Tuesday, August 30, 2011


In like a lion, out like a lamb... or so the saying goes. In a weird twist of fate, The Storm (Hurricane Irene) has joined forces this weekend with The Beginning of School to morph into some weird lion headed beast battling against The End of Summer. Sadly it's not an even match and it's very apparent who will win. How does one fight back such a ferocious monster? Some would take up the chair and the whip to try to beat it into submission. I speak from experience when I say that tactic doesn't usually work. Fighting rage with rage never does. I lost it this week as I screamed ferociously about the state of T's Lego-strewn room. I think back onto that time and am appalled by my reaction. Deep down inside I know it's Time that is my enemy, threatening to turn my child into a high schooler--a transformation that starts in just a few short days. I am not one to take transitions smoothly.

Instead I've been turning my attention towards ways we can enjoy what's left of Summer as it fades away. Thursday T and I braved the rains to tour our favorite Farmer's Market where we met another mom and son dynamic duo. They had also braved the elements to bring their cart and delicious food to friends and neighbors. After an amazing meal of crepes and samosas T and I made our way home as the rains lifted. There was a moment on the highway when we glanced over to a breathtaking view of the setting sun casting the clouds and mountains in a golden hue. The fog was lifting, giving off an ethereal aura, as if we were traveling somewhere magical. T expressed his sadness that I couldn't stop to photograph it. I told him that I was truly happy to see it with him. That is what I want to remember, a scene I can replay in the years to come, not some humongous hissy fit about an untidy bedroom.

Last night I came home to an empty house. Seizing the moment of solitude I made a batch of blackberry scones for us to have at breakfast this morning. Armed with a cup of tea (a lovely lemongrass given to me by a dear friend) and an oat scone I spent the morning preparing for the coming storm. Part of that time involved listening to the new Matt Nathanson CD. At one point we were all up dancing, and I thought this, I want to remember this.

Afterwards we all got our rain jackets and headed to the car to do some much needed school shopping before the heavy rains came. We were all so unnaturally suited up, that T remarked something like “In Which We Head Out on an Expedition .” I could see it as a chapter heading in a book of stories. For this is a new chapter which we are about to begin. The two are so intertwined, and ironically you can't have an ending without a beginning. It's taken me years to come to this realization, but that doesn't mean I can accept any easier. Still, I have hope...

It just might be that Matt's new CD, “Modern Love” was the perfect music choice for us this morning. Looking through the booklet I saw lyrics such as 'less drowning, more land.' And 'you blew through me like a hurricane.' But in commenting about the inspiration behind these songs Nathanson writes that they were compiled around the idea of things 'smashed up against each other, working together.' The lion and the lamb, an exciting starting point and a slow quiet end. I know I'm not ready for the warm weather to leave us, nor I am ready for my son to enter this new phase in his life. And I am torn, between wanting to fight and fret or sit and be calm, making the last of these few moments. I know it does me no good to roar at the elements or the passing of time, both of which can make me insanely crazy at times. But I do know that armed with a good cup of tea and space to sit and enjoy it I can prepare myself for almost anything.

As the day drew to close we three sat in bed to read aloud from our current book, flashlights at the ready. The winds grew increasingly loud and gusted to high speeds. I watched my son jump up and walk out into them, a thrilled look on his face. Some of us love beginnings, it seems. I can see he's ready to embrace the excitement and make his own way.

Our lone sunflower is a volunteer.

Usually I plant a row or two along our front porch. Almost every year here since our first we've had a line of nodding sunflowers standing in haphazard, ineffectual guard. One year they nearly grew to the second-story windows; neighbors were placing bets. But this year, I missed the moment. Spring was hectic. I managed the tomatoes, the pumpkins, the potatoes which are now dead. I'm pretty sure I ordered sunflower seeds. I think I have several packets of seeds drifting somewhere in the house, maybe behind the guinea pig cages, or in the kitchen desk. Maybe in a boy's room. But only one flower in the yard and that one had to grow by its own effort.

