Showing posts with label BB (before blog). Show all posts
Showing posts with label BB (before blog). Show all posts

Monday, November 25, 2013

Nerdlet

A few weeks back E came home with a story: this other girl who sits at her table asked for extra math homework and got it and that's no fair! Would I email her teacher and ask for E to receive extra math homework, too?

E is really good at math. She always has been. She regularly completes the sudoku puzzles in the newspaper (an exercise for which I have no patience at all). She has math in class, and her teacher routinely gives her bonus pages of more complicated problems to keep her busy challenge her. Once a week she leaves her classroom for an enrichment class taught by the science teacher where just a few kids from each of the four second-grade classes meet for fancy math, as she likes to call it.

It's a set of skills that come so easily to her and I was worried that she was seeing in the homework assignments a cheerful competition. But what if the other girl was receiving extra homework for a different reason? I worry that E doesn't notice that her ease isn't shared by all her peers. I didn't want homework to become a contest. I emailed with her teacher about it, and she wasn't opposed to E completing more work but she also felt it was unnecessary, and didn't want to give her redundant work before the class learned the next concepts.

This irritated my little girl. She really wanted more math homework.

It took several days of talking to get to the heart of what was bothering her, and it turned out, it wasn't competition, it wasn't homework, it wasn't the fun of turning in perfect pages. It was just...math. She likes the math. She wants to figure out math for fun. Um, okay, kid.

I ordered a few workbooks and I thought they'd keep her busy for a while but she reacted to them the way her brother reacts to M&Ms and she's on, there's no other way to say it, a math bender. She's about to teach herself division even though division hasn't been broached in school yet because there's no way to go forward without division. Whatever floats your boat, sweet child.



I have a recognition of her little brain because I was really good at math as a kid (did I ever tell you how I took college math classes on the university campus when I was in middle school? There's a nerdlet story and oh, man, does that add an unpleasant extra layer of complication to any request for complete sets of my college transcripts.).

But, in owning the genetic roots of her nerdletness, still, I never SOUGHT OUT more math homework just for kicks. I need resources. I don't want to go through a $6 workbook every week. What are your favorite math websites for kids? Help us, because if she doesn't have math she'll start moaning that she has nothing to read, and we're not going to get back to the library before Friday at the earliest. Help us get to Friday - send us your favorite math!


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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Throwback and throwbacker and Monday through Friday

This coming week is very important in the kindergarten life cycle: it's L's turn to be Star of the Week. We've already filled her Estimating Jar and planned our Friday storybooks. Tomorrow afternoon we have to make her Star poster so she can kick off her week with it on Monday.

In preparation I was clicking all around our photo archives tonight, scanning thousands of thumbnails to find the perfect dozen or show images to summarize her existence on this planet in the most flattering and exciting way. I sent 30 or so photos to the 24-hour CVS so I can pick them up tomorrow morning. She can pick what to use; she should have a say in curating her own narrative.

This picture below did not make the poster project's cut. Say hello to 10-month-old L (and the lovely husband's thumbs), circa 2008:


I could have hit monthly folders at random or searched for specific events from memory but instead I indulged in a couple hours of nostalgia and glanced at every monthly folder dated since she was born. So much happiness on one external drive.

There aren't many photos that predate the kids on the drive, because E's birth was what prompted our purchase of a DSLR. There are a few things, though, like this one below from Rome, December 2003:


See how I'm wearing the "real" camera, the film one, around my neck? The lovely husband had our new novelty, a point-and-shoot digital, in his hands. We have hundreds of photos from that trip and they're all printed out in a box somewhere in the basement. I'd have to find that box, hook up the scanner, and who still does those things? But the grainy pixelated low quality digital is right here, and I love it just as much. That trip was magical. And I miss those sunglasses.

As adults we do this, we look back and we indulge in nostalgia. I am very much looking forward to see how L explains her past to her classmates. We condition kids to look forward, and although the idea is assumed, we rarely expressly point out to them how important it is to cherish their foundations. It's a silly tradition on the surface, maybe, this Star of the Week stuff, but she's gets to explore how far she's come, see how big she's gotten, and what is kindergarten if not a stage setting for all there is to come?


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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gotta make it somehow

Yesterday was the anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death. Once upon a time I wrote a piece about the day when he died and that piece lived on another blog. I loved that blog but it has recently closed its proverbial doors. As such, in honor of Jerry and my writer-friend who prompted this memory of out me, I'm republishing this story here:

Gotta Make It Somehow

First I need to tell you that I’m not a hippie. And on this particular day, I was the opposite, if there is an opposite to “hippie.” I was a city employee, a civil servant. I was a city employee, and this is a story of wonder.

I was tie-dyeing when Jerry Garcia died. Maybe not at the exact moment, but I remember wondering: were my hands swirling in purple and green just as his last breath passed? Or was I really just stirring another gallon of red pigment when news reached his agent, who crafted a press release that was read on the radio that caught my breath and made me cry, perhaps hours later? I like to think I was tie-dyeing.

I was a city employee who roved our parks' recreation programs, conducting daily free art workshops for kids who might not otherwise see a gluestick or popsicle stick or pompom all summer. Our city had free recreation programs at a dozen parks. Ostensibly, they were to keep kids moving and busy and supervised for a few hours a day. Really, the programs served the more essential function of providing free breakfast and lunch to hundreds of kids who lived on subsidized meals during the school year, and who might not otherwise eat those meals again until September.

Some of those kids were starving. Some were starving for food and some were starving for affirmation and some were starving for the bright colors I brought into their lives in the forms of glitter and pipe cleaners and reassuring hugs. They were starving for color and they were starving for wonder and I always felt heady bringing so much delight to their eyes. I brought some form of craft to every park every week, but once a summer I brought tie-dye to each park, which meant twelve times a summer I was a magician, a superhero, a curator of wonderment.

We used professional-grade dyes, so strong that the purple never really faded from my knuckles until about midterms of fall semester every year. These weren’t your mama’s Rit boxes. I brought big rubber bands and skinny rubber bands and binder clips and wax for relief designs and was the baddest tie-dyer in the land. I had a booklet with 80 different T-shirt folds. We could make anything, those kids and I. And we did.

I mixed the dyes and filled spray bottles and we worked on blacktop, on grass, on a rocky creekside and a fissured basketball court. I covered the landscape of our crummy little town with tiny dots of the most vibrant tones you’ve ever seen, little gems of optimism glistening against an otherwise unpromising landscape.

I asked the kids to bring something white, anything white. I tie-dyed t-shirts with faded church logos and gym socks and Grandma’s pillowcase. We dyed moth-eaten curtains and a laundry bag and many, many boxer shorts. When one boy brought a crisp new handkerchief, we set about planning a delicate accordion design befitting its diminutive size. “But can I wash it out after?” he asked. He just really wanted to try the dyeing. But he had swiped the handkerchief from his mom’s new boyfriend and didn’t want to get in trouble. Quietly, I handed him a new Hanes XS men’s undershirt from the trunk of my car. I always had a 12-pack of Hanes with me. You have to be prepared when you want to be a superhero.

