09 December 2014

Cupcake Dreams

I want to be a kid again.  I want to tell stories the way my youngest daughter does.  I want to dream about cupcakes.  And I really, really want a Dream Teller of my very own.

During dinner last night, Little T was devouring my homemade spaghetti sauce and making me feel like Martha Stewart, Julia Child, and Ree Drummond, all rolled into one, and she mentioned that she knew she was going to have a good dinner tonight because her Dream Teller told her so.

Come again, daughter?

Your what?

That's right.  She has a Dream Teller.  Every morning, after a night of dreaming about cupcakes and unicorns and whatever other lovelies visit her while she is sleeping, her Dream Teller tells her what her dreams mean.  Here's last night's:

Actually, I don't want to be a kid again: I want to be THIS KID.

* * *

29 October 2014

Averting Awkward Alliteration

Little T learned about alliteration today in school, and she had a great time creating little one line "poems" with her classmates. My personal favorite, koan-like in its profound simplicity, is this:

The careful cat cooked colorful cupcakes in the courtyard.

Let that soak into your brain for a moment. It's pure beauty, right?

She remembered many of the others she composed at school:

The lion licked lots of lemon lollipops.
Savana slid down several slippery slides.
The seal told his sister several silly stories.

Then we started making up our own, Little T, Lady E, and I.  I'm guessing the ones we did here at home used the words "butt" and "poop" more than the ones Mrs. Onu collected from her 2nd graders. I'll save you most of those but here are a few of the gems we came up with:

Happy hippies hold hands and hop through hothouses.
Isabelle has a big icky contagious illness.
The canine’s colorful crap cooled down after being freshly cooped up. (Thank you, 5th grader.)
Big bears bang their butts on the backs of banana trees.

For that last one, she had the word "paws" instead of "butts."  I got a kick out of suggesting she might be able to think of a body part that started with a 'B' and then watching her crack her little self up with the revision. 

I refrained, however, from making the same suggestion for this one:

The princess printed pretty pictures of her prince’s...BUTT.

She was so pleased with herself!  So amused!  So delighted with her hutzpah! 

Mommy was pretty happy, too, to have avoided an awkward -- although admittedly hilarious -- alliterative apex!

Language is such a thrill, isn't it?

20 October 2014

Mr. Angry Truck Driver Guy, this is for you.

Driving home in the twilight tonight, my two youngest daughters in tow, we encountered one of those teachable moments.

I had just managed to avert a potent Clash of the Sisters, and was basking in the success of having steered us successfully away from the threat of punches to an invitation to "come up on my bed when we get home" from the top-bunk dwelling sister.  It was glorious.  And rare.

We were sitting at a red light, when my youngest asked for pain medication and a drink of water.  She is currently in a wrist brace from a slight sprain, and her wrist was hurting.  Also, she can't do some things, such as open a water bottle.  I glanced up at the light, marking that it was still red, grabbed an ibuprofen from my purse, gave it to her, and then reached for the water bottle, opened it and handed it over.  She took the pill, drank the water, and handed back the bottle.

In the time it took for those things to happen, which seemed quite brief to me, the light turned green.  The driver of the truck behind me BLASTED his horn at me.  I spilled the water.  And then I stepped on the gas and began to proceed through the intersection.  Mr. Angry Truck Driver Guy swerved hard to my right and passed me at just the right pace to allow him to give me a nice long glare as he drove by.

Daughter commentary: "MOMmy, HE'S giving you the STINK eye!"

Once he passed me, he swerved hard back to the left and in front of my car.  Just to make a point I guess.

* * *

Earlier today, a co-worker of mine dissolved into tears from two recent and unexpected deaths in her family.

Earlier today, my son called me with a plea for advice for handling an upsetting issue in his life.

Earlier today, I listened to a news story about an Iraqi student who lives in an ISIS-controlled area, who is now breaking the law by attending his state university; he leaves his house before dark each day to minimize the possibility that he will be arrested for pursuing an education.

And right at that moment, in my little minivan cocoon, I had, in a short five minutes, successfully prevented a nasty, soul-crushing fight between my daughters, and tended to an 8-year old's pain.

I kind of think that Mr. Angry Truck Drive Guy needs to take a chill pill and realize what's really important in life.

But my own reaction was interesting too.  I wanted to speed up and RIDE HIS ASS.  I wanted to ask him WTF was so important that he had to shatter my nice little moment with my daughters.  I really wanted to pull right up to him, roll down my window and say in a drippingly sarcastic voice: "Hey, I'm soooooo sorry I made you wait an extra 10 seconds.  I was giving my daughter pain medication for her sprained wrist.  I hope we haven't made you late for something truly important.  Have a nice evening, asshole!"

But my girls, they saw it differently.

