Monday, August 30, 2010


One of the occupational hazards of blogging is that I rarely polish my writing. I write, publish, obsess over comments, and move on. 

I started this blog to develop my writing skills, but I'm neglecting the most important part of the process--revision. Thus,  I will periodically  revisit posts from the early days, and revise them. 

Feel free to go along on the ride. I can almost promise these are new to most of you. 

You can click the title to see the original work, if you are so moved. 

Calvert Memorial Hospital  (originally published November 12, 2008)

I picked up a bouquet of chrysanthemums on my way to the hospital. Such happy plants, like a bonfire on a stem. I'm seeing my friend Joanne, and her day-old son. I am returning to Calvert Memorial Hospital.

When Joanne visited me at the hospital, two months earlier, she brought sunflowers. She placed them on the table, told me I looked skinny, and cooed over my newborn son, Joel. This is what best friends do.

She gazed at Joel, sleeping in his isolate. His chest moved up and down, a frenzy of respiration. She paused, selecting each word, "Do you think he's breathing a little quickly?"

I replied, "I think it's newborn stuff. He's just different from his brother. He's so tired. He's not interested in eating, and he seems angry at life." I swallowed, added, "I'm not sure I like him yet. Is that a terrible thing to say?"

She laughed, patted her own pregnant belly, and said, "I'm sure he'll perk up." She gazed again and his sleeping figure, set her mouth into a smile, and kissed me goodbye.

That night, it was determined that Joel was in respiratory distress. He was airlifted to the NICU at Johns Hopkins, where he spent the next eight days of his life. Paul and I loaded up the bouquet of sunflowers, the knitted blankets, and the hospital onesie removed by the nurses.

I smelled that onesie, and knew what it meant to be torn in half.  

A month later, Joanne and I met up at the playground. Owen and her son played, as Joel slept in my sling.

"I knew I should have said something," she said. "I was sure something was wrong." She blinked, once, twice, and sighed deeply. "I am so sorry."

I turned to her, "It is not your fault. There were doctors. Nurses. People saw him all day long. Nobody said anything. Sometimes these things just....happen." I sniffed his soft red hair. "Besides....he's fine now. No problems at all. I even like him a lot these days."

She smiled softly, resting her hand softly on her belly. We watched our big boys play.

And now, I clutch the chrysanthemums, as I  walk down the hallway of Calvert Memorial Hospital. I walk past the nursery, where they placed the C-PAP on Joel's nose and mouth. I walk past the bench where I called my mother at three AM. I smell that soap, and stand in the hallway until I no longer feel the need to cry.

Then, I walk into Joanne's room,  and place the flowers on the table. I tell my friend that she looks skinny and that her son is gorgeous. Because he is. Because she is.

His breathing is normal, and all is well. No ghosts here. Not in this room. Only love. Only beginnings.

I return home, and walk into Joel's nursery. I watch his slow, deep breaths and whisper, "Thank You. Thank You. Thank You."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Red Writing Hood: Quite the Conversation Piece

This week's Red Writing Hood writing challenge was to begin a work of short fiction with an identical cold open ( in bold below). This took me in a different direction than I expected. 

As always, your thoughts and feedback are welcome. 

Quite the Conversation Piece

An art opening at a lavish downtown gallery. A car crashes through the plate glass window. The driver's door opens, and an eight-year-old girl steps out.

Olivia turns to her companion and murmurs,  "This old chestnut." She sips her wine, continues, "You tell me, Bernard. A commentary on the actualization of feminine power?" 

"Perhaps," he says, "But that's been done, and done better. I mean, a broken window? If it was a broken glass ceiling, it would be a cliche, yet a bit of a lark, at least." He gazes at his empty glass, "What does it take to get a refill around here?"

"Oh, Darling, the waiters are all attending to the girl," she says, gazing at another installation, a mobile made from rusty forks. "World hunger, very good," she murmurs. "Put a sticker on that one." She turns to her husband,  "Bernard? Are you even listening?" 

He gazes towards the entryway. The glass, splattered across the bamboo floor is almost  jewel-like. Deliciously dangerous. An homage to Pollack, perhaps? 

He faces Olivia, "So sorry, Darling. I am simply enchanted by that girl's performance." He stares once more at his empty cup. "Although I wish somebody had clued in the help. How much?"

She sighs, twisting her earrings. "How much what, Darling?

"The piece. The girl. She's got the crying thing down. Very authentic. I like the wailing. I like the blood. I especially like the broken glass. Quite the conversation piece, don't you think?"

She lifts an eyebrow. "You can't be serious." She stares at the girl, presently shaking in the arms of the bartender.  "I mean, are you sure the shattered glass is included? Where would we put it?"

She considers the geometry of their home. It could go in the sun room. There is lots of light, and good, solid, soundproof doors. Yes. That would work. She smiles and purrs,  "I thought you said this was 'done and done better.'"

"You know as well as I do that good art can be surprising. Please, Darling. For me." He clasps her elbow, whispers, "You can have the World Hunger forks, but let me have this piece. I am begging you."

She nods briefly, and wags a finger towards the scene, "Well, go on then."

She watches as Bernard strides past the ocean of shards, past the emergency technicians and places a sticker on the girl's forehead. 

"We'll take it," he says. "And when you have a minute, please refill my glass."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Hear That Roller-Blading is All The Rage Now

I have decided to watch all three seasons of Mad Men via my public library. I love public libraries.

