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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Draped Like a Benediction

While in the bitter midst of his second time out, my youngest decided to tear all the sheets off his bed.

Walking into his room, I saw the mess, and my chest caved. The heaviness. Oh, the heaviness.

Sometimes, there's so much to carry. So much to clean.

I should have made him make his own bed. Or, even better, left him to sleep on a bare, cold mattress. That would be all Love-and-Logic-y.

Unmake your own bed, now sleep in it.

Instead, I chose new sheets. The soft, dove-brown flannel ones, adorned with pirates. I smoothed the loose creases, fluffing his pillow, and folding over the top sheet and comforter.

An invitation.

I thought of my mother, and how she did the same for me. Soft, yellow sheets, draped like a benediction. My favorite doll nestled close by, waiting for my midnight embraces.

And so, I made his bed. I wanted him to know that even when he's angry, he will still have a soft, warm pirate-sheeted place to fall.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fluttering and Light

"Three, two, one," I counted out the change, and slid it across the counter.

He cupped his hand and scooped the pennies in. "Thank you," he said. "Room for cream?"

"No," I said, "I take it black. Like my men."

My hand flew to my mouth. A nervous half-bark, half-snort escaped. 

Raising his eyebrows, he handed me my cup. "Surely you can't be serious."

I rubbed my finger around the lip of the cup. Once. Again. He crossed his arms across his green apron, leaned back, and smiled.

A challenge. I twisted a curl, and stepped forward. My hand rested on the counter. "Oh, but I am." I took a sip, "And don't call me Shirley."

I held my breath, watching the words float from my mouth to his ears. They flapped their little syllabic wings. Would they soar? Or plop?

He ran his fingers through his dark hair; his green eyes sparkled. "Well," he said, "It looks like I choose the wrong week to quit sniffing glue."

The coffee warmed my hand, as I felt his words. Fluttering, gossamer and light.

It's good to be gotten.

"Well, I'll see you then," I said.

"Looking forward to it."

I stepped into the chill. The warmth never left my cheeks.

(With mad props to the classic film, Airplane.)


And, of course, the folks at Write on Edge, would brought this prompt to the table:

This week, we’d like you to write a post – fiction or creative non-fiction – which begins with a countdown. “Three, two, one.” You pick what the countdown is for. The ideas above are just suggestions. Use your imagination and have fun with it!



Monday, December 12, 2011

Cleaning House

"I got off the phone with Blue Cross Blue Shield today, " he says, collapsing into the sofa. He rubs his forehead.

"And?" I place my nook on the armrest, attempting to give him my full attention.

He talks of forms and figures, furrowed brows and forgotten details. For months now, he has helped his father sweep up the debris and fragments of his mother's life.

Insurance. Medical bills. Retirement. He works the gnarls from the knot. He tries to be gentle, but he still must tug. Strain.

Last Monday: "I had to tell them she's deceased,"  he said, spooning spaghetti in bowls.

Yesterday: "The hospital sent a postcard to Mom today, inviting her to a Bone and Joint Health Seminar."

I forced a smile, "I guess she's not going."

He shook his head, "Yeah."

I hold his hand and try not to study his features too intently. I annoy him with my furtive glances, as I scan his face for crumbling.

I want to dump the bucket, and let the water flow into every corner of her house. I want a flood. An outpouring. A release.

But he needs containment. Checks on paper, and creased, crisp envelopes.

He is mourning. He is cleaning house.

And I am trying my hardest to let him do it his way.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Control





"Nancy. We're going. Get in the car."

I took a furtive sip of my mudslide, which Emily had poured into a Big Gulp cup. My stomach twisted as I settled into the backseat of the convertible.

"Woooo!" squealed Jessica, "That's my jam!" She lifted her hands in the air as Prince's "Pussy Control," blared from the speakers.  I ducked---my seventh grade students were everywhere.

My husband had said, "You should go out with Steve's girlfriend, Marcy. She's a lot of fun."

He would be hearing about this. Or maybe not. 

I took another long sip. A bit of ice clogged in the straw. I wiped my hands on my jeans, and tried to smile, laugh.  I could be fun, too.

"Ahhhhh. Pussy Control!"" screeched Marcy from behind the wheel. We approached the intersection.

"We're almost here, bitches!" She took a quick left, and rear-ended a truck. A thud. An air bag. And Prince singing, "Better sit your ass down."

"OhShitOhShit," mumbled Marcy. She was sober, yes. But also an Air Force Airman.  The Big Gulp cup rested heavy in my trembling hands.

The rear ended car drove away, as Marcy paged her boyfriend.

We sat in the parking lot, the marquee reading, "Home of Thunder Down Under."

It was to be my first trip to a strip club. But the universe, or perhaps Prince, had taken control.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Uncoiled

He tenses before the starting line, all forty pounds of him. Fiddling with the safety pins attaching his race number to his track suit, he shifts from the front to the back of his feet.

My son is five years old, and about to compete in his first road race---a turkey trot. One whole mile. And I am running with him.

With a shot of a gun, we start. "Keep your pace," I remind him, "Not too fast, not too slow."

"Okay, Mommy," he says, his fists curled into tight little clamshells, his arms pumping with each step.

We press forward.

He reaches for my hand, "My legs are getting tired." He coughs as the road crests like a wave. 

"Just keep going," I say. "We're almost to the top. And you know what comes next?"

"What?"

I squeeze his hand, "You get to race me back home. Maybe you'll even beat me."

He grins, and we round the corner. "Okay, Buddy," I say, "It's all you."

I expect him to take off, fueled by fearlessness. Instead, he lets go of my hand, and strides besides me. "Do you want to race?" I ask.

"No," he says, "I want to finish with you."

We run through the final corridor, alive with whistles and cheers. He gazes from one side to the other, smiling. Uncoiled, like a loose spring.

Our feet stamp across the finish. They drape a medal around his neck.

He looks up from our hug, and says, "Okay, Mom. Now it's your turn to race."

I line up once more, and run five more miles. For him. For me. For our tomorrows.

Some say a photograph steals the soul. This week, show us yours: take us into the moment that photograph was taken. Show us who you were then and what the photograph means–in 300 words.


There are many pictures of me running. I like to think that my son watched me compete, watched his father run marathons, and learned that running is just what people do. The pics from this post  may have inspired him. 



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ponderous and Strange

The baby folded into me, her breath soft against my neck. Little grunts and pink-fleshed fingers, ponderous and strange.

Her mother smiled, "You're a natural."

I raised my eyebrows, "I don't know." I held my breath as I shifted my feet, "I'm not sure I'm a baby person."

"I don't believe that for a second," she said, "When are you going to have one of your own?"

I glanced at Paul, at his long graceful fingers as he sliced the onions for the stuffing. So meticulous. Never rushed, "Well," I sighed, "If I could guarantee that my kids would be just like him, then I would have them tomorrow."

She frowned. "You're pretty great, too."

Images sprouted from the silence. Of crying jags and Zoloft. Heaviness. Yearning to fade into the sheets, soundless and insubstantial.

Her baby nestled against my sweater. "I've had a hard year. I really miss Arizona. I hate my job. I've been---" I used the official terminology, "struggling with depression."

She placed her hand on my knee. "That's hard."

I blinked, fighting the waves that came in such ferocious bursts. "Yup."

"But, Nancy?" I gazed into her eyes. "Aren't you glad that you were born?"

Inhaling the softness of that head, I couldn't help but say the truth, "Oh, yes. Most of the time, yes."

