Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Apple of My Eye

The Apple of My Eye

I’ve been meaning to write a little ode to our son—I’ve been meaning to do it for a while now. But today, it had to happen. It had to happen because of this:

Driving home from school, we were talking about the upcoming long weekend and how, on Labor Day, we celebrate people who work.

I work from home, mostly when the kids aren’t around, so logically, Little A. says, “Like Daddy.”

“That’s right.” Easy, reflexive mom response.

Little A. gets his “deep thoughts” face on. “There’s a song on Schoolhouse Rock that celebrates dads…for writing down all the principals’ names.”


I have no resp—OMG, OMG, wait! Does he mean…?

“Do you mean it celebrates the founding fathers for writing down the principles that guide our country?”

Little A. gives me his “duh” voice. “Yeah.”


Little A. gives me his offended voice. “That’s not funny.”

“No, you’re right, sweetie. It’s not. It sure is a tricky song, though.” And we proceeded to talk about founding fathers and principles. And he proceeded to say…

“I KNEW all that.”

Yes, our son is a volatile combination of philosopher and wrecking ball. He thinks deep thoughts and takes things apart to see how they work. He puts his hands on everything, misses the toilet, and keeps up with two adults and a nine-year-old in the humor department.

He’s passionate about anatomy, volcanoes, dinosaurs, vehicles, insects, constructions—really, just about anything that works. If it’s got a “how” to it, he wants to know. He’s physically fearless, as well as agile enough that most of our “watch out—you’ll hurt yourself” warnings fall on deaf ears. He’s addicted to mud puddles and chocolate.

He can put together Lego sets with hundreds of pieces without needing help—and then he cheerfully takes them apart, mixes them with other Legos, and generally loses them in the mess of his room.

He hates to make mistakes and loves to be hugged—when he’s in the mood. His easygoing except when he’s not—or when he’s hungry.

But he’s our boy and we love him!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Best Day Ever

So, I’ve been working on a deep post about living intentionally. Apparently, life heard about the infamous advice to writers—Show, Don’t Tell!—and decided to take it to heart. I probably will publish that post soon, telling you all about my plans to live intentionally, but here’s what life showed me today.

After being away for a month and then a weekend when I had the flu (long story), we finally made it back to our church this afternoon. Little A. had a rough start, but then he behaved beautifully all through the service, allowing us to enjoy three of my favorite hymns and an inspiring homily.

On the way out, Big A. saw a lot of people he needed to talk to, so the kids and I headed out into the courtyard where they amused themselves, stretching their legs and voices after an hour of good behavior. I soaked in the images of their tall, healthy bodies running across the grass and thought how good life could be.

When Big A. finished up, we decided the kids deserved a treat for their great job at church, so we’d go out to eat. They literally jumped up and down as we told them. Then we started walking briskly back, past the pond, to our car.

“I want to go sit on the bench and look at the pond,” said Little A.

“Oh! Yeah, can we go sit on the bench?” added S.

Big A. and I exchanged glances. It was hot and sticky in the sun and the restaurant was probably developing a wait list as we stood there.

“I don’t know,” said Big A. reluctantly. “We might have to wait for a table.”

Always one to avoid conflict, I suggested, “Why don’t you go sit down, count to three, and then we’ll go?”

“Okay!” the kids chorused as they ran off to the bench facing the pond.

They sat down, completely forgetting the time limit, while Big A. and I admired the beautiful sight of our two growing children in a moment of peace.

“I wish I had a camera.” Neither of us had brought a phone (living intentionally!) so we knew there would be no picture.

“We’ll just have to remember it.”

We didn’t think it could get more perfect than that, but then, apparently out of nowhere, a mama duck and her two babies swam towards the kids. The baby ducks got out of the pond and headed straight for the kids, stopping maybe two feet away.

We all watched in wonder as they waddled around, seeming to put on a show just for us. After a good visit, they started to head back toward the pond, and we called out to the kids.

“Time to go!”

“Say goodbye to the ducks!”

“Goodbye, ducks!” said the kids and—I swear this next bit really happened—one of the ducks said, “Quack!”

We headed back down the path. S. spotted a centipede and, as they bent to examine it, Little A. said, “This is the best day ever! The ducks came so close to us and now there’s a centipede.”

S. said, “Yeah, someday, I’m going to tell my kids about this.”

Message received, life. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Wanna Be Like Gru

I’ve always thought of the start of a new school year as the real New Year. I love going back to school—the new schedule, the new opportunities, the new school supplies…Ah! School supplies. So that makes me definitely a geek, yes. But it also makes me start thinking of fresh starts and resolutions at this time of year.

And…..drumroll, please….for the start of the 2013 school year, I resolve to be more like Gru.

(If you haven’t seen Despicable Me or Despicable Me 2, this post may lose something in translation, but I’ll try to convey why I like the guy so darn much.)

