Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Nothing like a good book

“You’ve been in that book every free minute this weekend,” he said this morning.

I immediately got defensive, mostly because the whole weekend had been one long free minute, a precious gift in between errands, lawn cuttings, kids’ sports and the rigors of keeping them focused these last days of school. “I barely read this weekend! I was with you guys the whole time!”

He gave an inch, admitting that there weren’t many “free minutes” but still, was it really that good that I had to keep walking around sneaking in a page when I could?

Yup, especially because I haven’t read it before.

And I’ll probably read it again. Now that I’m back to reading regular-like (more than magazines/Websites and all those many books I did before the kids could read for themselves) I’m amazed at how much I’ve consumed since the spring of last year. A quick rundown:

Six Harry Potters
Seven Chronicles of Narnia
Why New Orleans Matters by Tom Piazza
Flora and Tiger, short stories by Eric Carle
Numerous works by several of the other authors my children love
The Van Gogh Café by Cynthia Rylant
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Old Town in the Green Groves by Cynthia Rylant (BTW, Rylant did a great job recapturing Wilder’s cadence, tone and even the emotions of my very favorite pioneer.)
The Da Vinci Code

I still read with the kids … beside the kids … near the kids. I don’t know how to say it. If I’m unfamiliar with what they have cracked open I try to share it with them, but it’s getting hard to keep up! My daughter and I have run through most of the American Girl library and I’m trying to click a switch in my brain that will carry me through the world of the Bionicles with my son. He very much enjoys the comic books that come in the mail from Lego and, thankfully, Hubby is happy to dive in here. That makes room on my plate, so to speak, to read Mr. 5 books such as A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar by Candace Fleming and illustrated by S.D. Schindler.

It’s the story of a community effort to ensure no cheese but Cheshire Cheddar was served at the White House and how the 1,200-pound colossus made its way via New York City to Jefferson’s White House. It took a slice of history (no pun intended) and seasoned it so it would appeal to kids, as did Thank You, Sarah, the Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Matt Faulkner. (Click on the covers for more.)

Which brings me back to THE CODE. It came out before any of my kids could read independently and so was relegated to a back burner. Author Dan Brown is the first to say it's fiction. A slice of fiction, I’ll add here, well seasoned with juicy historical morsels.

I don’t know why summer is so often associated with reading, but it is. I have two more books I’d like to tackle soon. I want to re-read the Once and Future King by T.H. White and read for the first time The Book of Merlyn: An Unpublished Conclusion to The Once Future King, which was discovered in White’s papers and became a best-seller in 1977. What’s on your summer list?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: First Love

I was so young when I found Hubby, so fortunate that ours has been a connection unbroken for so long. Sometimes I trivialize the losses I felt before him, though those magnified emotions of adolescence certainly shaped the girl he met half our lifetime ago.

I had thought of writing a letter to my daughter for this prompt, what I might say to her someday when love is lost. For, it seems to me, first love and true love are two separate beasts. But first love and first loss are intrinsically linked.

When I was 12 Mike E. kissed me there at the skating rink … me with my skates off and him with his skates on so we’d be the same height. Well, when I was 12 that felt like love. And when he kissed someone else I felt lost … loss … both, really.

When I was 16 and Mike P. gave me his class ring it felt like a promise. It felt like love. When I realized what I felt was far more than what he felt I had to give the ring back. I felt lost … loss … both really.

When I was 17 and spent my summer pining for Jason—one on a long list of guys who saw me only as a friend—it felt like love, the worst kind really, unrequited love. Again the loss. Then when I was 18 I left for college and there he was, my husband, her dad.

So what could I tell my daughter about first love? What could I say to ease her pain when her love kisses someone else, or doesn’t feel what she does, or confides in her about another, never once thinking to lean over and kiss her?

Perhaps I should say: “These are lessons in love. First love is still out there, waiting for you.”

First love is when your beloved is your best friend. It’s when your beloved confides in you ... then leans over for that kiss. First love is your beloved's never kissing someone else. First love is reciprocated. And yes, even this can be lost. Lucky for me, first love stuck.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Freedom … you can smell it!

