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August 2003

Have I seemed a touch

Have I seemed a touch bitchy to anyone today? Those of you who don’t know me personally may be a bit perplexed by the question. Those of you who do know me face-to-face, remember that although you may be reading this August 1, I am writing it July 31. So? Have I been a bit abrasive? I’ll tell you why.
It’s my anniversary.
Don’t correct me; don’t tell me it used to be my anniversary. Whatever may have happened in the interim, I was married on this day, nine years ago.
Last year on this day I was getting my hair cut and mentioned to Christy with a grimace that it was my anniversary.
“Uh, uh, uh!” she chided, “it USED to be. Now it’s just another day.” I was chagrined, as though I had inadvertently revealed something about my heart. I was having a hard time getting used to the language of being divorced anyhow. I didn’t always know how to refer to him. If I was telling a story from when we were married, should I call him my husband? Or my ex husband? I didn’t want anyone to think I had forgotten that we had been divorced three weeks before. Yet he wasn’t my ex on the day our first son was born. He didn’t star as my ex in a thousand other important stories about my life. How confused does it sound to say “My ex husband and I went to the Grand Canyon on our honeymoon”? He wasn’t my ex on the honeymoon.
Well, I’ve figured that one out, for the most part. Usually I settle for the cumbersome but clear “my husband at the time.” I hate inserting the term ex husband into otherwise happy memories. It’s like paging through old, precious photos and finding the leering face of an enemy in the corner of each. He wasn’t an ex. He was my husband. At that time.
So if I seem a bit cross, it’s because of the split in my head. The memories starring my husband at the time, vs. the reality of my ex out there somewhere today.
Today is my anniversary. It’s not a sweet day anymore, but at least it marks the end of July. RIP, July. For one more year, pack up your memories and good days gone sour.
August should be better. At the very least, it should feature fewer whiny blogs, and that’s always a good thing.

I just love summer. I

I just love summer. I love all the fruit that’s available, and don’t tell me about those Chilean peaches you can get in January. Ick. Do you know what sorts of chemicals they allow farmers to use in Chile? Me neither, but I can never feel quite right about eating fruit from there. Plus, they taste like cardboard. No match for drippingly sweet, perfumed peaches that were grown in our own state. Peaches that reach out and grab you with their scent as you walk by them on the counter. Real peaches. And watermelon. Oh, and any day now, cantaloupe.
I love that I don’t have to find socks for the boys in summer. Half the time I don’t even have to find their shoes. They run wild through the neighborhood in bare, grubby feet. No digging out coats and trying to find matching gloves. Just a “Mom, we’re going to Craig James’ house,” a slam of the door, and they’re off. Oh, the freedom.
I love all the kids that are around in the summer. My house has been occupied this summer with dozens of extra kids. At least it seems like it. They swarm in, eat our food, scatter the toys, fill the rooms with projects and noise, then the whole crew will stream out the door, off to another house. Another adventure. You just never know what they’re going to do or say. This afternoon Max was playing with play-dough with three of the neighbor girls, Kelsey, Natalie, and Megan. They started making cheeseburgers, and someone put play-dough mushrooms on theirs. This caused a heartfelt discussion of who liked mushrooms and who didn’t. It grew quite heated, until the question arose whether or not the mushroom haters could even play with the mushroom lovers. Megan was quietly playing this whole time and at this point she piped up with a serene, “I kind of like the way people be different.” Well, that put an end to that argument. Peace reigned.
I love the outdoor projects that arise among the neighborhood gang of children. Tonight after dinner I went outside to see Tre and Max joining six or seven other kids, sitting in the gutter. Someone was watering their lawn and the runoff was making a little river down the street. The kids were floating sticks in it, and excitedly hollering ideas to dam the stream. “Ok, everyone, places!” someone yelled, and nine kids laid down in the gutter, positioning their forearms to stop the flow.
It was muddy, it was noisy, it was weird, and it was wonderful. Summer. Gotta love it.

