Monday, December 26, 2016

When Idealized Days Get Real (Christmas)

One fun thing about being back in DC for Christmas is that we got to visit our old church.  On Christmas eve,  Jamie  said  it's especially bad "when things go wrong at Christmas because it shatters the perfection" and I had to laugh.  Ben and I -- I'm slowly realizing -- do not thrive at Christmas.

And when we do it badly -- shall I walk through the years?: sit in the living room in smoldering silence, livid, as we set up hot wheels for our four year old boy; show up at the family dinner table after a full blow marital-rocking conversation hardly able to breathe;  stand in the sunshine together putting up a tent to surprise the kids with fire coming out of our ears because we didn't coordinate our efforts -- the discordance feels harsher than on other days because Christmas is supposed to be ______________.

It's the problem of special days.  Even the best kind of days when we celebrate the most important things: special days are supposed to be special.  And the "supposed to be" leaves them riddled with pressure.

I used to call this the Snow Day Effect because every time the kids had a snow day, I'd ram into my idealized expectations of what the day should look like (outings to the monuments, art projects all together at the table), and the pressure killed it for me every time (though they generally were happy to do nothing but play around in the yard and drink hot chocolate).

At church on Christmas Eve, Jamie talked about the rats in the barn.  I'd never thought of rats before, but of course barns have them.  Mary's baby was born in a barn that smelled like a barn and had rats in it.

And before that, she'd had to travel nine months pregnant (for those of us who've been nine months pregnant, it's pretty uncomfortable) SITTING ON A DONKEY (laughably terrible).  And after however many days of that, when they finally arrived in town, every place was full; she, possibly cramping, sweating, starting contractions, literally had no where to labor.

Talk about a bad Christmas and thwarted expectations.  (I bet there was at least a little marital tension in the mix, too).

And yet, that's where this beautiful moment happened, in the middle of a dirty stable that smelled like cows, between two poor refugees:  God came.

I would never say I'm striving for perfection, but I do get pretty bent out of shape when my expectations are jolted.  Or when I can't live up to the pressure I've heaped on myself.  And certainly if there are rats in (or near) my room, or if my house (or anywhere near it) smells like sewage.  Or there aren't clean sheets, or even soft enough sheets where I'm sleeping.

Mary might have bitched and moaned through her whole nine months, as they traveled, when she crouched in dry brush to go to the bathroom unable to see her feet because her belly was so big, the days or day when they couldn't find anywhere to stop.  She may have cursed angrily during her labor that straw was poking her legs or there wasn't enough water.  But I'm guessing she didn't.

The Christmas story, itself, is about "perfection" with all of its expectations, shattering.
It's about how the perfection's actually been shattered all the time, despite how we decide to orchestrate our snow days.

Next year will I head into Christmas knowing Ben and I will collide and probably wrap presents angrily together?  Probably not.  But maybe for a second I'll remember that everything went "wrong" the first Christmas, and something about landing in the barn made Mary, the baby, the stars, the gathering of all those unexpected people, more beautiful.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Moana -- a Reminder

------------------warning: this is riddled with full blown spoilers (like the whole movie)------------------

This morning I heard a powerful sermon about the creation story, and one thing it reminded me of is the power of being named into being, or named back into being.  

Drawn by Lin-Manuel Miranda's music, my husband Ben's been set on our seeing Moana.  He tried to take us every day this week; we missed the start times, arrived after it was sold out, thought of it just as the kids melted down.  I casually suggested more than once that he take the kids without me, but no, for whatever reason, he wanted us all to go.  So finally today, we did. 

Though I liked Frozen well enough, I stopped hoping for an empowering Disney heroine after that --  Anna led the charge, sure, and sisterly love won out in the end, but her spunk and free spirit was undercut by her cutesy, beyond naive ways and her classic quickness to fall in love.  She was less than I’d hoped for my daughters.

Moana tips the tables.  The redemption is all over the place: -- SLIGHT SPOILERS -- she’s the “daughter of a chief” and a future chief rather than a princess; she makes much of her voyage alone; she gains courage from herself and her grandmother rather than the men in her life; she doesn’t fall in love with the ego-driven muscled demigod she’s with nor try to impress him ever—rare if not unheard of in a Disney film; and in the end she returns home to both of her parents.  There was much I reveled in.  What struck me most, though, was the revelation of the true self at the end of the film.

The terms "false self” and “true self" have been so utilized in the last decade that I'm rarely struck by their profundity anymore.  Yes, we have a false self, the Ego, that masks our wounds and parades around, loudly, distracting from our insecurities, and somewhere beneath that voice, is our quiet created true self that with healing, emerges more and more, engaging authentically and birthing our strengths.  

In the movie, as Moana follows her purpose, her singular task is to return the heart of the sea to Te Fiti, the goddess who created all life and then became an island, herself.  The most terrifying thing about returning the heart stone, though -- besides fierce adorable coconut pirates -- is the Lava Monster, a raging fire-throwing, she-beast.  

Tonight is the last night of Thanksgiving vacation and though we ate pie every day and got a Christmas tree (on the second attempt), we did have some lava-monster moments (the first attempt) over our five days at home. 

When the lava flares, we usually address it in one of two ways: hightail it outta there or fight lava with lava. Neither goes well.

Moana handles it differently.  In a turn of events -- MAJOR SPOILER ALERT -- Moana realizes that the lava monster is in fact Te Fiti, the goddess, raging without her heart, and without hesitating, Moana walks through the sea straight toward the monster who’s trying to kill her. 

When they face each other head on, instead of flinching, Moana leans into the creature's face, touches her forehead to forehead, and says, this isn’t who you are, this isn’t who you really are. Instantly, the monster’s lava flesh darkens to stone, and her flaming eyes close.  Moana leans in and replaces her heart.  Grasses and flowers burst to life along the monster’s charred black body and in seconds, she’s restored to the beautiful island goddess, vibrant green with mossy skin.  Her health radiates out into the sea, heals the “darkness” plaguing the islands and they all bloom again.  Te Fiti’s back to her true self. 

How often when my heart feels emptied – in large or small ways – do I, like Te Fiti, throw fistfuls of lava at anyone who comes near?  My kids would tell you it’s not rare.  What would happen, in our lava states, if someone came toward us, came forehead to forehead when we were trying to scare them off, looked in our flaming eyes, and reminded us: this is not who you are, not who you really are.  

Our hearts come back that way.

It’s a whole different kind of brave to walk into hate and speak a true word like Moana does.  
Like Te Fiti, we need others to remind us who we are so we can return to our selves as stunningly as she does at the end of the film.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Morning

It is 63 degrees in my house (I just turned the heat on), and I am in bed bundled in a sweater and under as many blankets as I could reach without getting up.  Silas -- bless him -- just delivered a cup of tea.

Out the window, the sky is brightening to cottony white, and on the tree that fills half the window, the lemons are finally yellowing.

