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Persistently different

When I was five I went to a birthday party for a friend. We were supposed to dress up like our mothers, and so I did. My long hair was tucked back, behind a kerchief. Hoop earrings dangled from my ears. My skirt brushed the tops of my sandal-clad feet. Gingham may have been involved.

When I got to the party, I looked around. Most of the girls there were dressed in fluffy skirts that grazed their knees. They had hose and pumps on. Circles of bright rouge stained their cheeks and their hair was oddly constructed and stiff.

I looked at them. I looked at me.

I realized my family was different.

And you know, growing up in my family was good. There were things I loved about it, like Mom reading aloud to us at night, and sitting atop Dad’s shoulders, where I could see everything and owned the whole world. However. I decided, right there and then, at age five, wearing natural fabrics in a polyester world, that when I grew up I would NOT be different. I would BLEND, dammit.

Looking at my life today, I believe I have mostly achieved normalcy. I’m a minivan driving mom. Dinner tonight came out of a crock pot. Yes, I homeschool, but to my amazement even THAT has become somewhat ordinary. Often, when I confess that I homeschool, people respond, “Oh, my cousin/sister/friend/neighbor does that!” It’s not a statement of approval or disapproval, but just recognition of something some people do, and that’s fine by me.

Yet there are flaws in my pleasing façade of average. Last week I was on the phone with a friend and I heard myself say,

“Oh shoot, I’m gonna have to let you go. Tre’s hive is swarming.”

And it was. A great cloud of bees filled the air, drifting across the neighbor’s yard. It settled in a tree on the far side of their yard, a compliant hunk of bees causing the branch to sag a bit under its weight.


I called my dad, who is a beekeeper, and is relentlessly leading my children down that path. Dad spends much of the spring season capturing swarms for people. He was very excited by the news and said he would be right over.

“Tre can hive his first swarm!”


So Tre did, while neighbors gathered in the street to watch and take several nervous steps back as they emerged from the yard carrying this:


I stood aside, chatting calmly with the lady whose yard had been the lucky swarm landing zone. “Don’t worry; bees don’t usually sting when they’re swarming. Besides, these are from Tre’s hive, and it’s a very gentle colony. Yes, we have a beehive in our back yard. Two, actually.” She looked at me with a slightly wild-eyed expression. You WHAT?


Tre hived his first swarm, and it was a great success. When it was done, he swaggered in to tell me all about it. He was wearing shorts, and was very pleased with himself that he didn’t mind the bees crawling on his legs.

“I just brushed them off, Mom! We beekeepers are like that, you know. We don’t mind.”

He was so proud of himself that he glowed.

I was so proud of him that I didn't care what the neighbors thought.

And I had to admit…


Different isn’t all that bad.

A hands-off mom

Earlier this week I was chatting with a young mom. I got to hold her beautifully squishy six month old daughter while we talked, and I swear the smell of that baby’s head was taking all my taut baby-not-making resolve and causing it to unspool in my heart. How do you people DO it out there? You “I am SO DONE having kids” people?

Ahem. Not my point.

Anyhow, the mom and I were talking. She had planned to work after her baby was born, and then circumstances contrived to make it possible for her to stay home. This was what she wanted all along. However, she and her husband just moved and now she doesn’t know anyone in her neighborhood. She is isolated, cocooned with her baby while her husband works.

I so, so, SO relate to her story. When Tre was born I did an abrupt about-face, from working full time and going to school full time, a life of utter chaos and action, to days at home with only my baby to talk to.

Which was fine to me. I was blissful, completely besotted. I strapped Tre in the baby carrier, warm against my chest, and walked the neighborhood. I stroked the velvet of his head and told him about the world. I remember talking to an older mom at church. When she realized that I was home – HOME - with my baby, she leaned in toward me and said emphatically,

“You need to get out. You NEED mom friends.”

I sat there, fat baby Tre on my lap, his fingers tangled in my hair, and nodded vaguely. I had no idea what she was talking about. I didn’t need anything.

