Sunday, May 31, 2009


We went to a party tonight.

A lawn thing, in the neighboring neighborhood.  A band in a gazebo.  Picnics.

In that neighborhood, everyone is younger.  A little flossier.  The oldest kids are three, four.  

This is a territorial place, and I fancy myself an ambassador of sorts. Out to represent our very near neck of the woods. 

I smiled, chatted, tried to fit in.  Spoke to one or two people I didn't know.  Admitted, proudly, to our address half mile down the road. Shooed our children away from the cornhole game.

It got dark, we gave our kids glowsticks.

A dog that pPod, age 4, was playing with, bit his glowstick.

It  sprung a leak.  The dog, apparently unharmed, persuaded us to take advantage.  So, naturally, we  covered both sons in glowing leopard spots.

The younger adults in the crowd - barely past rave age - joined in.  Soon, several people were messily glowing and dancing to the rocking 70s cover band.  

This was good.  We felt a part of things.  


...we heard, sharply, "well, honey, that's Their prerogative.  WE don't DO that," as a mom tensely pulled her own glowstick-clutching daughter away from us, as she begged her mom to 'open' hers.

And  we realized that on the edges of our luminescent revelry,  all the parents of small children still in attendance were visibly quite offended - shielding their children and herding them away.

Our work here was done.  We gathered our things and went home.  

(We might have giggled a little.  Maybe.  Rebels.)

Friday, May 29, 2009


As a contractor, I work with/for essentially, one person.  She mentioned in an email today that she was leaving to get her daughter ready for 8th grade prom.


I thought about this. I got, in my head, a little haughty.  It seemed - forced.  Another sign of how we rush things now.  We had no such thing at early eighties Jefferson Davis Middle School.

(Yep.  In South Florida.  In a town that was still undiscovered jungle swamp during his "presidential" reign.. Jefferson. Davis. Middle. School.)

I was nursing on this nugget of self-righteousness when it hit me.

Wait a minute.

WE didn't, because we were rednecks and wannabe gang-bangers.  We were a dangerous South Florida suburban mess, with smoke-filled bathrooms, girl fights in the halls, and a kid that used to pin live lizards to his shirt, concealed under an overshirt.  Only just.  

WE were JD.

I went to JD because we moved to West Palm from a tiny, desperate town in Georgia, and when we arrived in July knowing no one,  we couldn't get into the Catholic school right away.  

By the time we did, I was invested in the neighborhood, and walking to school along the canal (past alligators.  And only once did we encounter a scary naked man, the infamous "Boogie Cain.") I begged to stay. 6th grade gave way to 7th, 8th.  I never transferred out.

Since I was not in Catholic school, I had CCD.  On Wednesday nights.  With Conniston kids, and the few JD kids that were not pre-criminal.  

Conniston Middle School was a few miles East, attended by the kids that lived closer to the Intercoastal.  The only way I knew kids from there at all was because of CCD.

At CCD, I met my First Date.  He, Tica, and I would spar during the break in class.  Chat, laugh.  I had crushes by that point, but "dating" him had not occurred to me.

Until he asked me to the 8th Grade Formal.  At Conniston.  

I wore a skirt and blouse.  Two blouses, layered.  Ombre-pastel-rainbow.  I wore 6 skinny silk cords braided into my hair that matched.  

Dressed, with time to kill, I proudly, giddily, went by Tica's house. Her sister, 7 years senior and impossibly stylish, assessed my attire and said, helpfully, "What the hell IS that in your hair? You better get it out before someone sees you!"  I left, a little deflated - but not defeated.

Back at home, my date arrived.  His dad stayed in the car and sent him to the door.  He met my dog.  He said hi to my Mom.  I noticed for the first time that he was shorter than me.  

His dad filled the silence on the way there.  Then dropped us off to... dance.

My prior dancing experience consisted exclusively of leaping up and down  on Tica's living room couch to REO Speedwagon and AC/DC albums while singing into a hairbrush.  And the slow stuff?  My palms sweatily draped across his slightly lower shoulders, our witty back-of-CCD reparte abandoned me. I felt conspicuous, and conspicuously awkward. 

I knew no one at the school, so I couldn't even escape to the bathroom to commiserate and share lipgloss.

What was his name?  This gnawed at me until I called Tica.  15+ moves, many miles, and years between there and here, and it is rare that we go more than three days without talking. While I feel certain we never talked about him, or that evening, again - she knew the answer.  Without a blink.

