December 19, 2011

Imaginary Friends

As a kid I never had an imaginary friend.

Instead, I had imaginary enemies. Not in a paranoid, schizophrenic kind of way.  I grew up in the country where the most exciting thing that might happen during the day would be running across a poisonous snake or baby chicks hatching in the incubator.

Baby chicks are cool, don't get me wrong, but there's something really super-awesome about running through the woods with communist spies chasing you or laying low on the ground commando-crawling up to a window to gain intel on Mr. Burnett and whatever perverse goings-on are happening in his basement. Classmates were surely locked in there for his heinous doings. Or perhaps he was a mad scientist with potions that would turn him into the monster I heard outside my window at night.

I'm thinking part of this behavior might be because my mother never bought me Barbies.  She wanted me to read. She read to me a lot and then when I was four she bought me a little record player that would read to me and I could follow along with the book. That is how I learned to read on my own.

BEEP! Turn the page!

Cinderella. Snow White. Aesop's Fables. Grimm's Fairy Tales. My literary diet. So much richer and more exciting than real life. There was always tension and drama. It was good stuff.

As a kid being raised in the boonies, we learned to entertain ourselves with sticks and dirt, paper bark from river birch trees. Rocks. Old, dried bread crusts we'd feed the fish which were certainly flesh-eating piranhas guarding pirate treasure.  (Sometimes with gnats, but that's a story for another day.) My father was a beekeeper and I would sit for long spells and watch the bees land and take off from their little bee runways on missions to procure more pollen for the hives.

I think a childhood of solitude gives one a rich inner life. And now as an adult, I'm writing -- writing for myself (creative expression, sometimes catharsis) and writing for others (to entertain, to inform). I feel the gathering crowd of invisible people -- imaginary enemies, and also now imaginary friends, I guess. Companions. They mimic the steady drone of the bee hives I watched for hours during long, hot summer days. The buzz is a hypnotic comfort and I can pick and choose who I listen to, who I see, like dialing up my favorite radio station.

Because of this it's hard for me to understand why people get bored and impatient waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting at the doctor's office. Those are good times for me, quiet moments when I don't have to be doing anything or answering to anyone. I can dial in to my imagination and see it play out like a movie in my mind.

Sometimes I stand at the kitchen door and look out at the backyard, just looking. My husband will notice after a while and come look over my shoulder.

"What are you looking at?"

"Nothing. Just looking..." I say, because I don't even see the back yard. I'm somewhere else, somewhere that would be hard to explain if I even had the desire to do so. Somewhere that's... not here.

* * *

My youngest son has a tiny wound on the inner side of his thumb. It's very small, like the head of pin, but I noticed it was red as if beginning to be infected.

"We should go take care of that boo-boo," I told him.

"Sure," he responded, for once good-natured and agreeable.

As we walked down the hall to the bathroom I said, "We'll put some magic medicine on it and it will be all better in no time."

He began to cry, then started screaming, "NOOOOOO!"

"Come on, it won't hurt. You've had this before. It's just the antibiotic, not the peroxide."

The screaming turned to snivels. "Will it disappear?"

"Yes, definitely. It will be gone in no time at all. Completely better."

Another bout of screaming erupted. "HE'LL DISAPPEAR!"

"He who? What are you talking about?"

"Scabby! He's my friend and you'll put the magic medicine on him and he will disappear and then I won't have a friend to sleep with me anymore!"

He waved his wounded thumb at me before collapsing on the floor in the hallway, weeping inconsolably.

I heaved his limp and wailing form off the floor and carried him folded in half down the hallway like a disloyal suitcase with a mutinous zipper. I set him up on the bathroom counter and asked him to show me his friend, Scabby.

At first he refused, considering the possibility it might be a trick and I would do Scabby in. He hunched over and wept with such profound loss that all I could think was what a horrible mother I am to have raised a kid whose best friend is a scab on his thumb.

But finally he relented and showed me. After close examination, I admitted that Scabby was a pretty fair friend as friends go, although he looked a bit grouchy.

"See that red ring around him?"

He nodded.

"That means he's mad about something. How about we just put a little bit of medicine around the outside, not ON him. That will make him less grouchy at least and then he won't be mean to you."

"It won't take him away?"

"Nope, he'll stick around for another couple of days, but you won't want him to stay for longer than that. Sometimes Scabby is a mean friend who can hurt you.  You need to only hang out with nice friends."

He let me treat his sore and we covered Scabby with a band-aid "blanket" so he could have a nap and eventually all was right with the world.

Since then it's been all ninja assassins and rogue dinosaurs and top-secret strategic military maneuvers. So, maybe getting rid of Scabby made room for those super-awesome imaginary enemies that were the mainstay of my childhood. 

Maybe having a rich inner life is hereditary.

Maybe he'll finally solve the mystery of what's going on in Mr. Burnett's basement.

November 25, 2011

The Tomato

The first place I ever lived as a "grown up" (not a dorm, not a house with college roomies) was in a house near a park overlooking a beach. I rented a room from a nerdy single man who worked at a University and who rented rooms in his house to visiting professors and lecturers.

At the time it never occurred to me that this might be a strange or dangerous arrangement, although looking back I wonder what possessed me to do such a thing.  But I was off on an adventure, on a shoe-string no less, and would not be stopped for anything.

The man who owned the house was rarely there and I pretty much had the run of it.  I slept in my room, used the kitchen when I wasn't eating fast-food on the go and set up a little office in what looked like a den that nobody was using.  It was a satisfactory arrangement.

Periodically a note from my landlord would appear on my bedroom door -- a notice of the impending arrival of a visiting person, someone to rent The Third Room.

One day I arrived home with a bag of food from a local burger joint and entered the kitchen to find a strange man sitting at the table. He rose when I entered the room.

"Hello," he said, with a thick Russian accent. He nodded his head and took in the full length of me with a quick glance. "I am Doctor So-n-So."  He told me he was visiting for a day or two for a lecture.

I sat down as he began asking me questions about what I was doing here and questions about the area. As we talked, I opened the cheeseburger to see what condition it was in after being hastily prepared by uncaring teenage wage slaves.

Inside the burger was a big, fat tomato slice. I don't eat tomatoes.  I don't eat them because they taste like grass. And I've not understood for many years why people eat tomatoes if they taste like grass.  Finally I came to the conclusion that to most people they taste like something else. Like a tomato, I guess.  Whatever that tastes like.

As politely as possible I tried to pull the tomato off to the side and laid it on the foil wrapper my burger came in. I closed the sandwich up and started to eat and noticed The Doctor had stopped talking and was staring at my tomato all laid out on the foil, unsightly and in mayo-covered disarray.

"Why do you do that with your tomato?"

Mouth open, burger ascending toward gaping maw, I stopped and said, "What? The tomato?"  I looked at the tomato.

"Yes, why do you put your tomato to the side like that?"

"Oh," I said, now embarrassed. "I don't like tomatoes."

"May I?"

"May you what?"

"May I eat your tomato?"

"Um, sure. Really? Yes, of course."

He smiled at me in a very friendly manner and, still standing, held the tomato slice in both hands as if holding a sandwich and bit into it.

"Why you don't like tomatoes?"

Now I was becoming uncomfortable, as if he had done something really personal like announced he was going to take off his shirt and dance the macarena for me, or asked me my height and weight or told me intimate details about his current lover.

Here is the Truth:  I'm ashamed to be a picky eater.  There I said it.  But it's not just because I'm fussy.  Sometimes things just taste wrong.  Tomatoes taste like grass.  Cilantro tastes like soap.  Celery makes me barf. Mushrooms taste like old food that should have been thrown out weeks ago. But to be fair, I like a lot of stuff people don't like -- eggplant, brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, and many others.

I resisted the urge to defend myself and simply said, shrugging, "I don't know. They just taste bad."

"In my country there is not a lot of food. Sometimes you wait for a long time in line to get food and then when you get to the front of the line there is no food there. If you see food you eat it whether or not you like it because you don't know when you will get more. I cannot allow food to go to waste. Everywhere I go I am always asking people if I can eat what they left over. Old habit.  I am sure people think I am very strange."

And he laughed, completely not caring if I or anyone else thought him strange. He just stood there at the table, happy to be not wasting my discarded tomato.

He should write a book called How to Make a Middle-Class American Girl Feel Like a Heel in One Easy Step.

To this day I cannot take a tomato off a sandwich without thinking of him.

November 7, 2011



It's been a number that has been on my mind for a long time. Months. I check the calendar, I count back to February. How long has it been since the last time we had to take our son to the hospital? Nine months. Nine months of clear breathing. Nine months of hearing him speak in something more than a whisper. Nine months of pretending he is completely normal with no recurrent disease that could some day block his airway, or worse, spread to his lungs and cause a fatality.

