Saturday, September 26, 2009


Feeling anxious lately - in a general way. It happens sometimes - these stretches where sleep is elusive and I get lost in self-navigating: do this, then do that, then do that. Mental checklists for even the simplest things.

It's nice when it's all more automatic. When the days flow, and nothing is a surprise. When there is order and predictability, a clean kitchen, no clutter, and a properly annotated calendar looked at days ahead of events, hours ahead of meetings. When plenty of sleep was had the night before, and the day started with fruit, and maybe egg whites.

It's fictional, mostly. Days like that. I have heard of them, and their Type A bearers. I crave them, even. I imagine them to be easier - a kind of mental blue sky bliss where there are clear routines, and some outcomes, at least, are predictable.

Wednesday, last week, I laid out Annabeth's Thursday clothes. That much, I do. It is me striving for order (and me harkening to a childhood full of paper dolls - and never knowing quite what you were supposed to do with Barbie after she had tried on every clothing combination in her mini wardrobe).

It happened that Daisies were on Thursday, so with her clothes I also laid out the mini IHOP apron with the unfinished flower ironed on in the middle. The flower center she got when her troop memorized the abridged version of the Girl Scout Promise. Nothing in there about being prepared - but it is implicit. Daisies are an add-on, an introductory troop. Pre-brownies, they are bright blue and optimistic. They earn their badges - flower petals - as a group.

The apron tunic thingy was rumpled because she had only just taken it out of her bookbag from the week before. This made me angry. I scolded her. Harshly. Responsibility and keeping things nice and a uniform and putting things away and blah and blah and she looked wounded.

"A lot of girls don't wear theirs. So I took it off."

"No. Not an option for you. It is a Uniform. You wear yours. I don't want to hear anything else about it."

The next morning, she put it on. Pressed. Over a pressed light blue shirt. Khaki bermuda shorts. Plaid tennies.

In the afternoon, I picked her up. At her request, I had let her go to after care after Daisies. She ran up to me. Apron-less.

"Annabeth...?" With a raised eyebrow.

"Mom, Daisies weren't today. Or last week either. Can't I just not wear it on Thursdays when there is no Daisies? No one else has to."



Two weeks in a row, I sent her to school in her irrelevant Daisy uniform. Twice, she had to save face alone. Feeling, no doubt, a little silly.

Like I felt, hearing it.

Daisies, I then learned (and no doubt had been explicitly told before - in person, via email, and on some printed something or another by the far more organized Daisy moms) are on the FIRST THURSDAY of every month.

And next Thursday? I will Be Prepared.

On my honor, I will try...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I welcome rain. The cleanse, the built-in excuse to rent a movie. The sound of it, the smell. The green of grass after the film of dry days has been rinsed.

I love obtrusive weather, in fact - when it's destructive and interesting. High winds, rain, snowstorms, hurricanes. The aftermath, the mess - changes to the landscape, alterations to expectations - sad -yes- and also fascinating. This sense of control we have, this false security - these plans we continue to make - outside. Knowing, as we do, that Weather might come and render those plans null, irrelevant.

Storms this week in Atlanta. Nonsensical storms, rain for days. Flooding. Ponds and lakes and rivers where there were puddles and gutters and trenches. Schools closed, businesses claimed. The flooding at once terrible but, again, interesting. I was afforded the luxury of watching it from a removed place - where the only affect on me is some mildly stir-crazy kids, a wet and confused cat, and some driving detours.

Until Agatha called today. Godmother to my first, Agatha is a motivator. She calls others to action. Through tears she told me that another friend, Dee, had her basement wall collapse yesterday. No flooding per se, but saturated ground that couldn't take it, a wall that couldn't take it, and suddenly her basement was rubble and georgia clay.

Dee quilts. I know her from years ago when I would do Habitat with some regularity - I was single and could offset my selfishness and mild debauchery with committed Saturdays with reliable friends and paint, hammers, laughter, and a little sweat. Dee was close to our chosen house leader, the one professional on the crew.