The day Jerry Garcia died wasn’t any different from any other tie-dye day except for two things: 1) it was the day Jerry Garcia died, and 2) I was working at one of our most impoverished parks. The kids were too young to know Jerry’s name, most likely, and this was before smart phones and texting. A day at the park meant a day away from the news.

I unpacked my potions. The kids used words like green and blue and black and I imposed upon them cerulean and vermillion and hibiscus. Want to make a six-year-old snort his giggles? Give him the gift of “puce.”

In my position, tie-dye was an act of optimism. Would the color set; would the whites stay bright; would my ties stay tied; would that girl come back next week with fewer bruises on her face? Would I get to hand her little work of art back to her? Would I point to its bright colors and concentric patterns and say encouragingly: “you did that!”?

For the kids with so few promises to believe in, that tie-dye was an act of faith. I said, and they believed, that the ink that looked like burned cheese would set and dry to the vivid color of orange juice. I said, and they believed, that the dye that looked like the storm-drain run-off a few feet from our picnic table/art studio would set and dry to black I insisted on calling obsidian. I said, and they believed, that I’d be back next week with their finished projects. And with their hugs and desperately-sought words of encouragement and the extra bananas that the kids from a more affluent neighborhood never gobbled up, too.

My own childhood was modest, but by the time I was tie-dyeing I was driving around in my father’s car, generously lent to me for years while he walked to work so that I could stain its trunk and its steering wheel with ceruleans and obsidians and the elegantly named “burned cheese.” My own relative wealth shocked me some days, as I drove up next to a picnic table and pretended it was more than that.

It was too much, suddenly, to hear that Jerry Garcia was dead and see these kids looking at me, hungry for more than I had to give, clamoring with their eyes through the windshield before I even had the gear in “park.”

Some people live their lives on a score of musical associations, I know, but I happen not to be one of them. Music usually fades into the far background of my life but on the day Jerry Garcia died, the radio DJ made that announcement and played an out-of-station-format choice, the Dead’s “Comes a Time.” I made an out-of-format choice, too. I re-started the car, moved it as close as I could to our shabby picnic table, rolled down all the windows, and cranked the radio as loud as it would play.

We tie-dyed with fervor, those kids for whom maybe the only chance at wonder lay in the magic in my bottles and the reliable return of my weekly presence; and me, singing along to lyrics I hadn’t even realized I’d known:

Comes a time when the blind-man takes your hand, says "Don't you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe."
Don't give it up, you got an empty cup only love can fill,
only love can fill.




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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Corner dragon

This little guy, a dragon on his back, smiling, sucking his thumb, he lives on the ledge of the sink in our master bathroom. He's incongruous to the rest of the house but he's always been with me, years now, dorm room to shared apartment to my own apartment to our townhouse to our home.

He was a gift, the little dragon, from someone who meant a lot to me but whom I never could understand. We were close but she kept herself unknowable. I knew all her stories but only the emotionless versions. But we were great complements: I tamed her too-reckless plans and she taught me not to bring too much worry to adventure.

She was gone for a few days, once, traveling to visit family, and brought this little dragon home to me. A token of friendship, she said, and his smile made her think of me. I haven't seen or spoken to her in a very long time. Her tumultuous life took a few more tumultuous turns. My more cautious life took a more predictable trajectory. The two couldn't dovetail too fluidly. But I always have my dragon and her fingerprint on my memories. She was a good influence on me, even if our stories put to paper wouldn't read that way.

Sometimes in the traffic congestion of bedtime one kid or another will brush teeth in our bathroom. Tell me about the dragon, I'm occasionally asked. He's a memento, I just say, an old memory with a broad smile.

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This post was inspired by the novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, and the particular story lines of the beefeater figurine and the suitcase of souvenirs. In a war torn Chechnya, a young fatherless girl, a family friend, and a hardened doctor struggle with love and loss. Join From Left to Write on May 20 as we discuss Anthony Marra's debut novel. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.
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Monday, March 11, 2013

Out of sight

Telling people today that I grew up four blocks from the Canadian border is an item of trivia, but as a kid that was just home. Where Niagara Falls fall down and form a lower river, carving a gorge that leads after several miles to Lake Ontario, I grew up in the shadow of tourism on a beautiful river bank.

Some two miles south were the famous postcard views but at the end of my street was the state park that formed the top of the gorge. I spent so many hours there, the equivalent, I'm sure, of whole weeks of my life. Sometimes we stayed at the top of the gorge, walking along the trails. Often we took the foot paths down to the river's edge, climbing down hundreds of feet to the bluest water, freshly churned from its ride down the famous ledge.


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There was another way, though, and it's the one that was the most physically challenging, the one I can find no official information for, the one I took least and loved best, the one that felt riskiest. People are allowed at the top of the gorge and people are allowed at the bottom of the gorge, but what about on the vertical cliffs between top and bottom?

There was this spot (I'm sure I could still find it today) where if you hopped the protective railing at the top of the gorge, hopped down a boulder under a bush, carefully not looking at the vista that made it look like you'd fall straight into the river, where a steep zig-zagged dirt path led to a set of steel cables anchored into the escarpment.

I'm not sure if it's really called rapelling if you climb down with no safety ropes or gloves or harnesses or helmets but we would squeeze those cables, lean back just enough to find the next foothold with our feet, and descend vertically into the gorge. Sometimes, if we were feeling terribly energetic, we'd use those cables to climb back up. Most of the time we needed to find the stone steps. It's more than 400 steps up, curvy, angled, eroded stone steps, but that was the easier path.

And you knew you were allowed at the top and you knew you were allowed at the bottom but there are no signs, not even warnings, about the steel cables. You knew you weren't supposed to be on those cables. They don't officially exist, and sometimes they're cut away, pins and bolts and no cables. And then somehow, the cables show up again. To find them, you just have to jump over the railing at the edge of a cliff.

I think about that space, liminal in access, permission, memory. Those cables thrilled me, challenged me, terrified and exhilarated me. They were probably illegal to climb and inherently bore an element of risk (although any climb down the gorge does) and they tested me. They were so important to my sense of self and ability and trust and confidence. They taught self-reliance and -confidence and adventure and trusting my instincts, not based on posted rules established on a median sense of ability but on carefully considering for myself what could or could not be done.

Lessons like those have to be learned a little out of sight sometimes.

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This post was inspired by Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives by John Elder Robison, who encouraged his son to be an explorer. Join From Left to Write on March 12 as we discuss Raising Cubby. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.













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Monday, January 21, 2013

(You can't) go home again

There were two summers where I had a job as a camp counselor for a traveling summer camp for high school students. We lived in one of those 55-seat air-conditioned passenger buses and about 35 hotels across seven weeks and the entire country.

