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September 2008
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November 2008

Drawing lines, part 1

A few weeks ago Max had a couple of friends over and Clay took the three boys out to shoot bb guns. They went to an area south of here, huge open land owned by the company Clay works for. They came home hours later, filthy, starving, and happy as so many free-range clams. I asked Clay what they'd been doing the whole time (because three hours of bb guns seemed unlikely).

"Oh, you know," he replied, "we walked around and found this little gully and threw sticks at each other and sword fought with weeds. Stuff."

Now, this didn't do too much to clarify my picture of exactly what had been so enthralling, but it was clear that they'd all had a great time. I suggested to Clay (not for the first time) that he may have married me for the playmates.

"Nah, I could tell I'm getting old," he said, "because years ago I would have been on my belly in the dirt, combat-crawling through the underbrush, setting up an ambush. I'm too tired for that sort of thing."

It got me thinking, about our kids' lives and how much more rigid their boundaries are. I often say that Clay grew up feral in the wilds of Wyoming. Other than the loving home, that's not far from the truth. When he was younger than Tre, he would take his .22 (!) and walk out of town, into the woods to shoot things. The main rule was: don't shoot toward town. When I was just a little older than Raphael, I would come home from school and go out in the back yard to my fire pit. I was somewhat obsessed with fire, so Dad dug me a pit in the back yard. The goal was to encourage me to build my fires there, instead of on the living room floor. I spent many hours hunkered down in that hole in the ground, burning anything I could find. This is how I know that the spongy stuff in the middle of dry corn stalks does not burn well.

In today's world, looking back on what Clay and I were allowed to do as kids makes me shake my head. SERIOUSLY? I can't imagine giving my kids that kind of freedom. That's simply nuts.

And yet.

Our kids live their lives on a small square of land, with an adult in earshot at all times. They wear helmets and pads and seatbelts and many layers of warnings always. And while I know that all the safety is good, that I'm grateful that Tre didn't go through the window in that car accident that could have easily killed at least two people, that having one of my boys die because they were riding their bike without a helmet and simply fell would be enragingly stupid and wrong, still I wonder what they've lost in exchange.

I remember being about eight or nine and climbing a tree. The branch I was standing on broke and I slid along the length of the trunk toward the ground below. My arms flailed, grasping for branches as they sailed past, and the rough bark yanked my shirt up, pulling it hard into my armpits, then flayed the skin on my side. I smacked hard into the dirt and crumpled into a ball and just lay there for a few minutes, fighting for air. When my breath returned, I stood up on shaky legs and looked up at the broken branch, about 15 feet above me. With one hand I explored the raw, weeping skin on my side while I looked at that tree and contemplated how much worse that fall could have been.

I remember that moment in crystal-clear images, because it was reality. I think there are lessons one can only learn from crossing that line from "safe" into "not."

Our kids aren't allowed anywhere near that line.

So maybe that's why I've been letting them start fires.

to be continued...

The other day I did an amazing thing. I walked by a perennially cluttered counter, noticed a roll of ribbon that was sitting there and I (are you ready for this?) TOOK IT DOWNSTAIRS. And put it in the drawer where it belongs. This may not SOUND amazing to you, but the fact is that the ribbon has been sitting there since Max's birthday.

In August.

So for two months I've been walking past that stupid ribbon, shuffling past it in a hollow-eyed stupor, wishing I were asleep and that food would die. But last week I passed a magical 16-weeks-pregnant line, and the cloud of misery and nausea was gently blown away by a benevolent wind. And lo, life was good again.

Now, at 17 weeks, I find myself able to do all sorts of things - not only tote ribbon downstairs, but carry on conversations, think thoughts all the way through near to their end, go an entire day without a nap, and even (glory be) eat food. Clay gets up in the mornings and fries himself two eggs and when he comes back into the bedroom on a fried-egg scented breeze, I don't even wish for death. Instead, I think, hmm eggs. That smells good.

But there is a dark side to the return of Eaty Kira, because the return of the appetite does not necessarily mean that good sense and reason came with it, as evidenced by the following conversation that I just had with my long-suffering husband.

"Uh oh." I just let it hang there in the air, begging a response, even though he KNEW what was coming next. Poor man. He is simply compelled to walk right into it.

