each made chicken: chicken soup, chicken paprikash, chicken Kiev, chicken Cordon Bleu.

“Why didn’t you tell us? We didn’t intend to make you eat chicken every day for two weeks!” they scolded me.

Are you kidding? Each dish was just as unique as the friend who prepared it: all different, all delicious. The best meals surprise us with their mélange of flavors.

Friends do the same.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Jay, this is Emama. Emama, meet Jay.

My 50th Post is an auspicious occasion for me. One might readily think that my excitement would be bubbling over into my conversations with my husband Jay.

“Honey, this is my 50th post, can you believe it?!” I would say.

He would be pleased right along with me. He would be proud with me. He would think about my dedication to writing. He would think about the excitement I feel when describing those small moments in a welcoming forum. He would know how writing helps me focus on the moments of joy, rather than those moments of frustration. He would know all of this.

He should know all of that, shouldn’t he?

He doesn’t. He should. I haven’t told him. He didn’t ask.

It is shameful and I feel it.

He knows I write. I have allowed him to continue thinking that I write completely privately. He may suspect otherwise. He may simply trust me.

Don’t accidentally think that I am feeling remorseful, apologetic. I would not call it that. I am neither willing to accept blame nor willing to attach such a label to another. This is not about blame.

This is more about being married.

Although Emama’s life is not exactly my life, my little secret has turned into something that I truly enjoy. All these years of never even starting a baby book, and now I have great stories I can share with my children. Could I keep this all in a private journal and give up the blog? The answer is simply no. My journal doesn’t give me a little “thumbs up.” It doesn’t give me that little “yes, I was there too” that keeps me going. My journal didn’t miss me when I was away.

I promised myself I would think about this very seriously in San Francisco. I thought it was possible, a few weeks ago anyway, that I would come back and say ‘goodbye’ to my virtual community. I would go private again, just like my husband suggested.

“Why can’t you just write these stories for yourself and our children?” He asked that, lovingly, not angrily, lovingly.

“I don’t know if you are a good writer, honey, but it is a sweet story.”

That’s what he said when I let him read one. Sweet. He meant it as a compliment. I took it like the pat on the head you give to a little girl. He has probably only read two of my posts. Not on-line mind you, I printed them out. He doesn’t know about Enthalpymama.

I need to let him read this: not because he “deserves” to read them, not because I feel terribly remorseful. I want him to be a part of ALL of my life.

I just love him.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Exacting Specifications

If you have ever made anything for one of your kids, then you know exactly what I mean. Whenever I start a sewing project for a family member, I start by looking internally for the strength to have it rejected. It has to be about the process. You have to enjoy it. At some point, my kids are going to give me that sideways look that says “Mom, you’ve just really missed the boat this time.”

It hasn’t happened yet. Someday, it will.

In the meantime, I take great pleasure in performing minor miracles with textiles. I can take my children into the fabric store and talk to them about color, texture, washing instructions. We talk about how the piece will be used. They mostly enjoy looking at all the buttons, but my son can tell you the difference between tulle and satin, and discriminate between different types of corduroy. I never mentioned that most men cannot describe fabric in much detail.

For most special occasions, I make something for my kids. I posted about the dress I made for Gladys for the pig roast. I notice I never posted about the collared shirt I made for Andrew for the same event – the one with the pigs on motorcycles. He wore it to school on black & pink day. Yes, my husband already has a couple crazy collared shirts, only after he begged me for over a year. (He wears them. Gasp!).

It made perfect sense that I would make a jumper for Gladys’ first day of school, so I did. I took her to the fabric store on Andrew’s first day of school (I posted about that day, you would have never guessed I made it to the fabric store too, but you wouldn’t have believed me). She picked out bright pink baby cord for a jumper. She wanted hearts. She wanted lots of colors.

“Mom, I want green, and red, and orange, and brown too. I want all the colors.”


“Hearts. I like hearts.”