Today is Field Day, which can only mean one thing, Summer Break is almost here! Indeed, the family room stinks of newly applied sunscreen; the hats are on; the water bottles are filled and it feels like summer. It’s going to be 88 degrees today and all that’s planned for the long weekend is to be outside. This time next week will be the second day of summer break. Nothing quite like the freedom of the last day of school through the eyes of a 7- or 8-year-old!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Meeting Mariposa

Mariposa flew through my brain all weekend, then spilled from my pen all day yesterday. For some reason, I decided to actually scribble this week rather than type. So much inspiration and support I've found lately. Of course there are bits and pieces of my life here, but I feel the cellophane unwrapped, the plastic egg cracked and the Silly Putty of my imagination stretched into something I've never experienced before. For an abundance of imagination and amazing writing, check out Sunday Scribblings.

Any other shopping day I would have missed her. I would have reached into the refrigerated shelf, grabbed the butter and left. But sick kids put me behind this week and he generously shoved me out of bed before they got up.

“Go to Panera, relax, THEN get your errands done. We’ll be here when you get back.”

I didn’t even take a shower, just grabbed my keys and left. Soon I was on the battlefield that is Costco on Saturday morning. Thursdays it’s just me, very few other shoppers. But on this battlefield I got pinned behind the door by the crowd. There I was, leaning on the butter and into the refrigerated case while they sampled caffeinated water. That’s when I saw her.

Balled up behind a four-pack of well priced butter I found a fairy in the fetal position. Carefully I scooped her into my jacket pocket, where she felt about the size and temperature of an ice cream sandwich.

For a long time she didn’t move. But as the coolness began to fade I’d feel a twitch or a tickle. By the time I was on my way to the car there was a voice.

“Just one more second,” I said loud enough for the people around me to think I was talking to someone bigger than an ice cream sandwich. I loaded the car and got in. Carefully I unzipped my pocket and she stuck her head out.

“I’m still cold.”
I helped her to the dash board. Soon her skin had gone from a scaly grey, which shimmered like fish scales, to a glittery lavender, smooth like a baby but still with that rainbow reflection of a fish out of water.

“How did YOU get in THERE?”

“Well, it’s a long story.” She stretched and wiggled her naked feet. “Have you time?”

“All the time you can give, but you’ll have to get used to being interrupted.”

“I’ve nowhere to go … I can’t fly yet.” She looked at her wings with worry in her eyes. “There was this goose, you see, friendly as most geese are, and we would fly together and sing and oh! It was grand for a goose can hit low notes no fairy can! So we’d fly and sing and one day my wings became so very tired and I looked down and saw nothing familiar and I said ‘Oh! Brantay I’m going to fall!’ and I started to and she scooped me up and I fell asleep on her back. I woke as we landed some place called Oklahoma, far far from home and I knew being in this country wasn’t safe. There’re no other fairies in this land of non-believers. But Brantay assured me she would keep me safe and get me home in the fall. We went on like this until we got here, her hatching ground. It was then she found a mate and turned on me, as women are wont to do to their friends once they find love. Once the eggs came and her flying feathers fell out the nest was too dangerous a place and a sparrow found me crying under a lily plant. She, too, befriended me and we flew and sang and had a grand time until we got confused and landed in that horrible place. I became so very hungry and felt so terribly alone after she died …”

“The bird died in Costco?” There was alarm in my voice as I turned the car West. We’d been driving a few minutes already. “How I wish people could build into their environment instead of on top of it.”

She kept talking.

“Yes, the poor dear broke her wing. Well, after that I was afraid to try to fly in there and crept around in the night like some kind of wicked scavenger. The butter was the best I could do, despite its horrible taste and that dreadful cold …”

We pulled into the garage and she cringed. “Not another of these caves!” Her tiny scream pierced my brain.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “You have a new friend and I know the way out. Besides, I have a lily bed.”

She uncovered her eyes and made a twitch like a smile.

“C’mon, into my pocket.”

“Why?” Her wings moved. I guessed she was finally warm enough, but she made no attempt to fly.

“Because I have to hide you from the kids. They could never be expected to keep our secret. And once it got around school, well, they might never live down that they believed in fairies. Then the kids would be crushed that no one believed them. How I wish people could just let people BE instead of judging each other all the time.”

She agreed to hide from the children after I agreed to find actual butterfly milk, which I wasn’t quite sure how to do. Warm, but still weak, she now reminded me of a ballpark hot dog more than an ice cream sandwich in my pocket.

The groceries were unloaded and the kids were still in front of the TV. This was Day 2 being fever free, puke free and diarrhea free. They were alert and eating real food. The refuse of a week of sick kids littered the house: puzzles half worked … books spilled across the Comfy Chair … DVD boxes sliding open from the shelf … blankets, pillows and stuffed animals abandoned now that they felt better.

