Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Overlooking the obvious

From our house to Matt's parents' house (and vice versa), "exit 9" outside of Albany is almost always the perfect destination for meals, clean bathrooms, and a much-needed stretch. The Cracker Barrel store and restaurant hosts a favorite set of bathrooms--and their raspberry iced tea is yummy, too. On the way to Matt's parents' home, the restaurant restroom became the site of a "first" for Lucas--peeing on a public potty! Hooray! It was in this same restroom on our way home that I had what I'm certain was not a first or a last for me--the "keep it simple/don't overlook the obvious" answer to a child's very innocent question.

As Kyra and I were leaving to return to our table, we held the restroom door for a group of women--three seemingly together who were African-American, and two seemingly together who might have been Indian. In that a-little-louder-than-normal child's voice, Kyra asked, "Why are all the brown people going to the bathroom?" In the space following her question, my mind raced through a million thoughts. I work predominantly with people of color, and as someone white who was relatively oblivious to my own color for many years of my life, I long ago made a promise to myself that my children would be raised to be color conscious. The old myth of walking through the world color blind does not fit the realities of a world where white continues to extend remarkable unearned privileges. Though my work is in multiculturalism, predominantly around issues of race, I still had that pause. I didn't want to shame my child for her question and observation; I didn't know if the women had heard and whether or not they were comfortable or uncomfortable with her remark. I didn't want to emphasize color in my response--how could I, to a four year old? "Well, Kyra, why is it you didn't comment earlier when a group of white people passed us to go to the cash register?" My sorely inadequate response? "Maybe they are a family and decided to go to the bathroom together." Though it seemed quite obvious that we passed two distinct groups of women, I still choked a bit on my answer, eager to not let my pause bring shame or self-consciousness to Kyra. When I shared the incident with Matt later that evening, he suggested I should have said that if I were a person of color, I, too, would want someone to have my back in the restroom of such a white establishment!

The obvious answer I so clearly overlooked didn't emerge until a day later. What I wish I had said???

"Because they must have to go to the bathroom."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Fresh Air....priceless

We spent the long weekend in central New York, visiting Matt's parents and enjoying some of our favorite fresh air spots. Often we drive at night so the kids will sleep in the car, and when we step out of the car, legs aching for a stretch, we gasp at the stars. Living downtown in a cityish suburb, Matt and I once drove miles to find a dark enough location to watch a meteorite display. Our kids learn about stars from our college's observatory and planetarium, not from the experience of looking up in their backyard. This trip, we gasped upon arrival because the air smelled so fresh. There was a drizzle, drawing up into the air the scent of newly-mown grass....heaven. Between the bright sun, the acres of room to roam and run, and a stimulating schedule of "down home" events (car show, pig roast and canoe regatta!), Lucas slept straight through the night two nights in a row. I'm not certain this has ever happened. Our home has its charms, but the smoke and soot-filled air of our neighborhood suffers greatly after the three day comparison we've returned from. Oh, how I wish I could bring home that air....

Thursday, May 25, 2006

All that there is....

I've been having one of those days. It rings for me of Frances McDermond's moment in Friends with Money when she asks, "What if this is all there is?" After months of job prospecting, balancing hopes for a new future with reasonable satisfaction with our current reality, I'm simply feeling tired of the quest...and as has been the case throughout my life, concerned I will never find "it"--that elusive "it" that is my calling, my destiny, my purpose. And yet, even as I say, "What if this is all there is?" I realize the answer is a certain "YES!" Isn't every moment really all there is? So what of today's "all" has given me joy, contentment, or peace?

*Lucas's toddler room classmate Jack is a baseball fanatic. Not yet two, he can already swing a plastic bat and connect with a wiffleball pitched in his direction. He fakes a pitch, runs from corner to corner in the outdoor playspace, and slides "safe" onto his right knee. Over and over and over--it is priceless. The teachers were commenting they should get his autograph now; he will certainly find his way to the major leagues.

*Two weeks ago while grocery shopping I came up $6 short in my need to spend $100 in order to use my $10 off coupon. I raced to the nearest display, grabbing six boxes of "buy one, get one free" cereals. I didn't see at the time the boxes contained iTunes coupons. Lucky Charms happily consumed, I "cashed in" my first two coupons on Tuesday night. One was worth not only the original song, but a five song bonus as well. That $6 gap has paid me many times over....and in music--what could be better?

*Matt and I went to our favorite local Mexican restaurant for lunch. One lunch-sized enchilada, taco, rice, chips and salsa later, I was feeling lucky indeed that this needs-to-talk-it-all-through extravert found the ideal happy-to-just-listen-and-take-it-all-in partner. Our differences are not without challenges, but the benefits are plentiful. And the best part of it? He has heard it all before, and he listens as though it is fresh and new. What a gift....

