the whole wide world

My son and I sit in the car. Ralph is off visiting a friend; our daughter is inside the house.

Nels is upset. Today three people in the neighborhood were rude to him; uncharacteristic, a bit rough today. The first: the parent of a neighborhood bully. This parent yelled at my son not to pet their dog; retaliation for Nels’ boundary-setting with this child, the latter having defaced our property. The second: two kids in the neighborhood, taunting Nels for being vegan – caprice and cowardice, as these young people mind their p’s and q’s when an adult is around. “I’m in the dead pig club. I love to eat dead pigs!” they shout at one another, smirking his way.

My son takes this stuff to heart. He doesn’t know what to do. I feel him on this. It’s the confusion and hurt when someone is cruel, vindictive. Even knowing why people are like this – it can hurt.

So we talk about those incidents, but briefly. In both cases, my son did not respond in kind. I am quite impressed with him for that. And I tell him. It’s character that matters here. You can have all the feelings you want. I get it. But character is important. You can’t retaliate in kind. If something has to be done, we have to be thoughtful about it. We can’t lash out, just because someone was rude. Cruel. Spiteful.

But then – we talk about other things. A catch-up, on how he’s been this week. He’s feeling the influence of the pack of boys he plays with. They cuss (when not around adults, that is), and this last week he’s cussed a few times. He is teary-eyed. “I feel like I let you down,” he tells me now, his voice breaking. I remind him that although I love it that Nels doesn’t curse; his sister does (like a sailor!). “You don’t think I judge her, do you?” I ask. He calms in a moment, then says, No. I hold him close in the front seat, smelling his straw-sweet hair.

We talk about harder times, and what he learned from those times. And what he’s learned to leave behind.

When we’ve talked it all through he is much more cheerful.

I remember when my children were very small, and I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. Their physical needs seemed constant; I had so little help, and my resources were less than they are today. And I remember thinking that older kids, kids who could clean up after themselves and shower and dress and do housework and feed themselves, how surely that must be easier.

But I think it never gets easier to have a child. It is incredible though, to watch them become strong, to navigate emotional maturity. These teenage years, there is so much treachery! Their father and I are good influences, but we aren’t their only influences.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve folded a sweet little paper boat, and set it on a windy lake. It sails off but totters and with it, my heart in my throat.


“This isn’t even a scary bug,” my son says cheerfully, as he carefully pushes into the bathroom. I’m scrubbing my face, getting ready for bed. He comes alongside me and proudly displays the specimen on one of his long, beautiful hands. It is a hideously large, creepy-crawly moth with burly legs and massive febrile antennae. And my son is brandishing it about four inches from my face.

“Oh wow,” I say, neutrally. I am waiting for it to flutter it’s deathly dusty wings in my face. Any moment. Incredibly, it is quite at home crawling about sluggishly on my son, who is pleased as punch.

“… Can I put it on you?” he asks me politely, after a moment.

“Oh, no thank you. Hey – I am getting ready for bed. I’ll be out in a minute,” I tel him, now. We are both so polite. So civil. I am wearing a top hat and monocle.

“He’s looking at me with those big black eyes,” Nels says fondly, as he leaves.

I shudder. Look in the mirror.

I’ve been raising my kids to be gentle, to be kind. So, there it is.

& why was it lifted and taken from there

It has been many years since my daughter asked me to paint her nails. The children and I treated ourselves to professional mani-pedis just before last year’s Christmas vacation. Last December she chose a soft black, and calmly let it grow out over the period of months, her special little hands and feet.

Today: a soft black, again, in a little bottle she brought home.

First: the toes. they are each perfect, little beans. Some day they will be held and treasured by the familiarity of a lover.

Tonight, just me.

We’re in the kitchen and it’s very late and it’s very quiet. 

Her toes only take a touch of the brush.

Then: time for her fingers. Her hands are delicate and beautiful. They are always warm, her hands. She holds my hand still; she held my hand in the drugstore today. I hold each finger gently and carefully brush each nail, all my concentration. Nail lacquer is a great mindfulness practice.

“‘No Light’ Gel,” my daughter tells me. “I don’t know much about manicures, but…” [sharp intake of breath] – “the idea doesn’t seem sound.”

I am quiet, thinking of her mind. She started her second year of college today. At fourteen. Her mind is as sharp as any I’ve ever seen. I forget she still needs my help, my nurture and guidance. Adult as she sounds.

