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February 2007
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April 2007

Nighttime comfort

I heard the feet, pad-padding up the stairs. That sound always tears through the heaviest blanket of sleep. I listened to their cadence and tried to guess which boy was making his way to my bedside in the middle of the night.

Not Tre, his footsteps have grown heavy and spaced. Besides, he hardly ever needs me in the night anymore.

Not Max, I thought, because he half runs up the stairs if he’s awake in the night.

The shadowy outline of a boy in the doorway confirmed my suspicions.


He trotted over to me and laid a hand on my arm. He stood there, silent.

“Hey there, hon. What’s wrong?”
”I want to sleep with you.”

“Bad dream?”

He pushed his head to mine, forehead to forehead, and nodded. I offered him a hand and he clambered up. I lifted the covers to help him climb over me into the valley between me and Clay, but he muttered a sullen no. He burrowed down next to me and pulled my arm around him.

“I just want you,” he whispered.

For Tre and Max it hasn’t been all that odd, over the last year, to get used to the idea of me sleeping with a man. They have known the comfort of snuggling in between me and their biological dad, known the safe warmth of that space. Raphael never knew that, and he still thinks it’s weird sometimes, finding this great big interloper in HIS mother’s bed. Sometimes he’ll find his way upstairs and insist upon the middle space, and sometimes he’ll shun it.

One never knows.

I curled around him and brushed back his hair.

“Do you want to tell me what your dream was about?”


We dozed like that, him relaxing against me, while I teetered between awake and asleep. Clay stirred, glanced over at us.

“What’s this? A boy with a bad dream?”

“Raphael,” I told him.

“Oh. Hey, Raphael, want to hear about the dream I was having?” Raphael said nothing. “I dreamed about an angel. She was so beautiful.” Raphi stroked my arm and listened. “And she loved her family so much. She had these great boys, and she loved them more than the whole world. And she loved me too! And then I woke up – and you know what? It was all true.” In the silence Raphael grinned at me.

“That was you, Mem.”

After a while I noticed that ten minutes had passed and I whispered,

“Time for you to go to bed, son.” He pretended not to hear me. “Do you want your dad to carry you to your bed?” He peered over my shoulder at Clay, and nodded. Clay swung his legs out of bed and as he made his way over to my side, I whispered to the child in my arms, “That’s my sweet boy.”

Clay scooped him up and murmured, “Now there’s my big, strong, T-ball star.”

What a dad, I thought.

Raphael curled against him and let himself be carried.

For MY birthday...I got them

There was something special about dinner tonight. I’d like to think the joy around the table was caused by the meal itself (red chile casserole, known in these parts as red chile train wreck – or, if you’re our niece Kate and are sensitive to the idea of a train wreck oozing redness – red chile cargo train wreck. And broccoli), or the fact that I had prepared a rare mid-week dessert (angel food cake, with strawberries and blueberries and real whipped cream to spoon on top). However, it probably had more to do with the fact that dinner was served approximately twenty minutes late. Everyone arrived at the table in the perfect stage of hunger – ravenous and thrilled by the sight of food, but not quite grumpy from low blood sugar yet.

By the time the meal was over and we were all tucking into the cake, conversation turned to the boys’ favorite subject.

“This is SO good,” Max declared, still eating his third helping of casserole (note: the meal was over does NOT necessarily mean Max was done eating). “This is what I’m having for my birthday dinner. And after! Your famous chocolate cake.”

“I’m having grilled cheese sandwiches again,” announced Raphael. “And then cupcakes, to be faster.” He turned to me and petted my arm to be sure I was listening. “So we can get to the presents time.”

“Hey,” Clay interjected, “who here has the next birthday?”

“You!” they responded in unison.

“And then Jennie!” Tre listed the birthdays, “and then Raphi, then ME, then Max.”

“I’m having this cake,” Clay commented, stabbing his fork into his cake. Angel food cake is his favorite, which just MAY have something to do with this particular rare, mid-week dessert.

“I might have this too,” Tre said, “or apple crisp. I dunno.”

As they chattered, discussing the merits of chocolate cake or angel food cake, cupcakes or apple crisp, I sat back and listened. I suppose it’s wrong that they interpret food as love.

I’m certain it’s good, though, that they know they’ve got it coming.