They thought the guy was a whack job.  They had a nice little laugh at how stressed out he got.  Nothing was going to touch their groove, or derail them from their top-bunk plans.  So that teachable moment thing?  That was them, teaching me not to sweat the small stuff and to keep right on enjoying moments with the ones I love.

Here's my advice to humanity: whenever possible, whenever it occurs to you, several times a day if necessary, take a giant chill pill and control your stink eye.  It's just not that hard to tend to the more important things in life, if you give it at try.

* * *

We drove on, into the twilight, and soon right along the gorgeous San Francisco bay, and I was so happy to be with my non-fighting daughters on one of the first Fall-feeling evenings of the season.

Chill pills are the best.

* * *

24 September 2014

Hey, I'm a Literary Mama!

This is me: just imagine that's a bottle of Simple Green in my hand, and not a skull.

I am pleased to share with you that today I joined the ranks of some women writers I very much admire: Literary Mama has published a piece of my writing!  There are two reasons this is fun for me:

First, because someone other than me posted something I wrote.  That's just awesome.

Second, because I can share Literary Mama with you!  Please visit, browse, share, comment, and repeat.  It's a wonderful space for the "maternally inclined.


Post Script. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do wear poofy Elizabethan sleeves and tights while cleaning.  Doesn't everyone?

21 September 2014

Thank you, all

Thank you to everyone who has shared kind words with me after my latest post about my mom.  Each one made me tear up a little bit…good tears, as opposed to the sloppy, nose-running, blotchy-faced, sleeve-mucking business that sometimes happens to some people but not me.  Ever.  Mostly.

I haven't been able to keep up with this blog very much in the last several months due to having a job I love and a family I pretty much like well enough.  But I'm very grateful that I have this space, for those moments when I need to write something down.  Writing, as many people have said, is a solitary activity.  But reading -- and commenting and sharing -- those things create community, or show you one was there all along.  So thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading and responding.

I'm grateful for you all.

Much love,


16 September 2014

Dancing Hands

Dementia and decline. Decline and dementia. Disease and depression and doctors.

It can feel all consuming, as if all those "D-words" are the only things that exist, as if the person suffering is hardly there, crowded out by D's big and small.  My father's time these days is spent managing all those D's, trying to make sense of them, trying to respond to them, and trying to make BIG D DECISIONS about care for his wife of 49 years, 8 months, and 18 days.

My too brief visits with my mother these days are overwhelming for so many reasons: guilt that I cannot visit more often; anguish over what she is experiencing and our inability to help; compassion for her, and for my father; gratitude that I can be there at least in some small ways.  And great sadness over how much she has changed.

It is a painful time, but it is not without its bright moments.  As is usually the case, one such bright moment came to me, and to my mother, courtesy of one of my kids.

I brought Little T to visit Grandma Rose a few weeks ago.  Our stay was a mixed up, jumbled bag of good and bad.  When we walked in, Grandma immediately said: "Boy am I glad to see you!" and we proceeded, over the course of about 45 minutes, to talk about things Little T was doing in school, what her siblings were up to, the book Grandma Rose wrote, and myriad other things.  These brief interactions were punctuated by my mom's anxiety bursting forth in expressions of fear and struggle.  One minute she was talking about her book, the next she was wailing about how the staff was punishing her, the next worrying about spitting too much, or her hands trembling, or the pictures on the wall moving.

(A side note: One of the most challenging things for me, about my mom's dementia, is that I'm certain that many of these things are truly happening for her; she is not imagining double vision, for example, or the walls moving, and those things alone would make a person "crazy." It's easy -- but not accurate -- to lump all of a person's odd behaviors into the category of dementia. They do not all belong there. If my hands trembled all the time, it would drive me nuts and would be such a distraction that I'm sure I'd talk of little else. That's not dementia: that's just life. In many ways, it does not even matter where normal ends and dementia starts. She still deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. As do we all.)

Little T did an amazing job of responding to Grandma's now and then questions and of trying to respond to what she thought Grandma might need. She offered tissues, looked for a book to read her, and gave me little suggestions of things that might help.

After about the 6th or 7th time Grandma raised her hands from the bed to show us, with some force and agitation, how much they were shaking, my giant of a tiny seven year old whispered something to me that made me smile. I told her to tell Grandma. Here's what she said:

When your hands are shaking like that, 
you should pretend you have jazz hands!

Something amazing happened. Grandma laughed.

I had not seen that happen in months.  I wanted to grab that girl, swing her around, hug her tight, and tell her how brilliant and wonderful she is.  Instead, I laughed too, choked back a few tears, and joined in as Little T and I did our best jazz hands, in solidarity with my mama, whose hands now danced above her bed cover.

I thought this a rather remarkable interchange.  What I learned later is that not only did it make my mother laugh, but it stayed with her.  She told my dad the next day about Tallulah's suggestion to pretend to have "dancing hands" and since then, she will refer to her dancing hands frequently, with less agitation now.  She also mentioned those dancing hands to me, almost a month later, recalling that Tallulah had suggested them to her.

