Sunday, November 30, 2014

Poem: Ties

I wrote this a while ago, but I've been thinking about it this weekend. I've started to get a little energy back lately and I really, really, really want to make some changes in our lives. I want to stop being so crazy busy eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. There's only one catch--I can't see how.

And until I can figure out how to change it, our life simply is what it is. Kind of like this poem I wrote back when. It meanders a bit, but that's kind of the point.

Sunny Sunday morning
Warmth in irregular
Squares on the carpet
Children sprawled coloring
Dog napping on guard
Poetry playing notes

Steam puffs from the iron
The crooked made straight
As my hands work on
My mind runs free
In separation and conjunction

The divergent tracks
Of my life crash together
A phrase, a measure
Calls forth tears
Spotting my work
Giving me pause

Forty years is not so long
These hands are young
In their work, too young
For my heart to surrender
For my soul to crave rest
For my life to be a chore

Mindlessly, I count—
As I do when bored
Or enduring—
The stops and stations of my trek
Thirty-three times three times 365
Setting the table—so what?

Twenty-seven times 365
Making lunch
That’s fine, really.
Vacuuming fifty-two times twenty-five
Plus more than a few…
Sounds good.

Fourteen times five
Dress shirts pressed, less a few
Plus pants—
My mind snaps back
To now
No need for dispensation

Blessed, privileged
My daily bread abundant
I live the American life
And I want to die to it
I want the peace
Of ending the endless

I do not choose this time
And this place, this race
I choose rest by a
Sun-dappled stream
Birdsong, hidden treasures
Children’s laughter

Warm, long-cooked meals
Full, rich nights of sleep
The joy of creation
The peace of making
The pleasure of adding
My craft to our home

Colorful cushions
Music that moves
Stories we share
The peace that opens hearts
And lifts eyes to meet
In shared truth

All that I’ve pushed aside
Dubbed optional, expendable
For the grim satisfaction
Of getting the job done
All that I let go is everything
That I want of life

Exhausted, shaken, I gaze
At the trainwreck in dull wonder
Which track leads away?
Which cars carry weight?
What to salvage? What to scrap?
What do I do?

What do I know how to do?
What do I want to do?
What if I do nothing?
Which question do I answer?
Somewhere under these iron weights
My heart beats, tired and stubborn.

“There was nothing to do, but always the next thing to be done.” Tehanu, Ursula LeGuin

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dog's Life: A Photo Essay

This morning our dog Bruno decided to do his morning business by the pond. In the dawn light, the pond lay still. Within its frame of water lilies, the water made a perfect mirror for the delicate tints of the sky and the crescent moon, still sailing high above.

I thought, Wow. Talk about a Poop with a View.
Didn't have my camera today, so this is a slightly less gorgeous morning, but you get the idea.
You know, dogs don't have it so bad. Our half hyper-fun Border Collie mix/half lazy hound dog mix certainly doesn't, anyway. His days consist of a variety of exquisitely comfortable naps interspersed with the odd rough-and-tumble with our son or a super cool field trip, usually involving dashing rabbits or squirrels.

Nap Position 1--notice the all-important "hanging out tongue" technique.
Nap Position 2--we politely don't mention what historical salute this resembles.
I can't forget--he does have some self-imposed duties. He gives every guest a thorough sniff-down. No smuggling illicit food in here! And he barks at everything that goes by the house...but only from eight in the morning until ten in the morning.

He keeps his work/life boundaries clear.
Self-imposed duty--but when his two hours are up, he leaves the stress at the office--er, house--door.

Variety in Napping Locations is the spice of life!
 Bruno does sometimes pick his head up when I come into the house--skeptical eyebrows are a bonus--and I am always flattered by the attention.

Guarding the Va'Cuum
And how could I forget his other job? He must use all his courage and might to guard the house against the evil Va'Cuum--and then he must repurify all the carpets that have been befouled by the monster. Once the Va'Cuum falls silent, he finds the exact center of the horrifyingly cleansed area and reclaims it for the Forces of Good!

Reclaimed by the Forces of Good!
"Yes, I admit to chasing the church squirrels, but I did NOT poop on the lawn. Mom did NOT pick anything up here. Move along."
No matter what, at the end of the day, he's an integral part of our pack, loving and well-loved. Enjoy that nap, Bruno!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Take It and Run

Last weekend our Girl Scout troop ran a 5k race to raise money for our local hospice house.

