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March 2007
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May 2007

Sometimes gross

Recently it became clear to me that Carmi, our full-blooded mutt o’ love, was unwell. She shook her head violently and rubbed her ear against the carpet. Worst of all, she took to reaching up with her hind leg, fitting her toenails into her ear, and delicately scratching therein.

No, no. Actually WORST of all was how she would then lick her toenails. Enthusiastically.

Anyhow, fine. I get it. Something wrong with the ear. And so HI, HO, off to the vet we go.

The afternoon we ended up at the vet’s office I had all four kids in tow. That is, my three boys and 14 year old niece Kate. This vet’s office is in a pet supply store, and they thoughtfully provided us lots and lots and LOTS of time to peruse the many interesting things there are to SEE in a pet store, by making us wait 45 minutes after our appointment time to be seen.

So. That was nice.

One of the things the kids looked at was the cats that were there, available for adoption. The nice lady in charge of such things took them back and opened cages for them and answered their questions…until she realized that they weren’t planning on actually adopting any cats. At that point she shut down project Look At The Cats and shooed the kids out. I can’t blame her – I’m sure she had lots to do without showing the cats to a bunch of worthless non-adopters. However, Raphael didn’t get his turn to look at the cat he wanted to, and this broke his heart. He spent much of the remaining two hours (TWO! HOURS!) we were there weeping into my neck. “The cat LOVED me and he would reach his paw out like this [he demonstrated with a soft hand against my cheek] and touch me and I would pet him and I LOVED HIM and HE LOVED ME and I didn’t get to hold him AT ALL!”

Kate felt terrible, because she got to hold the cat she liked, and Raphael didn’t get his turn. It just wasn't her fault. No one’s fault, really. That’s the danger of giving your heart to a cat. Particularly if you’re a no-account non-adopter.

Anyhow, eventually we were led back for the exam. Correction: we were led back to a small, stifling room, to watch Carmi nervously emit drifts of dog hair into the air and listen to Raphael mourn the cat that loved him. After roughly the length of your average presidential primary the vet finally joined us and took a look at Carmi.

She’d have to take a swab of the ear, to see exactly what was growing there, and did I know that not brushing my dog’s teeth can get me sent directly to the seventh circle of hell?

Yes, I nodded, oh yes. Absolutely.

“And, by the way, could you take a look at that cyst on her shoulder again? It seems to be back.” She leaned in, poked around a bit, and gave the cyst an experimental squeeze.


She recoiled, one eye screwed shut, and mopped at her face.

I died.

Any sympathy I had for her, though, was erased by her next words.

“Wow, I’m glad my mouth was closed. There was this one time, when I was expressing an anal gland…”

I shall spare you the rest. I may have suppressed it, and shall require many years of expensive psychological treatment.


Anyhow, eventually, several hours and dollars and instructions later, we were sent home with our dog, who turned out to have a yeast infection in her actual ear.

And now you all can be certain, absolutely, unshakably certain that I love that stupid yeasty dog. Because now I get to shove three pills down her throat every day, whilst great tidal waves of saliva work to repel them and drip on my feet. Once the pills are swallowed I get to follow that up by squirting one medicine in her ear, and when it’s been worked in there just right I am privileged to mop out the inside of the ear and the yeasty remains (which are, interestingly enough, sort of amber colored). After that I get ANOTHER medicine out of the fridge and put six drops of that in her ear and sort of massage it in.

When we have survived all THAT nonsense, I give Carmi a treat to thank her for her patience. She looks guilty, then gives her head a mighty shake, spraying me with leftover saliva and ear juice.

And I haven’t killed her once.

What’s more, yesterday I was petting her, and as my fingers worked through her silky coat, I found…there, on her shoulder…growing again…the cyst.

I don't want to know.

I first heard about the Virginia Tech shootings at the grocery store. As I watched my purchases file past me, I noticed much chatter around me about guns, a school, and dozens dead.

“What happened?” I asked my checker. She grimaced.

“Some guy shot up a school. A college.” I nodded and looked away. Didn’t want to hear about it.

When I got back in my van, I hesitated a moment. I could listen to the radio…I could hear what this is all about…

I switched on a tape instead. The boys and I have been listening to the 6th Harry Potter book, so I said a quick prayer for mercy and listened to the tape.

I didn’t want to know. I can’t do it anymore.