She's not happy that her hands shake.  But I think -- I hope -- that she now has an occasion to recall a small bright moment with her granddaughter when the shaking thing takes over.  It makes a difference.  It's a chance to smile, when she has too few of those chances these days.

I think, in the midst of my daily striving, while I'm trying to raise children right and do my (paying) job well, as I'm steering teenagers to good choices, and working with Rick to get the bills paid and the carpools accomplished and the house maintained, that the Jazz Hands moment is the single most significant event of the last several months for me.  That moment is proof positive that simply being present is, truly, the most important thing we can do in this life and for each other.

It was absolutely not an earth-shattering moment.  It was a quiet, simple laugh, almost no more than a smile.  But nothing has meant more to me than to see my mother laugh that day, or to hear that the dancing hands have stuck around.  Everything else swirling around me pales by comparison.

Jazz hands, dancing hands: take a small moment and transform it by saying something, anything, to make someone else feel better.

When it works, it will stay with you forever.

17 August 2014


Take heart!  Be strong! Stand firm!  Little T, that mighty girl, that force of nature, that pint sized hurricane…even she can listen to her mama.

Parents, everywhere, if this kid can listen, absorb, and change behavior accordingly, then guess what: this parenting thing isn't impossible after all.  We can make a difference and -- dare to hope -- raise contributing members of society!

Little T came to me the other day and said:

"Mama, I'm having a lot of maturement lately!  

I just put my shoes away the first time you asked!  And I was going to yell at you from the couch to bring me more food, but I got up and made it myself instead!  I even warmed it up in the microwave and put the parmesan cheese on and everything!  And I was really mad at Sam, but I didn't even yell!  I just took a breath and it all went away!

I'm so maturement!"

(While not a fan of the exclamation point, I find it necessary here.  While she may be getting "more maturement" she is also only getting louder with age.)

This is so exciting, people.  This is proof that my words do not fall on deaf ears and that I can, in fact, bend these children to my will.  Every mother deserves some sign of encouragement like this at least once a decade (which is about how often we get them).  With these words in my ears, I just might make it to her 16th birthday!  

* * *

All that maturity aside, she still hijacks my phone with some regularity.  More baby steps.

12 August 2014

She's On To You, New Teacher

I took my 5th grader to a Meet and Greet with her new teacher this evening.  She seems very nice.  I liked her bearing.  Lady E was charming and sweet.  Then, when I mentioned to the teacher that the 5th graders are a great group of kids, Lady E said: "Well…we're a little goofy. Or a lot goofy."

Ms. New Teacher said: "Goofy is good!  I like goofy."

Later, at home, I asked Lady E if she liked Ms. New Teacher.  She said sure.  I remarked that I liked what her teacher said about being goofy.

Lady E cut to the chase: "They all say that at the beginning of the year.  At first, it's all 'Oh! Goofy is great!' and then by half way through it's all: 'STOP BEING GOOFY!' She's just trying to sweet talk us and pull the wool over our eyes."

Teachers beware: Mixed metaphors aside, this is one nine year old you will not be able to fool or trick or otherwise befuddle.  She's a sharp little thing who won't let you get away with much.

In other words, Ms. New Teacher, she's exactly the kind of student you want in your classroom: lucky you!

* * *

09 July 2014

Don't Say Hurry

Note: first published December 2007.  Reprising today because I need the reminder.  

I went to the grocery store tonight, because dinner was, well...waffles...and we were out of powdered sugar. (What? You've never had pizza for breakfast?) We've been out of powdered sugar for a long time, and more than a few folks in our house prefer this confection to syrup on their griddle cakes. Powdered sugar is the one thing I keep forgetting to put on my grocery list, and we've been suffering without it. So when Rick said he would make waffles for dinner, he had a condition: Get Thee To The Store and Come Back With Powdered Sugar. And fruit shake makings. OK, I decided that was a fair deal. I took Elizabeth with me. The waffle iron was already hot, and the batter was ready, so this had to be a fast trip.

Not TOO fast, of course; after all, one moving violation a day is enough, and I've already had a chance to chat with Johnny Law today after "not coming to a complete stop" or some such nonsense. With all five kiddos in the car. Being stopped by the police was fascinating to them, a real adventure. The boys had a bit of fun tormenting Elizabeth by telling her the policeman was going to take her away if she took her arms out of her car seat straps. The policeman really got them going when he leaned slightly into the window, peered in the backseat, and asked if everyone was buckled up. That was cool. He still gave me a ticket for rolling through the stop sign but he mercifully did NOT give me the big fat $500 ticket for not having my proof of insurance with me. (I know, I know...)

But I digress. The grocery store run had to be fast: hungry waffle eaters were waiting. So I zipped over to the store, and in one motion jumped out of the car, opened the sliding door on the driver's side of the car, and hopped in to unbuckle Elizabeth. She, in her inimitable way, put both of her hands up, cocked her head to one side, and said: "Don't say hurry, mama, don't say hurry!"