Let’s face it--I was worried. Very worried. I have a long track record of helping girls step out of their comfort zones, but this time I was out of mine as well. The only other even remotely similar thing I’d done was Tough Mudder AAAAAND…that’s not even remotely similar.

Given the crazy schedules of daily modern life, we didn’t practice a whole lot as a team. We did a half mile for practice one time and I got even more worried. I honestly wasn’t even sure if we’d all finish the course. Luckily, we have a great leader and great parents and fantastic scouts. So we went for it!

In short, I learned—AGAIN!—how stunningly beautiful young people can be when they rise to a challenge. Many of the girls and their families have already said how much they’d like to do another race. I know our family wants to do it again! But most of all, they showed that they truly live the values that scouting teaches.

We just got the finish line pictures today* and, in them, I see the bonds among the girls. I see their sense of fun. I see how they always give their best effort. Most of all, I see how they care for each other.  That day, they showed so clearly what I love about these kids.

Our first two scouts to cross the finish line did their best to tie, to cross the line together just as they’d run the course together.

Our next scout, one of the teenagers, flew across with a beautiful natural stride, crossing at 47 minutes because she’d run with our seven-year-old son the whole way. We hadn’t been sure he’d finish, let alone at just over 47 minutes and full of pride. What a gift she gave him!

Then came another older scout, partnered with our youngest, a first grader.  The older scout went on to earn her next belt in tae kwon do that day—testing an hour and a half after finishing the race. And how many six year olds can run three miles these days?
Somewhere in there, all the wonderful parents who made it possible finished strong. One mom, nine months pregnant, carried her two-year-old across in the best happy dance ever.

But the picture that really makes my heart catch shows the last two scouts in our group to cross the line. After they completed the course together, one girl pulled ahead at the end. She stopped—right at the finish line—and looked back, waiting for her friend. The photograph caught it perfectly, showing one girl throwing her heart into her running and one girl, waiting mid-step, head turned to look over her shoulder.

Sometimes all we need to do is put the opportunity in front of them. If it’s meant to be, they’ll take it and run with it. After this, I don’t care if we do anything else this year; it doesn’t matter if we earn a single badge.  Our scouts are champions!

*In the interests of privacy, I haven't used the actual finish line pictures (of other people's children).

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ode to a Middle Finger

I had no idea how many times I use my middle finger in a day. Until I injured it.

I foolishly (no need to get into how—imagine a mom with mom brain and a broken flower pot. ‘Nuff said.) sliced the skin off the tip of my middle finger while cleaning up for Little A.’s big birthday weekend. I’ve spent the time since being humbled by my reliance on good ol’ “tall man.”

My long, strong middle finger does so much for me. Since I’m basically a polite, soft-spoken person, it allows me to express myself fully. For example, without it, I can only say this:

As an edtor. Type for a lvng. T’s oay to skp most letters or gve them to other fngers, but some just can’t be typed wthout t.

I also find that my middle digit does a lot of the heavy lifting in my day. It’s always sticking out there, so it leverages all my interactions. Need me to lift a frying pan from the bottom of the stack? Totally going with that middle finger. You want the volume turned up? Need that middle finger.

Tucking in a shirt? Opening one of those window locks? Scrubbing the slime out of a dog bowl? Yep, all get the middle digit treatment. And when the kids need me to dig change out of the bottom of my purse? Yeah, I lead with the middle finger. Oh-my-gosh-so-much-pain-if-you-forget-it's-hurt.

Did I mention how many times a day I put my hands in water? Seriously, the mom life consists of either cleaning some sh*t off something or subsequently cleaning said sh*t off your hands. Try doing that with a bandage or an open wound! I ended up wearing a rubber glove half the time.

Because I'm bad, I'm bad...
I know I'm a child of the '80s, but I did not like Michael Jackson anywhere remotely enough for this!

Longhaired folks, I know you hear me when I say this, but sometimes people just don’t get your need to use your middle finger.

I mean, I said to Big A., “How am I going to wash my hair now?”

He looked at me as if I were totally idiotic and he said, “Use your other hand?”

Now, you KNOW why I needed a middle finger there. Of course he doesn’t get it; his hair is a quarter inch long, for crying out loud.

I’m happy to say that, ten days later, we’re on the mend. I can type again. Alleluia! I can wash my hair. I can clean the dog bowl. I can dig through my purse with only the slightest twinge.

