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August 2004
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October 2004

Ask me no questions, I'll...cry.

Twice this week people I know have remarked that I need to blog on weekends. This, on top of my mother’s deep sigh/resigned nod combo whenever she stops by here on the weekends.
So. I’m not going to blog regularly on the weekend, I’m just not. Sorry, Mom. BUT, I will this weekend. However, you have to participate. Ask me a question. What do you want to know? I promise to answer, if I feel like it, and I promise to tell you the truth, unless it’s not interesting. How’s that for an offer you can’t refuse?
What’s that? You can?
Well, you should know that if I don’t get any questions I will spend the weekend quietly weeping under my computer desk and feeling entirely unloved. So hit the comments section, people, and share the loooove. Or at least the questions.


A few years ago I heard someone speaking on a radio program about the concept of margins. I can’t find any information on whatever broadcast it was that I heard, despite my valiant effort of Googling “margins” and clicking through five out of a bazillion pages of returns before getting irritated and quitting.
So, clearly. That information is not to be had, as information. Instead I will share with you my foggy memory of what I heard.
The person that day talked about intentionally building space in your day. So rather than scheduling events back to back, you would leave a gap between them. This way, if something went wrong (as something is WONT to do), you would have time to recover and regroup before the next event. And what’s more, if nothing went wrong, there would be time to simply be. To enjoy your family and your life.
Sounds good, no?
It made complete sense to me. As a stay-at-home mom for nine years now, this was my life. There was the built-in buffer of naptime, for instance. No matter how crammed full a day was, we had to be home between the hours of X and Y for some child to nap. This left a natural recovery period in each day.
Plus, my natural tendency as a mom has always been to lean toward serenity rather than accomplishment. I’d rather claim a day for quiet puttering around the house than push onward to outside events. I feel best when life is at a slower pace. The kids do better, and my laundry is more apt to get done.
But I always wondered, peering out at people I know. There are moms, women I admire greatly, who manage to fling it all into their metaphorical cart. They work, they have hobbies, and they care for their children. From where I stand, it looks as though they are able to do it with aplomb, with peace. And at the end of the day? Look how much more they’ve accomplished. I watched those superwomen and wondered if my precious margins aren’t an excuse for not pushing myself as hard as I should.
Recently there’s been a convergence of events that have…afforded me the opportunity to try life out without my margins. There are simply too many demands on my time. If I steal an extra hour for lunch with a dear friend, I will pay for it later that day as I shovel dishes into the dishwasher and try to explain addition to Max at the same time. The other day I was listening to a CD when the phone rang. It was right in the middle of one of my favorite songs, so I paused it to answer the phone. Four days later I walked by the CD player to see that the song was still paused.
Newspapers are pitched in the recycle bin, unread. Sometimes I’ll set a newspaper aside, intending to read it, then two weeks later I’ll give up, and pitch it in with the others. Emails stack up in my inbox, awaiting a response. Messages linger in my voice mail, and letters sit unopened on my desk.
I’m sure if I was better organized I could get to the details. Most of them, anyhow. But a tighter schedule wouldn’t answer the anxiety of knowing there is no room for error. Today I got a nail in my tire, and in the middle of my day I had to stop and get that tire fixed. I wanted to cry. That nail seemed like a personal attack, and I knew my day wouldn’t recover like I wanted it to.
I remember hearing a sermon once, where the priest, Father Praveen, spoke of how people drift away from God. It's not that they stand up one day and decide, "Oh forget this God stuff. I'm outta here." They're like sheep, heads down, moving one nibble of grass at a time. This nibble leads to the next, and the next, and the next. Eventually they're far away from where they started, and don't even know how they got there. That's how my life feels right now. Head down, task after task after task.
Things will settle down eventually, and soon I hope to have time for the things I really want.
And better still, time BETWEEN the things I really want.
I know there are others who accomplish more, who do it all and do it better. I don’t care. They can have it all. I’d rather have my margins.

