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.

Monday, May 21, 2007


This morning after breakfast Eleanor and Sylvia nestled in at the dining room table, surrounded by markers, pens, pastels, and paper. After completing various drawings-- a pepper tree with yellow, red, and green peppers; a lemon tree with a large base and a tiny top, as if viewed by a tiny ant marching in the verdant grass beneath the tree-- Eleanor constructed a Dot-to-Dot for me to complete. "Don't try to guess what it is. It's going to be a surprise for you," she told me. She drew chubby blue dots adjacent to numbers, some written backward, struggling to find their way through a dyslexic fog.

The parallel to my life gently floated into my head like a Forrest Gump feather.

1. DOT: A Typical Lunch

Today for lunch we ate corn bread, clam chowder, and baby carrots. Or I should say, I ate those things. I also served those things to my children, with varying success. 17-month-old Eli enjoyed the cornbread for a few bites, then decided, "hmm, this no longer pleases me." Like any baby who's completed Toddler 101: Asserting Your Independence in a Grown-Up World, he first threw the offending corn bread onto the floor, and then swept his hands back and forth on his high-chair tray to ensure the complete annihilation of the remaining crumbs. He turned his attention to the table, scanning for something desirable. "Mo, mo, mo," he said with his mouth and hands. "More cornbread?" Eleanor asked. "No." "More chowder?" I asked. "No." "More carrots?" Sylvia asked. "No." "I think he wants more cornbread," Eleanor stated, obtusely ignoring the mounting evidence. "I don't think so," I said, tapping into my dwindling reserve of patience. "I think he wants one of those forks," I said, pointing to the pile of forks that I'd placed in the middle of the table, just in case anyone wanted to eat their cornbread in a civilized fashion. Hearing "fork," Eli said "yeah," and I added in my head, "because I want to poke my eye like the last time I wielded a fork."

Eleanor reached over and placed another piece of cornbread on Eli's high-chair tray with an enthusiastic "Here you go, baby!" Deftly executing the Self-Assertion plan once more, Eli responded quicker than the missile defense system, propelling the corn bread onto the floor. "That's NOT what he wants," I hissed at Eleanor, my voice devoid of kindness. "You're using your mean voice," she replied, and slid off her chair like Dali's Melting Clocks. Deep breath. "Eleanor, I'm sorry I used a mean voice. How about if I try not to use a mean voice and you try to listen when I speak to you in a normal voice?" "Okay," sniffled the little 5-year-old pile on the floor.

I foolishly gave Eli a fork and let him attempt to eat his baby-food-squash with it. A few seconds later, Sylvia howled like a wolf, accenting the beat of her song by pulsating her palm over her mouth. Soon Eleanor and Eli joined in. As the volume crescendoed, my head wound up like a mexican top, then flew off my body with a whiiiiiiz. Someday it might be sited, perhaps by a satellite somewhere in outer-space.

2. DOT: Urban Turkey Herding

Most city-dwellers don't t expect to have much contact with turkeys. But two springs ago, when Sylvia was just a wee babe, we heard some strange peeping noises coming from outside. We rushed to the window to witness Gene, our crunchy neighbor from the Co-op house, flapping his arms, herding 20 baby turkeys down the sidewalk. That day the girls got to pet baby turkeys, and the Turkey Fan Club was officially formed.

This year was even better, because both girls are big enough to help herd the turkeys. For four weekends in a row, Tobin and the girls met Gene at his garage to let the baby turkeys out for a little free-range time. Mind you, these turkeys are bound for a Free-Range Farm. Gene just raises them when they're babies. The turkeys cozy up in a big nest in Gene's garage, soaking up the rays from the heat lamp above. Once a day Gene shoos the turkeys from the garage, and they stretch, peck, and strut down the sidewalk, pecking at whatever weeds, plants, and bugs they can find. When the baby turkeys look tuckered, Gene solicits the help of Eleanor and Sylvia to get them back into the garage. Completely fearless, Eleanor chases down a turkey, grabs it gently, and carries it back to the garage. When a turkey doesn't cooperate, Eleanor sweet-talks it: "Ahh, c'mon, little turkey, come with me so you can go with your little friends in the garage...You don't want to miss out on all the fun they're having in there!" Sylvia, just 3, mostly provides moral support. She's afraid to pick up the turkeys, but she forms a human blockade to assist the round-up.

