Friday, November 20, 2009

Our hamster died this morning. Or rather, I found our dead hamster this morning. She hadn't moved from the little nest she'd made in the shavings last night. Hadn't moved from the spot where I'd last given her a gentle goodnight pat between the shoulder blades.

"She seems a little slow," I'd said to my husband.
"Are you poking her?" he said from the next room.
I removed my hand from the cage. "Not poking," I said.
"Let her sleep. She's sleeping."

It's been established that I'm a worrier. I worry. Sometimes for nothing. Sometimes I wake up to a dead hamster.

Her name was Sunshine.

My daughter sobbed when I told her and then she wanted to touch the little body. She wanted to stroke the soft, black fur and she wanted to have a funeral.

My husband went somewhat sheepishly to the garage and returned with a small box that he'd quickly emptied of deck screws.

My daughter drew a small picture -- herself: stick arms and curly hair, a big upside down "u" for a mouth and Sunshine like a small, prickly pickle next to her.

We dug a hole in the garden and my son said "This is just like a real funeral." When Sadie didn't want to put the first shovel full of dirt into the grave, Theo took the shovel and did it with a gentleness that belies his seven years. He put his arms around his sister and said he liked the way Sunshine's whiskers had wiggled.

Later, Sadie took her little dry erase board and asked me for each letter of the word, "Sunshine." She drew hearts above the word and beneath it, in a small rectangle, the little hamster. She showed me the picture and made a sad face. Not the sad face of this morning, but the practiced sad face of a dramatic child. Seconds later, she'd erased the whole thing.

The next drawing she made was of the new hamster, (for of course there is a new hamster) complete with her white spots. Above the new hamster, she draws a slightly smaller version of the old hamster.

"Both," she says.

She loves them both, her memory as easily wiped as her dry erase board.

The new hamster's name is Flowersheartsandstars. I love her less than the first hamster. I know from experience not to attach to so ephemeral a creature.

Small body, warm last night, stiff and cold this morning.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A new year

On Friday, my yoga instructor spent our whole class talking about sweetness. It's Rosh Hashana and it seems apples and honey are both literally and figuratively on the tip of nearly every tongue.

"Sweet," she said, guiding us into our first forward bend. "Sweet," I whispered to my tight hamstrings and cranky neck. "Slow," she said. "Like honey."

I bent over, thought of dripping honey, the slow undulation of syrup and the guy next to me popped down into a quick push-up before bobbing back up. I was working on languid and he was pumping away with the regularity of a piston. I breathed slowly and he exhaled loudly and did a couple more push-ups before lowering down into chaturanga dandasana.

I tried to channel sweet and slow, but eventually, I found myself going fast and loose. In the way that my chewing grows more rapid when I eat with my children, I found it almost impossible to slow down with this machine next to me. At one point, he and I rose to standing and spent a good two beats with our arms in the sky looking at the relaxed, folded bodies of our classmates.

I started to develop a very un-yoga-like hatred for this guy.

Of course he turned out to be my partner for stretches.

The first stretch had me on my belly, knees bent, my hands around my ankles. He was to sit on my feet and pull my shoulders back. If it's tricky to imagine, it's trickier by far to do comfortably when the grumpiest guy in the world is sitting on your feet and pulling your shoulders back as though he were reining a team of runaway horses.

Still the hatred.

And then we switched. And he was confused and I could see how tight his shoulders were. And he mumbled something about "not knowing why he was even there." And then, I put my hand between his shoulder blades and helped him slow down. Anusara yoga is about opening up your heart. A sweet sentiment if ever I've heard one. Sometimes I'm kind of grossed out by all the heart opening, but I get it. It's not easy for to say "soften your heart," without feeling a little silly, but when I actually do soften my heart, I feel better. My shoulders, tight little monsters that they are, relax. I feel calm. It's all good stuff. Perhaps because of that open heart, I suddenly liked this guy.

And, more importantly, I realized that his rhythm didn't have to be my rhythm. And that can apply to lots of things. Not just yoga. My kids can run around and scream their heads off, but it doesn't mean I have to. Just because there are folks who have found their "in" to writing at twenty or thirty does not mean I can't do it a hair past forty.

These are good things to remember at the new year.

The Jewish new year coincides with my children's return to school and is therefore a kind of double new year for me. I am back to work. Trying to practice every day. Sweetly some days, fast and furious others. But trying to set my own speed.

Monday, September 14, 2009

One of these days...

So, I got this note from my agent and she says she's a bit "stymied." We've sent my book to lots of publishers and though they've all been incredibly complimentary and encouraging and impressed and excited, not one of them has been able to see clear to publish my book.

