Thursday, October 29, 2009


That's my brother.

Left to right: A vampire, natch. A ghostly ninja thing with a circle around one eye, natch. A menacing candle, natch. A fisherman. A possibly insane and decidedly girly clown. And a pirate. In the original Puffy Shirt.

An ad exec and dashingly handsome father of three, Halloween was once his best outlet for creative expression. I think reader, you will agree, he rocked it.

Giggling forth out of our house, empty pillow cases in hand, eyes twinkling and fingers itching for loot... in my house, we follow the tradition of my family of origin.

I have had a pirate, a fairy princess, Frankenstein, a hula girl, and Paddington. I sewed mylar, horribly unsuccessfully, for an alien tunic. I had a self-unravelling mummy in tea-died old sheets torn into strips, a dinosaur princess (we were hurricane refugees! I grabbed my son's old dino costume and a tiara before we fled north for water and electricity...), and a high-concept red crab.

I wait longer than I should, survey the available odds and ends, and create. From the costume bin in the garage: packed to the brim with Salvation Army finds. (My sister Lisa's best Christmas gift for my Littles, years ago.) I make runs for bits from party stores, from Walmart. Foam core is often involved. Glitter.

We have never had a recognizable character. They each asked maybe once - and then it didn't come up again. Likely due to my vehement response. And some years, these decidedly home-made costumes often cost far more than their $15 Walmart alternatives.

I do this (and yes, this breed of insanity is all mine. The Littles would be fine with store bought. And the Big One would not mind opting out of the extra drama)...partly, I think, because it adds to a 'colorful' childhood to walk through someone else's neighborhood in longjohns while yards of old sheets trail behind you. Partly, too, for the 'fun' of it - the transformation of near-useless bits into something that almost makes sense. Largely, I have to admit, for the people opening doors and exclaiming with incredulity, "you MADE this??" (Not that it isn't obvious. It is.)

But mostly, I think, in homage to Mom. A celebration of creativity, of adaptability, of a little magic. It's because I like messing with face paints, too. And I like the fact that we have no idea what this stuff will look like until it's done.

In my memory, Mom (who sews beautifully) made brilliant and complex hand-sewn creations. Every year is like it was in 1973, when abandoned Mom still had something to prove. We were Little Red Riding Hood, and we won the town contest. I was Little Red, my sister was the Big Bad Wolf (in a saucy leotard with a big plush tail and earred hood), my brother was the Woodcutter, and my other sister was the Forest. (A tree. Why, you might ask, was she not the Grandmother? She's a chronic over-achiever. She had a vision. And she liked trees, a lot. Or at least that's my guess about how it went. But it's equally possible that we were just weird enough that 'Grandma' didn't even occur to her.)

The reality was somewhat less cohesive. Mom encouraged us to make our own costumes. She would help, and resources were limited. But what we wanted to be, we could be. She encouraged, she assisted - but she didn't drive the process. And flat-felled seams were not involved.

There was the year that Tom was a candle, and Terry a Television Set. Made from a box. With a message on the screen that said something like "Please give to my UNICEF box so that children who have no Halloween can also share in our Good Fortune." (Tree sister, of course.) Whatever Lisa and I were, we paled in comparison. I mean, a candle and a purely altruistic TV set?

Over the years, the four of us headed out. We were clowns and gypsies and every animal that could be made with a stocking mask, a leotard, and a tail. One year, I wore a long dress and a "real" tiara borrowed from my friend who was a little pageant star. She reminded me that with my brown hair I wouldn't be convincing (she had blond curls), but I still felt almost pretty for the whole night.

There is magic in all of it. And while I know I am making work, inventing hassle, and creating a wee bit of unnecessary strife... we're doing it again this year. There will be a witch of sorts, in a tutu. A cowboy, with eBay boots we're hoping come in time. There will be a zombie, though I have made clear that there will be no visible evidence of brain-snacking.

We will all be a little frantic. Maybe more than a little. Tonight I will assemble costumes and make that last Walmart run. And there will be fun. Hard won. The best kind.

And next year? I may break down...

...and let Sebastian be a candle.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I am, I admit, a commitment-phobe. To a weird degree, possibly to a pathological degree. Having never sought psychoanalysis, I don't know its deeper roots - but they are there.

I plan, in a work-required-occasional-Gantt-chart kinda way. But I don't plan in a save-for-the-future, make-plans-for-next-year's vacation now, get-good-grades-to-go-to-college, do-laundry-on-Tuesdays, yes-I-can-bring-a-dish-to-next-month's-dinner way.

I don't obligate myself to school projects in advance, I don't organize the group outings, and I have run out of gas and stood by the side of the road often. I am late for appointments and I have chased my children down countless times after the startling realization that it is (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) and so they need their (leotard, trumpet, check for so and so).

But I recognize that I should commit. I should plan. I should pay attention and life works better when I fully engage. I recognize that therein lie so many of my problems. And I know - and not only because I have written about it for fitness and 'leadership' websites, for sales materials and business proposals - that accountability is the key to so much success.

This is all I have: my imaginary support group in my head, and my 7 or so regular readers (you!).

Here I am. I am standing up. I am me: and I have a commitment problem.

So. When a friend (Dyana Valentine!) sent me her video newsletter declaring this the month for 40 days of her, and in it (every day for the first twenty days) there was an appeal to pick something, anything, and claim 40 days of a better you... I finally relented. For half. Half seemed manageable.

I dropped a note. I said that I would, as my commitment, work out - with intent - daily, for the 21 days remaining of the challenge.