*When our church's youth minister (originally from South Africa) had the fortune of meeting another South African at a local summer camp, our church became the delighted recipient of her thoughtful, articulate, talented now-husband. I have loved his voice since we both first joined the choir, and I recently proposed we together sing a duet. Last night was our first opportunity to practice together, and it was such fun--our voices have a great blend, comparable ranges, and the style of the song I chose was just right. While Matt is an exceptional partner, he is not an exceptional singing partner, so I'm delighted to have found someone to indulge my wish for duets!

When all else fails, I can be grateful for the air I breathe, the flowers that bloom, the boogie-laden smooches which will greet me at day care....even my very capacity to feel and express gratitude.

Is this all there is? Of course it is.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


While driving home from day care/work this evening, I began preparing Kyra and Lucas for their evening tomorrow. We'll be visiting the family resource center, a phenomenal local service offering play groups, parenting workshops, visits from parent educators, developmental screenings and more. Matt and I are attending a session called "Growing a Girl!" while Kyra and Lucas play in the playgroup area. Kyra has envied the fact that Lucas still occasionally attends playgroups, despite that she has aged out of many of these programs. I was emphasizing the play opportunity to her, but she was clearly more interested in the topic of our workshop. Without knowing exactly how to describe it--when in fact I know little more than the title!--I simply said, "It's a lesson about how to raise great girls, and we certainly have a great girl to raise!" Kyra's response?

"Are you going to sell me?"

I don't know if we've been talking about raising livestock for food, raising the cost of gas to gouge out our wallets or wanting more of a raise in our paycheck, but clearly there has been a raise/sale link for her. Nope, my girl, you are definitely a keeper!

Monday, May 22, 2006

All the blog entries I am not taking time to write!

It was one of those weekends--event after event, insight after insight. There were so many potential blog entries, I literally felt overloaded. As always when this is the case, I wrote nothing! So, here is just a sample list of what I could have written about, but did not....keeps you guessing, wanting for more, at least!

*Commencement at the college on Saturday--and in particular, a special ceremony held for a cohort group of students selected to enter and move through the college experience together. I was struck by the magnification of their contributions and their learning from college, and curious about how we can better provide this to all our students and, in fact, all people.

*Birthday celebration for my friend, Karen--in the process of divorcing, Karen has again proven herself a survivor. She threw herself a 30th birthday party, and we were the delighted beneficiaries of a few hours with eight terribly interesting and different women. Further insight--her soon-to-be ex-husband has done her wrong in ways few women come up for air from, and yet she seemingly manages with some health and humor. In one of those rare moments when we let ourselves stumble into talking about him and what he deserves for how he behaved, I realized he's already gotten what he deserves--he has already lost the very best thing he was ever going to find in life. This will be a forever wound for him. May her wounds heal completely, and in time may we be celebrating under even better circumstances!

*The meaning and power of prayer--whether it is a shift within or the actual intervention of God, I am astounded at how often my requests are met. I have been very casually praying about my desire to feel more appreciative of my kids and more present with them, and have been quite surprised as situations that only days ago were likely the end of my patience, tolerance or good will seem to be quite manageable, and even humorous at times! While I believe in the presence of God, I know not everyone does--perhaps there is simply power for us all in voicing aloud the ways in which we want to shift and change.

*Sacrificial moms--just a few days ago a good friend vocalized her plan for getting her body, her mind and her life back in order. The only problem? This plan is on hold until her youngest child is in preschool, one year away. I thought about Flylady, to whom I am eternally grateful, and her belief in starting where we are, never feeling behind, and doing what we can in the very small increments of time that life provides us. I thought about my wish for all parents, but moms in particular, to feel somehow whole and self-focused despite or perhaps even because of the presence of children. And this non-blog entry would also have talked extensively about a workshop I hosted last week with a speaker on the care parents need to give themselves. But, since I'm not writing about anything today....

*Rent, the show, the movie, the documentary detailing how it all came to be--with three shows in two cities under our belt, Matt and I can hardly be called "Rentheads," but we do know every single word from the soundtrack and consider ourselves to be fans of significance. Remembering via the documentary the tremendous promise, tragedy and full circle nature of the show and its creator Jonathan Larson has filled my mind with longing, dreams and a sense that I need to begin to fulfill those now!

My first longing? A NAP--allergies have kicked in and I'm feeling one step below lousy. Lori McKenna is playing at Brennan's Grille tonight, however, and we have tickets. I suspect I will be feeling terrific by then!

Friday, May 19, 2006

'Twas the day after "yes" day....