I can’t shrug off the sadness like I once could. The same week was the anniversary of the Columbine killings, and I was already steeling myself for that. Columbine, you see, isn’t just an iconic moment in American history around here. It’s that school, the one over there, the one I drove past several times a week with baby Tre strapped in his car seat behind me. As the bumper stickers said in the weeks after the shootings, “We Are Columbine.”

And so we remember our dead, and print their pictures in the paper and talk about them on the radio.

Except me, I can’t do it anymore. I haven’t the emotional reserves, so I whisper a prayer for mercy and switch it off.

A few weeks ago I was in the gym, resentfully slogging through my time on the treadmill. Hate the treadmill. The trashy magazine propped in front of me was boring, there was nothing interesting on the many TVs bolted to the ceiling, and did I mention that I hate the treadmill? I sighed, feeling sorry for myself and my remaining 24 minutes, and looked around the gym. Across the room a young woman caught my eye. She was sitting down on a machine across from me, turned toward me, but her eyes focused far away. She raised her shoulders, shook out her arms, and closed her eyes for a moment. She looked so, so tired. Then she raised her hands to grip the handles of the machine and I saw the soft, inner skin of her forearms. They were crisscrossed with light brown remnants of scars, diffuse outlines of the sort of cutting a young woman does alone, in dark bitter pain.

I stumbled on my treadmill, caught the handrails, and steadied myself. My hand reached reflexively for my own inner wrist, rubbed at skin that is clear and whole. I blinked hard and found my footing again and stared at the stupid magazine. Because crying as I jog isn’t going to ever help any girl with scars on her wrists.

I can’t do it anymore. I muttered a prayer for mercy and looked away.

There are just so many emotions already, so many highs and lows in life. Last week I was honored to attend my brother’s wife, Terri’s baby shower. One of the games we played was to rewrite lullabies specifically for Josh and Terri and their baby. When it was my group’s turn, I got up to sing our song with Terri’s mom. It was to “You are my sunshine,” and it was silly and corny and a little embarrassing and didn’t even win us a bottle of lotion (Mom’s group won. They had hand motions with their song). We did our best, belting out our lyrics, and when we got to the chorus and sang, “Here comes your sunshine, your firstborn sunshine,” I was horrified to feel my throat close up with emotion.

Because here he comes.

I could have sat down right there and cried, wept for all the beauty and fear and stunned wonder of Josh and Terri having a baby.

Instead I sang loud and clear as I could, and smiled as I did.

I want to be able to be there, a dork, emotionally fragile and present, for moments like that. So as I read the morning newspaper in the days after the Virginia Tech shootings, I quickly leafed through the coverage. Don’t want to know, don’t need to know, couldn’t possibly understand.

I almost made it, too.

Until they printed all the pictures, row upon row of shining young faces. I blinked and leafed past as fast as I could, but the tears came anyway. I let them fall, but didn’t stop to read.

Lord, have mercy.

I can’t look at it anymore.


This morning I sat at the table, hands cupped around my tea, gazing out the window with eyes full of sorrow.

It was snowing, you see.

April 24, and we’ve got snow.

All day long it snowed and rained, rained and snowed. The wind blew, goose bumps took up permanent residence on my arms and legs, and there was much muttering about “APRIL 24, YOU KNOW. NOT JANUARY.”

The inappropriate display of cold left me slightly more irritable than usual. Although I like to think I maintained a reasonable façade of peace and joy, little things grated upon me more than usual. I had no phone or internet or cable for most of the day, and that didn’t help me find inner peace either.

Midmorning I was downstairs, shoving some laundry in the washer, when I heard a shriek for my attention from upstairs. I punched the dial on the machine so the water would stop filling and I could hear. It was Max.

“Moooom, can you make Tre turn off the music?”

“We talked about this already, Max. Right now he gets to listen to music. It’ll be quiet in about 25 minutes, ok?”

He responded with a low level of stream-of-consciousness complaint, and I yanked the dial to restart the water and drown out the sound of it. I was fitting one last t-shirt into the drum when there was another call for justice from upstairs. I dropped the lid with a bang and stomped over to the stairs to bellow up,

“What. Is. The. Problem?”

Raphael scurried over to the top of the stairs. He gave me a dose of wounded innocent face, and started explaining that ALL he was doing was showing Tre something in a magazine, and Tre didn’t have to be all MEAN and ignore him, because that’s RUDE, so he HAD to get his attention!