But I will never, ever, take that special appendage for granted again. All hail, mighty middle finger!
This photo is solely for illustrative purposes. It has no additional meaning and any resemblance to any other body part, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Five Minutes in My Life

Because five minutes is all I have lately. And five minutes is plenty. Multiply that by however many times it takes to get the hours that our kids are awake and you will have an excellent idea of the glorious madness of my life. I’m blessed, truly. I know it.

But sometimes I have to roll my eyes.

So, Little A. had been inside most of the morning and we plan to go to church later. Normally, that would require some serious outdoor running around to pull off, but he’s been tired lately—a week of birthday and Halloween will do that to a guy, you know.

So, I asked, “Little A., how are you feeling? Do you need to run your fidgets out before church?”

Little A. said, “No. I’m fine.”

Then, as I started talking to his sister, I hear from the other room, “Fidget-o, fidget-o, fidget-o!” sung operatically, a la Rossini.

We may need to run outside just a bit before church.

His sister had just finished having watermelon in her lunch for the seventeen billionth day in a row.

I said, “S., we have to find some new fruits for you to eat for lunch.”

Her eyes lit up and she said, ”Peaches!”

I sighed. “Well, peaches are on the dirty dozen, so we should buy organic. They’re hard to find except in season.”

S. smiled triumphantly. “It IS season, Mommy. The parking lot at Publix was full of cars from New York.”

Drum roll, please.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sunset Field Forever

We have the great good fortune to live in a neighborhood near a grocery store, several main roads, and a bunch of cow fields. Yes, cow fields.

It seems the county or some entity gives tax breaks for grazing land, so the undeveloped lots around our neighborhood have been home to quirky cattle herds and a few bee hives in the years since we moved in.

These fields dominate our journeys to-and-fro, changing from lush and green—even swampy—in summer, to dry and brown in the winter, when the laissez faire custodians dump hay for the cattle. The cattle, unregulated by their guardians, breed and birth at will, giving us adorable newborns to watch in every season.

I’ve watched the fields as I took my healthy pregnancy walks, as I toted babies in backpacks, slings, and strollers, and, more recently, as we took family bike rides or I ran for myself. I’ve composed poetry as I meditatively passed the ponds, solitary trees, and seasonal grasses. The kids have laughed in delight over peeing cows, bulls, and calves. They’ve seen cows nurse their babies and “big kid” calves learn to eat grass. I even proved to Big A. that cows can, in fact, run and it is, in fact, hysterical to watch.
On the way to Sunset Field.

One particular field, the largest and farthest from our house, could only be reached on foot on the best days. It’s a solid mile and a quarter there (and the same back again), so to take a mom/baby or mom/toddler duo there requires ideal conditions. All the same, we drive by it on our way to church, one of our schools, the mall, Target, the dojang, the dry cleaner…you get the idea.

One morning when S. was an infant, we drove past an early morning flock of Florida parakeets in the field. New to Florida, I seriously doubted my sanity when I saw that flock of green birds! And I’ve always enjoyed checking in the brindle cow that has stood out from her herd since we moved in. Her beautiful black and brown coat made her easy to spot and I loved that I’d “known” her for over ten years.

Why we call it Sunset Field--and this probably only shows a third of the sky visible.
Home to the bee hives and the largest herd of cattle, this field also offers a beautiful unobstructed view of the western sky. I didn’t realize until just recently that I thought of it as “Sunset Field.” When we drive home from activities or dinner out and spot color in the sky, we always say, “Wait until we get to the Sunset Field—this is a good one!”

Nothing last forever. Around when we expected Little A., developers came sniffing around, applying for zoning variances and presenting development plans to nearby neighborhoods. Well, with Little A. came the recession and the developers vanished for a while. We’ve been grateful for that slight silver lining in the cloud that hurt so many.
The fence coming down.

And now, as things look up for the economy, the developers have reappeared. The zoning hearing is over, the cows are gone, the picturesque white fence is coming down, and Sunset Field will be renamed Cobblestone, home 180 houses instead of a herd of cows.

I’ve cried over this—it’s crazy, isn’t it? For someone who has lived her whole life in areas that are beautiful, rapidly developing, or both, I still get awfully attached.