8th grade prom.  What a fantastic and ridiculous notion.  That I survived it is no surprise - however it felt at the time.  But that I still have the same comrade-in-arms with whom to recall it is nothing short of amazing.

My only memory of the dance itself is that cluster of emotions:  wanting someone I knew there, wanting to be comfortable, to dance, to date, to be grown up and OK with my own skin.  And I wanted to not have to go to high school, yet.  

All that preparation - and then looking back thirty years later.  WIth notsomuch to remember there in those middle two hours.

I only wish I coulda been part of today's pedicures and preparations, so I could, for a minute, imagine myself to be at all prepared for the day my own 8th grade girl tumbles out into that weird pre-dating, pop-music thumping, disco ball-spinning, crepe-paper dodging, sweaty palmed intersection of anticipation and nostalgia. 

When that day comes... I know I'll be calling Tica.

Monday, May 18, 2009


In my closet the other day, I found a past journal. Filled. Older, and more perfect than the barely touched inferior-quality journal that has sat on my bedside for two years (and 7 filled pages).

This one, a gift from Luis, one of my best friends. Page one says, “Luis, a writer who has helped me write with this gift of empty books, disappeared for three years and is now where I can find him, on the periphery, in Mexico City. He bought this journal there, when last he lived there. It was a long time ago, by measures other than calendar – two children and an address ago for me, several addresses for him. And he is a father, now, also a parent.”

Most of my journals are hidden, serving no purpose to me other than to remind me how far I have come. That time passage has its advantages - in nebulous terms, such as wisdom - but concrete terms as well. (Furthering of careers, advancement in school, illnesses survived.)

When this other journal was penned, I had three children under the age of five and would attend high school football games regularly (husband is a coach). Parents of teenagers – looking at me with one wiggly, no doubt hungry and tired child in a Baby Bjorn, one crawling onto the laps of strangers, and one standing at the railing screaming at inappropriate football moments – they would invariably say “treasure every moment, it goes by so fast.”

I would say, "yes, but each day goes by SO slowly." I was at home, at the time - and they seemed... relentless... in the way that small children do. The gentle interrogator, stepping lightly, would say, “How do you do it with three?,” and I would (and still) invariably reply, "Lowered expectations.” The brave interrogator, if a parent of one or two or none, may also say, “What’s it like having three? “

Another response, unwavering, that I have come to rely on is, "It is always one more than you can handle, but you can never decide which one to get rid of any two days in a row, so it must be the right number.”

In print, and even in the telling - these all sound pretty smart-assed. I can own that, having that default as a personal flaw - but actually, they hold up to scrutiny. With no sarcasm imbued at all, I can look at each of those responses and... mean them. Still. (Though the aforementioned constancy of three-under-five has subsided somewhat.)

I do enjoy this ride - so, so much. Just maybe not, as some more Pollyanna-ish than me might profess, every single minute. Because - more truth - there are a lot of minutes in any given day. And many of them are difficult. And sometimes, the difficult ones are strung together very close.

I have a not-formally-diagnosed deficit of attention, sticktoitiveness, order. And I have insomnia, because sometimes I can only get the thoughts aligned at 3AM. When they no longer need to be thunk.

In that same journal – the craft-paper on the outside, unlined, smooth and not-too-hard, not-too-soft paper on the inside with onion paper cutouts as dividers – I wrote a list. I boxed it in. I wrote “x3. a magical, spiritual number. (and now, it is 3 am)” to the right of it. On the page before, I wrote:

“I hope I can instill in my children a practical sense of dreaming, of self-exploration that leads to a comfort in self-improvement – confidence to see “there” and build a path to it.”

The list itself:




Patrick was an infant, and there are pages are full of musings about him being all potential – wiggly, needy, hungry, busy, funny potential.

Annabeth was newly 3. Open, social, joyful. Quoted, on her play cell phone, as saying “Cinderella? Why are you being mean? I don’t want to play with you any more. Because you are boring. You are being sassy in that dress. And I don’t like it.”

Sebastian was five. Reading whatever he could get his hands on, wanting to be a scientist. Correcting me. Often. Asking questions of impossible depth. Expecting answers.

At 9, 7, 4 – they are still potential and promise. The descriptions of them at 5, 3, less than one... all still apply.

