Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Just Ask and Just Offer

Awhile back, I did some writing for a friend of mine. More specifically, I took the notes from her birth story and prettied it up. I threw in a few five cent words and made vague illusions to dancing and sunshine. My usual.

Imagine my joy and surprise when I drove home to this a few days later:

She made this with her own talented hands and heart. She selected the ribbon with me in mind, knowing that I'm a sucker for all things mod and dotted. When I saw it hanging on my door, I clapped my hands. Who knew that delight was green?

We passed our gifts back and forth, as if tossing a football. I captured her story; she captured the season.

Both of us gave freely, doing the things that naturally bring us joy.

I wish this happened more often.

The First Step is Asking
 So often, my fears ensnare me like cobwebs. I am afraid to ask for help, because I'm afraid of putting other people out, or being a burden. I don't want to be the name that elicits an eye-roll. And so, I suck it up, and put it all on my own shoulders.

I head the "Pay it Forward" committee for a local service organization. The idea is that members request  teams to come over to help out with jobs--you know, "many hands make light work." So far, we've raked leaves, cleaned out a garage, removed a rusty play-set, and painted.

When I help my friends complete a task, it's a sacrament. When we remove the dank, brown umbrella of leaves and the green ocean of grass feels the sun once more---that's holiness. It helps me more than it helps the recipient, because I know that I am doing something important and good.

And yet---after December, we don't have anybody signed up. People don't want to appear needy, or they are afraid to let other people see their mess, or they don't know where to start.

And while some people truly don't need the services, there are others fighting their own cobwebs.

We all, myself included, need to get over ourselves, and just ask.

Just Offer

We all have gifts. Some are obvious, and some are not, but we have them. Like fireflies in a jar, we lose our light if our gifts are contained. Speak boldly and share them. If necessary, provide a trade. Sometimes, people need to give in order to receive.

Like this:

I will write one of your family stories....if you take me shopping and teach me how to find jeans that fit.

I will accompany you to a fitness class or go on a run with you....if you show me how to make Korean BBQ.

I will hold your colicky baby while you get your toes done...if you teach me how to place photographs artfully on my walls.

I will address your holiday cards....if you watch my son in the lobby while I get my eyebrows waxed.

I will ask for help....if you will allow me to help you.

How revolutionary could it be?

So tell me...what would you give? What would you ask for?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Red Writing Hood: Happy Birthday World

My boys live in a Happy Birthday World. Their birthdays, technically, are not until February or July, but that's just a pesky detail to them.

They are in this world and they are awake. Thus, they celebrate.

This is why I am thankful. This is why I am blessed.

My two year old stood on the couch the other day. He grinned, and said, "Mommy JUMP!" He immediately rocketed off the couch and landed with a thud. I waited as he sat silently, contemplating the practical applications of gravity.

This could go two ways. I held my breath. I stepped forward, ready to pick him up, ready for the silent scream, followed by the eardrum-blasting wail.

He laughed. Uproarious waves, cool and playful. "AGAIN!" he cried. Another ride in his Happy Birthday World.

My four year old collects money. He pours it from one mason jar to the next, and hides it all over the house. It's as if he survived the Great Depression, and never regained trust in those rag-tag, good-for-nothing banks.

I bought him one of those Share-Save-Spend banks. The idea is that some money is for saving and spending, and a third of the money also needs to go towards charity--to help those in need.

He glowered and mumbled, "I don't wanna share my money with anybody. I want to keep ALL of it."

Despondent, I turned to Facebook. I formed an action plan. I was ready.

Over macaroni and cheese, I told Owen, "There's this girl that needs our help."

Owen nodded, and said, "What girl?"

"Just a girl, honey," I replied. The "girl" in question was a Toys for Tots box at my local gym. My Facebook advisers recommended that Owen needed something concrete--a person--to share his money with. He also needed something concrete to buy.

My friends also recommended that I make all this concreteness a girl so he wouldn't be jealous of the toy.

Baby steps.

"Why does the girl need our help?" my son asked, his eyes wide.

"Well," I said, "Her parents can't afford a lot of presents for Christmas this year."

Owen's took a gulp of milk. "Why not?"

"Well," I said, tuning my words like guitar strings, "They just had a rough year. What do you think we can do to help the girl?"

