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November 2009
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The Question of the Unexpected Guest

This afternoon I was making fudge. This was a challenge, as Sophia simply Would Not be put down today. Dad had taken the boys away for an adventure (one that included both candle making AND poking a fire - I don't ask), so it was just me and Princess Pick-Me-Up.

There I was, with a baby slung on my hip, my left breast stippled with tiny fingerprints in marshmallow cream, and every surface in my kitchen covered with cooking detritus (this does not require quite as much detritus as you might think).

With the boys gone the house was far too quiet, so I turned on the TV for background noise, and I ended up half listening to a cooking show. The host was giving suggestions for appetizers and drinks that you could throw together in a hurry for those unexpected guests.

Unexpected guests, I mused. Who ARE these fabled unexpected guests?

Seriously, it seems like every Holiday Hospitality article I have ever read has tips for dealing with these people. WHO ARE THEY? And what sort of power do they wield, that people feel obligated to bust out a full buffet for them when they do drop in randomly? If a friend of mine showed up, unannounced, I wouldn't feel guilty that I hadn't lit candles before I answered the door. I'd say, "OH, hey! Come on in. Just sort of...kick those toys to the side. Would you like and mango? Because I have some stuck to my shirt, right here." I might offer to make some tea (I find most occasions can only be improved by tea). But for the most part, hey, this is my life. If you want the pretty picture version of it, let me know you're coming. Even then, no guarantees, am I right, Amy?

But I don't find that to be a problem, because I seriously cannot remember the last time I had unexpected visitors. It seems to happen with maddening regularity in the world of magazine writers and TV hosts, but IT NEVER HAPPENS TO ME.

Do the Unexpected Guests hate me? Am I the only one they're not terrorizing with their hospitality spot-checks? Am I UNPOPULAR? Do they visit everyone except me?

These are the questions that would keep me up at night if I weren't currently so sleep deprived that I doze through red lights.

A Curious Case Indeed.

Last night Clay and I settled in to watch a movie - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - while Sophia played on the floor in front of us. The boys were asleep (or at least in bed, which is all we really can ask for), and we figured at some point in the next hour or two the girl would go to sleep too.

Well, we watched the movie (and watched and watched and watched - how did I miss the fact that that movie is seventeen and a half hours long?), and Sophia busied herself with the task of not going to sleep. As she got more tired, she got more active, until she was a squirming, squinching bundle of cranky perpetual motion. She actually outlasted Benjamin Button, whom I was starting to think was not only curious but also immortal. I held her, Clay held her, we set her down, we picked her up. She would. not. sleep.

Eventually she worked herself into such a state that she debuted a whole new cry for us. I have never heard Sophia make such a sound, and she is the baby who burst into tears once because her father burped too loud for her liking. But last night she was screech/wailing this noise that didn't seem quite human.

She was so upset and so awake that by about one in the morning I was starting to wonder if there wasn't something seriously wrong with her. I started playing nightmare scenarios in my head. I'd had that headache a few days before, did I somehow drop one of the Excedrin I took and not notice? Had she eaten one and now she was going into liver failure and her heart was about to burst from caffeine poisoning? (How, exactly, I would drop a pill and not notice it was Not The Point. Jeez.)

I was seriously starting to consider taking her to the emergency room, when she finally fell asleep a little after 2 AM. I fussed over her for a while, finally deciding that she would probably not be breathing normally and that her heart rate would probably be a little fast if she were dying from an Excedrin overdose. Clay and I stumbled to our bed and passed out cold.

This morning we shuffled into church, looking a little like zombies, and sat down. As I sat there, trying to blink away the gritty feeling in my eyes, Sophia grabbed my finger and stuck it in her mouth and BIT.

And there it was, the tiny scalloped edge of a brand-new tooth.

She was TEETHING. I had nearly taken my fourth child to the emergency room because she was TEETHING.

Why did I think I was capable of this motherhood thing, again?