It may not be there tomorrow. The wind has picked up. I don't know if you've heard, but there's this hurricane? Irene? Today was mostly rain. Our road is sink-holed, our basement is a lake. And we are lucky – our power is persistent and our structures are whole. Old covered bridges around the valley are crumbling with the weight of all that water. The towns to the east and west of us are flooded. I can hear our stream – that usually by this time of year is a weak trickle – roaring outside my window.

And maybe we'll lose some trees, a few boards off the coop, another inch or so of driveway gravel. As long as my family stays safe. And if I could put one more wish on the list – let the sunflower stay upright. She's got courage, that lion-faced flower, making her lone way in the wilds of my yard. 
Edited: posting was delayed by intermittent internet difficulty.  The sunflower survived upright.  But my basement of books did not.  Still, we are firmly in the camp of lucky.

Next Week's word: Bed

Sunday, August 21, 2011


When the fair comes to town...


Monday, August 15, 2011


When our little threesome left the big city for life in a northern town, we were still working for a large company and had the great fortune of having someone else come and move us. At first they sent just one guy to pack everything up. M said he watched him assess the four flights of stairs with a bit of apprehension, still confident that it was altogether an easy job. How much stuff could one attic apartment hold? I guess his jaw dropped when he saw that we basically had enough to furnish a whole house crammed into three little rooms. I would have liked to have been there to comfort him, maybe even lead him to the closets to show him the forty boxes we never unpacked the whole time we lived there. (See some of your work is already done...) Instead, eight-month old T and I spent the day at the local big bookstore reading, playing and having a bit of shortbread, or two. I found it to be eerily like the last few weeks of pregnancy. I had scheduled my maternity leave to start a week before my due date. (I really had no intention of going into labor at work, which would only confound my chances of getting to the hospital near my home.) One young co-worker suggested that I have the baby in the store elevator, that way everyone could watch. I quietly vetoed that idea and stayed with the original plan of being home and heading to the hospital at the appropriate time. As you can only imagine, that didn't turn out as expected. Our plumbing went out in the apartment so I spent a few days at the local bookstore looking at parenting magazines and imagining what the next few months would be like. And I read, in fact I finished a whole book just waiting.

Now eight months later I was back with baby in tow as the movers (more than one, as they realized our original guy needed reinforcements) packed our life's belongings to load into the truck as we made our way to be closer to M's family in Michigan. The stroller was loaded with diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes-- everything we might need for the day. I had a tiny little wallet on a string that held my drivers license and a silver pen that was molded into the shape of a fish. It had been a present from M and I loved having it with me, the heft of it in my hand. One minute it was hanging from the stroller, the next minute it was gone. I searched the store, the bathrooms, the magazine racks and children's area-- no luck. I felt slightly bereft, and have often thought of that time since.  I think of a silver pen, the hand that holds it and wonder...

It may be more on my mind recently because there have been a rash of robberies in our little town. Neighbors have been talking in hushed tones about missing computers, tools, instruments and other items that have enormous sentimental value. I really don't think we have anything that a thief would even want to take. Yet there are some things that I can't imagine living without, the loss would be unbearable. Listening to these neighborly conversations I have decided that I don't want to walk around with a look of suspicion on my face, a sense of vulnerability my constant companion. Instead I would hope that if someone wanted something of mine, if they desperately needed it-- that they would just ask. I would be happy to give something freely rather than have it taken from me. Here's the key, please take only what you need, and only if you promise to give it a good home.

I'm sitting in the tent, in the rain. It's raining. Hard. The tent leaks. And every rainy camping trip from my childhood is in here with me. All those loud days of boredom, all those damp pages turned in hopes by the end of the book the sun would come out. The cranky whine of a ten year old is tickling the back of my throat, as if any minute adult me will succumb to the verbal tools of a child. But only dear b is here to witness my tantrums, and so I keep them confined and tame, adult. Instead I mention casually that coffee is too far away, all the way down the road in the city. I bad-mouth the communal showers, call them functional. My fingers peck the keys in the same anti-rhythm as the drops on the stretched nylon above me.

But, really, rain, couldn't you have waited a few days? You've been fairly obliging all summer, one more week might have made me love you. You are stealing my three days of beach reading right out from under me. You are stealing my campfire. You are stealing photos of the sunlight bouncing off various objects both still and in motion. I'd like to walk to the bathrooms without getting wet. I'd like to take a walk. I'd like to quit glancing along the edges of the floor to measure the size of the puddles forming there; those tiny shores are getting closer to my sleeping bag.

