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August 2006
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October 2006

Every dog should have a boy.

She thinks they hung the moon. She knows they drop most of the food on the floor. When they run, she is compelled fo follow. When they throw her ball, she thinks it might just be heaven. When they tell her to get in the van with them, she KNOWS it's heaven.

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And when they're loving her, this pup that languished for months in an animal shelter, who was within days of being put down when we found her, she knows she's home for good.

Happy Love Thursday.


Unbreakable

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See that bowl? It’s a part of a set. There are three that size, and three bowls just a size larger. My mom bought them for me years and years ago, because she knew they would make my heart sing.

Immediate digression: Mom likes to buy me wee things, and I used to feel guilty about it, back before I was a mom. Ok, WAY before I was a mom, I felt more resentful than guilty, because “What is she doing? Does she think she can make me TOE HER LINE just by buying me this STUFF? I AM MY OWN PERSON, THANKYOU VERY MUCH.” But then I grew up a little and got over myself a lot, and I segued to guilty. But then I had kids and now I understand, because I can’t pass certain things without seeing them in my boys’ hands, and it’s only the combined forces of motherly wisdom and financial limits that stops me from buying them everything there ever was, except porn because ew.

Anyhow.

Mom bought me these bowls, because I love to cook, and she knew I’d use them…somehow. And I do. I chop things and measure them and put them in my bowls, one tiny mound of pearly minced garlic here, a warm brown puddle of soy sauce there, neon shreds of lime zest in another. It gives me almost TOO MUCH delight to line up my ingredients. When the boys wander in and see my collection of little bowls, I grin and gesture at them, announcing, “Mise en place.” They wander away, puzzled. No one really understands me. (Ahem. In the interest of full disclosure, my little cooking-show fantasy only happens on the nights when I have the time and temperament to prepare dinner at a leisurely pace. Which is to say…one out of every seventeen nights, or so. The rest of the time I’m flinging ingredients around, wild-eyed and slovenly, with butter on my elbow and flour on my chin.)

Those tiny bowls? Like the one above? Are amazingly strong. Despite being made of glass, I’ve dropped them several times and had them only bounce and skitter across the floor, unbroken, unchipped, unphased. The sturdy roundness of them, the relative thickness of the glass compared to their size, makes them seem unbreakable. I have come to sort of assume that they are.

The other morning I was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking my tea, reading my newspaper, and trying not to snap at Max. He was emptying the dishwasher. I’ve recently realized that at least two thirds of my children are plenty old enough to empty out the dishwasher, and there is therefore no reason for me to do it ever again. This is fine news, because that is one of those chores that makes me want to lie down on the floor and suffer a mental break rather than slog through the boringness of it all.

Max agrees with my assessment of this particular chore. Unfortunately for him, he is eight, and therefore somehow benefited by boredom, and besides it’s payback for the time I sat through “Thomas and the Magic Railroad” with him, because I will never never get those hours back and I still resent that, four years later. It was just SUCH a bad movie.

My point is that Max HAS to empty the dishwasher at least two or three mornings a week. This particular morning he was making his way through this hated chore by employing an old technique used by children everywhere. It was “I can’t possibly do this, see how many things I drop?” and it was interspersed with, “I’m sorry, I saw a bird outside and forgot I have arms or legs.”

“Be careful,” I said through gritted teeth as yet another fistful of spoons slipped out of his hand and crashed to the floor, silverware clattering in every direction.

A few minutes later - “Max? What are you supposed to be doing?” He looked up, startled, from his inspection of the underside of a kitchen chair.

About halfway through his task, he reached up to put one of these small bowls in a cupboard. He caught the edge of it on the shelf and it slipped out of his hands…

…and smashed on the counter below.

Max froze. I smacked my paper down on the table and strode over to look at the damage. There were glass shards everywhere. It was like the remnants of a child’s Christmas craft, glittering from every surface.

“DAMNIT!” I barked. It’s my one big curse word, and when I use it the boys know things are bad. I grabbed Max under the arms and swung him out of the kitchen.

“Go put shoes on, and don’t come in here until I have this cleaned up!” And then, just for good measure, I turned back and stomped my foot (yes, literally. Am such a grown up), and repeated, “DAMNIT!”