Every cough, every raspy noise. Every time he cleared his throat I was on high alert. I watch for paleness, for fatigue, for shortness of breath. I listen to him breathe at night, his snores. Is it a regular snore? Or is that a blocked airway snore? Does he pant when he runs because he has asthma or is it something worse? And then the surgeries. Eighteen of them in the last seven years. The sadness, the terror, the anger, the questions, the hysteria and that one time on surgery #10 when I had a complete emotional breakdown in the middle of the hospital lobby as people hurried past me pretending not to notice that I was sobbing and wailing, alone, because my toddler son had been torn out of my arms by a nurse while he was screaming, "MOMMY DON'T LEAVE ME!!"


It was the first word that came to mind this morning when I woke up. Today was surgery nineteen and we had made it nine months, the longest we'd ever gone between surgeries.

* * *

I feel like an old pro now. I remain calm because it's routine. I listen politely to the nurses and resident doctors (who look like teenagers) as they explain things to me even though I've heard the explanations many times. I know they are doing their jobs and I let them. I have no place to go anyway. We're waiting on the real stars of the show anyway, the anesthesiologist, the surgeon.

I knit. And I can talk about the knitting now with enthusiasm when the nurses get so excited about my latest sock or hat. Before I wanted to yell at them, "Don't talk to me about this knitting, I'm trying to keep from going mad. Why would you talk about knitting when my son is about to go into surgery?" And today, the day of Nineteen I find myself explaining to the nurse how to make a cable knit, how easy it is, how I can do it without even looking while she explains to me the risks of anesthesia (hypertension, tachycardia, damage to teeth and lips, swelling of the larynx, sore throat, hoarseness due to injury or irritation to the larynx, heart attack, stroke, death).

I can knit while making eye contact as she reads the possible side effects. I could recite them myself because for eighteen surgeries I have had to listen to a nurse say that although death from anesthesia is rare it can happen.

Today, the Nineteenth Time, I marvel at my calmness, how none of it bothers me this time. And because of how we've handled it eighteen times, my son doesn't seem particularly bothered either despite the fact that just the night before he described to his brother how they will put a big tube down his throat and use a laser to burn recurrent growths off his vocal chords.

He's eight. I sat on the couch and watched them and thought to myself how nobody his age should need to explain all this stuff so clearly, so knowledgeably. And then I reminded myself how we've had it easy. Because we've known many with his disease who have had surgeries monthly or weekly. We've made friends with families whose children have since passed because they were defeated by their disease. Yes, we have it easy and I never let myself forget it. Except for my lapse on #10 I never, ever feel sorry for myself or for him because we have it GOOD.

* * *


It's the number of the surgery where we heard the doctor come in and tell us that he thinks we might be done for a while. That when he got in there he discovered there was nothing much to do. He did not use the word "remission", but indicated without saying so strongly that remission is probably what we have.

And I caught my breath and stared wide-eyed at his beaming face, but I couldn't return the beaming just yet because it felt too soon to hope. If I hope and it turns out to be wrong then I might have to start back at the beginning, back to the time when I broke down and cried in front of strangers, when I felt nothing but fear and despair. I don't want to go back there.

But in the waiting room, after the doctor had gone, I called my mom and told her the news and my voice quivered, nearly broke. I felt my eyes well up and felt the beginning of hope that Nineteen might be the last. Maybe not forever, but certainly for a long, long time.

October 28, 2011

You Think You Know Somebody...

I've been married for almost eleven years.

The other day I was on the phone with my husband discussing some grocery items. Grocery shopping is one of those territories that we strategize over like generals about to invade another country. Neither of us likes to do it, so we stack up and discharge chores hoping it will tilt the seesaw in our favor when it comes time to comparing the tally sheet entitled "Who Has Done the Most Stuff Lately."

"Cheese," I said, the obvious and latest loser in the tally. "I'll pick you up some cheese. Sharp."


"You prefer the sharp cheese, right?"


"You don't like sharp cheese?"

"No, I like mild."

I am 100% certain he likes sharp cheddar cheese and told him so, hoping the force of my assertion would make him remember that he likes sharp cheese.  "I'm certain you told me you like sharp cheese."

"No, I wouldn't do that because I like mild."

"Are you SURE you don't like sharp cheese?"

"I'm sure."

"Have you EVER liked sharp cheese?"


"Then why would I think that?"

"I have no idea."

For years I've been buying sharp cheese for him. It's not my preference, but I don't mind eating it.  But I buy it for him because I have been certain for eleven years that it was his favorite. And I have no idea where I got that idea.  Which makes me wonder what other portions of my reality I've just made up out of thin air.

* * *

I was on the phone with a woman whose husband died a couple of years ago. There was a problem with a piece of property she was trying to sell and I was the one who was supposed to break the news to her.

"Mrs. Bannerman, your name is not on the deed to your house, only your husband's."

She said, "But he told me he'd put my name on the deed..."

"I'm so sorry, it's not on there, but it's okay -- we just have to do some extra stuff that will take longer, but it will be okay."  I did my best to be as reassuring as possible.

"Well, it shouldn't surprise me. I know that's not the only time he lied to me."

Obviously, my feeble reassurances were not going to go far to meet the needs of a wife who wanted explanations from her dead husband.

* * *

Four years ago, my niece's husband moved to our town looking for work. He was a very personable, funny, handsome guy, very good with kids. We liked him. He lived with my mother for a while and the plan was for him to get a job and then send for my niece and the children.

I have a picture of him that I took on my youngest son's first birthday. He had my son propped on one of his shoulders and he was smiling and looking up at my son. He has a brilliant, white smile. My son was laughing as he was being tickled in the side by the man who was holding him. It was a very good first birthday for my son, for all of us.

A year later, that man strangled my niece and stabbed her 26 times with two kitchen knives.

You always think you know someone.  Turns out, sometimes you're wrong.

September 7, 2011

Touching the Moon

A gibbous moon hung in the perfectly clear blue sky of a perfect late summer day, a storybook kind of day with a light breeze and a touch of autumn in the air.

"Can you see the moon?" she asked her small son as he lay on the lush green grass staring at blue nothingness. She wished for fluffy white clouds so they could lie together and name their shapes.

"I see it. Is it too high for me to touch?"


"How do you know?"

"Because I tried to touch it once," she said.

She answered that way because she didn't know what else to say. But it sounded, anyway, like something she would have done as a young dreamer. She remembers wanting to skip along the tops of clouds, so why not touch the moon?

"And you couldn't do it?" he asked.


"And you cried?"


He stared longer at the luminous orb rising farther out of his reach and said, "I wish you never tried to touch the moon."

September 5, 2011

Favorite Things About Fall

It would be a tough battle between contenders Fall and Spring if I were forced to choose my favorite. But I'm pretty sure Fall would win out simply because it's the beginning of a long span of cool weather. As delightful as Spring is there is always the hovering menace of hot weather, the persistant presence of sunshine and, of course, tick season.

Today was the first day I really and truly felt Fall was on its way. It's cooler outside the house than in and when I opened the door to let Lucy out she paused and wasn't sure what to do. Even though her food was outside waiting for her she sensed something was off in the air and she stood in the doorway a long time pondering such an uncertain egress.  This will be her first fall season and I'm not sure she was thrilled about it.

My favorite things about Fall:
  • State and county fair season!
  • Cool weather (obviously)
  • Fall means it's almost Halloween, my favorite holiday
  • Fall means it's almost Thanksgiving, my second favorite holiday
  • The trees get dressed up in their fancy colorful fineries (followed by the subsequent "getting naked" after the party's over). Those shameless hussies.
  • Walking in the woods is the best in fall and winter. No ticks, no snakes and you can see the undulation of the earth through the naked trees.
  • Smoke in the air from fireplaces and woodstoves.
  • Knitting is way more fun in cool weather and I can break out the homemade socks and scarves!
  • Mulled cider

It's funny, because Spring is supposed to be the rebirth, but somehow for me Fall is when things seem more joyous, more alive, more expansive.

What are your favorite things about Fall?

September 1, 2011

Lost Prince

My friend Betsy has a new book out and is having a contest!  I hope you'll drop by and comment on her blog for a chance to win a copy of Lost Prince: Salt Road Saga Book I.

August 22, 2011

The Scrimmage of Life

Tomorrow night my oldest son, eight, will have his first football scrimmage. He's in the 3rd grade and will be going up against the 4th grade team.

