Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Those People

If there's one thing Paul doesn't like, it's a snob. It's too bad he married one.

I not proud of the fact, but it remains a fact nevertheless.

For example, I don't like shopping at Wal-Mart. It's not because I have a zeal for social justice or workers' rights. It's because I think that I'm better than some of the people that shop there. When I see a boy with a rat-tail yelling at his NASCAR tank-top-clad mother, I roll my eyes. I mean, really.

When I write it down it sounds as petty and awful as it is. I don't know those people. I don't know their stories, I don't know their circumstances. I make a few cursory judgments and mentally declare myself superior.

God must want to drink moonshine straight from the spout when I think like this. He uses the same adoring gaze when he looks at the rat-tailed kid that I use when I watch Joel sleep. He does not discriminate.

God does not create economic or moral caste systems. It's easy for me to declare somebody to be "Redneck" or "So Calvert County."

I choose not to adorn my bumper with plastic dangling testicles. Have I considered it? How could I not? It's a look both classic AND timeless. Yet, my bumper remains ball free. Does that mean I'm a better person? I would say "yes." God would disagree.

I do not agree that the Confederate flag is a sign of "Heritage, not hate." It seems pretty hateful to me. I can honestly say I've never taken the time to hear the other side, because I've considered myself better than those people. It occurs to me that slave owners thought they were better than those people too.

It's not up to me to do the judging. I'm sometimes the "worst kind of liberal." I'm tolerant of people, as long as they agree with me.

It's God's challenge, and my directive, to attempt to listen and understand, even when the ideas seem backward or the exterior appears rough.

Truly seeing other people as God's creation---without deciding which creations are better--may be one of the hardest things I'll ever do.

And probably one of the most important.

Monday, March 30, 2009

One step closer

Joel is now mobile. I would not call it crawling as much as a military-style scoot. It's not pretty, but it does get him from one place to another.

This means that I am one step closer to having one toddler and one preschooler.

I am one step closer to carrying around a feed bag bursting with Goldfish crackers and Cheerios.

I am one step closer to exiling the houseplants upstairs. Although they may wither from a lack of sunlight and/or neglect, they will not perish at the hands of my baby boy.

I am one step closer to the day when I will take two walking boys to the playground AND keep all four of their limbs intact.

Lord help me, this means I'm one step closer to taking both of them to the pool and the beach, too.

One step closer to the day that Owen realizes he has a playmate, not a baby brother.

One step closer to the day that Owen finally gets his comeuppance. Go get 'em Joel!

One step closer to two boys digging for worms in the flower beds, and two boys stomping in the piles of leaves.

I'm one step closer to discovering Joel--his likes, dislikes, his sense of humor, his take on the world.

I'm terrified. I also can't wait to see what's next.

It's one step closer.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Is your colon rollin?

I did a 5K Saturday morning. It was called "Get your Colon Rollin," and all proceeds fund free colon screenings to detect/prevent colon cancer. Colon cancer, I learned, is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in Calvert County. It is virtually undetectable until it is serious. That's why it's so important to get the screenings once you hit the age of fifty and onward...not to sound like a public service announcement.

Although cancer is never, ever, funny (I've known enough people with it to know that it falls into the "never funny" category), the people who put together races for colon cancer have a good sense of humor. Before the race started, you could pose with a woman dressed as a bright red polyp. She looked like a slightly flat jellybean, but no, she was, in her words, "A giant pain in your ass." How true. The shirt that I earned running this race was bright green (thankfully, not brown), and loudly proclaimed that it was time to "Get [my] Rear in Gear!" Duly noted.

The race itself was a a comedy of errors. It had rained the previous night, and naturally, this was a cross-country trail race. We were delayed because the EMTs came late. The bagels were frozen. The DJ felt inclined to play "Cotton Eyed Joe" at nine thirty AM.

Once we actually started, I ran through the mud puddles, stagnant water splashing up my legs. I ran up hills, slipping and sliding all the way. I ran on the wet sand by the river. I trudged up a gravel pathway, then attempted to make my way back down. I crossed the finish line, the giant polyp cheering me on. My heart was thundering in my chest. I leaned over and waited for my breath to return to normal. I guzzled a Gatorade. I normally HATE Gatorade.

Paul's motto about running is, "If the run felt good, you didn't give it your all." Poppycock.
My motto is, "I did it, damnit. Where's my coffee?" That being said, I felt really tired. I must have given it my all, for once. I was eager to see my time.

I had one of the worst times I have ever had for a 5K. 34:18

Was it the terrain? Am I just out of shape? Was it because I was listening to my iPod, a running first?

I don't know. I could choose to stew about it. Instead, I'm just happy that I managed to get my rear in gear, and that I made it there at all.

Now where's my latte?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lily Pads

Anne Lamott in her memoir, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, opens the book by talking about the Lily Pads of her life. She writes, "My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew. Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would land, and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear."

I thought of this today as I was watching Owen splash in the puddles. Owen got super-cool Fireman rain boots for his birthday, so we put them on and headed off to the beach. The plan was to to splash in as many puddles as possible.

Mission accomplished. We started in the dirt parking lot, where he jumped in the puddles, causing the water to hit his shoulders. He then sped through the puddle, leaving a muddy wake. Crying, "Come, on Mom, this is cool!" he picked up sticks, handfuls of dirt, and rocks, throwing them into the puddles and laughing out loud. There is nothing so satisfying as the sound of a good, heavy splash.

We moved on to the small beach. Sometimes, I'm struck by the Maryland-ness of our lives. As Owen played by the banks of the Chesapeake, fishing boats cut through the fog. Owen picked up oyster shells and fossilized coral off the ground and put it in (surprise!) another puddle, making "soup." We shooed away ducks as they waddled our way, listening to the sound of the waves gently lapping the shore.

I pulled up my hood and watched Owen create his own world out of twigs, sand, shells, and water. Then, I thought of Anne Lamott and her Lily Pads.

Her metaphor is one of faith...the faithful people she encountered protected her from her swamp of depression and darkness as she inched towards her own relationship with her God.

Likewise, Owen is leaping from one Lily Pad to the next, as he leaves babyhood and toddlerhood behind, becoming a little boy. His first Lily Pad was me, as he would sleep, eat, and stretch in my arms. My smell, my body, my warmth was his safety. As he learned to sit up, crawl, and walk, his next Lily Pad was larger, and included grandparents, aunts and uncles, and most importantly, Dad. He learned how to talk and imagine, and with that, his next Lily Pad included caring adults---babysitters, pastors, teachers, friends. Each Lily Pad was progressively larger to support the people who loved Owen.

And today, watching him play independently on the beach, I realized that Owen is about to leap to another Lily Pad, where he stands on his own two feet. He still has all the people who love him, but he also is learning that he is a pretty great person by himself. A person who can play by the bay, collect shells and stones, and create worlds out of puddles.

He is this person because he knows that whenever he jumps, he will not fall in the swamp. He will be protected. He will be loved.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm still me!

When I started this stay-at-home-mom business a little over three years ago, I was scared out of my mind.

I was sure that I would become one of those people that didn't know how to interact around adults, a woman who talked loudly about lactation and potty training instead of books, music, work, or travel.

I was afraid that I would not have enough to do, and I would invent pathetic little hobbies to occupy my time, to keep the days from blending into one endless loop of diapering and ga-ga-goo-ing.

Now, three years later, I am no longer scared. However, I am amazed: I was scarily accurate. I do talk about sleep schedules, poop, nursing, and discipline more than I should. At parties. With a glass of wine in my hand. Thankfully, I can get away with this because most of the parties I frequent are hosted by parents of young children.

Since most of my friends are parents, I live in this bubble where I am not tiresome. Every once in awhile, though, my bubble bursts. When I'm telling a "hilarious" story about one of the boys to my brother, he tries so hard, but I can still hear his stifled yawn on the other end of the line.

