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Monday, August 31, 2009

Houseness

The first mistake was picking up the book.

The second, naturally, was reading it.

The book in question? Not-So-Big-Remodeling: Tailoring Your Home for the Way You Really Live.

My brain still hurts.

The book claims, "with small, thoughtful changes, the home you live in can be the home you love." The cover shows a light-filled kitchen with a vase of sunflowers and a large wooden bowl of Granny Smith apples. Looking at this picture lowers my blood pressure.

Then, I look up at my own kitchen. There's the crock pot on the floor, overflowing with plastic food, stuffed animals, blocks, and dryer sheets. The refrigerator is an explosion of magnets and reminders: "Pay tuition!" "Call back Laura!" Next to the reminders, there is a prescription for Owen's fluoride tablets---the third prescription we've taken home from his dentist, and never filled. There are two laundry baskets next to the crock pot, filled with balls and blankets. I've attempted to move these baskets three times, and each time Owen has reacted most vehemently with screaming and hissy-fits of Project Runway proportion.

It's so overwhelming, I don't even know how to start. Some of the "easy" suggestions include lowering ceilings, knocking out walls, or adding windows. I suppose these are "easy" ideas if you're blessed with spatial sense, but for me, doing any of these things is as absurd as doing my own orthodontia.

When I live in a vacuum, I'm okay with my house. There are too many toys and some of the furniture has seen better days, but nothing makes my eyes bleed. However, when I open books like this, or visit the homes of my friends with an eye for design, a tiny worm of envy begins digging in my gut.

I don't want a huge house, or Viking appliances, or an acre lot. Most of the time, I consider it as a point of pride that we do not live in a McMansion.

Yet, when I see how gracefully and beautifully people (yes, even people with small children) choose to live, I feel like I'm depriving myself and my family of a restful and inspiring home.

So, I do what I can. I re-arrange the toys. I clear away the clutter. And yes, I look through the shelter magazines or watch HGTV. After all, I gotta at least try.

***
Happy day! My niece, Kiri Jane Campbell was born yesterday. She's Six pounds, six ounces. Mother and baby are doing well, and everybody will go home tomorrow. This is huge.

I must say that 8/30/09, is neither even nor odd. I was hoping for 9/9/09. Sigh.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Submission

When Paul and I selected our marriage vows and scripture readings, we both avoided Ephesians 5:24, which reads, "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."

The idea of submission, which dictionary.com defines as " to give over or yield to the power or authority of another" rubbed us both the wrong way. Paul certainly does not see himself as an "authority" figure, nor do I consider myself to be in need of guidance. This kind of relationship is like an unbalanced see-saw--somebody is bound to get hurt, and neither person is having a good time.

So, submit to my husband? I might as well vacuum in pearls and high heels.

Of course, the joke's on me, as it so often is when I attempt to out-smart God. I'm far from a Biblical scholar, but this is the way I've come to accept this passage, rather than hide from it:

The WHOLE POINT of the Christian life is: It's not about you. This, naturally, should extend to marriage. This doesn't mean that you allow your husband to treat you poorly or disrespectfully. What it does mean is that wives AND husbands should try to think of their spouses' needs before their own. You should yield your natural selfishness to meet the needs of the person you love.

An example: I get up with the boys every day of the week. I get them dressed and fed and started on their merry little way. Every. Day. Sometimes, I really would prefer to roll over, ignore their little noises, and return to my dream featuring Antonio Banderas (the back-in-the-day version).

Before you feel too sorry for me, let me add that the reason I always get up with the kids is that by the time they wake up, usually around 7:00 AM, Paul has already run eight miles, completed his forty-minute commute to work, and is sitting in his chair at work.

Yet, on Sunday morning, the ONE MORNING A WEEK* that Paul is not required to wake up before dawn, I lie in bed, listening to Joel's grunts and moans, and silently beg Paul to get his butt out of bed.

This morning, though, it kind of hit me---allowing my hard-working husband a bit of sleep is an act of kindness, an opportunity for me to submit to his needs rather than focusing on my own.

It's not about his gender. I don't let him sleep in because he's the man, and is thus more deserving of sleep. (As somebody that breastfed twice, I believe that the scales of lost sleep will NEVER be fully balanced.) Rather, I let him sleep because I love him, and part of love means letting the selfishness die, one kind choice at a time.

When I think of the ways that Paul submits to me---allowing me time on the computer while he plays with the boys outside, cooking dinner while I retire to my room with a trashy magazine, never grumbling when I take a girls' night (or weekend)---I know that I am fortunate indeed.

Marriage--and parenthood for that manner---is another opportunity to become closer to God, and I will submit that this is a very good thing.

That being said---I still wish that the Bible asked husbands and wives to submit to each other---most versions ask the wives to submit and the husbands to respect. Anybody have any insights or experiences to share regarding this sticking point?

*He does his long runs (20+ miles) on Saturdays, and needs to wake up before dawn so he doesn't die of heat exhaustion. True story---on Saturday, it was so muggy out that he lost FIVE pounds by the end of his run. He started at 150, ended at 145. And yes, he drank a TON of water.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Leather jackets, switchblades, bad nicknames. Why, you all are ruffians!"

While at the gas station, REM's song "Stand." came on. I got a little choked up.

I realize this is not a logical response. Allow me to explain.

My brother and I, back in high school, were HUGE fans of Chris Elliot, and his television show Get A Life. Every episode opened with Chris Elliot's forty-something man-child delivering papers on his bicycle to the theme song "Stand."

It takes a special mind to enjoy Chris Elliot. The comedy is on the stupid side, and by stupid, I mean this.

Yet, we ate it up with a spoon. We claimed to enjoy it in an ironic, it's-so-bad-it's-good way, but really, we just thought it was awesome. I mean---flying, tobacco-spitting cupcakes? Spewey the pet alien? The Handsome Boy Modeling School?

All it took for my brother to make me lose it in church was to do one of the following things:

1) Sing any hymn in a high-pitched falsetto, a la Chris Elliot in the opening scene of Cabin Boy.

By the way, a funny side note: A Spanish teacher at my first job had a Cabin Boy poster in his classroom. I figured this meant that we were going to be BFFs. I congratulated him on his awesome taste in film. He replied, "That's the worst movie ever made. I have the poster because I was in the movie." It turns out that he was one of the people in the choir and still gets royalties.

2) Lean over and say, "Do you wanna buy a monkey?" The suck-a-lemon Lutherans sitting in the back row would disapprove with pursed lips and icy glares. (We were always late, and had to sit right up front, since all the "good" back seats were taken).

3) After communion, Tom would say, "Hmmmmmm. Good deet today." (When I was younger, I thought the communion wafers were called "deets," because the pastor would always say, "Take and eat," aka "Take a deet.")

I would reply, "Yes, these are the best deets EV-AH!"

Maybe you had to be there.

There are many more inside jokes that we shared, most of which are as tedious as this post for 99% of you, my loyal readers. The whole point of inside jokes is that most people don't appreciate them, because you're smiling at a memory more than the actual words.

I guess that's why the gas station Muzak made me a little emotional. My brother lives in Seattle, and I haven't seen him since 2006. Neither of us are all that great on the phone, and so we simply don't know each other as well.

Tom came to my sister-in-law's wedding many years ago, and my sister-in-law said, "When you two are together, it's like the rest of the world melts away." She's right. When Tom and I fall into our easy groove, where we do the Hammer Dance or talk about Forever Knight and Cornholio, we are a walking, talking inside joke.