I pondered the unfairness of this and became indignant about it as I frequently do when the odds are stacked against my children. (Normally I might make a natural metaphor here about mama bears, but thank you Sarah Palin for ruining that one for me.)

I remark about it to my husband, something like, "Why don't they split the team and scrimmage each other? Why are they scrimmaging 4th graders? It's not fair."

His response was, "Why not? Someone is always smaller."

I struggle, as all parents struggle, with wanting to make a child's path smooth -- no bumps, no twists and turns, like the perfect freeway across America where there is always an off-ramp when you're hungry or have to go to the bathroom, and where the street lights always come on at dusk. Safe and boring. That's how I want it to be for my children.

I know, it's ridiculous.

It's especially ridiculous because I value the bruises I've gotten on the road, though maybe not the moment I was getting them. I've learned many great lessons from putting my foot in my mouth, from bad dates and bad relationships, from stupid, shot-sighted decisions. I've seen wonderful sights when I've taken wrong turns. 

Once I tore a bunch of soft tissue in my ankle while kickboxing (yes, really) and found myself surrounded by six firemen and emergency responders who looked like they'd fallen out of the center of a fundraising calendar where all the men are half dressed. I wouldn't trade away that horrible experience even though I sometimes still have trouble with that ankle.

I understand challenge, loss, fear. I understand about digging deep. I'm not afraid of a fight.  And sometimes I'm keen on doing it when I feel like justice needs to be served.  I'll tackle Goliath to save David if he needs saving.

So, why do I not want these beautiful lessons for my own sons?  I guess because they hurt and I know that not everyone overcomes their hurt. Sometimes we are hurt beyond measure, beyond repair.  We cannot fix the broken things inside us.  Falling down and skinning yourself is one thing, but getting your soul crushed is something else.

As I wait in line to pick up my second child, my first reminds me of tomorrow's scrimmage. He tells me who he thinks he will be lining up against tomorrow -- a neighbor friend from across the street. He seems unconcerned about it, thinking more about another boy on his team.

"I feel bad for this kid named Jeremy who is next to me on the line. He's going up against a kid named Roacher who weighs about 117 pounds and Jeremy weighs like 57 pounds. He's gonna be flattened in about two seconds. Yeah, he's going down."

I worry my sons won't know how to dig deep. I worry they will be too fearful to find their courage.  I worry they will get a wound that won't heal.  I worry they won't win a fight they think is worth fighting and it will make them not want to try again.  I worry they will give up.

And so I remind him that when the game whistle blows he is to be fierce, as fierce as he can muster because I can't tell him how his mother takes a simple first scrimmage game and turns it into some sort of mental breakdown as I sit there in a row of other parents who are probably having their own version of mental breakdowns. (Or not, maybe I'm the only freak.) 

And I can't tell him that all this reminds me how he's growing up so fast and it's only going to get worse from here on out.  Because all he knows is he's gonna go wrestle around with other boys looking all cool in their football gear and later tell me all about how awesome he was on the field

So I think about that instead -- how tough he looks in his gear with his broad shoulders. He's tall, a good head taller than most kids his age. I think about his verve, the way he tells me a story, embellishing as if I were not there to see it with my own eyes. I think about how I will sit in the stands and make a fool of myself cheering for him and the rest of his team. Because I can control all that.

I can't keep them from falling, but I can pick them up when they do and kiss the wounds, the tears, reason with them and be their champion. I vow to myself to be excellent at that if nothing else and hope that excellent will be good enough when they really need it.

July 20, 2011

Too Much Truth

On the drive to work the boys sat in the back of the car. Tristan shyly asked, "Mom, do you want to take belly dancing lessons?"

I looked in the rear view mirror, but couldn't see him. "Noooo... why?"

He didn't answer.

"Do you think I should?"


Julius had to chime in with, "Mom, I don't mean to offend you, but I really think you would NOT look good in a belly dancer outfit. I mean, I'm sorry, but really."

Tristan was kind enough to defend me.  "I think she would look good in a belly dancer outfit."

Oh, what a fabulous boy who is still young enough to think his mother is the most beautiful woman in the world.

I told my older, less-wise son, "Listen, sometimes there is such a thing as too much truth. Use your truth wisely, Luke."

The things I have to put up with around here.

July 8, 2011

Caterpiller Season: Another Stirring Saga in Maternal Ineptitude

In our backyard we have a large catalpa tree. It's been there as long as I can remember and I've owned this home for nearly 25 years. The tree was here when I bought the house. It stands tall outside in our backyard and sometimes I stand at the back door and just stare at it because I love the way its sweeping branches make a shade canopy over that part of the yard.

In the summertime the catalpa worms emerge wearing their little stripey black suits, very dapper gents who start out tiny and grow monstrously huge with voracious appetites. They eat the heart-shaped leaves of the tree and become fat. Excellent fish bait if you can stand skewering them.  I cannot, especially when my children consider them playmates.

Every day the boys go out with a bowl and catch as many worms as they can and watch them crawl around. They create habitats for them, little obstacle courses of sticks and leaves and plastic toys. Sometimes Tristan would put the fattest ones on a tiny little toy skateboard and say, "Mom, do you know why Catty needs a skateboard? Because she is SO FAT!"

For a week or two each summer they do this and Tristan especially gets very attached to them. He's named them "Catty" and cries every night when he has to take Catty back to the tree where she lives.  He wails, "But Catty LOVES ME! Catty will be LONELY! Something will get CATTY!!!" It's a horrible and pathetic lament, heartbreaking.  I keep thinking one day he will get over it, but it always starts again the next day.

Tonight he came in from his quest to the catalpa tree to collect Catty. He was bawling his head off. I was cooking dinner. "What is is, sweetie?"

He hugged my leg and sobbed into my blue jeans. "Catty is GONE! There are no more Catties!"  Apparently the end of the catalpa season has come or all the worms have wandered their way up to the top where the food was better. No matter, the end result was the same. Tristan could not put Catty in the plastic bowl that he has carried with him every day since school let out.

"Hey, you know what, this is okay. You know why?"

He looked up hopefully after wiping his eyes on my pants. "Why?"

"Well, Catty's probably gone to college or something. That's what happens -- you grow up and go to college. You'll do that one of these days when you are a big, big boy! So, try not to worry about it.  All the Catties will be back next summer."

I continued to stir the food on the stove and he wandered outside. About five minutes later Julius came in and stood next to me and asked in a quiet voice, "Hey, Mom? Why is Tristan outside screaming and crying, 'Catty's gone to college!'"

From across the room Rob says, "Way to go, Mom."

"Er, well, he was crying so I told him Catty went to college." I shrugged, slightly embarrassed.

Julius rolled his eyes. "Great. Well, he's screaming his head off. Everyone in the neighborhood will hear him." And then he turned and went back outside.

Tristan came in later and was still lamenting that Catty had gone to college and she would be lonely and scared all by herself. I was quick to reassure him, "Oh no, she's not lonely and scared. She's off with her friends having a Catty party!"

He stared at me in horror and then shrieked, "CATTY IS HAVING A CATTY PARTY WITHOUT MEEEEEEEE!" And then he ran off to have a nervous breakdown somewhere in private.

From across the room Rob says, "Way to go, Mom."

I sighed. Really, there was no way to win on this. What do you do about a child who cries all the time over something the locals use as The Best Fishbait Ever?

That night at bedtime, I tucked Tristan in with his favorite blanket and SnuggleBunny, a big stuffed rabbit that was as long as he was and wider. He spooned with SnuggleBunny while I covered him and tucked him in.

"I'm so sad, Mommy, Catty is having a party without me at college." He sobbed limply into SnuggleBunny's neck.

I didn't know what to say, so I decided to tell The Truth, because the truth always sets you free.  You can't go wrong with the truth.

"Honey, I think maybe Catty turned into a moth."

He raised his head and looked up at me with big, wet eyes and then... screamed. "AAAAH, CATTY IS A MOTH! NOOOO MOMMY NOOOOOO! I DON'T WANT CATTY TO BE A MOTH!"

Jeez. I think I might have actually banged my head against the bed frame in frustration. Can you need anti-depressants at four? I have no idea.

"Listen, no, seriously -- Moths are super cool. You LOVE moths! You can catch Catty as a moth!" Nevermind that he has killed every moth he's ever caught because he loves them to death and they meet a bitter, flopping, broken end tossed out the front door because I can't stand to watch it anymore.

"Catty will fly away as soon as I open my hand!"

I stared at him sadly thinking how true that is for so many things. Maybe Tristan's real problem is that he's a lot like his mother.