Of course she was right. I DID need mom friends. I didn’t realize that until Tre was a toddler and I was pregnant and I nearly lost my mind.

So I tried to tell this mom, just as that other mom tried to tell me.

“Is there anywhere you can meet other moms in your neighborhood? You NEED mom friends.”

She sighed, shook her head.

“You know, I’ve tried. I went to the pool…and…it’s just that all the moms around us seem to be sort of…hands off. You know? They just sit on the side of the pool and talk while their kids play. I’m the only mom in the pool! I just think we do things differently.”

Oh. I rubbed my chin on the fuzz of her baby’s head. I remember. I pondered for a moment, but there is no way to prepare this mom. I couldn’t convince her that one day her baby, this tiny little being who looks at her like she invented light, will one day frown and say, “Mommy? You play over HERE, ok? I will play over THERE.”

And because today she defines her success as a mom by the amount of love and attention she can lavish on her child, she cannot comprehend that one day she will stand aside, force her hands to let go, and clamp her mouth shut on the advice she wants to give. That doing nothing as her child strikes out on her own will one day be the best thing she can do. One day she will turn and chat with her friends, even though her heart is splashing around in the pool.

There is no way to tell her what’s ahead. And just then two of my own babies ran up to me. Max was chasing Raphael, who barreled into my legs. The two of them circled me, throwing playful jabs at each other and shrieking with laughter. The young mom gathered her baby back, alarmed. I grabbed one wriggling boy in each arm.

“Hey, guys, look at me. Look at me. If you want to run around, go outside.” They nodded in assent and I released them back into their wild. I watched them go, hands-off, but heart bared.

The smell of home

This weekend, because he loves me (and received a discount for having been in the military – identity theft, periodic discounts, the BENEFITS NEVER END); Clay bought me two lovely things. One is an island for the kitchen, a gorgeous contraption with shelves and a butcher block top that rolls accommodatingly away to the corner when not in use. Lovely. I kiss it sometimes, when no one is looking. I can feel the state of organized, right there, just at my fingertips, about to be grasped.

The OTHER thing is a fire pit for the back yard. This makes me happier than I can really say, because fire…fire is a GOOD THING. I ENJOY fire. It’s not like I’ve ever set fire to any buildings, just to watch them burn or anything, but I find everything about fire to be very…emotionally satisfying. I like the smell, the color, I like watching a log burn and predicting which way it will shift as it sinks into the flames. I like the warmth and the liquid quality of the light it gives off.

I like fire.


But Clay knows about me and fire. On our first date he took me out to the local Six Flags, then when we were good and chilled (it was October 30th), we went back to his house for cocoa and a roaring fire in the fireplace.


Ahem. Where was I?

Ah yes, the fire pit. Clay put it together for me, and I decided we would have to have a fire in it before the weekend was over. Monday night, it was decided, we would light a fire and roast marshmallows. (The marshmallows were totally for the kids, so it would seem like we were doing it for them.)

So tonight we had our first backyard fire. Somehow we ended up with a total of seven kids back there, all of them wielding coat hanger sticks. I sat next to the fire, guarding the marshmallows, and making all the children call me “Queen” before I would give them any. A wind kicked up (natch), and whipped the smoke into our eyes. Max kept setting his marshmallow ablaze and then generously giving it to me. Raphael barely warmed the edge of his marshmallows before he ate them. Tre was content with a marshmallow in any form.

There was much discussion of the best way to toast a marshmallow, and if setting it on fire ruins it or not. The children who did not belong to us left eventually, cheeks streaked with soot and stickiness. Our own boys eventually spun down off their sugar high and fell into bed.

Now I’m sitting here, smelling the smoke in my hair. A light rainstorm moved in when we were done, washing down the air. Clay is working downstairs, sanding the walls in the basement. The smell of dry wall dust mixes with the scent smoke and rain. It’s an odd bouquet, but so evocative of our life today.