 A year later, she held my newborn son in her arms.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Red Writing Hood: Snow Day


We're doing dialogue this week for Red Writing Hood. Here's the latest edition from Janie, my teenage superhero. This week, she's talking to her mother about her newly discovered powers. 


I begin tugging at a hard piece of skin, waiting for it to yield and give.

“Stop that,” Mom says, without looking my way. She slows to a red light. “So, I got my first power when I first turned 14. Just like you.”

She says it matter-of-factly, as if saying, “I got a peppermint mocha at Starbucks.”

“Go on,” I say. “What is it?” 

She flinches. “I don’t have a power any more. But I used to control the weather.”

I choke on my Diet Pepsi. “Shut UP!”

 She tucks a stray hair behind her ear.  “You know how you wear your pajamas inside out when you want a snow day?”

“And put a spoon under the bed,” I add.

She frowns, “Never heard of that one. Anyway, I had a huge report due. On Margaret Sanger.” She pokes me in the shoulder. “The founder of Planned Parenthood?”

“Okay, Mom.  Whatever you say.”

“I have failed as a feminist.”  She pulls into the parking lot of Chiptole, shaking her head. “Failed. You really don’t know who she is?’

“MOM!” I screech. “I don’t care!” 

“Watch yourself,” she says. “So, I hadn’t done any research. No note cards. No trips to the library. Nothing.”

“Why didn’t you just go to Wikipedia?” I ask.

She ignores me. “The project was due the next day. It wasn’t happening, and your grandmother would murder me if I came home with a F.”

Grandma spent her days shooting chipmunks from her back porch.  Mom wasn’t exaggerating. I gulped.  “What did you do?”

“The only reasonable solution. I went to bed, and told the skies to bring a snowstorm to cancel school. And I wore my pajamas inside out. ”

I snort. “I’m sorry Mom.  You grew up in Wisconsin. That’s all it ever does--snow.”

“Yes, Janie. Normally that would be true.” Her voice turns to a whisper. “But it was almost Memorial Day. And it only snowed in Mill River. They were swimming in the river the next town over.”

I open my mouth, and close it again.  “Global warming?” I squeak.

“No,” she says. “And honey? That was only the beginning."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Refilling

So, we got a dog.


Her name is Eucy. It's short for Eucalyptus.

Why now? Because when I drove from place to place, I yearned.

This year has been so hard for our family. Full of joys, yes. But, yet, even in the times when my belly ached from laughter, I felt pinpricks of guilt, reminders that things were not as they should be.

After my mother-in-law died, I dreamed of a velvety head. I wanted something pure and soft and warm to love.  A fresh, furry start.

And now? My heart is refilling. When I watch the boys race around the backyard, red-faced and exuberant, I smile. And in the evening hours, I rub her belly and listen to her soft, grunty sighs.

My heart sprouts from the darkness. Verdant. Persistent. Facing the future, with a new leash on life.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Returning


For this week's Write on Edge prompt, I thought I would share Janie's musings about her mother. Janie is my NaNoWriMo protagonist. 


Each morning, while the rest of the world orders their lattes and updates their status reports, my mother returns to the womb.

She tucks her hair into a ponytail, and scrubs her hands until they tingle. Next, she rubs in the sanitizer, feeling the burn in each parched cuticle.  The latex gloves seal the remaining world off with a single, practiced snap.

The doors whish; she enters. Pressing her face against each artificial womb, she greets the babies by name.

Keston. 29 weeks, 2 pounds. Intubated. Miranda. Group B Septis. Gregory. The surviving twin.

She holds their translucent, paper-thin fingers, and speaks of moon bounces, sunsets, and peppermint ice cream.  

As she exits the hospital, she whispers each name, so the stars will hear them, and know that they were real. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Majesty of West African Peanut Soup

I posted this almost exactly a year ago. This week's RemembeRed seemed like a good fit, as we're talking about memory and recipes. 





The boys and I went hiking today. The woods burst with little fireworks of wonder. We saw bald eagles. Grasshoppers. We collected leaves in a little bag,  We held our breath and listened to the wind and the trees as they whispered their wisdoms.

The kids hardly complained. This, in itself, is a revelation. 

Later, I dropped off soup for my friend. She  is having a baby tomorrow. How odd to write such momentous words so matter-of-factly.

She has a secret comet. For months, she's been watching it with open-mouthed wonder, as it illuminates the sky, leaving a silken trail of light. 


Tomorrow we will see it with her.  

The only way to address this majesty is to make soup. Really, the only way, sometimes, to address the majesty of this world, period, is to make soup. To create warmth and richness out of water and vegetables. To simmer, soak, stir, and taste. To eat until you are full. 



West African Peanut Soup

(This yields a gallon, but can easily be halved).  


4 cups onions, chopped
2 tbl oil (peanut or vegetable)
1 tsp cayenne (or other ground chilies) 
2 tsp ginger root, grated
2 cups carrots, chopped
4 cups, sweet potatoes, chopped (up to two cups white potatoes can be substituted)
8 cups vegetable stock or water
4 cups tomato juice
2 cups smooth peanut butter
2  cups scallions or chives, chopped
sugar (granulated (optional). 


Method: 
1. Saute the onions in the oil until just translucent. 
2. Stir in the cayenne and fresh ginger
3. Add the carrots and saute a couple more minutes
4. Mix in the potatoes and stock or water. 
5. Bring the soup to a boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. 
6. In a blender or food processor, puree the vegetables with the cooking liquid and the tomato juice. 
7. Stir in the peanut butter until smooth. 
8. Taste the soup. Its sweetness will depend upon the sweetness of the carrots and the sweet potatoes. If it's not there naturally, add just a little sugar to enhance the other flavors. 
9. Reheat the soup gently, using a heat diffuser (if needed) to prevent scorching. 
10. Add more stock, water, or tomato juice for a thinner soup. 
12. Serve topped with plenty of chopped scallions or chives. 


Vegetarian, unique, and delicious. Enjoy! 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

No Athlete

I have PE first period.  If I were a vampire, seven fifteen would be the end of a long day of sucking. But since I'm me, there's ever-so-much suckage to go.

My polyester shorts itch as I sit on gym floor; the air smells of basketballs. I hope I don't have to touch one. Yesterday, I couldn't pay attention in algebra, swimming in the rubbery stench still festering on my hands. That grime, working its way under my fingernails.

Mrs. Harris stands in front, wide legged, her meaty hands resting on her hips. "We're doing the mile today," she barks, "You have twenty minutes to do it. Athletes do it in four."

I knew all about milers. When Dad was still alive, he used to perch me on his lap, watching track and field on NBC Universal. "Roger Bannister broke it first," he said, as we watched the runners, all sinew and motion, arms and legs pumping towards glory. "Maybe you'll break it someday."

"I will, Daddy," I rubbed the side of his face, scratchy and warm. "I'll beat you!"

"We'll see," he replied, kissing me on the head, "Maybe you will"

Mrs. Harris blows her whistle, and herds us to the track. The November wind bites my bare legs. Heather and Lauren laugh, arms interlinked. It seems so natural, the way other kids bunch together, mingling like wild grass.  Meanwhile, I play with my cuticles and pretend to tie my shoelaces.

Daddy used to do track workouts. He blurred around the circle, as I collected dandelions on the sidelines. I was in charge of Gatorade. I held the bottle for him, as he panted, hands on his knees, sweat dripping onto the black asphalt. "Thank you, Janie-Girl," he said. Sometimes, he let me have a sip.

I haven't been able to touch the stuff since the accident.

"Okay, folks, line up!" Mrs. Harris blows her whistle. I stare down the track, and decide I'm going to take the full twenty minutes.

I'm no athlete.

