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April 2005
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June 2005

After kissing Max and Raphael good night I walked into Tre’s dimly lit room, and perched on the edge of his bed. In the dusky light his eyes were dark liquid pools, and I ran my hand over his hair.

“Good night, honey,” I said.

“Good night, Mama,” he replied, but something in his expression caused me to stop and peer a little closer.

“Are you ok?” He nodded, but I looked at him unrelentingly. He widened his eyes and nodded again, but it was no use. His chin wobbled, and then he choked out a sob.

“I miss Craig James…I mean, I know I see him, but I miss him…like he was.”

“Oh.” I sighed and rested my hand on his arm. He rubbed furiously at the tears leaking out the corners of his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, “I know he’s doing really well, and it’s great that he’s walking…I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry. You’re grieving. Do you know what grieving is?” He shook his head. “Well, when something really bad happens, it takes some time for our minds and hearts to get used to the idea. For a while – sometimes a long while – whenever we remember that bad thing, it’s like a horrible surprise all over again. What happened to Craig James will always be a sad thing, but it won’t always hit you like it does now. And it’s ok to be hopeful about what’s happening now and still feel sad about what happened then.” He nodded, then squeezed his eyes shut and just cried for a moment. I leaned over and wrapped my arms around his nearly manly shoulders and held him. For once he let me.

“I’m gonna go see him tomorrow,” he said at last.

“That’s a good idea.”

“Ok,” he yawned showily, “I’m tired. Good night.” Just as suddenly as it had arrived, the emotion storm was over, and I was invited to leave now. I smiled, said good night, and allowed myself one more brush of my fingertips through his hair.

I walked into my room, the next door down. I stood there for a moment, thinking about Tre and the burdens he carries. What do I say to him? How can I help him process this? As I pondered I heard a rustling behind me and saw the comforter on my bed move oddly.

“Max, get back in your bed.” The comforter wriggled, and then went still. “I mean it, Max, it’s time for you to go to sleep.” There was a pause, then a beaming face popped up from under a pillow.

“How did you KNOW I was there?” he giggled.

“I’m your mother. I know everything,” I replied, “now go to bed.” He hopped down and trotted off to his room, shaking his head.

“You really DO know everything!” he exclaimed in amazement.

I watched him go, and sighed.

How I wish that were true.


I have to add here that people have been asking me how Craig James is doing, and he's actually doing really well. I don't want to give the impression that he's not. I'll have a comprehensive update soon, I promise.

Imperfect conditions

Clay had Memorial Day off work, so we had planned to take the boys hiking in the mountains. The weeks leading up to this weekend have been unusually hot. People have been given to muttering, “It’s MAY, for theluvapete.” But then this weekend swept in with a great mass of clouds and cold. Our tune, as a city, switched to, “It’s nearly JUNE, for theluvapete.”

Today was forecast to be unseasonably cool, with a high around 68, and a chance of rain. Clay and I debated the wisdom of hiking in such weather, but decided that since the boys were looking forward to it so much, we’d hope for cool but dry weather – really great hiking conditions, actually.

As we drove into the foothills this morning, the wide grey sweep of clouds resting on the mountains was a bit…daunting. We exchanged worried glances, but we had three little boys, demanding repeatedly, “ARE WE THERE YET?” so we pushed on. It was drizzling lightly when we got out of the van and pulled on our backpacks. A few minutes discussion concluded that this was hardly RAIN at all, and so we were off.

The boys were barely contained by the forces of gravity, such was their joy. Tre bounded up the trail ahead of everybody. Max followed him, stopping to inspect a plant or rock or spider web, and then scrambling to catch up with him. Raphael meandered, ahead of us, then behind us, squatting to pick up a tiny stone, and then running pell-mell in the direction of his older brothers.

I slipped my hand in Clay’s, and he held it in both his and blew on it to warm it up.


“Nah, I’m ok.” I was watching Tre scramble up a rock, and I called out, “Hey, get down from there!”

“Why?” Tre called back.

“It’s slippery, and you’re supposed to stay on the trail anyhow.” His shoulders slumped in exaggerated disappointment, and he hopped down. I sighed.

