Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Out the Door in Five

I woke up to find a little boy soundly sleeping next to me.

That's sweet, I thought in my fog, since the phrase "woke up" is rather generous to describe how I start almost every morning.

Maybe half a dozen snooze-button pushes later it finally entered my brain that today is a school day.

Today is a school day!

Don't confuse the exclamation point for happy excitement.  It is meant to express that panicky feeling you get in dreams when something big is crashing down around you.

Finally, reality sinks in and a shot of adrenaline spikes me vertical and I realize we are supposed to be out the door in five minutes.  Landon is still sound asleep and Micah is upstairs telling his crib noisy stories.

We lasted two whole months.  Two months of timely, reasonably calm school mornings where I felt like I was rocking it...in spite of the fact that I took numerous trips through the carpool with bedhead and teeth I hadn't brushed yet.  But overall, no tardies for a girl not known for her punctuality felt like victory.

Well, let's do this thing, Landon.  This won't be great, but I think we can salvage it.
Up.  Out.  Just wear what you have on.

I throw on yoga pants and slip on shoes.  Meet you in the car.  I have breakfast bars.  And the soggy-bottomed baby who needs a diaper change.  (bless his amiable heart)

Landon comes out carrying his shoes and looking a year younger in that sleepy-eyed, soft way he holds onto when he just wakes.

Can you kinda comb your fingers through your hair?  See if you can settle it down in the back.

My foot is growing too heavy and I try to lighten up on the gas as I contemplate how lame it would be to get a speeding ticket on the way to something like kindergarten.  

This is not urgent, remind myself, but I'm convinced that Landon's equilibrium will be totally thrown if he has to come into class late after everyone else has followed the peaceful protocol of lining up with the teacher and marching in as a happy little group.

Suddenly, like rounding the corner and discovering a double rainbow, I realize we are going to make it.  We will be just fine.  Dad will be disappointed that we all ate crumbly breakfast bars in the newly clean van, and Landon will have to fill his water bottle at school, but he will be in line with the group.  Rumpled, sleep in his eyes, with a few crumbs clinging to his mouth, but just fine.

I exhale.  Landon pipes up from the back,

"I'm not as hungry as you think, Mom.  I had breakfast with Daddy.  So it will be ok that all I had was that nola bar."

Breakfast with Daddy?!  Bill eats while it is still dark, long before I get up.

It all clicks.  How he ended up in my bed.  Why he couldn't be woken.  Why he is not fussing about the disruption of our luxurious routine.

I drive home behind a responsible citizen who seems like they are driving painfully slow, following the speed limit.  I need to re-calibrate

I knew this day was coming.  The one where decades of chaotic mornings catch up to me and claim a piece of the order and calm I have been working so hard to create for Landon's school experience.  I knew the leaf would turn back over, accompanied by the well-worn mantras of "Come on!  Let's GO! We're going to be late."

And for a moment, the rut of all that feels smooth and deep and in danger of closing in over my van, becoming the tunnel we'll be destined to live in.  It starts to feel like once you hop on the Frantic-Late-Ones train there is No.Getting.Off. until it pulls into the station.  Late, of course.

Mark Sylvester

Bet we have managed to stay off that train for two and a half months, I tell myself.  And what we can do one day, we can do again.

So I take the soggy-bottomed baby in the house.  And I do the next thing.  As I change his diaper I resolve to get us all in bed a half hour earlier tonight.

We have some track jumping to do tomorrow.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Not My Cookie Cutter Batch of Kids

Picture by Chance Agrella
For our second born, I thought I knew what kind of kid we'd be getting.  As though our DNA could only whip up one batch of great cookie dough, and all our kids would differ in appearance but not essential nature.  And then out pops the second born and he is as different from the first as pizza is from pumpkin soup.  This is not just another cookie with a few decorative differences.  Here is a whole new amazing person to discover and delight in at his own pace.

And so we do.  I try really hard to not compare, though I catch myself doing it all the time.  Not because I think one is better than the other, but mostly because I can't stop marveling that they really are *that* different.  Endlessly.  

I struggle to even think of how to show you how different they are.

If one is an onion we discover in sequential ways, the other is a pomegranate full of  unexpected complexity we aren't aware of right away.

How can you even compare an onion to a pomegranate?  Exactly.  They are that different.

But one thing is the same about these little people who call me mom:

Their ability to surprise me all the time.

Tonight my second born who still calls both Bill and I "mom", whose known word count falls below the average measures some experts have charted for his age, who often seems more prone to injury than insight at this stage of his life, yes, this one,

He goes outside and points up to the lovely half moon and says,  "Moon."

Simplest little syllable of no earth-shattering consequence to anybody but me, but I'm truly left to wonder, how did he know that?

His other accomplishments of the day include getting completely naked in his crib before I came and got him this morning, slamming his thumb in the waffle maker he managed to pull out of the cupboard twice, getting on Landon's bike by himself and precariously balancing on it, naming the letter Y by what seems to be sheer crazy luck, singing rather tunelessly at the top of his lungs in the car without saying a single word, and straddling the toilet fully dressed while saying "poo."  I can only surmise he has ambitions to be an early potty trainer.

So there's my little second born unwilling to go back inside the house until I acknowledge the beautiful moon.  

Keep pointing, my little man.  I kinda suspect there's a lot more out there you'll want us to discover with you.

Even if we're sometimes cringing at the perilous path you take to find it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Colorado is a Girl in Love

Colorado is a girl in love.  Her boyfriend has been dressing her up in gold accents lately and like every newly infatuated, she gets a little ahead of herself and starts dreaming wedding.

So this morning she giddily traipses off to some celestial bridal shop and can't help herself--she's trying on a bit of white just to dream a bit.  You can almost hear her giggling to herself as she slips on a gorgeous white veil.  "Don't I look pretty in this?!"

She has enough restraint to not go full-on, snow-white gown of glittering extravagance, but you know she wants to.

So we wake up to this dusted veil of snow and have to agree, "You do look pretty, Colorado.  But without wanting to sound like a party pooper, wouldn't you like to slow it down a bit and still enjoy a whole season of all your awesome red party dress dates first?  The gold has been nice, but you still have a whole lot of red, russet, scarlet and even brown before you're ready to wear white, don't you think?

But if you've known Colorado for awhile, you know she's nothing if not fickle.  You may think she's all ready to settle down with Winter, but wait a few days.  I bet she'll be pulling out the floral prints and smashing blue skies with white cloud scarves billowing about again soon.

Because even for a girl in love, I doubt she'll be willing to skip that many fabulous fashion opportunities before she dons white.

Colorado is beginning to dream of white

Friday, August 8, 2014

My Favorite Gift So Far

Of all the gifts my son has given me, a renewed sense of wonder in the world may be my favorite.

Somewhere along the way, my sense of wonder faded.  It was like a glow stick that is rather magical in the beginning and completely nonessential in the end.  Much of the time my wonder was inactive and superfluous.
I didn't really miss it.  I had mostly forgotten how it felt.

Then we met Landon, lighting up our lives with more wonder than a hundred glow sticks could contain.  Each year we got to live life anew through his eyes, and there was so much to see.

There was so much to hear.  To taste. To smell.  The world cracked open again and the exploration of it with someone experiencing it for the first time is one of the best parts of parenthood.

I used to point out everything I could to him.  I didn't want him to miss one butterfly wing or double rainbow or dandelion puff.  I didn't want to miss his discovering these things for the first time.  I wanted to see his expression when the sandpaper tongue of a kitten licked his hand, when he heard the haunting notes of a cello, when he rode a carousal.  All of it brand new, all of it ageless, all of it full of wonder for us both.

I thought I was giving him these gifts, wrapped in my renewed interest and enthusiasm. Look at this!  Did you hear that?!  Have you ever seen anything so lovely?  Have you noticed this?  And maybe a little bit, I was.  I wanted to tag the whole world as his--to explore and cherish.

