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September 2010
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November 2010

Because cute pictures are the upside of living with a toddler

I think she looks like a little French girl in this outfit.

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You would never guess from this sweet face that this girl, when displeased, can make a noise that causes birds to fall out of the air, senseless and dazed.

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Her hair is getting pretty long in the back. It gets tangles, and I really need to go ahead and get it trimmed.

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But not just yet.

She's loud and lovely, intense and relentless. She hardly ever sleeps, and eats an entirely random diet.

She's our Sophia, and we couldn't do without her.

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The air still smells like burnt something

Today I was online, filling out an application to go back to college. I never finished my degree, did I ever tell you that? Yeah. I have something insane like 147 credit hours, yet no degree. That takes careful planning. I would be happy to sell you my ebook - "How to Enrich Your Local University and Never Ever Ever Obtain a Degree" for the bargain price of $12.99. If one million of you buy a copy, it will completely recoup the cost of my meandering and useless education. Nearly.

Oh, okay, here's the total sum of what would be in my imaginary ebook:

Step one - when you are within spitting distance of your degree, when it is two easy semesters away, decide on a total whim to move to another state. When your parents protest and froth at the mouth, wave away their concerns because WHAT COULD THEY KNOW ANYHOW? They only have - what? - four degrees between them. THEY COULDN'T POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND.

Step two - after you've moved, spent a year establishing residency, come to terms with the many many many lost credit hours from your transfer, and retaken classes that thrill you to your core, like ENGLISH 101, LORD HAVE MERCY, decide to change your degree.

Step three - then, change your minor. Pick one you hate and will never never finish. Hate it. Resist taking classes that will actually help you finish it. Because you hate it. 

Step four - take classes like yoga. Because you can. And it has nothing to do with your hated minor.

Step five - take twelve years off, because your second child was just born and you can't imagine being busier than you are right now. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA *wheeze* HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA! 

There you go! That's exactly how to get nowhere, fast. Actually, nowhere, slowly.

Where was I?

Right, so I was filling out an application to go back to college. And in the middle of it, I tried to make myself a cup of tea. I say "tried" because what I actually did was get out a clean mug, drop a tea bag in it, and then turn on the burner BEHIND the one I meant to turn on. So instead of heating the kettle full of water, I turned a blazing heat on underneath a cast iron pan with the buttery residue from Clay's breakfast mushrooms.

Do you know what blazing heat does to buttery mushroom residue? It produces an AMAZING amount of smoke. While I was preoccupied with my application, the pan was producing great billowing clouds of smoke. I noticed just in time to race around and open all the windows so the whole neighborhood could hear our smoke alarms shrieking.

The boys stared through the clouds of smoke as I frantically waved a towel at the nearest smoke alarm and muttered darkly about husbands who are so obsessed with safety and fire codes that they positively STUD the house with smoke alarms AND wire them all together so they can all go off in piercing unison. Sophia knit her tiny brows and seemed to be considering a coup, so someone with sense could be in charge of the house at last.

When it was more or less over, the alarms were mercifully silent, and the air was back to mostly translucent, I looked over at the computer, quietly humming away, with my application glowing at me. I can't decide if my inability to safely produce a cup of tea means that application is a very bad idea...or even more important than I thought.

The power of the robo-call

I answered the phone today and simultaneously realized that it was a political robo-call, and that Sophia had a crayon in her hand and was remaking my white kitchen cupboards in orange. Rather than take the time to hang up, I pinched the phone between my ear and shoulder, and made a grab for the wee fluffy graffiti artist. I got her by one wrist, but the other was free and flailing, marking up the world in an urgent passion for orange.

So the upshot of that was that during the struggle I got to listen to the entire recording, which was earnest and heartfelt, and urged me to vote in this election because if we don't all rise to the occasion, the country will surely fall to the forces of evil and cats will lie down with dogs and...

I don't know. I didn't fully follow it all.

