Friday, April 29, 2011

Bed Sitting

I never miss it until it comes. Bed sitting. Growing up, it was a no-brainer -- hanging out with girl friends we inevitably ended up lounging on a bed talking for hours. In college this happened too, since at least for a while, people only had bedrooms. But then, somewhere along the line, everyone becomes adults, and people begin to spend time together only in the living room or kitchen. Bedroom doors remain closed and the spaces become private.

Then one day my sister comes to town, or Mari my best friend from growing up, or Amy my old neighbor, and we find ourselves moving so freely in each other's space that we end up lounging against pillows talking, with a child or two nestled in. I love this -- the cozy comfort of bed sitting conversations. Once I've tasted them, I wonder, again, why we don't have them more.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tide Pools with KJ and Justin

a poem for today

by Marie Howe:


Two of the fingers on his right hand
had been broken

so when he poured back into that hand it surprised
him - it hurt him at first.

And the whole body was too small. Imagine
the sky trying to fit into a tunnel carved into a hill.

He came into it two ways:
from the outside, as we step into a pair of pants.

And from the center - suddenly all at once.
Then he felt himself awake in the dark alone.


One of the best privileges of 4th grade was making Ukrainian Easter eggs in art class. In retrospect, I am amazed the teacher dared tackle such a process with a room of 9 year olds, but she did, and I'm still grateful. Ukrainian eggs work like a batik -- you draw with wax, then dye the egg a light color, draw with more wax, dye it a shade darker, until you're left with a dark egg strewn with bright designs. I *loved* these eggs. A few years ago I bought myself my own Ukrainan egg kit ( and during nap time, sat at the kitchen table with bowls of dye making eggs. This year, when I unpacked the Easter box, I tossed the kit right back in without a thought. No way I'd sit at the table making intricate eggs this year. But to my surprise, Silas found the kit and insisted, so together we sat and drew with wax, watching the egg grow darker with each new color. As many of our joint creative endeavors go, Silas designed and I carried out his ideas. After Eden woke up, we made on more egg and they did all the writing. All an unexpected treat.

one way to fish for the egg...

what her hands looked like all day

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saving Face

Yesterday, as I stood in line at the grocery store waiting for Ben and the kids whom I could hear beyond the shelves at the juice bar, the man in front of me turned and asked, "How do you spell obvious?" I spelled it for him. He asked a second time moving his mouth through the letters, and then nodded. "I have to write a card," he said gesturing with the card he was waiting to buy, "and was just thinking. I've never been good at spelling." He had greying hair around his ears and was nicely dressed, probably in his mid-50's. We went on to talk for a few minutes about growing up and school.

After he checked out, I thought about him; how rare it is that someone, a stranger, comes at us with a bare need like that. He wasn't interested in saving face, he simply set out what he hoped to know. What would even a trip to the grocery store be like if we were all so honest about our need for each other?

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I spent the last two weeks in Washington bickering with and loving the guts out of my family members (and could argue that bickering expresses love since it's a freedom we almost never can indulge in... ), watching the dark skeletal trees brighten with green match-sized flames -- a transformation I've never found so miraculous -- walking under cotton candy cherry blossoms, soft and full, that turned pink and heavier as they dropped and cleared way for their own bright leaves. It was a trip that left me thirsty for more. For the first time in 18 years, I walked into the house where I grew up, got to live in it for just a few minutes more until a hostile au pair shooed me out the door. I stood near my sister-in-law and husband as they sorted through their mother's things and made sense of a house packed with years of living. And watched flint and rock spark as everyone came to that task with a different idea of fire.

I've been thinking a lot about family -- Silas and Eden against the backdrop of my generation, seeing Ben with his siblings and me with mine, all of us meeting as adults, and all of us against the backdrop of our parents. Just this afternoon, I was thinking about how I'll miss these years when they're over, the beautiful, messy, ALIVE time of parenting little young children, will miss even carrying a tantrummer through a restaurant toward the exit, the ridiculousness of it. These are years of bright vitality.