One of the many gifts

One of the many gifts of having kids is their ego-deflating ability. Not that I’m in danger of having my perspective skewed by the adulation of thousands or jaw-dropping successes, but if I were, my boys would save me. They reliably put me in my place.
This morning, as I was reading my email, Max came up next to me. He rested his hand companionably on my knee. Moments later I glanced down to see him running both hands up and down my shin, brows knitted in concern.
“Max, what are you doing?”
“Mama, you’ve got about a thousand slivers here! That must hurt! Want me to get a tweezers and needle?”
Slivers? I ran an exploratory hand over my leg.
“Oh, honey, those aren’t slivers. They’re hairs. I need to shave my legs.” He hunkered down on the floor and brought his eyes within about an inch of my leg.
“It looks like a little forest,” he said dreamily.
“OK, Max. Enough.”
“Does it itch, having all those pokey hairs sticking out all over?”

Raphael, of course, is a natural at helping me keep my self-image in perspective. If he’s not adorning my clothes with handprints or shrieking in the middle of church for “Dee Dee,” he’s pulling down displays in stores or yanking the hair of another child in the baby pool. No matter how good a mom I think I am, Raphael is there to remind me that I don’t have it all together. Not yet.
But my favorite instance of ego-deflation came from Tre. About six months ago I was tucking him in bed. He had recently gone to a birthday party at Build-A-Bear. He and his friend had both chosen these soft fluffy teddy bears that they had dressed as policemen and named “Fluffy.” Both bears. Two cop bears named Fluffy. I dunno.
Anyhow, that night Tre was explaining to me the difference between Fluffy and his beloved stuffed Monkey named (ready for this?) “Monkey.”
“See, Fluffy’s kind of tough. He’s a police bear, so he’s not scared of anything. But Monkey sometimes gets scared.”
“Really? What’s Monkey scared of?”
“Oh, the dark, a little. And roller coasters. Being left alone.” Now, these are all things Tre happens to be scared of. A little light bulb went off in my head. This was not just chat about his stuffed animals. This was a Psychologically Important Moment. I sat down on the edge of Tre’s bed and picked up Monkey and stroked his brown fur.
“You know, as Monkey gets older, he’ll probably start to feel better about those things. Everyone’s scared of something, but if you keep taking care of Monkey and loving him, he’ll start to feel better. He’ll learn that you love him and you’re not going to leave him.” I smiled at my sweet boy, who was looking at me very soberly.
“Yes, Honey?”
“You know Monkey’s not real, right?”

I have a shocking confession

I have a shocking confession to make. I listen to country music. Love it. Now, I know there are people out there reading this and thinking, so? Are you trying to imply there is something wrong with country music? And those people are right. There is good country music out there, true artistry. Being a fan is nothing to be ashamed of.
Yet I am, because what I like about country is what the rest of you are shaking their heads over right now. I love the hackneyed lyrics, the heart tugging clichés. A good sob story, set to song. C’mon, baby, me cry.
I know, not something to be proud of. I’m baring my soul here, and it’s not pretty. I am pitifully affected by these songs, so much so that I had to stop listening to them in the car when I was pregnant. I was too emotional and would cry so hard I couldn’t drive.
It gets worse. Sometimes, I try to explain songs to people. Now, that just ends up with me reciting the lyrics to someone who is staring at me. The thought Why? Why is she doing this to me? is practically hovering visibly over their head, yet I am driven.
“See, she’s singing about her dad? And he never said he loved her? And then she goes, ‘the man I thought would never die (pausing here to blink back tears), has been gone almost a year.’ Isn’t that sad?”
Picture now my poor victim (usually my mom…sorry, mom, but you’re the least likely to walk away from me mid-sentence), looking at me with glazed eyes. Her will to listen has been drained, sapped by my ragged rendition of yet another stupid song. And I know it, but I’m all into the stupid song.
And you know what? I’m going to do it again. To you. Here goes, a glimpse into the workings of my mind, as I listen to a song. In this case (blush), She’s Gonna Make It, by Garth Brooks.

He followed her to work this morning,

Oh, I remember the first time I heard this song.

He’d never seen that dress before.

What was it, four years ago? I was still married.

She’d seemed to sail right through

Thought it pretty shrewd of ol’ Garth.

Those dark clouds forming,

Pandering to the divorced woman.

That he knows he’s headed for.


After seven years of marriage,
He wanted out.

Yup. Sounds familiar.