Of course, it was irritating to listen to, but what was even more irritating was that in the middle of it, I could hear another call trying to get through. I became convinced it was my mom on the other line, trying to deliver some very important news that we've all been waiting on pins and needles for. But when I finally got off the line and called my voicemail to find out what the other call was? IT WAS ANOTHER POLITICAL CALL.

This time it was a candidate for US Senate, calling personally (if you can call a recorded message a personal call) to urge me to ignore the many misleading statements of his opponant and cast a vote for him! A vote for goodness! A vote for unicorns and fluffy kittens!

I erased the message and hung up, disgusted. Seriously, are people that swayed by the political robo-call? Is our nation filled with dimly lit voters, sitting by their phones, hoping vaguely that someone will call and tell them what to do?

But as I thought about it, I realized that I may be thinking about this all wrong. After all, these calls are produced by People Who Know. Lots of money goes into these things, and so they surely must be worth it, am I right? And if that's all it takes to change minds, turn hearts, and cause action, I need to invest in a few such calls myself.

Just imagine: the phone rings. "Hello?" And on the other line a DEEPLY SINCERE VOICE intones, "Dear parents of the neighborhood gang of little ruffians, We all know how much you value your children. It's clear how precious they are to you, by the way they run positively free, with no oversight, all hours of the day and night. Why, children as young as THREE are trundling around there unsupervised, which is clearly a blow for freedom and liberty everywhere. However, if someone doesn't stop them from throwing bricks into the street, measures will have to be taken. Because we care, because we adore your little gang members in training so much, we might be overcome with the need to give them all puppies. After all, children who pitch bricks are children who deserve at least one incontinent pet each. Paid for by the citizens who think you should parent your dang children occasionally, just to see how it feels."

I mean, can't you just FEEL IT? Or maybe this one:

"Dear Clay, You wife loves you. And in these trying times, isn't it comforting to know that someone is there for you, someone has your back? But I have to warn you - there are forces in this nation that seek to destroy your wife, your very own helpmeet. I know you would never leave her vulnerable to such an attack, and so I'm begging you. When you get up in the morning and remove your space heater-like presence from the bed, close the stinking window. Because believe me when I tell you, you may not feel the cold, but you will feel a cold shoulder. Paid for by your wife, who just wants to sleep in above-zero temperatures."

Or here's the one I should really save my pennies for:

"Dear Sophia, Oh my GOD. GO TO SLEEP. I am ready to LEAP OFF A TALL BUILDING. Paid for by your mama, who loves you very much and would be able to demonstrate that better on more than an hour of unbroken sleep every night."

See, I feel better already! Tell me what your robo-call would say! I think we're on the road to finally setting this country right, here.

Let there be light

I was at church today, and I did not want to be there. Our priest is doing a series about how Christians need to be active in the political sphere, and America as a Christian nation...blah. I don't know. Christian political activism just doesn't sit right with me. It seems to start out with good intentions, but it ends up being about "our team" winning. Which is neither Christian nor good politics.

Anyhow, I was weary from trying not to argue in my head, and I looked away, at the window. There is a wall of windows at the front of the sanctuary, and they look out on a magnificent view of the mountains. However, the blinds were drawn, because behind us sits a man whose eyes hurt when faced with a wall of brilliant Colorado sky. It is wrong, it is simply wrong to begrudge someone such a small comfort as drawing the blinds on a bright Sunday morning. And yet, as I stared at the blank pleated beige, I itched to pull them back and see the sky.

That itch, that anxious desire to do something, sparked a memory that I haven't thought about in years. I sat there, in church, leaning against the warm side of my husband, and in my mind I travelled years and miles away to my seventh grade classroom.

Seventh grade was - what? Awful, naturally. Seventh grade simply is. But I was also the only white girl in a Catholic mission school on an Indian reservation. My dad was the English teacher. I wasn't even Catholic. Even my teacher hated me, and that's not an adolescent self-absorbed sense of persecution. Everyone hated me. Except, of course, my dad. But having him there only made it worse, because neither of us could change anything, so he just had to witness my misery, making it harder to pretend it wasn't happening.

