Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Wave

Snow fell today. To be accurate, we should say “slush,” but I am not sure how that falls. The snow banks on the sides of our street cradled the onslaught on freezing rain, creating a river without flow (almost measureable as a slump factor, for you true engineers).

Imagine frozen orange juice left on your counter.

Having woken up in a deliciously good mood, I decided to wear a skirt that my son had helped me pick out. (An exaggeration perhaps, but he was a great sport at the store). I awarded him full credit, as I was a little concerned about the combination of teal, gray, and burgundy printed on corduroy. But, for $7 he thought it was “pretty crazy” so I bought it.

I should also mention that, considering the typical weather here in my suburb, I often shovel my way four doors down to the bus stop in the morning. (Call it your middle-class, suburban, full body workout.) Since Mother Nature prefers a healthy suburban mom, she often allows me the opportunity to do it all over again before the bus returns in the afternoon.

I threw on my snow boots with my “crazy” corduroy skirt and opened my garage door.

Gladys grabbed her shovel and followed behind, pushing now, then dragging the shovel behind. I was a few yards ahead of her, alternatively shoveling and checking on her over my shoulder.

Then, over my shoulder, I saw the Fedex guy. I saw the young man through his truck window, chuckling at me, smiling.

I looked down at my boots.

I looked back at Gladys.

Then I saw my son’s bus slow down a few homes ahead to allow bus 64 to pass it. This happens every single day: bus 64 always passes my son’s bus at that exact spot. Every day, the buses follow this same dance.

The clockwork of this occurrence underscores the change in weather for me. A month ago I witnessed this dance in a light jacket, kicking leaves. Two months ago, I pulled the wagon in a cotton skirt.

Then I saw THE WAVE.

A tremendous, evil wave of slush grew larger as the bus accelerated towards the curb in front of me. I dropped my shovel and instinctively ran up the driveway.

Gladys (protected by angels) continued to focus on her shovel, standing behind a tree completely dry.

My son’s bus, now stopped two drives ahead, forced the Fedex truck to stop right in front of me.

“Hey! He almost got you!” his laugh was contagious.

“He’ll have to try a little harder next time!”

Andrew jumped off the bus, and the three of us ran home together into the warmth.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Juggling Rocks

A thick tension enshrouds the suburbs. The other night, an otherwise congenial friend of mine attacked my character. Another friend expressed her concern for a mutual friend, who she accidentally caught in tears. I hung up the phone a moment ago, wondering if somehow I had done it again. Somehow, completely by accident, someone felt slighted. Surely, it was nothing, but as I stand in this great cathedral, I see my friendships before me as a stained glass window.

I juggle rocks.

As you can imagine, this feeling led me into a state of introspection. I have been walking through life fairly pleasantly for more than thirty years. I am a reasonably sensitive person. I have been accused of excellent social diplomacy skills. Friends have truly humbled me in the past by their willingness to open up to me, and I can promise you that the smallest shreds of those private conversations will never appear here. Never. Even if you guess right, I promise I cannot tell you. (Anyway, I have a horrible memory.)

What happened?

Although I am well known in my circles as a pop culture idiot, I do my best to stay abreast of the more serious events of our time. I heard the other day that Citibank is laying of 50,000 employees on top of other layoffs. Yes, I heard about the credit crunch, the death spiral of retail sales, the automotive bailout debates, and “Hank and the banks.”
I received the e-mail from President Hockfield of MIT, explaining just how MIT will weather the financial storms. She sent me (and thousands of other alumni) an e-mail telling me things will get worse before they get better. I sigh, and I’m so glad that those employment figures are just figures. Those metrics sit sadly on the desks of economists, in some office, somewhere in a big city.

I am glad that I don’t know anyone losing their job.

Oh, except for Mr. Smith, of course, who was laid off recently. And then there is Mr. Jones, whose company will likely go under. Mr. Davis is in real estate, which I’m sure is doing just fine, right? Then there is the Wallaces who own a small business selling things that people can put off until later. And, since the manufacturing and banking sectors are unlikely to be laying off, those friends are pretty secure too, right? Right?


And I wonder why people are just a little edgy when the only thing everyone can agree on is the fact that things are going to get worse.

But, Mr. Smith, you may not know this, but Mr. Davis is pretty edgy too. And, his wife is upset because she isn’t able to figure out how Johnny is going to get that train set if she has to pay the copays this month and then your insurance is gone in January. She just heard that Santa’s elves are walking out if the pay cuts go through. Mrs. Wallace, please be patient with Mrs. Jones, she didn’t mean to offend you, but she just got off the phone with her husband who had some more bad news. She used up all her reserves telling him that she’d figure it all out and everything would be fine, even though she doesn’t really believe it herself.