I am very, very content.

Losses and gains

This morning when Raphael (finally, reluctantly, with glacial speed) got dressed, he put on these shorts.


I love these shorts. They were Max’s beloved bug shorts. They expressed Max’s very soul, vibrant and startling and crawling with gorgeous bugs. Yes, I just said my son’s soul is crawling with bugs. I meant it in the best possible way.

Unfortunately, the bug shorts did not grow with Max. Eventually he could no longer get them on, and they were passed down to Raphael. Now, Raphi doesn’t adore the shorts like Max did. But it made Max happy to pass them along to his brother, and this way we could all still see them and enjoy them.

This afternoon the boys and I went to McDonalds. I was sitting at the table, chatting with friends, when Raphael slunk up to me, one hand clutching his behind. Enthusiastic play had done this to the well-worn shorts.


And although it is sad indeed, and although we will miss the shorts (I can’t keep them, can I? CAN I?), I comfort myself with this knowledge:

Perhaps THIS is just the event to teach Raphael once and for all why it is important to wear underwear.

The boys of summer

Tonight Tre and Max each had their first baseball practice.

So. If you’re wondering what happened to us, that’s it.

Seriously, I don’t know what I was thinking. I mean, yes, the boys were begging to play, and now that Clay is here to lend a hand with tiny details, like KNOWING ANYTHING ABOUT BASEBALL, it seemed only meet and right to give into their woeful cries.

But aaauugh. I mean that.

To start the season off with a bang, Tre had practice at 6:30 at one park and Max’s practice was at the same time at a different park. Fine. Clay took Tre, I took Max and Raphi, and we struck out to defeat the world of baseball. I wanted Clay to go with Tre, because I fear he’s going to need the most help, skilz-wise. Tre played t-ball once, many moons ago. I was pregnant with Raphi, as I remember. Tre was happy to have a t-shirt, and looked forward to the snacks, but was not exactly filled with fire for the game itself. When he was on base he liked to pass the time by raking up grass and hiding it under his hat. Then, when people looked at him he SMILED and yanked off his hat, causing grass to fly everywhere. OH WAS IT FUNNY! To Tre, anyhow. People were generally looking at him to scream, “RUN, TRE, RUN! NOW! YES, WE SEE THE GRASS! RUN!”

So. After that illustrious beginning his baseball career lay fallow for five years. You can see where I’d worry. So I sent Clay with him, and I toted Max to his practice. Seven year olds, how serious can that be? It’s like play baseball, right?


It’s like play baseball with seven year old boys. The coach got them all out on the field, tossing balls randomly, and then called out to them,

“Ok, guys! Who has played t-ball before?” Hands shot up, then were lowered, then shot up again. A dad hissed from behind the fence,

“Put your hand down, Scott!”

Boys twisted their caps on their heads, practiced bouncing balls on their shoulders, and made farting noises with their armpits.

The coach counted, then said,

“Great! Who has played TWO years of t-ball?”

Another show of hands, another feverish,

“Put your hand down, Scott!”

And then a mom called out,

“Mike! Put your hand UP!”

The coach counted, boys explored their bellies, nostrils, and peered into the depths of their gloves.

“Ok! Who hasn’t played t-ball at all?”

Max raised his hand, along with another boy.

“SCOTT. PUT YOUR HAND UP,” called his distraught father. Scott looked startled, but raised his hand. The novice players were herded off to one side, where one coach worked on throwing with them. Coach Heidi is fabulous, positive and encouraging and energetic. I, personally, would have driven a ball point pen in my eardrums to stop the noise if I was her, but she handled it with good cheer.

“Ok, Scott, here’s the ball! See? I’m going to throw it now. TO YOU! Catch it, ok?” Scott balanced his glove on his head and said,

“You know, I’m getting a puppy.”

“That’s GREAT, but right now it’s time to practice. Put your glove on. READY?”