Yes but – but in her voice I can hear the same sweetness I heard when she was an infant. I remember when she was only two years old, she could “read” the large Dr. Seuss book The Lorax. She couldn’t really read, understand, but she’d memorized the words and tone of the words when we read to her, and she has always been the most delightful mimic. She would calmly turn the pages and recite the story aloud: “What was the Lorax? And why was it there?” I’d hear her musical but sharpish lisp from her bedrroom while I breastfed her brother.

She says, now, about the nail laquer – which she bought herself while on errands with her grandmother, a thoughtful purchase, “But it was one of the more moderately-priced products on the market.”

I die. I die a hundred times inside my heart.

Flu Shot

into the early hours

Flu shots today. One stoic, one pensive and needing a hand-hold.

Flu Shot

Flu Shot, Part 2

We struggled so much financially, when the kids were small. Thinking about it now, this might have been the best time for that sort of thing. Children don’t need social status, and they don’t worry about the future (until we show them how). They need food, warmth, play and rest, love and attention, and opportunities to explore with their beloved carer at their side.

Ralph and I managed all that, amidst varieties of hardship and calamity that brings to mind the adage: “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”

I’m thinking of this past, now that my cupboard is full and we have pretty reliable hot water and I don’t worry as much. It seemed like things got better pretty easily, but of course I’ve worked hard, and of course we’ve had good fortune besides.

We are in our final weekend before Phee’s second year at college. The children are both very engrossed in their exploits: Nels has been alternating between gaming online – and playing outside with the neighborhood gang. His schedule has gracefully morphed to perfection: he is up only a few hours before the rest of the boys get home from school, and in that time he cleans up, breakfasts, and does his morning chores. He plays with the boys until they go home, and then he’s online until I get him away, after I’ve done my own daily work.

Crawling into bed in the wee early hours of the morning, my son and I are watching Scooby Doo on Zombie Island. “Do you think that’s a real ghost?” I ask my son, during the rousing beginning caper in the film. “No,” he replies, sounding like the teenage boy he’s growing into. He knows how Scooby Doo works – come on, mom!

But I turn and look at him in the light from the screen, and I can see he’s smiling.

the most amazing business in the world

Driving home I’m sad. It’s gorgeous out. And I’d like to feel better. I get tired of all the hate in the world, all the people who are unhappy and willing to splash it around at leisure. Today I got hit with some splatter, let’s just say. Someone hurting I suppose, who elected to be nasty.

My mind touches on happy memories form the last 24. A stripey kitty with white socks, running across the street. I’ve never lived with a stripey kitty with white socks (although I hosted one briefly, this summer). Maybe that can happen someday. 

The other day, at breakfast – Nels exclaims happily, and points out the window. “Mom, come look! You will like it!”

I come look. It’s an inchworm, a little yellow guy about an inch and a half. He’s racing along the railing of our deck. Yes, I do like it. I step out to take a picture.

Nels has been bringing me inchworms because he knows they make me happy. A recent specimen was only about three millimeters long. They are always so busy and earnest and they move so quickly. We only examine them moments before my son takes the back, always back to where they came from.


Yesterday my son comes alongside me as I am fooling with some noodles, straining them in the sink. Making a lunch.

“Did dad tell you I tripped on some glass?” he asks, by way of conversation.
“No. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Just a really deep cut,” he says nonchalantly, showing me a shiny new bandaid in the flesh of his palm.

A really deep cut!

“I keep wondering if they’re glass in my hand. I keep pressing on it.”
My children are teenagers – well, almost, in Nels’ case – but they retain that childlike nature, a positivity and helpfulness, that makes them a heck of a lot better company than lots of grownups. My daughter rescues a small spider that falls in the washing machine. She draws a sketch for a dear friend. She cooks for herself – tater tots, half of her repetoire!
She asks me to make her some menswear-style clothing – she wants to dress “butch” this fall. Ask and ye shall receive!
Working in the studio until late. Time to take a hot shower and get to bed. Meeting with a new client tomorrow: altering a bridesmaid’s dress. Grocery money for my little ones. Not so little now. But still my little chicks, under the wing.

sharing space

When I wake, I pull up my phone and read for a bit. The room is cool and dark but I can tell it will be warm out today. Another day I will take care of dinner, so when Ralph comes home he can work on refinishing the deck.

