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April 2008
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June 2008

I. Am. Such. A. Dork.

This morning I got a call from my dad.
"So," he said, "Amazon sent me an email, telling me that Joshilyn Jackson has a new book out that I really should read. Did I miss that?"
Yes, I told him, Joss DOES have a new book out. I gave him my brief review, offered to loan him my copy, then hastily retracted, telling him to buy his own dang book.
Then I got off the phone. It took me a few minutes, for it to hit me (before 10 AM - useless), but when it did, I promptly died a little on the inside.
I never mentioned it. Right here, on my own tiny forum, I never shilled her book. I am such a lousy friend. 
Not just to Joshilyn, who, frankly, can sell plenty of books without my help. But I know at least one person out there (Amy S., I'm looking at you) who was expecting a heads up when the next book came out. She loves her some good southern literature. And my friends, Joshilyn writes some of the best. 
If you enjoyed gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia, you'll love The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. If you DIDN'T like gods or Between, you are dead to me. Ok, maybe not DEAD. But still. I am cranky at you.
Go, Go! and order your own copy. I promise you, the book is amazing, a thrill ride from the first sentence - but I swear, it's worth the cover price just for the last two lines. *swoon* 
Here's the handy Amazon link: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, but if you have access to an independent book seller (local Denverites, you have NO EXCUSE), you really should try to patronize them. Really. 
I hope, once you have the pretty, pretty book in your hot little hands, you can forgive me - especially since I've had mine *ducks head in shame*

It seems like it should be an easier question than it is.

As the post-dinner light faded, the boys came stomping in from the front yard. They had been playing with the neighbor boy and it ended badly.
The thing about playing with the neighbor boy is that he invariably decides to settle some difference of opinion by kicking someone in the stomach. I'm sure that's EXACTLY what his karate teacher was going for. You know, respect, self control, and an awesome side kick to the stomach of a child two years younger than you, followed by a sprint to hide inside your house. It's just what martial arts is all about.
Tre was shaking with rage, because he couldn't get his hands on the kid.
"I told him to stop being a chicken and running away, and he just said, 'did you ever hear of DODGING?' That's not DODGING, that's being a big CHICKEN." 
Max was the one who get kicked, and Tre really, really, REALLY wanted to defend him.
Now, to be clear, I don't think Tre has ever hit anyone who wasn't a younger brother and irritating him massively. Even then, it's rare. He's just not the aggressive type. But somewhere, somehow, after many many blowups with the neighbor boy, he seems to have gotten the idea that if he doesn't want to accept being randomly attacked, he should sock the kid one. Hard.
Er...he may have gotten that idea from me.
Look, I'm not PROUD of it, ok? But it's frustrating, having your child come slamming the door behind him, fuming about being shoved/kicked/smacked in the nose with an elbow when he wasn't looking. I hate it. I want to tear out into the front yard, grab that little punk by an ear, and haul him off to his mother.
Clay has suggested to me that this approach might not be the best for the boys, in the long run. 
So one day, when Max and Tre came steaming inside, I snapped, "Look, this is how he is. Accept it, don't play with him, or punch him in the nose next time."
This sounded like a fine idea, and since then Tre's been looking for an opportunity.'s just not Tre. He doesn't have the determination in him to really seize the moment and smack someone.
I'm proud of him, my gentle-hearted boy, who sat next to me, shaking and red eyed, saying, "he can't just kick my brother like that, he CAN'T." He wants to stop this kid, smack him down and make him stop.
But really, he just doesn't want to hit anyone.
I know that ultimately, he'll decide how he wants to handle it. It's not my fight.
I just can't decide what I wish for more - for my son to learn to land a punch, or for him to learn to step away. 

Raphael got into trouble seconds before bedtime. It was the same issue he got in trouble for about twenty minutes before that, and my exasperation coupled with his weariness made for a meltdown.
He didn't handle it well, either.
He stomped off to bed in one direction, and I stomped off up the stairs in another.
Ten minutes later I went back down to check on him, because he hadn't come up to say goodnight after his reading time. I went down there half to see if he was ok, and half to see if I was.
He was asleep, cocooned in his favorite fuzzy blue blanket. He had kicked his sheet and comforter to the end of his bed and wrapped his pillow in another blanket, and there he was, wrapped up in his individuality, breathing deep and slow.
I leaned down to kiss his satiny cheek and he stirred. His hands, swathed in fuzzy blue, reached up and trapped my chin.
"Snuggle?" he croaked, his voice creaky with sleep and longing.
"Ok," I sighed, crawling onto the bed beside him, "but just for a minute."
I wrapped my arms around him, and he turned and folded into me, like a puzzle that keeps fitting despite the fact that one piece keeps growing. I rubbed my nose in his hair, smelling wood smoke and sweaty boy head.
"Are you sad?" I whispered.
"Not too much."
Good enough.
He breathed dampness in the space under my chin and I held him and for a minute we just snuggled and were ok.

