Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Late, I ran out the back door to go pick up AB from gymnastics.  

And there... on the back stoop... a bunny.

Not a rabbit.  

Not alive.  

A small (but not tiny), half-cat sized bunny.  Sweet and very broken.  Stiff, with some entrails exposed - only enough to know that this was no gentle battle.  Killed dramatically and violently by the "good cat," the cat, at 11 months, still referred to mostly as "Kitten."

In a rush, I quickly wrapped the bunny in newspaper from the recycling bin, and placed her in the garbage can, on top of the trash.  

After dinner, Bass, for the first time in his nine years on planet Earth said, "I'll take out the trash, Mom." 

My response was swift and suspicious.  

I had, after all, a body concealed in the back yard.

That bunny body continued to haunt me through night reading and dinner eating and bath drawing and bandaid applying and bedtime.

What the heck would I do with it?  

Before living here, we lived in Florida, on a school campus.  Adjacent to a canal on two sides, a nature preserve on a third.  We had access to a dumpster, and an outdoor cat.  Over the years that dumpster received many things - rats, both whole and scattered; mice; fish heads.  And once, a very large and very dead iguana.  I had no problem tossing those in and forgetting about them.  

Here, with a different cat, we have had a mole, a couple mice, several baby snakes.  Once, a chipmunk, which was a little sad.  Each, unceremoniously thrown into the Curbie.  Probably put first in a plastic bag - but ultimately garbage, nonetheless.

But this...this was a small rabbit.  A bunny.  

My sister calls me "Bun" and refers to my children and hers as "the bunnies."  My daughter has bunny prints on her walls.  Bass' baby quilt, that he still sleeps with at 9, is covered in them. Because it was made for him by his godmother, his first baby sign was "rabbit," and it was both how he asked for his quilt and how he referenced his Aunt Agatha.

Before we bought this house, I drove by it at night, and a bunny was hopping across the yard. When we moved in, we saw one again - days after sleeping in it the first time.  One hopped past on Easter eve looking frantic, like it was 'on the clock.'

Bunnies don't go in trash cans.  

Maybe we could have a small funeral.  The littles could learn something about love and death and symbolism and animal instincts and the temporal nature of beauty.  We could bury the young rabbit together, sing a hymn or "Rainbow Connection."

They would be solemn.

We could say prayers.  Pick roses from the rose bushes.  Each softly pet one ear.  Bury the bunny with a carrot, and something else bunnies love best, like the burial of an Egyptian god king.  (We would no doubt have a long discussion about what that something else might be, knowing, as we do, scant little about the aesthetic preferences of bunnies.)

Bass would be either curious and scientific, "can I dig it up when it's bones?" Or oddly dramatic, emerging after bed while we are settled into Lost bawling about "I feel bad for that poor bunny. Why do we have Kitten anyway? I NEVER KNEW THAT BUNNY!"  

pPod would be matter-of-fact, with a stream of questions.  "Is 'dead' like being asleep, Momma? Will that bunny eat that carrot in heaven? Was Chessie trying to eat that bunny?"  It would become That Bunny, and the questions would continue for years:  "Remember, Momma?  When Chessie killded That Bunny and we buried it?  Member?"

Ah, but Annabeth.  She would be conflicted, possibly devastated.  She would feel betrayed by Chessie, the heretofore love of her life.  She would want to wrap the bunny in a silk scarf.  She would ask if she could do that, and I would find it hard to say no.  She would draw something for the bunny, to place in her shoebox.  She would give Chessie hurt sidelong glances for weeks - maybe years.  She would say, softly, "She didn't mean it, right, Momma?  It's just what cats do?" But it would be unconvincing.

After everyone was successfully bedded, I heaved a big sigh and trudged to the garage.  I got the edger.  I lifted the stiff broken thing in its paper wrapper out of the trash.  With the edger, I dug a hole, while in my pajamas.  Through pine straw, an inch of soil, three inches of red clay. Chunks of construction waste.  I went down 8, 10 inches.  A foot.  I placed her in.  I layered in the debris.  I patted it down. I scattered the straw on top.