But in the end, he has given it back to me, more beautiful and mysterious than I ever remember it being before.  He asks his questions and increasingly, they are about things I have never once considered.  He fuels my own curiosity the way I once thought I was nurturing his.

This is what I mean:

We have started learning about the human body, beginning with the circulatory system.  I love, love love this topic, and Landon does, too.

"What will you want to learn about the circulatory system?" I ask him after several overview-giving conversations.

He mentioned some stuff.  A few days later he told me, "Mom, what I'm really wondering about, though, is if
the deox-a-nated (deoxygenated) blood is blue, how come I've never seen any blue blood come out of my body?  Why don't I see blue blood?

I sat there silently pondering this.  I felt dumbstruck.  My mind has never wandered there, but it seems like such a reasonable and interesting question.  I find myself admitting (as I am doing more regularly these days) that I'm as curious as he is, that I don't really know, and I'll need to do some research before I can answer the question.  I pose a guess that maybe when it hits the air it gets oxygen then?

Google mocks me.

As it turns out, we don't have blue blood running through our veins. It is, in fact, all about how light is reflected through the surface of our skin and is kind of a trick of the eye.  Even though I read several articles, I was never really able to get my mind entirely around it.  Except to understand that there is no blue blood, with or without oxygen.

Those circulatory charts sure do stick in your mind, though, don't they?

That's what I mean when I say Landon fuels my curiosity as much as I think I'm nurturing his.  Maybe my brain was like a kite and his is like a submarine, because he takes me places I never once considered.

My favorite part is that everywhere we go, the world is full of wonder.

I'd like to trade in my "wonder-as-a-glow-stick" paradigm for a new one.  As a parent, I'll trade it in for a Wonder Colander, able to collect and share wonder with equal ease and unprecedented joy.

So if you see us spinning and grinning in a field of green under a great big sky of blue and billowy clouds, look closer.  I'll be holding my invisible Wonder Colander--my favorite gift my son has given me so far.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Movie Scene or Real Life?

Ever have a day that fits neatly into a movie?  Or a scene, at least?

I don't often notice these kinds of trends, but Landon did the other day and made me smile.

I was at the airport and momentarily reminded of my formerly more extroverted self by this conversation:

"So, Special Forces then.  Is that you?"  He looked up at me, startled.

"Yes, but how did you know?"

"Well, the watch, for one thing.  Most people don't have their watches set to military time.  And that book you're reading has something about Special Forces on one of the pages."

Which in itself was kind of embarrassing to admit, seeing as the entire cover of the book was hidden by duct tape...duck tape?  Whatever.  It looked obvious that the secret book of military combat procedures was begging for my surreptitious glance to determine its content.

"Well, you're right."

"Thanks, then.  For everything you do for us."

The conversation hovers in that space between awkward and natural and I'm not sure where it will land.

"Thanks for saying something," and he sounds genuinely grateful.  "I don't get a lot of that.  I don't usually advertise what I do."

Yes, the secret handbook sealed with tape...I'm noting that.
Numbers are called and he boards and we board and the moment passes and I spend the first few minutes of the safety speeches constructing all kinds of interesting back stories for him and his tattoos in my head.

I must have been a little proud of my detective work because I even retold the story to my family after I got home.  Landon told me seriously (after I tried to explain what Special Forces meant) that I was really lucky to have him on the flight with us.  "Yeah, that way, if a bad guy was on the plane, the Special Forces guy would know what to do and save everyone."

And just like that, I can picture watching an exciting action movie and thinking, Really?  There just happened to be a Special Forces guy on the plane who could take the bad guy out?

It could happen.
I've already practiced that scene in real life

Friday, August 1, 2014

Blown Fuse

"Please make those damn jingle bells stop."

Do you know that moment of chaos where you don't think anyone but the person you are talking to will hear you, and then suddenly everyone in the room does?  It stretches out long and awkward, doesn't it?

It was Christmas In the Mountains.  Estes Park.  My Aunt's house was filled with family, fun, food and plenty of Christmas cheer.  Little feet running everywhere, with big ears.

And here was Aunt Jodi, bah-humbugging about socks with jingle bells and cussing to boot.

I can still remember the surprised look on my sister's face and the tone with which she said something like, "I'm sorry.  With all this noise in the house, I'm not sure I get why these bells are so aggravating.  Don't be such a Scrooge!"

I felt ridiculous.

And with no words to describe how those adorable little bells were fraying a nerve that left me feeling raw and edgy.  I couldn't explain it to myself.  Somewhere along the way I had reached critical mass and that one little noise seemed to have pushed me there.

Fast forward many, many years later.

My capacity for noise and chaos has certainly grown to contain a career working with kids, children of my own, and better tools to reduce that anxiety before it reaches blown fuses.  But I am still the girl who can get overstimulated by too much.  Noise. People. Clutter. Small Talk. Music. Blinking Lights. Overlapping Conversations. Screaming Baby. Smoke Alarm.  Screaming Baby & Smoke Alarm at the same time.

Sure, I'll admit, I have better tools for coping with this aspect of myself,  but sometimes I forget to use them, or I don't see the need to bring them out until it's too late, or the situation escalates faster than I can unlatch the hinge on my mental toolbox.

Or I get pregnant, hormonal, and fuzzy-brained and my fingers feel fat and clumsy and I can't seem to access the tools at all.

Then I go wildly waving a verbal sledgehammer and coming off as though I'm trying out for a part in a foreign-made soap opera.  Yeah.  It's funny--but not.

Yesterday I found myself in the "stop-the-jingle-bell" mode for the first time in awhile.

There was a pair of Micah's overalls in the dryer.

And that was IT.  I could not STAND the noise of the little metal parts clanking around in there.

So now an adorable pair of Osh Kosh's sit in the Goodwill box in the closet and this mama humbly acknowledges that sometimes, I have to go ahead and blow the fuse.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Wild Side of Library Services

You know how much I love the random and unexpected.  I am often delighting in it and compelled to share it like I did here or here.

So here I am again, sharing what must be told, if only because I love the way it maxes out my random meter and makes me laugh.

I was subbing down at the Monument library and my coworker casually said that there was something alive in the book drop.

I thought that was so cryptic....something alive?  Are the books rustling?  Did she hear a squeaking?

This is what I peered in to see:

What IS that??!!

Can you appreciate how funny we thought it was that this creature was crawling all over the book Wild?  I love that so much.  I started laughing and shrieking and oh-my-goodnessing it in that hand-flappy way like I was 13 all over again.

So we had our coworker John take care of it.  Naturally.  And just as I turned my grinning self away from him he pretended to stick the little pincher on my back and made me scream like the easily startled teenager I always was.  (Who am I kidding?  I still easily startle)

John is probably close to twenty years older than I, but in these few moments of random hilarity, I felt like he was my little brother and I was the melodramatic older sister.

I love working in a job where you just never know what you'll find.  I love working with people who will make the fun stuff fun, and I love that these long-buried bits of our childhood selves come out like a burst of crazy string in the middle of an ordinary day at work.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Self-Taught or Professionally Instructed?

Like many of you who don't grow bored with the nuances of sports or music, I don't mind looking at writing as a craft to be studied from many angles.  When my kids fall asleep in the car or I am driving alone, I listen to a college professor giving a class on writing creative nonfiction.

I am learning there is a technical side to writing that I was barely conscious of.

Certainly, as readers, we can all spot "bad writing" the way you can instantly see the gap for a missing piece in an otherwise completed puzzle.  Even if we don't know what, exactly, is on that piece, it is obvious that it is missing.  As readers, we can't always articulate the exact thing that makes the writing seem "bad" to us, but the feeling is as obvious as that missing piece.

I don't have to be a professional singer to be able to hear when one is singing off-key and I don't have to be a professional writer to be able to sense that something is not working with the story I am reading.