Through this connection, I knew her peripherally. I tried to know her better when several of my Habitat friends started spending their after-Habitat time quilting. I wanted to join them, and after asking many times, in various ways, finally figured out they didn't want me at their bee.

I was a little wounded. They were an inclusive group, but they had their reasons.

I thought I could quilt. I wanted to try. I was pregnant, and worried a little that if I didn't learn then, I may not get a chance.

My mother and grandmother quilted - and I loved the process - selecting fabric, patterns, laying them out. When I was sixteen they made me one at my grandmother's initial impulse to make them for all grandchildren starting with me. I picked it all - Laura Ashley pinks and greens and burgundy. Very eighties colors. Very considered. (Grandchildren after me got log cabin, no questions asked...)

Then, at the baby shower for my first born, the Habitat friends and quilters presented me with - a quilt.

They had been working for my baby.

A big, beautiful twin+ sized quilt. Too big for a crib. In watermelon and apple green and yellow - the colors of my nursery in our then loft. I was touched, and stunned, that people, some of whom I only knew tangentially, would make this for me. For my baby - not yet arrived.

I learned, much later, that Dee had joined "the quilting aunties" (as I referenced them to my toddler son, during prayers, under that same quilt) when she lost her son. The quilting became her therapy. Her tears, I thought, strengthened the threads, ensured that love worked all the way into the batting.

Flash ahead ten years: Agatha's call today was that, in the disaster that was the collapse of the basement wall, rubble claimed many of Dee's grandmother's quilts. Quilts that were now sopping wet and tinged clay-orange. Dee needed to find, she said, a laundromat with front loaders, to try to salvage them. To get them rinsed and spun out and air dried and rid of clay and water.

Not yet home, I turned my car around. I drove to Dee's. I took the bags of quilts. I went home. And I washed them (on delicate, in my front-loading washer) all day.

As each one (12 of them) came out of the dryer (on air dry) I touched them. I laid them out. I felt the piecework, and the stitches on top. The patterns of color, of shape, and then the shadow patterns on top - geometric and organic, colorful and white, patterned and solid. Quilts of many sizes. I laid one, fresh from the dryer, on pPod, at nap time.

Each quilt made by someone for someone. Each one stitched with love, with thought. Over the course of year, or two. While babies were born and grown ups died. Prayers and laughter and tears worked into the fabric. Each one. Decades ago, all of them.

Picnics had been eaten on these quilts. Love made, tears dried, babies warmed. Wrapped around some small person's shoulders to be capes. Draped over chairs as forts. Revered, now, as treasures. In the rubble that covered a lifetime's treasures - the quilts were the thing that needed saving.

I never have quilted. Never made, with my hands, something so lasting or so deliberate. Utilitarian beauty - scraps transformed. Bright happy crafted from the ordinary. Made to be taken for granted. To be relied upon.

Washing them seemed the least I could do - I had to do. It felt good to repay, in some small way, Dee, other quilters I have known, the quilts that have warmed me, and the rain.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Game 3

OK - so that other post, that football post...that post was, like, four hours ago.

And the kids came home and I fed them hotdogs and we left and I brought bug spray for the coaches - but I was late, so the cheerleaders got it.

And the sky darkened.

And it started to sprinkle. And the tens of people in the stands (on a night threatening rain, on a Thursday night because of high holy days tomorrow, on waterlogged fields.. many just don't come out) huddled closer and brought out umbrellas.

Except I had none. Because I am That Kind of Mom.

And Annabeth stood with the cheerleaders and cheered. And Sebastian ran around with some kids. And Patrick huddled close and asked loud questions, "can they strangle each other in football? Why is that target on the side? What do they get when they finally hit the target?"

And it rained more.

And it became a soaking rain. So I gave Mike-my-husband's-colleague back his umbrella (Mike was in full foul weather gear. AND had the umbrella.) And I gathered up Patrick. And I gathered up Annabeth. And...

...Sebastian was nowhere.

It was as if, in this small stadium, he had *poof* disappeared.