"Okay, time to dry it up. Look, here is Snoopy. He's sad and needs you to cheer him up. Do that and it will make you feel better. Catty will be back. You'll see him again, I promise. Catty always comes back, every summer. And you know what? Never in Catty's life will there ever be another boy who let her ride around on a skateboard. So, that's why I know Catty thinks YOU are the most special boy she has ever met."

He sniffed and said, "Really?"

I nodded, "Really. Super double triple really."

He burrowed into SnuggleBunny and closed his eyes. I pulled the covers up under his chin and turned out the light.

July 4, 2011

And the Winners Are...

Jerry and Wendy Wagner!  You are winners!

I need you both to email me ( and let me know if you want the Kindle or Nook version of Travis Erwin's eBook.  Congrats!

Happy 4th of July everyone!!

June 29, 2011

Interview with Travis Erwin... and a GIVEAWAY!

Recently I had the opportunity to "hang out" in the ether with author Travis Erwin, a native Texan, humor writer, and fervent "meatatarian". He has published an eBook called Whispers (available for both nook and kindle) which is a collection of two short stories and one memoir vignette. A couple of weekends ago I downloaded the book to my iPhone and spent some enjoyable time reading the stories.

Travis graciously agreed to let me interview him on the blog so could you meet him! Everyone needs a writer buddy who likes meat and has a good sense of humor.  AND, the bonus is if you check him out TWO of you have a chance to win his free eBook Whispers.  It's like a two-for-one-bonus.

So, here's the interview. [tap tap.]  Is this thing on?

* * *

Wendy: What inspired you to become a writer?

Travis:  The first answer here is my mother. She urged, actually more insisted, I constantly be engaged in a book from the time I could read. I suppose like most kids I tried to resist but book and literature won me over and I've been addicted ever since. Of course, being a natural born BS'er from Texas that love of reading soon turned to fanciful ideas that I could write a story worth reading.

Wendy:  Can you tell us anything about current projects you're working on?

Travis:  I have two projects actually. A humorous food book title Lettuce Is The Devil which is about 40% humor essay, 40% memoir, and 20% cookbook. The subtitle for that one is The Culinary Dogma of a Devout Meat Man. The whole thing is rather absurd but for the first time in my writing career I have a literary agent to help guide my carrrer and find it a home so I have high hopes in the project. I also have a fiction project, a story about a rancher's wife who is convinced sex is ruining her life. I have yet to hit upon a title I like but this story has lots of humor elements as well a nympho-maniacal senior citizen, a Texas blowhard that makes his living peddling Bull semen and lots of awkward situations for the characters.

Wendy:  What is your writing schedule like?

Travis:  I write like a vampire, in the dark of the night when normal folks are sleeping. I try to get in several hours a night and when things are going great I get up in the wee hours and also write before work, but eventually my body craters and demands sleep so there are 3 or 4 day stretches when I don't actively sit at the computer and write. However, my stories and their characters are never totally gone from my mind. I spend hours a day pondering, thinking, and yes even whispering snatched of dialogue. If I wasn't a writer I'd just be that crazy dude that talks to himself.

Wendy:  When you tackle a book what is your process like? Do you outline? Write back stories? What do you do before you start typing on page 1?

Travis:  I never start out with an outline but when the mud thickens and the slogging gets rough I often write one out and study it for an easier path. I do write back stories. Lots of them as a matter of fact. I consider myself a character writer as people interest me much more than plots. This has made it harder to define my writing and genre and therefore made it harder to sell. I take every character in a book and write 3 to maybe 15 pages of vignettes from their previous life. I try to choose events that have emotion. First kiss, a fearful moment. A fight physical or even verbal. Once I have written these and discover how a character will emotionally react in both good times and bad I feel like I can start the story.

Wendy:  You mention in some commentary that people have made "assertions [that it's] ridiculous for a man to write women's fiction..." What appeals to you about writing women's fiction?

Travis:  Actually I never meant to write women's fiction, but I do find it easier to write from a female POV and I believe love is what makes the world go around so those two overriding things show up in my writing. And like I said I love characters and women's fiction readers seem to have more patience for a slower developing plot that other genres.

Wendy:  What is your inspiration -- what topics or type of topics do you want to write about?

Travis:  I'm pretty certain my muse is French prostitute turned guardian angel because late at night I sometimes catch the scent of perfume in my writing office despite the fact I am the only one there. So I think the overriding theme to all my work is hope. That no matter how bad things get there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Wow, I slipped into cliche mode for that one. I used to write very dark stories but perhaps because my own life is going so well I now find it easier to write humorous lighthearted fare.

Wendy:  What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

Travis:  I'm all over the place here. Richard Russo (Nobody's Fool, The Risk Pool, Empire Falls) and Kent Haruf (Plainsong and Eventide) make me jealous for their ability to build entire towns and communities of fictional character I care about. Christopher Moore makes me laugh out loud at his absurdity. I'm in awe of Erica Orloff's versatility to write both middle children's literature (The Magickeeper Series) and a great and funny romance like Freudian Slip. Besides that, she is as nice a person as the world has to offer. I also love Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and I'm not sure a better novel has ever been written than To Kill A Mockingbird.

Wendy:  Writers put things out there on the page for everyone to see. When a writer specializes in fiction, a reader doesn't know how big the kernel of truth is in that story. However, in your eBook Whispers you wrote a personal tale about the birth of your son and got very open with the events and how you reacted to them. Do you ever feel too naked when you put stuff on the page? Is there a price to pay with family or friends when you use your real life as a base for your writing and how to you resolve this?

Travis:  Blogging opened doors for me. Once upon a time I kept everything personal close to my chest, but writing near daily posts for several years and interacting with so many great people little by little I lowered the walls and now I can write fairly freely about myself. I also wrote a coming of age memoir about myself titled The Feedstore Chronicles. It's a fairly raunchy look at my misguided youth and while unpublished thus far writing it was almost therapeutic. I don't have many secrets at this point but if I've learned anything over the years it is we are all basically the same so while I may be "telling" on myself, I feel confident others can relate and have felt the same at some point.

Wendy:  Why do you hate lettuce so much?

Travis:  Actually I dislike all vegetables. Lettuce just happens to be the leader of the evil green empire. It is the gateway vegetation which leads to the unfortunate condition known as "living a healthy lifestyle." A slice of iceberg on your burger today and you'll find yourself munching on a salad a week later. Then comes the day you realize you are standing at a salad bar with a forkful of baby carrots in one hand and a ladle of ranch in the other.

Wendy:  Favorite food?

Travis:  Smoked elk tenderloin. It melts in your mouth and everything tastes a little better if you went out in the field and harvested it yourself.

Wendy:  And finally, in a smalltown smackdown who would win... Sheriff Andy Taylor or Marshal Matt Dillon?

Travis:  I am a gambler and as such I always consider all the angles. On the surface Matt Dillon is the easy choice as he's definitely more physical and the outlaws around Dodge City were meaner than Ernest T Bass and the Mayberry bunch. But, there's always a but in life isn't there, Andy Taylor brings an x factor to the table -- Barney Fife. Sure he's only got one bullet but Barney is reckless and a bit of a hot head so even if Matt won the fight I think Barney would avenge his sheriff and use that last bullet to take down the Marshall.

Many thanks for letting me stop in. I enjoyed the questions and would love to award two of your readers with a digital copy of my latest e-book Whispers, now available for both nook and kindle.

Given the fact that the book sells for a scant 99 cents winning is not exactly on par with hitting the lottery but hey, a free book is a free book. Comment on this post grants you one entry. Liking my Lettuce is the Devil Facebook page gives you another. Becoming a Lettuce is the Devil follower on twitter yet another. And finally you can earn another for becoming a follower of my regular writing blog One Word, One Rung, One Day.

That's four entries and for any of you dedicated to do all four I'll toss one in for free to give you 5 entries into the contest.

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Thank, Travis!  For anyone who is entering the giveaway, please do one comment PER entry (including the fifth one) so I can just do the random number generator thingy.  We will pick a winner on July 4th so get your entries in before NOON CENTRAL TIME ZONE so the winner can have something besides freedom to party about during the fireworks show! And if you don't win, go buy the book.  It's only 99 cents, so don't be cheap, go get it.

June 26, 2011

I'm a Sucker

A block or two from my house is our town cemetery. It's a sprawling strip of grass between the hardware store and the fire station and the old historic June's Cafe that's long-closed. It's encircled by a chain link fence that wobbles in some places with a gate that is wired shut so you can't open it and you have to walk around to the side where the hearses drive in.

The oldest graves are on the south end of the cemetery and over the years they have expanded toward the north end as the citizens of our town die and take their places there.

