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November 2005
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Tre, the spy

I sat in the gloom of a darkened room, working my way through a million emails. Behind me, in the still house, I heard the rustle of a boy sneaking up on me.


He is taken with the mystery and intrigue of spying, and is most probably going to be a spy when he grows up. That is, if he isn’t an engineer or architect. If I were more concerned about the possibility of him actually pursuing a career in espionage, I would probably tell him that your better spies usually don’t sneak up upon their victims at the same exact time every night. That sort of thing will usually tip people off.

But I don’t suppose boys who are equally enchanted by the prospect of engineering usually grow up to choose the life of a spy, so I don’t worry about it. Instead I smile at the clock when I hear him creeping up behind me, every night at 8:45, and say, “Hi, Tre,” when he gets close.

“Hi, Tre,” I called out into the dark, and I heard him slump to the floor in defeat.

“How do you KNOW?”

“I’m your mother,” I swiveled around to look at him, “I know everything.”

He smiled up at me from the floor. He used to fix me with a worried look, and ask if it was true, did I really know everything? But now he doesn’t even entertain the notion. He KNOWS I don’t know everything. He’s far too sophisticated to believe such a claim. His attitude has shifted, of late. He’s not uninterested in my opinion, so much as under-interested. He takes my words with a mild grain of salt and moves on.

“How’s your toe?” I asked. He’d sustained a wound in a skirmish with Raphael earlier in the evening. He showed me his toe, which prompted a discussion of how badly his finger and toenails needed clipping. He inspected his fingers seriously and reluctantly admitted they probably did.

“A-GAIN,” he sighed, bemoaning the fact that he’d just CLIPPED them mere WEEKS ago.

“Yup. Well, your fingernails grow pretty fast, kid.”

“They do? Why?”

“I don’t know. Because you’re healthy, I suppose.”

“I AM healthy! Wanna see me do push-ups?” I nodded, and he dropped to the floor. I watched his shoulders, which seem so unexpectedly broad and manly, flex under the cloth of his racecar jammies. “One…two…three…four…five!” He leaped to his feet and grinned at me. In the dim light I saw a shimmering in his face, a dissonant appearance of Tre the baby boy, then Tre the man. He is growing so fast, yet he smiled at me like the child who once dogged my heels.

“G’night, Mama,” he said, planting a hurried kiss on my cheek.

“Goodnight, honey.”

I sat in the dark and watched him go.

Meme me!

Hey, I got DOUBLE TAGGED last week. Sheri hit me with one, and then Mir followed up with the seven sevens meme. SO! Here goes NOTHING!

What were you doing 10 years ago?
Ten years ago I was up to my eyebrows in the heady joy of being Tre’s mom. Somehow, the mothering of one little infant took up the whole of my days. I would look at the clock and be startled to see it was 3pm and I still wasn’t dressed. It was bliss. Yes, yes, it was also exhausting and overwhelming and blah blah, but I loved it. I wish I could go back, sometimes, to the simplicity of those days.

What were you doing 1 year ago?
One year ago I was falling in love with Clay. I would speak to him on the phone at night, then hang up and scurry online to talk about him with Mir.

“I think he’s it,” I told her. “I think he’s The One.”

“I know.” She said.

Five snacks you enjoy:

1. Dove dark chocolates. You know, they have extra antioxidants. Which is really, truly my motivation. Heh.

2. Popcorn. Microwave popcorn, with powdered sugar on it. Um…are there any antioxidents in that?

3. Roasted almonds

4. Can I have more chocolate now?

5. Raisin bran. The other night I was playing Scrabble with Clay, and I discovered I was HUNGRY. I asked him to get me a bowl of raisin bran, and he looked at me like I might be a little crazy. I ask you, is raisin bran THAT strange a snack? Feel free to answer, especially if you agree with me that it is a fine and comforting snack, which I needed that particular night, as Clay went on to beat me in Scrabble by something stinging like 4 points.