Her favorite little stretch pants are covered in brightly colored hearts. They became the perfect inspiration. Of course, it is my job to take all of her specifications and come up with something that is actually really nice. I want her to like it, but I also want me to like it. Sometimes, that is a bit of a challenge. I page through catalogues and go on-line to check out new designs. Then, I try to find a pattern that is anywhere close to what I want. This time, I had to alter the pattern quite a bit. Pattern companies don’t seem to move quite as quickly as styles. I always change something. On the other hand, I am just a little nutty, so perhaps there is more challenge in changing things just a bit. Read it how you will.

So, this is the jumper I made for Gladys’ first day of school. She loves it. She named her hearts after each member of the family.

While in San Francisco, I had the pleasure of wandering through Britex, on my list of favorite fabric stores. I bought a few little things in the remnant section, as if I don’t have enough to do. Today, my very good friend here asked me to help her with her daughter’s costume. Tomorrow, we will go shopping together for her daughter and also for my son’s Halloween costume, a scary green monster. One that will “scare everyone in our neighborhood.”

I feel certain that my kids instinctively know what I like and pick something outside of my expertise. I used green fur once in the mid-80’s. I recall that it was a hassle. If it is going to be a green monster, I had better start tomorrow. I am working on Gladys to pick something easy (like maybe her costume from last year, which is fabulous). George will not be given a choice. You do have to talk first.

We have a tradition in our house that I “unveil” the costumes just before our first Halloween party. My husband and I pull out a big mirror and dress the children with their eyes closed. They open their eyes at the same time, to see themselves and each other magically transformed. It is a minor miracle of textiles, with a bit of psychological advantage thrown in.

So, I will tell you exactly what my sister will tell me when I talk to her on the phone. She is by far a more accomplished seamstress. I can hear her teasingly sarcastic voice now.

“Right. Good luck with that.”

Yeah, I know. Next year I’ll just buy them . . . no, I won’t. I won’t until I finally get that sideways glance from my kids.

It will come. Someday, it will.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A physical and mental journey to San Francisco

On the plane to San Francisco I was full of emotion. I was all at once giddy like a schoolgirl, excited like the winning contestant on Price is Right, a little teary eyed: drops of forgotten stresses smeared on my cheeks. I could not believe that my husband sent me to San Francisco.

I threw myself in a heap on Kay’s doorstep. For three too-short days I was her son’s long-lost auntie. I soaked up his unfettered love; a dried out rag, clean again and ready to pluck from the line. Kay’s son is so bright, so cheerful. He is an absolutely impossible-to-ignore 2-yr old. I snuck up on him, peaking around the corner. I would have stood on my head and juggled with my feet just to see him flash that dimple and giggle one more time: so delicious.

Kay escorted me into the City. We shopped. We tried on a few things I didn’t expect to buy. We bought a few of them anyway. I followed her footsteps through the town she has walked a thousand times. We explored the farmers’ market, the boutiques, her favorite Chinese. I peeked over her shoulder and saw a little piece of her life. She has a beautiful life: a caring husband, a charming son, a home brimming with her creativity and their love. I would never dare to say someone’s life is perfect, lest I insult the journey that brought them that day and disregard the challenges ahead. Allow me to say, however, that I saw a family in pursuit of happiness. It was good to see.

I can think of no better place in the months leading up to the 2008 election to take both a physical and mental journey than San Francisco. I fully expected to see a sign that read “Welcome to Obamaland” right along side the signs imploring us to use fewer paper products and recycle our table scraps. I arrived at Kay and her husband’s door not only a friend in need of a break from routine, but also one of unfortunate and misguided political views. I should stress that my hosts were most loving and patient with me, working in gentle ways to broaden my horizons. This is in distinct contrast to the waiter at the upscale, white-tablecloth restaurant who probably dreamt that night of poisoning my coffee. He seemed truly upset and flustered to discover I lean right. I suspect my other dear friends, on whose hospitality we enjoyed that evening, (Thank you again!!) tipped him well as an apology for feeding such a miscreant as me. Let us not, here, discuss those points at which we disagree, or even those in which we are united, let us just find peace in the knowledge that my coffee was not poisoned. Phew.