He's Honest: When Gru’s in a good mood, he’s in a good mood. When he’s not, he’s not. Okay, he uses a weensy bit of sarcasm with co-workers and sometimes a touch of misdirection to dodge matchmaking neighbors, but, as a whole, he tells it like it is.

When everyone hates the jelly he manufactures, he admits it. But he looks on the bright side, too. “Just because everyone hates it doesn’t mean it’s not good.”

I think he really had me when he read the girls The Three Little Kittens for the first time and said, “Wow. This is garbage.” That’s honesty in parenting for you!

Of course, he also confesses that giving the girls back to the orphanage was “the worst mistake of my life.” And that’s the honesty that I aspire to as parent—letting your kids know that you messed up, majorly.

He Has Boundaries: Gru knows what he will and won’t do; he has good boundaries and no qualms about maintaining them.

I love, love, love the part where he sprays his interfering neighbor with the hose. “Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t see you there.” He does it again. “Or there.”

It’s hard to put his into words, but there’s no burden to his choices. He has a lovely, free sense of “okay, you do what you need to do, but this is what I’m going to do.” It sounds so simple when I put it that way, but it’s hard to live it. Boy, could I use a dose of that!

He's Open-minded: All the same, Gru learns. Aside from the big lessons of love he learns in each movie, he changes in all kinds of other ways. He develops a moral code and a conscience, for one thing. On a lighter level, he tries stuff—everything from going to a carnival to kissing his minions goodnight to letting Margo grow up a little.

I always want to keep trying new things!

He’s In the Moment: I love the part of the second movie when Gru walks across the park all happy and in love, then walks back, depressed, after he finds out Lucy is moving. Sure, he’s a jerk on the way back, but he’s living his life as it is. And the chip hat! I want a chip hat every time I’m depressed from now on.

There are complex psychological terms for this, but he also doesn’t take things personally. The Bank of Evil turns down his loan? Temporary setback. A circumstance, not a personal failure.

And, in the end, letting go of unsuccessful moments like that is what allows Gru—or anyone else—to succeed in the end. So, yes, I aspire to live each moment as it is, so I can let it go and be open to the next one.

He Loves Unconditionally: When he gives his heart, Gru gives it for real. Look how loyal he is to his minions and what a fun team energy they have—celebrating their successes and rolling with their, um, really bad jelly.

Once those girls come into his life, he fights for them—defeating carnival shysters, evil villains, and his own fears without blinking. And he does the for-real stuff, too—the bedtime stories, the kisses, the juggling of work and parenting, the apologies for mistakes…not to mention throwing a fairy princess party for Agnes and even playing the fairy princess. Now that schtuff’s real.

So this is why I like Gru. He’s an “I just gotta be me” kind of guy, complex yet simple, honest, loyal, open, loving…and really sarcastic. It’s amazing how much character they packed into that animated movie.

Plus I have to learn to say “Girls!” like he does….

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shaw v Cyberspace

The universe tells us things occasionally. I’ve been thinking a lot about life as a mother and writer lately. Then Facebook, the universe’s scrap bin, where the ridiculous piles on top of the sublime at warp speed, got in on the act.

A good friend and writer posted a link to Letters of Note (an amazing site), featuring this letter by George Bernard Shaw. And then my latest blog crush, Janelle Hanchett of Renegade Mothering, posted this fantastic article immediately after the G. B. Show post.

Why does that matter?

Because I’ve been wrestling with the following quote from Shaw’s Man and Superman since I was about eighteen and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. (Hang in there, it’s super-long, but it’s got vampires in it!)

The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art. To women he is half vivisector, half vampire. He gets into intimate relations with them to study them, to strip the mask of convention from them, to surprise their inmost secrets, knowing that they have the power to rouse his deepest creative energies, to rescue him from his cold reason, to make him see visions and dream dreams, to inspire him, as he calls it. He persuades women that they may do this for their own purpose whilst he really means them to do it for his. He steals the mother’s milk and blackens it to make printer’s ink to scoff at her and glorify ideal women with. He pretends to spare her the pangs of child-bearing so that he may have for himself the tenderness and fostering that belong of right to her children. Since marriage began, the great artist has been known as a bad husband. But he is worse: he is a child-robber, a blood-sucker, a hypocrite, and a cheat. Perish the race and wither a thousand women if only the sacrifice of them enable him to act Hamlet better, to paint a finer picture, to write a deeper poem, a greater play, a profounder philosophy! For mark you, Tavy, the artist’s work is to shew us ourselves as we really are. Our minds are nothing but this knowledge of ourselves; and he who adds a jot to such knowledge creates new mind as surely as any woman creates new men. In the rage of that creation he is as ruthless as the woman, as dangerous to her as she to him, and as horribly fascinating. Of all human struggles there is none so treacherous and remorseless as the struggle between the artist man and the mother woman. Which shall use up the other? that is the issue between them. And it is all the deadlier because, in your romanticist cant, they love one another.