Owen stirred his macaroni, thinking hard. He said, "Maybe we can give her some money?" I waited, trying to let him find his own answers. "Or...maybe we can buy her something!"

I tried to refrain from clapping my hands. I said, "What do you think she would like?"

He thought again. "How about a doll?"

I smiled, "Yes. Where can we get money for a doll?"

Owen's eyebrows shot up. "My bank!"

He emptied all of his money---three years of accumulated pocket change and birthday money---into the "Share" section. Every cent

Another shiny wrapped present in his Happy Birthday World.

When there is joy to be found in a couch, and grace to be unveiled in pennies and dolls, the message is loud and clear---every day is a celebration, every day is a rebirth.

So, Happy Birthday, dear world. You've never looked better.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Red Writing Hood: The Transfiguration

This week's Red Writing Hood is to write fiction or non-fiction based on a song. I'll reveal the song at the end of the page. As always,  I appreciate your feedback.

(By the way, this is fictional). 

The Transfiguration

She bent over, breathing in and out. The air was thin and insubstantial, burning her lungs with each inhalation. She slowly lifted up her head, stood up straight, and looked into eternity.

The summit was above the treeline, lunar and thirsty. Small shrubs and hearty mosses claimed the rocks, but the trees kept a respectful distance. She didn't come here for the trees, anyway.

She took a long sip of water from her canteen, and pulled her hair from its ponytail. She shook it out, feeling it fan over her shoulders, a blanket of amber and gold.

He used to love her hair. At least that's what he had said. Or maybe she had imagined that, too. 

He had called her, asked her to come over to his apartment to talk. As they walked into the nearby forest, she considered  the rounded muscles of his arms, the curve of his spine, and the heat of his mouth against her earlobe.

She knew what was coming. She listened to the crunch of the pine needles beneath her feet, and thought to herself, "You knew it would happen. You knew it would happen. You knew it would happen."  She had carried this fear around, a silken shroud, for six long months.

He sat down, and twisted his shoelace. He was always fidgeting. He coughed, and began: "I think you've been reading too much into this arrangement of ours. We agreed that we were, um, serving each other's needs, right?"

"Right," she said. Serving each other's needs. His need was for occasional booty calls. Her need was for him to fall in love with her. When he kissed her, when he held her hand, when he held  her through the night, she allowed those little buds of hope to embrace the earth. 

He cleared his throat. "So, um, when you came up to me at the, um, party, and kissed me like that...." he trailed off, asking her to finish the sentence.

She nodded. Last night. Intoxicated by the music, and too many plastic red cups of something, she told him the truth. "I love you," she had slurred. "and I know you love me, too." As she kissed him, he pulled away, wiped his mouth, and walked away.

She woke up the next day, and waited for the call. Waited for this moment, the moment she had dared into existence, and almost believed would never happen.

She looked him in the eye, summoned up her remaining courage, and said, "So, we're probably done, then, right?"

He smiled, his face a sunrise of relief. "I'm glad you think so, too. But we're still friends, right?"

"Of course, " she said. "Always."

She held onto the idea of him, nurtured it like a stray cat.  She feed it with his occasional calls, stroked it with each shared laugh or lingering gaze. Her friends starting exchanging glances when she worked his name into yet another conversation. 

He starting dating a girl from Colombia, with skin the color of polished walnut. An exotic beauty who also sculpted. A fucking Colombian sculptor.

She started to listen to Alanis Morrisette un-ironically. Her friends walked away when she mentioned his name.

She was always tired. It was exhausting to carry him around.

She returned to her mountains. She walked for hours, preparing for this day. Her moment at the mountaintop.

As she considered the view and drank her water, she listened to the voice inside her heart. I love you too much to let you stay this way, it whispered.

She removed a pair of scissors from her rucksack. She held them in her hand, trembling slightly. She swallowed, breathed deeply, and cut off a lock. Than another. And another.

She cut off the heaviness, the regret, the need to make him happy. Her hair pooled at her feet.

There, on the mountaintop, she considered the light and the release of her transfiguration.