Meet Janie. She's the heroine of my National Novel Writing Month project. She's also the subject of this week's prompt for Write on Edge.



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lady Liberty

The music piped up---Madonna's "Like a Virgin"---as we walked in a circle in front of the judges.  I grinned, hearing the music forbidden in my home, and then remembered who I was.

I was Lady Liberty. A statue. And statues do not smile.

I paced, holding my flashlight torch aloft, resting my foil-covered dictionary just so. The green makeup itched, but I did not scratch.

I had this. My competition was a handful of punk rockers---Melissa, Jennifer, and Tiffany, all wearing the same costume, purchased at Smitty's, along with a can of pink glitter hairspray. Throw in Mike as a Ghostbuster, Joseph as Han Solo, and Amanda as an old lady, and the Best Costume ribbon was mine.

The music stopped. Mrs. Weimann, the PE teacher, thanked us all for attending the Halloween carnival. The muscles twitched in my upraised arm. I glanced at the blue ribbon resting on the table, pictured it on the bulletin board in my bedroom.

"In third place, the award for best costume goes to Melissa the punk rocker!" My head turned as Melissa squealed, running to collect her award. Tiffany and Jennifer exchanged looks. She would pay for this later.

"In second place, the award goes to...The Statue of Liberty!" My arm crumpled down, and the blood pumped to my starving hand. I collected my prize; the red ribbon drooped in my grip.

"In first place, the award goes to....The Where's the Beef lady!" Amanda jumped up and down, a smile cracking her artificial wrinkles and age spots. She held a styrofoam plate with a large hamburger bun and tiny foam burger in the middle.

She collected her ribbon, and grinned as Mrs. Weimann said, "We all agreed that this was the most creative idea!"

Sure. Wearing a dress is really creative. Copying a commercial is so original. 


I walked past her, as the punk rock girls cooed, "Amanda, this is so cool. You are so funny."

I wanted to cry, but I did not. Because I was Lady Liberty. And statues do not cry.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Stephen

His fingernails, still etched with blue-dough. His chubby hand stiffened, then collapsed. The earth groaned and swallowed my Stephen away.

This week, we invited you to compose a text–160 characters–that would either elicit or express fear.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Muzzle Loading Season

When I'm visiting my husband's family in Wisconsin, glorious absurdities fly from my mouth.

Growing up in suburban Phoenix, I never got to ask questions like, "How did bear hunting season go this year?" or "Tell me about the time Grandma drowned that pillowcase of feral cats."

And yet, when in the Northwoods, I'm just making conversation.

I beg people to tell me the story of the Muskie that ate the hapless fisherman's big toe. And, of course, there's always talk of logging accidents. It isn't Christmas until we hear about Gundersen's two mile trek to his pickup. Sans legs.

I ask these questions out of genuine awe. All of the women in my husband's family ride horses, sew, plant at least an acre of vegetables each summer, and dress their own deer. Leisure activities include running 5K snowshoe races over frozen lakes, and kayaking through raging currents. With their children.

When we have a Mid-Atlantic "snowstorm" of two inches, I race to Giant with all the other drones, stocking up on bread, milk, and toilet paper. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin family cuts another cord of wood with an ax, and pulls some home-canned pickles from the root cellar. While wearing short sleeves.

I sometimes wonder what would happen to me if we moved to the Northwoods. Would I die? Or would I learn how to make venison meatballs and round my vowels?

I hope it would be the latter.

And yet, I know I still have a way to go. When I was up there in late September, the leaves were already dusting the earth's shoulders. The ground froze each night. And conversation turned to deer season.

"Tell me about it," I said. "And don't leave anything out."

"Well," replied a cousin, "First there's bow season. Then mentor-hunt. Next there's rifle shoot. And then there's muzzle-loader season."

"What's muzzle-loader season?"  I pictured deer in muzzles.  Who took the time to muzzle the deer first? And why?

The cousin stared. A moment stretched between us. Then, he replied, speaking as one does to such a question, "It's when you shoot the deer with a muzzle loader."

"Right," I said. "Obviously." I did not ask what a muzzle loader was. Obviously.

I sat in my lawn chair, listening to the Black River bubble away. I daresay it was laughing at me.  I took a sip of Leinie's (from the can), and changed the subject as only a city girl can.

"Tell me again about Grandpa's arm-wrestling days."

And then, I listened. With each syllable, I become more rooted to this family, and this golden-kissed land.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Cocoon

The crisp envelopes rest on my dresser. As they have for five days.

Condolences. Phrases etched from heartstrings to ballpoint.

And I haven't been able to open one.

Since we returned home, I've cocooned myself, wiping noses, packing lunches, and changing the subject.

I embrace the tasks, and pull away from the embraces.

And the envelopes rest on the dresser.

My husband and I discuss health insurance, retirement, and death certificates. We can clean up these twigs and branches, ignoring the hole on the side of our house.

But the envelopes wait, the voices trapped within.

It's time. I open a package, and find yellow Narcissus bulbs inside. "Plant these. And when they bloom, remember your mother."

And, holding that promise in my hand, I smile. And cry, a little.

I leave my cocoon. It is a cold, bright world, full of tomorrows.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pushing Towards Forever

We stood on the edge of the wooden platform. Amber and red jewels drifted from the lobes of the trees, stirring in the wind before resting on the ground.

I held his shoulders. The river rushed beneath our feet."Your grandmother will always be in these waters,"  I said."And she'll always be with you."

He pondered this, a divot creasing his front brow. And then, cupping his hands, his voice rang out. "I love you Grandma!"

The wind sighed, and the water continued to push toward forever.

My hands shook as I pressed his body to mine. All was salt and held breath.

"Mommy," he whispered,  "She said 'I love you, too.' "

And in that moment, I knew it to be true.

*With much love to my mother-in-law. Rest in peace. *



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Trees of the Field.

The trees gaze down on the two figures. One is perched on a blue bicycle. He clutches the handlebars like a prayer, a small wrinkle creasing his forehead. The larger figure crouches beside him, whispering, hoping. 

Their heads part, and the dance begins. She grips the seat and begins to run. His wheels spin, as she sprints, gripping his sweatshirt. "Don't let go! Don't let go!" he yelps. All is motion, as her shoes thwack the asphalt. Her heart pounds. His face melts into motion.

She lets go. He glides, an unwavering, elegant line. She runs behind him, raising her hands to the heavens. Don't let go, she whispers. Don't let go.

The oaks and willows observe his journey, whispering encouragement through age-old groans and whispers. He streaks down the road, all red hoodie and  propelled bravado. When ready, he glides to a stop.

She gasps, finds her footing. The world, once more, has shifted. "Mom," he says, "You've got yourself a bike rider!"

And the trees of the field clap their hands.



Friday, September 16, 2011

Mate for Life

"It's like this, " Jake said, casting his line into the bay. He swallowed once, then ran a hand through his hair. The line hit the water like an exclamation point. "Your mom's leaving me."

I turned away. The silken fishing line glinted in the sun. "I know," I mumbled. "I'm not stupid."

"No, you're not," he said. "In fact, you're too smart for your own good." He reached into his front pocket, pulled out a Camel. With a practiced flourish, he lit the end, and passed it.

The smoke burned my throat. "Of course she's sending you clean up her mess," I said.

He shook his head. "What else is new?"

Nothing was new. Mom stepped out on Jake, and he put up with it. Same fucking story. Last week I saw her in action. From the back of the school bus, of all places. We were driving past the Fastop, and there she was, straddling some guy's motorcycle. Big loser guy with long blond hair. She was laughing, wearing a top with her tits falling out. So fucking disrespectful.

