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May 2008
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July 2008

Then leaf subsides to leaf

This morning I accompanied my grandparents to their church. Mom and Dad usually tag-team that task, but it fell to me today, since they were away, riding their bikes in the MS 150. I'm really glad my parents did that, because yes, it's a good and strong-hearted thing for them to do, but also, if my parents are spending the weekend riding their bikes one HUNDRED and FIFTY miles, how old could I possibly be? Not very.

Nonetheless, while Dad and Mom were off pedaling, I was sitting with my grandparents in church. Sometime in the last year Grandma has turned a corner, and she is slipping farther and farther away. She no longer remembers my name, and sometimes she tells me things that make no sense, that she has seven children, or she exclaims that I have a lot of dogs! So many dogs! Mom says that when people get to that level of memory loss it's important to listen and respond to the emotion of what they're saying, and not worry about the facts. So I laugh with Grandma about how many dogs I have, or agree that yes, seven is a LOT of children, I can understand why she would be tired. 

One of the reasons I enjoy taking my grandparents to church is that it assuages my guilt at how little time I spend with them. The days slip by so quickly, in a flurry of appointments and baseball practice and trips to the library. There is always something to be done and tomorrow, I'm sure tomorrow we'll stop in. But we don't, and when I see them on these random Sunday mornings I study them, to see what has been lost in my absence.

Grandpa still seems pretty much the same as always, if a little flustered by the pace of it all. He is less able to work a room than he used to, but it is a loss of degree, not ability. His bones are collapsing, small and light, like the hollow skeleton of a bird, and now I reach down to kiss his cheek. He fusses, as ever, over Grandma, tucking a napkin under her chin before he hands her a cup of coffee. He has only finally retired last year, but his real life's work is making his Alyce presentable.

His Alyce, however, is no longer playing her part. They had a routine, a schtick, if you will. The pastor and his wife. Those of you who grew up in or around "The Ministry" know this routine. He will proclaim and she will concur, and the two of them will be above reproach. Not quite human, perhaps, but unassailable.

Grandma can't remember her lines anymore. When she talks, if she can be bothered, she sometimes slips into what's called "word salad", a jumble of phrases and sounds no longer knit together by meaning. Today she sipped her coffee and said mildly, "I like to be morning. I like life. I like skizznit. I like - I love my husband. And so we see that indeed."

Indeed. I listened to her, trying to tease out what she could be trying to say, and was reminded of young Max, who, as a 18 month old, would walk up to me and proclaim something in a great torrent of words and word-like-sounds. He'd stand there, working his fat hands dramatically in the air between us, declaring whatever it was in paragraphs of nearly English language. I'd listen, then nod and say something non-committal - "oh really?" or "hmmm." No matter what I said, Max would look startled, glare, and spit out, "WHAT?"

Except it's funny when someone is growing into understanding. Not so much when the understanding is receding. It's like the difference between the skin on a baby's stomach and the patch on the top of my foot, where I scraped of the top layer of skin when I stumbled on a step. Both shine, bright and pink and smooth, but only one draws your fingers to wonder at its satiny feel.

In church, during a song, I glanced a few rows behind us where a tiny girl was dancing. She stood, gripping damp fistfuls of her bright dress, bobbing at the knees. He hair sprayed up from a band on top of her head and she swayed and grinned. Her feet twitched and worked as she struggled for the coordination to lift them in time with the pulse of the music. I glanced back to Grandma, whose own feet twitched on the foot rests of her wheelchair. Her legs move to the pulse of Parkinson's.

Of course it's all been said before - how very alike are the young and the old. Similar transitions, performed in reverse. I remember holding my newborn boys and watching each one of them breathe and unfurl in the air. Their skin was still printed with the creases that showed how they were folded up in utero and before my eyes they filled up with life, it surged and plumped their skin. They looked to me like tender new leaves, uncurling. 

But of course there is the other end of that cycle too, and I looked at my grandparent's hands. Grandpa rubbed his papery fingers over Grandma's own dry, unfeeling ones. It is the other end of the same process that enchanted me, yet who watches in wonder now?

Revisionist mothering

The other day, for some reason, I was remembering an incident from about nine years ago, when Max was about a year old and Tre was a skinny four year old. I wish I had digital photos of them from that age, so I could show you how perfectly Max and Tre they were. Max was a chubby baby, all cheeks and rolls, but rather than jolly he had a very dignified air about him, almost haughty. He was shy, and as a result he drew back from people and stared down his nose at them, with a disapproving look. 