“You’ll have to let me know if I’m getting too nervous at them,” I said to Clay. He grinned and squeezed my hand.

“You’re doing fine.”

I worry. It’s what I do. I think it’s a hazard of mothering, because it’s our job to remember all the details. I fret about what the boys eat, how they act at their friends’ houses. I worry about things far down the road, like whether Max will get beat up a lot when he’s an adolescent, or if Tre will ever learn to slow down and eat like a gentleman.

I even worry about the good things. As Clay and the boys develop their own relationship, I wonder what I’m supposed to be doing in all this. Or even harder, what I shouldn’t be doing. I worry about how their anger and pain about their father will be directed at Clay. And I want to know why guys have to wrestle so much. I mean really, people. Can’t you TALK to bond?

Clay is maddeningly rational about all this.

“How many of these things that you worry about actually HAPPEN?” he asks.



“Maybe…five percent. Less, maybe.”

“Huh. And…how much has worrying about it CHANGED anything?”

“Shut up. None.”

“So…five percent, and none. Huh.”

See? Maddening, isn’t it?

But he’s right, and I’m learning to take deep breaths and let it go. Today the boys ping-ponged around the mountainside, and though they each fell at least once, no one was hurt. Everyone was muddy, but hey, if I can’t deal with a little mud by now, the problem is mine. Tre and Max spotted a deer off the trail a ways, and even managed not to scare it off until Raphi got to see it. It rained for most of the day, but it didn’t even seem cold, out there under a misty low sky. The leaves on the trees shimmered as raindrops struck them, and every plant glowed a deep green in the overcast light. Raphi spied Clay and I walking along, holding hands, and he pranced over to insinuate himself between us. We each clutched one small hand and smiled over his head as it bounced joyfully in the midst of us.

We passed other hikers, huddled under ponchos in the rain. They must have thought us odd, grinning irrepressibly as we marched along, muddy and wet. But just because it wasn’t perfect doesn’t mean it wasn’t wonderful.

And it was wonderful.

Piano lessons

Last year for Christmas we got, instead of individual gifts, one large gift for the family, an electronic keyboard. Wait, that wasn’t last year, it was Christmas of ’03. Jeepers. Anyhow, the THOUGHT was this: cool; now the kids can start piano lessons.

Christmas of ’03. Got that?

So, for the next…um…14 months or so, occasionally someone would remark, “Hey, shouldn’t the boys be starting piano lessons soon?” and I would look at my shoes and mutter, “yeah, right piano lessons…good idea…um…LOOK, SOMETHING SHINY!”

Because you know, I WANTED them to take piano lessons, I LONGED for them to be doing scales with their grubby little fingers, but good LORD.

I couldn’t do it.

I just couldn’t.

One more phone tag event, finding a teacher.

One more scheduling puzzle to assemble.

One more errand, ferrying boys there and back, keeping Raphael from eating the teacher’s house whilst his older brothers sit and lap up piano knowledge beside their maestro.

One more daily struggle, pinning their little behinds to the piano bench and directing their eyes at the piano book, and making them practice.

I may have a low threshold for busyness, but I just couldn’t. I wanted it for them, but it was one mountain too many for me.

I am weak.

Therefore, the looking at the shoes and muttering business.

But then something very cool happened. My mom finished waiting for me. She also wanted to take piano lessons (who knew?), and so she made it happen. She found a teacher, she called her, she scheduled, and she took Tre and Max for their lessons. She even SAT DOWN with each of them, several times a week, to help them practice. While I lurked about, attending to other details and peeking around corners, Mom led Tre and Max into the world of piano lessons. I listened from the other room, straining with them mentally as they searched for the right note, counting in my head, and curving my own fingers in response to Mom’s reminders to the boys.

They’ve developed their own little culture – a camaraderie of piano lesson takers. When one of them sits down to practice, the others will gather to watch. We’ve had to institute a whole rule SPECIFICALLY STATING that no one else may touch the piano while someone is playing it. None of them can keep their fingers off those keys.

Today I was in the kitchen (as usual), and Max was doodling at the keyboard. One of his songs to learn this week is Jingle Bells. I heard him work his way through the melody with his right hand, laboriously finding each note. It was so sweet and childish…I was startled a minute later when he started working his way through the song the second time – with the accompanying chords. Just like that, he slipped into music.