Besides having friends whom I love in San Francisco, I love SF because it is a place where anything can happen. If America were a bottle of wine, San Fran would be a reduction sauce born of fusion cuisine. I was introduced to pluots and boo boos (both fruit). I sampled Thai pot pie. A woman I had never met confided in me that she worried her unborn child may well be hermaphroditic. I saw four Prius’ all driving in a row. Honestly, it had been a few years since I had met a lesbian couple.

Sort your trash. Say nice things about Senator Obama. Everything else is offered up for examination. Change is the status quo.

Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, it is a really good idea to remove oneself from the daily routine entirely. Yes, daily reflection and meditation is helpful, but doing so in three-minute intervals leaves a tangled knot of loose ends. The spirit craves to be replenished, surrounded by unfettered love, accepted because your differences are merely another aspect of the person loved. I wonder now by what miracle I had the presence of mind to ask for what I needed. What special love enabled my husband to deliver it?

I am typing this from the journal I wrote on the plane ride home. I wrote more. I wrote all the way home, sometimes teary eyed, sometimes taking pictures out the plane window to show my kids; a well-traveled woman, seeing it all again for the first time. I’m skipping pages. I see now my conclusions, my to do list encouraging me to engage my spirit in even more psychologically sustainable activities: less of this, more of that. These are my promises to myself.

Before I had children, I did not make promises to myself. I set goals. We make promises to ourselves because making our families happy DOES make us happy. In fact, it often makes us so happy, we forget how to soak in that unfettered love.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Starting the First Grade . . . with Nana

By now, Enthalpy Mama is fully immersed in "Mommy Camp," a well-deserved respite for an amazing woman.

In her temporary absence, I offer a memory . . . both in light of the new school year, and in honor of Grandparents' Day.

. . . . . .

I lay down on the floor next to my son's bed last night, just for a while. The great majority of praenting experts say children should learn to fall asleep on their own, but we've always had our best conversations this way. Raw feelings, suppressed so carefully throughout the day, seep out in the stillness of night.

"Is first grade a lot longer than half-day Kindergarten?" He blurts it out into the silence. "Is it . . . the whole day, every part of it?" He can't hide the quiver in his voice, and turns to face the wall, in case of tears.

"No, honey, not every part, absolutely not every part. But longer than Kindergarten, quite a bit longer, partly because you'll have recess every day, not just once a week, and you get to eat lunch there with your friends. And you get to learn more, so much more about the world, Tony. It'll be awesome. You'll see." I stay steady, focus on hiding the apprehension in my own thoughts.

He's facing me again, smiling this time. "It's cool I'll have my own desk," he says finally, closing his eyes and settling into the pillow. I lie my head down too, on the soft carpet fibers, let myself drift into an almost half-sleep. Let go just enough, so I'll still hear the baby, if she awakens.

How much time passed, I'm not sure. But that's when I saw you. You came into crisp and sudden focus. Not you really, but your sandwiches. Little cream-cheese-and-olive squares. You'd serve them to us on the shady front porch, at a picnic table drapped in checkered cloth. Everything from your kitchen was soothing. I should send Tony to First Grade with cream cheese and olive sandwiches! The though makes me laugh. He barely eats conventional food, like turkey on white bread (the kind with few redeeming qualities).

Why did you save all those glass bottles, Nana? The ones lining the French windows along an entire side of your house? What did they mean? Sometimes you would tell me where this or that one came from, but I barely remember the stories. You were holding onto something, I think, artifacts of where you'd been -- the way I hang pictures of Tony and Eva throughout my house, far too many of them. Snapshots of different stages. I wish I could hold just one of your bottles right now, hold it up to the Cleveland sunlight, absorb the reflection of your life into my skin.