He's making me old

Last night Raphael was out riding his bike, ruling the cul-de-sac as usual, zooming from one end of it to the other.

And then he ran into a truck.

A truck that was in motion, as in DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD. And no, according to witnesses, it wasn't the driver's fault, so much as the fault of one little boy who is given to flitting about on his bike like a immortal firefly.

He's fine, no one was hurt. Tre, who saw it happen, says the woman in the truck wasn't mad, just scared. "She kept asking,'are you ok? Are you sure?' like Raphael might have broken his arm and not noticed or something." Tre told me.

Raphael was fine. When Clay and I came striding down the street to collar him, he'd dropped his bike under the neighbor's tree, and his nut-brown legs were dangling from a very high branch.

"Hey," he called out to us, "whatcha doin?"

Bearing down upon our child, planning to squash him like a bug, sweetie. That's what we're doing.

Actually, we were very calm and reasonable. We took him home and sat him down and explained how dangerous it is for bikes to tangle with automobiles, and reminded him that this was an issue we've discussed before (the child HAS NO FEAR. It is a very bad thing). He looked back and forth at the two of us, bewildered by our intensity and abundance of words. He wasn't all that shaken until we informed him that he couldn't ride his bike until Friday.

"NO," he bellowed at us, "YOU CAN'T!"

Trucks aren't the only things he has yet to learn proper fear of.

"Yes, Raphael, we can. We really really want you to be safe." He collapsed in tears, inconsolable at this cruel twist of fate. The rest of the evening was served in stony silence. He CANNOT BELIEVE we intend to be so heartless.

I guess that makes us even, because I can't shake the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I CANNOT BELIEVE that my kids WILL go out into the world and be mortal. Punks.

This one goes out to any mom who has ever strode confidently out of her kid's room, then turned to her husband and whispered, "NOW what?"

Tonight Clay and I busted Max playing his Nintendo DS in bed, under the covers, after lights out. I'd rather not say HOW we knew, because it was a very your-parents-know-alllllll moment. We swung open the door to his room and flicked on the lights. He peeked out from under his blanket as we approached his bed. He croaked an indignant request for the light to be turned off.

"Hand it over," I said, hand extended.

"What?" He was mystified. Confused. Shocked. And wanted the light off.

Clay reached over and tugged at the DS charging cord that snaked out under the blanket.


DS confiscated, we kissed him goodnight (again), and went upstairs to figure out what next.

Neither of us are terribly shocked, having both been the sort of kid who would have totally played our DS after bedtime if they'd only existed. Max is a good kid, it's just (as I told him tonight) that he tried something and it didn't work out for him. Too bad. No DS until Saturday.

Here's what I really learned tonight:

Clay and I are still making up this parenting deal as we go along.

When you look at your son and find this thought in your head, hmmm, I think he's hiding something, you're probably right.

Being a good and basically honest kid is not the same thing as being incapable of wrongdoing.

and most surprisingly,

When my kid is miserable because he's been caught in a misdeed AND a lie, I still want to pull him onto my lap and rock him until he relaxes out of that tight knot of despair.

Bah, it's not even a bump in the road, tonight's little adventure. It IS the road. I just needed a moment, as always, to stop and look at my life and say, this is how it happened. This is how it is.

Smackdown with small voices

I was on my way somewhere, boys in the back seats of the van, muttering under my breath at the car next to me when Raphael said,

"Mom? Why is it when you're driving, the other drivers are 'jerks', but when Dad's driving, they're all 'pal' or 'buddy'?"

Ahem. Because your dad is a more highly evolved person. Get used to it.

                                           * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Max came trotting inside, his face lit up with the excitement of the afternoon. They were flushing the water in the hydrants in the neighborhood, and the poor city workers were being dogged by a gaggle of thrilled children. Great gushing streams of water! Now THAT is entertainment.

"So one of the men had a cigarette in his mouth?" Max waved his hands to show the scene. "And when he opened the hydrant, a stream of water SPLASHED him in the face and it put his cigarette out and he said a bad word."