And me? I probably look just a little bit comfortable carrying that fancy coffee into preschool with a big smile. I’m smiling because I found a coffee shop gift card in my winter coat from last year. I should have told you. Its that bad memory thing I guess. I have enough for one more. Do you want to split it?

I am not juggling rocks. I am another windowpane refracting the sunshine, even if its merely the reflection off the new fallen snow.

Looking out my window, I see snow glistening, as if to spite those gray winter skies. Pull up a cup of your cheapest joe, my friends, it may be a long winter, but it will be warmer in the company of friends.

And, my dear friends, I promise my next post will be cheerful, maybe even funny in its own Emama sort of way.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Save my seat

The unselfish kindnesses that brought me persistent and unmitigated disasters recently flood my thoughts with a tangible frustration. Not to say that I desire an end, mind you. My personality if not my internal, hard wired convictions resist even the notion. Throwing in the proverbial towel would, in truth if not simply in affect, signal an end with a drama not personally acceptable.

Truly, it shall not be done.

But, in light of the oncoming celebrations, the repetitive nature of my existence that not only repeats with the sun, but multiplies with the moon (at least as often as the last of those repetitive functions go undone, or the youngsters in my charge develop, events as consistent as the tides), the preparations for the aforementioned, and (let us not forget) the disasters unpredicted, I must accept a hiatus.

Did I say accept?

Accept, perhaps not, but I must shed distractions.


To simply throw off my source of ordered peace, my required mental exercise, my relentless search for beauty in a dwelling so viciously torn by inquisitive squeals, like a moth-eaten sweater, I shudder. To insult my friends and cyber-colleagues by equating these fellow humans, connecting their journey to mine, to distractions, I fall to my knees in utter shame.

Oh, bother. I just have stuff to do guys. I’ll be back.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades

I had a bad, terrible, awful day yesterday. If you had seen me during the day, you probably would not have even noticed. You probably could have sat on my shoulder all day, and never even realized what a terrible day I had. Some days are funny that way.

I told a friend I would do her a favor.

I missed it.

This is where I justify it. This is where I say that no one was hurt. This is where I explain that I missed it only by a little bit. This is where I say that it was sincerely an accident. (It was). It happened once before. (I am always at my worst around her. She dropped off my son once after a play date and I was upstairs vacuuming and did not hear the door. Andrew appeared in front of me and I had already missed my chance to say ‘thank you’. What are the chances of me vacuuming my upstairs at all, much less when someone happens to be at the door??). This is where I explain that I often do too much. It is a flaw of character that I have fought for years. I would go on here to explain how I called right away and apologized profusely. I did. I left a message that wasn’t returned.

In the end, though, it was still my fault.

I saw her today. She stood ten feet away as I lingered with a mutual friend. I was holding George and had Gladys at my feet, but I called her name. I apologized, in a clear voice, across that ten feet of space.

She said that she wouldn’t let it happen again. She wasn’t going to go for a third time. She held up two fingers and walked away.

I was wrong. Someone did get hurt.

I am truly sorry.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Christmas, A different dress, A few short weeks

Gladys wore this dress (above) on her very first Christmas. A mother of two children created that dress. It is made out of a very expensive silk brocade. That mother fully lined the bodice and skirt. The rich, velvet bodice has a lined jacket to match, with the most perfect pink jewel button.

This is a picture of a little girl with an organized mother. Isn't she perfect??

In early December, the year of Gladys' second Christmas, her mother made her a baby brother instead of a Christmas dress. He is far more washable, which is fortunate.

On her second Christmas, Gladys donned a hand-me-down from a kind friend. I'm sure there is a picture of her in it smiling just as beautifully as she does in a handmade dress.

Last year, that mother had three children and made her another dress from a lovely piece of silk brocade. The velvet bodice brings out the green in her eyes. That mother of three did not have time to even think about a jacket to match. The unlined skirt meets the bodice at a hastily basted lining that no one will ever see.

The day that my dear Gladys was to wear that dress in a perfect Christmas card picture, her beautiful, washable little brother had conjunctivitis. I was trying to remember why we did not have a picture of this dress on our Christmas card last year. After reviewing our pictures, I wondered instead why we attempted to take pictures at all. Here he is complete with a swollen face. We would have had to say "Have a Merry Christmas, unlike poor George here, who is not feeling merry even a little bit."