And I wandered and it rained and it poured and it was buckets of rain from the sky and I was, quite literally, soaked.

My two I had huddled under awnings with Beth and Sarah, also colleagues of my husbands, and I looked.

And my looking got frantic and I got wetter. And the there was nothing left to absorb it, so the water rolled off me in rivulets and rivers. And I yelled a little.

And the headmaster's wife Martha looked. And Mike-the-upper-school-head called out and offered to help, too.

And I got a little frantic.

And two facilities guys offered to help.

And then - he was found.

On the far far edge of the dark parking lot in the pouring rain. After 35 minutes of frantic looking. Where he shouldn't have been, out beyond the lights.

And he was chasing a girl. The blue soaked to black and the hair slicked dark. And he was laughing. With other boys and girls (in appropriate weather gear). Chasing. Tossing a ball. Laughing.

And then, whining.

"Really, Mom? I can't stay? Why can't we stay?"

We are cold. We are wet. We are tired. I yelled. I cried a little bitty bit. Maybe out of frustration. Maybe, for a second, I was actually scared.

We are in hot baths now.

And we are also, clearly, part of some sort of community. And that, is in fact, what it's about.

In two weeks is the next home game. I think I'll try again then to figure out the football part.


As a child , there was no football. I was the third girl, fourth child. Mom was raising us alone and given to espousing about the overemphasis of sport in our culture. I don't recall sports ever being on the TV - unless it was figure skating during the Olympics.

It is possible that I had a passing awareness of football- but it was never on the TV, and no one I knew personally - prior to about age 10 - played it.

At then at ten, I decided to become a cheerleader. It was the key to something, I thought. Belonging, maybe. Popularity, certainly. No question the key to wearing a very fun uniform and dancing around with friends wearing the same.

Mom made the uniform. It was red, lined with white. A vest, a short circle skirt, bloomers. The vest had LIONS ironed down the left side. The bloomers said, "CATHY," all-caps, san-serif, across-the-butt. The socks were white knee socks. The shoes, saddle. The shoepolish, white, in a bottle with sponge on top so you could paint away scuffs and get fussed at for dripping on the carpet.

After a year, Mom urged me to quit. Something about her perception of cheerleaders as tarty, or shallow. And pregnant, which was a weird fear to me at the time. Only years later did I realize how much of her protest was the wincing pain of watching me humiliate myself each week.

As a leader-of-cheers, I was horrible. I couldn't chant and clap and stomp at the same time, or, apparently, at alternating times. And I had no idea what was going on on the field. I would forget to watch the instructor and would continue staring ope-mouthed trying to interpret the actions on the field while everyone else bounced to their feet for the next cheer. I could only do spirit fingers with my right hand.

"We're BIG b-i-g and we're BAD b-a-d and we're BOSS b-o-s-s-b-o-s-s BOSS"

I tangled up the spelling, and my siblings mocked me for it.

I loved the uniform. L-o-v-e-d it. The bloomers, the way the circle twirled, the red. The matching ribbons in my hair. Flipping up my skirt to show my (yes, somewhat tarty) name-festooned bottom. That shoe polish. All of it.

But it was not sustainable. We moved, quit. And even I knew I couldn't try out in Florida, where I was suddenly a middle-schooler, and where, as soon as I said, "oh, I used to cheer in Georgia.." friends made it clear that they thought this might mean I had Experience, and knew what I was doing.

Three years later, I joined band - as much as anything because I wanted to be a part of Friday nights. I wanted a cold stadium seat, a role on the field, noise and lights and people yelling in unison. I wanted the quasi-military uniform. More white shoes, more liquid shoepolish. I wanted the thrill of a win and I wanted a flute, with its complicated keys and its pretty silver shine.

I was terrible at band.

I could get a decent tone out of the instrument, but counting confused me. I memorized nothing, because I had no discipline for practicing. If I had, It wouldn't have mattered, because I never could've played and marched simultaneously. It was enough to get those white shoes up to mid-calf, to get the flute up at a right angle, to turn on the correct count. To, as the rare band officer with no talent, keep my lines straight. Besides, nobody can hear the flutes unless it's Stars and Stripes Forever and no WAY was I learning that.