But this is for later. I am still in bed. My son wakes and pulls himself close to me. After a bit he turns over and nestles up against me, the little spoon. His skin is smooth and brown, cream in coffee. I stroke his back a bit and pull him close, put my face in his hair. “I love you so much,” he whispers.

I make up a lunch, later, before I retire to my studio to sew. I soak rice noodles and whisk together a sauce; minced ginger, shoyu, tahini, peanut butter, and sesame oil. Carrots, green peas. A hot pan and seared tofu in sesame oil.

My daughter is in the shower; Nels and I sit down with our bowls of noodles, and garlic chili sauce. He is exclaiming in wonder how delicious the food is, and how quickly I cooked it. I think about how I cooked for the family for the first ten years of family life; my husband has been doing most of the cooking the last four years. Funny though, you don’t really forget, when you have that much experience.

The sun streams through the windows; the kitties are more or less content. Herbert Pocket sleeps curled up around the hibiscus trunk, her body fitting perfectly in the earthenware pot. The children take the dog for a walk; Phoenix hangs towels and puts away laundry, before padding off upstairs to draw, as she is wont to do.

Downstairs where I work, little spiders come to visit, and I carefully move them aside. The garage door is open and I ask after the young neighbor next door. He comes inside and sits with me and we talk: school (he’s at high school this year), siblings, Halloween. 

The companionship of kitties, of children, of little baby spiders. It’s no wonder I have been feeling rather well lately.

outside with the willow trees

I wonder at this, but as fun as summer is, there is a specialness to the school year for us. The kids’ friends disappear for the weekdays, and are locked down in the evenings and even weekends. The children and I move into a slower tempo. We have the time to do the things we like. Contemplative, unhurried. Lots of good sleep and even better food. Walks together, little errands. Swim dates and adventures to the beach in the rain; hot coffee in a cafe alone.

Today I wake the children and ask them to do their chores quickly, so we can get Phoenix to the doctor. She is having the last installment in a series of painful injections. She’s so damn stoic that the slight bit of friendly agitation she evidences – moving to sit by me in the waiting room, putting her arms around me, talking to me a bit more than usual – lets me know she’s a bit apprehensive. We sit in the exam room and discuss vaccinations, and her latest art projects. She asks me to sit by her; she reaches for my hand. I hold it in mindfulness as I watch the nurse thrust a very large needle in her arm.

After, the kids and I are out to split a small pizza and salad. We play on my phone and giggle together; my son politely samples the vegan salad dressing options and elects to eat his salad plain – lettuce and olives. Besides a table of burly-looking jocks, we’re the only customers there. Perhaps that’s the joy I feel with the kids, during the school year. The town is emptied: just us, no hurries, our errands.

I have the honor of visiting a woman’s house this evening, and listening to her talk about her alcoholism. She is much older than I, has lived a longer life. But I can offer her help. After we talk an hour, she takes me on a tour around the path she walks. It is festooned with all sorts of little statues and baubles; nestled against the lush grass. I say, “M____, were you raised Catholic?” She tells me she was. We both smile, that I intuited this – although there is no Catholic imagery in the masonry and stones and painted rocks and homemade mosaics, I could still feel the influence. We spend a moment in the soft beating heart of this bit of recognition, then we move forward.

It’s 80 degrees; a summer warmth, some of the last this season. I climb in my car and music plays. I am heading back home to the children, and to the rest of the day’s work.

Road House (1989)

take the train

“I don’t know why people don’t realize that I like Road House unironically.

“It’s a perfect film. It’s paced well. It doesn’t have any extra fluff. It doesn’t get bigger than the story. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not.”


“I mean yeah, it’s ridiculous. OK. But it’s also got a noir element.”

He’s still listening, so I go on.

“You know, you have this kind of bleak wasteland. You have an anti-hero. A loner. He’s used to just taking care of himself. He’s good at it.”

“He’s a philosopher,” Ralph interjects.

Right! But then he finds himself in a circumstance where he has to protect some innocents. And he can’t help himself. He has to get involved, even if it’s hopeless.”

I pause, and then say, “Well… I guess it’s not really that noir, I mean besides that. I mean, usually a noir has -“

“- a femme fatale,” my husband nods knowingly.