Now that they're big enough, the turkeys have moved out of the neighborhood to the farm where they'll spend the rest of their lives. I'm guessing they'll be sold sometime around, say, Thanksgiving, but I haven't confirmed any of that. Last night, thinking about the turkeys, Eleanor said, "You know, Mama, even though the turkeys live far away now, they will never be far from Gene. Gene has the love of the turkeys in his heart."

Not wanting to offend Eleanor's tender seriousness, I choked back a laugh as Tobin whispered, "...and in his stomach."

3. DOT: Not Quite The Last Emporer, Yet

My litttle Eli, 17-months old, is still nursing. I could pretend to be annoyed, citing all the reasons why I'd like him to wean: 1) I'd be able to leave all of my children with Gramma and Grandpa and abscond to a romantic weekend getaway; 2) I'd have dinner dates with friends, unrestricted by what time Eli needs to be put down for bed, instead of rushing home like Cinderella (with Keens as my dainty glass slippers); 3) my body would finally be my own again, and I could start making demands of it for a change; 4) I might finally shed the extra 25 pounds my body has been hoarding to protect my breastfeeding baby from starvation in a food-shortage. But really, I'm just not all that annoyed by any of these things. Especially when I balance them against the pure, sweet joy that I feel when Eli snuggles in to nurse.

Raising three small children, I've come to treasure the few moments per day that I get to spend one-on-one with each of them. Eli's nursing time is mine, and mine alone. (Not counting those hellish mornings when the girls wake up early and I have to nurse Eli while they caress his head, poke him with books they're "reading" to him, and otherwise distract him into a tizzy). This is our time for inside jokes, shared laughter, and cozy nuzzles. While Eli nurses, I hold out my hand, palm straight, and Eli knows what to do: he gently slaps it, showering me with the softest high-fives. Eli pats my nose with his tiny index finger, waiting for me to provide the commentary. "Mama's nose," I say. Then his finger finds his own nose and taps it. "Eli's nose." He smiles. He reaches up and gently pets my hair. "Mama's hair," I say. And so on. In this crazy, loud house (see Dot #1), I savor these quiet, gentle moments, swishing them around in my psyche like a good wine on my pallet.

After all, when is the next time that I will enjoy a baby's chubby legs, curled around my middle like a napping cat, velvety-soft hands patting me like a kitty's paws kneeding biscuits? Never, that's when! Never is a long time, people! So I know you'll forgive me if I stretch this out just a little longer. And please don't ask me when I plan to wean Eli, because really, really, I just don't know.

4. DOT: Shortage of Iron-- In Blood but Not Will

Our daughter Sylvia is tougher than jerky. Physically, that is. Driving to a doctor's check-up when she was two, Eleanor warned her that she'd have to get shots. Unfazed, Sylvia boldly proclaimed, "I not cry, Mama." I told her it would be fine if she cried; shots do hurt and there's nothing wrong with crying when you're hurt. When it came time for shots, she jutted out her jaw like Jay Leno, stared down the needle, and refused to shed a single, solitary tear. She didn't even blink. She calmly turned her head to me and said, "See Mama? I not cry."

As you know, our Sylvia is an omnivore in the broadest sense of the word. We've wondered about the reasons: Psychologic disorder? Disciplinary issue? Poor parenting? None of the options were particularly appealing.

Then the doctor called and said she'd consulted with some colleagues and determined that Sylvia needed a blood test to determine whether she has an iron deficiency. I explained the procedure to Sylvia, and she listened, unperturbed. In the examining room, she looked so small and vulnerable laying on the high white-paper-covered table. As the nurse warned her that the needle was coming, I gently turned her head toward me. I placed a yellow gummy bear into her mouth, and she smiled happily just as the needle found its vein. In stark contrast, Eleanor paced around the table, lip quivering, stopping just short of crying, saying-- unnecessarily-- "it's okay, Sissy; it's okay." As Sylvia's blood oozed out into the vile, she asked me, "Can I look to see the blood coming out?" "Sure!" I replied.

