Tuesday, December 18, 2007

In the Spirit of Christmas

Today: Sylvia, lacking all of her usual sparkle and spunk, nestled into her fuzzy orange blanket on the couch. She threw up and rested alternately.

I left the room to wash out the throw-up bowl. When I returned, I saw that Eleanor had written a love note to Sylvia, using her finest Best Guess Spelling. She affixed it to the couch with transparent packing tape, lest a strong wind arise and blow away the message.

Amid the pungent smell of barf, I gathered up this moment like a gleaner collecting grain.

I treasured it and pondered it in my heart.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Thoughts in the Shower

It's because she said they're looking for internal bleeding or a mass, says my brain. That's what the dream was about.

My brain is reasoning with my heart, attempting to explain away the scary dream I had about my sister last night.
I was in the bathroom with my sister. We were brushing our hair, our teeth; putting on make-up and using the toilet. She pulled out an envelope addressed to herself. I recognized the hand-writing immediately as her old highschool boyfriend's. "He's so sweet," she said, "I think he wants to marry me." Excitedly, she pulled out the symbol of their engagement, saying, "he's sent me a medal!" I expected to see the medal from Gym Class that I took away from Sylvia last night: the cheesy plastic, Made-in-China-and-most-certainly-containing-lead one, inscribed with WINNER on the front, the one that she kept chewing on until I finally made good on my threat to take it away. Instead my sister pulled a dumpy round smiley face from the envelope. It looked like something a 3 year old might make with clay, the little round eyes bulging from the face in 3-D. "This is what he sent you as a token of his love?" I asked incredulously. "For this you are considering leaving your husband and abandoning your children?" I thought, but I kept it to myself.
"Brain," my heart says, "I like how you protected me from my real fears in that dream."

Which is this: that the doctors will find something horrible in my sister, something dark and foreboding that will threaten not only the little child that she carries in her belly, but my sister's life as well.

I look up, and see a house fly on the bathroom wall. He's obviously confused about the season; he should be long gone by now. Instead he's bobbing and bouncing, slamming his head into the wall, searching blindly for a way out.

I know just how he feels.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Looking forward to January 7th

Some evenings when I'm tucking my children into bed (read: putting them back into bed as they scream "I want Maaaaamaaaaa" and run to block the door I'm attempting to close), I feel my chest tighten. My fight-or-flight response system sounds the Red Alert. It issues an immediate evacuation notice and my adrenalin kicks in to carry out the mandate. The children come at me, arms stretched out like zombies, seeking to poke their little straws into my flesh and suck up every last drop of my blood. "I have nothing left to give you,!" I scream in my head.

Last night, the kids went down without major effort. Still, a few minutes later Eleanor padded softly down the stairs and appeared in the kitchen. "I don't know why," she said, "but my brain keeps telling me, 'I want Mama. I want Mama. I want Mama.'"

Well, my brain is telling me I want a good stiff drink, a soak in the bathtub, and world peace, I thought. "Tell your brain to be quiet and go to sleep," I advised.

Eli recently discovered how to climb out of his crib. Today he refused to take a nap and opted for climbing practice instead, despite Tobin patiently and repeatedly putting him back in his crib. This means he was nothing more than a puddle of tears-- loud, whiney tears-- by the time we had dinner tonight. My good little sleeper! The Easy One! Where have you gone? The tight cold grip of panick fingered my neck as Eli fought against going to bed tonight.

It's not necessarily sleep that I'm lacking. Thankfully I have no newborn to disrupt my night-time. (Though the odds of being disrupted by any one of my three children due to winter illnesses that seem to strike in the middle-of-the-night are pretty high on any given night). What I am craving, what I need, is simply some TIME FOR MYSELF. In capital letters in case you're missing the point.

Thus I've declared Monday, January 7 as Mama Appreciation Day. I will take the day off. I will schedule a massage. I will see a movie. I will eat out for lunch and dinner. I will return home long after the children are tucked into bed.

I may or may not need a blood transfusion by then. You know, on account of the zombies.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

If I Could See Me Now

My high-school aged self sometimes watches my thirty-something self. Lately Miss High-School squints her eyes and furrows her brow. She seems familiar, Miss High-School says, but I can't quite place her.

It's not the changes in the shape of my thirty-something body (though they are substantial), or the silver streaks in my hair that befuddle Miss High-School. Nor is it the three adorable (albeit cacophonous) children that tag along with me wherever I go, or even the fact that I drive (gulp) a mini-van.

It's all the COOKING (Gasp! Hands grab face in imitation of The Scream!)--from scratch-- that I've been doing lately.

Because if there's one place in which I never envisioned spending much time, it's the kitchen.

The obstacles are two-fold. First, I never really learned how to cook. In a miniature version of a finishing school, I learned that one must accept a compliment by simply saying "thank you." I also learned one is better off washing one's face with just plain water at night if one doesn't possess a good quality moisturizing cleanser. One should never, EVER, use the plain old soap that one uses on one's Other. Body. Parts.

But cooking? It was plumb left out of my edu-ba-cation.

Second, I grew up thinking of cooking as a traditional wifely duty, a tightly-tied, corseted apron society cinched up around each woman's bodice; an evil as great as high-heels or the invention of pantyhoes. Thus, I never wanted to cook.

A few things changed my perspective on cooking.

First: I'd like to thank the Academy, (sniff sniff) and specifically Al Gore, for alerting me to the state of emergency in the Earth's environment. Because of your dedication to the survival of the human race, I started investing in Community Supported Agriculture (sniff).

As anyone who receives CSA veg each week will tell you, once you have the veg, you must figure out something to do with it. Traditionally, this will involve some sort of cooking.

Second: I examined the booty from my weekly shopping trip to Trader Joe's one day, thinking about how many food miles the contents had traveled. Subsequently, I wrote this post, calculating (while wearing my coziest Fuzzy Math Sweater) the number of miles contained in my shopping bags. Heather left a very nice comment, which said this (except she actual said it in a very kind, easy-to-receive way):

Hey there, Dysfunctional Environmental Wanna Be! Rather than trying to find local reproductions of the nasty, unhealthy, highly-processed blech you've been buying, why don't you fish out the ol' User Manual, figure out how to operate your OWN STOVE, and try your hand at some actual COOKING? Maybe start by using INGREDIENTS THAT YOU CAN PRONOUNCE that have been produced in your area?

I read the comment. Then, like Homer Simpson learning from Child Protective Services' Parenting Class that garbage goes in the garbage can, I scratch my head dumbly, and said aloud, "Hmm, makes sense..."

Then I put my other, non-food-related training to work. As part of my Plan for World Domination (oh wait, that's not my plan, just my President's), I attended a Leadership Training a few years ago. Among other things, I learned this simple concept:


Thus, I set about remodeling the structure in my home in order to accommodate, support, and cherish (okay, maybe just accommodate) the amazing Creator of Meals that I would become.

To Do:

Overhaul the Kitchen (goal: reduce clutter, make things easy to find)

Specifically, Clean Out Spices I received as wedding gift in 1993 (and have rarely used since)

Find recipe books that include recipes for things grown in season

Duct TapeFigure out what to do with children during Cooking Hours

Check, check, and check.

Having procured my cookbooks, I set about making a menu and buying the appropriate ingredients (I know! Garbage goes in the garbage can!)

And guess what? I made amazing, delicious, made-from-scratch meals!

(So what if I had to look up the definition of scald in Betty Crocker's "helps" section).

I made three kinds of bread!

(So what if I used 6 oranges in order to get 1/3 cup of fresh juice, because the juicer lid got stuck the first time and I spilled all of the juice into the sink when I tried to remove the lid).

I made soup from a WHOLE chicken, which was locally grown, free-range, organic-grass-fed, and purchased from the local Farmer's Market. The chicken said, "bock bock bock bock," which translates roughly as, "Thank you for respecting me enough to use all of me and not just my breasts."

(So what if I took off the lid of the pot to check on the simmering bird and screamed when its FEET and CLAWS, having come uncurled, POPPED up over the soup pot, and refused to go back in? So what if I eventually yelled for Tobin and begged him to remedy the situation in any manner possible so that I could just put the lid back on the pot. So what if he had to lop off the chicken's feet with garden nippers, since the chicken was already half-cooked in the pot? Having attached the beater to the hand-held drill last Easter in order to stir up the separated peanut butter, we are quite familiar with unusual Cooking Solutions).