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics:

1. Good Hearted Man (Tift Merritt)

2. Brave and Crazy (Melissa Etheridge)
3. Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
4. Bob the Builder Theme Song (both as originally performed for the cartoon, and in the odd, tuneless way Max used to sing it when he was three)

5. Joy To The World! Both of them!

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:
1. Lots of stupid, frivolous things at a medi-spa

2. Pay Mom not to work at the job she currently doesn’t work at.

3. Talk Clay into quitting work so he could hang around the house A LOT.
5. I don’t know – WHAT? Spend lots of money, right? That’s what you do with the stuff, right? It wouldn’t change the fact that my children can’t hit the toilet when they pee, or that my cat just horked a hair ball up on the carpet right outside my bedroom door. Life would go on, but I would have to worry about whether or not the accountant was running off with all my money. I NEVER have to worry about that now. Except it would be pretty cool, having Clay around all the time. Rrrrowlll.

Five bad habits:

1. Reading the newspaper with fervered devotion every morning. This causes me to bark at innocent, wide-eyed children, “NO, YOU CANNOT HAVE THE FUNNIES. GO PLAY.”
2. Reading blogs when I should be sweeping the floor…or really doing ANYTHING productive.

3. Putting off tasks that intimidate me, tralala, I shall think of that later, until they STRIKE ME WITH DREAD at 2AM. Nothing can be dealt with at 2AM.
4. Lying to perfectly nice women, just to see them blanch. The other day this ADORABLE mother of three boys, ages 7, 4, and 18 months old, asked me with tremulous voice,

“Do you…have the problem…well…do your boys ever BICKER?” I looked at her with SHOCK, with HORROR, touched my chest lightly with my fingertips, as though to calm my heart, and said soberly,

“Oh dear me, NO. We emphasise RESPECT and KINDNESS in our family.”

And then of course I apologized and confessed the truth (Yes, dear, but they only fight from when they WAKE UP until their eyes close at night. Not a moment longer) and apologized again. Fortunately she thought it was ALMOST as funny as I did. Heh.
5. Driving too slow.

Five things you like doing:

1. Dancing
2. Mothering
3. Writing

4. Smelling Clay’s neck
5. Reading in a hot bath

Five things you would never wear, buy, or get new again:

1. Low-rise pants. I don’t CARE if everyone else is wearing them, or even if they’re supposedly flattering. I’m tired of yanking my pants up everytime I stand up. And my underwear is nobody’s business, thankyouverymuch.
2. Overalls

3. Panty hose. Ok, ok, that’s not true, but I HATE THEM. Control-top? THE WORK OF THE DEVIL, and do you want to know why? Because no matter how small a woman you are, that waist band will give you tummy roll, and tummy roll looks good on NO WOMAN. Take a perfectly beautiful womanly form, and BIND it right there in the middle, and you ruin, RUIN the aesthetic. I actually bought a pair of panty hose the other day in size Queen, even though the chart on the box suggested I go with size A, hoping that the waistband would be big enough for, you know, A WAIST. I swear to you, I SWEAR TO YOU, that waist band was no more than eight inches across. Stupid panty hose.
4. Glamour magazine. Seriously. I thought I was too old to blush like that.

5. Dulce de leche ice cream.

I lie.

I totally WILL buy it again. But it’s not a good idea.

Five favorite toys:

1. My laptop (pauses to pet and coo)

2. *whine* this is making me think too hard.
3. Clay’s biceps

4. Wire-edged ribbon
5. I CAN’T THINK OF ONE MORE. What does this MEAN? What does it SAY about me? Has the joy gone out of my life? Have I lost touch with my child-like side? Or is it getting late and am I TIRED OF THINKING ABOUT ME ME ME?

Yeah, that last one, that’s it. I’ll have to do the seven sevens tomorrow.