And Jake just took it. He put food on her table and raised me and my brother, all the while smelling another man's stink. And now, since she's found her next Prince Charming, I guess it's out with Jake, in with the newest step-dad.

 Which sucks. Jake at least took me fishing and passed his cigs. He talked to me, instead of hollering like Mom.  I stubbed out my butt. "I think the fish got your line." 

"Little fucker," he said, gripping his own cigarette between his back teeth. "You know none of this is your fault." He reeled in the line, and released it again in one seamless motion.

I watched an osprey flying to its nest, a flapping fish crushed in its beak. Those birds manage to mate for life. My stomach twisted, looking at it  "Of course it's not my fault my mom's a fucking whore."

"Watch your mouth, boy." He leaned in, and I could smell the Michelob on his breath. "She may not be perfect but--" his eyes darted to his feet, "she's what you've got. She's all you got."Our eyes caught, and I understood exactly what he was saying.

"Yes sir."  I watched the waves lap up against the pier, smacking the weathered wood.  I choked on each weighted syllable.

"So, I'll see you around, right?" he lied. "Maybe go fishing?"

I couldn't stand to look at him. "Sure," I said, "You know the number."

I knew he would never call. And that our connection would snap, like a fishing line. It would sink into the waters, soundless and forgotten.

We're writing about heartbreak at Write on Edge. 






Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Auntie Moment

This is me in 2005:


This is me about two weeks ago:

 
(You must ignore my face here. This was at the height of no-power-for-days-Hurricane-Irene and I thought it would be funny to compare myself to those Dorthea Lange Depression Era photos. After all, a few days without TMZ is exactly like the Dust Bowl.)

Uncanny, yes? 

I post these two pictures because when I look at the top shot, I'm reminded of one simple fact: I felt fat and ugly that day. My arms were too big, my face too round, and my eyes too squinty. As my husband and I toured the Cherry Blossoms on a stunning spring day, I crossed my arms and scowled, trying to hold in the sagging and bubbling, that toxic flesh spilling from my clothes.

I was so stupid. I mean, just look at that rack. My boobs didn't know what (or, more specifically, who) was going to use 'em and abuse 'em. My belly didn't know it would be stretched until it was as taut as a timpani, and just as ponderous. Twice.

Anne Lamott talks about loving her body. She calls her saggy upper thighs "The Aunties," and speaks of how she treats these funny body parts as one would treat a revered, beloved aunt. You, know, the silly one that wears straw hats and orders Gin Fizzes? She rubs delicious lotion on her Aunties, and let the sun rest on them whenever she can. 

I love that. And I had an Auntie moment of my own right after my oldest was born. It was my first postpartum shower. My stomach sagged, my feet were like two balloons, and I was so weak I needed to grip the shower bar. 

And yet, when I bent over to shave my legs, I could do it. For the first time in forty weeks, I could touch my toes without hitting that block of baby. I could move, unencumbered and so very light.

My body was mine again. And it was more than enough. It was beautiful because I had it back, and finally realized what I had lost. 

And when I looked at my son, I was awed at what it could do.

I can't say that every day is perfect. But I am confident enough now that I can post a frowning, less-than-perfect photo online. A photo of days without hot water or flat irons. A photo of a middle-aged dame who will never again be as young and foolish as that miserable woman in the first shot. 

And thank God for that. 

This post is linked up with Just Be Enough. For every 20 linked up posts, Bellflower Books will provide a memory book to a woman fighting breast cancer through Crickett’s Answer for Cancer, and help bring a smile to courageous women giving it their all, every single day. 




Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pruning Season

For the Red Dress Club this week, we were to write about jeans. If you look really hard, you'll see that I mentioned them. I think that totally counts.

I'm writing fiction this week, inspired by the non-fiction piece I wrote previously.

Concrit is always appreciated.




After the hurricane, Donny found me temp work with his Uncle Robbie. Tree removal--you know, chainsaws, tearing up shit. A regular Redneck Christmas. 

It's was all under the table, of course--I'm not bonded or trained. But Robbie sent my skinny ass up trees anyway, while he sat there on his, holding the ground down. Not that I was complaining. Hell of a lot better than being at home. And cash was cash.

We were working at the Scallon place. The storm smacked them like a motherfucker, throwing shit around, hollering and carrying on. Kinda reminded me of my stepdad.

Robbie scratched his gut, then spat some chaw on Mrs. Scallon's driveway. An oak had fallen from behind her house, the top branches dangling like a question mark over her front porch."Get on the roof, Eli," he grunted, "Take care of it."

"Yes sir," I mumbled. I wiped my hands on my jeans, leaving streaks of sweat on the denim. I adjusted my belt, and hoisted myself up.

I scanned the tree, studying the pattern of the cut, the fissures along the surface of the bark. I couldn't help but smile. You know how some people see a statue in a block of stone? I can look at a fallen tree and see its whole sad story. Where it's overburdened. Where it's still strong. You need to prune it with care, trimming away the branches and the rubble. Give it a little hope.

"What the fuck are you doing up there?" Robbie yelled. Mrs. Scallon's kid popped his head out the window.  "Stop thinking of your boyfriend and get to work!"

I jerked my head, my gloved hands clamped into fists. The only thing stopping me from telling the fat fuck where to shove his chainsaw was the kid, still looking out the window. His little hands were cupped under his chin, staring at the Bobcat as if it was made of magic and chocolate bars.

Kids. They don't need any pruning yet. They just bend in the wind.

They'll learn soon enough.

For the sake of the kid, I didn't beat Robbie's ass. I cleared the tree, and then cleared three more. At the end of the day, I took his goddamn money.

I promised myself not to piss it all away. Again.

You see, I'm getting out of here. It's pruning season.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cutting Edge

One could say that my three year old was a bit wiped out towards the end of his first stroller-less trip to the National Zoo.


But I prefer to believe that he was planking.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Red Writing Hood: Returning the Favor

Sweat dripped off my nose. A blister sprouted on the small of my hand. I shoveled and shook my bloodied fist at the heavens. Why must rural living suck with such intensity? Why don't dirt driveways gravel themselves?

I heard footsteps. A young boy, probably twelve years old, put on some gloves, and began to work. "Do you mind, Ma'am?" he asked, mid-shovel. He tucked his long hair back in a baseball cap, his legs planted firmly to the ground.

"How much are you charging?" I would give him anything.

He gazed at me, and shook his head twice. "Nothing, ma'am."

I looked down. My face reddened. I still was such an outsider here. 

We worked in companionable silence. I forced a Pepsi into his hand, and heard his footsteps crunch against my completed driveway as he returned home.

Later on, when talking to another neighbor about the encounter, he said, "Oh, that's Eli. Great kid. He just likes to help."

The seasons twisted like a kaleidoscope. Eli left middle school, and moved on to the high school. His bike gave way to a truck of his own. He grew a mustache and stayed out of his house as often as he could.

He lifted his arm as we passed in our car, as if a full wave would exhaust him. My husband and I called him "Joe Cool" as we watched him saunter around the neighborhood, trousers sagging, a cigarette dangling from his lip.

One late spring, Eli knocked on the door. He was dressed in a white colored shirt, holding a tie in his hands. It was high school homecoming. "Is your husband home, Ma'am?

I nodded, and listened from the kitchen as my husband explained, "First, you twist this part under that part. You loop it through, and pull it up." I pressed my hand against my swelling belly, felt the kick of my growing son.

I prayed he would always have a daddy to teach him such things.

Eli graduated high school,and found a job working construction. And then he disappeared.

