Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas Trees

Southern California is a weird land.  Today we opted out of our usual Home Depot Christmas tree shopping to go instead to a family-owned local farm.  I've experienced the pumpkin patch against the backdrop of banana palms and desert mountains, but never the Christmas tree farm against office parks and the freeway...  Combine that with weather climbing toward 80 and parking-lot sun, and an east coast girl has to work to feel Christmas.  Silas was finally stripped down to a bare chest and rolled up sweat pants.

Historically, Ben and I have some differences in how we revere the magical process of shopping for a Christmas tree (hence the years of Home Depot trees...).  I have memories of racing around Christmas tree lots in the dark cold with my brothers under strings of white lights.  Ben today was ready to buy the first cheapest tree he saw.  He, as my parents would say, woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

We also tend to have a slight difference of opinion every year about how one ought to transport the Christmas tree home.  Does one tie it to the roof or simply reach out of the driver side window and hold onto the trunk with one hand while one drives?  This farm included a freeway drive -- would we possibly have this discussion here?  I looked over at Ben who still looked like a flat-mouthed muppet with frowning eyebrows.  I was pretty sure we would.

Silas raced into the dense trees, and Eden kept congratulating me for following her voice even though she walked behind me.  Once Silas got the hang of reading the tickets wired to branches, he'd yell for us to come see this tree or that.  At one of those moments, I tripped for the umpteenth time on a little stump (I wore tall clogs) and then rocketed forward, as if I'd just been launched, into the arms of a living tree that immediately dropped me onto the dirt.  Apparently, Ben saw me go but didn't hurry, and I sat there for a long time laughing while Silas and Eden stood over me watching without cracking a smile.

Finally we decided on a tree -- the one I fell at the foot of -- and pulled up our car.  Lo and behold, a man emerged carrying a bucket of rope and without question strapped the bushy tree to our roof!  I don't think that added to Ben's pleasure, nor did the $5 tip we gave that angel-man.  Now we're home with the tree in the living room.  All of our lights are broken -- how does that happen in a silent garage during the year? -- and boxes of decorations are half unpacked.  Eden keeps creeping into boxes, secretly unwrapping ornaments and then dangling them in front of our faces while I tell her again to put whatever it is back til we're ready.  Maybe by tonight.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Many times I've made lists of things I'm grateful for:
-hard rain
-the smell of wet concrete
-the brightness of a humming bird's head at the feeder
-trees moving in wind
-looking into Silas and Eden's wide eyes
-the softness of Ben's cheeks above his whiskers
-new markers
-letters in the mail
-my mom

I've heard that the antidote to worry is gratitude, which makes sense --  anxiety is the mind ricocheting in the future, and gratitude focuses on the present and gives ground.  Today someone even said that thinking of something you're grateful for breaks a bad mood.  But after I make these lists, I don't seem to be changed.  Where, then, is the power of being thankful, the transformation?

This week I've fumbled my way into experiencing the answer, at least a little.  Annemarie, Greg, and their three girls are here for the whole week from DC.  The plan was for them to stay here in our bitty one bathroom house for the first two nights and then move down to the neighbor's empty house.  But day after day, we keep choosing to stay together.  Somehow, the nine of us as one family feels more fun than the nine of us as two neighboring families, even though it's loud, people fight over toys, throw tantrums, and grow broody in need of space (all of which seem to be coming to a head today, of course on the day of thankfulness).  

Last night I lay in bed in Eden's bottom bunk grumbling to myself because Ben on the top bunk had gone to bed angry at me for being overly jocular (or as he would have said snide and rude).  I'd climbed up to apologize to no avail and now was back alone in the dark.  Lying there I still felt the energy of self-justification in my body -- sorry you felt bad when I was joking around.  But as I lay there, I began to think about Ben, not about the evening, the remarks, or the fact that this happens to be the time of month when I make sharp remarks, but about Ben, his feeling badly in front of friends, like I was not for him, and then going to sleep alone on the top bunk.  Slowly that frantic energy left until it was just me, small in the room of the people I most love.  I was grateful for Ben, and sorry, for real, for being a jerk.  I climbed back up to the top bunk and woke him again and my words were different -- sorry for being abrasive and inconsiderate, sorry I embarrassed you.  This, I think, is real gratitude, gratitude that changes us, pulls us out of our little kingdoms and back into the light of seeing other people and our real thanks.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Today my Dad is a Year from 70

I've written several poems about my dad over the years.  Some are about his childhood, the moment he learned at age 11 that his own father died.  Some are about my childhood, driving around St. Petersburg, Florida with him as he gestured here and there naming places and stories of his life.  Some are about sitting together at a Redskins game or my visiting him at the hospital when his lungs were full of blood clots (and he just sat watching the Redskins game rather than talking to me -he and I still disagree on this detail).  And some are about tiny moments when I've looked at him and been struck by the fact that I have the privilege of still having him with me at age 34, a privilege neither of my parents had, that my children get to have a warm-eyed grandfather in their lives, a mythical kind of man I only imagined.  This poems describes a moment like that, and his birthday, as I celebrate his life and health, seems like an appropriate day to share it.