I have heard nothing but good things about the show, and in my trademark better-late-than-never approach to Pop Culture (see: Lady Gaga, Lost, The Hunger Games trilogy, and  Twitter), I am about three years behind the curve.

So, SHUSH with your secret spoiler information, Oh Jaded, Wise Ones. I don't wanna hear it.

I am off to re-read my Women's Studies textbooks and call my mother.

On behalf of the sisterhood, Feminists, thank you for creating a world with a lot less sexist bullshit.

And while I'm at it?  Thanks, Doctors, for no longer smoking during examinations. 

Finally,  I saw this, and  I could not be happier. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Delighted and Complete

I heard the door crack, followed by the soft-puttering of my oldest's feet. It's our daily ritual...I pull the covers over my head, while he straddles my torso and bounces.

It's a bit unorthodox, but it works for us.

He looked to the empty side of the bed, and amped it up to eleven: "Where's Daddy! I want Daddy!"

I grumbled, "Owen, you know where Daddy is. He's at work." I could tell by his tightly clenched fists and the particular timbre of his whine that he wasn't letting go of this one easily.

Sure enough, he barreled on,  "Why does he have to work?  He's my favorite guy. Let's get in the car right now and go get him."

"Yes Owen," I replied, "Let's load up you and your brother,  and drive to downtown DC at seven fifteen. We can then buy a security clearance from a local vendor and sneak into his office. Maybe we can download some files or call Yemen.*"

"Great!" he yelled. Sarcasm is lost on a four year old.

Trying a different approach, I said, "We can't see Daddy until later. But we can do fun things together. Maybe go to the park? Play with play-dough?"

He crossed his hands and said, "I don't want to do that. Mommy is boring. I want Daddy."

Dagger. In my heart. His twisting technique was quite advanced for his age.

"Well, Owen, " I said, "You're just stuck with me."

Intellectually, I know that familiarity breeds contempt. Because Paul is gone for much of the day, he is special. Besides, I get it. Paul is that kind of dad.

When it's raining, Paul  takes Owen out to splash in the puddles. Every evening, Paul and Owen play catch in the backyard. In between throws, when Owen declares he needs a "little rest," my boy will sit in his father's lap, and they click together like two Legos.

Yesterday, Paul and Owen were talking about college. I heard him say, "You can go anywhere you like, as long as you work hard and try your very best."

I would have added "Except Arizona State," because I like to amuse myself.

Paul, however, wasn't about getting the self-serving laugh. He listened to his son, as he bounced ideas around, catching and releasing the words with a practiced ease.

Owen glowed.

I know that Owen loves me very much. I know he enjoys my company.

I also know that when Paul's side of the bed is empty, Owen feels a loss. A loss that I cannot fill, because I am not Daddy.

On good days, I understand that this is the way of things, and that Owen blows smoke with increasing, attention-seeking frequency.

On less secure days, I worry that my lack of essential Dudeness will cause my boys to pull away. Or, worse yet, I fear that they will prefer Paul, not because I lack the proverbial "package," but because I lack the parenting package.

Yet, even if I am boring, I still did something right. I chose their Daddy. I chose the man who allows the boys to tell their stories, as he listens, delighted and complete.

I thought this was a good fit for Shell's Pour Your Heart Out meme. Go check out other heartfelt entries.

*As far as I know, Paul has no business with Yemen. I think his most exotic business dealings are in  Ft. Worth.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Secret Life of Boobies

August is National Breast-Feeding Awareness Month.

Don't worry, loyal readers, I'm not going to list the benefits of breastfeeding because it's really, really boring unless you are actually doing it. Sorry. It is. 

If you want to read about the awesomeness of boobs, go here or here or here. Or just watch re-runs of The Girls Next Door.

Don't think, however, that I would let this month go by without my own thoughtful spin on the topic. I speak, of course, of the hidden underbelly of the breastfeeding industry....The Breast Feeding Support Group. 

I attended a breast-feeding support group when Owen was a newborn. It was the social event of my week.

Yes, I realize how sad that appears in print, but it is the truth. I brushed my teeth. I put on a shirt that didn't smell like shit, curdled milk, or vomit. The idea of talking to other adults...other mothers....was exhilarating.

I mean, for awhile, I  felt like I was morphing into a cow. I needed this.

The support group was run out of the hospital by the lactation nurse, Nurse Veronica. A soft voiced woman, Nurse Veronica reinforced for us, again and again, the wonders of breastfeeding. She answered all of our nervous little newborn questions, never once appearing bored or laughing in our faces. She was a kind soul.

I learned that specific types of people chose to attend a breast feeding support group. I'll share them now as a public service for those yet to experience such joys:

The Kool-Aid Drinker
The Kool-Aid Drinker would not actually drink Kool-Aid, preferring a mixture of fenugreek tea and rice milk. The Kool-Aid drinker believed in breastfeeding on demand until the child could parallel park. This is fine and well, but the Kool Aid drinker took it a step further by announcing, "Anybody who would feed their child formula is a child abuser as far as I'm concerned."

Even Nurse Veronica has issues with the Kool-Aid Drinker.

The Socially Desperate One
The Socially Desperate One tried to take her two-week old child to kid stuff---the playground, story time at the library, Music Together. Why? She needed to see people. A natural extrovert, being inside with a (albeit adorable) bag of flesh was maddening.

Clearly, she had not discovered social media, so out and about she went. 

Yet, she recognized those looks of pity. She knew that her baby could not support his own head, and he certainly was not riveted by the Shaky Eggs at the library. All the baby did was sleep and eat. She felt a bit...needy. Desperate. Alone.