I'll get occasional emails that say things like, "Oh, Nancy, you're such a mom!" The underlining message is: you're so uptight.

"No, I'm not!" I want to reply. "I'm still me!" I still love campy stuff, like "RuPaul's Drag Race," which is "Project Runway" meets "America's Next Top Model," except that the contestants are all drag queens. I mean, the lip-synch-off alone makes the show quality television.

I also still love to read. When I go to the library now, I grab as many titles as I can, usually by scanning the cover and reading the first two to three lines of the jacket. I would read more, but I'm often peeling Owen off the bookshelves. Why are bookshelves so similar to ladders?

I'm still me. I am a child of the desert, and will always feel happiest soaking up the sunshine. On Sunday, I took Joel outside and he and I found the warmest spot we could and just sat. While Joel picked up leaves and pulled at the grass, I basked in the warmth and felt myself recharge like a battery.

I love music. Having an iPod has helped me reconnect with my high school roots, when knowing the "right bands" and listening to the "right music" separated the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. I'm listening to The Decemberist's new album, "The Hazards of Love," and I'm astonished by its creativity and artistry.

I'm still me. But I'm tied down now. The part of me that loves adventure, spontaneity, freedom, is presently hibernating. In college, my friend and I once drove to the Grand Canyon to see the sunrise, just because we could. I once dated a guy who played music with a conch shell. Paul and I used to go up to DC and try new restaurants, sampling sea urchin or speciality beers. We hiked in Baxter State Park in Maine, swatting away the deer flies and smiling at each other, thinking, "Can you believe we're here?" We talked about seeing Fiji, Scotland, Italy, Ireland.

Those plans are on hold. If and when they happen, they will be a different reality. A safer, more family-friendly reality. I'm mostly okay with this, but it bothers me a little, too.

I'm still me, but I am also, such a mom. I worry about the economy, because I want the brightest future for my boys. I can't read books like Night anymore. While Wiesel's depiction of the Holocaust was and is troubling, as a mother, it is too heartbreaking for me. Likewise, when Dr. House has a case involving a child, the TV is turned off. I can't handle to see a sick child, fictional or not.

I guess I really know that I am a mother because I just bought scrapbooking software. I used to hate the idea of scrapbooking: these poor, pathetic mothers who have nothing better to do but memorialize every moment of their childrens' lives. I mean, really. It's like writing a short essay about one's children every day and posting it online. What a waste of time!

This is what a pot looks like when it calls a kettle black, in case I was being too subtle....

I decided that the boys, especially poor, sweet, forgotten Joel, should see their lives unfold through words and pictures. So, despite the fact that it's not my comfort zone, I am going to give this digital scrapbooking a whirl.

I'm still me. Even though I'm a mom. Even though I fill my days with "pathetic" hobbies and talk about my kids more than I talk about ideas.

I'm still me. I hope that my friends outside of the "parent bubble" know that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


On Monday night, I felt it starting to go. By Tuesday night, it was gone.

Yes, folks, it's time for my semi-annual tradition: Losing my voice. The perfect storm of a head cold and the start of allergy season results in my voice becoming a death rattle.

I use my voice a lot. I'm attempting to use humor and choices when Owen gets stubborn, which works much better when one's voice box works.

Likewise, I do a better job teaching when I can project my voice above a whisper.

Since I can't talk, I've thrown in the towel. I cancelled class. Then, I called Paul and hissed into the phone, "Please come home as soon as you possibly can."

After asking me to speak up three times, he finally said, "I'll be home by noon."

At noon, the cavalry came. Both boys are sleeping, I am resting the voice, and hopefully, I'll be at least croaking by tomorrow.

I guess that's all I have to say today. Not the most entertaining post, which is strange. You would think that I would be dying to share the things I couldn't express out loud. Instead, I'm feeling a little weary and I'm going to enjoy the boys' naps with a nap of my own.

All this attempting to communicate is making me too tired to communicate.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What makes my garden grow

Today, the three of us went on a forced march, I mean, enjoyable excursion to the hardware store/nursery.

Since the weather has remained in the high forties most days, and a few trees are starting to bud, I have declared it spring. This will be the year that the yard looks pretty. Last year, I didn't bother because I was pregnant. The year before, I didn't bother because I had A Baby! Who could never go outside! Who required all of my attention all of the time! What a joke. I know now that it is possible to have an infant AND have a yard with "curb appeal." Or at least a yard that doesn't give the impression that the occupants skipped town months ago...

So, I put the kids in the car, and went to the nursery to buy a bunch of Violas. Then, since I bought the flowers at a roadside stand, I loaded the boys back in the car, drove to the hardware store, and purchased multiple bags of mulch.

All that sitting in the car and listening to the Wiggles worked up quite an appetite for Sir Owen. A stop at Starbucks was in order. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy that place. We bought a snack (cheese and apples), a juice, and a decaf coffee. I'll let you figure out who consumed what. We settled into the comfy chairs and just stopped moving for a bit. The music played, I made goo-goo faces at the baby, Owen "hid" behind the chair, and all was good. Owen took the time to tell me that "I just like saying no to say no." Color me surprised. It's cool, though---spending time just interacting with the boys gave me the fuel I needed to attack the next task: gardening with two boys.

Joel fell asleep on the way home, so I actually only worked outside with Owen. What a treat. While I planted the Violas, Owen dug in the dirt for worms, and joyfully placed each worm in the empty containers (which once held the flowers). He made this elaborate story of how each worm had a home. I told him that worms eat dirt, so he dumped a wee bit of dirt next to the worm to "give it a little snack."

I felt like this is what parents are supposed to do: introduce children to the world, and all its simple wonders, without rushing or making it a BIG EVENT.

It was, simply put, such a nice way to spend an hour.

Monday, March 23, 2009

24 Minutes

In 13 minutes...

The timer will go off, Max and Ruby will be over, and Owen will have to face the music: It's naptime.

In 14 minutes...

Owen's body will become limp, like a civil rights worker facing the National Guard. He'll moan, "No, Mommy, NOT YET. I don't want to take a nap."

In 15 minutes...

I will have to decide...force or friend? Will I be patient and use words and humor to get Owen upstairs to his room? Or, will I swoop him up and deposit him on his bed like a burlap sack? Since the latter often results in tears, declarations that I "cannot tell [him] what to do" and general asshattery on both our parts, I'm going to attempt the former.

Today, I think I will entice him with the promise that he can bring his newest obsession, "icy things" (aka the ice packs Paul uses for running injuries) into bed with him.

In 16 minutes....

I will see how much Owen feels like stalling today. Will he request a story? Extra prayers? A Bob and Jim story? Today, I'll give him one short story. That's it.

In 17 minutes...

The story will be read, kisses bestowed, and I will close the door and walk downstairs. I will scan the headlines, figure out what I have to do to prepare for class tonight, and consider taking a shower.

In 18 minutes....

Owen will go potty for the first of many times during his "nap." I swear, the boy stockpiles his poo and eeks it out, one nugget at a time, for maximum stalling effect. He knows that he is allowed to leave him room for one reason and one reason only: to go potty. Yes, he knows this for sure.

In 19 minutes...

I will start working, after telling myself that I am not allowed to check Facebook or read blogs or answer emails until I have my lesson complete. Then, I will stop working to check Facebook or read blogs or answer emails.

In 20 minutes...

Owen will call down, "Mommy, is it time for me to come down yet?"

"No," I'll say.

In 21 minutes...

Owen will call down, "Mommy, is it time for me to come down yet?"

I will wonder if it is okay to drink a glass of wine at 2 PM.

In 22 minutes...

Owen will either go to sleep (which would be rare, treasured moment, suitable for writing on the calendar) or he will find something quiet to do in his room. One of the ohmygoodnesssofreakingcute things he does is read stories out loud to himself:

"Then McQueen drove backwards. Good job, McQueen. What's on the next page? Oh! It's Sally. Sally likes Ka-Chow. Good job reading, Owen...."

