I have obviously taken a hiatus from this blog. However, I did recently start blogging with my friend Amy at this site:
I hope you'll stop by and say hello!
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Monday, April 06, 2009
That a baby bird is not a mammal should go without saying. Still, the tiny creature cradled in my older sister Alicia's arms gulped down the warm milk from the eye-dropper as if it were, in fact, a mammal, as if it would happily adapt itself to whatever sustenance we provided.
We found it flailing helplessly on the crackly hot sidewalk just past the Mooney house. Our parents had warned us of certain unnamable dangers lurking about that mustard-colored house, and our imaginations filled in the absence of tangible explanation like hot lava flowing into cracks. "They chop off your fingers and toes if you take one step on their grass," I guessed. "They hunt cats and trap them in the basement," Alicia retorted. "They suck out all the good juices in your body and replace it with evil poison," I said. "They grind up people and put them into pies," she shouted.
We weren't terribly young, naive or inexperienced. We knew the subject matter of real fear: Great-Grandfather "Papa" got sick, slowed to a shuffle and died; a giant mountain named after a Saint erupted seemingly without warning; classmate's houses caught fire. And each day with lived a peek-around-the-corner, tip-toe sort of life with our unpredictable mother, who might surprise us by cooking dinner or dismay us by staying in bed all day.
We knew the Mooneys weren't to blame for these things. Still, it felt good to volley crimes back and forth as we approached their house-- "They steal your clothes and make you run home naked!"-- then hold hands tightly and run past that ugly thing as fast as our skinny scabby bird-legs would carry us, savoring the delicious chill of concocted fear as it crept down our spines.
It had fallen from its nest, that poor little bird, and if we squinted our eyes against the sun and ignored the moving clouds, we could make out its former home in the branches high above us. We couldn't see the mother bird or hear any bird noises, not even from the baby on the ground. We debated what to do: climb up and put the baby bird back? "No, the mama bird will reject it once she smells human on it," my sister said sagely. So there was no choice but to scoop up that bird from the sidewalk and take it home and make it a new nest from an old shoebox that smelled like leather, shoe polish, and now grass since we added some clumps from our yard to make it homey.
As for food, I don't know whose idea it was to feed it warm milk from an eye-dropper. God knows we had food issues, with a mother half-starved by her own choosing. But her wrath was limited to herself; the rest of us may have been bony-legged but we were well-fed and well-loved, too. Perhaps the milk was our idea and nobody bothered to stop us. In any event, the bird gulped it down in big, thirsty swallows.
When we checked on it the next morning, the bird was still and rigid, nothing more than a stick with feathers. We weren't surprised, for as much as we loved the baby bird and wished it could stay, we knew deep down that we were only delaying the inevitable. In spite of experience, we were glass-half-full types of kids, and we knew that we'd done well to extend life, if only for a few hours.
We buried it near the perimeter of our back yard, shoe box and all, under a giant tree that was perfect for climbing. We retrieved one downy whispy feather from the box, poking it into the soft earth as a grave marker, knowing that the mother bird would recognize it if she ever came looking for her little bird. Perhaps we whispered a prayer; perhaps not. Either way, we most certainly held hands as we walked back toward our house to see about lunch.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I've never had much good to say about crows. In fact, I actually count crows among the most loathsome of all creatures. I see them as nasty, garbage-eating creatures, harbingers of disease and parasites. They watch the world with shifty black eyes, as if they're just waiting for us to die so they can swoop in and eat out our eyes while they're still gooey.
I still resent the crows, ten years later, for waking me up-- with their incessant CAW CAW CAW--at 5 a.m. when I was on an otherwise fun camping/rafting trip. Wiping the sleep from our eyes and unzipping our tent, we viewed the evidence of the crows' past triumphs: various bottles, cans, and even a shoe had been flung into the tree above us, no doubt in an attempt to silence those cacophonous birds.
As much as I hate them, I often find myself watching crows as I'm waiting for the city bus. Garbage Day coincides with one of my work-days on the street where I catch my bus. Garbage Day means the crows show up in droves, and I imagine them saying "mornin' Joe," and "mornin' Frank, how's the missus?" as they swoop in, finding themselves competing yet again for the same garbage. I imagine Joe sneaking into Frank's nest that night, stealing his copy of the City of Seattle Garbage Pick-up Schedule in an attempt to eliminate the competition.