Victoriously putting the lid back on the pot, I saw Miss High-School out of the corner of my eye. She smiled and laughed as she finally recognized me.

It must be my properly moisturized skin.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Seedless in Seattle

I'm cross-posting over here tonight, showing off the bounty that comes from Seattle's furtile urban land. Ahem.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Normally the pitter-patter sound of rain on the bathroom skylight at night-time brings to mind comforting memories as I listen from my heavily-blanketed nest in bed. I recall burrowing into my sleeping bag in the bottom bunk-bed, in the attic of my Grandmother's cabin. In my memory, the gentle sound of the rain adds soft percussion to the soundtrack of a now-raucous-and-now-quiet card game my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles play below me. The intermittent bursts of Aunt Eldy's contagious laughter warm the cabin like the notes in a sax quartet.

But last night, the rain-song on my roof chilled me. I envisioned the people we met on Saturday at Tent City, huddled under scratchy woolen blankets, with nothing but the thin fabric of a tent or tarp to keep out the rain and cold.

Specifically, I thought about Amber, a woman so pregnant that one might justifiably whisper "whoa" upon seeing the size of her bulging middle. There can be no doubt that Amber is housing a goodly human being in her belly, despite the fact that Amber herself has nothing but a tent to call home.

I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, contemplating how many times that night Amber would heave herself from the metal cot, leave the relative warmth of her tent, and brave the rain to waddle her way, through the mud, to the row of port-a-potties that serve as Tent City's restroom. I wonder whether she had batteries for her flashlight or if she stumbled around in the dark, fervently wishing her baby boy would stop boogying on her bladder. I wonder if she lay awake, too, worrying where she'll live when the baby comes, or, like most expectant mothers, questioning whether she's ready to become a mother, and what kind of mother she'll be.

"There are no children living at Tent City," the Welcome Tent Woman tells me on Saturday as we unload some food and supplies. She is unaccountably bright-eyed and chipper for someone who spends each night nigh under the stars. Her sparkling eyes reflect the flame of a hope that refuses to be extinguished, in spite of her circumstances.

I'd like to stay and ask her about those eyes, but the girls are Wild Things, running in and out of the Tent Pantry, declaring "You sure have a lot of shelves! And a lot of coffee! And a lot of juice! That's so silly!" The girls see the port-a-potties and, to my chagrin, muster enough pee to justify their use.

We pile into the van, and as we drive away, Eleanor says, pointing, "I want to stay in that tent."

"Well, that tent is someone's home right now, and you can't stay in someone's home unless you know them, and you are invited," I say to her.

"Were we invited?," Sylvia wants to know. "No," I reply.

"Well, they have juice there," says Eleanor, revealing her motive. Ah yes, a place where the juice runs freely, I think, a veritable juice paradise.

We drive home, and spend the afternoon indoors, as the rain drizzles outside. Sylvia helps me bake cookies, comfortably nestling her 4-year-old body on the kitchen counter as she tastes each ingredient (except the eggs) in her little bowl.

While dinner cooks on the stove, we watch Dan Zanes music videos on the computer. Entranced by Zanes' amazing only-in-America-do-you-see-such-straight-white-teeth and his funny, wild hair, we take turns flapping our arms like chickens and turning them into waving trees as we sing, all around the kitchen (cockadoodle doodle do), all around the kitchen (cockadoodle doodle do)...

That day, nothing more is said about Tent City, or their Juice Stockpile. Instead, our thoughts trickle out like a leaky faucet, over the course of the coming days.

This morning, Sylvia looks up from her legos to make an announcement, which she declares as a definitive solution to a problem we've all been pondering: "When someone in our house dies, then one of the people who don't have a home can come and live in our house instead of the person who died." "Hmm," I say hopefully, the lilt in my voice indicating that would be one way to solve the problem.

We're listening to Dan Zanes again on the way to gymnastics. He's singing, "pay me you owe me, pay me my money down, pay me or go to jail, pay me my money down." Sylvia responds, "That man wants the money so he can buy a home."

I recall the out-of-the-blue question Sylvia asked me last week on the way to preschool: "Mama, why did God not build a house for him?" Without explanation, I know instantly she is referring to the man at our exit, the one with the sign that reads, "Homeless. Anything Helps. God Bless."

I don't know how to answer this question, and I say so. "I know God wants everyone to live in a safe and happy way, Sylvia, because God loves everyone. But I don't really know why some people have homes while others don't."

"Yeah, that's not fair, right Mama?," Sylvia asks.

I wonder whether she's thinking too much about the man at our exit, and the people at Tent City. Surely these matters are too weighty for a 4-year-old to bear.

Then I catch myself.

Sylvia is safe. She does not need to be shielded from thinking of others, from demonstrating concern beyond herself.

I want her to listen to the rain, and know this: Sometimes the melody is joyful, and sometimes it is sorrowful.

Both songs are music, longing to be heard.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Homelessness: Questions & Answers

A few weeks ago I asked my bloggy-friend Jen-- who works at a homeless shelter and routinely makes an amazing difference in the lives of her fellow human beings-- if she'd write a post about the ways we can teach our children about homelessness.

Lately my children have noticed people-- the man standing with the cardboard sign at our freeway exit; the woman selling Real Change at our neighborhood supermarket; the man sitting on the sidewalk asking for money-- and they've wondered:

"What's that guy doing standing there?"

"What's the sign say?"

"Why doesn't he have any money?"

"What happened to his home?"

"Can't he go live with his Mama & Papa?"

"Where will he sleep tonight when it's dark?"

"Can we go home and get the dollars from our piggy bank and
bring it to him?"

"Do you think he'd like to come stay with us?"

These are hard questions. Ones to which I have no easy answer.

Jen doesn't either.

But she suggests several ways in which we can "find compassion for others instead of judgment, action instead of pity, drive instead of fear."

And really, that's a good place to start.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Whatcha Gonna Eat?

I'm posting over here again today, stop on by and hear me rant!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cross-Posting Today

Today I'm cross-posting over at Living Lightly. Please come check it out over here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More on Good Neighbors

You may recall that assignments are like a crop-dusting pesticide to the tiny little bug of my creativity.

Evidently that goes for self-imposed assignments, as well as those given by others.

Because it took an emergency appendectomy to prompt me to fulfill my promise to write another post about building community in your neighborhood.

The bad part:

Feeling like I was in Stage Two of Labor, (note to new readers: I'm not pregnant) wondering when I'd be getting my epidural, I drove myself to the E.R. on Saturday night, pulling over periodically to barf my innards into a large plastic bowl. Never before have I felt such pain. (And let it be known, I have birthed three babies!) Official Diagnosis: Nasticus Useless Appendicus. The miscreant organ was medically evicted on Sunday morning, while a church choir sang and a preacher swooned over the operating room radio.

The good part:

Dierdre took my girls to the all-church picnic at a neighboring park.

Beth & Ramadan brought us a delicious meal, including rosemary chicken, Newman's lemonade and iced-tea, and potato chips for the kids.

Tricia brought over a delicious vat of lentil soup and homemade cornbread.

Angele took Sylvia & Eli for a dinner-included playdate.

Ruth brought the best chicken & rice soup that I have ever had, apologizing that it was too salty (but not knowing that salt is the Love of My Life!)

My parents, my fellow-preschool-board-members, and my co-workers all sent me flowers!

AND... my children all went to preschool or Kindergarten for the week, and I took the week off from work to recover (does this explain all of the comments I've been leaving on your blogs this week?)

Which leads me back to my assignment, which is to share with you ways to get to know your neighbors and build community in your neighborhood, so that you, too, can have good soup when you get your appendix removed so that you, too, feel a sense of belonging where you live.

1. Start a neighborhood group

Odds are that some of your interests match up with your neighbors' interests. I find it is much easier to get to know my neighbors while we're sharing something in common. Thus I've initiated:

a) a neighborhood Green Group that meets monthly to discuss environmentally friendly living ideas as well as to use our collective power to influence policies;

b) a neighborhood Play Group of mostly moms (but Tobin does go sometimes!) that meets weekly (with hosting responsibilities rotating);

c) a Babysitting Co-Op, which grew out of the relationships formed in the playgroup (we exchange points instead of money for eachothers' babysitting services, and log everything on a cool webpage the Tobin created);

d) a neighborhood Book Club, that meets monthly under the pretext of discussing a book (when in reality we mostly just chat and catch up in a luxurious kid-free environment).

