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November 2011

Halloween '11

Because I know you're all waiting in breathless anticipation to see what costumes my children wore this year, here I am to show you. (Yes, I know, it's not breathless anticipation, it's gastric discomfort from seventeen trillion fun sized candy bars. Interesting how fun size X many many = really not fun, isn't it? Just speaking randomly here, not from repeated regretted experience. Where was I? Ah yes, the costumes.)

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Sophia was, natch, a princess. In this case that means that we just dressed her in her usual assortment of tutus and shiny shoes, and put a sparkly tiara on her head. She LOVED the tiara. She ADORED the tiara. She LOST the tiara before she got home. Heavy sleeps the head on which...there is no more tiara. Something like that.

Max and Raphi here are...well, isn't it obvious? Raphael is one of the Men in Black, and Max is an alien that he is arresting.

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See? It's an old movie, but we are homeschoolers, and therefore appreciate the classics. (Raphael went trick-or-treating with his best friend, who dressed as Dr. Who. They were two boys dressed in dark suits whom nobody recognized. I think they liked it that way. They are well matched as friends.) (Also? You may have noticed that Raphael is, in actual fact, a Man in Charcoal. Don't be picky.)

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Tre dressed up as a teen who thinks he's too old for such nonsense and stays home to hand out candy. Also, one who is annoyed at being photographed. (He is not actually glowing. That is due to my stellar photography skills. Also the look of pained irritation. That is all because of me.)

However, he did manage to enjoy handing out candy and adoring his princess of a sister.

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She, on the other hand, was antsy to get out and collect some candy. FEEEL the pained irritation, son! It is the Universal Thump, come back upon you! HA.

Candy was collected, candy was dispersed. In the end we are up several pounds of chocolate and down one tiara. All in all, a successful year.

"Tomorrow is another day" - is that a threat?

Do you know what I just did? Let me tell you all about it. Yes, that will be good.

Tre was fussing because there's no good breakfast food for him, because the milk went bad and there's no Nutella in the house, so he can't eat either cereal or toast (because toast without Nutella is a crime. Except you can also eat toast with strawberry jam...which we are also out of). I went shopping yesterday, and had bought extra bananas JUST for such a crisis, so once the chiddlers were in bed, I set about making banana bread. I am a hero.

Tre came upstairs to say goodnight and chatted with me in the kitchen for a few minutes. It's been so nice having him home this week, and he is so ready to get back to school with his friends. At least I knew that when he woke up in the morning and dragged himself up the stairs to face the day, he would have the fortifying powers of fresh banana bread to see him on his way. He said goodnight and toddled off to bed. I slid the banana bread in the ovenand toddled off to a hot bath, feeling rawther smug about my motherly self.

I stepped out of the tub one minute before the timer went off for the bread to come out of the oven. The house smelled wonderful. Clay pulled the loaves out of the oven and wondered at me if they were done. I came over to look at them...

...and they were bread bricks in the bottom of the pans. I'd forgotten to put any baking powder in them. At all.

It's possible that I'm overreacting a little, but I am so disappointed and angry at myself that I...I don't know...I could BITE me. Good lord. I just keep thinking about all the wasted EGGS and WALNUTS and BANANAS and GARRRRR. And now Tre will come upstairs in the morning, sniffing the air for the remnants of baking banana bread perfume, and what will he find? Banana bread FAIL.

But it's okay! It's FINE! Because I am a GROWNUP and I am MATURE and able to put such stupidness behind me! In fact, let me tell you another story about my weekend! To show you how MATURE and FINE I am! Okay? Okay!

My mom bought me a pink depression, glass. How should I say that? A glass made of pink depression glass. Yes, that. It was little, like six ounces or so, and pink and pretty. I kept it on the window sill and used it to take my vitamins and snarled like a rabid dog at my children if they touched it. You know, as one does. Sometimes at night I would fill it with sparkling mineral water at take it in the bath. It was so charming and elegant that I mostly stopped feeling sorry for myself that it wasn't Coke Zero. I no longer buy Coke Zero, although I'm not sure why, because I thought it was contributing to me gaining wait, so I quit it, but continued to gain wait. Why am I not drinking Coke Zero?