One day later the doctor told me what we should have already known: Sylvia's blood is deficient in iron. We breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that an iron supplement is much easier than years of sessions with a child psychologist.


There it is. The chubby dots, making up a sketch of my recent days. I take a pen and draw connecting lines between the dots, but I still can't quite make out the final shape. I squint my eyes, hoping to decipher the alternate images like I'm viewing a stereogram. What's that? Is it paradise? A glimpse of madness? I guess it's a surprise.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Crinkly Eye-Liner & Other Mysteries

A few years ago, I was peripherally part of a conversation in which my friend C asked my friend K about a little eyeliner problem she was having. K works at Nordstrom and is in the fashion scene of make-up, clothing, and other things mostly foreign to C and I. C wanted to know, "Is there an eyeliner out there that doesn't crinkle when I put it on...You know, one that doesn't go bumpity bump bump over my wrinkly eyelids like a plane struggling to land?" A few short years ago, the answer didn't apply to me, so, while K expounded an Eyeliner Treatise, I focused on other thoughts, in the exact way that I tuned out the C-section part of our birthing classes, arrogantly thinking, "this will never apply to me, I am having a vaginal birth!"

Just as I regretted my inattention when I found myself in the Operating Room, the doctor poised to slice my belly after a 24-hour labor, lately I'm wishing I would have taken astute notes during K's Cosmetics Advice Session, because I'm struggling with my own rough liner landings. My eyelids crinkle up and my line ends up looking like Sylvia (my three year old) applied it for me. (Of course, if you know my Sylvia, you'd know that she'd never actually apply my eyeliner, because, ahem, there wouldn't be enough of it left after she finished snacking on it).

Then there's this: Last weekend our family went to our church retreat. The retreat center is famous among the United Methodist kids for its enormous rope swing. You follow a winding dirt road to get to camp, and at one point, Eleanor thought we were lost, so she offered this helpful advice, her eyebrows scrunched in concentration: "Okay Mama listen-- you'll know you're getting close when you see the giant rope swing. Just look for the swing Mama and you're almost there!" Okay, will do... I understood why she said this, because, even from an adult prospective, this swing is a sight to behold. Three stairs lead to a 7-foot platform, which is perched on the flat part at the top of a sloping hillside. A round saucer, about a foot in diameter, is attached to the end of the chubby, long rope. It takes two people to retrieve the rope and hoist it up, between the legs of the person waiting on the platform. Once positioned, the swinger jumps off the platform and enters the adrenaline rush of swing heaven. If you weigh a lot, or get a little running start on the platform, then you have to be careful on the back-swing not to smash your head on the platform like a gooey Halloween pumpkin. When not in use-- and this means supervised by a Responsible Adult-- the rope swing remains padlocked against a giant tree nearby. You get the picture.

Last year, I declined the swing. "I'm the mother of three small children," I thought, "do I really need to take such unnecessary risks?" Eleanor went on it then, a small speck in the vast air, shouting gleefully in her 4 year old voice. This year, Eleanor did it again, and again and again, scaring the life out of me and the Responsible Adults by performing various "tricks," no doubt inherited from Tobin, who, on his turn, made a special point to dismount with a back flip or give the next person waiting on the platform a high-five on the back-swing.

So, this year, I gathered my courage, seasoned it with Eleanor's encouragement-- "come on, Mama, you will have sooo much fun!"-- and slowly made my way to the top of the platform as if shuffling toward the gallows. The first time was fantastic! I had vastly underestimated the initial whooosh I'd feel coming off of the platform, that spot right before the rope caught my weight and sent me propelling forward over the lush ferns and foliage below. I let out a little yelp of joy, and only thought just a teensy bit about whether I'd smash my face into the dirt upon dismount. When I was done, I went to the back of line, told an 8-year-old that no, she couldn't have cuts, and waited my turn to go again.