These are the groups I've started, but the possibilities are endless for what you could do: Poker Club, Football Night, Tree-Planting Days, Neighborhood Clean-Up, Sewing or Knitting Night, etc.

Do you have extra fruit on your trees? Invite your neighbors over for a plum picking party (like my neighbor Tricia did), promising that if they help you pick, you'll give them some of the spoils you make.

2. Do nice things for your neighbors and create traditions with your children at the same time.

a) Do your children create as much useless art-project junk as mine? Put it to good use. Ask your child which neighbor she'd like to surprise with that beautiful drawing, and walk it on over. This is especially nice if you have an elderly neighbor who isn't already swamped with her own kids' drawings, but can also help break the ice if there is a new kid on the block who you'd like your child to meet.

b) Celebrate May Day! Distribute May Day baskets to your neighbors. This is cheap, fun, and will keep your children busy for days. You can create the basket by cutting down the edges of a 1/2 gallon milk carton and then papering and decorating the sides. Fill with flowers from your garden and deliver to your neighbors' door. My girls love this tradition, as do our neighbors who now watch for the girls coming up their stoops on May 1st.

c) Invite the neighbors over to carve pumpkins at your house. And not just the kids. Never underestimate the joy of an 80-year-old carving a pumpkin.

3. Offer your kind services to your elderly neighbors.

a) If you're making a trip to the drug store, call your elderly neighbor and ask if she needs anything while you're there. Better yet, if you have the time, invite her to come along.

b) Mow your elderly neighbor's parking strip while you're doing your own.

c) Offer your phone number to you elderly neighbors and exchange numbers with their family when you see them stopping by to visit. You never know when you'll need to reach them, and they'll rest easier knowing someone is close by to check on Grandma should she have any trouble.

4. Organize a community-building event in your neighborhood.

Most cities have grant money available for neighborhood improvements. Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods is just waiting to give away money (to those who properly fill out the forms).

a) Invite your neighbors over and brainstorm what project you'd like to take on. It could include: a parking circle to slow down traffic; a painting on the street in your intersection; converting someone's parking strip into a community space (think meeting place; park bench; book exchange; solar-powered tea station, whatever)!

b) Link up with other organizations in your city to do your part to support your neighborhood (tree-planting in your parking strip, participating in a food drive, or helping remove grafitti).

The point is this: You will feel a sense of belonging in your neighborhood if you know your neighbors. You can only know your neighbors if you interact with them. And in this world, you will only interact with them if you make an effort to do so.

Anyone else have ideas? Let me know if you're posting and I'll link you up.

Now get out there and be good neighbors!

And tell your appendix that you love it. Today.


Note to readers: I do realize that there are certain limitations depending on your neighborhood. Your crackhouse neighbor, for example, might not appreciate the May Basket you leave on the doorstep. Still, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't leave one all the same.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn

First day of Kindergarten. We've been eagerly anticipating this day for months now, but the reality of it has been somewhat lost in the shuffle of paperwork, the uncertainty of knowing which school Eleanor would attend, and the weary pace of our packed summer calendar.

It means a lot, this day. For where there was once a chubby-faced, sparkley-eyed baby, who was surely too small to entrust to the care of a daycare provider; there was then a small, rosy-cheeked, finger-sucking child, who was surely too young to go to preschool and make new friends so quickly; now there is a slender-bodied, bandy-legged, toothy-grinned young girl, who is surely too inexperienced to face the world of Kindergarten with such foolhearted bravery.

But she did.

She dressed in full Kindergarten splendor: a comfortable cotton dress (not a new one, but one of her favorites), with a long-sleeved shirt underneath, set off by her shiny new school shoes. She heaved her backpack on, and carried her lunchbox herself.

I hugged her to me, inhaling the sweet-salty smell of her hair. I whispered a prayer into her ear, hoping it would find its way into her heart, and then weave like insense up to the heart of God.

Dear God, thank you for Eleanor. Thank you for this, her first day of Kindergarten. Please be with her today. Keep her safe. Help her to make new friends, to obey the rules, and to have fun. Amen.

Despite the off-the-cuff comment of one of Eleanor's teachers at open house last week, that "you'd be crazy to put your kid on the school bus during the first two weeks of school" because the buses are so notoriously late, we loaded our first-born onto a freshly cleaned yellow bus this morning, knowing that our Creature of Routine would only be bothered by a we'll-drive-you-the-first-week-and-after-that-you'll-ride-the-bus plan. Better to bite the bullet, right from the get-go.

We talked a lot about riding the school bus. Each kid is responsible for his or her own behavior, because there are no grown-ups to monitor it. Seats are for sitting only, never for feet or for standing. If there's an emergency, listen for the driver's instruction and quickly do exactly as you're told. Sit where you see an open seat, and stay in your seat until you arrive at school. And don't worry, because the bus only goes to one place, which is your school.

Except that when we arrived at the bus stop, we met a 2nd-grader and 4th-grader, headed to a different school, who informed us that the bus first stops at their school, and then goes to Eleanor's. We relayed this new information to Eleanor, who listened, unfazed by this wrench in the Grand Bus-Riding Plan.

I thought about the "Tell Us About Your Child" form Eleanor's teacher asked us to fill out. What are your child's strengths, the form asked. Last night, I sat down and wrote:

Eleanor likes to make plans and collaborate with others to execute the plan. She is artistic and creative. She is a good problem-solver. She understands most things after receiving an explanation.

I paused and recalled an observation that Eleanor made while devouring airplane snacks on the way back from Colorado yesterday, her face scrunched up with seriousness as she peered into the miniature snack bag: "Mama, have you ever noticed that, with snack-mix and legos, the little pieces fall to the bottom and the big ones stay at the top?"

She's good at looking for the big picture; at connecting the dots, I continued. She has a great sense of humor.

I forgot to write: She is very brave.

But she is, nonetheless. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation and she smiled ear-to-ear as the school bus approached. "Goodbye, Mama! Goodbye Papa!," she yelled, as she traversed the formidable steps onto the bus. We saw her take a seat by another child, a stranger then, but no doubt a friend by the end of the ride.

With my hand, I waved goodbye, and kept waving until the bus was out of sight. With my mouth, I yelled goodbye to Eleanor, my big, brave girl. But with my heart, I quietly whispered goodbye to much, much more.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Great Law of Change

Fall has always been my favorite season. I love the cool freshness of the air that brings to mind a satisfying bite into a crisp apple. I love its latent symbolism: the earth calls out for change in its loudest voice, through reddening leaves, cooling temperatures, and shortening days.

This year in our house, fall is anticipated with equal parts excitement and doom. Eleanor will start kindergarten in a few short weeks. She recently disclosed that she feels excited and nervous "all at the same time." Earlier in the summer, walking hand-in-hand on an errand, Eleanor told me, "If the school bus leaves without me, Mama, you can just look for me at the hydrant that's closest to the school." I explained that school buses don't leave until all of the students are aboard, that her teacher will make sure she gets on the right bus. She listened intently, then replied, "Yeah, but just in case, just remember, Mama, I'll be waiting for you at the hydrant."

That girl. She knows how to plan.

Then there's the bitter little taste of kindergarten social drama that I witnessed at the park yesterday. Eleanor made a new friend on Monday named Ria. Eleanor attended Children's Garden camp during the afternoon, along with Ria and several other heretofore undiscovered friends. After camp Eleanor spotted Ria at the park, and they played nicely together for an hour and a half.

Tuesday was a different story. After Children's Garden, Ria went to the park again. But this time she'd already arranged to meet her friend Natalie there for a playdate. Eleanor approached the two girls, ready to take part in whatever fun they had planned. She came to me later, choking back tears, saying, "they said I can't play with them." Determined, Eleanor approached them again. This time they filled up buckets with water and chased Eleanor away.

Eleanor asked me for help, saying she really wanted to play with Ria and Natalie. "Hmm. I wonder what ideas you have for solving this problem," I said. "What choices do you think you have?"

"I already tried to talk to them but every time I try to talk they try to dump water on me," Eleanor said. "That's true," I said, "but what else could you do?" I asked. Knowing I was fishing for the answer, "Go play with someone else," Eleanor cut to the chase: "But Mama, I really want to play with them." "Hmm," I said. Soon Ria and Natalie came close to me, saying "there's Eleanor" in their best "SEIZE HER" voices.

I decided it was time to intervene.

