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February 2013
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April 2013

And then there's the other hand

Clay and I are sharply divided on the best way to use the library - he goes online and searches for and requests The Exact Book that he wants to read. I, on the other hand, prefer to wander through the place, shovelling every book that looks remotely interesting into my reusable grocery bag. I'm a sucker for the "Staff Picks" displays. Clays thinks I'm clearly in the wrong here because I end up returning half my books without reading them, after an exploratory poke into the first chapter or two. I think he's clearly in the wrong because his system leaves no room for the joy of discovery.

However, he may have a point in a way, because right now I'm reading a book that I blindly grabbed on my last library trip, and it is torturing me. It's about a woman on a road trip to drop off her daughter, her only child, at college. On the way, she's working on a quilt for her daughter, incorporating fabrics from all the significant events in her life. She is simultaneously paging through the memories of her daughter's life and trying to look ahead to see what her life will be now. She's often awash in panic and grief. 

I'm hating this book, because when I'm reading it, I can barely breathe. I have no child headed for college right now, but I identify, and I hate it.

Tre barely has the dregs of his junior year left. Max will be going to school in the fall, a first for him. He's gotten into an expeditionary learning school, which seems like an excellent fit for him. There's a still in the air about him that feels like he's approaching the top of the first hill of a roller coaster. And Raphael swings back and forth daily about what he wants to do next for school. Some days he wants no part of an education that requires him to wear shoes, other days he angrily demands to be sent to school TODAY. I think he will be home one more year, but not much more than that. And Sophia will be off to kindergarten in a year. It seems that that day? When I'll have to decide what to be when I grow up? Is coming.

This mom in the book has these memories of her daughter that were executed so carefully. Here is the dress she wore to her first piano recital, here is the fabric from her first Brownie uniform. I look back on my own mothering memories, and the events look like a whirlwind. Any mementos that I took away with me were snagged, almost by accident, by one finger, as we spun past. I'm afraid that when they do leave home, my kids' primary memories of me will be of the things I never quite managed to do. They'll shrug when asked who their mother was, and say something like, "Well...when she did the laundry, it was never finished. There was always a basket with orphaned socks in her closet." 

I wish I was better at life. I wish my closets didn't hide so many things that I can never find a home for. It's become clear that all those days of plans that didn't come together, crafts that never got finished (or started), wait-a-minute-let-me-finish-this, and wanting just a moment's peace? Those days WERE their childhoods. And they're running through my fingers and I'm still no better at any of it.

But then again, in the chaos, I suppose there's also room for surprise. Today, at the end of Mass, the choir sang the Hallelujah Chorus. They were supposed to burst into song, but there was some confusion with the organist, so instead their hallelujahs started small, then swelled over the chatter of the crowd. Max is in the choir this year. He sings bass, which is a delight to his heart. When he started, back in the fall, he never knew from week to week if his traitorous voice would land him in the tenors or the bass section. I stood in the pews, and listened to my son's voice join in weaving a tapestry of praise.

I feel like there is a larger truth here, perhaps even a finger hold on the reality of the Resurrection. But I am feeble hearted sometimes, and today I'm keeping my vision small. Today I was just grateful for a moment that rose above the chaos and failures of life and was beautiful.

Love. Mommy.

Tonight, about an hour after she'd gone to bed, I heard Sophia fumbling toward the potty, whimpering slightly. I made my way out of my bath and found her sitting there, head in hands. It became clear that she was only marginally awake, and I ushered her through the labyrinth of wiping and hand washing. It wasn't until I'd gotten her back to her bed that I realized that her jammie bottoms were slightly wet, and that was what was fretting her.

I laid her back on her small bed, spoke in my best soothing mother tones, and pulled her jammie bottoms off. Then I swooped on a new pair, soft worn cotton, and assured her that everything was okay now. She promptly rolled over onto her side and crooned, "Love. Mommy. Love. Love Mommy."