I got pretty darned sad when I read her note the first time. The next day, I read it again and I felt disappointed. I went to the bookstore and right there on the "new arrivals" stack were memoirs by a cat and a dog (sure they were told to humans) but for the love of Mike, cats and dogs can get their furry little mugs on a book jacket, while I, the woman who helped look after her dad AND her grandmother while they simultaneously suffered from Alzheimer's disease can't catch a break. This is where the wallowing in self pity part began.

But then, a couple of days later, I started to think more clearly. I can do this. My Dad was the guy who boasted about building his own roadside attraction without a government grant. He was the King of DIY and, that said, why shouldn't I take a page from HIS book when trying to sell my own. So, I'm looking at other options. There are lots of possibilities.

All I can do is keep writing. All I can do is keep moving forward with an open heart and the belief that what's supposed to happen will happen. All in good time.

So, I've started another blog. Yes, it's true I'm not so regular with this blog, but the new blog has a theme! It's called Dearest You. Borrowing from Neil Young, "I'm going to sit down and write a long letter to all the good friends I've known." One of these days might as well be today.

check it out

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

First day of school. Whew!

Immediate relief followed by a wave of nostalgia, longing and generalized weepiness.

My daughter walked into Kindergarten like Sarah Bernhardt taking the stage. Despite an unscheduled fire alarm, despite a weeping mother (nope, not me) leaning against the door frame of her classroom, Sadie was fine. We saw her through the fence, heading out for the fire drill, hand in hand with some tow-headed fella in a striped shirt. She looked like she belonged.
My son, dove into second grade head first much in the way he dives into everything. I could see his big smile clear across the playground.

Afterwards, my husband and I drove to a strangely silent house. I swept and vacuumed. Paid those bills I've been trying to get to and organized the closet and then I just sat. The next nine months opened up wide to me. I'm filled with ideas. I've got seeds in the raised beds and stories in my brain. I'm ready to go.

We picked up the kids after school and celebrated a successful first day with frozen yogurt. Sadie said a boy had "snatched" some of her crayons and Theo wished he could take the walkie talkies to school so she could alert him to bullies.

"What would you do if she called," I asked.

"I would come and tell that guy to give back her crayons," he said.

I got misty eyed. My husband did too and then he ordered an extra sundae for us to share.

It was a great, great day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It's been just about a month since my last post and in that month the weird, white larvae in a jar on the counter made it's last transformation in the long trip from meal worm to darkling beetle. The creature, christened "Isabella" by my daughter started as "live bait" about two months ago where she (he?) was scooped unceremoniously from a cardboard box full of wheat germ at our school science fair into a chinese takeout container held by my beaming child.

Oh, glorious worm.

When the take-out container seemed less than escape proof, we moved the little guy (gal?) to a spaghetti sauce jar. We were careful to move the remaining wheat germ (food and housing) and also added one leaf of lettuce from our garden.

The next day the worm had disappeared beneath the lettuce and for two days, he didn't come out.

"He's dead," my husband said.

After a quick Google, I returned certain. Meal worms are stiff and dark brown when dead. Ours, though unmoving, was still creamy colored.

In a few days, the critter emerged sporting longer front legs.

A few weeks later, things looked bad.

"He's dead," my husband said.

"Her name is Isabella," my daughter declared. "He's just fine. You don't know anything."

I hoped for the best and added a newly harvested baby carrot for good measure.

Eventually the worm turned into the kind of creature I'm certain Stan Winston turned to when looking for inspiration. If it had been any bigger than an inch, I'm not sure I could have slept through the night. Pale and still, with a bulbous head and tapered abdomen, it slept all day, it's arms folded tight over it's chest.

"It's dead," my husband said, holding the jar close to peer inside. Moments later, he shrieked and returned the thing to the counter. "It moved."

For days, it lay in a kind of half suspension, twitching as though dreaming of... what? A juicy leaf, a pile of wheat germ? Another meal worm? Longing for legs, longing for movement?

And one day it emerged from the pale crust, a beetle. Rosy colored at first, but totally beetle like in every way. No sign of the worm left at all.

"It's the best day ever," my daughter announced. "It's water day, I'm wearing my favorite dress and my darkling beetle has hatched!"

It was a good day. There have been lots of them.

We let the beetle stay in the jar until it turned black. We celebrated his arrival with a wedge of fresh peach and then we set him free in the garden to go on about his way.