In 23 minutes...

I will finally relax.

Then, in 24 minutes...

Joel will wake up.

(P.S.---Joel had a great night sleeping last night...only up once, slept in until eight. Y'all must have been praying for me! Thanks!)

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Last night was awful. All week long, Joel has had restless sleep at night, getting up sometimes two, three times at night. Last night he got up seven times.

He's almost eight months old, people.

It's killing me, because I've worked hard to provide consistent naps and regular feedings. We've tried solids. Formula. Breast milk from the tap. Breast milk from the bottle. Keeping him up later. Putting him to bed earlier. It doesn't matter.

He just gets himself uncomfortable and cries and cries. So much so that I suspect we're dealing with another ear infection or saber-tooth-tiger fangs cutting through.

Since we're at my in-laws for the weekend, we were in the same room with him, so we both laid awake in bed, listening to him whine/cry/sob/grunt. Then, Paul said, "That's it, we're letting him cry it out. I'm going upstairs."

I didn't follow him, because I just wasn't sure why he was having a hard time, and I didn't want to leave him alone in the event that his crying was due to illness or injury. So, I stayed and got progressively angrier and more frustrated.

By morning, this was all Paul's fault. Naturally.

I'll spare you the details, just understand that Paul and I made up.

Then, something magical happened. My mother-in-law is a nice person, and I think we have a good relationship. However, I've always put my positive face on in front of her. She's Not My Mom, so I've always attempted to appear in control, and happy around her. I'm treating her son right. I'm treating her grandsons right. I'm not that daughter-in-law.

By doing this, I created a boundary. I never allowed her to take care of me, and by doing so, I kept my distance. I don't know if this is out of loyalty to my family of origin, or my own weirdness.

That changed today. I was sitting at the kitchen table and I said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with Joel."

She didn't say anything, but just let me continue talking. "I mean, I'm trying so hard to do the right thing, but I'm just so tired and I'm such a bitch all the time and..." and then, I started crying.

And I kept crying. Snotty, unable-to-get-full-sentences out crying. "I'm so tired of this. I don't want to have any more babies. This is so hard."

She just listened, and patted my head, and said exactly the right thing, "You don't owe anybody anything. You can be all done. I know it's hard. I know."

Joel may have an awful night again tonight, but a small miracle occurred nevertheless. I let down my guard with my mother-in-law for the first time in twelve years. I let her take care of me.

At a kitchen table in Virginia, grace came. That's why Joel didn't sleep through the night.

Sometimes you need to be broken in order to be fixed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

This is why I smile to myself sometimes.

Today, driving home from the park, I'm listening to Joel fuss, because he hates his car seat.

Then, looking in my rear-view mirror, I see his tiny hand extend toward his brother.

Owen reaches out and holds his hand. Instantly, the crying stops.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Brushes with Fame

When I was seven, my brother got a Ladmo Bag. A Ladmo Bag is a lunch sack full of junk food, coupons, and toys, given to lucky recipients by Ladmo, half of the famed Phoenix morning kid's program, "Wallace and Ladmo."

My mom once taught the kids of a local country music disc jockey, W. Steven Martin.

When I was in high school, I was in Spanish class with a girl that made the U.S. Olympic Trials for Gymnastics.

My senior year, a local weatherman from the CBS affiliate joined our church.

During college, I saw Adam Sandler in a bar. The Mad Italian, to be precise.

Also during college, my windshield was broken by a member of the Brazilian National Soccer Team. They swear that a soccer ball, kicked at high velocity by a world-class player (training at NAU's high altitude training camp) could not break a windshield. I don't buy it.

My friend, Sunshine, partied with The Misfits, a punk band.

At the HORDE festival, I told Ben Folds that he put on a good show.

While teaching, one of my students showed me pictures of him posing with his family's friends, the members of REO Speedwagon.

Also while teaching, a student, whose mother worked for Canyon Ranch, (a fancy-pants resort) shared that Leonardo DiCaprio and Sharon Stone were "really nice" while they were in town filming, The Quick and the Dead. Apparently, though, Mike Myers's (now former) mother-in-law, Linda Richman, was a real bitch.

I worked at a summer camp with a man whose brother taught Kirsten Dunst.

My sister-in-law, an occupational therapist, had a patient whose mother trained animals for movies. Thus, I held the kangaroo from an Avis commercial.

A student's father piloted Air Force One, and flew George Bush to Iraq for his surprise Thanksgiving Day Feast with the troops.

My aunt has a friend whose daughter works for Oprah.

Barack Obama spoke at my cousin's graduation ceremony.

A friend of mine saw the actor that plays John Locke at a Whole Foods on the Eastern Shore. She said, "I kept babbling to him about chutney."

And on Facebook, I found out that a friend of mine used to work with Sterling, the boy who played Young Benjamin Linus on last night's episode of Lost.

I'm surrounded by greatness, eh?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Creating Supermen

When I was editing a dissertation awhile back, I learned that self efficacy is defined as: "the belief in one's general capacity to handle tasks." The dissertation discussed the role of school administrators and their feelings of self-efficacy in the face of the local and federal testing mandates. For all two of you that care, most administrators felt an increased sense of self-efficacy when they were empowered to make plans specific to their building's needs, as opposed to "one size fits all" fixes. My thinking is that anybody who would choose to be an administrator to begin with has got to have a healthy sense of self-efficacy.

Now that most of you are yawning, let be attempt to save this sinking ship of a post...(Note to self: avoid posts that begin with the phrase, "When I was editing a dissertation...")

I've always had a healthy sense of self-efficacy. I grew up with good schools, loving parents, excellent health, and few barriers (socio-economic, etc); as a result, I think I can meet most challenges. That's another thing I learned while editing the dissertation (ugh, there I go again!); high self-efficacy causes people to meet their goals more consistently, which causes high self-efficacy. It's a reinforcing loop.

Motherhood has challenged my sense of self-efficacy at times. Like I've discussed in earlier posts, I'm still working on ways to meet the boys' needs---how to set boundaries and provide attention, knowing when to expect independence and when to give support, figuring out how to be present without being a martyr. At times, I have never been more frustrated in my life, and keep in mind that I've taught middle school.

Yet, despite the frustrations, I always wake up the next day knowing that I can do it, that I can take anything and everything thrown at me. I wish I could bottle the choices, words, actions, and prayers of my parents and slip it into Joel's bottle and Owen's macaroni and cheese. They created two kids with strong senses of self-efficacy. I know that I must do the same.

Just last night, I felt like Superwoman. I was making a double portion of Shepherd's Pie (one for us, one from my friend that just had a baby boy.) The meat was browning, the potatoes boiling. Owen was playing with water in the sink while Joel bounced happily in his Jump-A-Roo. It was a house of cards; If Owen decided to spray me with the nozzle or Joel felt the need to scoot around the living room, all could be lost. Yet, miraculously, everything was done, and everybody was happy. I even had time to put lipstick on. Hear me roar!

And again, this morning: Joel was sleeping, and Owen and I went upstairs. Months ago (like, before Joel was born), Owen picked at his wallpaper border during "naptime," ruining the cute airplane themed-nursery we had carefully designed before his birth. (FYI--Joel's "nursery" is a crib in the guest room. Pity the second-born). So, today, I finally finished stripping the remaining wallpaper off the walls. It's tedious work, but as I scraped and sprayed, Owen pretended to be sailing in a makeshift boat (a box). I scraped, we talked, and everybody, once again, was happy.

It's moments like this, where everything falls into place and things follow a gentle, natural rhythm that I know that I am doing the right thing at the right time. I know that I have the capacity, the ability to thrive.

Now, parents who have older kids, tell me: How do I give the boys this most precious and lasting gift?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Buttons? Consider them pushed.

