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June 2007
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August 2007

I once heard someone mention something that C.S. Lewis said. That makes this, I suppose, less a "quote" than "gossip." Anyhow, the gist of what he said was the fact that humans are surprised by the passage of time is evidence that we are eternal beings. After all, we’ve always existed in time in this birth-to-death existence. For us to be shocked - “no, he’s not THAT old already!”- that time is passing makes as much sense as a fish being surprised that water is wet.

Today, thirteen years ago, I married my first husband. Now see, this is why I don’t scrapbook. To put pictures together to tell your life’s story requires you to understand it. I can still see that day, can still smell the sprinkling of rain that had me an anxious mess. I can hear the papery rustle of the underskirt of my wedding dress. I can feel the taut satin that clutched my stomach in as I peeked out the window of my great aunt and uncle’s house at what I thought was to be the rest of my life.

But I cannot, for the life of me, understand what happened after that.

I cannot figure out how he and I ended up living such radically separate lives.

As Clay and I puzzle through the work of legally disentangling the boys from my ex, I keep finding myself suddenly awash in emotion. Sunday I stood in church, weeping through the entire service, because how dare he? It is the right thing he is doing, choosing to let go because it is the best for these sons of mine, but I find myself again again again in the same rage and anguish at his choices.

How did we end up here?

It’s not a lack of forgiveness I’m feeling. It’s not a lack of anything. This is my life today: in the mornings, when Clay leaves for work in the dark quiet of a still-sleeping house, he pauses on his way out the door and says quietly, “I love you.”

I don’t know if he knows I can hear him, back in the bedroom, tucked deep in our bed. But I do, and I think, does he mean me? Or the boys? Or our home, the whole of this life we’ve built together?

I think yes. All of it, yes.

How can it be that I am so grateful for now, and yet so angry about the past?

What I’m wondering today is this: if our surprise at time marks us humans as eternal beings, what does it then mean that we are so very shocked by the failure of love?


The weekend of baby

The thing is, I tend to fret. I have these indentions above my eyebrows, like two invisible fingers pushing my forehead into a concerned wrinkle. It’s no use trying to relax that contraction. Years of the habit of worry have engraved that skin, so even when I’m relaxed, it looks like I’m mentally composing a list of things that might go terribly wrong.

And the morning I left to go visit my brand new nephew I wasn’t relaxed.

I actually DID have a list going in my head – not a list of things that might go wrong, but a list of things I didn’t know how to deal with. From the mundane to the overwhelming, everything seems to have landed in July, and I was stressed. On top of it, my jaw hurt from the indignities of the day before, and I kept mindlessly poking at the oddly-sized temporary crown with my tongue, reminding myself again that it was there and it hurt. And was expensive. Add that to the list.

As I waited for the plane, I paced the airport. I’m used to traveling in the center of a storm of activity. The boys orbit me with all their many ideas and impulses, and I move through the days whilst doing the work of reigning and encouraging, catching and scolding, teaching and talking and often just observing. To be striding along like this, hands free, my heart not tethered to anyone I could see, was odd. Disconcerting. I walked briskly and poked my tooth with my tongue. Ouch.

But then, soon enough, I was seated on the plane, wedged in between two women who didn’t want to talk. We all flipped through magazines with bored irritated flicks. As the plane gathered speed to take off, I looked out the window. The rumble of the wheels on the ground grew and grew until there was that unmistakable lurch and we lifted away from the vibration and the noise, into the relative calm of flight. Despite myself, I grinned. I love that moment of takeoff, when the world falls away. That’s what I imagine death will feel like someday.

I turned back to my magazine, but I wasn’t looking at it. There is a freedom in being stuck on a plane, being unavailable. I decided right there to embrace my freedom for the weekend. I might not be able to keep my tongue away from the stupid tooth, but I was determined to keep my mind off the list.

Before long I was there, and soon after that I was settled in at Josh and Terri’s house. The first thing I saw as I walked in the door was Terri, curled up around Julian, in a soft brown chair. I perched on the couch next to them and asked if I could hold him. She graciously handed him over and I sat there with him draped along my legs, his velvety head cupped in my hands. He regarded me with somber blue eyes and I was reduced to the idiotic coos that babies inspire.

