i’m guessing their world is kind of like being on a hallucinogen

Ralph’s made a pile of 11″ by 17″ paper for the kids to draw on. It’s allowed them to expand their art to the edges of the paper. Nels draws elaborate botanical gardens and tall, thin houses with many vertical-lined fixtures; Sophie illustrates mermaid families, dragons, and some kind of a spiky weapon hurling above us all like a vicious sun.

Yesterday one of her many mermaid family drawings had been amended. Above the four of us it now read: “Chart of mean People” and then below that, “X’s are mean”). Ralph and I had two big X’s drawn through our faces. I’m not sure what we’d done to offend, but I do like our daughter was ready with an infographic regarding the character of our family.

We were a topless mermaid family, of course. My breasts looked like two adjoined capital “Y”s. Ralph sported an arrow over his right shoulder pointing to “nipls” (just in case you weren’t sure what those two milk-dud sized dots on his chest were); he was also annotated “(with a sweet stash)”, the “w” in the word “stash” (which meant mustache, of course) sporting it’s own mustache like a tilde.

Last night my mom took Sophie to pick up her van at the shop. While they waited they shopped at the Dollar Tree and my mother bought Sophie a tube of plastic lizards. My kids love plastic animals, Sophie most of all – especially dragons and reptiles. By that evening in the bath the kids had named the lizards:


In the bath with my daughter I spent several minutes committing each lizard’s color and name to memory; this morning while putting away clothes I noticed she’d put each of the eight to bed in these wee baskets, each with their own pillow (cut from fabric scraps).

Very, very sweet. Until one of the lizards offends my daughter and she writes up a blistering exposé.


I guess I’m trying to catch up with my life. Because it seems I am constantly surprised with my children; finding them amazing, surprising, and touching – daily so. My son in the bath this afternoon, carefully laying back to rinse his hair. He has up until recently been afraid to do this; without our prompting he has challenged himself. His body is so long in the tub. He is no longer a baby.

He’s developed this sigh – a sort of Napolean Dynamite, drawn-out half-groan. This sigh is an awesome thing because he does it when he doesn’t get his way. “Mom, can you come cuddle me?” he’ll ask, and as I’m telling him to wait one more minute, I’m doing the dishes – I hear him belt this sigh out. It’s like, “OK, damnit, fine.” Instead of months previous: crying or yelling. I am watching a child learn to cope with the minor (and sometimes not-so-minor) annoyances of life.

My daughter with her jokes. Last night’s bath (I guess we spend a lot of time in the bath, okay?) she noticed our bodies were entirely submerged except my breasts. She started in on scenarios in which my busom was basically flying out of my top when inconvenient. “Like you’d go skydiving, and then plop!” she gestures with her hands. I’m not really that into jokes about my boobs but she caught me off guard so I laughed. And my kids like nothing more than to make me laugh, so: “Plop!” she’d say every now and then that night, leaning in conspiratorily, opening her eyes wide and wrinkling her nose in a way that gets me every time. She has this extra-special new trick when she tells a joke – she crosses her eyes gracefully – I’m not kidding, in a way that is one hundred percent funny and goofy-beautiful. Perfect comedic timing.

My children both, after the class I taught last night at our community college, asked how many students I had – and then were particular about memorizing their names. “You are the best sew-er ever, Mom,” they tell me. They could not have been more supportive and interested in what I was doing. Sometimes I think people spend their lives in search of validation; and sort of as a side-effect of caring for children I have two humans who consistently support and love me of their own volition.

I’m not sure how I deserve such a family; sometimes it kind of seems like it happened overnight and with little intentions of my own.

a case of overwhelm

Today I worked at the eatery I was first employed at over seventeen years ago. It was a welcome break – very hard work, though. My children were coincidentally on a zoo trip with friends so I was almost a single gal for a few hours. This evening I got home (two and a half hours later than I’d originally thought I would) and unzipped my boots and stripped down to my slip and ran a bath – like a regular waitress.