Anyhow, because the glass was pretty and pink, Sophia was jonesing for it hard. She wanted the glass, she wanted to hold the glass, couldn't she pleeeeeeeeeease have some milk in Mommy's glass and if you resist she shall be forced to make hereyes go all Precious Moments on you. Being the loving and patient mother that I am, ever aware of the fleeting nature of childhood and rooted in the proper priorities in life, I repeatedly told her no way, sister girl, get your own dang glass.

But then, on Friday, I happened to be at the mall. And in my pocket, I happened to have a gift card to Anthropologie. Bestill my heart. Now, I've had this card for nearly two years, but never used it, because every time I set foot in there, I become overwhelmed by all the PRETTINESS, and get frozen with indecision, and end up scurrying away. But this day I was at the mall by myself, and I was determined to go ahead and USE the card already! Sheesh. (P.S. Thank you Amy. I am sorry I am a dork. But you already knew that about me, if we're being honest here.)

I picked out some hair clip thingies, which I love (although now I am doubting myself, because there are four of them, and they don't match, and I don't think I am cool enough to pull off that eclectic, "oh I just threw these random clip thingies in my hair that don't match but look good together" style. I am old.), and a glass. A pretty pink glass. Oooh! This one! In pink. I was all tickled with myself, because now Sophia and I could both drink out of pretty pink glasses, but this one was replaceable, and if she broke it, I would live. Ta-DA!! I am so good.

And then, that very night, I took my vitamins and washed out my glass and reached to put it on the windowsill...and dropped it in the sink and shattered it.

Yes, I did.

Now I think I am supposed to tie this all together into some grand and thoughtful life lesson. However, whenever I try, I keep coming up with uplifting thoughts like "I am apparently an idiot who needs a keeper," so I think I'll just gloss over that and say instead...I am going to bed now. Good night.


You can't always get what you want...

I had this fall break week all planned. It was so fully planned that I couldn't help but hear the dubious voice in the back of my head, wondering if I could possibly pull it all off.

And of course, I couldn't.

Today we were supposed to go to the museum, a trip everyone was looking forward to. Since Tre has started going to school, I miss so much those "everyone in the van" outings, with all the kids and all the noise and...all of us. It's not like he's gone away to boarding school in Europe or anything, but still. I was so tickled to have this planned, this trip that they all wanted to go on.

And then last night Sophia started coughing, and by this morning she was sickly and grumpy and needing to be held. And the snow last night had kept at it, and there seemed to be a decent amount of it (I don't know...six inches?) out there. Then Max fell over in the spinny chair (the upholstered desk chair on wheels), and hurt his knee. And it became abundantly clear that it simply was not going to work out to go to the museum.

Oh, lord, but I was grouchy about it. I do not know what is wrong with me these days, but I seem to spend large swathes of my time sitting around nursing sad feelings about...I don't even know. I get all knotted up, trying to figure out what is wrong with me/them/life, when everything is fine, except that I have an enduring talent for self-pity. Yes, I am charming company. I bet you're dying to have me over for tea now.

I was being grouchy when Tre made his way up the stairs and into the morning. He squinted out the window at the snow and said in that bright tone that can only be mustered by teenagers who have slept past 10, "Hey, there's not THAT MUCH snow! We could still go to the museum, right?"

I thought I responded in a fairly even and neutral tone, "I am not deciding that yet." But he flicked a look at me, then muttered, "Okay, fine. Geez. What's wrong with you?"

"EXCUSE me?"

"You don't have to get all cranky at me. I was just ASKING."

I had no response to that, and sat in silence as he gathered up some breakfast. The truth was, I actually got my feelings hurt over that whole stupid exchange, and blinked back tears at my newspaper for a good ten minutes. My week was broken and somehow *I* was at fault and...


In the end, when the morning's flurry of eating and chores had been accomplished, I sat them all down and we talked through the options and everyone agreed that it was best to stay home. By then Tre was feeling a little under the weather too. Eventually Max and Raphi went outside to enjoy the snow, and Tre slumped on the couch to play Guitar Hero. Sophia crawled up next to him with some books, petulantly demanded a pillow and blanket, and fell asleep.

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I left them there, each in their own happy place. After a few minutes I checked on them again, and found this:

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They were both sound asleep, soaking up exactly what they needed.

I suppose the only thing missing was room on the couch for me.

