16 December 2008

Oh, I'm Sorry But...

Christmas and blogging do not mix.

OMG! I cannot believe the madness that is my life right now! There's biscotti to make, Christmas programs to attend, Christmas pageants to rehearse (two separate events, mind you), angel dresses to come up with, Santa sale money to scrape together so my kids can buy cheap goods for everyone again this year, wreaths to make, rooms to clean, meals to plan, clutter to clear (we are hosting this year), and lots of presents to buy.

It's not that we go hog wild with gifts, but come on, with five kids, well, do the math. We are about half way through the shopping thing...with ideas and plans for most of the second half. Of course, it always turns wild at the last minute, but I guess I'll just have to figure out a way to ride through it with a smile on my face.

I'm thinking wine.

My oldest, usually an absolute BEAST to his siblings, came up with a beautiful idea tonight. After a particularly ugly ride home from school, and lots of yelling from mama, I had just about decided that my children are downright evil to each other, brutes, demons, just plain mean people.

Sam came to me:

"Mom, you know how everyone isn't being nice to each other? Well we should make a cradle for Jesus, and then we all pick names in secret for each other, and each time you do something nice for the person you picked, you put a piece of straw in the cradle for Jesus, and the more nice stuff we do, the better bed we will make for Jesus. But you don't tell anyone whose name you have, you just do nice things in secret and then add straw to the bed."

Ya coulda knocked me over with one of those pieces of straw.

So anyway, that's what we're doing tonight!

This comes right on the heels of me driving home amidst the meanness and nastiness and thinking for the umpteenth time How do we make this season about Christ and not about getting STUFF? How do we change this into something beautiful, something with a gravitas beyond consumption and consumerism? How, HOW HOW?

Samuel taught me how. So as soon as they finish watching The Polar Express, we'll be making that cradle.

There is hope!

10 December 2008

A Kid's Eye View of Chaos

Today, we got out of the house and on our way to school in spectacular fashion. Last night, we set aside ALL of the school clothes, down to socks for everyone. This may sound super basic, but it's just not something I'm very good at doing. Hence, the usual morning routine includes an incredible scramble for school clothes, tossing clean laundry around in a tizzy, hunting down socks, and generally cursing my complete failure as a laundress.

This morning: total bliss. No scramble. No chaos. No mayhem. It was lovely.

On the drive to school, I mentioned that I was so happy that we didn't have the usual stress of trying to find socks and shirts and such. My son offered an alternate view:

"I like all the chaos. Cuz when we have the chaos, we're late for school!"

08 December 2008

My New Entreprenurial Endeavor

Find a way to bottle this:

If I could bottle that emotion, I could single handedly bring down the Happy Pills industry. I could become an international hero for figuring out how to bring pure, unadulterated joy to millions. I could end the age old pursuit of Happiness.

I guess I'll just have to settle for being witness to such joy instead. Which is pretty awesome itself.

07 December 2008

High Art

I'll talk anyone's ear off about my second born's artistic ability. He is truly amazing, and not a day goes by that he doesn't churn out some real gems. He does, I think, see the world with an artist's eye, noticing shapes, colors, relationships, spaces. When he draws, he fills the page, including amazing detail. I've posted at least one of his creations on this blog, of course.

On Thanksgiving Day, my sister and I took all the kids to Grand Lake to run off some steam before having to be inside for a long meal. Vincenzo wanted to bring his sketch book, which made me so happy. It made me happy to see him so into drawing that he didn't want to leave the house without a sketch book and some pens.

He sat under a tree drawing for awhile. I recorded it for posterity:

I took a few photos, and later that evening, while looking at the pictures and getting all misty eyed at just how great my kids are, I noticed another picture of Vincenzo Van Gogh; in this one, you can see his subject. A butt.

So it might be hard to see here, but it's plain as day in my picture viewer; if you'd like to treat yourself to a closer view, click on the photo.

Leave it to an 8-year old boy to bring butts into the cultured world of art. Maybe someday he'll render a Picasso-like version, with sideways buttocks and shifting panels of color.

So much for High Art.

03 December 2008

Mothers of Daughters

Wow, it's been awhile since I've managed to post anything. And tonight is no different. But I DO have something you must watch, especially if you have daughters. Click here to visit my friend Nicole's blog and to watch a compelling video clip.

A must see.

22 November 2008

Lost and Found

The other evening, we all walked down to the local park to watch Dad play a little soccer. The park is only two blocks away. Out the front door, one block down to the corner, a left turn, and one short block to the park.

Everyone had some mode of transportation. Cenzo had his bike, Lola hers (which she can't actually ride -- that was interesting), Elizabeth a tricycle, and Tallulah one of those little toddler-push-car-things. I brought the stroller, for tired babies on the way home. Rick and Sam were already there.

Cenzo wanted to ride ahead of us, and knowing that his dad was already at the park, and that it was two short blocks away, I agreed. He headed off down the street, made the turn just fine, and arrived safely.

An hour later, it was time to go home. It was getting dark. Dad and Sam hopped in the truck to drive home, and I made Vincenzo wait until they were on their way before letting him take off on his bike. I made my way home with the three girls and the various wheels we were all using. When I got home, it was a bustle of activity, wheels being put away, soccer gear everywhere, hungry people clamoring for food. I did not notice one important detail:

Vincenzo was not home.

Rick, not aware that I had sent Cenzo home on his bike, didn't know either. As it turns out, the poor kid had forgotten to turn at our street, and had gotten lost. We discovered this when Samuel came in the house (he had been out in front helping unload the truck) to say that some teenagers had brought Vincenzo home.

In one instant, terror and relief gushed through my body, leaving me all at once exhausted. I thanked the boys -- three nice kids -- and brought my son inside. He was clearly shaken to the core. I asked him what happened, and he managed to say, before bursting into tears, that he had forgotten to turn, and then just got too confused to figure out where to go. When the boys came along, they asked him if he was lost. He knew his address, so they were able bring him home.

That's all he was able to say before he refused to talk about it anymore, and wouldn't let me hug him, touch him, or even look at him.

My child is home. He is safe, he is whole, he is himself. The floor is still solidly underneath my feet and time has continued to march along. But oh my -- for the briefest of minutes, things could have been so different. He was missing for probably no more than 20 minutes, but those 20 minutes upset him very much. He had experienced terror for the first time in his life, and it took a toll. He spent the rest of the evening looking stunned and disturbed, like he had been whacked in the head.

When I think of him out there by himself, not knowing how to get back to us, scared, vulnerable, alone, darkness descending, the hairs on my arm stand up and a chill runs down my spine. When I think about how I didn't even realize he wasn't home, I feel truly awful.

After tucking him in bed that night, I sat down next time him and talked quietly about what had happened. I didn't want to make him cry, but I knew I had to help him think about it. He did start to cry, but I told him that I was proud of him for telling the boys where he lived. I told him that if those boys had not come along, we would have come out and found him, we would not have left him out there. I told him he was safe and home and with his family. He asked me if I had ever gotten lost when I was a kid. I had not, I told him, but his dad had. So we went downstairs to talk to dad about it.

He recovered fully, of course. But I am left with a little less enthusiasm for Free Range Kids, and little more awareness of how we need to prepare them to negotiate the world, even when that world is only two small blocks long.

We can't protect them from everything, from fearful experiences, from tragedies that almost happen. I wish he never had to experience those 20 minutes. I wish I had that evening back, so I could stop and go over the route with him before watching him ride off into the twilight. But he is where he belongs; and I haven't stopped being grateful for that since pulling him back into the house. And I haven't stopped being grateful for the three young men who brought him home.

19 November 2008

Morning Glories

13 years ago, I wouldn't have known a Morning Glory if it climbed up my leg.

But then, we planned a wedding reception in my mom and dad's back forty. The wedding was in June, and during the winter months leading to the big day, we of course were busy with plans and ideas for making the day wonderful. In the back yard, there stood an old broken down shed, one side of which faced the area we wanted to use as a dance floor. It wasn't such an attractive look for a wedding reception, so we decided to plant something to grow up the side of the wall.

We chose Morning Glories. One cool morning in March, my mom and I went out and planted the tiny seeds at the base of the shed wall. What an act of faith. I didn't believe that something so simple and small would work, that the vine would grow, the flowers bloom. I wasn't then, nor am I now, much of a gardener; that job is reserved for my dear spouse, who was, I think, born with his hands in the earth. But for me, planting those seeds was a rather foriegn thing.

You mean, that's it? That's all I do? Stick these tiny little specs in the ground and...wait?

Because it was spring, we didn't even have to water the little seeds. Mother Nature took care of that.

By June 18, 1996, the wall of the shed was covered with thick vines and glorious purply-blue flowers. They were bold and wild and absolutely perfect.

The simplest act yielded the greatest beauty.