"Drugs," a neighbor confirmed. "He'll be in for six months. He broke into most of the neighborhood houses to get money."

Our house was never touched.

Come spring, Eli returned home, his shoulders defeated, and his eyes clouded with steel. Once again, he rode his bike around the neighborhood, the truck long sold to feed other needs.

We lived in darkness for the six days, thanks to Hurricane Irene and her bad attitude.


On day three, Eli's family had power. Soon, we heard that knock on the door. He stood there, holding an extension cord. "For your fridge, Ma'am.Use this as long as you need it."

Each morning, I sat at my kitchen table, hearing my fridge hum with life amidst the darkness. Humbled.  Reminded once more of the thin orange cord that binds us all. Empowering us. Until, once again, it is our season to return the favor.




*We're writing about seasons of change at Write on Edge this week.*

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Little and Big Earthquakes

Parenting, (and apparently, life in the Mid-Atlantic region), is a series of little earthquakes.

That first cry. That life-affirming smile. A chubby foot striking the earth.

Belly laughs. Spontaneous dancing. Sweaty heads resting on shoulders.

Moments that make a forever.

And then, there are days like this, when the earthquakes are not as little.


And when your baby enters the big, big world? You trust that your foundation is rock solid, and hold on.

And smile when all is calm again.

(Happy first day of Kindergarten, Buddy.)

Red Writing Hood: All a Twitter


The Prompt: 
Let’s lighten it up around here. And when I say lighten, I mean REALLY lighten.
This week’s assignment will require the fewest number of words ever: we want you to write a story – your choice of topic – as a tweet.
That’s right. One hundred and forty characters. Not words. Characters.

 Here 'Tis:
They had been married thirty years. She arched her back. Gasped. Sensation erupted in endless waves. But only in Madge's arms. Never his. 


Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Flickering Warm, Light

Motivation. It alludes me these days.

When I was a teacher, I stayed late, tweaked lesson plans, and served on committees. I endeavored to be professional, knowledgeable, and vibrant.

Then, for awhile, I was that mother. Extended breast feeding and homemade baby food. No TV. Daily enrichment activities and age-appropriate sensory experiences.

This then morphed into writing. I was going to become a freelance writer, a la David Sedaris, Malcolm Gladwell, or Erma Bombeck. I would work from home, crafting words and emotions while my children napped.

And now? It all exhausts me. I've given up on writing being anything more than a hobby, because those that want it work really, really hard. And I don't.  (Also, my kids don't nap anymore).

I am a loving, considerate, caring mother. But I cannot get excited about making fun snacks for preschool or planning parties for my older son's classroom.

When I drop off my kids at camps or school, I don't linger. I don't make small talk with the other mothers, exchanging chit-chat about sleep habits or the best deals on chicken breasts. I keep my sunglasses on. Or I text.

That fire within--to be the best, to be noticed, to be liked and have lots of gold stars--has become a flickering warm light.

I take pride in smaller things. A solid four-mile run. The paint roller gliding across the wall. Knobby knees. A soft hand clutching my thumb.

I don't know if my motivation is hibernating or forever dormant. Perhaps, in light of all the other things going in my life right now, this is the best I can do.

Or maybe, this is what I've always meant to do.

Maybe life is teaching me to care less, so I don't become careless when it really matters.

Does this ring true to anybody? Please share your insights.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Red Writing Hood: Cleared

We're getting steamy at the Red Dress Club today....



"Should we do it?" he whispered.

She glanced upstairs. "Okay," She tiptoed to the couch, "But only if we're quiet."

"Don't worry," he said, flicking on the DVD.

They watched season one of Lost during the final months of her pregnancy, unwrapping each character and plot twist, then folding them neatly in their mind's drawers. .

But then Madelyn came, with her fleshy pink feet and soft sighs. Life pressed the pause button. The drank her in. Watched each sigh and arm flail with wide eyes and an ever-present camera.

But oh, how she fussed! Bleating mews, inconsolable arching. Fury with a red face and pouted lip.

Her parents paced, holding her close as she curled into herself. They placed her in her bassinet, where she would sleep for ten, sometimes fifteen minutes a stretch before beginning the process anew.

They had tried to watch the same episode of Season Two for five weeks now "Why is Charlie so conflicted about the Mary dolls?" she asked, "I swear, this baby has made me stupid."

"I don't remember," he admitted. "Should I rewind it?"

"Nooooooo!" she hissed, "We will never finish this show. We must plow through it."

He winced as the baby hiccuped and growled from the bedroom. The clock ticked as they held their breath and waited. 

Silence. 

He pressed play. She rested against him, placing her hand on his leg.

She had gone to the doctor today for her six-week checkup. Her husband didn't know, because she didn't want him to know, that she was cleared. For exercise, for sex, for medically being "normal."

As the castaways ran through the forest on the screen, her eyes filled with tears. How was this normal? Her breasts reeked, her hair was developing its own ecosystem, and life was broken into fifteen minutes of wailing and fear.

How did people have second children? How could they even consider doing this all again?

How could they even do it again? 

She sat in silence as the screen faded to black. She felt his gaze, and turned to him.

And  he kissed her. He cupped the back of her neck and drew her closer. She folded into him, returning the kiss, feeling herself become lighter, looser, unleashed.

He ran a thumb down her check, tracing her jawbone. His eyes spoke of longing, of twisted sheets and soft sighs. "I miss us," he said, "I love Madelyn, but I miss these lips." She closed her eyes as he moved to her ear, "And lots of other places."

She nodded, and once again, felt her eyes fill with tears. "Oh, me too." She rested her head against his chest, feeling the familiar warmth, his soft, oaky smell. Her hand moved to the trail of hair leading to his waistband. He let out a low groan.

She smiled. It was time.

"Honey? I went to the doctor today...."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Body Surfing

"Let's go on a bug hunt," my youngest said. A first coating of mud was already hardening under his stubby fingernails. His smile exploded across his face.

"Give me a second," I walked inside and changed out of my pajama bottoms, then refilled my coffee cup.

I didn't want to go on a bug hunt. I wanted to sit at the kitchen table and check Facebook updates on my phone. To crawl up into myself like a hermit crab.

The boys tumbled into the kitchen, "We need bread! We need bread!" my oldest sang.

"For the bugs! For the bugs!" yelped the youngest.

I had hoped they had forgotten. Every pore sighed as I trudged over to the cabinet, dug out the butt end of a loaf. I forced a smile, and reached for my sunglasses. "Let's go!"

We walked through our neighborhood, and as the boys handed me Black-Eyed Susans, rocks, and green gum ball pods, I berated myself. Shake this off. Enough. Smile and mean it. 

I held on to my youngest hand, called out "Red Light," whenever my oldest ran away too far. We trudged up a hill, our meanderings leading us to the beach, to my beloved Chesapeake.

And there were waves. Not the normal gentle nudges, like those of a lapdog. These were Golden Retriever waves. Crashing, Wind swept, full of salt and danger and light.
 
We rested by the water's edge. I held my boys close, as the surf splashed our faces and arms. Then, I stood up. I waded in.

The water smacked my legs, drenching my yoga pants and shirt. The boys ran toward me. Youngest gripped my hand, as each wave pounded his frame. "I won't let you go," I said. I was grateful for my sunglasses, as I blinked back the tears, "I will always be here for you."

"Okay, Mommy," he said, "Jump! Jump! Jump!"

My oldest rode the waves, body-surfing for the first time in his five years. For the first time that day, I smiled without trying.

Because this is what a lifetime of liturgy does to a person, I remembered my baptism. I closed my eyes and felt the water, and remembered that I am never truly alone. That family and love and the grace of a spontaneous morning swim are stronger than hard mornings and illness and Daddy being gone a lot to see Grandma.
 