Senior year, we went to state for football. We lost, but after a 4-hour drive across state, at night, on a packed bus (another perk.) At half-time we played loudly and well.

High school ended.

After the year of junior college, and the year at a women's college, I went to University of Florida. Where I, and everyone else, was at least a little bit all about the football. I had my season tickets, I wore my orange and blue...

I loved day games and the smell of beer and the roar of the crowd and swaying to the very old-fashioned fight song and the crush of orange and blue and the rooting on of a very formidable mascot. But I still had no real idea what was going on. I had a knack for watching the wrong guy, for cheering when everyone else cheered. For talking with TIca, over the roars. For, on one occasion, inadvertently carrying in the bourbon of a charming fraternity boy on some sort of probation.

I slept off games, more than once, beer-soaked and a little sunburned, on Dan's couch. (It's a good friend that lives walking distance from the stadium, and offers his couch. Great friend. He is my daughter's godfather. Football had something to do with that, too.)

Then, flash forward another 8 years, and I met and married a rugby player, a former basketball and football player, a future football coach.

A current coach. A coach, now, and for 8 of the past 12 years (a hiatus only during three years in graduate school in NYC, during which he played / coached rugby - and one year here, when he was full-time adjusting to the new school, and the football program had not been fully unveiled.)

I have been to many football games. Perhaps more than I can count. I have been in the same room while many more have played on TV in the background.

And I still spend much of any given game not knowing what is going on.

I like it. Reluctantly, there are bits of it I love. I still love the lights on Friday nights. Dinner of hot dogs. Kids running loose behind the bleachers. The chants, the cheers, and the way my husband loves reaching other people's kids.

I wince when a player goes down, and I try to learn who to watch. What number goes with which player. Who the football moms are.

My own are big enough, now, that I won't have to struggle to keep them in the bleachers. That I can look away for a minute. That two of them can run off with other kids. This year, finally, I can pay attention with no stroller to watch, no Bjorn to struggle with. And only one set of sticky hands in my face.

My oldest is 9, and doesn't play. He wants to, desperately. And he runs balls out to the field during most games. But Dad feels strongly that bones and skulls need to grow more before high-impact sports are involved. I am relieved, to say the least.

Even with Dad's constraints, Bass'll be old enough sooner than I care to imagine. And his brother - his roaring, impervious-to-pain all-action-all-the-time little brother... is certain to play as well, and also sooner than I might be able to stand. His coordinated, spirited sister may even cheer. It could happen.

Tonight is the first home game of the season. And one of the last few seasons where I get to watch someone else's kids. And this is it. THIS is the year I learn the game. I just know it.

Monday, September 14, 2009


It's gotten to where I can handle the carnage.

Small animals, usually barely-recognizable birds, feet removed, wings off-kilter. It is ugly, distasteful gore. But I can remove myself a little. Scoop them up into baggies, place them in the trash. Lower the lid.

I feel some guilt about this, but our turf is about two inches deep. If you know Atlanta, you know then that at the high points (where we live) all is rocks and clay. Not burial ground material, really, unless you have a back hoe. Besides, given the volume of 'prizes' our young cat has deposited on our stoop... you would soon realize that one year with a huntress cat on our tiny plot - and we would have a mini-Arlington cemetery. At some point, burial is impractical - and I have no suitable incinerator of my own.

Yesterday, though - into our quiet late Sunday afternoon, having Sunday-schooled, homeworked, and erranded, with grill lit and evening approaching - Sebastian came in from the back deck with "Mom! Chessie did it again! This time a Rare and Exotic animal!"

My stomach sank, though I doubted his "Rare and Exotic" claim. I shhhed him. The littler littles did not need to know about this.

But I could handle it. Frankly, after the Helter Skelter bird scene two weeks back -three birds. One stoop. Many parts- I was prepared for gruesome.

...But there she was.