For my whole life the dominant feature of the cemetery was a tulip tree -- a mammoth tree nearly a century old. Every spring it would bloom into a resplendent display of yellow tulip-shaped flowers. It had been pruned at the bottom so that all the branches arched over the graves like a hovering guardian in a sweeping yellow coat. The tree was like an old friend that you didn't talk to every day but knew was always there for you.

Over the last few years we've had many weather disasters that necessitated our county being declared a disaster area nine times. One of the interludes between "major" disasters was a minor one -- a shearing wind that tore through town, pulled down a few electrical poles and as they tumbled down like dominoes they took our majestic tulip tree with them.

It was the talk of the county. Not only was the town without electricity for half a day, but the more tragic event was that our cemetery tree, our Old Faithful was split in two lying splayed out in an undignified manner right there in the middle of town.

The men came with chainsaws to dispose of the body and spent the day cutting the enormous tree into pieces. It turns out while she was huge and solid-looking, she was rotting from the inside. She was weak and it was just time and circumstance that came together to bring her down on that particular day.

The Wednesday following the tree falling the newspaper displayed, in full page color, the corpse of our tulip tree. It told the story of the tree and how it got there.
Long, long ago a woman died. She was so well-loved by her husband that next to her grave he planted a tulip tree for her so that every spring it would bloom and shower her with flowers. And in the summer it would provide shade to cool her. And in the fall it would blaze with color and make people take notice of her audaciousness. And in the winter, when she was bare, all would see the towering strength and the network of branches that had been looking over the cemetery for the last century. In some way, the tulip tree would make the dear lady immortal because when you drove through that part of town, that's what you could see -- the personification of a husband's eternal love for a wife who had gone before him.
I wonder when he planted the tree if he had any idea how truly huge it would get. It grew so large it split her headstone into pieces as if she were coming to life and breaking through from the other world to ours --  reincarnated as the tree itself. At least that's what I like to think. The notion is romantic and other-worldly and fantastic and I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.

I was there today and the cemetery looks so bare and lifeless without that tree. The rest is just expanse of grass and leaning stones, some of which are not even marked with names. On the stump sits the lady's stone, split into three and out of the stump grows a large pokeweed that is poisonous to mammals, although people in the south do eat it after cooking it to remove the toxins. Supposedly it can cure arthritis and other things if you can get reliable advice on how to cook it without killing yourself.

When I was a little girl I used to pick poke berries from a bush next to a bridge. I liked to smash the berries in my fingers and write on the concrete guard rails. I'd walk the rest of the way home, fingers bright purple-pink, remembering the feel of the rough concrete as my fingers slid across it making the shapes of the words.

I sat by the lady's grave today remembering all this and missing the tree that I've known my whole life.  I took pictures for you, so you can see all that's left.  I wish you could have seen her in all her glory.

George Washington

Tristan came up to me with a wrinkled dollar bill. He held it in two hands and stared at the man in the medallion in the middle.

Finally, he asked, "Who is this man on the dollar?"

I said, "That's George Washington."

He asked, "Was he our first president?"

"Yes, he was."

His lip turned down in a sad face and he continued to stare at the picture.

"Why are you sad," I asked.

"Because he died.  I really miss him."

June 16, 2011

The Archaeology of Motherhood

Children happened to me when I least expected it. This is not to say that my children were unintentional, far from it. They were fully intentional, fought for when the time came. Yearned for, cried for, a cause for sleepless nights when it looked like they might not be ours one day.

My oldest -- big-headed baby, fair-skinned, orange-haired.  Blue eyes.  When I looked into his eyes I thought of my great-grandmother who, I heard, always thought blue eyes and red hair was the most beautiful combination in the world. I remember this because my eyes are green. And not a beautiful green like clover or emeralds, but green like olives. I hate olives.

My youngest -- little angry grunter. My Romeo with his coal black eyes and eyelashes long enough to scrape the underside of the moon. I watch him work his magic with the ladies and see my future... unwilling confidante to broken-hearted girls whose calls he won't take.

When my oldest began to transition from baby to toddler, maybe a bit older, I went into a bit of a funk. I adored this precious baby and he was leaving me, growing into something different, someone different.  I loved the new guy, but missed the old guy, even grieved for him at times.

Suddenly I didn't see the point of motherhood. You have this blessing come upon you, care for him, let him consume you, turn your life upside down and suddenly in 18 years which seems more like 18 hours he is packing his toothbrush, his clothes, his favorite book, his condoms for heaven's sake! And you stand on the porch crying because he's leaving you. He'll head off into his life and you hope he will be a fabulous human being and you hope he will leave the world a better place than it was when he came into it, but the more likely scenario is that he will just be another mediocre human being with a big carbon footprint who forgets to call you on Mother's Day. Or worse.

During this time I was on a phone call with my husband's mother and I asked her. How does she reconcile that her son is all grown up? How can she bear that her little boy doesn't exist anymore?  Does she miss him terribly? Does she grieve for him?

I could tell by the silence on the other end of the phone that she was bewildered by the question. And subsequently I felt stupid and filled with regret that I'd even asked.

So, I put it out of my mind, or tried to, for months, then years. In unguarded moments the thought would peek around the corner like an evil leprechaun and plague me with more visions of crying on the porch. Eventually, my second son arrived and there were so many new challenges. No time to do much but put one foot in front of the other and keep on moving.

In the eighth year of motherhood, I was sitting on a hot concrete bench cooking up a dose of melanoma under my generous helping of freckles. In front of me was a baseball field covered with boys of all shapes and sizes. At my feet my youngest, age four, plowed a fire truck through the dirt. On the field was my oldest boy, heading up to bat.

With a crack, the ball he hit sailed through the air and a cheer went up from all the moms and dads and coaches. He began to run.  First base, second base, then something went wrong. I don't even remember now what it was because what happened next knocked every memory of that moment out of my head except one.

I see the image of him kicking up dirt as he grimly shuffles off the field to the dugout. One of the coaches catches him just as he crosses the baseline but before he can reach the dugout.  He grabs him by the shoulders and squares him up until their noses are about two inches apart.

I scooted to the edge of my seat ready, at the slightest provocation, to fly up on that coach like the most insane soccer-mom banshee from Hell. The coach started in. "Do you know what you did wrong?" My son nodded and looked down at the ground.

With a gentle shake of my son's shoulders he commanded eye contact. In the background I heard another crack of ball against bat and a cheer. It drowned out the conversation that held me, but suddenly the image was transformed for me. This man, talking to my son as he would speak to another man, demanding in a respectful way that he do his best, that he be his best, that he be a good team member, that he rise to meet challenges.

My fair-skinned boy with his delicate dusting of freckles, sun-kissed, set his lips determinedly. He nodded at whatever the coach had to say then stood an inch or two taller.

And then I saw it -- I saw the layers of him -- the baby, the toddler, the pre-schooler, the boy who graduated from kindergarten, the one who learned to read, the one who lost his baby teeth, the one who made it halfway to Home after hours and hours of batting practice. They were all there, transparent, three-dimensional, like nesting dolls.

The reason my question was so ridiculous, so alien is because my mother-in-law knew, but couldn't explain, that you don't have to grieve for your loss because there is no loss. This boy is just layers, like a rich archaeological dig, the sum of those layers of love, of discipline, of fun times, of hard times, of learning and experiences.

I watched the coach slap him on the back and send him into the dugout where he was jostled by his friends, all elbows and nudges. I smiled and drew circles in the dirt with my foot next to the roads my youngest was carving out with his truck.

"Yer messin' up my roads, Mom."

"Sorry, sweetie."

During the next round of batting my oldest was up to bat again. I was awash with a new found serenity. He sidled up to the plate and planted his feet squarely, rocking back and forth to get his perfect balance. Elbows up, a couple test swings. He nodded to the pitcher. Ready.

The ball flew, the bat sped forward, the batter's form poetry as metal met leather and with a loud pop the ball torpedoed between flailing players desperate to catch the ball.

My son began to run and I began to cheer.  I cheered for him, but I think now I might have been cheering more for me, for us, for a future free of looking back with sadness, but now only fondness, at worst -- nostalgia.  I cheered as he veered across second and didn't slow a beat, just like Coach had taught him. On to third, the coaches screamed for him to run. A slight pause rounding third and I slid forward on that hot, rough, blazing bench. Halfway to home, he turned to look back.  The ball was coming, coming straight for him, coming straight for home.

I leaped up and ran to the fence, hooking my fingers through the chain link and screamed, "Run run RUN! AND DON'T LOOK BACK!"

As he crossed home plate, I cheered for him, for us and his hands flew up into the air and he whooped.

