Saturday, November 7, 2009

Why Wait?

The crunchy golden maple leaves are thigh deep in my back yard. I like them best when they're on the ground, really, because you still get the acute, high-frequency colors of fall that they offer when they're on the trees, but you get to add the crisp sound and the wake-me-up smell when they're on the ground. They're the same color as my dogs, which makes for good entertainment, as well as a leg up for those guys when they want to stay outside because I can't find them and drag them inside. They lay in the leaves and hide from mama like a fully camouflaged sniper in the jungle.

This morning I stood on the deck, wrapped in fleece, waiting for my dogs to surrender their game. It was early still, golden, quiet, so I knew there'd be a giveaway rustle soon. A stray puff of breath rising like a geyser. A wag. I stood watching my own breath all foggy in the morning air and waited for them to come out come out wherever you are. Fall all around, I bathed in it for a bit. Up the maple tree in the back yard - the one that holds the tire swing - I saw it shimmering.

The last leaf on the tree.

Golden red, it was the one who won (or did he lose?) the contest of tenacity. He's holding fast. Afraid? Not wanting to give up what he knows?

For the love of god...go with your friends and family!

I remember how long I stood on the high dive at camp, knees rattling, knowing I had to jump to pass the life guarding test, but terrified into a kind of paralysis. Is that what's going on for you, leaf? Because if it is, I can tell you that the landing was downright exhilarating. To say nothing of the pride I felt for conquering my fears. Go ahead, dude...jump!

All alone makes me sad, even in the world of leaves. It's time to go, honey. Your friends are there to cushion your fall and throw you a party. Let go and join 'em.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Shadow of a Thought

They were sitting quietly on their Montana porch in the blue space between evening and night watching the moon rise orange over the mountains. There was a gentle breeze, and there were full bellies, tanned skin, humidity-curled locks, and nothing but time. The crickets and frogs were serenading them in a pulsing chorus. The pine logs that made up the cabin behind them smelled damp and sweet and familiar like a mother. The girl, a ten-year-old just home from a month at summer camp, hugged her knees to her chest and took it in. They weren't really talking, just watching and listening side by side.

This was a father daughter moment that he knew enough to try to preserve, so he took out one of his Aladdin lamps and lit it with a match from the pocket of his Levi's. It cast a glow not all that dissimilar from that of the stars, and she wondered at the symmetry of it all: earth and sky. She felt the faint heat of the flame on her right cheek and saw her shadow to her left. In that moment she noted that within a shadow no imperfections like wrinkles or shifty eyes or guilt could be found. It was just the outline of a life, but the form of it nonetheless. Shadows held people's goodness.

After replacing the glass chimney of the lamp with his dirt stained hands, he turned the little knob on the brass part to roll the wick up further, causing the flame to go high into the flute, up towards the sky. She watched the flame dance blue and yellow against the glass, begging to be set free. It strengthened the shadows and lent them the crispness of mid-day shadows in the desert. Looking at her shadow in the nighttime, sitting on that porch made her feel strong and self-assured.

As the flame continued to dance against its containment walls, she began to wonder how the delicate glass, the womb of the lantern, could possibly sustain such an assaulting heat. She stared at the shimmering vessel and imagined with all her might the glass shattering, spidering, crinkling from the bottom up like a waterfall turned upside down. She imagined the glass snapping into billions of pieces, pictured it with all her might, in fact saw it clear as day in her mind's eye.

And then, before their eyes, in the blue space between evening and night, the reflective glass chimney of the lantern shattered with a violent explosion. The sound wasn't loud really, but it chilled her nonetheless. Shards of glass spewed onto the table before them. His immediate fatherly instinct was to shield her eyes before even his own, though it would have been impossible to be quick enough to offer any protection had the glass wanted to reach them.

Of course she hadn't needed to see it again anyway. Had she wished it into being?

A few of the tiny shards had passed through the flame on their way out of captivity, travelling like shooting stars, and were now glowing embers on the porch floor.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Will: Mom, what did the vet actually do with Hobbes's balls when he cut them off? Cuz, I think throwing someone's balls away, like in the garbage can or a dumpster or something, is kinda' mean.

Chloe, age 8, upon learning how babies are made: Okay. So, they do that in the bathroom, right?

5th grade student (girl) after watching puberty movie: Am I seriously going to have to have hair in my armpits?

Another 5th grade girl: Wait. You put that tampon thing IN there?

Chloe, age 4, upon seeing a picture of an iron: What's that? A funny phone or something?

Will, last week, before going to his first day of DAYcamp: Mom, I know what you got Chloe last year when she was at sleepaway camp, but what will you put in my care package? And when will I get it?

Me, to person staring at me from within mirrors: Who in the hell are YOU? And where did you put me?

Peter: Michael Jackson's still dead. Why do they need to keep reporting it?

Sun: Massachusetts? Nope. Never heard of it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dear Mr. Auctioneer

Dear Mr. Auctioneer,

Here's the thing: I'm going to need my large sum of money back please.

You see I was all swept up in the moment of the evening and I'd had several glasses of that white wine they were serving by the bucketful. I was wearing my favorite summer dress, strappy sandals and a spritz of my best perfume. The babysitter and the kids were cozy at home watching a movie. There under that tent of yours, the breeze was coming off the ocean, there was shrimp on toothpicks being passed around, and my husband was like a movie star in his tie and sear sucker jacket and gorgeous proud smile. We saw friends old and new, we drank lots of wine, and it became crystallized in that moment that summer is here and I don't have to work for a loooong time.

Also, truth be told, I liked the feel of the paddle with my number on it going up in the air when you were saying, "Do I hear blahblah?" with that baritone auctioneer voice of yours. The ocean wind was blowing my hair just a bit, and I thought I looked pretty good with that wine in my system and that paddle in my hand. It felt sort of powerful and strong and decisive when I was waving that paddle with the number 242 on it. I'm not too proud to admit that I loved it, sir. And at that moment, I loved you and your command of the situation too.