Earlier today, I sat at my kitchen table, muttering to myself like a crazy woman. As Owen kicked and screamed upstairs, I devoured an entire sleeve of Thin Mints and listed my potential career options. Yes, it's been a rough afternoon.

People say that the threes are harder than the twos. I would tend to agree. The smarter they get, alas, the mouthier they get. Owen, when he is seeking attention, is a delightful mix of an Abu Ghraib prison guard and Jillian Michaels, the trainer from TV's The Biggest Loser.

Owen, thanks to a book given to him by my mother, has learned the phrase, "Go Away!" He is really, really taken with this phrase. He'll sing it to himself as we drive here or there, "The farmer and the go away!/ The farmer and the go away!/Hi Ho, the dairy-o/The farmer and the go-away!" This is don't mind, although I don't love it, either.

Owen really pushes my buttons, though, when he says "Go Away," knowing full well that it is both rude and unnecessary. For example, when he finished his applesauce. I asked him, "Are you all done with your applesauce or would you like more?" See, providing choices! Mother of the year!

My son replied, "I'm all done with the applesauce. Go away, Mommy. Watch Dora NOW!" He then turned to Joel, who was nibbling on a teether. "And, you, Joely. You stop chewing RIGHT NOW!"

The books say that parents need to be consistent. If certain words are unacceptable, than certain words are unacceptable. However, the "Farmer and the go away" song does not raise my blood pressure and cause my eyelid to twitch. Owen's little tirade did.

I scooped him up, and placed him on the step for time out. He proceeded to yell at me from the step, "No, Mommy! You quit it!" I ignored him. Then, not getting the reaction he so desired, he threw my loafer at the wall. My muddy loafer, since it was rainy and awful outside, leaving a muddy footprint on my wall.

Just so you know, people really do see red.

Once again, I scooped him up and placed him in his room, and told him that he was not to leave the room until he heard the timer go off.

As I set the timer, and returned to the kitchen to give Joel the rest of his applesauce, I heard the hard slap of wood hitting tile. I walked over to the foot of the stairs, to see my red-faced, teary son chucking train tracks down the stairs.

I know that he was looking for attention, (since I was so rude as to feed his brother instead of play with him) and I was continuing to give it to him. I didn't care. He Will. Not. Throw. Things. Down. The. Stairs. I stomped up the stairs, opened the door to his room, and saw him huddled in the corner. I grabbed him by the shoulders and said something like, "If you throw anything else down the stairs, you will BE IN SO MUCH TROUBLE!"

I have no idea what I would actually do if he threw anything else down the stairs, since my arsenal pretty much runs out after "go-to-your-room." Nevertheless, I looked possessed enough that he was quiet.

And I was ashamed. How do things escalate to this point? I finished feeding Joel, while feeding myself the previously-mentioned Thin Mints and a healthy dose of guilt. I questioned myself---Did I do the right thing? What should I have done? What is wrong with me? Why do I get so angry? Do I need to put him in time out every time he says, "Go away"? Or just when he's rude? What have I done wrong to create such a rude child?

The timer went off. By now, Owen was quiet. He said, "Mommy? I'm ready to go downstairs?" I told him to come on down.

I asked him why he was in time-out. He said, "I said go-away."

"Is it nice to talk like that?"

"Baby Joel, stop bouncing!" he replied, correcting Joel, who had the audacity to bounce in his...jump-a-roo.

"O-wen!" I said, trying to keep my voice calm "Is it nice to talk like that?"

Owen said quietly, "No." Then, he smiled and said, "Sorry, Mommy! Sorry, Baby Joel!"

"It's okay, buddy," I replied, figuring this is the best I'm going to get for now.

"Mommy?" Owen said, bouncing slightly in his jogging pants, "Let's play Legos."

"Okay," I responded. And just like that, everything was okay. You can learn a lot about grace from a three year old.

Someday, Owen might say, "I hate you," or make me a talking point in therapy.
Thankfully, though, we're not there, yet.

Hopefully, I can learn to be one of those textbook parents, who discipline without breaking a sweat. I'm not there, yet.

Despite the fact that this was a shoe-throwing, Thin-Mint binging kind of day, Owen and I still see the good in each other. We haven't learned to hold grudges, yet.

I pray that we never do.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Secret Language

Back in high school, my brother and his friends were into the movie Dune. I mean, really, really, really into the movie. Obsessively so. To this day, I guarantee that Tom could recite the entire film, in order, without faltering.

I recall sitting in church, counting the minutes to freedom, and Tom would turn to me and whisper, "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when my fear is gone I will turn and face fear's path, and only I will remain."

I probably didn't even blink. There was a period of time where neither Tom nor I were capable of original thought, preferring to speak in a flurry of film references, song lyrics, and dialogue from TV shows. We were kinda like a pop-culture Nell, with our own secret langauge.

A sample:

Tom: Hey Nancy, "Now I know what you're thinking. 'What could be stranger than a big fatass floatin' cupcake?" Heh. How about one that spits tobacco?'" (Reference: The Chris Elliot classic, Cabin Boy.)

Me: My love for you is like a truck, BERZERKER! Would you like some making fuck, BERZERKER! (Reference: Clerks.)

Again, note that the actual words are meaningless. I was not coming on to my brother; likewise, Tom was not a cupcake. The purpose of this exchange, which was never put into words was, "Aren't we clever that we like the same things? Isn't it great that we have the same sense of humor? There are a lot of people out there that try to make us feel less important, but we can defeat them through our inside jokes and random references. I'm so glad you're my brother/sister."

Tom and I still fall back into this pattern sometimes, because it is easy and because it prevents us from having to Talk Seriously. You don't always want to talk about money or life choices or love or fear with your sibling. Sometimes, you just want to use a shorthand. I may call Tom today, and the conversation might go a little something like this:

Me: "That's Nonsense, I Invented Electricity. Ben Franklin Is The Devil!" (Reference: Waterboy. Meaning: Hey Tom, I'm feeling a little down and feel like escaping from my life for a little bit.)

Tom: O-Kay. How's this, "They're only monkey-boys. We can crush them here on earth, Lord Whorfin." (Meaning: Hey, sis, I'm feeling the same way. It seems like we're on a hamster wheel sometimes, doesn't it?)

Me: Nice, a Buckaroo Banzai reference. You know, "They don't advertise for killers in the newspaper. That was my profession. Ex-cop. Ex-blade runner. Ex-killer." (Meaning: I know that you know that I hate the movie Blade Runner. I'm quoting it to let you know that I'm glad to talk to you.)

Tom: Nice. "I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They're not much bigger than two meters." (Meaning: I'm glad to talk to you too.)

Me: You lost me there. Hey, I've got to go. (I love you.)

Tom: Star Wars, Nance. Come on...and I'll talk to you soon. (I love you, too.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Because I lived with Janet Lee my senior year...I met Paul.

Because I met Paul....I know that the saguaro and mountains of Tucson will always be "home."

Because I made Tucson my home....I ended up working at the most amazing public middle school. My co-workers included: an Australian punk rock drummer, a professional jazz flutist, a unicycle-riding rabble-rouser, an Ivy-league educated poet, and a math-loving-nature-hating- smart-ass-devout-Catholic from Chicago.

Because I worked at this school....I gained confidence in my abilities to teach, inspire, talk, lead, and write.

Because I gained confidence...I stopped starting my sentences with disclaimers like, "I know this is probably a stupid idea, but..."

Because I decided that I can do hard things....Paul and I took risks, including a move to the East Coast, a new job, and a decidedly different culture.

Because that move was hard....I learned how to manage depression through exercise and faith.

Because I had faith that God would guide us...I felt like it was time to start a family.

Because I had the two boys....I learned that words and actions impact multiple generations.

Because of this insight...I am humbled.

