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October 2004
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December 2004

I know. I suck.

Hi, everyone! Didja miss me? I know, I’ve been lax. I’ve heard a few grumbles about my blogging habits lately, and the past week has been abominable. I had some good reasons. The Thanksgiving preparations, my grandfather in the hospital, people who need me here or there. But the truth is it isn’t busyness that’s kept me away.

Usually, when I blog, I sit down to my computer, and an image from my day floats to the surface. I snag it and write it down, and that’s what I have to show you that night. But right now my days are a jumble, a mosaic of joy and pain and I don’t know where to look first.

My grandfather, who has always seemed like an extraordinarily powerful, gentle person, looks to me like a man who is dying. I don’t know if he is, no one knows for sure, but something in his eyes reminds me of my Grandpa Max the last time I saw him. It was Thanksgiving, fifteen years ago, and Grandpa Max told me he didn’t think he’d see me again. He died Christmas Eve. Grandpa Joe doesn’t have the same awareness, but there is a distance in him - as though part of him is already elsewhere. Another part of him is panicked, and I wish I could take his hand and comfort him somehow. He loves me, but he’s beyond my comfort.

Grandma is aware of him slipping away, sliding out from underneath her hand, and she can’t even find the words to express her terror. 62 years they’ve been married, how can there be words for that?

My mom, who is my best friend, is in the middle of this storm. She stands there, in the midst of her parents’ pain and fear, trying to help them, while her own emotions wash over her. She comes home and sits silent, while it all works its slow relentless way through her heart.

And at the same time, I am falling in love. His name is Clay, and I don’t know why I wouldn’t tell you before. Those who know us already know we’re seeing each other, and those of you who don’t know us…well, don’t know us. But he is here. I’m sometimes speechless at this gift in my life. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever be here again, and if I’d dreamed of it, I didn’t think it would be this sweet.

So I’m bringing him into the boys’ life now, and standing back to see where those pieces fall. Just because I love all of them doesn’t mean they will all fit together easily. I can’t orchestrate those relationships, so I watch and pray. There is no escaping the fact that my sons’ father is gone, leaving them with an ache and an anger and a need. Any man who comes too near them is going to be subject to some complex feelings.

All of this is happening simultaneously, and I just don’t know where to look. I have no single image to hold up to you, to show you and say, here. This is what my day was like.

In the words of a song I heard the other day, “I love this crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic, awful, beautiful life.”

In other words, life is hard. God is good.

In other words, please bear with me as I muddle through.


Love is in the air

I’m trying to type this around a very sullen cat. Claire (our beautiful, stupid cat) is sitting on my lap and she’s irritated. Do you know how cats show irritation? Same way they show devotion, by burying their claws in your thigh.

And what is it that is ruffling Princess Pretty Kitty’s fur? Carmelita (our beautiful, oh so stupid dog). Carmie adores Claire. She loves her and follows her from room to room. Right now she’s anxiously dashing from my right elbow to my left, whining. She knows if she gets too close Claire will add to the cross hatch design of claw marks on her nose, so she’s keeping a semi-safe distance. But oh, OH she loves that cat so!

When we were picking out Carmie at the shelter, one of the people who worked there took me aside with Carmie to see how she reacted to cats. We took her in another room and walked her back and forth in front of a wall of cats in cages. Carmie blinked at them. The woman opened one of the cages and let the cat sniff Carmie. She looked away in distain.

“Well, she doesn’t seem all that interested in cats!” the woman announced brightly, so we took our new dog home.

THE TRUTH is that she hadn’t yet met THE RIGHT cat. Claire, her one true love. The first time Claire and Carmie came nose-to-nose, the air was electric. Carmie quivered and whimpered with instant love. Claire glared and growled low as she slowly backed away. And so began the Courtship of the Cat.

Everyday Carmie spends much of her time following Claire from room to room. Claire does her best to ignore her, offended as she is by such obvious overtures. She leaps from bed to chair, all icy rejection, and Carmie follows. Carmie whines doggy love poems at Claire, and is rewarded with absolute distain.