So Smart

I went to a high school where highest crime you could be accused of was intelligence. You could call someone a “half-witted, syphilitic son of a gutter whore” and only get a blank look. But say to someone, “You THINK YOU’RE SO SMART,” and, well, better hope you could run fast or fight hard.

I was forever being accused of thinking I was smart, an unjust accusation if ever there was one. I mean, I was a cheerleader. I read “Seventeen” and “Young Miss” magazines. I donated several billion brain cells to the fumes involved in changing my fingernail polish Every. Single. Night.

Did I think I was so smart?

Um. No.

But I had a serious word addiction. I read as many of them as I could, casually stealing books from the library (we weren’t ALLOWED to check out books except under very special, rare circumstances. I considered it an act of liberation). I used all kinds of big words, pretty, shiny, sparkly long words, and that was enough to brand me.

Also, I argued too much. For example, I took exception the number two insult in the school, “You ALWAYS think you’re right.”

“Well, DUH,” I would rejoin, “if I thought I was WRONG, I would change my opinion. To the one I thought was RIGHT. I might be MISTAKEN, but I don’t go around harboring beliefs I know are wrong.”



I did NOT think I was so smart.

I just loved the words.

My senior year, I took the ACT test. In the middle of the test, in the vocabulary section (makes my mouth water, just a little, even now), I came across a word I’d never encountered before. I read it, reread it, blinked and read it again. I had NO IDEA what that word meant.


I had to know.

I WANTED that word.

There are rules, you know, governing the ACT. One of them is that You May Not write down any information contained in the test and remove it from the testing room. You May Not.

I stared at my mystery word for a moment, then took my eraser, turned it on its side, and lightly stroked the word in pencil onto its soft surface. I looked at its fuzzy letters, and dropped the eraser, safe in my jacket pocket. My heart thundered in my chest at my rebellious act.

When I got home, I pulled out my eraser, and looked the word up in the dictionary.

“Obstreperous. Adj. 1 - Noisily and stubbornly defiant. 2 - Aggressively boisterous.”

I love that word. It’s my own now, although if I were writing the dictionary, my entry for obstreperous would include definition #3 – “my precious middle son, Max.”

I was striding through the Tattered Cover bookstore this afternoon, earnestly explaining something to my mom. I believe it may have been why the shuffling of the books in the Narnia series is a wrong, misguided wrongness that should be repented of. I’m not sure. Whatever it was, I was EARNEST and SINCERE and WORDY in my defense of my point (a point Mom wasn’t arguing with, but still). Max trotted along between us, then looked up at me and said pointedly,

“Mama? Do you always think you’re right?”

Mom and I laughed so hard we had pause for a moment for breath. I grinned down at my boy and said,

“No, son, I don’t. But you know what? I am SO SMART.”

Not that I'm PMSing or anything...

Things that made me tear up (subtly, so as no one noticed because I’m good like that)

-         When I was listening to the radio, and the DJs were playing a game with this guy, where they called his friend and had him sing “Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly,” and if his friend replied “falalalalalalala,” he won a prize. His friend TOTALLY blew him off, but then they called his mom, who initially said, “What are you doing, you weirdo?” but then played along and sang the correct response. Everyone was excited, the prize was described, and then? At the end of the conversation? His mom said, “Ok, honey, I love you. Bye.” And THAT is when I cried because I imagined living in a different city from my sons, and how happy I would be to hear their voices on the phone someday…

-         Taking Jennie (Clay’s daughter) shopping for a dress for the wedding.

-         Not being able to find one.

-         And then, when we did find one.

-         My children, screaming.

Things that made me laugh a little too hard

-         When the radio commercial urged me to buy my loved one ham, “Because NOTHING says ‘I’d marry into your dysfunctional family all over again’ like a well-baked ham.”

-         My children, screaming.

Things that annoyed me. A lot.

-         People being in the mall. The week before Christmas. What were they THINKING?

-         Velvet.

-         Satin.

