My baby again


Some parenting moments are bliss. Some include intense pain. Most are drudgery and frustration tinted with laughter. There’s sometimes just the teeniest bit of yelling. Occasionally.

But some moments make you stop.

I didn’t see my son fall and break his arm. I didn’t get a terrifying phone call. I just picked him up from school and talked with him about the best and worst of the day just like we did any other day. The seventeenth or eighteenth thing he told me on the walk home was that his arm hurt.

Easy, as broken arms go. And so we didn’t handle any of it like a trauma. Time didn’t stop. The day didn’t really seem different (except the long wait for an x-ray), the school year finished without further incident, and summer began pretty much as usual.

But today the cast came off. And my eldest baby’s tiny little arm emerged from the green fiberglass weak and vulnerable. He said the air hurt and he was scared to touch anything. So I tried to hold his hand. But that hurt, he said. So I kept a respectable distance even though it killed me.

We were escorted toward the examining room, but he seemed hesitant. So I told the nurse we were going to wash his arm before we saw the doctor. We slipped into the orthopedic department’s bathroom.

I have not, since my boys were babies, been so careful with the water temperature as I was with this peeling, pasty, dirt-bracketed arm. And not since he was brand new have I so gently washed him. I wanted to scrub off three weeks’ of unshed skin cells, rub off the grime that had accumulated around his little thumb.

Instead, I carefully removed his elementary-school filth and restored, for one moment, a time in which he completely trusted me. Without making him feel scrubbed. Or small. I got to remember how much time dissolves into genuine care. And he got pure nurturing without feeling little.

Today’s arm-rebirth was sweeter than the quiet Scrabble sessions we have while his brother is at preschool. It was calmer than his lethargic fever days when he sleeps fitfully until he rests on my shoulder and is then out for hours cuddled against me.

Today time stopped so at least one limb of my seven-year-old could be a newborn again.

But this time we already knew and understood each other, so the moment seemed even more sweet and tender.

Maybe because I know now that we might not have more episodes of naked vulnerability.

With a newborn, you expect them to need you for a while.

Seven years later, I’m not sure if I’ll get any more moments like this.




Issues little and big

Week Two with a foreign exchange student was challenging. We’re settling into patterns, some good and some not so good. Our new friend is still excited to be here and is still marveling at things we take for granted, such as cars stopping at stop signs.

I’m still marveling at Spouse’s willingness to let me walk smack into a situation that does not suit me at all. I know full well that I’m dumb enough kind enough to offer our home to a stranger based on the recommendation of a good friend and the reassurance that it would be an amazing opportunity. But you’d think he would have, perhaps, guided me another way.

Well we have ourselves an opportunity and a half, right here in our house all summer.

And we only get out of it what we put in. So after reminding our guest for the fourth or fifth time that she really, really has to lock the doors, especially when she leaves the house, after giving in and letting her have all the white-bread-and-ketchup sandwiches she wants, and after deciding not to tell her about water conservation and drought in California, we found an evening on which to really connect.

As usual, I made a relatively plain meal. Well-seasoned lentils, israeli couscous with feta and olives, watermelon, and raw bell pepper. And she found it horrible, even after adding what I think might have been a quarter cup of salt. She went to her room to try on one after another of her outfits and to ask if they looked okay. In the lull after the nightly fashion show I read a blog post from my friend about how cancer is eating away his perspective and how he’s fighting to be present with his family.

So when Rosí came into the kitchen, instead of working, as I needed to, I joined her. And told her I have a friend who’s fighting cancer and has been for three years. She, in turn, told me about her grandfather, whose prostate cancer was misdiagnosed repeatedly even as her mother kept saying, “This is not right. Get another doctor.” The grandfather died two years later. We talked about cancer and about death. About how there are quite a few bad ways to go. She talked about HIV and the relative who died from complications from HIV-related conditions.

I mentioned that there was some hope with HIV as treatments are improving.

“Not in my country.” She told me that in the Dominican Republic the treatments were making almost no difference because successful HIV treatment requires, as she said, “paying attention and being willing to care about health.” That, she said, was not the way in her country.

She talked of the high cost of HIV medications. And of most life-saving medications. She talked of pervasive alcoholism in the DR. [World Health Organization stats suggest that her perspective is skewed by her town.] She said that in her neighborhood, many children walked the streets without shoes, without school, and without enough food because their parents drank what little money they had.

“So does it seem hopeless,” I asked, “with, as you say, many people using alcohol, and many people taking advantage of honest people by stealing and cheating?”

“No. You can never lose hope. My mother does not have a lot,” she said. “But she always made sure we have food and we go to school. No money for clothes? Maybe. But money for food. And she does it honestly. She doesn’t have a formal job but she does everything she can to earn money honestly. If we’re sick? Go to school. Not if we’re really ill, of course. But if we don’t feel well? Too bad. Go to school.”