While waiting tables today three men I knew from town unexpectedly consoled me regarding my father’s loss. I wonder if my mom relates to my feeling of faking it, of floating through life looking “normal”, feeling like a half-ghost. On one hand I am able to graciously accept their condolences and hear their remembrances – and in this case, record their food orders without pad and pen – and on the other hand I’m a broken person who isn’t about to talk about how I really feel – not to strangers and yeah, sometimes I don’t really feel like talking about it to friends or family, either.

Tonight when I got home a friend – herself recently widowed – brought us some home-cooked food. I told her thank you, for so many reasons but one being that it feels like the rest of the world will move on and I will somehow never do so. My friend said, “It never gets better,” and – herself a very reserved person – began to cry. She waved and smiled and left as fast as she could. We’re at my mother’s house now reheating the delicious food and waiting to share it with a friend. The kindness of this food is appreciated, as is

when I got home tonight I also found out that a friend (who wished to remain anonymous) paid off the remaining balance on Sophie’s bike at the bike shop. I found this out because my sister also bought me a bike-related gift the same day.

All in all, an overwhelming (bad and good) last twelve hours.

i don’t know, it kind of seems like a party in some ways

Are we dying, or are we really living?

Last night we had a very small gathering which was only in part about my mother’s birthday. I made a cake; or rather, I made the best frosting ever, and fucked up the cake on eighteen levels, and Ralph saved the day with his amazing cake re-animator skills, and it turned out an *awesome* cake. We dressed the kids up nice and packed up the birthday gift and homemade card and headed to meet family.

My father’s brother and sister had arrived in town to stay at my parents’ house hours after the piano has been moved and minutes after an adjustable bed (complete with oscillating air mattress to forestall bedsores), wheelchair, and oxygen tank had been installed. My mother hadn’t been happy at first when it dawned on her my dad wasn’t well enough to go out to dinner (the original plan). So after a talk with me on the phone she decided to pick up dinner. Now I’m in the living room talking to my aunt and uncle, the kids crawling on everyone, Ralph fixing my aunt and I a cocktail, and my mother nervously chopping up a salad. She’s feeling glad for my family’s help yet somehow “responsible” for everyone’s food, good time, and happiness. P.S. her influence is something I struggle with daily – being a hostess, but not taking on The Weight Of The World by doing so, either.

My dad sits quietly. Sometimes his head is in his hands. Sometimes he smiles. He joins in the conversation then sinks away. We ask if he needs more medicine. After he has a coughing fit that lasts a while, Nels approaches his knee gravely and tells him to drink his water.

After dinner the kids are absolutely obsessed with the electric bed that’s not in the living room. I tell them after dinner, wash hands, let us make it up, then you can get in. In tucking in sheets and sorting out pillows I realize I am making up my own father’s deathbed. Sometimes I get these dramatic sentences, they pop in my head. But it doesn’t need to feel bad. Why not a deathbed? I remember us making up my bed for my son’s delivery, at home. This was an occasion too of worries, of expectation, of the unknown. The more time I spend at my parents’ home the more similar and deep the experiences of birth and death seem to me. It’s not even as simple as one event is joyous and the other sad, although I know so many see it that way.

The kids are in the bed, giggling. Nels says he’s “dying”, sticks his tongue out, dramatically falls back in bed. Sophie manifests a convincing consumptive cough. Ralph ministers to them by pouring out “medicine” (Diet Coke!) in a teaspoon. They love this. They cuddle-wrestle. My mother moves the bed into different positions. Nels snaps to this concept and when my mother leaves he immediately finds and operates the bed control. She returns, scolds him. He is banished from the bed for the evening.

This morning my mom arrives on the bike to deliver some leftover baked sweets that came into her life. People bring food to her home and it is appreciated, so very much, although I think people (including myself) may be bringing a few too many sweets – at least in the days when it’s just my mom and dad in the house. But food doesn’t go to waste around here. For instance, I made her a pie last week from fresh-picked berries (actually I made three, gave them to various and sundry) and she was able to take it to church and share it, something I knew gave her satisfaction.