Well, technically yesterday wasn't a true yes day, but we're giving ourselves partial credit. What's a yes day, you ask? Years ago, before baby Lucas entered our world, we had "one of those mornings." Kyra was pleading to stay home from day care, Matt jokingly suggested he could be "sick" for the day, and within moments, we called to say we would all be home for the day. We spontaneously dubbed the moment "yes" day and determined to spend our time revisiting all the treats, destinations and indulgences we typically say "no" to on a day to day basis. The highlights from that first yes day? Kyra drank her first Kiddie Size Fruit Coolatta from Dunkin' Donuts (a ritual she associates with all "yes" days since), and she was able to visit a local craft store that always used to put giant stuffed animals outside their door as a lure for young children. We had driven past those stuffed animals for months, and Kyra requested often to stop and give them a pat. The excuses were typical--we're late to work, we're hungry for dinner and want to get home--and the answer previously had always been "no." We stopped, hopped out of the car, and three minutes after greeting the animals, Kyra was done--satisfied--immensely happy. It had been so incredibly simple. The lesson for us? Saying no is a habit, and one that gives us power on days when we're feeling particularly powerless in the face of it all. Saying yes, on the other hand, is just as simple, and gives us a much more authentic sense of power....and goodness, too! And so the yes days continue. Though we weren't able to step out of work/day care yesterday, we had contemplated it, and so we still treated ourselves to some "yes" responses along the way. A delicious sandwich at Panera Bread for lunch....time in the sandbox and on bikes before extra story in the evening. Again, extravagence is low, but pleasure is high. What can you say "Yes" to today? We're heading to the mall for some rainy day play time. I might even say "YES" to the kids' requests for DONUTS!

From Massachusetts, declaring every day a "YES DAY!!!"

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Love Covers a Multitude

We live only eight miles from the college campus where we work, but we pass ample numbers of Dunkin' Donuts and church bulletin boards on our way. There are those faith communities like ours that use their bulletin boards for facts: "Church Fair, 10am Saturday." There are other communities that use their boards to provoke, to reach out, to draw in. Though Matt regularly asks, "Do they honestly get anyone through the door because a free pass to heaven was advertised outside?" something about the process seems to be satisfactory or fun for them. And hey, we certainly comment often enough on the clich├ęd messages they post.

In honor of Mother's Day, I suspect, one such bulletin board recently boasted, "Love Covers a Multitude." The words struck me--in part, the phrase sounded incomplete (a multitude of what??? sin??? is that the original phrase?); in part, the phrase struck true somewhere inside me. I felt the truth in motion yesterday when Matt and I both woke tired and, dare I say it? GRUMPY! Our children are in a cycle of very poor sleep, and despite the predictability of their current habits, it just doesn't feel good to go to bed at 12am, wake with Lucas at 2am, settle Kyra in sleeping bags on our floor at 3:30am, wake again with Lucas at 5am, decide to bring him to our bed where we will all wake unhappily at 7am, already about a half hour behind our "what we need to do to get to school/work on time" schedule. Feel free to refer me to Super Nanny or Nanny 911, suggest any number of helpful sleep resources....we know what we can and must do, and we haven't yet mustered the energy or desire to train our kids back to full nights of sleep. We are in coping mode, at least until commencement.

Anyway, I digress....Matt and I are both a bit on the selfish side, by nature, and we are also prone to being a bit negative when we are tired, so these exhausted mornings often leave us grumbling internally and sometimes externally about who got up at what times during the night, who is doing more to get the kids ready and moving, who should stop reading the cereal box and stand up to finish the lunches, who is ultimately at fault/to blame for our being late to work yet can imagine the inner dialogue. Yesterday was no exception, and I could actually feel the friction between us, despite that neither of us had exchanged a word about who actually dared to sit down and eat breakfast as opposed to carrying something on the road, or who was taking the time to look up the address for the after-school program when that letter could easily be mailed from work.

After much coaxing and prodding for kids to get shoes on, coats on, teeth brushed, hair brushed, we were finally ready to depart. Loaded down with laptops and lunchboxes, I spontaneously turned toward Matt, said "Good morning," and gave him the kiss we both deserved to start our days. It was an hour and a half later than it should have been given, and prompted a day's worth of discussion with Kyra about the ways in which two consenting adults can kiss versus parent/child kisses or kid to kid kisses, but that brief moment in time did, indeed, cover a multitude. Ah, how little it takes to choose love, but often we overlook the opportunity.