Today is Thanksgiving.

Naturally, I am thinking about being thankful.  Study after study have shown gratitude is healthful and transformative (Forbes article,    Huffington Post , NPR, Ann Voskamp) -- and I've wondered about this.

It's easy for me to crank out a list:
clean running water
a house with thick walls
clean air
clothes that are warm and I get to choose
a marriage
healthy husband
healthy kids
siblings and parents I'd choose
safe school
safe streets
a car to drive
grocery stores
sunsets, how much the sky speaks
stunning physical beauty
road trips
teachers of all sorts
hearing my kids laugh
scent of brininess in the air

...I can keep this going for a long time.  I like brainstorming thankful lists.  When I can't sleep at night, I go through the alphabet and list as many things as I can for each letter that I'm thankful for:

and almost always fall asleep before F.

List as I may, though, I rarely feel impacted by the exercise, even when I try to deliberately be thankful in the midst of a funk, even after embracing Ann Voskamp's 1,000 gifts challenge (keep a running list of what you're thankful for all the way to 1,000 things; it transformed her) --  nothing's "happened."

I remember my mom telling me a story about walking down the bike path one day and being grateful for her feet.  As she walked she kept thinking about her feet -- the wonder of how they held her body, their lack of pain, the distance she could journey on them, what it would be like *not* to have feet or healthy feet, and she finally was in tears, grateful for her feet.

I think she was on to something.

Listing the things I'm thankful for verses steeping in thankfulness and *experiencing* it is different.  Every morning I have to wait for my tea bag to steep and turn my water into tea.  This takes time, which I'm realizing I seldom bring time to my thanks.

I'm also thinking about how the power of an address  -- eye contact, in undivided attention, speaking to someone personally.  It feel different when I'm thankful for my kids and when I take Eden's face in my hands and tell her how I'm thankful for her.  It's different to vaguely be thankful for the streaks of color across the sky and to thank the Creator for it, and stop there for a minute.

Today I probably won't pause much; I have a turkey trot to walk, coffee to drink with friends, fruits and vegetables to spray paint for the center pieces, parades and football to watch, and of course much to eat with people we love.  But, as I move from here to Christmas -- the wildly paced season of want and do and shop and give and make and -- and then into a new year, I'd like to steep more, turn to tea.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Morning After: the Election

Dear Nation,

You have chosen this.  As the map bled in solid swaths of red last night, you were speaking.  

It's hard to make my mouth say "we" -- "we the people," "we, Americans" -- this is the voice of "we"?

We have spoken.

Waking this morning in the dark, the echo across this vast country was almost audible: what now?

The United States just got out of the shower and is standing naked before the world.  We've been exposed: our (putting on my big girl pants to speak in "we") driving fear about people who are not white, our resistance to a salty strong woman, our willingness to usher Jr high crudeness into the While House, into the history books, to make a man who mocks and gropes and boasts President in front of our children.  We've chosen to disregard assault.  To disregard racism.  To toss international relations to the wind. 

What now?

As I heard my husband (who is not an early riser) pulling on clothes at 5AM for a stress-run, I asked half into my pillow, already feeling heavy and sickened, if it was really true.  Yes.  The disorientation of a slow rumbling  earthquake, the shock of the ground itself moving. So many structures we've all called safe -- will they hold?

I am white.  I have a steady salary.  I can pay rent and have a secure place to live.  I was born a US citizen.  What did it feel like to wake up this morning as a person of color, as an immigrant, as a lesbian or transgender, as someone experiencing homelessness?    

What now?

Many of us spoke yesterday at the polls and our voices didn't carry.  So what do we do with those voices now?  How do we keep speaking without cursing?  I know today brings choice: the choice to spit anger at everyone because I feel angry.  The choice to blame and blame and blame and blame the primarily white, uneducated men of our country, to blame parties, to blame white women, to blame our entertainment industry for normalizing the vulgar, to blame Hilary for being unlikeable, for lying.  To blame our country for lacking leadership.  The blaming list could be long.  Then there's the choice to despair.  To fear.  To project, predict, and become paralyzed.  There's the choice to leave the country -- the jokes about going to Canada are only half in jest.  There's the choice to write off the whole system -- the party we don't like, the candidate we didn't vote for, the people we disagree with -- and to wash our hands of it all and check out.

But -- as true as any of that is -- it won't help.

I grew up at a Quaker school, and the song we always sang was the Shaker song "Simple Gifts." I haven't thought about that for a long time, but this morning, it's in my head.  I had a friend in college who interpreted the end in a new way: "to turn, turn will be our delight, til by turning, turning we come 'round right."  She used the words as a reminder to turn toward when our impulse is to wall up and turn away.  It's been a good reminder throughout marriage.  And what am I if not also married to this country?  So this morning, I have no answers, but can sit with the query, as Quakers would call it, of how to turn toward.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd, 
  To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight, 
  Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

I Can Do Whatever I Want

These days, I collapse by 10 every night.  And even with such faithful sleeping, I still hit a midday lull around 2PM and can hardly get through the hour.  I think this has to do with -- well, now that I'm writing, many things, like the adrenaline of the first months of school waring off, and all the germs the kids bring home and smear around the house-- the shift in seasons and daylight.  Mornings are colder and darker, and we're entering the time of year when our rhythms naturally turn inward (yes, even here in sunny California).  In any event, every night, utterly exhausted or not, I go to bed because I have to -- tired Bronwen is not a force to be reckoned with (particularly if you are under 5' tall) -- because rallying the kids out of bed, off to school, through afternoon activities, dinner and back into bed's been burning my emotional energy more than usual; exhaustion's not an option.

I didn't realize how constrictive and rigid this has felt until tonight when I pressed "next" at the end of Gilmore Girls (a pleasure I missed earlier in life) as many times as I wanted.  Ben's out of town and for hours I've been sitting on the couch working on the photo calendar I make every year for my family (because now it's November -?), eating rice krispies and burning through season 3.  Now it's nearly 1:30 in the morning, and I'm getting a bit cross eyed, but it's nice to remember I can do this when I want.  I wasn't sure there for a minute.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Last week this happened:

Many things to be thankful for: I was driving alone; I walked away without injuries; no one in the other cars was injured; airbags work; though I was on the freeway, I didn't swerve into another lane of fast traffic; car insurance covers a multitude -- the list is long and has grown through the week.

I was warned that my body could lock up after a few days, that my neck pain would get worse, that I should take it easy even if I feel well, that I might panic on the freeway the next time.  Thankfully, none of that happened; my neck and back pain lessened and my shock wore off with each day.  But what did happen is that almost a week later, new bruises appeared on my feet, ankles and legs.  

Looking at them -- finally seeing the reasons I'd been sore in those places -- I thought about how pain often works that way: we feel bad before we see why, or we know only part of why we hurt.