Well, although it may not seem like it, I am an experienced mother. And now, at 12:54 in the morning, as Sophia sits on my lap and swats at the keyboard and grouses, I am able to look at this with the perspective that comes from having been there. And my experienced, objective assessment of the situation is simple.

This new tooth totally broke my baby and now I will never sleep again as long as I live. Which won't be long.

Wait...I think...YES. She just dozed off. THE BABY IS ASLEEP. Aaaand now, instead of a point, you get an end.

Good night!

8 month performance review from Sophia

Through the magic of the internet, I am pleased to present the following evaluation from Sophia. I would explain how that works, but it's complicated. Enjoy.

I would like to say that the efforts of my support staff here has been adequate, but I'm afraid there is simply too much room for improvement. Let's jump right in, shall we?

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I seem to be hampered in getting my demands met by a lack of mouth-sounds that the big people understand. So far I have mastered the sound "mmmmm," which means, "please put that in my mouth." The big people always misunderstand that and eat their own food without sharing. Jerks. And I can also make the sound "mama," which makes the woman squeal and hug me and get very pleased with herself. I do not understand the woman. These sounds, although stellar, do not seem to be enough to cause my minions to obey. It is SO HARD to train decent minions these days.

First of all, I must insist that you STOP IT with the car seat. You people run around, gathering up things, shove shoes on my feet, and scoop me up and head for the door. Everything seems promising, but then you shove me in that THING and strap me down like a common criminal. I have done my best to make my feelings known on this by screaming until paint peels off the walls, but you persist. I shall be forced to use the wide blue eyes and giant tears, complete with quivering chin, if you don't stop. You have been warned.

Also, I have decided that I do not care AT ALL for this "NO" word. I have discerned what you mean by this diabolical "NO" and it's not nice at all. I'm pretty sure you mean "NO, I will not let you flip yourself over the side of the changing table, because we know that it is THE MOST FUN EVER and we want to save it for ourselves. That is why we're always trying to make you sleep, so we can flip ourselves over the side of your changing table and laugh and laugh and laugh and eat mmmm things. Then we stand up in your high chair and fling ourselves head-first at the floor. It is AWESOME."

And while we're discussing your selfishness, what is the point of you having all those toes if I'm not allowed to bite even one? You have SEVERAL. I have already chewed all my own. Could you just TRY to be reasonable?

But of course, not everything is disappointing. I appreciate the efforts you do make. The man seems to know his place, especially on those rare occasions when I succumb to the evil of sleep.


The boys are completely awesome. They know how to play.

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They will lie down and allow me to pummel them and even laugh as hard as I do. These are minions that truly understand their role in the world.

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And then there's the "where's Sophia?" game. That is THE BEST.

Where IS Sophia?

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All in all, I'm willing to give you people another chance. Give it your best effort, and we'll revisit these issues soon.

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Now go wash my socks.

This is how I know he speaks the truth

"Clayyyyy," I whined in that ever-so-alluring pitiful way I have, "my head huuuuuurts." I buried my face in his chest, graciously allowing him to serve as a light block for my eyes. He wrapped his arms around me.

"Aww, I'm sorry," he said.

"I think my HEAD is BROKEN."

"That's too bad."

"I should get a NEW HEAD."

"But I love this one."

"I could get a YOUNGER one."

"I don't want a younger one."

"I could get a PRETTIER one."

"No such thing."

I thought a moment.


He was silent for one long beat.

" you."

My prayer for you

Yesterday morning I arrived late to drop the kids off at Monday school. As I was unstrapping Sophia from her car seat, the boys rushed to collect their backpacks from the back of the van. And then Tre pulled the back hatch shut and I heard it thunk as the corner of the door met Raphael's head. The sound of the blow was a tone that immediately made me think that is going to bleed.

