Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu Means

"Swine flu means you shouldn't go around licking pigs."

That was Ezra's thought upon seeing this picture my mom emailed me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In Other News

Okay, I feel kind of bitchy about that last post. I'm still not happy about it, but I love my dad and would someday like to have a relationship with his wife again. It will never be the way it was, but I know I can either spend my life being angry about it or I can stop being angry and start feeling better.

So here is some other news.

First of all, Matilda has been giving kisses the last couple of days. She selects her victim, uh, recipient, and waddles up to them. Usually it's another kid, so she wraps her arms around his neck and pulls him in tight. The first time she did this, I was nervous, since she's had a bit of a biting habit in the past. But once she's got a firm hold, she plants a giant, open, slobbery mouth on top of her friend's head. Then she smiles at me to make sure that I know what a wonderful friend she is. Of course, I'm sure to let her know that I do know what a nice person she is, which usually leads to more kissing. I'm still always a little nervous that she's going to bite or strangle, but the thought is there. (As I am writing, Zachary and Ezra are standing at the dining room table playing play-doh. Matilda just took the opportunity to walk up and kiss Zachary's bottom.)

Second, I received 6 separate emails today about swine flu. Three of them were from our health insurance company, and three were from child care organizations. Let me summarize the information they contained: There is this thing called swine flu. It's not like the regular flu, so your flu shot? Worthless. It's really dangerous but so far only in Mexico. If you get sick, don't come to work, because that could make others sick. If you're a day care provider, tell parents if their kids get the swine flu, they shouldn't come to day care. The best way to prevent it is by washing your hands. Seriously? For this, they emailed me six times? If you have a vaccine or a cure or a case in my town, that warrants six emails. But "wash your hands"? I think I could have figured that one out on my own. And no, no day care parents have been asking about my swine flu policies. I know perspective can be a difficult thing to come by, but it doesn't help to have 35 channels screaming that we're all going to die (maybe) and getting the same advice we get for preventing the common cold.

Finally--and definitely best--my mom called this morning to say that my brother had called her. He wants to know if he can give his girlfriend the ring my dad gave my mom for their 30th anniversary. She said she wanted to ask me and my sister before she told him it was okay, so no one felt slighted. I told her of course it was okay, that I think it's an absolutely beautiful gesture. He's been saying for years that he can never get married, because with mom and dad in such bad shape, how would he manage the wedding? I think that concern faded a few years ago, but I think it was replaced by a very real fear of marriage--that if his parents' marriage could turn into this mess, what would happen to his? So we learned never to ask if they were ever going to get married. They live together, and he just got a job in New Orleans, and it's been understood that she would go too. But we were never allowed to ask about permanence. And now my baby brother's going to get married! She made it very clear that this is a big secret, but this is the advantage to not actually telling anyone you know about your blog: you get to spill the beans, because if anyone reads this, who are you going to tell?

So even in this messy world that makes me so mad sometimes, good things happen. And I'm so grateful.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Dad's Marriage(s): Part 1

I felt it was appropriate to title this one "Part 1" because I know this is going to be one of those stories that, even though you think it's done, there's really more.

Let me begin with the most basic information. My parents were married--to one another--all my life. I was born (several weeks early after an unplanned conception--yay me!) a little over a year after they got married. I grew up as one of the only kids I knew whose parents were married to one another. It wasn't the greatest marriage in the world, but I figured they were doing a good job, because they were still together. I always knew, although it was almost never discussed, that my dad had been married before. It was short lived and there were no kids. In fact, it was very shortly after his first marriage ended that he met my mom; the story went that he was visiting a friend to "get over" his divorce, and they threw a dart at a map to decide where to go. It landed on Crystal Ice Caves, where my mom was a tour guide. And the rest was history. Until 2005, when, a month before Ezra was born, my dad announced that he was moving out. There had been stirrings in the marital waters to be sure; in 1997, when I was studying abroad for six months, we learned that he'd had an affair with one of his (graduate) students for pretty much the entire time. There had been speculation, mostly between the siblings, that this wasn't the first time. But officially things were back on track. And then suddenly they weren't. Officially they were taking a break, he was going to "find himself" or something for a year while living on his own, but it was pretty quickly clear to everyone but my mom that he wasn't looking back.

He told us all that this was a hard time for him, that he was really a private person who'd been living for the last 30 years as though he were a very social person. He was trying to be true to himself, to be the fundamentally alone person that he was. And no, there was no way on earth that he was seeing someone--not now, not while he was still with Mom, not at all. Those rumors that he was dating my friend--the one who had coincidentally gotten a divorce around the time he moved out, the one who was his student, the one who had kind of stopped calling me? Those rumors were completely false, and it was kind of insulting that we would think otherwise.

Until the day he told me they were true. And they were getting married. And, as I have tried over and over to explain to him, I don't have excesses of friends or family. And my dear friend, the first one to visit me in the hospital after Zachary was born, the first friend I'd made at my first grown-up job, the one with a daughter 9 months older than Zachary, my friend and my dad had chosen one another over me.

There's more, of course. There's always more. But that continues to be a crux of the situation for me. My mom is hurt and angry and insists that the only thing we can do to help is "be loyal." My brother, who has always looked up to my dad, is not speaking to him. My sister is sick of being the one my mom turns to, sick of being the one to take care of her and tell her it's going to be all right. And I'm the pushover, the easy one, the one who's always been closest to him--and terrifyingly, most like him in personality. And I'm the one they betrayed most, at least more than my siblings. And though I haven't actually spoken to her since all this happened, he has never once apologized. He's said he understands that people are hurt and it's too bad that things worked out that way, but he's never once said, "That must really be hard on you. I wish you hadn't beem hurt like that. I'm sorry."