At least now I have the wisdom to take an evening at Sunset Field, as I wished I had with so many spots before, when other beloved land was lost. Yes, I photographed it, but I also took time to stand there with Bruno and smell the air, feel the open space, hear the evening quiet, and just be.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Live in Peace

So, I have an obsession with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books.

They’re not the greatest books ever; the second and third desperately needed editing. The characters are interesting, but pretty self-absorbed and certainly alien to everything I am and do. So why the obsession? Okay, the endless stream of sandwiches and coffee may be part of it. You caught me.

I think there’s something else, though. When I envy Michael Blomkvist, it’s not his fame or his career or his status as a player, it’s the simplicity of his life. I envy his one room apartment in downtown Stockholm and his one room cabin on the shore. His lack of a car. His European-style fund of vacation days. His prison sentence.

Yep, I said that. I caught a glimpse of a crime show on tv today. A middle-aged, motherly looking woman sat there in a prison interview room, wearing a white t-shirt and jumpsuit. All I could think of was how comfy she looked. Then I started fantasizing about living in a clean, small room with no piles of stuff everywhere. I dreamed of having three meals a day served to me, however crappy the food might be. I positively yearned to have all my decisions taken away—wear this, eat now, shower now, with no thought required.

Add to that the descriptions of Michael Blomkvist’s Swedish prison—basically a “bad hotel room” with a locking cabinet for his laptop, time to work out, and low-stakes poker with the inmates—wow.

So that brings me back to this retro-revolutionary idea I have. Let’s bring back sanitariums.

Whoa! Hold your horses! Do not panic. Hear me out.

I know that the Victorian approach toward treating mental health and women and mental health for women led to generations of general effed-up-ness. I’m not saying let’s go back to hysterectomies and laudanum, for crying out loud. I don’t want people politely hiding pregnancies or dying of TB in these places. I’m calling for rest.

Okay, maybe not sanitariums.

I guess I we have spas these days, although that seems so ridiculously out of my reach. I’d really like longer than I could ever afford in a spa—like six weeks. That’s the number that keeps popping into my head. And so, when I think how I could never afford six weeks in a spa, my mind starts looking for things I might be able to afford—like six weeks in prison. And then I shake myself. Seriously, Rosanne? What’s wrong with you?

Maybe it isn’t me. Maybe it has more to do with this American “let’s work ourselves to death” pact. Maybe we need paid parental leave. Maybe we need to realize that 99% of our kids will never be famous and stop shuttling them to 17,000 activities a week. Maybe we should just let them be happy.

Maybe we need to accept that what’s truly healthy is having time in our day to make and linger over a nice meal, possibly with a glass of wine. And take a walk through the neighborhood after. Maybe we need to embrace vacation time as the savior of lives and health and productivity that it is.

Maybe we need to stop trying to beat each other to the finish line—which, in life, is death—and live in peace.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


I will have
                An excellent camera
                And time
                And a driver
For my foggy morning carpool drive

I will capture
In a field near home
                The domesticity
                Of a sandhill crane
                Family, pecking breakfast
Near a majestic bull reposing on a rise

Past the chaos
Stoplights and fast food
                The delicate strata
                Of country wire fences
                And rows of country trees
Interlaces with a wetland fog

Then the pristine peace
Of the soldiers’ cemetery
                Clean lines
                And pure planes
                Honor at rest
Silvered by fog, gilded by dawn

Through wild land
Park land, true swamp
                Blind fog now
                A shaft of light
                Paints a palm frond
We emerge at the school’s white gate

We motor slowly
Past flags of all nations
                Standing sentinel
                Limned by light
                Framed by fog
Craning my neck, I crave a camera

Someday, I vow
Someday I will
These moments of aching morning beauty

When I have time
                And grown kids
                Money for a camera
                And no reason
To take a country road to school in a foggy dawn.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

To My Daughter

Dearest, darling, child of mine,

I will still call you that, for, at ten, you are still a child, though it’s hard to believe.

You’re growing up. You’re only six inches and two shoe sizes away from my size; I can slip my arm around your narrowing waist without bending over. You suddenly see the point in conditioner for your hair and I can’t shop for you unless you come with me, since you’re developing your own wonderful sense of expression through clothes.

I love you, sweet girl, and there’s something I want to say to you, so listen well.

I’m not a perfect mom. Sometimes I fail you. I try too hard or I ask too much or my demons trip me. I’m sorry.