Choose some love today....get some, give some, feel it deep within. Find all that it can cover in your life.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Remembering sunnier days

Too many consecutive days of indoor play....too much rain washing away flowers and grass seed....too many floods wiping out New England. We are grateful to be in dry shelter, safe from the worst of the storm, and concerned about the many, many people who are trying to save themselves, their homes, and their histories. Soon we know the sun will return (though not soon enough!). In the meantime, we remember what it felt like to be outdoors, hot, and very, very happy!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Where you lead, I will follow

In the liner notes for Carole King's The Living Room Tour, she describes how originally the song "Where you lead, I will follow" was written for an obviously yet-to-be liberated, pre-feminism woman following her man. After abandoning the song for a stretch because of her decreased connection to its meaning in this context, she was invited to rewrite and perform the song as the theme of Gilmore Girls, celebrating the connection between mothers and daughters. This video clip of Carole singing the updated version is a clear reminder why I list Carole King on the very short list of women whose lives I envy, but doesn't match the version on the album that actually is performed as a duet with her daughter, Louise Goffin.

When my own mother was alive, we rarely sang duets, and we certainly would have lacked the "hip" quality of Carole and Louise were we even to have attempted this song. Its meaning wouldn't have fit us then either. I was independent, certain to invest my life in a wider circle of friends and acquaintances....the daughter happy to leave home and ensure no one was following from behind. When my mom died only a month after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was 20 years old--a girl, in my mind, who had simply left college for the weekend because her mom was sick and heading in for surgery. I wasn't at that moment in a relationship, I had no vision for my future, and it bothered me immensely to think I was going to (hopefully) graduate from college in a year and from that point forward my mother wouldn't have any idea where I was.

Though I knew rationally this wasn't the case, I believed in some magical fantasy world my mom could get in touch with me--she should "know" where I am at all times. When I returned to college for my senior year, I had powerful moments of realizing she might indeed know where I am. One night I returned to my room feeling sad and alone and wanting space, only to discover a crowd of had-been-friends (I had changed too much to really be part of any of my old crowds.) boisterously celebrating and spilling from room to room throughout our house. I retreated to the shower, sensing this was the only place I might truly be alone, and then locked myself inside my room, ensuring I locked the rest of the crowd out. I listened to music, wrote in my journal, and reflected on a conversation with my friend, Amy, whose mom had been sick with cancer longer than any of us cared to remember. She shared with me how she only prayed to God for peace. If she asked for her mom to be well, she was perpetually disappointed; if she asked not to have to go through the suffering any more, she feared her mom would die. Realizing she had no control over the circumstances of her mom's sickness, she could only ask God to somehow heal the unrest and uncertainty that clung tightly inside of her. Feeling just desperate enough to stop asking for my mother back (futile, but I did it nevertheless....), I said only four words as I lay aching in the dark: "God, give me peace."

Hours later I awoke from a dream and saw a grayish figure of my mom looking much as she would have when she was the mother of two very young daughters. The short, salt and pepper hair with which she had died was suddenly long and pure black, lifted from her face with a wide-band headband. I squinted my eyes, uncertain if I was still somewhere in a dream, but the harder I focused on her image, the more distant and blurry it became. If I simply remained still, accepting her presence as real, she was there. Though I didn't hear the words aloud, I received a message: "I will watch over you and your children always." Though I was that same 20 year old girl--grown seemingly years older in a few months time--and had no children or thought of them, I took the words as a gift. They continue to be in so many ways.

While I can count on one hand actual appearances of my mom after her death, the surprising moments of "coincidence" wherein I discover I am following in her footsteps are too numerous to count. Let me share just a few.... After leaving the safe confines of my college and moving our family belongings from the house where she had died, I was set adrift from my mother's knowledge of me. How would she reach me if she needed me? How would she even know where I was? I selected a graduate school that offered a few fabulous benefits--a program I loved, a tuition-granting assistantship, and proximity to the man I was certain I would spend my life with (and for once, I was right!). Though I knew in the back of my mind this university was in the city where my mother was raised, it wasn't a conscious thought for me; I had never known her family to be there, and to my memory had never visited there with her. Imagine my surprise when my father visited my new apartment, exclaiming minutes after his arrival, "Did you know your mom grew up just around the corner from here?" Hmmmm....maybe she could find me.

Two years later it was time for another move. I visited the campus that would become both home and work for Matt and me for the past ten years, certain I had never been there before. But a drive down main street felt oddly familiar. The final summer I had spent with my mother, we had attended a James Taylor concert at an outdoor, ampitheatre-style concert venue. Hoping to avoid the crush of traffic as we departed, we skirted right as the other cars piled up to turn left for the easy entrance to the highway. Where had that right turn taken us? Along a series of roads that ultimately passed the front of that indeed she might find me once again.

Two years more passed, and tiring of the 24 hour work life that accompanied living on campus, I took a new position at the college and we rented a home just eight miles away. Again, on my dad's first visit, he shared with me that we lived mere blocks from the very first school my mom served as a teacher....and five or so years after that, when we hired a new Administrative Assistant in my office, she discovered one day that she had been a student at this very school in the one and only year my mom taught there. She produced a yearbook and, sure enough, there was beautiful Phyllis. Without intention or knowledge on my part, I seem to keep following her path. She knows where I am; I am certain of it.