Because I am humbled...I know that God has guided every step.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thoughts, separated by ***

Today, we were waiting around for the repairman. Paul thought that our fourteen-year-old heat pump had croaked, and he assumed that by the end of the day, our savings account would be at least four thousand dollars lighter.

Thankfully, we only had to pay two hundred and forty five dollars; the man replaced a part and graced our presence for almost ten minutes. I really went into the wrong profession.


We've started giving Joel formula every other night. We're testing a theory that the thicker formula will keep him fuller, thus asleep longer. So far, our results are completely inconclusive. On one formula night, he woke up at eleven, than again at four thirty. On another formula night, he slept soundly until five. Last night, (again, a formula night), he woke up three times. On boobie nights, he's usually up at least two times.

"Let him cry it out!" you cry. By the time Owen was this age, we did exactly that. This is because Owen screwed around when I attempted to feed him at night. He would drink, smile, and mock me. "Look what I got you to do, you fool!" I was Owen's milk bitch. I put a quick stop to that, and after two nights of on and off wailing, he slept through the night.

Joel, though, isn't screwing around at all. He's all business and he is hungry. Having survived cry-it-out, I know that a few tears will not warp the little darling. (Perhaps, though, this explains a lot about Owen...)

Yet, Joel just isn't giving me a clear signal. I haven't hit that decisive point where I just know that he's ready for uninterrupted, snack-free sleep.

I'm looking forward to that moment of decisiveness, because Momma Likes Her Sleep.


Fiona Grace is coming home from the hospital today. God is good. Pray for continued healing, as she is re-learning how to walk, and she will have lots of physical, speech, and occupational therapies in her future.

A house is being built up the hill. Every morning, bulldozers, dump trucks, and cement mixers lumber past our window. Owen, of course, is in ecstasies.

I'll ask, "Do you want to do up and watch the cool trucks?"

He'll think about it, and say, "No. Too noisy."

Sometimes, cool trucks feel safer when you can put them in your pocket. It's like one of those Impressionist paintings---beautiful from a distance, but when you get too close, it's an overwhelming mess of colors and splotches. It's just too much truck for my boy.


A man was unloading beer yesterday while we were walking into a store.

Owen says, "What's that man doing?"

I say, "Unloading beer."

Owen says, "For Grandpa?"

Yes, Owen. It's all for Grandpa. The entire truckload. What can I say? The man likes his Miller High Life.

Marshmallow Peeps are the shit. A year ago, I had this to say about them: " I believe that it is only acceptable to eat Peeps during the Easter season, despite JustBorn's attempts to sell Halloween and Christmas Peeps. Blasphemy, I say! Peeps must be shaped like chickens, be yellow, and ideally be taken from an Easter Basket. Insider tip: they are best when you open them up and leave them in a cupboard, so that they get a bit stale."

Yes, I have emails in my inbox from last Easter.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sunrise Services

Thanks to Facebook, I have reconnected with some of my college friends, to the extent that we're actually going to take action and meet up with each other. This is truly impressive, considering that we have had this conversation, on and off, for almost seven years. This year, however, seems to be the one. We will go to Sunrise Services.

We aren't planning to meet up on Easter Sunday. No, the Sunrise Service of which I speak is NAU's homecoming weekend. The city of Flagstaff, to make money, and commemorate this solemn occasion, opens the downtown bars at 6:00 AM. We will be there. Yes, by God, we will be there.

And who is in this cast of characters? Topping the list will be my friend Sunshine. Sunshine is a life force all of her own. She's into punk rock, cigarettes, and constitutional law. Her stated goal, when entering a room, is: "I plan on finding the girl that looks like she would hate me the most. By the end of the evening, she'll be my best friend." And sure enough, it happens, all the time. The Tri-Delt with acrylic nails, flat-ironed hair, and bitch face securely in place, will by the end of the evening, be slurring, "Sunshine, you are the shiiiiitttt," while exchanging numbers so Sunshine can spend the weekend at her parents' ski cottage in Telluride.

Sunshine is now a lawyer with her own practice. She lives in Eastern Washington with her girlfriend and their dogs. She is the first "Sunshine" to have passed the Washington State Bar Exam. Amazingly, there are now two Sunshines practicing law in the Evergreen State. But only one is my Shine.

Next up is Janet. Janet and I were roommates for our last semester of college. Just thinking of her makes me smile. She had the cutest little body, but always wanted to lose weight. So, she would put these note cards all over the kitchen, "Don't do it!" or "Do you want to fit into your jeans?" At the time, I was the one that probably could have benefited from them, but she never said a word about it to me.

Janet had her own way of making things work. She took classes that were broadcast on the local cable channel. She was supposed to watch them during the scheduled times, then report to class to take tests or turn in assignments. Janet decided to save them all up, and then watched them for hours at a time. I came home one time to see her watching seven hours worth of lectures, while writing a paper, and walking on her stair-stepper. That's multi-tasking.

Janet returned to Oregon, "Where there's people who pump your damn gas!" and she lives with her daughter (who is approaching middle school, taking Chinese lessons, and becoming quite the figure skater). She also takes care of her elderly, mostly Chinese-speaking mother, while working full time. Janet does it all with more maturity and grace than I could muster.

One of Janet's recent Facebook status updates was: "Janet is looking at the beer she intended to drink last night, but forgot about." That's my Janet.

I owe a lot to the next person: Nicole. Nicole and I were both in the English department at NAU, so we understood the joy of Dr. Farness (teacher of Ancient and European Lit, who had a kick-ass voice when reading Dante) and the insanity of the former English Education advisor, who... oh-my-God-I-can't-believe-I-forgot-her-name! This woman struck such fear in my heart at the time and her name. just. vanished.

Anyway, Nicole and I could bond over Shakespeare and semi-colons, but I owe Nicole big time. She introduced me to Paul. She was dating Paul's best friend at the time, and while that relationship fizzled (both she and Paul's friend are now happily married to other people), Paul and I are approaching ten years of marriage.

She is the only person of the group who remains in Arizona. She teaches English at a high school in Tucson, and seems to be quite the poker shark.

Rounding out the group is Alli. Alli was my roommate my sophomore year, and she has a booming, joyful laugh that you could hear down the hallways of our dorm. Alli and I did lots of silly things, but what I remember the most about her is the evening. We would listen to Sarah McLaughlin as we drifted off to sleep, and we would talk about faith, men, family, fears, hopes. She was the last thing I heard before I went to sleep, and, to this day, I can't think of anybody who hugs better than Alli.

Alli lives in Texas, and is a big-time businesswoman. She is the most resilient person I know.

I don't know how I fit into this group, because while I am still the same person I was back then, I'm also different. I'm a mother. I'm wiser. I'm also much more of a lightweight.

Sunrise Services is but an excuse to get together. When we raise our glasses in the wee hours of the morning, we won't only be celebrating our history, but we will celebrate the people we have become. I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yes, it's time for another edition of...random thoughts!


1. Owen's says to his grandfather, as Rich walks into the house: "Hi Grandpa! Grandpa, this is Mommy. Mommy, this is Grandpa." Thank God he finally introduced me to that guy. I had been wondering, "Who the hell this man, and why is he in my house?"

2. Yes, this is mushy, but mothers get to be mushy. I was tucking Owen in last night. He kisses my forehead and says, "Mommy, you're my best friend." Those of you reading on the West Coast--it wasn't an earthquake, just me, swooning.

3. Owen has taken a new formality with us. Whenever he does not want to do something, he ends his sentences with "sir," as in "I don't like green beans, sir." Yes, we live south of the Mason-Dixon line, and custom encourages the use of "sir" and "ma'am." However, I don't think Owen has it down yet.

Things I didn't expect to say in this lifetime:

1. "Owen, please stop standing on the waffle iron."

2. "We're not going to buy a recycling center today."

3. "As soon as you get in the bath, you can see Mommy's dried blood."