Unfortunately, Carmie isn’t what you’d want to describe as…the BRIGHTEST of bulbs. Often, as she’s following her one true love, she loses track of her. There Claire will be, perched on the back of the couch, while Carmie races from room to room, whimpering and yipping tiny little barks of love, bewildered. She can SMELL the cat, WHERE IS SHE? When she does spot Claire she rushes over with such unbridled joy that it inevitably angers the cat, who hisses and scratches her nose. At this Carmie yelps and retreats to lie down on the floor. Her head on her paws, she watches Claire with the saddest look.

I, being the romantic soul I am, offer this advice to the love-lorn dog, “OH FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, CARMELITA! LEAVE THE CAT ALONE.”

Oh well. The course of true love never did run smooth. Or so I hear. And you gotta admire her determined heart. Persistence can be very effective.

Or so I hear.

PS Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts for my grandparents. Grandpa’s doing better, and should be out of ICU today. Not sure what happens from there, but he seems to be getting better.


This morning Grandpa wasn’t feeling well, and in the snowball sort of way elderly people get sick, this evening he’s in the hospital ICU. He’s stabilized, and they think he will be ok, but at one point today I stood at the foot of his bed, looking over his shoulder at a monitor that displayed his blood pressure and pulse.

70/26.

42 beats per minute.

He was talking, slowly but coherently, and I looked at his tiny form in that hospital bed and wondered at the force of his will.

I couldn’t stay at the hospital. Mom needed to be there, to help Grandma and Grandpa understand the events around them and make their decisions. Dad needed to be there to rest his hand on Mom’s back and to “do” things. Bring lunch, get some water, fetch a pillow – whatever he could do to offer support.

The truth is, no one could actually do anything. It was a time to wait, to see if the processes in his body would overwhelm the medicine, or if the medicine would drown the chain of reactions that was slowing Grandpa’s heart.

I had to be home with my boys (who, dear as they are, would have been NO HELP AT ALL in the emergency room), so I kissed everyone goodbye and went home.

When I arrived there, three frantic little boys reminded me that I had promised – PROMISED – to take them to the new rec center. It just opened up this weekend, and has an indoor pool that is a wonder to behold.

I didn’t want to go swimming, particularly not alone with all three boys. I wanted to stay home by the phone. But whenever you can keep a promise you should, and I could keep this one. So I dug out the swimming bag and stuffed it full of towels, and we were off.

The swim area at the new rec center is truly amazing. There is a lap pool, but the kid’s play area is separate and wonderful. Two slides, a shallow area with sculptures that splash water down on the kids below, and a channel that runs in a circle, with a current that sweeps swimmers through it.

The din in there was a bit overwhelming, and at first I was tense at all the noise and water and children splashing everywhere. I don’t actually like chaos all that much, and I wasn’t really in the mood to deal with it. But Tre took off, to ride the slides incessantly. Max splashed into the play area. Raphael is a bit like me about noise, and stood right by my side, his fingers in his ears and a scowl on his face. I coaxed him into some shallow water, and eventually got him all the way in the pool. Before long he relaxed into it, and let me swing him through the water while he kick, kick, kicked. After a while I took him on a ride through the current in the channel. On our second trip through Max joined us, and we bobbed along, my arms aching as I held two slick brown heads carefully above the water’s surface.

For the first time since arriving, I started to relax. I remembered something I’d heard once, that worship is doing whatever you think God would want you to do at the moment. I may have been wishing to be elsewhere, but this was where I was meant to be. I let the water carry us and thought about how life just happens. People leave, people die. All you can do is ride the current you’re on, and do what you think God wants you to do.

This morning I sat with my friend in church. He held my hand. At one point Raphael was sitting on my lap and looked down at our clasped hands next to him. For just a moment he slipped his small hand between ours, I suppose to see what it would feel like. This also is an unexpected turn in my life. I rested my chin on Raphael’s warm head and that moment too was worship.