But I DO have to know what is going wrong if I'm the one trying to produce something excellent.

So the instructor describes in painstaking detail what good writers are doing to make the whole thing work.  It's the difference between eating a satisfying, perfectly plated meal and standing in the kitchen and watching the chef juggle a dozen complex tasks in a sort of controlled chaos.

We readers get the very best of it all served up between two lovely covers of our book or Kindle.
The writer was a scrambling slave to the craft of writing shedding blood sweat and tears to get it right.

And this leads me to the thing I am really wondering (and craving conversation about) these days:

Can taking a class that teaches these technical aspects of writing backfire and do more harm than good?

We've probably all met the cook who seems to have a sense about what goes together and cooks with creative experimentation and flair.  Without recipes, she leans on intuition, experience and her own preferences.  She seems confident and unaffected in the kitchen, moving almost effortlessly in her element.  Not everything she ever cooks is a home run, but she consistently produces great food with a happy ease that causes the rest of us to miscalculate its true complexity.

What if that same cook attended a fancy cooking school and was given all kinds of new jargon for her procedures, recipes to follow precisely, and proper techniques and tools for everything she had previously only experimented with or mastered without being entirely conscious of it?  Would this grow her or hinder her?  I truly don't know.

And I compare that to writing.  What if "someone" who has been writing her whole life, and loving it the whole time, goes to a fancy writing class and learns all kinds of new jargon for writing, new rules to follow precisely, new techniques to try to consciously implement....would this grow or hinder her as a writer?

Really, what do you think?  Do writers need to hone their craft one freewheelin', experimental recipe at a time, or should they go to writing school and learn how to take the art and craft of it to the next level?  Do we make up the method, or learn writing techniques and try to use them?

I don't consider myself a professional writer, but like a sports fan or music aficionado, I'd love to hear what other people think or have learned about this question.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Orbiting the Same Sun, From Different Worlds

She was a cute-as-a-button little girl who looked like she could have just stepped out of a Pottery Barn Kids catalog.  Walking and talking, but still enough baby left to have the hints of dimples on her hands and chubby legs.  Seriously, so cute.  "She's your little doll!" I observed to her mom, and she didn't deny it.  "Pretty much.  Making her clothes is my creative outlet."  Wow, then.  That mama has a lot of creativity to let out.  The dress was a piece of art.

And then there was the hat.

This picture may not do it justice, but basically it was a sweet little bonnet that reminded me of Little House on the Prairie.

"Did you make the hat, too?" I ask innocently.
"Oh, no.  That hat was seventy dollars."
I make a concerted effort to keep a straight face.  "Did you just say seven-zero?" I ask, trying to keep the question casual and light.
"Well, yes.  It started out at fifty, but then I had to get the monogram and shipping was 10, so by the time it was done, yes.  But I just had to get it."
Naturally, yes.  I can see that.  

Her cherub's bottom grazes the sand as she squats down for a brief moment.  A minute later, she's distracted by something --though I'm not sure what because she has the most perfectly proportioned pink sunglasses I've ever seen on a child that small (and yes, all that alliteration is intentional because she was a girl who looked like she might have two middle names)

"Well now, that's the dirtiest she's ever gotten!" her mom told me.  "Now that whole outfit will have to be washed."

And we've hit that conversational impasse where I'm at a complete loss for words.

Because two things are flashing through my mind with sirens.  Now that outfit will have to be washed?!  This suggests that her child can actually wear something for more than seven minutes without it requiring a wash and stain-treatment if it is worn for eight.  Second: Your daughter dusts her bright white ruffled diaper cover with a little sand--a charming bit of cinnamon and sugar on an upside down muffin--and it is the dirtiest she has ever gotten?!

And as long as we're using semi-clunky food metaphors to describe kiddos, let me tell you what my own sweetness of a boy was looking like:  He was also playing in the sand.  And the water.  And I'm pretty sure he was thinking of chicken nuggets because he would get as wet as possible and coat his entire body with sand. His Entire. Body. Then, with glee and giggles he would find the muddiest part of the play area and stomp around in it because what else would a human chicken nugget do but find the dipping sauce?  

After the sand escapades he had used my water bottle to pour water over his head and laugh and laugh.  Maybe he was moving on to marinades-I'm not sure.  

By the time my kiddo was in proximity of this little beauty he was a gritty mess.  I was a gritty mess from having carried him.  We could have been extras in a film about homeless orphans and not stood out too much.

The gap between my world and hers stretches a little more in the silence and I don't know what to say to bridge it.

So I close the fashion magazine of her life and she turns the news channel off of mine and we say our polite goodbyes and move along.

She had a princess to attend to and I had sand to get out of my bra.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Does the Princess Ever Get it Wrong?

His employees seem genuinely frightened of him, walking on eggshells to stay on the better side of his moodiness.  His anger is like fireworks-big and loud and explosive.  He has a room in his house that is basically trashed from all the times he's broken stuff in it.

And yet, imagine my dear friend asking me if I think she can change him by her friendship.  She believes that her gentle kindness, general charm, and patient boundary-setting with this guy can change him from an angry, surly person into the man of her dreams.  She's a smart, ambitious girl who loves to read, loves her family, and has dreams of travel.  Her cheerful optimism about all this would be inspiring if it didn't seem so misguided.

And doesn't it seem misguided to you?  I mean, what would your advice be to someone for whom you wanted only good things and the best chances for relationship happiness?  Mine: I tell her to let the man do the hard work of some serious therapy.  Let him deal with those anger issues without slapping a flimsy band-aide of a new relationship on it.  Life will get stormy and band-aides don't stick when they're wet.  You can convince yourself that the anger will never be directed at you, but so did all the battered women out there.  They are brokenhearted to discover they love a man who is too broken to love them back.

Why embrace that kind of misery when you still have the option not to?  Doesn't it seem like a better ride to hitch your wagon to a star not likely to burn you up in its unresolved fury?

Unless, of course, your name is Belle.

In that case, sweet Disney princess of enduring appeal, by all means, stay with a beast of a man because unlike all of us women in real life, your kind charm really does have the power to transform him to someone extraordinary.  Not an encounter with God, work with a qualified therapist or counselor, not a personal journey toward peace and anger resolution.  No, none of that.  You, by your very nature, are absolutely enough to transform a violent angry man into an extraordinary one.  At least, you'll know he's something special because you'll have such great physical chemistry, even your first kiss will seem magical.  Everyone knows you can guarantee yourself a healthy, functional relationship if someone's a great kisser, right?

Well, if your name is Belle.

Beauty and the Beast is a fairy tale. Just like we know that fairies aren't real, maybe we need to acknowledge that neither are most of the conclusions fairy tales ask us to draw about the world.

But if you watched this narrative more times than you can remember from the time you were too young to understand it til the time you had your first crush on a boy, don't you think some of the ideas might just settle into a reassuring place of familiarity that felt like truth?

Do you know any smart, ambitious girls who seem kind of misguided about the way relationships work?  Do you know anybody who believes she can change others?  I know we can influence each other, but genuine, sustainable growth comes from just that: growth.

I'm wondering if when we catch ourselves hoping to be the sun, rain, soil and time to affect all that growth in someone else, we might need to ask ourselves if a little bit of the tale found its way into our truth, too.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

So Far, No Cards

I'm not ordinarily a snoopy person.  I don't read his journal, peruse his mail, or flip through his phone texts.  My husband shares enough with me that I'm not usually digging around for more.

So the other day when I was putting his underwear away (yes, as innocently as that) I saw a plastic bag in the drawer and opened it without thinking.  I found an anniversary card that I assumed was purchased for our upcoming sixth.

And then our anniversary came and went.  My oversize card to him got left in the glove box because I rather vainly didn't want to carry it in and out of the fancy restaurant without a purse.  I left the purse at home because we were on a nice date and I didn't want to be lugging around the three pounds of oversize mommish utility that I call my purse.