Blogging has taken over for my journal, for now. And 3AM still offers order, journal entries, lists.

And that list? It’s still all I could want for any of us, really. Wisely, I chose a husband that wants the same stuff - and helps keep the course when I veer. And so far, these small people around us seem to be doing a pretty good job with all those notional wants.

I guess I've been paying attention after all.

Monday, May 11, 2009



The big kids played something called Purple Martins and Mosquitos, and I was awful at it.  

The call was made by one of the finders.  The game required that one person hide, and everyone else look for them.  When each person finds the one in hiding, they hide too.  It was played in the dark, when real mosquitoes were out.  And I was, in my memory, the last one - every time I was allowed to play.

Today, that call is coming from Summer.  I can hear it as sure as if it (and my children 3) were actually yelling the actual words.  

We are decidedly Not.  Ready, that is.  In a house where every micro-event is another surprise (SURPRISE! Time to get up!  SURPRISE!  Dinner time!  SURPRISE!  Everybody needs to brush their teeth! SURPRISE!  There's a soccer game!) summer is a tough one to wrap your brain around.

It comes on so fast and furious.  And there is so much of it.  Those first day camp discussions, in March - they're too early for me.  I'm not capable.  In March, I can barely believe spring is here - not over and done with and on to summer.  Not yet.  And that continues through April.  And now, somehow, it's May.  Which still sounds like spring to me.

By my daughter's birthday, which happens this week, the camp registrations are in full swing or closed out.  They confuse me still, even now when they are suddenly very relevant.

When the end of summer hit last year, after so much of it had been so unstructured, there was some desperation to every self-entertained one of them - a deep-seated desire to hang with someone other than me, other than each other.

The Big One and I swore we would never have that unscheduled a summer again.

But that conversation was... ten months ago.

Thrilled at the prospect of public school for my youngest, I eagerly allowed for his summer to start when theirs does.  Which means his school ends... when theirs does.  He is four.  He is, decidedly, a liability... more labrador puppy than boy. He has Things to Do, and is not often kept up with by older siblings treasuring their limited ability to escape.

They have, I think, two weeks each of day camp.  And we all have a three-week roadtrip to Maryland - the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, for cookouts aplenty, vaguely tipsy parents, younger cousins, sparklers, a zip line, deer sightings, and boat trips - (though the dates are not quite set.)  

For the rest of it, I am working from home - and the kids are...?  Playing in the sprinklers?  Riding scooters?  Having water fights?  Camping out in the basement? Going on picnics with mom on the 2 days/week she doesn't work?  Hanging out in a friend's treehouse?  Not watching pPod?

Wait.  That doesn't sound so bad.

From this vantage point... now, with the house almost quiet and a lawnmower buzzing in the background... as the air gets a little heavier and the hydrangeas think about bursting into bloom... right now, this minute... that summer sounds quite good.  

If only we could ALL recharge, with little expected of us, for weeks at a time.  WIth nothing more pressing in front of us than the application of sunscreen and bug spray.

This is how we had summer.  And if I allow myself to remember completely correctly... the days were sometimes crushingly boring. But only if I let myself recall that.  What my front brain recalls is the sheer imagined bliss of it.  

I think we all need empty spaces in our days.  Time and room to explore.  Growing outside of our cages.  I think dirt is good, and children living in a neighborhood where they are safe to roam and return home to a whistle.  I think electronic stuff should be shut off, and art supplies should be within reach.  

I think there is charm in having the best thing you can imagine be a swim in a friend's pool and an ice cream from the ice cream truck.  I think you should have to come up with new games for kick balls - and that all the games should have deadly titles.  (Slaughterball.  Smear the you-know-what-i'm-talking-about.  Death by Ball.  That sort of thing.)

I believe, when you are seven, your biggest goal of the summer might as well be riding down the biggest hill of your street with no hands.  When you are nine, you should get to ride to a friend's house on your bike.  Alone.  And when you are four?  You should sometimes tag along, and sometimes get to play with friends all your own.  That live on your street.  And like super hero capes.  

Besides, that frustration that comes at the end of the summer?  Smells like a great recipe to cook up a little enthusiasm for 4th, 1st and pre-K.

And that settles that.  

This week, Annabeth turns seven.  I'll close my computer of all the summer camp options still available, and instead make plans for Annabeth's new bike. And possibly a kickball. After all, it'll be cheaper than day camp, a lot more memorable, and far more useful in the long run.  