On our morning commute to school, if I use the freeway instead of surface streets, the offramp I take is lined with Morning Glories. While waiting there for the light to change from red to green, I look over and see the familiar purply-blue flowers, brightening up an otherwise gritty, urban space. They remind me of so many things, of my wedding day, certainly, but also of my skepticism, and then my conversion to believing in the simple act of planting seeds, to having faith in beauty, strength, and the reliability of little things.

Mother Theresa says: "Do small things with great love."

Believe that what seems too meek a thing can in fact yield exactly the results you are seeking.


When my children think the world is too scary, when I can't seem to hammer life's most important lessons into this one's head or that one's heart, when it seems like too many things that I have no control over happen to my kids: believe that small and simple make a difference.

18 November 2008


This morning I heard snippets of Bill Ayers being interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air. I felt the same way I felt listening to Colin Powell describe his reasons for endorsing Barack Obama: Finally! Some intelligent political discourse!

If you live in the Bay Area, you have two more opportunities today to listen. It will be on KQED (88.5) at 1pm and on KALW (91.7) at 6pm.

If you don't live in the Bay Area, go to the Fresh Air website to locate a local station that will broadcast the show.

I really don't know yet what I think of Ayers politics, but I was so impressed with his articulate and thoughtful approach to how politics and social issues are discussed in this country. It gives me hope that the conversation really can change.


11 November 2008

Thank You Playground Monitors

Well, it's close to over. The day is almost done.

And I didn't do any permanent damage to anyone's psyche, theirs or mine.

What helped: Using a gift card to take them out to lunch. Daddy coming to the rescue and getting them out of here about an hour and a half ago. Neighbor dropping off a bottle of wine.

It was hard. But I made it. They made it. And they are bringing pizza home with them. The house is still a total mess, and I still have to do school uniform laundry, and my desk still looks like a paper factory sneezed on it, but I have the warm wine fuzzies and no one has asked me a damn thing for an hour and a half.

Thank you, playground monitors.

Calling All Playground Monitors

We behave better in public, don't we?

None of us has unleashed our loudest scream, our roughest grab, our meanest retort while standing with other moms at the playground, right? We save such behavior for those days when the walls are closing in and the only witnesses are under four feet high.

I'm facing one of those days head on right now. It's 8:30 in the morning and I've been up for two and a half hours. I've already initiated three time outs and settled a handful of fights. I've listened to the boys scream at each other and yell at their sisters. I should be doing laundry and washing dishes. I need to have the kids clean their rooms. I should unpack and make room for the new set of dishes we were given. I should clean off my desk so that I can make room for my brain to function.

But all I can really do right now is hope that I make it through the next ten minutes without exploding at my kids. Anyone who is not a mother may not understand just how literally true it is that I cannot do any single thing for more than five minutes without being interupted by one, two, three or more requests or demands. I can't move through a single room with being pulled in 10 different directions, none of them the one I had hoped to go.

So I figured: use the blog. So you, dear readers (all 6 of you), are hereby transformed into the other moms at the playground. I hereby pledge to act as if I'm mothering my children in your presence, in the hopes that you will keep a lid on my temper and my yells down to a meaningful growl.

My goal is to be able to announce tonight that the playground monitors did their job and I didn't lose my cool with the kids. It's a day when I am painfully aware that these kids will learn from my example. They will deal with adversity as they see me deal with a long holiday with everyone home when there is too much to do and no way in hell to get it all done. Here's hoping that when I post again tonight, I am able to say (without lying) that I didn't do too badly and that even if I didn't keep everyone smiling, I didn't do any real damage to their psyches.

Here's hoping.

10 November 2008


40 days.
40 nights.
40 thieves.
40 ouncers.
40 lashes.

And 40 years. That's what I got. And just in case I have any doubt about what 40 is, my son clarifies:

He actually put 40 candles on my cake in this picture! It took him forever, during which time I was not allowed in the dining room/art room. It's kinda hard to serve dinner without going into the dining room. I actually carried food in there and served his sisters with my eyes closed. Silly. But the card is priceless, no?

And turning 40 isn't so bad. My eye twitch has slowed down to only 2 or 3 per minute and I haven't heard my bones creak in a good half hour or so and if I wear the right bra, I sorta feel like I'm still 20! Well, you know, 20 but sleep deprived, battered, bruised, broken, chewed up, spit out, stomped upon, climbed over, and really really hoarse.

Bring it on world: if five kids can't send me to the looney bin, then I can handle anything.

30 October 2008

Beautiful Game, Beautiful Girl

We are a "wee bit" soccer mad in the house.

Rick coaches our two boys' teams, and Lola is on a team too. We go to three soccer games each Saturday. We have five practices per week. The boys -- meaning dad + sons -- play in an adults/kids pick-up game on Sunday evenings. Rick often takes the kids to various soccer clinics offered by our league. We watch lots of soccer on TV (international soccer being the one and only reason we have cable). I endure quite a bit of soccer in my living room.

We have an unfathomable amount of soccer cleats piled up in our garage. It looks like we could outfit Manchester United, if they all had small feet.

These kids got moves, man. Even Elizabeth and Tallulah move the ball around the house with their feet.

Lola is emerging as quite a little player, dazzling us with her step overs and her dribbling and her dancing with the ball. When we tell her she's got a game the next day, she makes fists of both her hands, pulls her elbows backwards, and yells "YES!" She's been scoring like a mad woman, once scoring 4 goals in one game. She loves that ball. She wanted a Mia Hamm cake for her birthday this year.

She's a beautiful girl, playing The Beautiful Game:

Look for her in the Women's World Cup of 2019!

29 October 2008

Note To Self

Tonight, as Vincenzo was doing his homework, he asked me if I would do it for him.

He was being funny.

So I said "Nope! But nice try, buddy," as I walked back into the kitchen and the dish-washing extravaganza that was my evening.

He hollered into the kitchen: "See, this is why I think parents should drink more beer."

Apparently, if I drink more beer, I will forget silly rules like do your own homework and will gleefully fill in the blanks and look up kangaroo rat in the index and read Chapter 5, Lesson 2.

Note to self: stay away from the children's homework when enjoying the drink.

28 October 2008

May I Have Another?

Right now, I am enjoying a delicious, organic free trade banana ...

... from Peru.

Imagine the fossil fuel needed to get this banana into my kitchen. I'm pretty sure that cancels out the organic free trade deal.

Good God, this is a screwy world.

Pass the oil soaked bananas, please! I sure hope there are enough for everyone!

27 October 2008

So Exciting

The election is only a week and a day away. This is the most exciting election I've ever paid attention to. This past weekend, we took the kids to a Bake Sale for Obama, held by a friend of ours in Berkeley. Spending a little money on yummy goodies for the kids was a very small act indeed, in the pantheon of political action, but in my crazy life it's about all I could manage.

And I must say, I am quite proud of us, and really do feel like we have done a little something to further the cause. The bake sale raised $350 for Obama -- maybe small potatoes, but potatoes nonetheless. And the thought of hundreds or thousands of people around the country doing the same? Goose-pimply, I say. Inspiring and goose-pimply.

I am excited and scared for the election: scared if he wins and scared if he loses, because the racism that exists in this country will not sleep through the next few weeks, and we know from experience that anything can happen. I'm excited, though, to stand up in a country that will elect Barack Obama.

We are on the brink of history!

23 October 2008

Now Where Did I Put My Xanthum Gum?

The take home message from a great evening with Michael Pollan: Use some freakin' common sense, people!

He’s a whole lot more eloquent than that. Here are a few of his “rules” for eating:

  • Don’t eat something that has more than five ingredients on the label, or whose ingredients cannot be pronounced by your fifth grader.
  • Don’t eat anything that won’t rot.
  • If a product has lots of health claims on the label, don’t buy it. (The claims or the product!)
  • Don’t eat something your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

Your grandmother didn’t have high fructose corn syrup in her pantry, or lecithin, or Xanthum Gum. She didn’t need to put Xanthum Gum on her grocery list in order to feed her family, and there was no HFCS in her bread.

If you’ve read Pollan’s book In Defense Of Food, you’ll remember that he related the story of how then Senator George McGovern tried, in 1977, to develop food guidelines that would address the growing public health concern over saturated fat. After a couple of days of hearings, he came up with language that said, in nice plain English: Eat less red meat.

Seems like good advice. Seems reasonable.

Unless you are the beef industry, in which case it seems like the worst advice ever. So, enter an interested third party into the public policy process and viola! We end up with: Choose meats that will reduce your intake of saturated fats. Blah-de-blah-de-blah-de-blah. That’s not advice that people can easily incorporate into their lives, and this was especially so in 1977, when folks didn’t really know what saturated fats were, or which meats would reduce their intake of them. But Big Food got involved and protected their own special interests, sacrificing common sense and public health in the process. Right on for the almighty dollar.