And then Raphael was at my side, leaning in against me, screeching and rigid, wild with rage and pain. The first drops of blood trickled a pathway through his hair, the red roundness of them looking almost pearlescent against the mahogany brown. I put one hand on him, but my other hand had to stay on Sophia, still half-tangled in her straps. Above Raphael's head I saw Tre, his face squeezed shut as he berated himself. The wind blew into the van, so cold that Sophia gasped and I held onto her with one hand, stroked Raphael's back with the other, and tried to find Tre's eyes with my own. There is just too much potential for loss in this moment, I thought, and in the middle of a mundane Monday morning my heart cracked again.

Raphael was okay, as it turns out. He had a cut, little more than a quarter of an inch long, nestled in the wilds of his hair. It stopped bleeding quickly and he was able to join his first class already in progress. I grabbed Tre as he turned to leave, put an unauthorized arm around his shoulders in front of his friends and whispered in his ear, "It was an accident. Everyone knows you didn't mean to hurt him. I love you." He nodded a tiny, swift nod and stealth-hugged me back and walked away.

I thought of a day when I was a little younger than Tre and I threw a rock at my older brother, Josh. I don't know why exactly. I was bored? Angry? Wanted him to notice me? Was possessed by one of those random, bizarre, homicidal impulses that suddenly overtake otherwise normal children? I don't know, but I hit him squarely in the back of the head. He clapped his hand to his head and dropped to his knees. I looked away and when I looked back, the back of his shirt was soaked in blood and I thought I killed him.

Poets and drunks both are fond of saying things like "it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all." I believe such nonsense can only be said by someone who is somehow distanced from that moment when you look at someone more dear to you than your own breath and can feel the wind sweep between you and the realization hits: I could lose you.

Tonight I am thinking about a baby, a tiny boy I long to meet someday. At twenty three weeks gestation every day is a fight for his life. His parents have slogged through hell to keep him alive this long and they are weary and heartsick and scared. It is not reasonable, all that they've been through. It is unimaginable that today they have no promise of tomorrow with him. It is just not okay.

But I am also thinking of some other parents I know. Their son, twenty-seven years old, recently found his way out of a lifetime of mental illness and addiction. He found the help and the right prescriptions and has climbed his way back into the light for the first time in years. I was at a party with his parents and whenever I walked by either one of them, I heard them talking about their son.
"He is living on his own," his dad said. "He was the one who found the clinic and set up the appointment. I didn't even KNOW about it until he asked me to drive him there," said his mom. They both repeated and repeated the signs of hope, ran them through their fingers like rosary beads, breathed them like they were the first air in their lungs for decades.

And there it is, the only reason any of us can bear to love at all: hope.

Once my prayer would have been for safety, for all of us to hold our babies and be able to keep them whole and well. But I've come to see that we have not been given to that kind of world. I don't know why, but the quest for safe passage seems to be a futile one.

Instead my prayer - for me, for you, for us all - is for hope. Whatever the wind brings you, may it also bring you the hope you need to see you through.

A sad commentary on my values

The other day I was driving somewhere and I glanced in the rear-view mirror to see Raphael writing something in the condensation on the window.

Immediate digression: it has been AMAZINGLY cold here lately. The high today was something punishing like six degrees. There is condensation on on every window everywhere, frost on doors, and ice filling in all the spaces inbetween. Our front door froze shut this evening. The little boy from down the street stopped by to see if one of the boys could play, and I couldn't open the door. I stood there, yanking on it as hard as I could, thinking oh dear, I've had a stroke. But no, there was just a layer of ice, sealing me inside. Incidentally, Clay likes to sleep with the window open every night. Oh, but surely not THIS night, you're thinking, not when it's so cold? But I just heard him wrench the bedroom window open with a CRACK and mutter, "No frozen window's going to stop me."

And I'm still sleeping with him. THAT, my friends, is true love. /digression.

I get annoyed with the boys for writing on the windows all the time, because never once, in the entire history of our lives together, has a boy of mine looked at a window, all be-smeared and mucked up by grubby little fingers, and said, "Oh, my. What a mess. Let me just fetch the windex and restore the luster here!" No, they just add layer upon layer of smudge and grossness, until I find myself driving around in a van with windows that make the world look like a closeup of an impressionist paining. So at the next stoplight I turned around to snark at Raphael, and I read what he wrote.