She found her social home at breast feeding support.

The Socially Desperate One was known to feed her baby bottles of formula on the sly, because he was not really so into the breastfeeding. She'll nodded her head and listened to Nurse Veronica's studies, all the while thinking, This is the price I pay for adult conversation.

Eventually, she gave herself away by inviting everybody to happy hour. Since she was the only one drinking a pitcher of margaritas guilt-free, the formula was out of the carton, so to speak.

The One We Hate
Because it's a bunch of women in one room, there was a lot of unnecessary comparison and unspoken competition. Luckily, there was one woman who, through no fault of her own, earned our mutual disdain.

The one we hate lost all her baby weight. Her daughter slept through the night at three weeks. She had a booming veterinary practice, breastfed effortlessly, made homemade babyfood out of her own garden, and looked like Jennifer Garner.

When she got a clogged milk duct, we were secretly happy. We're not proud of this fact.

Over time, I started to find myself in another category: The Creepy Old Guy Hanging out At High School Parties. 

When Owen began to sit up, eat his own solid foods, and make motions to crawl, I realized that I had overstayed my welcome. Owen looked like a baby verson of The Rock next to the newborn Ryan Seacreasts, He was big, he could hold up his own head, and he had a tooth. It was just time.

I left Nurse Veronica and her soft sensible advice behind me.

Thankfully, the happy hour girl continued to take my calls.

It would be awesome if I had  a really cleaver way to end this post, but alas, I fear that like my breasts, the well has run dry.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What Remains

The red dress club did a number on me with this week's Red Writing Hood challenge.

The idea is to write a descriptive piece that takes place in either a shower or over a meal.

The kicker? No personal pronouns.

Dude, this was haaaaaaaaaard.

If you are a new reader, in "real life" I am pretty funny and not quite so deep. Thanks for stopping by.

As always, suggestions, comments, and advice are welcome!

What Remains

Sitting on the bench in this chrome and glass coccon. Normally, a sanctuary. Today, a laboratory.

Yes. The water is hot, because any feeling is a good feeling. Pain means something has remained.

No hospital grade cakes of soap today. Rather, Egyptian cotton washcloths and  citrus body wash from last spring's visit to Canyon Ranch.  From before.

Each strand of hair, long and shroud-like, gets a benediction. Tender strokes and soft lavender suds. Rinse and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Glorious and red, yet already a faded sunset.What will remain?

Scrubbing. Like Lady Macbeth, Out, Out, Damn Medical Adhesive. The marks, these sticky obscenities. They claimed this steamy sanctuary. Out. Begone. 

Finally, the moment. The Doctor had said after the surgery, Got it all. It could run, but it couldn't hide.

The Doctor talked like a cowboy, facing off Cancer in a shoot-out. This was strangely comforting.

Trembling fingers rub the precise black stitches, and caress the familiar rise and fall---now a concave phantom. Tomorrow, a fight. Today, a lament.

Tears intermingle with the pounding hot water, soundlessly working their way to the drain.

Give it some time to heal, The Doctor said. It will be more beautiful than ever before. Nothing is more beautiful than what remains.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"I Can Do Hard Things"

Sitting at the kitchen table, attempting to drink a few gallons of coffee (because Insomnia is a Callous Bitch),  I heard my oldest caterwauling, "HELP! Mommy! I can't do it!"

I took another sip, braced myself, and then felt my ears melt down the sides of my head.

My son may be a masculine little dude, but he can squeal with the best of them.

I eventually walked into the bedroom. Owen was on the floor, attempting to wrestle out of his pajama top. One arm was dangling freely, but he had managed to twist the other arm into a straitjacket-worthy knot.  His face was red, and he had clearly shut down. 

I attempted to walk him through the motions of taking off his shirt. I would like to say that I had the patience of an occupational therapist, or the empathy of a preschool teacher, but I didn't. My voice cut through the room as I groaned, "Just bend your elbow, Owen! You're making this harder than it is!"

Naturally, this only added to his perceived stress, and he responded, "This is TOO HARD!"

I heard my mother's voice come out of my mouth and I said, "Sweetie. You can do hard things."

I've been doing some editing work recently which discusses self-efficacy, which is the belief that one is capable--that one can do hard things. Although the work in question involved teaching and education, I naturally transferred the information to my present situation.

How do I make efficacious children? How do I teach my sons that they can do hard things?

This is not the same thing as the "everybody gets a trophy" mentality of self-esteem. When people have high self-efficacy, they believe in their capabilities, because they have experienced success. Success, thus, builds success.

If I do not help create efficacious children, I have not done my job as a parent. I feel that strongly about it.

As a child, I was classified as "gifted" and placed in special programs for reading and language. Now that I've been a teacher, I recognize that I was probably not gifted at all, just verbal.

Nevertheless, I was taught from an early age that I was smart and capable and special. I could do hard things without even trying.

So, not surprisingly, the first time I had to try anything, I had no coping skills. I remember as clear as day, sitting in math class. The teacher was explaining a concept and as she talked, I felt my heart race, my palms grow sweaty---all of the classic signs of panic. I sat at my desk, rubbing my eraser back and forth along the desk until it was nothing but rubbery ash.

Tears pricked my eyes. "Stupid," I mumbled to myself. "This is stupid. I hate math."

This belief stayed with me for about thirty years. It shaped my career pathway, and my life choices. Just the other day, I turned down a part-time job teaching GED classes, because I didn't feel confident enough to teach basic algebra.