Friday, April 24, 2009

I smelled the chemicals and that's how I knew

I had this roommate in college, Gwen, who was this really unusual mix of trying too hard to be different and genuinely being different. She was pre-med, very scientific mind. But she also wore this long red velvet cloak all the time and hung out at the Renaissance Festival. She also claimed to be a wiccan, which frankly has colored my impression of all other people I've met who claim to be wiccan. It didn't seem to be so much an identity or a religion, so much as a thing she could call herself when she wanted to stand out: "Don't mess with me, I'm a witch," and so on.

But the thing that always amazed me was that in addition to all this trying to hard to be different, she was genuinely different in some of the most amazing (though not always good) ways. I first met her when I was a freshman in college and a friend of mine had had it with her assigned roommate, so she moved into the on-campus apartments. She was assigned three roommates there, two other freshmen and Gwen, a sophomore. Gwen was a whole year older than us and way more experienced in just about everything. She was an EMT and worked odd hours and knew boys and stuff. So she was the one we went to with all our problems. For example, one winter morning Gwen had worked late the night before and was passed out in the bedroom. Her three roommates were up and around, making toast for breakfast. Suddenly, the toaster caught on fire. It was placed under the cabinet in the kitchen and flames were shooting up out of the toaster and touching the cabinets. In a fit of terror, the girls ran into the bedroom and started screaming, "The toaster's on fire! The toaster's on fire!" Gwen rolled over, said, "Put it out," and covered her head with the pillow. They ran back into the kitchen and, seeing the toaster still shooting flames, turned around and ran back into the bedroom, screaming. Gwen realized they weren't going to stop, so she got out of bed, stumbled into the kitchen, ripped the toaster out of the wall, walked out onto the balcony, threw the toaster off the balcony and into the snow, and went back to sleep. Saved the day, classic Gwen style.

A few years later, Gwen and I shared a house near campus with three other friends, five of us there altogether. And by this time, she had developed some truly strange habits. Now, granted, we were not the neatest people you'd want to meet. I don't know that we vacuumed the entire year we were in that house, and the dishes just piled up until we ran out. Then it was an entire day (there were A LOT of dishes in that house) of washing disgusting smelly dishes. But Gwen had her ownthing going on. A favorite was that she liked to keep her cheese in the couch. I'm completely serious. She would buy a block of cheddar cheese and stick it in a zip-loc bag, then she would shove the plastic bag between the cushions of the couch. She insisted, "I like my cheese warm." And that in itself wouldn't have been so terrible if she hadn't always included a knife with it. So you never knew, when you sat down on the couch, whether you were going to be stabbed in the ass by a cheese knife.

She also had a propensity for falling asleep on the couch and just staying there. One night our roommate had been bartending all night and was finally coming home. But this night was special, because she'd had a long-term crush on a friend of ours (who had been briefly, painfully engaged to another one of our roommates). He'd hung out at the bar all evening with her and was now coming home with her. This wasn't so unusual since many of the people in our large group of friends often ended up coming over after the bar closed, but this was the first time it had been just the two of them. When they walked into the house, there was Gwen, asleep on the living room sofa. She was wearing a peasant dress and nylons, nothing else--and the dress had hiked itself up to her armpits. So my poor friend grabbed kitchen tongs and used them to lift the blanket back over Gwen while she slept; it did not turn out to be the most romantic evening. (In case you're wondering, yes, they did get together eventually; it was always rocky and he finally broke up with her via email.)

Another time she was sleeping on the couch, we decided all of a sudden to pln a party--a themed party. So as we were coming up with storybook characters for people to dress as, we thought of the Seven Dwarfs, from Snow White: Dopey, Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Doc, and someone else. I always forget the name of the other dwarf, and neither of us could remember it. So we ran into the living room to ask Gwen. We shouted at her, "Gwen, what was the name of the seventh dwarf?" The logical question would have been, "Which six have you already named?" But that wasn't her style. She definitively announced, "Pinchy Smurf." And that was her nickname for years.

But the best ever sleeping-on-the-couch quote was heard by me alone. I had been tending bar and came home later to find her passed out in her usual spot. I probably said hello or "Are you ever going to get off the couch?" or something like that. And she mumbled, "10... 9... out of 10 birds are dead. I smelled the chemicals... and that's how I knew." It seemed to sum up something, although I've never been certain what it was.

It's been more than 10 years since I last saw her, and I still think of that quote all the time. My husband, whom I met years after losing touch with her, will sometimes repeat it. I hope she no longer keeps her cheese in the couch and that she sometimes sleeps in a bed these days. But I hope she still offers up such entertaining nuggets of wisdom.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Good One, God!

So remember all the sobbing on the floor after the hitting the head? (I still have a big red scab there, by the way--very sexy.) This was followed by much crying about pretty much nothing, leading to a few possibilities: one, my medication isn't working. Since I'm on an insanely high dosage of antidepressants, I hesitate even to think that's an option. In fact, I was just thinking that it was about time to talk to my psychiatrist about lowering my dosage, now that all the having babies and other stressors are done with. Two: maybe I'm just crazy. This is a logical next step in my head, that if I'm not dealing well with whatever is going on around me, I must therefore be "broken." That was mostly what I had concluded until... this afternoon, in a moment that confirms that God has a sense of humor, I got my period!