I don’t mean to go on about food. My mother’s mood this morning is almost elated, girlish. She has somehow escaped hostess duties for a little bit of exercise, a drop-in visit bearing gifts. She hugs the children and cuddles the youngest chick before revealing what’s probably really got her happy: “David slept really well tonight,” she tells me (they had both slept poorly the night before). “He only woke up coughing once and I gave him some oxygen. I think that bed really helped.”

Life (death) will get difficult again. But last night our family gathering – interrupted with a welcome and sweet visit from two friends bringing, yes, pies and singing two-part “Happy Birthday” – wasn’t co-opted by maudlin experiences of sickness and dying, even as we were in the presence of such and indeed had gathered because of it.

good flower bad butterfly

My son is brave, impulsive, good-natured, loving, willful, his energy ramped to 100% for every minute he’s awake. I guess in reading the above list I’m a lot like him. A few episodes in our last twenty four hours:

Yesterday I am forced to truncate his dessert in a diner and take him out to the car. He’s angry, yelling. I’m gentle but firm. As I straighten from placing him in the carseat and swing the door shut he looks at me with angry tears in his eyes and yells, “Everything out of your mouth is CRAP!” Of course I’m dying laughing, internally, but it’s not really funny to talk to someone that way, and it’s definitely not okay to laugh at someone when they’re angry. The door shutting allows me to keep my smile to myself. When I come back to the car with my purse, coat, other child, etc. Nels is wretched, his face tear-stained. “I’m sorry I said what you said was crap,” he mourns. I say, “Thank you for the apology Nels,” and reach a hand back to him. He and I forgive one another a hundred percent and move on.

This morning he takes me on a tour of the garden. He shows me the new cucumber, the one bean on the bush (he can spy the very first new growth of anything). He remembers, in our unsorted and untidy yard, where things were planted. “I planted an apple there,” he tells me. “The love-in-a-mist is blooming. Look what happened to the snapdragons!” “The tomatoes are having Good Times.” (yes, he actually said this). “Sweet peas, calendula…” (both blooming fresh). “The amaranth, and…” he trails off, pointing. “Nicotiana,” I remind him (a real success story – so far – as they’ve come back from near-death via slug).

This evening we play a game I play with my children (one he enjoys more than my daughter), a simple exercise in reverse psychology: I say, “Don’t come over and push me off the chair and climb on top of me and kiss me on the lips, I’m really busy right now.” He starts laughing right away, head thrown back, runs over, pushes me, and tries to wrestle on top of me. He is strong, with a spry strength in his long-bellied little boy body. What I like, what I couldn’t and don’t do, is that he devotes all his energy, balls-out, into trying to overcome me. And laughs and laughs and kisses me, finally, and he smells of the pint of raspberries he bought (with his own garden earnings!) from our Farmers Market, and ate almost every one in the car.

an imaginary journey to FRAMPS

I’m standing at the kitchen sink and have been for some time washing, cleaning, cutting, blanching, boiling, freezing. Right now I’m tenderly slicing the tops off strawberries. Some are for our dessert this evening: strawberries so tender and red-ripe all the way through such that no honey or sugar or accoutrement is needed. I just chopped and froze a mix of spinach and arugula (for use in lasagna, or calzones, or casseroles). For dinner tonight: frittata with garlic scapes, arugula, sundried tomatos diced and softened, spinach, and fresh eggs; focaccia with mozzarella and red sauce to dip.

Most of the food bounty is from our CSA share. Because we traveled to a local farm, because it is fresher and superior to the produce one generally buys, every single bit is tenderly pored over, nothing wasted (the strawberry tops go in our compost pile). Tomorrow I’m making a meatball and escarole soup, substituting our head of lettuce for the escarole. After a Monday grocery trip for staples at the Marketpace – 25 lbs. bread flour, olive oil, garbanzo beans, vanilla – it feels nice to have a full larder.

