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June 2005
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August 2005

This is why I sometimes run out of words by the end of the day and am reduced to giving orders that consist of nouns only: "Jammies. Teeth. (pause) BEATINGS!"

I was walking the boys up the street to play at a friend’s house. Tre and Max went ahead, on a scooter and bike, respectively. I brought up the rear, holding Raphael’s hand.

“Mama?” he mused, “there are two on wheels and two on walking.”

“Yep. Tre and Max are riding things with wheels.”

“An’ there are FOUR all together and no one is evil.”


“People aren’t evil.”

“Well…optimally, no.”

“But people are good and bad. And we’re all good. Except some people do bad.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

“Mama? Did my head grow?” He reached up to pat his head. We shaved all the boys’ heads the day before Father’s Day, and they all bear the fuzzy growing-in look of summer-shorn heads. I looked at him and remembered his tiny, downy, newborn head.

“Yep. Your head sure did grow.”

“When you shave your head, first your head grows, and then your hair grows. My head grew and now I’m getting hair. Except Appa. His hair doesn’t grow.”

“Well, no. Appa’s bald.”

“Right. I can’t pick up a tree.”

“No, you can’t.”

“Maybe if it was a REALLY SMALL tree.”


“And if I was a robot. Or a monster.”

“Right. Then you could probably pick up a tree.”

“We should get a different dog.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because we need two dogs.”

“Oh. What kind of dog?”

“A blue one.”

“Dogs don’t come in blue.”

“It would if it was made of a robot! A little robot dog that is blue!” He stopped in his tracks and gazed up at me, entirely taken with the thought. He grinned and gestured at me with two upturned palms. “A BLUE ROBOT DOG! It might poop SCREWS!”

“Uh…I suppose it might.”

Just then we arrived at the friend’s house, and Raphi looked up from his feet to discover the destination RIGHT THERE, NEXT TO HIM. He stopped, then looked at me.

“This is Drew’s house, Mama. Don’t talk any more words to me now.”

And he ran off, skimming across their lawn, to play with Drew.

The perils of communication

At the rec center near us, they have a system of sorts for when something’s out of order. If, say, a shower is not working, they post a sign. “Out of order” it says, “Parts were ordered” and then there’s a space to put the date when the parts were ordered, “Repairs will be complete” and another space for the date when things will be peachy keen again.

The subtext of the sign as it’s intended to be used goes something like this, “Hey, we’re sorry about the inconvenience, but we’re working hard on fixing it! See how soon things will be right? Have a nice day!”

However, they never never put the dates on the sign, so instead it reads, “Out of order. Parts were ordered. Repairs will be complete.”

Subtext: “Shut up and stop whining.”

Now, I’ve talked to the people behind the desk. I actually took them the handle from an elliptical trainer that fell of when I accidentally wrenched it free with my super-human strength. Ok, what really happened was that it popped off in the midst of my already shaky stride, causing me to stumble, be nearly vaulted across the room by the momentum of the machine, and scramble to my feet, smiling apologetically because HEAVEN KNOWS it’s wrong to look stupid at the gym. Anyhow.

I took the broken handle to the desk, and I have to say the FEELING behind the sign as it’s actually used? Yeah, that’s probably more accurate anyhow.

Answers to unspoken requests

I lay on the couch, drifting in and out of sleep. Clay and I had been taking a nap, but he was done sleeping. I could hear him in the next room, doing something on the computer. I thought about getting up, but I was so tired. I closed my eyes and drifted.

With my thumbnail I traced hearts on the fingerprint of my index finger, over and over. It’s a habit I’ve had since I was a little girl. Raphael seems to have inherited his teeming sea of IDEAS from me, and also his boundless enthusiasm for adventure. I also gave Max his ability to get crosswise with people, to get himself in trouble and then sink his teeth into the task of being wrong and BITE HARD.