And when you looked through that sea of anticipatory people, right at me, and said to everyone under that fancy tent that the item was "SOLD! to number 242, the lady's bid!" I almost crapped my pants.

Sir, it was the wine and the illusion of power doing the bidding that night. So, if you please? Could I have my large sum of money back? We all make mistakes, right?

I know, I know. The money goes to Hospice. It will help families in their time of need. There you go again with the hypnotic way of yours and that singsong blahblah voice you have. Stop it, please. I'm not drunk anymore, and I don't feel even moderately sexy without my number 242 paddle in my hands so you can save your sweet-talking for someone vulnerable and needy. I'm past that now.

I will gladly accept cash, check or credit card refund because I'm flexible like that.

Thank you so much for your understanding.

Yours in learning and growth,

-Susie (#242)

Pouring Out

When we poured her ashes into the sea, we mixed them with her oldest son's.
The waves brought them both closer to us before they pulled them away
Like a child's dreams of fame.
The two boxes of ashes were different one from the other.
She was browner but smoother
He was gray, chunkier, less uniform.
The lighthouse stood over them as they mixed with eternity
But it took a whole lot longer for them to leave shore than it seemed like it should have.
The waves churned them
But they stayed put
Gray brown in the blue ocean.
We watched and waited for a signal that we'd achieved closure
The boat in the distance had a symbolic name that I thought must be god trying to tell us something
But now I can't remember the name of the boat, so either I'm not listening or he needs to speak in plainer terms with me
But the wake helped to bring them out further, mix and agitate, dilute them, and for that we were grateful.
There were birds all around:
Gulls and sparrow like things swooping down
Into them.
Eventually we left them there in the ocean
Together without us
Blue, brown and gray

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Get Your Stuff

Yesterday we found the real, honestagod light of the late morning sun streaming through the windows in our kitchen. We saw it and we felt it. It made the dust sparkle and float like fairy dust and it had the same magical effect on us. The breeze from the ocean brought tales of a lowering tide. I brought my coffee onto the deck and sat down in one of the two Adirondack chairs, face tipped toward the sun. I thanked the heavens for making me a teacher in the summertime. What are the odds of that? Split second decision to call to the kids to get your stuff cause we're going to the beach. The sea glass isn't gonna wait around forever, I told them.

But it did wait for us, even those precious pieces of blue that we love so very much, and so did the hermit crabs and the beige baseball cap that floated in from the harbor. All those treasures greeted us at our favorite beach in town. It's the small beach where we said goodbye to our beloved Moanie, mixing our own saltwater with hers. It's the beach where we take a picture every year on the same rock so we are forced to acknowledge our kids' breakneck speed of growth. It's that beach where I can always breathe and time stands still except for the setting sun that takes me by surprise every time. It's the beach that creates tide pools just right for kids with buckets and shoes or no shoes. We make our crabby day cares and our drip castles, we crawl up on the high rocks to be the lookout pirate, we bury our feet in the sand and eat our peanut butter and jellies. We wave to the familiar people of this town who are passing by, and we drink in the joys of summer in this place.

It's summer. We live at the edge of land, just near our favorite place on earth. What do you suppose the odds of that are?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Buh Bye: Baseballs and Kitchen Guy

I've decided that my ability to blog is directly related to David Otiz's ability to crush the ball. For all you non Boston types, David Oriz is Big Papi. You know. On the Red Sox. He was crushing it and then he. Just. Stopped. But he just hit another homer. So I'm blogging.


We're planning to gut and remodel our kitchen this summer. We refinanced the house to free up some cash, and we're in the process of interviewing contractors. We're looking for someone honest and fair, someone with experience, someone who likes dogs and doesn't mind feeding them and letting them out and embracing the stray dog hairs that end up in his mouth (it's freaking everywhere in this house). He should be good with the big picture as well as the details. He should be able to pick out all the stuff for us, faucets and paint colors and all, so that we have to do pretty much nothing but enjoy the finished product. We'd like someone who can see as clearly as we can that our kids are lovely and gifted and sweet and charming. This someone should have done a minimum of 45 kitchens in the past year or two, economic downturn aside, and should most certainly be dedicated to timeliness, cleanliness, thriftiness, artiness, and funk. This person should also probably look hot in his tool belt (that part is really my idea, not Peter's so much) and he should be extremely articulate. He should hire subs who are just like him, too. And they should all listen to cool music while they work. But we'd like it if they were only here for a week or two (tops!) so as not to overstay their welcome in our house.

The first guy we interviewed was decent (he had the "hot" thing down pretty well) but he seemed to think we were a little demanding or something. I could feel it in his vibe. I think he may have rolled his eyes just the littlest bit too, and I really feel like that's no way at ALL to try to impress your future employer. I mean, hello? We have cash in our hands, buddy! From the refinance! But...yeah. That guy thought maybe we hadn't done enough leg work or something. So we said thanks but no thanks to that guy. Buh Bye, hottie.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Shitty First Draft of Garbage

Anne LaMott wrote in her infinitely wise and profound book Bird By Bird, that writers should write shitty first drafts. They should lay down all of their pent up anxiety about writing, throw caution to the wind, and just write. Shitty, boring, whiny, self-indulgent stuff that even the writer herself wouldn't want to read. She believes that's the only way to begin. Anne LaMott is one of those writers who makes me wince in her pain, blush at her embarrassment, cry out in her panic, and also grieve my own shortcomings amongst her sheer brilliance in writing. So, I guess if she says to write a shitty first draft and not to sweat it anymore - to just START already - then I should do it. I should face the screen with an open heart and get to work.