This summer both of my kids are growing. The inch of bare skin between the waistband of Sadie's skirt and the hem of her shirt let me know just how much. Theo's lost a front tooth and the gap gains him a year at least. I'm a year and a month older -- more flexible and less. Looking around at the changes and marveling at how fast time passes and how glad I am to be here no matter what.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

In honor of my birthday, a short list of things I like about myself:

It is very easy to make me laugh.
My collar bone.
My curiosity.
I make good cookies.
I'm a good reader.
I have great friends.
I say yes more often than I say no.
I make up really silly songs.
My big, white, Chicklet teeth.

I am forty-one.  I feel pretty, darned good.

Monday, June 29, 2009

This weekend, I went into the woods.  In the company of old friends and new ones, I pitched a tent and cooked food over a fire.  I washed my dishes in a white plastic tub while the outdoor spigot splashed mud around my ankles.  My children climbed trees and rocks.  They stood on picnic tables and hooted at the sky.  My children ate perfectly toasted marshmallows and marshmallows that were burned to crisp black shadows.  There were crickets and stars in the black sky and the sound of wind in the trees.  

The first morning, I woke before the others and went out of my tent into the clearing.  On the cement tables there was scanty evidence of the night before -- a few tin cups bearing the sticky residue of red wine, a sticky smear of melted chocolate, some silverware that had not made it into the wash bucket.  The sky was light, but pale, sheltered from the sun the way a face can be light but pale under a parasol.  I stood and let my ears open to the silence.  On a day to day basis, I feel like my hearing tightens against the city noises and even to the sounds of my own children.  When I find myself in the company of silence I need to relax myself into it the way I might sink down into a hot bath.  Staying still and letting my ears open, I heard birds, the rustle of leaves above my head and then a louder sound.  Immediately I looked to the sky for helicopters, up the hill to the road for a car, but found nothing.  The more I listened, the louder the buzz became.  I stood under the largest tree at the edge of the clearing and the buzz grew louder.  Bees.  So many bees they roared like an engine.  So many bees I half expected to see the pale morning go dark, blotted out by their small velvety bodies.  It was a little frightening.  

But the sun continued to rise and people emerged from their tents.   Our children spilled out into the clearing, billowing dust into the air and the buzz was lost beneath all the human sounds of breakfast and teeth brushing and ball kicking.  The bees appeared in groups of two or three to lap at the syrup on our plates or land with relish upon a strip of bacon.  The storm of bees never came.

I think of this storm now that I am home and the sound of traffic is keeping company with the tap of my fingers on the keyboard.  I hear the pages my husband turns in his book and the deep breathing that makes me almost completely certain that my daughter has fallen asleep.  We are safe here, safe in the noises of our life.  The click and whir of the dishwasher, the cat's claws against the wood floor, the creak of my knees as I cross and re-cross my legs.  These noises are familiar and comforting.  

The storm of bees never came, but there was something unsettling about the possibility of the storm.  This is true of a perfectly pale morning and, in the woods, I found it is true for people, too.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My son is worried about dying.  He doesn't want to miss anything.  He wonders if when you're dead you still see people.  He'd want to see his sister.  He doesn't want to stop seeing things.  He wants to know if there is a heaven and if there is will he go there?  He wants to know if when we die, we turn into something else.  What's a soul?  How does it feel to die?  Do you still sleep in heaven?  Do they have computers there?

Holy shit.  Tonight I handled all these questions solo while my husband was at a Dodger's game.  I held my sweet son and kissed his sweaty head and tried to come up with explanations or theories or at least a good yarn.  After a while I realized that pretty much every other sentence began with "well, some people believe..."  I started to think about what I believe.

I believe in the soul.  I believe that the when we lose people, they are still with us in some way that is bigger than memory.  I believe that my Dad looks in on me from time to time.  While I don't really know about a heaven full of angels, I do like to think of all the people I have lost together somewhere, strangers at first, but slowly discovering each in the other some common thread.  I like to think that in this place my Dad finally had a beer with John Wayne and Roy Rogers and Jimmy Stewart.  

I tried to explain death to Theo, but I couldn't say it won't happen.  We have a long, long time together, I said.  He wondered if his pediatrician could invent a medicine that would stop him from aging.  He'd like to stay six forever.  I promised him that seven would be just as good --that there would wonderful things in every year and then I curled up around him and let him fall asleep in my arms because in the end, my love is the only thing I know for sure.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tonight, pizza and wine with a dear friend.  Feel ever so grateful to have these people in my life.  She's reading "Little House on the Prairie" to her girls and I'm envious because I don't think my Sadie is old enough to really, really love it.  I want her to really, really love it.  I think about when I first read these books.  I was nine.  It seems that many of my strongest memories rooted deeply in my ninth year.  I read "Little Women."  And figured out that my Dad was mortal.  I got my ears pierced.  A friend died.  Big things.  But I remember little things, too.  Like singing Christmas carols with my brother in the backseat of my mom's old, yellow Volvo.  I remember my winter jacket.  Bright blue with yellow elastic at the wrists.  I hated that jacket.  