I’m enjoying their progress so much – and one of the nicest things about it is that I can. I didn’t make this happen. Since they started lessons in February I’ve taken them to exactly one lesson. I don’t make them practice; I don’t even know which book belongs to which boy. This is all my mom’s doing, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Tre and Max think the piano lessons are for them. Mom thinks it’s a gift for her. But I know the truth.

I’m the blessed one here.

The good kid

I was clearing the breakfast dishes from the table when Raphael trotted up.

“Ah will help you, Mama.” He smiled at me and picked up a plate.

“Well…thanks, honey.”

“Ah WIKE to help.” He nodded and carried the plate carefully to the sink. “Ah will not break it, no ah won’t.”

I watched him, a bit suspicious. He was being awfully sweet and thoughtful…perhaps a bit TOO sweet and thoughtful.

There is a park nearby that has a pond. At one end of the pond is a waterfall, tumbling over rocks. At one point the water falls over a straight edge of rock, making a smooth arc of shining teal water.


Every time I drive past, I do a double-take, because it’s lovely. It’s like some luminescent jewel.

Except…it’s water.

And it’s teal.

I mean, water doesn’t COME in teal, naturally. I wonder, is it some sort of algae? But the water looks so clear and sparkly…it seems unlikely. So what? Did someone put some sort of CHEMICAL in the pond, right there next to the kids’ playground? What kind of cocktail do you have to dump in a pond to turn it entirely teal? And WHY would someone DO THAT? That can’t be good. No wonder Max has asthma…where was I?

Ah yes. The sweetness from Raphi? The kind consideration? Was like the shining curve of teal water. Gorgeous to look at, but it left me with a slightly uneasy feeling. This is not natural. What’s up, exactly?

Just then Tre stomped through the kitchen to look at his chore chart, and I remembered. Tre and Max had just had a brawl and been hauled off to separate corners of the house for stern words. Raphael, for once, was entirely uninvolved in the fracas.

So. His brothers were in trouble, and he was not.

And he was EATING IT UP.

As Tre glowered his way past, Raphi called out helpfully, “Yoo should be nice to Max, Tre. We be nice to each other.” He smiled smugly at me and blink-blinked his irrationally long eyelashes.

Oh yeah. He was being “the good kid.”

There seems to be a balance of power of sorts between siblings in a family. On a normal day they all veer in and out of the trouble zone, earning various warnings and dour looks. Nothing notable, no one stands out particularly in the sprinkling of discipline.

But then, let one child step forward and really draw the attention of the Mama? Well, then the others just bask in the glow of knowing they’re not THAT BAD. I remember doing it myself, sitting back, smiling primly while my brother got reamed. I know, it sounds insufferable. But you must understand, my brother NEVER got in trouble. Well, rarely. Particularly compared to…say…me.

So. When he drew parental fire, I took it as my cue to glow with a holy light.

Raphael was enjoying just that holy light. Uh…imagined holy light. He carried every dish to the sink, sighed, and patted my leg.

“Ah am glad ah could help you, Mama.”

And with that, he was off.

Presumably to rescue a kitten stuck in a tree or something.

Shouldn't I get a crown or something?

This morning began, as most mornings do, with Tre appearing in the door of my room. He was dressed, bouncing a bit on the balls of his feet, unbelievably awake for such an early hour.

“Mama? I’m going downstairs,” he whispered. I nodded back, and he turned to go.

“Hey, Tre?” He looked over his shoulder. “Good morning.” He grinned.

“Yeah, good morning, Mama.”

And he was gone.

A few minutes later Max and Raphael trotted into my room. They clambered up on the bed. Raphi tucked himself under one arm, and on the other side of me Max curled up on his side, facing away from me. I reached over and scratched his back, and he stretched, relishing the feel. Raphi draped my arm around his side and over his round, soft belly. He patted my face and sighed happily.

“Ah did sleep and sleep! I didn’t even wake up until 11:30!” he exclaimed.

“Really?” He nodded emphatically and kissed my shoulder.

“Yoo are the BEST.”

“Thanks, baby.”

Max glanced back at me.