"Hi girls. Eleanor's been telling me that she'd really like to play with you," I said to them, "but I think maybe you've been too busy with your water to hear her words." Incensed, Natalie hissed at me, "Well, this is a club! And to be part of this club, she has to let us put water on her head!"

Really? Has it come to this already?, I thought, You're only five.

I turned to Eleanor. "I'm not sure I'd want to be part of a club like that," I said. Eleanor's brain came to the rescue. She addressed the girls, her hands on her hips and jutting-out jaw proclaiming her ferocity, "If that's the rule of your club, how come you aren't pouring water on eachother's heads?"

Aha! Take that!

As if someone had snapped a finger, the mean-girl spell was broken, and Natalie invited Eleanor to play. They sprinkled water on each other's heads to signify the new-found grace of their friendship. Later Natalie's mom approached me sheepishly. "Hi, are you Eleanor's mom? Natalie says she won't leave the park until she gets Eleanor's phone number so she can play with her again." Um, okay, so Natalie's in charge of you as well, I thought, I wonder if you've been inducted by water baptism, too.

Is this the oily social jungle gym that Eleanor will have to climb at kindergarten? What happened to the Peacefulness Corner at preschool, where kids went to solve their disputes, passing the talking stick back and forth, the beads of mutual respect collecting in the air?

Then there's this change: My Sylvia is turning 4. Oh four, how I love thee! Oh three, how you stink! In our prior experience, four brings about a huge change, turning an overgrown, whining toddler, into an independent, articulate preschooler.

Already I'm seeing the power of four in Sylvia.

The power of her concentration is growing like a Chia Pet on Miracle Grow. This week at the park we had the good fortune to happen upon a broken water main, which was spewing water like Old Faithful, flooding the grass of the park. (Oh, the thrill!) When the Parks Department Super Heroes arrived, wielding long metal tools and wearing official uniforms, the children of the park gathered on a nearby fence-ledge to watch the action.

Sylvia sat on that ledge for almost an hour. Just watching. Taking mental notes in case she's ever in charge of water-main repair. This from a girl who daily sinks her incisors into the word squirrely just to taste its flavor. I'll repeat: oh four, how I love thee!

Meanwhile, Eli is morphing from baby to toddler, as surely as the leaves turn color. He declares "OUTSIGH" (meaning outside, his most favorite place) as the first word of the morning, and as his last-word bedtime benediction. Despite the fact that he's still nursing (just twice a day-- at wake-up and tuck-in), we abandoned him, along with the girls, to the loving attention of my parents, while we ventured to Chicago to see some beloved friends. Gone four days, Eli rewarded our return with smiles and hugs, saying nonchalantly with his eyes, "Oh hi Mama, you're back!" That night, he settled in for nursing as if I'd never been gone at all.

I'm puzzled whether the addition of new tricks to his nursing repertoire signals impending weaning, or if it's part of his master baby-plan to keep it entertaining in order to do it forever. (Bwah ha ha haaaa! This boob is mine! All mine!!!) He flings the dangle on my necklace over my neck, momentarily pops off my breast, and asks--his palms facing up, the corners of his mouth upturned in the smile of an inside joke-- "where go?" Tonight he snuggled in with a toothbrush ferreted in one hand and a bubble wand in the other. He touched his wand to my mouth, cheeks, chin, and forehead, like a miniature professor mapping out Modern China with a laser pointer. He took breaks: gnawing on his toothbrush, then his bubble wand, then returning to me for more milk. All this while tucked safely in my lap, in the shrinking arms of my rocking chair, which can no longer contain the astonishing length of his legs.

Speaking of me lugging around an extra 30 pounds in case Eli needs more milk from me, I'm reconciling with my body after a substantial period of alienation. Inspired by Seattle Mamacita and Tricia, who recently completed a triathlon, and by Little Monkies, whose hot-stuff recently visited Seattle after shedding numerous pounds, I've made a deal with my body: I will exercise and feed it well, and it will shrink. I said, SHRINK! That's right, we have an agreement. A contract, some might say. (You shut up, growling stomach! I banish thee!)

Monday night, I reintroduced myself to the treadmill ("Hellooo, treadmill," I said, taking on the tone of Seinfeld greeting Newman). I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that I had to dust off the cobwebs, quite literally.

And what should a smart Mama do, in order to encourage herself to exercise? Well, I'm glad you asked. She must build in an incentive. To wit: instead of getting up early to run, or running after the kids are in bed, she must run sometime during the evening while the hubby is home, thus eaking out a few precious minutes of alone time whilst simultaneously improving her health. And if she has a little TV installed in the garage in order to get the evening's news while she runs, then she should consider it a three-for-one deal.

Ah, but these plans are always so much better in theory. The First Evening of the Plan, Eleanor hound-dogged me around the house as I got ready, watching wide-eyed as my muffins overflowed into the tin of my undersized sportsbra. She acted as if I were leaving for a months' vacation rather than a 30 minute jaunt to the garage.

She followed me to the garage door, begging to watch me run. (I mean, I'm sure it is a sight to behold, what with the 30 extra pounds flapping around like jello in an earthquake.) Banished, she settled herself into the branches of the tree outside the garage window, pressing her face up against the glass, periodically attempting muffled conversation. "ARE YOU STILL RUNNING, MAMA?" was all I could make out.

Tonight she asked me what she should do if she needed to tell me something while I was running. "Well, looks like you'll need to save it until I'm done," I told her. "But I won't be able to remember that long," she said, and I thought, right, because I'm running oh, sooo long on Day Two of the Plan. "Maybe you could write it down so you don't forget," I offered helpfully. "But I can't write very fast, and by the time I try to write it, I'll forget it," she said mournfully. "Hmm, maybe you should record it some other way," I suggested.

And so it was that today while I ran on the treadmill in the garage, receiving the days' news like a weary traveler slurping hot soup, Eleanor sat on the tree-branch outside the window, speaking into a miniature tape-recorder. Just so I wouldn't miss anything. (Reminding me of the employee's retort in the movie Office Space when he's accused of missing too much work: "Well I wouldn't say I've been missing it.")

This doesn't feel very much like alone time. It's more like Alone-Except-For-That-Pesky-Stalker-Time.

And so it is. While some things change this fall, it looks like a lot will stay the same.

We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature. --Edmud Burke

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Non-Posty Post*

Because a couple of you have commented things like, "Hey! You still alive over there in Seattle?," I am writing this here non-posty post just to answer that question.

I am alive. And well.


I have had many, many houseguests over the past 2 months. And I have had little time for writing blogs, and have fallen woefully behind on reading yours as well.

So, to keep you from forgetting about me (e.g., you check my site faithfully for a few weeks, maybe even for a month, but then you get weary of seeing the same old post, stale and mildewing like bread gone bad, and you summarily delete me from Favorites, and move on with your other blog lovers who treat you better), I will share this secret: a blogger's best friend is Google Reader.

Oh The Joys knows it. She mentioned it once a while ago when I was new to the blog scene and it soared with a whooosh, right passed my brain, failing to hit target.

But, in perfect timing, just as I was getting overwhelmed with all of the blog bookmarks I'd created-- the constant checking and rechecking for new posts from all of you-- Little Monkies told me about Google Reader. You "I attended Blogher" uber-cool types will no doubt think this old news. But for the one starfish that I throw back into the sea...

Go to http://www.google.com/reader and type in your google or G-mail password. Then you can start adding blogs by pushing the "browse" button. If you're savvy enough to even have a blog, it will take you 30 seconds to figure this out. Once you've put in your favorite blog buddies' addresses, save Google Reader to your desktop as a shortcut. This way, each time you open it, it will sent a million little internet people out to each site and check it for new content. If something new shows up, it will be marked unread just like email. If not (LIKE MINE HAS BEEN), it will just wait patiently for the guests to leave so that it can mark something-- ANYTHING (even a non-posty post about Google Reader) for your fans.

Now, if anyone out there can tell me how to keep this dorky blogspot editor from adding tons of paragraph breaks each time I add photos to a post, I'd be most grateful.

(*Complete with updated kids-with-sunglasses photos for your viewing pleasure. I know, I've gone all out!)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On Bad Scissors & Good Neighbors

It was only last June that Sylvia cut Eli's bottom lip clean in half with scissors. She was only 2-and-3/4 at the time; he was just a 6-month-old babe.

On that day, it seemed life slowed -- the tears, blood, and hospital images entered my brain in half-motion.