Artist man vs. mother woman* death match—two enter, only one leaves, place your bets now! And, in the world presented in this speech, one thing absolutely cannot exist: the artist mother.

Now, Shaw didn’t necessarily say this; one of his characters did. And based on his letter mentioned above, Shaw might have been a bit more hip and cool about women than this character’s speech suggests. I probably should read more about his life before I speculate on that. Certainly, he wrote Eliza Doolittle with great respect and insight. But.

Something in this speech rings true with me. Artists whose work speaks down through the generations tend to be/have been…single-minded, shall we say. Some of them have even had personal lives that could be considered…seriously lacking.

Where do I fit into that? I would die for my children—Fact. I’m not sure how much I’d give for my art—Ambiguous and waffling quasi-statement.

And that may simply be the answer--that there is no answer, as writing can be (weak verb!) quite (qualifying adjective!) ambiguous. I have always, and will always, put my thoughts, feelings, observations, and experiences into words on paper. Does that make me a writer and a failed mother? Despite the occasional struggle to do so, I’ve yet to find an audience for most of those words. Does that make me a mother and failed writer? (And that, dear blog readers, is why I love each and every one of you! Somehow we find each other in cyberspace.)

I often imagine myself a modern Emily Dickinson, partly because I find myself writing in a similar style and partly because I doubt if she ever expected her work to be as widely read as it is today. (See—I have hubris! Maybe I am a writer.) She most certainly was not a mother, though, so she hardly resolves the alleged conflict.

I believe what Janelle Hanchett says--the world within the family provides an endless stream of inspiration for a writer; my lack of travel hardly impedes my art. The  lack of time--or lack of the will to drop other things--to focus on writing may, on the other hand, hurt my work. Is that a conflict a mother can resolve or not?

More importantly, am I writer without a reader? If not, how many readers does it take to make one a writer?

That’s the eternal dilemma. And where does a modern poet find readers? Here’s my latest idea. Tell me what you think. Consider it a marketing test—you can be my focus group. What if I grouped my poems into “albums” and sold them for 99 cents on amazon? Would you buy ten to twelve poems on a certain topic for 99 cents? 

If not, what would you prefer? What stops you from reading poetry? What would make it more accessible to you? The marketing department anxiously awaits your responses.

*For the purposes of aligning with the words Shaw used, I will refer to "mothers" versus artists in the bulk of this post. Please understand that to mean "parent responsible for primary caregiving" in modern terms. Although I acknowledge, as I believe Shaw does, the unique physical connection between mother and child.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Our children got to experience many amazing things on our recent three-and-a-half-week road trip, including real ocean waves.

I grew up in Maryland, near the Atlantic, and we spent a week or two at the beach every year. I took riding the waves for granted—from an early age, I knew the timing, how to read currents, that rough days leave a lot of sand in your suit. I can tell you my worst “dump” story—I waited a bit too long and got churned by the water so badly I thought I was swimming up until I hit sand. I have an undertow story, too.

I respect the water and I love it. There’s no thrill like matching yourself against a mighty force of nature. I loved hanging with my siblings at the beach, teaching all our kids what my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncle had taught us. First and always, watch the water. Never turn your back on it, but also notice everything—the timing, the slant of the waves, if they crest quickly or build slowly. And if you’re tired, get out.

Of course, moving in and out of the water gets tricky—that’s the part where you have to cross the breakers, fast. Last week, both our kids got dumped pretty thoroughly while crossing the breakers. I felt glad it happened early in the week. That way, they knew to respect the water, but they had time to learn to enjoy it afterward, too.

I’ve come back from our indescribably wonderful trip with strings of memories and images piled up in my mind, a delightful pile of souvenirs to enjoy. The metaphor of the ocean has stuck with me, though, popping up frequently in the last day or so.

The last forty-eight hours (Really? Only two days?) have been enlightening. As I’ve tried to catch the rhythm of my pre-vacation life, I’ve realized something. I’ve been fighting a cold, choppy sea for a couple of years now. I’ve had my eyes on the incoming waves, but I’ve forgotten to check in with myself. After a couple of weeks off, a couple of weeks to be rather than to do, I realized something else. I’m tired. Dangerously so.

So, I’m in the process of making my way to a blanket on the sun-warmed sand, sprinting as hard as I can to make it between the breakers. And you know what? Yesterday, I got caught. A series of waves smacked me and dumped me on my head. And my tail. And my head.

I feel like I’m wading out now, but I keep checking over my shoulder for incoming waves. The beach waits; I’m almost there. I think my rubbery knees will carry me that far. I keep telling myself that last slog through rushing water, then wet sand, then deep, loose sand can be the hardest, but I’m almost there.

Almost there.