My kids have memories now.  They have memories with more staying power than the soap bubbly remembrances of their youth.  This makes me self conscious.  What will they take with them into their forties and beyond?  Though I want them to take the same things I did, I know that everyone has their own packing system.  When I travel, I always pick a color scheme before I pack my suitcase.  My husband just takes whatever is clean.   It's just what we do.

Friday, May 1, 2009

I just finished making a bundt cake for my son's elementary school fundraiser.  It will be delicious.  I know this because I licked the batter from the spoon when I had finished filling the pan.  I'm a batter eater.  I love batter.  And cookie dough, too.  Bring me your raw, your uncooked, your bowls teeming with salmonella.  

Years and years ago, way back when I was in elementary school, I remember an afternoon spent baking cookies at a friend's house.  I remember the horrified look that crossed over the face of my friend's mom when I popped a big wad of dough into my mouth.  
"Spit it out," she demanded.  And, because she was very tall and also the gym teacher at my school and I was used to obeying her barked commands, I did.
"It's not ready," she said.  "It's filled with bacteria.  You could get very, very sick."
I opened my eyes wide and tried not to cry.  As a child, (and truthfully as an adult) I hate to disappoint.  
Later when I returned home with a little baggy of crunchy cookies, I asked my own mom about the dough.  We always sampled.  We never talked about bacteria.  Were we going to die?
"Some people worry about that stuff," she said.  

I thought about Mom this morning when I dropped my daughter at pre-school and a fellow parent confided that he had a stash of Tamiflu.  He'd picked it up for the Avian flu, but it's still good and it'll work for Swine Flu, too.  
"Wow," I said.  "You're prepared."  I was impressed.  I'm impressed because I haven't thought about the Swine Flu too much.  This is the same Dad who thinks nothing of lighting up a smoke in the parking lot of our school.  For him, the distant threat of Swine Flu weighs heavier than cancer.  

Some people worry about that stuff.

Let's be clear.  I do worry.  The list of things that keep me awake at night is long and varied.  Of course I worry about things that may never happen.  But I try to remember that while sometimes a noise in the dark is a serial killer, more often it's just a noise in the dark. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A few days ago I returned home to find my daughter's play date heading out the door with a bag of parting gifts.  

"Sadie gave me all these things!" the child shouted with glee, clutching her grocery bag of booty.

"Yep, Sadie gave her all those things," the play date's dad said with a little sigh that I know meant "I'll be picking these things up at my house now..."

I sat down on the grass next to my husband and watched our friends drive away and then I congratulated him for clearing our house of a bit of the clutter.

"Yep," he said.  "She even gave away Squirrel."
"You let her give away Squirrel?" I barked.
"I asked her twice if she was sure about it and she said she was," he replied.
"I can't believe you gave away Squirrel," I hissed.  I launched myself off the grass and stomped inside, mumbling.

A bit of back story:  Nearly three years ago, when Sadie was brand new to pre-school, she formed a tight relationship with this little stuffed squirrel in her classroom.  Every day we would find her making up songs for the squirrel and carrying on intimate conversations with the squirrel and one day, with the assistance of our babysitter, Sadie liberated Squirrel from the confines of the classroom and brought him home to live a pampered life.  Squirrel has attended zillions of tea parties, worn a tutu to ballet class and donned striped pajamas for bed.  For Halloween last year, at Sadie's behest, I made him a witch costume.  For no reason at all I made him a kimono out of some  silk pajamas headed for the hand-me-down pile.  Sadie was attached to the little guy and (not to sound too squirrelly) so was I.  

So I was mad at my husband.  Mad at him for failing to understand the importance of this little toy.  Of course instead of bringing up my issues in a calm and rational manner, I sped through dinner preparation and gave terse directions for table setting and hand washing.  

My husband (bless him and bless him again) was patient.  "I thought it was a good thing," he said.  "I knew Squirrel was a big deal and I thought it was very kind of her to give him to a friend."