We opted instead to send a picture of our children appearing like their happy selves.

And now, in just over a month, Christmas will come. This year, I am going to do something totally different. I am going to make a dress with a piece of striped silk, instead of a brocade. See how wild and crazy I am?

Gladys' grandfather (my dad) bought some silk somewhere in Asia over the past 10 years. Dad gave it to me a few months ago, along with a few other pieces. This particular piece speaks to me. Gladys loves "rainbow colors" and I could never find another piece of fabric with all of Gladys' favorite colors in a rich silk. Gladys loves it already.

This is my inspiration.

Now, all we need is lots of creativity, more hours than exist, and the patience of Mother Teresa, and we'll make it through this Christmas.

Ah, but Mother Teresa was much wiser than I am. She was the Mother to the multitudes, not merely three children.

She would make a sari.

Friday, November 7, 2008

November walk

November brought spring to our part of the world this week. There were two fights on the Elementary school playground yesterday, as if the weather itself has stirred the restlessness of our children. Andrew avoided involvement, but he prides himself on thorough reporting. Another mother from his class confirmed the second hand reports,

“Oh, yes, I heard there was lots of blood. Unbelievable.”

Spring this week, with all of its glory.

The kids and I walked down to the park in our neighborhood. I am President of the Association here, so I try to walk the property as frequently as possible.

“Mom, wasn’t that so cool when we cleaned up the park, and everyone painted it?”

“Yes, it was.”

We entered a 13-acre park with a playground, baseball diamond, and pavilion. Amazing people live in our neighborhood. You know, the kind of people who show up with tools and donate paint and run out and buy donuts to celebrate. We have a few of the other kind too. Yes, yes, we all know about them. We make excuses for them and some people deserve the excuses, but we try not to judge. We try not, even if our minds do it by accident, and we reserve our opinions.

My children have not met them yet.

The sun sets early now and soon the November chill penetrated the stillness. The only leaves rustling lay under our muddy feet. George held my hand.

I enjoyed the walk home in the cool evening air, but my thoughts were on starting dinner, encouraging homework, perhaps a load of laundry yet. Seeing our house from a distance, I saw a humble home. Not a home that pumps the chest large with pride, just a nice home. A home that works out pretty well for us, but cannot be the castle of a child’s dreams. A light was left on, betraying the warmth within.

Andrew and Gladys ran up ahead, leaving George and I hand in hand a whole driveway behind.

“Let’s check this one out, Gladys. It looks perfect for us!”

“Oh, yes, Andrew, I like the pumpkins on the porch!”

“Mom, I think we should buy this one, don’t you think?” they ran to the door, squealing with delight, pretending to find our home for the very first time.

By the time I arrived, they were upstairs finding their bedroom. They ran from room to room.

“Mom! Look, there is a great guest room up here, and sewing stuff, and even a guest bed!”

I heard Gladys’ footsteps running behind Andrew.

“And, there are TWO bathrooms up here. One for the big people and one for us too!”

From every room I heard their surprised voices describing how incredibly, unbelievably, stupendously, fantastic every detail in our house fits our family like a well-worn glove. Like a prince and princess exploring their very own castle.

I closed the window against the November chill, and started dinner.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Geek at the Park

If a geek goes to the park on a beautiful day,
The things she may think but may never say . . .

She would look at this picture blown out of proportion,
Seeing water on cotton think liquid absorption.

And those shoes, “How cute!” but she wouldn’t go mention,
That beading water to her is nice surface tension.

And here Gladys jumps with exhilaration,
Against gravity it’s called counter acceleration.

Here George sits up high, now this is special,
She jumps to conclusions and sees energy’s potential

When that potential is spent and he’s back on the ground,
George splashes and plays, romping around.

Then suddenly he sees George, where he never expects,
In a muddy Fall puddle, he learns light reflects.

So why did she go to the park on this day?
The truth is: fresh air, and to see the kids play.

We teach them to see through just one more lens:
Science and poetry, the importance of friends.

So who is this geek? Surely not I.
Well, I can’t really hide it. I don’t even try.
Authors note: Congratulations to Senator and soon-to-be President Obama. I also congratulate Senator McCain, and all of those who have helped both of you through this crazy campaign season. Thank you for your sacrifices to make this democracy work.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Go Vote. Be Done. Move Forward.

This is me, Enthalpymama, running off to the polls to vote . . . .