These traits sometimes left me on the outs with everyone when I was a child; my parents, my brother, my best friend, the cat (who was sick of wearing my doll’s clothes). Not knowing how to make things right, I would place myself in the midst of the action in the house and stand quietly, tracing hearts on my fingertips, or with my arms crossed and my hidden hand writing the iconic message on the hidden inner part of my arm.

Love me, it said, even though I’m making it difficult.

Of course, eventually I learned that people usually won’t give you what you don’t audibly ask for, especially if you’re actively working against them. Eventually I learned to ask.

I thought about that, as I traced hearts on my index finger. Over and over.

I heard Raphael come up the stairs and wander into the room where Clay was.

“Where’s Mama?”

“Shhhh,” whispered Clay, “Mama’s sleeping. Let’s be quiet and let her sleep.”

“Can ah see her?”

“You have to be quiet so you don’t wake her up. Can you do that?”

“Ah don’t want to wake her up, ah just want to look at her.”

“Ok.” Clay picked Raphael up and carried him over so they could peek in on me. I lay still, my eyes closed.
”Ah see her,” breathed Raphael.

“There she is. Isn’t she beautiful?”

“Yes. Mah Mama IS beautiful. Ah love her.”

“Me too.”

“Ah didn’t be noisy.”

“Good job. Do you think you need a cookie?”

“Yes, ah think ah do.”

They left, in search of a cookie. In the still of the empty room I sighed deep contentment. My thumbnail traced hearts on my finger.

And then it stilled too.

Dear Tre,

When you wake up in the morning, you’ll be ten. Actually, not quite, since it was 7:53 in the evening when you were born, but there’s no holding you back now.

There’s no holding you back in any regard. You run down the street ahead of me when we go anywhere, not even glancing back at me when I repeat for the thousandth time,

“Tre, WAIT.” You slow down slightly, and your shoulders shrug restlessly under the weight of my demands.

What IS it with your attitude these days? Recently you came to me with some question. I don’t remember what it was, but when I answered, you looked at me for a thoughtful moment, then said slowly,

“I think I’ll look it up.”

The ability to find your own answers is an excellent skill, one I’ve encouraged, and yet a part of me whines, but…you used to think I knew everything.

It reminds me of when you turned two. Compliant child that you were, you didn’t hit those obstinate two year old behaviors until you were about two and a half. Then, when you glared at me and screamed your defiance, my heart broke. But…you’re my baby, my buddy, my boy. We’re a team. Why?

This is one of the lessons you taught me: my children are not my buddies. They will grow up. Don’t take it personally.

There is a small, selfish part of my soul though, that aches for the days when you climbed into my lap or leaned against my side, warmth relaxing into warmth.

I watched you acolyte in church today. You’re so dignified in your white robe. Then the priest solemnly placed the host in your hand at communion, and you tossed it in your mouth like a goldfish cracker at the side of the pool. I winced, and snapped at you in my head, hey, son, a little respect please. But I looked at you, across the room, and this thought came to me, he’s out of my hands.

Of course, you’re not, really. You’re still my responsibility, and I shall still strive to bring you safely to adulthood, the man you’re supposed to be. But you are literally out of my hands, shrugging impatiently out from under my touch, moving apart from me. This era doesn’t have the easy natural feel of your infancy, or the grueling joy of your toddlerhood, or the brand-new delight at seeing the world through your eyes as a preschooler and elementary student. You’re blazing your own trails now, reporting back to me when you feel like it. I stand and watch you; my hands helplessly idle at my sides. You amaze me, and I certainly wouldn’t want to muffle your growth, but yet again I’m cutting my parenting teeth on you. I’m sorry you don’t get the same mother your brothers do, one who faces your new phases with the calm confidence of someone who has been through this before.

Your uncle Josh came to visit this weekend, with his lovely girlfriend, Terri. I watched Amma reach out to touch her son with the same hunger I feel in my own fingertips. I fear that although you’ll only grow more confident and capable, this yearning to hold my baby will never subside.