Michael Pollan made me mad. Well, not him so much as what he is uncovering about food policy, production, and consumption. The way that the food industry has mucked around with public policy in order to protect – and boost – their profits…the way the US has dictated how developing nations feed their poor by buying wheat from us instead of from their own farmers…the way even milk is problematic because of the high levels of hormones now found in it. It’s all fairly overwhelming and depressing. So thanks, Michael, for a lovely evening.

I am trying to inch my way towards a Slow Food lifestyle. We are planning a garden for the spring time, we are learning all we can about the food around us, and we are talking about how to carve out the time and space to cook with whole foods more than we already do. We are trying to go local.

It’s baby steps, though, people. As recently as a few weeks ago, I fed my kids Foster Farms corn dogs – which probably epitomize everything that is wrong with food in this country – and I was relieved to have something quick and easy in the freezer to shove down their throats. Too bad it wasn’t actually food, but let’s not quibble.

One of the more compelling ideas in Pollan’s work is the notion that Slow Food is really about traditional culture, and that the loss of knowing how to produce, prepare and eat food in a sustainable, holistic, healthy way is really a loss – or at least a separation from – the traditions and cultures we have come from. As Pollan points out, people used to know what to eat and didn’t spend much time worrying about food. I have a lot to learn to bring that culture back into my own family and kitchen, but that’s the picture of family I have in my head: people who enjoy preparing and sharing food that is delicious and varied and savored. I want food and eating to be a celebration in this house, not a chore or a utilitarian endeavor.

Okay, so Rick may find that hard to believe, given how much I grumble about feeding people. Even so, it really is true.

And yet, the reality is that I have five kids, one part time job, a few freelance gigs, and one business to help Rick run; Rick has his business to run, gardens to install, two soccer teams to coach, and yes, the five kids as well. We are running from the minute we get up in the morning – always later than we had planned – to the minute we collapse at night, which occurs when we just can’t push ourselves one minute longer. I have no idea how to fit Slow Food into our lives right now; I just know that I want this, I want to learn how to do this.

My next book? Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. More inspiration for my quest!

22 October 2008

Steve Martin: Source of Hope

Steve Martin was on Fresh Air today. I adore Steve Martin. I hated his humor when I was younger -- his goofy 70's stuff -- but now I appreciate it, and I adore everything he's done since his stand up days. The interview was about those days, because his autobiography called Born Standing Up, about that part of his career, just came out in paperback.

Although he was speaking about his 18 years of doing stand up comedy, and my life is anything but stand up funny, I still found a great source of hope in one thing he said: "One can have affection, it turns out, for the war years." Or something to that effect.

So in other words, I may someday look back in affection at the years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds I am spending wiping butts, cleaning spills, stepping on corn flakes, laundering socks, cooking for ingrates, soothing tears, brokering peace deals, shopping for groceries, answering questions, serving as a jungle gym, craving silence, hoping for the best, washing dishes, flying in the dark, making beds, finding shoes, tying shoes, packing lunches, pretending I know what I'm doing, and generally creating people.

Oh yes, of course I knew this, but it was fun to be reminded of such an essential truth by Steve Martin, one of the great sages of our time.

I wonder why Steve Martin never had kids...he would've been a great dad, don't you think?


Tune in tomorrow: I'll be posting about Michael Pollan after I go see him speak tonight! My guru!


And for those of you with blogs of your own or really for ANYONE who writes down anything at all about her life, here's a gem to read from a blog I visit whenever I have the courage. Enjoy, and go back for more: she's wonderful.

18 October 2008


I've already been pregnant several times, but tonight, I asked my husband to keep me barefoot.

I adore red wine. I can't sing its praises enough. I pray fervently that "In vino veritas" is true, because life is better with red wine, and if red wine = truth, then my life is both better and more truthful than it seems when I have no red wine trickling through my veins.

So thank you Rick, for keeping me in Barefoot. And thank you, Raley's, for putting Barefoot on sale.

15 October 2008

A Squat With a View

We took care of our favorite golden retriever this weekend. I was pregnant with Elizabeth when our own beloved golden girl went on to Dog Heaven (fire hydrants plentiful…tennis balls for the asking…humans on call to scratch a furry belly…no leashes…puppy paradise). Elizabeth adores the dog we are lucky enough to care for a few times a year, and is beside herself with excitement when Silka comes to stay; equally distraught when she leaves.

But she didn’t know until this last visit just how much there is to discover with a dog around.

We were all in the kitchen, living through the usual dinnertime mayhem. Rick and I were trying to make dinner while simultaneously shepherding folks through homework, changing poopy daughters, talking about business tasks, catching up on the day, and keeping sharp objects from the 2-year old. It was noisy and fun and not fun and exhausting and full.

Then Rick says, “Mon, look at Elizabeth.” I look down, and there she is, crouching right behind Silka, gingerly pinching the dog’s tail between her thumb and forefinger and holding it high above her head. Head cocked to one side, her brow furrowed in concentration and study, she gazed intently at one specific spot underneath the poor pup’s tail, fascinated for a good 30 seconds. We watched as she, of furrowed brow, studied the hole she spied and pondered its depths. She looked like someone lost in time and space: siblings swirling around, chaos reigning, and in that moment, time slowed to a halt; all that existed for her was in full view: Silka’s asshole.

Then, “I’m going to cover that up.” And she dropped the tail, a look of disgust and disturbance on her face, and moved on to her next activity.

I failed to get a photo, so here’s a sketch:

30+ seconds of gazing in wonder at a dog’s anus. This is the kind of discovery reserved for children. Thank God.

13 October 2008

12 October 2008


Proof that there's a little bit of Martha lurking in us all:

I made this cake for Samuel, for his 10th birthday party, which we celebrated today at the local pool. I took a big chance, having an October party at a swimming pool, but it worked excellently! First, the weather was great, and second, the rest of the world is on to other activities at this point in the Fall, and we had almost the entire place to ourselves.

He chose a Rock and Roll theme; in a few weeks, he is going to be Brian Setzer for Halloween. (Well, if I can find a blond pompadour wig, he is. Any suggestions? Send them my way.) Last week, he decided he wanted to give his friends a song book, filled with lyrics from some of his favorite songs. So he spent lots of this past week typing the lyrics on the computer. Play, listen, pause, type. Next line: Play, listen, pause, type. It took him a long time, but it was definitely a labor of love for him. He came up with some pretty creative lyrics, too! My favorite was the line from Stray Cat Strut: "I wish I could be as caffiene wild..." (For anyone not familiar, the line is actually "I wish I could be as carefree and wild.")

He also burned CDs with some of his favorite songs, and gave these to his friends as party favors. (This was his dad's fabulous idea: why didn't I think of that?) His taste casts a wide net on the music world. His CD featured Bob Dylan (not a word, family members, not a word!), Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Stray Cats, Alicia Keys, U2, and John Fogarty (local boy!). He designed a cover for the CD case, and included a play list on the inside. It was an inexpensive, easy and fun way to give his guests a "goody" that was way more interesting than the usual cheap chotchsky crap that no one wants, no one needs, was probably produced with slave labor and gross chemicals, will end up in the landfill sooner rather than later, and may in fact be part of the reason our trade deficit is so high and our banking system is collapsing.

But I digress.

In true family tradition (my side), Sam's cake did get a little something extra added to it: Lola dropped the neck of the guitar on the sidewalk right in front of the Swimming pool. I don't think much grit got in there, but I just plopped the thing right back on the tray and pretended nothing happened. Family tradition, because we Murphy's have been known to eat patio lasagna and kitchen floor cake in our day. (If your child slaves away for an afternoon, making lasagna the slow way, and then drops it on the patio as she is delivering it to a waiting family, you scoop it up, pick out the trumpet vine, and eat the damn thing, right Katy?)

And tomorrow, our fourth child turns four. We have four birthdays in six weeks at our house, and that six weeks comes to a thundering close tomorrow. Well, not really, since we will have a little party for Elizabeth in a week or two. As the last child to celebrate her birthday in 2008, she may have to settle for one pooped out mommy who is plumb done with creative birthday party ideas. (I will be frosting another cake tomorrow...if it's "Martha-worthy" maybe I will post it.)

And I close a long day with these questions: Is it possible to have a birthday party for a child that does not render one utterly spent and useless by the end of the day? Can one throw a birthday party without losing one's mind? I really must know what is possible, so I know whether to keep on fighting the good fight...

**edited on October 13th, to add a photo of the birthday boy**

11 October 2008

Why Not?

Rick found an essay on the New York Times website tonight, by Verlyn Klinkenborg. (In much the same way I would like to be Nina Totenberg, Rick would like to be Verlyn Klinkenborg.) Klinkenborg is an essayist who writes about The Rural Life for the Op Ed page. He is thoughtful and observant.

The essay Rick found is from October of 2007, and it has gotten me thinking. I love writing this blog. I love having this outlet to write about funny things my kids do, or about days that would make me cry if I didn't find a way to laugh , or about ideas that percolate in my head.