Tre, on the other hand, was a perfectly scrawny four year old, all knees and elbows. Big brown eyes under straight brown hair, and an indomitable interest in everything. In shorts he looked like Christopher Robin. Max thought Tre hung the moon, and followed his every movement with eyes filled with hunger to be in his wake.

On the day in question, they were both playing upstairs in their room, while I was doing something in the kitchen. When I'd left them, they were taking turns in the yellow rocking boat, sitting and violently yank-push-yank-pushing on the steering wheel to make it lurch back and forth. Banging on the red button that gave a tiny beep. Wrestling its tiny throttle up and down and up and down. Good, clean fun.

As I puttered in the kitchen, I heard a noise upstairs that made me pause. It was the sound of something being dragged across the floor. And then Tre said, "No, just sit there! You'll see! It's going to be a GREAT ride."

In one of those moments that make me a believer in maternal instinct, I knew. I just KNEW what was about to happen. I dropped what I was doing and SPRINTED around the corner. 

Just in time to see Max, his rubbery tummy rounding the front of his white onesie, in the yellow boat, being pushed down the stairs. 

Time thickened and slowed, and I felt my feet push off the carpet, one, then the other, like molasses, and I could see Max's panicked face, just watching me as he bounced, and bounced, and bounced, higher and higher.

About a third of the way from the bottom of the stairs he bounced right out of the boat. He flew through the air, the downy top of his head aimed for the front door. 

And I reached up and plucked him right out of his trajectory. 

The boat clattered against the door. I hugged Max to my chest and peered down into his face. He stared back at me, wondering if he should cry. I looked up the stairs at Tre, who was standing with his hands clapped over his mouth, his eyes wide with shock. He had REALLY thought it was a good idea. 

We all just regarded each other in silence for a few minutes, then I said in a deceptively calm voice,
"No more rides down the stairs, OK? In ANYTHING."

I like to think about that day, because (uncharacteristically) I don't tend to think about how terrible it could have been. What I like to remember is how perfectly that moment happened, when my fingers closed around Max's flying form. 

I may have screwed up a million different ways so far in my tenure as a mother. I may have backed my van right into a teenaged driver's car in the Albertson's parking lot today, and said a bad word in front of my children. I may lose my temper and get distracted during 74.3% of the available "teaching moments." I may only remember once every three days to give them their vitamins. 

But for one shining moment there...I was a superhero.

Baseball boy

Tonight I took Max to baseball practice. Right now, with Max and Raphi both having practice and games, we have something baseball to do five days a week. That works out to roughly seventeen bazillionty hundred hours of baseball a day. Plus pitching practice in the park.

Usually it's Clay who does baseball practice duty, but tonight it was me, bravely toting my folding chair across the grass and planting myself beside the ball field with a sweating bottle of ice water. OH, the things I do for this family. Raphael ran and hooted in the park behind me and I watched my middle boy play.

Max has always enjoyed baseball. Or soccer. Whatever. Toss a ball to him and he will take it and go, amiable enough. Toss a video game to him, and that's fine too. But this year it's different.

He's pitching this year, and all I can say about that is that he's not terrible. For the first year of player pitch "not terrible" is plenty for me. Actually, he's pretty good. He's a solid hitter too. When he's not pitching he likes to play catcher, and he does a good job at that too.

I'm not saying he's a star, don't get me wrong. We have a star on our team, a boy whose natural athleticism makes people gasp sometimes, as he makes dramatic diving catches or hits the ball way over everyone's heads. No, Max isn't in that category, but he's got something this year that I've never seen before.

He wants it.

During practice, when the coach tells him to come in to practice hitting, he flat out sprints, rather than the easy jog the rest of the players do. When he's catching he scrambles after balls, jumping up or diving in all the weight of the pads and mask. In the outfield he watches and hustles after the ball, backing up his teammates, racing out to get under a pop fly, sprinting to be in the right place for the almighty play. And when he pitches the rest of the world disappears.

I know what this sounds like - the rantings of a proud mother.

So? Wanna make something of it?

Tonight I watched him practice, playing his heart out on that ball field, and I got it for once. I understood just a glimmer of the passion baseball inspires in people. As I stared across the sunlit grass, a shadow sailed toward me and I flinched, thinking a ball was zooming toward me. But I looked up to see a bird, instead, black against the bright blue of the sky.

I just took me a moment to adjust and realize...
Max pitching

...I was seeing something taking flight.