She would look asleep, except for the angle. And the wide open eyes, still bright, extra-large, coal black. The death was recent. A flying squirrel. Sweet faced. Wide-eyed. Still warm through my baggie.

I touched her with one finger. Crazy soft. Fur coat soft. Kitten chin soft. With the baggie, I lifted her little arm, saw how the skin connected, expanded. Her tiny exposed chest suggested she had nursed recently. A litter somewhere, abandoned?

I put her in the trash and, at midnight, was haunted by my conscience. It didn't seem right.

So, after work out, coffee, morning chaos, cereal complaints, multi-staged flurry out the door, and return home... I got a spade.

I found another corner, under the deck. I dug. Top layer: weeds and last year's pinestraw (reminding me again that I really must do something with the yard), then rock and broken concrete, a pine cone. Lots of clay. Formulas in my head - if people average 5'7" and burial is at 6 feet... how deep do I go for a sweet faced squirrel? I dug a little further, a little wider so the body wouldn't be bent.

I was reminded of biology and anatomy - of Bill, my beloved lab partner - a vet now, and even he couldn't have helped this creature - getting married next April. Of dissections and formaldehyde fumes. I was always fascinated and horrified at once. And so it was with this creature - the arm flaps that helped her glide (though, where, I wondered? In our thoroughly developed neighborhood, even the most ambitious squirrel could not glide tree-top to tree top - not without high gusting winds and unusually developed flying skills) the smaller, flatter tail. She was in-tact. It made it harder than skinned minks, fetal pigs - and later, those eviscerated birds.

Since here, with Kitten (now grown, aka Chessie, Chestnut, Miss Chesapeake, Chessica) the death toll has reached over a dozen. Chipmunks, mice, a couple of tiny snakes, two velvetty moles, many birds. That bunny. They say either your cat is a hunter or it isn't. Clearly, this one can hunt. And is compelled to do so.

I lowered the small, lovely creature. I said a prayer. I patted earth. I was glad, again, that children were elsewhere and mostly had no idea. I was relieved that she was in the earth, and not on top of the Herbie Curbie.

"Remember men that we are dust and unto dust we shall return." I sighed. And returned to my day.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I think about it all the time and not at all.

The friends then, the person I was then - two children ago, one only almost out of diapers. One en utero, though I didn't know it yet. Living in tight quarters in Manhattan. Trekking, daily via foot and subway, 100 blocks south.

I have written about it, and I had to do it in second-person. The first-person narrative seemed, at the time I wrote (in June) irrelevant. It was so much bigger than the insignificant "I."

Even when I was there - I knew it wasn't my story. I was an outsider as I saw the plane hit, as I saw friends on the 18th floor of the Citi building collapse in hysterical tears knowing they had lost friends, family. I watched them and thought "how can you access that much emotion that quickly?"

I called Gavin, to tell him we saw the second plane hit, that we were evacuating, that I would be home when I got there. He reassured me that he saw on CNN that it was a secondary blast, not to worry. I told him I SAW it - and questioned, immediately what I had seen.

After the day, the 9-mile walk home, the arrival on the outrageously quiet streets of upper Manhattan, the phones that didn't work because of the switching station - vaporized with the towers that housed them, the vigils where I couldn't cry... after that was the smell for weeks. The smolder. Learning I was pregnant, wondering if the fumes would damage.

After came new security in our building, the wands checking for weapons, the scanning of bags, the meetings about possible cyber-attacks on the financial industry.

I watched TV, obsessively, for a few days - and then couldn't watch any more.

I had access to Ground Zero at a couple of points - and I couldn't go. I was a voyeur, and I knew the fact that I wanted to see it was somehow Wrong. It wasn't mine. I lost no one I knew.

The tributes are on again today, and footage. I can't turn on the TV. It never reconciles with MY memory of that day. The camera angles are all wrong for what I saw, and they never capture the weakness of my knees, or the way the ground actually shook just before the first tower fell.

We knew only After - and that nothing would be the same again. Nothing at all. I remember that thought - in the weeks that followed "every single thing will change", and I remember the mixed feeling of horror and relief when most everything carried on, unaffected.