Just then a mom ran on the field to usher the other boy away. He had apparently played t-ball for two years. Coach Heidi finally tossed the ball to Scott, who watched it roll past him. She told him to go get it and turned to Max.

“Ok, Max. Ready? Here goes.”

She tossed an easy ball to him; he caught it, and then opened his mouth to flap his tooth at her.

“I have a VERY loose tooth. See?” He waggled it with his tongue. “I can’t make it come out but it keeps bleeding.”

“Good catch, Max! Can you throw the ball back now? To me?” He looked startled to find the ball in his glove, and tossed it back.

On the sidelines I sat with Raphael, who entertained himself by pouring half his water bottle on us. I watched the mess of a baseball team on the field, wondering how one would ever ever get the fundamentals of baseball across to a group of kids who were still baffled by questions like, “Which is your RIGHT hand?”

The boy at bat hit the ball and ran for first. Having arrived safely there, he decided to try for second base, which he seemed to think could probably be found somewhere in right field. He ran off, oblivious to the cries of his coach and teammates. And he was one of the better players.

It’s going to be a long season.

Known and unknown

Lately the boys have been enjoying a new pastime, which they call “flicking those bugs.” There are scads of “those bugs” in our front yard and they tend to crawl about on the handrail outside our front door. A new sport was born.

Yesterday I happened to step out our front door just as Max and Raphael settled in for another round of flicking, and I saw the bugs they were talking about. They looked like this.

“Oh hey, WAIT!” They turned to me, fingers poised in mid-flick. “Those aren’t just any old black bugs. Those are ladybugs!” Their heads swiveled from me to the bugs, then back again.

“No, Mom,” Max said carefully, “ladybugs are round. And red. And cute.” He inclined his head meaningfully at the bugs, inviting me to take a closer look with my aged and feeble eyes.

“I know, honey, but those are the larvae of the ladybug.” They still looked doubtful, so I hauled them inside to consult the mighty Google. Tre joined us, curious about the dim possibility that I could be right. But soon we found enough information to convince them that I was right about the bugs, and “flicking those bugs” became “taking the ladybugs to the broccoli plants.” I was having aphid issues with the broccoli, and ladybug larvae are mighty mighty aphid eaters, so a great project was born.

I couldn’t believe, over the next day, how many larvae they captured and carried to the back yard. After a while I started to wonder if they weren’t moving too many of them away from the shade garden in front. As Max trotted through the kitchen with another fistful of bugs, I cautioned him,

“Hey, don’t take ALL of them to the back, ok?” He stopped, turned startled eyes to me, and replied,

“Oh yeah. I know.”

I watched him go on his way. He did NOT know that, yet he couldn’t admit it – not to me. I was the same way as a kid. Whenever my parents informed me about something I didn’t know (there were a lot of things I didn’t know, but I didn’t know that), I responded with great irritation. I KNOW. THANK YOU.

Once, when I was about seven or eight, Mom, my brother Josh, and I were watching a show on TV about sponsoring children in third-world countries. We got to talking about it, about how hard these kids had it in life.

“What do you think?” Mom asked, “Should we adopt a child from one of the countries they talked about?”

I said YES, and hopped up to get my stash of coins (some of which had actually been stolen from her desk only recently. I was bad about that). As I headed for the door, Mom called after me, “You know they won’t be coming here to live with us, right? It’s not that kind of adoption.”

I stopped in the doorway, my heart sinking. I DID think one of those babies with huge, glossy eyes and stick-skinny limbs would be arriving on our doorstep. I couldn’t wait to feed and bathe and dress…

But instead of confessing my disappointment, I said breezily over my shoulder,

“Oh, I know.” Then I went to my room and cried into my pillow.

Why? I wondered, watching Max bound along through the back yard, his sweaty hand cupped around his entomological treasure. Why can’t he admit he doesn’t know? Why couldn’t I?

I suppose it’s human nature, wanting to be right. Later that day I overheard Max lecturing Tre as he scooped up more bugs off the front porch.