Silas downloaded a program on my computer called Tabby Cats: every time I open a new tab, a little round cartoon cat sits blinking at me with some ridiculous name underneath like "Scandalous Foof" or "Spicy Snowglobe," or "Froofy Sappling" or "Wise Beggar" (I haven't thought about how weird this is until right now).  Just now, my cat was named "Smoochy Rager."

It's funny to mash random adjectives and nouns together, but it's chaotic to feel them collide: one minute we're Smoochy, the next we're Rager, and we didn't see the trip wire hiding between the two.
This week I found the wire, and it had to do with the bruises.  Not the car accident bruises, but the other ones.

Sara, my sister-in-law, visited last weekend, and especially by the last day, it was like home: we sat on the floor, talked, moved furniture around, talked, thrift shopped, dreamed about her moving here, ate pho, talked.

Being together apparently jostled a cork that had been neatly holding inside me.  The day after she left, I sat planning my Monday and thought, "then Maeve and I will go to my mom's house --" JOLT -- 3000 miles away -- my first loss-impulse.  A few days later, the slushy fear and aimlessness of anchoring new lives here geysered up and out for the first time since moving.

It was like the bruises coming to the skin.

I felt better seeing them.  They sorted what hurt and what didn't, and reminded me why.  The bruises told me my story again.

Specifics help quiet the overwhelm -- and, it turns out, reveal the trip wire between the nouns and the adjectives.  So maybe now I can be just Smoochy or just Rager (unfortunately that's not solved), rather than both at the same time.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Back to the Future Backfire

When Silas was four, I wouldn't let him watch all of the Thomas the Train episodes because the trains often were too worried or scared and -- you know -- the emotional intensity.

> enter third child <

Last Friday night I decided it was FINALLY time to watch Back to the Future for movie night -- I've been waiting forever.  Ordinarily, I check Common Sense Media , but I know Back to the Future and doing the math figured I'd certainly watched it multiple times by their ages.
(not perfect math).

Fact: I haven't actually seen the movie in decades and my memories of it are only beyond awesome (minus the Biff-in-the-car scene at the dance, which, planning ahead, I'd thought would present a great opportunity to talk about saying no as a woman and not waiting for a man to come to the rescue.  By the way -- it doesn't present that opportunity).

So we all settled on the couch with bowls of popcorn and a neighbor, even Maeve was squeezed in with us to watch the movie we'd talked about for so long and that Ben and I had dressed up as last Halloween:


(we are the Delorean if you can't tell, with our doors opened)

Let's be clear, the flux capacitor, the story line, the life preserver, "Calvin Klein" and the skateboarding are beyond excellent.  And then there's the language.  Who remembers the language?  Turns out there's a lot of it -- pretty much every few sentences.  At one point, Maeve paused and in a loud voice, with perfect annunciation, asked:
what did he say?  It sounded like BUTT.  HEAD.
Silas squeezed my arm so hard and later asked me,
Mom, why didn't you put her to bed?
(vaguely) I did before it was over, didn't I? 
NO.  She watched the WHOLE things.  Why didn't you take her out?
Silas... I have no idea!  It must have been because I didn't want to miss any of the movie.

You're weird, mom.

I also failed to think through how the unprecedented violence of Doc getting shot with an uzi, the angry shooting terrorists (that carry a different weight these days) or the impact of the car scene, which I did. not. fast.forward. for. no. apparent. reason. would affect my older daughter in particular.

SO, all in all it wasn't my best choice for movie night.  Not to mention that every time my kids see a VW bus (which now is ALL the time), they yell Look!  A terrorist van!!
I have tried to shut this down...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Seasons and how the body talks

I just listened to a podcast (twice) about seasons.  It's worth a listen.

He starts by talking about how we're disconnected from the natural rhythm of light and lightlessness, seasons -- all of the natural world's limitations.  When it's dark, we flip the light switch.  When it's hot, we blast the AC.  We can have it all without too much disruption.

So when there is no light or we do feel cold or it is not the season for peaches, we feel a sense of outrage or injustice (and go to Whole Foods and buy some winter peaches from South America).

Emotionally this is true, also.  I expect  >>pleasantness<<  as a general state.  Not necessary ease, but --- yeah, probably ease -- or at least inconveniences that I can quickly resolve.

Even though the more I live, the more I see how mythical this "norm" is -- my friend's 9 day old's battling with open heart surgery right this minute -- and rationally disregard it, deep down, I still cling to that expectation.

I don't want to feel uncomfortable.
I don't want to be off balance.
I don't want to stand with one season ended (abruptly) and another not yet given shape.
I don't want darkness without the switch to the overhead light.

But here I am.

Last September I unexpectedly plunged into sadness about school starting, and the gloom hung on for a long time.  For weeks I fought it -- This is just normal rhythm -- kids go to school.  Shake it off and move on.  They grow up.  Your job is to let them go -- get over it.  And even with my "pep talks" (judgment), I couldn't sleep, my back ached, my stomach hurt -- low grade discomfort for "no good reason."  Bell talks about how when we don't let ourselves feel, transitions lodge their losses in our bodies, and the grief (whether we think it's "valid" or not) comes out one way or another.

My body is doing a lot of talking right now.  Not just the insatiable craving for bowls of comfort-food-cereal every night:

-This morning Eden found my keys in the lock of the front door where they'd hung all night for anyone who might want to come in
-I forgot Maeve's school lunch -- twice, though it was packed
-I drove Silas and walked him in to an art class that actually starts in October
-Many craigstlist guffaws including driving all the way to a person's house who was selling something entirely different than I'd thought.
- I parked my car several times and left it running (and it's not a silent prius)
-Not even worth going into the mixed up texts I sent to a poor college student who was (and I do say was) a possible babysitter
on and on...

And my dreams have been wild.  Many take place in my childhood neighborhood.  In a matter of seconds I am 14, 20, a newlywed, a mother.  Ben's mother, who died six years ago, has made two appearances.  I've dreamt entire movies full of strangers.

Though I have -- thank God -- good friends and company here who are softening the transition, apparently a large part of my brain is preoccupied and reckoning with identity and all that's in between: the liminal space, once again.

 I wrote about the liminal on the plane ride here and was surprised to find Bell address it also.

liminal: occupying a position at, or on both sides of, of a boundary or threshold.

Yesterday our natural season changed from summer to autumn.  Here in CA, nothing visible happened, as I know nothing visible happened in DC either, or much of anywhere.  But the season shifted nonetheless, and imperceptibly, the physical world will follow until we're squarely in fall.  I'm hoping for the courage to stay standing with feet on both sides of the threshold until both seasons come into focus.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Month One

What may be most indicative of life as I blog (or don't), are the silences.  Here it has been 21 days since I last wrote and nearly a month since we climbed aboard American Air and flew here to live.