I know the garden at home needs you. I know I should be grateful. People all over the world are dying for want of rain. But right now, here, you are a thief in my flimsy tent.

Next Week's Word: Joy

Monday, August 8, 2011


Last week I was Very Brave three times. I won't go into details, mostly because by listing my Brave Deeds on “paper” they'd be immediately subject to deflation. They'd go all lowercase and then I'd feel sad. So, trust me. I was Brave.

But along with Bravery comes an increase in the volume of the voices in my head. I know you know what I'm talking about.  I'm sure there are people in the world capable of consistent confidence - I've seen them in movies - but most of the people I hang around with are not immune to the voices: “You can't do this. You're not smart enough. You're not good enough. You're stupid to even try. Quit now before you make a fool out of yourself. You're stupid and ugly. And fat. And it took you seven years to learn how to cook eggplant. Because you're so stupid.”

I know! None of these things are actually true; it only took me five years to learn how to cook eggplant (the trick, I discovered, is in soaking the damn thing in salt water before you coat it in the bread crumbs). But those voices can be so loud it's hard not to be convinced of kernels of truth. A haircut helps. Cookies help. Drinks out with friends who don't even say once “Um, don't you think you're a bit too stupid for that?” when you reveal your three Brave Things – that helps. And age helps, even though one of the voices' favorite criticism is that I'm getting too old to wear certain shirts. The older I get the better I get at ignoring the noise around me. It's survival. If you listen, if you let those voices get loud enough to make you change your shirt, than it's like flowers dying on a vine. You're all brown dust and useless petals. 

The Sound of Style

I brought a hat to the hospital to wear
when we were brought the baby home.
At the last minute I panicked,
 unsure if I could wear it.
My husband said to me:
 “You will only bring this brand new boy
home once in your life.
You should wear what your heart desires.”
Some of the best advice I’ve ever received.

I try to hold those words in my heart
most mornings as I head to the closet,
not sure what to put on.
I often choose a patterned shirt or a colorful pair of pants,
only to hang them up again
in favor of being more conservative.

Truth be told, I love to wear my hair in pigtails,
to twirl in skirts with ruffles flying,
to put a pair of maryjanes on my feet and dance across the floor.
You might think I was inspired by the many young girls
that I see every day.
The ones that insist on dressing themselves,
the cry “I do myself” a constant refrain in the mornings.
Each outfit consisting of layers and prints that go together
perfectly—in their eyes.
If you were to think that I aspire to be like that,
you would be right.

Yet I worry that others will look my way
and think me silly,
that I am too old to be dressing as a child.
There is a fine line between brash and bold.
But in this day and age of media, ads and commercials
that yell their messages at the top of their lungs
and insist that you pay attention;
someone out there is always willing to
instruct on the latest fashions and insist on an acceptable style.
In response the voice inside becomes quiet and harder to hear.

Stop what you’re doing right now and listen to it.
There’s no need for you to follow the crowd.
Do not go gently into that good night.
Live your life out LOUD.
Be bold, bright and vibrant,
and always wear the shoes that make you happiest.

Next Week’s Word: Thief 

Monday, August 1, 2011



In Michael Chabon’s latest book, “Manhood for Amateurs,” two of the essays made me instantly smile with recognition. The first “To the Legoland Station” is quite obvious. Anyone who knows us has an idea of the number of LEGOs that reside here in bins, baskets and occasionally find their way to the floor to be discovered by an unsuspecting foot in the middle of the night. And though T is not as passionate about them as he used to be, he is in there scraping through drawers as I write; that familiar scratching sound of hands-moving-bricks-in-search-of-the-exact-right-piece making its way to my ears. The second essay, “The Amateur Family,” deals with my son’s latest obsession: Dr. Who. Chabon writes of his family’s intense love for this British sci-fi TV show, despite that fact that no one else really knows anything about it. This, he states, makes them geeks or nerds, though he doesn’t feel that either is quite the right moniker. Instead he feels an affinity with the term amateur: ‘someone who a lover, a devotee, a person driven by passion and obsession to do it--to explore the imaginary world-oneself.’