-         That ring of coke that collects on the lid of the McDonald’s cups when they’re slightly overfilled.

-         McDonald’s workers.

-         Velvet again. It’s simply everywhere.

-         My children. SCREAMING.

Road Grace

Today Mom was out and about, Christmas shopping. She decided to take Christmas into her hands this year, to take the pressure off me. This was a wonderful thought and all, and I really appreciate it, I DO, but it does mean she goes out to shop and then calls me every twenty minutes.

Still easier than taking three boys to the mall, though. Still worth gratitude.

Anyhow, this afternoon she called me – again. I answered the phone with a cheery, “Yeeeeeessss?” – subtly alluding to the fact that she’d just called me a few minutes ago. She (undaunted by my unnecessary and ungrateful attitude) started telling me a story.

It seems she was driving along, inching her way toward the mall parking lot exit, in a long line of cars. She was lost in thought, so she didn’t notice right away the car off to the side. The man driving was waiting and waiting and waiting for a break in traffic so he could merge into her lane. She stopped and waved him in.

“And then it hit me,” she said, warming up to the point of her story, “I’m going to practice aggressive kindness when I’m driving, to honor Greg.”

I have to tell you, I LOVE this idea.

I’ve thought of a few responses myself, but they were mostly anger-based and directed at the person who killed Greg. And that isn’t much of a solution, now is it? As I’m FOREVER AND ALWAYS saying to my sons, “I’m sorry – is hitting your brother a good way to show him you don’t want to be hit?”

So rage may not be the answer.

But to respond to other drivers out there with kindness, to ladle out a small portion of good and loving at every opportunity when I’m in my car, now THAT is an answer. What would you call that? The opposite of road rage would be what – road grace?

So I’ll join my mother. I’ll do my best to give space to allow the waiting car into my lane, to let an extra car merge from the rapidly disappearing lane, relinquish the closest parking spot to the other person who got there ALMOST as quickly as I did, to wave and smile and toss out a measure of good to counter the bad that happened that night.

Road grace for Greg.

I like that.

I like that a lot.

Greg Boss

A few months ago I was walking through a department store, lost in thought about something deep like the transitory nature of boys’ jeans, when I heard someone call my name. I looked up to see Greg.

“Well, HEY THERE!”

I hadn’t seen Greg for about three years, unless you count the time I ran into him at a concert last December. I guess that counts, since I got to introduce him to Clay and meet Greg’s girlfriend. But before that, four years ago, we’d shared a circle of friends.

We met in a divorce recovery class at a local church. The class would break up into small groups and ours got pretty close. Outside of meetings we’d get together for dinner, go downtown or gather at someone’s house. It was a welcome social outlet, in a safe zone where no one expected romance. We were all wounded, and we stood shoulder-to-shoulder in our pain.

But after a while we drifted apart and lost contact. Occasionally I see someone from the group around town, but it doesn’t happen all that often. So it was nice to see Greg and catch up a bit.

“Look!” I flashed him my ring. “I’m ENGAGED!” He smiled, congratulated me, and said wryly,

“I just broke up with my girlfriend.”


“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s ok. I guess it wasn’t right…we both traveled a lot with our jobs, and it just didn’t work out.”

We talked for a few minutes about finding the elusive “one.” I told him about how Clay had appeared in my life and assured him it would happen for him too. He said he hoped I was right.

Then he wished me well in my new marriage, and I wished him well in life, we exchanged an awkward hug, and parted ways.

As I walked away, I winced again at the thought of my glee over my engagement in the face of his new breakup. But I shook it off. Greg’ll find someone, I thought. He’s one of the good guys. I whispered a prayer for him and went on to search for jammies for Max.

Greg will be fine.

This morning I opened the newspaper, and there on the front page was a picture of Greg.

He’s dead.

He was killed in a road-rage accident that was caused by a caricature of an angry man. Greg wasn’t even involved in the incident, but was traveling in the opposite direction when this deranged man caused someone else to flip his car across the median and onto Greg’s.