We lived the hotel life.
We glamped for a week in an empty house full of neighbors' blankets and aerobeds.
We were surprised by how good it was to be within the walls of our own house, even with cricked necks and only four plastic spoons we kept washing, and even still, when we laid first day of school outfits on the bare floors.  I don't think I would have been so ready for the truck or the work of settling without that bare week.  And I was ready.

But the work!  Settling, unpacking, organizing, building (Ben has ben building), and still, things are only almost-there.  There are several piles that I cannot make budge; there's just no place to put the cords, the old tape recorder, the library book from the DC library that's overdue, the magnets (no magnetic surfaces) or all the printed photographs.

I half wonder why on earth we own things.  There's something beyond wise (and that also makes me feel homesick...) in the ancient bedouin lifestyle.
We are so encumbered by the junk we lug with us and insist on keeping and carrying.
And yet, each of the things is imbued with meaning, memory, or beauty and we like nesting with them.  But really...

It took me two weeks of being here before I woke up teary and missing family.
It took 18 days before I opened my journal and forced myself to name "feeling words."

It's strange, like so many periods of life are, to be brimming with such internal dichotomy: on the one hand *happiness* to be back here in this sunny, salt-smelling beauty, with friends we love in a life we'd firmly said goodbye to and suddenly have back (also quite unreal).  On the other hand, we are far from home, cousins, and all the expectations our year held.

I'm wondering how to be true to feeling both full and gutted at the same time -- is it a choice, which we focus on?  Is it denial to charge past the sadness?  Is it wallowing to breathe it in?  The other night, my friend Danny reminded me there has to be room for it all -- to allow whatever the moment holds.  Apparently this is hard for me beyond the concept.

September has begun and here in the middle, all the kids sniffling and sneezing with fresh colds.  Maeve's had a fever -- again -- for days, and I, since the moment we left home, continue to teeter right on the brink of well, pounding vitamin C.   This steady care taking has added to the (gift of?) dullness that's glazed over all the feelings.

This morning, sick-ish Maeve and I have made a batch of mediocre gluten free chocolate chip cookies (yet another attempt to feed the deep and hungry in me that won't be sated with food), and now I've sent Maeve to watch Octonauts, so I can finish spray painting a doll bed for her birthday tomorrow and write here.  Between coats of pale pink paint (now all over my hands and the grass), I'm sitting here with the computer on my lap and a stack of papers from back to school night that all require either reflective thinking about a child or check writing, neither of which I feel like doing.

Maeve just started school, so soon -- soon! -- I will move into a bit of rhythm.  Until then -- on y va!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Just Keep Swimming

We are in California.
We moved here two days ago.
We live here now -- though at a hotel, in a rental car, and out of suitcases.

Everyone is handling this differently: one child has had a fever for four nights and is whining and understands nothing, really, about this change, though she may be the most anxious about our rootlessness and the speed of our move.

Another feels all the feelings, writing letters peppered with phrases like, "I feel uneasy about the move, "I miss you So much -- I can't live like this!" (where did she learn that?), and "I feel like a crumpled piece of paper," - ! - while simultaneously building forts with friends and riding a hover board down the street, beaming with the fun of it.  This one wants lots of reassuring touch; they all do.

The 3rd child is on the uber-happy, uber-social track, dying to race around and be with everyone at once.  He is hard to keep up with  -- both the pep and intensity.  Though there's lots of sadness in him, he won't touch it yet, though he, too, wants to be hugged constantly.  (yes -- we all do).

This will be and be and be an adjustment.  Ben starts his new job today and is holding stress in his body, too, sleeping it off now -- the tension of end-of-quarter-two-job-overlap and the launch of all the exciting newness and responsibility tomorrow.  He, too, is strung in the in between of crumpled suitcased-work clothes and no car to drive here yet.

We will all do.  We are all doing.

I've been trying not to articulate how I feel in my head for fear of a negative phrase sticking on repeat (I'm good at that).  And as Ben and I keep talking about, there is no summary or phrase to do justice to our sudden shift.  For now it all still seems surreal.  Though I'm usually a processor, it's not time for me to dwell on the feelings or even unfold them yet; "just keep swimming, just keep swimming." I usually laugh at Dory for this, but realize she's right; it's what I need to do, keep swimming where I am, feel the water, the burn of muscle, keep pushing through the waves.

The sermon today said cynicism weakens us and breeds bitterness -- a good word for me right now; in moments of feeling sorry for myself (or in crisis), it's easy to take little delicious lollipop licks of that negativity.   Instead choose gratitude, constantly and pro-actively.  God knows all about this -- keep looking.

And instead of isolation -- no one understands this, sigh -- choose relationships.

Go, keep showing up.

(and therein ends tonight's pep talk to myself)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

On the Move

Maeve was born on the autumn equinox, the day when summer turned to fall, and almost at the exact hour that late morning.  That was the day I learned the word liminal:

liminal; adj.

1. of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process

2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, of a boundary or threshold 

Her birth seemed to represent the word beautifully as she ushered us into a new life, our first baby in DC, a family of five when we thought we’d be four, a sweet baby of summer heat and fall depth.  It suits her.

Today we fill a different liminal space.  The five of us are on a plane flying to Phoenix, where we’ll pick up our second plane and arrive in CA to begin life again.  Do we begin life again?  Or just continue life in a different setting.  Funny how a change in setting does re-set us…

As of this morning, we have officially moved from DC.  But still we are neither here nor there.  Our DC house is boxed up but not yet emptied – we didn’t get to see it hollowed out.  In two quick days, it ceased being our home, even though it’s held us so snugly these four years.  Our rental in CA is set up but still in possession of another renter (long story), and we are operating on good-faith that he will move out so we have a place to stay (though no furniture for 8 more days).

For who knows how long we will each hover in this liminal space as our rhythms shift from summer to school, from east to west, from home to new home. 

Last night, when Annemarie and I sat on my parents’ porch swing saying our goodbyes, I tried to explain what this week has been like. In 18 days we went from a settled life in DC to sitting on this plane: everything we own packed, 10 bulging bags checked below us, and in our wake, a week of excruciating goodbyes – which felt half-pretend, like we were acting in a play -- and a zillion tasks cleaning/purging/packing/sorting/repairing/coordinating/deciding/leaving.

I have never felt such holistic exhaustion. 

Maeve has had a fever for three nights, and we have all moved through storms of  emotion that change on a dime.  We will have to keep allowing each other to do this.

Adventure.  That’s what I keep telling myself. 

All of the attachments are hard, though: how houses become dear friends, how routines become comfort, how people become anchors, and seasons with their weather, lead us through.

New adventures.  We will follow. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Move

I am sitting in my bed eating chocolate ice cream.

Somehow it is 7:26 and my eyes can hardly stay open.  The exhaustion is beyond.

Last Tuesday, Ben was offered a job and we decided -- after ALL of this -- we are moving to California.  And moving fast.  In all, the turnaround will be just under three weeks.  We are at eight days and counting...