The card I thought was for me never appeared.

Then I forgot about the card in the glove box. I think he forgot mine, too.

So here we are, a full week after our anniversary, and we haven't exchanged cards.  We're going to a wedding today.  It could be lovely and romantic to celebrate six years in after watching a new pair launch into year one.  If we remember....

Some of you may think, "That is just sad.  How can you not honor your anniversary enough to give each other cards?"

If you were running a marathon with drink stations at every mile would you think it "just sad" if you forgot to stop at one along the way?

Cards and gifts are nice.  I'm always appreciative.  But marriage is a marathon, and what makes me exponentially happier is to still be in it with this man after six years of some of the best and worst times of our lives.  We honor our commitment and cherish each other at all kinds of junctures along the way.

Yaay Anniversary!  Bigger yay for when he got up to care for our crying son in the middle of the night because this pregnant mama was just too weary to do it. And even though the job entailed a stinky diaper, vomit, and relocating the other one who could not get back to sleep, he returned to bed and gently patted my leg like I was his most favorite person in the world.

With or without a card, what I celebrate is that six years in, that's still true.

So here's to the marathon! Six years in, he's still my favorite, too.
picture by Phil Roeder

Thursday, June 19, 2014

He Still Surprises Me

He ran as fast as his legs could go, farther than I anticipated, with results I could not have seen coming.

Need you ask?  It's Micah.  My wild man.  Today he was my wild water man.

We went to the park (you really should join us if you're local) and I got him out of the stroller and was just digging in the diaper bag for the sunblock and he was gone.  Running full speed for the cement-lined artificial park creek.

I wasn't too worried since I assumed he'd pause at the water's edge and approach with some caution.  All the other toddlers seemed to have gotten the memo.

He plunged in like a man just rescued from the Sahara, with a reckless gusto that surprised me.  And then he just kept running.  What is he doing?!

So of course, I took off running, too.  Before I reached him he did a face plant in the chilly water.  I was momentarily relieved.  This is where he'll stand up sputtering and crying from the shock and fright of being submerged in the water.  This will slow him down, I foolishly thought.

Not Micah.  He got up and just kept going deeper.  Another face plant in deeper water, this time.

When I removed him from the water, he cried bitterly as though all of his happiness hinged on playing in my personal version of a triple shot espresso.

I think we'll be staying with the splash pads for awhile.  I could do without the adrenaline of watching Micah pretend he is some kind of fish boy on a mission.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mutant Ninja Squirrel

In the sci-fi show The 100, the last humans live in space waiting for Earth to become habitable after a huge nuclear fallout.  They send 100 teens down to find out if it is.  When they get to Earth, the kids see a two-headed deer.

I watched a couple of episodes of this, but it didn't stick.

The idea of mutant animals has apparently caught on around here though, because we think we have one living in our yard.

We named him The Mutant Ninja Squirrel and honestly, none of us care for him much.

So let me give you fair warning how you can avoid inviting your own mutant squirrel into your life.  Take caution from our misguided tale:

One snowy spring day I felt sorry for this poor, thin squirrel who obviously couldn't get to his stash of food in our yard, seeing as it was covered by many inches of snow.  In an uncharacteristically charitable act, I tossed out a handful of sunflower seeds onto our deck.  Bill watched with me as he devoured them frantically and said something like, "Poor thing.  Let's give him another."  And in an action I still rue to this day, we did.

He ate every speck.  Getting bolder and bolder to get the ones closest to our sliding glass door as we all watched this little nature video playing out live.

But when he was closest to our door, he turned his head and we all saw this disgusting talon sticking out of the side of his face.  And some weird black stuff hanging off his neck.  It was weird and gross, but I tried to tame my otherwise dramatic revulsion for the sake of my kiddo who was equal parts interested and disgusted.

"Don't worry," Bill assured me when I expressed my distaste for Mutant Squirrel getting chummy on our deck.  "Squirrels have terrible memories.  He'll forget all about us."

We went out of town.  It crossed my mind that our absence would help the squirrel forget all about us.

Days after we got back, Landon began shouting, "Mom!  He's back! Mutant Ninja Squirrel is back!"
And so he was.  Peering into our house like a rodent reincarnation of Oliver Twist.
He seriously creeped me out. He was inches from the glass, paws up, brown eyes entreating us for food.  And ever with that odd and unnatural talon sticking out of his face.

Doesn't nature have ways of dealing with this?  Survival of the fittest or something?

Oh, that's right.  I disrupted the natural order of things by feeding a wild animal as though it were a pet.

Lesson learned.

In the meantime, we've all grown rather boisterous about reminding each other to Close the glass door! Because the very last sequel I want for this little story is the one where Mutant Ninja Squirrel runs into the house looking for more treats.

My only hope is that if even one blog reader can avoid a similar woe, it will all be worth it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

On the Train To Pink

 Have you ever let a small, seemingly trivial thought purchase your ticket for a train headed straight for "You-are-probably-overthinking-this-but-you-can't-help-it"?

We analyticals regularly hop on that train when the big stuff happens.  Overthinking-shminking. Big events require more thought.  We have to get our minds wrapped around them.

That's what happened to me this week at the doctor's office when he told me we were having a girl.  I  pictured an adorable little girl and realized I don't know how to French braid.  French braid?  Who am I kidding?!  I don't know how to do a single cute hair style on anyone, including myself.  I have few skills in the arts of beautification.  I don't have contempt for beauty, or for women who take a lot of time and care to maximize theirs, it just hasn't been my thing.

Alll Aboard!  And that's when I got on the train and my thoughts raced away.

So even though these ideas might not be what other moms contemplate upon hearing the joyous news of a little girl, I want to share them anyway, because I think they are a conversation worth having.  

Femininity is such an evolving concept.  Our culture limits beautiful and feminine to what can fit on a glossy magazine page, and tells us all that our approximation to this falsehood is directly tied to our value and desirability.  The closer you get, the better.

But what if I tossed it out years ago?  In middle school I bagged up my name-brand clothes and got off the hamster wheel and said, Enough.  I'll wear what I want and be who I am and forge my own sense of what it means to be a woman.

But that journey is not without its own pain and trial.  Looking for value in a world that tells you that your currency is your sexuality and your success is measured by how much attention you get from others (especially men), is a path I think women all find ourselves on at some point.  Discovering the value in ourselves, separate from external validation, is what sets us up for healthier relationships where we have the most to give and receive.  After a while, it ceases to matter whether I will ever look good in skinny jeans or that my purse is so out-of-date it actually has a special compartment for cds.  I am not defined by my accessories (or lack thereof), my fashion sensibility (or lack thereof), or my ability to make people take notice of me.

Nothing wrong with being well put together, fashionable, and so attractive that people can't help but appreciate that fact.  That's not the point I'm making.

To transition from girl to teen to woman is challenging, fraught with a lot of places to get stuck. No matter how we express our femininity, finding our peace with ourselves is tough.

Then there's the big, daunting question: Can I do it?  Can I help a girl carve out her own sense of femininity, intrinsic worth, and confidence to move forward in a world that wants to push her toward sex but away from healthy sexuality?  Can I let a little girl be her own version of herself instead of trying to create a mini me that thinks just like I do about all the things I feel so deeply?  Can I let her form her own convictions instead of wanting her to parrot the ones that I hewed out of real life experiences, even painful ones?

Put a girl in the mix, and I feel like none of my insecurities will go unchallenged.  No wounds unremembered. No opinions unquestioned.

Even as I come back to this blog post to clean it up and clarify my thoughts, I have already gotten off the analytical train.  No doubt I'll reboard it many times, but for now I'm back to celebrating what having a daughter really, truly is:

picture by Jason Michael
A huge, amazing, unexpected, world-changing gift to us.