“What time did we wake up?” he asked. I consulted my watch.


“Oh. I was tired.”

“I know.”

“Ah am not a baby.” Raphi interjected.

“Right. Sorry.” I replied.

“That’s ok.” He went back to patting my face, then moved to entertaining himself by digging his toes under my thigh. That got old quickly, and I suggested it was time they go get dressed. Raphael agreed and kissed me several more times before leaping up, tromping across my abdomen, and jumping off the bed. Max sighed, stretched, and yawned, but finally pushed himself off the bed and toward the door. He looked back at me and said what he says every morning,

“Well. See ya later, alligator.”

“After a while, crocodile.”

Then, as usual, he blew me a kiss, which I caught, and I blew him one back, which he caught, and he was off.

I lay there for a moment, listening to them make their circuitous route through getting dressed. I remember when Tre was a baby; someone told me how lucky I was to have a son.

“After all,” she said, “girls adore their daddy, but boys always think their mama is the queen.” I thought about my three, how different their affection looks. Tre barely has time to inform me that he’ll be starting his day, thankyouverymuch, but he checks in with more care than I sometimes realize. Max wears a new veneer of casualness, but he leans into my affection like a cat on a sunny windowsill. And Raphael is shameless, wallowing in the love like a puppy.

It’s good to be the queen.


Today was the last day of school for the boys’ homeschool enrichment program. They were finishing up the year with a field day, a half day of games and fun. This morning the mood in the house was electric, as we all tore around, trying to get all the usual school morning work accomplished, plus the field day prep – sunscreen, water bottles, etc. Tre was excited, thundering around the house in anticipation of a great day.

Max, on the other hand, was not excited.

Max was mad.

He stomped from room to room, yelled at his brothers, and glared at anyone who dared try to engage him in conversation. Finally I took him aside for a quiet word.

“Max, what’s wrong?” He glared.


“Honey. Are you sad that it’s the last day of school?” He stomped his foot.

“No, I’m MAD AT THAT.” And he turned on his heel to stalk away.

“Max, can I give you a hug?”


And he was off.

I watched him go, one solidly pissed off little boy. I had to smile. Once upon a time an ache like losing a teacher he loves would have sent him straight into my arms. He would have tucked his face in the crook of my neck, run his fingers through my hair again and again, and wept. Today he just wanted me to leave him ALONE so he could be


That’s my boy.

I think he's ready for first grade.

This afternoon Tre and Max were across the street, visiting Craig James, Mom was off running an errand, and Dad had taken Raphael to Home Depot (a joyous destination if you are my father or any of the small boys who adore him). I took advantage of the quiet by ignoring the many things I should have been doing and slipping out to the garden.

Today was hot – not just lovely spring warm, but hot. I’d spent too long at the park during lunch, enjoying the heat on my bare arms, and now the sun stung my reddened skin. The plants in the garden were similarly stunned by all that sun, so I turned on the hose and sluiced cool water around them. I slipped off my shoes and wandered, observing.

Lettuce plants, as wide across as my hand, lost their dim and dusty look as the water flowed over and past them. Tiny needles of carrot seedlings poked through ragged cracks in the parched dirt. Garlic plants waved limply in the breeze. I squatted down and meditatively plucked fuzzy leaved weeds, gently tugging their roots free and flinging them aside.

I can be described as a sloppy gardener. I don’t properly gather and destroy weeds, preferring to leave them to decompose on the edges, out of the way. I never seem to intercept flowering plants soon enough, and am forever finding offspring of last year’s produce growing randomly around the garden. Just today I spied several tender spinach plants huddled underneath the garlic. It never ceases to amaze me, somehow, that the whole process worked – again. A plant grew, produced a flower, it was fertilized, and produced seeds that contained the plans for a whole new plant. And now, here they are, the babies, growing under their own impetus and wisdom.

Sometimes I wonder if other gardeners come to gardening as bewildered as I. When I was 16 I was an exchange student to

New Zealand

. While I was there I took a job (illegally, I might add, since I was on a student visa) at a flower farm. I worked weekends, and one Saturday I went and planted row upon row of stiff little statice plants. I went back a few weeks later to find, much to my amazement, taller stiff statice plants. In time they sprouted buds, then burst open into papery purple, pink, yellow, or white flowers. I was always surprised by their progress, and even wondered if the other workers had dug up my tiny seedlings each week to replace them with larger plants.

