Monday, February 27, 2012

Dear 1-year old John:

I always choose salty too. Even when the sweet is amazingly aesthetically pleasing.

Love you,
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How did it seem so hard then but so easy in retrospect?

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Desert & Dessert of Motherhood

I tell my students that the way to know the difference between "desert" and "dessert" is this:
  • "desert" has one "s," which stands for "sand"
  • "dessert" has two, which stand for "sweet stuff"

And so it was that a recent discussion of syllable stress and spelling inspired me to think about how close those two words are in formal features and yet how far apart they are semantically.  And of course that led to the theory that the same is true of Motherhood.

For many, motherhood can be likened to finding oneself smack in the middle of a dessert tray.  It's not really like "normal" life, but who cares?  There is sugary stuff ev.ery.where.  Love and breastmilk abound, and nevermind the lack of sleep:  There is no reminiscing about the silly, selfish days of yore because now there is a sweet purpose to life.   A delicious little someone who needs us ... soft as frosting, moist as cake, bliss. 

For others, becoming a mom can be like falling asleep in a soft king-size bed at the downtown Hilton and waking up in a pup tent in the desert.  These women have lived their entire pre-maternal lives in a utopia of self-centered days filled with ridiculous luxuries such as regular shampooing, eating a meal without being handed a rejected wad of spit-out zucchini, and shaving.  Just shaving any one part on any given day.  Or at all in a year.  But that's OK because motherhood brings on lizard-like qualities in these women.  They are like chameleons who can change their colors no matter the environment.

For me, the Journey into Mama was definitely more in the realm of "desert," with the added caveat that I am not even close to being a chameleon.  In fact, I'm a fish.  And when my aquarian self woke up to the reality of desert life, it wasn't just not pretty; it wasn't even tolerable.  The first shock of motherhood for me was like falling into quicksand.  It felt drastic and life-threatening.  It felt like my skin in winter -- dry -- searching for something akin to Vaseline, finding only a raindrop (on a good day).

But now that the culture shock has worn off ...

(I say that although every single day I wonder how it is that millions of othermothers have survived the insanity of neverending Cheerios stuck to the floor.  The challenge of getting shoes on a determined-to-go-outside-NOW-with-his-brother toddler.  The talking back.  The disciplinary decisions.  The car.)

... it seems that I am evolving.  It feels like maybe my gills are growing accustomed to the dry air and scorpion-like sting of all the whining.  I find myself being more curious about the life forms found here in this new environment, and less judgmental.  Sometimes I think that's good progress coming from the decision to work hard at something worthwhile. Other times I think it's not a choice: It's just like breathing -- my body will continue to make an attempt at it until I plumb give out.

But mostly I just hope to make it through dinner and into bedtime without yelling, having to do sun salutations, or making emergency calls to Brian, 9-1-1, poison control, protective services, or the preacher.

And so now I have come to view Mamalife not in terms of the polar opposites of desert & dessert; rather, I have come to view motherhood as some nebulous point on a continuum between the two, varying on any given day or minute.  And just like I tell my students that one must balance fluency and accuracy, I tell myself that I must balance the desolation and decadence of parenting.

Or at least evolve from fish into lizard.

Onward & upward & praying hard for rain,

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One of them is longer, but they weigh about the same.

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The Maternals sent a beanbag for V-Day; too bad it's not getting much use.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Having a Dog in the Race

Let's discuss this incident wherein Mitt Romney put his dog in a kennel strapped to the roof of his car for a 12-hour road trip with his family in 1983.  I just heard about this story today on NPR, which shows you how uninformed I am regarding the Presidential hopefuls and their pet catastrophes.  I am quite informed about the love affairs though (not Romney's).  Let me also make the disclaimer that I am not a Romney supporter.  I find him to be wishy washy.  Additionally, I question the sanity of anyone who has survived five sons.  He had to have been on drugs during some part of that endeavor.  And so, with all of that in mind, I'd like to submit three important considerations for people who are spending their time protesting by strapping stuffed dogs to the tops of their cars, making signs that say "Mitt is Mean," and just in general continuing to discuss this issue at all.