The fact of the matter is, I never was successful at math because I didn't believe I could do it.

I didn't even try.

I needed to be taught how to try hard things. 

When I see the boys retreat into learned helplessness or rage at me in frustration, I need to remember that self-efficacy is nurtured, not assumed. I did some research, and I am going to try to develop self-efficacy in the following ways:

Provide Kids with Reasonable Responsibilities

The boys are fully capable of picking up their toys, putting their dirty clothes in the washing machine, and clearing their plates. I hold them to it.

When my oldest wants to earn extra money, I have him vacuum the carpet or mop my floor. He also shakes out rugs, dusts, and cleans the sliding glass door.

I'll hire him out for the right price.

Model Problem-Solving

When learned helplessness rears its ugly head, I sit with them and break the tasks down into steps. Admittedly, I get testy more often than I should, as demonstrated by the Great Shirt Freakoutgate of This Morning. 

Yet, more often than not, I resist the urge to do the hard things for my kids, and I try to model ways that they can solve their problems.

I encourage  them to ask for their own ketchup at restaurants. I ask them how they will wash their hands in public restrooms when they can't reach the sink.

I hope I keep this resolve when it comes to the science fair projects and three-dimensional dioramas in their future.

Allow Kids to Make Decisions

I firmly believe that you don't let kids make all the decisions. The boys eat what I make them, or they don't eat. We don't discuss going the gym, because my need to run is more important than their need to make a six-foot Lego tower. However, we do include the boys in low-stake decision making. Do you want a grilled cheese or macaroni? Do you want to wear your Crocs or your shoes? Do you want to go up the stairs right side up or upside down?

Right now, it's the little things. But I believe it all matters.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Young Love

 It's difficult to hold my tongue when I see things like this:

I must discuss my ideas for their rehearsal dinner. There will be pasta stations. And  raspberry water-ice for all.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Pretend Problems.

I need six hours. In those six hours I would...

Get my brows waxed.
Finishing editing chapters three, four, and five of my friend's dissertation.
Send off Owen's school paperwork.
Make sure that I sent off tuition to Owen's school.
Organize my calendar
Get caught up on blogs.
Write a real blog that is not a list.
Clean out my email.
Clean out my blog email.
Figure out what Twitter is all about.
Write an ad for my business proposal.
Set up a web site for my business proposal.
Figure out a business proposal.
Write and submit articles for publication.
Read the five unread New Yorker magazines by my bed.
Call my brother.
Figure out a "quick and easy homemade Christmas craft" for an activity I am hosting.
Research what do with the remaining cucumbers withering on my counter-top.

What kind of world do I live in that the most relaxing event of my imaginary six hours of free time is...having a stranger rip hair out of my head?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Happy Birthday World

The candle is lit on this Birthday Cake.

The heavens begin to sing.

My departed loved ones purse their lips together, and blow out that solitary candle.

They make a silent wish for us all.  As they do each and every night.

Yes. I like that idea very much indeed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Given Away: Friday Fiction

The red dress club's writing challenge for this week is to craft a short piece of  fiction that focuses on dialogue. I welcome your comments--- good, bad, and ugly.

Given Away

"Dating's so damn expensive, " he said. "I mean, shit, you buy the dinner,  the drinks, and that's, like, rent right there."

I listened to his voice as it sighed through the receiver.

"You're right," I said. "It's not fair. But there's no winning, unless you want to come off like a cheap-ass. Find a rich, feminist chick who is all empowered to pay for your sorry self."

He laughed, and I heard the exhale of his cigarette, "I'm down with feminists. You know what I'm not down with? All the bullshit." He inhaled again, and I yearned for that familiar burn, the delight in the hand-to-mouth motion.

He continued, "The other day, I met up with a girl. We had coffee, laughed a lot. She seemed cool." He coughed. "I was willing to give her a chance, but you know what happened?  She texted me and said she wanted to be friends. I already have friends. I don't need another fucking friend."

I sat on my duvet, ordered online from Pottery Barn, and heard my husband give the boys a bath upstairs. "Well, Sam, what do you need?"

"I miss having a girlfriend," he replied, "I want a girl that's fun to talk to. She needs to be artistic. Funny. I wrote on OK Cupid that if she believed in creationism, that was a deal-breaker."

"Uh-huh."  I twisted my ring around my finger. "Go on,"

"She has to be a Democrat. She has to live in Portland. No long distance shit. She---"

I stopped him. "What if you find an artistic, beautiful woman who wants to do nothing more then lay in bed with you, pay her own way on dates, and create beautiful things while listening to Arcade Fire---BUT...she believes in Noah's Ark. Would that work for you?"

I was proud of myself for mentioning Arcade Fire. I hadn't actually listened to them, but I heard about them on Facebook. I figured it would be something he would appreciate.

"No," he said. "Dinosaurs did not die because they didn't fit on the ark. It's bullshit, and if she believes in it,  It's a deal-breaker."

"Look," I said, "People aren't lists. You can't rule out a person because of one thing. I mean, when I met Keith, he was into hunting. Like, he went into the woods and killed things. He listened to Howard Stern. He wore jean shorts. Jean shorts, I tell you! "

"Well, he doesn't now," my brother replied. "He's cool now. Besides, there's nothing wrong with Howard Stern. You're lucky he married somebody who doesn't like Howard Stern."

I listened to my sons giggle upstairs, and played with my response in head. As I moved the metal round phrases in the palm of my hand, I hoped for Zen clarity in my words.