Matt and I are once again contemplating a move, hoping there might be a workable offer (or any offer at all!) after a fabulous campus visit yesterday. As I drove home, contemplating all the changes that would accompany this move were it to happen--new job, new state, new home, new community, new schools for the kids (eek--need to move quickly as kindergarten is bearing down on us....), I couldn't help but pause and think of my mom. Never before have I moved with the knowledge of her sojourns years before, so I can't expect I will now, but what if this time there aren't any? What if this is the move that takes me beyond her life, out of her reach?

Perhaps it is now my time to lead, trusting she will follow....

On Motherless Daughters Day and every day, I remember. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

I am Jennifer, daughter of Phyllis Eileen Cash Sanborn (1947-1993).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Pain of Perfectionism

Author and columnist Anna Quindlen describes one of those unforgiveable but inevitable parenting moments when her daughter walked out of her school and shared the news that she had received a 97% on an exam. Her mother's first comment? "What did you get wrong?"

My parents never demanded perfection, thank goodness, but they always challenged my sister and me to "do our best" or "work to our potential." Time and time again we demonstrated that we were capable of perfection--or at least working/learning to the test in order to earn top marks--and gradually it came to feel as though being a lifetime valedictorian was a must, simply because I could. I've had more than my share of momentary knock-downs, instilling a sense of humility and reality. One such moment I get to share often, as it took place during my graduation from college, and I happen to work presently with college students. Throughout college I had held a 3.9 or higher grade point average, the GPA required to graduate Summa Cum Laude. I couldn't have told you what the words meant, but I knew it was what I had to be. Imagine my surprise as I was walking across the graduation platform listening to the words, "Jennifer _______, Magna Cum Laude." I'm amazed the photo doesn't show my jaw on the ground as I'm shaking hands with our college president. I was convinced they had announced it wrong, offended that I wasn't getting my just recognition, until I opened my diploma folder and received one of those oh-so-tacky notes indicating my diploma was being held for new printing with the proper graduation honors and would be sent in the mail. My final GPA, all thanks to a B+ on my senior thesis? 3.895--I had missed my anticipated honors by five thousandsth of a point. And you know what? Not a thing changed. I was still me, I was still loved by the same people, my graduate school acceptance wasn't rescinded, and so on. I was glad I had missed it by such a miniscule, ridiculous amount, as it drove the point home--landing on either side of that 3.9 mark was meaningless. What had I actually LEARNED along the way? Hmmmm....much better question.

Perfection in my present life takes different forms. I felt like a very natural mother before becoming pregnant with my second child. I had never raised my voice, I felt creative and stimulated by being with my child, I felt fairly able to balance my part-time work with my full-time mothering. Then, I learned I was pregnant only days after my in-laws were in a near-fatal car accident on their way to visit us. My mother-in-law lived in our home for seven weeks while my father-in-law was hospitalized in various area hospitals. Day after day as I swallowed the continuous bile floating around my motion sick mouth, we were shuttling between home, work, the hospital, and a dreadful sense came over us that our previous parenting confidence was rapidly diminishing. Truth be told, it's been diminishing ever since! No, I have long since let go of parenting perfection. And perfection as a partner? I'm wise enough not to strive for this either. There are too many apologies exchanged in any given week in our house to presume I have such an unrealistic sense of myself or my relationship.

I could actually sometimes argue that perfection has all but been scoured from my soul, but then it rears its ugly head again. In February, soon after starting this blog, I shared that I had been contacted by super-duper university to interview for a high profile position. After a long, long day of interviews I returned home only to burst into tears within minutes of walking through the door. Though every paper aspect of this job was right, the heart aspect was simply not--I was not prepared to make the personal and familial sacrifices required to take it on. Day after day passed and I wasn't contacted, and I became more and more relieved that I was not likely the final candidate for the job. I knew in my gut that it wasn't right, but I was worried that the rightness of how it sounded and looked would be more of a temptation than I could resist.

Any remaining worry was finally put to rest last night when I received an email indicating an internal candidate had been chosen for and had accepted the position. Along with the email came some words of feedback I had requested, as I have an upcoming interview for a similar position with another university. The words of praise were strong and many, and there were only a handful of comments reflecting areas where I was not as strong. Interestingly, all the areas of concern were out of my control--I haven't yet directed my own program/office/center (true--no way to make the case another way), I don't have recent experience at a large, complex institution (true--I've worked at a small liberal arts college for ten years, can't alter how that looks), and so on. To simply recap, I was learning that a job I did not want had been offered to a candidate I had met and really enjoyed, I received heaps of praise on my experiences and how I presented myself, I learned a few key facts that shut me out of the process and knew they were beyond my control, and yet, I still felt discouraged and had a little nagging "What could I have done differently?" thought all evening. Perfectionism--it's ugly and dehumanizing and manages to always keep me from feeling I am simply enough as I am.