And I whooped. Because that was the day I stopped looking back.

June 8, 2011

Fish Head

My oldest son is an old pro when it comes to fish guts. Last year my brother took him fishing and then showed him how to clean and cook the fish.  I was sure it would flip him out, but he did remarkably well and was even thrilled that he knows how to do it now.

I think we picked the right age -- maybe 7 or 8.  He's old enough to understand where food comes from and we've had discussions about hunting and fishing and how, in our family, it's not a "sport".  The rule in our house is if you kill an animal it's a guarantee you'll be eating it.

So, having been through this with one boy, I was a little bit lax on planning for the second. We'd been fishing with our youngest before and somehow in my mind I just assumed he already knew the drill.  He doesn't like fish, doesn't like meat much at all.  We call him "our vegetarian child", although his one big exception is hot dogs which he likes straight out of the fridge and with no bun.

Saturday Rob took the boys fishing with another Scout dad and his son.  They caught a ton of fish, most of which were too small to keep.  They brought home one catfish which Rob filleted outside his workshop on a nifty portable fish cleaning station he'd rigged up.

I was inside working on the computer and little while later the door opened and Tristan slowly walked in and closed the door behind him.  I knew something was up because when he comes in usually the door flies open and he enters the room with gale force and slams it behind him hard enough to shake the windows.

I turned to look at him and he walked slowly across the room, head down. I could see his bottom lip pooching out.

"What's wrong, buddy."  I held out my arms, inviting him in for a hug.

"I'm sad."

"Tell me all about why you're sad."

He pulled away and sat down on a short stepstool at the coffee table where he sits to eat his snacks or draw pictures.

"I'm sad because of the fish. They cut his head off."

Oh dear, I thought, how could I not have planned that out better.  Duh.

He kept looking down at his feet and swinging them up and down. His legs were filthy, no socks, ragged tennis shoes.  He looked like an abandoned, hopeless child.

He continued, "I just feel so bad for that lil guy..."

I reached out again and motioned for him to come to me and wrapped my arms around him. "I feel bad for that little guy, too.  I'm sorry you feel bad, but that's what happens when you eat a fish."

"I don't wanna eat a fish. I want that lil guy to still be swimming in the water!"

I half-smiled grimly and sympathetically.  "I know, I'm sorry.  You don't have to eat fish."

He eyeballed me accusingly.  "YOU eat fish."  That was the first time I'd ever heard him state a personal and deep criticism of who I am and what I do.  His mother, the Fish Eater.  I've gone through the standard, "You're mean!" or "I'm never gonna be your friend anymore!" during those moments when he was mad because I made him eat what was on his plate or made him clean his room or wouldn't let him wear pajamas to school.  But this was something entirely different.

He wasn't going to understand if I said, "I'm a Southernor.  I'm obligated by my culture to have corn-battered catfish at LEAST once a month with liberal amounts of greasy, deep-fried hush puppies on the side. I'm sorry, but I can't help myself."

So, I did all I could -- admitted my faults, that I'm a rampaging fish killer.  "I do eat fish, honey."

"But I don't want you to do it.  I just feel so sad for that lil guy."

I pulled him onto my lap. He smelled like a gamey little boy of summer, a boy who had been out on a boat getting sweaty and wet and now was covered in a film of dirt. He nuzzled his face into my neck and I said, "Hey, how about I draw you up a nice bath? That will be fun."  He nodded against my neck.

Deep, cool bath, lots of bubbles, a big toy boat. He stayed in there for nearly an hour and when he was out there was no further mention of fish or being sad.  I guess we'll cross our fingers and wait for the next time one of the boys wants to go fishing and see what happens.  We may be headed for vegetarianism one of these days.

May 26, 2011

Thursday, Bloody Thursday

Like most parents with school-aged children, our lives are filled with many activities. Probably too many. Baseball, T-ball, martial arts, boy scouts, weekly skating, and various other activities that we consider "enriching".

Tonight was one of those nights -- a boy scout pack meeting with a big martial arts demo and the unveiling of a long-awaited brand new Pinewood Derby track. My husband is a scout leader and would be handing out awards and badges and various scouty doo-dads that are cool and build the boys' self-esteem.

We pulled into the parking lot and I noticed that the neighbor across from the building we were at had her two pit bulls out in the yard. One was on a leash, one was not. I suspected they were the two animals I'd been hearing about in that neighborhood -- the ones the police and animal control have been visiting for the last few days after reports that they were attacking people's cats.

I pointed them out to Rob and said, "I think those are the dogs that got picked up the other day."

We gathered the children up and went inside. Not long afterward, most of the boys went outside to play while they were waiting for the meeting to start.

Within minutes two parents came in and started yelling my name. They looked panicked and kept yelling to me to come right away. One ran into the bathroom and one ran back out the door. I wasn't sure which one I should follow. All I could think of was one of the dogs was attacking a cat, or worse, a child. I'm on the city council and they wanted me to come and stop a dog from eating a cat in front of a pack of boy scouts.

And then one of them turned and said, "It's Julius, he's been hurt. You have to come quick."

I began running, burst out the glass door into the open air, rounded the corner in the direction she was pointing and there I saw my husband with his hand on Julius's head. Wads of tissue soaked in blood, blood everywhere, soaked into his white karate gi, my husband's hands covered in blood, running down his arms, Julius screaming for help even though his dad was there helping him. A mother's nightmare.

A head injury is any trauma that leads to injury of the scalp, skull, or brain. The injuries can range from a minor bump on the skull to serious brain injury. -- from the U.S. Nat'l Library of Medicine
I yell, "What's happened? What happened to him?"  I hear someone say something about him being hit with a rock. It's nothing that I can understand because all I can see is the blood. How can there be so much blood from a person that size?

Rob bellows for me to get Tristan, find Tristan and get him in the car because we have to get to the hospital now. I could not see what was wrong with him, wasn't close enough. Most of his face was covered with toilet paper and blood. I didn't know what was wrong. The entire group had this horrified look on their faces. I wanted to rush to him and check him out and Rob was telling me to go -- go find Tristan.
I had to rein in my emotions and trust his judgement and handle that part of the family despite my urge to yank Julius out of his hands and take care of him myself.

A friend emerges from the side and says, "I've got Tristan, just go." Another woman ushered me and Rob and Julius toward the car, helped me get him into the car, and said, "I've got the door."

We raced toward the hospital, flashers on, calling the police to say we were on the way and please don't pull us over for driving like maniacs because we are covered in our son's blood from a head wound. Julius starts screaming, "I CAN'T SEE, I CAN'T SEE!"

I'm thinking, "Is his eye out? Is his head laid open to the bone?" All I know is he was hit in the head with a rock, but I don't know how bad, and now he says he can't see followed up with, "I'm gonna throw up."

At the hospital Rob pulled up and grabbed a wheelchair, put Julius in it and I ran to the door and thought, "They better get me in there right now or I'm gonna rip somebody's head off and bathe in their bloody spray." I had the mother's blood lust of protection and as I rounded the corner with my bloody lump of child wailing in the wheelchair the doors parted like the red sea and we were ushered to Trauma 2.

And then when I saw that the medical team had my son in their care... that's when I burst into tears.
The symptoms of a head injury can occur immediately or develop slowly over several hours or days. Even if the skull is not fractured, the brain can bang against the inside of the skull and be bruised. The head may look fine, but complications could result from bleeding or swelling inside the skull. -- from the U.S. Nat'l Library of Medicine

With a warbling voice I managed to croak out his name and my name and something about a kid throwing a rock and "I don't know anymore than that..."  Rob stayed with Julius while I got him checked in and when I came back he was still crying, shaking. His hand grasped out for mine while they held him down to clean him up.

By that time they knew how bad it was. Two wounds, one a puncture above his temple, one a gash on his forhead. They talked for a few minutes and decided that fake skin and steri-strips would do the trick and less scarring than stitches since it was at the front of his forehead. I was so relieved after seeing the wound because what I had imagined was horrific and nearly more than I could bear -- a child disfigured with a missing eye, a gash all down his face requiring 50 gazillion stitches.  I suddenly remembered one of the things he wailed on the trip to the hospital, "Why did this have to happen to ME?"

I held his hand and was able to look at him with complete calm and assurance and tell him how okay it was all going to turn out.  Somehow this day was worse than almost all the other 18 times we've been at the hospital for surgeries.  He was still crying, then screaming again when they started cleaning him up and taping him.

Rob said, "Julius, how many surgeries have you had at Children's Hospital?"

Without hesitation he said, "Eighteen..."