For some reason, despite a day of doctors and cross-town errands, and the repetitive nature of doing dishes again and laying out strawberries on a baking sheet to freeze and having a messy house (I scrubbed the bathroom and washed the table and windows and vaccuumed but it’s the paperwork piles that frustrate me the most!) I feel oddly content at the sink. I’m in a work trance; tired but soldiering on. My son flits by, singing to himself about Framps – significance: birthplace of eclairs* and croissants, the latter of which we finished today – and baby peas. Earlier today he found the first pea to go from flower to peapod and has asked each family member to come see, including my mother when she visited. So as he comes by this time I ask if he’ll show me and it’s a request that makes his day.

We walk out and the pea vines are frighteningly large, jumbled. I can’t tell where the pod might be as it looks so much like the leaves. Nels finds it though. I smile and look to him and he’s watching my face, beaming. I pick him up and we wordlessly hold one another as I carry him back inside. I feel oddly light-headed, slightly drunk on the cool summer night and The Boy and our bounty, only bathtime and bed ahead of us before kisses and legs kicking at blankets and soft, solid bodies and nighttime.

* Nels pronounces them “Maclair”, we joke like a Scottish clan.

the night watchers

Last night I had two glasses of wine at dinner with friends (dinner was a nice time) and then two more glasses later the evening. This is a fair amount of wine by any standard, but quite a bit for me. My eyes popped open in the middle-of-the-night-post-drinking way that tells me sleep will not return for a while. Imagine my disappointment when I journeyed to the kitchen to discover it was only 2 AM!

Ralph once told me that if struck with insomnia (which he also sometimes suffers from) there’s no point lying in bed trying to sleep if you can’t. So I got up and sewed most of a shirt in my sewing room, knocking about on my recently reclaimed serger (fresh back from a tuneup) and fortunately not encountering any of the bad sewing mojo I’ve had lately. I passed through the bedroom at one point and found my son, curled up against his father but with eyes wide open. See, he’d suffered a similar bump in his normal sleeping arrangements, having fallen asleep at the table at Casa Mia while eating. This has happened several times in this particular restaurant – I guess that’s some sleepy pizza. Here he was seven hours later quiet in mind and body and awake in a sleeping house.

I put my arms out to Nels and he silently clambered up into my arms. The next three hours we spent fireside snuggling in blankets, in the kitchen making Mexican hot chocolate, or back in his bed looking out the window at the “firefly” he discovered – a blinking light from a nearby tower on the hill. He talked and talked but what was better is, I listened to him, and he listened when I talked. I’d been feeling like the last few days I’d been ignoring him, often on errands with my mother or friends, or trying to get my chores done and including him in the process but with my mind far away. My mind and body were with my boy last night. And I guess if one is going to be struck with insomnia having company – especially company exhibiting such sweetness – ends up being better than sleeping.

Addendum: I had a really nice Mother’s Day. Ralph really spoiled me with gifts (flowers, special breakfast, tickets to my favorite ever songwriter, and a generous gift certificate to one of my favorite ever places). My children each made me cards and gifts and we got to go to a Cinco de Mayo party that afternoon. Only mere “minutes” ago – to my mind – my children were tiny babies I lived for and slaved for who rewarded me with smiles and embraces in between crying fits and meddling with things and diaper needs. Things look much the same these days except my children are intentionally communicating how they feel about me; Sophie’s Mother’s Day card said, “I [ heart ] My Mothr” (with her photo glued in the middle of the heart) – inside were not only two beautifully-drawn flowers but also a three-tier cake topped with a crown and above this all, fireworks! So I guess to her at least sometimes, I’m pretty awesome.

Mother's Day '08

like a small batch of kittens but with less fishy breath and fleas

Our bed is a fishing net; you don’t know what it will catch by morning. Sometimes it’s just me, alone, as Ralph has had a sleepless night wandering the house. Usually I find children in it. This morning found both of them clinging, one to a side, with their arms around my neck and their faces softly pressed against me. The black cat, encouraged there was affection to be had. hovered just by, making soft honking sounds through her nose (I think she has a deviated septum). I held each child with my arm around them and hand around their small upper arms. Their skin is perfect; their little arms so trusting and whole. Nels kissed and kissed and kissed me and when I looked down Love was shining in his face as he smiled up at me. Sophie stroked the hair out of my eyes with her confident, tender hands. I think the first thing I said when I opened my eyes is, “No one better kiss me on the lips,” which of course they silently and smilingly did, their soft fragrant hair falling against my face. I thought that I’d given birth to these creatures that now supply me with love, a full feast, every day. What a smart plan I’d had!