That day, Eleanor, Sylvia, and I worked on a tie-dye project in the artroom, while Eli flapped his arms like a baby bird and pecked at the various toys on the circular outer rim of the exersaucer located in the adjoining room. This very lame version of tie-dye required one to tie dye-soaked strings around a shirt and then soak it in water. We had our shirts, the string, and the craft scissors. This wasn't a scissoring project; we only needed them to cut the string to appropriate lengths. Hence, my Mama Danger Guard--which would usually require all scissor-wielding children to be figuratively glued to their chairs, where I could watch them with a burning hot eye-- was lax. At first I wasn't concerned when Sylvia left the room for a minute. Then, just as I rose to check on her, I heard it: the heart-wrenching, soul-piercing scream of my precious baby boy.

Let me just clarify: my Eli is not, and was not then, one who cried. For the first few months of his life, he was so happy, content, and mellow, that I sometimes wondered aloud whether something was wrong with him. (I stopped doing this when Tobin-- in an uncharacteristically straightforward way-- said, "Would you please stop saying that? He is perfectly healthy and normal. He's just happy!") I had not built up any tolerance to his crying, having rarely been exposed to it. Thus, the sound of this cry pushed my big, red panic button with the searing intensity of a hot fire poker.

I ran to Eli, and saw nothing but blood. Blood everywhere: all over the saucer, his hands, his face. It took a second to determine the source, but it quickly became obvious, as his lip spewed blood like a miniature geyser.

And there was Sylvia, standing in front of him, still holding the weapon of his lip's destruction, staring alternately at me, then at Eli, her face wordlessly asking, "How did that happen?"

I scooped Eli up and held him to my chest. I grabbed a cloth diaper and applied pressure to his lip. My mind raced for a solution: Call 911? Go to the neighbor for help? Call Tobin? All the while, my mouth babbled incoherently, and entirely without my permission, "oh God, oh God, oh God."

"Mama, you are making me feel scared with those words," Eleanor exclaimed, and the terror in her eyes jump-started my panicking brain. Okay, I have a plan for this. I can do this, I thought.

"Sit on the couch and do not move until I come back," I said to the girls. They quickly scrambled to comply, guessing that their obedience would help their brother. I carried Eli across the street to Ruth's house, a 70-something neighbor who is usually home during the day. I can't imagine the sight she saw when she opened her door to me. Later she told me that Eli was actually smiling at her from behind the cloth, and I was the only one crying. I asked her to watch my girls, quickly explaining that I needed to take Eli to the E.R. She said she could but they'd have to come to her house because she was also watching her Grandson, who was sleeping in the back room.

I flew down the stairs from her house to retrieve my girls, adrenaline now coursing through me in full-force. Half-way across the street, I was met by Leslie, a 40-something mother of 4 children spanning ages from 16 down to 8. In her wisdom, she didn't ask me what happened. She simply said, "What can I do to help you?"

"Go get my girls and take them to Ruth's house, please," I replied, and she did so with such haste that she beat me back to my van, where I was strapping Eli into his carseat. "I'll drive you," Leslie said, instantly relieving my mind of the burden of how I would drive and comfort Eli simultaneously. "Where should we go?" Leslie asked, and I turned the question back to her, knowing her husband is a doctor, and thinking that she'd know the best place. "Children's Hospital," she replied, and then drove me there without incident.

By this time I had recovered most of my sensibilities. My brain scrolled through all of the Emergency Information that I'd stored away from perusals of various sources. I obeyed a tip I once read on BabyCenter that said you should call your primary care doctor on the way to the E.R. so that (s)he can coordinate your treatment, and perhaps get you bumped to the front of the queue.

After Eli & I were settled in at the E.R., and Tobin arrived (via special drop-off from his van-pool buddies), Leslie departed-- taking a taxi home-- so that she could relieve Ruth of my children, since Ruth had a prior evening plans. Eli waited his turn on my lap, tears long dried, and smiled at each and every person who bothered to look his way. Yes, I said he smiled, in the ultimate testament to his cheerful nature and persevering character: each half of his bottom lip dangling wildly, now free to dance to its own tune rather than in unison.

It was revolting. I finally asked the nurses, "Um, I don't mean to sound rude, but would you mind not smiling at my baby anymore? He can't stop smiling back at you and I fear it will make his lip worse, or make me pass out from the look of it."

While we waited at the hospital-- to be seen, to be assessed, to be stitched up by the mercy-wielding hands of a kind plastic surgeon-- I called another neighbor, Seattle Mamacita, who is in our neighborhood playgroup as well as baby-sitting co-op, and asked her to pick up my girls at Leslie's house and take them home for bed.

Then, after leaving Eli with Tobin in the exam room for a minute so that I could use the restroom, I came back into the room to meet a woman who started asking a lot of questions. I wasn't quite sure who she was since she hadn't introduced herself, but I assumed she was one of the many doctors that we'd been waiting to see. Tobin stopped the conversation after a few of the woman's questions, saying with a meaningful raise of the eyebrow, "Ally, this is so-and-so, one of the social workers from the hospital."

Oh, those kind of questions, I thought. These are the kind of questions I see playing out in my caseload at work. Only this time I am the Bad Mother, miscast in this terrible drama as the one whose parenting ability is to be examined under the light of the CPS microscope. "Do you have any history of alcohol or drug use? Are you involved in a domestic violence relationship,?" she asked, and I replied, "No, no," but thought, why would you ask me that question right in front of my partner? If I were in a DV relationship you know I wouldn't be able to answer in front of the abuser! What kind of training did you get, anyway?

"What will you do differently the next time your child wants to use scissors," the Social Worker asked, the syrupy sweetness of condescension dripping from her words. Tempted to answer her patronization with baby-talk, I resisted, knowing full well that only the fine gauze of her judgment shielded my family from a CPS report. Finally, she pronounced, "Well, this sounds like an isolated incident, and I don't think a report to CPS is appropriate." Having shrunk down, down, down, until I was nothing but a miniscule morsel of mama-ness, I squeeked my reply in a tiny, tiny voice: "Okay, thanks. Thanks so much for that. Now I'm still in the running for the Parent of the Year Award." But she didn't hear me, because I was way too small.

I could tell you next how agonizing it was to watch the needle thread my son's lip back together, how he actually turned his head toward the needle in an attempt to nurse on it because he was so hungry at that point, how even when the reconstruction was complete he couldn't nurse because everything was too numb, and how the whole experience of watching my child suffer and being powerless to stop it took a few days off my lifespan.

Instead, I'd like you to hear the beautiful part: that which happened when I got home. But first, recall with me my favorite episode of Little House on the Prairie, entitled, "A Harvest of Friends." Here, Pa goes into debt to start up the Ingalls farm. Just when he needs to harvest his field, he falls out of a tree (trying to rescue Laura's kite at the church picnic, that loveable and handsome Pa!), breaking four of his ribs. Laid up, Pa agonizes about how he will get his crop harvested and loaded into the wagon to take into Sleepyeye to sell.

Do you remember this episode? It culminates as all of the male townspeople come to Pa's rescue: they harvest and bag the crop, then form a line of muscles, passing the bags down the line until they are safely deposited into the wagon. Pa lays, propped up on his elbows, in the corner of the store-house, tears running down his face, grateful beyond words for the generosity of his friends.

This is how I felt when we returned from the hospital. Because this is what greeted me at home:

the smell of freshly-baked banana bread, which Seattle Mamacita helped my girls to bake, before she gently tucked them into their beds and cleaned up all of the blood in my house so that I wouldn't have to see it again;

a torrent of emails, starting with Bgirl's Call to Action, which stated, "I don't know any details, but Eli had to go to the hospital today, and our neighbors may need our help... please reply with your availability regarding providing childcare for the girls, meals, treats, or other services;"

and a phone message from TCE, who had seen me leaving for the hospital, stating sweetly, in her usual understated way, "it looks like there was a stressful situation over there today and I'm just calling to see if there's anything you need."

As a family, we learned two lessons last June.

Lesson One: even small craft scissors can hurt. Sylvia's 2 year-old brain connected the dots quite nicely the next day: "Scissors are only for paper. Eli's not paper." Well stated, child. Glad to hear you figured that out.

Lesson Two: there's nothing like the love of good neighbors to heal what ails you.