On the first day, in Manhattan's Lower East Side, fresh on pickle juice and co-mingling introductory adolescent nerves, the head counselor told our group that we were standing on one of the last 15 cobblestone streets in America. He's a fantastic liar, of course, but it got the kids noticing how the texture of a street under one's feet changes the tone of a place. One needs different shoes to walk quickly on cobblestone. Sounds and speeds are different. One's impressions of a place are formed from the very ground up, and by the time we found cobblestone in Boston and Vermont and Cleveland and Chicago and San Francisco and well past 15 near the end of our summer in Philadelphia, the kids didn't bother to call him a liar anymore. They just switched out their flip-flops for sneakers. They learned that being in each different place requires a slightly different version of one's self.

I was thinking about the terroir of a place as we took a quick road trip this weekend for that funeral. Not in the wine sense, where vineyards of a similar climate and soil composition will yield specific regional flavors, but in giving liberty to the term to jump across genres: northern New Jersey looks like northern New Jersey. Brooklyn looks like Brooklyn and Pennsylvania looks like Pennsylvania. Jersey is all stonework bridges crossing overlapping streets abutting neighborhoods overgrown and unyielding. Brooklyn is eight languages (and some cobblestone), water views, and pockets more residential by volume than anything you'd find in Manhattan. Pennsylvania is rocky. New York's highways go east-west and cut their trees back 50 feet from the road. Maryland's highways go north-south and let the trees begin just past the shoulder.

The lovely husband and I have each lived away from our hometowns now longer than we ever lived in them, and going back to a same place of one's past isn't unlike going to a new place in one's present. The streets may bend the same way but the people who know you really know you best by a version of yourself you've long left behind. You play simultaneous translation to their memories and your current world. It takes different shoes. You have to walk mindfully.

And while it's comforting to know we'll always have a place in New York, it's not really where we think of home. Home is here, where I'm typing back in Maryland. I've traveled the country and good parts of the world and this is where I think of home.

(somewhere in New York, 11am-ish today)

(somewhere in Pennsylvania, 2pm-ish today)

(from our driveway in Maryland, 6pm-ish today)

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This post was inspired by our book of the month, the mystery thriller novel The Expats by Chris Pavone. Kate Moore sheds happily sheds her old life become a stay at home mom when her husband takes a job in Europe. As she attempts to reinvent herself, she ends up chasing her evasive husband's secrets. Join From Left to Write on January 22 as we discuss The Expats. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. Pin It

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Grande dame

Yesterday was the funeral of the lovely husband’s grandmother, the kids’ Gigi. She was 92 and had lived what the mandatory clichĂ© warrants: a good life. But she was tired for as long as I’ve known her, thirty+ years a widow and lonely, and in the past two or three years her decline was evident.

She was a funny lady.

She had the brightest blue eyes.

She was ready to be done. That isn’t to say that she wanted to die or gave up. But I remember the months before her 90th birthday, when some family suggested a party. “Who would come?” she asked. “All my friends are gone. Bernie is gone.” She outlived them all. There was no party.

Though it isn’t my place to say, I think there is a heartbreaking majestic grandeur in reaching the end of one’s life and recognizing it. Gigi lived through and past the I-don’t-give-a-damn stage we sometimes refer to charmingly regarding feisty old women, the one in which they speak their minds because they can, because there’s nothing to lose, the one where the rest of us may cringe but also lean in to listen closely. She spoke her mind until she was finished speaking it, and then she was just that: finished.

Sometimes heartbreaking isn’t exactly sad. It’s just…a breaking. Emotions are too deep for anything as fragile as a heart to hold contained. It’s that she was lonely. And then she was in pain. That her son and daughter have just lost their mother. That she won’t see her three great-grandkids grow big. That the head of the family is gone, and her absence is a forever thing. She cannot be replaced. That generation is over.

It’s that after thirty+ years she’s finally, longingly, determinedly back next to her Bernie.

Twelve years ago my lovely husband was then my new fiancĂ©. His uncle – his mother’s brother – died far too young after a gruesome battle with cancer and we traveled to New Jersey to the cemetery. I had met most of his family only a time or two and wasn’t sure how to react when at the conclusion of the funeral, his grandmother declared that we would go to the other side of the cemetery where Bernie was buried so that she could introduce me to him.

I was 23 and awkward. Also, I had never before been introduced to a dead person. We stood at the bottom of his plot. “Hi, Bernie,” the head of the family began. I didn’t know what was expected of me. She clutched my elbow as she spoke and I needed to do…something. I felt the eyes of all my love’s relatives on my back, the hope and sharp longing of an old woman at my side and the expectation of a sign from below. There were shrubs there, buried atop his plot. I pulled a fallen tree branch from their pruned surface, part in a mindless tidying, part to give my hands a purpose, part to give myself a small remove from the intensity of the silence. I don’t know why I did it. To my left she burst into tears. “Oh, Bernie, she’s taking care of you.” She gave me a squeeze and told Bernie I’d be a good wife for her grandson. I think in that moment she gave her assent that I join her family.

I stood there twelve years ago and she squeezed my elbow. I stood there yesterday and we buried her.

In Jewish tradition, after the casket is lowered into its spot the mourners stay and replace the displaced dirt until the ground is level and smooth. It’s a final loving act, like pulling up the blankets around your drowsy child each night. You cannot leave her uncovered and vulnerable. It’s an act of devotion.

It’s the most love-filled terrible thing.

The first clods of dirt are the most agonizing. They thud against the top of the casket with a hollow sound, announcing that object as vessel, reminding what it holds. With the first clods, the closest mourners often scream or burst with sobs. There is no pronouncement more final than dirt thudding against a casket. Slowly the depth rises. Soon dirt hits only dirt and that is a much quieter sound. Soon the sobs fade to whimpers until it is done.

Shovels are stacked gently. Arms wrap around shoulders. A cold wind blows bitter pushing the smell of fresh-turned earth, forcing corporal feeling, yielding not a moment of mercy. This is the world, beginning at the mud on the soles of the shoes of the anguished, stretching over acres of headstones and past the horizon of holidays and milestones unwitnessed and a future now altered. A family of unaccustomed small number summons the piercing determination to walk away, leaving behind its matriarch.



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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

After the oncologist's statute of limitations

Something felt funny this weekend. You know that feeling? I was forgetting...something...and I couldn't figure out what. It niggled at me and wouldn't evaporate.

Friday was the sixth anniversary of the lovely husband's lung tumor removal. It was the scariest thing that had ever happened to us and now it's a distant story. Amazing, that.

Last year marked five years of clean scans at the oncologist's office, so the lovely husband graduated from his care. This year there was nothing, and that's the most special something a nothing can be.

I still get jumpy whenever he gets a persistent cough. He made me shiver last week when I said how heavy G is, and imagine if that treatment had gone differently and the lovely husband wouldn't have been allowed to lift him? "We probably wouldn't have had him," the lovely husband said. "Nor L. E would have probably been our only child." The alternate fate smeared muddy across my mind, like the scene out a car window on a miserable, precipitous day.

image via Marionzetta

His body healed. What remained of his lungs grew strong enough to serve him fully. And we had all the kids we wanted, the ones we numbered in our heads before he grew sick. And now we are here, marking the end of a year for the first time in a long time with no oncology notation in the calendar.