For those of you who missed my post at the end of September, explaining my personal challenge, here it is. I wore skirts (or dresses) every day in October.*

Many of you who might read this probably consider my challenge frivolous and impractical, especially for a woman who prides herself on practicality. Other than a few old dresses thrown in, I only wore two skirts all month. One I made, the other one was a thoughtful purchase of my mother’s. I have to admit, it was a little inconvenient.

I am glad I did it.

First, it was a simple reminder to me of how many choices I have. I have the capacity to be frivolous. My restrictions in life come primarily from within.

Second, my mother read it. She enjoyed it. She told me that my great aunt always thought long skirts were “stupid” and said that she couldn’t DO anything in them. Those petticoats were thrown out for good reason, and I doubt long skirts will ever come back in style for daily wear.

Third, it kept me focused: the day I leaned over to buckle Gladys into the car and a wind blew my skirt straight up in the air in a busy parking lot, the day my friend's kid ran her hand right up my leg (as if coffee wasn’t enough to make me alert), the day I watched Gladys’ soccer game and froze my, well, you know. I thought about those ladies wearing skirts every single day: working hard, having no voice. I thought about how incredibly soft I am.

It makes you think of how many people, not just women, have been in truly heart wrenching situations. Situations I will never know . . . .

If you are one of those folks who are disappointed on Wednesday, when someone else’s candidate takes up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue, remember this. You have a right to be disappointed. You have the right to voice your opinion. You have the right to continue working for what you believe in. You have the responsibility to be part of this incredible American journey.

Celebrate how far we have come.

And, if you find yourself being fanatically red or fanatically blue, please remember to seek opportunities in that deeper shade of purple.

Go! What are you doing reading this? Go Vote!!!

Oh, and here is a picture of that other skirt. See that oh-so-practical car? Pretty tricky getting three car seats in that puppy.

Note: I wore pants once in October when George had a fever of 104 and I had to make it to the drug store before closing. Sorry, practicality does win sometimes.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Shoe crazy

Last week I met that woman again. You know the one. That woman in the grocery store who, when I was a new mom, was always there telling me what I was doing wrong. She was there again this week.

“That poor baby, his feet must be SO cold,” she said with a shiver. “And, no coats on those children?”

That’s what she said. I guess she meant well. When I was a new mom, I wanted to scream at her. I never did scream at her, but I did let the scream echo in my heart. I let it hurt me inside. I was not always sure that I was a great mom. I did not know how to measure that.

Last week, I did not even want to scream at her. I am not sure what I said. It was something noncommittal, something reasonably pleasant, but without much thought.

“Oh, I think they are probably used to the cold.”

The truth is that Andrew and Gladys’ coats were in the cart, buried under groceries. George was wearing socks, I just hadn’t bothered putting his shoes on. I carried him. I am a mother of three children. I focus on my task. Shoes are optional if they are not required to protect the feet (anyway, he likes to take them off). I had carried him into the car to pick up Gladys from preschool. I had carried him into preschool. I carried him into the grocery store. I thought his shoes were in the car.

I smiled and commented on the first snowfall. She said something apologetic and wandered off.

I carried George into the house. I unloaded the groceries. There was barely time to turn around before we were getting costumes on for trick or treat at the local senior home. I looked for the shoes as I explained to Andrew and Gladys that we were going on a service project.

“But we get candy, right?” Andrew asked, buckling himself in.

“Yes, of course, they will give you candy because they want to see your smile. Your happiness makes them happy. Where are those shoes?”

“Oh, so all we have to do is go there and smile and say trick or treat?”

“Yes. Think about how good it makes feel when you see someone happy because of something you did. Sometimes the best kind of gift you can give to someone is to just smile at him. Of course, George will need shoes.”

Then it dawned on me. When I pulled George out of his crib from his nap, I had carried his shoes with me out to the car. I had also carried a few other things. Since the driveway was snowy I had put the shoes on the top of the minivan . . . . uh oh.

“Kids, we might be a few minutes late for the senior home.”

“Why Mom?”

“We’re going shoe hunting! Everyone look out the window for George’s shoes!!!”

“Really?? Gladys, you look left. I’ll look right! Okay, Mom, we’re ready!”

We found them. One was on the side of the road in the neighborhood (above).

The other shoe was in the middle of the main street of town, a four lane road. So, if you happened to see some crazy woman running down the street in the snow, chasing after a child’s saddle shoe. That was me. My children gave me a great cheer to celebrate my success (and, they also told their father, who was real impressed too).

I know. I should pay more attention to my kid’s shoes.

I know. It’s dangerous to run down the street (I checked for traffic, I promise).

I also know that I’m a great mom.