When I first found out, I felt like Kristen Bell when Dax brought her a sloth.  I wasn't in the fetal position, but the hysterical laughing-sobbing-sobbing erupting from my face was close.  And went on for at least 45 minutes in front of my mom, sister, brother and sister-in-law.  Ben had to do the talking.  The turn of events!  The sudden monstrous loss, and gear-jamming-shift, after all the processing and deciding NOT to go to California!  About face.

So we've changed directions.

Monday and Tuesday Ben and I flew out to find a place to live.  We ate amazing tacos, touched base with grounding people, and left still unsure of where we'll live or how we'll register our kids for school.  The rental we found is currently being rented from guests from Friday Night Lights who've leased the place to get their kid into high school football but want to break the lease (in time for us to register for school???)  Drama.

But either way, we'll be there in less than two weeks.  I've heaped a pile of packed trash bags in the living room full of stuff to give away.  The kitchen counter is lined with bottles and cans from the pantry.  There is so much to order, purge, and reorder in a week and a half.

And the exhaustion -- I can't stop talking about the exhaustion because it's borderline dangerous for driving, it's in every bone.  I can't tell if it's emotional or physical or intellectual, my brain frying over it all, or all three.

SO, we are going.  Stay tuned!


Friday, July 08, 2016


My whole life I've had a love-hate relationship with eggs -- I'll eat them every day and then suddenly can't imagine putting a bite of one in my mouth without gagging.  Maybe this comes from laziness, forgetting how to make a fried egg crispy or scrambled eggs soft with chives, and instead eating hurried rubbery things.

Summer is all about the mouth -- peaches, blackberries, figs, ripe avocados, tangy tomatoes, mmmmmm.  I'm putting it all on toast, often the thin dense bavarian bread, thinly sliced mozzarella or goat cheese with eggs on top or sliced peaces, figs and a drizzle of balsamic, smashed avocado with a heap of tomatoes on top.  The peaches are like eating pie for breakfast (or lunch or snack).

When we were with Kaia Joye in CA, two mornings in a row we made these Cornmeal griddle cakes from Smitten Kitchen, and then I made them once more (because why buy a giant bag of cornmeal on vacation if not to keep making pancakes).  They, too, taste like summer -- put in any fruit you have.

     from Smitten Kitchen, June 2015

¾ c flour
¾ c cornmeal
2 T sugar
½ t salt
½ t baking powder
½ t baking soda

3 T butter melted
1 c buttermilk
2 eggs
diced strawberries (or peaches or raspberries or any combo)

Mix dry.  Mix wet.  Combine and stir in fruit.  Melt butter (key step) in skillet over medium heat (or even medium low so they cook through the middle) and patiently let them brown, then flip, cook, and eat. 

A little whipped cream isn’t bad on these (or a tower of whipped cream if you're my children), or sliced bananas and maple syrup -- my fave pancake topping.

Being in Costa Mesa and Thoughts on "Home"

I've Maeve-d my back.
Maeve who cries and whines and dissolves because she's 3 1/2 and we've kept her up, pushed her through full days surrounded by all sorts of people who love her, whom she remembers nothing about, has had some needs.

In usual life, I refuse to pick her up -- too big, too heavy, hands full.
But on vacation, especially standing in the spaces where my other stretched-tall people were babies, I have been hoisting and hauling, even throwing her toward the sky.
And my back doesn't like it.

After I sit here a bit longer -- out on the patio watching the sky orange at the horizon behind the silhouetted palm trees -- I will take some advil and lie on the hard floor.

Growing up, I remember my mom lying on the floor a lot.
Even as an adult, I'd walk into the house and find her in some room -- could be any room -- lying on the hard floor.
This could have been alarming but in our house it was just normal.  Hi mom, and we'd keep going.
I wonder if she'd been lifting people for a decade too ...

Our California trip continues to unfold.  At first the reality that we aren't moving here felt harsh, too bright, as we walked down our old streets.  But as we've been here, the glare has softened, and instead what I feel is a deep gratitude for this place, these people.  I am full, and it feels ok now that we're going to fly east and stay there back to, as Maeve keeps calling it, our house with my little red bed and your ban (van).

Home.  It's a funny thing -- so concrete and also elusive, a feeling more than place, sometimes.  Since I was a little girl I've loved home; I seem constantly both to pine for it and to make it.  I attach to where I am and, even in small ways, set up shop.  I like the facets of place: the stories house-walls hold, the fact that others have lived in the same rooms, the names of flora and fauna, the people who've always been here, the smells that become embroidered with that singular time.

Watching Silas, I think he has a bit of this home-thing, too, imbuing places with meaning and shaping himself out of them.  This trip he keeps surprising me: Mom, that’s the park where Eden threw up on the tire swing. Isn't that the Starbucks where we used to egg sandwiches on the way to Disneyland?  That’s where the car ran a red light and almost hit me when we were walking home from school.
He's remembering with me.

On the way home from the beach yesterday, I told him something and he said, Mom, I was raised here.  I know that. 

Raised here, his first six years.  I guess when you're 10, all the memories you have of being in preschool and kindergarten feel like childhood.  So many more stories to emerge.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Parenting Fail(s)

This spring I took a parenting class that challenged how I praise my kids, pushed the fact that I can't actually make another person do something but can set my own limits, encouraged me to look for the always-present logical consequences, and taught compassion and calm.  Each week I left thirsty for more.  

But then the class ended.  And I found myself still out here in the wilderness with my three year old. 

Three year olds are undoubtedly the very best people -- full of made up songs, conversations with invisible people and monsters, imagination and affection -- and the very worst people-- screaming bloody-murder on a dime, obstinate and insistent, and still prone to throwing down a full-body tantrum anywhere. 

I know it's easy to think well just don't let them behave that way.   That sounds reasonable, even wise and weathered, but please, come drive with me in the car when the fury-seat-kicking starts, when pulling over to sit said seat-kicker on a hot curb while traffic roars by isn't an option because we actually have to arrive some place, and give me some on-the-spot creative ideas, some logical consequences for the attitude going down because I've got nothing.

What's most sobering/shocking/troubling is that it turns out I rarely ever think of a single logical consequence on the spot.  

You kick the seat again and I'll cut off your legs!
You scream for that pacifier again, and I'll flush it down the toilet!
(logical -- the screaming is waaaay too loud)
You hit your sister?  -- SMACK -- we do not hit!

Oh help me.

I'd like to think this is all summer's fault, or traveling's, or the staying-in-someone-else's-house-while-on-vacation's, but I'm pretty sure I just suck at the compassionate calm and at doling out logical consequences.  