What is there to say about a new baby? His eyes are huge blue marbles, his hair looks like reddish fuzz to me, although Terri believes it to be brown. There is just not enough to tell yet. His mouth is a perfect curve of tender pink. He is filling out, his onesies stretching over a rubbery round belly, his elbows and knuckles deepening with dimples. He stretches and flails, his limbs moving with that slow newborn grace, as though he were still swimming. He sighs and grunts and bleats, working out the function of his voice. He is just another baby, on the one hand, but then again he is Julian, THIS baby, the product of his parent’s choice to believe in tomorrow, to give this world their best.

We didn’t really do much all weekend, but spent the time there, moving to the rhythm of baby. I held him as much as I could, breathing him in, studying him, and trying to memorize him. The best of all was when he fell asleep on my chest. Nothing calms a heart quite like weighting it down with a sleeping baby. It was a privilege to sit in the midst of their world, to remember a life lived in two hour shifts, to succumb to the wearying idyll of a new baby.

Those two days were a tonic for me, and by Sunday evening I was ready to go back to my life and my list. When I got home Terri sent me some pictures, including the one below the jump. I think it illustrates three points perfectly:

1 – I have a perfectly beautiful nephew.

2 – I clearly forgot to pack face powder. Sheesh.

And
3 – …

Continue reading "The weekend of baby" »


Dear Tre who is twelve,


Instead of swimming lessons this summer, you’re taking diving lessons. I chose that class for you because it sounded like fun, a change of pace. You’ve always taken to the water with such natural grace that I expected diving to be easy for you.
I was wrong.
There’s quite a range of kids in your class, from one young man who stands head and shoulders taller than you, to two tiny blonde girls, who are so slight that the diving board barely dips under their bounces. Whenever one of them jumps I half expect her to skitter across the surface of the water like some princess-themed water bug. But no, they splash and flail and smack the water like all the rest of you. I never saw the grace in diving until I compared what I’m used to seeing with what you people in Beginning Diving do.
Yikes.
But what I love, what I adore about you is that you bob to the surface after every dive, undaunted. You walk back to the diving board with a swift step, and try your best again. After class you tell me about the times you smacked the water with your stomach or (cringe) with your back. You look at the pool thoughtfully, planning how you’ll do better tomorrow.
You require quite a bit from yourself, which I hope will serve you well in life. Sometimes, though, I see a shadow of that trait, a flicker of what it could do to you. When you fail your own expectations, you turn on yourself with such furious disappointment. It takes my breath away, much as your first temper tantrums shocked me years ago. Don’t do that, I think helplessly. Be nice.
Because while you’re not perfect you, my boy, are one great kid.
I enjoy watching you so much, the way you’re so willing to help your brothers.
P1010077



You step up when asked for help – and sometimes even when you’re not asked.
You’re getting to an age where the things we say to you really annoy you sometimes. But I can see you fight it, struggle to be polite. Thanks for that.
P1010047

And at the same time, you are often so easy to be around. You laugh and chat on a whole different level than you used to, and what a joy you are.
P1010010

My hope for you, as you stride out into becoming the man you will be, is that you can remember the balance of the whole person you are, and not despair when you don’t meet your own expectations.
Remember how precious you are.
Happy birthday, and good luck on tomorrow’s dives.

Love,
Mom


Yes, we have the book. NO, I have not read it yet. I am THIRD in line.

A few weeks ago I mentioned to a friend that Tre, Max, and I would be staying up ‘til midnight for the new Harry Potter book. Well, she was a bit surprised by this. “Really? MIDNIGHT? Are you sure?”

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Absolutely yes.

We haven’t been in on the Harry Potter mania for the whole ride. My kids were too young and I was busy. But last summer Tre latched onto the series, and this heralded a bright new era of reading in our home. Instead of me reading him books, or him reading his books while I read my books, we read the SAME books. He would devour a HP book, then hand it off to me. I would read long into the night, and then we would discuss it over breakfast, full of amazement and shock over this twist or that one.

Eventually Max wanted to know what all the fuss was about. He just wasn’t reading quite well enough for a Rowling tome, so I picked up the books on tape at the library and we listened to them in the car.
If there is anything more fun than reading a Harry Potter book, it’s reading one and then discussing it with your delighted son. If there’s anything better than THAT, it would have to be listening to the books again, with two of your sons following along, rapt.

Bliss.

Ok, it would have been slightly more fun if Raphael hadn’t been completely bored out of his bombastic little mind and reacted to the first words out of Jim Dale’s mouth with wails of protest and anguish. Life is not perfect.