This is inspired by Sufjan Stevens' song The Transfiguration. Although this song is based on a Biblical text, this artist runs the gamut. He's written about the fifty states, the Chinese Zodiac, and the Queens-Bronx-Expressway, amongst other things. He's a brilliant artist and performer. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

The New Wave

It was somewhere in the Reagan era that my mother brought home our first microwave. Roughly the size of a tractor tire, it hummed ominously as it cooked our food. We were on the cusp of a culinary future!

My mother bought into the microwave craze with typical gusto. She owned several Sunset cookbooks which detailed how to make pot roast, brownies, and yes, even lobster, microwave-style. The fact that it was rubbery, gummy, and the color of a used band aid was besides the point.

True story...I was twenty five before I learned that most people did not make bacon in the microwave.

Eventually, the microwave settled into its true purpose of reheating leftovers and making carcinogenic bags of popcorn.  Like most Americans, it was a part of my kitchen landscape, along with Tupperware and Mr. Coffee.

I acquired my first microwave when I went to college. It heated up popcorn and pizza. My brother used  it next for his own college experience.

I strongly suggest that he attempted to use it as a bong. Allegedly.

I regained custody of the microwave when I moved into my first apartment, and kept it until two years ago. Sick of  its ugly white exterior and the missing popcorn sensor button, Paul and I took the leap and bought this wall-mounted wonder:

It also is a convection oven, although we have not used that feature once.

On Sunday morning, I was warming up leftover chicken burritos for breakfast, as one does. No matter how long they rotated around, they were bone cold.

Alas. The microwave was dead. It now serves as the largest kitchen timer ever.

To provide a bit of context, Paul and I are both of Lutheran Germanic/Nordic stock. This means that we are stoic, resourceful, and really, really cheap. After a quick review of the fiances, we determined that we would not repair or replace the microwave until the new year, so we would have more money for Christmas.

I am now on day one of Microwave Free Living. I did not know, until yesterday, that this is a movement. There are websites and support groups, all of which I am too lazy to link at the moment, who decry the evil of said machines. They have helpful tips and ideas, which basically boil down to....cook your food.

Yeah, it sucks as much as you can imagine.

For a minute, I played with the idea of living more purposefully, of not rushing for the sake of rushing, and for being more thoughtful about the foods I eat. This lasted until my kids wanted Easy Mac. IMMEDIATELY.

Luckily, though, I have my toaster oven to heat up leftovers.

You may notice that our toaster oven has no handle. That's okay. Paul and I figured that we could just pry it open with a spatula. After all, it's a waste of money to buy a new one when this one is perfectly functional---if you don't mind the occasional burned digit.

So, I ask you--How long do you think I am going to maintain this new lifestyle? Should I set up a PayPal account to get the microwave replaced? Or, should I just go full force and set up a fire pit in the backyard?

Perhaps I shall make fire-roasted bacon.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Afternoon Meditation

When I was a first-time mother, I listened to my friends with infants. They talked about this strange device known as "the crib" and how they would lay their child in "the crib."

I often clutched their arms, pleading, "Explain this to me. How do you get them to sleep in the crib?"

My friends, bless their hearts, would say, "Well, I pick her up, place her in the crib, and then walk away." They spoke slowly, with their eyebrows raised, and their mouths over-exaggerated "Os." 

I nodded, as if this explanation made complete sense. Of course, for me, it did not. My oldest, bless his co-dependent little heart, slept on me for the first six months of his life.

I nursed Captain Boobies to sleep, always prepared with my arsenal of entertainment: the remote, a drink, a book, and my snugly brown blanket. As Owen snoozed after his meal, I watched The Barefoot Contessa, and dreamed of living in the Hamptons, knowing my fishmonger by name, and using the good vanilla.

A few times, I attempted to move Owen to a horizontal resting place. He bleated in protest, and I said to myself, "Well. What else have I got to do, anyway?"

(Clearly, I hadn't discovered blogging at this point in my life).

For months, he remained on my chest. Spoiled little first-born.

When Joel came along, Owen was a busy two and a half year old. I couldn't sit down for more than ten minutes at a stretch, let along two to three hours. So, as it is with second born children, Joel slept in the crib. He bleated. I said, in the kindest way I could, "Suck it up, kid." 

Sometimes, I wonder if this is why Joel is less snuggly in general. He didn't care for breastfeeding, and to this day, he prefers to be moving instead of in my arms. Sometimes, I wonder if my detachment made him feel less attached.