Now, this might not be very exciting news, but for a few things. One, it does seem to explain a lot; I've just been been PMS'ing. But I'm nursing, and I have a body (and kids) such that I don't get a period for a year or so after baby is born, what with the refual to sleep in their own beds and such. Additionally, I've been on the pill since, oh, 1999. Seriously. When we got married in 2002, I decided to switch brands over to the good-for-your-skin one before the wedding. Dumbass. I spent our honeymoon dealing with spotting and finally decided to go off it for a month or two and reset my system; I was pregnant before I got my first period off the pill. (We had been planning to try "soon," just hadn't decided on "immediately.") I went on the mini-pill as soon as he was born and was on it until he was 15 months old. I was pregnant within a month. I lost that pregnancy but was pregnant within a month after that. (3 C-sections; my body dearly loves to make babies, and it would keep them forever if it could.) After Ezra was born, I went back on the mini-pill and then onto the regular one. It was while I was on that pill that I got pregnant with Matilda. (Yes, I obviously screwed up somewhere; everyone asks if I forgot to take it. Apparently I did. And of course, I will be forever grateful that I did, since if I had been more responsible, I would be missing one of the things that makes my life whole.) After Matilda was born, I had my tubes tied.

So you see, I have not been without strange hormones of some kind coursing through my veins in about 10 years. I've been pregnant or on the pill pretty much the entire time. And I'm terrified. I first started the pill because of the severity of my periods, and now they're back, with no artificial hormones to dampen them down? (Could I even go back on the pill now, if they're intolerable? Would they think I was crazy if I tried?)

What's more, we're leaving tomorrow for the weekend. It's not a romantic getaway, at least there's that. And we're not camping. My potential discomfort would put a real damper on the outdoor experience. No, instead, my husband, three children, and father-in-law are driving 3 hours to visit my husband's brother (who we see a couple of times a year) and his wife. So for the next few days, I will be dealing with cramps, diarrhea, cold sweats, and all the shit that goes with something I was so grateful not to have to deal with for the last, well, two years at least. And I'm going to do it all while dealing with extended family who don't know me very well and make me nervous at the best of times. I'll be placating everyone, watching the little kids while my husband takes Zachary into the hotel swimming pool, being the good daughter-in-law and making sure his dad has everything he needs, and generally trying not to think about how much I wish I was alone, in my bed, with a novel and a glass of wine.

God, you crack me up!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I hate all things sharp and pointy

That's it, I am clearing out the house. At the curb, I am placing all things pointy. Forks, knives, pens, scissors, all yours for the taking. Everything must go. Especially shelves that stick out of the wall at forehead level and then attack without warning when all you did was drop a can of juice that you were trying to put in the recycling like a responsible person until you bent down to pick it up and then--wham! On the floor, sobbing, for five minutes.

It had been a cruddy afternoon. No one was listening to a word I said, then they decided to pull out every single puzzle. Some time ago, I took all our jigsaw puzzles of 100 pieces or so and put them in zip-loc bags and put the bags in a plastic tub. Clever storage, no? Yes, until they decide to open the tub, take out every puzzle, and open the puzzles on the floor in Ezra's room. I told them several times that as soon as all the puzzles were picked up, we could go outside. But every time I turned around, there were more. So I was near the end of my rope anyway. I decided to take a break from the puzzle-related anger and make more juice. And then came the dreaded shelf to the forehead. I was bending over, didn't realize it was right there, and now I have a giant, red, swollen rectangle on my forehead. It hurt enough to justify some serious swearing, but probably not the actual crying that ensued. I just couldn't believe that the world was being that mean to me today--and that the house full of children, whose owies I kiss, whose butts I clean, whose fights I referee, not one of them asked if I was okay, as I lay on the floor crying.

That was several hours ago, and it still hurts. When I suggested that it would be a good night for a pizza, my husband reminded me that we're going out of town this weekend and will be eating out for several meals. Of course, he's not doing any cooking tonight, so what does he care? My head hurts, and no one is being nice to me. Zachary and Ezra are playing "sneak up tp Mommy and pull her hair, because we're spies... or something." Matilda is following them around and getting pushed over occasionally. They need baths, and I don't feel like giving them. I'm so cranky and really want someone to take over my jobs--all my stupid keeping-everything-in-this-house-clean-and-alive jobs--for just a few hours.

On second throught, maybe I won't put all the pointy things out on the curb. Maybe I'll just sit out there. Maybe someone will offer to take me away, or maybe I'll just get a little time to myself.

Monday, April 20, 2009

All Set, Mommy!

So Ezra has been genuinely working on the potty training lately. We've had him in Pull-Ups since forever, but much like Zachary, he pretty much saw them as diapers and had a hard time distinguishing wet from dry, much less actually trying to make it to the potty. Since he's been able to pee on demand for a long time, I decided to suck it up and just have him run around in a shirt and underpants (he's so anti-pants that he didn't often wear those anyway). We've had a few accidents but not many; he's actually been doing really well. Now, unless we're going somewhere or we (Daddy) are feeling especially lazy, he's in underpants full time. He's a first-thing-in-the-morning pooper, so he usually wakes up wet and poopy. So we're not working hard on that particular hurdle yet, but otherwise, potty training is going just great. (Aren't you glad you tuned in to read about my kid's defecation habits? I tell you, I don't have that much going on in my life.)

So anyway, today he had a little accident, so I told him to go potty, then put his pants (he was actually wearing them today) and underpants down the laundry chute, then grab clean ones. What I meant was clean underpants:
He dressed himself, then ran up to me and announced, "I'm all set, Mommy!" And who was I to argue? He'd put on pants, no underpants, and the pants were on backwards (that's the elastic cinch at the waist peeking out the top there). They were also folded over on the top, so that he had the most definite plumber appearance going on. But he was so deliciously proud of himself, announcing that he was "all set" for whatever adventure he had planned next! (That adventure, I believe was emptying out the bin of books.)