Henriette Anne Klauser postures in her book Writing On Both Sides of the Brain, that in order to avoid writing paralysis, we need to completely separate the process of writing from the process of editing. The two sides' goals oppose each other, she says. One side, the editor, strives for succinct perfection and poetic cadence and the other side (the writer) is just desperately trying to get stuff out without being judged. So she says to separate the two completely. First write garbage. Then, invite your editor side to come in for a peek, but remind her to please be kind in her analysis and corrections of the draft. Henriette says the editor will respond with a polite and dignified, completely non-judgemental editing of the writing because she has been purposefully invited into the scene. Editor side will apparently be Martha Fucking Stewart.

But here's the kicker with Anne and Henriette: they say no one's going to read that first draft anyway, so what the hell's the big fuss.

Enter blogging.

You read my garbage! My shitty first drafts! Anne and Henriette told me the key is not to worry about the reader, but I do. I do!

I know you're out there reading (all three of you) and I can't quite get past it into free writing territory. You've never said a nasty thing to me, you're actually a bundle of kindness and empathy, really, but I have this nagging fear that I'll bore the living hell out of you. I want to take good care of you, reader, and when I start feeling like I can't do that just right, then I just QUIT.

Which is what happened. I got all bogged down. Paralyzed. For like a month. Or was it even more?

But I'm trying to get over that. Right now I'm trying hard to follow Anne and Henriette's words of wisdom.

Because I like to write for writing's sake as well as for your sake.

Writing is cool in a wacky fun fucked up sort of way, and I actually really dig it. And I love to read the stuff that's imperfect in its funny or sad or confused or tormented way, so why should my stuff be any different, really? I like to write.

Even if you don't like it, I guess.

But I still hope you do.

So here it is. I give you my shitty first draft and my garbage.
Come on in. Nice to see you!

Do you all get this way too?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

On Closing Doors

When I was probably five, we were at a fancy restaurant in the springtime with my family and my aunt's family. It was lunchtime, and I was wearing a sundress with little yellow flowers and my mary janes that made me feel like Dorothy. The dining room was a sun-filled room with a patterned carpet that was perfect for skipping and jumping games. The waitstaff shuffled about, refilling water glasses and surveying the scene with bored expressions.

My aunt was my dad's crazy, only sister. This is how I remember her: poofy dyed blond hair, bright pink lipstick, foul mouth, chain smoking, pill-popping, cut-to-the-chase speak, truly exotic and magnetic, "you should play Yahtzee for real cash even if you're just a kid", "get that little shit" (referring to her youngest son who used to run away from her routinely), big husky laugh, finger right in your face to make a point, "speak up I can't hear you", "we're playing golf all day Tuesday so you'll have to entertain yourselves while you're here visiting", bets with her secret bookie, "it fell off the truck - don't ask questions", two martinis at noon, many more to follow, sitting at the kitchen table talking to Maddie the live-in maid, every TV in the house on at all times, petting her crazier-than-she boxer named Gus who sat on the couch with her and drank water from a glass, needlepoint talented and frankly obsessed, fearful with a great big mask of LOUD, crazy. That's who she was. She was my lunatic Aunt Gail.

She birthed my only three cousins,and here we were at a fancy restaurant at some country club in Connecticut. The grown-ups told all of us kids we could go run around for a bit, and as we left the big round table with all the silverware without being reminded to push in our chairs or be quiet, we realized the volume was being turned up at the table and things between my dad and my aunt were getting hairy. We played some made up game on that way cool carpet for a bit before one of us noticed that Dad and Gail were standing up now, hands flailing about as though they were being swarmed with mosquitoes.

Lunch ended abruptly - in fact before it was eaten - and we drove to her house, but only to get our stuff. Then we drove home. All the way home in silence, still in my flowered sundress and my mary janes in the way back of the Buick. And we were done with crazy Aunt Gail and her calm, smooth and quiet husband Uncle Ronnie and my three cousins. Done.

Ten years later dad bit the bullet and called her. They reconciled, but there was a whole ocean under that bridge.


Last summer at a house on a lake in Upstate New York, we, the next generation of door closers, had finished our dinner on the deck and we were gathered around the outdoor fireplace drinking beer or red wine, depending on our preference, shooting the bull with my husband's sister and her family. They aren't crazy in the same way as aunt Gail, but they require chaos - real, on-the-edge chaos - the way some people need coffee to start their day. Life is a slog for them without their daily dose of mayhem. There were a couple of other grown-up cousins in the mix that night, and there were six water-logged and sun kissed children inside the rental house playing flashlight games and watching a movie, wrapped in their sleeping bags. Cousin time.

In an instant, my husband and his dramatic sister were at it. She was standing and animated, arms flailing - the return of those goddamn mosquitoes. With the fire casting its eerie light on us, the volume turned up and the tables had turned. Was it really about the lost art of letter-writing they were fighting about? Certainly not, but there was no time to scratch off the veneer and see what lay underneath. The door had slammed. We were packing. We'd sleep off the beverages and leave first thing in the morning.

"Get in the car, kids. We're leaving earlier than we thought."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

For Dad on Mother's Day

My dad is passionate, emotional, conflicted, engaging and connected. He's kind of a big hairy unpredictable female, but he hates to shop and he won't ask for directions when he gets lost, which is all the time.

My dad is a giver, too. A fantastic giver. Each October of my college years, he'd call me up to tell me my package was on its way, and I'd know that he'd been gathering.

I can still remember opening my little college mailbox and seeing the padded envelope with my dad's familiar chickenscratch ballpoint pen handwriting on it. I'd free it from the walls of Box 766, clutch it under my arm and head to the library to find a spot by myself. Between the stacks, I'd tear it open and release the contents: a flattened, foggy ziplock bag packed with his love for me and my love for nature and seasons and home and him. I'd do as he said, and stick my nose right in there.

He'd been out to the woods behind our house and collected a handful of the most brilliantly hued maple leaves from the forest floor to send to me. Usually he'd throw in some pine cones, acorns, ferns, speckled birch bark, and even a mushroom or two. Often, a confused spider would emerge from the still damp pile of autumn splendor.