I imagine all of this as a source of waiting-for-the-bus entertainment, but I give no credit to the crows for occupying my thoughts. I glare at them with detached distain, thinking myself superior.
So it was, this morning, that I eyed a crow warily as it came close to me at the bus stop. The crow pecked foolishly at a pebble, thinking it a morsel of food. Then it stopped, raised it's head, coughed, and then sneezed.
You heard me right. It coughed-- a gentle little "cah cah" not amounting to a CAW, accompanied by a little nod of its head. Then it sneezed-- a dainty little "chuh."
I nearly offered it a tissue.
And just like that, my view of crows was transformed. For how can I hate a creature capable of producing a sound so reminiscent of my baby's first delicate little sneeze? Poor thing probably has Spring allergies like me, I thought. I continued to watch and listen to the crow, but it didn't cough or sneeze again.
Still, as I rode the bus to work, I felt strangely hopeful. For if my heart can open up to a crow, on the basis of a little sneeze, then surely my enemies have nothing to fear.
Posted by Ally at 7:47 PM
Thursday, February 05, 2009
I'm daydreaming as I walk home from the bus. I'm humming "Someone's in the Kitchen with Dina," the remnants of a rousing rendition performed by an anonymous 3-year-old on the bus. I am intimately familiar with these crosswalks, so I run across the street despite the authoritative STOP hand, knowing I have a good 10 seconds before the light turns green. This enables me to make the light at the next crosswalk, and I run across the street, not because I have to, but because right at that moment I am celebrating the fact that I can. I reach the other side and keep walking, quickly now because it's cold outside, and because I've gathered momentum from the running and to slow to a stroll would feel wrong, like listening to James Taylor on the way home from a Guns n Roses concert.
I walk faster and faster, and now I'm playing a game, wondering whether I can make it all the way home without stopping, even when I have to cross the road. Then I think it would be much easier if I could just walk through things, and I imagine myself stepping off the curb and woooshing right through the Prius coming my way. Then I decide I'll walk straight through everything all the way home and to make it more interesting I choose a path through the houses rather than the adjacent sidewalk. So I walk through the yellow house on the corner, stopping to pick up the toy for the baby in the exersaucer, tipping the 1950s hat I'm now wearing at the woman stirring the sauce in the kitchen as I step out onto the lawn and then woosh through the red house with the black trim, the one that Eleanor envies, causing static on the television as I pass by, and I can hear the man cursing about the damned worthless cable company as I leap over the grass and woosh into the next house, the one that's for sale, and it's eerily quiet and lonely and perfectly staged for showing, and I notice the dust on the end-table and the old copy of Popular Mechanics that's been left on the coffee table as if the lagging economy has limited the staging crew's choice of magazines.
I hop back to the sidewalk and time my crossing to avoid a white sedan, then increase my stride as I reach the crest of the hill in front of my house, following the voice of Eleanor who is climbing and now hanging upside-down in the plum tree, and now Sylvia sees me from the front porch and she's running down the stairs to greet me, and she jumps into my arms and shouts, "My Mama is home! My best Mama is here!" I gather her up and tell Eleanor it's time to go in, then I close the front door on my daydream, but I can hear it quietly knocking as I turn around to face the question of what's for dinner.
Posted by Ally at 8:06 PM
Monday, December 29, 2008
There are certain home-movie clips I'd like to have on hand, along with a personal assistant who would play them on demand. For example, upon holding a newborn and feeling the sharp pang of longing in my gut, I would shout "roll the tape!" and the nearest wall would show choppy scenes (soundless but for the old-fashioned ticking of the film) of my chubby-bunny-postpardum-body, hunched and resembling the grim reaper, patting the crying newborn propped against my shoulder. The film would zoom in on the clock, showing 1 a.m., 3 a.m., 5 a.m., then cut back to me, looking even grimmer, alternating between nursing, changing tar-baby poops, and patting the baby's back.
