Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tiny: a Cookie Conversation

Ah cookie? Ah cookie?

No. the cookies are all gone. We’re not having cookies.

Ah cookie?

Nope. Do you want some crackers?


Do you want some Chex?


Do you want some raisins?


[Curiously eyes old carrot stick on floor, picks it up, nibbles it momentarily].

Reset. 15 minutes later:
Ah cookie?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I'm Sorry I Didn't Bring You Cookies

I’m sorry I didn’t bring you Christmas cookies.  You live far away.  And/or, we ran out of eggs.  When you have a limited supply of gas and eggs, you have to let whim and the spirit lead. 

Among other destinations, the spirit led my family and a plate of cookies to our friend Ethel’s house last Christmas Eve. I swung open our minivan’s passenger-door, plate of cookies in hand, and two things happened at once, so fast I almost missed them both. One, the stick-on bow that I had affixed to the tin foil-covered plate of cookies slid off its perch.  Two, the cell phone in my coat pocket slipped out, hit the street’s pavement, and ricocheted right into a storm drain.

I just bought that cell phone. Three weeks ago. I even purchased insurance should it be damaged. I even purchased a very expensive, very hard case/enclosure system that would protect this cell phone in the event of nuclear war, fire bombs, and toddlers.  The “otter box,” as it’s called, reminds me of a sat phone MacGyver might have used, back when they were the size of small boom boxes. 

The insurance I purchased doesn’t cover cell phone loss due to low elevations in the bottoms of storm drains.
Our only hope was a manhole cover at the top of the storm drain.  Correction: our other hope was my husband, who thought to pry up the manhole with a tire iron stored under our carjack.   And so he did. 

Did I also mention that this was a family outing with all the children? We were bonding over taking cookies to people who whim and the spirit led us to.  So the four of us (Tiny stayed in the car) took turns peering down into the seven-foot storm drain at a mess of dry leaves and plastic bags. We could not see the cell phone.
But we knocked on Ethel’s door, handed her the cookies with a Merry Christmas Eve!, and then asked if we could borrow her ladder. Mark lowered it into the manhole while I stood next to him and fretted that he would hurt his arm or shoulder or that the ladder would fall over once inside. And then he inserted himself into the hole and climbed down the ladder while I fretted some more and Ethel and the girls stood around watching. The girls said, ohhh, ohhh, oh.   And I said, be careful!  And Mark batted the leaves around with the tire iron once he got to the bottom, but he could not find the cell phone. Until he got to a small tunnel/pipe thingy (presumably the route the water takes out of the storm drain as it fills up) and moved a plastic bag and some leaves around and there the phone was.  

And he climbed up the ladder, and he handed the phone to me. And he pulled the ladder out of the manhole and replaced the cover.  And my otter-box encased phone looked as good as it could be. It could have survived nuclear war, fire bombs, or toddlers. But it chose a storm drain. Good for it. Branching out.
Earlier this week I got a second-degree burn on my hand. Two months ago I got a concussion after a glass light fixture fell on my head.

My friends want to build a phone- and heat- and glass-proof membrane that I can surround myself with at all times, which is okay with me as long as it is chocolate-permeable.  Because there are only two food groups in the world: chocolate and everything else.  And I wouldn’t want my diet to get off because I didn’t get an adequate amount of cacao bean through the phone-/heat-/glass-proof membrane/bubble thingy my friends want to build. I wish them good luck with that.
And as a postscript, if you’re wondering if I’m accepting See’s candy right now: I am.  My supply is off to a really good start.  It seems people read my blog post last week and I received more than two pounds of See’s chocolates over Christmas as gifts.  I can always make room in our cupboard for more, should the urge strike you.  Unfortunately for you locals, the See’s candy kiosk is closed at the local mall. You’ll have to mail order, people. You’ll have to mail order.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011: Year in Pictures and Few Words

2011. Here's what happened. We had a toddler (who used to be a baby). She liked to eat dirt.

We had an Evvy (who turned 7 in the fall).  She's sweet. And loud. And is trying to master the art of running on her hands and feet. Once in a while, she plops down for a rest.

We had a Una (who turned 9 in June).  She's sweet and smart and thoughtful. She says I'm not allowed to post "hilarious pictures" of her. Or embarrassing ones.  But this meets her criteria:

(Psst, if you want to see another one that I just love, then see it.)

We don't have a good picture for everything that happened this year, but I'll let the ones we do have tell the rest of the story.

Nay Nay's birthday. We love her.

Fourth of July in our friend Robyn's front yard. I laid on the grass in the shade with Nay. Everybody else watched the parade and caught candy. Candy. Bleh.

Una and Evvy were flower girls (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).  They've been asking their whole lives to be flower girls. 

And here's a silly flower-girl pose with their/our silly friend Chris.

Hey, did you know we moved this year? But I don't have any pictures of our house handy. And honestly, I don't know if I want you to see it yet.  The shrubs out front are too bushy, and I haven't hung all the pictures yet.  Instead, I should offer you an annual family portrait, like people do, in front of a Christmas tree or a wreath, yada yada.  But, does the pose below count? We look sorta reflective/end-o-the-year-thoughtful/familyish.

No?  How bout this one?

This is not at our new house. Or even our old house. And somehow we lost our kids and gained a dog. But at least you can tell who we are (see red shirt) and that we look happy in a SNL kind of way.

Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays to all y'all out there.   We are happy to know you and hope you can come visit us soon.

Heather, Mark, and girlies.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Chocolates, Christmas Lights

Today, for about five seconds, I thought about opening my own See’s candy kiosk franchise at the Coral Ridge Mall—next winter, October 1 through December 26. Be there.

See, the elderly couple who ventured into the franchise this year are from Ottumwa. They drive a good two hours to the mall every day and stand in their white See’s candy lab coats, holding  out baskets of lollipops for passersby.  This poor couple, the cashier confided to me, will most likely not be back next year.  The See’s candy franchise has taken its toll—all that winter driving, varicose veins and such.  Poor dears, I thought.  And then, poor me, because how will I get See’s candy locally ever ever again? How will I get it without having to pay a 20$ shipping fee from Chicago or California? My purchase today at the See’s candy kiosk wasn’t even for myself—it was a gift. A box of milk chocolate Bordeaux for not-me because I shopped whilst hanging on to the illusion that See’s might be at my disposal at least 3 months out of the upcoming year.  And so I was truly forlorn at the news whispered to me by the young cashier. Childhood nostalgia for See’s kicked into high gear.    

That's when I had this brief and fleeting idea: *I* could run my own kiosk. And then I could have as much See’s as I wanted.

But, I would probably gain thirty pounds.  And I hate the mall at Christmas time.