“Come here,” I said to him.

“When are you going to take your jacket off?”

“Just come here!”

I’m sure he thought I locked the bedroom door for other reasons. He smiled and put his hands on my waist. Then my jacket pocket spoke.


He jumped then stared in wonder as I cradled her in my hand. Her wings gave a slow flap as she batted her lashes at my handsome husband.

“Men don’t usually believe,” she muttered.

“He’s a very special man,” I said. “I wish all women could be as lucky as I.”

She crinkled her nose at me and only turned back to him after unfurrowing her brow. A deeper purple had entered her cheeks.

“What? When … ? How … ?” He groped for words.

We told him the whole story, tripping over each other and describing too much along the way. “She needs to eat. Are the kids well enough to go to the Butterfly House?” I asked.

She stood up at this, her face full of hope. I swear I saw her lick her lips.

By the time we’d rousted the kids, driven to the place, paid and found a quiet corner from which to release her she’d grown quite impatient. She scrambled up a branch and I feared I’d never see her again.

It’s not a large place, but full of wonder, especially for young eyes shaking off the weight of viral sleep. The kids seemed re-energized. We were watching a Red Lacewing drink from an orange slice when she zipped past my ear.

“I feel like me again!”

From the corner of my eye I saw here. Her wings no longer the dull sheen of a silver maple leaf on a sunny breeze. Transparent yellow-gold and black, I only caught sight of them when she paused on a branch to kiss a Common Blue Morpho. “Do be careful no one sees you!” I prayed. “And please come back to me!”

She’d had her fill … and stashed a store in an empty film canister. “Thank goodness I haven’t gone digital,” I thought.

She splattered my jacket with rainbow dust as she scrambled inside, much hotter than any ballpark dog I’d ever spent $6 on. She must have fallen asleep because I didn’t hear from her for hours. The kids were getting to bed when she finally woke.

“Mommy, are you going to sleep in your jacket?”

“You dream sweet dreams,” I said. “Don’t worry about how I sleep.”

Lights off I tripped in the hallway … one foot on a Barbie jeep, the other pierced by a Power Ranger.

“I wish we could keep this house CLEAN! I growled through gritted teeth.

“Finally!” A squeaky shout from my pocket.

“Shhhh!” We went into my room and locked the door. “Honestly … look at this!” Far from a romantic refuge from the parental storm, my bedroom resembled a college town Laundromat on Sunday night. Overflowing baskets as far as the eye could see. Mariposa was kicking at the zipper now, so I let her out. She zipped up to the fan blade, about 8 feet above me, perched and smiled down on me.

“Finally! Finally! Finally a wish we can do something about. I mean, what do you think I am, a genie or something? Fix the environment … make people innately generous … turn more men into the perfect combination of physical fitness and artistic sensitivity. I hope you find a genie one day. But for now you get fairy magic, which is fantastic enough, but not alter-the-world-in-a-flash. We fairies work one-on-one. Three wishes for THAT PERSON, for that believer. But, seeing as your husband believes, too, only the sensitive artistic men do, he’ll get his when he asks, so you might want to talk things over before spending your other two wishes …”

“Two?” I interrupted. How she could go on, now even faster than before.

“Well, yes, you wished to keep the house clean, so we’ll start there. Watch how you speak, you wish for a lot … big wishes, like I said. I see I’ll have to reel you in to get this done in a timely fashion. So, about the house, shall we start now or when you’ve rested?”

“When I’ve rested,” I said, moving Kaya off her bedroll and into a new spot on the bookcase. “You can sleep here.”

She floated down from the fan blade, sprinkling rainbow dust behind her. She got comfy and looked at me. “Fairy dust isn’t as messy as it seems,” she said, throwing some at my face. “It soaks into all who believe. Goodnight.”

“Don’t let the kids see you,” I muttered falling into bed.

The next day I woke with new energy. I moved past the morning’s obstacles as if I had wings. The laundry progressed from the bedroom floor through the machines past my hands and back where it belonged. It seemed effortless, rather than the bleary, endless task I usually faced. With the house emptied onto the school bus I danced all the lovees and toys back to the proper cubbies, scrubbed the bathrooms, dusted, vacuumed, paused for my noontime salad and somehow avoided my power nap.

It was then that I went out to the lily bed to find her. She’d befriended the cardinal family nesting in the neighbor’s tree, but flew over when she saw me.