To drive the point home, the film would then show a certain date on which I did not have a newborn in my home-- say, June 2, 2008, and zoom in again on the clock: 10 p.m., me in bed, 2 a.m., me in bed, then 4:30 a.m., me still in bed, sleeping soundly upon a drooly pillow, the only noise in the whole house the quiet and peaceful dripping of a leaky faucet. I would gently hand the newborn back to its mother, offer a kind remark about its sweetness and beauty, then head for the door, clicking my heels into the air like Maria in The Sound of Music, carrying her guitar-case to the Baron's house upon escaping the Abbey.
Later, finding myself at the end of my parenting rope, feeling the strands of Love, Joy, and Mercy unravelling in my grip, leaving me dangling on the precipice of the abyss, one finger wrapped fiercely around Hope, I would shout "roll the tape!"
The film would again materialize upon the wall, this time showing the offending child at his/her cutest.
Eli: calling out sweetly from his bed at 6:30 a.m., "Can I come to Mama's bed?," then sandwiching his small, soft body between Tobin and I, delightedly wiggling his bottom back and forth, then accidentally poking me in the face with his bony little elbow and patting me gently, saying, "Oh! I sorry Mama! You okay?," then leaning in closer, his sweet-hot breath on my face a preamble to his whispered words: "Mama, come closer so I can give you some nice snuggles."
Or Sylvia: running into my bathroom in the morning, stripping off her jammies, hunching her naked body into the shape of a little bird, perching like a baby owl on a branch in front of the floor heater, scrunching her face into various silly and welcoming expressions since words elude her at this hour, then, without warning, spinning her legs like a cartoon runner and sprinting out of the bathroom, leaving spiraling dust bunnies in her wake.
Or Eleanor: jumping out from under my blankets when I come to bed at 10 p.m., pouting her bottom lip to say, "I tried to go to sleep but my heart just kept saying, 'I want Mama,'" then, ignoring my scowl, smiling broadly and leaping out of bed to follow me into the bathroom like a faithful puppy, asking me one hundred questions about make-up remover, zits, and floss as I get ready for bed, then moving into a series of existential questions involving the universe, people, and made-up animal breeds with horse hooves and dog fangs, my face initially showing annoyance but then a rush of love as a magical shift in perception changes my time from scarcity into abundance.
I know that someday I will sit in a comfortable chair and hanker for the days of my youth. I will sniff the air like a blood-hound, hoping to conjure the smells of newborn babies, spit-snuggled blankets, and dirty necks through olfactory memory. And then I'll remember my trusty personal assistant, and I'll command in a craggly yet authoritative voice, "roll the tape!"
I'll expect the wall to show my young husband, looking handsome and acting kind, and my children-of-old being cute and hilarious. I'll be surprised-- but just for a moment-- to see instead a clip of myself making dinner at 34, my face surly and tired, surrounded by three interrupting children, each demanding different and competing things, one pushing another aside, while the third clamors up onto the counter to get a better look at what I'm cooking. Then I will laugh a wise, ugly, old cackle that comes from the depths of my flabby old-lady belly, not caring if anyone hears me, and I will feel blessed from the top of my dry, flaking scalp to the bottom of my splitting, yellow toe nails.
Posted by Ally at 9:08 PM
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Perhaps there's such thing as too much time to prepare for guests, I thought as I scraped three-year-old Halloween stickers from the window with an exacto knife.
The house was so clean I imagined that if it spoke, its voice would sound like a squeaky rubber ducky. The guest room closet, the storage room, the piles of construction paper, glue, ribbon, and yarn from the art room...we cleaned it all, creating a huge mound of "household goods" to donate to the first curb-side pick-up-for-charity-van that comes down our street. The fridge was full of food; the daily menu neatly printed and magneted to the front. We had three new board games, three new liquors, and a list of potential outings that read like a "Christmas in Seattle" brochure.
But the snow. That beautiful, peaceful, quiet-making snow, shaking resolutely from the sky as if intending to entomb us within our homes, the whiteness and volume reminding me of my blind Nonnie gently shaking salt into her hand and then dumping it out on her food. It persisted day after day, thwarting pre-holiday school schedules, closing down government, and demanding that everyone stay home to think and prepare.