So I went home and put my packages away, feeling so terribly sorry for myself and the See’s candy deficit in my life that I began to hear voices.  The milk chocolate Bordeaux was actually calling my name!  At first I couldn’t believe it—these things don’t happen in real life, I told myself. Christmas presents can't really come alive. Tsk.
But, the ethereal reach of a box of candy across the house, from my office where they were stowed away to the kitchen where I put away dinner leftovers became a thing of substance.  This box, this gift for a dear relative, was asking me to do something unthinkable, something terrible awful. Oh dear God.  I argued with it, chastised the perversion of its thinking.  And then I asked the husband:
Would you hate me for eating this [$17 box of] See’s Candy?

(A quick aside: It’s better to ask these sorts of questions with melodrama.  If I’d asked, for instance:
Do you think I should eat Aunt Ione’s box of Christmas chocolates?

--well, a five-year-old could give you the right answer in no time flat.)
Would you hate me?  Well, that’s just the right cocktail of self-pity mixed with desire and fear of rejection to make a husband tell his wife, practically, No, honey, you go right ahead. Btw, I love you sooo much.

I couldn’t live with the shame of eating someone else's Christmas present in front of him. So I waited 'til he left. And then I did it.  Sunk my teeth into that soft center and gave myself the biggest bite on the inside of my cheek to date.  Chocolate mingled with the taste of blood. But despite accounting for the blood-chocolate combo, something else just didn’t seem right. And wouldn't you know it, I'd bought the wrong candy, and by “wrong” I mean not the kind I thought I was buying. It lacked chocolate in its gooey center.  And it tasted like it’d  been in its Christmas wrapper since August, when the factory got ‘em all prepped and ready for the holiday kiosk.
Stupid $17 box of talking chocolates. I'm gonna cut your throat out.
In other breaking news, I’m charmed by our neighborhood’s display of outdoor holiday lights. You know how our minds free associate and leap to all sorts of random hypotheses throughout the day? Well, today, I thought: people who put up Christmas lights must be nice. Nice nice. Bring-meals-to-sick people nice. Rescue-a-mutt-from-a-well nice.  And if I was stranded on the road, my car engine on fire, my children in tow on a bitterly cold winter’s night, you know which house I’d stop in for help at?  Not the one with the people who couldn’t be bothered, the people who didn’t have the time, energy, or emotional resources to string up a Wal-mart rendition of baby Jesus lit up like a Broadway stage. Nope. I’d stop by the house with the well-lit Santa sleigh/reindeer combo in the front yard and hope the residents there (or Santa) would give me a lift home.

(See's candy update: I’m on my sixth seventh piece.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Dialogue with a Girl Who Pours Over the Dictionary

I am sandwiched between two boys who say curse words in Spanish.

(These are white, Caucasian boys, mind you.)
He was getting people to say a swear word in Spanish.  He told Gracie, “say ca twice,” and she did but she didn’t know what it meant.  Then Mr. Martinez came in to talk to us about it and he was very upset. You could tell his feelings were hurt.
After school, Rodney said the bad word was the same as the S-word.
Do you know what the S-word is?
No.   I only know two swear words. The A-word and the B-word.
What is the B-word?? Oh--was it in that book you read?
Yeah.  And it ended in –ing.
The bad word is the word without the –ing. It's a really bad name for someone.  Okay, [deep breath]  so you know that words are just words, right?  I’m going to say the S-word so you know what it is when people say it. And why people use it.
Why don’t you want me to say it?
Because I will be tempted to use it!  And part of what makes me unique is that I don’t know swear words!

So…I know there’s an A- and a B- and an F- word. I know the F-word is the same as sticking up your middle finger, so I’m always careful about sticking up my finger.  Mom, is there a swear word for every letter of the alphabet? Is there a C-word?  And a D-word?

Well, not exactly for every letter, but I’m sure there are a lot of them.

How do people even decide to make up swear words?

Well, I don’t know, there’s probably a book out there that tells about the etymology of curse words.  Etymology is the study of the words, their history.  Would you like a book about etymologies for Christmas?

[Aghast] No!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Raven Street Notes no. 8

My blog is ugly and outdated. 
To the right, my blog lists “current faves.”  These are over a year old.  I don’t have time for web design.
I know, JBeyer, you have offered to do this for me.  I’ve been too lazy to take you up on the offer.  Yet, I wince with shame at the ugliness.
Also, my printer is slowly printing coupons from the web site. One sheet at a time, every 20 seconds. 
The saying comes to mind, right at this minute, in regard to productivity (mine and the printer’s): Off we go now like a herd of turtles.

Want to know something?  I thought of something really deep and meaningful that I wanted to say last week, for a minute. And then I forgot it. But take my word for it: it was deep. And meaningful.

I think I forgot that very deep, meaningful thought because I have been so busy, like you all have been.  I’ve been packing and traveling for a family of five.  Been doing lots of church work. And laundry. Lunch packing. Reading. Studying. Praying. Fretting. Mopping Floors. Cleaning Bathrooms. Grocery Shopping. Clipping Coupons. Baking Pies. Gingerbread-house Building. Cooking Dinner. Reading Aloud. Watching Alias. 
Yes, watching lots and lots of Alias because I have to finish all five seasons now that I’ve started re-watching the series from the beginning. It’s almost a curse, I tell you, because I can’t don’t want to stop until Sydney and Vaughn can live happily ever after with their two children, Jack and Isabelle, on a sandy beach in what appears to be SoCal.

I tell myself that watching this series is about more than soul-soothing entertainment.  No, I dream to myself, metaphors abound in Alias, the profundities of which I am still in the process of ferretting out. But WILL.

I WILL, mind you.

And if I don’t, I’ll just like it and like it forever and ever, like how some ladies still like (and wear) that same big frosted hairdo they loved in the 80s.

We can’t help what we love.
But then, I think, sometimes I have to help myself to love--or do the loving thing. Like getting up at 5 a.m. or dark-thirty to soothe a crying Tiny. Or making those lunches. Signing those school papers. Washing someone’s favorite shirt when I’d be happy never laying eyes on a washing machine again in my life. Practicing patience. Practicing hope.  Helping the children practice patience and hope.  Refereeing conflict. Instituting discipline (because I love them, I say).  

Maybe it’s all the “helping ourselves” to love--every choice in a series of choices that conveys the message I love [you]--is what leads to things like ugly web pages and outdated reading lists and having to print out stupid coupons from Target at 9:30 at night when I’d much rather be wait for it watching Alias.

Then there are the other things love makes us compels us to do. For instance, I’m going on a trip. At least I think so.  A trip to Africa all because of a bad case of love.
See, once, a long time ago, I heard a woman talk about her love for Jesus. She talked about the Jesus I already knew in such a way that made me wonder if I really knew him. She talked about knowing him where she lived in Pemba, Mozambique, and how one day she hoped to and believed she would  I know, this sounds crazy dance on the waters of the Indian Ocean with him. She meant it in the most biblical way, alluding to Peter, his walk of faith in the middle of the storm, Jesus just yards away, eyes on him and so nothing else mattered. When she said this, I knew I wanted to know a Jesus whose eyes on me could make all my fears stop mattering, stop overpowering my puny body and soul.