The loss of a chuffy-chuffer

Max has his own language, and through the sheer force of stubborn repetition, people around him are learning it – or WILL. I think I’ve mentioned it before, leaves are azurillies, dogs are dolfies (by the way, Max objects to that spelling, but that’s how I hear it, and until he publishes a dictionary, I’ve told him he can’t tell me I’m wrong), I am a mem, a mriem is a sleeping mem. And so on.

One of his words is chuffy-chuffer, which means, “an animal who is taking on an alter ego as a super hero.” For example, when the boys are playing Star Wars, leaping about and spraying spit as they make impressive light saber noises, they sometimes get Carmi in on the game. They tie something around her neck to make her look like a Jedi, and call her Jedog. Or more accurately, Jedog, the chuffy-chuffer. She follows them around, looking miserable, pinned firmly between a desire to always go wherever the boys go, and to not have things tied around her neck.

They also like to play with Max’s rat, Snowflake. They take her out of her cage and set her to climb on a toy castle. She escapes from dungeons and knocks over plastic soldiers, and is cheered on with roars of approval.

When she is doing battle in the plastic castle she is Towflake, the chuffy-chuffer, and she is mighty indeed.

The truth is that Snowflake is a lover, not a fighter, and prefers to be held by a child. She will lick and lick and lick a kid’s finger, but is uninterested in the finger of an adult. My theory on that is that kids’ fingers are grubbier, but Max maintains that it’s a sign of love.

He may be right.

Friday night as I sat here at the computer, I glanced up at Snowflake’s cage. There she was, a tuft of white fur poking up from the midst of her bedding. I looked at her for a minute, waiting for her to move.

She didn’t.

She was almost three years old – a good, long life for a rat. That doesn’t make it any better.

Saturday morning we called the boys into our room to tell them. Max was curled up next to me already, and Tre and Raphi bounced in to hear what was up. Clay came in to sit behind them and together we encircled them as best we could and broke the news.

Tre and Raphi looked surprised, then bummed, then unsure of what to say. Max looked back and forth between us, puzzling it out for a moment, then crumpled into my lap and wept.

We buried her in the back yard, while a cold rain turned into stinging hail.

It’s not the worst thing in the world, and the boys are already talking about what the next pet should be, but still…


…it’s always sad to lose a chuffy-chuffer.

(Sorry about the picture quality - this picture was taken with Max's camera, which firmly supports the principal that you get what you pay for.)

The penny drops

I think I mentioned, did I not, that my brother and his wife are expecting? Well, they are. They’re having a baby boy, and I couldn’t be more delighted for them. When Josh called to tell me Terri was pregnant I crowed, “I KNEW it, I KNEW IT!”

I was nothing but happy. Purely, plainly happy. Almost blithely joyous.

Recently I was poking about online for baby clothes for the J&T spawn, and I came across a wee jumper. It was the perfect shape, a rectangle sack with soft openings for one downy head and a total of four fat arms and legs. It was bright without being TOO bright, and it looked like it was that sort of soft that makes you want to pet your cheek with it.

And on the front was a fairly obnoxious cartoon of a golfer, with the words “GOLF PRO” written above it. Just in case you missed the, you know, golf clubs and stuff.

While cartoon-infested babywear is unnecessary at best, I was tempted by this outfit for a second. After all, I mused, Josh loves to golf.

That’s when it hit me.

This baby? Is NOT Josh. He’s…himself.

Josh is having a whole human baby. Or, to be more accurate, Terri is having the baby. But it’s THEIRS. Josh – my brother – is going to be a father. Just as surely as everything changed the day Tre was born, the earth is about to shift under Josh’s feet. They’re going to wade through all the wonder and frustration, magic and poop.

I put my head down, right next to the keyboard, and cried.

Josh says people like to tease him and Terri, to warn them that they have no idea what’s coming. This is both true and a stupid thing to say. Who among us knows what’s coming?

I wouldn’t warn them if I could. What an amazing journey they’re starting.

Someday soon, I pray, I’ll be able to visit them and hold their baby boy. I can’t wait to see them watch their son, and nod in agreement with their wonder.

Just a note to say...