“And where do you think they’d get the bigger plants?” one of my fellow workers asked, amused. I didn’t know. It seemed too fabulous, the natural progress of a growing plant.

I’m still amazed by it, and each time I plant something new I wonder and worry. The first time I planted carrots I fretted over the seeds. They look like tiny wood shavings, and I couldn’t imagine how those slivers could take hold in the ground, so I covered them with the gauzy fabric of an old cloth diaper. I misted them twice a day and peeked under the fabric seventeen times a day. In time, they sprouted, and eventually they produced carrots. Over the years I weaned myself off my obsessive care of carrot seeds. Now I draw a line in the dirt with my finger, sift tiny carrot seeds into it, and cover them up. I water every few days, with a gentle stream right from the hose, and, just as quickly as they did under their diaper cover, they sprout. Just as carrots have since they were first created. Seeds + dirt + water + time = carrots.

And I’m still amazed.

This year I planted potatoes for the first time. I don’t know why, but I’m enchanted by the idea of growing potatoes. Two weeks ago I dug the furrows, reread the directions (ooooh, three FEET apart, not three INCHES), and planted two rows of potatoes. Ever since then I’ve been fretting over the potatoes. I peer at the dirt, searching for signs of life. Shouldn’t they be growing by now? Surely by now?

Today I stood in the garden, my arms wrapped around my waist, to keep my tender skin within the shadow cast by my body, warily eying a wasp as it flew by, and I noticed the potatoes. There, and there. A dusty knob of leaves, pushing aside the dirt like a fist thrust up through the ground. I ran a finger over each gnarled baby plant, and grinned. Look at that, a potato plant. I betcha in the fall, when I dig up what’s underneath, there will be potatoes.

And I’ll still be amazed.

It’s not just the garden, you know. Over and over again, as life happens and grows and changes, I’m surprised that it works. I remember being newly pregnant with Tre, weeping quietly in a restaurant, trying to imagine how this could possibly WORK. How could I be a mother? What if I forgot to feed the baby? What if I left him somewhere? I called my mom and cried, “What if I screw up?” And she laughed and replied not unkindly, “Oh…you will.”

And I did, and life went forward and it worked anyhow.

Life. It keeps happening. And sometimes I wobble and think, good Lord, how will THIS work? This can’t possibly work.

And it does.

And I’m amazed.

Get this!

Did you read this? It seems kudzu may be helpful in controlling binge drinking. I'm not the only one who thinks this is funny, am I? I mean, what are two things the South is drowning in? Kudzu and alcohol, right?

It's like living in Boulder and finding out that self-righteousness is a cure for altitude sickness.

swimming lessons

We went swimming tonight, as we do most Tuesdays. Raphael has taken to wearing a little lifejacket in the pool. This renders him completely independent (according to Raphi, anyhow). The lifejacket keeps his chin just above the water, and he kick, kick, kicks his way around the pool. His arms trail behind him, and he chortles a non-stop commentary on his marvelous swimming abilities. “Ah swim and DON’ TOUCH ME! Ah swim and NO TOUCHEEEEE! Kick kick…” He trails off into shrieks of joy. Tonight he was most interested in a new twirling move he's learned. He churns his legs in a circle, causing him to twist round and round in the pool. This? Is very very funny. It is also important to know that no one is permitted to TOUCH HIM while he is doing it. Thankyouverymuch. Mom or Dad or I hover nearby Raphael while he “swims,” keeping a respectful distance, but watching to be sure he’s safe. He finds this annoying, but tolerates it, as it provides him with an audience.

Max is growing as a swimmer by leaps and bounds. Tonight he figured out how to swim on his back, and spent the rest of the night motoring around the pool, staring fixedly at the ceiling. He bumped into more than one swimmer, and more than one wall, but this did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm. At one point he swam up to me and announced, “Now you pick me up in the air and say, ‘I declare this boy SWIMMER OF THE DAY.’”

So of course I did.

He grinned and thought for a moment, then added, “And ‘SWIMMING HERO.’”