“So, how comes the cleaning?” she asked, balancing on the tip of the season’s first bud shoot.

“I’ve been working like crazy!” I whispered. “When are you going to come do your thing?”

“What do you mean?” She circled my shoulders and hands, a wave of dust coating my skin. She descended as though a spiral staircase encircled my legs. Before I could tisk at the mess the dust was gulped into my skin. “Why aren’t you taking your nap?”

“I’m not tired today.”

“Interesting,” she said with a smirk. Her yellow-gold wings glimmered. “I’ll come in at dusk. I like the bed you gave me.”

That night we whispered to each other. She told me about the butterfly milk the cardinals helped her find and how she’d swooped over Brantay’s nest and saw hatchlings. She still missed her old friend. The cardinals guided her back to me. I was thankful.

“I don’t understand, though,” I said. “I thought you were going to grant my wishes. I still did all the work.”

“I told you, I’m no genie,” She was doing a zig-zag over our bed … enough dust for both of us. I’d heard them talking when he brought her in. He was still playing his guitar downstairs.

“Open the children’s bedrooms,” she said. A lap over each bed sprinkled my beauties with rainbow light. It hovered then was pulled into each as though they were vacuum cleaners. “Now they’ll always believe in magic.” Mariposa fluttered to her own little bed and we both fell asleep.

A few days went by like this. With the school bus loaded I’d pick up, wipe up, tackle a dresser, closet or corner of the basement. Soon nearly the whole house was clean and organized and the kids and my husband weren’t shedding items everywhere. Neither was I.

Each night Mariposa sprinkled each sleeping child. Each night she zig-zagged over our bed. She went out with the dog before the kids woke and returned at dusk, which in summer was after they were in bed with a book. It took a while, but I began to watch my use of the word “wish,” until one payday came along. The thought went through my head before it crossed my lips. So I added some adjectives when I asked.

“I wish I could be financially and physically safe and healthy.”

Her nose crinkled. “I’m no genie.” She frowned, but I just grinned.

This morning the spiral staircase was tightly wound from my head to my toes. I inhaled deeply as she went past my face. The dust was sweet as it passed my nose and lips. How wasn’t she dizzy when she came to rest?

Coffee in hand I sat down with the bills and saw things a new way. If I do this here and that there … If we pay cash here and skip that there we won’t have to charge this. Hmmm. The kids played in the backyard as a plan unfolded. Then I got restless. Normally I would have napped to turn of my brain. Today we followed Mariposa and the

cardinals down a trail through the woods behind the house. Funny how she stayed out of sight of the kids. Funny how good it felt to perspire.

So summer went on. The kids enjoyed the low-cost adventures afforded by a fenced backyard and a library card. We splurged on a Saturday trip to Mastedon State Historic Site. They were archaeologists for the last two weeks of the summer.

All the while Mariposa sprinkled. When his guitar wasn’t humming I heard pencil scratches or water running over dirty paint brushes. Uncertain of his exact words I knew he’d wished for color in his windowless beige suburban cubicle … for music beyond the rhythm of keyboard tapping. And I thought of all the voices and faces in my own head. I had one wish left.

The bus drove off and I straightened up. I paid the bills that came in the day before … a new habit that was really saving money. No more late fees!

Mariposa was out with the cardinals. She’d been back in touch with Brantay, whose maternal instinct had downsized substantially since the goslings took flight. The music stopped downstairs and soon he emerged from the basement. He always took the first day of school off work.

With our romantic retreat freed from the slush of laundry and unfiled financial papers we were able to adjourn there with new purpose. Well, not NEW, perhaps REDISCOVERED. In our mid-30s we might never reclaim the stamina or abandon of the 18-year-olds who met at college. But the love had never left us, so having the quiet time alone together was all we needed to make an effort to reclaim our youth.

“Do you have any idea how relieved he is?” Mariposa said that night after sprinkling the last child. “He thought you weren’t attracted to him anymore.”

“That was never true!” My voice was louder than it should have been, but no one woke.

“What was never true?” he asked as I undressed behind the locked bedroom door and cozied up to his warm body.

“I’ve never wanted anyone but you.” I kissed him then. As the dust fell my last wish flitted through my head. “Have you made your last wish?”

He ran his hand down my body. “What do you think?”

Mariposa grinned as she made her way to her bed. “Fairies must be asexual,” I thought, wondering for the first time how old she was, if she were mortal and how fairies were made.