Imagine, if you will, that you're here with me. I'm sitting at the computer, the house is in semi-darkness. Tre has already sneaked up the stairs to scare me and tell us goodnight. Clay is puttering about, doing his before bed things (Sudoku, phone messages, trying to lure me away from the computer with flirtatious comments), the dog is asleep on the rug, gently emitting noxious gasses.

Peace reigns.

I am bone-tired and about to submit to the siren call of the bathtub. But before I go, I wanted to offer you all the opportunity to wish me a happy birthday! Because I know you want to.

Remember last year, when I was all freaked out because I was turning 35? Wah, wah, wah, I'm so ooold! Well, this year there will be none of that. 36 sounds like a rockin' age to be. That's 6 squared. I won't be another squared number for 13 years. Can you tell Tre is studying factors? Oi, the brain strain I've suffered, trying to keep up with that child.

Anyhow! The point is! March 20 - first day of spring (no matter what it says on the calendar) - I am turning 36, and you're all invited to the virtual party. Grab a slice of cake, pull up, and tell me how happy you are that I'm alive! Or, if you prefer, give me some advice to carry me through the next 36 years. Whatever helps you be happy along with me. Because, my dears, it's my birthday. And I intend to be very, very happy. the park...

Saturday was another in a string of perfectly balmy days. I know, I know, I KNOW that winter isn’t over, that a great arctic blast is coming to stomp heartlessly upon my crocuses, but aaahhhhh.

Oh, it is nice. For now. I may occasionally glance over my shoulder, anxiety flitting across my face, like the shot in the movie that tells you NO, PERHAPS THE KILLER ISN’T DEAD, but when I’m not doing that I’m blissful.

Since Saturday was so perfect and warm and gorgeous, we decided it was time to go on a bike ride. Clay loaded the bikes in the back of the truck, people piled in the cab, and we set off amidst the happy cries of “HE’S TOUCHING ME!” and “I SAID STOP LICKING ME!” for the bike trail.

This particular trail runs through a dog park, a glorious place for those of us who appreciate the goofy love of dogs. At the center of the dog park is a stream, which pools below a large cottonwood tree that the boys love to climb.

It wasn’t long after we started that I realized I’d forgotten Max’s inhaler (picture me now beating myself in the forehead and chanting, “stupid, stupid!” ala the late Chris Farley), and he started wheezing not long after we started. Tre would not be held back, and Clay had Raphael on the hiker bike behind him, so he was driven on by the gusts of words. I hung back with Max. We stopped so he could catch his breath, we meandered, we even walked our bikes a while.

We watched the dogs milling about. There were dozens of dogs, from great danes down to tiny wee min pins. I can’t help it, the weenie little dogs make me laugh. I’m sorry, I really am, if you have a tiny appetizer of a dog – I’m sure your dog is very precious to you. It’s just…funny.

We noticed a dog that looked JUST LIKE my brother Josh’s dog, Pete. Pete died right before Christmas. We got to see him at Thanksgiving and he was a walking fur skeleton then, so it was no surprise. This dog looked like Pete in his prime, bounding around, being called back by his owners, forgetting where he was going on his way to them, and bounding off again.

“Tucker! TUCKER!” He belonged to a couple, a man (who, oddly enough, strongly resembled my brother) and a very pregnant woman. As they ambled up next to us, I started chatting with them.

“Do you have a dog here?” the woman asked.

“No, our dog is home. She’s impossible with bikes.”

“What’s your dog’s name?”

I found this a leetle odd, and looked around to see if she was trying to make conversation with Max. But he was gazing off in the distance, blissed out on all the dogs.


“I THOUGHT it was you!”


As it turns out, it was Christine, who used to work with my dad. I’d met her a few times, but here’s the best part:

She turned to her husband, Dan, and said – I quote,

“She has the blog I’m always telling you about.”

Or maybe it was,

“She has that one blog.”

Hmm. It might have been,

“She fancies herself some sort of blogger.”

No, no I’m sure she said something to the effect that she reads this lil’ ol’ blog regularly.

Clay circled back and I introduced everyone, and even repeated to him that SHE READS MY BLOG. I am nearly shameless. Nearly, because I at least had the grace to whisper that part. She nodded in agreement, and then said – I quote,

“I love it.”

She drew a little heart on her chest.

Swoon. I felt almost as cool as Y.

And so I just wanted to mention here that she’s my favorite person ever, and the most gorgeous pregnant lady there ever was, and even though he hasn’t been born yet, I can tell that her son is very very gifted. Seriously. Have you had him tested?