“He HIT me on the head with the magazine,” Tre translated, glowering at his brother and rubbing the top of his head. I ordered Raphael to his room and Tre back to his desk and returned to the laundry room to deal with the dryer.

Someday, I mused, I will be able to put a whole load in the washer, uninterrupted.

Someday I won’t be spending one out of every three waking minutes DOING laundry.

Someday I’ll be able to make myself a cup of tea without being spotted and inundated with requests for some chai tea or cocoa.

Someday I’ll read the whole newspaper without having to stop and listen to another joke about elephants.

Someday I’ll never have to stand at the bathroom sink, wondering where my toothbrush is and why there’s a Rescue Hero in its place.

Someday I’ll be able to stop buying granola bars. And goldfish crackers.

Someday my house will be free of all the books and papers and art supplies and random pairs of scissors that are needed when you homeschool.

Someday the door jambs will be free of the grubby remains of doorway climbing.

Someday I’ll get to listen to what I want to listen to in the car.

Someday I’ll get to sit around and talk to Clay without ever once saying, “Please don’t interrupt us.”

I made my way slowly up the stairs, picturing the house in that mystical someday. It was tidy and quiet – serene.


I rounded the corner at the top of the stairs to see Max lying on the floor, drawing on the bottom of his desk. Tre had slipped away from his work and was leaning against the couch, reading the magazine he’d been smacked with. From downstairs, Raphael hollered a request for amnesty.


And yet, I’m glad it’s not someday…just yet.

See what I mean about this guy?

I leaned against Clay and he wrapped his arm around my waist as we waited for the water to boil for tea. He nuzzled my hair and murmured,

“Are you wearing perfume or something?”

I coyly shook my head no. He breathed in deep.

“Oh, because you smell funny.”

And then I laughed until my stomach hurt while he fought very hard to explain that he just meant different, and in a good way, but went on to state that what he meant was that I smelled weird.

Is it any wonder I adore him?

The goobers of summer

So Raphael’s playing T-ball now, did I mention? It’s amazing to me how the addition of two evening activities a week can completely throw a home into chaos. Fortunately for all, there has been rain or snow Every Single Thursday since T-ball started, so we’ve missed out on all the Thursday practices. Unfortunately, the coach is insane, and thinks we should therefore have practice on Sunday to make up.

*blink, blink*

These are 5 and 6 year old kids. There is simply no need to get carried away with the practice. Practice is not going to change the facts.

And what ARE the facts, you ask?

Well, at the very first game, when Raphael was first up to bat, he dutifully hit the ball and scurried to first base. When the next kid swatted the ball, the coach yelled at Raphi to run, and he did. Right on down the first base line. Out into the outfield and perhaps on to Kansas if he hadn’t been chased down by Clay.

There is one boy whose clear ambition in life is to be a dancer. While the game wends its illogical way around him, he prances around, pirouettes, pounds out a rhythm on his butt, and drops to one knee for the finale. Once he was doing jazz hands and accidentally caught a ball. His dad was thrilled.

Another little boy was standing on third base, waiting for his turn to run home, when he started poking himself enthusiastically in the groin. I remembered Max’s team last year, how they were all required to wear cups, and responded with much concentrated knocking upon their jewels at first, until they got used to them. I turned around to the boy’s parents.

“Oh, did you get him a cup?” I asked knowingly.

“No,” they muttered, their faces buried in their hands.

Raphael takes the time-honored game of T-ball very very seriously. He actually pays attention to what’s going on, and has a fevered desire to catch the ball. This led to the following exchange on the way home from last night’s game:

Clay: Hey, good job out there tonight, buddy.

Raphael: Yes, I know.

Clay: I really like the way you hustle to get the ball. Only…you really aren’t allowed to kick people in baseball. Especially your own team members.

Raphael: It was my ball.

Clay: I know. Still.

And this – THIS is the crew that the coach thinks should practice more. I can’t imagine why.


They’re already super stars.

A list of 41 things I love about Clay, on his 41st birthday.

1. When I’m taking a bath and you want to come in the bathroom and talk, you always knock, even though you know you’re welcome.

2. When you’re engaged in some Sisyphus-like task, like trying to get the kids to brush their teeth, you jolly them along by making up songs for them.

3. You rarely remember the words to the songs the next day, even though they’re brilliant.

4. You are possibly the happiest person I’ve ever met. 

5. You are often funny, yet almost never sarcastic.

6.  You enjoy the boys so much that sometimes I wonder if you didn’t marry me just so you could run with a feral pack of boys again.