I sat by her for a moment, my hand on the warm curve of her back, and thought about being Love and Mommy. In the years I've been a mother, many of my hopes about this job have been punctured. I was sure I would be able to provide my children with a Proper Childhood, not knowing how complicated the living of a life actually is. I knew I'd be able to teach them well, prepare them to take on the world. I did not realize that all I had the power to do was offer, and they are the ones who get to choose what to take. I certainly did not realize how much I would be wrong. I thought the years together would grow me wiser, when instead it feels as though all I've learned is an ever-increasing list of terrible things that can happen. 

But there is one hope of motherhood that has survived. In this world of hurt and sorrow, where it sometimes feels as though all we do is reel from loss to loss, there are still moments. Perfect little moments, where you can reach out to a small person, and set her world right. Whimpering turns to Mommy and Love, and I got to do that.

This feels very profound to me tonight, but it also occurs to me that my Love Mommy tonight comes from a bottle of narcotic cough syrup, so perhaps I should leave the conclusions to the morning.


Twenty minutes and counting

Last week I got my hair cut, and I may have made a terrible mistake. I got bangs. Not blunt, choppy, I-think-I'm-an-art-student bangs, but your standard issue sideswept kind. I don't know what happened, exactly. My hairdresser brought up the idea, then warned me that it would take a little time commitment. She knows who she's talking to, because my entire hair styling routine is this: rub random hair product into wet hair. Comb. Aim a blow dryer with diffuser at hair. Continue until bored. Wander away.

It's that "until bored" part that gets me in trouble. In case you know me in the real world, that's why my hair sometimes looks like wet octopus tentacles, and other times like I'm ready for a return of the 80s.

Anyhow, I figured even a doubling of my hair styling commitment couldn't be all that bad, ratcheting the time required up to something like six minutes. Plus, every woman knows that sideswept bangs shave AT LEAST a good twenty minutes off your age. Which, if you're (this woman) in your 30s, sounds like crazy talk. I would have to own a flat iron for TWENTY MINUTES? But by the time you're, oh, say, 41 years, eleven months and three weeks old, you think, "twenty WHOLE minutes, you say?"

So I did it, and so far so good. I haven't laid down on the floor in despair rather than style my stupid bangs even one morning since. I just can't decide if they make me look twenty minutes younger or just sort of pitiful. 

I will tell you this: the day after The Bangs were cut, I flew out to Phoenix with Sophia. Max and Raphi were already there for Grandma Camp with their cousins, Maggie and Shyla. Together, the four of them are The Orphans, and they spend a week each spring hanging out with Clay's mom, Connie (who is the best mother-in-law in the world, and I am told also an amazing grandmother). Anyhow, this year Sophia came out for a partial Grandma Camp, and I accompanied her as her assistant or something. MY POINT HERE is that when I arrived in Phoenix, Raphael did not recognize me. He walked right toward me, scanning faces intently. I waved at him, but he very nearly walked right by me. So I can say authoritatively that I look different. 

In other news, we are recovering from a round of stomach flu. And sister, it's a BAD ONE. I cannot remember being so violently ill. We got home Wednesday, and Max started throwing up that night. Tre was supposed to be getting his wisdom teeth out Friday, but I moved it back three weeks, just in case he gets this horrible horrible thing. The oral surgeon thinks I'm crazy, but I can live with that. Because can you imagine? Puking on a brand-new wisdom tooth extraction? Actually, I did that when I got my wisdom teeth out, because it turns out that tylenol with codeine is not a happy thing for me. So I don't have to imagine, I KNOW that I'm not going to take that chance.

Hmmm. It seems like I was headed for a point here, and now I don't know what it was. I guess I can sum it up like this: sideswept bangs - still not sure, but they're better than the stomach flu.