"That's not my point," I said. "You can't be so picky. If you want to make a life with somebody, have children with somebody, you need to perhaps lower your standards."

He paused, shaping his own words, "You need to back up a bit. I don't want kids. I just want to have fun. Not everybody wants kids."

"I know," I said. "I wasn't trying to say that."

"I'm not done," he said. "I don't want to compromise. I would rather be alone than lose my integrity. So many people just...give themselves away." 

The silence sat upon us like a lead blanket.  I thought of my oils and pastels, stored in the basement, next to my easel. I had moved them to make room for the boys' train table last fall. That was right after Keith sold his motorcycle. 

I heard my husband drain the bathtub, and the soft thumping of the boys' feet overhead. I forced a laugh,  "I guess you better avoid trolling for hot dates at Tea Party rallies, then."

"Thanks, Sis," he said. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Hey," I said, "You'll find the right girl. She might not be who you expect, but she'll be the right girl."

"We'll see," he said. "At least it'll be summer soon and I can take her to free concerts, hiking. Shit like that."

"Exactly," I said. "Look--I gotta go---I love you."

"I love you too. Bye."

I held the warm receiver in my hand, and placed it on the dresser.

I stood up, and walked towards my family.

As I headed upstairs,  I considered the fragile alchemy of compromise and choice.

I wondered how much I had given away.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Taco Tales

This morning, in a typical burst of self-pity,  I wrote the following for my Facebook status update:

I'm attempting to write something funny that doesn't involve my kids and I've got nothing. This depresses me and makes me question my life choices.

Later that day, my mom called, and said, "Hi honey, it's Mom. I think you should write about pubic hair." 

How can you pass that up?   

I think I will go one step further and write about lady parts in general, because really, who wants to be employed? 

You've been warned, readers.  

Part The First: Grooming

My mother was one of those damned dirty hippies, and she never taught me that most people trim their business. I really had no idea. 

I figured that some people were just lucky, and others...well, they wore boy shorts. 

It wasn't until Sex and the City that I realized that many people waxed themselves, and for that, I apologize, every boyfriend I've ever had. 

I admit that I still am unable to submit to waxing, because I am terrified. Absolutely petrified. I have, however, asked my dear husband to clean things up a bit during the later phases of both my pregnancies. 

Part the Second: Mine Can Read Minds

One of my best friends from college happens to prefer the ladies. She and her girlfriend have been together for about a hundred million years. Not surprisingly, she brings out the Venus in me, and many of our conversations, after a few cocktails, turn into snatch-offs. 
It's kinda like the movie Eight Mile, except that we don't rap, and we're bragging solely about the power of our respective vaginas. 

Please don't judge. Let me repeat, NUMEROUS COCKTAILS. 

A typical exchange: 

Friend: Mine can sing opera AND work a ventriloquist dummy at the same time.

Me: But can you do it while gargling vodka? Five times a day, the faithful turn towards mine and pray. 

Friend: My snatch is a certified necromancer . . . and, in response to your earlier question, it can gargle, spit out, and then catch tequila all in a ...motion that reminds strangers of the fountains in Vegas.

Me: Just wait until mine unleashes Blue Steel.

Friend: Please, yours will never turn left. I, unlike you, am like a freakin' Wonka'vator! I can go upways, downways, sideways, slantways . . . if there's a way, I hit that shit.

We can do this for hours. 

Part the Third: I Didn't Know this Was Music Class

Ever since my two vaginal births, I have become more...musical...downstairs than I had been in the past. 
All yoga classes are now accompanied by the delightful sounds of my queefs. 

After Owen was born, I couldn't do much of anything without causing a cacophony of queefing. In other words, my vajajay had gas. They don't tell you that in What to Expect When You're Expecting.

I think I terrified my brother-in-law, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Part the End: Tales from the Taco

All things considered, I like my lady parts. They've given me my boys, good times, and blog fodder. Not to get all Vagina Monologues on you, but I'm curious. Do you have a taco tale to share? Do you want to join the snatch-off conversation?

Step up. I dare you.  

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Progress For Now

Ever since Joel's birthday, the sibling slugfests have taken on a new intensity. There's fighting over toys, especially the shiny new ones. They both want to be on the same stool, or the same section of the couch, or in the same tiny patch of air. One is always terribly, horribly WRONGED, and I feel like my life has become one of those dreadful talk shows where everybody is SCREAMING all the time.

For example, today I heard  "JOELY! NO!" followed by a high-pitched wail. You know the kind? It burns the enamel off your teeth.

Joel entered the room, howling,  "Blabbity, blah, blah blah, O-WOO!" I believe this means, "I have been terribly wronged once again and the person who deserves your punishment is no other than my dastardly brother, Owen." 

Apparently my youngest talks like Simon Cowell in my imagination.

Owen, meanwhile, came in with his usual dissertation: "I was playing with that truck and it was MY TURN to play with it. I told Joel to go away and he didn't listen. I was there first and I told him to go play with something else and he never, ever does what I tell him to do. You need to make him go away because I am DONE WITH THIS, Mommy."

He went on like this for several more paragraphs, but I'll spare you the hot mess.

I did what I always do in situations like this: I put the truck on the top of the fridge and kicked them both into the backyard to play.

Where.... they promptly got into a fight about Joel's improper dumping of sand.

It was the kind of day that makes you reconsider the benefits of having two children.

As I was tucking Joel into bed for his nap, I heard Owen scream, "Somebody scribbled all over my book and I don't want anybody in my house EVER AGAIN!"