7. One night I was driving home and it was very very foggy and I took a wrong turn, in an area I rarely drive. I ended up lost and I called you, laughing at myself and trying not to sound scared. Even though I laughed at my stupidity, you didn’t. You calmly, clearly gave me the directions I needed to get through the fog.

8. And you never teased me about it. You never even mentioned it again.

9. Even though I’ve lived here for fourteen years and you’ve lived here for three years.

10. Whenever you meet a veteran, you say, “Thank you for your service.” And you listen to their stories, without mentioning that you, too, served.

11. Because what you mean is “Thank you for you for your service,” and not, “ooh, listen to what I did!”

12. Thank you for your service.

13. You certainly could add to a discussion of military fun, though. You have some great stories.

14. My favorite is the one about the time in Iraq, when the camel stole your box of goodies.

15. No, no, my favorite is the one about the time your leave got cancelled and your mom called your CO and straightened that little matter out.

16. You never tell me the stories where someone got hurt.

17. You are both realistic about the problems facing our country and unwaveringly patriotic.

18. You have taught the boys to open my door for me.

19. You have taught the boys to tell me I’m beautiful.

20. You have very nearly even taught me to believe I’m beautiful.

21. Even if it’s snowing outside and the wind is rattling the windows, you like to end the day with a little ice cream.

22. And you still have enough spare heat for my icy feet when we go to bed.

23. And my icy hands.

24. And sometimes, my icy nose.

25. You not only love your parents, you admire them.

26. When you lost your finger, your immediate reaction was, “Well, that’s how it is. Let’s move on.” I kept waiting for it to HIT you, for you to be upset. You never were. Your real, true reaction to the loss is, “Well, that’s how it is.”

27. Although you do enjoy playing games with your finger – like the time we were on a car trip and you had the boys watch for passing cars, so when they pulled along side us you could put the end of your stump in your nose and make it look like you had your finger in there up to the second knuckle.

28. The four of you thought that was hilarious.

29. Every time.

30. You guys also think this joke is endlessly funny, “Hey, let’s play a game! It’s called ‘nose.’ You pick first!”

31. A few months ago we were at church and I was muttering to myself, comparing Tre’s height to the girl’s next to him (she is exactly one year younger than him – to the day – and if I judge the height of her heels correctly, just a shade taller). As I fretted about his stature, you shrugged. “Hey, what do you expect? Neither of us is exactly tall.”

32. It honestly didn’t occur to you in that moment that Tre isn’t biologically yours.

33. It doesn’t matter that they’re not connected to you biologically.

34. You’ve committed to the job of father, even though their biological dad is out there…somewhere…

35. Somehow you can commit to today without knowing what tomorrow will bring.

36. You are strong. Sometimes I like to trace the muscles in your arm.

37. Tonight you did pushups with Raphael sitting on your shoulders, just to make him giggle.

38. You tell the same jokes over and over again, and they never fail to make you laugh.

39. They make me laugh too.

40. The other night we were reading and you showed me something in your book about the common fears everyone lives with. They were something like; sickness, poverty, loss of relationship, death. I asked which ones you were afraid of. You thought about it a moment, then responded, “Mediocrity.”

41. In that case, fear not.

I watch the obliviously mortal

One day, when I was six, I was playing on the swings at recess. I was swinging high, an exhilarating swoop with a stomach-lurching hop at the top of the arc. As I soared forward through the air, the bell rang to signal the end of recess. And so, as I reached the apex of my swing, I leaped.

Because the bell rang.

I landed flat out on my stomach on the blacktop of the ball court. My head bounced off my left forearm and there bloomed a spidery crack in one of the bones and an impressive concussion in my foolish little girl head.

This afternoon I sat in a park, my folding chair planted in soft green grass. The sun warmed my back and slid away as puffy clouds took their appropriate place in an appropriately springlike sky (but hey, Colorado, THANKS A FREAKING BUNCH for all that snow on Easter. Lovely). Raphael was having his T-ball practice – racing around, scooping up balls, sprinting between bases like he was getting graded on it. The child loves him some T-ball. I’m not sure how that happened. I leafed through a magazine and tried not to think about all the ways Tre and Max could seriously injure themselves on the playground.