I've written this post as the first of a series that explores the idea of being a good neighbor, getting to know your neighbors, and the simple idea that neighbors knowing their neighbors could change the world. If you'd like to write anything along these lines, please send me the link as a comment to this post and I'll reference it in a list at the end of this series.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Hope Takes Flight

This blogging thing is strange, isn't it? Originally, I created this blogspot account for the sole purpose of commenting on my friend's blog over at Little Monkies. Her blog didn't let me comment anonymously, so I jumped through the hoops--created an account. And then. Well, I couldn't just let it sit there idly, could I?

But I never expected to discover a vibrant community of women who care for and support one another. How does that happen, over the internet for goodness sake?

I started following some links, reading some blogs, commenting as I went. Soon others started reading and commenting on my blog. I discovered some amazing, poignant, hilarious writers, most of which I related to on some level. Most nights, I laugh from the gut at what you people write. Sometimes, I'm reduced to a blubbering mess as I read about the trials you face.

Recently, Canape said that her friend, WhyMommy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. I don't personally know WhyMommy. In fact, I only know Canape through her blog. So when Canape asked fellow bloggers to click over to WhyMommy's site and lend some support, I admit that I did so with a guarded attitude. I wanted to remain aloof, to let Canape and the folks who've known WhyMommy for years support her during this time.

Who am I to intrude up this person's privacy? I don't even know her. Do I really want to become emotionally invested in this person's life? These were the selfish thoughts that ran through my head.

And then I started reading. I learned that WhyMommy has 2 beautiful children: Widget (almost 3 years old) and Little Bear (almost 6 months old). She's a wife, a scientist, a mother, a friend. Reading her eloquent writing, I got a glimpse into her big ol' brainy brain, the beauty of her loving family, and the inner-workings of her life. I learned that WhyMommy is loved by, and gives her love, to many. I learned that WhyMommy would really appreciate our support, regardless of how well or how long we've known her.

A switch inside of me flipped from objective observer to compassionate human. I rediscovered that place inside my heart where I care about others, invest in their future, think, believe, hope, and pray.

Because really, how hard is that? What for another human being and all; a fellow mother, wife, and friend. I'm opening up wide, knowing that WhyMommy, and all of you, would do the same for me if I needed it. Will you join me?

Here are some of the ways that you can support WhyMommy:

1) Pray.
2) Send her your encouraging words to http://www.toddlerplanet.wordpress.com/
3) Email teamwhymommy AT gmail DOT com to participate in a secret project to surprise WhyMommy.
4) Join Team WhyMommy to form a wall of support. Email Canape to get on the list and get the code for the blingy button on your site.
5) Pray.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers--
That perches in the soul--
And sings the tune without the words--
And never stops-- at all--

And sweetest--in the Gale is heard--
And sore must be the storm--
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm--

I've heard it in the chillest land--
And on the strangest Sea--
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb-- of Me.

Emily Dickinson, 1861

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Accident of Birth

By accident of birth, I eat a delicious breakfast this morning, the same as I do every morning: 2 pieces of whole wheat toast, made from organic ingredients by Great Harvest Bakery, and 2 scrambled eggs, delivered from a neighbor who raises chickens in the city.

She looks at the barren cupboard and tries to ignore the gnawing in her stomach, focusing instead on what she can scrape together for her children's meal-- the only one they'll eat today.

By accident of birth, I dress myself in moss-colored capri pants and a brown, v-neck, short-sleeved shirt (taking into account the blue sky today and the prospect of a warm Seattle day). I decorate my neck with a new necklace that I made last weekend.

She regretfully considers the balmy weather outside, then dutifully dons her heavy burka in order to protect her body and face from view.

By accident of birth, I wake my children this morning, rousing each of them from peaceful slumber with gentle kisses on their noses.

She doesn't wake her children, because they are already awake. Last night, their fitful sleep was disrupted by the rumbling noise of the bombs and the rat-a-tat-tat of the guns that seemed to move closer and closer as the family huddled together on the mats of their one-room home, clinging tightly to eachother.

By accident of birth, I will enjoy staying home with my children today. We will play at the park, and then celebrate our friend's 4-year-old birthday with our neighborhood playgroup.

She won't see her children today, since they will have eaten, showered, collected their books, and gone to school by the time she is home from her graveyard shift, one of the two jobs she's had to take to make ends meet.

By accident of birth, I will move freely wherever I want to go today. My only impediment will be the limitation of keeping three children in tow. I will play, shop for groceries, and socialize.

She cannot leave the confines of the compound at Guantanamo Bay, where she was sent as an enemy combatant. She has been detained in error, but will have little chance to prove it, because she lives without hope of ever having a trial.

By accident of birth, I will drive my mini-van where and when I want to today. I may take the bus, but if it feels too far, or the schedule isn't convenient, or doesn't align with Eli's nap schedule, I will opt for the ease and comfort of my own vehicle.

She doesn't have the money for the 1-hour taxi ride into the village where the doctor receives patients once a week, and so she rises before dawn, and begins the long, long walk to the village, her sick baby strapped to her back.

By accident of birth, I type this from my brand-new Dell laptop computer, which is linked to the wireless internet network in my home.

She, on the other hand, cannot even read, let alone type, because her family didn't have the money to pay for "public" school, where education is free in name only, and teachers and administrators exact bribes from families in order to pay their own wages.

By accident of birth, I will pray to God at the end of this day: "God, please heal this world, where there is so much pain and suffering. Be with all children everywhere, and protect them from harm. Help me to do my part to bring justice and peace to those around me, and to all people everywhere. "

And so will she.
This essay was written as part of Julie's weekly round-table, which solicited essays on the subject of "Accident of Birth." Click here for details.

Monday, June 18, 2007

To Chai, Mother of Hansa

The birth of a baby is usually a cause for celebration. The birth of Hansa, an Asian elephant at the Woodland Park Zoo, was no exception. In November of 2000, when Hansa was born, I didn't have any children of my own. Even so, I avidly read the news of Chai's 22-month-long pregnancy, eagerly awaiting the baby elephant's arrival. When she was born, she was christened Hansa, which means "supreme happiness."

As soon as Hansa was strong enough to receive visitors, I went the zoo to meet her. I was shocked at how much love I saw communicated between mother and daughter elephant as Hansa slowly weaved in between Chai's legs, gazing up at her periodically for reassurance. "You're okay, little one," Chai's return gaze seemed to say, "Mama is right here." I snapped a picture and hung it proudly at work, as if she were part of my family.

It wasn't until a year later that I truly understood the love between a mother and her child. In November 2001, Eleanor was born three weeks early. She resembled a baby bird that had fallen from its nest: scrawny, skinny, and unable to nurse. Still, I was amazed, and a little terrified, at the intensity of my love for this little creature. Like all mothers, I vowed to protect her always, and to love her like life itself.

Last week, Tobin came home from work and asked me, "Did you hear the sad, sad news?" I hadn't. "Hansa died," he said, and the breath was taken out of my lungs. I held back tears. Asking "why," I thought immediately of Chai, and how she was feeling. Does she understand her baby is gone forever? Or did Hansa die in the veterinarian's area, away from the comforting gaze of her mother? Will Chai know Hansa's absence is permanent, or will she think Hansa was taken from her, and live her life in hope of someday reuniting? (In the days that followed, I read that Chai was with Hansa when she died, and that Hansa's body was removed only after Chai left it).

I know that Hansa was only an elephant. But still. There is something universal in the language of grief and loss, in the empathy from one mother to another.

For several days, I found it hard to believe that Hansa was gone. Elephants seem too strong, too large, too substantial to die. I thought, surely Hansa was too heavy, and the angel of death lost its grip trying to take her away.

I remembered Eleanor's growing understanding of death a few years ago, her confusion about the mechanics of life-after-death. "It's not all the way dead yet," she would say if she saw some dead thing (a mouse, a spider, a snail). "It looks all the way dead to me," I'd say, until one day I realized that she thought the entire creature would levitate up to heaven. "I still see its body, so it isn't yet dead," she reasoned to herself.

I get that. On this Earth, I will never understand how one minute a loved one is here, sipping tea with us, laughing at shared jokes, heart beating in rhythm with the universe. And then, blink, they are gone, leaving behind only memories and fading fragrances on clothing.

Reading the heart-breaking accounts of mothers who's babies have died, like Kate's baby Liam, and Lori's babies, Molly & Joseph, I sometimes wish we could invent a grief-sharing program, where mothers could sign up for 1/2 hour slots in which we'd shoulder the mother's grief, giving her a chance to breathe, to shower, to enjoy a chocolate chip, if only for the few minutes before the grief returned with its crushing weight. But I know that's not possible.