Anyhow, not only was this our first chance to wait in line for the new Harry Potter book, it was our last chance. Never mind that bedtime is sacrosanct around here. Never mind that the next day we had roughly seven million things to do. Never mind that Amazon could have gotten us the book almost as quickly, and for less.

We would be waiting outside the book store. Oh yes.

The Tattered Cover, a local ginormous independent book store, was having a release party, complete with games and prizes and costumes. Tre had to go as Harry himself, of course. Max chose to dress up as Lupin, being somewhat of the wolfish persuasion himself. Really, all the “costume” entailed was a button down shirt, a tie, and a properly shabby robe (provided by his fabulous cousin). We streaked his hair with gray, and gave him a wand, and left it at that.

The party was a blast. We tried butterbeer and polyjuice potion (both cloyingly sweet), and there were a ton of games and activities. The best part, Max said, was being around all the Potter fans. “It’s like being with your FAMILY, sort of.”

One of the activities was a sorting wheel. You could spin the wheel, and it would land on one of the four houses of Hogwarts. Tre was placed in Hufflepuff, which I could sort of see. Loyal and hardworking, indeed. But then Max was shocked to be placed in Slytherin. They both wanted to be in Griffindor, so I permitted them to throw away their house stickers and get in line to spin the wheel again. You can imagine their shock to find themselves placed right back in the same houses. Hufflepuff and Slytherin. Well. Tre can be a Hufflepuff, but I’ll have no son of mine a sneaky Slytherin. I soundly spanked Max and made him stand in the corner. Now I wake him up in the middle of the night every night to lecture him on the importance of honesty and goodness. I’m just SURE that’ll help him grow up right.

Kidding. You knew that, right?

Anyhow, the night wore on, taking that unreal quality of sleep deprivation. By the time the line formed around the building, we were punchy. Tre and I sat down on the pavement and watched Max as he leaped around and entertained us and several people around us with non-stop chatter.

The clock struck twelve, and seconds later the first person to get a book ran out the front door of the book store. He held the book high above his head, hooting in triumph, and the crowd responded with a mighty cheer. While everyone else watched the lucky first run by, I watched my sons. Their ink-dark eyes glittered in the dim light as they realized they would soon have this book they've waited for so long.

Tre started reading it during the drive home. Max wept as I tucked him in bed, begging me not to read it until he had.

Was it crazy to stay up so late?

Oh yes.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat. One only gets so many chances to experience real magic.
Harry_and_lupin


One year ago today...

Ok, I know I owe you a baby weekend story, and it's coming, I promise. I also want to tell you about waiting outside Tattered Cover for the last Harry Potter book last night with Tre and Max. But tonight it occurred to me what happened a year ago today.

Some days I still look at Clay and say, "Dude. Your FINGER IS GONE." Still surprises me. He's unphased by it, and it never slowed him down.

Ok, it did cause him a little hassle last week when he was at the sheriff's office, getting his fingerprints taken. "Note from the doctor, showing you've had an amputation," - as if. How about a MISSING FINGER, to show he's had an amputation?

So tonight, in the spirit of nostalgia, I present before and after photos. Here he is before:

Rings

And after:

P1010042

What cracks me up about that first picture (from our wedding day, natch), is if you look closely, you'll see that his forefinger is all roughed up in that picture. Tough guy.

There he is. Fewer fingers, and yet always somehow, more of a man.


A much-anticipated tooth update

So. I know y'all are DYING to hear what happened at the dentist's office. (Tha pretty pretty internets yawn, scratch, exchange do YOU know what she's talking about? looks.) Well.

I showed up and submitted to the dental staff and their evil ways. I soon found out that the tooth in question was NOT one of the teeth I'd been previously warned about, so HA! No, instead it was an entirely different tooth that had gone bad. It had...um...cracked.

"Are you under any STRESS?" The dentist asked. Ha! Ha ha! STRESS? Pshaw.

Well, it's possible I've been grinding my teeth. I needed a crown, which truly seals the deal.

I am old.

I am an old person with a temporary crown, which feels like a bowling ball to my tongue, although it looks normal sized enough. Normal sized and GOLD! I am told the permanent crown will be more TOOTH colored.

Such is the miracle of modern dentistry that a mere hour and a half later I was released from the office, many many dollars lighter, with a face that felt like rubber, and practically pain-free. I went home, talking like I was drunk, and even made dinner. All was right enough with the world.