After seven months of freedom,
It’s clear that there’s no doubt.
She’s gonna make it,

Better believe it, baby.

And he never will.


He’s at the foot of the mountain,
She’s over that hill.


He’s sinkin’ at sea,
And her sails are filled.

That’s just how it is, too!

She’s gonna make it,
And he never will.
And you know it’s not like she’s forgot about him,
She’s just dealing with the pain.

That’s right, dealing with it. Like grown ups do.

And the fact that she’s survived so well without him,
You know it’s driving him insane.

Loser. Grow up.

And the crazy thing about it,
Is she’d take him back.

Well, I don’t know about that…

But the fool in him that walked out,


Is the fool that just won’t ask.


She’s gonna make it,

Yes she is!

And he never will.


He’s at the foot of the mountain,
She’s over that hill.


He’s sinkin’ at sea,
And her sails are filled.

That’s right, baby!

She’s gonna make it,
And he never will.

Tell it true, Garth!

Ahem. Well, let me never be accused of putting myself on a pedestal. There you have it, the unvarnished truth. Hope you can deal.
And again, I’m sorry, Mom.

By the time anyone reads

By the time anyone reads this it will be Friday, July 25, and my eldest boy will be officially eight. We had his birthday dinner tonight, because we’ll all be out tomorrow. I was remembering today when he was a tiny little newborn, just a few days old. I had to take him back to the hospital so they could draw some blood for mandatory screening for certain genetic disorders. Now, I was as newborn of a mother as he was a person, so I marched right into that lab without a qualm. The nice phlebotomist (vampire) showed me the card with the little circles that needed to be filled in with blood. Oookay, I thought. I guess. She seems to know what she’s doing. She wrapped a tiny heating pad around my son’s tender heel, explaining that the warmth would draw blood to the surface, making it easier to get a sample. Ok, I thought.
Then she pulled out a razor and sliced his foot.
A small cut, you understand. 1/8 inch on the curve of his heel. I stared at her. Tre stared at me. We were shocked. She started squeezing his heel, a drop of blood pooling between her gloved fingers. Tre caught his breath and screamed. I looked from him to her; unable to comprehend that this woman was doing this to my baby. That I had brought him to her.
The wound dried up before she could saturate the circles on her hellish little card, so she plied her razor again. And again. Tre thrashed in my arms while I clung to him and wept.
Finally she was done. She covered his chopped heel with a Band-Aid and I pulled him close. Both Tre and I were drawing shuddery breaths, calming down. I glared at the phlebotomist. It was just so wrong.
This morning Tre and Max came screaming into my room, mid brawl. There were tears, and hurled insults. It was a few minutes before I could calm everyone down enough to get the story. They had been sword fighting with toy swords and shields. Impressive acts of swashbuckling had ranged all over the house. Finally the fight had wound down, and Max wanted to put his sword and shield away in his room. Tre was adamant that both sets of sword and shield belonged in his room. I started to declare my decision in the matter when I took another look at Tre. He was fairly dancing with anxiety. His hands grabbed at the sides of his shorts, reached up to pull his hair. His eyes were wide, but the rest of his face was pinched. I know that look. This had something to do with his dad. Somehow, this was about his dad.
I try not to say anything derogatory about my ex here, in this forum. But let me state this, as a matter of fact. It has been well over a year since he has seen his sons.
I took Tre aside and looked him in the eye.
“What is it about the swords?”
“Nothing! It’s just that…who gave them to me?” He plucked at my sleeve, shifting from foot to foot. I took his chin in my hand, redirecting his eyes to mine.
“You bought them at Kazoo’s, with Amma.” His shoulders sagged with relief. Or disappointment. I’m not sure which.
“I thought…maybe…it was Daddy.” And then, although he gritted his teeth and stared at the ceiling, his chin wobbled and his eyes shone with tears.
“Oh.” I sat down on the floor and reached out to hug him. He climbed right onto my lap and buried his face in my shoulder.
“I’m starting not to remember.” His words were muffled by my t-shirt. We talked for a few minutes about his dad. That he misses him. I was realizing why Tre has been so moody lately. Small irritations have been huge deals to him, complete with screaming and foot stomping and rivers of tears. His birthday was drawing near, but his Daddy still isn’t. Gotta grieve somehow.
Even now, after all this time, Tre has a hard time talking about his dad being gone. Don’t look at that. It hurts. He only stayed on my lap for a few minutes, then bounced up and away.
But for a moment I remembered that day, in the hospital lab. Here I was again, holding my baby. Helplessly watching someone wound him.
Just so wrong.