Then, things like this happen: On Tuesday, as his brother was happily playing upstairs, Joel walked to me and said, "Want to play with Mommy." He climbed up into my lap, wrapped his arms around my neck, and rested his head against my shoulder.

I kissed his blond head, stroking his feathery locks. He felt like a warm stone, an earthy blanket of dirt and dump trucks and strawberry yogurt.

I sat in silence, listening to his breath become my own. He drifted off to sleep, and in the stillness of that moment, he was mine once more. His rose-shaped mouth, the ridges of his shell-like knuckles---holiness in a moment, as pure as a still, cold lake.

I rested there, holding my baby, as my other baby played upstairs. I closed my eyes, lifted up a brief whisper of gratitude, and held him closer.

After all--What else did I possibly have to do?

Nothing. Nothing in this whole, wide world.  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Here We Go An Oyster-ing

I love having awesome friends.

I really love having awesome friends that can take good pictures.

I really, really, love it when they  meet me at Oyster Festivals

 I have three wishes: To be as talented as my friends. To always have them in my life. And to always be as goofy/happy as I am in this picture.

Sundays in My City with Unknown Mami--check out other people's cities, all online-like.

Unknown Mami

Friday, November 5, 2010

Red Writing Hood: New World Order

My brother and I sat in the back seat of my mother's van. My mother looked ahead, clenching the steering wheel. Each knuckle was a perfect, bony snow-cap. She set her mouth into a determined frown.

Tommy and I sat side by side. He breathed heavily out of his mouth, stopping only to periodically snort a loose booger back into its rightful home, next to its other crusty friends.

Snort. Breathe. Snort. Breathe.

He was doing all this breathing for one reason and one reason alone: to toy with me. As he sat there, so rudely existing, my eyes focused on his flea collar. I narrowed my eyes, and remembered.

I was finishing my bowl of Rice Krispies, sitting on a yellow-backed kitchen stool. My brother bounded inside, wearing a flea collar. He had found it on the street. "I'm in the doggy club," he proclaimed, "But I don't want fleas!"

My mother, instead of doing the right and proper thing---throwing that nasty, used dog collar into the trash---kissed him and told him that she loved his imagination. "You can be a doggy if you like," she said, and returned to her morning cup of coffee.

I watched this exchange, wide eyed. Her betrayal sat right behind my eyes. Pushing. Pressing. "But, Mom!" I pleaded, "That's disgusting! Get it away from me! Gross!"

Mom sighed, drank another sip, and said, "If you don't like it, you don't have to be near it."

"But--"  I said, "You always take his side!"

She gave me the look. "Go away from him. Now."

I retreated to my room, and plotted.

About twenty minutes later, as I heard Mom turning on the shower, and Tommy playing with his Lincoln Logs, I launched my plan. I slapped myself on the arm. I slapped and slapped until my arm was red, tattooed with my angry hand prints.

It didn't feel good, but I knew it would soon. 

I stood by the door, willing up the proper face. Once prepared, I ran into Mom's bathroom, crying and screaming. "Moooooom, Tommy hit me FOR NO REASON!"

She replied, from behind the steamy glass, "Unless you are bleeding or on fire, you need to leave me alone."

I considered my options. After mulling over her choices, I selected my own: deceit. "I am bleeding!"

With an audible groan, Mom turned off the water, and stepped out, dripping. I thrust out my wounded arm, "See?"

She frowned. "You're not bleeding," she said, "But this is not acceptable." Still wearing her towel, she stomped towards Tommy's room.

Each step sounded like a perfect, clear bell.

She opened the door to his room, where he knelt over his Lincoln Logs. He was still wearing the accursed collar, but had added his Superman cape for extra flair. "Tommy," she said, "What happened to your sister?"

"HE HIT ME!" I cried, jumping in from behind her.  "HE NEEDS TO BE IN TROUBLE!"

Tom gasped, outraged. "I didn't hit her! She's lying!"

"Oh yeah?" I retorted, "Then who did this?" I flashed my now-fading-pink arm his way.

"I didn't!" he yelled. Then, he sat in silence, thinking over his next words. He nodded his head to himself, and squeaked, as only a five-year-old could, "Go. To. Hell, Nancy."

A silence loomed over the room. He swallowed the air, attempting to gulp the words back up. The words coated the room like dark, miserable oil--seeping, sinking. 