So hooray for  pink!  And emerald.  And periwinkle. And cyan.  And burnt sienna.  And any other color our little girl might fancy.  I embrace the adventure.
Even if I can't  help analyzing the implications of it along the way.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

When You're Done Having Kids

How do you know you are done having kids?

You give away your maternity clothes.
You get serious about losing weight again.
You give your second-born a middle name that was the runner-up for the first name. No hanging onto it for a third.
You buy a family car that comfortably seats your family, as is.
Then you name the new car one of the names on your girl short list.  No use for that anymore.  Might as well get to enjoy it on something in this family.
You start a small business.
You even buy a house that fits you all, just.

If you are my analytical husband you go completely crazy and take the "C3" (child three) column entirely off the master budget spreadsheet.

And then you take a pregnancy test and find out that you are not, in fact, done having kids after all.

Bring it on, sweet, surprising, wonderful, overwhelming life.  Everybody here is up for the adventure.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Every Generation Has Its Perils

Landon and I were sitting at the table for a "late" night snack when he asked me earnestly, "Mom, do these animal crackers have hydranated oil?"

"I don't know kiddo, why?"

"Dad said that's the kind that kills people."  Bill did make this sweeping statement about hydrogenated oils, but I don't think either of us realized our literal listener was taking it in. 

Poor kid.  I feel his pain.  In my childhood of the eighties, I feared nuclear annihilation from the Cold War.  We did these ridiculous drills in elementary school during which we were supposed to hide under our desks and instructed not to stare at any bizarre mushroom clouds we may see erupting on the horizon.  If you can see a nuclear explosion from your school yard, I suspect you are too close for your actions to matter much.  I would lay awake at night fretting about the fact that we could blow up the earth seven times over. It was all too big and scary for a kid to have to think about.

And now my own sweet little kid thinks we need to watch out for deadly animal crackers.

Ay yigh yigh.  I guess we need a clarifying conversation so that Bill doesn't lose some hard-earned credibility.

In the meantime, I told him no.  No, these crackers looked ok.  And we admired the turtle and owl--both animals we've never eaten before.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hidden Treasure

I was loading up kiddos into our car while two white-haired older ladies walked by in their pastel-colored pants and matching striped shirts.  I couldn't help but overhear them:

"Yeah, I think I was at my Zumba class when I lost it.  I had stuck it in my bra and couldn't find it afterward."

(Did she just say Zumba?!)

"Yeah" her friend answers dryly, "Usually that place is such a treasure chest.  That's too bad."

Funnier comeback than anything I would have said.

I felt a surge of hope.  Maybe we portray senior citizenship a certain way, and all the while people are sassier, funnier and more vibrant than we give them credit for.

Maybe those polyester peach pants are just there to throw us off until we're qualified to join the club.

Monday, April 21, 2014

To Dwell in Hope

I want to tell you something important.  And because it is important, I worry about being misunderstood, not just in content, but in motive, too.  I am apprehensive because I'm not seeking advice or sympathy.  I just want you to know.

If I added your name to the list of people who could see that facebook post, it's intentional.  I hoped you would come read this because...well for many different reasons.  And if you found your way here by any other means, welcome to you.  I believe there are reasons.

Last week I posted Seat Belts and Bill's feedback was that it didn't have context.  "It doesn't need context," I told him.  "This is life, and everyone has something for which that metaphorical seat belt would serve them well."

Tonight I want to tell you why I posted that for our family.  This is hard news, so if you just have a moment before you've got to have your game face on again, this might not be the best time to be reading this.

My mom is fighting for her life against stage 4 lung cancer that has metastisized throughout her body.  She left for a Cancer Treatment Center today because they have determined that her particular kind of genetically  mutated cancer has responded well to a drug. We all dwell in hope for positive outcomes.

All while beating back the voices of worse-case-scenarios.  Your mind goes there.  It does.  It's a wracking, overwhelming ache to wobble on this ledge with her and wonder which way it all will go.  Any which way it does go, we still dwell in hope.  My mom most of all.  Because she has put her faith in a living God, she dwells in hope.

From her website she writes, " I will try to keep you updated...on my journey to heaven or health!  ;-)…. or both for that matter."

That's my mom.  She is 100% sure of the end of the road, even if she can't even see around the next bend. 

We travel in the sunshine. We travel through the storms. As my mom has so simply stated, "The rain falls.  The rain falls on all of us."

"I can't stop the rain," sings Third Day, "but I will hold you til it goes away."  Even in the rain, everybody needs a few umbrellas of love and support.

 If you know her,  will you go sign her guestbook  and let her know that you're thinking of her?  If you pray, will you pray for her?  If you don't pray (and never expect to) you are no less loved by me. I get that we all live on the path we're on.

 In the end, I don't want to stumble through a life in which you ask me how I am and I stare at you blankly and say, fine. I must acknowledge what is before me, and let you see why I am so distracted sometimes.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I am grateful that my path has crossed with each of you.

What Would LaDonna Do?

Sometimes there is no plan.  There is no menu, there is no agenda, there is no to-do list prewritten for the day.  I just wake up and wonder how the day will unfold, hoping I'll get through it with some strength and grace and patience for the people I care for most.

For you Type A's I know this must sound ludicrous.  How do I ever get anything done?  All the rest of us know.  One thing at a time. Sometimes the unplanned days are a sad, pale tale of listless unproductivity and worse, not even any fun.  And sometimes we surprise ourselves and get a bunch done, and have a lot of fun, or some acceptable combination of the two.

But do you ever wake up and feel no inspiration for anything?  Zilch.  Your drive and fun have both flatlined.  There isn't a cause you want to contribute to, a recipe you want to try, a friend you want to catch up with, nothing.

How's a day like that gonna unfold?

That's when I'm grateful for LaDonna.  Today being a flat Monday and all.  Monday, in the world LaDonna created for my husband's childhood, was Laundry Day.  Reliably as a metronome, they could set their watches by her ability to keep their household organized. Before I met my husband, I did not know that people had an assigned day for laundry.  In the world my mom created for my childhood, laundry was done perpetually--as needed.  All the time.  Anytime.  The night before your uniform was needed, if necessary.  If you had nothing clean left to wear. If you borrowed your sister's sweater and were hoping to return it to her closet without her noticing.

As a single girl, I got in the terrible habit of not using my hamper to contain the dirties as much as my entire laundry room to contain the piles of dirty clothes that I would let stack for weeks until I imagined you could have mogul ski competitions in there if they were snow.

What are we going to do today? Landon asked me with innocent expectation.  In the wake of a wonderful, busy Easter hosted here and prepped for for days, I truly didn't know.

Today is Monday.  Laundry Day.  And Landon, getting half his legacy from those organized Browns loved the sound of that and went off cheerfully to get his hamper.

At dinner, Bill asked us what we did today.  After a bit Landon said, "Well, yeah, Dad.  You know it is Monday.  It was Laundry Day." as if that was the sum total answer to explain it all.  Predictable productivity to kickstart our week.

Thanks, LaDonna. I've never met you, and yet, I owe you.
My free-wheelin', random girl really needs A Plan sometimes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Houdini-Monkey Baby

I hear a terrible clatter down the stairs.  I race toward them, dreading to find my one-year-old at the bottom of the landing.  Instead, he is staring at the baby gate with a stunned look on his face.  The baby gate that, at 15 months old he somehow figured out how to disconnect entirely from its sockets and send flying down the stairs like a webbed sled of doom.

Who does that?  Who is this Houdini-Monkey baby who makes me crazy when he isn't charming me?  And I'll be honest, sometimes even the charm wears a little thin when the perilous things he does make me count hours til nap time or bedtime.  Not because I don't love him.  Of course I do.  You would love him too, if you met him.  He's a lovable spitfire of spazzy, laughing wonder.  It's because my love mixes with worry and wears me out.