First of all, this happened in 1983.  I have clear memories of riding in the car with my family in 1983, when I was six.  They all involve me in one of three positions: (1) poised on top of the "hump" that was in between my parents in the front seat belting out Tammy Wynette songs at a volume much higher than the tape deck; (2) stretched out on the backseat reading; or even (3) crammed into the space between the back windshield and the top of the backseat applying lip gloss in an attempt to get my lips as shiny as Barbara Mandrell's.  My guess is that the five Romney boys in the back of the station wagon did NOT have on their seat belts in 1983.  People just didn't think about stuff like that back then.  So it seems completely understandable to me that they wouldn't have thought twice about putting the dog on top since the children were likely not belted in.  At least the kennel was strapped down.

Second of all, in the interview with Fox News, Romney stated that the dog in the air-tight kennel was no doubt more comfortable than he would've been in the back of the car with the five boys.  I tend to agree with that -- I mean, given the choice of being in the crowded back of a station wagon with the five fighting brothers, I might prefer my own quiet space.  But I'm not sure I would want to be in an "air-tight" quiet space.  How did the poor dog breathe?  Never mind the roof issue ... am I wrong that "air-tight" typically means that no air can get in or out?  Why aren't the animal rights people concerned about this detail?

And third of all, this business about how the dog pooped up there in the kennel and then the Romneys stopped and simply "hosed him off and put him right back up there" seems to be one of the most ridiculous details of the case.  How else could you wash the poop off of a dog on a road trip?  What other options are there with regard to cleaning poop off an animal at a service station or rest area?  While I have no experience with freshening up canines, I do have plenty of extended experience cleaning vomit and fecal matter off of children on road trips.  Let's just say that using a hose would've been WAY more sanitary and humane than some of the things I have done simply for the sake of not getting too far behind schedule.


Don't these people know that Dick Cheney transports his hunting dogs in the back of a pickup?

Moreover, why did W's dog Barney not wear a bullet-proof vest when they were out for jogs?

And finally, why hasn't our current president mandated pet insurance as part of Obamacare?

Now, admittedly, I do like cats better, but that doesn't mean that I have a vendetta against dogs.  And I certainly don't have any particularly strong feelings against Romney's dog.  But I do have an interest in American politics, and I'd prefer it if this ridiculous issue weren't clouding the reality of what makes someone a good leader.  In fact, this is one of the worst red herrings I've ever seen on such a high level.  While the Syrians and Egyptians and Iranians and countless others are being persecuted, tortured, and killed by their government officials, we are sitting over here fixated on how one of our potential officials chose to treat his dog during a vacation that occurred twenty-nine years ago.


Forget liberty.  Give me relevance, or give me death!

Onward & upward (but not as far upward as the roof of your car),

Monday, February 13, 2012

Love Letter

Dear Brian,

You turned forty recently.  And I am in this habit of writing letters to sweet boys on their birthdays, so I want you to know up front that part of this is written out of sheer muscle memory.  I am not sure exactly which muscle (fingers?  brain? heart?), but still: I can’t be exactly certain of what my motives are.  So I want to disclose that up front. 

And that’s about the best preface I can come up with.

This is a weird sort of love letter.  But – then again – ours is a weird sort of love.  I decided to marry you when I was about 23.  Three years before a person’s brain fully matures and stops developing.  Four years before we had our first child.  Twelve years ago total.

I remember the first time I laid eyes on you.  I have never told you this, but at the time I wondered if you were a cancer patient … so bald was your head.  Then I noticed your eyebrows and consoled myself.  That was in Houston, Texas at the Teach for America Institute – a place I have come to view in retrospect as a mini Abu Ghraib – filled with the paradoxical forces of absurd idealism and torture.