I wanted to know that Jesus like nothing else.
This woman was not flaky, although you might wonder. No, she spoke of gritty realities and of living in a place where she and a team of others cared for the needs of widows and orphans—the children of Mozambique who came daily to their missions base for food, physical contact, love, prayer.  Pemba was a place, she said and so have others, where for so many God was the only hope, the only solace, the only excitement, the only entertainment, the only joy.  And strangely, ironically, perfectly--because of the raw need for him in a place so bereft of other comforts—the woman said that in this place she saw God. Well, not in the flesh, exactly. But she saw his handiwork in the ears of deaf villagers who suddenly could hear, in the sight of mothers who’d never seen their own children.  She knew God in the exuberance of miraculous provision of food for the children who came for their daily bread.  And when she spoke of this kind of God, this God I claimed to love, I knew I really did not know him in the same way, yet I wanted to so very badly, so achingly badly—a far worse ache than my need for Sydney and Vaughn to arrive at just closure to their narrative.  This was far more serious than my need love for Alias.

And so events have scrambled to this moment, now:  It seems I’m going this summer to serve alongside an organization that serves the people of Mozambique, near the boundaries of the Indian Ocean.  I am going, God-willing—and by that I mean that (I think) God is willing but I’ll know for sure once I miraculously have in my possession the eight thousand dollars required for me and Oldest to go.  And yes, Oldest is going (we think).  She hates the idea of immunization shots, of long plane rides.  In fact, these factors reduce her to tears at least twice weekly.  But when I tell her she doesn’t have to go, that I’m not making her, she cries even harder, setting her jaw, and says I have to, I’m going as if she’s been hardwired for this decision her entire life.  Then I ask her why, just to check, to double check, to make sure that my Oldest realizes that this is not Disneyland we’re going to, that the toilet situation is far from glamorous, that rice and beans will be our only daily fare.  And every time she says unapologetically for some kind of irrational can't-help-what-she-loves love: “Because." She sets her jaw, "I want to play with the orphans.”

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Grace for Middle

Middle has been saying lately, “I feel like I’m the only person in the world.”  She offers this refrain in a tone of wonderment, awe, and a little bit of confusion, as if expecting an explanation from her mother. Silly me, I’ve been thinking that what she’s suddenly aware of is developmentally appropriate self-centeredness—the kind that everyone grows through and hopefully out of by the time they reach their later years.  
I’ve offered my most reasonable explanations for her feelings: “Well, Ev, it makes sense that you feel that way. After all, you can only see out of your eyes.  You can only hear out of your ears, and feel with your body. It makes sense to me that you feel like everything is happening to just you—like you are the main character in your story.”

Both times I offered this explanation, I was countered with a rebuff—a long exasperated sigh. “NO! That’s not what I mean. I don’t feel like I’m the main character in my story. I feel like I’m the main character in the whole world! Like there’s nobody else and everything is just happening to me.”  And then she elaborated, “See, when I go out to play and knock on the door of my friends’ houses, they are always home. And it almost seems like God has made them be at home, just so I can have someone to play with.”

Then I got it:  If God has gone to the trouble of arranging such things as playdates for Middle, she must indeed be very important.  He must care about her very much. So much, in fact, that it might feel like she is the only one in the world to be tended to.

So it wasn’t what I thought--not just developmentally appropriate self-awareness, but awareness of divine favor. Of Grace.  Middle was moving through the world with a growing insight of the existence of divinity so invested in her life and well-being that natural situations were altered, were custom-tailored just for her.

It wasn’t thirty seconds after this last conversation that Middle began fretting over a lost pencil. See, we were going to park in front of the junior high and wait for Oldest to finish up her orchestra lessons. And Middle wanted to use the waiting time to work on her homework—but no pencil.

As I sidled the car up to the curb in front of the school, an object in the street caught my eye. “Ev, I think I just drove over a pencil? You can get out of the car and get it. I’m not sure if it’s sharpened, though,” I cautioned.

Middle leapt out of the car, snatched up the pencil from the street, and climbed back in, announcing triumphantly. “Of course it’s sharpened!” And then, with a giggle, “It’s like God just put it there for me!”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Raven Street Notes No. 7

It's taken me a long while to confess this via the web, but I have become a Coupon Person.

Yes. I have a special binder, with baseball card inserts to hold the coupons. Oldest says "you spend all of your time looking for coupons now" and "why do you have to?" (But she usually only says this when she wants something from me in the few minutes each day I cut coupons or print them out).  I promise her I don't and I don't.  Really, really: I am not OCD. 

This all started with a friend who began couponing and then this website, and then that obnoxious show on TLC where people spend $.50 on a cagillion bags of cat food worth $800 in retail and they don't even have any cats.  There was one couponer on the show (I think she was the sister of the most recent Bachelorette--please don't ask me how I know this) who implied that couponing is the new wave for hip young moms who would rather spend their money on "sexy purses" and "sexy shoes." 

I guess on some level aspire to hip-ness. But I haven't bought any shoes with the money I saved from couponing. Although I did buy a purse . For 8 bucks. On clearance. And I wouldn't call it sexy.

Mostly I began couponing so that the family could stay under budget.  I used to buy only whole foods and almost never any snack foods because [organic, all natural] snack foods are more expensive.  But now it feels like Christmas: we have boxes of [moderately healthy, won't-clog-your-arteries] crackers and chips and fruit leathers galore and buying them with coupons and sales really hasn't cut into our whole-foods budget much at all. 

I will say this: the little ones are happier with crackers around.


It feels surreal to be naming this entry "Raven Street notes" now that we don't live on Raven Street anymore.

Tiny isn't so tiny these days.  And she's exhibiting borderline personality traits (also known as Toddlerhood).  But she is sweet as sweet can be and there are new words every day.  She's heavy on her "k" in milk and book whereas two weeks ago we heard only mil  and boo. Bottles are hot and this morning she walked up to the refrigerator and demanded a hot dog hot dog hot dog.


I promise I am buying all natural hot dogs. With coupons.

Kody Brown and the sister wives are almost as compelling to me as couponing.  Does anyone else agree? I am absolutely. Fascinated.  I can't quite wrap my mind around how they make sense of all the marriage relationships in the family system.

Here was my favorite quote, in reference to his wives, from Kody Brown on Sunday night's episode:

"I have a monogomous relationship with each one of them."

I was so startled that I laughed out loud--mostly because he pronounced this in the most unself-conscious and sincere way. The show's creators seemed not even to notice the irony.

Are you fascinated?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What We Were Going to Become

I was unpacking my office tonight and found report cards from elementary school. (Quick aside: I love the sound of "my office."  It's a bedroom on the main floor near to the kitchen and near the toys and near the baby, easy to slip in and slip out and it's mine all mine.  I feel so lucky and simultaneously sorry for the husband who received a man cave in the unfinished part of the basement with no finished walls, no windows.  But I kinda sorta think he doesn't care about things like finished walls and windows, so it works out all right.)
Anyhoo, here's my question for today after reading my report cards: Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were growing up?  And do you remember what people said you were good at at age nine?  Are you doing those things still? Are you good at them?