Tom is very happy, has a nice lady friend, writes lovely poetry, and rides his bike all over the city. Life is good for him. I wouldn't want anything else.

But, there are days, and I'm sure he agrees, that you want another person to know your shorthand, your history, your entire self. Somebody who shares the same parents, the same genetic quirks, and the same sense of humor.

Somebody who knows that it only takes the words, "Do you wanna learn some fisherman's Greek?" to leave me gasping for air, tears running down my cheeks.

That kind of person. Miss you, Tom.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Don't Panic

Ever since the playhouse got its final coat of paint and we ceremoniously crashed the sippy cup of apple juice against its doorway, (Note to self: perhaps this has something to do with our ant problem), a dark cloud has moved in above my head.

What if, after all of my father's hard work, and all of the expense, the kids don't like it?

I mean, it wouldn't be the first time. In fact, I would say more often than not, my toy selections are humongous duds. For example, when I was in Charlotte, I bought these cool can stilts:



I thought Owen would be all over it. It's slightly reckless, noisy, and Joel-free. These are the ingredients for success, or so I thought.

Of course, Owen uses them as large purses to carry his toy cars around and about. When I demonstrated the coolness: I'm tall! I'm a stompy, noisy monster! He looked at me with pity and said, "Mommy, don't panic."

It's hard not to panic when you see cool toys serve the same purposes as grocery bags, time and time again.

So, back to the playhouse. For awhile, Owen was content to fill it with scrap pieces of wood, piling them perilously in the corner. This made it not only Kaczynski-esque in its creepiness, but completely non-functional because nobody could sit in the thing.

One evening, the extra wood mysteriously "disappeared." Possibly, the wood escaped to the Island of Annoying Misfit Toys. This is the final resting home of many of the boys' especially loud, violent, or choketastic playthings.

Once the playhouse was clear, and the weather dipped below preposterous levels, we ventured outside once again. Thankfully, Owen has found games to play. I'm not sure what these games suggest about my daily activities--feel free to share your ideas.

Game #1: Grooming

Owen will first "cut" my hair, complete with a clippers and a close hot shave. Clearly, he thinks that everybody gets his or her hair cut at places that start with Great and end with Clips.

Next, Owen will tend to my eyebrows. He'll have me sit down, and he'll pretend to put the wax on my brows, and then will "tear" off the strips, saying "shhhpt" to indicate the hair removal. He'll "tweeze" the errant hairs and then say, "That's much better."

Thank God he's never witnessed a bikini wax.

Game #2: Nourishment

I'll stand by the window and say, "I would like a ______(fill in the blank foodstuff)."

Owen will make it, with sound effects like "boink!" and "hee-haw" before saying, "Here you go!" and handing me an imaginary something.

He'll then say, "That will be twenty-five dollars!"

"What?" I respond, "That's highway robbery!"

He'll pretend to think about it and say, after great thought, "Okay...twenty-FOUR dollars."

He drives a hard bargain. But for air this good, it's hard to argue.

Game #3: Health care

Owen will pretend to be all sorts of health care professionals, including:

Dentist: "Let me count your teeth. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, sixty!"

Eye Doctor: Since the only eye doctor he has ever seen is Joel's pediatric ophthalmologist, this game primarily involves him looking at my eyes and making clicking and whistling sounds. My eyes are always fine, but I wonder if there is a dolphin out by the Atlantic, feeling strangely drawn towards the Chesapeake Bay...as if a small child is speaking its language.

Beware of those dolphins, Owen.

Ear-Nose-and-Throat-Doctor: He looks in one ear, "No potatoes." He then looks in the other ear, "Just a little bit of potato."

Pediatrician: "You look sick. You need to drink some snow-flavored medicine."

Although these games are, admittedly tedious after awhile, I am happy that the playhouse is getting some use. After all, it's awfully big to be a purse.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I learned a new trick, so give me a medal

I learned how to do links today, so I'm going to practice by linking you to some of my most favorite things ever.

My brother has a blog of his own, where he writes the first drafts of his poems. I really liked this one because it reminds me that when Tom decides something, it will happen.

My friend Coby has a blog that inspires and makes me laugh. She takes me back to my first job, where we would laugh at each others' brilliant observations all. day. long. She's my taller, prettier, wiser twin sister. I'm mean, check this out.

Yet another friend, Nikki, got me started on this whole blogging thing. She was my mentor at the community college, back when I was gainfully employed. She had her baby in June. I had mine in July. BOTH of our babies were full-term, and both spent the first week or so of their lives in the NICU. Seriously, what are the odds?

She also blogs, and is hilarious. If I didn't love her writing so much, I would be consumed with envy. Check out this memory of a fine day from her reckless youth...

Paul doesn't get my interest in the site Cake Wrecks. Yet, I cannot get enough of wacky cakes like this or this.

Finally, I would be remiss to not mention Amalah, a blogger that inspires me, yet drives me to drink most days because I will never be that good. Check out "Hat Trick." Ex-actly.

I must stop now. There are many more blogs that I love and I follow, but the baby has awakened, and life marches on...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Yes, Ricky Bobby, we will dance...

...and it will be a slow jam.

video

Writing Wednesdays-Setting

Well.

(Crickets)

Ahem. Last week's Writing Wednesday took off like a bag of bricks. People weren't biting.

I'm trying again, anyway. I'll talk a little bit about writing, give a prompt, and share an example. If you like, you can respond in the comments with your own example, post an example on your blog or as a Facebook note, or email me your example.

Or don't. No pressure. Truly.

(But it would be fun.)

Writing Wednesday: Setting

When I was in school, my teachers told me that setting was 1) Time and 2) Place. And yes, it is that, but it serves a more important purpose. Setting is a gateway to character.

It was always frustrating to me when a teacher would make us describe something from nature. Inevitably, living in Arizona, I was forced to write long, purple-prose ridden odes to the Mighty Saguaro or the Majestic Cactus Wren. My paragraphs would be slashed with red, with the maddening phrase, "Elaborate!" scrawled into the margins.

Good grief, woman, how much can be said about a spiky, green tree?

One of my favorite writers, Sarah Vowell, says, "Even writers need relief from words." Amen, sister.

Setting is another tool in your arsenal. Description, of any sort, for any reason, must add something to tone, character, or plot or else it is just noise.

The Prompt:

1) Select a room in your house. I'm going to choose my kitchen.

2) Select three or four specific details of that room. I'm going to include them as photographs, because this is a blog, which is a visual format. You don't have to do this unless this helps you.






As you can see, I've selected my black toenails, a bottle of 409, a diaper box, and the stickers adorning my silverware drawer.

3) Study these objects and determine either A) the tone you're attempting to develop or B) what these objects reveal about your character. I think that I'm going to use these objects to reveal the general undercurrent of worry that so often runs through my mind.

4) Draft. Let it rest. Play with it. Show it to friends. Get feedback. Publish. (Or skip some of these steps, if that floats your boat. I admit it: I'm going to write this and publish it right away. Possibly, I'll edit it once or twice if something alarming jumps out at me. That's how I tend to roll.)

The Example:

Her boys are upstairs, finally, thankfully. One is sleeping in his crib, while the other is in his room, reading his Thomas and Diego books. In theory, he will do this quietly. In theory.

She scans the floor, once again littered with cereal, toy cars, puzzle pieces. What choking hazards crept out from the shadows this time? A toy car wheel? An errant kernel from last night's popcorn? What small mercies saved her son today?