“You haven’t,” she said, crinkling and furrowing. “I must commend you, though. You’ve downsized your wishes. Genies are exceptionally rare, especially in this country. You’re unlikely to find one. Besides, no one ever LEARNS anything when a genie grants a wish. Genies just hand you what you think you want. Fairies help you hold on to it.”

“I know,” I whispered, squeezing my husband’s hand.

“Brantay says she’ll take me home,” she mumbled, drifting off.

“I thought she might,” I said. A tear hit my pillow and we were all asleep.

Before she and Brantay left I had written three Boo and Bunny stories and a list of ideas. A journal had been doodled up and coated with poetry. The house was still clean and the debt was still shrinking. The autumn rains were cutting into my walking and swimming, so I bought a fold-up work-out machine and started using that. As she sprinkled us one last time I asked her: “How long before the magic wears off?”

“What do you mean? It doesn’t wear off. Didn’t you hear me the other night? Fairy magic isn’t like genie magic! We don’t work big and run off. We take what you give us, then give it back to you.”

Our final visit to the Butterfly House seemed to have given her extra juice. She was on her third trip down the all too familiar zig-zag pattern. She could see me crinkled and furrowed and so, with a roll of her big green eyes she went on to explain.

“You both gave me the same things … you believed in me. You took time for me. So I believed in you and helped you believe in yourself. By the way, this was no small task where you were concerned. Handsome over there, he is so handsome dear, I really can’t believe he isn’t more, well, you know, it doesn’t matter the species, usually such handsome males parade about more. But he IS the sensitive, artistic type. For him it was more a matter of he didn’t think he had time for it all, but you both still took time for me.

“So I showed you the way.” She was running on like the day we met. I just drank it all in. “And the more you believed in yourself and the more time you took to organize the mumbo jumbo your kind makes for themselves the more you believed and the more time you had to spend on what matters to you … drinking up the woodland, feeling water on your flesh. There was time for good-deed-doing, darling, and time for each other.”

She was tucked in her bedroll now, which after her season with us was quite polluted with rainbow dust. The kids would draw in it from time to time.

“And your wishes were passed on to your babies,” she mumbled, snuggling in. “You never spoke of them, but they are always with you two, so each night I sprinkled them because, you know, children believe. They just DO. And I can confess now, they have all seen me. We chat when you’re asleep. So you see, they think I’m a dream and still they believe. And they will always believe in themselves, in magic. They will always make time for what’s important to them They will .…”

The bus pulled away the next morning under a low, grey October sky. He stayed home from work again this day as much to keep me aloft as to soak up our last minutes with Mariposa. I wish you could have seen the neighbors’ faces when a flock of geese dropped on our front yard! Alas, I’ve never quite conquered my liberal use of the word, but I’m better than I used to be.

One goose wandered to the lily bed, where Mariposa was crouched beneath the browning leaves. A blink later they took off and moved into their perfect V. As they did so, a glimmer appeared and we knew she was flying. I couldn’t keep from crying.

I looked at my hands and gasped. Then I couldn’t stop laughing. They were rainbow glittered tears.

Friday, May 19, 2006

vanquishing vampires

A simple kiss
Scooped into his warm arms
I feel his heart in his chest
I’m shielded from harm

A simple kiss
Scooped into my arms
A small head on my chest
I shield them from harm

A simple kiss
Scooped from demons’ arms
I feel my heart in my chest
Loving, living, safe from harm

Thursday, May 18, 2006

ramblings caught between a noisy brain and a blank page

Something’s happening inside I can’t control. I can’t label it. I can’t harness it. I’m trying to write my way out of it but nothing is coming except stories of vampires.

Joy vampires.

Sucking the joy from my veins.

So if I know they’re there why don’t I fight back? Kick them off? Do something? Maybe if I just let these tears come I could close the wound on my neck.

Maybe if I locked myself up with the blankness of my new journal I could get something out. Why do I always pressure myself that it has to make sense?

It doesn’t have to make sense.

It could just be one long freaking run-on sentence that describes what I think is the sea creature pulling this ship down into the depths and asks, without editing itself, why in the world I let the sea creature hold on when I know a good whack with the ore might break its knuckles and cause it to release me and I could sail back toward my sweet island of characters I’m waiting to explore and turn my back on all the feelings I’m best served when I ignore them.

See, one long run-on sentence, not that run-ons come any other way but long.