Even though I love it so much, I recently stopped posting for almost three weeks. This was a particularly stressful time for us, with work and school and work and soccer and work and feeding people taking up most of our time and energy. But other weeks have been as full, and I've still managed to post. So why the break?

Well, I think it has something to do with Politeness and Authority. In this essay, Klinkenborg explores the idea that women writers tend to apologize for their own ideas, to avoid offending others. I have a million ideas a day to write about, most of which end up in one of the trash bins of my mind labeled: NO ONE CARES or YOU CAN'T SAY THAT or THAT'S JUST PLAIN STUPID. When pressed, I can admit that I do not actually believe this. I really do believe that I have something to say. I do not, however, behave this way.

I took a break from blogging because blogging was starting to scare me. Reading Klinkenborg's essay tonight took the questions roiling around in my head and placed them squarely on the page where I had to face them:

Why not, I asked, be as smart and perceptive as you really are? Why not accept what you’re capable of? Why not believe that what you notice matters?

I enjoy making people laugh with my posts -- and lots of people have told me how much fun it is to read about my children's shenanigans. But I've got more to say than that my daughter didn't wear underwear to Mass or that my laundry pile is threatening to stage a coup. And I shy away from those interesting ideas. Blog guidelines suggest that you find a voice for your blog, a niche, a "persona" of sorts. I don't think mine has one. But I do know that it's hard to swing back and forth between silly little anecdotes about my kids and more weighty topics like what I really think of Sarah Palin, the fears I harbor about my parenting, or the spiritual side of living a chaotic, messy, stressful life. I want to write about both. I need a little courage to do so.

Women everywhere should read Klinkenborg's essay. And then answer that question for themselves: Why not believe that what I notice matters?

10 October 2008

How Sad

The highlight of my day was this:

Driving to the store to buy coffee. It's the only thing I bought, and I was gone for about 20 minutes.

I was by myself. It was quiet. It was a little slice of heaven.

How sad.

08 October 2008

Crime and Shoelaces

I don’t even know how to begin to process this day.

Let me start by saying that the reason women should stay home and not work outside the home is that kids need shoelaces in their shoes and someone to comfort them when they are traumatized. And I really needed to be that person today. Yes, daddies can re-lace shoes and provide comfort, but what if I want to be the one who does that? After all, I got to carry them around for nine months (OK, more like 45 months, plus another month for their combined lateness) and I got to bring them forth into this world…and I AM THE MOMMY.

There is an episode of Mad About You that takes place right before Jamie gives birth. She and Paul are arguing about who is going to do what after the baby is born, and she basically has this moment of realization where she says, and then says repeatedly as it starts to sink in: “I’m the mommy!” She travels the spectrum from indignation to trepidation to abject fear, as the full scope of those three words sinks in and she realizes how much her life is going to change. I love that scene, because it captures, with a light touch, what I couldn’t have known the first time I saw it: That the privilege and responsibility of being a mother is alternately a blessing and burden, a joy and a hardship. The children themselves are not the hardship; it’s the attendant chaos and complication and challenges that really get ya’ down.

So what happened today? Well, it’s a nearly impossible task to paint the full picture, but the highlights are that we started off the day fighting about homework. Then, that fight was interrupted by a full blown crime scene unfolding out our front window. No one was hurt, thankfully, but a would-be robber attempted to steal items out of a school bus, traumatizing the kids on the bus, the mother who was getting her child on the bus, the bus driver, and finally, my children, who witnessed Act II of the unfolding drama – suspect running away and mother screaming for help – right out our front window.

Did I mention that the bus was one for special needs kids? Yes, that’s another lovely detail of the whole story. The guy actually pulled over in his own car in order to rob the school bus, which was idling in front of our neighbor’s house while she was helping her son into his seat. He stepped into the bus, said he had a gun (which he probably did not), and tried to take a few children’s backpacks before grabbing the bus driver's briefcase and running back to his car. This is when our neighbor, started screaming for the Police, which is what brought us all to our front window.

Rick ran outside to help the mom, our neighbor, and I ran to the phone to call the police. Our kids were left to get an eyeful of the commotion outside. They saw the guy running to his car, confronting their dad and exchanging a few words, flinging the bag he had stolen and driving away. They saw the poor mom screaming after the guy, clearly shaken to her core. They saw neighbors come streaming out of their houses. They could hear me, shaky myself, talking to the 911 dispatcher and telling her what little I could. It was an intensified few minutes. It was very upsetting to the kids.

One of our kids, in particular, was extremely upset. He wanted to know:

"Why would someone do that? Don’t people like that care that there are children in the world, and things like that scare them? I hate all this grown-up stuff, why did this have to happen, what is going on…”

And on and on and on. We had quite the ride to school, culminating with the child in question saying:

"I can’t get the pictures out of my head! I feel like it happened to me; I feel like something precious was taken from me."

I reassured him that nothing of his was taken, that he was safe, that he would be safe for the entire day, blah de blah de blah. But of course, I was thinking how something precious was indeed taken from him: the ability to believe that bad things don’t happen right outside his front door.

And the shoelaces. Vincenzo’s school shoes got so messed up last night that Rick cut the laces out of them. Today was a free dress day at school, and knowing this, I figured he would wear other shoes and give me a day to get new laces. I forgot that the kid is down to two pairs of shoes, not counting sandles. And we couldn’t find the second pair. In all of the excitement over the school bus incident, I didn’t even realize he was shoe-less until very late in the game. The shoe drama unfolded like this. Keep in mind that in the background, we have upset kids still processing the crime scene, so to speak. Maybe his shoes are in the truck? Oh wait, Rick is down the street giving a police report, and I don’t have a key to his truck. Call Rick, he can’t come back to the house yet, he really is talking to the police. Finally a neighbor brings me Rick’s keys, I check the truck, the shoes aren’t there. OK, where else? The soccer bag! Into the garage to try to find the soccer bag. And yes! The shoes are there. But they are SOAKED and muddy from the soccer game on Saturday, and they’ve been sitting in that bag for four days. They’re gross. Back to square one. No extra laces in the all-purpose kitchen drawer. No other shoes in his room I can take laces out of. Head to girls’ room, where I finally find a pair with plain white laces I can use. Rip them out of Lola’s shoes, string them into Vincenzo’s. Great, now he will go to school with his feet inside of shoes. Hallelujah.

I was handling all of this while keeping in mind that I had to get to work on time. Not because I work for ogres, but because I really need to get some work done, and the to-do list there is ever increasing. I was handling all of this while packing 5 lunches, remembering to sign and return 3 progress reports, finding $5 for the donation to the homeless shelter the school is doing, trying to calm the fears and anxieties of the masses, trying to explain how evil exists in the world, trying to be a rock of calm and steady perseverance for my children, as we rocked in a sea of chaos.

And it upset me, that I couldn’t just stop the world and give all of us the time and space we needed in order to enter the day peacefully. The racing and rushing is tough most days, but today, it nearly did me in. I had one of those moments when I wished with all my heart that I wasn’t working outside the home, that I could be one of those moms who has five packets of shoe laces in her all-purpose kitchen drawer, who can take as much time as necessary to calm fears and soothe worries.

And the day closes with chaos still swirling about. Boys still awake and not settling down. Noodles all over one corner of the dining room (thank you, 2-year old). Dirty dishes on every inch of countertop. Laundry threatening to achieve world domination. Legos everywhere. Truly everywhere. Work to do. Miles to go. Children to love.

I know we will make; I just don’t have a clue how.

05 October 2008

Hide and Seek, Revisited

Today has been a looooooooooooong afternoon at home. Rick and I went into cleaning frenzy mode this morning, and then he had to leave for a meeting and had to take the van to drive other people as well. Which left me here with my offspring and no vehicle. It's been great! They watched a Star Wars movie, they drew and colored for a long while, and then a raucous game of Hide and Seek ensued.

Lola got bonked -- hard -- right before her turn to be the seeker, reducing her to tears and almost causing her to quit in 6-year old frustration. To make her feel better, Vincenzo told her that he would leave a clue near where he was hiding: he would hang up his stuffed monkey close by. He is the best hider of the bunch and is always the last to be found. So pretty soon, the three players were running around looking for him together.

Imagine listening to your tribe of children running through the house shouting: "LOOK FOR THE HUNG MONKEY! LOOK FOR THE HUNG MONKEY!"

These are the afternoons they will remember. Me too. Probably for different reasons!

01 October 2008

A Milestone Event

10 years. He's been in my life for 10 years. I've been a mother for a decade. Happy Birthday to my absolutely wonderful and amazing son Samuel. When he arrived on the scene, I hadn't a clue in the world what I was doing: he has taught me everything I know about being a mother.

His laughter lights up a room. His questions fire up my imagination and my thoughtfulness. His love of music has rekindled my own. His love of books reminds me of myself at 10 years old. His legs and feet have a way of catching on the smallest item imaginable, and dumping him in a clunky heap on the floor. His sensitivity is a constant reminder to me that all children hear, see, and absorb what happens around them. His love for his baby sister is palpable. His disgust at his other sisters is almost as equally palpable. His tenacity rivals only that of his father's. Actually, he might have his dad beat on that front. His highs and lows bring me right along with him, for every elated discovery and every crushing disappointment. His gift to me is this adventure called family.