I hastily put Joel down, and met Owen in his room. He was holding the book in question in one hand, and tears were running down his face. He ran to his bed, into my arms, and sobbed.

The injustice! I felt it in every ounce of his little body. He heaved and shook as he clutched the book. It's a little too old for him, and he's never given a second thought about it before. That is, until Joel defiled it with purple crayon.

I held him until he calmed down enough to say, "Joel wasn't very nice to me. He makes me so angry."

As the oldest in my family, I can understand this anger. He felt violated, and it doesn't matter that Joel is "little" or "doesn't understand." It's still not cool.

I struggled to find the words, and found myself saying this:

"Do you know what Joel asked while you were at Grandma and Grandpa's house?"

"What?" Owen said, his arms a tight knot across his chest.

"He said, 'Where's O-Woo?' He asked that all the time. Why do you think he wanted to see you?"

"I don't know," Owen said, a ray of a smile peeking behind his block of ice.

"Because you're the most important person in his life." I tickled him gently. "What did he eat applesauce? Because you were eating it. Why did he eat a plum?"

"Because I was eating it!" he said, laughing.

"So," I said, "Why do you think he was writing in your book?"

"I don't know,"  he said, serious once more.

"Do you think he was trying to write letters, like you?"

Owen smiled, "Joely wants to be like me!"

"That's right, Buddy. You are his hero. What is your job?"

He sighed slightly, and said, "To take care of him."

"Because he loves you," I prompted.

"Yes, Mommy. Because he loves me."

I walked away, and heard Owen call, "I love Joely too. But tell him not to write in my books, ever again!"

"Okay, honey," I said. "I'll do my best."

I guess I'll call that progress for now.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Armed and Happy

What do I like about myself? How much time you got?

I like a lot of things about myself, including the fact  that I can say that statement out loud, without tempering it with a "just kidding" or an "except for..." or any of that self-defeating nonsense.

There's just not enough time in this life for that. There really isn't.

I like my arms. For years, I hid my arms under cardigans or wraps, afraid that they were too doughy, too pasty, too Margaret Thatcher, and  not enough Michelle Obama.

People---I lived in Tucson, AZ and didn't wear sleeveless tops. How messed up is that?

It took until I was thirty-three years old to let my arms out of their fibrous prison. I was pregnant with Joel in July. The humidity was terrible, and I was chasing a two and a half year old around. I was HOT.

"I'm done," I said to myself, and I rolled up my sleeves. 

On that miserable summer day, I stopped playing the perfect arm game, and I  never looked back.

I've learned to love my arms. 

I love the curve of my shoulders and the ping of my elbow.

 I love that my back is strong, from my swim team years. It propelled me out of the water when I did the butterfly. It supports me when I extend into bridge pose. If I had to plow a field, it would work, in a pinch.

I love my teeny-tiny wrists, because I just do.

I love my shoulder blades, because they are strong from yoga and child-wrangling. They support me as I hold my head high.

I love these arms, my source of strength and balance. And I'm so very grateful that I can say that out loud, unashamed and grateful.

What do you love about your body? Link up with The Mommyologist for "Embrace Your Body Week."

Also, check out Think Tank Mommas "Own it, Work it, Love it" Series, which is all about loving yourself!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sundays in My City: Politicking

'Tis the season for local politicking here in Southern Maryland. Usually, this doesn't mean much more to me than the occasional sign on the roadside, but this year, I have a vested interest.

The owner of my local liquor store is in the running. It's personal now.

When Paul and I first moved into our present home, we didn't have many friends. My parents came to visit, and the only person who knew us by name was Steve, the owner of the liquor store minutes from our home.

Let that sink in for a minute.

We had no church, few friends from either of our respective jobs, and no connections from our high school or college days. We just had Steve and his cooler of Yuengling.

I imagine my parents were thrilled by this development.

We have since made many connections in our little county, but we continue to enjoy chit-chatting with Steve when we pick up our adult beverages.

He asks about our family, calls me "dear," and always gives the kids lollipops.

Yes, I take the kids to the liquor store. Please stop judging me.

Thus, when Steve's name started popping up on lawn signs, bumper stickers, and roadside banners, I knew that he would get my vote.

This, my friends  is exactly what is wrong with American politics. I know nothing about Steve's platform, his political philosophy, or his views on really anything. That is, besides the his thoughts on the best Pinot under $12.00.

And yet, I like him. I like his family. I like the fact that he owns a small business in this era of Wal-Mart. I like that he puts up flags for Memorial Day and a big, ugly Santa sleigh on his roof each Christmas.

I like that there are always fresh flowers in the planters, and that his daughter sells watermelon from her garden on the porch of his store. Shoot, I like that his store has a porch.

Besides, honestly---he couldn't be any worse than our present batch of commissioners. One woman, who has been reelected since the beginning of time, walks around town pulling two humongous pigs on their own  leashes. I once saw her eating a pulled pork sandwich in a local restaurant, her pigs sitting quietly by her heels.

That's just messed up.

But here's the kicker. This woman--I'll call her Pig Lady---has campaign signs all over the county that say, "She knows that a million dollars is still alot of money."

"A lot," Madame Commissioner Pig Lady, is TWO WORDS. Not one. Perhaps when you are busy slashing local school budgets and horrifying your porky pets, you could take the time to proofread your own campaign signs.

Sorry. She may be a perfectly nice lady, but this issue makes me stabby.

Now, if my friend Steve is elected, that will mean that TWO of our five county commissioners will be owners of liquor stores.

It's perfect, really. We will never, ever, become a dry county.