It's been so long since it happened that we have friends now who know nothing of this story. It's just a story. (Well, it's a story, a 20" scar, and an inches-thick stack of CT films atop the basement filing cabinet).

As we round in to the Thanksgiving holiday, here's my great measure of gratitude.

To health: mine and yours and all our loved ones'.


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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Chopsticks

I lived alone for the three years I was in graduate school. My apartment was perfect for me, though the complex had its quirks. 

(I just searched and searched to find I've never properly written about Little Bosnia in Syracuse. Remind me to change that one day.)

It was the only time in my life that I lived with a gas stove-top. At first it scared me, although I'd be thrilled to have one now.

Most of the units were filled with refugee families who had been relocated to central New York via the Red Cross, but at just a mile south of campus, there were scattered graduate students here and there. They were mostly Asian. For the first year, I was the only English-speaker in my building. 

Right before the beginning of the second year, the unit across the hall from me turned over. Another graduate student moved in, a soft-spoken guy named Jesse. We waved friendly hellos but he was new and I was accustomed to living in my head without conversation.

One evening Jesse knocked on my door. He had made too much food. It was a habit, he said. He was hesitant even as he spoke. Did I want to come over?

He was nervous and it's not for what you're thinking. It was the end of the day and he had gotten comfortable in his home look. It was the first time I had seen it. His make-up was dramatic and beautiful. His heels were taller than I could walk in; his dress, adorable. I smiled. In a flurry of words he explained he felt compelled to act masculine in his male-dominated field of study, but this was how he felt himself. He was exploring surgery after graduation. He made a charming woman.

Jesse would knock maybe once a week. He loved to feed me, to nurture. He was Latino but had grown up over a Chinese take-out. He had this insert he fitted into the heating element on his stove to hold a wok. He taught me how to make stir-fry as his neighbors had taught him.

When we cooked in my kitchen I used a spatula, tongs. I made a mess. When we cooked in his he used just long chopsticks in his wok. His movements were precise, dextrous, elegant. I needed the security of more than skinny sticks. 

Jesse taught me how to cook with chopsticks, how to eat with chopsticks (and how to pluck my eyebrows).

At the end of the school year I closed up my apartment because I'd be moving down to Manhattan for three months. I stopped by to say, "see you in August!" We hugged. He patted me on the ass and wished me an adventurous summer. 

When I got back the week before classes started, I knocked on Jesse's door. A Bosnian grandmother with a  baby on her hip opened the door. Jesse was gone.

Sometimes I set the table with chopsticks. My kids like to use them for the most American of foods, like chicken nuggets and hot dogs. I show them how to work the upper stick, how to fix the lower one in the folds of their thumbs. They giggle. They like the sport of it. They don't know that chopsticks remind me of a gentle friend, suddenly come and suddenly gone.


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This post was inpsired by our book club selection:

Headmaster Percivial Chen is a proud Chinese born man who runs an English language school during the cusp of the Vietnam War. In his refusal to accept his adopted country's turbulent times, his gamble becomes a life changer. Join From Left to Write on November 15 as we discuss The Headmaster's Wager. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Past and present

This memory might have been my first church experience:

we were in a gray stone building. The stone was inside. It was the walls, the floor. The pews were dark wood and the smells and sounds knit a blanket of someone else's comfort. The program hadn't begun yet and I walked backward down the nave and out to the foyer. I couldn't get the water fountain to work at an angle where I could reach to drink from it and I knew if I didn't hurry I risked making an inappropriate re-entrance as the program did begin.

And then the tiny nun with the starched wimple and steely eyes sucked in her breath and grabbed my hand. I had been splashing in the baptismal font.

I have so many Catholic friends. I'm sorry, you all. I was just thirsty.

It's one of those memories that just sticks. (The shaming ones do, don't they?)

E is approaching age seven and so is reaching that stage where everything is embarrassing. I've begun telling her stories of all the (many, many, many) times I've felt embarrassed. When I was her age and self-conscious and klutzy and daydreamerly (a terrible combination for avoiding embarrassment) I do remember that with every fumble, physical, verbal or otherwise, I was both convinced that every single person in the vicinity had noticed and that these things didn't happen to other people. So I'm trying to inoculate E against that particular self-loathing of thinking you're the only one with any particular problem. I don't know if it will help her or not, but we all stumble. We all do embarrassing things out of naivete or moments of clumsiness or simply inadvertently. She's not unique in her suffering.

What's interesting about recounting these awful moments is that they go weightless as I speak them. Ancient shames find absolution. Moments I didn't know I still cared about but carry like little stones in my heart turn to dandelion puffs and float away.

This is a thing I think about a lot. We talk loudly about our accomplishments and not at all about our vulnerabilities. Wouldn't we all save each other if we talked about our vulnerabilities instead?

I have a friend who is struggling right now. I can't help her but the thoughts in her head are strangling her because she can't get them all out; she's afraid of looking at them. We all carry stones.

While E is still a kid, I want to teach her to accept that bad moments and let them go again, never give them a chance to solidify in her psyche. Do you think that's possible? Can a girl today grow up without self-poisoning?
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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The act of voting

We each took one girl with us yesterday, the lovely husband and E going together in the morning, and L serving as my button-pusher just before the polls closed. (Mr. G has gone in the past, but he’s at a tricky age where he’s too active to stay in the stroller or too stay calmly by my side of his own free will for any length of time short of me holding him. And he’s now 39 pounds. I don’t really want to hold him in any activity where the lines may stretch for hours. He’ll go again next year, probably.) Except-- ‘button-pusher’ is a misnomer, isn’t it? There are no buttons in voting anymore, at least not in Maryland.

I grew up in western New York, and the voting booths of my New York 1980s childhood were, first of all, actual booths. Not unlike a telephone booth, one entered a small enclosed space. With the strong pull of a mechanical lever, a curtain, nearly floor-length, closed the world out behind you. I almost never set foot in a church as a child** but in visiting churches later, confessional booths always reminded me of my first experience with narrow quiet spaces: voting booths. I think the correlation is apt. The act of voting has a sacred quality, and the vote you affirm is a private covenant.

The curtain was thick, industrial, and I remember it as the fabric equivalent of that light metallic blue that all playground equipment of the same decade was painted. Once inside, you found yourself facing a wall of tiny angled levers. My brother called them baby toilet handles, once, and they depressed in that same assured way, purposeful and deliberate. With a satisfying click you registered your selection.

I loved the sound, the ancient aura, the satisfaction of mechanically displacing that small object. It can best be compared with typing on a mechanical typewriter, I told the girls, but even those are only objects of TV prop departments and folklore. They’ve never actually seen one, never enjoyed the assertive clicks beneath their fingers.

Maryland’s voting machines are touch-screen tablets propped up on folding tables with plastic dividers for a modicum of privacy. It works, too, but the grandeur of the experience is gone. The curtain is pulled back forever. But: I’m still glad the girls went.