And that's a very good thing, because the next morning I had to hop on a plane to go spend some time with a very special guy:

Julian_hello_ladies_71507

But I'll tell you more about that tomorrow.


With a lawsuit on my hands and an icepack on my jaw.

So, six months ago we had a fun family outing to the dentist. Whee! Don't tell us we don't know how to pahar-tay! Because CLEARLY we do.

Anyhow, as the dentist was poking about in my mouth with sharp objects, looking for tender areas to exploit, she said the following (obvious implied subtext in italics):

"Oh. Hmmm."

Ha! Hahahahahahaha!

"You seem to have a few problems here..."

Heeeheeheehee! *snort* giggle!

"THIS filling [poke] and THIS filling [POKE!] both need to be replaced."

Glee! Amusement! Plans for a new boat!

"It's not URGENT, you don't have to have it done today, but you should certainly think about making an appointment soon."

I have to admit this really doesn't need to be done at all. But it would be funny!

"Will you want a prescription for Valium?"

By the way, if you DO fall for my little "filling replaced" scheme, you should know it's going to hurt. A lot. Tee hee!

Being the responsible oral health advocate I am, I responded, "Ahhh, ahh ah." I had a mouth full of pointy objects. But what I MEANT was, "Oh, of course, Doctor. Right away."

As if.

And then I escaped the office and never thought about it again. Except when Clay would say with uncharacteristic maliciousness, "So, when are you getting that dental work done?" And I would reply, "OH LOOK, SOMETHING SHINY!"

So you can IMAGINE my consternation to discover PAIN and HURTING and MORE PAIN in one of the teeth the dentist said needed work. WHO COULD HAVE SEEN THAT COMING? Y'all, I'm as shocked as you are. Clearly I have been gravely misled.

So I called the dentist and meekly requested an appointment. The receptionist listened to my sad tale and said, "Let's see...sure, she can see you this afternoon at 2:30."

Hahahahaha! We shall be laughing about it until then.

That gives me a while to wait, hold my jaw, and try to figure out who to sue here.

(With apologies to my brother-in-law Doug, who is a dentist, but never subtexually laughs at his patients, I'm sure. Or hurts them. Or buys a boat from the proceeds of their suffering...wait a minute...)

(Kidding, Doug. You totally deserve the boat. AND Jill, which is saying something.)


Freedom fears


So I got a call recently. From Him. The Ex. Just call him Voldemort, he-who-must-not-be-named. And yes, we’ve been here before. And before.
I believe, however, that it may be true this time that things are different for him. Regardless, things are different here than they were the last time he called.
We are moving forward, inching our feet along the dark path ahead of us, into some new territory. I don’t want to get into it too much here, but suffice to say we are trying to cobble together a wholesome tomorrow out of a mess of yesterday.
My first response to him is fear. After all, the lesson that he cannot be trusted was hard won. It took many brutal steps for my very body to learn to recoil at the sound of his voice, for the hair on my neck to stand up at the thought of being in the same room with him. Ultimately, I needed my sons, their need for safety, for me to learn that icy rage.
But it feels dishonest, falling back on that anger and fear. None of us are the same people we were then. I am not as broken, the children are not a vulnerable and needy, and he…he is not what he was. He is as diminished by the years that have passed as we are strengthened.
So now what?
Sometimes I am almost euphoric at the thought of coming to some resolution in this relationship. I can almost see it, a sort of an open adoption, with history. No more looking over my shoulder, no more questions I can’t answer. Freeing for everyone.
Then, a second later, I’m awash in anger. The other day Raphael said something to me, and I noticed a tooth coming in on top, in the gap in the front of his mouth where there have been no teeth for a few years now. I realized that soon he’ll look like a normal, snaggle-toothed kid, and if his biological dad comes around now, he’ll never know that Raphael wore that space for so long. Somehow, this made me angry. How dare he? What makes him think he can just step back in now? Where the hell was HE when I was lying in that dentist’s chair, pinning that sweet boy’s sweaty head against my chest and whispering words of comfort? HE didn’t lie there and hear Raphael whimper in fear. How dare he?
But then again, a moment later, I remind myself that it’s not about me. And what IS best for the boys? Clay is their dad, that much is sure. But what about this other, this biological dad, this one-who-left? What does he have to give? Is their need to know bigger than their need to be protected from what could be?
“Are you ok?” Clay asked me the other evening. I was startled by the question.
“I’m fine,” I said, with perhaps too much emphasis. “Why?”
“You just looked like you were going to cry.”
I blinked, surprised to find that I was near tears.
“I just…I just can’t see my way through this.”
He reached out for me, ran his hand along the skin of my arm.
“Me either. But I know there IS a way through it.”
And then I did cry.