The second time: not so fun. The saucer got caught on my leg before I was ready; it didn't get firmly between my legs like it was supposed to. I felt myself being pulled from the platform but knew that the rope wouldn't catch me. The saucer slipped out, I half-jumped-half-fell from the platform, and I landed in the dirt far, far below. I sprang up like a jack-in-the-box, eager to demonstrate my well-being. I was fine at first. I even went back on the swing right away to prove it had no power over me-- me, scared to go again just because I just plummeted to my near-death? Pshaw! Bring it on. (Read: Oh dear God don't let me fall again!) But by the end of the day I was hobbling around, barely able to walk. The next morning my foot had improved enough that I no longer felt a trip to the ER was required.

Here's my point, friends: I think I'm getting a little old.

It seems a younger version of myself wouldn’t have fallen off that platform, and wouldn’t have been hurt in the landing. But maybe it’s just the sneaky, creeping gray hair and the crinkly eye-liner fooling me into using age as an excuse, because truthfully, I’ve always been a bit of a klutz.

But here’s another shred of evidence: I am having a miniature mid-life crisis. Well, maybe not a crisis so much as a Mid-Life Review. As you may have noticed on my fancy-pants blog page, I recently read “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” by Tracy Kidder. It is the story of the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, a genius doctor who devotes himself to healing the sick in Haiti, and in other poverty-stricken, underserved areas of the world. His philosophy: People are sick. I am a doctor. Every life is valuable. It is one of those stories that make one think, “Wow, good for him,” and then, “Phew, what a comfortable little life I’m leading…what else could I be doing?” Is this-- my current career-- how I want to spend my one “wild and precious" life?

I’m pretty sure the answer is no. Or at least “I don’t think so.” But the question remains, then what? What?

When I finished the book I warned Tobin that it isn’t a book that I’ll be finished with once I place it back on the shelf. I said it was one of those turning point books; one that inspired big changes, which might someday provide a point of reference such as, “Well, you see, back in 2007 I was reading this very inspiring book…”

We brainstormed a bit, and the next morning Tobin—Super Husband that he is—told me that he’d done some research last night and found out that he could definitely get a job in India. Just in case I was thinking that’s where I should go in order to lead this meaningful life. He was earnest. I have to say, it’s nice to be taken seriously; to be so unconditionally supported.

I spoke with my dear Grandmother on Saturday. At 86, she has more energy than most people half her age—indeed, more energy than I think I’ve ever had. When I asked her what she’d been up to she mentioned that she’d mowed only part of the lawn that day, but she hadn’t finished it because, well, for some reason, the lawnmower just got too hard to push. She figured that the blade had been set too low. I stifled a laugh, and then a cry, as I thought, perhaps it’s because you’re 86 and your lawn in enormous?

I hope it was just the blade setting, because, as my Grandmother told me a couple of years ago, “Getting old stinks.” You know, what with the crinkly eye-liner and all.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Prayer

Today I was reminded that it is sometimes scary to be a child.

It was an unseasonably warm day in Seattle. It was warm enough that I sanctioned the donning of swimsuits, and even turned on the little sprinkler in our postage-stamp-sized back yard, through which the girls joyfully frolicked, choreographing their own dance that cried out, "O, Glorious Summer, Quickly Come!" Eli napped peacefully inside, and I sat on the deck, attempting to read a book. Every other sentence, Eleanor peppered me with some remark, most of which demanded some sort of response beyond a distracted "uh-huh." Um, I'm trying to read, you know... please just quietly share your summer-time exuberance with your sister...

Eleanor turned the little plastic slide into a water slide with the assitance of the trusty garden hose, in complete and flagrant breach of the safety warnings, which stated that one should never, ever use water on this slide. But really, she is so oversized now compared to the toddler slide that I felt there was no danger. Though I did consider for a brief moment how stupid I'd sound explaining my rationale to the social worker at the ER: "Yes, it's true that I'm an (gulp) attorney... Yes, I did read the warnings on the label. Yes, I ignored the warnings in favor of a little time to read a book in peace!"

At one point, Eleanor skidded to a stop, half-way down the slide because-- BAM!-- an important question landed in her brain like a burning-hot meteor from outer space: "Mama, will our house ever burn down?"