Snapshots from summer

Gather your rosebuds while ye may...


And also a fistful of peony, because that stuff is awesome.

This dog? Is beautiful but stinky.
Beautiful carmi

And she thinks its funny.
Don't BREATHE on me!

The boys are building elaborate forts in the basement.

I don't know what this dog did to deserve this treatment.

But for everyone else, summer is going pretty well.

One of my favorite things about having this blog is that I catch ahold of the moments that would otherwise be forgotten. The real story of our lives is best captured in those small incidents, and sometimes I go back and read my own archives, just to relive it.

And having the opportunity to relive those moments also gives me the opportunity to retell them to the boys, and for Clay, who missed it the first time around. It's good for all of us, I think, to laugh together and retread the goofy past.

Today Tre was playing on the computer, one of his beloved mmrpog's. Now, a year ago I would have been horrified by mah baybee playing one of those games. I was pretty sure that was the equivalent of posting a banner ad reading "Pr3tty b0y 4 sale! Pervs plz apply!" But as it turns out, it is actually NOT the same thing. Of course, use logical precautions, actual results may vary, etc, etc. But Tre plays a handful of those games and today he was engrossed in one.

"I'm totally blowing up this guy," he announced.

"That's no way to make friends," I chided, "remember to USE YOUR WORDS."

"But, Mom!" he replied, laughing, "He won't tell me yes ma'am!"

And that, right there, is why I blog.

Strawberries and chipmunks

This weekend I heard some talk show guy on the radio, asking people to call in and tell about the best advice their dads ever gave them. It was schmalzy, sure, but very sweet too. I heard grown men call in and cry about how their dads had helped to guide them. And then there was the guy who said his dad's best advice was, "Never put prune juice in your pancakes. It's not polite to eat and run."

Yeeessss. Thank you.
It got me thinking, though, about my own dad. He's given me plenty of good advice along the years, from the practical - "Never cut toward yourself" to the practical but also philosophical - "You just can't stack wood well if you're sitting down."
That right there is just plain truth.
I thought about it for a while, what WAS the best advice Dad ever gave me? And then I remembered.
When I was twenty I decided to solve some problems in my life by taking the whole deal and upending it. And to move from Las Cruces, NM, to Denver. That was a good choice, eventually, because here we are. But at the time, I had taken my life plan and scrambled it, but good. It SEEMED like a good idea at the time.
However, after a summer of boxing up my stuff and hauling it to Denver, only to discover that deciding to move and get a job and find an apartment was far easier than actually DOING all that, my grand plan was starting to look a little tattered. I had originally planned to live north of Denver, Fort Collins-ish, and had spent many many days running around the small communities around there, trying in vain to get someone to hire me.
No one wanted to hire me.
After a few weeks of that, I had to go back to New Mexico to wrap up a few loose ends. I stayed with my parents for a few days, where I'm sure I was a DELIGHTFUL house guest, given to snapping, "I don't KNOW, OK? Are you HAPPY?" if they asked anything about my new wonderful life in the frozen north. And then I would storm out of the room. 
Dad had to go up into the mountains to cut some firewood for the winter (seriously. They lived in the middle of nowhere. In the 1800s. Sometimes the well would go dry, and I am NOT EVEN EXAGGERATING), and he invited me along. I graciously informed him that I would join him, except in the actual WORK portion of the trip, and we were off.
Now, I hated the small town Mom and Dad lived in at the time. I had gone to middle and high school there, and those were...not the best years of my life. But as we drove up into the tall pines that grew up north, I was surprised to see how beautiful the land was. How had I missed that?
Dad pulled off the highway, onto one of the dusty, deeply rutted dirt roads that led to his latest, greatest place to cut firewood. When we parked, I hopped out and wandered away as he fired up the chainsaw and set to work. There was a small stream, and as I followed it I found tiny wild strawberries growing on its banks. I collected handfuls of the berries, little thimbles of grainy sweetness. I sat and listened to the pines whispering high above me and felt the sun, perforating the shade as is shot through gaps in the branches. I spent a LOT of my childhood wandering around the woods, and that day felt more like coming home than it had when I dropped my bags inside the door of my parents' home. I had always been sure that some great truth waited out there. Also a unicorn. And while I have yet to fine either, it was good to be back in the realm of possibility.
When Dad was done with the wood, he wanted to stop by a fishing hole. As he fished, I sat and looked around. About five feet away from me, a chipmunk poked its head out of a hole in the ground. I sat still, not wanting to scare it away. It peered at me, its eyes bright black, and crept closer. I knew better than this, but I held out a hand. It approached cautiously, and sniffed my fingers. After a moment of that, it let me stroke the springy striped hair on its back. 
"Dad," I breathed. He turned and watched, as I pet the wild chipmunk. 
A lifetime of longing to cuddle and love all the wild things in the woods, finally answered. 
Eventually the chipmunk scuttled back into its hole, and Dad and I left.
As I was packing up to head back - er - home, except I was sort of technically homeless, Dad helped me carry bags to the car. 
"Hey," he said, "as you go figure everything out, try to remember something." I waited for it, sure he was going to tell me to change the oil on my car. "Remember to stop for the strawberries and chipmunks, ok?"