I spent that night in the hospital, when I was six. Nurses woke me up regularly to see if I was coherent. I was bewildered by them. No, seriously, WHAT? Why are you waking me up again? And why can’t you remember my name? It wasn’t until I was 22 and had my second concussion from a car accident that I realized what that was all about. That time it was my cousin Melyssa who had the privilege of waking me up every few hours – “What’s your name? What year is it?” – and I finally realized that the nurses weren’t just being mean, they were making sure I wasn’t dying of brain swelling.

Max shimmied up the side of the monkey bars and climbed up on top of them. He twined his legs around one of the cross bars and hung down, his hair fanning out and catching the afternoon light. He swayed, laughing at whatever Tre was doing on the platform. I sat very still, looking at his legs, calculating their strength and how long they would hold him, pondering the cushioning abilities of the rocks below.

The next morning was another little girl in my hospital room, a few years older than me. She’d also fallen on the playground. She’d been playing on those parallel metal bars and slipped. Just slipped.

“I hit this metal plate thing on the ground – the thing that the bars were fastened to?” I nodded, even though I had no idea what she meant. It didn’t matter, because she was immobilized in a brace and couldn’t see me. She stared at the ceiling and told me about it.

“And then I passed out, and when I woke up here they told me I broke a bone in my back.” Her voice shook. “Do you think that means I won’t be able to walk?”

“Oh no,” I said, “of course not.”

What I thought, though, was duh. You broke your back and so you are going to be stuck in a wheelchair forever and maybe you’ll have to live here, and that is really terrible, because the nurses wake you up all the time.

Now, thinking back, I bet she was fine. I’m sure she’d have been in intensive care if she’d had a spinal cord injury…right?

Coach Tom called the boys into a huddle and gave them instructions for Wednesday’s game. He waved them away, and they scattered, racing off toward their parents. I called to Tre and Max and they abandoned their game of tag and jogged over to me.

I watched them go out of their way so they had to clamber over a fence, to sprint as hard as they could, jostling each other as they ran, and arrive at the van out of breath, sweaty and unharmed.

Accidents happen, you may have heard.

And when you know that’s true, it’s even sweeter to realize that usually…most days…accidents don’t happen.


This weekend Tre got stung right next to his left eye. He’s used to being stung, shrugs it off with the steely bravado of “I’m a BEEKEEPER, Mom. We don’t care.” But stings in the tender flesh around the eye are a bit more impressive. They swell and itch and turn colors.


This morning his eye was swollen almost shut, much to his delight. He couldn’t wait to show everyone at school. “When they ask me what happened, I’m gonna say WHAT? It’s just a bee sting.” He practiced a dismissive shrug over breakfast. “Just a bee sting.”

Everyone was suitably impressed. Friends gathered around to hear the story, teachers quizzed him. “They asked me what the doctor said about when the swelling would go down! Can you imagine? The DOCTOR?”

When it was time to pick the boys up after school I made my way through a crowd of exclamations and comments. In the midst of that, I ran across the mother of one of his best friends. Their family is moving out of the state this summer, a fact I’ve been relentlessly not thinking about for weeks. Getting rid of things so you can put your house on the market? How nice, if abstract. Looking at property in Texas? Must be entertaining. Oh, look! Something shiny! Let’s not think about that messy moving nonsense, mmm’kay?

For a few years now, Tre and Peter have been getting together once a week to play. After a while Raphi and Justin, Peter’s younger brother, got in on the act. This is a fixture in their lives, what is done with their Fridays.

It is how it is.

Except now, suddenly, it’s not.

Yes, yes, I knew it was coming. I knew it was going to happen (theoretically), but see, the house is actually going on the market now. And they can’t keep regular play dates when they don’t know when a prospective buyer might want to come see the house.

So it’s over.

I haven’t told Tre, who knew it was coming…eventually.

I don’t want to tell Tre.

After that conversation, I made my way over to the family files. I leafed through all the paperwork generated by one single solitary day of school a week. The school administrator saw me standing there and started quizzing me about Tre’s eye.

No, I told her, he can’t take Benadryl, but he is taking an antihistamine for his allergies anyhow. He’ll be fine, and yes, I’m sure he’s not allergic. Right, I’ll watch out for cellulitis.

I looked and saw him across the room. He was standing there, talking to a friend, animated. He stood with feet planted, as though ready to start a race. He shifted his shoulder under the strap of his back pack and laughed at something, made a face, said something that was apparently very funny.

No, I’m not worried. I never worry that much about the hurts you can see.