And: now there are stickers.
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**As a Jewish kid, I had very few reasons to find myself in a church. My dad, though, taught at a Catholic school and we were in a chapel once for some reason that I assume was related to a career milestone. Wait, you know what? It’s NaBloPoMo. I’m going to save this story to tell you tomorrow.


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Saturday, November 3, 2012

The kitchen table

The lovely husband and I moved down here to Maryland a month after I finished graduate school, six weeks before our wedding. We bought a townhouse and sat in it empty, buying a piece of furniture at a time as we could, as wedding money generously came to us.

We mixed in expensive pieces where we envisioned their longevity, like our dining room set. We bought lesser quality couches, though we still have them eleven years later. We built a wall of bookshelves from plywood to save money, but the family room was in the basement and they weren't very visible. We painted them the same ice blue as the walls and their low-grade materials went unnoticed.

For the kitchen we bought an Ikea table. I think it was our only Ikea piece until we moved into our current home. We surrounded it with chairs from the dining room table; it's not even a whole kitchen set, just the solitary centerpiece. I remember clearly looking at the table and debating the square version for $79 or the slightly larger rectangle for $99. We splurged for the rectangle. That townhouse had a lot of flaws, but one of its lovely qualities was its very large kitchen.

I don't think we ever intended that table to be a permanent furniture solution but here we are, and here it is. It fit our budget and the gaping space in our kitchen then and it's never collapsed or broken like I thought Ikea furniture would.

I've eaten a million meals at that table and chopped and stirred for a million more. I often type at that table. Both girls learned to write their letters there and it's where E completes her homework. G climbed on it today and I scooped him off in admonition. He climbed right back on and proclaimed his greatness. I up here! I got big!

Their highchair, the one that served all three of them in turn, had for a long time a permanent spot at the far end. Today I peeled a sticker off it and scraped at a glob of purple glitter glue. I wiped it down from the aftereffects of an abandoned lollipop. It's looking shabby. A spot of veneer is clear gone. It's paint-speckled and marker-scarred and dented in a million ways a wood table shows its ministration to a young family. I wipe it down with fondness.

At the end of the day today, the kids wanted to bake. There were the four half-peeled bananas on the counter courtesy of that boy who stands on tables to reach the produce he wants; and there were the neglected but oft-repeated separate requests to make garlic bread and pound cake. We made it all; one whisk-spinning and egg-cracking project per child. We had the stand-mixer and the bread machine I ordinarily ignore and the oven all in action. We had three happy kids and the whole house smells of warm banana bread with the vanilla from the pound cake and garlic from the garlic bread. It's homey (and pungent).

As I gave the table its final wipe-down of the night, I noticed all the grooves that catch the flour. If I had known how well this table would have lasted us, I might have been more careful with it. It's well-loved, though, and fitting for the center of our home.

I found the indentations of hearts all around the perimeter, like an inscribed embroidery or lace. Everywhere the girls sit with paper, their hearts have tattooed their forms beyond ink and paper's fiber into the wood's surface.


They're leaving their marks now, too, and their brother his footprints, and now I hope this table will last forever.




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Friday, November 2, 2012

Time makes you bolder (even children get older)

We had friends over Wednesday night in what has become a standing Halloween tradition.

Midweek guests. Two families.

The weekend before we hosted multiple playdates and the one before we had Friday night dinner guests. We're introverted homebodies, the lovely husband and I; we cherish our just-family time and don't entertain all that often. But we had two families over in the middle of the work week and it was notably unremarkable.

("What is she talking about now?" you're whispering. I can hear you.)

It used to be a thing to have people over. I don't know, we used to fuss and fret and panic that the house wasn't clean enough. It used to be a source of stress. It wasn't always-- before kids everything was so much easier. But before kids we also stuck to ourselves far more; or more specifically, I stuck to myself and the husband worked 100 hour weeks. Potatoes, potahtoes.

I have loved the transformation to every recognizable element of life that having children has brought us, but I also haven't felt any control since they arrived. And I far prefer feeling in control. The image that comes to my mind every time I think about the past almost-seven years is that amusement park ride that spins so fast that when its floor drops out, the riders stick to the wall by the force of its movement. Do you know that feeling? I don't, because I've never once ridden that thing. I prefer to be in control.

November is the month wherein everyone talks about giving thanks and when I tally up my fortunes and smile on them I realize that existence has felt a little easier in the past few months. Our last kid is making his way step-by-step (and stomp in every single sloshy puddle) through the terrible twos. We are sleeping more (though still not enough). We are slowly finding a routine for living rather than a reactionary reflexive string of patches for baby-caring.

Maybe we're slow to adjust. Or maybe it's that we ceded some control so far gone we've accepted the smaller portion of what we've gained again as sufficient. Maybe it's a little of everything. We know not everyone has three kids. We know not everyone spaces them so close together. We knew we have no family around who would help. We didn't know the kids themselves, that they'd be louder than average, more boisterous.

We didn't know ourselves, and how much we'd keen in their presence.

So we had friends over on Wednesday. And the white shelf was covered in clutter and the living room couch piled high with unfolded laundry and I couldn't find the craft project I had put aside just for that night and maybe in these almost-seven years I climbed the world's slowest learning curve, but Wednesday was extremely nice. Nothing earth-shattering, just the epitome of pleasant.

You and I and everyone else, we'll talk this month about specific gifts. Maybe for you it's gainful employment or health or storm shutters that did their job. We all have a lot for which to feel thankful. But since mid-summer I've been floating on a cloud of contentment: this life of ours is coming together. Wednesday tied that sensation up in a prominent bow. And as we head into the weekend, I'm going to smile myself into a comfy corner of the couch and ruminate on it all some more.

It's a fine plan, isn't it? (And I have the time-- nobody's coming over.)

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PS: Facebook is being a stingy jerk about showing my links. Did you see the first real post to my new Artists in Residence series at Simple Kids? It explains last week's banana art.

PPS: I'm NaBloPoMoing again, God help me. And in this, my fifth such year, I'm the least prepared I've ever been. ("What's NaBloPoMo, you crazy lady?" you're now asking. It means I've committed to write a post here every day in November. The point is that writing begets writing. Nobody promised, I noticed, that it begets good writing.) So has there ever been a topic on which you've wished I'd said more? A burning question about me? Lemme know.

PPPS: Have you voted yet in the election my older daughter is running? You will, right? Just like that other election, you only have through Tuesday. This is bigger than the future of our country. My girl's faith in the power of the internet is on the line.

PPPPS: It's the weekend! Get off your computer/smart phone and go smile somewhere. Go.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

There but for the grace

A five-year-old girl was discovered missing last night in my hometown. Her body was found today, stuffed in a trash bag and tossed in the alley.

My daughters are four and six.

When I was a child and still lived in that town, there was a boy's name whispered in admonition. Don't go near the river. I think his name was David. His last name would have been one of a dozen that appeared again and again on the rolls of our small town community and I'm sorry that I can't recall it. He drowned in the river, probably before I was born, his friends afraid to get help because they weren't supposed to play at the river, his story memorialized in every venture across the threshold of the front porch door.