We walked home, sodden but light. I gave the boys baths, and we washed away all that clung to us.

And then, finally, joyfully, we set out into the world.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Simple Touch. Freely Given.

Several years ago, my mother had sudden and violent vertigo. In just two cruel days, she was unable to write her name or speak without slurring. Doctors tossed around bits of terror...Multiple Sclerosis. Lesion. Giloma.

I was on the East Coast, hearing this all from the phone. Wondering when I needed to get on a plane, mourning the grandchildren I feared she would never meet.

Meanwhile, Mom's best friend, Maril, walked into that hospital room. She rested herself on the foot of my mother's bed. She opened her purse, then removed a tube of creamy lilac lotion.

And as my mother drifted in and out of sleep, she massaged my mother's feet. Simple touch. Freely given.

Mom got better. Simple words, but perhaps the greatest miracle of my life.

And now, my husband's mother is ill. My other mom. 

On Sunday,  she rested on the couch, floating in and out of sensation.  My oldest son massaged her legs.

He's five. He touched with small fingers, used to climb trees and make fortresses of sand. For twenty minutes, his energy ebbed and receded, his little waves of devotion.

"She needs to sleep," he said, "And so I helped her."

Simple touch. Freely given.

This is what we are called to do. This is what matters.

We take care of each other. We give freely.

And we are humbled.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Red Writing Hood: Her Mother's Smile

"Lyd?" He held his wife's hand. She squeezed. Knuckles white. Eyelids creased.  "Breathe, sweetie," he cooed, "You've gotta breathe."

The windows shook as the storm howled outside. Cocooning them inside with soft flakes. There would be no hospital. "Walter," she moaned, "this hurts. I do not want this." She paused as the contraction climaxed. She squeezed. Released. Resting against the pillow, her words sprouted from her very roots. "I want my mother."

He brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "I know, sweetie," he said. "I know." He thought of his mother-in-law, erect at her potting wheel, her hands splattered with clay. Before.

Then he thought of his mother. She wouldn't have let this happen. "Like HELL my grandchild will be born AT HOME," she would have decreed. And by sheer will, she would have whisked Lydia and Walter to the hospital, braving the storm in her Saab. She probably would have stopped for espresso on the way.

He smiled, and passed a glass of water to his wife. He whispered, "You know what?" She met his gaze. "Our daughter is going to have your mother's smile. Just you wait."

The tears streaked down her face. A contraction hit, and all was sensation for a moment. She recovered, exhaling, never letting go of his hand. "I just wish she could know her."

"I do too," he said. He kissed her hand, rested it against his cheek. "I do too." He yearned to fill her emptiness for awhile. To crawl into her body and let her rest.

Instead, he held her as the storm raged against their little house. Hours passed.

With a final release, Zoe Anna Merchant entered the world.

She was the best of their mothers, wearing a new face.

For this week's Red Dress Club challenge, we were to revisit and revise an earlier piece. I took this story from my Walter and Lydia series, and turned it on its head. The original was not something that I loved. But this? Perhaps I can work with this. Concrit is appreciated.

For background, here's the rest of Walter and Lydia's story: Like a Songbird, A Fresh Face, and The Candle of Memory.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Batshit Shopping

I've never been much of an emotional shopper. I tend to focus on eating when I'm having a rough patch (Although after seeing Cheryl's post about deep fried butter, I may never eat again.)

However, this behavior has recently changed. It started with my purchase of a Nook, otherwise known as The Evil Money Suck of Doom.

I've prided myself on using libraries. They are free, they foster life-long learning for my children, and they are conveniently located next to Panera Bread. But recently, my children have seen the library as their own personal climbing gym, and I'm tired to being shushed by the homeless people on the computers.

I learned that our local library will begin checking out titles on Nooks and Kindles. I told myself that an e-reader is a more ecologically sound choice--less paper, less processing, less clutter in my home. And the kicker was that with Nook, you can swap titles with other users (message me your info if you want to do that).

I didn't realize how easy it was to buy titles. It's connected to my wi-fi, and I can be reading a downloaded book in seconds. The first book I read was The Hunger Games.

And now I'm supposed to wait to check out the other two books in the trilogy? Or Jennifer Weiner's newest one? Nuh-uh. Not gonna happen. Click. Click.

I'm book broke.

Like I said, dangerous.

But that's only the start of the madness. My oldest needs school supplies for starting kindergarten this fall. So, we bought him an LL Bean backpack. In theory, this thing will last him until he goes to college. At least that's what Bean would have you believe.

So far, not bad. But wait.




I needed to buy a lunch box. I heard that Bento Boxes were cool, so I did some hunting. After much speculating about plastics vs. stainless steel, simple vs. fancy, I bought him a PlanetBox.

A $70 lunch box. Environmentally sound and designed for optional nutrition, if I follow the guidelines. I may need to enclose a spreadsheet for his teacher in case he needs assistance.

This? Is kinda batshit. I ate out of a paper sack my entire life. But like I said, this is all about my baby starting Kindergarten, me working through some stuff, and the power of the shiny, pretty Interwebs.

So tell me...any ridiculous emotional purchases on your end? Share so I feel less....well, broke.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Memoir: Locked In

I sprawled on the snowy banks, limbs akimbo. As I unzipped my jacket, it felt as if steam escaped from each chamber of my heart. My legs burned. My arms ached. Every pore was a bruise.

Two five year old girls, dressed in matching pink snowsuits whisked by me on their skis. Swishing and giggling, leaving only icy spray in their wake.

I hated them. Their natural balance. Their fearlessness. I felt every one of my years as I slumped on the snow, doing my best impersonation of a speed-bump. 

"Okay, let's do this," I mumbled, hoisting myself to a standing position. I shifted my weight, bending my knees forward. I glided, as the chill gave way to breathless, flurried motion.

And then, just as I stopped gritting my teeth,  I crumbled into a heap. "God Damnit!" I mumbled. "Stupid piece of shit snowboard."

My husband's cousin slid to a smooth, perfect stop by my side. She lifted up her sunglasses, exposing  sun-kissed cheeks. "You're pretty pissed off now, aren't ya?"

I coughed, "Yes. This kinda sucks."

She leaned in, "You know," she whispered, "You're so close. You've gotta use your anger sometimes to make things happen." She shushed away, a transcendent snowflake already melting in my palm.

I was white-hot. Glowing. The anger was mine, and I would use it.

I stood up and locked in my bindings. I stared down the hillside, and let go of the earth.

I would not be grounded. Lesson learned. *

*After falling on my ass about a million more times.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Left My Heart in Boulder County

I've spent the last two weeks visiting my mom and dad in Colorado. While there, my mother and I engaged in some high-altitude shopping training. Because, after all, shopping at sea level is for sissies.

It's dangerous shopping in my parents' neck of the woods, a place where adults still wear Crocs and hiking boots are a splendid choice for daytime and evening. I often come home with ankle-length skirts with bells on them, tie-dyed shift dresses, and one time, regrettably, a hemp necklace.

Confession? I love it. I love every crunchy granola bit of it. From the Camelbacks in the airport to the Five-Finger running shoes in the grocery store, it feels like home.

The snow capped mountains framing the prairie grass. Thistles bursting with purple light. The tamales, oh Lord help me, the tamales.

Each morning, the boys and I took my parents' dog on a walk. Owen ran with her, a blur in the bright sunshine. Elated. Free. Prairie Dogs popped in and out of  mounds on either side of him. "I love it here, Mom!" he cried.