I opened my mouth to say something, but suddenly all I could do was cry.  In between sobs, I tried to explain.  "It's not Squirrel," I said.
"I didn't really think it was," my husband said, wrapping his arms around me.

I cried for the fact that my daughter was growing.  I cried because I miss that funny little girl with the nonsensical language and the round baby belly.  I cried because she's almost in kindergarten and because she's sometimes mean as a snake.  I cried so much, my husband offered to drive over to our friends' house and bring Squirrel back.

"It's okay," I said.  "Things change."  I figured if at four she knew how to let go, then at forty, I should know how to do it, too.

The next day, our babysitter, A., arrived and as usual I gave her the schedule updates and kid mood forecast for the day.  "Also," I said, "Sadie gave Squirrel away."

A's eyes filled with tears.  "Our squirrel?" 
I turned to my husband.  "I'm bringing him home," I said.  

Squirrel is back.  And my daughter is delighted.  "How was your sleepover?" she asked.  She packed him into a basket and took him to a birthday party.  She made him a bed in my husband's slipper.  She is not headed to college.  She is still small and silly and thinks nothing of wearing a tiara to the grocery store.  She is four going on five and we have all the time in the world.  

Monday, April 20, 2009

My son is home sick with an earache and a sore throat and a little fever all of which combine to slow him down and make him especially prone to hand holding, lap sitting and shoulder leaning.  I am amazed by my child's capacity for tenderness.  I'm sorry he has to be sick to let it surface, but I can't help but be grateful to see it under any circumstance.  

Lately his attitude has been so bad that I've begun to wonder if the downhill slope from six to seven is a slide into certain juvenile deliquency.   He shakes his fist at me when ask him to put on his clothes.  He shouts at me when I wonder when he'll finish his homework.  He grits his teeth.  He kicks his sister.  And then, just when I think he's become as hardened as Tony Soprano, he sobs inconsolably over a missing sock or the discovery that we're out of "Triple Berry O's."

Some time ago, our pre-school teacher suggested I read a series of child development books which distill each year into a handy Cliff's Notes size tome.  According to these books, my 4 year old was "Wild and Wonderful" and my 5 year old was "Sunny and Serene."  I'm wondering if my seven year old will be "Incarcerated or Institutionalized."  

A couple of days ago, I was talking with two of my dear friends, both mothers to six and half year old boys.  "You look tired," they said.  "How are you?" they asked.
"It's been pretty rough." I said.  "Theo is crying all the time.  Or yelling all the time.  One or the other."

They both looked relieved.  "You, too?"  We all started to talk at the same time.  Threats, tears, violence, remorse.  All part and parcel of being almost seven.  And all happening in other houses all over our neighborhood.  Normal kid stuff.  I had almost forgotten one of the most important things you can do as a parent.  You can talk to other parents.  Though what's going on in your house might seem like the fifth act of a Shakespearean tragedy, nine times out of ten, it's going on somewhere else too.  Labeling something "developmental" is just another way of saying it's not going to stay that way.  I think suddenly of the now defunct Polaroid photo.  Holding that blank square and waiting for the image to develop was one of the pleasures of my youth and young adulthood.  My boy is emerging, he's developing.  It's hard work.  He's entitled to be cranky and crazy and crying.  Just as I am entitled to be all of those things in the hard process of becoming a parent.  Because I'm developing, too.  

Today, I played two games of Yahtzee, three games of Trouble and too many rounds of Connect 4 to count with a boy who sometimes calls me Mom and sometimes calls me "Turkey Pants."  Today, he leaned against me and gave me kisses on the palm of my hand.  Today he fed me a strawberry and told me he loved me.  Tomorrow, the fever may be down and the hackles may be up, but it's only a stage.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Last night, I sewed the tail on a little purple mouse named Squeaker.  The mouse was not alive, though its tail was so leathery that it must have been something alive at some point.  It's the kind of little mouse you buy at the pet store to give to your cat.  A kind of training mouse, I suppose.  Though we have a cat, this particular mouse belongs to my daughter.  She likes to go to the pet store and often buys things for our cat that I know she actually wants for herself so I'm pleased in a way that she's cut the charade and taken full ownership of this mouse, whose name she pronounces with the emphasis on the first syllable so it's ""  I do not pronounce the name correctly, nor did I sew the tail correctly.  I used red thread which was the only color I could find and contrasted nicely with the dyed purple fur and matched the little critter's eyes, but Sadie was appalled.  "You wrecked it," she shouted.  "You are always messing things up," she continued.  "I hate you.  Why do you have to be so wrong?"  I took a deep breath and reminded myself of my new plan to REMAIN CALM and BE PEACEFUL.  