I was at the supermarket

I was at the supermarket checkout today...ok, hang on. I have to go on a tangent here. Do you notice how many of my blogs include the supermarket? I seem to live there, yet do you think there is ever any food in the house? It’s pathetic, that’s what it is. *sigh* I have no life. Moving on.
As I was saying, as the cashier was scanning my items, she started looking in and around my cart, mentally tallying the boys I had with me. Here it comes, I thought.
“THREE boys? Are they all yours?” she gasped.
“Yup. All mine.”
“Wow,” she eyed them in amazement, and then leaned in to speak confidentially, “don’t you wish you had at least ONE girl?”
“Nope. Wouldn’t know what to do with a girl.”
“Yeah, but you can do their hair, and dress them in pretty clothes…don’t you wish you had ONE?”
Now, I never know what to say to this. I hate it when I hear parents of all girls wish in front of their daughters that they had a son, or the other way around. I knew a woman who had four boys and used to comment frequently that the only reason she didn’t abort the fourth is she hoped it would be the daughter she longed for. This was said in front of her youngest son. I could be wrong, but that seems just…mean.
So although there is a part of me that aches just a little when I see a dress with little rosebuds, I wouldn't admit it. At least not in front of the boys. I smiled at my grubby-faced, goofy-haired tribe of boys, and then leaned in to speak to her confidentially,
“Boys are better.”
Her eyebrows rose. She was taken aback. That’s a heck of a thing for one woman to say to another. I nodded seriously.
“They are. Friends of mine come to visit with their daughters and,” I whispered the shocking truth, “those girls talk waaaay too much.” She was literally at a loss for words, so I smiled and let her off the hook. “Actually, girls are fine. I’m just used to my boys. They always surprise me, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.” She said something like “Oh…ok. Umm… that’ll be…”
Well, I don’t think you get it if you aren’t the mother of sons. Before I had Tre I pictured myself raising a sweet little girl. After all, when I was a kid all my dolls were girls. I guess I assumed the small size of our species mostly comes in pink.
But then I had my boys, and now I see things differently. Boys actually live up to many of the stereotypes surrounding them. Sometimes I’ll see two of my sons, walking innocently past each other, and something happens. Some sort of signal, invisible to the womanly eye, passes between them, and in a heartbeat they’re rolling on the floor, trying their best to kill each other. Gleefully. They tend to climb things, and come up with systems for flinging things that hadn’t occurred to me should be flung. They like to make farting noises with their hands in their armpits. They chase anything that will run away. They’re weird and smelly and happiest when they’re grubby.
They’re amazing. After a whole lifetime of cherishing girly things, my sons have converted me to the culture of boy. Ok, not entirely. I still don't get the farting noises in the armpit thing. But I do take way more interest in things like Bionicles and dinosaurs than I once did. When the kids are watching tv and an ad for some girl toy comes on, they moan "Ick, Barbie!" Doesn't matter which girl toy it is, Barbie represents all things icky and pink. Although I played with Barbies when I was little and loved them, I tend to think the same thing now. Ick, Barbie.
As a former girl myself, I’m sure I would have a wonderful time with a daughter. But I don't have a daughter. What I’ve got is this awesome regiment of boys. Wouldn’t trade them for anything.