I went to the office for one minute and thirty seconds.  I heard stomping and came out to find this:

That's Micah doing a rain dance on TOP of the kitchen table.  Chomping on a gigantic binder clip and laughing like he was at a comedy show.  I've known my firstborn for almost five years and not one single time has he ever danced on top of the kitchen table.  Micah is just past one, and already he is getting a track record for the unprecedented things he comes up with.  I feel like I need unprecedented mom skills to keep up with him.

The other day my friend called me quite concerned, returning a cryptic text that said, "Call me as soon as you get this. S"  He asked, "Do you normally refer to yourself as 'S' in texts?"  I didn't send you any urgent text, I told him.  It took me a long time to figure out that Micah must have navigated to a menu with prewritten text choices and actually managed to send one.  It happened at 1:30 during the ten minutes I gave him my phone at a museum because he was squawking like somone was biting him. I pacified Micah with a bit of forbidden technology and what?  He sends rescue-me text messages like we're holding him hostage?!  Tricky, that one.  Very tricky.

I think Micah might be a better 4th child than a second.  I think if he were a 4th I'd have older kids to help me keep an eye on him, my nerves would be steelier and my skills would be madder.  As it is, I feel like I'm toe-to-toe with a contender.  Small, but mighty.  And sometimes he wriggles his way to victory and I'm left kinda helplessly trying not to cry, sigh or lock myself in the bathroom.

Today, I felt the most profound gratitude that he is still in a crib that he hasn't figured out how to escape.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Food Equals Love

Food equals love in my world.
Before you suggest a good therapist, let me explain. 
Umm....Food equals love.

Just kidding!  I realized as I was about to try to explain that it all seemed so self-evident; what could I possibly need to explain?  But then, believing that something is glaringly obvious is usually the first hint that it may be an opinion deeply particular to yourself.

So I'll try.
When people put thought, effort and energy into planning, preparing, and presenting food (of almost any caliber) I see it as an act of love.  When I eat food prepared by people I know, I feel a little bit more loved by them.

So when my dad prepared food to feed 50 for any party over 5, we all could eat from the bounty of his generous heart.  And when my mom got into "food ruts" and we enjoyed chicken burritos or stir-fried mixes from the red wok every week for three months in a row, we could all eat from the well of her deep love.  Food like that says, my love may not be fancy, but it will be here. Every week. In repeating themes. When my Aunt puts as much care into the way the table looks, with coordinating dishes and napkins, setting plated visions of beauty worthy of five stars, her food says, I honor each of you with royal treatment because my love finds you worthy.  This day, this family, this moment is worth my love and attention because some things are just meant to be special. My love celebrates you. When people send me food after babies, during grief, when I'm sick, we eat each bite in overwhelming grattitude, tasting the message, "Whatever it is, may this food give you comfort and strength.  We love you." 

Sometimes love tastes like a vegetarian pizza from Papa Murphy's that your sister has waiting for you when you get home from the doctors.  Sometimes it looks like the last bit of dessert that your husband left for you without being asked.  Sometimes love smells like breakfast being cooked while you get to stay in bed.  Sometimes it's the way fresh basil from your in-laws' garden elevates the deliciousness of everything you add it to.   

Holidays come around and we look for familiar favorites on the menu. Why? Because the memory of this special food, served with joy each year on these special days, is like singing the chorus to the song of our food stories.  Our food stories that tell the story of our lives and of our love.  All mixed up together in ways that I don't easily separate.

So yes, I know love is love in my world. 
I'm just saying that sometimes, it also looks, smells and tastes an awful lot like food.

Seat Belts

If I could stand on a street corner and pass out free gifts, I know just what I'd like to give.  If metaphors were ours for the asking, morphing into the reality they represent, then here's what I'd want my pen to purchase:

a seatbelt.

The girl who wrote In Defense of a Dangerous Childhood almost a year ago to the day, is now seeking a metaphorical seatbelt?

Yes.  Yes, I am.

And here's why:

No matter how you're travelin', at some point along the journey, the trip is going to get bumpy.  Treacherous.  Uncertain.  Mine has.  Maybe yours has already, too.  And as much as we may feel inclined to jump ship/car/train/rocket or whatever other mode you compare your vehicle to,

life is the journey with no exits until it's over.  So while it's awesome may I encourage you to say wheee!  Sit at the front of the coaster with the wind in your hair. Live and cherish and breathe and make the memories you're going to need later.

And when life is completely wrong  and messed up and crumbly and confusing, may I encourage you to still sit in that front row?  Feel the rain in your face, mixed up with the tears, and live and breathe and look for ways to be grateful and slow down and endure the ride.

So whether you are in a season to endure or enjoy, in either case, with a seatbelt fastened, you won't hit your head so hard that you completely lose your mind.

So what's a metaphorical seatbelt, anyway?  How do we stay anchored in reality while we live the ride?

Ahh, my friends.  I'm sure for different people it is different things.  Mine is really one simple sentence.
Be still and know that I am God.

Spoken by God.  Not me.  I'm nothing.  I'm a bit of star dust housing a soul that's hurtling through space and time awaiting the day I'm released from both.

But I'll wear this seatbelt. Cinch it back on every day if I have to.  Because it's a beautiful, terrible ride.

Monday, March 3, 2014

If You Call my Kid 'Suckah' He Will Beat You Up

Today at the park Landon joined a group of kids playing tag. At four, he was at least one year younger than everyone else. The oldest was 11.  At the outset I could see that he was outmatched, but either he didn't realize it or didn't care, and joined in with gusto.  They weren't the sweetest kids we've ever encountered as the game was peppered with with the kind of a singsong bantering that wasn't cruel, but wouldn't be fun in my book.  It just put a focused look on his face and a speed in his foot as he poured all his effort into catching someone, anyone.

Do I intercede?  Do I risk undermining his sense of competence by telling them it isn't fair to make the youngest one be it  For.the.whole.game?  Do I ask them to stop pseudo-taunting him?  I decided to let it play out a little longer because I could see that Landon believed he could catch one of these kids and was really focused on trying.

And then he did.  "Tag, You're It!" he yelled in triumph.  But the kid didn't stop running or acknowledge him. So Landon tagged him again.  As the kid kept running as though nothing happened, Landon put in a final burst of speed and tagged him one last time.  Only this time, the extra effort turned that last frustrated tag into more of a shove and the kid fell down.

He starting bawling and ran over to his mom (who hadn't seen any of it).
He crawled into her lap and she began to rock and soothe him.

By an unspoken code that if you cause another kid to cry you must apologize, I asked Landon to apologize.  I told the mom, "They were playing tag." thinking the sentence would be an obvious and concise explanation.  "He didn't mean to push him."

"Man," she said pointedly to the mom sitting beside her, "My kid got beat up yesterday at the park, too!"

Ummm, what?  What is she talking about?

"It's just a little bruise," she said.  What bruise?  What is she talking about?

The oldest girl pipes up, "Yeah!  He PUSHED him!"

Yes.  Yes, in fact he did.  Because that older, faster kid was cheating.  Maybe saying, "Yeah little guy, show us what you got!  Come and get me suckah." didn't foster all sorts of gentle feelings toward you.  Maybe the little guy showed you what he's got: a little fire in his gut and an unwillingness to be made to feel less.

As soon as the tables were turned you went running to your mom who claims you were "beat up."
While playing a game of tag against a four-year-old.

I don't belong in this world.
I don't understand these people.

I waver between feeling ok and feeling like a maverick, second-guessing myself at every turn and seeing my world through someone else's truth.

Like wearing someone else's glasses, it just makes everything a little fuzzy.

As we were driving home I asked Landon if he had fun.

"Yeah, I did, Mom.  They thought I was so little and couldn't do anything.  But, Mom?  Do you know this?  I did tag one of them."

Yes, little spitfire of a boy.  Yes you did.