We visited the zoo two days after Hansa's death, but avoided the elephant exhibit even though it was open by that time. It felt wrong somehow--disrespectful of Chai. How does one express their sympathy to a mother elephant? Or to any mother who has suffered the loss of a child? "I'm sorry" just doesn't cut it. There is no healing incantation, no magic salve.

Still, I say to Chai, and to Kate, and to Lori, from one mother to another: I see you. I know you had a child, and your child is now gone. I will not forget.

I wish you peace.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Little Things

It's not usually the big stuff that puts me over the edge. Sure, I have problems. But in general, when a crisis crashes into my home like a tidal wave, I find a floatation device. I call family, friends, ask my church for prayer, and depend upon the care of kind neighbors. There's an established system for these things, you see, and I'm grateful for that.

It's the little stuff that sucks me down into a whirlpool of whimpering. It's those tiny leaks in the dam, barely visible to the human eye, yet popping up faster than I can plug with my fingers and toes: the stench of the diaper pail; the wire colander falling apart at the metal seam that I can't seem to remember to replace; the backyard fence, built 2 years ago, but still missing the finishing trellis. You can't exactly call a neighbor in tears, citing your broken colander as the reason. Email Alert: Neighbor in Need! Send shiny, sturdy colanders on the double!

I didn't mind today when my girls dug a giant dirt hole in the backyard, filled it with hose water, took off their clothes, and splashed around in the mud. I even remained cheerful as Sylvia stood over the muddy hole and peed like a common neighborhood mutt. I calmly suggested that Sylvia pee in a far corner of the yard, away from their play area. I mean, let's not insists on the formality of using a proper toilet, since you're already covered in mud.

But when Eleanor retrieved and then dumped the entire pile of discarded clothing into the muddy-and-now-peed-in-hole, my thin branch of parental sanity snapped like a brittle twig underfoot. What to do? Call my sister to rant, and risk the Mom-is-on-the-phone-and-thus-we-must-mob-her-like-night-of-the-living-dead-zombies phenomenon?

Sigh. Deep breaths. This will not drown you. It's only clothes. "Hey Eleanor, there's a tub on the grass over there...I'll put some soap in it if you'd like to be in charge of cleaning those muddy clothes," I said. She took the bait.

And when the clothes were relatively clean (read: clothes were covered in specks of mud instead of chunks of mud), she set to work, repairing my broken sanity with the soft bandage of her cuteness:

"Did you know the AB-DO-MAN is part of a bug?," she asked excitedly. "It's the middle of its body!" She continued, "Bugs have antenna up here," pulling them out of her forehead like telescoping rods. "And guess what else? They have COMPOUND eyes," she said, squishing her fists into balls, placing them over her eyes in a perfect simulation of bug eyes, then dropping her hands and moving her eyebrows up and down at me to underscore their thrilling nature.

Next, Eleanor sat down naked on the deck (watch for splinters, child!) and colored her latest artistic masterpiece: a rainbow-hued rendition of the human brain that I printed from google images in an attempt to satiate Eleanor's brain-curiosity.

"Some artists might color each part of the brain a different color, right, Mama? And some might not. But I'm definitely choosing to," she narrated. When she finished, she pointed to different areas: "Where do you want to live, Mama? Would you like to live in California?" she asked, pointing to the temporal lobe. "Or," her finger now on the cerebral cortex, "how about in Oregon with Gramma and Grandpa?"

After a while, Eleanor washed up and came inside to help me prepare dinner. At first she ran back and forth, from the kitchen to the backyard (a mere 5 feet away), issuing reports on the behavior of Sylvia and Eli. "Uh-oh, Mama, BAD REPORT! Sylvia is putting mud on Eli's shirt..."

But then Eleanor spied my decrepit colander on the counter, and she hunkered down for her best work. A while later, with fanfare, she presented the colander to me, with countless twisty ties now holding the wire mesh to the metal frame.

I was happy. Like I said, it's the little things.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Tree Climber

My Eleanor loves climbing trees. "No tree shall be left undisturbed," seems to be her unspoken motto. She sees a tree-- at the park, in your yard, at our church, at her school-- and she is drawn to it like a politician to power. It must be climbed.

She doesn't climb trees to conquer them, although she is certainly proud of her extraordinary climbing prowess. She climbs for other, more social reasons: to discover and examine snails and slugs, smell the blossoms, befriend or scare the squirrels (depending on her mood), and heckle the passersby on the sidewalk from behind the safety of our fence. At bathtime, I discover sticks, twigs, blossoms and berries, hiding in Eleanor's hair like a secretly located nest built exclusively for birds in the witness protection program (you know, those cute little finches, who rat out the dastardly crows).

Eleanor is completely fearless in her climbing ambitions. "I know how to climb onto the top of the garage," she announced to Tobin last week, and then she demonstrated her method, step by step, using our magnolia tree as her ladder--"I put this foot here, and hold on with this arm here"-- until she proved that indeed, she can lift her leg onto the garage's roof. She didn't hoist herself up, of course, at least not while Tobin was watching, since he treated her to a free lecture series entitled, "The Certain Danger And/Or Death Awaiting Those Foolish Enough to Climb Onto the Garage." Tobin warned me later, "If Eleanor goes missing, she's likely on the roof of the garage." Okay, thanks for the tip.

Last summer, all three of my children were baptized. After the ceremony, our extended family and several friends came to our house to celebrate with-- what else?-- Indian food take-out. The girls had selected a cake from the local bakery, complete with a Mickey Mouse Fire Truck topper. ("Well, it's at least in keeping with the water theme," Tobin said). Take-out devoured, cake eaten, and the beauty of the ceremony reminisced, Eleanor shed her white baptism dress like a snake molting its skin in fast motion. (See photo at right of dress hastily deposited into our backyard bush). And then she went-- you guessed it-- up, up, up to the top of our maple tree, where she perched herself on a high branch and settled in with her newfound holiness.

During all of this tree-climbing, I've only encouraged Eleanor. When I want to say, "be careful," I say instead, "are you feeling safe up there?" When Eleanor answers "yes," I avert my eyes to a safer place and keep my mouth shut. I've smothered my fear-of-falling worries with the certain knowledge that there is value in healthy risk-taking. And really, I've come to love her love of tree-climbing. I love what it says about her: she is agile, confident, curious, strong. What more could I wish for my oldest girl?

We should not have been surprised when, today, while climbing our apple tree, Eleanor experienced the curse of gravity as she crashed to the ground. Really, I wasn't surprised that she fell. It was bound to happen at some point. Rather, I was surprised at how I felt: not overly worried (but appropriately motherly) about Eleanor's injuries (a ripped skirt and we *think* a sprained wrist; we'll see the doc if she's still complaining about it tomorrow), but instead, very concerned that Eleanor will stop climbing trees. Because it seems to signify more than simple tree-climbing. Eleanor might learn that, in fact, she can't do all things she sets her mind to do. That her success in this world doesn't only depend on her ambition, but a multitude of external limitations: physical, structural, and political.

I'd like to postpone this lesson, thank you very much.

I like Eleanor's world-view, just the way it is: where every tree is hers to climb.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

It's All About Me

My new friend over at Slouching Towards 40 tagged me for a "10 Interesting Things You Don't Know About Me" assignment. Here in blogland, for those of you not in the know (this refers to my darling Grandma (pictured at left) who, last weekend, told me that she enjoys reading my blobs-- not that I am any better-- just 8 months ago I didn't know the meaning of the word blog, and even when I became edu-ba-cated I certainly didn't think blogging was something I would enjoy doing), these little assignments are called "Memes," and the idea is that one completes the assignment and then tags a few unsuspecting, piteous suckers honored friends to do it next.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of the Meme. First off, who likes doing an assignment? The very word evaporates my creative juices like lemonade spilled on hot cement. Second, I worry a tad that readers may discover that I am think I've become self-absorbed... does she really think we care about any of these useless facts about her life? (Cue picture of me me MEEE to the right).