Of course, as soon as I pulled out the camera, I had to take pictures of everyone. So here, just because it's so dang cute, is one of Matilda and Ezra. I love that he's hugging her so sincerely, I love it that they really do resemble one another; but mostly I think I love it that he may be two years older, but her head looks like it's exactly the same size! And he's got one gigantic head. Part of it's the perspective, but my kids do grow some gigantic heads.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hooray for spring!

In happy news, spring has finally arrived--in the form of summer.

When I was little, I always thought that the adage "April showers bring May flowers" was some kind of taunt. In Minnesota, April showers are promptly followed by April showers, then April snows, then April general cruddiness, then some rain that freezes on top of the almost-melted snow. May is when we finally start to get something that looks a little like spring. But this year, we seem to be having actual spring weather, and in April no less!

I swear it was just a couple of weeks ago that I was swearing about the new snow, replacing the snow that I had dared to dream was gone for good. And today, it was 75. Is that confusing for anyone else? I just yesterday finally removed the hat, mittens, and scarf from Zachary's backpack, trusting that there wouldn't be a snowstorm while he was at school, trapping him 2 blocks from home without adequate winter gear. And today it was uncomfortably warm with all the windows open (yes, I am a big baby when it comes to the weather, and I only have about a 2-degree comfort range). I also figured it was probably safe to take the paper snowflakes off the window, since they look kind of silly surrounded by green grass--though no more silly than the Halloween straw broom I still have hanging from the front door. At some point we're actually closer to the holiday next year, so I may as well leave them up.

So I told the kids yesterday that since it was getting to be real live spring, maybe we should make some construction paper flowers to replace the snowflakes we were taking down. And then we spent a mostly cheerful hour or so cutting, folding, gluing and coloring paper flowers. It was nice because: it killed some time, I could send day care kids home with concrete evidence that we did not just stare at one another or Baby Einstein all day, and because it reduced the number of pounds of construction paper in the house. (I couldn't help it. I found it at Sam's Club. Cheap construction paper! Must... purchase... it!)

That was yesterday. Today was the last day for one of the kids, so I decided to make cinnamon rolls. And as I was in the kitchen, mixing and rolling and rising, the kids were playing on and under the dining room table--a favorite pastime. And I should have been worried when Ezra and his friend came in and started apologizing. First Ezra said he was sorry he had ripped his paper flower. I told him it was fine, it was his, and it wasn't a bad thing if it tore. Then his friend said he was sorry he'd been playing with the scissors; I had left the safety scissors on the dining room table in case we decided to make more flowers today. Any idea where this is headed? So I told him never to play with scissors if I wasn't there, and I walked in to check on the situation. And there sat the other little boy in this particular trio, holding a pair of safety scissors in his hand, scraping them in a half circle over and over across the dining room table--the nice, wood dining room table that, I might add, predates me in my husband's life. I washed away the pile of sawdust and looked at the damage. It's not pretty. I tell them every day not to put their forks on the table (they like to drum) because it will scratch it. I sort of thought that "don't dig into the table repeatedly with safety scissors" was sort of implied. Clearly I was wrong.

Apparently there are wood crayons, some sort of wax markers, and Old English wood markers--or something. I Googled fixing a wood table and came up with a lot of possibilities. I think it's going to result in me wandering around Menard's until I find someone who can explain to me in the simplest possible terms how to fix this. Hopefully I can do that without altering my husband to the terrible thing that I allowed to happen to the table. I hate getting in trouble. I also hate the giant scratched quarter of the table. This is what I get for trying to celebrate spring--and make cinnamon rolls.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Come Together, Right Now, Over Me...

I've been thinking a lot about community and what it means. I started a blog partly to reach out to a world from which I've felt very isolated. I wanted to feel like I am making some kind of meaningful connection with all the other people in the world. And between writing here, following several other blogs, and commenting there, I've really started to feel less alone; I feel like there are a lot of people out there in the world who make sense to me. I read a blog and read the comments left there by other readers, then follow those readers over to their blogs, and before I know it, I feel like I've discovered this whole hidden world of people who, in another world or several years ago, might have been the girls I went out drinking with in college, the ones who told me whether my professor was actually being a jerk, whether I ought to just quit my bartending job, and yes, whether that guy was in fact worth my time.

Now, my darling husband, God bless him, has no faith in the internet at all. As far as he's concerned, it's just a way for people to scam other people. He uses it, checking his email regularly and checking sports scores, but you would never find him on a message board or Facebook. He just fundamentally doesn't trust them. So after I read about the tragedy that was Maddie's passing, I immediately went and made a donation to the March of Dimes in her name. Just $10, not a huge sum, but it seemed like it would be an even greater tragedy if I knew there was something I could do to prevent losses like this and I didn't do anything at all. Shortly after that, Stephanie of Baby on Bored suggested that if people wanted to help, she would organize efforts to send Maddie's family meals for the next couple of weeks. I can only imagine what her family is going through and would guess that eating is not one of the things they're thinking about much. So I offered to send them a meal one day.

Later that evening, my husband opened the computer and saw the automated March of Dimes email thanking me for my donation. He immediately asked who I'd met on the internet that I was giving money to. I explained that a family had lost their daughter, and I'd made a donation to the March of Dimes for them--totally reputable charity. He said that was fine, but remember that you can't trust people on the internet; they could be anyone, running any kind of scam. He went on to use this example: "If you meet someone in the grocery store who says they just lost a $20 bill, give them $20. But don't just hand out money online." Okay, I agree with the last part of that--don't send your bank account number to the Nigerian prince, because you're not going to get the money he promised you. But that guy at the grocery store? Dollars to donuts, he's running an even simpler scam. I decided not to start that argument with my husband and didn't mention that I would be sending this family a meal later in the week. He doesn't need to know everything.