Joy and pain, gain and loss. It washes over all of us endlessly.


Things I have learned about my sons by chasing them through the house with ice*

If Tre is ever being chased by an assailant, he will fly. He will fairly skim the earth, leaping over obstacles and scaling heights. He shall be nearly uncatchable, because at nine years old I can barely keep up with him when I am flat out sprinting. But should his pursuer make him giggle, he’s out of luck.

If Max is ever being chased, at least until he grows into his sturdy legs, he is sunk. He cannot resist turning around to check the progress of his pursuer, and is given to tripping over things. However, once cornered, Max becomes the soul of ferocity. His arms and legs windmill frantically, and he faces off with a determination that is impressive. He will not go softly, no.

If Raphael is ever being chased, his pursuer should be aware that he might turn around at any moment and ram them in the thigh with his remarkably sized head. He seems to have a short circuit around the concept of “RUN” that causes his brain to switch randomly to “ATTACK.” But, then, that same phenomenon occurs around many other concepts, like “Breakfast” and “Socks and Shoes.” Come to think of it, unless I’m fairly conscientious in this mothering job, he may grow up to be the assailant.

*Look, THEY start it. Every single time. You think I WANT to chase my children through the house with ice? No, but if I’m sitting quietly at the table, minding my own business, and one of them slinks up behind me and slips an ice cube down my back, am I supposed to IGNORE that? No, clearly not. And once ONE child has been chased down and had ice rubbed on their belly, everyone wants in on the fun. It’s like an exercise program for me, of sorts.


Sibling rivalry

I was sitting at the computer, TRYING to return some emails (I’m getting back to you, Christine, I really really am), and the boys were playing in the room next to me. Max and Tre were hunkered down on the floor, building Lego masterpieces, and excitedly describing the wonders of their creations.

“And this one? Here? Shoots out FIRE, and the one on the other side shoots out hot LAVA.”

“Ok! And THIS thing on mine? Is like an elevator. SHOOOOOP! And it can carry things…like even TANKS and stuff right up to the top.”

So went the conversation, with much animated adding of Legos and copious sound effects.

Raphael wandered in to see what his brothers were doing, causing them to throw their bodies CAREFULLY over their precious creations, screaming in unison,

“NO, RAPHI! DON’T BREAK THEM!”

Raphael, however, had other plans. He was carrying a toy cannon that shoots out a little plastic man (circus toy), and he pointed it at his brothers and ordered in a tone that brooked no discussion,

“Yoo BE ASLEEP.” Tre and Max considered this a moment, then shrugged at each other and obediently slumped to the floor. They started snoring loudly, and muttering things that they were PRETTY SURE would be funny if someone said them in their sleep.

“Side-winding fur bellies,” Max sighed.

“I eat my toes,” murmured Tre.

Raphael stood over them, trying to control his giggling long enough to press the button and SHOOT the plastic guy over them. It bounced off the wall, causing them to leap up with great exclamations of HUH?

Hilarity ensued, with Raphi leaning over and laughing until he had actual tears in his eyes. Tre and Max rolled on the floor (carefully, so as to avoid the Lego creations), shrieking with laughter. Then Raphi trotted over to me with the cannon and little guy. He danced from foot to foot, anxious for me to properly reload the cannon so he could do the whole thing again.

Over and over this scene was played, until inevitably Raphi misfired the cannon, sending the little plastic guy hurtling into Max’s temple. Max hollered with rage, Raphi threw the cannon at him because he was ruining the game, and Tre stuck his fingers in his ears and stalked out of the room.

Eventually calm was restored, Raphi was released from the couch so he could apologize to Max, and Tre wandered back to see if it was safe to bring his ears back near his brothers.