And now he’s dead.

All day I’ve been saying it to myself, trying to get the fact to stick to my mind. It slides off, rolls away, so a moment later when I remember it, I’m startled again.

I keep remembering him at a party one afternoon. I had brought Raphael with me – he was just a baby then. He crawled over to Greg and reached up for him with those fat dimpled stars of hands. Greg picked him up and he settled down in the crook of his elbow and just rested there, content.

Greg looked at him, and then spoke – almost dreamily.

He talked about going to the hospital the week before. His brother’s wife had given birth to a little girl, and Greg got to hold her when she was just a few hours old.

“I looked at her…she was so tiny and perfect…I thought…this should be MY life. I should be holding my own baby, looking stunned. I should be a father and madly-in-love-husband. I shouldn’t be here, in my 30’s and starting all over. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.”

I cannot believe that he never got his chance.

This was not how it was supposed to go.

Construction Dust

Last night Clay and I played Scrabble. It had been so long since we’d played that he had to excavate the game from underneath a pile of other games. I was beating him too, SOUNDLY, until it got late and I declared I was done. Clay held the bag out for me to dump my letters in, and when I slid them off my tray, he hooted (quietly, my parents and children were all sleeping), and informed me that I had FORFIETED, making him the VICTOR.

As if.

I sniffed haughty remarks about how SOME PEOPLE have to win any old way they can, whilst OTHER PEOPLE prevail on things like MERIT and SKILL and WAY BETTER WORDS. Hah.

Things deteriorated then. Tickling was involved.

It was lovely, particularly since there hasn’t been much time lately for things like Scrabble and tickle fights. Clay has been working so hard on the house that many evenings he isn’t able to come over. He calls…but it’s not the same.

Tonight was such a night. Usually he comes over for dinner on Mondays. After dinner he does the dishes over my parents’ half-hearted protests. We tuck the boys in bed, then retire to the couch to talk. Scrabble is sometimes committed.

But tonight he was elbow-deep in a project at the house, and dinner went on without him. It seems odd, sitting at a table with five other people whom I love fiercely, to feel the absence of someone so acutely.

But later, after the boys were asleep, he did come by. I heated up some leftovers while he scrubbed his hands at the sink. I watched him, thinking about how my dad’s hands had looked when I was a child. They always bore the tracings of hard work, the stain of oil outlining the whorls of his fingerprints, the shadow of projects etched in lines across his palm. I thought about how this had become, for me, the hallmark of a good man – someone who will take hold of the dirty, raw reality of the world and wrestle it into a life for his family.

Clay sat at the table and ate his dinner while I sat next to him and enjoyed his shoulder against mine. Whenever he didn’t need his left hand to cut his food, he rested it on my back.

Later we went over to the couch, to relax for a moment. I stretched my legs out across his. Where my blue jeans brushed against his work pants there was left wide patches of dust.

“Sorry,” he said, “I’m getting you all dirty.”

I shrugged it off, but what I meant to say was this: It is the construction dust from the future he is building us.

How could I possibly mind that?

Last night Max had his Cub Scout den meeting. His den leader was as disorganized as ever (bless his heart). The meeting rambled, it went too long, and the kids spun off task more than once.

I helped as much as I could, but mostly stood back and concentrated on not getting irritable.

At one point the boys were cutting out snowflakes and another mom and I were standing aside, talking. The den leader walked up to us.

“Look, I’m sorry everything is so crazy. I’m not up on all this Scout stuff yet…”

We nodded and smiled politely, and he went on.

“I’ve never done any of this before, you know? When I was a kid, sports were my thing. Basketball, baseball, football, you name it. But my boy’s not into any of that. I TRY, but he just doesn’t care.”

He sighed at his son, who was creating a blizzard of paper snowflakes.