"Open the bag, put your nose in, and take a big long breath in. Since you can't be here to experience it in person, I'm sending you Vermont fall."

I'd be instantly transported to home and to a younger, less confusing state of being. The leaves smelled of my tree swing, rock walls, woolybear caterpillars and dew. I could hear the trees creaking in the wind behind my house. I could see the charcoal grey sky. I was suddenly there, picking apples from the low arching tree in the meadow.

And he did that for me every year until we moved back to New England three years ago.

My dad was adopted as an infant, and then re-orphaned at 23. He is imperfect, without a doubt. His temper flairs used to leave me trembling under my covers when I was young. He has a hard time sharing his stuff. He can be an unbearable snob. His father, a narcissistic public figure, dropped dead of a heart attack in their front lawn when my dad was twelve. His mom was an overwhelmed, somewhat weak figure who hired people to do most everything.

When my sister was born, she was the very first blood relative my dad had ever seen, and he wept.

All those times he packaged up fall for me, he was loving me imperfectly, in a dew-covered and fungus-riddled way, but also openly.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Are you SERIOUS?

Name: Abbott

Number of times he's pooped in the house: 3

Number of times he's pooped outside: 0
Number of times he's peed in the house: 5
Number of times he's peed in the house somewhere OTHER than the oriental rugs: 0
Number of times he's thrown up in the house: 1

Number of kisses he's given and received: 1,000,000,000,000

BON JOUR, ABBOTT! (Apparently he's French. We know this because he French kisses us all day and night.)

Name: Hobbes

In Need of: Anti-depressants. He's all WTF?? Who brought the new guy? GET HIM AWAY FROM MY TOYS!!!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

There's a New Guy in Town

I like this guy. I like him a lot. And I have a sneaking suspicion he might be a hottie, too.

Long Odds, Short Stories

Take a moment and have yourself a looksee.

Also. I think there might be another new guy in this home of mine soon. A charmer for sure. But he's going to be fluffy and have four legs and a waggy type of tail. Maybe today even!

Cuz, you know...I'm not doing much (mothering, teaching, coaching aside...) and I have all kinds of down time, and my oriental rugs mean nothing to me. I feel that quiet is overrated (as are poop-free floors and hair-free anythings, including FOOD) so I thought I'd mix things up a bit with a brand new eight-week-old golden retriever puppy. To go with the full grown golden retriever dog I already have.

I'll take your top dog names in the comment section if you please...

Lord help me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Paint Stains

She barged in to my classroom three minutes before the kids were allowed to enter. "It's not okay with me that the art teacher allows the kids to paint without a smock. She came home with paint splattered all over her brand new shirt. It was Brand New!" She'd looked me straight in the eyes and raised her voice at me. She had some pent up venom about the paint and the dollars and the message and I don't know what all else. I guess it was probably about respect.

I looked up and to the right, breathing in a good slow breath through my nose. I took a brief moment to gather my thoughts or my wits or locate my cool or put on my filter or whatever I needed to do to remain professional. I exhaled and met my student's mother's eyes with my own, equally determined eyes. Her hands were on her hips, and her sunglasses were perched on the top of her head causing some stray hairs to stand up straight like hackles on a dog about to freak out. She had a stance like a dog, too: proud, aggressive and territorial. I let my arms fall to my sides.

I told her I'd ask the art teacher about it. I assured her that I understood it can be frustrating to lay out a bunch of money for something only to have it tainted. I reiterated my earlier suggestion that she send her twin daughters to school in clothes she didn't value quite so dearly. I explained that most often, a messy kid is in fact a sign of time well spent. I counseled her calmly to refrain from sharing her angst about mess with her daughters, as they were well within the norm for fourth grade stainage, paint-wise or otherwise.

She relaxed her stance ever so slightly, and her hand went instinctively to her hair as she said again how disappointed she had been in the school for allowing this to happen. "It just makes me feel run over,"she whined. Behind her, I could hear my class making their way down the hall to the room. I glanced above my trespasser's head at the wall clock : 7:59. No time to even read the sub's notes from the past four days.

I had just returned from Florida, where my husband's brother had been murdered. He'd been shot point blank in the face by his neighbor and left to die on a front porch. It was messy. He was forty and he had two kids. The whole thing had left a stain that made me feel run over. And I was just disappointed in the world and I couldn't believe the government down there would let people buy guns so easily, and shoot them too.

We had arranged for a beautiful service in a gigantic gazebo by the ocean where we could cry about our loss and more importantly his children's losses. We could look at the horizon and curse the injustice of it. We had been reflecting on issues - enormous issues of faith and respect and order and chaos and life and death- for those days in Florida. I was back in the classroom now though, and she was pissed about the paint.

True story.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Post Script

The Old Man has lost his joix de vivre. It's a familiar sad tale that accompanies the retirement of passionate people who touched lives.

"Volunteer," people suggest. But he doesn't feel much like volunteering because it takes too much courage to sign up for the damn stuff. He won't know what to expect or where to go and godforbid someone should need him and he let them down. So no. No volunteering. He'll just read there in his comfortable chair because it has actually taken the form of his body. Yes. The chair accepts him and the novel washes over him like a warm bath. It takes his hand and transports him for a time.

But the novel has the nerve to end.

He studies his cuticles. Ponders plucking out the hairs on his knuckles. Remembers that those are the hairs that used to get singed off when he built campfires in his youth.

Tea. He'll make some tea. Where is that damn teapot? Rusted out on the bottom. He'll need to use the microwave. Three minutes to boil the water, right? He removes his glasses so he can see the timer. He walks to the window to watch the bird feeder and wait.

The blue jays bully all the small songbirds. When they aren't chasing them down, they're warning them with their beady blue jay eyes, silently saying I'll come for you if you take a chance. Just try me.

The man feels the injustice of this feathered microcosm deeply, so he taps hard on the glass, hoping to show them who's really boss around here.

