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


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.


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,"

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 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.