What is uglier for me now is seeing the same perfectionism in Kyra at such a young age. She has a voracious appetite for books and letters and words, and we go through reams of paper (environmentalists, forgive us--we attempt to use recycled as often as we can!) with this budding young author/artist. Often she will request that we spell for her words she wants to write and include with her pictures. Recently for teacher appreciation week she was writing the word "TEACHER" and had reached the "R" with ease. For some reason, though, the look of the "R" just set her off. She burst into tears, dragged the marker with a heavy hand across all the letters, ripped the paper and said, "NOW I HAVE TO START ALL OVER!" Neither Matt nor I had seen a thing wrong with the letter. It's as though she has this genetic wiring to expect the impossible of herself and to sometimes give up trying at all when she can't reach her aim. A few nights later she was writing once again and stumbled across a couple of letters. She corrected herself quietly and looked up at me saying, "I didn't get upset at all, Mommy. Look at how nicely I fixed those." Improvement? Maybe. But I suspect she had just shifted her expectations from the perfection of letters to the perfection of pleasing her mother. She knew I was bothered by her earlier reaction, and she was simply trying to meet my expectations.

How on earth can I let my children know they are enough, just as they are, when there is a nagging sense I still carry that I must justify my existence with achievement??? One of those imponderable questions I'll be thinking on for a long, long time....

Monday, May 08, 2006

By the skin of my teeth

Kyra lost her third tooth last night--this one aided along by a gentle tug from Mommy. I hadn't intended to pull it out, but it was clearly hanging by the slightest of roots and gave way with a minimum of effort. Immediately after she seemed disappointed she hadn't fully pulled it herself. "We did it together, didn't we?" followed by, "Did I really pull it out?" (wish, wish, hope, hope....) Matt had managed to miss both of the first two coming out, so we were delighted to celebrate as a family. Pull out the camera, smiles all around, grab Auntie from the front room so she can see, etc. We need little cause for a party around this house!

I think we do celebrate the loss of her teeth with such enthusiasm because it sets Kyra apart. She is an introverted child, and her reserved personality makes her hesitant to intentionally choose to stand out. And yet, she is human and a child, so she craves attention; if it comes to her in doses she can appreciate, she just laps it up. Because she is the only child in both her schools to have lost teeth, she is very unique in this way and seems to enjoy being the "only one." And so we celebrate--including a special trip to her favorite Dunkin' Donuts this morning. How a lost tooth equates to a donut is beyond me, but she made a strong case and they were already running behind with little time to sit down for a donut it was.

Without initiating extensive conversation because I know this is an act of great controversy (gosh, is it any wonder we can't achieve world peace when we squabble over meaningless choices.....), I will simply share that we have Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy in our lives only as wonderful stories and imagined versions of what is real. It is a choice that feels good for us and works for our family, so no need to worry that my kids are being robbed of their true childhood! Anyway, all this is to say that Kyra makes choices about how the imaginary Tooth Fairy visits. Her vision was that Daddy would come in and take away the tooth and Mommy would come in and leave some money. We hustled her off to bed with promises that indeed we as the Tooth Fairies would visit, and then promptly forgot. Oh, not entirely--it did occur to me at about 10:30pm before I took a dive into blogs and email and all the distractions that the Internet brings. I then strolled up to bed at 11:30pm not even stopping for my customary kiss good night--not even seeing the tooth pillow peeking out at me as a not-so-subtle reminder.

I awoke with a start at 7:30am (the kids have been going to bed late, late, late and actually sleeping in....this could work for me!), ignoring the insistent Lucas next to me seeking a book or toy or parental attention of any sort. "Matt...." I hissed. "Did you put in any money?" Without nearly my level of panic and worry he replied, "No, I thought you came up and did that last night." Kyra is a light sleeper anyway, but she was also due to wake at any moment. I grabbed five quarters off Matt's dresser, ignoring that we typically put a one dollar bill and quarter in there to introduce her to the green stuff, and tiptoed my way across our creaky 1910 floor. I slowly opened the door, reached around the corner, grabbed the pillow and made my exchange. I escaped to the bedroom, dropping the tooth in my jewelry box, and climbed quickly into bed before she could roll over and realize what had just taken place. Within minutes we heard the customary rolls around the bed and the jingling of coins. Though we had nearly forgotten, she clearly had not--that pillow was her first stop. Phew.... Until next time....

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Ode to Mud and Baths and Spring's Dirty Pleasures

We just returned from Ward's Berry Farm, an agricultural paradise offering endless berry fields, a "farm stand" (grown large enough to function as a small grocery store, deli and smoothie shop), old rusty horse-shaped swings with squeaks loud enough to scare off any hungry wildlife visitors, a giant sandbox where both of my kids learned to either take turns or stand their ground depending on the day, and barns full of rabbits, goats, sheep, and cows. It is one of our favorite destinations, particularly this time of year when the baby animals are still small and sucking voraciously for momma's milk. I remember once watching a mother sheep literally kick one of her lambs off her udder; I admired her, as I only wished to have the courage to do the same to my ten month old who was still nursing around the clock! We had been at Ward's only a half hour or so when Lucas took a dive into a deep, thick mud puddle created by the tractor ruts and a recent rain.

In honor of the very dirty kids I just removed from the bathtub, I offer below a piece about an earlier spring mud bath. One of the pleasures of my daytime work has been the creation of a writer's workshop featuring staff and faculty facilitators and a small but talented group of writers who are put through their paces every month or so. The piece below was one of our ten minute pieces--ten open minutes to write on whatever prompt the facilitator presents. In mid-March we were asked to write about our most vivid recent memory. Here's what I shared:

The warm "spring will arrive" day beckoned to Lucas and Kyra, and they pleaded with me to go outdoors. The sprawling grassy yard and surrounding hay fields at Grandma and Grandpa's house were calling. From the bay window above the always-filled sink I could see the birds on the rows of feeders springing up and down from the red maple and the free-standing clothes line in the back yard. A woodpecker rattled away on the trunk of the maple as a brilliant red cardinal swooped in to the feeder.

We dressed for the mud--boots, winter coats, hats and gloves--and trudged down the splintering wood steps toward the shed out back. Our feet were swallowed up as we walked in the reddish-brown mud hidden beneath a surface of brilliant green--early grass. I was leading the kids toward the pond but they were quick to discover the patch of snow protected by the shade of the old shop. Dipping in one toe and then stomping in with the next, Kyra shrieked with delight at the splash as her foot thrust the snow into the puddle just below. Looking up for permission, she searched visually for my approval. No question was asked, however, so no answer was given. I was waiting to see how quickly the delight would fade.

Lucas came running around the lean-to-like back corner of the shop where Grandpa keeps his fishing boat, and he marched into his sister's discovered puddle without hesitation. The dirty brown water flew through the air with his insistent marching in his now soaked and heavy purple boots. I called out warnings about an impending bath, all the while trying to sell them on the wonders of the awaiting pond. I turned and walked, hopeful they would follow but certain they would not. With a sudden trip, Lucas was kneeling in the muck-filled water, cold and growing ever colder as the slushy water quickly dampened his pants. The shrieks of laughter turned quickly to angry cries of surprise and betrayal. It was time to draw that bath.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Monsters on my mind

Kyra has been waking during the night, first coming into our room to join us in our seemingly giant king-sized bed, and now, at our insistence, to sleep in her puffy cloud sleeping bag on our floor. Despite the warmth and size of our bed, it already feels crowded with two large adults, the now-grown-to-two collection of body pillows that began when I was pregnant, and the occasional arrival of Lucas during the night as well. Though we previously acquiesced to Kyra's room anxieties by providing both a CD (Mommy singing!) and the closet light all through the night for comfort, her worry about "monsters" seems only to grow. I'm not entirely certain what to credit or blame--the likely culprit is "Monsters, Inc. on Ice," a spontaneous trip provided by a day care teacher who happened to have some extra tickets. The show was months ago, though, and didn't seem to bother Kyra after we initially saw it. The monster worry is in full swing, though.

It begins with the bedtime routine. After bath, pjs, teeth brushed, hair brushed and occasionally chap stick and lotion, Kyra picks out her clothes, selects some stories and climbs into bed as we turn out the overhead light and switch to the more subtle and shaded light in her headboard shelves. With stories and prayers completed, we turn off the headboard light and lie in the dark together--if you can call it that, with the cracks of light from folding closet doors illuminating much of the room. We typically stay for two songs on the CD, decide whether or not to give in to the request for a bonus song, and slowly extricate ourselves from the room with a backrub, a return for an extra hug and kiss, or, on difficult nights, a stormy departure in which we insist we have already stayed long enough! (I should point out that "we" merely means Matt and I take turns--it is rare that we are both with either of the kids together at bedtime. We usually split up, or we are on our own while the other person is on the requisite "night out" that week or working.) When the monster fears kick in, Kyra clings to me, arms wrapped tightly around my neck, begging to sleep in our room because, "I'm afraid of my room. I'm afraid of the monsters." In theory with calm and reassuarance, in actuality with annoyance and frustration, I remind Kyra that she is very creative with a very, very active imagination, and that this gives her the power to believe in things that aren't real. "There aren't monsters, honey, " I tell her, while my own worrisome mind scrolls through large color images of the three registered sex offenders near our street or licks of flame slowly devouring our home, drawing ever more near to Kyra's room where I have expressly forbidden her to leave "unless it's an emergency." Will she remember fire is an emergency? Will she be afraid to come in?

My words tell her monsters aren't real, but what I really mean is that her monsters aren't real. The ones I imagine--the monster of fear that lives within my daughter (likely inherited from her worry-filled momma or auntie), the predatorial monsters that lurk on our streets, the family history of sexual inappropriateness that sometimes positions the most dangerous characters in our memories or even as occasional visitors to our home--these monsters feel very real indeed. So I tuck her in with reassurances that feel like half-truths, uncertain whether I am more guilty about being less than honest or about unconsciously transferring to her this sense that life is something to approach with caution and apprehension rather than abandon and glee.

Last night Kyra appeared on my side of the bed at 2am, stage-whispering stories of a picture in her room that was talking to her. I tucked her into her sleeping bag, deciding wisely to not mention that she will have no television or videos until she again sleeps in her room all night (our current "logical consequence" to keep the imagination at least turned down if not turned off at night), and wondered about this supposed picture. Her story by morning remained the same, and at Matt's prompting, she even drew for us the picture that was to have floated in the air of her room as the four colorful subjects spoke noisily to one another and to her. I briefly thought about describing the few times I have had the privilege of witnessing visually the spirit of my mother, but wasn't certain these visitors to her room felt friendly in the way that my mother was in my encounters. I wasn't feeling certain of much of anything at all.

Monsters are definitely on our minds....

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

And the tributes continue....

Today, check out my friend Kristen and her brother bantering playfully and lovingly about their mom at Home on the Fringe.

Their post reminds me of a conversation I had with Matt the other night. After a particularly tough round with Kyra at dinner and bedtime I said sarcastically to Matt, "Let's hope I die while my children still like me." (I was amazed at Kyra's loving resilience yet again--how quickly she returns to affection after being seriously angry with me.) Matt's response? "You'd better get working on that. You're running out of time."

Ah, mothering is the hardest and best role of my life....

Afternoon edit: More phenomenal tributes to phenomenal women at Mr. Big Dubya and Cheeky's Hideaway. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May is for Mothers

With my thanks to Kara at Cape Buffalo, I'm participating in a monthlong blogfest honoring all those who mother. I will post links to all of the phenomenal tributes I manage to find and get my hands on. Today, treat yourself to Misfit Hausfrau and bring along a tissue. The images and words of her "Mom" post are powerful and heartfelt.

I have had the fortune of writing about and to my mom for many years--13 to be exact. After her death in 1993, I began a project writing letters--some private, some shared--that either speak to her or about her. Inspired by Misfit Hausfrau's garden images and a fresh shower of rain currently dousing our newly planted grass seed, I offer this recent letter about spring flowers.

Dear Mom,

We planted bulbs last fall, a long-considered project but one we never managed to make the time for. I would look with envy at the neighbors’ yards in springtime as spotty patches of green would appear, working their way toward the sun, blossoms closed tight one morning and the next in colorful bloom. To plant in the fall, the end result always seemed too distant. To plant in the spring, the time always seemed to have passed. And of course my perfectionism would get in the way—if I don’t have the whole yard planned, flower by flower, why bother to plant at all? Then, there was the uncertainty of it all. Each fall we would return to work at the college, wondering yet again if we were in the right place, serving our purpose, engaging in meaningful work. What if we moved from the house and never saw the bulbs blossom at all?

This fall, however, was different. We were getting a little bit of sleep (something new since Lucas’s arrival, as you know!), and we happened to be in the Home Depot on a night in late fall when they were practically giving bulbs away in thanks for our removing them from the store. We planted late, late one night under cover of darkness (so much for perfection!) as frost and Thanksgiving both seemed to threaten their arrival. And the uncertainty? Well, our lives are no less stable. We knew we might be too late or never see the results of our late night escapade, but we decided to hope for the best and await some spring surprises.

Those surprises are appearing, day after day. First to arrive were the daffodil stems, still tightly closed leaves around the yellow flowers due soon. Some tiger-striped crocuses were peeping up as we drove home from nursery school on Monday. What will I see today as I round the corner onto our street?

The earth comes to life with such ease and grace, year after year after year. As Kyra and Lucas run and toddle to the front lawn each day to see the minute changes, I realize this is a lesson about far more than some simple flowers. They are learning the truth of life—the cycles of birth, growth, death, decay, and rebirth. I wrote in my journal when you were dying that I didn’t know whether to dance in delight or stomp on the flowers bursting forth from our lawn as you lay dying inside the house. The force of life is relentless. We resist futilely, or we let the sheer power, uncertainty and beauty of it all wash over us. This year, I am letting the waters flow….