But you’re not a baby, are you? You’re a great big boy, and now you are ten.

Happy birthday, Tre. I’m so proud of you. If I cry just a bit as you blow out your candles, don’t mind me. Go on, son.

Go on.

the rest of the story

Three weeks ago, on the first day of swimming lessons, I met another mom sitting by the pool. She was glowingly pregnant, watching her two gorgeous daughters take their lessons. We got to chatting, as moms will, about pregnancy and childbirth…

“So, do you know if you’re having a boy or a girl?” I asked.

“We’ll find out soon. But I figure it’s probably a girl. I…my first child was also a girl…and we lost her.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“I went into labor at 22 weeks.”

“That must have been horrible.”

“Well. Yes.” She looked out across the pool, steadying her heart. “But since all three so far have been girls…well, we assume this one is too. And this pregnancy has been fine.” She nodded to herself and repeated for emphasis, “Just fine.”

Monday of this week she told me on her way out after lessons,

“I’m going for an ultrasound! Hopefully we’ll find out if it’s a girl or a boy!”

“How exciting! Will you be telling people?” I meant, will you tell ME? So I can live vicariously through you?


“Great! See you tomorrow!”

But she wasn’t there the next day.

Or the next.

Today she came back, and made my way over to her as soon as I could.

“How are you? Is everything ok?”

Her eyes were still – submerged under the effort not to panic. She’d been in the hospital, fighting to stop sudden preterm labor. For now all is well, and they think she’ll be able to carry to term. Carry her daughter to term.

A small knot of mothers gathered around her, listening to her story, feeling her fear with her. We promised to pray for her and said the most comforting things we could think of.

There isn’t all that much to say.

Today was the last day of swimming lessons, and as I made my way out to the parking lot, carrying pounds of swim paraphernalia, trailing tired boys in swim trunks, I glanced back. This woman was sitting alone, one arm held protectively over her belly. She stared at the ground. I suspect she was seeing memories. I whispered a prayer, a quick plea for mercy, then turned away.

As I made my way to the van, I thought about her, and the fact that I would probably never know what happened to her. For a moment she lived her life within my sphere, and now she’s drifted back out. People do, wander in and out. The threads of their life stories brush past me in the wind, and then are gone.

I like to think that someday I’ll know how each story ended. Better still, someday I hope to see how each thread came together into a whole.

I believe the whole makes infinite sense, no matter how any one thread looks.

But I pray her story includes a healthy baby about eighteen weeks from now. In my limited understanding, that just makes sense.

Judge not the piranha

We were at McDonald’s. I was chatting with a friend and the boys rampaged through the child habitrail. Mid conversation I noticed a rumble inside one small room within the playplace. I peered in for a moment, trying to determine if any of the shadowy figures in there were my sons. I saw Raphael’s head bounce by, and headed over to determine if my kids were involved in the brawl.

As I neared the plastic window, I saw Max, standing in the middle of the room, faced off against a little boy. Max’s hands were on his hips, and he was bouncing anxiously on the balls of his feet. The little boy kicked at him, and he sidestepped it. The little boy charged at him, both arms outstretched, and Max reached out to block him. In return, the boy grabbed one arm and clamped down on it with his teeth. Max’s shriek of outrage and pain immediately got the attention of all the parents in the room. Just then I reached the doorway, which was suddenly populated by small, indignant people. A little girl crawled out, yammering excitedly about what had happened. Max followed close behind, gripping his arm and wailing. Raphael was behind Max, repeating with conviction,

“That boy BIT my brother! I told him DON’T DO THAT TO MY BROTHER! He BIT him! I said, DON’T BITE MY BROTHER, YOU BOY!” “That boy” slipped out behind the chaos, glaring in Max’s direction, and ran away. I looked around for his parent, but didn’t see anyone, so I shrugged and led Max back to the table. He sat on my lap and wept, half out of real upset, half out of enjoyment of the concern. I hugged him and reassured him and inspected the bite. It wasn’t too bad, a small oval of angry red tooth marks. It hadn’t broken the skin, and that was the main thing.