Eventually I dragged myself away from her insightful, witty commentary, and we went on with our bike ride.

The sun was golden, the dogs were plentiful and joyfully stupid, Max breathed easier, and life…it was good.

A talent for mediocrity

Hey, is this thing on? Haloooo, can you hear me?

Sorry about that unannounced leave of absence I seem to have taken. It happens, doesn’t it? One thing or another gets between me and the computer, and suddenly it’s been a week and a half since I’ve blogged. This is never good, because I find myself frozen by two things: all the floating fragments that COULD have been blogs if I’d sat down and written them out, and a paralyzing guilt/delusion that convinces me that you’re all mad at me, so I have to write something rilly rilly good or you’ll hate me.

My friend Amy says (gently, non-accusingly), “You wouldn’t worry nearly as much what people think of you if you realized how little they do.”


The answer seems to be in embracing mediocrity. I think I can do that.

Keeping that in mind, I offer you a few tidbits, the scraps of the tales I would have told.

It’s been gorgeous and warm this week. It’s next to impossible, keeping the boys in the house. I turn my back for a moment and they’re gone, off climbing trees or scorching leaves with a magnifying glass. Yesterday we ate lunch outside, under the tree in the front yard. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches off animal-shaped paper plates never taste as good as they do when they are overlaid with mild pre-spring air. I made some lame joke, and everyone laughed. Raphael leaned over and touched his forehead to my arm.

“Oh, Mom. You know, you’re not so funny as Dad.”

And then everyone really laughed.

Apparently I’m not so funny as Raphael, either.

Speaking of Raphael, he lost a tooth this week. The top two teeth were pulled a couple of years ago, so with one bottom one gone, the space in his mouth makes a T. He is thrilled. He also started T-ball this week, so our lives are officially over until fall. Raphael is doing the spring season of T-ball, Tre and Max are doing the summer season of baseball. Have mercy. Raphael’s coach, who I hear is a nice guy, seems to believe that three practices a week will make these five and six year olds into ball players. I would laugh heartily at that if I weren’t so busy plotting the man’s demise.

The boys were eating Girl Scout cookies, those chocolate-dipped ones called All-Abouts. They are stamped with messages relating to the Girl Scout experience, like “Girl Scouting is all about leadership.”

Max: Girl scouting isn’t about leadership! It’s about lederhosen!

Raphi: What’s lederhosen?

Max: I dunno.

I made apple pie this afternoon because of it being pi day – you know, March 14, or 3.14? Clever, I know. I totally stole the idea from my niece Kate’s school. Their whole school celebrated pi day. I was charmed by the idea, and I had a bag of granny smith apples to use up…and a great idea was born! I’ve never made an apple pie before, but how hard could it be?

Lord, do you know how long it takes to peel and chop 10 apples? Sheesh. Luckily for me, Tre was bored and insisted I let him help. He was an apple chopping champ, and even though the resulting pie turned out to be BOTH soggy and tough (I clearly have a heretofore unrecognized talent for apple pie ruining), he felt that our pie was excellent. He’ll probably want some for breakfast.

I’ll probably let him have some.

And then I’ll even congratulate myself on getting him to eat more fruit.

It’s a gift.


We were at church for a…what? event, a program, a thing. Anyhow, Clay and I were to be off in one room, the kids squirreled away in another. Tre and I had a moment of confusion when we were deciding what group he should go with. The kids were divided into three ages – nursery for little ones under five, a “kids” group for those in kindergarten through grade five, and then the teens.

Now, Tre is eleven, not a teen yet, but he’s doing sixth grade at home…and to complicate things, fifth grade in the homeschool enrichment program. Grades…meh, says I. Who cares?

Anyhow, this left us in a quandary. Go with the teens? Stay with the kids? What?

In the end I told him to stay with the kids, and if he didn’t like it he could switch the next day.

Halfway through the evening a girl wandered up to me. Now, this child is nice enough…I guess…even though she has a penchant for thuglike behavior. For instance, she likes to ask where Tre is, then go stand near him and smile a lot. And have boobs. WHY her parents can’t control the child is beyond me. I have considered standing behind her and making small growl/bark noises in her ear, but I suspect people may misinterpret my meaning. Somehow.