“She knows what’s important.”


I asked if it was hard to be honest and struggle when some give up and either drink or steal. It seems that is the struggle in many of the poorest parts of our country, as well.

“There is no choice,” she said. “There is no excuse for being dishonest. There is no reason. If you try hard, there is enough for food and school. Not for extras. But for food and school.”

As expected, I felt terrible about how we spend our money. I tell the kids we use money for food and shelter and heat and school and not for extras, but they have enough toys to say otherwise. And we have treats and new books and expensive coffee. I knew that guilt would come during our summer as American hosts.

But Rosí’s reminder about what’s really important brought me out of my deep sadness about my friend. People everywhere are struggling. Really struggling. He’s fighting with everything he has to make sure his family is loved. Rosí’s mom is sacrificing to ensure that her children have the necessities. They’re doing…we’re all doing…what it really takes to be good people.

Make sure kids are fed and educated. And loved.
Make sure family and friends know they’re important.
Lead by example an honest, hard-working, and purpose-filled life.
And give to others everything you can.

Well, then.

Take that, summer inconvenience.



Shake things up

I posted a couple of weeks ago about being overwhelmed and not knowing which sources of stress were worth the anxiety and which needed to be jettisoned.

And I have a few remedies to share, in case you, too, have those days when there is just too much to do. When you have to choose between blinking and breathing, try these:

1. Visit a wise relative. I spend a morning with my grandma and felt refreshed. At one point in a conversation about a neighbor, she said, “You know. the whirlwind of small children is a blink in the span of your life. It feels really big, but it’s just a blink.” She’s wrong, of course, because having small kids for ten years or so amounts to more than 10% of your adult life, no matter how long you live. But the fact that she remembered at her age how challenging the frenetic under-five set is, that she’s seen several generations go through that, and that she didn’t warn me about how much harder teens are all sufficiently reassured me. That people get through this. That it’s not as big as it feels. That things change, every day. And that someday all this 80mph will be a memory.

Perspective offers a long-lasting respite.

2. Meet a friend. In the past week I met, face to face, with four different people—by choice—whose company I enjoy. Drank coffee, watched laugh lines, marveled at grey hairs that weren’t there the last visit. It’s a rather impressive phase of life in which to have good friends you’ve known for a while. My friends are getting older, and in the process honing a more condensed version of the person I’ve always known. A lot of the chaff falls away in your 40s. My friends are ditching the bullshit. They’re glimpsing mortality and deciding what they want to do with their lives. They’re caring for older parents and they’re caring for kids. And they’re still smiling and listening to new music and seeing art exhibits and writing short stories. You can get information, but you can’t get full sensory pictures from email or phone calls or blogs. Go watch a friend’s face while they tell you a story. Really watch them. The process is compelling.

Friendship provides a salve.

3. Change your music. I am, by nature, a creature of ruts. Not just habits. Deep, well-worn grooves. I used to listen to a tape on a loop for weeks without cease. (Hey, that was fancy in my day…tape decks that offered continuous play changed my life. Don’t go on and on about your MP3 playlist. When things are important, you sit with the tape recorder by the radio and you push pause before you hit record and play so that when the song finally comes on the air you can catch it without the sudden sounds of stops and starts by just releasing the pause button. And then to play the whole thing on a loop? Technological nirvana.) I once went three months without changing the tape. That’s some serious dedication (and change aversion, but that’s another story for another post). I do it with foods, too: eat the same foods for weeks at a time until I can’t stand to see them anymore. But feeling panic at being overwhelmed and having too much to do and being paralyzed with stress does not benefit from ruts. Sometimes releasing the valve on the pressure means getting some air in there and shifting the contents. (Not, for heaven’s sake, like the scene in Just One of the Guys. Playlists don’t itch.)

Music informs mood and alters rhythms.

4. Change your food. As mentioned again, I default to habits. Pressed for time and energy, I tend to default to what’s worked before. The same veggies, the same fruit, the same protein courses over and over. Lentil-bulgur burgers. Scrambled eggs with cheese. Bean stew. Stir fry tofu and udon. Pasta. Burritos. Goat-cheese-flatbread rollups. Salad. Peanut butter on apples. Pancake sandwiches. Eggs and cheese in rice. Al prepared with kids fighting around me, as quickly as possible, with stress pressing me to move quickly, efficiently, and without genuine engagement.

So I went to the fancy grocery and found a few small ways to bring adventure to a process that was wearing me down.