A friend recently sent me this column that I only just read by Anna Quindlen. Applicable to today's musings:

Getting to the Point

By Anna Quindlen

Oh, I loved having babies. The smell, the feel, the … well, I liked the stupidity of them. The way they grabbed their own feet and then looked perplexed at the fact that they somehow felt it in their bodies. The way they’d be entranced by sunlight or ringing phones or the thrum of the dishwasher. There’s a popular YouTube video that shows a baby in near-hysterical laughter because someone is tearing up a piece of paper. That’s babies all over. Why paper? Why tearing? Who knows?

And toddlers — they were great, too. The way they would march across the lawn once they acquired motor skills, then run back to the shelter of mom legs, then sally forth again. The way they would mangle their words and chew their consonants and name things obsessively: Hot dog. Big bird. Good boy. The way they would dress themselves and then wind up looking as though they’d done so in the dark, color-blind. The way they would catch you if you tried to skip a sentence or two in a beloved book: “That’s not right!” They had such a strong sense of fairness and no filter at all. “That man is fat!” they would say, then be perplexed by the notion that there was anything wrong about that.

I loved having elementary school kids, holding their pencils like etching tools as they worked out a subtraction problem on lined paper, their faces scrunched. It was great how they would work out more complex matters, too, realize that one of their classmates was not now nor was ever going to be a good person, understand that when they hurt someone else they might also wind up hurting themselves. You could read human progress through the tears. The tears of a baby are often a reflex, for a toddler almost always the fruit of frustration or fatigue. The tears of a child begin to be the tears of knowledge. The older heart is more breakable.

Which brings us to teenagers. Ah. This is where I am supposed to admit defeat, but I just can’t. As hard as it was, as challenging as they could be, I really liked having teenagers. Some of that was about me, not them; I can’t really remember what it was like to be a little kid, but I remember very well what it was like to be a teenager. So when one of them would blow an assignment or a curfew, say something stinging or thoughtless, I would usually think: I would have done that, or, sometimes, I did. Besides, the smarts and the cool helped make up for it. I know about music and movies and slang I never would have known about otherwise. The house was full of snap crackle and pop. There were always kids at the dining room table, and if the dishes sometimes didn’t get done — well, I definitely remembered having left dirty dishes in the sink, too.

I don’t have babies anymore, or kids, or teenagers. I have adults, with their own dishes and their own sinks — and, I suspect, their own sinks of dirty dishes. The house is not always full of snap crackle and pop. But here’s my bottom line on this continuum for any woman bemused or becalmed or bedeviled by any part of it: it just keeps getting better.

Oh, don’t mistake me: I still miss breastfeeding, and having someone holding my hand when we cross the street, and high voices in sleepy conversation over the baby monitor from the bedroom. I miss laying down the law, enforcing arbitrary rules, having some modicum of control.

The old arsenic hours were when the homework was done and the squabbling began and there was still an hour until baths and bed. (Once, I remember, I lied and said it was 8 p.m. at 6:45 just to get them out of my hair. Note to the mothers of young kids: don’t buy digital clocks.) The new arsenic hours are when I’ve knocked off work for the day in an empty house and have a cup of herbal tea and an hour of whatever’s on the DVR before my husband shows up for dinner. Occasionally, if the universe is feeling merciful, I will hear the dogs bark as the door downstairs opens, and a voice will call, “Mom?” And my heart sings.

I regret being pinkslipped from my 24/7 Mom job, although there were times over the years when I thought the inexorability of it would kill me. But it’s hard to imagine anything better than right now: the family dinner with the five of us, all talking about politics, books, work, friends, and one another. It’s hard to imagine anything better than three smart and insightful people who live in the same city we do, who make me remember that there was a point to the whole exercise, and the point was this.

I couldn’t wish for more than that. Except for grandchildren, of course. But that’s another story for another time.

Friday, April 08, 2011

A poem for the week

April is National Poetry month (do you know this? would love to hear about any poems you read), and some friends and I have been sending daily poems back and forth. Danny sent this one by Mary Oliver. I love the weeding through voices here, the slow movement toward clarity:

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.