So, it’s holding on to my little boat, and yet it must be hunted. And I don’t know what else to say, but I had to keep from slipping off my plane again … that’s where the creature’s friends team up on me. Down there, in the disconnected, disinterested crowd that is life with moms from school and moms who are neighbors and all these women judging each other because, really, they’re judging themselves.

Pulse racing.

Heart racing.

Head aching.

Where is that creative beast?

I hear you calling me.

I feel your hunger.

Why won’t you come when I call you?

I have food … somewhere.

If only I had you here, we could each whack the knuckles with an ore and then row for our lives.



I think I’ll take a nap. That will shut up all the other stuff.

Until I wake up.

So instead I start singing and the tears start coming. This song always makes me take a breath. It’s a prayer, but today I hear more. Even though it’s a song from church, this time it’s me talking to my own creative self and my own creative self begging to be heard.

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you tend to cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare, should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoner free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the Leper clean, and do such as this unseen
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the you in you if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

And in typing it here I once again am soothed. In the bit of “The Artist’s Way” I attempted I was struck by Julia Cameron’s connection of our creative selves to the ultimate creator. So is it really wrong to see my creativity where others see their creator?

Sometimes distant.

Sometimes near.

It knows me by name.

And takes me back when I ask.

Sometimes I embrace it.

Sometimes I scream at it.

It knows me by name.

And forgives me when I ask.

I think I’ll keep singing. Maybe let the tears run at last. Maybe I’ll find my creative beast before dinner, feed it, and we can take a few whacks at those knuckles. Perhaps if I give it cheesecake it will do the rowing for our lives while I write those vampires out of my head.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: The Books I Would Write

A swim through my head

If my brain were the Beluga Whale tank at Shedd Aquarium I might be able to capture more of these ideas and make something real. Instead, I look through the thick glass and see myself float by, trying to organize a cookbook of sorts.

Boo cannonballs into the tank, Bunny-less. I’m beginning to wonder if the tattered Bunny will survive to answer the question: What did an adult Calvin say upon finding Hobbes in a box in his Mom’s basement? Boo’s feet touch bottom and he shoots himself to the surface, passing Sensei halfway up.

Sensei fascinates me. He’s so approachable. And yet … And yet … And yet it’s easy to be intimidated by him. He enters a room and is immediately respected. The kids just don’t want to let him down in any way. “I always work double hard for Sensei,” Boo said one night after karate. I’d love to compare and contrast all the things Sensei teaches the kids and all the things we moms try to teach the kids.

Peanut shoots by, a purple whisp crowned by a pink anemone. She stops to look at Tommy sitting on the bottom then scoops Pooker into her maternal instinct and raises him from the tank. I call bottom dweller Tommy because he reminds me of the Denis Leary character on Rescue Me, though not quite so desperate. When my Tommy gets his name he will still be a single guy with a murky depth. His stories surprise me … but everyone should investigate the demons in the darker corners of human nature, that way they won’t creep up on you.

I put my face to the glass, shield my eyes to limit the glare and look in the distance of the tank. There’s the single mom running away from life with an abuser. The young man starting medical school. The teenage lovers with no money for gas and the retirees making a dream vacation come true. Someone lets 50 license plates fall in with a sploosh. They flutter before littering the bottom of the tank. Fuzzier are the women who are the two sides to every mom. Alter egos? SuperHero and Villain? I pull away from the tank and realize that I’m not sure of anything aside from how the squinting is hurting my face.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Angel's Kiss

This is the spot where the heavens touch the Earth. Your grandma once called it an Angel’s Kiss and the name stuck, like the kiss. You are touched by the angels. How else could such a little man carry around such a big heart, such a generous spirit, such a kind soul, and guard it all with the power of Ninja?

At 7 I think you’ve reached a point where you’ve drawn a circle around yourself. Those welcomed inside find a second circle, much harder to enter than the first. Actually, I think encounters there are more your stepping out than anyone else’s stepping in.

My problem is I just can’t resist you. I want to hold you close and soak up your goodness, your brilliance, your confidence. You, with your generous gigantic heart, want to stand back and share yourself with as many as you can.

Some might call you the problem child. Some might say its middle child syndrome. Some are put off by your independence. Sometimes I call you my challenge. I’m flattered to say it’s because you are so much like me. You go with your gut and often react before analyzing. The difference is Dad. The part of you that is your dad is your ability to react; analyze; then harness your passion with the analysis and react again. I have so much to learn from you.