This morning finds us off to Westport to pick up a Freecycle boon (I hope) of a vintage radio. We lost an hour of time this morning and I slept so well it felt like I’d absorbed it.

you’d think this would tire me out, but nothing seems to

Lately I’ve spent some time noticing vehicles on the road. Man, they are large. Yesterday on our way to Olympia an Acura SUV thing idled behind me, the driver quick to hop on my ass as we traveled from stoplight to stoplight in the motorists’ tedium that is downtown Aberdeen. In my rearview mirror I saw a man alone in the cab with his left shoulder up, draping his hand over the wheel of his Amazing Driving Machine and the other alternately on the phone or down out of sight, texting or fondling his balls or whatever. In front of me a Silverado rumbled as it spread it’s huge asscheeks all over the road, easily larger than the Acura and laughing back at my seemingly miniature Mazda “light” pickup. And today on the road I saw some kind of Mazda – it looked like a car, but way bigger, or close up with a tiny person inside. This person sat well above the cab of my truck. These cars are huge but don’t seem to boast a lot of room inside – they mostly just boast being big. I find myself wondering why we have so many gleaming, gigantic vehicles out and about, especially in an area that is said to be “economically depressed”? I guess I will start concerning myself with people whinging about gas prices when I see just a few fewer bewheamoths out on the road.

This morning on the bike I found a good route to get to Nels’ school; ducking out of highway traffic and staying on a relatively quiet side-street for much of the ride. The route was nice; the bike ride not so much. It was clear but cold, with a head wind persistent enough that on mile two my legs stopped complaining and just did their drudgery dispiritedly, like listless indentured whores. Nels sat back in the trailer amidst winter coat, wicker basket full of juice and snacks, and a big quilt my mom sewed him several Christmases ago. He wasn’t complaining.

It was quiet out and comforting enough. At the end of Cherry I hit a small snag and had to backtrack half a block for an alley. Finding my way back to a road I heard my son from the trailer: “You can do it, Mama. You can find my school!” I felt oddly heartened and touched by his cheerleading. An hour later when he was chosen in his classroom to describe today’s weather, he put the weather dials to “windy” and “cold”. I thought he was in a special position to know, having braved the elements with me.

On the way home he fell asleep; I aborted my shopping plan (only after I’d already parked, chained the bike, and removed my helmet to discover him in Slumberland, Population One) and headed home where I brought in his artwork, dirty laundry from the school, leftover juice bottles, and one sleeping boy to strip down and tuck in for the remainder of his snooze.

Sometimes – not when I lose my temper or get distracted doing my work – but sometimes, I wish I was my own mom, and I was a little kid who got to be taken care of by her.


Homemade pizza (again!) cools on the counter. Nels is in the kitchen with Ralph singing a song called “Sophia” to the tune of West Side Story‘s “Maria” (incidentally, the day after Sophie was born at the tag end of my hospital stay this musical was on TV; we took great joy in not only co-opting the lyrics for this song but laughing at the dance numbers and cameltoes of the “gang” members).

Still, Nels’ rendering is lovely. He literally sings every word. Then suddenly he darts across and pinch’s Ralph on the bottom (family vernacular is “cup-a-cakes” for someone’s bum cheeks) and darts away. Nels is literally a joy for me constantly these days – like how while riding the bus he solemnly repeats over and over as he points to the icons at the front of the bus: “That says No Smoking, No Eating Food, No Wiggling, and No Playing Loud Music.” (guess which one mom inserted into the transit mantra).

I walk in my bedroom where Sophie is watching a Spongebob DVD and pause the film (time for dinner). She sees my new haircut which has also been flat-ironed and says, “Straight hair!” with a shy, happy grin. “I’m almost as pretty as you now,” I tell her, and hustle her into the kitchen.