Robotics - the heartbreak, the sublime

So hi! I've been wanting to tell you this story for a week, but two things happened: first it snowed. I mean IT SNOWED. Last Sunday we got about a foot of snow, which sadly only netted Tre a late start for school on Monday. School administrators have no heart. And I was fine with all the snow, because if you're going to have snow, it's best to have a good amount, or it's just a mess without the fun. A foot of snow is fun. But then, a few days later, it snowed something pitiful like three inches, and my head exploded. 12 inches + 3 inches = seventeen feet of snow. I can't explain the math on that, but trust me. And with the second snow, the roads iced up and Tre spun off the road (he's fine; I stayed in my warm house while Clay and my dad pulled him to safety, yet I barely survived the event). So my head exploded again.

And the other thing that happened was that a friend of mine casually mentioned that her family had had the worst winter ever for colds, with someone sick every week for the last five months. And I (foolishly, unthinkingly, madly) said, "Oh we've been lucky. Hardly anyone has been sick at all."

Yeah. So within a day the cold started grinding its snotty, coughing, feverish way through the family. And I ate something bad that left me...erm. My inside parts? That deal with food? Violently rejected anything I ever ate, ever. And then Sophia developed this weird red, puffy, painful rash. So within 24 hours of my ill-advised statement we had the plague, the crud, and leprosy. Kindly remind me to keep my mouth shut.

Anyhow! I don't know if I've mentioned it, but Tre is somewhat involved in his school's robotics club. When I say "somewhat involved" I mean "wildly, insanely, suck up every minute of his life involved." It's been good. They would meet every day after school and on Saturdays. Do you know what would have been required to get me to school on Saturdays when I was in high school? I...can't imagine. Cash prizes? A gun pointed at my head? The mind boggles.

But Tre has been doing this ALL SCHOOL YEAR. And this totally makes sense, because it's his junior year, and the AP classes, plus the honors classes, plus the fact that he drives 40 minutes each way to school - it all adds up to PLENTY OF FREE TIME. And he spent every spare scrap of a minute in that stuffy robotics room, fussing over their robot.

Well, last Saturday, the day finally came. It was competition day. Time for their baby to shine. 


(An aside: can you see the guy in the upper left of the picture, dressed in homemade armour? Their whole team dressed like that, a bunch of knights and a very few princesses. There were also Minecraft characters, and one team with caution signs on their t-shirts that lit up with LED lights. The nerdery was strong and beautiful. But one of the princesses from that particular team offered Sophia an extra princess hat. And even though it wasn't Tre's team, it Was A Princess Hat, and it was also Purple, and Sophia had woken up that day obsessed with purple, and so:


The nerdery. It is catching.)

So the way these robotics competitions work is that the robots are given a task. This year it was picking up rings and hanging them on a rack. Each round has four teams, and each team has an alliance in the round. Points are assigned for achieving the task, and for optional actions like picking up the other robot (with your robot). You and your alliance team win or lose together. Hush. This is interesting. *I* spent all day Saturday WATCHING IT while sitting on bleachers and trying to keep Sophia from declaring war on...everything. 

Actually, it was interesting. Because the boys' robot? DOMINATED. One round? They and their alliance team got the whole entire rack covered with red rings, and OH it was so exciting. I can't quite explain the anxiety of these contests. Robots are finicky beasts, and you never know when one will tip over, or freeze up, or just turn off, leaving the kids who have poured their hearts and souls into it standing on the sidelines, frantically mashing buttons while all the hope drains out of them into a puddle at their feet. It was so hard to watch that at one point I declared to Clay that football, boxing, and MMA have NOTHING on robotics for sheer violence. OH. 

Throughout the day, it was looking good for Tre's team to go to finals. They were consistently in the top 5, and the top 4 get to compete in finals. But then - the very last round? - HEARTBREAK. They were in 2nd place, going into the round. But their alliance decided to knock the opposing teams' rings off their racks. And that turns out to be against the rules. They were penalized 50 points for each ring, wiping out all the 150 points Tre's team got on the board. And with that they dropped to 11th. 

BUT! Each of the four teams going into finals got to choose two alliance teams! And one of the teams chose Tre's team! AND THEY WON IT ALL!

State champs!