As we were cuddling and recovering, a man led “that boy” over to our table.

“I’m so sorry. I understand my son bit your son. Is he ok?” I assured him that he was, and the man nudged his boy. “Say sorry.” The boy glared at us and muttered,

“Sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry.”

“Say it ONCE,” his dad pressed.

“Sorry. Sorry sorry.” The man gripped his son’s shoulders and looked at me, clearly at a loss about what to do next. I smiled at him.

“Hey, it happens.” He nodded in relief, and I looked at the boy, who was still muttering his apology. “Good luck,” I added. The man nodded again, grimly, and led his son away. I turned to my friend. “You know, once upon a time I would have been outraged at that kid’s behavior. Now? I’m just glad it wasn’t my child doing the biting.” She nodded knowingly.

I used to be fairly quick to judge. I remember taking Tre to story time at the library when he was three. After the three year olds’ story time came the four and five year olds’ story time. When those four and five year olds barreled into the library I would move protectively over to Tre. I watched those boys romp and knock things over and shook my head. Privately I referred to them as “the piranha.”

But then, in time, my angelic little three year old grew up to be a piranha himself. He ran in the library, his footsteps thundering, as he knocked books off shelves with his newly gangly elbows. I saw first time mothers clutch their toddlers close to them and glare at MY son.

I was humbled.

But I learned my lesson. Judge not the piranha, for the next piranha may be yours.

There should TOTALLY be a medal for days like this

Remember the mouse drama a while back? Well, you may have noticed an utter lack of mouse drama. You may have assumed that since the house was clearly surrounded by a mouse free zone, our mousy problems were over.



See, what ACTUALLY happened was that there was a rash, a SPATE if you will, of mouse abandonment. In my actual room. Over and over again Claire (our beautiful, stupid cat) went out into the night, captured and stunned a mouse, scurried home with it, and LET IT GO. In MY ROOM. Because she loves me. So. After a few weeks of finding dead or dying mice in my room, I put my foot down. I also put down the door to the kitty door, barring the great white huntress from her happy hunting grounds. Mom forbid me to speak of the situation here, for fear that you all would think we had mice.

“THAT’S BECAUSE WE DO,” I told her, “or at least I DO. Gah.”

Once the door was closed, the mouse appearances stopped. After a few weeks Claire stopped yowling at the door…as much…and peace reigned.

Until today.

See, Claire’s still longing to roam free, and occasionally she escapes. A couple of days ago Raphael was playing with the cat door and pulled it open. I saw him over there, pushing trucks through the opening, but it didn’t OCCUR to me until later that the cat door was open, thankyouverymuch, and thereby allowing a MOUSE PORTAL into, well, my BEDROOM. I don’t know why. I didn’t even think about it until I saw Claire slip out that night. I was on my way to bed and I watched her disappear into the night. I debated chasing her down, or waiting up to close the door after she came back. But in the end shrugged and went to bed.

The next morning all was well, which may explain why I failed to close the dang cat door all day. I sort of figured, somewhere back in my mind, that perhaps Claire was over the whole mouse-collecting thing. Perhaps she’d moved onto other, more productive pursuits. Bomb making, for instance.

This morning, as I was getting dressed, Max yelled up the stairs,


I could have gone my whole life without hearing that particular sentence. Oh yes, I could have.

But no.

There was indeed a part of a mouse in the sunroom. In specific, it was the part of a mouse that wasn’t the head. I picked it up with several layers of Wal-Mart bag between my fingers and it. The layers weren’t quite thick enough to prevent me from feeling the tiny heft of its wee body, so I was a bit late for church. You know, what with all the hand scrubbing and muttering.