Fleeting thoughts:

1. I gave blood yesterday. While the technician was typing my information into his computer, he asked me if I was a nurse, because it looked like I was wearing scrubs in my license picture. I was actually wearing a v-neck tee shirt, but that's not the point. I considered saying, "Yes," just because it would be fun to pretend to be a nurse for a few minutes. This guy wouldn't know the difference, and I have plenty of respect for nurses.

I started to make up a story in my head. I would tell him that I worked in orthopedics for a few years, but I now work at a dialysis center on weekends for extra money. I would complain about the long hours and talk about how I considered being a nurse practitioner. I had this whole story worked out.

Then, I chickened out. Since I was talking to an actual medical person, all he would have to do is say one bit of medical jargon to expose my web of bullshit.

For now, Nancy Campbell, R.N., will remain a figment of my imagination. This is probably a very good thing.

2. I was holding Joel, and I thought to myself, "He's an actual person, with itty-bitty lungs, and a teeny-tiny heart. He has all these complicated systems working perfectly in that little body." I'm not sure why this idea surprised me. I mean, I know he's not a doll....

3. I bought new glasses today, and I thought, "It would be fun to wear these to the library." Why? Do I wear a "smart costume" for certain occasions? Truly, I have moments of breathtaking dumbness. Even when I'm wearing my glasses.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Comfort Objects

When my brother was little, he had a friend, Ryan, who carried around a blanket. I guess "blanket" is the technical name for it, but a more appropriate name for it would be The Used Kleenex, or perhaps The Blanket That Must Not Be Named. As you know, I'm not much of a germaphobe, but even I shudder to think of the beasties that must have festered within that blanket's flannel folds.

Ryan eventually loved that thing to death. It was carried so much that it disintegrated into vapor somewhere around 1984.

My brother and I, on the other hand, were not into the comfort objects. I'm sure I slept with a few animals or dollies, and I know for a fact that Tom slept with a rubber-band gun, but we never named them, carried them around, or lost our minds if they were in the washing machine.
We did have brother-sister teddy bears, Radar and Sissy. Their adventures are fodder for another post, another day.

Owen, however, has a few objects that need to be in his bed every nap, every bedtime: green pillow and Big Teddy. Green pillow is a small, fuzzy throw pillow. There is nothing that distinguishes this pillow from other throw pillows, but Owen has determined that this is the pillow of all pillows. Each morning, it makes the trip down the stairs, only to return back upstairs for naps and bedtime.

Big Teddy is a nice story. My grandmother is in an assisted-care facility in Chicago. She is no longer financially independent, and depends on her children and federal programs to cover her expenses. One side effect of this is that she is now unable to buy Christmas or birthday presents because she has no disposable income. (I know! It's heartbreaking to watch the people you love lose their independence.)

So, it was Owen's second birthday, and she had about two hundred dollars left to her name at that point. She knew that once that money was spent, it was the end of the line. She would never have her own money again. My aunt asked her what she wanted to do with the money, and without hesitation she said, "I want to buy Owen a really big teddy bear for his birthday." That's exactly what happened. (Except that Big Teddy did not cost two hundred dollars. He's not that big...).

When the package came in the mail, the bond was instantaneous. Owen pulled the bear out of the box and kissed it. I can't say that the bear instantly became The Bear of All Bears, but over time, its soft, honey-colored fur became the best thing to hold in the hazy twilight between awake and asleep. This is the bear forced into suitcases, the bear that has prompted anxious, emergency cell phone calls: "You didn't forget to pack Big Teddy, right?"

Being three can be pretty overwhelming sometimes, especially with a needy baby brother. My grandma's gift --Big Teddy-- provides support and warmth when Owen needs it the most. How comforting.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Fact of the Matter

I've been in a funk for the last few days. Too much time inside and not enough opportunities to exercise made me into a resentful, passive-aggressive shrew. The feelings of resentment and frustration weighed heavier and heavier until I could hardly move, my hopelessness like the lead apron worn during X-rays at the dentist.

This is why I have to exercise. The treadmill is the only thing that keeps me from Zoloft. I am not negating the healing power of antidepressants---they help people with real, chemical imbalances. I am saying that exercise balances out my chemicals without the monthly co-pay and possible side effects.

Today I wore my new running skirt and did an easy three miles. God, it felt good. With each step, I shed the anger like a snake shedding its skin.

It's easy be angry with Paul because he doesn't have breasts, but the fact of the matter is, he's a great father, and does all he can with Joel.

It's easy to be angry with Owen because he acts out, but the fact of the matter is, he loves me so much that he'll take all the attention he can get.

It's easy to be angry with circumstances because being a stay-at-home mother can be so isolating and hard, but the fact of the matter is, this time is so fleeting and I will someday ache to hold my babies again.

The fact of the matter is, my children need me to exercise. I need to exercise. All it takes is thirty minutes, and I become myself again. Minus the lead apron.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Paul is on a run, enjoying the beautiful 70-degree weather. I am inside, listening to Joel settle down for a nap.

My aunt is in Seattle, visiting cool museums and seeing my brother's band perform. I am feeding Joel pureed carrots.

Owen is at the park with his grandpa. I am nursing Joel.

My friend Kristen is sailing today. I am folding laundry.

Other people are finding the positives and counting their blessings. I am being grouchy.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I have a fever, and the only prescription is more medical referrals.

Yesterday, I didn't post because my mind, after a birthday party morning, lunch play-date, afternoon trip to the doctor, and evening visit from Grandpa, had turned into play dough. The post would have been something like this:

Eee! Went to doctor. Ate cupcakes. Face turned purple. Yicka Yicka Nick Nick. Owen almost broke my nose. Flibbity Flobbity.

While this may be an improvement over my usual offerings, I nevertheless decided to hit the delete key and call it a night.

I'll just write about the trip to the doctor, instead.

I took both boys to the doctor. I love my doctor. Dr. S is knows his stuff, is patient with my blathering, and really likes kids. Every time I say this to Paul, he says, "Well, he better like kids, he's a pediatrician, for God's sake."

This does seem like a common sense conclusion---people who choose to work with children tend to like them---but sadly, having taught middle school for many years, I've known plenty of people who work with children and openly dislike them. Granted, they're in it for the summer vacation. (I know. Luckily, none of those people will ever teach my kids, right?) Pediatricians, on the other hand, go to school for eight years, survive internship/residency, are on call for weekends and holidays, and never get summers off. Perhaps, perhaps, they really do like kids.

Anyway, Dr. S came in, gave Owen a high five, played games with him on his iPhone (this was actually to diagnose how well he can follow directions, carry on a conversation, and recognize colors/shapes/animals), and had him jump around. Good times. Owen was pronounced a perfectly healthy three year old and, hopefully, he will have no reason to return to the doctor until next year, when he has his four-year well check.

Oh! I forgot to mention that they measured Owen's blood pressure with the cutest little cuff. The nurse said that the cuff would "give his arm a hug." When it tightened, Owen looked at it like it was magic, with big, amazed brown eyes.

Now, Joel, alas, did not escape as easily. He has had fluid in his ears since November, and has had two, count them two, ear infections in his short, seven-month life. Dr. S had asked me to bring Joel in to see if the fluid was still there. It was. This means that Joel hears everything as if he was underwater. This could begin to impede his speech and language, which we certainly don't want. Sooooo, we have a referral to the Ear/Nose/Throat doctor, with the possibility that Joel may get tubes in the ears.

But wait, there's more! Joel has a wandering eye. For months, I rationalized that he had the normal crossed eyes of newborn babies. However, it didn't go away. Months ago, Dr. C, another doctor in the practice, told me that she wanted to "watch" his eyes. I brushed it off mentally, chalking it up to an interrupted nap. Two days later, I sent Christmas pictures to my mom, who then called me to opine that Joel was cross-eyed. Over time, the comments came with more frequency. The bagger at Safeway told me I needed to get my kid checked out. Thanks, dude. My brother suggested that we give him an wicked-cool pirate eye patch. Then, yesterday, Dr. S informed me that it was time to consult the eye doctor.