I got my hair done

I got my hair done today. That’s right, everyone, my fetching gold highlights are fake. Every six weeks or so I go to get the gray covered (yes, it’s noticeable), while I listen to the woes of my current hair genius. And oh my, the woes she has. But it’s worth it because she’s a genius. I love Christy. That’s why I’ve followed her to three different salons now. I even let her cut my hair when she was about eleven months pregnant and CRAZED. Because I love her.
Actually, like most things, it’s not about her, but all about me. I think my hair is my super power. When it’s right, I am invincible. As I was heading to my car after my appointment I flicked one strand over my shoulder and thought, bring it on, world. No more roots here, I can take you.
Not that I have great hair or anything. Sometimes my hair turns on me. I wake up, shower and struggle mightily to wrestle it into some sort of acceptable shape. But it defies me, snickering as it frizzes and falls and flips out all wrong. On those days I am wan. I glimpse my sad head in the car window and suppress the urge to apologize. It’s just pitiful.
So I buy the best products in an attempt to appease the mighty follicles. If something displeases them, I throw it away. With extreme prejudice. I pamper and cajole. Hey, if you’ve got a super power, it pays to treat it well. Don’t want it turning to the dark side.
Of course, I am anthropomorphizing a bit here. I shouldn’t do that. My hair just hates it.

Today at the pool Raphael

Today at the pool Raphael crossed some emotional/developmental line. He went from being a touch leery of the water to being KING OF ALL THE BABY POOL. He splashed and leaped and kicked and spluttered for the whole hour we were there. Not only didn’t he need me to stand near him, he told me, “Go ‘way, Mama.” This with a stiff arm waved at my poolside chair.
So I retreated, feeling a bit dismissed. This was good, I told myself. I had been growing weary of entertaining Raphi for the 55 minutes that he wasn’t spending in the pool, out of the hour we were there. So I pulled out my notebook and proceeded to write. Sort of. I mean, I still had to watch him. He’s only two, after all.
But although I’ve gotten pretty good at writing down little bits between kid interruptions, I was not able to focus. I was restless and distracted. I’m not used to not being needed.
Later I spoke to my friend Amy on the phone. As we were talking her two kids went to the neighbors to play. This is a new dynamic for them; they’re just getting old enough for that sort of behavior. I heard her giving them directions, then she turned back to our conversation and admitted that she just can’t relax the whole time they’re gone. She frets until they come back home.
Moms know that time alone is precious. I read an article recently that suggested this is a huge problem in a lot of marriages, because by the time the kids are in bed the mom is thinking “Finally, a moment to myself,” while the dad is thinking…well, what men always think about. So she ends up feeling pressured and stressed because she never gets to be alone, while he ends up feeling rejected.
So if we know the value of time alone, and we crave it that much, why does it undo us to actually get a moment’s breather?
I think it’s because the moment’s breather is a mirage. We’re going to be on duty any moment. It’s not safe to relax, because we’ll need that adrenaline soon. So Amy peers out the window periodically until her kids come home, and I babble uselessly in my notebook while Raphi swims. No wonder we’re tired.

Linda Sherwood’s blog today talks

Linda Sherwood’s blog today talks about an incident she had with her six-year-old daughter. You really should go ahead and read it in her words; she’s a great writer. But for those of you who haven’t the time/inclination, here’s a synopsis. Her daughter shoplifted some candy and when Linda took her back to the store to return the candy and apologize, the cashier they talked to felt sorry for the little girl. Expressed sympathy that she was scared. This frustrated Linda, who felt this was an important teachable moment.
And Linda is right. I run into this problem a lot. I have expectations for my boys. Fairly strict ones, compared to many of my peers. Nothing horrible, but they are supposed to address adults as “Mr. So-and-so, Mrs. So-and-so,” they are supposed to say “yes please,” or “no thank you,” when offered something. They are expected to look adults in the eye and answer them to the best of their abilities. I say to the best of their abilities because Max is horribly shy at times and a mute nod is the best he can manage sometimes. That’s ok, as long as he’s making an effort to be polite.
Now, I understand that it’s a touch unusual these days to hear children speak respectfully to adults. (Dang, my bias sort of showed through just then, huh?) But what we all should be able to agree on is that they’re my boys. I get to decide that sort of stuff for them. I’m the one doing midnight barf duty when they are sick, I’ve earned the right. To discipline or not is my call, people.
But when I’m in public I get contradicted. Not by my boys, but by adults who should know better. It’s one thing if I tell my sons “This is Mrs. Doe,” and Mrs. Doe says, “Oh, no, they can call me Jane!” Fine. People can choose how they want to be addressed. Not a problem. But other times they out-and-out tell my kids they don’t have to obey me.
The other day I was in the grocery store with the troops. Tre was standing on the end of the cart, swinging back and forth. He bumped into an elderly woman who was peering at the apples. She looked around, startled.
“Tre, you need to apologize,” I told him. She interrupted me.
“No, no, that’s ok, he doesn’t need to.” I smiled at her but turned and gave Tre the look.
“Sorry, um, excuse me,” he muttered.
“No, honey, you don’t have to say sorry. I’m ok. Aren’t you adorable!” Tre was looking around uncomfortably. How is a seven year old supposed to respond to that anyhow?
“Tre, say thank you,” I said. And you guessed it.
“Oh, no, that’s ok. You don’t have to.”