But I recovered enough to take the kids to the park this afternoon. As they played I sat on the sidewalk, watching the many kids and the swirling society of the playground. I chatted with Mom and Dad and peered at the clouds. I glanced to my left, where I saw…

A dead mouse.

Most of a dead mouse.

And many, many flies.

Now, as this park is a good ten miles from my house, I’m FAIRLY sure that Claire isn’t responsible. You understand, though, that I was already traumatized? Is that clear? And then there was this thing, this remnant of a carrier of the Black Death, just decomposing there, next to the slide?

I probably shouldn’t mention this part, but when Dad picked it up with two sticks, it dripped.

I will never be the same.

So tonight, after the kids were in bed, Clay and I were going to watch a video. While he set up the video, I ran upstairs to check on the kids. I went in my room for something, and when I opened my door this thought hit me:
It doesn’t smell right in here.


Huh. It really smells kind of WRONG in here.


I should check under the bed.

So I did.

It’s amazing how bad one tiny mouse can smell. I mean, it couldn’t have been more than an ounce of dead mouse flesh.

One day. Three mice. And I disposed of 2/3 of them.

Don't I deserve a medal or something?

Risotto before swine

You know, it’s not like I claim to be a great cook or anything. I have my failings – like today, for instance. I made chocolate chip cookies, and even though I’ve made them three bazillion times before, I still placed them too close together on the cookie sheet or made the dough portions too big or something. Lots of them ran together, so when they had cooled a bit and I pulled them apart, they formed angular geometric shapes, rather than your standard circle.

So. It’s not like I think I’m a miracle worker in the kitchen or anything. I generally manage to prepare meals that my children will eat. I even manage to make meals that the kids will eat without causing the grownups in the house to drive forks into their eyes to relieve the boredom. I excel in the ordinary.

But, oh, yesterday. I made risotto.

Amy noted in the comments a few days ago that it was crazy to be making pancakes in our current 95 degree weather. She was right, and that only required a few minutes by the stove in the cool of the morning. How crazy is it, then, to stand by the stove in the sweltering afternoon for a good half hour, patiently ladling chicken stock into a pan of rice, stirring slowly, waiting until the stock was almost absorbed, ladling more…

Oh, but when I was done. Each tender grain of rice was draped in a silky sauce. I stirred in diced fresh mozzarella, which immediately softened into nuggets of melty creaminess. A handful of basil from the garden was added next, and it perfumed the whole kitchen. Salty wisps of diced prosciutto came next, and then the risotto was ready.

I carried it to the table, along with a lovely green salad (greens from the farmers market! Studded with purple and white and yellow pansies! It was lovely!). I called my family to the table and modestly offered them dinner.

“What. Is. That?” Max said, horror written across his face.

“It…it’s rice. And cheese. And prosciutto. You like everything in there.” I replied.

“It has GREEN things,” observed Tre suspiciously.

“Basil! From our own back yard. You like basil – that’s what’s in the pesto in those sandwiches you like.”

“AH HATE THAT.” Raphael intoned ominously.

“Just try it,” I ordered through clenched teeth.


Tre ate his portion dutifully, gulping milk between bites. Max picked out the shreds of basil with the precision of a skeeved out surgeon, took one bite, and declared it bad and wrong. Raphael got sent to the stairs for a time out after he spat his first bite across the room with an emphatic cry of, “PEH!” The second bite didn’t fare much better. He tried manfully to chew it, but started gagging. I’ve seen this routine often enough to know that NO, he isn’t kidding and YES, he will throw up, so I offered him my hand and he quietly spit his mouthful into it. He sustained himself by nibbling on avocado from the salad and glaring at the risotto.

It didn’t matter that Mom and Dad both liked it, or that Max ended up eating his whole bowl (I’m not sure if he LIKED it or if he was being the good child after Raphael’s over-the-top rejection). No, my risotto had been underappreciated, like so many pearls before swine.