"Well, I don't really know the future, sweetie," I replied, "but probably our house won't burn down because we try really hard to keep it safe here. But would you feel better if we talk about a fire-escape plan this Saturday?" (For some reason, this seems like a weekend activity). She said, "Yes." I told her that I remember when I was little, I worried a lot about my family's house burning down.

I didn't mention that I actually still worry quite a bit about it, sometimes laying in bed when I'm trying to get to sleep, mentally rehearsing exactly how I'll collect all three of my children and get them out if there is a middle-of-the-night fire. (Hmm, if I tuck my PJ top tightly into my underwear I can stuff Eli down my shirt; Eleanor can hold onto my neck in the front and help keep Eli in, then Sylvia can go piggy-back...) Nevermind the fact that I haven't yet actually ordered the ladders that will allow us to safely descend from the second floor to the sidewalk below. Evidently I plan to shout the URL for the ladder sales' webpage and hope that the fire surrenders knowing the ladders are soon on their way.

My nightly childhood prayer always included a plea for protection against fire. The embers of my fire-fear were fanned by a terrifying episode of Little House on the Prairie in which Mrs. Garvey and Mary's baby boy were trapped on the second floor of the Blind School during a fire, and died a terrible death amid the ferocious flames. (The episode, according to Wikipedia, is called May We Make Them Proud). Who wrote this stuff, anyway? Didn't they think of the innocent little girls who would henceforth be scared out of a good night's sleep?

I habitually said other prayers as a child: some trivial; some monumental. Once I saw a van run over a little child. The little girl-- she couldn't have been more than 3 years old-- darted out into the street before her mother could grab her hand. In one, slow-motion, underwater, dream-sequence moment, a joyful 4th of July at the park was transformed into a nightmare as the girl slid underneath the tires of an oncoming van. My sister and I were frozen in time: our mouths were agape and our feet quick-dried in concrete as we watched the scene unfold. Mama rushed into the road, where the little girl's in-shock mother was shaking the unconscience girl, trying in vain to reverse time and make her child whole in the only way she knew how. My Mama tried to tell the mother, "stop shaking her; this will make it worse," but Mama didn't speak Spanish and the mother didn't speak English. My Dad ran to call an ambulance, and my sister and I stood still, as if someone had pushed paused via invisible remote control. The scene is seared into my brain as if by hot-iron branding. I prayed for that little girl throughout most of my childhood. To this day, I don't know if she made it.

As a spiritual discipline, prayer is one of the most mysterious. We never know for certain whether our prayers do any good to those for whom we pray. But I can attest to the change that takes place in the one doing the praying. It is, for example, very difficult to be angry about a traffic jam when you are offering up a prayer for those involved in the accident. Yesterday traffic rolled to a stand-still as the kids and I headed to our weekly lunch-date with Tobin. As we rounded a curve, I peered at the shoulder and saw the shattered remains of what was once a bright yellow motorcycle. I said, "Girls, let's say a little prayer for the person who crashed that motorcycle." Eleanor inquired, as if questioning my prayer triage decision, "Mama, what about that motorcycle? We should ask God to fix that motorcycle too, shouldn't we?" Hmm, I guess so...since it was such a pretty yellow and all...

In my line of work, I read a lot of files that contain horrific stories of abused children. An infant whose head is permanently misshapen because he spent so much time being ignored in his carseat. A 2 year old whose mother's boyfriend routinely bit him in the face as punishment. A mother so strung out on drugs that she didn't notice her 3 and 5 year old starting fires in the kitchen. Reading these stories, I feel helpless. I feel anger, despair, hopelessness. I stop working for a moment, and pray that this child, and this child, and this child will know what it is to be loved.

Today Eleanor's question told me that she's entered an age of awareness: a knowledge that we don't control the world, and that sometimes bad things will happen.

And so, I offer this prayer:

For children losing their innocence with the dawning of the awareness of suffering.

For children who have nowhere to turn when they feel afraid.

For children whose daily lives are scarier than our worst nightmares.

God, in your mercy, hear this prayer.