But this got me started thinking about the very idea of community. Are relationships by definition more meaningful because of the way they started? I also belong to a message board. When I found out I was pregnant with Zachary, I didn't even know where to start, so I think I probably just Googled "pregnancy." I found a message board of women all due in the same month. Now our kids are all roughly 5 1/2, and I still keep in touch with most of them. My husband gives me a hard time about these "pretend" friends, but what about them isn't real? No, I haven't seen most of them in person. But we've known each other for more than 6 years. Doesn't that count for anything? When I read about Maddie, I was overwhelmed by this family and their story. And now I read about another little boy whose family is mourning today. And it's not that I sit around and search for bloogers who've lost their children; I assure you, I have no desire to track down that kind of story. It's just that as I try to feel connected to the other people in this world, bad things keep happening to those people. Has the world always been this cold, this uncaring, this just plain cruel, and I just didn't know it? Part of me wants to say, "Okay, this was fun, but I have to call it a failed experiment. I tried to connect to the world, and all that happened is that I found out that the world is full of pain I cannot heal. So I am going to crawl back into my hole, watch CSI, and complain that I don't have any friends. Because I can't take this kind of pain." But isn't this what it means to be part of a community? That you identify with one another in meaningful ways, and when someone in your community hurts, you remind them that they are not alone in their pain.

I didn't know Maddie or Thalon in life. I, probably like a lot of other people, got to know them only when they were gone. Does that make me nothing but a voyeur to other people's pain? I hope not. I hope that what it makes me is someone who is trying to establish connections in a world where it is so easy to go through life in a box. I hope it makes me one more thread in a web that can help to keep parents afloat in a time when it would be so easy to drown in their pain.

My husband talks a lot about things like the homeless people who gather in the public library; there is, he says, no substitute for actually seeing the people who populate our world, and it is a privilege to visit the world from our computers, one we should not accept as a substitute for "real interaction." And I would not want to live in a world where the only people in my life were seen through the screen of my computer. But I also want--need--to feel like the community that has been created this way is a real one, that I can be there for its members when they are in need and that maybe, someday, I can count on support from them too. And that's real community, isn't it?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Madeline Alice Spohr

I am not what you would call a person of faith. More like a person of doubt. I was raised in a church but have spent most of my adult life struggling with the most basic questions. I am deeply envious of people of faith, since they seem to have something to lean on when things are difficult. But on this day, I am calling out to whatever is out there, in a prayer of equal parts gratitude and confusion.

About 6 months ago, I got a copy of Sleep is for the Weak. It was funny and touching and introduced me to this world of mommy blogs--that though I didn't know them personally, there was this whole world of funny, supportive, smart women who were moms, just like me, dealing with kids just like mine. And I started reading these blogs--the ones I link to from my blog. These moms are so honest about their lives, so caring of their kids and their friends. And they make me feel so much less alone, in this world where I really don't have that many connections with other women.

Tuesday I learned for the first time of a little girl named Madeline Alice Spohr. Unfortunately I met her too late. What an ungodly tragedy to meet someone when it is too late to know her. I read of her on Baby on Bored and on Mommy Wants Vodka. And though it is always horrendous to learn of the loss of a child, something about Maddie has touched me deeply.

Maybe it is her beauty. She is so vibrant in all the photos I see, so very present, that it is so heart-wrenching to think that she is gone. Maybe it is the way I see she has touched the lives of people who have touched mine. Becky, of Mommy Wants Vodka, insists that "Because Maddie Alice Spohr was here, dammit, and she mattered." Yes, she was, and she did. Maybe it is because my own children are driving me crazy today. And as I try to deal with them and all their minor dramas, I am torn between finding it hard to focus on who stole what from who, with my mind full of the loss of a beautiful life, and wanting to scoop them up and hold them tight, so grateful am I that they are here to fight and scream and complain.

And maybe it's because this doesn't feel like something that happened to someone else, someone so unlike me. When I first read about Maddie, I went to her mother, Heather's, blog, to get a sense of who she was and who she had been. And as I read down the posts, I got her April Fool's Day post. Every year, I read or see something that reminds me why April Fool's Day is just about my favorite day of the year. Google's annual joke, or someone telling me they just got convinced that the government is going to start subsidizing pet health insurance. It's such a delightfully silly day, and I enjoy all the ways people celebrate it, with such wonderful humor. Heather's post was one of the best. An April Fool's grilled cheese sandwich, made with pound cake and frosting. She describes it so simply, even including pictures of the process--and, of course, of her dad falling victim to the prank. She had me smiling and thinking, "I'm going to have to try that one!" And at the end of the post, a picture of sweet Maddie, enjoying the prank and the laughter. And that got me. No matter what I'm doing, I keep stopping to think of that silly sandwich. Just such a beautiful, simple moment, the sort of thing that wouldn't really stand out in a life over all--except that to me, who only got to know her after she was gone, this is Maddie. Surrounded by people she loves, who love to laugh, who are just so much like us.

So I am reaching out today, to whoever is listening, whether reading this blog or up in the heavens somewhere. Thank you, thank you, with my whole heart and soul, for the safety and well being of my family. I know that I am lucky. But why? Why must another mother suffer a loss I can't imagine? I don't know if this pushes me further toward faith or doubt, only that it makes me feel more like there ought to be answers somewhere.