This reminded me of my friend Nicole's musings on rushing our children through the day. Elizabeth provided me with today's reminder to stop and be in Advent. This should be a time of waiting, not rushing. A time of being present to each other, being presents for each other. So I slowly lifted her out of the car and hugged her tight. I stopped in the cold, dark parking lot, listened to the traffic whizzing by on the busy street, looked into the green eyes of my daughter and just waited. Not sure what I was waiting for, just for something to tell me that it was time to go into the store. That moment came, and off we went, Elizabeth bouncing on my hip, laughing and being silly. Don't say hurry, mama . . . Listen to me laugh, hold me tight, give me a minute of your day; don't say hurry.

24 June 2014

You know you have a big family when...

…your teenager sees baby doll feet poking out from underneath a pillow and momentarily panics that there has been a serious mishap with a baby.  Some baby.  Not sure whose baby, but somebody's baby.  Because there have in the past always been lots of babies around here.

* * *

Poor kid.  He came upstairs half laughing, half crying in relief that he did not, in fact, stumble upon the scene of a homicide.

Makes me wonder what his reaction was when his last sister was born.  I imagine something like: "Oh look, another baby.  Pass the pizza, please."

* * *

19 June 2014

A Chore Deferred


What happens to a chore deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it make a mama's head explode?

* * *


  1. It does not dry up.  It will not go away.  Ever.  You will always, always have your chore to do, and there is no avoiding it or hoping that it will just go away.  That will not ever happen.  
  2. It will fester.  And then it will ooze all manner of grossness -- rotten, rank, family grossness -- all over your iPad, your plans with friends, your Instagram profile, and your brand new, shockingly ugly, overpriced soccer cleats.  The ones I will buy you when hell freezes over. 
  3. It could turn crusty.  But then, you'll inadvertently pick it like a scab and the whole nasty festering process will start over.  It could turn sweet.  If by sweet, you mean every possible county fair deep fried chocolate butter HFCS mess, consumed in large enough quantities to make a person vomit.  That's the kind of sweet it would be. 
  4. It does indeed sag.  Like a dirty diaper, and just as stinky.  And as heavy as a full Diaper Genie bag in the Duggar household.  And it will drag you down and down and down until you do something radical, as in, until you do what you are supposed to do anyway.
  5. And yes.  Your mama's head will explode.  Making an ever bigger mess for you to clean up.  You and your siblings will have to decide who's on brain detail.

* * *

Child of mine, I beg of you: do not defer your dreams.  But do your chores first.

* * *

My (for lack of a better word) inspiration

15 June 2014

12 June 2014

The World Cup is Here!

When Sam was seven years old, he colored thirty-two flags for every nation in the 2006 world cup, and thus was born a tradition.

The Wall of Nations!
Flags will come down as countries are eliminated.

For the record, we are supporting -- of course -- the United States, as well as Croatia (my heritage) and Spain (because we love them).  

For the record, we are NOT supporting Ghana or Portugal.

For the record, we are psyched, ready, giddy, and not a little bit bummed that this thing called work will get in the way of lots and lots of soccer viewing.


To players and fans everywhere -- enjoy the next four weeks!  I know we will!

* * *

08 June 2014

When Hopscotch Goes Bad

My 7 year old daughter drew a hopscotch in front of our house a few weeks ago, with multi-colored chalk.  She drew the requisite ten boxes, and busied herself for a time hopping up and down our sidewalk.

Shortly, though, ten boxes just wasn't doing it for her, so she added more.  She added and added.  I'd check on her progress every so often: twenty…thirty-two…forty-three.  She was finally content with her masterpiece when sixty-one colorful numbered boxes lined our sidewalk.  Much jumping ensued, the kind that keeps children happily playing outside into the waning light of a summer evening, hoping to stay outside forever.  It was awesome, just the kind of simple but magical thing that makes me love watching my children grow up.

This is where we all smile, and sigh, and remember the sweet innocence of youth.

However, it seems some mischievous neighbor, or perhaps just a passer-by, thought her artwork lacking.  Someone came along and added, in chalk, which he either possessed already, or came all the way up to our front porch to get, three large drawings of the male anatomy.

That warm nostalgic feeling I had about childhood and summer evenings?  Not so much anymore.  My front walk went from children's fairyland to a red-light district just like that.

They've now been there for three days: we've had so many places to be this weekend that no one has been home long enough to clean them up, until today.  In fact, my 13 year old son, V, is out there as I type, taking care of the problem.  My catalyst to clean came from this conversation, on our way home from a soccer game today:

From way back in the third row, Little T announced that she couldn't wait to get home and play on her hopscotch "court."  I glanced over at V, who knows about the graffiti already because I had to ask him if he had done it (he had not) and said quietly: "We gotta clean that up."