So I organized our CDs, cleaned out medicine cabinets, sorted and purged toys. I prepared six pie crusts, wrapped them in swaddling, um, foil, and lay them gently in the freezer to wait.
Then the first call came: Tobin's parents could not come. There was too much snow, for goodness sake. They couldn't drive out of their half-mile long driveway to get into their little Eastern Oregon town much less drive to Seattle. Still, Tobin's sister and her family would come, so there remained hope of cousins playing cheerfully and adults sipping wine.
Then the second call came: Tobin's sister would not come. She took her 5-year-old daughter to the doctor because of a lingering cough and found out she had pneumonia. Thus, there would be no grandparents, no cousins, no sisters and in-laws; only our little nuclear family, a phrase which, at this point-- after too many days home-from-school, home-from-work, home-home-home-- only brought to mind images of Chernobyl.
I'd like to say that, with the grace of Mary herself, I serenely uttered heavenward, "let it be as you have said." That I didn't, for example, sulk around the house for a day or so, questioning whether the in-law's driveway was really unpassable, or whether pneumonia was even contagious, or why I am part of this family that can't problem-solve its way out of a simple little snowstorm. But frankly, I've never related to Mary very well. She is perplexed when the angel visits her, whereas I would be scared stupid. She accepts the news of her impending pregnancy right away, whereas I would, well, negotiate a little. ("Hold on there, Gabriel/Michael... can I call you Gabe/Mike? Do you think there might another option? Let's not be hasty. Would you mind just talking me through God's thought process here...")
Still, I did spend some time thinking about the little ironies in our predicament: whereas there was no room in the inn for Christ to be born, necessitating his manger-birth, we had many rooms, all clean and ready, and just lacked guests to fill them with. While I'm sure that a creative pastor could turn this into a sermon, I personally don't understand its significance, or whether it means anything at all, other than perhaps I have an overdeveloped literary sense.
We tried to invite the Christs among us to come on over and share in our bounty. But friends were busy with plans already made, and we didn't extend the invitation to the Other Christs, you know, the hungry and cold living a few miles away at Tent City, or the bag lady outside our neighborhood QFC.
So perhaps it is right and well that I felt a little lonely this Christmas, that it was more "Silent Night" than "Joy to the World." Evidently you don't need clean windows to welcome a baby.
Come, long-expected Jesus.
Ignite in me
a flame of joy that cannot be snuffed out by personal disappointment.
Come, long-expected Jesus.
Create in me
a yearning for peace that permeates my family, my community, this country, and the world.
Come, long-expected Jesus.
Kindle in me
the ability to love each person as you love them.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
I'm startled when I see the man out the front window. I'm expecting that at any second Eleanor will walk to our house and up the front stairs, coming home from the school bus.
He's tall and gangly, this man; accompanied by darkness. It's in his face, which is shadowed by a navy or black hood. It's in his hands, tightly gripping a chain leash, against which a brown and black doberman strains. It's in the inward curve of his posture, which reminds me of a trench-coated highschooler, plotting his attack for months in a dingy basement before bringing the gun to school. Everything about him screams deviant.
He's walking toward our house, toward the corner that Eleanor should occupy at this very moment.
Wait here, I say quickly to Sylvia and Eli, I don't like the looks of this guy.
I shut the front door behind me, cutting off their questions in mid-sentence: What guy, Mama? Why don't you like the look...
Impossibly, in two seconds, hundreds of questions flash in my mind. Has he been watching her? Where would he take her? How many hours of daylight remain so we can search for her before it gets too dark? Do I call 911 first, or a neighbor to take care of Sylvia & Eli while I chase after him in my van?
I bound down the stairs and reach the corner just as he's walked past it.
There's no sign of Eleanor yet. Her bus is evidently running late.
I am relieved.
Then, with growing alarm, I watch the man as he walks his dog up the stairs, and enters the house next door to ours.
I see now: he is our new neighbor.
My plan is to introduce myself to this man, to bring him a plate full of cookies, or a loaf of homemade bread. I want to look him in the eye. Perhaps I'll find no darkness there after all.
(I never should have read The Shack).
Posted by Ally at 11:03 AM