28 February 2009

A Visitor

When I was a little girl, there was a man who lived in the hills above our town, in a small shack he built himself, with no running water, no electricity, no heating but a wood stove. He was a Benedictine monk and he lived a contemplative life, on land a generous soul gave him. He did not have an income; he lived off the generosity of people in the town, friends who looked out for him, delivered food and supplies, invited him to dinner. He was a hermit, in the true sense of that word, a man who gave his life to God and to the practice of prayer for the world.

My family knew him a little bit; he came to our house a few times, and I always loved seeing him. He had a lovely smile. Even as a child, I could tell he was filled with peace and love. He was special to me, even though I didn’t know him well. He knew I played the piano, and always asked about it. He was something of a mysterious figure – what hermit wouldn’t be to a kid? – and I would think about him periodically, up there in the hills, in the cold or the heat, living fully immersed in nature and quiet. His was a compelling life, to say the least.

I haven’t thought about him in years. But on this past Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, I was reminded of him quite unexpectedly. I was standing in line at the bank, and thinking sort of half-heartedly about the season of Lent, which on that day was upon me. What was I going to do for Lent? How was I going to mark the 40 days? I don’t usually give something up for Lent; instead, I try to begin some practice I’ve been meaning to institute in my life, like exercise or writing or prayer. I was thinking about this, when a man walked past me in line, and then realized he was supposed to take his place at the end and walked back to wait. He was older, slightly disheveled, had the air of the absent-minded professor about him. He looked like a man who stepped out of a time machine, from some slower, quieter place and had landed with some confusion in a busy East Bay bank.

He looks just like Dunstan Morrissey,” I thought with a smile. "Wow, I haven’t thought of that name in a long time."

And suddenly, my musings on Lent took a different direction. I remembered that unique quality of Dunstan’s, his peacefulness, his trust. I thought more about how those are the things that Lent can bring us. I decided I needed to figure out some Lenten practice that would help me be more quiet and peaceful. Then it was my turn at a teller’s window, and off I went, into the rainy afternoon, and back to my life that is full of many wonderful things, most of them cacophonous. When in the course of the next day and a half my mind returned, incompletely focused, to considering Lent, I thought about Dunstan some more, and wondered how I could find the peace he so clearly possessed.

The next evening, no Lenten practice in place yet, I was watching TV and generally being mindless. Rick, surfing the net and checking out a few blogs he reads, out of the blue asked me if I knew a man named Dunstan Morrissey. I about fell off the couch: hadn’t thought of him in years, saw a man that looked just like him, and here was my husband asking me if I knew him. Rick had been reading a blog written by a man – Gil – who used to live in my town, who was great friends with both Dunstan and my family. Gil reported on his blog that Dunstan Morrissey passed away on Ash Wednesday.

He died on the very day that I saw the man who looked just like him, on the day he walked back into my memory. My friend Laura says Dunstan visited me that day; maybe he was stopping by to help me figure out Lent this year. Ever since I heard that he died, I really can’t stop thinking about him. I believe he “visited” on Ash Wednesday so that I would be reminded, on that particular day, of the peace, love, and joy that is possible to have in this life. I so crave that very peace.

I have a wonderful life: a husband who loves and cares for me; children who never cease to amaze me with their goodness, their openness to the world; family who love me and my large brood. I do not, however, have much peace and quiet. With Dunstan’s help, I found my Lenten practice: to make a place for quiet in my daily life.

Turn off the radio – NPR will wait; turn off the TV – how many episodes of Law and Order can one person really watch? Turn off the kids – locate their mute buttons or wait until they’re in bed. Sit in the quiet. Listen. See what happens. Pay attention to what you are missing, surrounded as you are by the noise and busyness and activity that is your very full life.

Dunstan was a gift to those who knew him. I am grateful that I knew him as a child, knew that people like him existed and that living peacefully is possible. That in itself is a great thing for a child to know. I am grateful for the gift he gave me this past Ash Wednesday, to “see” him again and have him walk with me these past few days. I expect he’ll be with me all of Lent, and hopefully beyond.

Thank you, Dunstan. May you rest in peace, as you lived your life.

* * *

The hermitage Dunstan lived in has changed over the years; where he once lived by himself there is now the Sky Farm Hermitage of Peace, a retreat center “for anyone seeking time alone with God in a simple and rustic setting.” I visited the Sky Farm website after I heard about Dunstan’s death, and found this fitting quotation, one I will take with me through Lent as I go about trying to find some peace and quiet:

“If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence, like the sunlight, will illuminate you in God.” -- St. Issac-7th Century Hermit Monk


27 February 2009

Dirty Little Secrets?

Do you have any? Would you like to read about other people's?

My favorite food photographer (and fellow mom and dear friend) Nicole is having a giveaway on her blog. Leave a comment and she will randomly pick a winner to receive this book:

The book is "Dirty Little Secrets from Otherwise Perfect Moms" by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile, the same great team that brought us "I was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids."