Instead, as instantaneously as the three year old's tantrum, I lose my reasonable mind, watch it go, and am left with crazy-person-reactive-Bronwen who has smoke coming from her ears.  Child psychology people call this all sorts of things, "flipping your lid" or moving into "the reptilian brain" -- the phenomenon that happens when the prefrontal cortex, mecca of rational thought, is bypassed by the primitive brain and we are reduced to survival reactivity.  

It's pretty much the place we want never to parent from.  And pretty much the place I'm conducting business from, vacation or not.  

The only logical consequence I can see is taking off for Mexico or shipping the smallest one there.  Any other ideas? 

Vacation: California Eating

We are in Southern California for two weeks.  We planned the trip months ago, and it wildly changed shapes as we anticipated moving: first a vacation, then a shorter house-hunting/buying trip, then back to a full two-week vacation -- and here we are. 

Ben and I each have three siblings, and in the first few days of this trip, through funny timings, we saw four of those six, and the one boyfriend, two spouses, and ten children that go with them, along with good high school friends.  And what I realize most -- again -- is that "home" is all about the people.

Today the bulk of our local friends will trickle back into town from various vacations, and we will meet them with tacos in the yard and fireworks.

I’m aiming to eat tacos at least every day, if not most meals, while I’m here.

Last night we made a flank steak with chimichurri (heavy on the cilantro), Bon Appetit’s charred corn salad, and a green salad with avocado.  Throw all that in a tortilla and it’s tacos, again!  This Chimichurri is great on any meat as a marinade or a sauce, on bruschetta, on vegetables, even from a fork.

KJ's Chimichurri Sauce
     adapted from bon appétit, makes about 2 cups


1/2 cup red wine vinegar (we didn’t have this so improvised with cider and a splash of balsamic – red best if you have it)
1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more
3-4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 Fresno chile or red jalapeño, finely chopped – optional.  adjust the heat to taste
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro – or more, these proportions are flexible!
1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


Combine vinegar, 1 tsp. salt, garlic, shallot, and chile in bowl and let stand 10 min. Stir in cilantro and parsley. Using a fork, whisk in oil. Season with salt. 
Use as sauce or marinade. 

Charred and Raw Corn with Chile and Cheese
       Bon Appetit , July 2014

This corn salad is Mexican street corn -- charred and sweet, salty with the tang of lime and chiles -- but tidier on the fingers and cheeks.  Think one ear of corn per person and adjust proportions accordingly. 


4 ears corn 
1 shallot, sliced thinly
½ red chile (holland or fresno) sliced -- can use jalapeno etc. but red brightens the dish 
¼ cup lime juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 T vegetable or olive oil, divided
2 oz. queso fresco or cotija, crumbled
¼ cup cilantro, chopped 


Turn grill on medium heat.  
Cut kernels off 1 cob and toss them with shallot, chile, and lime juice in a large bowl; 
season with S&P and set aside.
Brush remaining ears of corn with 2 T oil and grill, turning, until very tender and charred (about 10–12 minutes).  Let cool.
Cut kernels from cobs and add to reserved corn mixture along with cheese, cilantro, and remaining 2 Tbsp. oil. Toss to combine; season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Outcome

The 17 days of waiting turned into five and a half weeks.

I have been a one note Nellie.  I couldn't imagine sitting down to write anything besides the sentence: I THINK WE ARE MOVING TO CALIFORNIA.

My brain's been humming this sentence for weeks.  Sometimes it bounced the words like a ball again and again and again.  Sometimes it spoke through an overwhelming tangle of logistics.  Sometimes it whispered over an achy pressure in my chest.  Sometimes it nearly sang them with excitement.  But never, night nor day these weeks, has my brain been quiet.

In fact, I think I've been operating with about 7% of my attention; I've left my keys everywhere; lost my wallet incessantly; lost my train of thought mid-sentence, mid-thought, mid-drive.

I thought we'd know for sure after a week and a half.  Then by the following Friday.  Then, definitely, by the next.  Then surely before the last week of school, so the kids could prepare and say their goodbyes.  But we didn't.

Excruciating, really, is the word for all that wondering.

What the process gave us was weeks of conversation.  A lot comes up when you re-imagine life together.  (thanks Imago for some tools).  It's not easy to be the adults.  This decision, in particular, felt far beyond me -- the career questions, where to raise our kids -- how to know what's "best"?  A friend called it weighting between "a good and a good."  It was that, which may have made the choice harder.

After weighing, waiting, praying for the decision to be clear, we decided not to move.

We're slowly settling into this fact.  I've stopped waking up at 4AM and got rid of the moving boxes I've been harboring in the shed (I picked up at least 70 boxes from the side of the road impromptu, had to fold down all the seats in the car and put Eden up front, telling her, you just never know when you'll need a box.  She agreed and didn't question me).  We're no longer house hunting online.

There's a bittersweet side to it, some grieving that feels similar to a miscarriage, the slow revelation of imagined things that now won't be.

AND there is relief:  Silas will be here for his last year of elementary school, patrolling the kindergartners on the bus, and Eden will carry on with her sweet friends.  Maeve will return to her happy school, and Ben and I will snatch daytime dates because he'll still be working from home.  Family will remain up the street, around the beltway, on the same coast; we aren't leaving.

It's done.  We made a decision like mature adults (surprising every time!) and picked a good.  When we were still in limbo Ben said, "I know there'll be regrets either way, so once I decide, I can't look back; I have to be all in."  He's a smart man, that one.

Onward and upward!


The Waiting and The Salad

I don't know if I will ever publish this entry.  That's what I've been waiting to know.

For 17 days we've been wondering if we will move to California.  A potential job came up, with lots of contingencies.  As of yesterday, it's confirmed that there is indeed, a position wide open and waiting, vaguely defined, possibly perfect.

Waiting is excruciating: a tightness in the chest, a knotted stomach.  I feel like I am moving in a huge marshmallow suit, bulky, slow and absurdly distracted.  I lose my keys at least three times a day.  I cannot think in a straight line or retrace my steps.  I find myself so deep in thought that when a kid asks me a question, it takes me a beat to resurface.

I won't even talk emotions:  Imagine the graph on the machine that charts contractions; they chart similarly to that.

Tonight might be the night we will decide to move our family back across the country.

We've both been dazed, elated, paralyzed, devastated at the thought of it.  Yet, as we talk about it, there does seem to be a certain order to it, a deep richness of these last four years that speaks to us like allowance.

I can see Ben out the window right now pacing the yard on the phone -- one of the phone calls that will determine our next step.

I thought he would get this phone call seven hours ago.  S e v e n.
So I've taken a lot of deep breaths.

To keep from pounding Ben with questions or tackling him, I'm chopping.
This salad, it turns out, is a good one for waiting.  For making the hands useful.  And for eating later on (better than the Cheetos I've been having this week...)