The problems I faced that day are long solved, and life has managed to hand me increasingly more complex riddles. But I try to remember still, to stop and look around me, for strawberries and chipmunks.


When I rolled into the Social Security Office this morning with my entourage of grubby boys, one of the security officers raise an eyebrow at me.

"Back again?"

"Yep. But this is IT!"

"You sure?" He was grinning at us now.

"Er...I really hope so?" I was loathe to display any hubris this close to the goal.

"That wasn't very confident. DO YOU BELIEVE IT?"


We took our number and sat down. It must have been the sheer power of my belief, because I was called to a window in twelve minutes. I found myself face to face with the last woman I talked to yesterday. 

"Here's the applications," I slid them through the window gap, "and the OFFICIAL LOOKING court documents, and the kids' ID, in the form of immunization records WITH stamps from the doctor's office to they exist."

She shuffled and frowned, as per SSO guidelines. She peered at me.

"Didn't I talk to you yesterday?" I nodded back brightly. Such is my indomitable spirit.

And this is the part I can't quite believe.

She read the applications, type, type, typed on her computer for a few minutes, then ran a pen stroke through each application, handed ALL the paperwork back to me, asked me to sign three papers, and said,

"Ok, you're done. You should have the new cards in the next ten days or so."

I stared at her, and at the papers in my hand, a little stunned that after ALL THAT they didn't even want to KEEP THE FLIPPING PAPERWORK, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Then I remembered myself, and said, "THANK YOU. If it weren't against the rules, I think I might KISS you."

I turned to go, and the security guard caught my eye. 


I raise both arms and shouted across the room, "TOUCHDOWN!"

And even the security guards cheered and clapped. The boys and I exchanged high fives, and we LEFT. AMEN.

Immovable object? Meet Kira.

Remember how Clay adopted the boys back in November? Well, I don't know if I mentioned it, but he took care of ALL the paperwork for that. I'm pretty sure this feat should come with an honorary law degree. Lord, the files. 

Well, after the adoption and the new birth certificates, and notifying the school district, the next step in getting their names changed with all the relevant authorities is to get their names changed with the social security administration. And since Clay got the rest of it done with little help on my part, save for the occasional  sympathetic murmuring, and since I have my days free (HA! HA HA! and also SOB! it appears summer STILL doesn't work like that), I took charge of this task.

And now is the point in my life when I ponder my lack of wisdom. 

So last week I went to the SOCIAL SECURITY OFFICE for the FIRST time. One, ONE trips to the SSO, AH HAHAHAHAHA! I had a lovely blue file folder, with all the relevant documents inside, and then some. I took my number, set the boys down with their portable drugs DS's, and waited for my number to be called.

 As I waited (waited, waited, waited), I observed a man COMPLETELY LOSING HIS MIND at the nice lady behind the glass. He screamed and frothed and eventually scooped up his papers and stomped out. I watched him go, tsk-ing to myself. Losing one's mind gets one nowhere in these places. It behooves one to strive to retain just one speck more dignity than they have obstacles. Aaaaand then it was my turn.

I explained the situation, slid tidy bundles of paper through the gap in the bullet-proof glass, and stood there primly, awaiting the woman's responses. It was all there, I KNEW it was all there, because Clay had assembled the packet, and he is the paperwork genius. The woman leafed through the papers, frowned, leafed, frowned, flipped back to the first page, frowned. This went on for some time. I looked around, observing the many layers of bulletproof glass, the signs that read, "NO PHOTOS ON OR AROUND THE GROUNDS," and "NO WEAPONS OF ANY KIND ALLOWED," this one with helpful pictures of the disallowed items. I was thinking, with a small rebellious thrill, of the small swiss army knife in my purse, when she interrupted my reverie.