That's something I can get behind.

There are serious elections in my fine state this November---there will be an epic rematch between Bob Ehrlich and Martin O'Malley for the governorship. Somebody will attempt, and fail, to unseat Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. There will be big money, and even bigger consequences to these elections.

But yet, I think I will have a greater thrill when I put a check-mark next to Steve's name this fall. After all, I like him. He's one of us. The politics is indeed personal.

Any politicking going around your parts?

Thanks to Unknown Mami for hosting Sundays in My City.

Unknown Mami

Friday, August 6, 2010

Like a Black-Eyed Susan

Because there are some amazing writers out there, such as Aging Mommy and The Mother Load contributing to The Red Dress Club's call for poetry, I thought I would give this a whirl.

The poem is meant to be narrative and about a family dynamic. I cheated and used the Pantoum poetic form, because I need structure in my life. Desperately.

Please be kind. I'm very insecure about my poetry.

Like a Black-Eyed Susan, 
Our bright-eyed second born.
Neglected in the garden, 
He defiantly seeks the light.  

Our bright-eyed second born, 
A young, tenacious sprout.
He defiantly seeks the light,
Digging deep, he fights.

A young, tenacious sprout
Amongst older, preening plants
Digging deep, he fights.
He's an eruption of gold life. 

Amongst older, preening plants,
(Now they're neglected in our garden), 
This eruption of gold life!
Is our Black-Eyed Susan.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Share a Spoon: A Recipe from My Own Mad Man

A friend and I are splitting a CSA subscription this summer. A CSA is short for Community Share Agriculture. Basically, subscribers get a box full of fresh, organic, locally-harvested fruits and vegetables from a local farm weekly.

(If you're interested in finding your own CSA, check out

Being in a CSA has created all sorts of culinary puzzles. What do you do with five cucumbers, two onions, and two eggplants?

I posted this question to Facebook and got all sorts of answers, but decided to go with the advice of my friend Ryan.

I've known Ryan since I was fifteen. He is my real-life Don Draper from Mad Men because he works in advertising. That is, however, where the similarities end--- he is very nice to his charming wife and I don't think he chain smokes incessantly.

A digression about Ryan. He was watching the World Cup recently and was so into the score that he didn't realize he was watching the match with one Mr. Justin Timberlake. (He was at a commercial shoot). 

Anyway, when I posed my question, Ryan suggested I make Eggplant Curry with Cucumber Raita.

This is why he's the creative genius who meets former members of N'Sync and I wipe butts for a living.

I gave it a whirl last night, and not only is it delicious, it has the required five or less ingredients. Plus, it's Indian, which is automatically awesome. 

You need the following: 

One onion
Two small eggplants (or one big one)
Two jalepanos
One small can of tomatoes
Curry powder


1. Peel and slice the eggplant. Add some salt to the eggplant (both sides) and let it sit for at least a half hour to get the bitter joo-joo out of it. Pat it dry after a half hour.

2. Add a generous amount of peanut oil to a skillet. Dice the onion and cook it in the oil until the onions are nice and soft.

2. Next, dice the jalapenos. Remove the seeds unless you really love heat. Cook the jalapenos for at least two minutes. While you are doing this, dice up the eggplant and cook it. I just popped it in the microwave for about three minutes. 

3. Then, add at least two tablespoons of curry to the skillet. You can add more or less for taste. Open a window unless you love smelling like a call station in Bangalore.

4. Cook the curry and vegetables for about thirty seconds. Add the small can of tomatoes and then add a can full of water. Let it thicken. Add some cornstarch if it's too runny.

5. Add the cooked eggplant. Cook until flavors combine.

Serve with rice. (You can also use this sauce with chicken, lamb, etc.)

To make a full meal, add this Cooling Cucumber Raita.

1. Dice some cucumbers.
2. Add a bunch of dill.
3. Mix it with plain yogurt (I prefer Greek style).

And there you go!  Dinner, courtesy of the coolest friend I have, (besides all of my other friends).

For other five-ingredient-or-less meals, hook up with Brandee at Share a Spoon.

Think Tank Momma

PS--Click here for the funniest thing Justin Timberlake has ever done on Saturday Night Live. It's juvenile, yes, but it slays me every time.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Missing the Sisterhood

Sometimes, an emotion follows you around, like a stray cat. You try to close the door, but you still hear the persistent mewing. You turn on the radio, you walk away and say, "I'm not listening," but you know it's there. Finally, with a sigh, you say, "Fine. Come in," and you open the door.

Consider this my stray cat.

When Owen was around eighteen months old, I fell into a group of friends. We were all first-time mothers. We all stayed at home at least part of the time, if not full time. We started meeting for weekly playgroups, and over time, I  found my very own Sisterhood of the Traveling Diaper Bags.

There's this consistent trope of the radically diverse group of female friends that stay close no matter what. The girls of Sex and the CityThe Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe.

There is something so attractive about the idea of girlfriends being your one true family, one that supersedes biological family and romantic relationships. Having experienced it firsthand, it is a gift.

We used to meet every Friday morning at the park. Our kids played while we drank coffee and gabbed. We talked about the normal milestones---language development, potty-training, tantrums. We also talked about the shift from career to home, about the isolation of our days, and about the incredible love we felt for our children. We agreed that Go, Diego, Go was full of evil and that there is nothing like the sacred beauty of a sleeping child.

Over time, things changed. Personalities clashed. Feelings were hurt. Some people left the group. Others joined in.