But the birds have the nerve to fly away.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Long Exhale

I smelled the Earth today.

I saw the robins out my classroom window, too. They were all work no play, marching like an army across the field. The worms didn't have a prayer.

While I was coaching lacrosse, I got muddy and I felt the wind and my fingers got a little numb from the cold, but I didn't wear gloves. When I looked northwest I held my hand like a salute to shade my eyes from the sun.

The shadows of the trees were long on my way home, but my headlights were off. My son went to baseball practice at 6:00 pm with a belly full of chili. He tracked cleat-shaped pieces of Earth in to the kitchen when he came home, and I resisted the urge to pick them up and feel them and smell it and rejoice in them.

It's spring. My uninvited visitor has left me for another poor soul.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The More You Say Goodbye I say Hello.

It's back to work tomorrow. Our two weeks of vacation come to a close when the alarm wakes us at 5:40 tomorrow morning. Goodbye sleeping in. Goodbye Jamaican tan skin and No Problem, Mon attitude. Goodbye mid-day Trivial Persuit games. Goodbye Twilight series. I'll miss you, Edward Cullen. Goodbye obsessive searching for a puppy. Goodbye calm, flexible, relaxed mom who laughs more than she grumbles. Goodbye.

Hello 37 biographies that need to be graded. Hello dear, enthusiastic 5th graders who want to share all of their adventures. Hello Three Cups of Tea - Young Reader's Edition. Hello electric pencil sharpener interrupting me - how I've missed you! Hello new job addition as a lacrosse coach after school every day. Hello making lunches at 6:00 am. Hello parents who need help understanding that their child's behavior, while markedly different from that of a 9 or 10 year old, is really normal for an 11 year old. Hello fellow teachers, most of whom I respect and love, some of whom should have retired long ago. Hello too much coffee and not enough water. Hello.

Would I trade it? Probably not, but I sure do love my time away. When things are finite they are crystalized and oh so sweet.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

She Said / She Said

We were in Jamaica for seven heavenly nights last week. We were so happy. We were doing a good job breathing. And sleeping. And laughing from our bellies.

On our way back to the airport in Montego Bay, I found myself engaging in a heated debate with Myself. It went something like this:

Self One: What the hell are you talking about? Of course you can't just STAY in Jamaica forever. You have things to take care of!

Self Two: I think I'm going to make a break for it. I could wait tables at the resort. Work the front desk. I don't need anything I've got back home. Home is BORING. There's more to life, and I think it's right here at Beaches Negril. The family could visit me from time to time. I think I'm going to do it. (Gets up to ask driver to pull over)

Self One: (Tackling Self One and throwing her back in her seat) You wouldn't last five minutes on this island by yourself. Sit down and stop being ridiculous.

Self Two: Is that a DARE? Cuz I'm pretty competitive you know. And I'm fairly sure you're underestimating me. Say the word if it's a dare, you coward! (mutters) You were always terrified of anything exciting.

Self One: Did you just call me a COWARD, you reckless commitment phobic dreamer? Come back to Earth, honey! We have bills to pay, children to raise, commitments to honor. It's just like you to be so selfish.

Self Two: And it's just like you to be so disgustingly PREDICTABLE! I'd rather put salt in my eyeballs than hang out and talk to boring old you! Watch and weep, sister. I'm going in! (To bus driver) Excuse me...sir? Would you mind...

Self One: (still to driver) ...explaining to me what that building is used for? Molasses refinery? Ah ha! Very interesting. Thank you, sir.

Self Two: I'll get you for that. You just wait.

And so on. Self One won, obviously, but Self Two is not a gracious loser, so I do believe there's more to come from her.

Meanwhile, back in my real life, the crocuses are up. They are doing their part to try to restore my love for this town which lies so very far north of the equator.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tick. Tock.

Tomorrow, the fifth grade is walking the plank. Sink or swim, babies. Ready or not, here it comes. It's knocking on your door. It's time to get the facts. Girls in here with the lovely nurse and me, boys over there with the science teacher and Mr. M. That's right, sugars - we're watching it. Eyes open or eyes shut, it'll be playing for you on a big ol' screen. It's the...wait for guessed it...the PUBERTY MOVIE!!




peeking through open fingers placed dramatically over eyes.

listening intently.

what the?!?!?

imagining opposite sex in the other room learning all THIS STUFF about what is going on with this body of mine. NO! They can't know this about me!!!

glance at friends. Resume cool composure. Make the decision.

No thanks. I'm going to have to pass on all this. I'm not really interested in having it happen to me. Nah. I'll just stay put, kay? Yeah, thanks.

That's just weird anyway.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wanna Get Away?

I had a funny memory I want to write down before it ends up in the overly crowded land of lost memories.

It was summer. Will had just turned two that March. We were living in stifling, suffocatingly hot Baltimore, where a pool is a lifeline in the summer. We opted for survival and joined a swanky pool club where happy children abounded, where rafts, slides, snack bars and happy moms and dads were aplenty. Life was good at the pool club. Really really goood.

We had gone to Target to buy ourselves one of those little blow up contraptions that we could put Will inside to keep him afloat - we called it his boat. When he saw us blowing it up, he clapped his hands and squeeled in delight. To watch us blowing up his own personal raft was better than anything this kid had ever seen in his short life. He was amazed at how it grew from a flat pancake into a big puffy boat for him to sit in. "My boat blows up! It's a blow-up boat!" he shrieked over and over again. The growth! The language! He even loved the alliteration of it all.

Will and I were holding hands walking by the side of the pool to get a drink at the snack bar when a woman passed us going the other direction. She was carrying a couple of cheeseburgers, some french fries and an extra large soda. She had a nice big fuchsia painted smile, her nails were gleaming red, a Bal'more updoo of a hairstyle sat atop her head like a crown, quite a bit of sweat dripped down her enormous cleavage, and a large skirty-type bright blue bathing suit was trying its hardest to do its job of covering her various parts. She had to say it...let herself go a bit, and was easily pushing 350. Big girl with an especially impressive backside. Huge.