And yes, we covered the concept that pushing on a playground (even by accident) is not a good idea.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What Must Be Acknowledged

You may not realize it, but librarians are "professionally trained" to avoid unsolicited comments on your books.  As in, it's considered bad form to remark in a personal way about your selections, no matter how much we want to squeal that we loved that book you chose and just-you-wait-til-the-end-it-will-blow-your-mind, or to ask you how your recovery is going from this, that or the other if you check out a book about it.

Intellectually, I understand this concept and generally follow it.

Sometimes though, my heart speaks up, and while I feel a twinge of professional guilt, I'm not sorry to bend this guideline once in a while.  Because I am dealing with people here-not an Amazon order that gets delivered in a bland manilla envelope after being "handpicked" by a souless machine in a cavernous warehouse.  A person stands before me, and even with the option to avail themselves of self-check (and thus greater privacy) they still have chosen to set a stack of books before me for checkout.

I don't pretend to believe that this act, by itself, is an invitation to converse about said stack.

But sometimes, it is.  Experience has taught me the difference.

A while ago it was a gentleman with a stack of books about grief, funerals and eulogies.  I checked out his books and paused with my hand on top of the pile.  "I want to tell you that I'm so very sorry that these are the books you are checking out today.  I'm sorry you have any need of them."

He looks up and straight into my eyes.  He's a little startled, I can tell, but he says carefully, "Thank you so much for acknowledging that.  My family and I are a mess.  But we will get through this.  Thank you for saying something."

I never say "You're welcome," to that kind of thanks. My voice is always cracked up somewhere in the back of my throat and I can't trust it.

Today I have want of a similar stack.  I'd want books if they could cushion the battering my heart has taken.  If a stranger acknowledged my pain with the slightest gesture, I might be a little startled, too.

But we are all members of the same small tribe on this tiny planet in unfathomable space. We must observe and acknowledge each other.  Our stories may be the faintest whispers in the universe, but if we lean in closely enough, we can hear them.  If we can hear them, we can treasure them. And in this way, we are held.  First by each other, and then by God, who gave us the ears in the first place and tunes them for a whisper.

May I not miss the whispers.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

These are the Conversations that I Love

Both of these exchanges happened today with Landon.  They go in that, "The World According to Landon" file that I like to add little stories to because I know if I don't write them down, I probably won't even remember them next month....and I'd really like to.


"Mom, do you know what is Russian War?"

What piece of current events has Landon been inadvertantly exposed to now?  And how did that happen?

"Well, buddy...." I trail off, because I don't really want to give details to something as dark and confusing as war. "What do you think it is?"  It's an old standby, but sometimes it helps to gauge where he's really at before I pull out my verbal textbook.

"A mountain.  Carved with presidents in the rock.  Do you know this?"

It turns out Landon merely wanted to find out if I knew about Mt. Rushmore.  Not a Russian War.

Smiles and relief all around.

"Yes, buddy, I do know that about Mt. Rushmore.  I'm glad you know it, too."


I have recently decided that the Tooth Fairy will get to spread her joy around here when the time comes. Landon very rarely, if ever, goes in for flights of fancy. (He's the one who told ME (very gently) that Santa Claus was not real)  He is a lover of "true-fact" books and reality is in very sharp focus for him.  I've mentioned how anytime we pretend anything together he frequently stops to remind me, "just for tends, Mom."

So when he asked me today if the tooth fairy was real, I told him he should just wait and find out. He didn't seem convinced, but wasn't going to push it.

I pulled out one of his library books from the basket.  It was called Put Screws to the Test and showed a man using a large screw to drill a hole in an icy lake.

Trying to be funny I said, "I think this man is using this screw to find one of his lost teeth to give to the Tooth Fairy."    And I was rewarded because he laughed.

"That's not true, Mom," he predictably replied.  "Grown-ups don't lose teeth."

And then I laughed.  Maybe the Tooth Fairy has a chance around here after all.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Epic Surprise

I am not often surprised by Bill.

It's not his style, I guess.  Since I don't revel in surprises, I don't miss their absence in our relationship.

When a surprise does come along, it takes on an epic, legend quality that I can feel, even at the time.

Like the time my husband walked into the car dealership and bought our family a car that very day.

Oh, wait. That was just last week.  See how it already has the feel of a tale?

So that is how I shall tell it:

Once there was a girl who didn't like to shop.  For anything.  Ever.  Oh sure, there was a garage sale mood, a thrift store mood, or a used bookstore mood that struck once in a blue moon, but with the addition of two kids who found even that kind of treasure seeking completely boring, the whole enterprise had lost all appeal.

She married an analytical consumer who liked to research before he shopped.  The poor man would try to share his enthusiasm for the details of said research before bed, but was met with (at best) courteous quiet while he talked or (at worst) a glassy eyed stare as he clicked through lovely websites on his tablet.

But the analytical consumer did not lose heart. He did his homework. He arranged their finances. He talked to buyers. He read about sellers. And he settled on a vehicle that he thought was the right fit for his family.

On the day they went to test drive it, he didn't even bring his checkbook.  They were not buying a car.  They were investigating cars.  To his nonshopping wife, they were out lining up invisible ducks that needed to be in a row before any decisions would be made.

Surprisingly, those ducks lined up faster than they anticipated and they found themselves beginning to hope that they could do this thing.

The analytical researcher got in the ring and began negotiations for a price much lower than they hoped to pay.  When the manager came out to deliver the bad news of "no dice," to her husband, he hesitated for just a moment.

"I know you," his wife said. "That is the number you have in your head and if you walk out of here paying anything else you are going to regret it."

The dancing deal went on.  The sales manager went back to his fish bowl office. Who was he calling? His wife? His brother? In fact the General Manager who lives in Oz and approves these deals?  We never find out.  But after the final round he brought out the paperwork that listed everything the analytical consumer wanted, and not a penny more.

"We cannot pay anything tonight.  We didn't even bring a checkbook," her husband admits.

And then my favorite line of the whole tale:

"That's ok.  With a credit score like yours, your word is golden.  Bring the check by at your convenience."

I sit a little stunned.  We will be driving off with a shiny new car without paying them one penny?  Because my husband's word is golden?!

We are not wealthy people.  Bill is a teacher and I sub for a library district.  We're not going to pretend that replacing our 14-year-old wheezer of a car is not a big deal for us.  We won't deny that we have been saving for new wheels for years, have been budgeting for this day, and that one of us has considered the decision from every angle before we ever stepped foot in this place.  The fact remains that adding a car payment will require careful attention to a budget that already runs rather precisely.

All that aside, at that moment I felt extraordinarily rich.

To be married to a man whose very word is golden.  A man who responsibly manages all his affairs so that he has built a reputation for trustworthiness.

When they bring our lovely red chariot around I name her Ruby Valentine, in honor of the day we bought her, February 14.  It would be such a cliche if either of us had seen it coming.

But in fact, Bill has truly, generously, enormously surprised me.
(and maybe himself just a little, too)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Second Born

Oh my sweet second born
Can we celebrate you in a different way?

Countless pictures
A journal filled with excrutiating detail of every milestone
Professional portraits
Handprints and Footprints pressed into clay

Those were the birthright of the firstborn
The lavish, loving attention we had for the baby who turned our world upside down
We three sat under our newly created dome called Family and couldn't stop gazing at each other

You arrive
Dreamed of, anticipated, longed for, welcomed

And you turn our world upside down.
We four sit in a boat called Family and we paddle madly to keep afloat
We rock you to sleep even as you rock the boat
Everyone settles anew

As a brother
As a mother
As a father of sons--

Who will tell your story? What will I say when you ask when you first rolled over, sat up, crawled and ate solids?
My answers won't be sure.

But I will tell of how you woke laughing. How you bounced in rhythm with African drums before you could even walk.

How you rolled and crawled and climbed and walked with a speed and fearlessness that required a relaxing on my part.  I cannot hold you as close; you are my crocodile thrashing to do the next thing, to be, to become, to explore, to move on.

I will tell of how you went to bed laughing. Giggling under your knit blanket, pushing your fingers through the holes because you love texture.