My Father Who Holds the World

When I walk into the bathroom, the small TV on the counter 
speaks the 11 o'clock news and my father is at the sink. 
I sit and watch him as I watched him 25 years ago, his young daughter

balanced on the lip of the tub, watching to see him run the razor
across his soft cheeks, over his Adam's apple, along the jaw bone.
Tonight I watch with the same attentiveness, wanting to commit
to memory the slope of his forehead, the way he stands with hands
on either side of the sink, the tension silenced in his shoulders,

the shape of his watch imprinted on his wrist.  I am sitting
with my back against smooth tile, my son asleep
in the neighboring room – please please stay alive.

(Portland Review 56#1 Spring/Summer)


After I wrote about Eden's wakings, I began thinking about them conceptually.  A friend suggested they're night terrors, which re-framed them for me -- beyond aggravating and exhausting they are terrifying in a way, full of torment and unrest -- they're dark.  That night as I leaned over to kiss Eden's little face, I prayed that God would protect her from that in between state, that she would be held in sound restful sleep until she needed to wake, and when she woke she'd wake completely.  I have prayed this every night, and what amazes is that every night since, she's slept soundly.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

a little more Eden

Sally visits only rarely, these days.  But Bella still spends quite a lot of time with us.  Usually she wants to talk about college where she does art, ties ribbons or does "bouqueting."  Or else she meets up with us on her way to "skate camp" where she skateboards a lot.

Yesterday I met Ivy for the first time.  She's my age.  But she still has a hard time buckling her booster, which maddens us both.  Her baby is called Margarita and sometimes "munches bitty zucchinis" -- they'd have to be bitty since baby Margarita is only about three inches long and is sometimes still in utero.  Ivy spends a lot of time buckling and unbuckling Margarita into various spots.

At night these charming girls/friends/sisters leave and Eden is replaced by Needen, a semi-consciousness hellion.

Sleep had finally became delicious for a small time in our house, but nights again are riddled with waking.  I find myself climbing into bed with the newborn pit in my stomach -- the dread of having to wake again in just a few hours and then again, and again, and again.  For a while we woke because of a persistent night cough, because someone had to go to the bathroom or needed a fresh diaper or had kicked off blankets and was cold.  But these days, we wake because of Needen.

Needen starts off crying in a normal, child-like way calling for Mama, but then lingers in a half-dream state, adamant and refusing any comfort (or reason).  We meet her a few times every night, and I think Ben might murder her.  A conversation with Needen might go like this (and, in fact, did go like this two nights ago):


whimpering, crying.
Mama!  I want my Mama!

I force myself out from the covers into the cold air.
Coming Eden.

Crying crying

I sit down next to her

Hold ME!!!!

I touch her.  She reels from my touch, screaming.  (Silas is on the top bunk)

Sh Sh Shhh, it's ok.

THE FIRE PIT!  I want a fire in the FIRE PIT!!!



Ok.  We can make a fire tomorrow.


Eden, it's the middle of the night.

Screaming, crying.  YOU SAID!
I want the FIRE PIT!!

More crying.
Hold me Mama.

I touch her.

NOOOOOO!  Screaming and squirming away from me.

And on it goes.
Oh Needen, please don't come here any more.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Crabby Mama

A lot of the games i play with my kids end up sounding really dumb once I say them aloud to another person or articulate them -- this will be one of those examples.

Today everyone started off on the wrong foot.  Or it's possible that only I did.  In any event, it felt like EVERYone was particularly crabby.  But when Silas screamed and cried and clung to my leg at drop off (unprecedented), I had a hunch it was because of my icy facade all morning.  And when Eden burst into tears more than three times crying, "YOU HURT MY FEELINGS!" I once again had a sense that I was the root of our distress.  And yet, awareness or not, the intolerance and impatience persisted, for hours.