And the milestone? Not that he is ten. No, the milestone is this: As I sat at my pathetic excuse for a desk, working late into the night, he came stumbling down the stairs because he could hear me in the kitchen. Sleepy and newly 10, he climbed into my lap with a mumbled, "I know I'm getting too big for this..." I didn't mind. But what's this? A new experience! My son stinks! His armpits stink!!! HE HAS B. O.! Time for deodorant!

What a way to ring in a new decade, don't you think?

I gave him an ice cream sandwich at 1:00am to celebrate his birthday. I tried to take his picture, but he was so sleepy that his attempts at smiling looked much more like miserable grimmaces. Shortly after the ice cream, my great big little tiny boy hugged me, kissed me, and crawled back to bed.

Thank God for middle of the night visits from children. Really.

22 September 2008

Waving White Flag Now

Here is what I am up against.

After numerous attempts to get the kids up and moving for school, I resorted to the timer. "If you're not dressed in 5 minutes, no soccer practice tonight." What ensued can only be described as miraculous, since no one who is as tired and immobile as my children were could possibly object with such force and vitality, were it not for some supernatural force moving within them.

They made the 5-minute deadline. Completely dressed, to the shoes. Tied. And then, I had to have an argument with One Son that went something like this:

Son: "It's impossible to get dressed in 5-minutes, mom."

Me: "But you did!"

Son: "But it's not possible. You can't ask us to do that, it's just impossible."

Me: "But you did it! In less than 5 minutes!"

Son: "It's impossible, mom. Don't ask us that again."

A variation on The Sky is Blue, No, the Sky is Green repartee.

And this: After voicing my profound displeasure at how long it took the boys to settle down the night before, and in true parent overdrive, driving home the point that if they go to bed too late they will have trouble getting up in the morning, I said the following: "I am not saying this to be mean or to make you miserable, but you really need to settle down at night when we tell you to!"

Son: "You want me to be miserable?"

For every parent that thought they would never utter "WHAT DID I JUST SAY!" in righteous indignation, I tell you that particular goal is a pipedream.

21 September 2008

But We Made It On Time

Yes we did. We made it to Mass on time today, no small feat for our family of seven, and not a common occurance either.

Today it was our turn to do donuts. This entails buying 6 dozen donuts in the morning and setting up the hall downstairs, getting the coffee started, pouring the juice, loading the trays, etc. Given the extra stop, we had to leave especially early.

We made it! And upon arriving at the church, here's what I discovered. First, the baby's shoes were not, in fact, underneath her car seat, as I was sure they were when I was getting her dressed. Second, my oldest son's jeans were filthy. Ground-in grass stains on both knees. Nice. And third, I had forgotten to put underwear on my three-year old. She was wearing a lovely dress and some too-small tights...and no skivvies. No biggee, right? She was wearing tights, after all. Well, too-small tights have a tendency to ride to the floor, which hers did quite a bit, being as how she was extra-squirmy in the pew.

And the fourth thing I discovered is that it is hard to be prayerful when you are preoccupied with the possibility of your child flashing the nice older couple sitting behind you. The specter of your lovely offspring pulling a Britney Spears in the House of God is just too distracting.

However, everything remained decent. Plus, after much searching and tossing things about, I did find a pair of shoes for the baby. And I don't think anyone looked at Sam's knees.

Everyone ate the donuts and we made it home. A successful Sunday morning.

16 September 2008

Thyroid Disease: The Good Ole Days

Shortly after my third child was born, I started having some strange symptoms. I shook all the time, my hair fell out in clumps, I was constantly starving and ate more food than I could believe, and I had a bunch of other strange symptoms that would be even stranger to post about. But the most amazing symptom of all: I did not need to sleep.

Having a weeks old infant, plus two active little boys, most of these symptoms were easy to explain. Hungry all the time? It's the breastfeeding. Hair falling out? Hormonal shift. Shaking hands? Your totally stressed out, lady!

And I didn't even really think about how much sleep I wasn't getting, since the baby was waking up every few hours anyway. But the symptom that really bothered me was the shaking. Every morning I would tie the boys' shoes, and wonder why my hands were trembling and why I couldn't get my body to be at rest. I eliminated caffiene, no small thing if you know my coffee addiction (yes, even while breastfeeding -- send critical emails to mindyourown@itcouldbeworse.org). But without the coffee, I was still shaking like the last autumn leaf left on the tree.

Time for medical intervention. Turns out I had Graves Disease, a form of hyperactive thyroid disease. It was completely treatable, and after being on medication for a few months (it took awhile), my hands stopped shaking and my eating habits returned to normal.

What do I miss about Graves? Never needing to sleep. I could use that particular malady right about now. Eating an entire box of chocolate biscuits in one sitting. Eating 2 super burritos in one sitting. Eating pretty much everything in sight, and losing weight anyway.

It didn't occur to me until being diagnosed that the amount of energy I had was not normal. That zipping around on 3 or 4 hours of sleep was not just "baby-high." I think Graves Disease is the biggest reason why the 12-hour road trip we took to Portland when Lola was 2.5 weeks old went so smoothly. Not needing to sleep frees up an amazing amount of time you otherwise waste; I got phenomenal amounts of stuff done.

Which leads to my current nostalgia for my days of disease. Given that homework, dinner, and the evening routine took me until 9:55 tonight, I found myself wistfully wishing for my hyperthyroid to return. Just think how much I could get done!

There are alternatives: I could become a meth-mom. I hear they plow through their to-do lists like wacked-out Energizer bunnies. But then I'd have meth-mouth, and that's just gross. I could "just say no" and shorten the to do list, but then the kids would wear dirty socks, people wouldn't eat, and the nice electricity man might find our address on his job list for the day. He would be bringing his big clippers. I could GET ORGANIZED.

I dunno, it seems so much easier to just get a disease that allows me to eat endlessly, never gain weight, and stay up all night.

When I got pregnant with Elizabeth, my doctor told me that the Graves disease would take a little hiatus until after I delivered, but then would likely come back. This was supposed to be a life-long condition. No such luck. It never came back. I am stuck having a regular old need for sleep, gobbling up precious hours of my day.

But here's hoping it returns someday! I will enjoy those days before the meds kick in to their fullest.

15 September 2008

Life is Too Short for Pleasantries

Apparently, Elizabeth thinks so.

Today, I was cuddling with her, and finding her so adorable I was melting. I took her little face in mine and said: "Elizabeth, I love you so much, honey. I love being your mommy."

Her response? Well, she smiled ever so sweetly at me, tipped her head to the side and said, "I would like to get a new mommy, though."

So I asked her which mommy she would get, and sure enough, she had one in mind: "I would get the Castillo mommy." This is a family we are good friends with, the same family Elizabeth always expresses a preference for when she is in trouble. But now, she'll take them even when surrounded by the love of the mother who bore her.

Thankless job indeed.

10 September 2008

Today's Task

Note to self: Figure out a way to celebrate Tallulah's birthday instead of marking the end of the two hardest years of my life. They are one and the same, so this is no easy task.

She is not helping, having hurled herself into the terrible twos with a ferocity I can only liken to sheer madness. I am a seasoned mom, with four other kids, but the tantrums this one orchestrates, complete with Sybil-like outrage, leave me completely flummoxed. Getting her in her car seat these days leaves me shaking, sweaty, exhausted and yes, even bloody. She scratches my hands like she wants to rip them off of my wrists while I am trying to fasten her buckles. She pulls my hair so hard that my eyes water and I have to muster great self-control not to scream (at least when we are in public). She bites. Hard. Often.

Of course, at daycare, she's an angel, so she saves her vitriolic venom for me, I guess.

And I'm supposed to make a birthday cake for this little piece of work?????

26 August 2008

Just In Case You Are In an Accident

With apologies to Cat Stevens, the Alatorre boys have reworked a classic song. Can you find the twist?

Now that I've lost everything to you
You say you want to start something new
And it's breaking my heart, you're leaving
Baby, I'm grieving
If you want to leave, take good care
Hope you find a lot of nice underwear
Then a lot of nice things turn bad out there.

School-aged boys sure now how to crack themselves up.

14 August 2008

What Are We Protecting Them From?

I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with the word "appropriate."

My kids know this word way too well, and the world for them is becoming divided into THINGS THAT ARE APPROPRIATE and THINGS THAT ARE INAPPROPRIATE. I'm getting more than a little suspicious that the modern urge to protect children from becoming monsters is leaving them little room for freedom and discovery.

We don't want them to witness violence, of course, so we don't let them see violent movies. Ok, wise enough. But when my son comes to me with a copy of The Swiss Family Robinson and says "Mom, I know you don't really want me to read this because it's not appropriate for my age. There's too much violence in it," then I say UNCLE.