You are a problem solver. You can fix most anything and have been able to since you were 2. I’ve seen you put yourself in the middle: You stick up for your smaller, quieter peers at school. When you were 4 you stood between your sister and an older kid who shook his fist at her at the park. You have zero tolerance for injustice.

“Why are there poor people?” you asked one day.

You accepted that things aren’t fair, but still wanted to fix it. “I’m going to give my stuff I don’t play with to poor kids.” You were 5.

When I first gazed upon your face your forehead was black and blue. “It’s because he came so hard and fast,” the nurse said. You pushed your way free and from that very moment you were your own man … and you had your father’s eyes.

Perhaps this is what makes me so weak where you’re concerned. Those dancing chameleon eyes … sometimes more hazel than brown, sometimes more gold than hazel … but always dancing, the left one just above the Angel’s Kiss.

Of course kids are kids and you never thought about your birthmark until Kindergarten. It was then your pattern with your peers emerged. You do your best to handle it on your own, only confiding in me occasionally, usually when you’re frustrated behind all hope. You squeeze me tight and sprinkle me with kisses and I know that you know you are loved for who you are. And I leave your room those nights knowing I, too, have been kissed by an angel.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The blogosphere is flat

Dear Chris,

I know you thought you were done arguing the whole flat vs. round thing more than 500 years ago, but I’m here to tell you that you’ve lost this second round. Sorry, despite the common moniker “blogo-sphere” the existence out here is quite flat. I know. I fell off. But hey, I’m back to tell you about the trip.

No sea monsters at the end. Not even any water. Just a vastness of space filled with party planning, party execution and party clean up. I interrupted the space with everyday things such as a playdate for Mr. 5 and making a work deadline, but more on that in a minute.

I thought I was managing things well. While not posting anything myself I had been able to keep up with the company I’d made out here for a few days before I dropped off the edge all together. You see it isn’t a sphere, but millions of planes intersecting at unimaginable angles. I’ve been lucky to have so many stop at mine and stay a minute. Then I stop at theirs and stay a minute. Soon minutes become hours because you keep intersecting more and more interesting planes to explore. So some weaning had to occur if I were to prepare everything for my impending guests and make that deadline.

Things were going well as by last Wednesday I had weaned myself completely from this world and was deep in the throws of scrubbing my kitchen floor and shuttling children to sports when the floor fell out from under me. I had misunderstood my assignment and had to re-write my article on infusions. Correction, article on infused liquids.

So, in the course of proving that the blogo-sphere is flat I proved something else, in the lyrics of Karyn White: “I’m not your Superwoman!” Sure I can look as though I’m doing it all, but the resulting meltdown caused me to go deep inside and admit to myself that I’m not Superwoman. SuperMom. Whoever. And it’s not worth trying to be.

So I slid off the end of my blogo-plane and took everything I’d worked so hard to build this year down with me. The journals are tucked in corners, out of sight of visitors, so many partial sentences and half scratches etched inside. The Total Gym is gathering dust at the end of the bed. Most every ounce of creative juice slipped from me through my vocal chords as my fingertips gave way and I let go of my blogo-plane, screaming all the way to the bottom.

But it wasn’t like those stories before your first trip, Chris. No demons or devils, just a lot of rungs to climb to get back where I feel the new me belongs.

You asked an interesting question the other day. You wanted to know, if I truly had fallen off the edge of a flat world, how did it feel and how did I find my way back. Well, here’s your answer.

After a day of celebrating my daughter with family I was full of love, many kinds of love, kinds I can’t get into here as this letter would be far too long. What I hadn’t filled myself with was food. I hadn’t had much the day before either … unless you count wine and tobacco. Yes, when I fell off the edge I crashed hard into old unhealthy patterns of Marlboro Lights and mixed drinks. Two beloved vices I have squeezed out of my life in the name of living healthier. It was nothing to rival the excess of the college years (thank goodness), but without much else in my stomach I paid the price. So after a fabulous day I woke about 2 a.m. with my insides raging. Physical drainage caused the mind to run roughshod through a jungle of neglected, overblown real-life tasks to catch up on. I was having a hard time calming myself down. I started prioritizing and that’s when I heard it. The items on my to-do list were thundering through my head … like the sound of a rope ladder falling many stories down the side of one of your original ships.

And that’s when I knew. In the post-party silence I would get back to taking care of me – eat right a few days in a row, get some sleep, take a machete to that jungle of annoying tasks such as bill paying and clothes washing – I would climb those rungs back up to where I really wanted to be.