So, Owen leaves his checkup with a Lightening McQueen sticker and a hankering for a bagel at Panera. Joel leaves with two referrals. Two more appointments to make, with I-don't-even- know how many follow-ups after the fact. One of the appointments is at Children's National Medical Center, naturally. Living where I do, I have some of the best hospitals and medical establishments at my fingertips...assuming I have reallllllly long fingertips. I'm grateful that I have medical options, but the drive to DC or Baltimore is a bitch. And, my entire day.

Ugh. When all is said and done, Joel may have tubes in his ears and baby-sized glasses to correct the eye that likes to roam about. This is nothing. A drop in the bucket. Two of the most common ailments a baby can have. I am very lucky and very blessed.

Yet, I still wish I didn't have to deal with it. Perfectionists shouldn't reproduce, because no matter what happens, it's my fault somehow. Maybe Joel has these minor, minor concerns because I drank coffee when I was pregnant with him, or I returned to the wine a little more quickly after his birth, or I slipped him the occasional bottle of formula. Odds are, that's not even remotely the case. But still, I wonder.

Nevertheless, I'm grateful that both boys have good doctors that address concerns before they become real concerns. When this is over, I'll be the mom sitting in the waiting room with the jumping preschooler and the baby with glasses and tubes, grateful for Dr. S.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

34 Blessings

Today's my birthday. I'm 34, which means that I would need to be pregnant NOW in order to avoid the dreadful label, "Advanced Maternal Age." This means that I can only round down from forty for one more year. This means that with each passing year, it becomes more and more likely that doctors are my age, or (heavens!) younger. I shudder to think what this means to the Facebook instant-advertisers. Will it be long before they encourage me to buy Polygrip or that Rascal scooter I've had my eye on?

Thankfully, turning 34 also means next to nothing because I can think of at least 34 blessings in the time it will take for Owen to finish eating his Spaghetti-Os. On your mark, get set, go!

34 Blessings
1. Paul. Oh, does he ever get me. He never, ever, ever interrupts when Lost is on.

2. Owen. Today, it's because when I asked him to do something, he said, "Noooo...problem." You see, he was planning to say "No," then pulled compliance out of the jaws of defiance.

3. Joel. I just want to eat his toes. That's all.

4. Health. I carry my healthy body around, and rarely appreciate it.

5. Employment. Paul's job gives me the chance to play, hope, and dream for a living.

6. My job at the college. One of my students has a 10 month old, a 3 year old, works full time, AND has a husband stationed in Iraq. She also takes three classes a week. That, my friends, is impressive. Community colleges are full of heroes.

7. My friends. Today, my friend, who has a toddler and an infant of her own, watched my two boys while I got my hair cut and eyebrows done. I lost some hair, and gained a sense of self. She is amazing.

8. My mom and dad are always in my corner.

9. My in-laws give me a soft place to fall, with the added bonus that they never dealt with me when I was 13.

10. My sister-in-law, Erin, asks the right questions at the right time.

11. My brother-in-law respectfully challenges my political ideas.

12. My brother sees the world though the lens of creativity, and challenges me to do the same.

13. My brother's girlfriend makes him happier than I have ever seen him.

14. The squirrels that leap from our deck to our fence to our trees make Owen laugh.

15. My church feeds me, challenges me, encourages me.

16. Facebook allows me to have conversations with my past and present.

17. Okay...34 is a lot. I may have to start listing items and things.

18. Revolutionary Road is one of the saddest, yet artfully written novels I have read in a long time.

19. I really like the lipstick that stays on your lips all day long without constant re-application.

20. This blog is a form of "mental scrapbooking," helping me put my children's day-to-day experiences into context.

21. Snow magically hides the ugly for awhile.

22. Lent is a time to think about what I can give because of what I have been given.

23. I'm an American, as opposed to, say, Sudanese.

24. 34 years from now, I'll only be 68.

25. Daylight Savings Time switches on Sunday, meaning that Paul will refuse to explain to the concept to me again.

26. Many of the children that were sick are now on the mend.

27. Every September 17th, I remember my first best friend's birthday, and every March 5th, she remembers mine. It may be the only contact we have all year, but it is still very cool.

28. My aunt is such a neat lady, and now she writes about her experiences in her own blog.

29. My cousin and his wife have become our friends, and Joel's godparents.

30. Goldfish crackers. Not just for the kiddos.

31. Joel lifts up his arms when he wants me to pick him up.

32. Owen reads stories out loud to himself.

33. Paul tells me I look beautiful in sweatpants.

34. I get to experience all this beauty, all of this living poetry, in this, my 34th year of life.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


When I talk about faith, it is easy to talk about prayer, and grace, social justice and community. The devil is more of a stumper. It doesn't help that after a childhood of growing in Tempe, AZ---home of the ASU Sun Devils---my mental image of the devil is Sparky, the madcap demon spiking it to the opposing team.

Hardly the Prince of Darkness. Sparky is known for doing push-ups for each point scored at the football games. Thus, he has the least defined biceps of all college mascots.

An interesting side note--when Pope John Paul came to ASU stadium to do a huge mass (I was in Jr. High, so it must have been 1988-89), the university people covered up all of the images of Sparky with white cloth, and renamed the stadium, for one day only, "Sun Angel Stadium."

One more sidebar, and then I'll get back to my point. Do you remember the ending of U2's concert film, Rattle and Hum? The part that is in color, after the entire movie was in black and white? The part filmed in Tempe, AZ at Sun Devil Stadium? Well, I do. That was my big film debut. I played the role of "massive crowd."

Back to my point. Talking about the devil is difficult, because the idea of the devil has become a joke. People who are with you when you talk about helping others and trusting God cloud over when you talk about Satan. It's hard to take the idea seriously, which is precisely how the devil wants it. By minimizing the idea that evil exists, we become powerless, ostriches with our heads in the sand.

So, let me share with you one of the more powerful things I have heard. God works through difficulty, the devil uses discouragement. This is a (possibly incorrect) paraphrase from my pastor, one that I truly believe. Bad things happen. God creates moments of grace out of darkness, while the devil uses dark moments to tear us down.

I believe that the tiny, negative voice in my head--the voice that says, "You're doing a shitty job with the boys," or "You are fooling yourself if you think you can go anywhere as a writer," or "Your friends don't really like you," or "You're not as funny/pretty/smart/interesting as you think you are," comes from Satan. I believe he is using my difficult circumstances--consistent lack of sleep, loneliness, dissatisfaction, fear---to drive me away from God. I know this is true because when I begin to pray, or hum a song, or call a friend, or read Scripture, the voice goes away. I have taken away its power.

I am more fearful about publishing this post than anything else I have ever written because I am fearful that people will think that I believe in the power of Sparky. Yet, I am swallowing my fear because evil is at work in my life, in all of our lives. It isn't a horned creature with a pitchfork, it is the small, sinister thoughts, which attempt to tear apart all that is good, right, just, and holy in my life.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The De-evolution of Man

Paul calls me this morning from Starbucks, naturally. I see his digits on the caller ID, then see his wallet, resting next to the phone. I pick up the phone and answer, "Your wallet is right here."

"Shit," he replies. Then he lays down the bombshell. "Oh, and I have Joel's car seat."

Damn. That's the problem with the handy-dandy retractable car seats. Having two bases, I can drive Joel one place while Paul takes Owen to other places. This is a good thing. Unless I neglect to remove said car seat from Paul's commuter car and Paul feels the need to drive the empty car seat across county lines. "I guess I'm staying home today."

"I'm sorry," he replies.

"Me too," I reply, working really hard not to sound A) bitchy or B) desperate. You see, this day marks day three of Operation Never Leave the House. With each day of self or snow-induced house arrest, I become a little loopier, and a little uglier.