"You're a tough guy. When you see your head in the mirror you're gonna know it's not as bad as you think it is. There was just a lot of blood."

I looked down at his pants. Big drops of blood at the top, massive blood spray at the bottom. I squeezed his hand. His nails and hands were crusted with blood.  No wonder we all freaked out.  No wonder he was still freaked out.
Some head injuries result in prolonged or nonreversible brain damage. This can occur as a result of bleeding inside the brain or forces that damage the brain directly. -- from the U.S. Nat'l Library of Medicine
And finally after a while the medical folks were done with their jobs, most of us were calm, and I had talked Julius into going back to the pack meeting to show off his war wound.  All was mostly right with the world.  Except for the small matter of "Oh by the way, your kid could have a concussion and you have to wake him up every four hours for the next two days to make sure he can form complete sentences, his eyes aren't dilated and that they can track."

I told the nurse, "I can't even do that with him when he hasn't had a head injury."

She smiled and said, "You know your child.  You'll know."

People say that to me a lot, but I never believe them.  Why do women think that because they have this innate maternal instinct that I will also have that same instinct?  I'm not like them.

Tonight I tucked him into bed. He was droopy eyed and limp, tired and emotionally drained.  I laid my hand on his chest and said, "You had a big day today, huh?"  He nodded in response.

"Tomorrow you get to go into school and show everyone your big head wound and show off what a tough guy you are."  He smiled.

"I have an idea.  I think you should tell them that you got injured when Kenneth was casting his fishing line into the water at the fishing derby and he nearly ripped your face off."  He laughed.  That's the boy I'm used to seeing.

"Okay, wait, this is better.  For the girls you can tell them we were driving past an ATM machine and you saw a guy breaking into it with a hammer and you jumped out of the car with your mad karate skills and did a take down on him until the police got there and that's how you hurt your head. What do you think?"

He stared at me with his "mom, you're stupid" face on and said, "No, I think I'll just stick with the rock story."

I shrugged. "Yeah, the truth is pretty cool, too."

April 29, 2011

R.I.P. Bob Molly

Thanks to all of you who have asked about how we have fared in all the southern storms.  We are mostly fine with exception of not having water for three days and a nearby town being destroyed.  I'll update you later when things calm down.

We have had one casualty, "Bob Molly", but he was not a casualty of the storm.  His misfortune was joining our family which is bad luck for most any fish.

Stay tuned

April 20, 2011

The Wrong Kind of Carnival

It was past 9PM, past the children's bedtime, but we were about 40 miles from home after an out-of-town celebration of Julius getting his yellow belt for martial arts.

We drove through a shopping mall parking lot, passing a big red lighted sign that read "Shoe Carnival."

Julius asked, "What's Shoe Carnival?"

Tristan asked, "Do they have bouncy houses there?"

"No," I said. "It's a store that sells shoes."

Both boys sat in silence for a moment and finally Tristan said, "That's not a very good kind of carnival."

(As someone who isn't a big fan of shoes and shoe-buying, I would have to agree.)

April 1, 2011

My Job Description -- The Director's Cut

There's a lot of things people don't tell you about having kids.  They say lame generic things like, "Your life will change" or "Do everything you want now, because you won't be able to do them once you have kids."  They also tell you really nice things like how your life will seem more complete or how they can't imagine life without children. (Those are the people with a startling lack of imagination, because when I try to imagine my life without kids it looks a lot like me sitting on the couch with the remote control getting to watch whatever I want to and not moving for about three days except to get up to pee and fetch more HoHo's from the kitchen.)

Nobody tells you that for the first few months of your child's life you'll smell like vomit all the time, even when you're freshly showered.  Nobody tells you that one day you'll be diapering your child and not have the answer to the question, "Is his penis supposed to look like that?"  Nobody tells you that everything you have planned for your child and your family will probably not come to pass because before you are a parent you are an idealistic boob who doesn't know anything about being a parent.

Don't get me wrong.  None of this should make you feel bad (although it will) because it's just one of those phase transitions from "boob" to "experienced" to "veteran" (when you're a grandparent, I guess).

Last night while I was doing the dishes I ran across another one of those things that falls under the job description of the parent that nobody tells you you're supposed to know. From the living room, barely over the roar of running water, I hear Tristan bellowing to me about how snakes lay eggs.  I leaned back enough to see through the doorway that he was sitting on the couch with an open book on his lap. His "blanky" was wrapped around him and he looked like he was reading (except he can't read yet).

I told him he was right about that and then he yelled back, "Where do the eggs come out?"

"Um... They... Well, uh... somewhere at the back end of the snake."  Honestly, not being well-versed on my snake anatomy I had no idea where the eggs come out.

"Out of their bottom????"

I shut the water off so I could hear him better. "No, not out of their bottoms exactly. Some other part."

I searched my brain for answers. The answer must lie in how snakes reproduce.  Oh hell, how do snakes even make babies?  How can I live in the country and not know how snakes reproduce?  Do they have male and female parts? Do snakes have sex? I stood at the dishdrainer completely perplexed and feeling like I'd hit a bump in the road and, like an old jalopy, part of my brain had fallen out and got left behind by the side of the road.

He continued shouting from the next room, "But I want to say the eggs come out of their bottom!"

"Okay, but I'm telling you that's not right."

"Yes, I am right!"

The good news is that no matter what gets added to your job description as a parent (and amateur herpetologist is part of it) you can easily be rescued by the Internet and work it in to make it look like you're enriching your child's educational experience. It's a great excuse to sit down with your child and look up vital and interesting science things.

Just be aware when you do a Google search the nice and normal scientific search terms you use can lead to some interesting semi-pornographic images coming up on your computer screen while you sit there with your four year old.  And, of course, that can then lead to a lot of other questions that you probably don't have the answer to.

March 28, 2011

Please. Don't Help Me.

I was standing at the counter of a sandwich shop. I periodically scooted down the line as progress was made building my sandwich.

Scoot. Wait. Scoot. Wait.

Next to me was a woman who scooted alongside. We stood in silence. Every now and then I'd glance at her, every now and again she'd glance at me before we'd scoot some more.

After a while all that scooting got me down to the plastic cookie display. Before I got to that temptation I had already decided I needed some cookies because my mouth told me so. My brain didn't agree, but as is often the case, my brain was overrulled by my mouth so I ordered chocolate chip cookies from what looked like a 12 year old running the cash register.

My counter-companion scooted up next to me as I placed my cookie order and said, "Those are 225 calories a piece."

I looked over at her, my brows furrowed.  She'd just totally violated me with unsolicited information about a food product.  Not cool.   It's like telling someone who is about to eat a hot dog what's actually in the hot dog.  Or telling someone buying Coke about the news feature you just saw last week about how carmel coloring causes cancer.

What would possess a person to tell the chubby chick the caloric content of the cookie she just ordered? That's just downright hostile if you ask me.

I stared at her for a few seconds trying to think of something really clever to say, but couldn't and was really disappointed.  Then I thought maybe I should just punch her in the mouth, but realized that was just me being cranky because I was down about 225 calories or so and just needed a little sugar boost to maintain my powerful mojo.

So, I just did my best to authenticate a chuckle and say, "Oh gosh, yes, and I'm going to love all 225 of them. And possibly 450 of them if I have two!"

March 21, 2011

I am Still an Expert on Certain Things

It's spring break which means that all week there will be children in my office. Mostly we try to keep them busy trading off with mom and dad and various grandmothers.  Today, however, for thirty long minutes they were in my office constructing very long train tracks.  Under my desk were two plastic shotguns.  In my drawer were four plastic pistols along with the ammo. I'm totally loaded for bear if I'm attacked by, say, Big Bird.

My youngest peered around the corner of my doorway and said, "Tell me there are no monsters in the bathroom."

I glanced over the top of my monitor. "There are no monsters in the bathroom."

"Okay," he said, "But please tell me there are no monsters in the bathroom."

"Really. I promise. There are no monsters in the bathroom."

He nodded as if to indicate he actually knew that all along. "Okay, that's good."

I nodded and said, "Yeah, I think so too."

Satisfied, he went back to work on the train.

March 16, 2011

A Desire to Retard Social Growth

This morning I was sitting on the couch and my oldest son came in and sat at the other end of the couch and announced, "Mom... I think I am finally mature enough to ask Sally Smith to be my girlfriend."

Various responses went through my head at lightning speed some of which were an adamant "hell no you're not!", a sarcastic "really? didn't you just turn eight?", and a panicked and jaded "don't do it, son, she'll just break your heart!"

But instead I tried to play it cool and offered a non-committal, "Hmm. Really?"

"Yes," he said confidently. "I'm going to do it in a note."