That certainly describes T, he somehow stumbled onto the show and has been in love ever since. He makes his allegiance known with tshirts, books and two sonic screwdrivers. (I guess it’s always good to have a spare.) I can only chuckle as I remember sitting with my own dad humoring his passion for cheesy effects and intriguing storylines as we watched the Doctor. If you’re not familiar with the show I won’t go into any details here, but urge you to do your own research. We as a family haven’t embraced the Doctor as one of our own, rather T has found himself a community of like- minded friends. He alternates between watching an episode with a group of kids from school one week, then spending a Saturday evening with an older British couple who are every bit as enthusiastic about plot twists as T himself. Collectively they all express outrage and sadness at the cliffhanger endings then as we reluctantly start the excruciating wait until the next season. Yet this down time affords the opportunity for poring over Who-related magazines and speculating about what will happen next. At times like this we hear so much about the Doctor and his companions that I start to wonder if I should set a place for them at dinner. What does one serve a regenerated time lord? I guess I’ll have to consult Martha and my own magazines for the proper etiquette.

Thinking about this intense love of characters both on screen and on the page reminded me of the read alouds we have done over the years as a family. What I love most is how certain phrases and words then work their way into our family vernacular. One of us will often hug a dog fiercely while exclaiming “He’s so fluffy!” in the style of “Despicable Me,” or sit down to eat pantomiming the fantastic movements of Mr. Fox as he devours his breakfast. In times of trouble we often are heard murmuring ‘Oh waily, waily, waily…’ as if the Wee Free Men were right here with us. These words, phrases, short hand if you will, make me happy to be a part of the very thing Chabon was addressing, the amateur family. As he puts it, ‘…maybe all along part of my desire to have so many children was the longing for a fan club to belong to, for imaginative fellowship, for the society of passionate amateurs like me.’

In an essay Noel Perrin wrote several years ago, he details his family’s love for “Watership Down.” It was a read aloud which was beloved by many family members. They even went so far as to choose one
of the rabbit words for their car’s license plate. Some days they would be driving along and would be greeted by a series of intense honks and waves. Knowing that they had met up with some kindred spirits who shared their love of Adams’s book, they eagerly honked in reply. I too loved “Watership Down” and when my bunny Dickens had a litter they were immediately named after the rabbits in the book. It was years ago, but I still remember that Pipkin was the runt and the sweetest one of all. On the back of our car we now proudly display a Dr. Who bumper sticker, it seemed an obvious choice given that we drive a big blue box. If you happen to see us scooting down the highway or tootling down a dirt road in your neighborhood, be sure to give us a honk or an enthusiastic wave; we’ll just assume you’re another one of those Whovians eager to meet up with a fellow fan.
Here's what I say to my middle boy whenever he does something horrifying and amazing: "Good thing you're made of rubber."  That kid cheats death four times a day.  He leaps down stairs, he crashes into walls and other sturdy objects, he flies through the air from great heights.  Like the other day when I picked him up from his last day of camp.  Instead of letting the swing slow down and dismounting from a more bearable speed he let go at the apex (still higher than my head) and landed in a belly flop on the grass.  Counselors came running, an older man walking past whistled, and I shrugged.  "Good thing you're made of rubber."  L brushed off his tummy and set upon the impossible task of finding his lunch pack in the wilds of camp equipment.

My older boy is the opposite.  T carries band-aids in his school bag.  He is always reminding us to stay hydrated.  Last week we ventured to the public swimming pool for the first time and the first thing he said was - after he made it verbally clear that he was not going in the water - "Oh good, they have a defibrillator on site."  Future doctor?  Nurse?  EMT?  I can see him going into health care not out of a sense of altruism but because dammit, the world is a dangerous place and someone's got to be able to fix this constant mess.  I'd be rather grateful if he learned how to stitch, staunch, and splint the broken bones his younger brother flirts with on an hourly basis.  Then I'd feel less guilty when L comes to me in tears and blood and the best I can do is apply a boo-boo kitty.

Same genes, same environment.  Vastly different boys.

Next Week's Word: Loud