Early Summer Brown Rice Salad 
                 Adapted from Bon Appetit's Black Rice Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

This salad is easy to tailor to whatever you have on hand -- any grain (black rice, barley, millet, quinoa etc), any summer veggies (grilled zucchini would be great, blanched asparagus, fresh peas, sugar snaps).  For the dressing, the original recipe calls for lemon and white wine vinegar, but you can use any acid -- red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, white balsamic (my new favorite on tomatoes with salt) etc.

1 part olive oil
3/4 part acid (see note)
bit honey or agave (1/8 part and then taste)
a good bit of salt

cooked and cooled brown or black rice
grape tomatoes, halved
red pepper, chopped
scallions (4+)
edamame, shelled
green beans, blanched and in bite-sized pieces

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Last week of school and a poem

It's the last week of school -- finally and suddenly.

I feel like I've tumbled through the weeks since getting back from VCCA and am just coming out of that chain of somersaults, flung onto the grass, the whole blue sky and arc of ancient tree branches spinning overhead.

It's mid-June.

Eden has turned 8, though somewhere deep inside my brain insists on her being 5 still, or even 3.

Ben and I've been in a period of waiting -- holding up the "big rocks," as we've referred to them, and taking stock.  There's nothing quite like waiting; it's consuming and tiring, and brings life into sharp relief.

Swim team has begun.

The woods are blooming with honeysuckle and the air smells sweeter than it has all spring, green and grassy and new.

Summer weather has been shy, poking up its head after a literal month of May rain.  There are still hardly fireflies, and today is our third day in a row of breezy dry California weather.

Below is a poem by Bob Hicok (I love him).  The tumbling days echo these months, my seeds of wondering, relief of being a part of humanity in all these days and aches and joys.

Ode to ongoing
    by Bob Hicok

People are having babies.  Hoisting their children
to tree limbs on their backs and tying their shoes.
Telling what the numerator is and why not
to eat one's boogers or not publicly
pee if at all possible to pee in private.
People are mixing their genes after wine
in romantic alleys and London hotels after crossing
a famous bridge.  Trying to save for college
and not hit their children like they were hit
and not hit their children differently
than they were hit and failing and succeeding.
People are singing to wombs and playing the Goldberg
variations to fetuses who'll love Glenn Gould
without knowing who Glenn Gould is.  I'm driving
along or painting a board or wondering
if we love animals because we can't talk with them
more intimately than we can't talk with God
and the whole time there's this background hum
of sex and devotion and fear, people telling
good-night stories or leaving their babies
in dumpsters but mostly working hard
to feed the future what it needs to grow strong
and prefer sweet over sour, consonance
to dissonance, to be the only creatures who notice
the stars or at least use them metaphorically
to go on and on about the longing we harbor
in such tiny spaces relative to the extent
of our dread that we're in this alone.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Transitions Again: Post-Residency, Summer, Sweet 16

It's been hard to know how to summarize my time away or what it's been like to be home.  In talking about VCCA, there is little I can say without glowing, literally and shamelessly.

Everything about the time was affirming from the hours I spent writing, to the hikes through the woods, the eggshells I found under a nest, the community of people working there, the conversations over meals, the visual art that inspired me so utterly, meals prepared and dishes cleaned magically, waking to the smell of coffee, conversations over cucumber vodka tonics, living life so planted in the present.  It's a gushy report.

I didn't miss anyone for one minute while I was gone -- a gift! -- and then surprisingly found tears spurt from my eyes the instant I saw Eden waving and jumping in the yard as I drove up.

Returning coincided with our college babysitters leaving for premature summer and my free solo time vanishing.  I have written no poems since I've been back, and for a couple of weeks, I internally rebelled about life not being my own and stomped around inside my body.  I pined for mornings in the woods of Virginia and full days alone at my desk.  Slowly, in our month of Seattle-like rain, I recovered and resettled.   Now it's California-beautiful out, the days drenched in green.

So, here we are: re-entry survived and tasting summer.

The kids began swim team this week, which means nights at the pool, wet towels and suits flung over the back fence, showers in the locker rooms (the cleanest the kids ever are!) and dinners wrapped in tin foil.  We're in the weeks when summer laps over the final weeks of school and everything becomes a little delicious.

Our marriage turns 16 this weekend, and, appropriately, it does feel like we're learning to drive.  We've been having hours of conversation about life, evaluating where we are, how we're living -- sifting and shaking, naming our priorities --  the "big rocks" of our marriage and family, as Annemarie calls them, the non-negotiables.  It's surprising when we put voice to things, which rocks are small, which are large, which take up a lot of space but actually aren't even rock at all.

After some earthquakes at the core, I think we are finding our rocks.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Conversation with Maeve (age 3 1/2)

Maeve appeared in the kitchen this afternoon smiling breezily and said, When are we going to die? Still the big smile.

When are we going to die?


Oh.  Probably not for a long time. 
I swallowed the probably part but said it.

A long time?

Yeah, probably when we get really old. 

Really old like... four?

No, more, old like 100.

100!  Woah, 100.  that's a big number.  

And then she danced out.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Being Here

I am four nights into my two week residency.  The chaos of the first morning resolved (and I troubleshooted -- troubleshot? -- my way to fixing the printer even!).  

So much is different than I expected.  I've been sleeping wildly, wakeful and restless in my own narrow bed.  I've flipped the light on at 3:30 and at 5 -- read and tossed and made tea.

During the days, I'm surprised by how easy it is to be here, how quickly I move through time sitting at my desk, paced by meeting the group for meals, the clack of the train going by, the clutter of blue jays, cardinals and mourning doves at the feeder beyond my window.

Despite what I'd planned (I thought just letters, videos, messages -- no direct contact would be best and most settling), I've facetimed with the kids every day, and even when they've dissolved into tears at the end of the call, I've stayed surprisingly intact.

I wonder what it will all feel like at this time next week?  So far the practice has been simply being where I am, in this hour, in this studio.  And the time passes full and easy.

Steeped in good words; a poem I love, whose last image keeps coming to me through the day:

Endless Forms Most Beautiful
                                Catherine Barnett

Praise these eyes for opening
before the highway split
and for giving the second another second,
another second or hours,

or days in which, suddenly old enough
to sit beside me in the passenger seat,
doubled over, face in shadow,
the nape of his neck

exposed, the back of his head
more known and unknowable to me
than anything else on the skidding earth,
the child humming along with Z100's

You reached me at the right number but at the wrong time
can reach into the dirty footwell not to brace
for the irreparable but simply
to tighten his cleats, singing,

feeding the endless black laces
through the line of bright aluminum eyes.

Monday, April 11, 2016

an hour an a half after the beginning

I think I have a fever.
My printer has eaten several pieces of paper and smeared words all over torn sheets.
Said printer then experienced "printer failure" and has stopped working all together despite numerous reboots.
The beautiful brand new printer cartridges I brought here do not fit in this printer.
My phone service has been suddenly and mysteriously"interrupted" so that I can not even call tech support.

Going for advil and to buy a new printer (somewhere).