"Well, okay."

He went off to get some paper and a pen. I sat there with my cell phone in my hand trying to remember why I had my cell phone in my hand and noting to myself that this was probably a really awesome milestone and possibly a great mother-son bonding moment that I just let slip past because of my parental ineptitude.

I wandered off to take a shower and when I came back he was sitting at the desk staring into space. When he saw me he crumpled the paper up and said, "Aw, I just can't do it."

I smiled. "It takes some nerves of steel sometimes, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," he said sheepishly.

"It's okay, though. I was thinking about what you said. You know you could just try being her good friend to start with and then it will be a real piece of cake if you still want to ask her to be your girlfriend later. Maybe it won't seem so risky."

He thought about it and bent down to tie his shoes. He has been a velcro kid his whole life and still isn't smooth with the laces. How can he be already interested in having a girlfriend when he still gets upset because he can't tie his shoes well? The natural order of life doesn't fit in with the desire my brain has for logic and common sense.

I added, "What about getting her a small gift or something?"

He grunted in a small panic that accompanied the contemplation of that scenario so I said, "I mean, it doesn't have to be a big deal. Take her some bubble gum or something. I don't know."

He laughed. I think it was part embarrassment and part ridicule -- mocking me to cover how he was feeling. I searched for a graceful way to stop the conversation.

"Well, you'll figure it out. Just wait til you're 30 or something.  That should be enough time."

Tristan was in the hallway putting on his (velcro) shoes. "Why does anyone even care about it?"

"Care about what?" I didn't even know he was listening.

"Having a girlfriend. Why does anyone even want to care about it?"

I asked him if he wanted a girlfriend and he said no.  I said some people when they get older they want a girlfriend and then I reminded him that he also didn't really need to worry about it until he was 30.

"But I want to care about it." As usual he is a bundle of contradictory statements.

"Well, then you can care about it. That's fine."

"Yes, I do want to care about it."

I sat for a while and listened to Julius explain to him how he was too young to have a girlfriend anyway. Sounded familiar.

I don't remember thinking about boys when I was eight.  I don't think I cared much about boys until I crept up to my teenage years.  There was too much adventuring to be had where I lived -- too many trees and cliffs to climb, too many creeks to swim in and silly games to play with my girlfriends, miles to ride on my bike, too many books to read and my own stories to make up.

The world moves so fast and furious and when I look at Julius sometimes it seems like I'm gazing across a chasm at him. Or as if we are both on moving sidewalks at an airport, only his sidewalk is beginning to move increasingly faster compared to the one I'm on. I see myself casting a hand forward to reach out to him and he smiles and waves as he moves into the distance.

It seems sad at times, but delightful at other times.  His maturity is amusing and precocious and I'm so proud of him many reasons.

Still, I do find myself wishing some days that he was a really nerdy kid who had no friends and who just wanted to stay home and read books and play video games and would live in my basement forever. Except I don't even have a basement.

Maybe I could dig one.

March 8, 2011

Observations, Realizations, and Diversions

It's time once again for a "tidbits" post, a lukewarm melange of tiny thingys that don't fit anywhere else. My mind is full of mental post-its and they are starting to come unstuck and drop down like falling leaves littering the floor of my cranial cavity.

Time to unload.

* * *

Despite having a fish curse, we got another tank and have stocked it with fish. One died yesterday.

* * *
Tristan gave me an out-of-the-blue compliment. It was so nice. He said, "Mom, you're pretty."  I beamed and thanked him at which time he added, "But you're only pretty with your makeup on."  This is not the first time he's explained this to me.

* * *

Charlie Sheen reminds me of a willful and omnipotent two-year-old who has had part of his speech pathways replaced by a random word generator.

* * *

While on the subject of Charlie Sheen, I think Hasbro should come out with a celebrity version of their Clue game and one of the possible murder scenario combinations should be "Charlie Sheen on the Rooftop with a Machete".

* * *

I knitted an adorable kid's hat with wool that I spun myself and the next day I showed it to someone who bought it and asked me to make another one in a different color. I walked on air all afternoon.  It boggles my mind that a person can take a wad of farm animal hair and turn it into something really nifty.

* * *

I'm tired a lot and finally went to see the doctor when I realized that if I sat still for too long I'd sometimes feel like I just wanted to fall over unconscious.  Turns out my hemoglobin is about half what it should be.  I can tell you that naps will not cure that.

* * *

Julius cried out indignantly during a news story about Michelle Obama giving international women awards for being brave and forward-thinking and helping make the world a better place for women and their civil rights. He said, "I don't get this -- Susan B. Anthony already fixed this problem and now it's back on! I just don't get it!"

* * *

Apparently calling a woman "girl" is highly insulting to some women. Apparently I have a bad habit to break that I didn't even know I had.

* * *

I have unwittingly discovered a combination of cleaning chemicals that will eat the chrome off of bathroom fixtures and enamel off the bathtub.  I keep wondering if I could market it for something, but I guess there's not really a big demand for chrome removal.

* * *

My kids are 8 and 4 now. I can't believe it. I don't even understand that. And when I think about it for more than 30 seconds it sort of makes me want to throw up.

March 1, 2011

We Teach Each Other

The other night Tristan and I did an impromptu raid on the local pizza establishment. Dad and Julius were gone and we sneaked out of the house under the cover of falling dusk and headed down to get something interesting to eat, just the two of us.

While we waited for our food to be ready, we played on the playground equipment. Tristan slid down the slide and climbed up the climbing wall. Over and over.  He begged me to slide with him, but I declined since generally slides never work out well for me.  I either go too fast and nearly fly over the side or I go to slow and have to do the undignified caterpillar-ass-wiggle to scoot down to the bottom.

Instead I stood at the top of the slide and gazed to the west at a strange light from behind the mountain silhouettes. I assumed it was the setting sun, but something wasn't right about it. High above it was a bright star, very clear, bold, huge. Tristan scrambled up over the edge of the climbing wall and I told him to look.

"Look at the pretty light, Tristan, and the star.  I think maybe that's Venus. Is it pretty?"

"I think that's Mars, Mommy."

My kids frequently whip out with these intelligent-sounding observations and it's hard for me to tell if they know what they are talking about or if they are just making stuff up because they do both.  Most of the time I just agree with them if I don't know the answer myself. I figure agreeing with them will give them additional self-confidence which seems to be in short supply with people these days. Or, if my mother is correct, it will make them boorish and egomaniacal. I spent a moment wondering which of those dysfunctions was easier to cure later in life.

"Mars? Well, maybe.  I really don't know.  I think that's a great observation and you could be right."

"Yes, I am right. Stars are really planets."

"Um, yeah. Okay." Now it starts to get annoying when people let science suck the romance out of your being in the moment. But he's four. What am I supposed to do?

Tristan takes off down the slide and I call my friend Ginny who is an astrophysicist turned archaeologist.

"Ginny, go look out the window to the west.  There is a weird light with a big fat star above it. What is that star?"

She indulges me, but claims she can't see it. This might be true or she might just be too lazy to get off the couch and leave the wine and chocolate. She claims it's too cloudy and then adds, "Stars are really planets, you know."

Thank goodness her plumber arrived just then so I didn't have the chance to explain how her science was sucking the romance out of my being in the moment.

Before we left the restaurant, Tristan conned me out of 75 cents for one of those little doo-dad machines that had tiny little plastic dogs in large plastic pop-open containers. Basically about half a cent worth of Chinese plastic that would kill him if he swallowed it.

He loved the little dog he got and asked me on the way to the car why the dog was in such a big container.

I shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe so it looks like you're getting something bigger for the money you are spending."

"Why do they do that?"

"So manufacturers can justify their greed and profit margins by creating the illusion that you're getting something substantial when you're not."

He thought about this for a minute while I buckled his car seat.

"So they are lying."

"Well, yeah, sort of. Pretty much." But then I felt bad about saying that because I'm simultaneously jaded about consumerism at the same time that I'm fascinated by it. "Maybe lying is not the best word for that. Exaggerating and misleading might be better words."

"They're lying."

I sighed. "Definitely it's prudent to be a savvy consumer and investigate all product claims. But, you know, if overpaying for a little plastic dog makes you happy and you're spending your money wisely in other ways, then it's probably okay, right?"

"I like my little dog."

"Me too. Ruff ruff!" Tristan laughed at his silly mother.

The strange light in the sky was gone by the time we got home, but I was curious about the star, sorry, planet we saw. It turned out to be Jupiter and that strange light was called a zodiacal light.  Fascinating.

If you keep your eyes and ears open you can learn something new and wonderful every day.