I have a distinct memory of knowing I wanted to write a book when I grew up.  I was seven years old or younger. How do I know? Because we hadn't yet moved from our home in San Jose (which we did when I was seven), and I was standing in our wide, sky-light lit family room thinking that there were two things I wanted most in the whole wide world:

(1) A Pretty-in-Pink Barbie doll

(2) I wanted to write a book. 

And not just a kid's picture book. No, when I was seven-or-younger, I knew I wanted to write a real, honest-to-God gritty story with words for details instead of pictures. It would be longer I knew, than your average novel. Maybe an inch thick. With small words and lots and lots of pages.

How do such things drop into our psyches at such young ages? Is it God who makes these deposits? If not, what natural forces conspire to make a seven year old know she wants to move people with words, lots of words, someday when she's so old, so old, like maybe thirty-three?

3rd grade: Heather is an excellent writer. She is very original, includes conversation, and is highly motivated. I'm looking forward to Heather's stories next year, too! (Please come and share!)

Let me pause for just a moment and consider what my MFA cohorts and I might have given for praise such as this, for a bar set so low that including conversation and being highly motivated were benchmarks of high achievement.  Our soul to the devil, I do believe.

4th: Well, I was sick this year. For months. And didn't go to school.  No prophecies here.

5th: Heather has very creative ideas. Shared and published this year. Applies all skills for written work. Enjoyed writing to Pen Pals in Bakersfield, CA.

Vaguely, yes vaguely, I remember the pen pals in Bakersfield. I felt sorry for them. Had they just suffered an earthquake? Or a fire?  Google isn't helping me out on this one.  But, lucky pen pals, I applied all my skills for written work. Those pupils got a freaking glorious composition, they did.

6th grade, spring: Heather has recently finished her story "Gum on the Gym Teacher's Shoe." She has applied spelling, capitalization and punctuation skills to her writing. (Halleluyer.)

6th grade, end-of-year: A voluminous reader who not only understands the pleasure of reading fiction, but sees it also as an avenue for self-understanding and enriching the spirit.  She has progressed so far in our writing program she is now confident to compose lengthy stories at the keyboard in the computer lab where she spends a great deal of time. She has discovered an intrinsic pleasure in herself to write.

My sixth grade teacher was part-prophet, part thorn in my side. He had too-high expectations of me, he did. Called me a "quitter" when I dropped out of the Program for Smart Kids just because I felt like it. His face got red. He shouted, sort of, at me and my friends Jenny and Brodie and told us we were a bunch of drop outs. I think I may have quit my editorial position on the school paper just to thumb my nose at him.  And one day, he got mad at me for writing such long stories that I used up more than my share of paper from the dot matrix printer. I was the only kid writing 25-page typewritten stories. I remember the scene of his indignation: It was after gym class, and he'd found a draft in the recycle bin and held it up in front of the entire gym-class line of students, his face flushing.  He was the greenest hippie guy I knew in 1989 in Iowa: long stories were admirable, sure, but saving trees was dire.  On the other hand, he was smart as a whip and wouldn't take crap from any kid, especially one who sold herself short.

Sometimes I dream about this teacher--I mean, I literally dream about him. I want to go back and ask him how--how he peered into my soul and knew what he knew when it took me another fifteen years after that to see the same thing. That I'm a writer.

I don't think it matters exactly what was named in us by someone else as long as it was true and productive; it is no less a blessing.  If you had the same gift of an adult naming your passion, of another person looking into you so deeply and calling out the very thing you most wanted in the world, do you share the same sense of gratitude?

It's as if a message in a tiny bottle was cast upon the seas of our youth and later washed up upon the beaches of middle adulthood where we find ourselves unrolling the scroll with the delight of recognition:

Dear [Heather], You are in your right place at your right time. And you always have been.

Such comfort, no?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Raven Street Notes no. 6

We don't live on Raven Street anymore. But that's okay.  I am going with the Raven-Street-as-metaphor justification for the name of my blog.


I love our new house but tonight I had to get out of it. It is driving me crazy--this bigger, prettier house. The reason is that it's full of painting paraphernalia, a ladder in the living room, plastic sheeting in big bundles here and there. And there's no furniture in the living room, either, btw, just piles of laundry that need to be folded and carted off to various destinations. And also, the children who live in the house have been very, very whiny today.


And also I had to get out of it because I was suffering a bit of PTSD, or post-traumatic-lock-yourself-out-of-the-house-with-your-baby-locked-inside syndrome because guess what I did today?  I locked myself out of the house while my baby was locked inside. Stupid house. Stupid garage door that you lock on the inside of the house and opens for you on your way out and then slams shut (and locked) behind you without any warning, without any, beep beep beep warning, this door will lock upon closing noises or alerts to stop me from so casually waltzing out into the garage to grab a paintbrush to cover up the splotchy areas on Oldest's wall.  Of course, the second it closed, my own internal alarm went off--wasn't that door supposed to be locked?!--because I had locked that door from the inside about an hour earlier. Because I wanted to be safe. Because I didn't want anyone waltzing into the house while I was in the basement painting away and Tiny was in her crib upstairs sleeping.  Isn't that door supposed to be locked? Well--girl genius that I am--my speculations proved true. The door was locked.

How it got unlocked is not a very exciting story, but it did take about 45 minutes, during which I watched Tiny fell asleep in her crib (the upside to not having blinds installed). A neighbor/friend was kind enough to lend me her iphone while she ran errands and while I waited for my dad to drive across town, pick up Mark's key at work, and deliver it to me.  After Tiny fell asleep, I figured I should use the time efficiently.  I sanded paint off an old dresser with my electric sander in the front yard.


Have I mentioned that there are too many projects I am simultaneously attempting to accomplish?

Or that one girl has been very disrespectful this week? That she is child-experimenting-with-sassy-teen? And God grant me the serenity and wisdom to change the things I can. Now. Before it's too late.   Did I also mention that I had to practically manhandle one girl down a flight of stairs due to her paralyzing fear of a spider some two yards away?  Well, I did. I didn't like it much.


Good news. Tomorrow is Saturday. Maybe the spider will get sick of us and leave?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cabinet Files of a 33-Year-Old Female on Raven Street

There is a Hawkeyes v. Cyclones game today.  There’s nobody local I know who hasn’t posted something non-game related on Facebook.  These Saturdays make me feel like a closet freak, me and my closet freak of a family that only notices game happenings because of traffic backups and FB posts from our friends.  I did not wear my black and gold yesterday, like my daughter’s teacher, in preparation for said game.  I did not tailgate. Did not turn on a radio or a television to watch pre-game, during-game, or post-game coverage. The only concern I had was whether I could get across town this morning without getting stuck in a mile-long line of SUVs with Hawkeye flags waving. Other than that, I really don’t care about football.