It's going to get better, right?

A Beginning

It is April 11th, the first day of my 40th year.

I am sitting at a big wooden desk looking out at an unkempt grassy field with a line of blue ridge mountains low behind the trees.  The world is greening.

This is the first day of my two week writing residency in central Virginia.  It's the first time I've ever left my family for two weeks (or more than four nights!).  And it will be the first swath of space I've created for writing in a decade.

So far this morning I've checked my email several times, mapped out a possible August road trip, sent messages to Ben about a brownie meeting I forgot about, and made cups of tea.

Soon I will get to work -- whatever that will mean.

The visual art hanging all around this place -- sculptures jutting up out of fields, paintings tacked on walls --  the kind people framing the breakfast table, the darting birds: much here inspires.

Getting started -- now that's a different matter.

But I will go, on this first day of my last year in my 30's, and see what will come.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

A Moment: dentist, principal, mess

Two things have always been true: I dread taking kids to the dentist because it means sitting in the hot seat: have I failed and let my kids' teeth rot or am I mastering basic care?  And two, the worst place one can go at school is to the Principal's office (flashback to 1st grade, sitting on the linoleum floor in the hall awaiting my sentence -- Principal's office or not --because I'd teased Elizabeth Valcheck.  I remember the dread of having to tell my parents).

In February I rustled up my courage and took the kids to the dentist.  One child sank into the chair with fear and trepidation and walked out with shiny teeth, per usual.  The other cheerfully clamored in and after the usual poking had one small cavity.  A cavity??  Yes.  There were alligator tears and a minor twinge of parenting guilt, but the cavity was so superficial, the dentist filled it without even a pinch of Novocaine.  Whew.

As he'd finished taking x-rays, Maeve and I watched the fish in the aquarium, and I checked out.  As we were about to leave, the doctor came out and waved me over:

There are quite a few.
Quite a few what? 
Seven more. 
Yes.  So we are going to have to schedule several follow up appointments.
Oh, this poor kid has my genes (flashbacks to sealants and drilling and metal fillings through elementary school.  I'd never considered genetics in the dentist-parenting-test).
Actually, these cavities are from diet.
Diet?  (how can you tell that??)  We aren't a sugar family.  I mean we have sugar, but we're not super sugar eaters.
Well, that may be true at home, but you don't know what your child eats apart from you, at school and for snack.
Actually I do.  (how dare you!) I know pretty much everything my child eats every day.
(glare -- and the instantaneous conclusion that this dentist clearly isn't cut out for working with children).

I walked to the car a condemned mother: seven cavities!  (really EIGHT since we'd already taken care of one).  I could see a slight tinge of shame washing over my child and had no choice but to normalize this mouth of cavities and chock it up to genes (and the fact that I haven't helped with brushing my kids' teeth for years and don't buy them floss).

Two months later:

I have found a pediatric dentist who is like a cartoon princess and has terms for every part of the filling process --"lollypop" (numbing gel), "sleepy juice" (Novocaine),  "raincoat" (ring around the tooth being worked on) -- has TVs mounted on the ceiling, and and uses laughing gas, which I am not quite sure is ok...

We are there for our first round of real fillings, and I am the nervous one.  Maeve and I have squeezed into the room and settled in the corner on two chairs where we draw fish and drink cups of water from the waiting room, and I shoot anxious looks at the unfazed child on the chair.  It's lunchtime and we've been here for a long time, so I've sneaked a jar of trail mix from my bag, pretty confident there's a no food policy in the office, but we're eating quietly.

My child is happily relaxed, wearing leopard sunglasses, numbed up, with mouth propped open.  I am sitting wondering if it's all right to drug a child and begin life thinking this is what the dentist is like.

Just then my phone rings.  It's the principal.  Actually, it's the vice principal standing in as the principal for a few months.  Immediately I launch into a speech about how I'm sorry I didn't call to say my child would be late for school but we're at the dentist and will in fact be coming in, just later this morning.
Oh, that's fine.  I'm calling because there's been a little incident here at school.
Slow dawning -- principals are not the people who call about attendance. He used the word "incident." But he's also the vice-ish principal not the actual one.
Oh, you aren't calling about attendance, are you?
No, no.  Well, at line up, there was some rough housing between X and Y -- (X obviously being my child).  He then recounted the incident that included their tripping over a third party, which infuriated Y and caused more aggression that ended with X -- my child -- biting Y's arm.
Wait, X bit someone?

I am trying to concentrate on what he's saying and gauge the seriousness, but just next to me, the dentist and hygienist are loving this.  I hear happy dentist voice:
so you have a sibling?  
yes (muffled from chair)
sounds like some trouble at school
mmmmhmmmm (though I am confident child in chair is not tracking phone conversation)
...oh, BIT someone?!?  

Back to phone:
Wow, he must have been really angry.
Vice principal man continues with the story -- he isn't that concerned because the two have resolved their conflict well and are back to friends blah blah, but his concern is the roughhousing at school and during lineup.  It sounds like it was more impulse control than anything else.  So the kids came to my office to talk it out -- 
Wait -- they came to your office.  Does this mean X was sent to the Principal's office?
As in he got in trouble and was sent to the Principal's office?
Ok.  Just clarifying here.  That's serious.  

Hygienist and dentist:
Oh no!  A trip to the Principal's office! 
That's trouble now!

Then, as I am wrapping up the conversation with the principal (clearly the principal, temporary or not) and desperately trying to concentrate on what he's saying and make intelligent comments about how we should handle this at home and what the consequences ought to be, Maeve overturns the entire jar of top secret trail mix -- sunflower seeds, nuts, craisins everywhere.

Trying to censor any defensiveness of my child -- though I am now caught between the stigma of going to the Principal's office and thinking I probably would have bitten the kid too -- kneeling as I scrape dusty nuts off the floor, trying to play it cool for this dentist-hygienist team who has  never met the biting child, I try wrapping up the conversation with any shred of dignity and finally hang up.


Later that day, the child waltzes off the bus.

Hey! How was school today?
Oh, it was good!
It was?
Yeah.  We played cops and robbers at recess 
(kid is smiling, bouncing along)
Hm, what else happened today?
Oh we got to read longer than normal and I finished my book -- I'm so hungry!
Yeah, you should have a snack.  So, anything else happen today?
Really? Nothing else happened? ...
Finally a pause to look at my face. Oh.  body language sinks.  I got in trouble today.
You did?

What happened?
Well, Y and I were kind of wrestling at line up and I tripped on Z, which made Y fall down, and Y was so angry that he grabbed me from behind and somehow (
starts acting this out), his arm went here (pulls his own arm up to his mouth) and my mouth was open, and somehow my mouth went like this (acts out closing his teeth on his own arm) -- i don't know how. 
You mean you bit him?
Well kind of.  But I didn't mean to.  Somehow his arm was just in my mouth.

The conversation continued...