Now, I realize that learning to respond graciously to grandmothers in the grocery store is not a skill that will make or break Tre. NOT THE POINT. The point is, as his mother, I had chosen that moment to try to teach him something. Learning social skills is a long and arduous process, particularly for boys. And this woman, taken by the adorableness of my son (which I will grant you is considerable), felt ok about trying to get between him and the lesson I was trying to teach him.
At the other end of that spectrum are people who see my three boys and decide they must be some sort of gang. Clearly children in need of a firm hand. Their firm hand. Recently, at the grocery store (are you getting a sense of my life here?), Max and Tre went up to a sample table to try something. Chicken or jellybeans, I don’t remember. Doesn’t really matter, because if they’re serving it in little paper cups, my boys will eat it. We love the samples.
Anyhow, as they took their samples of whatever, they said “Thank you,” in unison. Sweet little voices, shining eyes…did this mother’s heart good. And in response the cranky sample lady says,
“You’d better say thank you. Kids aren’t allowed to have samples from me if they don’t say thank you.” This confused the boys. They had said thank you, right? Why were they getting lectured? It confused me too. But I shrugged it off and reached for a sample for Raphael. I handed it to him, and she started in on HIM!
“Now you have to say thank you. You’re not leaving here until I hear thank you, young man.” I would have told him to say thank you if I had gotten the chance. But instead she jumped right in there, setting him straight. By this point I’m looking at her, thinking what an unhappy life she must have. Raphael, however, does not take to being lectured well. He glared at her a moment, then sang out, “MEANIE!”
That’s my boy.

It’s raining at the moment.

It’s raining at the moment. I’m sitting in the sunroom, so there are windows all around me, and on every side I see flashes of lightning. A wild summer thunderstorm – with drenching rain. Gotta love it.
After the last few years of drought I don’t think I’ll ever listen to rain in the same way again. Having lived in the desert southwest I always appreciated rain. Rare=precious. But the last few years in Colorado rain has been more than precious. It’s not just that we loved it when it did rain. The lack of rain was frightening at times.
Last summer, as Gov. Owens said, all of Colorado was burning. Wildfires burned all over the state. Some days the air was yellow with all the ash, and you could see a film of soot on the cars. Sunsets were spectacular, but the air was so thick with smoke that asthma attacks were rampant.
Now, usually I don’t get too upset by forest fires. I have a stubborn refusal to fear things that are out of my control. Forest fires definitely fall under the category “out of my control.” So usually I just shrug off news of another fire. That’s too bad. Another reason I will always live in the city.
But last summer was different. The very sky darkened as a testimony to the vastness of the fires. A few days the sun shone red. It felt awfully apocalyptic. And at least once a day I would hear someone mutter at the sky, “If it would just rain…”
But it didn’t. Oh, there would be a sprinkle here and there, but what we wanted was a gully-washer. Douse the fires and scour the air and drench the crispy brown grass under our feet. If it would just rain…
A dry summer became a dry fall became a dry winter. I took to informing people mid-winter that the drought was over. Just wait. While the newspapers direly predicted empty reservoirs and a ban on all outdoor watering, I planned my garden.
And I was right. Starting in March with a blizzard of immense proportions, we have had the downpours of our dreams. Some reservoirs that ended last summer at 40% capacity – OR LESS – are now at 99%. It rained through the spring. It rained through the early summer. And now, after a short break, it’s raining again.
How did I know? I didn’t. I HOPED. What I meant when I confidently predicted an end to the drought was “If it would just rain…"
And finally, it did.