Chalk one up for the over-protectionists! My son is staying away from a great adventure story because we and the culture around him have made him hypervigilant about what's appropriate...

He's mere weeks away from being 10 years old, and he's burdened with the great APPROPRIATENESS FILTER.




It's kind of like that line in Finding Nemo, when Dory says to Marlin "You can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo." We can't protect them from all things negative without protecting them for the richness and fullness of a life lived with energy, curiosity, and imagination.

Granted, the kid in question is one who wants to know the categories of things, and not all of my children need these kinds of sign posts. But yikes! We have succeeded in protecting him against a fantastic adventure story.

A few months ago, a woman in New York made headlines for letting her son (I think he was around 8?) ride the subway home from downtown Manhattan. I've posted about her story, and about the article she wrote on the topic. One of the ideas she puts forth has been rattling around in my head for the past few months: the bad stuff we want to protect our kids from is NOT lurking around every corner...the kid-snatcher is more than likely NOT going to pounce if I let the kid get something out of the car while I'm in the grocery store. Letting a 9 year old do something independent will probably not end in tragedy. And the price we pay for behaving as if all of these terrible things are more than likely to happen is high -- too high, I think.

I am super protective of what my kids see on TV and in movies, more so than many of my peers. But that's as much if not more about aesthetics as it is about protecting them. I can't stand those mindless Disney shows because they seem so darn STOOPID. I'd much rather have them enjoy great stories and entertainment that doesn't just seep with bland, boring, predictable, stereotypical gags and characters, that is utterly lacking in real imagination, that seems to exist only to sell the products featured in the commercials.

I almost don't care what violence they are exposed to, if it comes with a great adventure story where the good guys prevail and we can talk about anything that worries them. It's the gratuitous stuff that's the problem, of course, but the Approriate Police are making this all seem entirely more black and white than anything real actually is.

Because when Marlin finally let Nemo go for it, Nemo saved an entire school of fish, and when my kid gets to walk home by himself, he feels and is stronger for it. When he can imagine adventures without worrying about their appropriateness, his unfettered imagination can take him anywhere. Which is exactly where I want him to be able to go.

13 August 2008

And Now, A Few Words from My Family

Little sister to big brother: “You scream like a little girl.”

Oldest son, watching women’s gymnastics: “It must be hard to run with breasts.”

Artist son, gazing thoughtfully out the front window: “It’s very beautiful outside…the way the light is coming through the trees.”
3 year old, with disdain: “It’s just the sun.”

Unsympathetic offspring to mom: “You’re not very exciting when you’re sick.”

Oldest son, after a dance party featuring The Stray Cats: “What does ‘Looking better every beer' mean?” There is just no good way to answer that question when speaking to a nine-year old. Except of course for the one I provided: Ask your father.

And speaking of artist son, here for your enjoyment, I present his latest masterpiece. He drew this for his 3-year old cousin. Well, not really for him, since he didn’t want to part with it after he drew it, but he did draw this the way his cousin wanted. “You want me to draw you a bridge? Ok, here’s a bridge. You want a whale in it? Ok, here’s a whale. You want a lobster? Ok, here’s a lobster.”

Nothing profound tonight, just every day offerings from family life. How lucky am I?

10 August 2008

I'll Be Your Groupie

I'm sicker than a dog. But I have a new band that I am going to follow forever, so why not start right now?

My almost 10-yr. old just called me into his room to show me the picture he drew of his band. He's in the middle, heavily tattooed, playing guitar. He's got Brian Setzer on his right, playing bass, and Paul McCartney on his left, on drums. (Sorry Ringo!)

I'd follow that band to the ends of the earth, even in a head-cold fog.

Good thing the band is still in rehearsal mode, because I must sleep now...

07 August 2008

Memories of My Crazy Pregnant Lady Days

I was driving the kids to their various stashing spots today, and as I pulled onto the freeway and went about merging into traffic, I noticed a motorcyclist sitting on the side of the freeway, half leaning against the concrete guard rail, looking a bit rattled. About 15 feet away from him, his motorcycle was also resting against the guard rail, standing upright on its back wheel, with the front wheel up and over the concrete.

He reminded me of something, because I have seen this man, and his motorcycle, once before.

Almost four years ago, on October 6, 2004, I was driving my first born to Kindergarten, with his little brother and little sister along for the ride. I am 100% sure of the date, because I was exactly nine months pregnant. It was my due date, although the intrepid Elizabeth would make us all wait another week before arriving in all her glory. But on this day, I was driving down Carlson towards the school, and I witnessed an accident between a car and a motorcyclist. Yup, that's right, same guy!

You might wonder how I can be so sure. Well, I am this sure because I circled back to see if the motorcyclist was OK. I was certain someone else would stop to help. As it turns out, no one, not even the car who had hit him, stopped. There he was, lying in the middle of the street, with cars passing him by, slowing down enough to rubber-neck at him, but declining to pull over and help.

So I pulled over, and hauled my 9-month pregnant frame out into the middle of the intersection, and asked him if he was OK. He was dazed and confused, to say the least. Why else would he, all approximately 6' 3" of him, put his hand up to a 5' 4" pregnant lady, and ask for a hand up? The next logical question is, why did I comply? He damn near pulled me over on top of him, and then required my assistance to manuever over to the curb and sit down. Picture me, belly out to here, (imagine my hand several feet in front of me for the 'here'), offering my shoulder to this poor guy as he hobbled across the street.

Essentially, he was OK. Just very shaken up.

Eventually, someone else arrived and helped call 911. I excused myself and took Samuel on to school. On the way home, I drove by to see if he was still there, and he indeed was, now with a police officer who was taking a report. Again, I pulled over and checked in with Mr. Motorcycle Guy. You should have seen the officer's face when he heard that I was the passerby who stopped to help. He wouldn't even allow me to stand on the street, because of my 'condition.' He said something like, "On your due date, all you should be doing is lying down and having people bring you stuff to eat! Not out here hoisting grown men out of the street!" Bless him.

Anyway, I had forgotten all about that day, until this morning when I saw Mr. Motorcycle Guy, again looking dazed and confused. I'd recognize that yellow leather jacket anywhere, as it was plastered to my cheek for the time it took to steer him to the curb four years ago. Same jacket, same shock of whitish hair, same large, gangly frame.

I don't know why I stopped to help that day, or why I didn't take my unborn child into consideration. Maybe that's why she's so extroverted: my reaching out to this guy right before her emergence imprinted her with a "reach out and touch someone" kind of personality. She's definitely got that. I just hope that someday, when she's 9-months pregnant with my grandchild, she'll show more prudence than I did that day. Get the hell out of the road, crazy pregnant lady!

And This Was a GOOD Day

"Yogurt is not a finger food!" Had to say that one twice. To two different people.

"Do not swing on the freezer door!" Had to say that one five times. To the same person.

By 11:30, two kids had already showered...their first of two showers by days end. That happens when you dig holes in the garden for approximately five hours. Which they did, and they have the sunburned faces to prove it.

But the biggest happening of the days was the one in which I caught a kid in a lie. I basically told him that I did not believe something he said, and then endured a good twenty minutes of intense and well-executed indignation. Just as I was starting to doubt that gut level instinct that told me he was fibbing, I took him gently by the shoulders and said:

"Honey, if you were telling me the truth, then all you need to do is look me in the eye and tell me that. And if you do that, then I will apologize, because it was entirely wrong of me to accuse you of lying."

His teary eye-contact avoidant response? "I can't, because I was lying. But it really hurt my feelings that you didn't believe me."

I breathed a sigh of relief. What an awful thing it would have been if he had been telling the truth and my gut had steered me so wrong. I wasn't happy that he had lied, but I was thrilled that my instinct had been right on target. Chalk one up for mom!

03 August 2008

Advantages to Little Sisters and Fresh Air

One of the best things about having a little baby sister is that she is a captive audience and a pliable plaything. Witness one dressed up baby girl, courtesy of her very proud big brother. Lady Guinevere in a grass skirt!

In other news, our very good friends have returned from their one-year sojourn to Nicaragua: Welcome Home! We had a lovely time seeing them today. A particular highlight was watching our two six-year old girls reunite. I took their two girls and my five kids on a two hour walk through Wild Cat Canyon today, (which, by the way, is easier than taking just my five out) and the 6-year olds held hands the entire time. They tried to wear the binoculars at the same time, but wound up conking heads pretty good, so that idea got nixed. After spending the morning together over coffee cake, after hiking the canyon, there were still tears when the day came to an end and they had to part ways. "We didn't even get to play!"

I forgot my camera (grrrrr!), so I could not capture the day, but it pretty much entailed me getting all gooshy and gooey over how fantastic these seven kids are. Watching seven heads bent over a lizard and shushing one another so the lizard wouldn't run away. Watching the two 9-year olds walking with the 1-year old between them, holding her hands and keeping her safe. Watching the 3-year old rip her shirt off at every opportunity "because I'm so COLD!" (she's a little confused about the temperature words...)