"That's too bad. He shouldn't be talking like that with all those kids around him."

"Oh, that's ok," he was already on his way out the door and called back over his shoulder, "we already learned it from you."

Kira's Wild Kingdom

Today Tre and Max had a couple of friends come over to play. Nate and Gabe are my favorites of their friends - such an amiable pair that Raphael, even being the YOUNGEST and having no friend over today, wasn't all that left out. The five of them rampaged around the house. It's the only day of the week when I sort of wish we lived in a sprawling farmhouse on a 15 acre lot. Dude. That's a lot of boys.

Whenever the kids have friends over I like to drop back, sort of melt into the background. I make cookies, I tidy, I flip through the newspaper. I become semi-invisible, which provides me with an excellent opportunity to observe. It's like having my own show on the Discovery Channel. I even narrate in my head, sotto-voiced. Now the older boys have decided to spy on the younger pair. They have enlisted the help of the youngest, in an effort to stave off an inevitable tattling. What the older boys don't know is that the younger pair has been spying on them for at least twenty minutes. The younger pair is likewise unaware of the older's pair's plans. It would seem that neither set of boys is particularly adept at spying.

I have such a rich inner life, don't I? Aren't you envious of the late night ramblings that my husband gets to listen to as he tries to go to sleep?

Nonetheless, despite my keen powers of observation, there are always unanswered questions.

How did the window well cover collapse, despite deeply sincere assertions that no one touched it - or so much as thought destructive thoughts at it?

Why is Max talking like his uvula has been superglued to his tongue? Why is this so amusing?

Why is Raphael wandering through the house, with a walky-talky pressed to his lips, mournfully informing someone, "the ancient peep is dead"?

Clay arrived home, bearing pizza, and the entire herd thundered in, ate an astonishing amount of pizza (followed by cookies), and thundered back outside. They would have stayed out there for the rest of the evening, but I made them come in when the rainstorm rolled in, with lightening, thankyouverymuch. They all yearned to be out there, in the cold, feeling the rain and hail and wind, and they stood in the garage, inching their toes out into the wet. I sat down with my laptop and watched out of the corner of my eye.

Such a wild world it is.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Last night I baked an angel food cake. My dad and Clay had planned a fete for Mom and me, but it was, after all, my mom's Mother's Day too, so I made the cake. It never ceases to amaze me, how mundane ingredients come together to become something as ethereal as angel food cake. As I separated the eggs, I dropped the yolks in a glass bowl. They formed bright pattens, like the rapidly dividing cells of new life, and I was mesmerized. I worked slowly, deliberately, and noticed the slip of the egg whites on my fingers, the grains of sugar beneath my wrist on the counter. The oven ticked quietly as it preheated.

Mom and I spent much of my childhood locked in combat. I believe the issue could be summed up thus: She was not me, and I was not going to be her. It seemed to take us some time to come to terms with those facts, and the negotiating process could be harsh at times. I, in particular, could be a real little...pain in the neck. Once, when I was about 13, I remember telling her emphatically that if she and Dad divorced, I was going to live with him. Not that they were threatening divorce, you understand. It was just a sort of pre-emptive rejection. Er...sorry, Mom.

I whipped the egg whites, watching them bloom from a slippery bubbly puddle, to loose foam, then up and up and up into stiff, glossy peaks. As the mixer whined, I held a bowl of sugar over the whites and tipped it, letting it spill in a wisp of a trail. Then I poured in a tiny bowlful of vanilla, lemon juice, and almond extract, and watched it melt into the bright white cloud.

After all the angst of my teen years, an amazing thing happened. I left home, and an uneasy cease fire was called. And then one day I found myself married and pregnant and terrified, and the person I needed to talk to more than anyone in the world was my mom. Just like that, everything that once stood between us melted away and she-who-didn't-understand became she-who-knows. By the time Tre was two, Mom and Dad moved to Denver, and I was thrilled. Mom had become my best friend.

I took a mixture of cake flour and sugar and sifted it over the whites, quarter cup by quarter cup. After each addition I folded it in with a spatula. Careful, quick movements, and with each turn I heard the batter sigh, the sound of air escaping. It's a balancing act between mixing it thoroughly and keeping billions of tiny bubbles intact.

Don't think I don't know how lucky I am. I look at friends whose moms are gone, friends whose moms are endless sources of pain and frustration. Friends whose moms are both. I know I am the recipient of a huge and undeserved blessing. I know.