The classroom was in an old building, part of the original mission, so it must have been about a hundred years old, now that I think about it. It was really quite beautiful, with glowing honey colored wood floors and thick adobe walls. One wall had a wide bank of iron rimmed windows. They were old and drafty, of course, but lovely. However, someone had painted over the lower half of them, erasing the outside world with a thick coat of tan.

The windows made me crazy. I sat at my desk and stared out at the sky, which is absolutely colorless in my memory, and it melted into this wall of paint. Why would you paint a window? Who could have suffocated the sky like that? Day after day I sat there and stared, positively hungry for some light to leak through.

One day I was standing by a window, trying to peer over the paint, when I noticed a tiny flake coming away from the glass. I reached for it, and it fell away under my fingertip.

I tested the edge of the new hole with my nail, and soon another flake pulled free. It fluttered down and landed on the floor by my shoe. I shot a look at my tormentor teacher, and set to work in earnest. Sharp shards of paint cut into the skin under my fingernails, but I was a child on a mission. Within minutes I had cleared a patch the size of a plate, and I stood in a confetti litter of paint.

Of course, then I was noticed. I don't even remember what my punishment was, only that I was in big, big trouble.

And I was absolutely certain it was worth it.

I thought about that moment today, that bright hole in the paint. It stayed there for the rest of the year. For all I know, it's there still. Silly as it may seem, I am still proud.

I indulged in a moment of self-reflection there, in church, facing another wall of blanked-out windows. Usually when I think about myself, it is in order to reproach. There is fertile opportunity for reproach. But today I was pleased to think that the stubborn, silent little girl with flakes of paint under her fingernails lives in me still.  

It has been a hard year. Death and grief and loss and harsh blessings. And mono, for heaven's sake. Truth be known, I am tired and heartsore.

But I recognize this itch I feel. I will not always sit and let my vision be blocked.

There will be light.




Thanks to everyone who weighed in on my last post. I was simply blown away by your wisdom and wit and thoughtfulness. I still don't know exactly how to proceed, but I feel better, and I thank you all.

If you don't know what to do, ask your friends inside the computer, right?

This evening, after dinner, Clay had a conference call. He insisted he could just hide in the bedroom, but have I mentioned the tiny little dollness of our house? And the loudness of our children? So after dinner I hauled the four of them off to the library, so Clay could enjoy the particular peace of an empty house.

Besides, the library is awesome.

Being at the library these days makes me feel like the nucleus of an especially active and atypical atom. All the kids take off in different directions - Tre was off upstairs, looking for information on Colorado history for an extra credit assignment that he hopes will haul him out of a deep and dull social studies hole. Max headed for the help desk to get himself signed up for a class. Raphael pinballed around the DVDs and the computers and the books and the whatever. Sophia took a deep breath and set to the ENDLESS and THANKLESS task of dismantling. Everything.

At one point I passed a display of books under a sign: "Hispanic Heritage Month!" Which yes, apparently it is. I looked it up, though, and it's not October. It's September 15 to October 15. Just to be difficult, I suppose.

So it's almost over anyhow, and I brushed right past that display and wilfully looked the other way.

The boys, they are half Mexican. Their biological father preferred (prefers?) "Mexican," not "Hispanic" or "Chicano" or any of the other terms that could describe him, ethnically. Both his parents were originally from Mexico, a point of fierce and complicated pride for him. While he spoke with great fervency about how important it was to him to be Mexican and to teach the boys Spanish, he also explained every negative trait with a shrug and "well, that's how Mexicans do things."

So when we were dating and I discovered he was driving around with a suspended license because of a failure to maintain car insurance - whatever. It's the Mexican way. When our marriage was disintegrating spectacularly and I stood in a parking lot one night, enraged at his lies and failures and deceit, he dropped these words on me and walked away - "I tried, okay? I tried. But it turns out I'm just a f***ing [Mexican]."