All of it was delightful.

I recommend fresh air for children. Or maybe more so for parents. If it hadn't been for the fresh air, I think I would have ended the day with fewer children than I started with.

31 July 2008

I'm Raising Brainiacs

Since Shakespeare Camp started on Monday, Sam has been regaling me with all of the details, from the silly theatre games, to the real stage he'll get to act on (last year he was in a gym), to the snacks in the snack dispenser. And he's asked me a bunch of times: "Do you want to sit in the balcony when you watch the performance? It's really cool, and I think you should, and will you? Huh? Will you will you will you? I don't know how you get up there, but maybe you could ask when you drop me off, and don't you want to sit there? Why aren't you excited about sitting there? Don't you think it will be cool? Did you ask the Camp Staff yet? You're going to sit there, aren't you? How are you going to get up there? It's so cool!"

Ack...he couldn't reduce me to a more complete state of incapacity if he jumped up and down on me and whacked me repeatedly with The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

So today, after a long tiring day, Rick and I are lying somewhat comatose on our bed, and Sam is downstairs playing soccer...in our living room...thanks Dad for teaching him that oh-so-enjoyable way to drive mommy to the looney-bin...and all of the sudden he screams out:


Me: "Oh?"


So I guess I'll be sitting on that balcony next Friday afternoon...nothing gets past that kid.

30 July 2008

Summer Goofballs and Water Babies

They are growing so fast, I hardly recognize them.

We've had a lot of dance parties this summer. Not as much swimming as I thought we would do, but we did get to go to the pool today. Tallulah loved it:

Oh how I wish summer could last forever...and I'm not the only one in this house who feels that way. I saw school supplies on sale today and stifled the urge to scream and run the other direction. The horror, oh the horror!

28 July 2008

The Little Negotiator...and Further Reflections

"Mom. You need to give me ten bucks, because I buckled my car seat myself today."

OK, dear, you are 3; here's the deal. I will not be paying you anything for buckling yourself in your seat.

"OK Mom. How about 5 bucks? You need to give me 5 bucks."

No dear, I do not. Hard lesson, isn't it?


What a day. This one rivals this one, although it doesn't quite rise to that level. However, it did include, among other things, one lost and very needed camp binder with much searching high and low and so far no success, one bird flying through the house and getting stuck in our dining room, one trip to Costco with four children, two bank jobs (errands at two separate banks), and 45 minutes on hold with one of our lovely creditors trying to fix an error on our account.

It also featured an absolute highlight of the summer: Today we went to Jazz Art, a twice a year event sponsored by the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission. Picture one cool jazz cafe, a professional jazz trio, and art supplies. For free. With kids and adults, and all kinds of people just drawing to their hearts content while a fantastic trio played jazz loud enough to make conversation not possible (hallelujah!). I dropped Vincenzo and Lola off here, went to pick up Samuel at his first day of Shakespeare camp, and then brought him back and enjoyed another 45 minutes of drawing and jazz.

It also featured, as mentioned above, the first day of Shakespeare Camp for Samuel. I have documented his love affair with Shakespeare here and here. We are so happy that other people get to manage this obsession for the next two weeks, for his sake, of course. (wink) Sometimes, I am just not up to the task of planning full scale productions of King Lear, complete with calvary, staged in my back yard. Go figure.

A full, full day. As I was driving down San Pablo Avenue, captive to the noise in my car (I often feel like the Grinch when he complains of "the noise, oh the noise, oh the noise NOISE NOISE NOISE!") the thought crossed my mind that this must be what people are thinking about when they look horrified at the number of children I have. The sheer volume, the sum total of all the voices and laughing and shrieking and yelling and fighting and singing -- it can be downright oppressive.

But in the midst of having far too much to do, far too little sleep, and far too many needs to respond to, I do get glimpses of who I am and who I want to be. For a long time now, I have felt nothing but overwhelm, nothing but struggle. For a long time, I've felt like I'm trudging through the thickest mud, and making very little, if any, progress. I have been trying SO hard to keep my eyes on the prize, so to speak. I'm not even sure what the hell the prize is, but I'm trying to keep myself focused on what I can do in waking hours and how I can approach the tasks at hand. It's a balancing act, to be sure. It's not just a matter of balancing competing responsibilities; what's harder, and more important, is balancing my thoughts and emotions about all of those responsibilities and how I am faring at meeting them.

I want to work hard, play hard, enjoy life, and let the small stuff go. I want a house that is comfortable, not necessarily spotless, I want clean socks in their sock basket, I want happy children. I want the bills paid, the refridgerator full, and happy children. I want to talk to friends, enjoy cooking sometimes, and happy children. I want to be reasonable, playful, sensitive, happy, and maybe not so tired. And I want to achieve all of this without feeling like a failure when things don't work out the way I planned, without ripping myself to shreds when I screw up, and without regard to small losses. I guess I want quite a bit.

But mostly, I want to approach my days like I somehow was able to today, with energy and enthusiasm for the things that were enjoyable and with patience and detachment for the things that sucked. (A word I do not let my children use, but one that is oh-so-apt right there at the end of that sentence.) That spirit, that approach to life is elusive. Where did it come from, and where has it been these past several weeks and months? Will it be back tomorrow? What can I do to bring it home permanently, to have it unpack its bags, take up residence, and settle down for a good long time?

The hardest part of parenting is the consistency. And that goes way beyond whether or not I always put a miscreant child in the appropriate length time out for a misdeed. It has to do with that balancing act of keeping myself alert and ready, being gentle with myself and family, facing daunting and mundane tasks with matter-of-fact attention, and doing what needs to be done.

Today, my kids were happy. For the most part anyway. Today, I enjoyed being a mother who has way too much to do. Tonight, I am still a puddle on the couch, ready for a nice cold beer.

I wonder what tomorrow will be like.

26 July 2008

Seeking Inspiration

I am facing a long day in which I must get many loads of laundry done, find a place for many precious pieces of art that came home from art camp yesterday, pick up many items and find their homes, feed many picky eaters, and keep many people from spending the day whacking each other.

I feel like I am preparing for battle. Steeling my reserves. Shoring up my defenses. And getting ready for disappointment.

The basic conundrum: How do I get through the day and at the end of it, feel good about what I was able to get done and how I managed to mother my children all at the same time?

I will attempt to practice heroic levels of detachment, keep my chin up, keep my feet moving (except when I need to sit and have a glass of water), and let the little stuff drift away from me.

Life requires more optimism than is reasonable, don't you think?

I Just Can't Help Myself

I must post this picture of my daughter.

Thank you to Nicole for this picture, and reminding me that childhood beauty can simply take one's breath away. Too often I get caught up in the rush and tumble that is our daily life and I do not pay attention to the boundless beauty, joy, love, and goodness with which I am surrounded. Faced with this picture (and the others Nicole took of my kids at a local park on a wonderful summer day), I can't help but be stopped in my tracks and forced to notice.

She is, as has been documented here, a force to be reckoned with. Today at the grocery store, I braced myself for the usual fight. She has had trouble relinquishing the front seat in the cart to her baby sister. Said sister is almost two, but Elizabeth still has trouble with this. She always "calls" the front seat, only to be disappointed that it cannot be as she would wish. This little song and dance usually leads to tears and yelling. From both of us.

I had both of them at the store today, and as we were getting out of the car, she said: "Who's going to sit in the front seat?" I told her that her sister would be sitting there and braced myself. At moments like this, I always have this mental image of me, standing with my feet planted firmly, holding an umbrella up and against an impending storm, waiting for the impact to hit. And fully expecting said umbrella to turn inside out and blow away.

Her response: "And I'm going to sit in the back. Because I don't want to complain and I want to have a great time in the store!"

No need for the strong wind, you could have knocked me over with a feather duster.


18 July 2008

Beatles: 1, NPR: 0

I made one of the best decisions of the summer this morning. I turned off NPR and turned on the Beatles. Blasted it really loud on my way to work, sang like a fool, and percussed on my steering wheel.

Self-professed NPR junkie that I am, I realized that all thinking and no singing makes Mommy a very dull mommy indeed.

Need an infusion of energy? Looking for a new perspective on the daily grind?

Take a break from filling your mind with important social, political and cultural content and get your groove on!

13 July 2008

The Talk

"The Talk" is looming at our house. We even have a cool book called What's the Big Secret that we are consulting. Well, it's on our dresser anyway, although I have yet to look at it. (Thanks for loaning it, Erika!)

But the talk is on its way. There are many signs that tell us that the time is right: questions about things he hears at school (and there have been some doozies), movie scenes with kissing (ugh!), questions about babies...