Me too, Buddy. And I would do almost anything to have you grow up here.

I have to remind myself of the bad things---the snow in May and October, the pathetic excuse of a newspaper, the strip malls, the ugly political advertisements, La Casa Bonita.

But then, I see Owen ascend a climbing wall, clambering up the sides like a spider monkey, beaming with pride. I watch Joel and my father holding hands, sharing a secret smile.

And I blink back the tears, and dream of what may be someday.

When Mom and I went shopping, I bought leopard print ballet flats. So East Coast. A kicky complement to a skirt, or a fun explanation point at the end of a pant leg. The anti-Croc, one could say. (Although if there is a leopard-skin Croc, my mother will find it.)

I bought those shoes to remind me that life is full of whimsy and moments of catch-your-breath beauty. The circle of friends here in Maryland who know my heart like nobody else. The moment when yellow melts to violet as the sun sets on the Chesapeake. My hydrangeas, purple and pink orbs, floating around my doorway, and welcoming me back home.

No matter where I stand, I will bloom. And while doing so, I will be wearing fabulous shoes.

Monday, June 27, 2011

And Then What Happened?

We were on Maryland's Eastern Shore, eating Pho. Because that's what we do, when visiting the land of crab cakes. The sky was blue, the children were smiling, and I felt compelled to read aloud from promotional tourism brochures.

I am my mother's daughter.

I turned to my oldest, "Owen, do you want to hear how we defeated the British Navy here?"

He munched on a chicken tender, "Okay."

"The people of St. Michael's hung their lanterns way, way high in the trees so that the British overshot with their cannons. They people were safe, and the town didn't get hit. Only a few trees." As I spoke, I attempted to focus on the details that would interest my son---fire and cannons.  

Owen finished chewing, "Then what happened?"

"Well, then, we eventually defeated the British and the United States became an independent nation," I replied.

"Then what happened?"

"Well, then we started our own government. But the British didn't like that, and they started another war in 1812." My voice grow louder as I elaborated, "There was a battle right by our house! With big ships and more cannons!"

"What was wrong with those British?" He twisted his fingers a bit as he spoke.

"Nothing was wrong with them," I said. "They just thought they knew how to govern this country better than we did."

"What ELSE did those British do?"

'They did the thing that makes Americans really, really mad," I answered. "They made them pay taxes."

I glanced at my husband. "Am I starting to sound like Sarah Palin here?"

"A little," he said, "Are you going to finish your Pho?"

"Anyway, Owen," I replied, passing the bowl to Paul, "Americans wanted to have a say. No Taxation without Representation!" I pounded the table, as my fellow diners asked for the check.

Owen nodded as I detailed the Stamp Act, the Boston Tea Party, and the Shot Heard Around the World. He asked questions, specifically, "And then what happened?"

And I realized something. I was having fun. A lot of fun. For the first time, Owen and I were talking about something of mutual interest to us both. We were building a bridge out of words and ideas, and together, we would reach the other side.

I thought about field trips. Mother-son trips to Bunker Hill and Harper's Ferry. We could listen to the whispers in graveyards and yellowed documents. He could learn about the flawed, but strong people who built this land--Jefferson, Cady, King, Lincoln, and Sitting Bull.

And we could build a history of our own.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Red Writing Hood: Seeking Andromeda

This week's Red Writing Hood throw-down was to write a piece of Flash Fiction on the theme of "Life." We were given 300 words. Since I often write about that much, I'm going to try to make my story 100 words. This is another story about Rachel, from last week's prompt.




Seeking Andromeda 


Rachel sat, planted on the grass. The hills melted into each other, as the sky puddled to dusk.

The music lifted, hushing the crowd.

Could I have been?/A parking lot attendant/Could I have been?/A millionaire in Bel Air? 

It washed over her, as it always did. Leaning back, she closed her eyes.

Dark clouds may hang on me sometimes/But I’ll work it out/Then I look up at the sky.

She scanned the horizon, seeking Andromeda. The Greek princess, now suspended in the sky for eternity. Her name meant “She who has bravery in her mind.”

Falling out of a world of lies…Could I have been anyone other than me? 

She smiled to herself, and whispered, "Yes." 

***
Okay, a little over 100 words....All lyrics courtesy of the The Dave Matthews Band

Monday, June 20, 2011

LGS

I was talking to my mother not long ago about her job as a preschool teacher. She said, "It was another great year, because there was almost no Little Girl Shit."

I nodded my head. I know Little Girl Shit. We all do. Forming teams. Whispering. Cliques.

As a former middle school teacher, girls paraded or slumped into my room. Smug or teary.  Belonging or abandoned. Queen Bees and all that.

I used to think the meanness started around fourth or fifth grade, hitting its peak around eighth grade.

Hardly. Little Girl Shit starts around four. I see it every day.

I recently attended a birthday party for one of Joel's friends. There were a lot of big sisters at this party, and one of them ran up to me. She was in tears, and said, "Mikaela told me that Justin Beiber thinks I'm ugly!" She shook with the injustice of it all.

I considered getting down on my knees and thanking God that I only have boys.

"Boys have their social issues too," Mom reminded me on that phone call. She had one of each.

"I know," I said. "But I want it to be easier for those girls."

"Sometimes you step in, sometimes you help her work it out. But those experiences are part of you, for better or worse." My mom's wise like that.

Shortly after our conversation, Kelly K, asked me to submit a piece to her amazing new site, I Survived the Mean Girls. Kelly is doing something powerful here. She's asking people to share their stories---of being the mean girl, or one's experiences with mean girls. It's similar to the It Gets Better project for LBGT teens, except that this addresses bullying amongst women.

And yes, it does get better.

I talked about one of my first experiences with Little Girl Shit (although my case actually talks about a Mean Girl that grew up to be a Mean Adult). I wish it was my only story, but alas, I had many to choose from.

Please stop by and read my story. And if you're so inclined, consider submitting a piece of your own. Knowledge is power, and you never know who might be reading your words. You never know who might need them. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Red Writing Hood: Embers

This week's Red Writing Hood challenge was to write about the downside of physical beauty. Not sure I actually hit the mark, but I liked what evolved from the prompt.

For the first time in ages, I'm attempting fiction.  

I welcome your thoughts.


Embers

I wasn't supposed to hear him.

It was part of our agreement. As an honorary One of the Guys, I discussed the size, density, and color of my fecal matter. I hacky-sacked, and pretended to enjoy Phish. I belonged, with the caveat that I never brought up menstruation. And in turn, I was part of their tribe.

Or so I thought.

Years ago, Mom had decided that I was going to be a camp counselor. It's what she had done-- traipsed through the woods, made lanyard key chains and sang "Rise and Shine" to her defenseless charges. She held little kids' hands while they were homesick, and crooned "Scarborough Fair," in three part harmony as the sun flickered to twilight.

"When I saw your father playing that guitar, I knew I would marry him," she told me. She unpacks this story several times a year. "I spent the summer adoring him."

Sometimes, in the retelling, she digs up a picture, in all his mutton-chopped glory. He is corded from hours of rock climbing, and lean. Shirtless, he holds his guitar. Gray-eyed. Devastating. 

He's my father, and a complete bastard, and I even I can see he was hot.

Mom doesn't discuss the marriage at city hall, my arrival four months later, or the trailer park in Flagstaff. And we certainly don't mention the day he skipped town.

She came home one night, reeking of cigarettes from her happy hour shift at Garcia's Bar and Grill. "Rachel, my dear," she said, slumping into a chair, "Even the nicest man thinks of sex every minute of the day. Remember that."