"You jerk's," it said, in very tidy letters (Raphael has the handwriting of a scholar or a psychopath). He was chortling over his words with SUCH DELIGHT that I assumed it must be a message for his brothers, and he was concocting an elaborate plan for revealing it to them. I pondered for a moment all the reasons he should not have written this message. There was the mess on the window, as previously complained about. And then, naturally, there is the fact that it's not actually nice or constructive to go around calling people jerks. Where to start? What should I say? I know from experience that I only have about a two-sentence window of attention in any given lecture.

And so of course I led with the issue that was bothering me most, with the greatest urgency.

"Raphael Joseph," I said sternly, "you do NOT need an apostrophe in 'jerks.' It is neither a possessive nor a contraction."

He studied it for a moment, then nodded and rubbed out the apostrophe. The light changed and I drove on, far more content than I should have been.


A few months ago I got an email from one of my dearest friends. She was writing to invite me to join her and three other women in creating a new weight-loss blog. I immediately accepted, THRILLED to be included in the company of these women.

I was SO thrilled, in fact, that it took me a full week and a half to say to myself, "WAIT A MINUTE. Were they CALLING ME FAT?"

No, as a matter of fact, they were not. And even if they were, I'm still thrilled to be in their company. And so what I'm asking you to do today is come check us out. Five Full Plates is the name of the site, and it's funny and irreverent and totally NOT your average weight loss blog. For example, no one is actually trying to lose weight yet! Brilliant!

I have a post up today, and it's RATHER self-revelatory on the CRAZY front (seriously - you think you know how crazy I am? You have NO IDEA how crazy I am.), so pretty pretty please come and read and leave me comforting comments, and THEN you can enjoy all the other contributors. They are genius, I'm telling you.

It's not a competition, but everyone wins.

A new family moved in down the street recently. They have six kids, officially making us no longer the weirdy family on the block. (Actual conversation with neighbor this summer: Him - "Wow! ANOTHER baby! Are you DONE yet?" Me - "Whoa. Did you just ask me about my sex life? Because that seems...inappropriate somehow." Him - "NO NO NO, it's just that there are ways to AVOID HAVING BABIES, you know." Me - "Really? Do you have a pamphlet or something you would like to share?" Him - "...") So that was nice, handing off the baton of public scrutiny and angst over our family size. Welcome to the neighborhood!

But even nicer still is the fact that all six of them seem like really great kids. They range in age from 15 years to 10 months old, and all the boys threw themselves into the mess o' kids that plays out front. You know how playground dynamics are sort of mysterious and shifting? Well, I can say with almost certainty that these kids have only added good to the mess o' kids dynamics out front. They've also added football, which...*sigh*...okay. Fine. Why does an increase in the possibility of bodily harm = an increase in joy? WHY?

But one of my favorite things about this particular group of kids is that they are just as smitten with their 10-month-old sister as our boys are with Sophia. One day a few weeks after they arrived, it snowed. After hours of play in the snow, our boys and three or so of their boys trooped into the house for some hot chocolate. As I prepared it, they all gathered around Sophia in the living room. Everyone agreed she was cute, and then the comparisons began.

"You know, OUR baby can walk," one of their boys said casually.

"Huh," replied Max, "well, OUR baby can crawl BACKWARDS."

"OUR baby talks. She says Mama and Dada and bruver, which is brother, you know."

"Well, yeah," said Raphael, "but OUR baby can screech so loud it hurts your ears. For reals."

I listened from the kitchen, delighted by all of these scruffy-headed boys. There they were, looking like a pack of hoodlums and sounding like a pack of competitive mommies at the park.

The fact is that all of us with babies secretly believe we have the very best baby there is.

And we're all right.

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Especially us.