Oh well. I guess it’s back to the ordinary for me. Do you think pilaf with chicken, spinach, and walnuts counts as ordinary? You know, if they just TRY it…

(Updated to add: spell check wanted to change “prosciutto” to “prostitute” – which would have changed the meaning of the WHOLE THING, don’cha think? I am still giggling. I am a child.)

Morning Mirage

The boys were sitting at the breakfast table, fairly calm as they ate their pancakes. By the way, just so you know, homemade buttermilk pancakes on a semi-regular basis are defense exhibit # 4 for "why I don’t suck entirely as a mother." Unfortunately, they are also prosecution exhibit # 5 under the category of “can you believe she feeds her children this sort of sugar and simple carbohydrate paste and calls it a MEAL?” I tell you what, though, they are yummy. Where was I?

Ah yes, the gentle scene of homey contentment. The air was scented with toasty pancake goodness. Sunlight streamed through the windows. Three little boys bent over their plates, eating their pancakes with joy – AND YET one bite at a time. As I ladled another round of batter onto the griddle, I heard Tre humming a song. “The Hand Clapping Song,” a piece he’s been struggling with on the piano for a while. As he ate with one hand, the other thumped the notes on the table. Max bobbed his head in rhythm, and Raphael quietly sang the time as he’s heard his brother do, “One, two, one, two, one, two, ONE TWO ONE.”

I leaned against the counter and enjoyed the scene. They looked so CIVILIZED – so calm and normal, as though they were at last inching their way toward being the sort of people who SIT and EAT and HUM and think deep THOUGHTS. I call them gentlemen all the time. I do. As I’m leaving a store or the pool or whatever, I will call out over my shoulder, “Let’s go, gentlemen.” They respond, more or less, and the people within earshot goggle at me. You can practically see the thought bubble above their heads; Did she just call those running, shrieking, climbing hooligans GENTLEMEN? I don’t think that means what she thinks it means.

But I live in hope, you know. And this morning they looked so peaceful and refined, my heart was glad.

“BUUUUUURRRP!” commented Tre.

They all laughed. Max spit pancake across the table.

“NICE ONE!” crowed Raphael.


Ah well. Maybe tomorrow.

He's right, though. About the dog.

Sometimes, as Raphi is careening through his day, bouncing off walls and brothers, breaking glass with his voice, he pauses. He sidles up to me and leans against my side. I pause, like I’ve been approached by a wild animal, lest I send him running again.

“Mama? Hold me.”
”Sure thing, baby.”

“Ah’m not a baby.”


The other day he generously invited me to hold him, sit down on the couch, and sing to him. So I sat, and he draped himself across my lap. I cradled him in my arms, much like I did when he was a nursing infant, and sang to him.

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word,

Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird.

If that mockingbird don’t sing,

Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.

As I sang he relaxed against me and stared off into space, his dark eyes focused somewhere over my left shoulder.

If that diamond ring turns brass,

Mama’s gonna buy you a looking glass.

If that looking glass gets broke,

Mama’s gonna buy you a billy goat.

He tangled my hair around his fingers and sighed a sigh of contentment.

If that billy goat don’t pull,

Mama’s gonna buy you a cart and bull.

If that cart and bull turn over,

Mama’s gonna buy you a dog named Rover.

If that dog named Rover won’t bark,

Mama’s gonna buy you a horse and cart.

“Mama?” He interrupted, one soft hand on my cheek.


“That’s what dogs are SUPPOSED to do. Not bark.”

“Uh…I suppose you’re right.” I mean, have you ever been irritated at a dog for NOT barking? No one gets rid of their dog for NOT BARKING all night. Dogs are SUPPOSED to not bark. So where does that leave the song, the ode to rampant consumerism?

“Sing.” He murmured.


If that horse and cart fall down,

You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.

He grinned up at me.

“Ah’m not a baby.”


And just like that, he was up, off my lap, and gone again.

I’ll never really know what’s going on inside his head.