And the final reason I may feel so deeply the loss of Maddie: her name. I have been nervous about what to share in a blog. How private ought we to be? I don't want to be unsafe, in a world where you don't who you can trust. So I haven't shared much in the way of identifying information. Sure, if you knew me and you came across this blog, you'd almost certainly be able to identify it as mine. But a stranger wouldn't be able to track me down using the information in here. I haven't even shared my kids' names. But in honor of sweet Maddie, I'm going to trust the world a bit more. My kids are Zachary (5), Ezra (3), and Matilda (13 months)--Mattie. And every time I look at my chubby, spoiled, loud little Mattie, my heart breaks yet again for a family that has lost theirs.

I wish I could do something to ease the pain, but I wouldn't know where to start. Instead I will send them a meal from a friend they didn't know they had--one they didn't have until just now. And I will pray--for guidance, for answers, and for grieving families.

(If you would like to donate to the March of Dimes in her honor, visit and you will find instructions. It is the most tangible way I know to help a little life.)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Seriously... What the Hell?

My mom's friend is dying.

I haven't really accepted it until now, but I went and reread her CaringBridge journal entry from this past weekend, and it looks like it's pretty official.

20 or so years ago, my brother was on a grade school soccer team. All the parents on that team became friends. All they had in common was that their boys were in the same grade at the same school. Some had older or younger kids, some had no other kids at all. They varied a lot in terms of their income, relationships, education, and ages. But for the last 20 years, they've kind of been the focal point of my mom's social life. When I was in high school, we used to go camping every year over the New Year. We'd rent out several cabins at a group campsite and spend the weekend. I remember one year, when it was the men's turn to cook, and they all--10 or 12 men my dad's age--came marching out of the kitchen in full drag. They'd all gone to used clothing stores and put together these elaborate, ridiculous outfits. My dad's was a navy blue sequined jumpsuit with black feathers at the wrists and collars. It was spectacular. When one of the dads was sent to prison for reasons related to a pyramid scheme, all the other families rallied around his wife and sons. And when he came back, they were still there for him, friends. When my parents got a messy, messy divorce, my mom said she didn't want to lean on them, because she was embarrassed; but I reminded her that they've been her friends for 20 years, and this is what friends do. All the ladies have breakfast together once a month and go camping in the Boundary Waters every year. My mom says this year it looks like they'll be taking ashes with them.

About 5 years ago, my uncle was diagnosed with colon cancer. My mom assured us that this was it for him. He got good treatment, they caught it early, and he's fine. My brother's friend (one of the kids from that long-ago soccer team) was sent to Iraq, and my mom was sure that he wouldn't be coming back. He served his time there and is back in the States now, physically no worse for wear. I've grown used to the fact that my mom always assumes that the world is ending. So what do I do, now that it kind of is? Her friend was diagnosed close to a year ago, with lung cancer. They've treated it, more and more aggressively. She's been on drug trials, but now they're starting to wonder if she can handle them or whether they ought to just back off. My mom says she has only weeks left, but I never know what to think of my mom's conclusions.

I'll take a moment, I promise, to be grateful. I am healthy. So are my kids, my husband, my parents and siblings. I think of this woman's sons and grandchildren, of her husband who is having to mourn while still do all the things to keep life going day to day, and I am immensely grateful. I know this is not about me. But I'm still overwhelmed. She threw my bridal shower and my baby shower. She has been a part of my life, even if mostly behind the scenes, for most of my life. And I don't know what to do. My mom is a mess (between this and ongoing stuff with my dad). I want to do something. They take turns bringing her meals. I live 45 minutes away and have three kids. I want to send flowers, a card, a blanket for crying out loud. But what do you do, send a card that says, "I'm so sorry you're dying"? Maybe they have a "This Really Sucks" bouquet.

I just can't stop thinking about her, about my mom trying to deal with this and also with the mess of sorting out a divorce after 30 years of marriage. And I feel so helpless. Words are the thing that I'm best at, the thing that I bring to the table, and there are times when words just simply aren't enough.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Project Honesty 2: I Love My Husband

I was trying to fall asleep last night, while the baby (13 months old, but still my baby) was fussing in her crib across the room. And I was trying not to get frustrated with her, so I started thinking about how much I love her--and everyone else.

My darling little girl: I love you purely. Who else would I allow to keep me up all night, every night, because you'd rather suck on me than sleep? Who else has such kissable cheeks, such a tickle-able belly, such sweet curls? When I look at you, I am horrified to think that there was ever a chance you would not be in my life. We were clearly not a complete family until you arrived. You are my daughter, and as the daughter of a mother myself, I know that our relationship will not always be so simple. I do not relish the day when you accuse me of being selfish because I won't allow you to do something, or when I worry that you're making all the same mistakes I made--and that I am making all the same mistakes my own mother made. But I will always love you, no matter what. And when things between us are hard and complicated, I will look back on this time, when I cheered your every word, when I laughed with you as you discovered how to roll a ball across the room, when I swung you up in the air and watched your two little bottom teeth flash as you screamed with delight, and I will know that I love you with a pure love that can never be tainted.