Summer's calling.  We're ready enough.

Friday, May 1, 2009


I looked for him for years. Proof, of some sort, that he was ever there at all.

There was none. Not one collar stay, or old wallet, or empty bottle of Old Spice. Of course there was no "Daddy's scratchy face" of Pat-the-bunny fame - but there was no old razor, either. No stiff pocket knife or well-worn sports equipment, no impossibly large button-downs or scuffed shoes.

By the time I was aware, and looking, he had been gone five years, at least.

There were pictures - exactly two that I can recall. In one, he's propping up a gigantic stuffed Easter bunny (he was well over six feet tall, as was the rabbit). I think it is pink, but my mind may be colorizing a black and white photo. It was huge,and it pre-dated me.

In the other, a family picture. I am an infant. We are in a studio. Everyone is sixties-Kennedy-era stylish and crisp and perfect and wearing something mom had expertly sewn.

We each look- serious. He is the only one smiling. It's a half-smirk. I think. Dashing, smug. For the camera.

Mom looks like she has maybe been crying. Recently.

In 1968, the world changed, they say. I was born that year, so I don't recall. In this photo, this 1968 photo, our world was changing - but mom was still taking it, and every one was still pretending this was the way it would be.

In 1969, my father left. Thoroughly, completely, and apparently without a trace.

For years and years I bumped around, thinking this was Very Significant, and self-defining, and a little tragic. I wrote letters that went unanswered. If I had a dad? I would have A's in math. I would be an athlete and a scholar. We would take trips on airplanes instead of long drives, and I would never go dateless on a Saturday night.

I met him three times. I was 5, then I was 9, and then I was 34 and standing in his scrubby back yard eating chips and dips and drinking, I believe, a Bud Light. From a can. At ten in the morning. With my siblings. My 90-year-old grandfather (his father), and Mom.

In his absence, I had invented him. And all those years of imagining a lost and fabulous life, conjuring a quiet, (but stern), focused, charming and artistic man who turned to scrimshaw and beer-brewing as hobbies? They melted away in that yard.

In front of me, he was nothing. So very thoroughly nothing that I it would take far more characters than I care to type to describe, accurately, the absense.

And just like that, I was done.

He no longer tripped through my thoughts, or gave me pause. I had no more fantasies of the grizzled, misunderstood dad rejoining the family in old age, begging for forgiveness and time with his grandchildren. He was just... gone.

Today, they would have been married 50 years.

I had kids, I have kids. I cannot imagine doing this alone.

I cannot imagine being abandoned.

I cannot imagine any of it.

It was our job - the four of us - to keep Mom more distracted, busy, and sometimes laughing. And it was our job, collectively, to help out. And then we grew up.

I love her more than life - and when I had my own children I realized, agonizingly, that she loves me even more. It is an awkward, unbalanced, beautiful and brutal thing, child-parent / parent-child love.

And in my adulthood, while I am out here, being 1/4 of my mother's everything? My everything is here, eating up so much of my thoughts and efforts. Because that's that crazy imbalance again.

I cannot begin to imagine how colosally screwed up our lives would be, and we would be, had he not left. The vacuum he left was filled with busy-ness. It wasn't love that he took away, it was extra hands, and the outside impression that everything was fine. The pretty, posed picture where nobody smiled. He took some of the order and a second adult voice.

Thank God he did.

We had noise, we had laughter, we had chaos and spontaneity and a collage of places lived and road trips taken and prayers said and books read aloud and summers on a farm, being tended to by grandparents of another era who grew every known vegetable, and most of the fruits.

We had the South, we had New England, we had the beach in Florida and vacations - later - on islands.

His absence, had he lived with us, would have darkly affected our rhythms, our friendships, our sometimes ridiculous cartoon lives and inside jokes. The void, had it been standing in front of us and ordering our days, would have been far more vast had he stayed.

And the only reason, truly, that I think of him at all, is that today would have been their 50th wedding anniversary.

Thank God it isn't.

I don't want to share the five people we were and the 17 people we are today - the strong, capable, competent, loving, generous lot of us - with the person who he is. I want to wholly, completely, entirely credit my Mom. And I am so genuinely grateful that I get to do that.

There is no such thing as a broken family if it doesn't need fixing.