Predictably, my small side comment to their brother, said practically under my breath, was heard perfectly clearly by the same girls who can't hear me saying their names over and over and over and louder and louder and louder when I need them to stop bickering.  But they heard me this time, and immediately wanted to know why.

"Why?  Why do we need to clean it?  Don't get rid of it!  It's fun!  
Why would you clean it? Why MOM WHY?!?!?!?"  

Tallulah started to get upset -- how dare I suggest that we get rid of all her hard work!  That's when V leaned over to me and said: "Yeah, when [his buddy] Andy came over yesterday, he said 'Uh…dude…you know there's a big dick on your sidewalk?"

This did nothing to quell the girls' curiosity.  While they didn't hear what V said, busy as they were demanding answers from me, they couldn't help but see my reaction, which was to spit my water all over the steering wheel.   I could. not. stop. laughing.  I could not control myself.  And if the girls could possibly get MORE curious and demanding, they did:

"What??  What are you laughing?  What's so funny!??! 
What happened to the hopscotch!  

Somehow--maybe V turned around and told her--the nine year old figured it out: "Oh my gosh, I thought that was a SMILEY FACE!"  More high-octane hilarity, this time with V and one daughter joining in.

The 11 year old also figured it out and wanted everyone to STOP TALKING ABOUT IT NOW.

The only one still in the dark was the 7 year old, the original hopscotch artist, who was fairly beside herself by now demanding to know why her work needed to be destroyed.

I tapped the 9 year old for the job: "You tell her -- I don't want to be the one to say it."

Matter of factly, the 9 year old delivered the news: "Someone drew a penis and some testicles on your hopscotch, Little T."

For a split second, the mayhem ceased, as we waited to see what T would say.  Being the super mature one in the group, I just tried not to guffaw audibly or drive off the road.  And then:

"Is THAT all???  I thought it was 
going to be something BAD!"

And that, my friends, is how you respond to vulgarity when you are the youngest of five.

And she still doesn't want us to clean it up.

* * *

02 June 2014

What's Happening to Grandma

My mother feels abandoned.

She is 77 years old, and suffering from Alzheimer's disease, or at least, that's the best guess of doctors who have been trying for over two years to figure out what exactly is going on.

This is not a post about who she really is, or how unfair it is that dementia has so utterly altered her.  I am positive I have words upon words to fill up posts on that topic, posts that may or may not ever get written.  Suffice to say that I cannot think about my mother without a torrent of thoughts and feelings about the difference between what she is like today and what she was like before "the troubles."  I think she would appreciate that reference, scholar as she is of all things Irish.

This is a post about watching my children struggle with watching their grandmother struggle.

I've read things before about the so-called Sandwich Generation, that place in a person's life when she is both dealing with aging parents and raising children.  Before being one of those people, I only ever thought about the difficulty of doing both.  But over the past couple of years, I've realized the emotional challenge of (a) not having my mother around to talk to about raising the children and (b) having to help my children deal with what's happening to their grandmother.  This part of the sandwich is all about feeling the weight of the two generations on either side of me.

It has scared me, having to tell my children sad and difficult details.  It has scared me, imagining how they will react to her continual decline.  But two experiences recently have helped me realize that these children of mine are strong, and that helping them "deal" with all of this is actually helping me as well.

A few months ago, I took my two youngest daughters, ages 7 and 9, to visit my mom.  Honestly, I wouldn't have done this if I didn't have another errand to do near my parents' house and the timing was such that I couldn't go without them.  I wouldn't have done it otherwise because visiting mom is hard enough for me, and I couldn't quite imagine what it would be like to have my little ones along.  I took them first to the local park, to swing and play and grab a snack.  When I realized it was almost 6pm, I hurried them away from the park, saying: "Come on girls, we need to hurry.  I want to make sure we get to the bakery before it closes."

7 year old, almost brightly: "And, we want to make sure we get to grandma's house while she's still alive!"

Kind of a shocking thing to hear.  I tried to take it in stride and hear it for what it clearly was: acknowledgement that things are not OK for grandma.  I told both girls that while grandma was sick and having a hard time, I was sure she would be there and happy to see us when we got there.

When we did get there, it was a tough visit.  The girls hadn't seen grandma in months, so there was the obvious and striking physical decline for them to deal with.  Also, my mom was feeling lonely, with my dad away for the day and her usual caregiver out for a few hours.  So she kept telling me and the kind woman filling in as caregiver that she has been abandoned.  We assured her this wasn't true.  But when it came time for me take my daughters home, it was pretty tough to be telling her goodbye while she kept wailing "Abandoned!  Abandoned!"

I was devastated that my girls had to hear all of that.  We talked about it on the way home.  They talked about it with their dad over the next few days.  Our seven year old, in particular, wanted to talk about it being sad.