I have been taking a lot of deep breaths lately and asking my children to take them with me.  "Slow down," I say.  "I understand," I say.   I say these things in what I hope is a loving voice.  I say them even when I want to throw my hands in the air and scream.  

My clumsy repair of Squeaker's tail was not the first thing to go wrong in Sadie's day and I tried to remember that.  First of all, Squeaker had lost his tail.  More to the point, he'd had it yanked off by one of the Star Wars loving, gun-finger pointing, girl-teasing boys in Sadie's class.  The biggest problem, though and one that recurs with alarming frequency, is that Sadie wants a pet.  She wants a real live pet.  She wants any kind of pet. Yesterday it was a white mouse with red eyes.  Before that it was a hamster that would live in a pink, sparkly castle and before that a rabbit and before that a dog and a pony and a turtle and on and on. 

We do have a cat named Pokey.  And a fish whose name is Tanya.  But if it were left to Sadie we would have a menagerie.  

Over the course of my childhood I had somewhere around sixty-eight pets.  Your standard dogs and cats gave way to guinea pigs, ferrets, a pair of gerbils named Sam and Janet Evening, an iguana, a goat, an owl, chameleons...  Two guinea pigs quickly became four and then eventually ten.  The gerbils multiplied.  Everything smelled of cedar shavings and urine.  

There are days when I like the idea of a dog.  There are days when I come dangerously close to bringing home that sparkly hamster castle.  My mother was a volunteer at the zoo.  My brother went to the State Fair and brought two baby goats home in his car.  Perhaps the need for a menagerie is in my blood.  

Last night, when Sadie seemed to be about to stop crying about Squeaker's tail, my son looked up from his homework.  
"So, it looks like that pet situation is over," he said, rolling his eyes.
Sadie looked at him for a second through soggy lashes.  
"I want a white mouse with red eyes," she wailed.

I will remain calm and be peaceful, but that "pet situation" is far from over.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I read my writing in front of a live audience two nights ago.  Thrilling.  And terrifying.  Left me wanting more.  More chances to read my words, but also more chances to hear the words of other writers read aloud.  We sit hunched over our desks, fingers racing or limping over the page and we fill hard drives and notebooks and binders with words but rarely do we speak these words aloud.  

The piece I read was a section from my memoir.  It is the story of how when my son was born, my father was dying from Alzheimer's.  It is the part of the book that always chokes me up no matter how many times I have gone over it.  I was worried that there, on the stage, with the bright lights in my eyes, I would burst into tears.  I read it over and over to myself, trying to sap the emotion through repetition.  

About an hour  before the show, after I'd made dinner for the kids, changed out of my day jeans (a couple days in, baggy knees, some dried yogurt from Sadie's breakfast keeping company with a smudge of turmeric from my lunch of lentils and rice) and into night jeans (clean.)   To my daughter's delight, I put on lipstick.  At the computer, I increased the font size on my pages before printing my selection and because Theo is a six-year old boy and because his ears are tuned to the sound of the computer waking itself from sleep, he appeared at my side.

"What are you reading?" He asked.  Instead of waiting for an answer, he started to read the first couple of lines.  He's reading, but still slowly, his mouth feeling the words as he sounds them out.  

"What's it about," he asked.

"It's about you," I said.

"Read it to me."

And so I did.  I read three pages about how his birth coincided with my Dad's death.  I read about contractions and the feel of a newborn head between my legs.  I read about my realization at age nine that my father would not be with me forever.  As I read, Theo leaned against me, resting his cheek against mine.  When I finished, he smiled his happiest smile.  It's the one that makes his dimples sink in all the way up to his eyebrows.  It's the one that shows both rows of tiny baby teeth all the way back to the molars.  

Sadie had joined us somewhere around the middle and she lifted her head off my shoulder to take in her brother's wide grin.  Then she looked up at me.
"Where's my story?" She asked.  

"I haven't written it yet," I replied.

"We could help you write it," Theo said.

I assured him that they were helping.  Every day they help me write even if I don't write a word. Everything that they give me is accumulating just the way my written words pile up on the hard drive and the notebook and the scrap paper in the glovebox.  At some point, what goes in has got to come out.  

There is a book somewhere for Sadie but because I haven't written it yet and I don't want to forget here are a few gems from the last couple of days.

When I bought her a new skirt, she cut the tags out and pulled it on, turning to inspect herself from all angles in the mirror.  When she was satisfied, she gave her hair a little pat and clapped her hands joyfully.  Then she took a bow as though the applause had come from someone else.  