He was a specter cast in my mother's voice against our thoughts of fun before we even had our shoes tied.

I still regularly played by the river; I just never told my mother about it.

I've walked through that alley and I played by that river and I'm here to claim adulthood and remember the smell of algaed moss drying on rocks in sunlight if not the surname of the boy who drowned by those rocks.

I've had a few terrible moments in life and some astonishingly wonderful ones but mostly I've just meandered along and now I'm here, and that's either the most boring fact or wonderful luck but I can't stop thinking about that five-year-old girl, and my own three littles tucked asleep above my head.

I've told my kids about my adventures on the river and I even showed the older two, but I never mention to them the boy who drowned.

I'm feeling extra-tender toward the experiences of children today as we navigate the beginning of first grade, but come back tomorrow for a proper update since today was only the first-first day and tomorrow is the proper second-first day. Please send my nervous girl some strength.

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This post is inspired by Sarah McCoy's The Baker's Daughter, where Jewish children hide from Nazis in the '40s and Mexican children hide from US Customs deportation officials in 2007 and my feeble heart worries too much about kids all over the place. Join From Left to Write on August 29  as we discuss The Baker's Daughter. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Actually, the publisher accidentally sent me two copies of the book, so if you're local and want to read it, let me know.













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Sunday, August 26, 2012

For the first day of school

Tomorrow is E's first day of first grade. But it's not the real first day -- it's the first first day, which is really just a two-hour open house to meet her teachers and let me take a picture of her sitting at her desk and all that. Tuesday is the second first day, which is the real first day. That makes sense, right?

So I said, "hey E, what do you want to wear tomorrow?" and she said, that new sparkly outfit. Of course.

When I was eight and my grandfather died and my mom flew to Florida and packed up my grandmother and all her belongings worth saving in the back of my grandmother's huge grandma car and drove her to our house in New York, she pulled a sneaky trick on my brother and me. We had been losing our minds for Cabbage Patch Kid dolls because it was the mid-'80s and obviously and all our friends had them and you can only imagine. So my mother bought to Cabbage Patch Kids and put them on the floor of the exact middle of the backseat and piled all my grandmother's belongings around them. They got to our house and stopped in the middle of the driveway and opened both back doors to the car and she told us about the dolls. We were supposed to empty the car, for which we'd get our reward.

Well, in the end we couldn't be tricked. We pulled out exactly four items to burrow through the brass lamps and heavy picture frames and I swear, raccoons would have been proud of us. Mice. Moles. Whatever burrows, is what I'm saying, would have had envy at our skills. We got those dolls and I have to tell you with perfect clarity, we ran so fast into the house we didn't even close the back doors of the car. I remember the white paint reflecting on us in the pale sun, all askew.

We had a number of make-the-house-look-nice moments this weekend, and the laundry, oh, the laundry. It's so interminably not put away that I barely even discuss it because it's so Sisypheanly pointless, but it was extra bad this past week. I never told you about how sick G got this week (he's more or less okay now), but we went through a hundred diapers this week. I only wish I was exaggerating. Oh right, that's why I never told you. I was busy changing his diaper. But that fine event had occurred immediately after our return from the beach with three suitcases of sand-filled laundry, and there was a regular amount of dirty laundry malingering while we were gone. So I had managed to get it all processed through the washer and dryer whilst spending many, many hours with G this week, but not a drop got put away. The laundry mountain was epic.

Then the lovely husband carried it all up to our bed. And then you know what happened: the whole thing got shoved off the side of the bed so that some sleep could be sought.

I made good headway on the mountain today, but that is only really because I knew the sparkle outfit was somewhere in it. And there will only be one first-first day of first grade. And I found that outfit, but I had the feeling as I searched and sorted and folded that the grandma-car of my past was laughing mightily at me.


Not that my girl needs luck tomorrow, per se, but she's terribly anxious. So wish us luck anyway?


---
PS- I have a fun craft kit giveaway for you over here


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Monday, July 30, 2012

Lit love

Some of us are poets, and some of us are athletes, I've always believed, and my sweet E has always been a color-at-the-table kind of girl. Even when we send them out into the yard, she wouldn't run, she barely swings, she'll gather dandelions and make wreaths and decorate her fairy garden.

Of course I love her poet's heart but I've always hoped she might develop just a little athlete's grit, too.

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I was lucky, as a girl. I had the best, most caring, attentive and nurturing librarian. She always helped me find new books to read. She encouraged me to fall in love with characters, and respected my opinions of them. She was surprised when I didn't love Dr. Doolittle, but then she helped me find my dear friends Betsy and Tacy. She understood my deep need to read series in order and ordered sequels from two counties away. She spoke straight to me. She still stops my mother in the grocery store to say hello.

We haven't been going to the library much in the past few years. There is a library less than a mile from our house, but it closed for renovations about two years ago and then was caught in a terrible storm of county politics, recession financing and inattention to permit expirations. It finally looks to be receiving someone's attention again, but in the meanwhile we fell out of the library habit. We have bursting shelves. We have amazon. We have busy lives, you know.

But now that E is a real reader, one who devours chapter books and doesn't want the same stories night after night, we needed affordable regular replenishment. It was time to find a substitute library.

And it was one of the best things we've ever done. We found a children's librarian who reminds me so much of the wonder-woman of my own childhood. She has the same kind eyes, the same attentive gaze, the same patience for idiosyncratic dislikes (the same '80s perm), and most importantly, wonderful book recommendations.

She identified my girl's love of falling in love with her characters, and has set us on some series that all follow earnest, loveable, imperfect, elementary school girls. After reading all the Ramonas, we tried a bunch of things. We were going to read them through one at a time, but they're all so good!, E says, that we're reading multiple series at once.

(Listed for you, in case you have an early elementary school girl with a big reading appetite, these are the first titles of wonderful, we-can't-recommend-enough series:

-Amber Brown is Not a Crayon
-Piper Reed, Navy Brat
-Lucy Rose: Here's the Thing About Me
-Ruby Lu, Brave and True
-and all the Ramona spin-offs (Ellen, Otis, Henry).)

So we've been reading, and falling in love, both with characters and our displaced persons' librarian. I wonder what we'll do when our local library finally reopens.

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The thing about books, of course, is that they're so much more than stories. Which literary moments do you carry in your heart?

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In the last Ramona book, Ramona is a big girl, a 4th grader. She's the same Ramona as ever: independent, strong. A little tomboyish. The book opens and closes with her on the monkey bars. Ramona takes pride in her calluses, built from a summer of traversing those bars. Not all the girls have monkey-bar calluses. Some girls can't even cross the bars.

That thought clicked in my poet-hearted girl. At the beginning of summer she couldn't get across the bars, due equally to her fear of the empty space beneath her and her underdeveloped upper body strength.

After I picked her up at the camp bus today, we came home for a snack and a little air conditioning before heading back out to get her brother and sister. She insisted we leave early for a few minutes at the park.