Dragonfruit cut and lifted off peel

Dragonfruit cut and lifted off peel

Star fruit

Star fruit



I quickly cut and arranged the fruit on a plate. Then I made a typical dinner. And we had adventure night. We all sniffed and tasted the fruit, compared notes. We talked, we used our senses, and we spent at least five minutes present, aware, and engaged. Together. And ate our so-called boring, expected, normal dinner with a sense of newness.

Adventure engages all your senses.

Adding a knowing grandmother, several good friends, some new music, and dragonfruit to my week, I felt as though things had really changed. Spring cleaning for the rut of stress and fluster. I’ve begun to remember that life is pretty manageable. That we’re lucky and that it doesn’t take a week in the tropics to feel as though we’ve restarted. That sleep is important and so is art and writing and family and food and exercise. And that a little taste of each whenever I can get them is what my current reality. Little bites of adventure, little efforts at balancing and exploring and listening and smiling are exactly what will fit right now.

And that’s pretty adventurous for me.

This week at Naptime

I’m trying desperately to focus on client work before a trip to the center of the sun…I mean Georgia…this week.

Cat One keeps searching the house for the recently deceased Cat Two. It’s heartbreaking.

Butter is delightful. Peanut is so much more interesting now that I’m trying not to control him all the time. Spouse is many things to many people and I don’t blog about grown-ups here unless ranting about the most dreadful amongst us, so I’m not enumerating any of his qualities, delightful or not.

And the days still go by blindingly fast, with nothing “done” and so much experienced. When I focus on what I’ve seen and felt, I love this year. When I focus on what I’ve accomplished I’m crushingly depressed. Guess I have to flip a major U-turn in how I’ve always gauged my life, because the “what I’ve done today” and “how far the projects have progressed” lists have always colored my sense of self.

Must redefine to survive.

Reality Check

Quote of the week:

“Everything you think, say, and do either helps or hurts. Leads you where you want to be or takes you off your path. Contributes to the family or tears it down. Everything either benefits or compromises you, the ones you love, and the entire Universe.”

Well, gee, that’s not putting too much pressure on our choices. Now I have to actually think about what I put in my mouth, what comes out of my mouth, how I react, and what I choose every moment of my day.

I guess I’ll start taking deep breaths and long drinks of water before every blink.

Like I didn’t have enough to do this week.

the little things

things I deeply appreciate this week:

babies who laugh in their sleep
babies who sometimes *do* sleep
people who cook me food
people who wash my dishes
people who do my laundry
peri bottles
central heating
indoor plumbing
rocking chairs
helpful four-year-olds
fresh sheets
understanding clients
thoughtful friends
intense four-year-olds who are trying their best
rechargeable toy batteries
Moses baskets

things I could really do without right now:
grouchy people
people who snap at me
nighttime flop sweats
The Part About The Crimes
advice to let a two-week old cry instead of “over” nursing
intense four-year olds who need to test limits
leaf blowers

My new philosophy

In order to connect with my inner child and to empathize with my son, I will behave like a three year old for the next month or so.

From now on, when frustrated, I’m going to scream at the top of my lungs and throw things. The volume and number of items thrown will be inversely proportional to the adult-perceived importance of the incident. If my shoes won’t work I’ll shriek and fling them. If my toys won’t work I’ll scream and throw everything within my grasp, hoping to break something. If the car won’t work when I’m late for something important, I’ll whine a bit but get over it quickly.

This month, if I see something really disgusting in the gutter, I’ll pick it up. And if it seems particularly dirty, I’ll try to put it in my mouth.

From here on out, if someone looks at me sideways, I will hit them.

Food will be used primarily for wiping on my shirt and on my parents.

For as long as I can, I will whine for other people to do everything for me. If someone won’t blow my nose within 0.2 seconds of my asking, I will scream until the snot comes out through my ears.

As much as possible, I will wait until something important is happening, either in a conversation, at a gathering, or at home, and will shriek “Listen to me!!” even if people already are.

I will choose 6am as the time for ringing my scooter bell incessantly.

If someone suggests I bathe, wash my hands, or brush my teeth, I will throw myself, writhing, to the floor. If they try to help me, I will scream until their eardrums rupture. If they don’t help me when I can’t do it, I will scream until their eardrums rupture. If they suggest that basic hygiene is necessary for inclusion in American society, I will kick them.

If anyone threatens my desire to have brownies for every meal, I will kick them, too.

Whenever someone else looks away, I will make a beeline for the last thing they forbade me to do, and I will touch it. A lot. And probably lick it. Because I can.

For the length of this social experiment, if anyone states that I may not wear my jammies every day until the end of time, I will writhe and flail about impotently as I whine that I don’t want to wear clothes. Ever.

If anyone dares use the telephone or computer while I am awake, I will break either their technology, their favorite knickknack, or their eardrums.