“You KNOW,” Max said sternly, “Mama wants us to leave SOME OF THOSE out front.”

“What? Why?”

“Because…she said. She probably thinks they like it better here.”

“Oh. I knew that.”

And so it goes.

Enough about me...what do YOU think of me?

The other day I was chatting with some friends, and the subject of blogs came up (I didn’t bring it up, I promise. Everyone there already knows about my blog, and I rarely mention it in real life anyhow). One of the women, when asked if she has a blog (she is a writer), replied,

“Oh no. I find blogs to be narcissistic.”

Now, before you go all sharp-intake-of-breath on me, let me say that I wasn’t offended. I’m NOT offended. I don’t think she meant, “Kira, good gracious are you self-centered, shut up already.” She’s a very straightforward and logical person, and I took her statement to be a commentary on the phenomenon of blogging.

And then again, maybe she did mean me. If she does, it doesn’t stand in the way of us being friends…and her opinions of me are none of my business anyhow. (Note: I am posing as a far more self-assured person here. In this case, it’s exactly how I feel. However, MOST OF THE TIME, an offhand comment like this would cause me to churn endlessly about WHY and WHAT DID SHE MEAN and SHOULD I CALL HER? and WAS IT BECAUSE OF THE TIME I SAID THAT ONE STUPID THING? But this time I’m not doing that, and I’m a bit proud of my bad self. Gah. Was that ever narcissistic OR WHAT?)



It got me to thinking about the nature of blogging. Most nights I sit here, composing thoughts to share with you because…why?

Because I think you need to hear what I have to say?

Or because I need to say it?

Is either reason NOT narcissistic?

I write because I like it, because playing with words and thoughts is a satisfying diversion for me. I write here because I enjoy the feedback, and because the dailiness of it causes me to capture moments of my kids’ lives that would have escaped me otherwise. I write because of how it feels when it comes together.

I write to hear what I have to say.

After a day of puzzling, I’m no closer to an answer, so I’d like to hear what you think. Yes, YOU. Is this a narcissistic pursuit? And is that bad? If you blog, why? If you don’t, why not? Does this font make me look fat? Are some blogs better at keeping the focus off the author than others?

What do you think?

Advancing on Now

Tomorrow is the last day of the homeschool enrichment program the boys go to. It’s late now, because I’ve been baking cookies to give as thank you gifts to the teachers. This won’t be the end of school for the year for us, you understand. We’ve got a few more weeks of standard school days at home, and then we’ll be doing history for most of the summer. I hate doing school in the summer, but…ahem…someone got married this year, and WOW, was she an unreliable bubble head for about two months there. So.

However, despite the loose ends, this is the end of this school year. -

The end of the school year always fills me with a faint melancholy. I look back over the year and think of the things I learned, of how far we’ve come, and I wish I’d done better. Wish I’d done more. This year is especially poignant because Tre is moving into a whole new stage in his education in the fall. He’ll be starting a formal study of Logic, and can I tell you how much I’m looking forward to arguments around here? CAN I? The thought of tackling this new stage of learning makes me equal parts excited and anxious.

But as we move out of the stage he’s been in up until now, I look back over the years. I can see where our efforts are paying off, and I recognize more clearly what was important and what wasn’t. Now, NOW, I think, I’m ready to start Tre in Kindergarten.

I read a blog recently that is written by a new mother. She talked about taking her baby to the pediatrician’s, and being horrified to realize that her baby had tan lines. Faint tan lines, pale shadows of where his sleeves began on his arms. She was HORRIFIED.

I smiled to myself, thinking how NOT A BIG DEAL that is, but it made me remember my own early stressors. I was certain that Tre was going to be iron deficient (I don’t know why), and was forever checking his lips for signs of paleness. And don’t get me started on the freakout I had the time I was changing his diaper and he peed in his eye. Yikes. I fretted about his wee socks cutting of the circulation where they pressed against his doughy ankles. I wondered if his drive to push up to standing early really WOULD bow his legs.