Sometimes, when I am in a continually foul mood that I can't shake, we call the woman before us "crabby mama."  And when it's all gone on for WAY too long and it must stop, there is sometimes an urgent news flash (the kind that Kermit used to do) to announce that crabby mama, who has been crabbing and pinching all morning,  has left town and regular Mama has replaced her.  As silly as it sounds, somehow the public announcement really does chase her away.

Today was not a good day.

But the surprising saving grace, once crabby mama had officially been pronounced gone, was that my friend Joan and her family came for dinner.  Ben was at a work dinner and I hadn't gone to the grocery store, but I was determined to cook from what I had.  Originally I'd planned to run this afternoon because I'm pretty sure that's what I most needed -- endorphins -- but instead, I cooked.

There is something truly life-giving about working with my hands. I feel that when I art journal, when I write a poem, and when I make a meal for people I love.  Tonight, channeling myself into a dinner saved all of us.  Eden and Silas, once they had the vague sense that I was once again their ally and fan, played in the darkening cold yard for ages while I busily chopped and whisked:  Breaded lemon chicken with pasta, skillet carrots with onions and thyme, Ina's celery Parmesan salad, and Pam Boch's Apple cake.

Conversation was full and the kids squealed absolutely happily for hours.  Now at 8:08 everyone is asleep, and I, too, am already tucked into bed.  Whew.  Glad for people to sit at the table with.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

forget the kitchen

My kitchen has been dirty all day, and now I think I may never go back in.  In fact, I may just climb into my bed and never go anywhere again.  Doesn't that sound good on a chilly night, post daylight savings when the kitchen is piled high with large aluminum pans, giant strainer/mixing bowl/coffee carafe, piles of serving spoons, monster cans of pumpkin -- donations for park dinners that arrived before a system for storing them...

Since I started making park dinners in June, I haven't cooked as much at home -- my energy has shifted to  following the grocery store circulars and buying in bulk.  But today, on a grey early morning that quickly broke into pouring rain, I cooked.  While Ben and Eden were camping somewhere not far away, and as it turned out, in the car, my friend Kelly and her boys came over for warmth and breakfast.  Silas and I made eggs with Parmesan (my specialty) and banana-chocolate chip pancakes.  A small grapefruit from the market ended up pink and sweet, and later in the day I made grilled turkey-brie-arugula-and-pear post-camping sandwiches, and this evening, a huge amount of chicken tetrazzini.  I do love making food for friends who love food.

Now it is time for bed.  I can't imagine how breakfast and snack/lunch making/packing will happen in that kitchen tomorrow morning.  Maybe the Kitchen Fairy will swoop in tonight while I sleep...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Gusty Christmas Blowing In

I am sitting on my bed; the house is quiet.  Ben's in LA for the night for work.  Silas is tucked into bed with a fever and a throat so swollen I can see it just by peering into his mouth.  Eden, after probably pulling all the tissues out of the box and squeezing all the saline drops out of the bottle near her bed must now be asleep.  Even the dog next door is not barking.

We finished Halloween without too much fanfare -- the ninja and Ariel-turned-ladybug happily raced door-to-door with another ninja and a flower fairy, and all was well.  The two of them had decided ahead of time to trade their candy in for a toy, something I did not offer but a friend we know does.  They walked in from trick-or-treating, chose three pieces of candy each, and turned over their bags.  There wasn't much to do but comply so after they went to bed I rifled through the rest, made myself a stash (where are the mounds bars, by the way, are they extinct??) and then today bought them each a toy, of their dreams apparently, for $10.

Already today -- perhaps after having witnessed the mad rush of CVS to replace 6 ft skeletons with shiny-cheeked wreaths while I was filling a prescription --  I feel the hot breath of Christmas on my neck.  As every year, but perhaps a bit more in earnest this year, I am wondering what I will do differently to slow things down, to lean away from the compulsive consumption, to stand back from the perfection the season demands.  I have never used the word "perfection" to describe the weight of the season until tonight, but I think that's what it is, even driving the lengthy to-do lists.  This week the catalogs began rolling in full of beautiful sparkly houses, organic striped leggings, wooden washer and dryer toys, cranberry cocktails and chestnut stuffing -- the perfect gifts, decorations, tables, trees, parties, and traditions, all perfectly photographed, perfectly thoughtful, delicious, beautiful, hosted, and handmade.

The catch always when trying to regroup or clarify my vision before charging headlong toward December is that doing these things -- hand making things, decorating, baking, hosting, photographing the kids with Santa, buying presents, writing down wish lists -- is fun.  

And so I am left with my hands open in front of me holding the question of balance, a posture I hope to remember as I click through photos for Christmas cards and linger on etsy an hour too long.