She picks up the butter knife, and looks at an empty diaper box. Like all boxes, this was liberated from the recycle bin to become a washing machine, or a car, or a train. Yet, she cannot help but notice that her son, vigorously and deliberately, hollowed out the eyes and mouth of the smiling model baby. The baby is in a green field, resplendent in his diapers, but his face is hollow, broken, permanently damaged. This probably means nothing, she thinks. Or does it?

The 409 bottle stands guard, as always, on the counter. It is the first line of attack against the ants, the front row of the phalanx. Yet, despite the spraying and the poisons, the relentless cleaning and scrubbing, the ants continue their slow, trickling assault. They track up and down the windowpane, into the rice, the fruit, the baby's bottles. Slowly, they are wearing her house down. She must crush them, or they will conquer.

She sits down at the kitchen table, resting her feet upon the chair. She considers turning on the news, but stops: She cannot hear one more word about Swine Flu. Not when her babies rest upstairs, the bacteria from the playground still lingering on their soft, unwrinkled hands. No.

Instead, she looks at her feet. She got a pedicure, and chose black polish because she wanted a bit of edginess to combat her staid, stay-at-home-mom-ness. She stares at her toes, and wishes, more than she can admit, that she had something rosy to look at instead of that unrelenting darkness.

Reflections
Well. That was darker than I intended. I'm fine--this is just what the writing presented for me today. Perhaps my subconscious needed to sort something out.

I'm not sure that I'm in love with it. The third-person ("she") point-of-view was a new risk, which made my sentences more passive than I normally like. You'll notice that I skipped the stickers image--it just didn't seem to fit once I started writing. Also, the choking hazards and Swine Flu things came from nowhere---except that they are both things I worry about quite a bit.


I hope that you give this exercise a shot. Looking forward to seeing your work!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tragically Unhip

My baby is almost thirteen months old. He walks. He runs. He climbs onto chairs. He does the signs for "more" and "all done." He's this close to being done with bottles, and eats real food over pulverized Gerber most days.

This means that it's time to get my groove back.

For the past year, I haven't been depressed. I think the correct term is "Batshit Crazy." I was juggling schedules and controlling tantrums, changing diapers and potty-training. I spent much the year isolated from friends, because Joel liked his sleeps. Paul and I were two ships in the night, trading off kids, tag-teaming, surviving.

And now, as Joel is getting older, I'm ready to shake off the cobwebs. Most movies of my teen and college years have the essential "Makeover Montage," where the ugly duckling is buffed and polished into a stunning beauty. Example:the makeover of the "tragically unhip" Tai Frasier by Cher Horowitz in the timeless film Clueless.

That's what I want, and the following is how it's going to happen: (When you read this list, keep a running loop of Pink's "I'm Coming Out" in your mind as the soundtrack.)

1. I'm going to tame the twin caterpillars that are growing above my eyes. Linda, the Vietnamese wonder with the tweezers, will subdue the beasts before they reach Andy Rooney proportions.

2. I'm going to go to Angel, the wonder colorist, and dye my hair a dramatic red. If I don't like it, the brown will grow back. If I do like it, you can call me Ginger Mom. Maybe if you're lucky, I'll wear a Union Jack bodysuit and screech "Girl Power!" in a bad English accent. But only if you're lucky.

3. I'm going to go to the gym at least three times a week, because it was a bit much to have the lady at the toy store ask me when I was due. It's called an empire waist sundress.

4. Paul and I are going to find a real babysitter--not a parent or a friend with kids---an actual teenager (with CPR training, natch), and we're going out. TWICE A MONTH. This is essential to the health of our marriage.

5. Travel---there are places to see, and adventures to be had. Some will be had with the boys, and they will learn to be flexible. Some will be had with just Paul and I, and the boys will become better acquainted with their grandparents.

Nobody is served by having unhappy or bored parents. The boys need to see parents that enjoy each other's company, suck the marrow out of life, and look fabulous along the way. Thus, begone, tragic unhippness. I'm coming out, so you better get the party started.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Trashy Town

Inexplicably, Owen has decided that trash cans, once again, are really cool. We went through Trash Cans=Heaven when he was 18 months old. That was the time of the delightful trip to the National Zoo. We were all, "Owen! Look! Pandas!" and he was all, "Look at all the trash cans! Take me now, Lord, I've seen it all!"

Anyway, Owen loves the trash cans, which is an unfortunate development, because most of them are filled with the urine or feces of his baby brother. (In diapers, people. Okay, most of the time in diapers.)

I was away from Owen, doing something truly important (cough, Facebook, cough), and when I ventured into his room, he had all the small trashcans lined up, with all the putrid contents on his floor. He was "sorting" the trash--all the used Kleenex in one trash can, Q-tips in another, pee-filled diapers in the third, and, yes, the poop monsters in the fourth.

After I washed Owen in a shower of hand sanitizer, Silkwood style, scrubbing under his fingernails until they were prune-like and raw, I still had to find a way to entertain him until nap time.

Owen said, "Why don't we wash the trash cans?"

It's hard to argue with that kind of logic. Owen was clean, and wanted his dearest friends to be equally sanitary.

We took the trash cans on the deck, and I filled each one with soap and hot water. A panda bear could have emerged from the bushes on a unicycle, juggling slices of birthday cake, and Owen wouldn't have looked up from these bubbly wonders.

It just goes to show you that I truly don't get it. There's books to read, cars to push, blocks to stack, or markers to draw with. There's a recently-constructed, beautiful playhouse, a water table, and a baby swimming pool. There's a fully stocked play kitchen. Let's not forget the train table.

But my kid, when asked, lists the following as his favorite toys:
1) Crock pot
2) Cardboard box
3) Washer and dryer
4) Vacuum cleaner
5) And naturally, the best of all...the trash cans.

It might be time for a garage sale.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Inner Cook

I cooked taco soup, chicken enchiladas, and shrimp curry in one sitting yesterday, and felt like I had just experienced a spa treatment.

Normally, I am doing the following when preparing a meal:

get ingredients-tell Owen to give Joel his toy back-turn on frying pan-tell Owen to give Joel his toy back RIGHT NOW-pour oil in frying pan-start chopping onions-pick up outraged, crying baby-pat back gently as he wiggles back and forth-put baby down-tell Owen that yes, despite all hopes to the contrary, he still needs to flush the toilet and wash his hands after going to the bathroom-continue to chop onion while hoping that I don't start a grease fire-pick up Joel again-open dishwasher so he can play with the silverware and ceramic plates-tell Owen to put his pants back on because nobody wants to see his pee-pee-put onions into bubbling hot oil and stir-take butter knife away from Joel and plop him the high chair with Cheerios-answer phone and listen to Paul tell me that the bridge is backed up and he'll hopefully be home in forty five minutes-silently scream in the bathroom-tell Owen that SO HELP ME GOD if he does not put his pants on he will go to bed RIGHT NOW-cut chicken-wash hands to give Owen chocolate milk-cut chicken-wash hands to give Joel dried strawberries-cut chicken-wash hands to clean up spilled chocolate milk-put chicken in the now glistening, soft onions,-wash hands-cook chicken-help Owen put his pants on (yes, I gave my child chocolate milk while we was naked from the waist down. And yes, I didn't follow through on my threat. Judge away!)-test doneness of chicken because I am a PARANOID LOON-add frozen vegetables and stir fry sauce--spoon feed Joel something vile and pureed--stir dinner-let Owen eat the leftover Cheerios underneath Joel's high chair-pour glass of wine-answer phone and tell my dear mother NO THIS IS NOT A GOOD TIME TO TALK--stare out the front window, willing Paul's car to appear--take stir-fry off the stove--realize that I should have started rice ages ago-decide we're going Atkins, so no rice for us--watch the boys do dances of joy as Paul comes home---listen to him explain that he has to mow the lawn, so he'll help out with the boys afterwards--go in the bedroom and rock back and forth in the fetal position--find glass of wine two hours later, having forgotten its existence.