Zoo Day

For ages Raphael has been requesting a trip to the zoo - just me and him. Sophia seriously cramps his zoo-going style, with her dawdling and unreasonably two year old stamina. Honestly. So annoying.

And while I mostly feel like he can just suck it up and deal with the fact that his sister will inconvenience him sometimes, I am also acutely aware that there are very few days left when he will consider a trip to the zoo with me a treat. And this week we're taking fall break, so I took advantage of two live-in babysitters (who are happy to be paid in unfettered access to the ice cream), and Raphi and I went to the zoo.

When we got there, it was a perfect Colorado fall day. The air was spangled with bright, falling leaves, and they carpeted the ground. The sky was bright blue and clear, and it was brisk but not cold, sunny but not hot.

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Whenever I pointed the camera at Raphi, he thought I wanted him to smile for me.

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Really, all I wanted was to see him.

And if you're wondering why the hood is pulled up, it's cool. And if you didn't realize that, it's because you don't understand. Obviously.

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We had a lovely day. Raphael frequently asked me where we were going next. I suspect it was just so he could hear me say again, "It's up to you. Where do you want to go?"

"It's up to ME? I get to decide?"

He was surprised by that way too many times for it to be genuine. The delight, however, was entirely genuine.

We wandered, following his whim, and talked about nothing (everything) of consequence. I don't know if he'll remember the day in twenty years, but I think I will. It was that time, when I meandered around the zoo, following my youngest boy, glimpsing the grown person he's becoming..

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...and the baby boy he was.

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By the time we left, the air had gone cold and heavy clouds were rolling in. Right now, those bright leaves we walked through are being covered by a blanket of snow.

As though I needed reminding how quickly it all goes.

Wait, I think we've passed this signpost before...

My very favorite thing - hands down - about blogging is the record. For more than eight years now I've been snatching haphazardly at the moments that make up our lives and saving them here. And now that Sophia is about the age that Raphael was when I started writing here, I keep living moments with her and hearing the echo of my own voice, talking about Raphael at the same ages and stages.

Several times today Sophia started to speak and stumbled over her own tongue. She simply could not martial the structures in her mouth to keep up with the words in her head. She stopped, mid-sentence, and scowled.

"I cannot talk. It's too hard to be talking, Mommy." She looked at me, torn between sorrow and fury. Could this possibly be MY fault, somehow? I knelt down next to her and looked her in the eye.

"It's okay, I promise. You're just learning so fast right now that it's hard for your mouth to keep up sometimes." No, I don't think she fully understands the nuances of language acquisition. It's just that her love language? Is actually LANGUAGE. She talks all the time, and wishes me to talk back all the time, and sometimes it's nice to have something to say that isn't a thousandth answer to that perennial favorite, WHY? So yes, I hunkered down for a chat about language acquisition. Don't judge me until you've walked a mile in my chatter-drenched shoes, sister.

"I am learning talking fast?" she asked, perking up considerably at the thought.

"That's right. And right now you're going through what's called normal dysfluency..." I trailed off, because there it was, one of those moments when I just almost remembered a blog post about Raphael.

Nothing is new in this world, you know. And somehow, it still hasn't gotten old, either.

Pretending to be the adult with mixed success.

A few days ago I had one of those nights, when EACH AND EVERY ONE of my children interrupted my sleep. And by morning I was pretty sure I had something like seventeen children.

It started with Max, who appeared by my bed at 11:30, asking if he could take some ibuprofen for a headache or something. I'm not sure, because I had been sound asleep and was too busy trying to restart my heart after the massive cardiac arrest caused by aboy suddenly apparating at my elbow. I hadn't been asleep long, but I must have been asleep hard, because it took at least three repetitions of his request before I understood what he wanted.

Then, somewhere in the wee hours of the morning - like, 2:30, or some such nonsense - Raphael crawled into bed with me, needing some cuddles to shake off a nightmare. I am not yet hardhearted enough to shoo a trembling child away from me so I can sleep, although I confess that I did ask him to tell me about the dream in the morning, which is just a nice way of saying, "shut up, little darling, so mommy can sleep and not eat you like an upset hamster."