Today, for example, I am wearing a ski hat around the house. In the best light, this is a funky little accessory, a crunchy chapeau. In reality, however, this is a half-assed attempt to cover up my hair, which has been in a ponytail and now has the look and consistency of dried up taffy.

I decided to get dressed, meaning I put on jeans instead of wearing pajama bottoms. I did not, however, change the shirt which I wore all day yesterday, slept in, and am now wearing for yet another cycle. My logic is that since I'm not leaving the house, I am not impressing anybody, and I am reducing our household's laundry, and thus, saving the planet!

Perhaps I should be more concerned about my mental hygiene, as opposed to my personal hygiene. I spent almost ten minutes singing, "Oops, I Did it Again!" by singer-poet Britney Spears to Joel, who smiled and laughed. That would be an achievement if it took much to make him laugh. Let's just say a roomful of Joels is not a tough crowd. Owen's recipe for instant baby giggles: standing half an inch from his head and screaming, "Ka-Chow!" (a la Cars). Works every time.

Besides amusing the baby, I played Moon Sand with Owen. I usually don't recommend toys, but Moon Sand is really cool, if you don't mind sweeping up sand after the fact. This particular toy kit has brick molds, so you can make a wall out of sand. See, I told you it was cool. I was happily playing with Owen, making a wall of bricks, which he then smashed like the Hulk, delighting in his destruction. When he destroyed my cool wall, I felt sad. Truly.

This exercise in exile is making me wonder where things could go. How much further will I regress? Will I begin to eat with my fingers and toes? Communicate through gesture, grunts, and signs? Perhaps I will mark the days on the wall with a stone or become good friends with a volleyball. I don't know.

I do know one thing. That car seat is returning to its rightful home in the Subaru. And, by God, we will leave the house tomorrow.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Things Done by 11:00 AM

1. Dress and feed baby and preschooler.

2. Make French toast because it's a special SNOW DAY!

3. Find snow boots that were a five dollar waste of money, since we already had our one annual snowfall in February. Put boots on Owen. Smile because it's nice to be wrong.

4. Take picture of Owen and Paul all bundled up. Paul looks like a big hooded ninja, creeping up behind his unsuspecting toddler victim.

5. Watch Owen play outside. He attempts to make a snowman, but the snow is still too powdery. If we had a snowboard, it would be perfect. For forts, snowmen, and snowballs, not so much.

6. Watch The Today Show with Joel, which I normally don't do. I have a rule that I'm not allowed to watch TV during the day to prevent my mind from becoming yet mushier. I feel bad for local news lady Meaghan McGrath, who, six years into reporting, still has to stand in the snowbanks and report that it is, in fact, snowy and cold.

Perhaps I should watch The Today Show more often, because they have an interview with a couple. He was planning to propose, and thought he would pop the question by putting her engagement a Frosty. She ate it. Not just the Frosty, but the ring as well. Three days later, after bowls of Fiber One, her ring reappears. He proposes, and she's wearing the thing while being interviewed by Matt Lauer.

That's what you get for eating fast food.

7. Watching that interview makes me think, "I need to get rid of the Fiber One in the pantry." I bought if for my mom and dad's recent visit, and Lord knows I'm not eating it. I look up a recipe for Fiber One bran muffins and make them with Owen, who is by now inside.

I continue to attempt baking with Owen despite the fact that he has ZERO IMPULSE CONTROL. I hear that baking teaches togetherness and math concepts. It's a treasured memory from my childhood, cooking with Grandma and Mom. Plus, the world needs more men who can cook. So, we work on dumping the ingredients into the bowl, and mixing them up. That part is okay. What's not so okay is when Owen decides to freestyle by adding egg shells or juice from his sippy cup into the mix.

I have to keep the edge from my voice and repeat to myself, "This is fun, this is fun," even as Owen is attempting to grab handfuls of flour from the dry ingredients bowl.

8. Muffins in the oven, I go online to see if I'll be teaching tonight. First, I check email (ignoring a request from a student to edit her essay for the FIFTH time--I'll do it later), than I check Facebook (incidentally, Fiona is breathing on her own and doing much better--keep praying), then I look at the blog page to see if anybody commented on a post (people--I live for it. Feed into my neediness.), and then I go to to read the headlines, since we didn't get delivery today. I walk away from the computer and Paul asks, "Do you have class today?"

Oh, Yeah. I get back on. Yippee! Free money today! No class!

9. Somewhere in the mix of all this, I talk to my parents, drink my coffee, and put Joel down for his nap.

10. Since Paul is home, I take opportunity of the time to clean out the junk drawer. It's really purty now.

11. Owen and Paul go outside to clean off the cars. I decide to write the blog.

12. It's now 11:30. I've done a lot. Except, I didn't change out of my PJs. Gotta love snow days.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Loving Joel

When I first met Joel, he seemed like this foreign creature. He was small, his face looked a bit like a bulldog, and he had an overbite only an orthodontist could love. My friend Kirsten (who doubled as my labor and delivery nurse that day) handed him to me and I just stared, thinking, "Who are you?"

When Owen was placed in my arms, I sobbed--tears of joy. He's here! He's here! I didn't have that feeling with Joel. Instead, as soon as I held him, I felt a sense that something was a He would look around, then he would squish up his entire face and wail with rage. "What the hell is this? Who the hell are you? Why the hell am I here?" He continued this pattern for the first hour of his life. Quiet--Rage--Quiet. Kirsten encouraged me to breastfeed. I made my awkward attempts, and again, he would look at me, as if saying, "What are you doing now, crazy woman?"

The whole thing felt surreal. I remember thinking, "I hope we didn't mess up a good thing by adding this guy"

The Hopkins experience (that sounds like a really bad '70s band featuring saxophones and vocal modulators) jump-started my love instinct, but it was a crazy, fearful love. An Oh-my-God-if-I-lose-him-I-might-lose-myself kinda love. That too, passed. He came home, and the business of loving him began in earnest.

With Owen, it was instant love. Head-over-heels teenager love. With Joel, I fell in love with him. Each smile, sigh, grunt, or slow, sleepy breath brought me closer to him. It's hard to say why. Perhaps I was so concerned about Owen's adjustment that I focused my energy on the baby that could talk, walk, protest. Or, perhaps I was fearful that Joel, despite all of the reassurances, wasn't going to stick around, so I withheld my feelings out of self-protection. It's hard to say.

Anyway, it's a moot point now. I am smitten with Joel Edward. He is joy personified. He loves to jump, and when we place him in the Jump-A-Roo, his eyes light up, as if to say, "I can't believe the world is this much fun!" I can make him laugh outrageously by saying nonsense, such as "Dynaco Blue!" or "French Fried Potatoes." When I sing, he grins, which is a welcome change from Owen's, "Mommy, please stop doing that."

I am more relaxed as a mother with Joel, and have thus enjoyed his babyhood more. Because I don't have the time or inclination to consult the various baby books, I'm not obsessing about his next milestone (or lack thereof), and instead, I just marvel at his new skills. They are little surprises. I find myself thinking, "Oh my gosh, he has two teeth now! When did that happen?"

The other morning (and by morning, I mean three in the morning), I finished feeding him. As he rested against me, he started babbling, "Da-Da. Da-Da-Da-Da-Da-Da." His voice was full and sleepy. It was the first step at communication, a window into the person he's becoming. It was also a time-machine, flashing back to Christmas 2006. Owen was a little bit older, and he too was saying "Da-Da," although with him, he would stress different parts, as if arguing a case before Roberts and Ginsburg: "Da Da Da Da Da Da!" Whatever "Da" meant to him, it was important.

Owen is still a lawyer in training, always ready to negotiate, and not adverse to playing hardball. And I love him.

Now, Joel. He is a seed just starting to sprout. With each passing day, I understand him better, and love him more and more.

His roots are my heart.