In my defense, there was nothing in my history to prepare me for a love of football.  As I sorted through the relics of my past (i.e. filing cabinet) yesterday, in preparation of our move, there are clues  that hint at the kind of person I would become. First grade teachers wrote notes; college professors wrote letters of recommendation about me and my creative writing abilities.  Articles I deemed important were tucked away in files for me to find some day, when I really needed them. When I was nineteen, I started saving articles about the work of ministry. I saved essays arguing for a place for women in ministry.  I never wanted to be a pastor, never wanted any sort of leadership role in a church, but the writers or these articles had things to say that were so very important to me that I chewed on them, wrestled with them, brought them up for dinner conversations, and basically hung onto as if these were ideas my upon which my life depended. But I never thought once about, vocationally, being in ministry until I was thirty years old, eleven years later.
There were other telltale signs of the person I was becoming: the standardized test, what a marvelous testament to my utter lack of spatial intelligence, my bumbling mathematical vertigo. Oh, I was great at concepts, the ideas of math.  But ask me to identify a pattern or fit shapes together and my vision grew blurry.  These were standardized test report words that I came to recognize and cherish: Reading. Comprehension. Vocabulary. Usage. Oh, Usage!  How I loved your deftly-turning-of-a-sentence ways.  Spelling.  I was conscientious, my teachers wrote on almost every report card. But I was most conscientious about my spelling list, studying it with exactitude, relishing in my own private pleasure at having remembered to spell a word correctly.  Did other students not study with like eagerness? Did they not relish their spelling successes? If other students made it through high school without having learned basic spelling patterns and rules, I was unaware of this, and indeed, would have been rudely shocked by the news.

What else was in that cabinet? Well, there were crises of health and family that would send aftershocks on into my future. There were notes and handouts from teachers of various creative writing and literature classes.  And what I discovered in my excavation was that my sentimental attachment to these notes and handouts were directly tied to my degree of affection for/respect of whoever taught the class. It was easy for me to toss hundreds of pages of notes I copied down from the teachers who droned on, utterly passionless or--worse--utterly narcissistic.  But the teachers who lit fire under me, whether they were teaching on Ghandi or Moby Dick or Marcel Duchamp, are those whose teachings I can never toss out—because those were the  teachers who helped me come alive, who helped me define the scope of me by the way they listened to and answered my tentative voice.   And beyond any transmission of information,  I am most grateful for their teaching me how to think, inquire, and question—creatively—with courage, respect, and a little bit of moxie.  And thank God, because thinking and questions are what helps us figure out Who We Want to Be and how to navigates the earthquakes and aftershocks in our lives.
At the ripe age of seven, I knew  I wanted to be an author of a book.   At the ripe age of thirty, I knew I was pastoral.  Never once did I want to grow up to be a thinker (and the filing cabinet didn’t suggest it, in so many words), but now (I think:) the idea is golden.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Leaving Things Behind

I’ve spent more of my life in this one city than anywhere else.  And I’ve lived ten years in this house in this one city. I like the city’s smells and sounds. I like its festivals. I love its health food co-op and its hippies.  I like that I had all three of the children here in this city, that I gave birth to one right inside this house, in this living room I sit in right now.   This week, as the big girls said goodbye to their school (they’re starting a new one Tuesday), one girl wailed aloud, “My whole life is over.  How could you do this to me?” and “I will do everything I can to prevent us from moving.” 

It is true, in a sense, that her whole life is over.  Her entire life, its set of parameters since the day of her birth, will be shifting. It will be the end. Of that life on Raven Street, the only life she has ever known.

We talk about how home is really where her family is. That it’s the people that make the memories in a place that then seem to imbue the place with certain sentimental properties.  But this girl doesn’t believe me. The love is in this house, she is sure. In the scuffed wood floors and small bedroom she shares with her sister. It’s in the dark cork and the hollow bedroom doors, which she says she loves and are so much better than the doors in the new house.   Outside and to the west of our backyard there is a Jungle and a Sledding Hill, which translates to a narrow avenue between fences overgrown with mulberry trees, and a steep slope in a neighbor’s backyard.  Our new neighborhood has no Jungle. No Sledding Hill. 

Like the girls, I love the trees on the east side of Iowa City. I also hate them.  I hate that these trees’ roots twist and tangle inside the ground, invading concrete slabs and water lines, causing foundational cracking and drainage mishaps.  I love them because they shade our home, they provide ample fallen branches for the girls to play with, and when I walk these neighborhood streets I can hide inside a tunnel of maples and evergreen, hidden from the view of drivers on the street.  In this new place we are going, I’m not sure there are even trees, let alone leaves. And if there are, there might be only a handful to spread across a whole neighborhood. We might rake up a thimbleful each fall. Where we are going is a new place, relatively speaking.  It is a suburb of this city we live in (if our city is large enough to have suburbs?).  Or maybe you’d call where we’re going a bedroom community.  This new place is one of the fastest growing towns in Iowa. Some periodical somewhere recently put it in the top 100 best small towns in the country to live in, and people put this news on Facebook to authenticate their choice of residence. It really is a lovely place. Without trees.  And it has an Aquatic Center a few minutes from our house, with Water Slides and Zero-Depth Entry.  This is like a goldmine for a mother of a toddler and two big girls.  And so is the bigger house and more bathrooms and space not to trip on each other and every toddler toy we own. And, most alluring, so many of the people we know are in this place. Our church is five minutes away. And down the street from our new home live three families we affectionately refer to as friends.
Still, I will cry someday because I miss living in the house on Raven Street. I won’t do it today, or even next week, most likely.  But soon, I will think about how Grandpa’s house is no longer three minutes from our own, that the girls cannot run out with their sleds and find a hill so quickly, that the hippies and the coop and the festivals and the poetry readings and the Indian restaurant and our favorite Chinese take-out are so very much farther away.  I will cry in the wintertime when I cannot look out of our large picture window to the fresh tire tracks in the street (because we will have no such window in our new living room). And I will cry when the girls cry at the slowness of making new friends, of missing their old school so very much.   

In spite of the losses, we feel this is Right, yet in such an abstract way that we cannot possibly justify our decision logically to these girls. But because it’s Right, we know that staying here would be Wrong.  And since moving is the  Right Thing, we know that Everything Will Turn Out Okay.  More Than Okay--it will be Good. 

So, it is true, Girl. Our entire lives are changing. And we are doing everything we can to prevent them from staying the exact same.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Transitions on Raven Street

I’ve almost forgotten how to write a blog entry.  My head is spinning and saturated with phrases like foreclosure, bank-owned, buyer, purchase agreement, not yet, still waiting, radon test, inspector, closing date, very soon, need more boxes, packing tape, financing, waiting, realtor, signatures, and, from the big girls: “stupid, ugly house.”