Eventually Raphi toddled back to his bed, and I fell back to sleep with a near-audible THUNK. Until just before 6, when Sophia woke with a terrified shriek. Apparently she believed there was a ladybug in her bed. She could not be convinced that she was sleeping in a ladybug free zone, and even after Clay removed allllll her stuffed animals at her request, she was still certain that that damn ladybug was lurking. So even though it was a good hour and a half before her usual wake up call, she was up for the day. *sigh*

Even then I could have done the responsible adult thing and parked her in front of the television while I crashed on the couch (she loves that, because she can play with my hair and stick things in my ear while I sleep, which always makes Barney more fun)(not that I've ever actually done that before)(okay, you got me, I have), except I had to drive the morning carpool for Tre. And my van was out of gas, so I left the house about 6:45, feeling exceedingly sorry for myself. And tired.

I tell you all this not just because it's my blog, and you can't stop me from whining, but because I want to excuse my behavior later in the day.

Max had an orthodontist's appointment that afternoon, and predictably enough, Sophia fell asleep on the drive over there. She wasn't just dozing either, she was sleeping HARD, so when I lifted her out of her car seat and slung her onto my shoulder, she weighed twice as much as usual. After signing Max in and paying the usual chunk of flesh down payment on the braces, I settled into a chair in the waiting room.

The afternoon sun was warming the room, and I was held still by the sleeping weight of toddler on my chest. I couldn't even flip through a magazine, having STILL not been issued the extra arms I'm most certainly due by this point. So I just sat there, calm and warm and quiet. Before long I found myself blinking long and slow. Don't fall asleep, I warned myself, don't be THAT person in the waiting room.

But oh. The sun was warm, and Sophia was so limp and soft under my chin, and it quickly seemed so reasonable to lean my head back just for a minute. Just...for...a....minute.....

Twenty minutes later Max returned and I snapped to, trying to look like a contributing member of society. I totally contributed to this by stammering at him, "OH! You. Uh. Done? Okay? Right. Done. Okay then." It was a stellar and convincing impression of a sane adult.

So what I want to know is why people always think Sophia is unbearably adorable when she falls asleep in public, while I get the suspicious looks? Not to point any fingers here, but *I* did not leave any drool circles on anyone's shirt in the waiting room.

I don't think.

Lessons learned

This morning Sophia chose for her breakfast a container of blackberry yogurt. It being Monday, we were in a rush, so obviously this was the morning that I discovered that one container of blackberry yogurt, when pushed off the edge of a table by one errant elbow, will somersault, flop around on the (fabric) seat of the chair, then fling itself to the floor, where one little container of yogurt will spread an amazing distance.

As I was crawling around under the table, trying to mop up every sticky tendril of yogurt, I picked up the container and discovered it was still half full. So correction: a mere HALF a container of yogurt will spread an amazing difference when pitched to the floor.

And really, despite being a lifelong learner, a student of the universe, a curious soul, I would have been content to finish the day with that being my one big lesson for 10/10/11. But no. This evening...well, let me back up (I just typed "let me pack up" by accident - consider that foreshadowing).

During the cooler months, I tend to make a lot of soups. Because this is the Great Depression, take two, and we have million people in this family, so I like to tie a scarf around my head and wring my hands and then scour the pantry for a few stray beans and maybe an old rind of cheese, and whip up a filling meal. You know, while listening to my iPod.

So anyhow, in order to make all those fabulous soups, I also tend to make a lot of stock. Because you CAN make soup with store-bought chicken broth, but you also CAN sell your soul to the devil and start wearing jeggings. That doesn't mean you SHOULD. And when one makes stock, after refrigerating it for a while, there is a layer of fat on top that needs to be discarded. But you can't put that nastiness down the drain, and you can't exactly slosh it in the garbage either, because gross. My genius solution to this conundrum is the fat jar, which is just as appealing as it sounds. Currently, I am using a Planter's Peanuts jar, and after de-fatting some beef stock this afternoon, it was roughly half full of unwanted grease. The fat jar lives in the freezer until it is full and ready to wait seven weeks for me to remember to throw it out on trash day.

Today the fat jar sat on the counter while I made dinner (which was beef stew, served over mashed potatoes, and it was delicious, and that's me being modest), but just as I was wrapping up the final touches on the meal, I took a minute to tidy up. Our kitchen is rather small, and clutter turns it from "cozy" into "OH MY LORD IN HEAVEN ABOVE, I am going to shoot you in the foot if you touch me again" quickly.

I grabbed that fat jar, which was all warm and sloshy from the hot kitchen, and turned to put it back in the freezer. I reached up to put it on the shelf and...