She zeroed in on Will, waddling right up to him with unrelenting focus. "Oh, isn't he cute? And how old are you, little guy?" She couldn't have been any sweeter, really. She bent right down to Will and smiled at him, balancing her mid morning snack in her hands.

Will looked at his wet toes and squeezed my hand a bit harder. "He can be a little shy," I lied. "Will, say hello to the nice lady please. Tell her how old you are."

He looked her straight in the mascara laden eyes and said in his biggest boy voice, without the slightest lack of clarity...

"You have a blow-up bottom!"

Wanna get away?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I'm On To You

Revlon, Clairol, Cover Girl: you're ALL guilty of it. I've busted up your plan, so you might as well just come clean now so we don't need to bother with any big court case. I'm feisty like that. All I need from you is an admission of guilt, you smarmy bastards.

It's so OBVIOUS what you're doing! Duh. How'd you think you could get away with these shenanigans, anyway? What'd you take me for?!?

Let's start with the cover-up meant to hide the under eye bags, shall we? Sure you make it LOOK like it will match my skin tone and everything, but it so clearly turns to ash grey when applied. I mean, HELLO? Why else would I have bags big enough for a week of laundry under my eyes even AFTER applying your product? Yeah, you, Mr. Executive. I'm on to your plan to make me keep buying more and more cover up. I actually thought it was black mascara under my eyes, but then I realized it was PERMANENT!

And, yeah...that makeup remover that cost a week of groceries? It won't even remove the dark grey stain your company PAINTED on there! I scrub and scrub and still it's there. What'd you do, mix black sharpie in with your makeup? A less determined soul might have actually believed it was her own AGING causing these ugly under eye bags. But not me - I know it's your evil ways making me look this haggered and...old.

And yes, I'm going to insist that we talk about the hair color too. You can run, honey, but there's no hiding from the likes of ME. You put that beautiful blond bimbo with the winning smile on the cover of the box just to taunt me, don't you? Well, willing to stop at nothing, I INSPECTED that product of yours. I practically SAW the grey-growing seeds you put in there. They obviously grow grey hairs at an alarming rate. The ones that flock to the temple area of my scalp, but are spreading across the back.

What? You can't possibly think I'm stupid enough to believe these grey hairs are the product of my LIFESTYLE or something? That's right. You're soooo busted.

Now in case you thought your face firming cream / wrinkle reducer was safe from scrutiny, think again. I'm OUTING you, suckah. That stuff grows wrinkles faster than a bag of fertilizer grows grass. Sure I may have bought more and more of it over the years in an attempt to slow the resemblance of my face to an unironed ashen colored pillowcase, but now I realize that you are actually CAUSING this! Let me ask you: just how can you sleep at night?

Push-up bras? Slimfast? I recommend you start packing your bags, cause you're next on my list. You guys are on THIN ICE.

The Visitor

Somehow, I was alone in the old creaky house. There was a fire in the fireplace and I was curled up on the couch with my laptop. I was just knocking on blogland's door to ask for a playdate when I heard a harsh three knocks at my own door. The dog snapped to attention and went psychotic, howling and snarling and scratching at the door with his teeth barred. He knew something I didn't.

As I roused myself from my warm nest and started padding my way toward the entryway, a shiver made its way up my spine. I shushed the dog harshly and flipped on the porch light. I could feel the cold February air making its way through the gap between door and frame before I even turned the handle. The wind was whipping out there, desperate for the warmth of people's homes.

The dog had changed his tune to a low growl, straight from his soul. He was staring at the door making a sound his ancestors of thousands of years ago had taught him.

"Hush up," I hissed at him. "That's just rude."

I opened the door a crack and the wind found its destination. The light was playing tricks on my eyes though, since I had been looking at the fire and my computer screen, and I couldn't see anybody standing on the stoop. It was 6:30, so it was fully dark. I shook my head a bit and gave a strong blink to try and see clearly.

No one. Empty stoop. The dog quieted down a bit, but he began wildly sniffing the air inside the house.

I opened the door all the way - man was it freezing out there - and leaned out. Wind had apparently told all his friends there was a party at my house, and the whole crew was coming in now, looking for a place to sit down, asking what I had to drink.

"Hello? Helloooo?" Emptiness.

It dawned on me right then that it was too late. I had let him in with the wind. I hadn't seen the signs. He was here and I had let him in. Damn it. It was done. How stupid can I be?

I closed the door with big, but futile hopes that he had not liked what he'd seen and had let himself out. How naive I'd been. I hate that about myself. Yup. Definitely him.

The chill in my house was one of many signs that he was an uninvited guest, making himself comfortable. He'd sit down next to me shortly, and he won't leave until spring. He's an intruder who likes to find me during February and settle right in. Cozy up with me. He'll follow me around telling me all the things he doesn't like about me.

In the past, I've practically offered him coffee and chocolate. Not this time, guy. Keep it short.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Chimney Sweep

Someone left the damn flu open again, and all the heat is flying right up the chimney and out into the open air. This heat doesn't just accidentally stumble on the opening in the hearth either; it is actually sucked out with a great invisible force like a riptide. The heat goes up and out until it mingles with the frigid winter air making hardly a ripple before it disperses. It's gone.

I think the flu handle is broken or something because I can't close it. I can't keep the ideas in. I can't even find the ideas because they're flying out the open flu at warp speed, and they're dissembling as they go. Just as I think I catch sight of one sparkling like a dew drop, full of promise, floating in the air, off it flies leaving only the wispiest hint of itself in its wake. It was only the ghost of an idea.