After that, we went to a place that – for me – was just as horrific.  There was a lot of beauty there … but I could not see it at the time.  Two years we spent there as friends, then more.  We got married there but have never been back.  You loved it there.  I despised everything except maybe the fried catfish. 

And so I am writing you this letter to tell you something that most wives are not likely to tell their husbands on their 40th Birthdays or Valentine's Day or Ever.  I am writing to tell you this:

I can and often do imagine a life without you.  I imagine a life of different choices, different outcomes, different everything. 

In fact, I have this very clear picture of a different life, where I am partnered with someone who -- from the get-go -- has babied me, spoiled me, and treated me like a princess.  I envision a relationship in which I get away with a selfish, childish, greedy existence.  A life in which there may be a lot to see and do, but little to feel.

This is the life that I fashioned for myself and then ran from.  In the process of fleeing, I bumped into you: a person who tolerates no self-pity, -centeredness, or –aggrandizement.  Someone who fretted for the entirety of our wedding reception about one guest who had maybe not shown up because he had gotten lost in the maze of Leland, Mississippi and that creek and those straight, flat roads.  At the time, I was infuriated by your distraction, for I wanted all of your attention to be on something else (me!).  How fitting that our wedding was an example of how your awareness is so often focused on some greater good.

Lawdy how that “greater good” characteristic is simultaneously endearing and infuriating.  It is what draws us close and tears us apart.  If ever I am feeling like you don’t understand me, I remind myself that I am not, was never, and should not be the central point; you have a capacity for love (and minimalism) that extends way beyond me.

For an only child, that is hard to manage.  But also, it is hard to reject.

I feel that somehow I knew you were my only path to growing up.  I needed someone who would not put up with my tantrums, demands, or unsupported opinions.  That kind of love is reserved for parents, not partners.

Now it seems that in these 12 years I've known you, we have grown so far beyond the little plot of dirt we started in.  We have fed our love with that good organic fertilizer that is 10-30-60:  perseverance, humor, forgiveness.  And now, somehow, it has come full circle ... because try as you may to hide it ...

I think you are starting to adore me. 

There are times when you literally rave about me -- you say it to me, our parents, the boys.  It's so fun!  Especially after I've just murdered some Roberta Flack song at karaoke or set off all the smoke detectors in the entire neighborhood.  This belated adoration is much sweeter than the kind which isn't earned.

And it's the un-earned kind that is the leitmotif of my imaginary life without you. 


See, the problem with starting out a marriage with someone who blindly worships you is that eventually they figure out that you ain't all that. You may whine a lot, for example, and that may start to annoy them.  Or you may meticulously crack each of your 20 finger knuckles before bedtime in such a way that drives them to the bring of insanity.  Or you may joke too much, not enough, or about the wrong things.  Or perhaps you have a double standard about spousal farting.  No matter the impetus, when you fall off the Pedestal of Blind Adoration, there is no trampoline below you, just the hard ground of reality, where you sit alone with your incessant whining, cracked knuckles, bad jokes, and stinky gas.


When you EARN adoration ex post facto ... oh, now that is a horse of a different color.

And lately, BB, you have made me feel like that is MY horse.  Thanks, love.  I always wanted a horse.

Your best frâu,

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Our family's emotions, according to our oldest:

#3 = John
#7 = Mom
*19 = Dad
# 27 = Sam

Clearly, there is a Sam/Mom resemblance (strong emotion accompanied by mouth-agape disbelief and possibly fear)

Brian is obviously smug, and John looks guilty but pleased.
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Church Boys (in the gym)

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Why the STU.PID appraiser cannot ruin this day:

I know.  Huge, right?

Huge ... and HAPPY.
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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A Piano Lesson

One night, this is how John completed his piano lesson flashcards.  Click HERE for video.

After a long day of jamming out on his guitar, The Bam falls asleep naked on a rug we no longer have, with his "night night" (and socks).