...and I don't know exactly what happened then.

But the jar slipped out of my hand, and while I scrabbled and snatched, trying to grab it back, it turned a massive slow-motion cartwheel in the air, twirling a ribbon of fat all around the inside of the freezer, down the front of the refrigerator, bounced off the SAME FABRIC CHAIR SEAT, and clattered to the floor, spinning in a circle as it purged its very last.

And that is how I learned that a half-full fat jar, when dropped to the floor, will DOMINATE a container of yogurt in distance covered.

I think it is safe to say my kitchen will never be the same. Also? My shoes smell like chicken/beef grease. Also? If you really want a clearer picture of my emotions duringthese events, you should re-read the whole story, but inject the absolutely filthiest words you can think of, at the rate of at least two a sentence. Thank you, and good night.

For what it's worth, I STILL think Baxter is cool.

Now that Max is a saxophone player, he's joined the Colorado Honor Band. Every Wednesday I haul him across town in rush hour traffic and then home again an hour later in WORSE rush hour traffic, all because I still feel guilty for weaning him early, more than twelve years ago. No, scratch that. All so he can explore his musical talents. Yes.

Last week I arrived to pick him up, and waited in the parking lot with Raphael trying to show me wrestling moves from the passenger's seat and Sophia testing her random shrieking abilities. Needless to say, I eventually decided that it would actually be more fun to go INTO the building and haul my darling son out.

I found him in his rehearsal room, packing his saxophone away. This is a laborious process, requiring your standard alto sax to be broken into seventeen trillion little parts, each with its own velvet-lined compartment. There was only a teacher and two younger kids still in the room, so I felt fairly safe in actually speaking aloud to my son. Using my voice at him in "public" can earn me looks of withering doom.

"Hey there, Baxter," I said casually, "how long 'til you're ready?" I've called him Baxter for forever. Maxter Baxter. See? It rolls right off the tongue. He told me he was nearly done, then finally closed up his case and followed me out the door.

As we crossed the parking lot, he said quietly, "Hey, Mom? Can you do me a favor? Can you NOT call me Baxter in public anymore?" I turned to him, surprised, but before I had a chance to explain that "Baxter" is in fact, very cool, he went on. "You know, like you did in there? With your megaphone? While you were doing that dance? All covered in giant copies of my baby photos? My NAKED baby photos? Like that?"

Well. He may be nearly as tall as me, but if you ask me, that was just "Don't say words to me," v.13.0.

The name "Sophia" means "wisdom." She's still growing into it.

Sophia has hit a very entertaining age. She is learning about the world at a rapid clip, and (as is her style) talktalktalking about everything she sees and thinks and knows. It's like being followed around by a tiny little contributor to This American Life who has been sucking helium.

The other day we were at the library and went into the bathroom. She trotted into the stall with me and positioned herself at the toilet handle, the better to perform her job as The Flusher of All Toilets. She was chattering about...everything, and as I closed the stall door, she was overtaken by a wave of appreciation for me.

"I LIKE my mommy!" She beamed at me. I smiled back and assured her that I liked her too and started pulling down my pants. "And I LIKE my mommy's butt. I like mommy's BIG BUTT!"

There was a snort of surprised laughter from a nearby stall which, of course. Would it be too much to ask that the bathroom be empty for the "big butt" soliloquy?

You will be proud (I hope) to know that I simply agreed with her that it was a fine butt indeed.

And then the other day Sophia was playing in the living room when she suddenly hopped up and ran into the bathroom. I assumed she had to go potty, so I walked over to see if she needed any help. She met me at the door, holding it nearly closed and peeked out at me with a very stern look.

"NO," she said, "YOU GO AWAY."

"I...what? Don't you want me to turn on the light?"

She turned and looked and noticed she was standing in the dark.

"Okay, turn on da light. THEN YOU GO AWAY."

So I did, but once I had exited (and had the door shut FIRMLY behind me), I waited. Sure enough, after a minute, she called out, "MOMMY? You have to help me?"

I opened the door and she was standing there, looking a little teary and very pitiful.

"What's wrong, pumpkin?"

"You have to help me get my gum out."

"Aaaaaaand...where is your gum?"