"What's wrong?"

"I want something." To his credit, if this caused him to sigh heavily, he did so unobtrusively.

"What do you want?"

"I don't know." Pause. "What would taste good with cream cheese?"

"Um...a bagel?"


"Oh. Sorry."

Long pause.

"Banana bread. Cream cheese on banana bread."

"I just had some banana bread. With butter."

"This is SO not about you."

Lather, rinse, repeat. Seven thousand times a day. I want SOMETHING, and I'm not happy because I don't have it, but I'm not sure what it is. And my very lucky husband gets to hear me try to figure it out. All. The. Time.

For the record, toasted banana bread worked as a cream cheese delivery system, but a butter knife was even better.

This is just to say

That my sons

have renamed

their very

favorite part

which is kept

in their pants

and is now called


Forgive me

I should disapprove

but it's fun to say

and it makes me giggle.

(Deep apologies to William Carlos Williams. And his oodly-doodly.)

This afternoon I was driving somewhere and as I made my way through a parking lot I saw a mom and her little girl. The mom had clearly just finished work and was picking up her daughter at daycare. She leaned in, toward whatever it was the girl was saying. She held the child's hand and slowed her pace to match.

And the pace was rather slow, because the girl was wearing a pair of plastic dress-up shoes. They were pink, and the afternoon sun lit up the hollow heels, making them glow just exactly as they probably do in their small owner's mind. She took tiny, careful steps, because sparkly pink plastic shoes are not made for actually walking in.

I slowed to a crawl and watched them make their way to the car. I remember that relationship from one side, being the irrational little person with intense fashion views. That mother, though, knows a whole world that is opaque to me.

People keep telling me this baby fluttering under my belly button is a girl. Must be, they say, looking meaningfully at my troop of boys. I know, they know, we all know that this baby must only be whatever he or she already is. But the idea of a daughter, it seems to fit, doesn't it? Makes for a satisfying plot arc?

I do not know if I am hoping for a girl. That is the honest truth. There is so much about raising a daughter that I don't know. Questions of Barbie and when do you allow makeup and how would I teach her to respect herself in a world that venerates Paris Hilton? I know I gave my mother a special sort of stress during my teen years, and I'm not sure I'm up to that particular dose of karma.

But I suppose I've learned during my thirteen year tenure as mom that you never know what you can do until you have to do it.

And so I slow down to watch the mother and daughter, and wonder what it would be like to hold a princess' hand for once.

All I know for sure is that I'm glad it's not my decision. 

A note to myself: to be read Fall of 2009

Look, I know how wholesome and lovely the pumpkins look. How they fill your head with thoughts of warm cooking smells, nutmeg-scented goodness, and hearty stews. I know real cooks are always talking about how EASY it is to make your own pumpkin puree, how SIMPLE and FABULOUS it is and how much BETTER it tastes and how it will make you TALLER and possibly clean your kitchen baseboards, which we all know are the worst baseboards in the house, except possibly the ones in the boys' bathroom. Ew. 

And maybe not those last two things, either.

It's just not a good idea. It never ends well. You have to let the pumpkins go. As Clay rightly points out, the cans of pumpkin are something like a buck fifty. And you might have noticed that opening a can of pumpkin puree has never left your kitchen counters littered with tiny shreds of pumpkin rind, nor a bowl of slimy seeds and pumpkin guts (because GOD FORBID you fail to roast the seeds, what are you, a FALL HATING COMMUNIST?). Canned pumpkin has never consumed an entire afternoon, leaving you with a sink full of dishes and pumpkin strings in your hair. 

Look, remember the butternut squash? Remember how you would fall in love with it every year, just as the leaves started to turn? You can't really be blamed, entirely. All the cooking magazines and blogs you read are FILLED with impassioned odes to the wonders of the butternut squash, every autumn. Plus recipes. And you would rush ahead, stars in your eyes, to serve your loving family something wonderful of the butternut squash variety. Soups! Roasted squash with pasta! Stews! It didn't matter, they hated it all. You're not stupid. After enough quiet meals, where everyone pushed their food around on their plates, and made awkward, attempt-at-polite comments (for example, in Max's case, "If I have to eat this I will THROW UP RIGHT NOW, AND I MEAN IT."), you learned. You gave up on the mighty butternut. Except for the rolls. And the pie. And everyone likes the pie and they can just deal with the rolls, because you like them THAT MUCH.