So here I am, back on my blogo-plane of existence, proof, Chris, that it’s no sphere out here at all. You won the first round by bumping into a new world. I won this round by bumping into my old self and remembering why I left her down there with no ladder.

I’ve got more brush to clear. Write back soon.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Why I Live Where I Live

These are fake journal entries, but I couldn't help comparing and contrasting these two stages of my life.

May, 1996
Friends for dinner last night, so the pictures are finally on the walls. We moved up to this apartment in January from the one-bedroom on 16 and I still can’t believe we live like this. Sure there are a few things I don’t like about it, but when you take on life in a rehabbed high rise you have to take what you can get. The fact that my uncle lived in this building when he was newly arrived from Louisville and it was the YMCA 30 years ago adds to the intrigue.

I love that we have space to spread out. I love that we have TWO bathrooms. I love that when I walk upstairs (yes, stairs in our apartment!) the first thing I see is Chicago spread out before me, the El like a lifeline and the buildings on either side like arms pulling me into the city’s chest … waiting for me to listen to its heartbeat. I love that the first thing I see when I get out of bed is the mood of Lake Michigan as it hugs Shedd Aquarium. I could watch the winter waves for hours, trying to grasp their anger. I could soak up the shades of summer blue for days, trying to submerge myself in their kiss. One thing I’ve learned living downtown, the land and the lake are one and they expand and contract with the seasons. I wish there were a way to draw the people spilling into the water each summer, and the water chasing them away every winter.

It’s going on two years since we looked at each other and said “Let’s do it.” We left that cozy Mid-Missouri comfort zone and dove into big city life. I wouldn’t change a thing. Sure we pay $1500 a month in rent. Sure we pay to park the car. Sure we pay almost $2 a load to do laundry. So what? We’ve only got one car and I haven’t driven it in almost three months! I love challenging myself to see how long I can go without driving. And the laundry room is just a few steps from my door now. I don’t even have to leave the building. And we don’t mow a lawn or shovel snow or do any of that stuff, though I wouldn’t mind some flowers on the deck.

Can't imagine what would pull me from this life ... except maybe a day job. But that's coming around in time. Last week I actually lucked into a noon-to-eight and he and I had dinner together.

May, 2006
They're out back with Eva so I have a few minutes, maybe more. I love that they’re all old enough now to stick out in the fenced backyard with the dog and know they can play to their heart’s content. I still go outside with them when they want to ride bikes on the cul-de-sac. Mr. 5 still needs reminders of the rules and the world doesn’t work the way it used to. At 8,7 and 6 my brothers and I and all our friends roamed free through sub – urbia. Can’t do that these days.

“Haven’t you ever noticed all the freaks and fruits live in the suburbs?” My New Jersey friend used to ask in a more colorful way than is fit for print. He hated going into the sub – urbs and was actually afraid of them. He was right.

But on this little tract of land, from which I must drive to get anywhere, we have three happy kids, the dog Hubby never had growing up, the flower garden I’ve always wanted and dinner together every night. On this little tract of land we have played in the sprinkler, dug in the dirt, fallen and scraped near every part of our little bodies and spent nearly every day of our lives because here, in Missouri, people can afford to live on one income and have a parent stay at home with the kids. It was an economic impossibility in Chicagoland … even in its sub – urbs. And living in the city here wouldn’t be cost effective either. Sure we could find a house for the $1500 we pay a month out here, but the schools stink. I can’t stay at home and afford private school of any kind for three kids. So, a fine district in the sub – urbs it is.

So many people I know bemoan how having kids has robbed them of one thing or another. Sure, having kids thrust some changes upon us, but we’ve never called them sacrifices. Living in the sub – urbs is tolerable when you can close your front door on it.

This time of year and Christmastime are the hardest. But the pangs for city life are irritating pinches now instead of those heart wrenching squeezes that crippled all forward motion. What we've built here is good. And when we look at what we're able to give the kids we see no reason to leave, at least not until after Mr. 5 graduates high school. Of course that could change, but the cold hard economics of the situation are these: We couldn't afford to buy this house now. The prices have changed that fast. We have three happy kids. We have each other. And no one else we know can say their housing payment is the same as it was 10 years ago! Besides, I-55 will lead us right to the Shedd's front door whenever we're ready to go.

Check it out

Great images from the first weekend of Jazz Fest. Enjoy!

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