That's a typical night.

So, yesterday, when I chopped, simmered, and roasted these meals, without my children, in my sister-in-law's spacious kitchen, I rediscovered my inner cook--the person who takes the time to painstakingly remove each seed from the chipoltle chilies, and tastes sauces for the appropriate balance of sweet and savory. My sister-in-law and I talked easily as I cooked (my gift to her--they are to freeze and eat later, after her daughter is born). We discussed family, parenting, labor, and love, as my hands did their purposeful busywork.

The gift was for her, but it was for me as well. She got the food; I got to focus on one task. It was almost like a meditation, and it was scrumptious.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

36 Weeks

Today is a wonderful day. Today, my sister-in-law made it to 36 weeks.

37 weeks would be even better.
38 weeks would be grand.
39 weeks would be kind of funny.
40 weeks is starting to get just plain mean.

But 36 weeks is a collective sigh of relief. For 36 weeks is five weeks longer than Erin has ever been pregnant before. Fetus weeks are kind of like dog years...and those extra five weeks matter.

My nephew was almost three pounds when he was born, and spent ten weeks in the NICU. I saw him once, with his head the size of a tennis ball and his arms like pink, fleshy twigs. He was off the respirator at that point, but he was still hooked to monitors that beeped and hummed, keeping him safe as he grew in his artificial womb.

Doug and Erin got to hold William for fleeting moments---changing a diaper, taking a temperature, and restorative skin-to-skin "kangaroo care."

But when I met him for the first time, he was eating through a feeding tube, and spent much of his day sleeping and still.

I know that we're not completely out of the woods yet---and truly, you never know. But, seeing that number 36 on my calendar fills me with such joy, and such gratitude.

I will soon have a niece. A beautiful little girl to love. I get to be Auntie Nancy again.

But stay in there, little Kiri, for at least one more week. Cook a little bit more, because I know that your little feet and poochy belly are going to be just delicious.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Writing Wednesday-Snapshot Sample




This is what started it all.

Paul's cousin, Polly, was the first to start a family. We found out she was pregnant during Thanksgiving 2004, shortly after she had returned from her year-long deployment to Kuwait. We gave our hugs and congratulations, all the while thinking, "Really? How can she--how can anybody--possibly be ready to be a parent? How?"

We were at the point when we knew we should at least consider the concept. Our thirties were approaching, and doctors had told me that I might have difficulty conceiving. We were in a decent place financially, and our marriage was solid. But, the idea was too enormous. There was no turning back. It was like getting tattoos on our faces--we really had to be sure.

Despite our own lingering concerns, Polly was ready to get her tattoo. Appropriately enough for the daughter of a soldier, Katie was born on the 4th of July.

This little girl was our gateway drug. It was the smell--baby powder, milky breath and lavender. It was the soft hair, standing up like duck fluff, tickling our chins, our cheeks, our hearts. We stopped our conversations and just looked at her as she chewed on her books or sang her songs to herself.

The photo album of that year is bursting with pictures of that little girl. We traveled more that year than we had ever traveled before, but looking at the photographic evidence, you would think she was our daughter, and that we spent each day playing with her on the soft brown carpet.

Secretly, we both wanted exactly that.

In the past, when I pointed out cute babies to Paul, he would reply, deadpan, "Yes, that is a small human." But I captured this picture one morning. Polly was on a run, and I was still sleeping. Paul heard Katie stirring in her pack and play in our guest room, crept out of bed, and swooped her up.

He stood by our back window, gently rocking Katie back and forth, humming a nameless tune, as she sucked on her pacifier and took in this big, big world.

Although I couldn't see his face, I knew Paul was content, and I knew that this was our future.

Writing Wednesdays-Snapshots

I'm trying something new, yet incredibly old at the same time. As many of you know, I was an English teacher for many years. Specifically, I taught composition and creative writing. I always enjoyed it, seeing it more as a vocation than merely a job (The teaching, that is. The grading, meetings, busywork, discipline---I don't miss that as much...)

There is power in language. Carefully selected words can change the world.

Allow me to step down from my pedestal, and share my idea. Each Wednesday, I will pass on a little bit of what I've learned. I don't pretend to be an expert--and I am far from a professional writer (if you don't believe me, I've got a growing collection of rejection letters/emails for you). Yet, I'll share what I know, and hopefully you'll do the same.

Each Wednesday will include a short writing lesson, a sample, and a prompt. I would encourage you to share your writing--via a note on Facebook, as a comment to this post, as a posting on your own blog, or by email. Or, if you prefer to write a present to yourself, that is fine as well. You can write fiction, non-fiction, poetry. Whatever you wish.

No grading-no judging-no expectations. Just write for the joy of it.

Without further ado...Away We Go (did you see how I used the blog title just now. Oh, Yes. That.Just.Happened.)

***
Snapshots

Barry Lane talks about the concept of Snapshots, Thoughtshots, and Dialogue in his book After The End. I pilfered his ideas throughout my teaching career, because they are simple and they work.

We'll address dialogue and thoughtshots another day to focus on the building block of a snapshot. A well-crafted snapshot can bring transcendence to any piece of writing. A snapshot, simply put, is a written picture of a moment in time. Unlike a physical photograph, when you write, you're taking a complete sensory picture. You can discuss the smells, textures, sounds, and sensations in addition to the sights.

More importantly, though, you are able to capture a snapshot of a feeling. All of the details should lead the reader somewhere. The same sun can be an oppressive slap or a comforting embrace. The autumn leaves can crunch or snap under your feet. The bird song can be melodious, or it can be piercing. The things you include--and the words you use to describe them---create the tone of the piece.

A few words of caution: Don't list each sense in turn. It sounds sing-songy and rote. It is far better to focus on the most powerful details, and the senses that lead the reader to your intended feeling.

Also, don't lock yourself into a tone. It's entirely possible that you'll sit down to write with a specific idea in mind, but find that it changes. That's normal. Part of the writing process is that the act of writing unlocks the subconscious, allowing old ideas and memories to take root in new, fertile soil.

I could go on and on. For those of you that like structure and lists, Away We Go (ack! twice in one post!):

1. Select a photograph that is meaningful to you.

2. Either mentally, or physically, list the various sights, smells, tastes, feelings, and sounds of this photograph. Zoom your camera in to see the close details, or zoom it out to see the big picture. Some writers are well served to talk this out with a friend--the act of talking can unlock additional memories.

3. Use your list to determine the feeling you're attempting to convey. For example, if you're looking to discuss regret--circle or note the sensory images that are tinged with melancholy or sadness. Likewise, do the same for any other emotion--joy, peace, serenity, etc.

4. Write, and trust the process. Again, don't be surprised or upset if you veer off course. The act of brainstorming was still time well spent.

5. Anne Lamott, another writing hero of mine, says, "Don't be afraid of Shitty First Drafts." Truer words were never spoken. Finish your first draft and leave it alone. Return to it a day later, and keep what you like, change what you're not so sure about. If you like, send it to a trusted friend for feedback. (I'll do it---I especially owe this service to some good friends of mine).