But a few weeks later, when I was again going to see my mom, my youngest daughter begged and pleaded to come too.  She wanted to see grandma.  She wanted to tell grandma that she loved her.

She was not scared off by the dementia or the sadness: she wanted to run back into that house and be a force for good.  I tell my children, almost every morning, when I leave the house or drop them at school: "Be a force for good in the world today!"  Usually, I'm being goofy, although I do mean it, every time.  Apparently, the little one is listening.  Actually, it's probably not me: it's probably just her natural instinct to hug people who are sad.

The other story comes from my oldest.  He also came with me to see my mom recently, and he hadn't seen her for over a year.  He was shocked.  I was sad for him, and still am, because I know that what he saw that day is staying with him.  I know this from the questions he has asked me every couple of days since that visit.  First, he told me that it was really hard for him.  I told him I knew that it was and that I was so proud of him for being able to talk to her directly and kindly, even while it was hard.   Then he asked me these questions:

What is this like for you, mom?
Is grandma in pain?
Does she laugh anymore?

A few days later:

How is papa (grandpa) doing with all of the stuff grandma is going through?  Is he OK?

A few days later:

Does grandma remember her friends?  Does she still care about them?

A few days later:

Does grandma get to go places anymore?
Does she enjoy things still?

Each of those questions gave me a chance to say a little more about my mom and what she's going through.  And surprisingly, articulating the answers helped me realize that I was worrying over many of the same questions.  His questions also made me (again) marvel at the way his mind works, at the way he always pushes us, always wants to understand what other people are going through.  Talking to him about my mom is helping to demystify for me the whole scary process of helping my kids deal with what's happening to grandma.

These two stories from my children make me grateful.  Grateful that despite being uncomfortable and nervous and fearful, I have had the chance to talk to them about what's going on.  It has helped me more than it has helped them, I think.  They have what they need: the instincts to love the people they love, and the need to ask all the right questions, the ones about laughing and pain and remembering our friends.

All I have to do is pay attention.

* * *

18 May 2014

Creativity Cures the Crazies

Yeah, so it's been crazy around here.

Like 15 soccer games in one weekend crazy.

Like "why did I take on that freelance project? crazy.

Like three car repairs in one month crazy.

Like too many people needing too many socks and too many meals and too many interventions crazy.

But it turns out, there's a cure for that.  I found it in my very own, crazy whack-a-doodle house yesterday morning.  I was racing around trying to get everyone out the door, which I'll just say up front I really suck at doing.  Spare me the lecture about teaching everyone to do for themselves.  I'd suck at it if were only me I needed to get ready.  I'm raising little apples that aren't falling far from me, so they all suck at it too.

So there I am, racing, stressing,  and spreading my unique brand of freak-out far and wide among my minions. The angst was high, my friends, the mama was frazzled.  But all of the sudden, and for no particular reason, I got stopped short by this, hanging on my wall as it has for the past few years:

That is a beautiful ceramic piece, handmade by our neighbor Matt.  It stopped me short because just a glance at it reminded me--in a moment of chaos--that beauty exists.  People create things and people give gifts and people share things with other people.  I don't know why it stopped me short yesterday, May 17, 2014, and why it hasn't done that before.  I don't know why that face needed to speak to me just then.  But I'm so glad it did.

While this may sound hokey, it was a moment that truly and practically helped me calm down.  Oh sure, the crazy continued, as it always has and will for the foreseeable future. But I had a small glimpse into something else, into a place where people take their hands and make something from nothing, and then give what they created away, creating something more, creating relationships, and also moments for crazy, whack-a-doodle mamas to find a little peace.

Thank you Matt!

Seriously people, make some stuff and give it away.  It's a freakin' transformational act.

* * *

19 April 2014

Parenting Books Are a Racket: Here's Why

You know those parents who always talk to their kids in calm voices?  And are always saying things like, "I think you could have made a better choice"? And are irritatingly peaceful when their children are doing things that would make the rest of us want to scream and/or run for the hills?

I used to roll my eyes at them.  Now, I want to be one of them.

I used to think they were acting that way because they were sure that doing so was a better parenting strategy, that they would raise better children with this method than with all that yellin' the rest of us do..

Lately, I'm thinking that this is not the case.  I've tried that calm voice thing.  For days on end now, I've been curbing my yelling, encouraging better choices, offering positive alternatives, and modeling the change I want to see in my children.  It's totally not working.  They remain shrill gremlin-like harpies.

I don't think parenting makes a whit of difference.  Case in point:

Kids bickering to beat the band?  Making you want to tear your own ears off?

  • If you yell and scream at them and get really pissed off that they can't manage a 5 minute car ride without being evil to each other, they will still fight and bicker and behave abominably
  • If you calmly tell them that you expect them to be better to each other, and calmly explain a tangible consequence if they choose to keep fighting, and calmly grip the steering wheel without going all Samuel Jackson on their asses, they will still fight and bicker and behave abominably.