Yup. She'd stuck her gum well and truly up her nose. It was minty gum too, and it was making her eyes water and her nose run. That was good though, because when I held the opposing nostril shut and instructed her to blow, the slick little wad slid right out. I showed it to her, and narrowly prevented her from popping it back in her mouth.

"Do NOT put your gum in your nose anymore, okay?"

"Mommy? Don't say words to me."


Just yesterday I walked into the bathroom (I'm just noticing that all these examples happened in the bathroom. I wonder what that says about my life?) and found Sophia standing on the toilet, looking stricken. I wouldn't really have thought much about it, but her face was simply RADIATING guilt.

"Whatcha doing, Sophia?"


We gazed at each other for a moment, but she couldn't help glancing at the tube of toothpaste sitting on the counter right in front of her. I gave her raised eyebrows of mommy questioning, and she did a little dance of agitation.


It's probably due to my finely tuned mommy sense (like spidey sense, but less tingly), but I suspect she was not telling me the truth.

But it's not like she's completely devoid of wisdom. Just today I was instructing Raphael to do something, and he was giving me an impressive list of reasons why he couldn't possibly. After several centuries of discussion, he finally relented and set off to do whatever it was (no, I don't remember. I understand that this gives my story extra-special vibrancy). I turned to Sophia and sighed.

"I just got old," I informed her. She cocked her head at me and shot her eyebrows up as far as they could go.


Yes, my lovely girl. Again and again and again.

The truth is

About a week before my grandmother died, I was on a long car trip with my dad, and I said that my hope was that Mom would really be okay when Grandma was gone. Not that she wouldn't be sad, but it seemed as though she had been doing such gruelling work of grieving ever since Grandpa died, a year and a half ago. That was a shock, and she's climbed her way out of it, all in the face of her mother's impending death...well, it only seemed fair that when Grandma died, Mom would find some peace.

And then Grandma died, and Mom made her way through those days. She was so brave and truthful and I do think it's true, that she has found some peace. And I found myself, somehow, at sea.

It doesn't make any sense, because if I'm telling the truth here, I barely knew my grandparents until about eight years ago. We never lived near them, and I mostly saw them as mysterious figures who had lived in such exotic places as New York, and who could make my mother cry.

When I was about eight I gave my beloved doll, Caroline Clemple, a bottle of tea - full of tea leaves - to drink. The little flecks of tea coated her insides and started to grow mold that clouded her clear blue eyes. We sent Caroline off to New York, where my grandparents took her to a doll hospital. When they sent her back, she had brown eyes. My grandmother pointed out, "Just like yours!"

Except my eyes are green, a stubborn point of pride for me in my brown-eyed family. I looked at my doll, tipped her back and forth to watch her eyes click open and shut and thought quite coolly, "They don't know me at all."

I don't think they ever really did, and I didn't get to know them until they were fighting the end of life battles. Those final years, I've decided, are relentless in their losses and griefs. I think my grandfather only realized that things weren't going to go back to normal about a month before he died.

I used to go visit Grandma on Mondays, when the boys were at school. Sophia would trot around, charming the nursing home staff, and I would sit next to Grandma's wheelchair, trying to think of things to say to her. She was largely silent by then, and that makes it hard to keep a conversation going.

One day as I sat there, I glanced down the hall and saw a man walking slowly our direction, stooped and clutching his walker. He had that styrofoam-light look of the elderly and frail, and white hair streaked the top of his head. In my chest I felt a movement, a leap of recognition, it was Grandpa! THERE you are, I thought, and I nearly stood up to go to him.

Of course it was not him. He'd been dead for a year already. I sat back and looked back at Grandma, shaken. She was turned away from me, curled up in her wheelchair, murmuring something. I leaned in to listen, but she seemed to be talking to her mother.

When my children are near me, filling the air around me with their noise and their needs, I often wish they would just back away for a little bit. Give me some air, and let me talk to Clay, or a friend, or even myself.

And then when they are somewhere else, after a few minutes the sounds of them leak back out of my head, and in the silence I look around and ache to hear them.

Sometimes I wonder if our whole lives are mostly spent just missing each other, and searching for the opportunities that are already gone.

And so I am back here, writing again, even though lately I have been sick to death of the sound of my own voice. Because it is the only voice I have to tell this story of mine and I see so many moments that will slip past me forever if I don't pin them down here. And this world has enough loss in it.