Indiana Jones has become really popular with the boys, and Rick and I have enjoyed revisiting these old favorites. (How come I never noticed how cheesy they were? Especially the third one!) Anyway, Sam and I were watching the 1st one the other night. Remember the scene where Marian (IJ's love interest) and Bellach (bad guy archeologist) are in a tent where the Germans are holding her hostage and Bellach wants to put the moves on her? He hands her this fancy white dress (because archeologists digging for the Ark of the Covenant in the middle of Egypt always carry one with them) and says: "I would very much like to see you in it." She takes it and goes over to the other side of the tent to put it on. Bellach spies on her with a mirror and watches her change, catching a lovely glimpse of her bare back in the process.

Sam says: "Why is he doing that, mom? Is he making sure she doesn't escape?"

Me: "Yup!"

OK, so we really need to have the talk. Rick? Hello? Hello? You're up! He must be somewhere reading that cool book...

11 July 2008

I'm It!

Running down a gravel path today, two beautiful girls spilling ahead of me. The older one, out in front, joyfully shouts: "I'm the leader!"

Not to be outdone, the younger, equally joyfully, shouts: "And I'm the rotten egg!"

You must admire such exuberance.

09 July 2008

Why Do I Wait

Why do I wait to do things?

Why did I take two months to finally empty that tote bag that went on the outing so long ago, that as it turned out, contained my favorite brush, the same brush I have been suffering without lo these eight long weeks?

Why did I take six months to throw that diaper bag/backpack in the wash? I finally washed it the other day, and now that it's bright and clean, I remember how much I love it. E and T can go to daycare in high fashion now.

Why did I put off taking care of that traffic ticket, only to go to court on the last possible day (today), without someone to watch the girls, so that I and 60 or so other hapless individuals, plus the judge, the court reporter, the bailiff, and the Spanish interpreter had to endure 2.5 hours of Tallulah? The child actually bit me -- HARD -- at one point. She, the wordless wonder, spoke a near complete sentence, motivated by the sheer unpleasantness of having to be in the courtroom for way too long: "Mama, GO!" Said while lunging from my arms towards the door at the back of the room. I've never made a room full of people happier to see me go. Or at least, I sure hope not. She screamed, she wailed, she lashed. She stomped, rolled, kicked, and generally did her impression of Carrie for much of the time we were there. It was one of those bone-crushingly weary moments of mommyhood.

Why do I wait until 5:15 to think about what we are having for dinner?

Why do I wait until morning to make sure everyone has clean socks and skivvies?

One word: Tallulah. I have decided to place the blame for my procrastination squarely and firmly on her tiny shoulders. Based on the strength of her temper tantrums today, I think she can take it.

A basic tenet of my happy marriage is this: Place blame, early, often, and on someone else. In this case, she'll do.

I have not always been such a procrastinator, so in casting about for some reasonable explanation for my behavior, I've arrived at this: the fifth child, the lovely Tallulah, is my tipping point, my appointed place for abandoning the organized person I once was and surrendering -- hopefully temporarily -- to living with this waiting disorder.

Hopefully temporarily, I emphasize. I have big dreams that I will one day return to the prepared and organized woman of my previous life and embrace her fully. For now, I can only lament: Why has it taken me so long to share this picture with the world?

07 July 2008


When I first started this blog, I wrote about wanting to blog as a way to make sense of the contradictions inherent in raising a family: the love and the anger, the joy and the despair, the exasperation and the exhilaration.

Contradiction is a compelling idea to me. I am fascinated by the way people actually live their lives, by the way people act differently than they truly believe is the right and good way to act. There seems to be some essential truth there, some kernal of meaning in the constant presence of two seemingly opposite things. I have come to believe that I am supposed to pay attention to the clash, to sit with it, wrestle with it.

And the more I pay attention, the more I see these contradictions all around me. They certainly are not limited to parenting. They are found in politics, art, education, the justice system...everywhere.

I am reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and enjoying it immensely. He is a wonderful writer. Having heard him speak, I recognize his voice on the page, and it is at once intelligent, warm, thoughtful, funny, and personable. I am a fledgling "slow foodie," and this book makes a compelling case for the need for a smarter way to raise, process, sell, purchase, and eat food than we currently have in this country. About half way through the book, at the close of chapter eleven, I had a strong emotional reaction to the following passage, describing one incredible grass farm in the Shenandoah Valley and its particular attention to the health of the land on which its animals are raised:

I'd always thought of the trees and grasses as antagonists-another zero-sum deal in which the gain of the one entails the loss of the other. To a point, this is true: More grass means less forest; more forest less grass. But either-or is a construction more deeply woven into our culture than into nature, where even antagonists depend on one another and the liveliest places are the edges, the in-betweens, or both-ands. So it is with the blade of grass and the adjacent forest as, indeed, with all species sharing this most complicated farm. Relations are what matter most, and the health of the cultivated turns on the health of the wild.

Here it is again: that state of contradiction that also produces the fullest, healthiest, most vibrant life. Relations are what matter most...even antagonists depend on one another...the liveliest places are the edges.

Pollan is describing a farm, but I see my family in this evocative description. The antagonists? Well, as I type, my husband is trying for the umpteenth time tonight to get my 9-year old to go to sleep. And as has happened to us both so many times before, he is trying to be firm, yet gentle, is getting exasperated and infuriated in the process, all while my son is being completely unreasonable (at 9! imagine that!) and argumentative and defiant and miserable and weepy and angry. It ain't pretty. But here it is: antagonists (two people who want opposite things) depending on each other to find their way through the messy parts because yes, the child needs to go to sleep, but relations are what matter most.

Pollan closes this chapter with a quote from farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, which I will adapt a little, as I did when I read it, and my mind held an image of this amazing farm at once with an image of my work-in-progress family: "One of the greatest assets of a family is the sheer ecstasy of life."

I love that the either-or construction is not borne out by nature, by grasses and forests and animals. It strengthens my conviction in the power of learning to live amidst contradiction, and to find the liveliest places to call home. And I find comfort in knowing that in my house, the cultivated and the wild are most definitely vying with and strengthening one another.

06 July 2008

She's Freaking Me Out

Hardly had I clicked the PUBLISH button on my last post about Elizabeth when she added another charming moment to her history.

Picture me in the grocery store, four kids in tow, all of them squirrely. I parked the cart in front of the centrally located tomatoes, and sent the older ones to get a few veggies while I selected avocados about 10 steps from the cart where Elizabeth and Tallulah were squabbling.

Picture a little sour old lady waiting to get to the tomatoes and finding it impossible with my offspring in her way.

I hurried over and apologized and tried to move the cart. Little sour lady wouldn't back up, and I was pinned in by two other carts as well, so I had to stand there for a little while apologizing and trying to move, while the veggie seekers came running back with their finds, further clogging up a very small area. Little sour lady would not return my attempts at civil, polite conversation; she just seemed utterly annoyed by my children and my cart. This little rendevous lasted long enough to become pretty uncomfortable. Finally I was able to move, she was able to move, and the entire thing would have receeded into the background, except that Elizabeth, who had been watching the proceedings with her highly developed observational skills, started repeating in a quite loud voice: "THAT GIRL IS FREAKING ME OUT! THAT GIRL IS FREAKING ME OUT!" She got to about the fifth repetition of this before I could get around the cart to where she was and shush her good. "THAT GIRL" turned out to be little sour lady, as I had feared, and the only response I got from my daughter to my attempts to fine tune her behavior was: "BUT SHE IS!"

Completely inappopriate behavior, completely rude...and yet...completely honest too. Again, they cry when they are sad, they laugh when they are happy, and they tell you exactly what they do not like, including when people freak them out.

03 July 2008

Fasten Your Seatbelts, She'll Be 13 Someday

My three year old is quite something.

The other day, I overheard her playing with her big sister, and heard her say: "My boyfriend is 8, and he doesn't even drive yet."

What is that?

This is the same little bit who turns her backside to her older brothers, pokes her little bottom towards them, and says, "I'm shaking my booty at you!"

The same girl who refuses to hold my hand across a street, insisting that she will "hold my own hand" instead. Picture a stubborn little peanut holding one hand in the other, chin up, marching across the street.

The same girl who said to me today, in response to my telling her that she could not play in the fancy new dress a friend gave her, "I'll just sneak in my room and put it on when you aren't looking." I kid you not, that's what she said.

The same girl who, when she kisses her father, I feel the need to tell her that he is already married. (She likes to give him what she calls "Ratatouille Kisses," from the Pixar movie, the scene where Linguini and Collete finally smooch on the street. This involves lots of head movement.)

She has perfected the "Hmpf!"...she puts lip balm on her eyelashes...she channels Hannah Montana (which, I feel the need to say, she has never watched under our roof, and yet she does a mean Rock Star dance routine)...

She also does an amazing impression of our neighbor performing a kareoke version of Nirvana; few things are more hilarious in life than my daughter doing Ted the neighbor doing Kurt Cobain.

Start praying for us now; we have 10 years before she turns 13.