They fight, they do. Several times a day I have to wade into the midst of them, dispensing justice. But the only reason they fight is because they have a relationship. It’s weird and fraught with boyness, but it’s their relationship. I used to worry about sibling rivalry. People would have you believe it’s a bad thing. Not necessarily. They’ll fight. But they also play and talk and make things up and help each other get away with stuff. It’s a club I’m not allowed into, but it’s pretty cool to watch from over here from the sidelines.


Hey! Guess what?

So a few weeks ago I got an email, telling me I’d been nominated for a Diarist Award! Me! WooHoo!

So I went about telling my people my good news!

“Dad! I got nominated for a Diarist Award!”

“A what?”

“Mom! I got nominated for a Diarist Award!”

“Um…ok. What is that, exactly?”

“Hey, boys! I was nominated for a Diarist Award!”
”Can we have lunch now?”

“Hey, friend whose name I’m refraining from using here, so as to protect our developing relationship (which is doing fine, thankyouverymuch) from undue scrutiny, I was nominated for a Diarist Award!”

“Well…if you’re happy, I’m happy.”

So you can IMAGINE, with that kind of pressure, that kind of HOPE, pinned upon my Diarist Award chances, how anxiously I awaited the announcement of the finalists.

Well.

The email? From the Diarist Awards people? Went something like this:

Dear whatever your name is, we really don’t care.

You suck.

No, no, we don’t mean that. You’re…fine. Just not what we like to call around here "GOOD." So. You are NOT a finalist, but just one of the million random mommy blogs out there. I’m sure someone cares, just not us.

I mean, really. LOOK at the finalists in your category – Dooce? Chez Miscarriage? Here be Hippogriffs? I mean, do you really feel comfortable being scrutinized alongside these people? Do you think you can compare to Grrl?

No, we didn’t think so either.

So I hope you enjoyed your pity nomination, and…whatever.

Then they were so overcome by ennui at the thought of me and my blog that they deleted the email, forcing me to imagine what they might have said. I think I did pretty well, don’t you?

BUT fear not, I am not down about this. Because I, yes I? Dearly  love one of the actual FINALISTS. I have been MENTIONED in her blog (more than once, ACTUALLY), and I’m so proud of her. Mir over at WouldaCouldaShoulda is a finalist in the new journal category. Please go congratulate her and VOTE VOTE VOTE (if you have a blog, they're picky like that). ‘Cause she rocks. And while *I* don’t need the Diarist people to tell me that, and I hope SHE doesn’t either, it would still be nice.

What are you still doing here? You have your orders. March. Click. Vote!

Now if only I could think of some way to gently break the news to the boys...


Wall art

I was sitting at the table, gazing upon the mess of the kids’ play room, when Raphael raced past, pencil in hand. He threw a glance at me, then stopped, swiped at the wall about seven times with his pencil, laughed maniacally, and ran off.

*sigh*

I chased him down, swiped his pencil, and delivered the key points of information he seemed to be missing.

Don’t run with pencils.

Don’t draw on the wall.

No, it’s not actually all that funny.

And, because I’m still skeeved out by what I saw yesterday, let me reiterate, DO NOT LICK THE DOG’S TONGUE.

He listened attentively, and then trotted off to find new and joyous forms of learning. I went back to appraise his handiwork. Not too bad. It was just a few quick lines on the wall, although I was beginning to understand why I keep finding these random lines on the walls and cabinets throughout the house. I thought it was just the byproduct of wild boys who own pencils, but no. It seems Raphi’s entered the wall-drawing stage.

I remember Tre at that age. One day he marched up to me and took me by the hand. He dragged me off to where he’d been playing in the dining room. There, on the wall, was a great sweeping mural. It was at least three feet square, intricately drawn. With marker. On the wall of the apartment we were about to move out of.

“Look! I draw a Cwismis tree. Yike at church. Wif ormaments!”

He was so PROUD. He stood there, one hand held aloft, showcasing his artwork like a little brown Vanna White. I sighed and lowered myself down next to him (I was pregnant with Max…seventeen months pregnant, if I remember correctly).