You held Tony once, just once, after so many strokes had wrought havoc on your body, reduced you so I wasn't sure how much of you was left -- Tony six months into life, you two months from death. He doesn't remember, of course, but I write poems about you, so he'll know . . .


1986 --
Roomates, she and I
Her old storage room
converted to my bedroom
-- rows of tattered books, metaphysical meanderings
(Edgar Casey, Numerology, Dr. Seuss)
all standing silently above me as I slept.
Crickets and frogs calling softly from the pond
outside my window,
canyon breezes floating over an old, spongy mattress.
In the 18 years since, I have never slept so peacefully
as I did amidst the noise
of Topanga night.

2004 --
Safeway, a grocery store produce section.
I rush quickly, anxious to catch up to the others.
The pungent scent of dark, ripened plums catches me off guard,
embracing me in the sweet perfume of her presence,
my eyes filling suddently with tears.
Has it really been three years since you left?


Staring at you across the white, laced tablecloth
darkened by newspaper print from stacks of the LA Times.
Staring, afraid I'd offend you with my prying,
hesitant to open a 20-year wound
in a 70-year-old heart . . .
yet I needed to know.
My words came out softly:
"Did Grandpa beat you?"
Her eyes steady,
her face frozen in neutral expression
. . . her deliberate, single nod.
This conversation ended, forever.

I spoke my darkest secrets,
hidden insecurities,
the thorny journey of my 20s.
You smiled knowingly,
made me Quiche Lorraine,
three-bean salad,
moist lemon cake,
made me
love myself again.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mommy Camp

I am off to Mommy Camp. Try not to miss me too much. I am already missing my kids and my husband, which is probably a really good thing. But, I won't let it stop me from having a good time, I promise.

I may have a secret guest blogger. She's acting shy. If you are commenting on this post, please leave encouragement for her!!!

Come on, Dear, the world is waiting!!! (No pressure, of course).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sweet Gladys' first day of preschool

Gladys had HER first day of school yesterday. FINALLY. She is more than happy to tell you that she is going to 3’s preschool. But, she isn’t three. She is three-and-a-half.


She loved it. She was so sweet. She was so confident. It just isn’t a big deal for her. I did take a lot of pictures, but it’s so easy to forget that it’s a first day for her. Everything seems to come so easy for Gladys.

I picked her up, threw her in the car, we ran around all afternoon for Andrew’s activities.

In the evening, I finally had a chance to look in her backpack. She had colored in a picture of a person. My husband was there in the kitchen.

“Oh, Gladys! How nice! Is that a picture of you?” he asked proudly.

No. It wasn’t a picture of Gladys. I was holding it in my hand and I could assure you from my vantage point, it was definitely not a picture of Gladys.

It was definitely male.

“No, Daddy, its Andrew! Its Andrew standing up and peeing!”

It is on my refrigerator. I would scan it in and show it to you, but it is almost shocking. I don’t want to be listed as one of THOSE sites.

Oh, my sweet, sweet Gladys.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Republican mom point of view

I am diving in, two feet first. After reading the posts suggested on the Silicon Valley Mom’s blog, I do feel that the Republican point of view is underrepresented. I am no more a political expert than the other bloggers, but let me lend some additional thoughts. (Since I have already written several pages and am now editing, it appears this post will have to be split over several days).

Sarah Palin as a mom, just like us?

Sarah Palin delivered a fabulous speech. I haven’t read a single blog, or spoken to anyone, who could argue differently. We are in agreement. She has presence, charisma, confidence, intellect, and courage. These are all important traits of a good leader. Of course, those are not the only traits of a good leader.

Sarah Palin is a mother of five children. Most people seem to agree that the fact that she is a mother should not play directly into a voter’s decision. However, having been a mother, most people make certain assumptions about her stance on issues. I would be careful. I once watched an interview of a mother who had encouraged her son to become a suicide bomber. Wow. All mothers are not alike.