Watch me! she commanded. Back and forth she went, twice, thrice, four times. And when she jumped down she held up her palms. High-fives, indeed, I thought. But she pulled back.

No, Mama!


Look at my calluses.


























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Friday, July 20, 2012

On spectacle

This is my favorite painting in all the world:
Giacomo Balla, Street Light, 1909


I could stare into it and stare into it, and when I'm in New York in two weeks, I just might.

Do you have a favorite painting? (What is it?) There are people who have a favorite painting, and people who don't, and it says a lot about how you think. I'm a visual cataloger. I save these images inside me and they fill me up. When I see something that arrests me visually I feel a quietude, maybe a holiness, and I'm satiated. It's not just painting. It could be ballet, or a sunrise, or the way my son's curls lay against his daddy's  shoulder. There are sights and I save them.

But look at that image of that painting. Mere plants and rocks crushed into a little linseed oil, but could you make brushstrokes envisage a streetlight more real than real? I instagrammed this cherry tree in March, and the effect is similar but all I did was push a button:

Still, I love this shot and could instantly recall it and know where to find it because I'm a visual cataloger. The evening of that walk, who I was with (my sweet second girl), which shoes she wore and which I had, how that tree blossomed across the light -- it all stays with me.

So tonight we had the opportunity to go to the media preview of the How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular (that's a mouthful, no?), which I think opens to the public tomorrow. It was fascinating. It's a live re-creation of the movie of the same title from a few years ago, with people actors and people-in-dragon-costume actors and humongous animatronic dragons that fly and blow smoke rings and circle around the ceiling of the Verizon Center. And all their movements are synchronized to the background imagery playing across a screen that's nine movie-theater-screens wide, so it lends this visual plausibility to the dragons' movements. It was like nothing I've ever seen. The lovely husband and I were simply astounded. Speechless, practically. And the kids loved it -- all three of them -- but you know? They weren't all that impressed.

And maybe that's because they're not visual catalogers (although I suspect the oldest one is, even if I can't sense it yet about the younger two), but I'm pretty sure it's because they've grown up with a digital fluency that makes a flying dinosaur completely plausible. It was a great show for them, certainly, but for us it was more; it was spectacle.

As I drove home, my cargo long asleep, I thought about what would it take to arrest them visually, and I don't know. I'd love to find out, to shock them with beauty, but even as we explore those ideas at least we can talk about influence. It was natural to them that this live show was built on a movie they know. My instagram stands on the shoulders of an Italian Futurist. But it doesn't matter, so long as we remember what we see.

As we walked to the car, which we had conveniently left at the lovely husband's office, E shrieked and stepped back. What's that? she whispered.

"That, my love, is a cockroach." The flying dinosaurs the size of tanker trucks didn't phase her but this critter the size of my big toe made her hold her breath. He ambled in front of a pizza shop (note: don't get pizza at 4th and H) and she asked how I knew what it was.

"Oh, love, they're everywhere in cities. When I lived in New York City they were in the walls of my building. And the landlord would have chemicals sprayed every 30 days. But it wasn't ever quite enough and on the 29th day, they always came out. Once I woke up to one crawling across the top of my foot."

She turned pale, and swore that if she ever lived in New York she'd sleep with socks on for the rest of her life.

And in replaying that conversation as I steered us out of the city toward our quiet suburb, I realized that she had found spectacle tonight, after all.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pucker up, buttercup

image via CocteauBoy

I wonder if I ever told you the barbecue sauce story. It’s not much, but it was a sit-up-and-notice moment in my then-boyfriend’s heart that I’m a good one. He’s a now-husband, that then-boyfriend, and he was right, of course.

Not long after the wildly successful barbecue sauce, which you must know I made from scratch immediately after he tossed out a “you don’t keep barbecue sauce in your fridge?” comment, I planned another meal. Turning to the same cookbook from whence the sauce had come, by trusty Joy of Cooking, I looked at the recipe for lemon chicken.

Be it known that:

-I was 22 or 23 and that was probably my only cookbook
-I had never eaten lemon chicken
-I had never made lemon chicken
-I don’t like lemon as a flavor
-and I don’t really like chicken
-but the then-boyfriend liked lemon as a flavor
-in desserty things, like lemon meringue pie and lemon bars
-but I had room for earning points for culinary adventurousness even at the expense of not quite fabulousness, because he had probably never had lemon chicken, either.

So it was a good enough plan, which is probably how you could describe most of my plans. The intentions are there, the big picture and reasoning are lovely and sound, the anticipated result is fantastic, of course, and the details are…a little underrepresented. I just don’t see those details, usually, when I’m planning. That’s never stopped me from proceeding.

So given all that, of course I decided to cook the lemon chicken. It sounded exciting.

My culinary skills then are probably comparable to my sewing skills now: daring, curious, filled with ideas, unafraid to follow instructions (recipe or pattern) to an expected outcome, and utterly lacking in technical foundation. I didn’t know anything about anything. So I juiced a bag of lemons and looked at the next step, which called for heating the juice over low heat while stirring in a cup of sugar. A cup of sugar? What is this, a cake? There’s no way that’s right, I thought, and used maybe a tablespoon.

I don’t remember whether the lights were on in the room or the windows were still providing enough brightness. I don’t remember what I was wearing, or what side dishes were on the plate. I don’t remember if we had music playing, or if we could hear the Bosnians playing soccer in the parking lot outside, or if the television was on in the background. But I will never forget the expression on his face as he took that first bite of chicken. His mouth formed a vacuum as his cheeks involuntarily suctioned each other so tightly he could have choked on his own displaced tongue. Unable to release the contraction of his face, he squished out the kindest and least convincing words ever spoken in Syracuse, New York:

“it’s good!”

The point of the story is this: I have made many mistakes in life, but marrying that liar is not one of them. And for the rest of our years, he carries in him the gift of being able to let me know exactly what he thinks by saying, “well, it’s better than the lemon chicken.”


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This post is inspired by Getting Married and Other Mistakes by Barbara Slate. This graphic novel offers a raw, yet humorous look at what happens to Jo after a surprise divorce. Join From Left to Write on Thursday, June 28 as we discuss Getting Married and Other Mistakes by Barbara Slate. I received a review copy of the book and all opinions are my own.


I don't have much first-hand knowledge about divorce, but I do have a few friends who are suffering through the few process, as well as a few friends who have healed nicely from its wounds. I just read something on divorce that made a lot of sense to me, and if you're hurting through the divorce process, maybe it will bring some comfort to you.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Dusty rose and oreos


Hey: remember when dusty rose was the it color?

We had a whole thing, L and I, this weekend, over cookies. She’s fallen in love with Oreos, which, fine, they’re delicious. But did you ever get that white cream inside on your hands? It’s just like shortening. I don’t really love her eating that. So on my last trip to Trader Joe’s a bought a box of Joe Joes, which is their version of the Oreo, but less terrifying in the ingredient list. And L won’t eat them because they don’t taste like Crisco, and also because they’re flavored with real vanilla and she can see the flecks.