Somehow, so much normalcy returned. By all impressions, we returned to a facsimile of where we were - and everything is the same - with a hole in the middle that you can't see unless you carry, in your back brain, the permanent impression of what lower Manhattan is "supposed" to look like.

Out here, on the periphery, we go about our normal days. We cloak ourselves in "code orange" and are x-rayed more than seems reasonable. We can buy mini security stations for mini airports for our children to play with. We use our passports to travel to Canada. The main thing that has happened to the majority of us in the post-9-11 years is that we are more inconvenienced individually, and more scared as a country. And not one little bitty bit safer.

And for so many people - those who drove friends, lovers, children or spouses to the airport in the wee-hours never to see them again; for those in the building; those cleaning up; those who sent their spouses to work. Those who phoned their adult children in desperate attempts to connect that morning and never did; those whose moms and dads did not pick them up from daycare, from the nanny, from the bus. For the spouses, children, family of firemen who drove so confidently and quickly to their certain death.

For all of them, nothing at all is the same.

Blessings, prayers and wishes for 'completeness' to everyone with that same tower-sized hole, patched over and "healed." For everyone who seems exactly the same - and isn't.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I have been neglecting the blog, even as I have been thinking about it more and more obsessively.

As much as I have an ongoing narrative in my head, this blog business has me thinking all the time "I could blog this..." or, "should I blog this?" (Never mind that I am enough of a word snob to wince a little at "blog" as a noun, let alone as a verb...)

But blog this is, and blog I do.

So it happens that after an amazing weekend at an amazing wedding (in ridiculous and insufficient summary: kid free, we travelled to Vermont for two men we love who bared their souls for the chance to be together, who bought a perfect house in an idyllic vista in a state that 9 months later enabled them to marry... on a weekend with blue skies and high clouds... covered bridges and food and food and drinks and a woman named Betty with countless gifts, and a man named Jay and a B&B with an abundance of porcelain dogs, and candles lit in little white bags, a hoe-down and a cow cake and live music and hiking and a tram and champagne and bonfires and dad-forged rings and friends old and brand new and every single person generous and joy-filled...) I needed something to blog about. I thought it would be that wedding.

But then all the furor around Obama speaking to elementary school kids came into my sight line. And like so much anti-Obama fury, I needed to know what it was about. I needed to understand it. And I really, honestly, could not figure it out. I read, and I read, and I searched and I read and I was dumbfounded.

Apparently, Obama speaking to children, and public schools broadcasting that speech, was threatening. He would indoctrinate. He wants us communists and socialists and he would start by controlling the minds of the smallest among us.

So, with son home not-so-sick from school (as I was nursing a three-day hangover born of carousing, it appears he was nursing a three-day hangover born of grandparental indulgences. But I digress), we watched it.

He is 9. And to him, every word made sense. Pretty standard American values and honor and all that - bootstraps and effort and the future. Stay in school. Wash your hands.

And at night, that same night, Sebastian (the 9YO son) had a pile of work sent home from school. And he needed to do it. And he complained and he griped and he might've slammed a book shut and got sent to his room. And maybe he had to take dinner in his room because we were STILL a little hung-over and Not Having Any of That.

And later, when he wanted to read himself to sleep, I said, "No. One better. Here. Watch the President's speech again."

And he was... well... (really) excited to "get" to do so.

So I handed him the laptop and he stretched out in his top bunk with the cat. Five minutes later he called "Mom, I am going to pause it and get a pencil and a piece of paper if that's OK."


And it was (of course it was), and he did.

And he took notes. On his own:

Every single one of you has something that you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer.
You cannot drop out of school and drop into a good job.
The future of America depends on you.
If you quit on school, you're quitting on yourself. You're quitting on your country.
There is no excuse for not trying.
You make your own future.

And the stuff he wrote down - that stuff - a lot of it was in the NYT coverage of That Same Speech.

I do the indoctrinating in this house.

And thank you, Mr. President, for driving home all of my most important points.