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Before & After

The intrepid first grader tries a mix of beet, kale, celery, ginger, carrot, and lime juice. 

And loves it.
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John's 2012 Resolutions

I want to ...
  • be better in math.
  • not chase my brother.
  • wave to my neighbor.
  • be nice to the mailman.

Monday, February 06, 2012


I wrote this last week ...

I'm reading this book about how life is a story that you write for yourself (or others, or for show, or money, or whatever reason floats your boat).  I think the point is that we should start writing better stories, but I'm only in chapter two, so I'm not yet in long-term-implication mode.    

In the book, there's an anecdote about how one father reformed his 13-year old, pot-smoking daughter by having a family meeting in which he disclosed his commitment (legal commitment as in contract) to raise $25,000 to build an orphanage in Mexico.  This, apparently, worked like a charm because SHE REALLY JUST NEEDED A BETTER KIND OF RISK TO TAKE.


We need to choose better risks.  Or, any risk at all.  That's it. 

As I'm writing this, Brian is at a funeral for one of his former soccer players.  A teenager who, along with two of his four brothers, was run over by a 20-year old driver while walking home from school.  We don't know details about the driver except that he did not call 9-1-1.  Instead, he went home, and a witness made the call.  We don't know details about his level of blood alcohol or gang status either.

But really, what details are more important than "teenager killed, brothers injured while walking home"?

I have to ask myself: Did that family just need a "better kind of risk"? 

Sometimes I get like this:  I can't read fiction because it's too silly and too much of an attempt to escape, but I can't read nonfiction for the same reason.  And when books can't satiate me, you know that things are rough.

Besides reading, I have lately been sitting around fantasizing about making over my bedroom (a new project that is remarkably safe and about as UN-risky as Mr. Rogers's sweater collection).  Meanwhile, across town, some mother is preparing to bury her child. 


God must be so sick of that question.

All of this makes me pause.  I pause to think of his parents, his brothers, his friends ... his grandparents back in Mexico who were no doubt supportive of his parents' decision to come to a better country.  But I especially pause for his mother, of course.  Because something tells me she uprooted her family and moved to America for a less risky life.  And it has probably been hard for them even before this.  They have likely moved around a lot, worked menial jobs, and scraped by.

So there is this paradox of risk: Some are good/safe/desirable; some are not.  And I think that gets to the heart of tragedy, really: When one is NOT taking a risk, and one encounters hardship, then we call that tragic.  I know that Carol Burnett once said "Comedy is tragedy plus time," but I'm just not sure that applies when first-born children are killed. Or any children, for that matter.

Side note:  I just googled "Did Carol Burnett have kids" and found this:  Carol Burnett married thrice. She divorced her first husband Don Saroyan in 1962 and married TV producer Joe Hamilton in 1963. This marriage lasted for 21 years, in which she had three children - Carrie Hamilton, Jody Hamilton and singer Erin Hamilton. Carrie Hamilton took to durgs when she was in her teens. She got over the addiction with the help of her husband but later succumbed to brain and lung cancer. Her death in 2002 at the age of 38 left Carol Burnett devastated.

I wonder if her quote came before or after the death of her first born?

So. I would like to submit a new definition of tragedy:  Tragedy is when someone or a family of someones does not have a choice (on a daily basis -- which is different from the consideration of accidents) about their level of risk.  When they live in a bad neighborhood, for example, because that is all they can afford.  When they have to send their kids to a failing school because that's the one that provides free transportation.  When they are forced to work during the hours that their children will be walking home from school on a dark street in that same bad neighborhood.

So I guess instead of asking God, "Why?" those of us who can should really be thanking God that we are able to choose our risks (to some degree).  Of course accidents can happen to anyone, but we cannot argue that in neighborhoods where there is less income & fewer educated people, there is inherently more risk.