I will wear a jacket and rain boots when it is 90 degrees. If things cool off to, say, 50 degrees, I will don shorts and flip flops.

All of these behaviors are subject to change if anyone, and I mean anyone, figures them out. At that point, I reserve the right to do whatever obstructionist, violent, vocal, or illogical behavior necessary to get people out of my way. Unless I need them. Then I will use whatever technique necessary to get them to do my bidding.

There are days…

Oh, boy, here comes my most boringest post ever. But if they still don’t like me, boring or funny, serious or ruefully tongue in cheek, then f— ’em, right? Okay, then, here goes:

There are just days like this. When I’m up late worrying or grousing or fretting or frenetically doing, and when I wake up slowly and painfully at the ungodly hour my kid demands (and he read in his bed for an hour before dragging me into the kitchen today, so yay four hours instead of three).

Today’s one of those days. And we can’t go anywhere because they’re ripping out a window in Peanut’s room and making it much bigger so it’ll meet fire code. Yay fire safety.

So I made a huge pot of play dough, and we’re going to town. Because all those things I worried about last night—all those people I wanted to excise from my life—they don’t matter. This little whirlwind of learning and growing does.

Plus he kisses me when he’s been rude, which is more than I can say for the rest of the planet.**

in a big pot stir:
4 C flour
1/2 C salt
1/2 C cream of tartar
then add
4T oil
4 C water

Cook on low/medium until it’s not sticky.

**You’re damned right. I just got all perspective-y then posted a playdough recipe. I’ve gone soft in the head. So? Ya wanna fight?

highlights of my year

You know why I love KBG? Because she is the best mom I know and makes it look absolutely effortless to find a loving balance. Not sure how she does it but I want to watch a lot.

You know why I love MPG? Because he’s so earnest and thoughtful and intense and silly all at the same time.

You know why I love KFRD? Because she’s always, always, always there, for the little stuff and the important stuff. Just shadow-like.

You know why I love HRH? Because when he’s good he’s very, very good, and when he’s bad he’s horrid.

You know why I love JDG? Because she’s way cooler than me but makes me feel that creativity, joy, and pie are all within my reach.

You know why I love KGT? Because some people just feel like home when you talk to them, and if they deign to talk back, it’s like sunshine. Talent and love and smart all poured into one phone call or email that feels like a gift but not the obligatory kind or the please reciprocate kind.

You know why I love CKi? Because aside from right place right time, she gave me more than I could ever ask of a friend: intelligent clarity built on a foundation of respect and trust. On our first date.

You know why I love CKb? Because she’s wild and funny and so intensely soulful she knocks me off my chair.

You know why I love LF? Straight up talent, y’all, with the real world proof that creatives can be good at business, and business can have a heart.

You know why I love SL? Because she is changin the world, minute by minute, hour by hour.

You know why I love BK? Because you don’t need to be that good and decent when it might cost you personally, but fear does not puck that man up. He just keeps smiling.

You know why I love CB? Because she has every reason to be in a bad mood but instead she creates her own happiness and trusts her friends; she gives to them unconditionally and they repay in kind. She’s just a good model for humanhood.

You know why I love NFK? Cuz I do. She’s all that and a bag of rich chocolately goodness.

You know why I love PJH? Because every time I pick up the phone I’m agitated and nervous, but if it’s his voice I instantly relax and smile.

And it’s only March.

Ah, perspective.

After getting so far in the weeds I couldn’t see the sky anymore, I grabbed my copy of Elizabeth Pantley’s The No Cry Discipline Solution.

I’m feeling much better now. A bit of perspective, a few new techniques, some reinforcement for our AP style, and a welcome reminder that all the stuff I used to do was very well grounded in child development and therefore might work again.

Sigh. Pantley brought some welcome help for our sleep issues (not a solution, by any stretch, but some help) and is now my new best friend for getting back to teaching and away from yelling. She might just be my Valentine this year.

Gentle David Foster Wallace for college grads

Because so many of my posts about parenting resonnate with exactly this theme, here’s a bit of David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon commencement address.

“…there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and display. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”  –DFW 2005 Kenyon commencement

(Go read the rest of the speech. It’s really quite compelling as a way of thinking and living as aware and sentient beings rather autopilot automatons).

If you say so, dude. Sacrifice might be the reality and the gift of our nasty, brutish, and short, but the pretense and facade of pretending such things aren’t the reality of our lives makes those sorts of attentive, aware, and disciplined sacrifices feel like chores. Would that I had time to erode the pretense and facade, because being self-aware and present in my day would really rock. But focusing on caring for others in those myriad unsexy ways takes all the time I used to use on self analysis and awareness.

Un-Buddhist of me, i acknowledge. Sorry you’re not here to argue with.