The argument that running for VP somehow lessens her stance as a mother is ludicrous to me. She has a perfectly good husband. He looked very comfortable with that 4-month old. Please do not insult the dads of this world by implying that he could not fulfill the primary role of parenting, if he is indeed taking on that role. I even heard that she went back to work a few days after her baby was born. That is a little surprising, but only because it is very typical of a father and less typical of a mother. What should be more surprising is that she can balance the budget of the State of Alaska while pregnant.

People often forget that the Lewis and Clark expedition was guided by Sacagawea. She was pregnant for the first half of her journey. On the second half, she toted an infant.

Certainly, Gov. Palin’s requirements in the role of VP will be demanding. It will take away from her time with her children. That would not be the choice of most stay at home moms. Obviously, if we thought that was the right choice for us, we wouldn’t be stay-at-home moms. But, isn’t America about choices? She should be able to make her own choices. I am making the assumption that she didn’t abandon her child after three days, she merely put the child in the care of other capable hands. Truly, the job of governor is not a part-time position either. She has probably worked out her child-care issues. Lots of people work hard, put their children in capable child-care, and have much less glorious jobs.

Most people agree to leave Gov. Palin’s pregnant daughter out of the discussion. I think the most important point is how she has handled the situation. Gov. Palin does not believe in abortion. Whether her daughter agrees with her and has made her own decision or not may never be completely clear, but at least there is consistency. Presumably, her daughter holds the same basic values as her mother.

Would you have done something different than Gov. Palin? It is personally difficult for me to imagine anyone recommending abortion. Really? If oh-my-goodness the unimaginable happened and your daughter got pregnant, you would recommend abortion? That is your grandchild we are talking about. You wouldn’t offer to help her? Really? Wow. Moms are all different.

On the flip side, if your daughter decided on abortion, would you forgive her? I would. I would hold a deep, deep sadness in my heart. Forever. But, I would forgive her. It is their choice. We just try and hope and pray that they make the better choice. Hopefully, they have enough chances to make good choices long before they are faced with such a huge and terrible decision.

It is also difficult for me to imagine withholding birth control and the appropriate education surrounding it. Yes, I’ve heard that Gov. Palin wants an abstinence only education. I do not agree with an abstinence only education. I plan on telling my children about their options. I will even encourage them to tell their friends. (Watch out, conservative neighbors). In fact, if abstinence only education were the norm in our schools, I might accidentally drop boxes of condoms around the parking lot of the high school, with directions if necessary. (Hopefully, if I get arrested for littering, one of my so-called liberal friends will post my bail).

That was a silly thing to say. I am Catholic. Abstinence is a much better choice. Not getting in car accidents is also the best choice, but I still put my kids in car seats. What is a mother to do? Just pray?

It is our job to protect our children. It is our job to make the country the best place for them to pursue THEIR happiness. That is what we should do. We should all vote with our hearts in the right place. We should check all the issues. Think about what is truly best, not about whether or not we want to invite the candidate for dinner. Then decide.

Feel free to disagree with me. You are still my friend. That’s what America is all about.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Habitat for Humanity: What a Scream!

On Saturday, we were in for a big surprise.

The four of us PTA moms showed up at 8:20 am, in the rain. Our boots squelched in mud so deep and thick that it threatened to pull our shoes from our feet. I rolled up my jeans. I tugged at my ponytail.

“Hello!” I hailed a man emerging from one of the three homes-in-progress. “Good morning! We’re here to work!”

He sent us around back to find the construction manager. SQUELCH. SQUELCH. Slip, slip. SQUELCH.

He showed us a big, wet, muddy hill, probably 12 feet high behind the house.

“We need to backfill the foundation today.” He pointed to the trench around the home’s foundation. The rain continued to fall.

He gave us a tour of the already framed home, the middle of the three: one house sponsored by a local church, another by a local company, the third by our pro basketball team.

“People from the pro-team will be here today.” We looked at each other, imagining a 7-foot tall basketball player showing up any second. “Probably people from the office.”