So, what do y'all think of me painting my dresser turquoise?  Because that is what I woke up wondering about at 3:50 a.m. this morning.  Will it be too bright?  Will it take over the room?  When will I find time to actually do the painting?  How will I know if it needs a 2nd coat?

Next came the guilt: because the fact is that I have a choice about most things in my life -- the least of which is what color to paint my dresser ... while someone else, in a neighborhood only 4 miles away, is probably choosing the color of something much more important ... the casket for her first-born child.

Maybe the turquoise is too risky. Maybe I'll just go with black, in solidarity.

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Pillow Talk

Me: Is there anything you wanna talk about?

JohnYou mean, besides buttholes?

Me: Right.


Church Clothes

Sunday, February 05, 2012

A confession

Well it is Sunday after all.  And since I was not able to stay at church long enough to leave my sins at the altar, I'm going to confess here, publicly.  Plus, I know that some of y'all want to feel better about your parenting skills, so maybe this will serve the added purpose of increasing your confidence, or at least causing you to believe that you are not the worst parent on earth -- because your friend me, is way, way worse.

Taking pictures of his busted lip (I was not involved)
I almost always have a meltdown on Sunday mornings trying to get to church.  Once we arrive, I am always glad we are there, but getting from the door to the car feels like such a monumental task that I question its worth every single week.  

Today was no exception.  We were running really late, as usual, because I decided to cook a crustless quiche, choose a new mortgage company, and wash my hair all in the one hour I had to get ready.

It had been a morning of difficulty for John, who either hasn't been getting enough exercise or is sneaking crack-filled food dye into his diet.  In fact, the entire weekend has been a rough for John.  He just cannot seem to maintain expected behavior standards.  His Kindle Fire has been taken away (speaking of crack), and to get it back he has to get seven good behavior stickers on his chart, at a maximum of one per day.  

So, the kids were outside playing and I sing-songed, "Go get in the car boys!" They were in the front yard playing on the rope swing.

As I walked outside, John flew by me saying, "Hold on -- I have to ask Dad something really important!"  

I answered, "No, you'll have to ask him later.  We are late.  Get in the car."
Up close of the busted lip
He kept walking.  

I said it louder: "ASK DAD LATER PLEASE."

He kept going.

So I took a deep breath, trying to will my hair back into hair (it had turned into snakes) and bellowed"GET!OVER!HERE!NOW!AND!TELL! ME! WHAT'S! SO! IMPORTANT! WE! ARE! LATE! FOR! CHURCH! We are ALWAYS late for church and YOU need to get there on time so that you can pray for help with HONORING! YOUR! MOTHER!!!"

John calmly stopped, walked over to me, and pointed to a large burly 30-something man standing in our yard smoking a cigarette and holding a huge, box with HOT WHEELS printed on the front.    

I quietly slipped my hand into my purse and dialed 9-1-1.  The whole story was already worked out in my head.  I could even see the newspaper headline: Mother Mows Down Child Molester with Pontiac.  I had it all figured out except for the part about how to get the car over the brick wall separating our driveway from the yard.

John says, "Mom, that man is Mr. Billy's son.  He just cleaned out the attic and found his old hot wheels.  He told me to go ask Dad if I could keep them."  (Mr. Billy is our sweet, elderly neighbor.)

Burly is standing there puffing away, smirking a bit, and holding out the suitcase of hot wheels as proof.

I sat down in the car and started the engine.  I told the 9-1-1 operator that I had dialed by mistake.  John runs over -- "Mom! Please!  Can I please ask Dad about the hot wheels before we go to church?!?!?"


Ten seconds later, John was back, skipping across the driveway, accepting the gift, thanking Burly.  He took the suitcase to the porch.  Then he skipped back to the car, got in, fastened his seatbelt, and said, "Cool, huh?  But don't worry Mom, I decided not to bring even one of the new cars to church because church is not about playing with cars.  I brought my pocket knife instead!"

 And off we sped.

Somewhere there is a burly man praying for my soul.  Somebody needs to.