6. When you're ready, send it off to the world. We all can learn from your wisdom.

I'll show you a sample in the next post, because this one is a whopper as it is...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Holy Water

My mother wants the world to know that she did not teach nor encourage my use of the F-Bomb. Especially the Mutha F-Bomb.

Duly noted. I'm not so proud, either.

Where we left off, I was fearful that I was going to spend a long afternoon with my child, who would rail against all the perceived injustices of his young life. I would be the George Clooney to his Bill O'Reilly, the Mariah Carey to his Enemim, the Kate to his Jon.

You get the idea.

Instead, I was once again given a big dose of grace via the public pool.

The problem with the pool is the getting there. The process is such that I regularly talk myself out of going all together. There's the sunscreen, and the changing into swimsuits, and the loading up of snacks and sippy cups and towels. It's such a pain in the butt, especially since Joel finds it hilarious to undo the dressing mid-process. I'll put on his diaper, and he'll pull it off and run away, giggling hysterically. He does this with his shirt, his pants, his glasses...

On average, it takes about three hours to get dressed.

Yet, we eventually made it to the pool, and everybody was happy. Joel sat by the fountain and splashed, laughing out loud. Owen jumped and kicked and announced, "Look at me!" as he soared into the two-foot deep water.

As he skipped across the row of fountains, he was almost dancing, quietly ecstatic.

I hold so much power over my children, but the cleansing waters held more. Like a baptism, the chlorine and water washed away the sin of my selfishness, my frustration, my crippling need to control. I was a new creation, a more mindful and loving mother.

In that water, it wasn't about the other things I could be doing or the petty frustrations of a typical day. It was about pure, unfiltered joy, flowing like a waterfall, rinsing away all the junk.

And that, my friends, is holy water.

An unacceptable development

I'm writing this really quick because Joel is waking up, and despite my best efforts, he is up for good. He only slept an hour or so, and this development is completely unacceptable. The whole point of only one nap a day is that it's a long motherfucking nap.

And, of course, Owen is asleep, and will be asleep for several hours, leaving me with an afternoon of a tired-ass baby doing his patented "Look, lady, I've got needs. Go into the kitchen and make me a sandwich, toots." routine.

Babies. There's just no reasoning with them about my needs---like the need to shower, read, sleep, throw a load of laundry into the dryer, take an uninterrupted poop. Those needs.

No, instead the witching hour is starting around 2 today, and will continue until Paul gets home.

I hope that we won't all be crying when he walks in the door, but my magic 8-ball says, "Prognosis Excellent."

Monday, August 17, 2009

This Minivan is so sick, yo.

1. Reapply, reapply, reapply. After a lovely weekend with the girls at Ocean City, I came home Pepto-Bismol pink. The rest of my (equally Caucasian) friends came home in various shades of tan. Paul took one look at my Bozo nose and asked, "What were you wearing, a negative SPF?"

2. When you're in a mini-van full of tipsy mothers, expect to hear lots of Def Leopard and Sir Mix-A-Lot. There was one (anonymous) blogging mother who bellowed, "My anaconda don't want none unless it got buns, HUN!" at least thirty times. Funnier every time. (Total disclosure: there was a designated driver. She found us all hilarious, I'm sure.)

3. If you're from Maryland, all paths lead to Ocean City. Over the course of the weekend we passed restaurants, fudge shops, and bars that once employed these free-wheeling friends of mine. It didn't matter what hotel we passed...somebody, at some point had stayed there.

4. Ocean=God. How can you not believe in a God when you see the dolphins jump in the surf, each day a joyful discovery?

Of course, I recently heard that dolphins are kind of rape-y. As in, they rape each other a lot. I'm going to file this away as a crackpot statement, because, lest we forget, they are wild animals.

That being said, I'm bringing my Take Back the Night whistle if I ever go to one of those "Swim with the Dolphins" places. Hey hey! Ho ho! Remember, Flipper, NO means NO!

5. Wawa sub sandwiches are the shiz-nit (please ignore the wannabe slang today--I'm feeling silly). Wawa, for those not in the know, is a gas station. A gas station that sells salads, sandwiches, hummus, pizza, chicken wings, escargot, veal, sushi, and Ethiopian food. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but on the West Coast, one buys gas, and possibly a soda or a bag of chips at a gas station. Out here, you can do everything at a gas station except for perhaps a pedicure or dialysis.

But it's only a matter of time.

6. Sacred Marriage. I read the beginning of a book called Sacred Marriage, which states, and I'm paraphrasing here, that marriage is not the means to happiness, but it can be the means to holiness. Meaning: you cannot depend on another person to make you happy, but you can use the circumstances and learning experiences of marriage to become closer to God. Intriguing. I'll Amazon it (did you know Amazon was a verb?) and report more insights if they come...

7. It's good to have friends. When the sun is shining, the waves are crashing, and the minivan is blasting, life is good, and I am blessed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Real Boys

Back when I was teaching, I remember one student, Rachel, who was shy times infinity. I mean, the girl did not talk. Ever. Her classmates answered for her when I took attendance, and I didn't hear more than three words out of her until December. She wrote beautifully, and managed to have a social life. Maybe she was an accomplished mime-- that's my only explanation for how she managed to make friends without speaking at all.

Naturally, as her teachers, we were concerned. We wondered if this was a phobia, a reaction to something unspeakable, or if this was Just Rachel. Thus, we scheduled a conference with her father, Mr. Clueless McDenial.

"My Rachel is quiet?" he said, as if he had not had this same conversation every year of her schooling. "I can't shut her up at home. She's constantly talking over her brother and sister! I'm going to go home and tell her she needs to speak up."

Although this appeared to be the Most Pointless Conference of All Time, her father was right. It took about five months, but Rachel found her voice. She smiled. She whispered. She occasionally raised her hand. And around April, I found myself saying, "Rachel. Enough jibber-jabber. Get to work." (When I was teaching, I enjoyed using the occasional Mr. T colloquialism.)

Rachel just needed time to warm up.

I think of Rachel's dad now as I look at my own boys. The Owen and Joel I describe in these posts are My Real Boys--the boys I see every day, the boys I love. Yet, when we go out in public, my Impostor Boys come out from the shadows.

Real Owen will play by himself for long stretches, making imaginary rooms and tractors out of boxes. Impostor Owen will plant himself right next to me during play dates, taking away my oxygen and whining, "Moooommmmmmmmmmmy Pl-lay with me!"

Real Owen will give Joel pieces of his pumpkin muffin or say, "Love you, Mommy!" just because. Impostor Owen will rip toys out of his friends' hands.

Real Joel splashes in his baby pool and plays independently. Impostor Joel is only content when he is resting on my rapidly-growing-numb arm. Real Joel waves and smiles. Impostor Joel hides his head when strangers approach.

As I write these things, I realize that these "impostor" behaviors are just as much a part of my children as the positive ones. I also understand that my kids will naturally be the happiest and the most confident when they are in their own environment.

But here's my fear: I worry that the adults in my boys' lives--the teachers, leaders, other mothers---will only see the Impostor Boys, and never see my Real Boys. I worry that they, too, will be quick to judge, to label, to assume.

I hope that I can be like Rachel's father when I'm sitting in the parent conference, or the IEP, or whatever comes our way. I hope that I will know my kids--both their "real" and "impostor" aspects--and advocate for them. Mostly, I want to be enough of an adult that the conferences are not all about me, and my potential embarrassment.