Middle and Oldest call the house we (think we) are moving to a “stupid, ugly house.”  And in kiddie terms, they are probably right about that.  It’s got some stains on the carpet, scratches on the wall. Some holes in doors. It lacks refrigeration. A window is cracked.  If that’s all you saw it would indeed be a stupid, ugly house.  But it’s not.  I promise. Underneath all that, it is a super, lovely house, which will afford each girl her own bedroom and one to spare. It is light, and airy and newer-than-our-old-house, which means fewer problems, fewer things to repair.   But the girls are sad.  They are so very sad.  When you are 9 and 6, it’s hard to move away from the only place you’ve ever called home.
Meanwhile life is full of other hardships. One girl cried and threw herself on my lap after school yesterday.  She doesn’t think she Fits In.  Have you ever felt this way?  See, the other girls at school have pink folders with flower designs on them. I bought this girl a Super Mario folder because she LOVES Super Mario.   But at school, Super Mario stuff is what boys have—not girls.  And this girl of mine, she wants anything pink or purple just so she won’t have to bear the discomfort of Not Fitting In. 

In class yesterday they interviewed each student on the particulars of their likes, dislikes, loves, and hates. This activity served only to accentuate her Not Fitting In.
Most kids said that lemonade or pop were their favorite drinks. 

What’d you say?


And they asked what my favorite fast food restaurant was.  I said I didn’t have one.

I’m beginning to see that at least two thirds of the blame for her Not Fitting In falls on me and my granola/homeschool-y/whole foods sensibilities.  This poor child.  But how could I know there weren’t other parents out there giving their children water?  Or abstaining from fast food when their kids could be eating broccoli and whole grain pasta?  I’ve made a terrible miscalculation, it seems. A terrible mistake.  I have, apparently, not prepared these deprived formerly homeschooled children for living out in the real world.

The good news is that we are moving soon.  Maybe she will find children in North Liberty who like to drink water?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Raven Street Notes no. 5

Oh—yes, it’s been a whole month since I’ve disappeared from the web because we’ve been Getting Our House Ready to put on the real estate market. We’ve been Fixing Walls, Laying Mulch, Installing Garage Doors. It’s all exhausting unless you specifically take a vacation from the rest of your life just to Get Ready.

Our home has been on the market two weeks today. We’ve had what seemed to be a serious buyer. He called Sunday to say he chose our house, he likes it the best. He needed to bring a woman by, another representative of the company that wants to buy our house, and on Monday he said they would try to come. On Tuesday he said they would try to come. Their schedules just never were compatible. It’s Wednesday now and I haven’t even gotten a call.

Waiting to get a decent offer on your home is like waiting for a baby to be born. You don’t know where. You don’t know when. And getting phone calls where potential buyers express that they Like Your Home the Best is like losing your mucous plug two weeks before you give birth. I’m sorry and excuse me for the biology metaphor, but it’s an accurate one. That mucous plug means birth may be imminent or that birth is two weeks away or anywhere in between. So, we’ve lost our real estate mucous plug.

I should, on one hand be thrilled about that. On the other hand, the carrot dangles even closer before me. That house we found sitting empty is just waiting for our offer, if we can make it, if we ever get one on our house. And hopefully we’ll make it before someone else does.


Meanwhile, the husband is on a week-long training trip to Seattle, staying with some of our best buddies on the off-hours. Lucky husband. He does not need to keep the Raven Street house on-the-market spotless, all by himself, while taking care of sick kids. When I say sick, I mean fevers, full body viral rashes, vomiting, lots of laundry, lots of dispensing of children’s Tylenol, lots of night waking, crying, glassy-eyed whining. But you know, it looks worse on paper than it’s actually been—except for that day when the car battery died. But really, we’ve been well taken care of. We have Grandpa nearby. He makes us dinners. He brings them to us. He jump starts my van. He’s taking it in tomorrow for a battery diagnostic. What would we do without…?

But there are some clues that some of my parenting chutzpah is waning. Like when I put the baby to bed and forgot to turn off her bedroom light. Like, when, today, I took the kids to an I-give-up lunch at Panera so I wouldn’t have to clean up our kitchen after (in case “the house people” come later this afternoon). And the day I subsisted on Dagoba chocolate bars (quick energy and no cooking) and still managed to lose a pound.


Oldest is loving a book series—The Mysterious Benedict Society. I am loving these four-hundred-page novels full of the precocity of brilliant children. After Middle and Tiny are in bed, Oldest and I read until her bedtime and we can barely stand to stop when our time is up. But we are already grieving: soon, we’ll have no more Benedict Society to read. And what will we do then?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Afterword of Crisis

A library visit yesterday started off with me and the three Littles standing on the ground floor of the library, waiting for the elevator door to open.  When it did open, Middle reached out and placed her palm flat against the door, apparently to “help” it open. But her hand slid right along with the door into the crack between the elevator door and the wall.  Her hand stuck there. The door stuck there. 

My  years of growing up provided me with such an abundance of warnings about the dangers of elevators, escalators, skinned fingers, broken fingers, mangled and lost fingers. Somehow, I failed to convey these fears to my own children:  Keep your hands out of cracks where automated doors and railings are concerned.  Better yet, don’t even touch them.

I looked at Middle, grabbed her hand. “Can you pull it out?” I asked, tugging gently. “No,” she answered. The door was still trying to close, the force pulling her hand even further inside the crack, except now her hand was too thick to fit further in. But that door wanted it, it wanted it, it did. And Middle was stuck, paralysed, her eyes wide with surprise, fear.  She screamed, then.

There’s a moment, when time stands still in crisis, where you survey the scene, take in the problem, the potential solution, and realize that while everything depends on you (the lone witness) to get the problem solved, you (the lone witness) don’t actually have the resources to help, the power to stop an automatic door, to free your child’s hand from a crack in the wall.   So you yell, you yell into the quiet library, “Can somebody help?” And some men come running, at first in slow motion, as if it hasn’t really clicked yet—Child’s Hand. Stuck. In Elevator. And then it clicks, and they run faster, and then they run so fast you can tell you are in an Actual Emergency.  They run deliberately, right for that elevator door, like they know how to fix this problem, like they know what buttons to push. One runs right inside the elevator.  He must push a button. Thank God he pushes the right one. 

The elevator door slid open, releasing Middle’s hand, which was red from base knuckles halfway up her fingers. It began to swell. The nice library man—one of the men who’d come running—got a gauze bandage and medical tape, wrapping and securing it gently over Middle’s four fingers. He’d never done this before, he said, but Middle didn’t care. The gauze bandage was for psyche’s sake (Middle’s), only.  But the icepack brought by the library man did help with swelling.