School days

Tonight Max and I had a rare treat, time with just the two of us. He’s learning about ancient Egypt in history, so we went down to the museum to catch an IMAX film and exhibit about Egypt.
I should have guessed how well Max would take to Egypt went he declared his favorite part of the film, “When they showed what’s behind the movie screen and where all the speakers are!” Yeah. The wonders of the pyramids? The glittering treasures of Tutankhamen’s tomb? No match for the pre-film demonstration of the IMAX Theater.
We filed out and headed down to the exhibit, which Max enjoyed for a full seven minutes. Even then he wasn’t observing the actual artifacts, so much as trying to find spaces he could hide in, and noting how big certain shadows were on the wall.
Egypt failed to capture him.
On the email list I’m on there was a recent fire-storm of a discussion about homeschooling. Apparently some people still don’t think it’s a good idea. Huh. *shrug* And one of the big objections is something along the lines of, “I want my kids to spread their wings, not to have so much of their thoughts and life determined by me.”
Well, I don’t know if other homeschoolers are able to DO THAT, to determine their kids’ thoughts and all. If they are, I kind of wish they’d give me some pointers. Because my kids are not all getting on board with that AT ALL.
I’d hoped Max would find the pharaohs as fascinating as I do, that he’d be entranced by the variety and imagination of the culture. He was not. And he didn’t learn all that much, if you define learning simply as the cataloguing of facts and dates. No, what he got tonight was a series of images to add to the mix in his head. And the next time he comes across the subject of the ancient Egyptians, those images will be there, somewhere, to make it seem more familiar.
Some people picture homeschooling like forcing a bitter food down your children’s throats. What I think I do is offer. Taste this knowledge…what do you think of this? It’s much like the process of introducing new foods to a baby. A tiny taste here and there. Some subjects fascinate the boys, and they devour them whole. At other times they turn their heads, only allowing a dribble past their lips.
Tonight, as we left the museum in the dark, Max pranced and jumped beside me. He wore a paper crown with the Egyptian symbol for the god of the underworld, and around his arm coiled a painted snake. He’d learned a bit, perhaps, but what he’d done the most is enjoy some time with just the two of us.
“I’m so HAPPY,” he said, “I just keep hopping.”
Tell me I’m not letting this child spread his wings.

I promise

Just the other day I was talking to a friend about some of the problems she’s having with her kids following her divorce.
“Oh, my kids fell apart too,” I assured her, “but they’re doing sooo much better now. It just takes time and patience…and a lot of prayer. But they’re doing so well it astonishes me.”
And they are. They really are. But…
Today Tre and Max were at school, and when it was time to pick them up I ran into horrible construction-befouled traffic. I don’t know why this surprised me so much; this particular road has BEEN like this for the past few weeks, with no end to the madness in sight. But yes, there it was, still a hassle today. It was going to make me late.
I crept along, with one eye on the dash clock. I’m one minute late, I thought, not too bad. Now four minutes late. Tre will worry. Now I’m six minutes late. Damn.
I arrived about eight minutes after pickup time. I heaved a sleeping Raphael out of his car seat and marched in as quickly as possible. The halls were still bustling with parents and students, a flurry of backpacks and noise. I waved off a friend who wanted to ask me something and yanked open the door of the gym.
I expected Tre to be the first face I saw, but he wasn’t. I scanned the few kids milling around, but none of them were Tre. I turned to see him, huddled in a corner, his face pressed to the window. He’d been watching, but had missed me. Just then he glanced in my direction, and seeing me there, he leaped up and ran over, barreling right into me. He was crying, and he wrapped his arms around me so tightly it hurt.
“YOU SCARED ME,” he said into my side. I could feel him shake. I dropped to one knee and shifted Raphael (still asleep) so I could wrap my free arm around Tre.
“I’m so sorry…I got caught in traffic.” I said. “Are you ok?” He nodded, wiping away tears that suggested he wasn’t. I hugged him close and said what I always say when he gets scared, “I will ALWAYS come back. I promise.” He nodded, because he knows that. What he believes is another story.
Tre is so very old and mature that he hates to cry. The other day he was jumping over a laundry basket in my room, and he rammed into the edge of the open door with his knee. The very frame of the house quivered, he smacked that door so hard. He fell to the floor, and gripped his knee. His face was twisted in a grimace to hold back the tears. I went over to him and patted his back and asked him if he was ok. He nodded yes, but he was trembling. I casually offered him an ice pack, and he allowed as how that was a pretty good idea. He hobbled off to get his own ice pack, thankyouverymuch. And he didn’t shed a tear.
But today? Today he couldn’t seem to stop crying for a while. We headed off to get Max from his classroom. Tre tried to greet him cheerfully, but he wasn’t fooling his brother, who took one look at him and said, “What’s wrong with you?” Tre’s eyes went red again, and he started wiping furiously at the tears.
“Nothing. Mama just scared me a little. She was late.” His breath caught in his throat and he bounced away from Max’s scrutiny. On the walk out to the van he kept his head down, avoiding the eyes of other kids. When one friend of his walked too close, Tre threw his jacket over his face, subtle soul that he is.
Eventually he settled down. He relaxed into the afternoon, and didn’t even hover near me, as he once would have. He’s doing so much better.
But there’s a part of him that knows the possibility of loss. One day you can go to bed with a person a huge part of your life, and when you wake up the next morning, that person can be just a memory. No matter how strong he gets, that knowledge is a part of him.
When I tuck him in tonight I’ll take an extra few minutes at his bedside. He won’t want to talk about being scared, because Tre Rule # 1 is, “Thou shalt not talk about the scary stuff.” So I’ll pause to hear one extra goofy joke, or to discuss the book he’s reading. I’ll just be there, same as I will in the morning, and I hope to eventually teach him another thing to carry with him always.
Some people stay.