So, this girl was in the teen group (having recently turned 13, making her far too old to be asking the whereabouts of an 11 year old, trust me I know, although I did kiss an 11 year old when I was 13. It was only because he lied to me and told me he was 13 – I’m looking at YOU, David Sainty!), and as I said, she wandered up to me.

“So…where’s Tre?”

“Well, he’s in the kids’ group tonight.”

“Oh. Could he come be in the teen group with us?”

“Sure,” I said, pretending not to grit my teeth, “go ahead and ask him. Tell him I said it was ok.”

She bopped off (threateningly), and I went on with my evening.

When the night ended, I went to gather up the boys and found them all in the kids’ room. We collected all the stuff they travel with and headed out to the van. As we walked, Tre trotted up beside me.

“I think I’ll go with the teens’ group tomorrow.”


“Yeah. It was kind of boring, a little. A little young for me.”


He loped along next to me, in silence, and I watched him. He’s like a hologram picture, shimmering back and forth between images of Tre-the-boy and Tre-the-teen. Where his hair brushes his neck it looks so soft and downy that I imagine if I buried my nose there he would still smell milky-sweet like my baby. Yet inches away, his shoulders curve out, wide and strong. Manchild.

“Why didn’t you join them tonight? Didn’t [that girl] come ask you if you wanted to?”

“Oh, yeah, but I didn’t feel like it.”

“Really? Why?”

“Oh,” he looked up at me, all seriousness, “I wanted to finish what I was coloring.”

And he ran off, leaving my heart rather at ease.

Nature/nurture nonsense

Can I tell you a bit about my boys? This may sound like it’s about Max, but it’s about all three of them.

Max has an issue, complex child that he is, of negative self-talk. Some challenges roll right off his back with no more response than a lighthearted dash of goodwill. Other problems – say, multiplication tables – bring out the deep dark heart of him, the unwavering certainty that life is nothing but pain and loss.

Recently he was sitting at his desk, facing a stack of multiplication flash cards, and bemoaning his life.

“I can’t DO this,” he wept, “it’s TOO HARD and I’m NOT SMART.”


This sort of talk has become an issue between us lately. Since any sympathy from me when he’s in this state only seems to cause him to burrow deep within his self-pity and stare out at the world with hollow eyes, my approach has been to say briskly, “You are too smart, now stop it. I will not allow you to speak about one of my sons that way.”
I have even assigned sentences if he doesn’t stop.

“Max,” I said sternly, “is that any way to talk?” Don’t we mothers come up with the CLEVEREST retorts?

Tre, sitting across the room, overheard us and jumped in.

“Max, you can’t tell yourself stuff like that. You have to ENCOURAGE yourself.” And he’s right, you know, Max does need to encourage himself. However, Tre’s motivation for saying that is about 32.7% belief in the statement and 67.3% desire to show that HE knows the rules and he just hopes I KNOW that HE KNOWS what is right and good and correct. The child is so rule-happy that I just want to sidle up to him some days and whisper in his ear, “You know, it’s okay if you tell me occasionally that I’m not the boss of you. G’won. Tell me to stick it in my ear. Just once. See how it feels. You’ll get in a boatload of trouble, but it’ll be YOUR OWN trouble.”

I don’t ever say that to him, because I’m pretty sure they can throw you out of the Good Mother Club for statements like that.

“You know, I think that’s a great way to say it, Tre,” I said instead. “Encourage yourself. See, Max, if you tell yourself you can’t do it, and it’s too hard, then you’re right. You’ve already given up and you CAN’T do it. BUT! If you tell yourself, ‘this is tough, but I’m smart and capable – ‘”

“LIKE ME,” Raphael interjected from across the room.

“Ahem, yes, indeed. Anyhow, Max, if you believe you CAN do it, then all that’s left is to figure out how.”

Max raised weary eyes to me, gazed at me over a stack of flash cards SO HIGH that they apparently sucked the will to sit up right out of him. He slumped over, his head thunking upon the desk and moaned sadly,

“I could probably do it if I just had some Doritos.”

“We’re not allowed to eat in the living room,” Tre reminded him.

“Besides, I think Mom bought the Doritos for me. Because I like them best,” Raphael chimed in.

I decided to wander off and have another cup of tea.