I walk around without really thinking of all the many things that could go wrong in a day. But when we exit crisis, there’s a deeper knowing of how many things could really go wrong, how bad it could be, as well as deep gratitude that they haven't and it isn't.  It’s a revelation I take in, an internal shaking that lasts ten minutes through the filling out of the incident report, through the wrapping of Middle’s hand, through the wiping of all those tears.  In spite of this, the Littles have a sense only of a moment’s present danger, or lack of it—not all the coulds and what ifs I could apply to the future.  Tiny, in her stroller, had stared at the scene with apparent curiosity and now appeared disinterested, clamoring for Chex cereal pieces.  Middle, was relieved, and fixated on the nurture represented in the  gauze bandage, the pack of ice.  And Oldest, seemingly oblivious to the gravity of said crisis, emits an exasperated huff and said, “We’re wasting all our time at the library!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Endangered Metaphor

About the same time I started having oodles of I’m Pregnant Dreams a few years ago, I also had We’re Moving Dreams.  The houses in my dreams had lots and lots of extra space for lots of children, children’s toys, children’s nurseries, children’s clutter, and children’s run-around kinds of fun.  There were bathrooms (more than one—glorious!).  And secret rooms that opened into secret rooms for more space and more children.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve never taken the words “be fruitful and multiply” to mean that my two or three children were not plenty of apples in my basket. I’m perfectly contented right now with the size of my brood.  So, at the present time, the appealing factor in these dreams is the more space, not the more children.

But these dreams keep coming about moving, about rearranging spaces and making spaces—space so that I wouldn’t have to listen to Oldest and Middle argue every morning over whose blanket is in whose way and whose clothes are on the floor. And oh, what I would give for space for them to run around and dance and shout and hoot and holler, a space far enough from me in the house that I don’t have to listen/watch, where I can stay zen, where I can think quiet thoughts, whisper quiet prayers, chop vegetables in quiet and then, when I’m ready to dance and shout and holler myself, I can join them in that other place.

I’ve also pointed out to the husband that there are four females living in a house with one bathroom.  I give it two more years, tops, before this becomes a matter of national security.
Over the years, I have tried hard not to let my mind wander toward the idea of moving to a larger house. Much of the world lives in small spaces. Why can’t I?  The American model is start small, go big. Increase, increase, increase, until you’re an empty nester and all that increased-house size leaves some people feeling empty, lonely, wondering what it’s all for.  So I’ve resisted. If we could just make it through their teenage years, till they’re off to college--it’s only another decade till the first one goes. But I fear, if something doesn’t change, that I will lose my sanity before the decade is up.  My children need to run around and be loud.  I need to walk quietly and think in quiet.  This combination doesn’t bode well for harmonious living. Either I am the grinchy mom who’s spoiling all their fun, or they are my husband’s children from whom I need escape long before lunchtime.  
But moving is stressful.  That’s why I’m trying to stay so very zen about this whole process.  Maybe we’ll move ahead this year, maybe next.  Maybe we’ll wait till we have more equity in our home. Maybe we’ll sell our home quickly, by owner, or it’ll take forever. And maybe a home will open up in our girls’ school’s neighborhood that is just the perfect size, with just the right features, at just the right price and we’ll buy it before we even know what’s happening. 

And moving is stressful for children, as well as grown-ups. That’s why I’ve told Oldest I won’t mention it anymore until I know we’re serious about a change.  Right now, Moving is a thought, a dot, on the horizon we could be sailing toward.  Still, each day, I look around our Raven Street house more purposefully. I see the clutter that a realtor will someday tell me to remove. I am more bothered by a garbage disposal in the sink that broke last spring.  I am highly motivated to fix our garage door.  And today, during Tiny’s nap time, I spackled holes in our bedroom wall.
But there is one particular bit of nostalgia that makes the idea of moving difficult.  3106 Raven Street has not only been my home for the last ten years, but my metaphor for where life happens, where children are born and morph into beings with kaleidoscopic personalities, where marriages weave their threads into long epic narratives, where we learn how to love each other, where God is.  So now, my metaphor is endangered, and what does that mean for the groundedness such symbolism seems to provide me? 

What happened earlier this evening is almost too dramatically ironic, almost too ridiculously perfect to ever come to fruition, that I can hardly utter the words aloud:  I found a for-sale home in our neighborhood today. It’s the right size; it’s got the right features. It’s on a different street, with a different house number, which I almost didn’t notice when I drove up to 3105 Raven Court this evening and peered through the windows into an empty living room.

Possibly, God was laughing when I realized the home’s address—not because this is the house for us, necessarily, but because, truly, the power of the metaphor is what it points to.  And in that case, the joke is on me. Because--really—if we keep on living like we’re still learning, then every home we live in for the rest of our lives will be On Raven Street. And so will yours, if that’s where you want to live, too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

This Friday Morning

It’s Friday morning, in June. Most of the time these days I don’t know the date exactly, but just that we’re floating somewhere between The Last Day of School and The Ice Cream Social. That’s far off in a land called August and Sultry Heat.
This morning the air is moist and cool enough for me to pretend I am living near the sea. Only three blocks north and I will trip into a warm Iowa ocean.  On this warm, Iowa ocean of a Friday morning, and on any old Friday morning this summer, I try to get to two grocery stores between 7:20 and 8:20.  The husband and I have worked this out by prearrangement. I leave as soon as he’s out of the shower and get back before he needs to catch the bus to work.  This is better for us than me taking all three girls to the store in the middle of the day, tripping up and down aisles and repeating myself ad nauseum about only purchasing what is on the list.
When I walk into our local food coop this morning, I am enveloped in a sense of comfort, of familiarity.  The employees are unpacking boxes and stocking the meat counter this early in the morning. The produce guy, with those big round earrings set into the center of his lobes, watches me and smiles when I look his way. I know him, from these Friday mornings.  But surely, he doesn’t know me amongst the hundreds of customers who come in here each week. Then again, maybe he does, the way I know all these vegetables before me, have memories of treating them well—raw or with heat, garlic, olive oil—and sometimes dismally, allowing them to wilt in the crisper, their natural sugars fermenting beyond what any palate could tolerate.  I survey all the organic produce that is close to 2 dollars per pound.  I pick local kale, organic sweet potatoes, zucchini, oranges (from far away), apples, and local red-leaf lettuce, thinking I will make green smoothies this week, thinking I will copy that sage-and-sweet-potato recipe I saw on cable programming yesterday, thinking I better do something with all this produce because I pay fifty bucks when I get to the counter for the veg and some some meat and plain yogurt and one fancy schmancy drink I bought for the husband because he likes it when I come home bearing tokens of I-was-thinking-of-you.