Sixteen young people appeared during our tour, representing the basketball team. We weren’t sure who they were, but they were clearly “cooler” than we were. When the construction manager finished, I spoke up.

“Nice to meet everyone! A couple of us very cool PTA moms are here joining you today.” We received lots of smiles, a couple “heys.” It was a friendly group.

Tools arrived. Another job was opened up for us inside the house: digging a sewer line trench in the basement. We had two choices: shovel mud, or if you got tired, shovel different mud. Most of the young ladies were called over to do some inside work in the basketball team’s house. That left the PTA moms with the hip young men, and a few, just-as-hip young ladies.

I climbed to the top of the hill to break up the dirt to help the shovels. A tall, strong young man grabbed a pick-ax and started hammering into the mini-mountain.

“Hey, guys! Look! I’m John Henry.”

He was. He was SO John Henry. I’ve rarely heard a more perfect literary reference. Someone started singing “I’ve been working on the railroad.” Who were these folks?

We shoveled. We chatted. “What do you do for the team?” I asked one of the men.

“I dance.”

“You dance?” Yes, they dance. They are the hip-hop dancers: the break-dancers, the B-boys, as Motion later explained.

What a scream! They were hilarious. All of the sudden, it was very obvious. They were singing occasionally, and shoveling to the hip-hop beat on the radio. Every once in awhile, someone would break out a few moves (yeah, they did), or catch a phrase in a song and sing along.

The so-called B-boys have been formally introduced to all of their muscle groups, some of which the PTA moms have never met. Seven hours into shoveling, the break-dancers were having races. I was dumping buckets (and almost myself) into the trench, leaning on the doorframe to hold myself up.

Habitat for Humanity got all I had to give on Saturday. The group was so fun, it was hard to not shovel along. After having almost dumped myself in the trench along with one of the wheelbarrows, I asked Meach to empty mine. Every time after, he appeared when my wheelbarrow was full to dump it without my asking: so kind.

I walked into the mud caked house for a moment. I was a good ten feet into the house when the construction manager scolded me. “Hey, get those muddy shoes out of the house!” he laughed.

“Oh, don’t worry, I plan to Swiffer later,” I replied, and popped into a ridiculous Swiffering motion, mimicking the commercial.

From the backyard, I heard a yell. “Hey, PTA mom’s got the motion!” I turned around and there was John Henry (James) laughing at me. I laughed too.

“Oh, yeah, PTA moms have all the moves.” I gave an extra little shake for emphasis.

I couldn’t convince anyone to spin on their head in the mud, but we had a good time. I received a booty bump from Nova. I heard about Motion’s love of chess and advanced puzzles. (I love puzzles too.)

They were fun, kind, respectful, and clever. They spent their personal time to make the community a better place. These are the qualities I want in my children.

All of the sudden, I have this strange urge to go to a basketball game.

I was pleased to leave with one of Motion’s business cards. Besides being involved with the basketball team, he coaches chess teams. (Excuse me, but can you not like these guys?). On his card, was also his link to his dance business. You are just going to HAVE to check them out: www.myspace.com/pointblank216. (Of course, I'm probably sullying their tough-guy reputations by writing this post. Sorry, gentleman, I couldn't help it.)

Uh oh, does this make me a groupie or something? Now that IS funny.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The post that was not

I am unable to post until I stop ranting and raving about politics. When I am done. I will post. I may even edit the three pages of political spew that I just wrote and condense it into a reasonable essay.

In the meantime, I will be building a foundation tomorrow for a Habitat for Humanity house. I do need to rest. I hope I can find some sturdy shoes.

I read a lot of political posts today. Feel free to post your thoughts on any of the candidates. I would love to discuss (probably won't be able to avoid it tomorrow)!!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Looking for inspiration

On Sunday, I was reading the paper. A prominent person in our city had died over the past week, so the paper was brimming with inspiration. There were tales of significant achievements, emotional quotes, and heartfelt, passionate stories from loved ones and colleagues. Truly, most of our paper was an obituary.