What I hadn't thought about until last night, as I stood there with sticky foam drying on the side of my hand, turning the spatula in the sighing batter, was that I could have lost all of this, just this year.

Mom and Dad joined the Catholic church a year ago. This makes them not only Catholic, but Catholic converts. Oy. I, on the other hand, am not Catholic - and married to a former Catholic. If there is an anti-covert, it is the former Catholic.

It's not that I have anything against the Catholic church - not at all. If anything, before their conversion, I was more skippy with the Pope than Mom and Dad were. If a protestant can, indeed, claim to be skippy with the Pope. But it's awkward, the changing of beliefs. When someone who has always stood next to you takes a huge stride away, it's hard not to look at the ground under your feet and feel judged.

I've had friends convert to other churches and had the friendships not survive. I used to have a gang of moms that I hung with. Moms know how important this is. But then all of them converted to the Orthodox church. Some I still see. One is still very much in my life (thank God, I say with complete sincerity). But when the language of someone's life changes like that, it makes conversation difficult. And so much that was once a part of my life is now just gone. I miss it.

Would you believe that at one time my parents, all the women in my mom's gang, and I went to the same church?  Some Sundays I stand in church and I close my eyes and I can imagine them all standing around me. Some hymns we sing sound hollow, because in my head I can hear my mom's silvery strong soprano, arching above the rest of us, giving the melody structure and grace with her descant. Sometimes I try to sing her part, because I can hear it so clearly, but my voice is thin and breathy and was not designed to soar like that. It cracks, and I find myself with tears in my eyes. Again.

As my parents made their way into this new faith, Mom and I talked. As with everything, we discussed it up one side and down the other - cautious at times, laughing at times. There were moments of tension - anger even, but for the most part we just talked it through.

And now here we are. Now this is just how it is. This is our church, that is their church. We'll worship together again someday in heaven. It's ok.

I still have my mom. It's better than ok.

I scooped the batter into the cake pan, and smoothed the top. I could tell by the height of it, by the glossy surface, that it was going to bake up perfectly - airy and sweet and velvety.

Angel food cake is ethereal. All it takes is a careful hand and a miracle or two.

I think he's vying for the title of "most stereotypical boy." I NEED to find that old copy of Free To Be You and Me and girl him up a bit.

Raphael, he's a tough little man. He crashes his bike and leaps up to do it all over again. Today he was playing baseball (OF COURSE) at the park with his dad and a passel o' kids, and he took a ball to the upper lip. That left him with the most stunning blood blister inside his lip, which he loves to pull back and show me so I can lean against the wall and frantically wish away the tingly-weak feeling in my knees. Splinters in his hands? He'll gnaw them out with his own germy teeth, left to his own devices. He is rough and tough and not a little bit gross.

So why is it, exactly, that drying him off after a bath with a fluffy, clean towel and applying lotion is an exquisitely painful experience, earning me the title of MEAN MOM?

Good idea/Bad idea: summer edition

Bad idea: We signed Max and Raphael up for baseball.

Good idea: Tre (my favorite) has decided to sit this season out, opting instead to participate in a 25 mile bike ride in June.

Bad idea: That bike ride will require training.

Good idea: Which he will do with his dad.

Bad idea: Raphael has moved up out of the relative safety of T-ball, into the dangerous waters of "coach-pitch." He and Clay both think this is a fine idea, and are unmoved by my arguments of "But he's my BAY-BEEE!" and "But he could get HURT!" and "But someone will be throwing things at my BAY-BEE!"

Good idea: Raphael is completely enthralled with his cup, and wore it most of the day on Saturday. It protected his young squishy boyness during a particularly brutal game of Wii baseball, and also kept him safe during multiple thunks with his own delighted knuckles.

Bad idea: Max is moving out of the relative safety of "coach pitch" into the brutal waters of "player pitch." This is an archaic form of torture wherein youngsters learn how to pitch by spending interminable hours flinging wild balls in the general direction of home plate whilst their adoring parents watch and quietly die a thousand deaths. Games last one million years or until everyone is dead, whichever comes last.

Good idea: Max has GLASSES and can SEE and able to pitch?

Bad idea: First practice isn't for two weeks, and I'm so emotionally scarred from last year that I'm already hoping for rain.

Good idea: Max and Raphael are alight with baseball joy. Max keeps plotting pitching strategies. Raphi totes his glove everywhere, and is never more than two feet away from a ball. Tre is likewise obsessed with his bike. They are all so engaged and delighted that I find I can't quite begrudge the fact that my life is over for the time being.

Let the games begin.