Instantly, I’m peevish. “Road House has a femme fatale!” I’m pissed. He’s sat through this movie with me many times. Come on!

“…She just doesn’t have a big part,” I allow, begrudgingly. 

Road House (1989)

the clack of keys on a table

I’m holding a little tin chip in my hand. “6 months”. A little green coin, a trinket. I have it sequestered for a new friend, who’s asked I sponsor her in her sobriety. When the time comes for announcements in the group I introduce myself, say her name, stand up to bestow this little chip on her. Her face pulls down and she is crying, gratitude. We meet halfway and I hold her close and give her a hug because she is precious. I am honored she shares with me. I am delighted to see her.

Somehow this love was installed in my body and it flows without end every single day. My heart lights up when I see people. I am less angry. I find myself searching the hardened faces at the grocery store. I find my heart cracked into a million little fragments, and light flows through.

Yet there have always been impediments to the experience of love and lately those seem to be financial. My dog is ill and needs a $950 operation. My own medical bills have piled up with, what looks like some degree of mishandling from my urologist. Our home needs some proactive work (re-sealing the deck, repainting, and moss cleanup on the roof), and I’d hoped to fix an attic space into a livable one to better outfit my daughter with a study space for her colelge year. In trying to work a bit more, I’ve had the work of teaching the children how to run the household. Despite their willingness and general competence, this is taking a little time. I’ve had an influx of jobs lately, and I’m behind. I’m not angry about this, just surprised how much I’m struggling with the changes.

And when I set those worries aside I can take a few steps and enjoy the goodness I have. I can hold my daughter’s hand in mine. I can laugh at the kitty clawing at my window screen and gently remove her, instead of feeling angry. I can move on from conversations full of hate and misunderstanding. I am starting to speak up a little more. A little more directness.

Tonight my friend, my “6 months” friend, is in my heart. She has shown more vulnerability and sweetness – and smarts – than so many I’ve et. And I’m thinking of how the world is full of scorn and derision for those addicted. But those who are addicted have a bravery that few people can grasp.

a date with Beeps. xxx ooo

kindled by my love’s pleasing / into an ardent blazing

a date with Beeps. xxx ooo

This last week my son took care of kittens at a friend’s, while the family was on vacation. Tonight was his last night “on duty”, so the four of us travelled up the hill to help – I, to play with the kittens while my son cleaned their litter boxes. My daughter drove the BMW with Ralph as passenger; Nels and I walked so Hutch could get a walk too.

It’s a steep trip, and for me a slow one. The summer night air is balmy and gorgeous; I can feel at the edges of my restlessness and know I am working too hard, too much. I am not slowing down to enjoy all that I can.  I have dozens of bills – medical bills, veterinary bills, and household bills – and I’m letting these things creep into my mind. They’re my responsibility, true enough, but somehow it’s twisted and they occupy my head.

My children, though, still have the right sense of proportion about things. My daughter picks a cornflower before dinner – she is thrilled when I put it behind my ear, peeking out from beneath my head wrap. At dinner, in the booth of an Italian restaurant, she triumphantly slides in next to me than comes in close and holds my hand, her fingers wrapped around mine. I am often stunned how this little daughter, who was a blonde little thing with beetled-eyebrows and a sharp voice, has turned into this lovely bloom, this slender reed. A strong woman and a gorgeous one; a fierce and compassionate bloom.

At home my sewing studio is well-organized. I am halfway through a project today; I hang up my rulers and click my scissors onto their magnetic storage bar. I open the door to my son’s little computer room. He’s curled up on his chair, gaming. He is eating popcorn from a paper bag and his little bundled body in a too-loose striped shirt fills me with an inexplicable surge of affection. “Get dressed – we’re off to dinner,” I tell him. “‘kay,” he responds, his eyes on the screen, his hand reaching out for me. The kids are always hugging, reaching out for me, holding me, kissing me. My most profound blessings.

Later, on the walk down from our last kitten night – the family returned home while we were there, so we got to exchange warm salutations – I tell my son about tonight’s meteor shower – the Perseids. He is as joyful as if he’s never seen a meteor shower before, smiling and looking up, his hair shining blue-white in the light of the waxing gibbous moon. I think to myself I want to feel the way they feel, I want to see the world the way they do. I want to know I’m as beautiful as they see me. I want to return to that Place they inhabit. As long as they walk beside me I know there’s a chance I can.