This afternoon the whole clan here went for a bike ride. Me and the boys, Mom and Dad, the whole bunch of us. What was thrilling about this bike ride is that Max rode his own bike for the first time. He usually rides on a hiker bike behind me, but he’s gotten so adept on his own tiny bike that we decided to let him try to go it on his own. We planned a route that wouldn’t leave us too far away from the truck should Max wear out unexpectedly, and we were off.
Now, to start off with, I have to admit that I was thrilled to have that hiker bike thing OFF MY BIKE. I hate to tell you that, because it seems like a good mother would LIKE having her son safely tethered to her bike like that. But Max likes to sit back there and wobble. This caused me to have to GRIP my handle bars and fight to keep the bike upright.
“Max? HONEY?” I would say sweetly, “why are you WIGGLING like that?”
“Oh, I just thought I’d make the ride more interesting.”
Yeah. So it was good to have him on his own bike, and he did remarkably well. Toward the end of the trip he was starting to say wistfully,
“You know, I was wrong. I didn’t really want to bring my bike,”
But he made it! He kept up, manfully pedaling as fast as he could. We all stopped on our way through the dog park, to watch the dogs jumping into the stream. For our dog-hungry family the dog park is like We peer at the different dogs, and ask questions. Just looking for dogs in all the wrong places…I suspect we’re not actually ready to commit.
But there’s this big cottonwood tree there, by the stream, and Raphael is determined to climb the thing. Each time we go there he scales a little higher, then gets nervous and demands to be helped down. Then he yells at anyone who tries to help him. He loves the tree.
Tre went down the steep bank right beside the river, and plotted ways to get across. On the other side is a sandy bank, and he’s trying to figure out if it would hold his weight, or be too mushy to stand on. I keep discouraging explorations across the water, but I know he’s going to have to try it eventually.
Max sat down at the top of the bank to watch the dogs splash in the water. Mom sat next to him, and shielded him the best she could when a large Golden Retriever bounded up out of the water and leaped happily around them.
I stood back, watching Mom and Max laugh at the dog that was splashing them thoroughly, Dad standing patiently below Raphael as he climbed the tree, and Tre, leaning as far over the water as he could, and trying to poke the sand with a long stick. The afternoon sun was a rich gold, and the air held the chill of fall.
Some moments are so perfect it almost hurts.

Because it's all about me

I read a lot of blogs. Some would suggest too many. Whatever. But in my blog perusal I have occasionally run across the phenomenon of a blog troll. Some nasty tempered person posts comments anonymously, causing a general uproar. Readers fly to the blogger’s defense, the troll sometimes strikes back, and (best of all) the blogger is afforded the opportunity to MOCK the troll mercilessly.
OH, the fun.
I? Have never had a troll.
BUT today I got the next best thing! A cranky email!
First some background, here. Back in April, I wrote a terribly funny…er…somewhat amusing…uh…perfectly serviceable post about my parent’s phone number, and how they get more wrong numbers than anyone I’ve ever met. And in the comments, Mom said something to the effect that if your name is…um…let’s call him…Rames Jigo, that you should contact every bank in the Western hemisphere, because they’re all looking for you.
It was funny.
But today Rames himself sent me an email, telling me that a FRIEND of his had been Googling his name (suuuuure, a “friend,” was Googling you. Riiiiiight. You know, it’s ok to do vanity Googling, Rames. We’ve all been there.), and had come across my site, and he “didn't appreciate a responder named 'Amma' using my name.”
He wanted me to remove the comment. And I did. Because I am a giver, and golden hearted indeed. But I also sent him an email making just a TINY bit of fun of him. I told him, “I think most Internet users are aware of the odd connections that pop up when you Google anyone's name, and would be surprised indeed if anyone judged you as THE Rames Jigo she was speaking of. It may be YOUR name but it's also just A name.”
I mean, I share first names with a rather prolific p*orn star. That skeeves me a bit, but it doesn’t mean I can ask her to stop using my name.
Old RJ also sent my MOTHER an email, asking her to tell him the phone number in question. Ahem. This was going to help him…sort out the problem somehow. And although he ASSURED her that he’s “not a weirdo,” she declined to share that with him. Rames? Don’t ask strangers for their phone numbers. Really.
But the HEART of this matter, the true MEAT of the thing is this:
Does this mean I’ve arrived as a blogger? If I’m making people mad?