I almost didn't post this, because I want to win the book, and if I tell too many people, my chances will go down. But then again, it's Lent and I should brush up on my selfless acts. Plus, Nicole requires that the recipient re-give the book after reading it, which is a lovely act of sharing and goodwill.

Another good reason to visit Nicole's blog is that she is an amazing photographer (among other crafty skills) and I think more people should see her pictures.

Visit, comment, win! And then share. Because we all have dirty little secrets of motherhood survival, don't we?

21 February 2009

A Musical Interlude

Try explaining the following classics to your 10-year old:

Lookin' Better Every Beer, by the Stray Cats
Hurt So Good, by John Mellencamp
Everybody Must Get Stoned, by Bob Dylan

My 10-year old is a huge Bob Dylan fan, and I discovered today that he knows every single word to Everybody Must Get Stoned, right down to the well placed "oh yeahs" and "all-rights." On the way home from practice today, he belted out the entire thing from the back seat when it came on the radio. It was hilarious.

Who knew the radio could be minefield? Me, I love those songs too much to change the station, so I get LOTS of questions. What does "hurt so good" mean, mom? Oh my.

* * *

When my now 8-year old was around 2 or 3, he used to take monster naps, like 3-4 hours long. Actually, he would go into his room for a nap, play for an hour, and then fall asleep for 2-3 hours. It was a thing of beauty, a long break for a tired mommy. He also really liked to listen to music while he was playing and then falling asleep. He particularly liked one Lucinda Williams CD, and always requested to have it play in his room. Some of the songs had upbeat, rock tempos and were not conducive to napping, so I picked one of the slower, bluesy tunes, and would set it on repeat mode, at a low volume. It would play for the entire 4 hours of his bedroom hiatus.

This daily ritual continued until one day, I decided I wanted to listen to this CD in my car. When Essence came on, I smiled, because of course, it reminded me of all of his naps, of hearing this music quietly wafting from his room. Then I listened to the words. One line says something like "help me get f*cked up."


THIS is what I had been letting him listen to ON REPEAT for months now? Those are the lyrics that had been burning into his little psyche for four hours a day, for weeks on end?

Niiiiice. Thanks mom, for the exposure to the world! Love it!

* * *

20 February 2009

What is Wrong With Her?

She is impossible to get up in the morning. No matter what we say to her, she stubbornly insists that she can't get out of her warm bed and start her day. She makes us late almost daily, and nothing I threaten her with convinces her that getting up early will make her day go better.

She won't eat her vegetables. It's very difficult to make sure she eats a balanced diet: she would carbo-load till the cows come home if she could. She knows -- or says she knows -- that vegetables are good for her. She even claims to like them. But not when they have been prepared for a meal; just in the abstract, I guess.

She procrastinates like mad. When she's got something to do, like an assignment or a chore, she waits until the very last minute, and then gets all stressed out and whiney about having to do it. Why can't she figure out that doing a little bit each day is far preferable to cramming everything into one evening and making the entire family miserable -- especially herself -- with the mad dash to finish line?

Getting her out of the bath is a pain in the neck. First of all, she doesn't bath often enough -- always has something better to do -- and then when she finally gets in, she won't get out. I try and try to be nice and encouraging, but she just loves to play in that water, and resists the inevitable cold dash into a towel. Can't talk to her about saving water: she's just stubborn, stubborn, stubborn.

She claims to love it when her room is clean, when things are neat and orderly, but try getting her to keep it that way. Resistance in the extreme. In no time flat, her clean room is rendered chaotic and unbearable. It's a total bummer.

And there are thousand other ways in which I wonder, breathlessly, wearily, WILL SHE EVER GROW UP?

* * *

Oh how I wish I were talking about one of my daughters. They have an excuse. They are 2, 4, and 6. No, this incorrigible female is me.

But the question remains. Will she ever grow up? Will she someday embrace the things she knows are good for her, will make her happy, will make her peaceful? Or will she continue to give in to being tired, overwhelmed, uninspired, or just plain lazy? Will she live forever with the same bad habits, or will she finally, as the sticky note her co-worker gave her says: "Put on her big girl panties and get over it?"

* * *

16 February 2009

Twenty-Five Minus Twenty

I have been tagged by a few of my friends, three to be exact (Gabriele, Laura, and Carolyn) on Facebook to do the 25 Random Things About Me dealie-bop.

I can only think of one. So here it is:

When I was a child, instead of a toy box, I had an elephant's foot. A real, African elephant's foot, hollowed and dried, and about 3 feet high. Or so. My sister and I kept our toys in it. My dad spent some time in Africa, and came home with this thing, and we kept our toys in it. Now, when my kids say "Mom, have you seen my [fill in the blank] toy?" I usually respond with "Have you looked in the elephant's foot?"

When I was a child, I was not aware that keeping one's toys in an elephant's foot was not commonplace.