I swept and swept and wiped down surfaces. I threw away one tub of butter, one loaf of banana bread, and three brownies that were all dusted with glass. It was amazing how far that one tiny bowl spread. And I scowled and muttered and felt very sorry for myself.

Finally it was done, and I turned to call Max back in to finish his job. He was hovering near the kitchen, and as I moved toward him, I heard him mutter,

“I mess everything up.”

I stopped and looked at him.

I do not, for a moment, believe that Max thinks he messes everything up. I don’t think that my childish outburst damaged his sense of self. I don’t even think it’s wrong to ever get mad at your kids.

But I also know better. I know that it’s wrong to assume that anyone is unbreakable.

I got down and pulled him onto my lap.
”Max? I’m sorry I yelled.”

He nodded and buried his face in my shoulder. His fingers tangled in the hair at the back of my neck, a self-soothing gesture that lingers from his babyhood. I bit back the things I wanted to say, about being careful, and doing his work. He knew what he did wrong, and an apology followed by “- but YOU” is no apology at all.

“I’m sorry I lost my temper. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” He looked at me and nodded and grinned in gap-toothed joy. I nudged him toward the dishwasher. “Thanks. Now back to work.”

He leaped back into his task with a fair approximation of sincere effort, and I watched him work.

May he always look so unbreakable.

May I always remember that he’s not.


The next half marathon

I slipped out of the house at 5:30 the morning of the race, carrying my shoes in my hand so as not to make any noise and wake the sleeping boys. Clay was even still in bed, but I suspect he was humoring me – letting me claim the honor of “first one up” for once.

It was an hour drive to the Boulder reservoir. Amy and I claimed our bibs and packets, then had another hour wait. We sat in the car, shuffling through our packets, and the whole time we talked and talked. Sometimes I think about this: we’ve walked literally hundreds of miles together, and have yet to run out of things to say. That’s a gift, indeed.

Finally we found our spot in the back third of the throng at the starting line. 2,500 people, all gazing forward, leaning in to hear that start. As usual, I whined at Amy that we should at least START out running, and as usual she talked me down off my adrenaline high by reminding me that we were saving the running for the back half.

Negative split, baby.

It seemed to go way faster than it did last year. When we passed the turn around point it seemed impossible that we were already halfway there. Better yet, last year we were the VERY LAST ONES at the turn around point. No one behind us, and no bagels left either. This year there were tons of people behind us. As we passed them, I wanted to hug each and every one just for doing us the honor of letting us be ahead of them. Amy keeps reminding me that we’re only competing against ourselves, but it doesn’t hurt to glance over your shoulder and see people back there. Not at all.

A few weeks ago I ran into a woman I know. It was morning, and I was on my way to walk with Amy, so I had standard work-out gear on, my hair yanked back in an untidy knot.

“What happened to you?” she asked (ever the tactful one). “You’re usually so DRESSED, with your cute shoes and nice clothes. NOW look at you!” We’ve had this discussion before, about how she thinks I dress way better than your average mom. I really, truly don’t, but as I explained to her, I simply can’t find jeans that fit me, so I tend to wear such things as khakis (or more often gray Dockers that don’t show the dirt as fast). And the shoes…what can I say? I like pretty shoes, I do.

“Well, I’m training this morning,” I told her. “Amy and I are walking twelve miles today, getting ready for a half marathon this month.”

“Oh God,” she shook her head. “A MARATHON? Good luck! I’D never be able to do that.”

But…

She walked away before I could explain, before I could set her straight. I’m no more a marathon-level athlete than I am a snappy dresser. I’m just…me. She looks at me and compares my Dockers to her jeans, and thinks I dress better than she. I, on the other hand, see nothing but the glob of dried egg yolk on the sleeve of my sweater, and think I dress like a slob.

She hears I’m training for a half marathon and holds that up against the fact that she has no such plans, and thinks I’m some fitness nut. I, however, say “I’m in training,” and remember the fact that I sat on the couch last night, carefully avoiding my dog’s hopeful eyes and reading my book rather than going for a walk, and think that I’m a slug.

Clay calls it “comparing your insides to her outside,” and I do it all the time. I’ve never before noticed someone comparing their insides to MY outside, and it’s disconcerting. I wanted to set the record straight.

But what IS the truth?

Somewhere between “athlete” and “slug,” between “snappy dresser” and “slob,” somewhere in there is the ground I inhabit.