The only difference is you.  If you chose the latter, you will not have succumbed to hypocrisy and your throat will not hurt.  You will not have anything to feel bad about later (unless you count having children who ignore you; depending on the day, I do) and you will not be exhausted by your own rage.  The kids?  Will be exactly as unpleasant as ever.  Mox nix.  Makes no difference.  Calm parents know this.

I suspect that every parenting book in the world is really only about making parents feel better about themselves, not about changing children's behavior.  It's as if the title of every single one should really just be: How Not To Be A Hypocrite, and Save Your Vocal Cords in the Process.

All those books?  Are about exactly the same thing.  Survival.
image from http://dulcefamily.blogspot.com

The kids will raise themselves.  I'm just gonna try to get them to adulthood with my throat and my dignity intact.

* * *

18 April 2014

Good Friday Rerun

Originally posted back in 2010.

This morning, Little T asked me to tell her the story of when Jesus died. I was a little occupied with 3 or 4 other multi-tasking distractions, so I tapped her 5 year old sister for the job. (Little T told me a few weeks ago that Lady E had told her the story before, so there was precedence.)

Lady E happily complied:

So when Jesus died, there were these people who put nails on his wrists and his feet and put him up on a cross because he wouldn't punch his pilot.

Unfortunately, she never made it to the Resurrection part of the story because her mother was howling too loudly with laughter.  The real question here, then, is: WWJFWhich Would Jesus Fly: Coach or First Class??

* * *

Postscript: the 3 and 5 year olds of this story are now 7 and 9.  I still howl every time I think of it.  Also? The first time I posted this, I got two awesome answers to the real question:

Sandy said...
Don't be silly - He'd be the co-pilot

Homemaker Man said...
Jesus flies business class. On Virgin airlines.

On that hilarious note, a blessed Good Friday to all!

* * *

09 April 2014

Kurt! I Had No Idea I Loved You So!

I have learned more cool stuff about Kurt Vonnegut in the last few weeks than I ever thought I would want to know.

First, there was the article in the Huffington Post about the letter Mr. Vonnegut wrote in 2006 to a class of high school students who had asked him to come and visit them.  He declined the visit, but gave them the best life advice ever.  Good for students, good for people.  Good for curmudgeonly moms too.

"Do art, and do it for the rest of your lives."  Go read the rest.  Seriously, do it right now.

And it turns out, writing was not his only art!  Page-turner, a New Yorker blog, has a post up about Vonnegut's "whimsical drawings."  Here is one:

My favorite!

Look at that.  It's awesome.  And I do not mean to diminish his work one teensy bit when I say that it reminds me of my kids' art.  Their art is awesome too.  I particularly love the way he has colored in some of the shapes created by his free flowing black lines.  My kids do this.  I did this when I was a youth.  Looking at this picture makes me kind of want to do it more. 

Do art, people.  It's good for the soul.  

Thanks Mr. Vonnegut!  I'm sure you are having a grand ole time in that eternal art studio in the sky!

* * *

07 April 2014

So Over Frozen

After disappointing my daughters this morning and earning the title Meanest Mom Ever for the umpteenth time by not agreeing to buy a Do You Want to Build a Snowman ringtone for my phone, that song was -- predictably -- stuck in my head.  I even made a graphic for it:

It stuck in my head so badly, that I finally just gave in and came up with an impromptu version of my own.  

Perhaps a few of you can relate.

So here, for your enjoyment,  is an ode to my daughters, who are making me koo-koo-for-cocoa-puffs with their endless, infernal repetitions of those damn catchy Frozen numbers.

Do You Wanna Make My Ears Bleed?  

(Sing along…I know you know the tune.)


(Said child, rapping on my skull: Rap, rap, rap, rap, rap, rap)

Do you wanna make my ears bleed?
Come on, admit you do.
I always hear you, everyday
Singing away
It's like you’ve pushed me far
Off the deep end, baby
And now, I’m nuts
I wish you would stop sing-EEEENG

Do you wanna make my ears bleed?
Or maybe make me lose my coo-ool.

My kid:
Go away, Mama
Would if I could, kid.

Do you wanna make my ears bleed?
Or ride my nerves to shreds
I think lots of silence is overdue
I've started craving
a cell with empty walls—
(Cloistered or padded, Mama?)
I’d like to be a little lonely
In some empty rooms,

Just hearing the hours tick by-
(Tic-Tock, Tic-Tock, Tic-Tock, Tic-Tock, Tic-Tock)


My Kid (Knocking)

Please, I know you really love me,
Show me by shutting uh-up.
I say “have mercy” and I’m begging you
I’m always here for you, just close your mouth!
You only have one mother
Don’t make her go insane
What is it gonna be?

Do you wanna make my ears bleed?

* * *

Camera pulls away from a weeping mother…fade to black…aaaaaaand: scene.