I made it day 1 (boot camp) day 2 (a run) day 3 (boot camp) day 4 (every single time I walked back up the hill to get something for one of my children during the soccer game I fully engaged my quads AND my core. Surely that counts, right?) Today... day 5. Sunday. A cold, lazy, churchy, errandy, Sunday.

Post-church, I fought the Littles through mandatory shopping - Bass' pants all show ankles and there is a freeze due tonight.

We were inside, in Sears, in Lands End - on the first sunny day in (gaak! who knows how many. Just shy of forty, I think. God is clearly mad at Atlanta,though not-quite-ark mad. It has seemed close.) Gavin was at football, and the three were all more hyper than I preferred. That led, as it does, to my inevitable hyperbolic lecture on the way home (about The One thing I do, parent, that is based entirely on instinct, and yet I Fail because My Children Cannot Behave. . You Want Me to Fail. That lecture. It is at least as painful as it sounds - but don't worry. They don't hear a word of it.)

I got home, and considered sending them away until morning and then remembered Dyana. And the commitment. And my new music .

So I sucked it up. Swallowed my anger (softer now, since the Big One had returned from football). Then challenged them to a run. And they took it.

7 and 9, they kept up. Crazily. Arms waving, weaving around my legs. Annabeth in Crocs - and inexpicably, her better coat. Sebastian in summerwear and the hoodie that "finally" makes him look like "all the other kids" in the fourth grade. For two-plus miles they laughed. And we danced. And we moved. And we moved fast.

And so tonight, in addition to the tired sense of accomplishment that comes from a run, and the (literal) strides toward dropping the 5 pounds gained on my 'last hurrah' business trip for the company that has so recently rejected me... in addition to that, I made up with my Littles. I laughed. And I took a few steps further into that commitment.

For days down, sixteen to go.

And I'm off.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


He showed it to me while I was on the phone. Opened his hand, and there it was.

"I caught her."

He's almost 10. "She" was a bumblebee.

I thought to wonder why a bee, why his hand. Why holding, and how. But I was on the phone. We are nature people in this house, to the degree that our lifestyles afford it. We like creatures. It was pretty. I figured it was some species he had read about, that he identified as safe.

Later, I called him in from outside. He was sitting by the mailbox. On the ground. Dumbfounded "she stung me! She'll die. It hurts. It itches, too."

I said something like, "what did you think it would do?"

Later, I ribbed him further. Gave him a little grief about the bee, carrying it around like that. That just 'cuz it's furry doesn't make it a pet.

He said, "I found her on some plants at school. I carried her home on my shirt. I thought she was sick. She just stayed there. I talked to her. I told her I was going to make her better, but then she stung me. Now she will die. I killed her."

It was a leap of reasoning, a stumble of guilt.

"I thought, if she was sick, that maybe I couldn't make her better. That maybe she would have to be put out of her misery. And then? It looks like I killed her anyway. They can't live after they lose their stingers. I put her on a rose bush to die."

He sobbed. He lay his head on my lap and sobbed. That big, too-smart, eye-rolling, foot-stomping, put-upon boy broke down.

"Did she have a name?"

"Honey," his voice broke on the "-ney."

I thought of the old lady and the snake, the turtle and the scorpion. Those stories of the wounded and dangerous, made well, only to act out their nature.

He knew she was a bee when he brought her here.

"Maybe she knew, Bass. Maybe she wanted to thank you and offered her the only strong thing she had - the last bit of her 'voice.' She gave you her strength, so she could give up."

"You think so, Mom?"


Monday, October 5, 2009


Something tells me that to be disciplined, and to have meaning here - to be followed, to be watched to be read...I have to write something.

Mostly, I write what moves me, I write "what matters," and the topics are things that flood in at some point - idle thoughts that I hear myself shape into something else - so I add them here.

Right now, today, these days of late - nothing is striking me. And I know it isn't that nothing matters - it's that my vision is a little clouded with the one-two punch of unknowns and niggling fears.

In the scheme of things - the grander scheme - I know I am being shaken awake.

I took on, in my work, things so grossly not suited to me that they overshadowed the parts I did well, and enjoyed. The wrong bits accelerated the inevitable, and I lost my job.

I am certain I am learning from this. And I am certain there is work out there to be done that I will do better.

It is my responsibility right now to stay positive. To perk up, to take the steps I need for the Next Thing and to make home life, and writing life work.

I need to be nicer to my Littles, to engage sooner and more fully. I need to look for a job, certainly, but the search can be far less stress-inducing than was the job, if I let it.

As Pollyanna-ish as it sounds, I know for certain-sure that rolling around in the muck of it will not improve one itty bitty thing.

Telling myself I had that in mind, I skipped a dinner last night with a steady, gentle group of friends who would have asked questions and added kind support. I wasn't in the mood. I didn't want to talk about me - because I say too much. And it bores me right now.

And in retrospect, I know - of course I know - that I traded on the good bits of the evening, and the wine, the perfect mashed potatoes, and the laughter that also would have come. Because I wanted a little wallow and some navel-gazing. Alone.

Enough of that.

People around me help. And I will let them. And I will leave my belly-button as often as possible to glean knowledge and reach for different perspectives.

So. As Agatha (the glue of the aforementioned group) says, quoting a friend of hers (who's prominent husband had died) - no pats, please.

As Doris advised, I will take my occasional medicinal tequila shots. Only the good stuff. And I will find room and reason to laugh with my littles while no work to-do list looms.

As Ali advised, I will take the funded trip to Florida and I will breathe in salt and sun.

As Monsignor advised, I will send my resume far and wide.

And as pPod would advise - it is time to paint on my tiger face and try my hand at conquering.

I welcome - and request - any advice you may also have to add.