Monday, November 29, 2010


We are headed full-swing into Christmas -- whew! -- but a note about Thanksgiving before it is gone completely: We decided to stay in California this year for Thanksgiving, and after paging through the November issue of Sunset magazine, decided to haul our turkey and all of the sides, tables and chairs, glasses and china, bottles of wine down to the beach for dinner. Our friends joined us for the bright, windy celebration, which made it even more fun to sit bundled in coats, looking at the ocean.

The last couple of months, we have searched (and searched) for a home. I've searched within and without, weighing and examining, driving neighborhoods, researching schools, walking in and out of empty spaces, working to find our next place, which we haven't found. But as an insightful friend pointed out to me, our meal on the beach, under the wide open sky with no walls around us and no roof, ended up being the perfect illustration of what I've been realizing: there we were, the four of us together, home. And one of these days we will find a new set of walls in a better school district to surround us, but until then, we can still be home. And for that, this year, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A few good things

Tonight is my last of six nights alone.

On day five, I hit a wall -- a patience wall, which turned out to be a hormonal wall; a disappointment wall when yet another house I thought we'd live in didn't work out; a tired-of-waking-up-in-the-night with small coughing people wall -- a wall.

But this morning I woke to rain, and Eden's feet against my stomach, and her little voice saying, "my nose is snuffly."

And this evening, driving home from a three year old birthday party where we didn't know anyone and I could watch young parents stand in a garage drinking beer as an utter parody of young parents standing at a birthday party drinking beer, I made two wrong turns, and after my second U-turn Silas said, "well that awfully went well."

And tonight, I ended up playing Spit -- a game I haven't played in close to 20 years (!) -- at a friend's house. When we sat down, I couldn't begin to remember how the game worked -- how many cards? how do we lay them out? who starts? how do you win? But as soon as we started, my hands remembered instantly. A poet I studied with once talks about how memories are lodged in our bodies that we can only access through motion. She dances an hour every day to dislodge hers. I have only experienced this a few times: Last year I went roller skating for the first time in ages, and as soon as I hit a groove circling the rink, there she was -- 4th grade me with all her hope and wondering, circling the gymnasium in the sparkling lights. Tonight sitting cross-legged in socks with my girlfriend, racing to slap the smallest pile, I felt that same way.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Learning Languages

A friend of mine, just posted what's below on her blog, and it so fully captivated a few things I've been thinking about:

About twice a week I’ll talk to my sister on the phone. And one of us will say, what’s new? And the other one will say, nothing. Oh, I bought that Anthropologie dress I was telling you about, the one with the blue flowers and the gorgeous neckline. And the first one will say, nice, have you worn it yet?

And that’s about how the conversation will go. Neither of us has any wildly exciting news. We don’t have anything we absolutely have to say. But that phone call, and hearing her voice on the other end of the phone, and telling her about the forgettable details of my life, those things are as important to me as telling her about the big stuff.

I do the same thing with my best friend. We’re online most of the day for most days, and usually we talk about the truly gripping details of our lives like, I have spaghetti squash leftovers for my lunch today and they’re not that great. Maybe I should heat them up more. It absolutely dumbfounds her husband how much we talk. And he knows us both, so that’s saying something.

I got to thinking about this after reading this lovely New York Times article about sisters. And as much as it’s true with my sister, I think there’s a bigger point here. It’s important to me, on a human level, to feel that I have a witness to my life. I think this is one of those fundamental basic needs. I need to feel that I connect to people and that they understand me. When we’re talking about dresses and lunch, we’re validating each other’s experiences of the world, even if it’s in an incredibly mundane way.

Like Hannah, I love details. I love to touch base throughout a day, to know how a meeting went, what's for snack, what unexpected thing popped up, what color the new throw pillows are, what the teacher said at parent-teacher conference, which restaurant for lunch, who was at happy hour, the next minute step in the decision process. For me, the details are intimate and visually connect me to someone I love, and the process of sharing them with me specifically (rather than on facebook or a blog) feels an affirmation, itself. And what a relief and gift it is to have someone to receive my own details -- to, yes, feel that someone is journeying closely along with me -- particularly in these years when I am alone with children so often -- and is witness to my life. In my language, details = love.

These days, though, I'm working to learn other languages because the fact is, of course, not everyone loves detail-sharing, nor is it always possible, or, hard for me to believe, even desired -- Ben for example could live happily with a select few details.

This is not revelation. This is not at all new. One of my best friends from college speaks an utterly different language than I do. This has always been the case. And yet, without fail, despite myself, I expect her to invite me into details and live in constant contact -- because she loves me, and in my little dictionary, that's what love looks like. And even though I know she's never communicated like that for long, I feel the shock of her silence every time.

When it happened this last time, I realized I need to coax my stubborn programmed heart into multilingual living, into allowing love, spoken even in an abrasive tongue, still to be love. And it's hard. My defenses fly up instantly and shout their interpretation -- difference = indifference. I'm trying to hear the clear thoughts beneath. My goddaughter, Madeleine, started French immersion kindergarten this year. Two months into it, she can already turn to the French word before the English; I am taking this as hope.