That’s one of the nice things about finishing a race like this. I can choose to downplay it if I want, but the fact remains that I did it. In the midst of the chaos and intensity of my life and relationships, with the support of the people I love, I finished 13.1 miles, in 27 minutes and change faster than I did last year.

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And that’s the truth.


See how wise he is?

"Mem, do you think I should stop with these socks? Because they got all wet when I was outside in the rain, and they were pretty sweaty before that, and I accidentally walked through the coke and I have been wearing them for twelve days now."

"Yes, Max. I think all of those are excellent reasons to change your socks."

"Ok, then."


Dear Max,

(This post is only...a little over a month old. Max's birthday fell in the midst of my blogging haitus, so here it goes. Better late than never. And anyone who loves Max had best believe that.)

Eight. Amazing. You got Heeleys for your birthday, having conceived a desperate longing for them when you saw Tre sailing around on his. All day long you’ve been stumbling around in them, calling out to me,

“Hey, Mom! Watch this!” *CRASH* “Ow.”

Your butt, you told me on the way to bed tonight, hurts. I’m not surprised.

Neither am I worried, because I feel like if I sit very still and listen hard, I can hear the rhythm you move to. I know you will flail and fall and slide around helplessly until one day when you will just stand up and fly.

I haven’t always known this about you. When you were a baby you were such a puzzle to me. The world seemed very startling to you, and you stiffened and recoiled at too much attention or activity around you. When strangers reached for your chubby fist, you drew back from them with a look of horror. You simply would NOT settle into a schedule for eating or sleeping, and for your first six months of life I fed you for five minutes at the top of every hour. Every. hour.

As you grew, I fretted about you. You just seemed to have been born crosswise with the world in some ways. You scowled when other kids laughed, and you have always been so very thoughtful and intense. On the first anniversary of the day your biological dad moved out, as I was tucking you in bed I asked if you remembered what had happened on this day last year. Your eyes went dark and distant and you said,

“Yes. That was the day the world split open and the snow came out and we were all cold.”

You were four when you said that.

And yet the same insightful, aware child has been known to sit at dinner, dreamily ignoring his meal, then, after 45 minutes of gazing around, sigh, “I’m hungry.”

You are quirky, developmentally. Last year you were screened for vision problems, and the form came back with practically every possible issue checked “at risk.” Tracking, near-far focusing flexibility, reading eye movements, letter reversals, visual motor integration, you name it, they were worried about it. They practically stapled a white cane to your form. Since April, that form has sat here, next to the computer. There is just simply no way we can afford vision therapy. It isn’t covered by insurance, it’s costly and time-consuming, and…there’s just no way. Every so often I look at the form, frown, and say a little prayer. I wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold panic, thinking that I’m failing you. So often, in so many ways, I've worried that I'm not giving you what you need.

But oh, my Max. The most amazing thing has happened in the last six months or so.

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You’ve clicked.

It all seems to have come together for you. Problems that have plagued you, like the night terrors, seemed to have slipped away. You seem, all of a sudden, so very at ease with yourself and the world. You laugh and talk and play without a fraction of the angry intensity that has dogged you for so long. You’ve made up several new words, and taught them to your friends. Half the neighborhood goes around now, referring to leaves as “azurillies” and dogs as “dolfies.” A “holerferollofis” is a monster with no ears. Of course.

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Even your vision issues seem to be resolving themselves. You did an amazing job as catcher this summer. When you're writing you don’t reverse nearly as many letters as you used to, and the only number that plagues you still is 6. Reading, which has always been so very much work, comes easily. YOU are reading to ME, passages that make you laugh.

Best of all, you are happy – more than that, you are content.

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I don’t know for sure what made this change happen. Is it your new dad? You do adore each other. The two of you have a special bond, and I am grateful beyond words for the fact that this man “gets” you. There aren’t many of us who can properly appreciate you, Max, but your dad does.

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Maybe it’s your newfound security in his arms, maybe it was just your year, but I’m finally seeing in you what I have prayed for you for so long.

I never wanted you to be anyone other than who you are, I just wanted you to be you, but happy.

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And you are.

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Just look at you go.

Love,

Mom (aka "Mem")


Oh yeah...that's right.