Then, things changed even more. Some of us had second children. Our kids entered different preschools. Some of us moved away. Others returned to work.

Although it happened so gradually that it's hard to say how, our group became little more than updates on Facebook and promises to "get together soon."

I don't think there is any rancor or ill-will between us. I think that life just happens. But still, when I stood in the playground today, by myself, I heard that mewing feeling. It said, as clear as the blue sky above me: "I miss being a part of that group."

I miss the weekly check-in, and the perfect knowledge that we are all in this together.  I miss the confidence in knowing that it was us against the world. I miss that moment in time.

Don't get me wrong. I still have amazing friends--sisters---in my life. Many from that group.

But yet, that feeling of that group at that time? It has changed.

Even if we met up again, it will be different. I understand that.

I also understand that I need to be the change in my world. And so, I am going to start going to the playground every Friday morning, once the weather cools. If you are reading this, dear friends, I invite you to join me.

It may not be the same, but it can still be very, very good.

I'm joining Shell at Pour Your Heart Out Today. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

These Words

Yesterday, I recieved this text message from my husband:

"Leaving Suitland Now."

Wait. Sorry. That's not the one I was looking for.

I meant this one: "Nice blog today. You're such a good writer. Don't ever stop."

I tell you, I floated all afternoon. Little puffy clouds of consonants and verbs, his words.

My friend sent me a text the other day. It said,  "One month after being told she needed a sister is PREGNANT!!!!"

Right there, in the middle of the Baltimore Train Museum, I cried happy tears. These words were a electronic current of hope, and having found its connection, there is now light.

A friend texted, "Is it bad when your kids are in the backseat pretending to drink beer out of their sippy cups?"

And just like that, I'm not alone.

I texted my brother, telling him that Dune was the stupidest movie ever.  I said, "Presently, they are milking a cat."

He replied, "Well of course. How else can Thufur Hawat become a Harkonnen?"

These words were a time machine. We were once again in our living room, resplendent in our nerdy self-confidence. Just like that, I was home.

People argue that we are becoming less connected because of technology. I disagree.

These words are electronic gifts. I celebrate, laugh, commiserate, and love---one text at a time.

So tell any good texts lately?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Playing Greener

In a possibly-reoccurring series, I will attempt to share some of my green tips without coming across like a sanctimonious prig.

Knowing myself as I do, this could be a challenge. After all, I'm the kid that announced to her kindergarten class that Mr. Bubbles, the class puppet, was not magic.  

"The teacher was just using food coloring," I spat contemptuously during recess.

As you can imagine, I was invited to all the parties.

Anyway, most of my green efforts stem from my general laziness and my natural tendency to nurture the cobwebs growing in my wallet. I'm sharing these because they have worked for me, and I hope that they might work for you as well.

I'll start today with green toys. I'm not talking about hand-crafted toys made by ancient Baviarian wood-sculptors, although those are very nice indeed. Rather, I'm talking about how to make toys out of common objects.

Before you liken me to Miss Hannigan from Annie or compare my sons to characters from Oliver Twist, let me assure you that the boys have toys. Lots of 'em. In fact, I'm not sure where my living room went, because it looks like Hoarders: Toddler Edition on most days.

But yet, their absolute favorite toys aren't really toys at all.  These three objects are cheap, fun, and easy. As a bonus, they aren't packaged with twenty bazillion pounds of cardboard, nor are they (hopefully!) made in a third-world sweatshop.

Green Toy #1: PVC Pipes

For about six dollars, we bought some PVC pipe, stoppers, and connectors at our local hardware store. Owen's world has never been the same.

He makes sculptures out of them.

He runs sand through the pipes. He uses them as tunnels for his toy cars. On hot days, he runs water through them using a kiddie pool full of water. They have worked as makeshift baseball bats, swords, batons, and trumpets.

And yes, they work as showers as well.

(This wastes a lot of water, thus, isn't all that green. In my defense, this happened while I was inside making lunch. Since I wasn't watching them, I'm totally off the hook, right?)

Green Toy #2: Spray Bottles

I have bought many a cheap, one-dollar squirt gun at the grocery store. I am happy to bribe my children for a dollar's worth of peace. Unfortunately, most of them break before they are even buckled into their car seats for the ride home. 

For the same dollar, I purchased a bunch of squirt bottles at the Dollar Store. I fill 'em up with water, and let the kids squirt away. They work in the tub, provide a nice mist to dry sandbox sand, and cool off the kids in the pinch. I've seen Joel pretend to wash my sliding glass door with his bottle, and Owen has used it as a "spray painter" on our deck.

This makes me very happy. Since I envision a long future of sitting on my ass, watching them work, they best start developing their skills now. 

Green Toy #3: Water Spicket

We bought this two-gallon water-spicket so that Owen could serve water to guests at Joel's birthday party, thus forgetting he wasn't center of the universe for an hour or two.

We have since discovered that, in this age of water restriction, this bucket is a nice way to do water play with less guilt. I fill the thing up once, and tell the boys, "Once the water is gone, it's gone."

It becomes a game to see how long they can be water savers by reusing the water several times over the course of the day.

They play kitchen, car-wash, restaurant, and lemonade stand, while I sit back and try to stay out of the way.

Now, I recognize that all of these green toys involve water. That's my kids. They're obsessed. I'm hoping for future careers in hydro-engineering.

It works for us. It may, or may not work for you.

I would encourage you, though, to think creatively. Playing greener may be easier than you think.

What are your kids' favorite "non-toy toys"? What green toys have worked for you? Recommendations? Insights?