My sweet middle boy: I love you fiercely. I think that is the only way to love you. It is certainly the way you love me. You approach everything in your life with the same no-holds-barred intensity, it floors me. I remember the night we were staying at a hotel, on our way to our vacation. You were refusing to settle down, keeping your brother and the entire family up, and nerves were frayed. Finally Daddy told you, "That's it! If you don't go to bed right now, I'm going to put you in the car, and you're going to have to sleep out there, all alone in the dark, all night." You quietly gathered up your blanket and pacifier and prepared to head out the door. That was the night Daddy called you "Cool Hand Luke" for the first time. I love the way that you stand up for yourself, never compromising for a second. You may get scratched, pushed, even bitten, but you give as good as you get. You are a force of nature, and I admire the hell out of that. But I also love the way that you curl up against me, rest your head on my chest, insist that I snuggle you just so, and remind me that for all your intensity, you are 3 years old. You must have your water from the "big giant cup" (the pitcher), in your orange cup, often insisting on ice. You will agree to put your head on your pillow at nap time, but you insist that you will not be closing your eyes. You drive me to distraction, bringing me to levels of frustration I have never known before. Then, in the same breath, I find myself loving you with a mother bear intensity that almost scares me. We fight to be sure; you push my buttons and my limits. But the ferocity of my love is astounding.

My wonderful firstborn: I love you with my soul. The way I feel about you fills me up from the inside. When I think about how I love you, my heart drops into my stomach for a moment, as though being your mother is some sort of carnival ride I never understood until I was strapped in for good. You are so much like me that it frightens me. You look just like your daddy did at your age, and you have his imagination to be sure. But sometimes I look at you, and I think you're going to turn out just like me, and I get scared and sad. You're so sensitive that you cry at perceived slights, not just the real ones. You regularly complain of throat and stomach pain, when your emotions get to be too much for you. You don't want to ride a bike or jump off the edge of the pool, so afraid of what might happen. And when you do these things, I think: That's me. That's the worst of me, coming out in my son. And I try so hard to encourage you to try, and then I push, and then I see myself turning into my mom. I don't want you to live a life scared of what might happen, and I don't want to hurt you by pushing too hard. But I also want you to have a better life than I have, to be more confident and proud than I am. Because believe me when I say: You have no idea how spectacular you are. I didn't know I could love someone as much as I love you. It consumes me, and I burn up inside of it, then rise again to love you some more. And if I make mistakes, if I push too hard or not hard enough, if I understand you too well or too little, know that it is only because my love wants to wrap you up inside it and guarantee that you will live the best, happiest life there is.

My beautiful husband: I love you unfairly. I know this. I love you intellectually, timidly, fearfully. I admire you. I enjoy you. I live afraid that you will stop loving me. We have three amazing children together, and we both know that we love our kids; we say so all the time. And loving our kids is so much easier than loving each other. They're uncomplicated in their love, they're flesh of our flesh, and they depend upon our love for their very survival. We, on the other hand, have our own agendas, our own complicated desires, our own assumptions about the world and about each other. And without me, I know you would go on living. So what is it that keeps you here? Is it just that I'm a good mother? Is it that staying is easier than leaving? Or is it that you truly, deeply love me? I'm afraid to even ask the questions, so afraid of what it looks like to be asking why my husband stays with me. At the root of our relationship, I know, is our friendship. You are there for me in a way that no one else is. You protect and encourage me. You listen to me and you guide me when I need it. As our children grow, I know they will need us less, and we will have more and more time with the two of us, to remember why we fell in love in the first place. I worry that your love is conditional, that one day you will simply run out of reasons to love me. But though I may not love you with the completeness you deserve, I hope that you will hang on and love me anyway, giving me time to believe that, the same way that our children know there is nothing that would stop my love, you and I really will be in love forever.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Day I Almost Ran Away

Yesterday we had to have the garage door replaced. (And as an aside, I can't believe how much of a difference it makes to have something in your life function, when you've grown completely used to it broken. The garage door was plastic, somewhat transparent, and made a sound like a jalopy being strangled every time you used it. Now it actually works, and strangers walking by can't tell whether there's someone inside. It's the little things.) So since the garage door was being replaced, I had to move the car out of the garage.

I told the kids I was going to move the car and would be right back. Now, moving the car in our case is a little cumbersome. I grew up in a second-tier suburb in a housing divison that had been built in the '70s. We had an attached garage that opened right into the living room. Now we have a house in a first-tier suburb, just a few blocks outside the Minneapolis city limits. The house was built in 1958 (and a lot of it is original, like the harvest gold sink in the kitchen--but I digress.) It has a detached garage and an alley. So I had to go out to the backyard, into the garage, and take the car out of the garage and down the alley. As I got to the end of the alley, all I had to do was turn, drive half a block to our street, turn onto our street, and pull up in front of our house. But just for a moment, I thought: What if?

Now, I stay at home. And I don't just mean I'm a stay-at-home mom, because technicially I'm not really that either. I'm a day care provider, which means that I have an income; but it also means that I can't (ever) leave the house during the day. A little stir crazy? Too bad, you're watching 8 kids. Slept badly and thinking you'd do anything for a fancy cup of coffee? Well, unless you're willing to take all three of your kids with you and get back by 7:30, when the first kids show up, it's going to be Folgers with milk and sugar for you. Thinking that the kids are driving you absolutely over the edge and you'd really like to just have a bath and a glass of wine? Well, it's not the day care preventing you from doing that (at least I hope other stay-at-home parents aren't getting baths and wine at 9 AM), but you still don't get to do it.

And I don't get to leave home after 5 PM either. My husband, God bless him, is a creature of habit to the extreme. His evening routine is predictible almost to the minute. And it takes him all the way up to 6:30 in the evening, at which time kids have been fed, probably bathed, and are ready for a video, juice, and some quiet time before bed. If I want to go somewhere (to the bank to make a deposit, to Target just to wander around and listen to the music for 5 minutes, to the liquor store for the aforementioned wine), I'm probably taking at least one kid with me. Or else I'm going after 8:30, when they're all in bed. My 3-year-old, by the way, can identify the liquor store when we drive by and announces that "That's the liquor store where we get suckers." (In my defense, it's on a corner we drive by all the time, so it's not like we're driving across town to the liquor store every day.) All week, I look forward to grocery shopping, because it's an hour or so that I only have one kid with me (I take the littlest one, since she's really too young to bug me and ask for stuff yet) and I get to do more or less what I want, like talk to strangers about their preferred brand of canned corn.