It infuriated me, and I swore I wouldn't let him infect my sons with that sort of self loathing.

Nine years later, it occurs to me that I may have saved them from his definition of Mexican, but I haven't really replaced it with anything else. As a matter of fact, I've avoided the issue as much as possible. I don't know what to say, or how to say it. The boys have had some half-hearted instruction in Spanish, and whenever we hear someone spout an ignorant stereotype about Mexicans, I tell the boys crisply, "Well, let's see. YOU are Mexican. Are YOU lazy? Then is that a true thing to say?"

To be honest, in a way, it seems arrogant for me to think I can introduce my children effectively to a culture that isn't my own. What am I, the great white educator?

Then again, that sounds a bit like an excuse, because I resent that this is one more problem left in my hands by a man who couldn't pull up his big-boy pants and do his own damn job.

Can you tell I'm conflicted on the issue? Can you tell I'd rather just close my eyes and say LALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU and wait for October 16 to come and the whole thought to just die down again?

I'd like to know what you think. What is my responsibility here? Do you have any brilliant ideas about how I can accomplish...whatever it is that I'm supposed to do? I would love to hear what you have to say, and yet I have to tell you that I reserve the right to discount any of it.

I am difficult. Sorry.


Just the facts

Far be it from me - FAR BE IT - to perpetuate tired old gender stereotypes. I would hate to be responsible for that sort of crass generalization.

So instead, let me just say that today, while one of Sophia's parents was out, running errands, the other was home with her. And in an attempt to keep her warm in the Fall chill that suddenly and finally arrived, Sophia was dressed like this:

Continue reading "Just the facts" »

Love marks you as its own

This afternoon I climbed into Clay's work van so we could go run an errand. Just the two of us, because my dad was watching the kids, which totally passes for a date around here. As I settled into the seat, I looked down and saw a CO2 cartridge from Tre's pellet gun. It was on the floor, where it could rattle against the driver's seat every time the van went over a bump.

I laughed because it wasn't even Clay's own car - it was his work vehicle, which he usually doesn't drive home. But such are the ways of the children - evidence of their lives and loves spill over into every corner of your world.

But it isn't just children, I thought, because here I am, sitting in my husband's work van, with dog hair on my skirt. Yes, I just put Carmi, our eminently ridiculous dog, on the same list of "those I love" with my children and my husband.

I don't think anyone we love can brush past us without leaving marks behind. All day today my heart has resonated with the achingly perfect writing of a dearly loved friend. Yesterday I walked around all morning with a perfect tiny hand print left by Sophia on my knee in the medium of yogurt.

From the ring on my finger to the stretch marks that are draped over the curve of my belly, I am marked. If you look closely, you can see that I am blessed with more love than I could possibly deserve.

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Happy Love Thursday. May love leave its marks on you.

Some kinds of help

Okay, so y'all know about how we have roughly one million children, right? Four here, in the house. Whatever. And that might seem like a lot of kids to some of you, but what you should also understand is that we live in a shoe.

No, no, a shoebox. A preshus, pretty little shoebox. Roughly 1500 square feeeeet of preshusness. I love my house, don't get me wrong. But living here is sort of like living on a boat. You keep the possessions to a bare minimum, and everything MUST be put in its place.

Which brings us back to the million children living here.

Everything is NEVER put in its place.

But see, now I have Sophia here to help me. And she is...she is RELENTLESS in the helping.

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She helps make the bed - if by "make" you mean "scale with bizarre sticky feet like some sort of preternaturally strong wispy-haired gecko."

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She helps remove the diapers from their package and put them exactly where she thinks they should be.

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Ditto laundry.

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And then she makes sure to give any reflective surface a thorough smeary kissing. Because MAN, we love that baby there.

Honestly, I don't think any of us know what we'd do without her.