Today: no school for Silas. no run because I didn't want to push a heavy stroller. no Ben because he's on a trip. a big Target trip. a run-in with a friend there that enabled me to survive herding hungry children and hungry self through the rest of our list and through check-out. a douse of hope about a house we may or may not soon live in. a sunny hour on the beach making sand milkshakes and sitting nose-to-nose. a relief to be playing instead of preoccupied. a kind neighbor who lent me his phone charger. another kind neighbor who knocked on my door to tell me my keys were in the lock. a tiff with my mom on a dying cell phone. a dinner of spaghetti with cauliflower, crumbled bacon and Parmesan. a daughter who refused shoes all day, yet wore tights and sneakers on the sand. a son who stepped in to do everything right whenever he saw me become impatient. an achy-ness, wanting to love him fully and deeply enough. sitting on the couch to watch the office with tea, hot cookies, and a friend. a clock that reads too late. tired eyes and a spinning head.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Filling the Tanks

A friend once told me about the concept of "filling the tanks" of kids -- the idea that often their acting poorly is their non-prefrontal-cortex-way of articulating their need for our attention, for their tanks to be filled. The conscious mothering class I took last year taught the same thing -- try to give your kids 15 minutes of undivided attention two or three times a day. 15 minutes doesn't sound like a lot to ask, and yet, mid-house hunting, it is. And Silas, for one, has felt my distraction.

The result has been explosive tantrums, the likes of which I've never seen before -- top-of-the-lung screaming, banging the floor etc. This morning, all before 6:40 AM, he melted over having no clean shorts to wear, over not apologizing after hitting me, over being misunderstood because the hitting was an accident.

So, though I wanted to lock him in his room and tell him he couldn't eat this morning or come downstairs, I decided to take him out for breakfast, just the two of us, in hopes of "filling his tank." He took some deep breaths, agreed to put on pants, found his shoes, and in light of the invitation, alone, practically danced out of the house.

Snuggled next to me in a booth, eating our banana pecan waffle with whipped cream, he kept looking up at me with a little squinting smile saying, "I love you mama." He nuzzled against my arm as he circled letters on his paper place mat and connected the dots with a blue crayon. We talked about meltdowns, about how he'd had a lot this week, and about what he might do to help himself when they start. As he was putting another forkful in his mouth, he said, "when we finish eating, let's stay here and keep talking."

As we left Coco's, he teetered along a balance beam wall, and an hour later, he climbed into his friend's car and left for school smiling and waving.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

House Hunting, again

We took a break for a while, but Ben and I are officially house hunting again.

What that means for the most part is that Eden and I, or Silas Eden and I spend a good chunk of time every day driving the neighborhoods looking for signs that I strain to see and dial as I drift nearly into parked cars lining the road. On good days, this hunting also means we tour empty houses.

Between the ages of 11 and 16, I followed my parents through dozens of houses. I remember racing through wide open living rooms with my brothers and finding passageways to the attics. For the 20 minutes we explored a new house, we could be children about to stumble into Narnia or to find an old letter hidden under floorboards, a hint of the history lingering in an empty old space.

Last week, we went down to the beach to look at a wee bit too expensive house a few blocks from the ocean. The man showing it, though he has three grown kids of his own, barely broke a smile the whole time as he led me up and down the stairs. More than once, as we walked down a hall or into a new room, I heard a cupboard door rattle and saw Silas's head pop out with an "AHH!" (he is working on scaring me). I may have been the only one amused.

On Friday, I looked at a house that I actually loved a lot of things about -- tiny but endearing, old with a brick fireplace and double-hung windows. By the time I called Ben to see when he could come look at it, the kids were barefoot in the yard collecting "pixie dust" (which I think was seed pods) and finding, what Eden called "ant eaters" (some kind of bug with a pincher? unclear). Ben couldn't come for another hour and a half, but the kids were so happy that I decided to wait. We literally played house for an hour. The realtor, who was starving, dashed to the grocery store and came back with bags of lunchables (he is Silas's hero), goldfish, apples (which remained untouched), and cheese sticks.

There have been houses that smelled like old rug and "party" (Ben's term for the smell of houses in college post-party). There have been houses with just dirt and gravel in the yard. A house that shared a garage with old old people next door. A house as dark as an alley. A house with an enchanted backyard and perfect treehouse but that didn't have a shower at all, just a single sunken tub. Many locked houses where I've left the kids buckled in the running car while I climb garden fences and press my forehead to the windows for a peek.

The other day, I parked in an alley and pulled the kids out of the car so we could walk around to the front door. Immediately, Eden walked up to the filthy garage door, put her hand on it, and said absently, "this is a beautiful house." Yes, they have been dragged through many houses. A

Off I go again right now to see a couple of more. I am learning patience, and something, too, about surrender; it's hard to reign in that child-like thrill of possibility standing in an empty place and to allow these houses to come and go, hard to trust that on the right day (which may not even this month), we will find our house.

Monday, November 01, 2010

More on the Pony

I laughed today realizing that I'd said we trick-or-treated with a pony so matter of factly. There is nothing matter of fact about trick-or-treating with a pony. Explanation: our friends live in an equestrian neighborhood tucked next to the bay. Their 6 year old's riding teacher told them that every year a family takes Rusty trick-or-treating but that this year no one had asked (the mad look in his eyes? the biting?) and did they want him. Of course, they did, especially since their son was a knight. And of course, we wanted to come, too.