I worried.

Looking back now, all those issues seem so small. But that’s how the parenthood gig goes. It’s as though negotiating a challenge makes you 34% stronger, while the next challenge is guaranteed to be at least 79% harder. That mountain just gets steeper ahead of you.

The truth is that NOW I’m ready for Tre to be an infant. NOW I know I could negotiate those years with calm and poise. However what I have NOW is a nearly 11 year old boy, bristling with the desire to advance on the world.

So I’ll take a breath and move ahead, because NOW is the only game in town.

Much needed

Every night after dinner, I stand up from the table to discover that I’ve acquired a follower. Carmi (full blooded mutt o’ love) shadows my movements. She gazes at me, trembling with joy if I reach for a jacket or, God help us all, my shoes.

It is Time To Walk.

Most nights I give in to her tyranny of hope. I snag the leash from the garage, and the minute she sees it her butt hits the floor in a reasonable imitation of a well-trained dog.

I hook the leash to her collar and kiss Clay good bye as he starts to clear the table. It’s the deal – I cook, he does dishes. It’s an excellent deal, and he leaves the kitchen cleaner than I ever would. I pause and ask again on my way out,

“Is this an ok time for me to go?”

“Go!” He waves me away. I go, and tell myself, this is good. Clay needs his own space, without me looking over his shoulder. It’s healthy for couples to have their own time.

The boys are playing out front, a part of the swarming masses of kidhood that infest our cul-de-sac. Tre waves good-bye from two yards over. Max runs over to kiss the dog, then me, and is back in the play. Raphael trots up, throws his arms around my waist, and says in a tiny, baby voice,

“Mom? I want to go with you.”

“No, honey. You go ahead and play with your friends. I’ll see you in a bit.” He squeaks, nods, kisses Carmi, and runs off.

This is good, I tell myself, the boys need to know they can get by without me, that they can go to Clay if they need help.

Carmelita and I start down the first street, hitting our stride, stretching out. Carmi sees a bunny in a yard next to us and lunges for it. Carmi weighs about half as much as I do, so I can control her, but if I’m not expecting the yank it can cause me to skid across the sidewalk. I give her a sharp tug on the leash, reminding her that this is WALK TIME, not bunny time. She dips her head guiltily and trots back to my side.

This is good, I think, Carmi needs the exercise. And the practice walking on a leash like a civilized dog.

The air is perfect in the evenings. I realize after a few blocks that it feels delicious and I breathe it in deeply. My stride lengthens and I enjoy the sensation of walking at my own pace. I rein in the leash, making Carmi match my steps. All day I try to match the pace of the activities to the boys, and it is nice to be the set point for once. I come to a small hill at this point and it feels good. The muscles in my legs are working, my heart is beating faster, and I can breathe. We reach the park and I hit the button on the retractable leash, letting Carmi enjoy some slack. She races back and forth beside me, tethered to me but thrilled with the space. She lingers behind me, enjoying some particularly good smells on one tree, then races to pass me up.

It all seems downhill from here, time melting out from underneath me until I find myself striding back up the street to our home. My cheeks are pink and my shoulders are loose, and I am breathing freely. The kids run up to greet me, laying kisses on Carmi and then on me.

This is good, I think, I need this.

See? I CAN answer the tough questions.

"Mom?" Raphael asked, lying on the floor between my feet. "What is this part called right here?"

I was trying to check my email, so I responded with a vaugue, "hmmm?"

"Right HERE, Mom. At the top of my leg. Is it an armpit? A DIFFERENT armpit?"

I peered down at him. He was poking his finger up his shorts and looking at me. "Is it a legpit, Mom?"

"No, baby. That's your groin."

"My penis is here."

"Well, you have to keep it somewhere."

"Yep. You should give up the computer."

"Back off, buster."

He sighed, and went back to poking his legpit and meditatively kicking the bottom of my chair.

"Mom, are you done now? How about now? How about now?"

And so now I am done.