OK, so that was one thing. For the purposes of this post, I will come up with four more, and call it Five Random Things About Me.

2. I can tie a cherry stem into a knot with my tongue.
3. I don't care that Michael Phelps was caught with a bong.
4. I was born with one ear folded over.
5. My most embarassing moment was tripping and falling on stage while in a college production of You Can't Take It With You. My merciful cast members covered it rather well, but this particular performance was for the student body specifically...so the embarassment quotient was high.

And a Bonus #6: Bushmill's makes me a better mommy. At least tonight it does.

There ya' go. If I get more ideas, maybe I'll do the whole 25 things. I just don't think I'm 25-things interesting.


14 February 2009

I Speak Facebook

"Monica is listening to music and preparing cinnamon french toast and turkey bacon, while soft rain falls outside and the children dance adorably through the house."

That's Facebook-eze for I haven't showered yet and the whiney children keep telling me they're hungry and I have to use this french bread or it will be hard enough to use as a blunt force object. The kitchen is an abysmal mess and I don't have anywhere to set down this freaking spatula I'm holding. I'm facing a day with all of them indoors because the weather sucks, and I wish it were 5 o'clock because I just got up but could really use a drink. Can someone make these wild banshees shut up? And if I have to listen to this infernal kiddie-music for five more minutes I think my ears are going to pop off the sides of my head. I am swirling amidst utter chaos.

Facebook makes my life sound so much nicer.

Virtual Life, 1; The Real Thing, 0.


11 February 2009


There is a road near my house that takes our van up and down a nice long hill. In my informal poll of local moms, I have learned that more than a few of us "do the roller coaster" on this hill. Just as the car crests the hill, the kids put both hands up in the air and the passengers go "WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE" all the way down to the bottom.

In my car, apparently there is an age limit to enjoying this little ritual. Once you are a school kid, you are entirely too cool to take part.

So I've got two roller-coaster riders left, and when it's just the three of us driving around, I can safely take this road. Or so I thought. Yesterday, I experienced yet another example of how ridiculous motherhood actually is.

Ellie has decided she hates "WHEEEEEEEEEE." Maybe since she just interviewed for Kindergarten, she is preparing for that life-changing event by shedding her little-girl ways. Lulu still loves "WHEEEEEEEEEEE," as any self-respecting 2-year old should.

So I'm approaching the hill and the two of them are sitting behind me strenuously lobbying for me to do their bidding:

Lulu: "Go wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee mommy! Go wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

Ellie: "NO WHEE MOMMY! I HATE WHEE! NO WHEE MOMMY!" (She gets all caps cuz she's 2-years older and therefore just that much louder.)

Back and forth they went, each of them on the verge of tantrum, should my decision not go their way. For my part, I was really wishing I had taken a different road. I drove as slowly as I could, racking my brain for the best way out of this situation. Who was likely to make my life more difficult if she didn't get her way? Who would scream for louder, for longer? Who do I NOT want to piss off right now?

These are not the kinds of questions that a thoughtful mother wants to have to ponder. I would prefer my parenting decisions to revolve around something other than avoiding misery. But this is the hand I was dealt, so I played it.

It doesn't matter who was happy with my decision and who decided I am the worst mommy ever, because the next time I take that road (since I will forget in a week or two that this little interlude took place), I'll just have to turn the tables and make the other one spitting mad.

Two people wanting two diametrically opposed things to happen: they can't both be happy and one of them is going home mad. I, the mommy, will be responsible for and subjected to the resulting wrath. Welcome to my life. Ridiculous, no?


06 February 2009

He Has A Dream

For MLK, Jr. day, the 3rd graders created little cloud art pieces that started with the prompt: "I have a dream..." Their job was to fill in the blank, and color in the cloud.

My 3rd grader's dream is to one day be the world's best artist.

He is well on his way:

04 February 2009

I Get It!

OK, so I finally joined facebook. And I figured it out. Facebook is how adults can recapture the joy and the rush of passing notes in class.

Facebook. It's better than botox for makin' a girl feel young.

* * *

02 February 2009

I Like People, It's Humanity I Can't Stand

My son asked me today why hip hop artists and rap singers wear big fat crosses if they sing about bad stuff like drugs and killing and other bad things.

An excellent question, offspring.

So I turned it back on him. I pay attention to parenting "experts." "Why do you think they do that?"

He thought it was because they just want to look good. A good answer, and probably fairly accurate. I gave him two more.

First, because every single person on earth has both good impulses and bad ones, and a person can have both good and bad qualities, ideas, actions, etc.

And second, because they're idiots. He nodded knowingly, with a slight smile, at that answer. He's heard it before, I think.

Nuff said.

I was quite proud of the question itself, though. Thoughtful boy, that one.

01 February 2009

Could Anyone Be Happier?

I can only hope that someday, somehow, somewhere, I will, for 1 minute, be this happy:

* * *