Every once in a while, I'll grab one of the bastards on its way by me and I'll squeeze my hand tightly so I don't lose it. I'll try to calm it down so it doesn't make a mad fleeing dash, and then when I'm as sure as I can be that it's going to cooperate, I breathe in a calming breath, exhale, and then start begging. Yes, before I open my fingers to see what I've got, I do some pleading. I explain to my prisoner (whatever it may be) that I'm not as mad as I sound. I don't hate you for being illusive, I just find it frustrating. I need you, I say. You're there and I know it, you're keeping me warm in your way, but I can't focus until I've crystallized you and let you go myself. You can't just fly away before I let you, you see. All I want to do is keep you so I can write you down. When ideas like you get away, I tell my fist, it's just ... unsettling. So stay with me, idea, and I'll write you down and then set you free. Please.

I arch my thumb, just barely, so I can peek into the dark space in my hand. This could be a good one. My pointer finger follows suit, slowly. Am I trembling? Is this idea that powerful?

I relax the rest of my hand. Please don't fly toward the flu, I whisper.


If I had it at all, it's gone now.

Friday, February 6, 2009

25 Things

1. I have a terrible sense of direction. Really twisted. I once got on the highway in Burlington, VT to go to Marblehead, MA. I went north. Why does that sign say "Bienvenue a Canada"?

2. As a result of #1, I get a little worried in big box stores like IKEA. I have no idea how to get out of those places.

3. There is a piece of me that likes danger. I used to hang out on the railroad tressle and wait for the train to pass.

4. I love to write. I have a blog that makes me happy.

5. Music has great power over me. It actually takes me places.

6. I'm a little weird about wild animals. I feel extraordinarilly lucky - chosen even?- when I catch a glimse of a moose or a coyote.

7. For all the things I doubt in myself, surviving without everyday comforts is not one of them.

8. Apparently, it's a little difficult for me to divulge 25 random things about me. It feels a little indulgent to me right now. Actually. I recommend that you go do something else with your time.

9. I never ever worked hard in school - not one little bit - until I got to graduate school.

10. When Chloe was born, I felt as though I had known her my whole life. I'd just been waiting for her to show up.

11. When Will was born, I knew immediately that he was exactly what we all needed. He completed our family with great presence.

12. Peter is the perfect fit for me. Absolutely perfect. He makes me madder than hell sometimes, and even then I know we're the perfect fit.

13. As a unit, we have done a lot of searching for Home. For now, we are there. And it's really really good for the soul.

14. I love to play the guitar and sing, but I approach it the way I approach lots of things in my life - todo o nada.

15. I feel a sense of dread almost every time the phone rings. I'd really like for this to pass.

16. Over the past couple of years, I've grown to love the pre-dawn hours. I take the dog for walks and luxuriate in the quiet.

17. Is that grass over there really greener? Cause I'm pretty certain it looks like it is from where I'm standing.

18. My kids never saw an iron until they were at least 5 years old. "Is that a funny telephone, Mommy?"

19. I will die a blonde, dammit.

20. I like 5th graders a lot. I like reading and writing a lot. I teach reading and writing to fifth graders. I like my job a lot.

21. The sound of the electric pencil sharpener is the sound I will hear if I happen to end up in hell.

22. Sometimes when I'm gardening I get so lost in my thoughts, I actually drool.

23. I want to write a book. Even if it's just for me.

24. The shear luck of ending up with the family I've got can drop me to the floor. It's astounding to me.

25. I'd rather have sea glass than jewels.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ten Year Old to Mom

Build me a fire, please
I'm cold
And it's cold
Sit wirh me and warm our souls please
So we won't be so cold.

I'm worried and confused and I don't understand
Anything but back then
I'm changing and it's all happening
Back it up for me please
Or at least tell me it's alright
I won't believe you this time, but keep saying it anyway.

It's not easy and I like easy
Can you just make it easy again please?
I'm asking the fire to please make it easy please again
It can't hurt to ask when it's hard.

When I'm a mom I'll like my cute little baby more than my Me
I know I will mom
And now I'm that Me
And I'm worried and scared and I want to go back
Tell me. Did you?

Were you scared?
Tell me.
Was it hard and was it frightening?
Were you scared and did it hurt?
You couldn't control it and I can't control this
This growing up is hard and not easy.

Sit with me mom.
I'm scared.

Post Script

The Old Man has lost his joix de vivre. It's a familiar sad tale that accompanies the retirement of passionate people who touched lives.

"Volunteer," people suggest. But he doesn't feel much like volunteering because it takes too much courage to sign up for the damn stuff. He won't know what to expect or where to go and godforbid someone should need him and he let them down. So no. No volunteering. He'll just read there in his comfortable chair because it has actually taken the form of his body. Yes. The chair accepts him and the novel washes over him like a warm bath. It takes his hand and transports him for a time.

But the novel had the nerve to end.

He studies his cuticles. Ponders plucking out the hairs on his knuckles. Remembers that those are the hairs that used to get singed off when he built campfires in his youth.

Tea. He'll make some tea. Where is that damn teapot? Rusted out on the bottom. He'll need to use the microwave. Three minutes to boil the water, right? He removes his glasses so he can see the timer. He walks to the window to watch the birdfeeder and wait.

The bluejays bully all the small songbirds. When they aren't chasing them down, they're warning them with their beady bluejay eyes, silently saying I'll come for you if you take a chance. Just try me. And this makes our hero mad, so he taps hard on the glass, hoping to show them who's really boss around here.

But the birds had the nerve to fly away.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


It was the summer of our marriage, and we were living in my parents' barn. Although the horses were long gone, we weren't sleeping in the stalls. They were filled with tractors, old wood stoves, furniture for "some day" and an old race car. We entered the barn through that squeaky old rolling door, but then we hooked an immediate right. There is a tiny apartment up the old rickety stairs next to the hay loft that we called home. I don't recall Peter actually carrying me over the threshold of that place, but it was our first digs as married folks. It had an orange carpet, lots of flies, a kitchenette, a bathroom with a camp shower and a loud water pump that went three times every time someone flushed. This mishmash of a place also had our marriage bed.