I will tell of how you were our happy bird.  Singing when we sing, whispering when we whisper, laughing when we laugh, and not yet saying a word.

Except, "Wow."

And you are that to us, sweet second born.
One long and continuous wow.
That you are ours. That you are you. That you are such joy. That you are growing so fast and changing so much.
We say wow.

We may not be creating a documentary of your life, collecting a museum's worth of precious artifacts and a gallery's worth of perfect portraits,

But we celebrate you.

Parented with less pressure
Less scrutiny, more patience
You get more freedom
And less lonely.
Arriving with a first friend already waiting for you

This is your birthright as the second
To be a dream-come-true for three
Instead of two

The novelty of being rookie parents has worn off long ago.
The wonder of you will never fade.

Oh my sweet second born,
We celebrate you in a different way.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Slings and Arrows

 My husband may call himself a practical realist.  On a bad day I may call him a pessimist: a tendency to see the hole, the missing, the lack, the undone.

The truth is, he sees those things with an eye to fill, to replace, to provide, to complete. He makes a mental note of them (frequently aloud) and is often completely baffled when my insecure side takes his noticing as a personal criticism.

But it can be a vicious cycle. He wants to keep track of the things that need keeping track of. I don't want to be invited into his mental to-do list when my own (shorter) one seems overwhelming enough. He shows his love by being conscientious and vigilant.  I feel his love when he drops everything and puts people ahead of tasks.  He puts people first by doing the behind-the-scenes tasks.   

After hosting a recent game night at our house when I had finally figured out how to fit the clean-up into one night (instead of letting half of it spill into the next morning because the dishwasher was full), I was overly pleased and proud of myself.  We've done it!  Well done, Team Brown. We can get up tomorrow to this sparkly loveliness and be inspired for the new day.  

Bill's happy, of course.  He has helped with the clean-up and deserves to feel  proud, too. But instead of sharing my effusive self-congratulations, he offhandedly says, "Man. This floor. It is really taking a beating."

Every surface of our kitchen looks like it is getting ready for an open house tomorrow and he has his head down looking at the floor. I perceive this casual, uncalculating observation on his part as a flaming arrow of criticism and discontent. It wouldn't lead to a quarrel if it made sense.  (Just so you know that I don't think I should be taking his comments that way, or even letting them push the pendulum so hard.)  

Something inside me breaks.  Out come the "fighting" words we were warned about in premarital counseling: "You never," "You always," "I'm sick of,"

And the second half of each of those sentences feel like the most true, valid, and pertinent points of the evening.  Even when he wants to explain.  No.  I've got this verbal barrage going and it may be on semiautomatic. It's like an old magazine of ammo we should have dealt with years ago, but seems to keep getting refired when we least expect it. Unkindness shoots both ways. 

Do you ever find yourself here?  One minute you are both fine and happy, and less than ten later you are both feeling like you'd rather crawl away and nurse a few wounds?

It's a horrible feeling.  We can find solidarity to face "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," but it's a lonely night when the slings and arrows are from ourselves.

But like I told you, my husband is a practical realist.  So when the drama-emotional-hyperbolic side of my brain starts to take over and I fear that the chasm our unkindness has created may be an uncrossable divide, it will be he who calmly says, "We're going to get through this.  We can make it.  We've got work to do, but don't give up on me.  I'm not giving up on you.  Because you're still my Jode, and there's nobody else I'd rather do this with."

Marriage: it is a beautiful gift, a sacred union, a comfort and a joy.  It is also sometimes a bitter struggle, a painful humbling, a sharp reminder of the worst parts of ourselves we want to conceal, and the most demanding work we voluntarily sign up for.

In the end, I'm willing to keep at it.  I keep asking for God's help. I keep muddling through and on.  Because he's still my Bill and there's nobody else I'd rather do this with.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Reading Twin

We showed up to work wearing the same outfit, right down to the silver necklaces with teardrop pendants.  We had our own clothes, but chose all the layers and colors exactly the same.  We were even both reusing a venti Starbucks cup.

Two library girls with a matching sense of "style."

Ast it turns out, we really like Sense and Sensibility, both the movie and the book.  We love Emma Thompson and admire her many talents.  She likes Hugh Grant; I'm not a big fan.

"I like Hugh Grant, but I don't really think he worked for that role with Emma Thompson.  It never really seemed like the right match," she went on to clarify.

"EXACTLY!" I can easily forgive her liking Hugh for making an observation I have felt all along and not ever articulated.

"You know who I think she is a better match with?  That other guy in the movie who dumped her sister.  HE seems like the one she should have been with...not that character in the movie, of course.  Just someone like that guy," I tell her, in a mood to have opinions about people I don't know.
"EXACTLY!" she echoes with the same enthusiasm I showed her observation.

She looks him up to recall what he looks like.

Turns out, he's married to Emma Thompson.

Whoah, it's not often my random musings are *right*.  I think we both gained a notch more respect for the other's opinion for that one.

So we add a little stack of opinions to the table, each of us laying them down in rapid succession like two kids playing war: happy when they matched even if it meant having to concede a bunch of other points. Just like the card game looks pointless and boring to anyone watching, but is actually quite engaging to the players, that's how this conversation feels. I sense an outsider would wonder why we are talking about these people and plots like they are real.

I'm listening to an audiobook I will have to abandon because it isn't keeping my interest.  I've read stronger books in this genre (Cory Doctorow's For the Win and Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, for example.) She looked at me with a little shock.

"You liked For the Win?  ME TOO.  And I loved Ready Player One.  So much!"
"But you like Sense and Sensibility."
"I know.  But I really liked those books, too."

I never would have pegged her as a Doctorow fan. His work and themes are about as far from Jane Austen as a reader could get.  I wonder if I seem as unlikely.

When I ask for audiobook suggestions for my drive home, we discover that we literally like ALL the same authors.  She is reading Ann Patchett's latest.  I have it on hold to get the next available copy.  Every author, every title, in any genre.

It was the most uncanny resonance. "At this point," I finally conceded,  "I will take anything you suggest."

My opinion cards had all been played.  She matched on every one.  She ended up taking the whole game and title as my Reading Twin.

Who just happens to dress like I do, too.

Fun, but kinda weird, right?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Footnotes of Our Story

I don't remember when the notes started.  But somewhere along the way, Bill started leaving me notes.  Post-its, random scraps, torn pieces from a daytimer...little notes.  I find them on the mirror, on the kitchen counter, taped to my alarm clock, his love in writing to be discovered before the day can let me forget.

We are word people.  This is our language.

They are small, and the themes are simple and repetitive, but these little squares quilt my heart and keep the cold and lonely away.

Tonight Landon brought out a lovely latched basket that I had not noticed was missing.  Inside was a package he had wrapped with two colors of construction paper and twice as much tape.

"I made this for you," he said to Bill.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It's for you."

Bill peeled back the outer layer.  A white paper emerged.  In fact, there was nothing but paper.  Scraps Landon had cut and "written" on.  A heart with more tape and writing.  And his main attraction, a full sheet covered with letters from an alphabet stencil.

"What does it say?" Bill asked.

"It's love.  It's loving words.  It's a note I wrote for you and it says I love you and we can go to a theater together."

Bill and I share one of those glances that say more than it's worth trying to express aloud.
My eyes get glassy and my throat gets tight.

We are word people.
This is our oldest son learning our language.

My heart is so full, I find I must write it all down while I can still remember it.  Just.like.this.

Even as I type, a few aisles in every grocery store have exploded with red and pink, candy and cards.  There's a day on the calendar marked to express and share love, in all its preference for red and pink, candy and cards.   And the day may pass at the Brown house with nobody remembering to mention it at all.

Just as you can't create an entire beautiful quilt in a day, our love is grown in small bits-
one post-it, one calendar scrap, one construction-paper-wrapped collection of words at a time.