Yesterday, when I arrived home, she was lounging on the stairs wearing silky pink pajamas.  "This," she said giddily, holding up a pink stuffed rabbit with a big turquoise silk flower clipped to its head, "used to be just a bunny.  But now, he's Hawaiian bunny!"

Later she wondered if I'd met the "newest member of our family."  She pulled me upstairs to her room and there on the tray of the doll's highchair was a small plastic bowl filled with dirt and leaves.  "He's having his dinner," she said.  "But he really wants to meet you."  She picked up the bowl and held it under my nose and announced "It's a roly-poly!  His name is Junior Mint."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

After an extended silence, I feel as though I ought to have something momentous to say, but all I can think about is dust.  We've been in the new house long enough for dust to accumulate.  It's our dust and not the dust of the previous owners which I swept away along with crumpled newspaper and frayed bits of brown cardboard packing boxes.  Though their Sunday New York Times subscription remains, their dust is long gone.  Our dust is clouding the wooden mantle in the living room and mixes with bits of crushed corn puffs along the edges of the dining room rug.  Our dust sparkles with glitter fallen from pre-school art projects.  Our dust becomes tangled with a strand of my mother's silver hair and takes on new life as a dust bunny.  Our dust is made of us: skin, hair, cereal, sparkle, the whole shebang, and it filters into the cracks of this house and makes it ours.  

Perhaps I am rationalizing my inability to "dust."  Isn't it funny that the verb that means to remove dust is the same as dust?  Makes it seem like dust has the upper hand.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Today is the last whole day I will have in my old house.  Tomorrow, I wake up to watch burly movers carry all of my things down thirty-five cement steps to the truck that will transport everything to the driveway that leads to the new house.  

The steps.  Thirty-five steps.  Marked with a stencilled address and divided right up the middle by a heavy chain strung through metal posts.

These steps made me angry when I first laid eyes on them; made me doubt the sanity of my realtor.  But once I had scaled them, my not quite year-old son wrapped tight in my arms, I marveled at the view and the little oasis of a yard created by the distance of these thirty-five steps.

I carried groceries up these steps.  And my son in the little car-seat we always called "the bucket."  I taught my not quite two year old son to climb these steps while his sister grew in my belly.  I carried my big pregnant body up these steps along with my son and my groceries.  

When my daughter was born through an emergency c-section, my doctor came to my house to remove the staples in my incision.  He didn't want me to have to walk down all of those steps.

Now that my children are older, the steps take less time to climb or more depending upon the day.  Theo runs up the stairs while Sadie dawdles somewhere in the middle visiting with a line of ants or admiring a fallen leaf.

These steps place distance between my family and the slightly grimy street below.  As I climb them, I leave behind the broken glass, bits of scattered trash and the constant graffiti dialog on the walls of the restaurant across the street.  I fix my eyes  up and ahead, climbing toward my palm tree, the tidy row of cypress that lines one side of our yard, the bright stripe of our patio umbrella.  

My neighbors on both sides have as many steps into their houses and in order to maintain a kind of basic familiarity and friendliness, in order to remain "neighborly" we have to be ascending or descending at almost the exact same time.  This rarely happens.  Our house is private, but it is also isolated.  I like my solitude, but I can be lonely.  When I am alone too long, I start to forget how to interact.  

At our new house, there are no steps, just a long, smooth driveway.  There are houses on both sides and we've already met our neighbors.  They stop to talk over the hedge, wave hello through the kitchen window as I roll out the trash cans and offer us the use of their telephone until our new line is activated. (They're of an age where cell phones are still a new-fangled invention.)   I can already see that there will be days when I might long for the anonymity of a flight of stairs.  But I also see how, for me, it will be helpful to have this little burst of contact; this practice at relating with the world.  

Monday, January 26, 2009

The very first thing that happened when I walked through the door tonight was that my six year old boy rocketed across the room, offering a library book.

"It's about Abe Lincoln.  He died.  He was shot.  By an actor."

I settled my groceries on the floor at my feet and when I knelt to take in this news, my eyes met the wide, blue eyes of my son.  

"It really happened." He said.

He was thrilled.  Thrilled.  More visibly thrilled by this book than by any number of "Star Wars" comics and the unending adventures of "Captain Underpants" combined.  Those were stories.  This was true.

"Read from here," he said and then he lowered his voice.  "It's about the killing part."  