“It’s very nice, sweetie. But please don’t draw on the walls. If you want to draw a picture, I’ll get you some paper, ok?”

And for Tre, that’s all it took. Oh, so you say DON’T draw on the walls? Gotcha. It never happened again.

The unborn child within me overheard this conversation, and ho ho how he laughed.

About three years later Max discovered the joy that was the vertical canvas. Now, to be fair, this was a tough time for Max. His dad had just left a few months earlier, and he was an angry and confused little guy. He found the process of drawing on walls somehow therapeutic. It was like hypnosis, in a way. I’d find him, a pencil in each fist, facing a corner and drawing wide ranging scenes. He’d scribble and shade, darken lines and erase stray marks. None of this was representational art, you understand, but it spoke to Max’s troubled little soul. There are still corners of the house that wear the shadows of Max’s artwork.

I’d explain it to him; we don’t draw on walls. I’d offer him art supplies and giant sheets of paper. I’d hide all the pencils in the house. No avail. Max would draw his complex murals in dark corners of the house. When I’d come upon him, sitting behind a chair, quietly drawing, I’d speak his name and he’d jump. He’d look from me to the wall, the realization dawning in him that we were going to face THIS issue, yet again. He always seemed somewhat surprised that I was STILL going to tell him not to do it.

Well, as promised by several mom friends, he did grow out of it. And he doesn’t SEEM to be a psychopath, so that’s good.

Now it’s Raphael’s turn. And although each boy DID this, it’s the WAY they each approach it. Tre had a plan and executed it, and was pleased. Further information convinced him this should not be repeated, and he moved on to one of his other trillion plans. Max was driven to deface, his response to pencil and wall was complex and unfathomable.

And now Raphi. As befitting the child his brothers sometimes refer to as the “Evil Master of Misery,” Raphael is less a child experimenting with wall-writing than he is a tagger. He appears, scribbles some quick lines on the wall, and runs away, chortling with glee.

But after all these years, I’ve learned something, oh yes I have. I am no longer helpless in the face of wall art.

I’ve got four words for you:

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

And life goes on.


Boys and their toys

Heather wrote an adorable post the other day about her son, and how she’s ruined his sweet self by buying him army toys. Now he’s running around the house, shooting random objects with great glee.

Well, I hate to break it to ya, Heather, but you didn’t do it. Those violent tendencies lay within the hearts of all kids…PARTICULARLY boys.

Sometimes I’ll watch the boys at play. Whatever their hand touches, you can see them evaluating it. Should they throw it? Knock something down with it? Climb it? Nine times out of ten any mystery object is hoisted to their shoulder and used as a gun. Shooting noises fill the air. This is the soundtrack of my days.

It’s particularly poignant with Raphael, because he’s my baby. I’ll watch him storm through the house, Lego block gun raised, and realize that within his sturdy little form is a future man. Who know what the world holds for him? Someday he may even need to pick up a real gun, and raise it in defense of his country. I try to imagine his dimpled hands holding an actual weapon, and my heart stops. To watch any of my sons leave to put themselves in harm’s way…how does a mother survive such a thing?

Today is Veterans’ Day, and I’m thinking about all those we have to thank (and one in particular). People who were once just kids, playing at war, and grew up to shoulder for us the burden of freedom. And it has to be said; it should be said, thank you. Thank you to everyone who ever took on that task.

And also, because I can’t imagine standing in their shoes, thank you to all their moms.


Magic E

Last week I sat down with Max to work on some phonics. He’s been reading simple short vowel sound words, and it’s time for him to move into long vowel sounds. I introduced him to the concept of the silent E.

“This is a magic E. It makes the vowel say its name. So the word cap becomes cape. Do you hear how the A says its name in the word cape? Good. Read me these words.”

There were lists of words, short vowel sounds followed by the addition of the magic E to make a long vowel sound. Max struggled.

“Cap…cap…ee.”

“Ok, remember that the magic E is silent. It doesn’t say anything, but it makes the A say its name.”

“Oh. Ca…cap.”