So when I say "I stay home," I mean it. I'm always home. Standard parental disclaimer: I love my kids, and I obviously chose to stay at home with them. I know I'm lucky not to have to commute and to be here with them all day every day. But all that being said...

When I got to the end of the alley yesterday morning (you thought I'd forgotten, didn't you? There's always a mental map of what I'm talking about), just for a moment, I thought: What if? What if, instead of turning right and then pulling up onto our street, in front of our house, going back inside and making breakfast and changing diapers and refereeing, what if I turned left? I could go to the coffee shop. I could go to Walgreens and get a new lipstick. Hell, I could just keep driving. They wouldn't even realize for a while; two of them are still sleeping. And at that point, of course, I thought, Holy shit. What kind of person thinks that? And I turned right and pulled up in front of the house and went inside and made breakfast and changed diapers and did everything else I do all day. And I did it partly because, really, I do love my kids--more than I could ever find words to express. And partly because I was scared to think that I was a person who, even for a second, had that thought.

But that's the thing about staying at home. I used to have friends, and I used to bounce ideas off them and get a sense of what about me was more or less normal. But now many of them have dropped away, because I'm married with kids and they're trying to decide whether to just go off the grid for a while; we don't have a lot in common. And the ones with kids, well, they're trying to balance kids and jobs and houses and families, and they just don't have a lot of free time for answering questions like: Am I a total crazy person for the thought that just popped into my head? I was at book club the other night (yes, I do get to leave once in a while) and we were talking about The Shack. Somehow this led to a lot of talk about families and kids and our own histories and things that have encouraged or challenged our faith. And before I knew it, I was telling this group of women (only one of whom I knew before that night) about my miscarriage--about how it happened, how I felt, what it was like to experience a D&C, and how I now feel about that little person who was, so briefly, a part of me. I don't know why I did it, other than the fact that extreme social anxiety and a single beer seem to combine to make me unusually chatty. But when I was done, several of them thanked me for being so candid; they said that though we all know at least one person who's been touched by miscarriage, no one wants to talk about it. It's like we're afraid to admit that we once failed at the one thing we're supposed to be able to do perfectly--bring a pregnancy to term. But when we start talking about it, we realize that we're not the only ones who've been through it, and other people have been holding back just as much as we have, trying not to admit their failures.

So I hope that I'm not the first (non-certifiable) mom ever to think, just for a moment, how great it would be to run away. And I didn't, of course. And I never would. But I'll fantasize about it again, I'm sure. And I hope that someday, when I've managed to make some friends again, that they'll admit that, once or twice, they had the same thought.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

19 and other tricky concepts

There are few things I love more than listening to my kids talk to one another. They are trying so hard to piece together the world, and much the same way I do, they often have to fill in the blanks.

My oldest son is in kindergarten this year, and it's been extremely exciting. He loves going to school every day, even if he doesn't love getting up. He tells me he has 4 friends (though their identities vary) and that there's not that many girls that like him. He tells me he's being bullied, but when I talked to his teacher, she said that it was a pretty boy-heavy class this year; he's not being targeted, there's just a lot of boy energy going around the room, with a lot of rough play and some fights. Then, a few weeks after that conversation, I happened to walk him to school (he usually gets a ride). I decided to take the chance to poke through the lost and found for the various hats and mittens that have gone missing this year (no luck). And as I was on my way back toward the door, his teacher hailed me. It seemed that she had been out one day recently, and she wanted to know if I had heard about the "incident." I hadn't, and of course I immediately wondered what my kid had done. I shouldn't have worried--about that--because as it turns out, another student had choked him because he wanted my son's crayon. That's right, strangled over a crayon. She assured me that she was dealing with it and had spoken with the other child, but in case my son had said anything, she wanted to make sure I knew it was being handled.

Of course, I told my husband about it that evening, and we both sort of had the same reaction--that we were very surprised that it had happened but more surprised that he hadn't said anything. So after dinner that night, I asked him: Are you doing okay in school? Yes. Are you getting along okay with the other kids? Yes. I heard you had trouble with another kid the other day. No. Okay, cards on the table: Your teacher told me that another kid tried to choke you--that he put his hands on your neck. Do you remember this? No. Can I watch my show?

I couldn't get over this: My kid keeps telling me that he's being picked on, that there are bullies in his class, but it's no more than what he deals with from his little brother at home. But the one time he has every right to complain, that a kid actually is mean to him, he not only doesn't mention it; he apparently doesn't even remember.

Some time later, there was a day when both my boys went to work with Daddy one day. While they were there, he got them each a little toy from the hospital gift shop--a miniature measuring tape. They love the real ones and are always getting in trouble for playing with them, so these were extra cool toys. In the car on the way home, they were measuring everything in sight--the windows, their seats, one another. And my oldest said something about 21 inches. So I said, "You were 21 inches long when you were born. Your brother was 19 inches long. Can you find 19 inches?" He's been having trouble with the teen numbers, mixing up 19 and 90, for example, so learning to properly identify all the teens has been a math goal lately. He worked hard for several minutes, looking all over his measuring tape, considering and then rejecting several choices. Finally, very thoughtfully, he announced, "I found 19. Except it has a 2 in it."

Never stop finding the answers, my son. And in the absence of any useful answers, never stop provinding your own.