And so, I hope that if a young teacher snarkily labels me "Clueless McDenial," I will rise above my need to defend, and instead work with her to raise my flawed and beautiful Real Boys.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Upgrade

Paul has told me on more than one occasion that I can get an upgrade on my engagement/wedding band someday--all I have to do is ask.

Indeed, compared to the beautiful settings and platinum bands of my friends, my wedding ring is rather simple. First of all, it's gold. I apparently didn't get the memo that gold was out back in 1999, but I don't know anybody else my age who wears a gold wedding band. Not even my husband---and we're supposed to match.

The second supposed issue with the wedding band is that the karat is small. And by small, I mean it's somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 of a karat. An attempt has been made to conceal the size through the setting, but it's not fooling anybody.

Paul bought the ring at the local Kay's Jewelers. He had left the military two months earlier, and was taking classes at the local community college while making ends meet with two jobs. He spent his days working with traumatized veterans at an outpatient mental health clinic, and his evenings driving a truck, picking up donations for a thrift store.

The mental health clinic was right across the street from a methadone clinic, and people would wander in occasionally, quite agitated, and perhaps needing some counseling of their own. But the addicts' demons came from the needle, not the battlefield, and Paul would send them on their way.

At the time, the clinic treated veterans of the first Gulf War, and a handful of Vietnam veterans. The issues ranged from family counseling, to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress-Disorder), to addictions counseling. I often wonder how that center is functioning today. Surely, they must have needed to hire more staff, and add more chairs to the waiting room. All those demons. All that pain.

Paul's evening job was note-worthy because Paul was the only employee that did not have a criminal record. Paul would load up the truck with members of the Aryan Brotherhood or various gang bangers. On especially magical evenings, both!

Paul is a quiet man to begin with, and he was quite happy to do his job, and keep his head low. While my husband is not a wimp, he just didn't see the point in arguing with a six-foot, two hundred and fifty pound ex-convict. Especially an ex-convict that told Paul, right off the bat, "I get really angry when people try to tell me what to do."

This was the context of Paul's life while he was shopping for my engagement ring. He found the ring, and set up a payment plan of $50 a month. He paid these payments for the entire year of our engagement, and occasionally had to work extra hours to make it work. I was a second year teacher, pulling in a salary around $23,000 a year. Times were tight.

How did I know that things would change? How did I know that Paul and I would be successful in life? When Paul talked to those veterans, he looked each patriot in the eye, listened to their stories, and treated them with honor. Despite the fact that he worked long, evening hours with former felons, Paul never complained, and never deemed himself "too good" for honest labor.

I'll always remember one evening with Paul. We were at a happy hour with some pretentious folk. One of them said, and I forget the context of the conversation, "It's like being a lumberjack. I mean, have you ever met a real lumberjack?" He spoke as if the concept was ludicrous. And I suppose, if you went to Dartmouth and never found a brie you didn't like, it was.

Paul took a sip of his beer and said, "Yes, my grandfather. And my uncle. And my aunt. Good people."

He didn't have to say anything else.

This man---who truly listens, who hates snobbery above almost anything else, who works hard, without complaint---inspires me to do the same.

I will never upgrade this ring.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Guilty Party

Joel is channeling my inner Jewish mother. I'm allowed to say this because I asked my friend, Beth, (once, a long time ago), if I was allowed to be Jewish in guilt only, and she gave me the go-ahead.

By the way, there are very few Jewish folk where I live--for some reason, the chosen people don't want to live in St. Mary's County--so whenever I meet somebody of the Jewish faith, I immediately attempt to invite myself to Passover Seder. Like this:

New Friend: "I have to drive all the way to Silver Spring for Yom Kippur services."

Me: "Oh, you're Jewish." (Visions of brisket and matzo ball soup dance in my head. I wait a beat. Attempt to wait another. Cannot wait any longer.) "So, are you having a Seder this year? Can I bring wine?" It doesn't matter the time of year. This is always my first question.

New Friend: "Um, is that my phone? Excuse me..." (I then hear the sound of squealing tires.)

Although I don't get potato pancakes or invitations to Bar Mitzvahs these days, I do attempt to harness my inner Jewish mother in two ways: Food and Guilt

Food

Joel, just to be a pisser, has decided that he doesn't like to be spoon fed. Nope. Not for him. Since he has been one for almost two weeks, he would far prefer to munch on a well-done steak or raw carrots.

We like him, so we don't let him have such choking hazards. Instead, I try a variety of finger foods, such as ravioli, sweet potatoes, dried strawberries, and so on. He enjoys mashing them up and stuffing them up his ear canal, but actually consuming these objects is quite objectionable.

He sits in his chair and screams baby obscenities, a Gordan Ramsey in Pampers. Nothing is acceptable for his mature palate except for Club Crackers and Yogurt.

This is a phase, and every book says that it is pointless to engage in food battles. Nevertheless, I find myself saying things like, "Eat! Eat! You're skin and bones! Eat!"

Guilt

Owen is with his grandparents, so I had the opportunity to spend time with just Joel today. We read books, and Joel lingered over pages, flipping up the flaps or cooing at pictures as much as he liked.

Not once did his brother rip the book out of his hands or micro-manage his reading. Owen is quick to tell Joel that he is not allowed to chew the books or read them upside down, despite the fact that these books still have teeth marks from Owen's infancy.

Later, my friend came over with her adorable baby, who is about a month older than Joel. The two babies played peek-a-boo in the curtains and hung out together. They shared some crackers and mouthed each other's sippy cups. Good times.

I realized with a gasp that this was Joel's first baby playdate. He's seen other babies before, but they are usually like him---younger siblings, along for the ride. Owen, by the time he was Joel's age, had a large circle of baby playmates, and regularly attended playdates. He also attended storytime at the library, had participated in baby yoga, and had even taken a music class.

You can see where this is going. Joel's main stimulation most days involves chewing on a plastic spatula and avoiding the beat-down of his enthusiastic brother.

I know that Joel is getting the stimulation of Owen's constant chatter and he always has a play mate in his brother. If anything, Joel has progressed with language and physical milestones faster than Owen, probably just to keep up.

But yet. I feel the occasional smothering blanket of guilt. Joel doesn't get the same single-minded attention. His milestones are appreciated, but not celebrated with the same dizzying intensity. I started Joel's baby book when he was in the NICU, but have not picked it up since. I don't even blog about him as often as Owen.

The guilt is there. Usually, I'm just too busy to indulge in it.

You know what would make me feel better? A nice Passover Seder. Anyone?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Numbers

Numbers are not my thing. Every time I bake, I have to ask Paul if 1/3 plus 1/3 equals 2/3.

He'll shake his head and say, "Were you adding the denominators again?"

I'll pretend to be very interested in the counter top, and squeak out an embarrassed, "Uh-huh." In my head, it makes sense every time. 1/3 + 1/3 equals 2/6, which rounds down to 1/2!

This is my secret shame, so secret that I am posting it on the Internet for mocking purposes. Enjoy!

While my practical applications of numbers are...lacking, I enjoy numbers as a concept. Like my grandmother, I get very excited when the digital clock reads certain things, such as 3:33. Ah, the symmetry! I also enjoy 1:23, because it is chronological. Ditto 4:56.

I find Paul's birthday 1-7-74 troubling because that 4 ruins the whole thing, being the only even number in a sea of odds. Mine--3-5-75--is much better. My brother's is also okay: 10-20-76, for everything in his birth date is divisible by two.