In the actual obituary section sat, halfway down by the seam, Casey’s obituary: seven words. I couldn’t be more serious. There were only seven words, including her name and the months of her birth and death: so uninspiring.

This all made me think about inspiration. It was hard to avoid. I tried. I couldn’t help but wonder what inspires people. How do we inspire? The man who wrote the obituary was not her child, he is the executor of Casey’s will. Casey would probably be okay with it. What would the man’s mother think about his seven words?

How do we encourage our children to realize that the little things are important? How do we tell them that those little things that we do become bigger things? Is it enough to tell them that Michael Phelps practiced every day? There is more. It’s organic. Why do I find those seven words offensive? Why did the love of those other people for the person who died make me want to go do something good for the world?

I went outside to clear my head. Andrew was pulling the wagon up and down the street attached to the back of his bicycle. He had George in the wagon when I walked outside.

“Hey, how about giving your mother a ride?” I yelled after him. That would help, I thought.

“You’re too big,” he said matter-of-factly.

“No, I’m not. You can pull George and Gladys at a good speed and they weight 60 lbs together. You can pull me. Just try.”

“How much do you weigh?” I told him. He let me climb aboard. It became a physics lesson.

In a few seconds, I was being pulled down the sidewalk by my son’s bicycle. I cheered. I whooped and hollered. My brain was still on inspiration, emotional intelligence, and the instillation of creativity. I shook my head. Seven words? Really?



“Mom, I can’t pull you up the hill, you are going to have to get out.”

“Oh, right, sorry.” I got out and walked. I didn’t try to get back in after the hill. I was gone again in thought. My neighbor walked by and suggested that Andrew charge for rides. The next time he rode by, he told me he was now the Super-Power-Rocket-Shuttle charging a penny a pound. He rode on.

Then Gladys came running towards me, in her flip-flops.

“Honey, please don’t run in flip-flops. Go find your sneakers.” I said it absentmindedly. I’m not sure I even heard my own words.

“But, Mom, these are my flip flops. I’m so lucky to have them!”

I was trying to think. Now my brain was forced to listen to a three year old.

“What, honey?” I asked as sweetly as possible.

“Remember, when we were in the creek? Andrew SAVED these flip-flops. If he hadn’t run down and grabbed them for me, they would have left the creek and flowed into the river and then into the Great Lakes and then into the Niagara River and over the Niagara Falls!!”

I had told her that. I told her that standing in the creek that day. We had just been to Niagara Falls. It was all very true. She remembered that.

“Can you believe that, Mom? Can you believe that my flip-flop could have gone over Niagara Falls?” She made a big whooshing, crashing sound here. “Then it would be gone forEVER.”

They get it. Yes, they get it.

What inspires you?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mommy Camp

A little over a year ago, I experienced symptoms of fatigue. I found my symptoms hard to describe. I was desperately tired. I experienced head rushes and dizziness. Occasionally, I would have a headache or other muscular pain. I was not sleeping well, but even a night of sleep did not seem to solve it. I cut down my caffeine. I took iron supplements. I drank plenty of water. I tried to eat better: even more vegetables than I would have eaten anyway, even more than I ate to impress my children.

I told my husband about it. He suggested all of the above. I followed his advice too. Finally, he suggested that I see a doctor. I made an appointment.

I am not a hypochondriac. The last time I recall going to the doctor for something other than having a baby or my annual, I ended up in surgery a few weeks later.

I was fortunate to get an appointment quickly, but I was not able to arrange a babysitter as quickly as my appointment. I arrived at the doctor’s office with a four year old, a two year old, and a 6 month old baby. He asked questions. I explained. I kept my children at bay (they are exceptionally patient children). The doctor seemed a little annoyed with the interruptions, but perhaps that was my own attitude forced upon him. He ran all of the appropriate tests. I left several blood samples for proof.

The tests came back with the verdict. The same verdict he left me with on the day of my visit: you are the mother of three small children.