Fall Arrival

Today fall seems to have arrived. It’s rainy and cold, and I’ve been sullenly sipping tea all day. I don’t like cold. I like warmth, and sun, and the freedom to chase thundering herds of children outside.
But no, they want to stay inside, where it’s warm. And they’re not the only ones. Flies found their way in (only to be hunted down by Tre, the mighty fly-slayer). And this morning I saw something in the garage. A bad little something.
Mom was on her way out the door, to work, and asked me if I had a stamp she could borrow. I said sure, and headed out to my van to get her a stamp. When I opened the garage door, I saw it. Just a glimpse of tiny gray streak of life.
A mouse.
I froze, staring at the stack of power tools and coffee cans filled with nails that the mouse had taken refuge under. Mom was behind me, waiting for her stamp. She didn’t know why I’d stopped, so she helpfully reminded me what I was doing.
“Stamps, honey. You were getting stamps.”
“I know,” I whispered, “but…” I searched for the right way to explain what I’d seen. I wanted to break it to her gently. “I saw…a mouse.”
She rolled her eyes at me. She has, after all, dealt with me in the hell that is mousehood before. Ok, maybe she didn’t PHYSICALLY roll her eyes at me. Her expression remained neutral. But she rolled her eyes on the inside. The eyes of her heart? Rolling at me. And lest you think that heart-eyes are not REAL, allow me to remind you of what Antoine de Saint Exupéry said in the classic book, The Little Prince. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” So clearly, with the seeing rightly? Heart-eyes. Totally. What he probably meant to add there was, “but you can absolutely see mice with the eyes, which IS essential, because you’ll want to poison those gross little suckers.”
Now I have to choose, do I attack the vermin with all manner of traps and poisons that don’t actually WORK? Do I take my MOTHER’S suggestion, which was to bring the Claire (our beautiful, stupid cat) out to the garage, so she can make FRIENDS with the mouse? Or do I feign ignorance? Just tell myself I was mistaken; I didn’t see a mouse AT ALL and go merrily on my way?
Well, guess which option I chose?
And by the way, TRA LA LA.

A post that starts out grim, but stick with me please

I have a good friend, who went through a bad divorce a while ago. During the era after the divorce, wherein she was working to rebuild her life after twenty years of marriage, people would occasionally tell her it was time to “move on.”
She hates that phrase. I don’t blame her either.
It sounds as though one can be expected to box up the loss, set it down, and walk away.
The truth is that losses aren’t left behind. They’re added, like brushstrokes, to the picture that is made of our lives. The picture, on the whole, may be beautiful, but throughout it is scattered the lines and colors of loss.
Sometimes as I think about my life, it’s like a mental shift happens, like when you’re looking at a Magic Eye picture. Suddenly my focus settles on the hurts, the pain. The rest of my life fades back and all I can see are the losses.
This morning was like that. I woke up to a day already colored by the perception in my head. And everywhere I looked I saw wounds.
I know this feeling is not reality, it’s a warped awareness. I know the rest of my life is there, full of joy and hope. I’ve been here before, waiting for the light to dawn and the full image to come back. Part of that happens through intentionally redirecting my focus, partly it’s just a matter of time. So I grimly headed into my day, to work and wait.
Two things happened, and though it seems silly, it’s like these events were orchestrated to reach right down and switch the light back on.
The first (I’m embarrassed to admit this) was a new lip gloss. No, really. I was out, shopping for Dad’s birthday, and I stopped to buy myself an Origins lip gloss. It smelled lovely and looked…well, like a lip gloss should, and I was pleased with myself for spending the money on me.
Then I arrived home to find…well…

Continue reading "A post that starts out grim, but stick with me please" »