Both of my sons have messes of birth dates: 2-21-06 for Owen and 7-29-08 for Joel.

The only redeemable aspect of Owen's birthday (besides the fact that it is his birthday and I love him, blah blah blah...) is that 3x7=21 is my favorite of all the times tables. Just typing it feels so very satisfying.

21 is also a happy birthday for most Americans. I went out for lunchtime margaritas with my friend Sunshine, then attended my creative writing of poetry class.

Yes, I am just that badass.

Perhaps Owen's birthday is okay because it has the number 21 in it, even though it is otherwise an even/odd mess.

Joel's birthday was a missed opportunity. I was so tired of being pregnant that I was induced. Meaning: if I had allowed nature to take its course, I could have had a cooler date for my second born.

He was supposed to be born in early August, which was very exciting, because it was possible that his birthday would have been 8-8-08. The very idea warmed my nerdy little heart.

Alas, my aching back and surly temperament were stronger than my nerdy inclinations, and I jumped at the induction date. My only consolation is that 29 is a prime number.

However, I don't understand the whole concept of prime numbers, so this is an empty victory.

One more number story: we just bought new telephones, because our old phones were tools of the devil--cutting out, beeping loudly, going on mute for no logical reason. The other day, I was dialing a number to check my voice mail. Suddenly, the phone decided to beep loudly while the number 6 filled the entire screen. As in 666666666666666666666666. As in holy shit MARK OF THE BEAST. As in the film Maximum Overdrive, where all the household appliances become evil, slicing and dicing their hapless owners.

It didn't matter what I did. All I could do was stare at my demonic telephone, waiting for the sky to turn black and for the Four Horsemen to come tearing from the sky. It was quite chilling.

But then, I unplugged the phone and replugged it, thus performing a do-it-yourself exorcism. All was fine.

But, in the short moment, when my blood turned to ice water, and I was pondering my haunted phone, I couldn't help but note that 666 is divisible by both 2 and 3, and it is very pleasing, indeed.

I believe this is my nerdiest post yet! And it is exactly six hundred perfect words.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Longing

I know that things are off in my world if I have the desire to dye my hair a dramatic color or I miss Arizona. Today, I miss Arizona. Tucson, to be specific.

I was driving the boys home from the Sprayground, which is, as one would suspect, a playground with sprinklers. I think it's okay. Joel is partial to the chain-link fence. Owen, I imagine, will wish for his ashes to be scattered there ninety years from now.

Anyway, as I was driving home, the roads, as always, were surrounded on either side by a verdant phalanx of forest. Thick forest. Smothering forest. As I drove, I imagined the future, when the trees would grow over the man-made road and the vines would twist around the streetlights. Nature would claim what had been taken.

Just possibly, I was in a dark mood. But truly, the trees felt oppressive, claustrophobic. My Western soul needed some breathing space.

It needed big sky, and mountains, and saguaros. These are my forests.



August in Maryland is muggy. August in Tucson is unbearably hot, but it is also the monsoon season. The sky becomes dark. The clouds rumble, part, and pelt down violent, noisy rain. Sometimes, when God is feeling especially show-offy, the heavens preen and pose like this:



The air smells fresh, like creosote and new beginnings.

This, this, is what I miss.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Book Nests

My mother loves digging out this old chestnut: "When you were a little girl, you would ask me: 'How many book trip is this?' when we would run errands."

Mom tells this story because it confirms that I am a genius. That is, the kind of genius that took geometry several times and failed her learner's permit test. That kind.

I know I'm not a genius, but my mom's memory is true: I devoured books as a child. I would bring a stack of books when we would run errands, and happily read the tedium away. I always begged my mother to let me sit in the car while she made her purchases, but she never allowed it. For some reason, she didn't want to be the mother that cooked her daughter in the Safeway parking lot. With the Arizona summer temperatures soaring around 110 most days, this was a very real possibility.

I don't remember much about my early toddler years, but I do remember the moment when the letters became words and meaning. It was as if I had finally untangled a stubborn knot. While my mother was driving on the freeway, I loved to read the exit stops: "Greenway, Deer Valley Road, Thunderbird." My parents would clap and smile, and I felt so very capable and big.

One errand that I never resented was the weekly trip to the library. My mom, brother, and I would come in with our tote bags and library cards, and escape into the welcoming hug of the library. We would wander without any time restraint or purpose, selecting new friends and taking them home for the week. I remember loving the "Mr." books--as in Mr. Tickle, Mr. Happy, Mr. Silly. Something about those simple cartoons and stories made me smile.

My brother loved Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. He read it so often, in a variety of locations, that it became as tattered and worn as a beloved security blanket. My mother asked the librarian if she could buy a new one, and the librarian smiled and said, "A book this loved deserves to stay with Tommy. Take it." I can't imagine, in a world of computer cataloging, that such kindness could happen today.

The librarians knew us as "Nancy" and "Tommy," and we knew their names as well. We carried our bulging bags to check-out, said our goodbyes, and left the library like you leave the home of a relative--with no great sadness, because we knew that we would be back, and we would always be welcome.

This is why it brings me so much joy to take Owen and Joel to our library. Owen is like Norm from Cheers. Everybody, indeed, knows his name. We'll walk up to the counter, and Miss Barbara will ask me when I'm headed back to story time, while Miss Cynthia tickles Joel under the chin. Another librarian, Miss Wears Gloves All the Time, cried out today, "Is that OWEN?" the way others would cry out, "Is that Elvis?" She immediately showered him with stickers and bookmarks, while Owen took it all in stride. After all, this happens every week.

I'll make my selections, and then we'll get to press the magic buttons and ascend the magic elevator to the magic children's section on the second floor. There, I'll release both of the boys to the toddler section, complete with the life-sized sailboat and the the magic cube of wonder and awesomeness. Did I mention that magic is involved?

Today, Joel was not having the best of days. He was reacting to his vaccinations on Tuesday, and was clingy and whiny. I have bones that are more flexible than this child. He grumped his way through the morning with nary a smile or giggle. That is, until we got to the library. Then, all bets were off.

He ran, in his drunken-toddler fashion to the cube, and tackled it with alarming gusto. He laughed out loud and attempted to remove the hair from an unsuspecting toddler. He spun in circles until he collapsed into a heap. Vaccinations? What vaccinations?

Owen, meanwhile, was amassing all of the bean bags and soft pillows to make a nest by a glass wall, where he read books to himself. As the boys did their thing, I browsed the books, looking for new treasures to share with them, when we made our own book nests at home, later in the day.

Like National Parks, libraries are such giving institutions. You get knowledge, pleasure, relaxation, friendship, and community all under one roof. Your only expectation is to be kind to the books, leaving only footprints, and taking only pictures.

I choose to believe that all of my tax dollars fund National Parks, libraries, and medical research. After all, I'm a genius; I'm always right.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Don't be Mad, Miss Mommy

I just put Owen back to bed for his nap. He was doing his usual bull-in-a-china-shop routine in the bathroom, a long, elaborate, stalling ritual. He'll expel the poo-poo saved precisely for this purpose, after removing every stitch of clothing. He'll put copious amounts of hand sanitizer all over his upper torso, and then decide to do a jig in the bathtub.

I'll go upstairs, my face an angry line, and every day, he'll say the same thing: "Hi Mommy. Please don't be mad." He says this because it makes me feel like Mommy Dearest, all crazed eyes, cold cream and a wire hanger beating stick. Yes, he's that good. He has learned how to reduce his mother to a guilty heap before entering preschool.