Flecks.

And I was so frustrated because this is my girl who doesn’t worry about things like flecks. Or didn’t. And now she’s a fleck worrier, and did I ever tell you about the time we bought seven different cartons of vanilla ice cream, trying to find a totally fleckless one, for her big sister? Because her big sister maintains a fleckless diet and only enjoys about four foods but vanilla ice cream is one of them, so simple, a treat of ice cream, and she was ruining that treat for herself and the rest of us because she didn’t want any, on account of the flecks. And I don’t hold against her that she has tactile concerns and sensory concerns and a built-up mistrust and neuroticism for new-to-her foods based on all the aforementioned concerns; I just wanted her to have some things in her childhood uncomplicated by concerns. I wanted her to have the pleasure of enjoying a bowl of ice cream.

So we bought vanilla ice cream until we found some sufficiently fleckless. And now the second child is taking up the no-fleck mantle?

 So I remembered about my childhood bedroom, not as it was when we first moved into the house, but as it looked (and still looks) when I left. When we first moved in it was covered in yellow clown wallpaper, primary colors, red noses and red shoes and blue polka dots. Very ‘70s, although that decade had already left the building when those clowns became mine. Very yellow, with very mossy green carpet, and I loved it until the day I didn’t. And then it took years beyond that to convince my parents to strip the wallpaper and paint.

I was in middle school then, and I had an artistic vision. I wanted to paint the four walls of my little box of a room in alternating colors: peach, mint, peach, mint. It would look amazing, obviously. I was waiting for my piano lesson to start and was talking to the music school’s secretary and described it to her. She didn’t see it with the same vision: “don’t you think that will be a bit much?”

No, why?

She tried to be delicate. “I just think that will be hard on the eyes – all that switching from one color to the next. What if you just paint one wall in an alternate color, or just settle on a single color?” She didn’t convince me that my walls would look bad in peach and mint, but she did convince me that not everyone would think they looked good. I lost my confidence for my bold vision, and we painted in just peach. And that’s how they still look today. (If I still lived there, they’d be different by now.)

And the moral of the story is: L get be fleck-nervous now if she wants. Her tastes are changing as she’s growing, and she’ll probably have a different opinion in a few years. After all, her sister has expanded to five foods now with the addition of red bell peppers to her list (along with, because I know you’re wondering: chickpeas, strawberries, cheese-and-crackers (one food because they can only be eaten together) and challah-with-butter). Peppers are promising. One day flecks won’t matter. And I’m so glad nobody expects me to like a peach-and-mint color scheme forever.

This post was inspired by the book we just read for book club, wherein the character Amy, who may or may not have been murdered by her husband, brought out the crazy in other men, too. Her benefactor/abductor/stalker/admirer Desi had had a room in his lake house prepared for her for years, painted in dusty rose, the color he remembered from high school as being her favorite. Aren’t you glad you’re not held to the standards you once upheld decades ago? This was a can’t-put-down book with unforeseeable plot twists in every chapter. And I can’t tell you anything else without giving away plot points because they’re all too intricately woven. Oh, look, here’s some boilerplate to help me out:

This post is inspired by mystery thriller GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. They may not have the perfect marriage, but after Amy goes missing, Nick becomes the number one suspect. Can he discover what happened before it's too late? Join From Left to Write on June 12 as we discuss Gone Girl. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.




















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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Morning drive time

The longer she and I are alone in the car, the weightier the conversation gets. The drive to her school is, in my mind, broken into four segments. The first one, down the main thoroughfare that bisects our little town, is used for finishing the in-house chatter. Today's was killer whales and other whales and dolphins who protect turtles.

After a long light we turn right and head west through another neighborhood. She's usually quiet here, munching apple slices, making whatever mental transition she needs from home life to school life. I don't disturb her. A squat apartment complex sits on the left, three floors, set back from the street by its parking lot, couched between a church and a grocery store. Every day in a third-floor apartment dingy gray curtains are open enough to divide the window into even vertical thirds. In the middle leans a dingy old woman, pale skin dripping from her tiny arm bones, fuzzy gray hair blending into pale face and pale nightshirt and pale curtains, bookends on her pale existence. She's too far to see clearly but I wonder if it's been a long time since anybody's seen her clearly. Each day we pass she leans on her elbows watching the world go by and I watch her to the crisp crunch munch of my rosy-cheeked child snacking on the fruit of the tree of life.

We turn left again, cutting across a park, and here the questions usually start. Mama, so what happened to that man at your work? She saw him again last night at the bus stop in front of daycare when she accompanied me to get her siblings. He troubles her because she doesn't understand impairment. I tell her what I've always told her: that I don't know exactly what's wrong, but I think that when he was still in his mama's tummy his brain didn't finish growing exactly the way it should have. I remind her that he works in my building, that I know that he is kind, that he should not scare her. I give her new vocabulary: first, what is a 'phrase.' And then: 'mental retardation.' What mental is, and retardation, and how and how not to use certain words. And because she is ever-bigger I add a new truth to this conversation along with the vocab lesson: "mostly, you know what I think when I see him?"

What, Mama?

"How lucky I am to have you. How lucky I was to have easy math:  three healthy pregnancies, three healthy babies."  And immediately I regret my words, not because they aren't true, but because I don't want to say anything else. I don't want to explain how that man's life has inherent worth but I'm grateful she's not impaired like him, or how not every pregnancy ends in a healthy baby, or how we feared for a while that her brother, still growing inside me, might not be okay. Viable. Quality of life. Those are phrases for you. How I would have had a sister, but 'incompatibilities' and I don't. My mom's too-pale face against her then-dark hair, the wood-paneled basement where we stayed far past normal playdate's end, my mama didn't come home for a few days. The name they had picked out for her, a girl, the one I hear called out in the elementary school halls.

We turn again. Final segment. We pass a tree stump. It's wide, smooth, worn. It was the proverbial mighty oak, once, but for some undoubtedly drearily practical reason it was "removed." What a euphemism.  But out of the stump edge stands a sapling. It's maybe a foot tall, 18", too young to be unswayed by breeze, too large to be ignored. We pass it every day, just beyond a bus stop, and every day it makes me think of the old lady in the window two miles back. I don't know what that means, really, but I notice them both each day.

I don't know what anything means, really.

Questions are forming. I see her wide gray-blue eyes lose focus; she's concentrating on her inner world. She doesn't know yet how many gifts she has, to be healthy and smart and loved by two parents in a healthy relationship in a house with climate control and adequate fresh food and and and and. She's thinking just what to ask, or how to ask it, or maybe ordering her questions for a complex interrogation because the world is too big to comprehend at all

but I've eased onto the brake and hit the unlock button and the friendly carpool lane guy is opening the door, offering her a hand, lifting out her backpack with his other and "good morning, how are you today?" and she answers respectfully, a little quietly, good and I know her mind is swirling but it's locker, unpack, Pledge of Allegiance for her and so I say just "have a good day, sweet girl" and "I love you" and I drive away. Quickly, I turn up the radio.


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