“You are the mother of three small children”??

THAT is a diagnosis?

That, in fact, was my diagnosis. I was the picture of health, but the picture was not a pretty one. The picture was a very exhausted mother. This cost me nearly $400 to discover (insurance doesn’t cover exhaustion).

This summer, I was experiencing similar symptoms. By the first week of August, we had been camping in South Dakota, Ohio, and Niagara Falls. We had been biking, hiking, visiting and playing in the slip-n-slide. We had just returned from the annual Pig Roast, which involved having the kids up past 10pm and traveling for a full day each way. I spent a whopping $200 for camp for one of my kids. The rest of the time, all of the time, my three children and I were running around, or packing, or planning to run around. My son’s sixth birthday (a camp out) was a few days away. My children had “Mommy Camp” all summer. I was more than a little tired. I was exhausted.

This time, I didn’t see a doctor.

I thought about putting all three of my kids in a camp. I couldn’t justify the money. I don’t have family who will take them. I could have put them in the day care for an hour at the gym, but an hour was just not going to do it. No, they don’t watch television either.

I talked to my husband again.

“Let’s take a weekend, and go somewhere as a couple,” I suggested. “We never do anything ourselves.”

We thought about it. There is no one who can take the kids for a weekend. I thought some more. Jay sometimes takes the kids to a museum or something for a few hours so I can clean the house. I can’t be in the house without doing a project, playing with my kids, or cleaning it (yeah, I have to sometimes). I suggested that I visit my best friend from college in San Francisco.

The next day, I called Kay. I asked her if she would mind a visit. She was thrilled. I told her I wasn’t sure if I was actually coming. I explained that it was a lot to ask. I do not need to visit her, really. I just want to. I shouldn’t be so decadent. I will let her know.

The day after that, Jay called me from work.

“I’ve got it all arranged. September 12th through 15th. Are the dates okay? Should I buy the ticket?”

“Oh, my, really? Buy it!”

“Shouldn’t you call Kay?”

It is a crazy gift. It’s completely irrational. It cost $400.

I am going to "Mommy Camp."

Monday, September 1, 2008

Der spi sie ween sie een

This past week brought us our first week of “full day” school for Andrew. I expected him to be tired. He was. I expected him to be hungry. He was. I even expected some unusual behavior, and I was blessed with some of that too. I must say, however, that overall everything went pretty smoothly.

I try to put myself a little bit in his shoes. Could I sit through seven and a half hours of first grade? Well, okay, I’m not six years old. But, consider having a seven and a half hour off-site with everything planned. No, you can’t run out and answer your cell phone. No distractions. Raise your hand if you need to go to the restroom. You have 30 minutes at recess, and even then someone may well want to play with whatever you had planned. All this after a 12 week vacation . . . . You see my point.

So, he wanted to have a few things running his own way last week. I made sure he had a few of his favorite meals. He gave me a dissertation on why he didn’t want to wear a red shirt on red shirt day. There was no whining. He didn’t wear a red shirt. I was disappointed (fortunately, I’m not six and was able to get over it quickly).

This all brought me back to my very favorite protest ever, at least so far. It was about this time last year.

Andrew had started with a new piano teacher a few weeks earlier. The new teacher had started him at the beginning of a different teaching method, which required him to play easier songs than what he had been playing. The teacher was moving quickly, but Andrew was not feeling patient on this particular day.

“Oh, just play your lesson. Just play it one more time, okay?” I said that. I’m his mother. That is my job.

There was some silence. There was some rustling of the lesson book. Then, the music began.

I didn’t recognize it. I didn’t want him to stop, so I just moved closer to see what he was playing. Then, I began to sing along (he won’t let me do that anymore, but he used to let me sing along). Note by note, I sang it just like he played it.

. . . . spout ter wa the up went der spi sie ween sie een . . .

He has never played that song any other way since.

“Der spi sie ween sie een”?

I call it ‘German’ for “I’ll do it my way, thank you very much.”