Today, deciding to do the extended stall, Owen declared that he must wear pajamas to take his nap. He wanted to wear doggy pajamas with feet, to be precise. And only those. All other pajamas might as well have been covered with feces, in his mind. I wasn't going to have this fight, so we put them on.

Owen's body was a question mark, for the fabric was so snug that he couldn't stand straight. The sleeves ended around his elbows. A quick glance at the tag confirmed my suspicions, "Honey, you're wearing Joel's pajamas."

Owen eyed me suspiciously, and said, "Well, I like them. Don't take them off, Mommy."

"But honey, you can't stand up." I could easily see him splitting the seam, like those world-class swimmers in their ultra-tight racing suits.

"I like them," he repeated. "No, Mommy, no." He shook his finger at me as he backed away slowly, towards his bed. As if I would tackle him or something.

"Okay, then. Go to sleep. Now."

"Don't be mad, Miss Mommy. Goodnight!" He calls me "Miss Mommy" because I told him he was not allowed to call me Miss Nancy, like his friends. This is our compromise. Or, perhaps he calls me by a formal title because he lives in such fear of my wrath.

Based on the way I'm twisted around his finger, I'm guessing not.

***
Side note: My paranoid blog-tracking software says that NOBODY is visiting this blog site. If you have been visiting/reading the blog, please leave a brief comment or email so I can see if it's a software problem or a bad writing problem. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Labor

Somewhere in between the time Owen dumped handfuls of sawdust onto the just-painted porch and the moment that he decided to paint his own foot, I realized that there was something harder than labor.

Home improvement with a toddler.

We had promised Owen that he would get to help paint the playhouse. I had these crazy ideals about Owen having a sense of ownership as a result. Owen, meanwhile, had a different goal: to paint every surface bright blue. We compromised somewhere in the middle.

At first, I did some prep work. And yes, looking at these pictures, it is clear that I am painting the walls white, not blue. We're priming here. All the nonsense I'm about to describe happened TWICE.



Once Owen joined the mix, my heart rate elevated like James Brown's on his third encore. When Owen paints, there's no room for niceties such as wiping excess paint off the brush, painting with the grain, or keeping dirt and pine cones out of the paint can. Instead of considering drips to be unsightly, Owen finds the dripping and splattering to be the best part. And, splatter he did: on the grass, the dirt, and the pressure-treated deck.

I truly could not stand looking at him. As he dipped his paintbrush into the can, moving past the brush, all the way to the tip of the handle, he asked, "Mommy, what's that noise?"

"Oh, it's just me, honey, grinding my teeth to nubs."

I finally had to give myself a kick in the ass. Painting the playhouse was an opportunity for Owen to play. And learn. If this playhouse is used correctly, it will be full of toys, and marks, and dings, and splatters, and all the blessed detritus of a child's imagination.

I needed to let go and allow Owen his fun. I also needed my mother to come out and help me. Those two things done, we accomplished our task:




And whenever Owen looks at this, I hope he remembers his mother's labor: allowing him, through an extreme act of will, all the messy, joyous fun he deserves:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Symmetry

There's this:



And this:



Not to mention this:



Or this:




Every so often, a similarity will strike and capture your breath. You'll see the shadow of the baby you once had in the baby you have now. You'll find yourself transported through time, once again the mother of your first child. The weather, or the noises, or the passage of time will strike you like a wet towel, and you'll return to the present. You'll realize that this baby is your second child, equally wonderful, but not the ghost baby of your memory.

You'll correct yourself when you call this baby by the wrong name, because the memories of the past are so sweet that just getting the words out is an achievement in itself.

You'll work hard to recreate this symmetry when you can--posing children in the same places, or in the same outfits, but it never matches the perfect, frightening serendipity of when you see your younger child do exactly what your older child did. At that moment, as if by magic, you will go back in time.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fireflies

The continued successes of Ryan Seacrest, Kim Kardashian, and Kendra Wilkinson prove to me that God indeed works in mysterious ways. Not only does He give careers to people who are known primarily for their tanning abilities, God also shows me, again and again, that He's looking out for me.

Some background: when Paul and I were shopping for a church, shortly after Owen was born, we attended several large churches that were especially geared towards young families. They were flashy and fun and had strong youth programs. They were really quite nice.

Yet, we just weren't feeling them. They felt too large, too impersonal, and a little too sanitized. One church in particular strongly encouraged the children to attend the "kids' church" while the adults worshiped sans the kiddos. By "strongly," I mean that an usher told me at least FOUR times that there was a nursery for my (then THREE WEEK OLD) baby.

As you know, newborn babies that sleep twenty-two hours a day are not distracting. Spontaneous lactation accidents are, on the other hand, very distracting. Not wishing to "go with the flow," possibly flooding the sanctuary with my prodigious supply, I told the usher, as nicely as I could, to step off.

We continued to go church-hunting, until we found a nice, justice-focused church that focused more on loving other people and less on picking fights or throwing stones.

But you know what really got me? The children. During services, babies bounced on their parents' knees. Toddlers snacked on crackers. Schoolchildren and teenagers sat with their parents. All were welcome.

Yes, the sermon was occasionally interrupted with a babble or a cry. And while there were probably people in the church that preferred less noise, they kept their feelings to themselves.

It felt like home, probably because it was. All my life, I sat in church with my parents. As a toddler, I probably entertained myself with books. Once I was a schoolchild, I was expected to stand up and sit down at the appropriate times, sing, and generally behave myself. We were rewarded with lunch out if we did so, and time in our rooms if we couldn't keep it together.

In middle school, I remember being bored most of the time in church. When my brother and I realized it was a service with communion, or, Lord Help Us, a baptism, we would sigh and slump in our pews. We understood all too well the scene from The Simpsons, when Bart and Lisa run home after church, and cry, "This is the best part of the week, because this is the farthest point from having to go to more church." (Forgive me: I paraphrase).

We came around some in high school, and, as loyal readers know, I remain a fan of church. My brother will go when visiting my parents, to be polite, but I think there's still a bit of Bart Simpson in him.

And I must admit, I can be a bit conflicted myself. My church works for me, but I'll be the first to concede it's not razzle-dazzle. I worry that the lack of lazer beams, drums, fireworks, or interpretative dancing will cause my boys to suffer the same swells of overwhelming boredom.

I don't care if they are a little bored. At times, I'm sure, they will be bored with EXTREME PREJUDICE. That's just life. It doesn't matter where I take them or what they do: boredom happens.

My fear, however, is that they will be so bored that they will grow to hate church.

Yet, something has happened over the past three weeks that suggests that God has been leading us to the right place all along:

Owen sat through an entire church service. Start to finish. For the third Sunday in a row. In the past, he has spent most, if not all, of his time in the nursery. To me, this sitting still business is no less miraculous than manna from heaven or water to wine (one of my favorite miracles).

During the church hour, Owen will be a snugly-love. He will rest his head on my shoulder, hold my hand gently, or curl up close like a Joey in its pouch. He'll whisper, "I love you," and let me smell his hair as much as I like. I wish I could freeze this moment, for my insides glow as intensely as summer fireflies.

This is why I needed to listen to God's voice as we were finding the right church. He knew all along that my boys will hunger for love, for acceptance, for peace, and for still, sacred moments. As they sit in the pew, they will learn that it's okay to be bored, and that it is also okay to just sit.

Simply giving time is an act of worship.

And, if snuggling with your mother passes the time, it is also a supreme act of grace.