Well, of course.

Tre is entirely independent in the pool. Several times during the evening I would look up, scan the nearby kids to see if Tre was among them, and then resign myself to waiting for him to show up. He is on his own, thanks. He likes to go down the water slides. He challenged me to a race, him on the green slide, me on the blue slide. If he won, I would make pancakes for breakfast. If I won, he would make his own breakfast – and Max’s. I don’t know how he does it, but he seems to be able to PROPELL himself down the slide. Isn’t that thing run by gravity? Isn’t the rate of gravity consistent despite the weight of the falling object? Huh? Yeah, well…pancakes, anyone?

There’s an unexpected upside to all this self-sufficiency for me. For the first time in almost ten years I’m able to swim without a child gripping my shoulder. I have to watch, I have to pay constant attention, but I am freed from small hands in the water. I find it somewhat exhilarating. I’ve taken to playing too, bouncing in the weight-free environment of the pool, flipping quick somersaults, and treading water gleefully. I loved swimming as a child, and I find that I still do.

Of course it’s fun to watch my children grow, become more able and strong. I’m finding that it’s also fun to stand somewhat apart…able and strong.

Tough guy lessons

We were at a friend’s house for a birthday party. It was warm and wonderful, with wild packs of children ranging from the front to the back yard, copious amounts of good food, and friends I love dearly. I sat on the couch next to Clay, finishing up my burrito, when there came from the other room a THUNK, and then Raphael screaming with a pitch that caused everyone in the room to catch their breaths and turn.

A light saber had been propping a window open, and when he tugged it free, the window fell solidly on his thumb. The thumb was already turning purple, and he wouldn’t move it. He shrieked and clung to me.

So. Off to the emergency room with us. Mom and Dad stayed behind with Max and Tre while Clay and I took Raphi. Clay offered to carry him to the van, but he jerked away from his hands, moaning,
”No! MAMA.”

I carried him, strapped him in his car seat, and set his hand on a baggie of ice. He didn’t like the ice, declared that it was too “spicy” for his hand, but he consented. Once we were on the road he calmed down, and right after that he fell asleep. I watched him in the rearview mirror while Clay drove. He patted my leg.

“He’s ok, you know.”

“I know.”

“He really is.”

“I know. I think it’s broken.”

“Maybe. He’s still ok.”

“I know.”

We pulled up at the ER, and I carried him in, a sleepy drape of child in my arms. At the desk I was presented with paperwork, and I said to Raphi,

“Ok, do you want to stand up, or do you want Clay to hold you?” He scowled, then nodded at Clay. I handed him over, then turned to the paperwork. A few minutes later I turned back, to see them playing in the waiting room. Raphael was inspecting a table with small cars on it. He leaned over, inadvertently putting weight on his injured hand. He winced.

“Ouch.” He muttered matter-of-factly. Clay shook his head.

“Hurts, huh, buddy?” Raphi nodded. “Yeah, but look at you! You’re not letting it stop you are you? You’re one tough kid, you know that?” He inspected his wound for a moment, thoughtful, then looked back at Clay and grinned. “That’s right; you’re a brave boy, Raphael.”

“Ah am a brave boy.”

I watched from the sidelines. He’s hurt, I wanted to snap, don’t encourage him to move around, for crying out loud! Sit down! Read him a book! Keep him safe!

Oh, but if Clay is in my life, he’s in the boys’ lives. And he’s not going to stop being a man around them. So they will learn to be men too. I hate to admit it, but part of me cringes at that thought. If he teaches my baby to be a man, then who will be my baby?

But I watched my Raphi, my baby, lean against Clay’s side, and sigh. He was proud, and certainly tougher than I want to believe. Clay leaned over and planted a very manly kiss on his head, and he smiled up at him with joy.

Yes, it was good.

It turned out that Raphael’s thumb was fine. As the doctor said, their bones are very rubbery at this age, and can just sort of squish and then bounce back. I’m not certain that’s the exact medical terminology, but it’s what she said. He’s sore, and sporting a very impressive bandage (or at least he DID until he peeled it off in irritation), and he walked out of that ER with a certain swagger that I know he didn’t learn from me.

Click below if you want to see a picture of one tough little guy.

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