Clay asked me this weekend some innocuous question about what I planned to do with Tre when his math knowledge outstrips mine (not hard to do in math). But what I heard was, “So, Kira, what are you going to do to Tre in the area of math? Really, what are you going to do to AMERICA, as we fall further and further behind the rest of the world in teaching our children math and science?”

“Well,” I said brightly, “I can handle it this year, he’s just starting algebra. By next year I’ll have to consider hiring a tutor or…” My voice trailed off as I imagined Tre, swimming in murky and geometry-infested waters. Thundering hoof beats of panic started drumming in my head, “…or enroll him in some classes…” I staggered a bit, leaned over and gripped my knees hard, “…there are DVD courses he could take…” my breath was coming fast and shallow by now and bright stars of light danced in my vision.

“Oh,” Clay said, “I was just wondering if I could help him with his math someday.” He just loves him some math.

I swayed a bit, steadied my breathing, and looked up at him with a weak smile.

“That would be great.”

I keep forgetting I’m not in this alone any more.


When they want to convict me of being a terrible mother, this is just the sort of evidence they'll need

First allow me to Set The Scene. Last night, just as we were retiring to bed, the dishwasher started making a horrible grinding noise that caused Clay to spend an hour on the floor, one arm deep underneath the machine, muttering under his breath. I had mildly hoped this might mean we need a new dishwasher, but apparently not. Clay was pretty sure he could fix it, all it needed was a new motor because the bearings were…um…he kept talking for a while…

Anyhow, I was standing at the sink, engaged in a ritual that was known to people long ago as "WASHING THE DISHES."

By hand.

Snarling may have been involved. The children skirted my sudsy reach and I sighed frequently. The phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hello there, my scrumptious little bunny,” Clay said. I giggled like a little girl.

“Scrumptious bunny? That’s new.”

“Even better than ‘my little crack monkey,’ doncha think?”

“I don’t know. I’m still fond of that one.”

“Listen, I just left work and I’m going to get that motor for the dishwasher. I told them that you do the cooking and I do the dishes, and so I needed this motor NOW.”

“Oh THANK GOD. I am RIGHT NOW, even as we speak, washing dishes BY HAND. It’s horrible. It’s like the DARK AGES. Oh SHOOT, I just broke a glass.”

“Well, stop that. The dishwasher should be working soon.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t do that. How would I work the martyr deal if I stopped now?”

“Ah, I see. Not paying attention now.”

“Man, there’s glass everywhere…”

“La la la la la…”

“You are heartless.”

“You are scrumptious.”

[giggle]

“Ok, fine. Go get your motor. The boys are all going to friends’ houses, so we won’t be here when you get home.”

“See you later then, my scrumptious little bunny.”

I hung up, still laughing. Tre looked at me as I started picking glass out of the sink.

“Was that Dad?” I nodded, draining the water and stacking soapy dishes next to the sink. “Why are you laughing?”

“Because he called me his scrumptious little bunny.”

Raphael walked past, shaking his head.

“Furious little bunny is more like it.”


Love Thursday

You may have picked up on this already, but I like to garden. It takes a ridiculous amount of time, energy, thought, and even money, but I can’t seem to shake the habit. Every spring I succumb again to the siren’s call of the gardening catalogues, and I find myself at it again. Sometimes I feel guilty, using already strained resources for this thing I love. But I DO love it. In the spring I sit, gazing at the earth, waiting for a sign of some tiny seedling pushing its way into the sunlight. Summer evenings find me standing in the lengthening shadows, my feet cooled by the dripping hose, gazing at the plants that bristle so proudly up from the earth. By late summer I have a mental catalogue of each fruit on the vine, and I check them daily, stroking the slick skin of a tomato, lifting a cantaloupe to feel its heft, loosening the damp earth around the top of a carrot to measure its girth. Some days, when plants have been battered by hail, or flea beetles have eaten my entire broccoli crop, this gardening obsession seems foolish and wasteful.

But then there are days like this, when I carry in from the garden the actual, literal fruit of my labors.

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They are a bit homely, and left smudges of dirt on my windowsill. Today’s cantaloupe wasn’t quite a sweet as those we had a few days ago. But still, inside they are the color of a slice of sunset. They smell like a distillation of all my best moments in the garden, and I cannot shake the beauty of my Max’s face as he ate his cantaloupe, juice dripping off his chin.

It’s not often you get to feed your family a whole summer’s worth of love.

(Details on Love Thursday here.)