My dad was ambivalent about the fact that we were residing in what had always been his Man Turf. He couldn't really forfeit control of his pad, because it had always served as HIS escape. On the other hand, he loved that we were close by, and he loved that he could help us start out. He would make the walk down to the barn at all hours and just "pop in" to say hello or to ask if we'd like him to help us out with anything. At least twice, I had to dive in front of the door wrapped in a sheet (no locks in the barn of course) while Peter zipped up his pants.
"Nope. We're good. Thanks, Dad. We'll let you know if we need anything."

We were in graduate school. We had a golden retriever puppy. We baked chicken in the tiny oven. We went for runs and we swam in the river. We studied some, and we formulated our philosophies about education. We had big dreams in that tiny, crowded space.

When the snow flew that fall, we moved into Burlington. We rented half of a duplex on the main street leading in to the downtown area. There were three (three!) bedrooms in that place, a kitchen, a living room and a bathroom. The pump was quiet. We bought a computer. We grew tomatoes in huge planters on the front porch. We went to the local bars, played pool and rode in shopping carts on the way home. We found teaching gigs, and put our philosophies into play. We had passion to burn at work and at play. We had to swear to each other that we would never play the pouring-ice-cold-water-on-each-unsuspecting-other-in-the-shower game, because it was completely out of hand. We could hardly sleep at night for the planning and the paranoia. Taping the sprayer nozzle on the kitchen sink to the "on" position was still fair territory though.

Next stop: suburbia. We rented a whole house 8 miles north of the city. It was a collage of a house, made from old barn materials, salvaged lumber, Uncle Fred's this and someone's grandma's old that. It matched our passion with its character. One night we found a cat prowling around in our basement. The down side of this place was that the owners, older hippies who had just a bit of extra sadness, kept all of their discarded junk stored here and there in that house. Their stuff somehow oozed their grief, and I never could quite shake that.

A year or two later, we actually scraped together the funds to put a deposit down on our very own house. It had orange counter tops, hollow doors, a sandbox, and an incredible flower garden I loved. You had to drive very, very slowly as you approached it, as tricycles and red wagons in that neighborhood outnumbered cars. This place wrote the book on cul-de-sac living. I have a lifelong friend from that neighborhood. We brought our beautiful newborn Chloe home to this, our little grey home, ten years and a lifetime ago today.

Whispers of greener grass haunted us there. They would wake us up at night, daring us to venture. We took our baby and our dog and our medium sized U-Haul to Baltimore. We had wanted to challenge our liberal ideals, wanted just a little less predictability, perhaps some more culture. We openly scoffed at those who warned us to be careful what you wish for. In that big, somewhat southern city, we became real teachers. We were robbed. We made more true friends. We brought home our beautiful newborn William to that brick cape we called home. We had four (four!) bedrooms in that home, but sweet Will had to sleep downstairs because there were two up and two down. I wanted him closer. We planted our own flower garden, and tended it too. We buried three family members when we lived there. And our dog. We learned to be careful what you wish for, but also to pursue it anyway. But we needed to come home because we weren't home at that home we lived in for six years in Baltimore.

And now we are home. It's a big happy home not far from a moody ocean. There are five (five!) bedrooms in this home, the floors haven't been sanded since they were laid down in 1927, and the mouldings are spectacular. When we were cleaning out the basement of this happy home we had just bought, we found their teenage boys' porn and a pinch pipe stuffed into an old crawlspace. We have a new golden retriever now, and he loves this home too. We hung a tire swing on the oak tree in the back yard. The mantelpiece is a bit crooked, the kitchen tiles are horrendous, and the old steam heaters need to be repainted, but we have time to fix all this. We've got all kinds of time in this home. Recently, we redid our bathroom, and where the tiles had fallen out and couldn't be replaced, we carefully added our timeless seaglass. All four of us, plus the dog, sleep on the second story. We are a stone's throw from friends we've known our whole lives. My parents are close, but not THAT close. We're home now. Now we're home.

Friday, January 2, 2009

An Introduction

We were on a honeymoon of sorts in Jamaica. It had taken us five years of marriage to scrape together the required cash, so "honeymoon" is a liberal term for it, but we were having the time of our lives. We played on the beach, sipped endless tropical drinks through straws, swam in the pool, played tennis, met some friends, and laughed. This is a very relaxed me on that heavenly trip.

A few weeks after we arrived back in the the still deeply frozen tundra called Vermont (our then home), I felt like I might die. Of nausea. I felt like I was trapped inside a milk carton that had been left in that Jamaica sun for quite some time. Peutrid. I started to barf, and..wait...what the???

Peter was vaccuuming when I told him I was pregnant. He looked at me, blinked twice *blink.blink* and kept vaccuuming. He crossed the floor with slightly more intensity and very straight rows. He frowned and squinted at the rug: no crumb was going to escape HIS hoover!

A few minutes later, carpets cleaned and dust settled, he found his wits and sat down next to me on the front step to help me find mine. Together, we rallied for this new adventure.

Enter Chloe, the beautiful wise baby who would take on the job of raising her parents with endless grace and courage. When she was born she looked at us, blinked twice *blink.blink* and started nursing.

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: this child was born worldly and knowing. She had compassionate down before I did.

She feels things deeply and delights in all things new. She's a flower child living her life in the twenty-first century. She's "home" when she's ouside talking to the animals, admiring the moon and stars, or riding the waves.

Chloe is a writer and an artist. She finds endless joy in creating. And imagining. She's always wondering.

She has a great sense of humor, too. BOO!

Chloe's going to be ten in a few days. She must be exhausted from all the teaching she has to do for us every single day, but we'd like to think she's proud of her efforts. Molding your average people into parents is a tough, tough job.

Of course she's had a little help for the past six and a half years, but nonetheless, she's done a bang-up job. I'm very proud to know her.