“Well, good, you remembered the E is silent, but keep in mind that it makes the vowel say its name. What’s the name of this vowel?”

“A.”

“Right. Good. So in this word the A makes the sound A. So what does this word say?”

“Ca…cap?”

“Remember, the A says its name.”

“Oh. C…a…p…cape?”

Each word was like that, a laborious mental trip through the rules. By the time he’d read six words or so he was exhausted and frustrated. I set the book aside, worried. I’ve already shelved history for a while, because Max just hit a wall. I’d read him the lesson, then ask him questions, and he’d look at me blankly. Nothing. I’d prompt him, show him pictures, all but beg and weep (ok, maybe a little), but it simply wasn’t getting through.

Well, I’ve been here before. It’s a dance, a delicate balance between challenging them and respecting the limits of their development. I’m pretty sure next year Max will take to history without a problem, but if I push it this year he’ll hate the subject before he’s seven. That’s the last thing I want to do, particularly with Max, who has a tendency to assimilate facts into a global understanding that will make history breathtaking for him.

So. I put history aside for this year, with a small sigh. But phonics? I can’t shelve phonics. But I also know I can’t push my way through the resistance if he’s not developmentally ready. I know, I tried with Tre. Gah. Not good. *shaking my head at my over-enthusiastic baby homeschooler self*

Anyhow, I decided to take one more stab at it today before changing my plan of attack.

I pulled out the phonics book and Max climbed up in my lap. For some reason the first two years of phonics instructions take place on my lap. Math? No. Science? No. Just phonics.

Anyhow.

I opened the book, and Max leaned in to look at the page.

“Cap. Cape. Tap. Tape. Nap. Nape. Hey, if it was bat, with the magic E it would say Bate. Is bate a word?” I nodded, mute, and he went on.

“Pan, pane, fad, fade, Sam, same…”

He read them all flawlessly, as though the magic E concept were as simple as breathing. And just like that, it was. Something clicked into place as he slept or played or irritated his brothers, and today it just made sense.

Yesterday? Impossible. Today? Oh yeah, I know that.

Sometimes people comment about how amazing it must be to be the one teaching my boys. I shrug and feel like a fraud. Yeah, it’s amazing alright, but I can hardly take CREDIT.

I’m just glad I get to watch.


My grandparents live in a senior apartment near us. It is called “independent living,” which is a lie. They are not independent, but they can’t quite admit that. Mom and Dad and I do as much as we can to help them live independently, and we all look awkwardly away from the reality of how much help they actually need.

They came to church Sunday. It was the first time they’d been in weeks. Illness or exhaustion often makes it difficult for them to go. But this Sunday they were there, and were greeted warmly by several different people. I stood to the side and watched them. Grandpa is a former minister, and Grandma is the consummate minister’s wife. Greeting people is what they do, what they’ve always done. But this day it was like the input was all just coming too fast. Someone would shake Grandpa’s hand and before he could find words to respond, they would be gone.

It was worse than confusing for them, it was embarrassing. Worse than embarrassing, embarrassment that couldn’t be admitted. They nodded and smiled as best they could but I, standing to the side, could see their panic. Someone was going to realize how hard this was for them. Someone would know they’re getting old.

Mom is a hospice nurse, and she often says her elderly patients remind her of children, of toddlers, of babies. They drift backward through those eras; only at the end of life it isn’t adorable. When Raphael is overwhelmed in a crowd, most people look at him with the longing to comfort. When the person who is overwhelmed by all the noise and people is 87, few people realize they are afraid.

I would have put my arms around them and held on, but unlike Raphael, Grandma and Grandpa are burdened by far too much dignity for that. I stood aside and ached for them. I thought of the grocery list they’d given me the day before. It listed the things they thought they needed,

2 nice oranges

Salad greens

2 frozen dinners

Pancake mix

And so on. At the end of the list was written in Grandma’s careful, wobbly hand,

Whatever you think might help.

I wish I knew. I really do.