My point is that you can learn from your mistakes, and it's time to learn from this one. I don't care if you do have three little pumpkins from the field trip to the farm last week. Make your children use them for the lamest little jack-o-lanterns ever. You, my dear, are DONE WITH THE PUMPKIN. Embrace the can.

Aw....shoot. Maybe just ONE more time...

No, I do not know why there were post-its in the bathroom.

Tonight Clay and I were watching the VP debate when we heard gales of laughter from downstairs. Seriously, the joy and glee wafting up from downstairs, it was as though our basement contained the entire anti-election season. Clay and I raised an eyebrow at each other, then returned our attention to the battle on screen. Sometimes I don't know what's wrong with us.

We didn't have to wait long to find out what was up, because a few minutes later Max came upstairs, damp and stringy-haired from the bath. He had yanked on his pajama bottoms, and was grinning.

"I got out of the bath? and I forgot my jammies? So I used this instead." He produced a...fig leaf of sorts, manufactured out of four yellow sticky notes, slapped it in place on the front of his pajamas, and dissolved into giggles again. Clay and I again exchanged looks, this time more of the "don't you DARE laugh" variety.

"Honey?" I ventured, "why didn't you just wrap your towel around yourself?"

"Because it was all wet and cold...and besides, THIS is funny!"

And for once, in an evening filled with impassioned statements, I could not argue.

Stinkin' kids

Sunday evening, around six o'clock, I was reminded that Max and Raphael wanted to bake something for the next day's baking contest at monday school. (Tre wanted to bake something too, but he was in Phoenix with my parents and I am sorry, but there are limits.) This news threw me into a tailspin of grump, because I was feeling queasy and I'm tired of feeling queasy, and the last thing I wanted to do was bake brownies. Blech.

Now, I love to bake, and I love my children, so you would think that baking with my children would be one long slow-motion montage with us laughing fondly at each other's cheek smudges of chocolate, me carefully steadying a small hand as it scoops-and-levels the flour, and my sons, gazing in wonder at the baked goods they've made, whilst I blink back tears of joy as I gaze at them.

That's not exactly how it works.

When I say "not exactly," what I mean is "not even close." I can't stand baking with the kids. I know that's a shameful thing to admit, but I'm all about keeping it real. Our kitchen is small, and they tend to stand right behind my elbow or plant their feet right behind mine. Between you and me, I suspect they're trying to kill me. Besides that, they're always touching stuff, and spilling things, and knocking glasses over. 

Okay, that last paragraph, right there? Was clearly written by a horrible, controlling woman, who watches her children with tendons standing out on her neck and a vein throbbing in her forehead. She mutters unkind things under her breath and then makes too-cheerful pronouncements in a too-chirpy voice. I am horrified.

And yet, the truth stands. I hate doing stuff in the kitchen with my lovely children. I just do.

Nonetheless, I bucked up and helped both Max and Raphael select a recipe and navigate their way through it, from the first dusting of spilled flour all the way through to a fragrant finished product. Blech. I did lots of lamaze breathing and finding of my happy place the whole time, and by the end I think they pretty much believed we had a good time. Clay was not in the slightest bit fooled, and sidled up to me and murmured in my ear, "sooo...are you okay?" 

I sent them to bed and spent a few satisfying minutes shoving things around in the kitchen before I relinquished clean up duty to Clay. He's better at it anyhow. I went somewhere else to be grumpy and queasy. I did it up right. Grump.

The next morning you would have thought the grumpiness at least would have dissipated like so much foul morning dew. You would be wrong. I managed to get the children breakfast, and pack them a lunch, all of this despite the fact that Tre was still in Phoenix (what, now I'm supposed to unload my OWN dishwasher? Like a SAVAGE?). As we headed out to the van, Max and Raphael each clutching their plate full of baked goods, Max turned to gaze at me with large, soulful eyes.

"Mom? THANK YOU for helping us bake this stuff and THANK YOU for packing lunches for us and...just THANK YOU because you do EVERYTHING FOR US." He leaned over and rested his head against my arm, a no-hands version of a hug, then turned and hopped into the van.

And I quietly died of shame.