“This is what he wants to do. He loves the projects and the book and the pins and the uniform. This is his deal. I ask him, ‘Don’t ya wanna play some basketball?’ but he looks at me like I’m crazy. So.” He sighed again, “Here I am. I’m trying to figure it all out, but it may take me a while to get it all straight. Sorry.”

We smiled again, genuinely this time, and reassured him that he was doing great; everything was going to be fine.

He walked away to reread the procedure for the close of meeting.

I watched him with newfound respect.

Bless his fatherly heart.

Late in the afternoon, Raphael fell asleep while watching TV. Just as I got right in the thick of dinner preparations, he woke up and staggered into the kitchen. I’d hit my pre-dinner stride, and was moving quickly. I nearly tripped over him as he walked up behind me and leaned against my leg.

“Watch out, honey,” I muttered, digging around in the fridge for the cheese. He sank back against the cupboard and watched me, sullen. When I walked back over to the stove, near him, he reached out and patted my hip with both hands, whining.

“Use your words, please,” I sighed. Geez, I must say that a million times a day. Use your words, use your words, use your words. No wonder they don’t, see how well it works for ME when I use my words? But Raphael sighed, marshaled his very best effort, and said in a meek voice,

“Mama? Can you please hold me now?” I paused and finally looked right at him.

His face was still a bit pale with the effort of waking up, which made his huge dark eyes seem even bigger. His hair was sticking up randomly, in tufts that begged to be smoothed with an affectionate hand. He reached up to me, two soft hands that still suggest the lines of babyhood.

I dropped my spoon and swung him up into my arms. He sighed with deep contentment, and tucked his head in the curve of my neck. He patted my back with his fingers and wrapped his legs around my waist like a monkey baby. If there is a person alive who could resist that, I’m not sure I want to meet them.

Girl, unbalanced

See, what I’ve done is gone and unbalanced my life.

No, wait, that’s not quite right.

It’s ME who is unbalanced, here in the midst of my life.

I picture myself like a washing machine with a load of towels all wadded up in a sodden heap on one side of the tub. It spins, thunk, thunk, thunk, shuddering with the effort, gaining off-kilter momentum with each turn, until it THUNKS to a stop. There it sits, full of wet towels, useless.

I’m not quite useless yet, but I’ve gotten myself into quite the state. I’m tired. What else is new, right? But I’ve been collecting hours of lost sleep every night and carrying them behind my eyes like a great weight. I don’t sleep well because I worry about things I need to be doing. Then the next day I’m so tired I don’t function well, and more details slip through my fingers. Thunk, thunk, thunk.

There have been a few outside influences too, unexpected blows from unexpected corners. All is well, don’t worry, but it takes a moment to right one’s self. Each event seemed to strip another layer of protective material between me and the next event. Nerves get more and more raw, and I find myself overly exposed. Just minutes ago I got an email from a dear friend who was in a car accident this morning. She and her kids are going to be fine (you are dear, you are), but I started to write her back and typed the words, “Oh honey,” and burst into tears. Sadness leads to the loss of ability to shake off sadness. Thunk, thunk, thunk.

The next thing that happens is the buildup of clutter. Papers pile on my desk. This is not unusual, but today I have no idea what’s in that pile, and that is unusual. There are discarded jackets in every room in the house, and I’m not certain what that orange substance is in the Tupperware container on the bottom shelf of the fridge. The more small needs there are to be attended to, the fuzzier my thinking gets and the more things go unattended. Thunk, thunk, thunk.

What I need to do is stop. Stop and rest and rebalance. If I’m quiet here (after a very recent promise to blog ALLTHE TIME), please forgive me. It’s not neglect or disinterest, but a concerted effort to regroup. I’m just at the beginning of a lot to accomplish between now and February. There are unbelievable numbers of decisions to be made about the wedding and the house, and then Christmas besides. Plus I’m anxious to be present to my sons during this transition. I need to be on my game. I need to catch a more even rhythm.

Don’t worry please, I’m ok.

But I want to be better than that.