* * *

Like this post?  Find more like this one right here.

10 March 2014

Denial is a river you can float pretty far on...

Sunday started far too early yesterday.  Curse that Daylight Savings Time thing.  There I was, cuddling up with my youngest at 6:45am, feeling the full effects of missing a precious hour of snooze.

She, on the other hand, was radiant at that ungodly hour.  She climbed in bed, looked up at me with a satisfied smile, tucked her hands behind her head and sighed blissfully:

"Ahhhh, it felt so good to get an extra hour of sleep last night!"

While it was inspiring to see someone so happy at that hour of the morning, I felt the need to correct her.  I told her that I was happy she felt so rested!  And that actually, we lost an hour of sleep overnight, instead of getting an extra one.

"Oh no, no, no, mama!  I went to bed early last night!  I was asleep when you all skipped that hour of sleep, and then I stayed asleep even longer, so I got an extra one!"

Little T springs forward with panache.


* * *

03 March 2014

What I Want My Daughters To Know. And My Sons.

The deeper business of being beautiful on the inside.

Please share this far and wide.  Lupita, I am so grateful to you for your words.

* * *

15 February 2014

Don't Miss This Opportunity

Yesterday, I found out why I've been experiencing muscle pain and muscle fatigue for the past several months: turns out I have a pretty severe Vitamin D deficiency.  How delightful that my inability to move is not a character flaw!  How delightful is health insurance!  How delightful that, with Vitamin D supplements on board, my children might remember me for something besides collapsing on my pillows!  I am so looking forward to feeling better.

This discovery is a good reminder that we should listen to our bodies.  I've been ignoring my collection of symptoms for a long, long time, assuming that it was just a matter of not getting enough rest, or just because I'm getting older, or just not important enough to pay attention to.  I would never have ignored the ongoing, chronic aches and pains of one of my children; why was I willing to ignore my own?

Think about your own body: are you ignoring anything that you maybe should give a little credence to?  Anything worth asking a doctor about?  Anything worth feeling better for?  Don't miss this opportunity.

* * *

Yesterday, I read a New Yorker essay by Roger Angell* that moved me to tears.  (Updated: The link will take you to full article; The New Yorker posted it in its entirety today.)  So much of my day is occupied by keeping up with my computer and responding to my smart phone that I think some of those tears were due to spending a few minutes with the slick, weighted pages of a good magazine, but most of them were because Angell's writing is exquisite.  His ability to weave back and forth between the personal and the universal is captivating.  I miss reading and I miss writers, and I can't wait to read more and more and more.  Why and how did I ever lose that habit?

Think about your nightstand: does it hold books and magazines you have been meaning to read? Are you making time for Downton and Duck Dynasty but putting off Didion, Diaz or Dos Passos?  Is there anything there worth spending time with?  Don't miss this opportunity.

* * *

Yesterday, while I was ranting on Facebook about mistakenly buying cilantro instead of parsley and being severely disappointed that I couldn't make the dinner I was planning, a family in San Diego was mourning the loss of a 20 year old son, killed while skateboarding by a young drunk driver who fled the scene.  I heard about it, mere moments after my silly FB post, from a friend of mine who knows the family.

There aren't really words for losing a child.  It's too painful to imagine or express.  So many things are unimportant, so many daily annoyances and inconveniences distract us from what really matters.  I read the article about the family: there was a photo of 7 or 8 of them, gathered on the beach facing a makeshift memorial of balloons and flowers.  They stood in a group, shoulder to shoulder, leaning and holding on to each other, keeping each other upright in their grief.  One of them was missing.  One of the people who belonged there was not there, could not help with the holding.

Think about your family and friends: who belongs there?  Are any of them missing?  Can you go grab one and hold him up for awhile?  Can one of them do the same for you?  Do you need to leave aside minor annoyances and tell someone you love them?  Don't miss this opportunity.

* * *  

*Thank you Kelly Corrigan, for the Twitter recommendation for Angell's essay.

14 February 2014

Bella Gets Her Wish


Once upon a time a princess lived. 

Her name was Bella.  Bella worked hard for what she wanted, which wasn’t very hard because she got whatever whenever she wanted. 

One day Bella saw normal children doing normal things getting dirty in the dirt.  She smiled.  She wished she could get dirty and laugh.  She always had to be clean and dainty.  She thought “Ick!”

“I hate being all dainty and pretty!” said Bella.  The next morning she woke up in a ordinary green house instead of a castle.  She went into her living room and found her parents but they were ordinary parents not dainty parents.  Bella smiled and thought “My wish came true!” For the rest of her life she will be normal and dirty not dainty, not clean, and not a princess, but a soccer player. 

The End.

* * *

Why yes, we do live in a green house, as a matter of fact.  And yes, we are rather ordinary.  I love this kid's stories.  Here's one from several years ago: The Castle.

* * *