"You need ID. For the kids."

Erm, I thought. I am their mother. I can point to them. See that one? He bit me every single time he nursed. And that one wasn't potty trained until he was almost four. Seriously. And him? He spent a large part of his second year of life sitting on the edge of the playground for hitting. How's that for identification? Because they don't have driver's licenses JUST YET.

"And what exactly would work for ID?" I asked politely.

Apparently, immunization records are identification for children. Now you know. 

So I called the pediatrician's office, and a few days later I was back, clutching the new and improved packet! Yay! I was very hopeful as I waited (waited, waited, waited).

This time it was a very jolly looking man I spoke to. He shuffled through the pages. Shuffled. Frowned. Shuffled. Honestly, do they take a class in the shuffle-and-frown technique?

"Now, see these?" he pushed the adoption paperwork back through the gap at me, "see how that portion is written in by hand? It just doesn't LOOK official."

"Yeeesss," I said, "but it has been notarized. And signed by a judge. So it IS official."

"But - and I'm not saying you did this - how do my superiors know that you didn't just write that in there?"

"Er - because it would have been a blank, signed, notarized notice of final adoption. And I don't think they DO that, see?"

We looked at each other in silence for a few moments. Sadly, he does this for a living, and I broke first.

"What do I need to get?"

I needed to go back to the court house to get an "OFFICIAL LOOKING" document to verify the accuracy of the "NOT OFFICIAL LOOKING" yet totally legal notices of final adoption.  I smiled, I thanked him, I turned on my heel and marched out, calling to my charges, "Let's go, gentlemen!" They sighed and trudged after me, their wee spirits already dimmed by the heavy pull of the federal government at work.

"Are we done?" Max asked. Oh no, my dear. No. And that was TWO! TWO visits to the SSO! AH HAHAHAHAHA!

We drove to the court house, where I got to see a woman being arrested while she said, "What? I mean, I knew I had a warrant out in Aurora, but I didn't think I had one in ARAPAHOE too!" I wonder how often that convinces the arresting officer to drop the handcuffs. "Oh, you didn't think you were wanted in this county? Well NEVER MIND!" The boys were busy playing their DS's and I thought the poor woman's day was going poorly enough without me elbowing them and hissing, "DUDE! Check out the PRISONER!" So they missed it. 

I went to the court clerk's office (waited, waited, waited), and was sent to the office of the judge who had presided over the adoption. (Is this boring, reading about it like this? Because when I was marching from office to office, with the little hairs sticking to the back of my neck with sweat, three boys trailing behind me like ill tempered, squabbling ducks, it was SO MUCH FUN, and I'm not sure that's coming through exactly.) A very nice court clerk helped me out there, muttering all the while about how they ALWAYS hand write that information, and she CANNOT IMAGINE what their problem is over at Social Security. She made VERY OFFICIAL looking documents to replace the NOT SO OFFICIAL LOOKING ones, we kissed her feet, and pointed our hopeful noses back to the SSO. When we pulled up in front of the office, Max sighed, "Oh, here we are! Home again!"

I had an ticket to get me to the front of the line, so it was a mere...twenty minutes before I was sitting in front of a new woman, sliding my packets of paper, smiling relentlessly. Frown. Shuffle. Frown.

"See how OFFICIAL those notices of final adoption are?" I said hopefully. 

"Yes." Frown. "But..." THIS, I thought, THIS MOMENT RIGHT NOW is why they don't want weapons in here. "...but these immunization records."

They need a stamp. A special stamp from the doctor's office, because the SIGNATURE? That I was repeatedly told was VERY IMPORTANT? Is nowhere near as important as the STAMP, SO HELP ME. And that was THREE! THREE visits to the SSO! AH HAHAHAHAHAHA!

As I marched back to the exit, barking, "let's GO, gentlemen," at the boys, Tre deduced from my scowl that we were still not done.

"WHAT do they need NOW? Our last Subway receipt? The green stuff from underneath Raphi's toenails? A week's worth of unwashed underwear? Hair from our dog? WHAT?" 

At least the day's efforts ended with a laugh.

So tomorrow I shall GO to the pediatrician's office, and then BACK to the SSO, THANK GOODNESS gas is so CHEAP RIGHT NOW! We spent enough time in the van today to listen to TWO THIRDS of James and the Giant Peach, so as you can IMAGINE, I am thrilled to do MORE DRIVING. Al Gore can send me nasty emails all he wants, I SHALL OVERCOME.