I know that sometimes you can’t even hear your own growing voice because my figurative voice echoes so loudly, in your thoughts and in our home. I know that you want to pull away and think for yourself—I want you to do that, too.

I know you want to try on most (and I’m very grateful it’s not all) of the voices and behaviors and styles that you see out in the world. Try them! Just always know that I’m that person who loves you enough to say when the jeans make your butt look weird—or when the way you’re acting doesn’t show you for who you are.

I know that I’m the foundation under your feet and you’re getting ready to leap off and soar. I know part of that leap means pushing against your ground—your grounding, your anchor, your mom. I want you to push and I want you to soar! Sweet daughter, I want you to reach heights I can’t even see from here. I only ask that you try to remember, if you can, that I’m also a person who loves you very much and, if you can, don’t make that pushing off too hard.

I love that we share books and music and jokes. I love that, gradually, you’re bringing wonderful new things to me instead of me introducing you to the world. That’s how it should be. And I want that connection of words and sound and humor between us to be our guideline. No matter how far apart we are, in space or feeling, I want us to know that that line exists and love flows along it, even during the times when it must go in disguise.

For go it will, sweet girl. The love will never stop flowing from me to you, in whatever form it must take. Know that now and let it go. Only think of it when you need it, but trust that it will be there. It will.

Now you go, leap, soar, discover—and remember, everyone deserves a chance to fly!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fun for All Ages

Welcome to my first blog by request! As I rambled on about this topic, one of my passions, a friend said, “You should blog about that!” And I said, “Wow. That’d be cool.” So here we go.

When S. had only just started learning new things, I learned something new and very important. You see, I noticed that she wanted to crawl, but she didn’t quite have the whole alternating arms and legs concept. So I tried to show her. I got down on the floor and crawled around.

Well, she couldn’t say what she was thinking, but she sure looked at me like I might be an alien, landing right there in her living room. Not long after that, we started going to our library play group (more about that here). There, S. watched the other, slightly older, kids crawl around and got the hang of it in no time.

This brings me back to something I read in a fiction book (Anne McCaffrey’s Damia, if you’re interested): Each one, teach one.

I can’t begin to list how many times I’ve seen that principle work beautifully in my own childhood, so I’m going to stick to my thoughts as a parent. Children of all ages learn best from slightly older children. That’s why Big A. and I have consistently sought multi-age environments for our children.

Why? Well, my theory is that, as baby S. demonstrated, adults are aliens. Of course, they’re important and all that—no question. But can you remember being a kid? Your parents were gross and old and what—like 30-something? Ewwww. You were never going to be that old. But a kindergartner can imagine being in third grade and a fifth grader can relate to a high schooler.

So children aspire to be “big kids.” Eventually they’ll want to be adults, but not for a while yet. Right now, they just want to be like the older kids—the cool kids.

This gets us to the big win-win of multi-age groups. Take S.’s Girl Scout troop. Adults supervise everything, but the older scouts (middle and high school) do the work of helping the younger girls with skills they haven’t developed. For example, when our group of 5-17 year old girls does a craft that requires accurate cutting, it’s a huge blessing. Let’s count the wins there:
  •  The adults don’t have to help with the scissors…for the thirty-nine millionth time.
  • The younger girls get big-eyed and inspired to be like the big girls. They’re on fire to cut “just like so-and-so did!”
  • The older girls learn the art of teaching. They slow down, organize and articulate steps, give feedback, respond to their pupils. It’s amazing!
  • The younger girls get the benefit of the older girls’ patience and interest (when adults may be frazzled or focused on logistics)
  • The older girls get a healthy and genuine esteem boost from successfully teaching a skill. (Showing them the genuine rewards of growing up can counteract some of the superficial markers they see everywhere—defiance, self-destructive behavior, hypersexuality.)
  • The older girls also get to step back into a simpler life for a minute. Teens vacillate between adulthood and childhood; this gives them a still-satisfying way to leave behind the pressures of growing up for a bit.

 As I said, some of my best experiences as a child came from being taught by—or just playing with—older kids. Some of my most satisfying moments as a teen came from working with younger children. Some of my most successful activities as a camp counselor came from setting up peer-led activities.

As a parent, I’ve seen my children’s biggest, happiest leaps come in a dynamic, healthy group of young people of all ages. In schools, in scouting, and in martial arts, they grow without even realizing it. They think they’re just having fun!

And if you’re interested in some cool additional reading, click these links: