To Gillian on Her 16th Birthday

Posted on 10/20/2016 12:03:00 PM

I've been taking a break from this blog for a number of reasons.  I'm not saying I'm not writing anymore; I'm not promising more regular posts from here on out because both of those things seem cliche to me.  It's just that these days, I feel torn in a hundred different ways constantly, and when I do have a moment with my thoughts (which is not often), I honestly don't feel like I have anything new to say. Which might either mean writers' block, or depression, or maybe that I just don't have anything new to say.  Anyway, I refuse to force myself to post when I'm not feeling it and I also refuse to admit that this blog has run its course.  When I need it, it's there and that's good enough for me for now.  

Fall is my favorite season of the year, it's cool and beautiful and welcome respite from the heat of summer.  I didn't get to experience fall much because during so much of my childhood I lived in a desert.  I always longed for the leaves changing colors and all the other things that come with it.  When I was in second grade, my teacher held a drawing contest each month and I drew an old timey red school house with a bell tower and trees around it full of leaves of all different colors which were falling to the ground in mounds.  I was contest winner for the month of October.  We'd just moved from Colorado, where you see such things, to Arizona where you don't, and many of my peers couldn't wrap their heads around my picture but instead thought it was some sort of fantasy drawing.  They simply didn't have a frame of reference for such things.  It wasn't very many years there before I was just like them.  It's one of the reasons I don't really have a desire to live in a desert again. Seasons are just too amazing.

But Fall also happens to contain maybe the worst of the year for me as well and I often don't really realize it or know why until it blindsides me that there's an anniversary that I dread both remembering (and dread not remembering).  September comes and school starts and holidays get closer together and we hit the whirlwind of all our family's birthdays in a four-month period and work gets really busy for me..... and I just begin bouncing down that road of milestones until the end of the year, with no recourse but to simply submit to gravity and let everything shake out where it happens to land - I just have some vague hope that I'll be able to stand without broken bones when it's all over.  

There's a new network television show this season and I happened to catch the pilot a couple of weeks back.  It's lovely and excellently done so far and I'm a fan. Not the least of the reasons is this scene toward the end of the pilot where a young couple is expecting triplets and one of the three babies dies during delivery.  I didn't know this was coming; hadn't heard anything about this show before watching it and I don't really even know how it ended up on my DVR.  But there it was.  I sat in my basement in the dark at five in the morning - because that's the only time I can watch television and not be interrupted - and this scene happened and I dissolved into great, blubbering tears, shaken with the raw honesty and relevance for me of this scene.
Doctor: "Rebecca's vitals are good.  She's going to be asleep for a little while but she's doing fine. We're monitoring her closely. We lost the third baby, Jack. I'm very sorry. The second baby is a girl - very strong.  The third baby was a little boy but the umbilical cord was cutting off his oxygen and he was stillborn.  Nothing anybody could have done."

Jack: "I'm sorry. I'm not processing anything. My wife...?"

Doctor: "Is fine. And she'll be awake pretty soon. You have two beautiful healthy children, Jack - a boy and a girl... but we did lose the third child. "

Jack: "I need to be with my wife."

Doctor: "You will be. She needs to sleep now but... just... sit down. But soon. Just sit down. Sit. ... Okay if I keep you company a second?"

Jack: "Yeah."

Doctor: "Okay if I try and say something meaningful?"

Jack: "Yeah."

Doctor: "I lost my wife last year to cancer. That's the reason I still work so much at my age... just...  trying to pass the time.  We were married 53 years.  5 children. 11 grandkids. But we lost our very first child during the delivery. That's the reason I went into this field, truth be told. I have spent five decades delivering babies - more babies than I can count... but there is not a single day that goes by that I don't think of the child I lost. And I'm an old man now. I like to think that because of the child that I lost, because of the path that he sent me on, that I have saved countless other babies. I like to think that maybe one day you'll be an old man like me talking a younger man's ear off, explaining to him how you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade. If you can do that, then you will still be taking 3 babies home from this hospital... just... maybe not the way you planned. I don't know if that was meaningful or senile but I thought it oughta be said. Your wife will still be asleep for a little while. Go see your babies... they're excited to meet their Father. I think maybe they got a good one."
- Milo Ventimiglia and Gerald McRaney, This Is Us

It's been sixteen years.   

I hope I can say that there's been something resembling lemonade to come from this sour lemon for me.  I have two other beautiful girls who are amazing in so many ways, I can't list them all here. I have a perspective and an appreciation for the sanctity and preciousness of life that only comes from understanding loss in a very personal way.  I have been able to counsel others through some of their dark times with an empathy that I wouldn't have gained through any other experience. Somehow, her father and I have managed to use this to grow closer rather than farther apart, which is so often the case.  There are a myriad of wonderful things in my life now because she came to us and changed us before she left.  I wouldn't change any of that if I could, I don't think.

But I'd be tempted.  

My thoughts: 

Nature's Way

Posted on 6/30/2016 10:44:00 AM

This morning, when I was taking the Shortlings to camp, I turned the corner in the car and saw a little bunny running down the middle of the road.

“Oh look, girls! Look at that cute little bunny hopping down the road like he thinks he’s a car.”

Normally, The Caterpillar isn’t looking in the right direction and misses such things. Then she pouts the rest of the car ride.  But we were fortunate, because the bunny was directly in front of us she actually spotted him for a change.  All three of us had a great view actually and there were several seconds while we oooh-ed and aaah-ed over the adorable Peter Cottontail hopping down the bunny trail/road… right up until the adolescent fox in the neighborhood darted out into the road from the bushes, snatched that bunny, and disappeared back into the thicket.

And then we continued on to our destination… older, wiser, and sadder.

My thoughts: 

Minutiae - Caterpillar edition

Posted on 6/19/2016 08:32:00 AM In:

I'm not doing so so hot with the keeping up on the blog thingy this year.  It seems every time I get ready to jump back into the regular, some tragedy happens and then I fall off the wagon again.  But that doesn't mean I haven't been documenting my children's lives. Just on my phone where no one can see it.  With might be better in their eyes.  Today is Fathers' Day.  I'm sitting on our deck outside listening to the birds sing.  Watched a fox and a deer with her two babies run by, and everyone else is in the house asleep and in the fridge there's a Peanut Butter Cookie Lasagna waiting for him for breakfast. It's the best Fathers' Day present I know to give.  

In the meantime, I'm clearing stuff off my phone and realized this younger kid he is helping me raise has gotten pretty funny. Here's a minutiae dedicated to her.

"If I had to write about my dad, I'd probably write... he is fun to be with, he is embarrassing to my older sister, he takes the cake (mostly literally), and he's the best dad in the world."

Just got accused of suppressing financial information. 8 year old would like to SEE her savings account statements from now on so she knows that nothing sketchy is happening with her $12.

Parenting protip: Sometimes I buy my kids dumb stuff they want just for a reprieve... so for the next six months, every time they ask me for so much as a stick of gum in a checkout line, I can yell, "FAUX ANIMAL FUR HOODIE VEST!!", and they shut up about the new thing they're about to beg for.

"She always does that when she gets mad. She flattens her nose."
"You mean, she 'flares her nostrils?'"
"Yeah. It looks like her nose is a tiny devil, spreading its wings."

Found this after I turned my back on her for five minutes in a toy store. I'd say the Need To Create Order Where There Is None Thing has gotten out of control, but this isn't even the worst I've seen this week.

First conversation with small child after coming home from an out of town trip fielded this thinker: "I really don't think it's fair that cats don't have a birth certificate."

Ah, crazy right off the bat. It's good to be home.

"Who's that on the wall?"
"Billy Joel!"
"Go away, you don't belong in this family."

I showed my kids the Chicken Dance.  I have perhaps created a monster.

"Where's my electrical tape?  It keeps disappearing?  What is everyone using it for?"

Certainly not to make a kilt to wear to school on St. Patrick's Day.  Who would do that?

I just stuck this one in here because it was sweet. This is the only person he will sit like this without having to stand up, walk around on your face and rub his head on your lips, getting cat hair in your mouth. This cat loves her like no one else.

It's good to know that if my daughter ever ends up living on the streets, she at least won't go shirtless... as long as there are plastic bags in the world.

Me: The cold killed all my basil plants last night.
Caterpillar: I'm sorry for your loss.

Dancing to music on the deck in the rain. I wish I was 8 sometimes.

We sat through five different performing groups at The Dormouse's Spring Concert.  Some of us enjoyed it more than others.

Required education for Shortlings this weekend was a screening of West Side Story. While The Dormouse's main problem with the movie was incredulity that anyone could fall in love with someone and decide to run off with them after knowing them only two days. The Caterpillar thought the whole thing was particularly ridiculous because you can't really kill someone with a three inch long pocket knife. I'm kinda glad she's on my side, actually.

By the way, both decided West Side Story was "way worse than Romeo and Juliet because at least Shakespeare didn't force Juliet to live at the end of it all." Perhaps my realism genes have run a bit deep here.

This is exclusively her part every time we take a road trip.

Asked her to put a pile of underwear away after it came out of the dryer. She took them, disappeared, then came back, somersaulted through the kitchen while singing the theme from Mission: Impossible and yelled, "Mission complete!"

Caught Caterpillar outside today kissing a toad. KoH's response, "That's the wrong kind of amphibian, you know.  You have to kiss a frog to get a handsome prince."

"I know, I just love him."

Incomprehensible question of the day: "Mom, do camels use bad manners?" 

Apparently, we're still in bed this morning.

"It's time to leave for school, are you ready?"
"Almost. Let me just get my underwear on."
"Aren't you already dressed?"

We've been battling mice in the attic lately, so when I found the cats pawing at something under the closet door, I assumed one of the mice leaders had finally gotten the courage to venture into the house and was cornered in the closet. I was half right.

Went looking for pins in The Caterpillar's room and found this. What the heck, you little maniac?

My thoughts: 

More Poetry

Posted on 5/10/2016 04:37:00 PM
I know, I know, "Who cares about your kids' poems? No one, that's who!"

Just the same, I want to keep them and the scraps of paper they get written on aren't really archival material. Hence, poetry entries.

The Dormouse participated in a School-Sponsored Poetry Slam last month, and let me just hold right there for a moment and repeat that: School-Sponsored Poetry Slam.

When I was in the seventh grade if anyone had said the words "poetry slam" in our school, two things would have happened:

  1. All the parents would have called the police because they would have been certain that a large amount of The Reefer would be present at The Poetry Slam.
  2. All the children would have run screaming from the building
And yet, here they were, at a School-Sponored Poetry Slam. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one. They met in the library after school, turned down the lights and set up battery-powered candles all over the place, then wore berets and black stretch pants and snapped their fingers in appreciation every time someone said something the crowd agreed with... or maybe some of those things came from an Audrey Hepburn movie I saw once.

The Dormouse hadn't written anything for this event, but she had showed her English teacher some of her other work and he encouraged her to attend. So while she was sitting there listening to others' poems, she jotted something down on a piece of paper and then got the encouragement only friends and peers can provide to go up and recite it without edits. Look, I was a pretty gutsy kid when I was her age, but there's no power on earth that would have gotten me to write something on the spot and then get up and recite it in front of everyone.

Here's what she wrote down.


We come far.
We work hard.
We soar.
But even though our wings have reached the sun,
Still, we want.
Want to achieve more,
Want to help more,
Want more happiness
Most wants are for making good.
And what I say to these good-deed thoughts, is keep dreaming.
Keep wanting. So that you can change those "I wants" into "I wills."

And then there's this one, from The Caterpillar, who isn't learning poetry in school, but doesn't like to be outdone, so she just writes this stuff on post-it notes and leaves them around the house.

Under the Piano

Loud, graceful, sweet and sorrow, under the piano.
Soft, presto, neat, and narrow, under the piano.
Staccato with every note, like a woodpecker on a tree, pecking.
A smooth beat floating across the sky like a cloud...
...under the piano.
Beautiful melody, under the piano.

My thoughts: 

This Could Also Be a Syndrome When You Think About It

Posted on 5/04/2016 05:20:00 PM
The Caterpillar came home one day this week, telling me about the different kids in her group at school. One of whom, she says, randomly yells out the word, "vagina" in class sometimes when it's quiet... 

"Then he gets in trouble," she says.

"Well, that's not really very appropriate," I say. 

She agrees. 

"Does he have Tourette's Syndrome or something like that?" I ask.

"No, he's just a jerk."

My thoughts: 

Alice's Tea Party

Posted on 4/26/2016 04:30:00 PM

My thoughts: 


Posted on 4/14/2016 07:28:00 PM
No I haven't forgotten about you, blog. Just too much... too many... ugh, just too.

My dad died.

Those have been the words I've avoided writing here for weeks now.

Not that it would be any more real if I wrote it down or any easier, or more difficult for that matter; it's just that I don't know how to talk about it.  But the problem is I can't seem to move on in this format without talking about it.  So I guess I need to write it out.  Here goes.

My dad was a complicated guy and we had a complicated relationship. 

There's no question that I loved him. And I don't doubt that he loved me in his own way.  It's just that neither of us ever really said it much or knew how to express it.

I remember once when I was a little girl this distressed me quite a bit - probably because I'd heard some church sermon or after school special about telling the people you love that you love them before it's too late or something.  All my friends were very demonstrative with their fathers.  They didn't seem to have a problem expressing love and affection.  We were somehow different.  I worried about it for weeks and then one night before I went to bed, finally screwed up my courage and stopped in front of the television, in front of his chip bag and his glass of Coke and whatever ongoing sportsball game was happening at the moment and I just blurted it out: "I'm going to bed. I love you, Dad."

"I love you too," he replied, without thinking, barely looking up from the television.

I was surprised.  He didn't refuse to say it back.  It hadn't hurt him to say it.  He didn't even hesitate. No great truths were exchanged.  No tears shed. No earth shattering moment happened.

It was only a moment.  Just a moment among so many other moments.

He didn't even know how hard it had been for me to tell him that.  And he'd said it back without effort, without marking the moment in any way.  That's the first time I realized that my dad loved me, but probably not in any way that I could ever understand -- and maybe in the only way he was capable of, which was different than most other people.

Looking back, this story says more about my relationship with my dad than almost anything else I can think of.  Of course he loved me; why would he have stuck around if he didn't?  Of course he could say it back.  But why would he need to on any regular basis?  Of course I didn't know that he'd loved me before that moment.  How would I have known?  He never said it.

I once was chatting with a friend about difficult family relationships and he was saying how his parents were always there, together, in the picture, but that he didn't really know them because he was the youngest of many and he'd been raised more by his sisters than anyone else.  "When you think about it, my dad was really just..." he trailed off.

"...that guy that lived in my house," I finished.

"Yes!! No one's ever got it more right when I've tried to explain it," he exclaimed.

I thought about my dad like that for a long time.  But in recent years, I've come to understand that that's not quite right either.  Because while overall, I knew very little about him, he was always there.  A fixture in my life.  Because while I never really felt like I knew him, and I'm quite sure he never really knew me, he was always supportive.  He was at every orchestra concert.  Every recital.  At every show where I played in the pit orchestra and no one even saw my face. At every dumb awards ceremony or school presentation. It was during those long motorcycle rides in the desert when I felt closest to him.  Ironically, when neither of us said anything to the other.  Deep conversation is not possible with forty-five mile an hour wind rushing into your face and I guess it took the pressure off.  We just enjoyed the ride together... or next to each other, I'm not sure which.  

I was not really into sports as a kid, which was his great love.  And he had little authentic interest in the things that I was into.  He went for my sake.  During times when I'm sure he would have much rather been doing ANYthing than listening to the latest Beethoven interpretation no matter how good the orchestra (and I know some of mine were not good), or going to some bookish play I wanted to see, he showed up.  And honestly? That's a lot more than some people get.

Once when I was a little older, just out of high school, I think, he had to go on a trip to Chicago and he invited me to come along. It was an unprecedented invitation to an outing with just the two of us.  I had a great time We did dumb stuff that only tourists do like river boat tours of the city and double-decker bus tours of the architecture of Chicago. We went to a Cubs game at Wrigley field and took a cab to go to the top of the Sears Tower, looked at all the locations where The Blues Brothers was filmed and the Marina Tower that Steve McQueen drove his car out of in The Hunter, and visited the museum where Ferris Bueller's Day Off kids went, and passed by the bar where Mr. T. worked before he was discovered (and yes, it was like the late 80s if you hadn't already figured that out).  I'm convinced that my deep-seated love of Chicago and its architecture started with this trip.

He taught me to work.  He taught me to fix things.  He taught me if I couldn't at least attempt to fix it, I had no business owning it.  He towed my car home from the dozens of places it broke down and taught me how to change the oil and fix a flat tire... how to repair the clutch or replace a fan belt with an old pair of pantyhose so if (and more likely when) a breakdown like that happened again, I would be able to do it myself.  It's because of him that I spent most of this week updating and grounding all the outlets in my house and I didn't feel like I had to defer that task to my husband or hire it out.

He taught me to use computers.  He made me understand that they were machines like any other machine and they were built to do a Thing That I Wanted and all I needed to know was how to make them bend to my will.  In a time before a computer class was even available to me, he had a computer at home and taught me how to use it for fun and profit and not to be afraid of them.  Hell, he was the first person to show me the Internet.

All these things are things that I do and use in my life every day now.  It's partially because of him that I have the job I have now - and so many jobs before this one.  It's partially because of him that I have the life I have now. Because of him I'm somewhat independent and confident and feel like I can tackle tasks I've never encountered before because I'm always ready to learn.  He taught me that.  Those are things I'll always be grateful to him for leaving me.

He was a father in every sense of the word he understood it to be.  He was there for me in every way but the one that counted most to me.

There's no question that he was a good guy.  There's no question that I loved him.  As enigmatic as he was, I do miss him. Part of my esoteric reaction to his death is that I wish I missed him more.  Wish I felt a bigger hole in my life.  

Some people don't get half the father I had.  I realize that. 

My thoughts: 

Me in 3 Seconds

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Washington, D.C. Metro, United States
Married, 40ish mom of two (or three, or four, depending on how you keep score) who stepped through the lookinglass and now finds herself living in curiouser and curiouser lands of Marriage, Motherhood, and the Washington, D.C. Metro Area.

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