Stranger in a familiar land

I had my in-laws over this weekend. Forgive me, my EX in-laws. Some relationships really don’t change, you know? It’s always been an uneasy truce between us, and I’m pretty sure it always will.
They like to remind me that I’m not properly Mexican (like them). I am WHITE. Glaringly white, apparently.
As we were setting out the food (copious amounts of grilled meats, my mother-in-law’s tamales, beans and rice), someone asked if I’d made any chile. Salsa. I was nearly out, with only a Tupperware container holding about a cup of salsa. Yes, I make my own. It’s the only thing that seems to have stuck of my mother-in-law’s efforts to make me a worthy wife. I pulled out the pitiful container of salsa and offered it apologetically. Understand, I should have had at least two quarts on hand. Veronica (cousin) shook her head.
“NO CHILE? You don’t have any chile, with all these Mexicans coming over? You must not be used to hanging around us.”
I nodded at my sons in the back yard.
“I hang around Mexicans all the time.”
She laughed.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. Those halfers.”
Understand, she didn’t mean that to be harsh. It sounds mean, if you’re not used to the way they talk to each other. All she was saying was the honest truth, as she sees it. My sons aren’t quite real to the family. They’ll never fit in, especially now.
The first time I met my ex’s mom, she shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you. I want you to know it’s not in God’s plan for people of different races to be together.”
It set the tone for our relationship. I don’t speak Spanish well enough to converse, but unfortunately I do understand more than they expect me to at times. I knew, I KNEW from day one that I was not what they’d hoped for for their son.
So. I would go with my husband (need I say it? Ok, AT THE TIME), and visit his parents. They would say odd/rude/insensitive things, and he would squeeze my knee under the table. Afterward, he would apologize or try to explain away the various rejections of me, and I would play it a little more hurt than I actually was. It was nice to have him defend me, after all, but it’s hard to feel bad about being rejected by people who horrify you.
But now of course, he’s not here. And it’s my job to reach out to these people. Not my family, but family of my sons. In return I get back what I’ve always gotten, a sad noting of my whiteness, a grim acceptance of my children, and odd tiny sparks of love.
My mother-in-law left some tamales for us. Her tamales are like gold – you’ll never have better. She’s tired from an erratic battle with diabetes, and isn’t able to cook as often as she used to, so to be gifted with nearly a dozen of her tamales is gift indeed.
Tonight Max and Tre both asked me to heat them up a tamale for dinner. I stood at the stove, heating a round, flat, cast-iron skillet. My ex’s mom had given it to us when we’d been married a few years.
“Here, take this one home,” she said, “It’s just right for cooking tortillas.” She shot me a despairing glance, realizing the odds of me EVER cooking tortillas. But we brought it home. I stood in our tiny kitchen, wondering aloud if it would be worth it to try to find a place to store it. My husband took it out of my hand and moved to the stove.
“Look, let me show you just what this is for.”
He took out the package of tamales his mom had given him, and laid a few down on the skillet. He stood there patiently, pressing down occasionally on the tamales, making them hiss against the black. After a while a fragrance filled the kitchen, the smell of toasting corn masa, chile, and what my husband smelled as love. He peeled off the corn husk wrapper and presented a tamale to me. It was crisp brown around the edges, and tasted better than any tamale I’d ever had. We sat on the counter and ate a half dozen between us.
Tonight, standing at the stove, pressing down on the same kind of tamales heating on the same skillet, I could see my ex’s face. His round cheeks, red with the heat of the stove, his eyes shining with glee. He brought me here, by the hand, to stand at the stove over these tamales. He shepherded me into a relationship with people who will never understand me, whom I will never understand.
I followed him into another land.
And he left me there.


The most incredible thing happened the other day. I was at a restaurant with my kids and my cousin’s kids, and I gave all of them coins to toss in a fountain. They took turns aiming for the highest bowl of the fountain, and after admiring each other’s shots, they wandered away in a noisy bunch. All except Raphael, who bellied up to the fountain to see if there was any hope for a quick swim before dinner.
Tre ambled over to me and said casually, “Do you know what I wished for? When I threw my coin?”
I paused, remembering.
In the months after his dad left, every opportunity for wishing had the same result. Tre would squeeze his eyes tight shut and wish so hard on every birthday candle, shooting star, wishbone, eyelash on the cheek, coin in the fountain. And then when he was done, and a few minutes had passed, he would find me. He’d slip his hand in mine (he was so little then), and say, “Do you know what I wished for?”
And I’d say yes, because it was always the same thing.
“That Daddy would come back,” he’d confirm. I’d nod, helpless.
Every wish, the same thing. It got to where he’d fix his eyes on the item that was supposed to grant his wish, and then find my eyes. Do you know? he’d mouth, and I’d nod, my heart breaking with him.
But this time? When he walked over to me, too big by far to slip his hand in mine, he looked at me with unclouded eyes.
“I wished that I could have a hundred dollar gift certificate to Borders!”
I nodded back, and turned to hide tears of a different sort.
“I wish you could have that too, Honey,” I said. So, so grateful.