I sat back on my heels and listened as Theo described the blood on Lincoln's head, the shape of the gun and Booth's jump to the stage below.  I don't like guns.  I don't like shooting.  When we read, I usually skip over the gruesome parts, cutting with agility around all kinds of bleak scenarios.  I thought that by trimming around violence, I could build for my children a more peaceful world.  Turns out I was wrong.  For Halloween, Theo did not want to be Luke Skywalker.  He wanted to be Darth Vadar.  My daughter invents stories of Evil Queens and Lost Orphans and Wicked Stepmothers.  It's the bad guys who get all the best lines; the bad guys who stick in the imagination and become the kind of titillating ghost stories that are too scary to continue, too delicious to end.  Violence is interesting.   When Theo finishes talking, I wait.  I'm wondering if John Wilkes Booth is going to find a place in Theo's imagination.  Is this drunk actor going to be more interesting than the man who freed the slaves?

"Mama," Theo said, "Read about Abe Lincoln.  He did so much."

We learned that Lincoln started his career at 28 and that he married Mary Todd.  When I try to skip over the fact that Lincoln lost two sons to illness, my own son catches me and makes me re-read the paragraph.  My voice cracks.  We read through the Civil war and I muscle through paragraphs about screaming men and drowned horses.  When I get to the Gettysburg Address, both of my children are still listening.  

"Should I read this?" I ask pointing to the big block of text on the page.  
"Read it, Mama," Sadie says.  She settles against me and her curls tickle my chin as I read Lincoln's dedication.  It is a beautiful speech to read aloud.  I am grateful to read it aloud to my children.  By the end, my eyes are wet and both of my kids are solemn.

"That is important," Theo says.  

I ask if he knows what it is about and he replies, "it's about being good to people."  

"It's good to be good," Sadie says.

The book ends with the shooting.  It's only one page and I read the whole thing.  

Theo can read.  He can read about the death of a son, the loss of a battle and the big, giant billboards for "My Bloody Valentine in 3D."  But he can also read the words, "with malice toward none; with charity for all..."  And I am here to help him understand. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Last week,  my daughter Sadie twirled around the kitchen floor while her brother Theo sang "We Shall Overcome" from his hiding place behind the laundry basket.  Along with a frayed purple princess dress, trailing tulle, she wore an expression that mingled complete seriousness, total concentration and supreme confidence.  The linoleum, lit by the the morning sun had become her stage and she belonged there.  Performing for an audience of one coffee swilling mama, Sadie was in her element, her hands traveling skyward like two graceful birds.  

Yesterday morning, our new president seemed to greet his audience of thousands with the same even certainty.  He seemed to be listening to his inner voice in the same way that Sadie, decked out in glittery wings and tiara is listening to hers.  

When I picked Theo up from school, the inauguration speech was being replayed on the radio.  
"It's Barack Obama!" Theo shouted.  "Roll down the windows!  Turn it up so everyone can hear."  I gave the volume knob a spin and felt the wind in my hair.  "This is history!" Theo shouted.  "This is history!"

Last year, when he was in kindergarten, Theo played "Man on the Bus" in a play commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.  In this play, Mr. King rode in the back of the bus with Rosa Parks and Ghandi and a group of pre-schoolers shouted "We Protest."  In the end, everyone was allowed to sit where they wanted and they all sang "We Shall Overcome."  Last year, Theo didn't really understand that King had been killed.  This year, he told me that someone threw a bomb in King's house and when that didn't work, they shot him.  Last year, he wasn't entirely clear why Rosa Parks wasn't given a seat on the bus, but this year, he understands.  

Theo is sometimes shy and sometimes exuberant.  His face is wide and his skin so pale as to be almost luminescent.  When he is nervous, he chews on the cuffs of his shirts, sometimes gnawing a hole through the fabric.  As he struggles to read, he chews a pencil.  His eyebrows come together and his jaw clenches with effort.  His body twitches, feet always shifting beneath the table, knees bouncing, fingers bending pages.  When, at last, his homework is finished, he springs out the door, ball and mitt in hand to throw and catch and throw and catch.  Looking up, squinting into the late afternoon sun, he is certain his ball will meet his glove and this certainty relaxes him.  

I'm not going to say that Obama should be honored for helping folks realize that anything is possible.  It's true, but I think if you stop to look, there are signs of that all around us at all times.  I will enjoy watching our President do the thing he seems most content to do.  He will make mistakes and bad decisions and some people will be angry and others will forgive, but at any time, it seems he will approach this job with certainty.  Just as Sadie's tiptoed feet follow each other across our linoleum, just as Theo's ball meets glove, Obama will move through the next four years in his element and that will be a pleasure to watch.