I nodded, as if any man or boy would even look at me, let alone hold me all night.

Yet, she insisted that I take a job at the same camp, amidst the redwoods in Northern California. I was supposed to relieve her glory days, as long as I avoided the whole unplanned-pregnancy-ruined-my-life-except-that-you're-the-best-thing-that-ever-happened-to-me thing.

And there, under that canopy of trees, I found Mike, David, Matthew, and Patrick. Four roommates from Humboldt State, reeking of patchouli and studied irony. We bonded over beers and Faith No More, but I won their devotion for keeps when I called David a "raggedy ass, soy-milk drinking motherfucker."

I was in. Which is good, because I wanted to be as close to Mike as possible. I wanted to rest my head in the crook of his arm, feel him cover me with his sinewy warmth, his hot breath warming exposed skin.

I could taste our salt, even though we had never touched. Yet.

I played the part. Out-grossed. Out-duded. I hoped, just like the movies, that he would see me--see us--right under his eyes. That love would ignite from these gathered twigs.

 Last night, I saw Mike talking to David, their outlines faint in the moonlight. I lingered in the dark.

"So, would you fuck her?" I heard David's voice, then the clink of his beer bottle on the fire pit.

"Who?" Mike said, "Carli? Dude, she's like, fifteen."  He was talking about my counselor-in-training, a trim blonde with blonde hair cascading to her waist. For the record, she was eighteen. And kinda dumb.

"So would you?" I held my breath, waiting for his response.

He paused for a moment, then said, "Here's what I want. I want her body and face. Shit, I want her to flog me with that hair." They both laughed. "But I wish she could have Rachel's brain."

I felt warmth flood through my body. I swallowed his scraps despite myself.

David hooted, "What, you don't want to fuck Scarface?"

My hand flew to my cheek.

Mike laughed, and took another long draw. He cleared his throat. "No. Dude. I mean she's cool and all, but....no."

Face burning, I retreated into the woods. I wished I could walk and walk until I hit the ocean, until the waves covered my head, and all was silent.

Mom was wrong. Men think of sex all the time, unless they are around me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sequels and Nonsense

On Friday, I wrote a post about dying my hair. The story is featured at The Red Dress Club today if you would like to read it. (And I'm honored to be there).

Several people asked me to post pics, but the fact of the matter is, the events described happened over a year ago. I haven't had my hair dyed or highlighted since Thanksgiving.

That is, until Saturday. Finding myself with a free morning, I drove myself to Food Lion to buy hair dye. I picked out a color that looked crazy, flaming red.

After the fact, it still looks kinda brown. I believe the universe wants me to have brown hair. But at least the cost was $8 instead of over $100.

(I tried to post pics. Blogger is being evil. Again.)

***
Knock Knock jokes have hit our house hard. Both boys love them. Here's one from Joel:


Joel: Knock Knock, Who's There?
Me: Who's there, Joely?
Joel: Flower!
Me: Flower who?
Joel: Flower going to step on your face!

Owen goes for a subtler approach:

Owen: Knock Knock
Me: Who's there?
Owen: Dragon
Me: Dragon who?
Owen: Dragon going to throw a squid at you!

***
Just now, as I was typing this, I felt something squishy on the chair. I picked it up, thinking to myself, "I hope this isn't a piece of shit."

Thankfully,  it was just play-dough.

***
Over the weekend, I went to my friend's beach cabin on the Chesapeake with three other girlfriends. We drank sangria by a bonfire and walked up and down the shores of my beloved bay. It was all quite lovely.

That is, until the horseshoe crabs started humping. That's some prehistoric flailing right there.

***
I had a thought the other day. What if I didn't need or expect praise for the things I do? Wouldn't that be liberating? To do things just because I love them, or know that it's the right thing? To expect nothing in return? To live life without expecting others to comment?

I realize that most adults already think this way, but it still was a revelation for me.

***
Yesterday, The Red Dress Club memoir prompt asked us to share something we knew by heart. The first thing that came to mind for me was the Arizona Public Service Announcement about Hepatitis. This aired on TV in the early eighties. It came on during airings of a local kid's program, Wallace and Ladmo.  My brother and I know every word to this day.

Here's a twangy version I found on youtube:



***
I'm not sure there's much that can follow up the Hepatitis Song. I bid you all a lovely Wednesday, free of hurt tummies or yellow eyes.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Red Writing Hood: Flaming Red

"Okay, so what are we doing today?"

I release my hair from its lank ponytail and gaze into the mirror. Dark caverns attack my face. Dry, chapped lips. One rogue hair sprouting from my chin. It feels wrong for me to be here, in this place of jojoba infused conditioning treatments. I find myself apologizing.

"Sorry I didn't wash my hair. Paul didn't get home until late, and the boys were...." I trail off, as I catch Natalie glance at a picture of her boy, Landon. Her boyfriend is presently deployed, and she cuts hair while her mother babysits. He smiles at her from his place on the mirror, clutching his beloved Tow Mater.

I feel, once again, like such an asshole. My life isn't hard. I don't work. I mean, yes, I am home with the boys, and that is work. I plan adventures and pack sliced strawberries in the lunch sack. Boxer shorts are folded and placed in drawers. Little fingers curl around mine as we cross busy streets.

And yet, on days like today,  I feel invisible.

Natalie lifts my hair in small pieces, examining her craft. "Are we doing the short bob again? That is the best cut on you. And what about color?" Her eyebrows lift, waiting.

The words release,  "I want you to dye my hair FLAMING red."

I laugh, twisting my fingers under the cape. "I mean, it's just hair, right?"

Natalie frowns. She flips a few strands, examining my roots with scientific precision. "Red is one of the hardest colors to stick. Do you plan on swimming a lot this summer?"

I nod, "Just bought a summer pass." If my boys don't burn off energy in the water, I cannot be responsible for the subsequent damage to the upholstery.

"Hmmmm. If we did red, you would need to get touch-ups probably every two months."

She knows me. The last time I cut my hair was around Christmas. It is now late May. I came to the appointment late, sitting in the car with the boys, waiting for Paul to relieve me. I almost had to cancel.

"I mean," she adds, "I think it could be....fun. But I'm not sure if you would be happy with it." She speaks with the confidence brought by  full schedules and glowing referrals.

The image of my vibrant, red-headed self sputters, an engine stalled. "Okay," I say, "I need something. What do you think I should do?"

She purses her lips, and says, "We could do some auburn lowlights? Maybe add a bit of spice to it?"

I nod. "And the same bob, please."

She grins. I know she loves doing a razor cut.

She returns with the mixed color, and we talk about children, if we're going to Rehoboth, and how hot it is. This is our summer conversation. At my other appointment, we talk about children, our Christmas shopping, and how cold it is.

I want to tell her that I dream about returning to work, of being something more than a professional snack dispenser/sparring partner. I want a classroom. Dress clothes. Adrenaline.

But I also want to drink my coffee at the kitchen table while the boys draw. To swim in the Chesapeake until we are properly brined and pruny. To fill the hours with puzzles and Curious George.

I want everything for me and everything for them. Or at least really amazing hair.

Soon we're drying and styling. The cut is sleek, and my cheekbones come out of hiding. The color? It's brown. I pay over a hundred dollars to have really nice, low-lighted, subtle brown hair.

Natalie says, "It's better for people to see a beautiful face than a loud hair color, don't you think?"

I nod, "I think so."

But inside, there are flames of red still burning, still waiting to meet the air.

This week's Red Dress Club asked us to write about what our character wants most. All feedback is appreciated. I've attempted to remain in present tense, which is a struggle. Please don't hesitate to let me know if I strayed.