These objections aside, I really enjoy
Slouching Mom's writing, which is not only poignant, thoughtful, and insightful, but is well-composed and clearly informed with a background in literature. (This is a rare combo found here in blogland, where one could waste an entire year, sitting in front of the computer, munching on chips, drooling onto the keyboard with glazed-over eyes spend an entire week reading cutesy journals that do nothing to provoke self-reflection, action, or change. Thus, out of respect for Slouching Mom, (with yet another link, just in case you haven't taken the bait yet) I hereby accept this assignment, and am flattered to think that at least one person would like to know TEN (gulp) interesting (not even counting toe-jam and birthmarks!) things about me.

Since I tend to ramble (no kidding, you say, just look at your mammoth introduction... just write the stinkin' Meme already!) in a futile search for meaning (and in a vain search for good endings), I will post this list with handy bold headers (just one of my many, MANY amazing computer skillz, to borrow a great word from
O The Joys; gee, I really am a marvel!) so those of you who only mildly care can quickly skim through the text and then get on with your life. I said, get on with your life! Already!

Here goes.

#1. I have epiphanies in the shower.
It's true. The shower is where my thoughts are clearest. When I was in law school, I had two epiphanies in one single showering. I know, it's amazing! The first 'piph was simple, yet profound: I don't have to do anything that I don't want to do. You go ahead and laugh now, but this really was a life-changing thought. I stopped saying yes just because I thought I should, and started saying no when I wanted to say no. You should try it yourself sometime when you find someone pressuring/guilting/nagging you to do something you don't want to do (especially someone you really love/respect/want to love you). My current line is, "I'm trying to strengthen my NO muscle, so I think I'd better use this opportunity to say No thank you." Totally cheesy, but I've gotten good results, usually something like, "okay, I can respect that."

The second 'piph (and you can file this right now in the too-much-information category) was that birth control pills are effective for me only because they completely and totally obliterate my desire to have sex. Kill it like a child stomping an ant. Like Roadrunner dropping an anvil on Coyote. In one shower moment, I changed the course of my marriage. Goodbye pills! Hello hubby!

#2. I still play silly fate-games left over from childhood.
I don't know what else to call those games where you make silly agreements with God or Fate or Whatever in order to foretell the future. For example, you might be waiting at a stop light and say to yourself, "If this stop light turns green within the next 10 seconds my marriage will last forever." Or, you might choose your grocery line thinking, "If I beat out that lady in plaid in the next aisle over, then I'm definitely getting that promotion at work." This is a good game because when you win, you can be happy, and when you lose, you can just say "that one didn't count," and make up an answer as to why. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who does this. At least I don't make major decisions based on this method. Cue picture to right.

#3. I think God's best work is the nape of a baby's neck.
There's not much to add here. If you've ever rested your eyes upon the silky goodness that is the nape of a baby's neck, then you know what I'm talking about. Plus the word nape is fun to say, like the the knights who say Ni!
Nape! Nape! Nape!

#4. I am NOT a fan of the bra.
Again, feel free to dispose of this tid-bit in your too-much-information shredder, but most nights, when I know I'm home for the night, my first task is to rid myself of the pesky bra. Being one who loves routine, you'd think I would deposit said bra in the same place every night to assist in morning-time dressing. But no. Most mornings you can find me searching the house for the lost article.
Last fall, when I was really fired up about global warming (apologies for the unintentional pun), a local political hopeful came a-knockin' at my door to solicit my support. Tobin answered the door. Knowing I'd want to grill the man regarding environmental issues, Tobin located me in the kitchen, where I was cooking dinner. Completely oblivious to the fact that I was, shall we say, home for the night, I went to the living room, invited in the political stranger, and volleyed the conversational ball back and forth for about 30 minutes. Only after the candidate left did I really look at the couch on which I'd been sitting. There. It. Was. In all its Size Gordo, Nursing Mother splendor. It had been sitting beside me the whole time. Ahem.

#5. I once composed an email about poop and accidentally sent it to my law professor.
Here's what happened. My friend Karen was schedule to have a colonoscopy. She sent a detailed email to me about the procedure, describing the elephantine laxatives that she'd ingested in order to clear her system in preparation. I sent a detailed email back to her, outlining my full library of knowledge about poop and treatment for sore bottoms, along with many, many off-color jokes about her upcoming appointment. I pushed send, and the funny little email traveled through cyberspace all the way to... MY LAW PROFESSOR. Don't ask me how. I received a short email in response: "Ally, I don't think you intended this email for me. Sincerely, Your Dignified Professor." Or something like that. I shrank, shrank, shraaaank-- in Fred Flintstone fashion-- until I became no bigger than an infinitesimal speck of nothingness. And then I laughed myself silly.

#6. In two separate incidents, I've witnessed two car-pedestrian collisions.
I think this is a really weird fact about myself. The first incident is chronicled here, so I won't repeat it. The second time happened like this. I was grocery shopping with my sister and Mama. I don't remember my exact age, but I'm guessing I was in the third grade or thereabouts. We were in the parking lot, and looked up as we heard the high, metallic sound of screeching brakes. An elderly man had attempted to walk across a four-lane road, on his way from the nursing home to the grocery store, and a car didn't see him in time. He was hit. My Mama dropped the groceries and told my sister and I to stay put. She ran to the scene and applied pressure to the man's gushing chest wound. The ambulance came, and we went home, my Mama's front soaked in blood. We added Mr. Vanvorest (as we learned he was named) to our evening prayers. He lived, but I really don't know for how long. As a child, I prayed for that man for years and years, each and every night. My sister and I wondered aloud about Mr. Vanvorest last year, and I said he was probably very successful after that crash, as he was buoyed up by our prayers long after he was recovered. Or maybe we prayed for him after he'd been dead for years. We never found out. Either way, I'm sure it didn't hurt. (Forgive me, Mr. Vanvorest, for using the phrase "didn't hurt" in the same paragraph as the description of your accident).

#7. I had a mild case of Rheumatic fever when I was young.
This fact is a cheater, actually, since even I don't find it particularly interesting. So this Meme is now officially called "Nine Interesting Facts and One Boring One." I highly recommend that you skip to #8. I'm not sure anyone cares except my dentist. For years I endured teeth-cleanings and no one even asked whether I'd ever had Rheumatic fever. Then, a few years ago, I went to a new dentist and suddenly it matters. Evidently Rheumatic fever can cause a weakening of the heart, and somehow during teeth cleaning your body is susceptible to infection (or some such thing), so now each time I get my teeth cleaned I must ingest a jillion antibiotic pills one hour in advance. Now you know.

#8. I would love to be a writer, but I don't want to ruin something I love by getting paid to do it.
That's why I sarcastically wrote this, in order to discourage certain un-named family members from requesting blogs on specific topics, or toppings, like a made-to-order pizza. See comments above (in over-long introduction) regarding the ill effects of assignments.

#9. I am a tosser, not a keeper.
I hate clutter. When the kids aren't looking, I surreptitiously purge their belongings. Tobin's, too. Thus, it is difficult to explain why I said "uh, okay" when Eleanor asked if she could bring home this gem (pictured at left) from my friend's house on Sunday. (For the record, this friend had selected this lucky owl to be part of a garage sale; I don't think anyone has actually used this cookie jar since the 70s.) Now this thing, this hideous piece of earthenware, this offense to potters everywhere, is living in my house! The kids can't even play with it since it is breakable ceramic. Please send your ideas on how I can rid myself of it. Please! Send! Ideas!

#10. This year I received the best compliment of my life.
My dear friend, who is a bona fide writer (as you'll notice below, dear readers) wrote a letter to Tobin and I after visiting my family for several days. I was completely blown away by this compliment. I never knew that this "welcome" (the kind of love that St. Benedict called hospitality) was what I aspired to, but once I read his beautiful words, I thought, "there is nothing in the world that I would rather have said about me."
Here 'tis:
You are friends because you continually say "come." Inside your house, I'm opened up and challenged because there is no prescription, no program or premeditation. No secretly inscribed recommendation. The doors are opened and I can hear the word "come." I find myself listening-- reflecting. Things are left undone or in remainder. Solving and "cleaning up" have no place in what I feel is a friendship swimming (because it can't be grounded) in the vulnerable verb "come." It's more than a mere welcoming. The idea of welcoming falls short because, in a sense, you have already let us in. And that is a gift that cannot be returned, only accepted... again and again.
And finally, just for kicks, you get a bonus picture of Eli, wearing Sylvia's hat on his head and Eleanor's sandals on his hands. Oh, how I love this baby.

And now, I tag Seattle Mamacita, bgirl, little monkies, and Nancy. And if anyone else is so inclined, consider yourself tagged as well.