I laughed to myself. He was so dead.

My mother walked away, each step echoing in the hallway.  Soundlessly, we followed her.

She walked into the kitchen, shaking her head slowly. She picked up a wooden spoon. She considered it, feeling its fibrous weight. A slow, secret smile spread over her face.

She placed it in her purse. She turned to us, and said, "I will use this. I. Am. Done."

She never did.

Nor did she remove the spoon from her purse. Which is why, as I sat next to my snotty brother in that van, two weeks later, I knew to remain quiet. Even though he was totally breathing on purpose. 

I knew that even the most patient of people had a limit. If we pushed that limit one time too many, she would be prepared. She had the Wooden Spoon of Last Resort, her very own nuclear football.

It was a new world order.

I thought of this story as I cleaned out my purse the other day. Amongst the detritus, I found this:

I know that I was carrying a sharp, pointy kitchen knife around for good reason (it cut a cake at a party). Yet, it still makes me wonder: What else I am carrying around with me? How will I be remembered?

This is based on the red writing hood challenge for the week: to dump out a bag (either in a  fiction or non-fiction piece) to see what it reveals. Come check out the great writers---they are so inspiring and true!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Whole World in a Puzzle

If you want to be a good teacher or a good learner, come sit on my living room carpet for awhile.

Sit with my boys and I, and do a jigsaw puzzle. I guarantee it will teach you more about learning than any lecture, any textbook, and possibly any degree.

A jigsaw puzzle distills teaching and learning to its very essence.

As kids learn, they need the appropriate levels of assistance. If you help too much, you're taking the learning away from them. If you don't help enough, kids may grow bored or frustrated (the ol' "flight or fight" thing). It takes skill and a careful eye to determine the appropriate level of scaffolding.

Today, as Owen worked on the fifty-piece dinosaur puzzle, I could see his brow furrow. His jaw set in frustration. He threw a piece over his shoulder and yelled, "This puzzle doesn't work!"

I gave him a minute, and then subtly found the pieces that made the Tyrannosaurus Rex. "Hey, buddy, why don't you work on these pieces?" He pieced the T-Rex together, and smiled with pride.

We did this again and again until the puzzle was complete.

Two-year-old Joel worked on the puzzle at the same time as his big brother. While Owen was at a point that he could piece scenes together, Joel was not yet there. I differentiated my teaching to fit his learning needs.

I found a few pieces that linked together, and sat next to Joel, as he experimented with the shapes and dimensions. Because I held my tongue and my hands, he surprised me by linking all three pieces together without any help at all.

Encourage Meta-cognition
After the puzzle was complete, Owen and I talked about our thinking process. We unpacked our thinking, and determined a few strategies that helped us be successful:

1) We figured out that straight-edges go on the outside edges.
2) We looked for like colors and patterns.
3) We did little bits when the big bits seemed like too much.
4) We asked for help when we needed it.

As Owen and I talked, I stated, "See how you can do hard things?" and "I like how you worked to meet your goals." I was trying to develop his sense of self-efficacy. Things in life aren't always going to be easy; having strategies when things get tough can be the difference between confidence and defeat.

Know when to Fold 'Em
As the boys looked at the puzzle with pride, Owen said, "Let's do it again!"

We tore it down, and two pieces in, Owen turned to me and said, "I want to play dump trucks."

And we did just that.

Thanks for tolerating my know-it-all post today. Lest you be too impressed or annoyed with me, let me also share that I flipped out over rice cake dust on my coffee table. I am no Jaime Escalate.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I'm Guest Posting At Shades of Blue and Green!

I have met a lot of delightful people through blogging, but one of my favorite folks out there is Ash from Shades of Blue and Green. 

Why do I love her so? She's funny. She's an amazing mother. Her writing makes me swoon.

She is attempting to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so I am pitching in with a guest post.

For those who know me from way back, this is my "House Hunters Drives me to Drink" post. You'll never watch HGTV the same way again. 

Please CLICK CLICK to read it, and be sure to stick around and get to know Ash.

Also, because it is my contractual obligation as a mother who happens to blog, here is my Curious George Halloween Pic. I'm not in it because I took the picture. Such is the life.

Enough of me--go check out Ash!