When I arrive home, I don’t see Tiny at first. She is sitting on the floor, ensconced from my view by the bulk of her highchair. Husband, Middle and Oldest are draped against the landscape of the kitchen: Middle sorting through the remnants of a bag of corn chips; Oldest standing between fridge and table, passing ingredients for nachos from one to the other; Husband drying a bowl near the stove.  Tiny sits in front of the dishwasher, entranced by bobby pins and hair bows. Someone has brought the basket of hair accessories from the hall closet for her to play with, and play she does.  It’s rare for Tiny to be content these days unless you are holding her hands, helping her to walk.  But hair pins and bows do the trick. So do centipedes, grass, and compost.
This Friday morning, the big girls have two ginormous laundry baskets full of laundry to fold and put away. They will drape dishtowels on Tiny’s head instead and will only fold when I remind them, when I warn them, stop putting things on your sister’s head.  They will take half an hour, but in fits and starts they will finish all this laundry, begging for the swimming pool when they are done. I will promise to check the weather, promise to check the hours of the local pools before this Friday morning turns into Friday afternoon and then Friday evening, which contains an entirely different set of concerns: when is bedtime? who will pick what show to watch when the babysitter is here? how many snacks before bedtime do they get? How many hours of TV? will the husband and I stay out too late? How tired will we be when faced with the needs—of all three Littles, of the long grass in the yard, of the vocational work that has come home with us—when we wake up on tomorrow’s morning?  I won’t run to the grocery store, but I’ll take Middle to gymnastics, then the colorful and bustling Farmer’s Market. The girls will still rummage in the kitchen, foraging for breakfast.  And maybe the atmosphere will—or maybe it won’t—suggest an Iowa-near-the-ocean, fog rolling in from an invisible sea.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

When the Third One Comes Along

Tiny turned one year old yesterday. Exactly one year ago that day, I was walking the sidewalks on Raven Street with a friend, pausing for the hearty contractions, walking through the milder. My neighbors, most assuredly, peeped from their windows at my swollen belly and bent over form.  I was aware, good-humoredly, that I was a good show, more exciting than most of what happens on the block.  A woman in labor, just an hour or two on the other side of new life entering the world. In the coming months, the neighbors would gawk and giggle at Tiny from a respectful distance.  Only one would offer to hold her, coo, and make faces for her entertainment, jiggle her and rock her during rough afternoons. The rest are not those kinds of neighbors. Though at times I think how quaint it could be if they were, because then the neighborhood would be celebrating with us this week—this week that delivers us a Tiny who is a slender 18.8 pounds but tall: a willowy thirty inches tall when standing, assisted by a parent, sister, grandparent or other good-hearted charity worker who is willing to walk, hunched over, as Tiny leads them around the house/church/yard by the hands.  Her rosy cheeks, her quad-toothed smile, the chestnut brown wisps of bangs that part down the middle of her forehead make her a vision that could turn anyone into a lover-of-Tiny.

Or, so I think, biased as I am.   I have been a lover of all my babies, and have acted like the man in the New Testament parable who invited all his servant could find to attend his banquet, to fill up his table in celebration. For Oldest’s first birthday, our home was jam-packed on a humid June day. Twenty-five or thirty friends and extended family members, most over voting age, were invited to watch and cheer as our one-year-old bit timidly into a chocolate-frosted cupcake for the first time, as her fingers flirted with the satiny paper wrapped around a book, or a bag of blocks.

It was the same dimension of celebration with Middle, in frigid November. Her wisps of blond curls flipped out over her ears as she toddled and tripped over ribbons and bows scattered on the floor, and all the adults roared with laughter as we listened to the pre-recorded song on a battery-operated toy about a farmer and his hybrid animals: You put a pig in front, you put a horse behind. Put them together and what do you find? A Pig-Horse! Little Middle stared at us crazies, giggled, and toddled away. 

But yesterday, for Tiny, it was different. Our local family has grown enough to make for an adequate number of guests: Two big sisters, a grandpa, and his GF, who is also a lover-of-Tiny.  And I, well, I have grown so scattered, so stretched thin from loving the first two babies-turned-children who have so many wants I am working on fulfilling from day to day. And so many needs. There’s the obvious, such as laundry, and food in their bellies, and direction on bathing, or spelling, or chores.   There’s haircut, doctor appointment, and dentist scheduling times two. And then there are Deep Talks, where one of them goes philosophical and analytical and reveals her possession of more self-awareness than most grown-ups I know, and needs to ask questions about my childhood, about what it means to grow up, about the etymology of swear words.   The other needs Snuggling and Book Reading and relentlessly pursues accomodation.

So yesterday, the day of Tiny’s birthday, it turned out I had to take Oldest to her Annual Allergist Appointment where they performed Not-Fun Tests and made her eat peanuts, which made her sick, which made them make us stay in the clinic for observation, which meant we were late getting home. I had not made frosting for cupcakes, had not checked our supply of candles, had not wrapped the Eric Carle book I purchased for Tiny. By previous-child standards, these were parenting fails.

Thank God for Grandpa and his GF, who watched Middle and Tiny, and cleared our dining room table, grilled burgers, and boiled corn so we could sit down, ravenous, and watch Tiny squirm in her highchair.  And Grandpa’s GF dressed her in a special one-time-outfit—a pink birthday tutu and white t-shirt—that would be stained with chocolate chip frosting the second we brought out her first cupcake. When we sang happy birthday, Mark holding a plateful of cupcakes in front of her, she looked at us like we all had a touch of fever and then ripped into a cupcake, crushing it into chocolate smithereens on her highchair tray. Soon after, she let us know she preferred popcorn instead.

 Now that the third child has come along, the fanfare is  dulled—at least for us. Even so, my love couldn’t be more resplendent. And this same love is more prophetic  than ever it was with Middle and Oldest. I can see into Tiny’s future and love her as six-year-old Tiny and as almost-nine-year-old  Tiny because now I know what it means to parent not-just-babies, but children at the entrance to that long tunnel called Growing Up.  So at night, when I nurse her, I stare into her stained-glass-blue mosaic eyes and imagine her someday-fuller face, her someday-sloping nose, the someday-forehead that I will bend down to kiss goodnight or lean toward to kiss goodbye and my breath catches in my throat at all that expanse of change and time.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Raven Street Notes No. 4

Oldest wanted to know what a role model was this week.

"It’s someone you look up to," I told her. "Someone who is a good example of what you’d like to be when you grow up."

She ponders.

"So, who do you think a good role model for you is?" (I’ll admit it. I was fishing).

She ponders.

"You are!" She points at me with a grin on her face. "And so is Emily—she’s a good role model for a fourth grader."

Fair enough.

A fourth grader is exactly what Oldest will be in a few months. In some ways it’s good her sights aren’t set too far beyond right now. She wants to stay a kid for as long as she possibly can. And her ability to eloquently express such a sentiment reveals to us just how hard staying a kid might be. But we’ll do our best to help her.

She told us “kid pajamas”—rather than sleeping in sweatpants and a t-shirt—just might do the trick.So I bought her a striped Gymboree nightgown, and I vowed not to mention for now the changes I see, the girl about to turn into a woman.


Middle endearingly bid me “Goodnight Mrs. Weber!” when I tucked her in this week. Before the aw-that’s-cute feeling could really concretize, she launched into her refrain: “Goodnight Mrs. Wierdo Weber.”


Is there anyone out there who can’t get The Hunger Games out of their heads? I am haunted, truly, haunted by the characters of Katniss and Peeta. So much so, that I could not watch Lauren and Scotty on American Idol during finale week without superimposing a pseudo-Hunger-Games narrative over their story, and feeling like such a voyeuristic consumer of the possible/potential romance wafting in the air around them. They did look sort of doe-eyed at each other, after all. And Mark says that--just like Katniss and Peeta--Lauren and Scotty probably share a trauma bond.