The other morning Max crawled into my lap at the breakfast table.
“I had this DREAM last night,” he mused. “We were all in a prison, you and Dad and Tre and me and Raphi. It was just like a big building, you know? And we were all inside it and suddenly I noticed that there was this one guy standing by the door. And he was the only thing keeping us inside the prison. And I looked at him, and I was scared, but I thought, ‘I don’t WANT to be in prison.’ So I just RAN! I RAN right past him and I was so scared, but then I was free.”
As if to demonstrate, he leaped off my lap and tore off outside. I watched him go, and thought, yes. I don’t want to be in prison either. I just hope I am big enough for freedom.


An atmosphere of growth

This evening, just twenty minutes or so before the boys’ 8:00 bedtime, I sat in the garden. I was crouched down under the tomato plants, looking up through their leaves. I ran my fingers along their stems, feeling the dampness, and smelled the rich tomato plant scent. I felt the cool, stiff knots of slick green tomatoes hidden deep inside the tangle of branches and leaf.

I have only four tomato plants in the garden this year, and they are startlingly vigorous. I planted them too close together – again. I always forget, I always fail to believe when I’m looking at a tender, tiny seedling, how very big they will grow. I made just the same mistake with each of my newborn sons, as I held his unblemished foot, the satin skin of the sole just the width of my palm.

I underestimated the impact their footstep would have one day.

The tomato plants seem unrestrained, despite their crowded circumstance. The weather has turned oppressively hot recently, and the summer portion of the garden has responded with bristling life. Pepper plants have doubled in size, and stand proud and glossy deep green. Watermelon and cantaloupe vines sprawl and are sparked with flowers. The zucchini plants that were just a handful of leaves a few weeks ago are a mound of green with a threatening number of large yellow flowers. And I sit under a jungle of tomato plants and wonder if there is room enough for them to continue to thrive at this rate. At least, I tell myself, now that there are tiny new tomatoes all over them, the leaf growth should slow.

I stroke the leaves and enjoy the cool moisture on my fingertips. Tomato plants are always slightly wet. Clay is watering the lawn and Tre and Raphael orbit him, each absorbed in their own activity. Tre has filled a spray bottle with water and is spraying his sun-brown legs, then misting rocks and watching the water evaporate. Raphael has dragged out a foam sled and flopped it on his lawn. He leaps on it and mutters to himself, deep in a story of his own making. My thoughts linger on Max, who has fallen asleep on his bed.

Max has been fighting a cold, an average summer stuffiness with cough. His ear has been hurting him, but I’ve been holding off on going to the doctor, waiting and hoping for him to defeat this bug on his own. He had a round of antibiotics less than a month ago, and ever since he’s seemed a little fragile to me, slightly off. I am hoping if he fights off this illness without the antibiotics, he will emerge on the other side his own strong self. Plus I hate antibiotics and they made him throw up last time.

Yet I worry about him, and mentally compare the lists of evidence that this is good and that this is a terrible mistake. He hasn’t had a fever at all today. And his ear only bothered him once. Wait, twice. Shoot. Plus, he is asleep, curled up on his bed with bath-damp hair, and it isn’t bedtime yet. But maybe that sleep is just what he needs, and isn’t evidence of him getting worse at all.

As I ponder my Max I study the tomato plants. Sometimes I wonder why, given my life’s work, I choose a pastime such as gardening. All day I nurture and direct and feed and water, and in the evening I slip outside to raise plants as well. It seems as though I would turn to something else, something more within my control. All you can do, for plants and kids, is to provide them with the best environment you can manage, feed them what you think they need, and stand back and watch and pray.

I stand up and walk slowly inside, feeling the heat slip off my skin as I walk down the stairs into the cool basement. I brush back Max’s hair and feel the skin of his forehead with my lips. He stirs and murmurs, “You smell like tomato plants,” because he is a gardener too.

Sometimes I wonder why I relax from my day with the same sort of work.

But sometimes I wonder what else could there be that is possibly worth doing.