I waved to the neighbors (and made a few "edging" moves, as if, well, maybe I'm out doing a little inspirational gardening... in my pajamas... at late dusk...)  

There will be plenty of small, soft, broken things.  Things we can bury together.  Teachable moments that come from soothing the child that found the thing, no longer warm and soft and woodland-creature-esque.  

But not tonight.  Tonight, there was no reason to drag them into my small sadness.

Sleep well, little bunnies.  

Thursday, April 23, 2009


We went to the dentist last week.

"We" means 2/3 of my children.  The night before, the Big One saw the dental appointment and asked 'why now?', meaning - why now, when we are cutting back expenses, have a pile of bills, and have started the hell of paying off this year's taxes.

The short answer is that 'next month' never seems to come - that is, we can put it off, but to what end?

Later, a few things occurred to me - that is, that dental visits are simply what you do.  And that as a child, we never missed our annual dentist appointment.  And that whatever the cause, we all had perfect teeth and giant smiles.  Teeth, and our family smiles, were a source of misplaced pride (since luck, genetics, and fluoridated water each played a larger part in our big, straight, cavity-free teeth than did the daily brushing, or occasional swipe-throughs with floss.)  

My mother raised us alone, with no financial or emotional assistance from my father, who abandoned her and his four children when I was 18 months old.  She struggled as a counselor, and then a teacher, to make all ends line up - and to give us the extras so we wouldn't notice.  

Visits to the dentist happened in the summer, when we would stay with my grandparents on their farm in a small town in rural Connecticut ("farm" is a retired tobacco farm, and "Connecticut" is rural riverbank broadleaf tobacco territory.  Lest you be confused and immediately associate "Connecticut farm" with Martha Stewart's plush Westport horse ranch...This was decidedly Not That.)

On the farm, I got to be queen.  My naturally bossy tendencies were given full reign, as my grandfather imagined poor, fatherless Cathy the victim of every nefarious plot.  I followed him with a matching salt shaker in my pocket so we could eat hot tomatoes off the vine.  I talked non-stop, and he listened - mostly silent.  We picked blueberries for my grandmother's flourishing summer blueberry business, and he would come to my defense when I got in trouble for handing over a bucket of mostly red berries, speckled with hard little green stems, and rubbed almost translucent from over-handling.

Famously, my siblings (4, 6, and 7 years older) would be admonished if I tripped.  If I cried when left out of games with even older cousins.  Or, when younger, wet my pants.  

Grampa was my champion.  I could do no wrong.

I have no idea if the trips to the dentist were paid for by my grandfather or my mother - but it doesn't matter.  They would have happened either way, because my mother firmly believed in good teeth and in doing what you Should, and because my mother was a notorious refuser-of-aid (even if had come in the form of dental visits, provided for by her father.)

I wasn't really thinking of all of this.  Not yet.

I visited my son - proud and four - in the chair.  He had a mouth full of flouride treatment, and I involuntarily shuddered.  I took a picture.  I said to the hygienist, "I remember those, back before they had those little suction straws.  They were awful.  You weren't allowed to swallow and it was so hard not to."

Annabeth wanted details.  So I told her.  "When I was little?  You had that awful stuff and no sucky straw, but you couldn't swallow - you had to keep spitting in a little bowl.  But once, I did swallow. And when I got back to my grandparent's house, I threw up in the bushes."

"Really?  Did you go to the hospital?"

"No,no.  Nothing like that.  But  I can remember my grandfather yelling about 'that goddamned dentist had no idea what the hell he was doing!' and my grandmother yelling back that we were told not to swallow, that she heard the dentist say it..."  

"Was the dentist wrong?"

"No, hon.  He wasn't.  But my grandfather was always quick to stand up for me.  He imagined everyone was doing wrong around me, and that I was never at fault."

"Wow.  Was that nice?"

Conspiratorily, I answered, "It was fantastic."

And it was.  I think my grandfather honestly believed it was his duty to single-handedly make up for the fact that my father was an unmitigated ass.  That he had abandoned all of us, and never looked back, was something so far out of my grandfather's loyal and hardworking imagination that he was compelled to make up for it.  It was an abomination, and needed to be revealed as such - and not imagined to be any sort of norm.

My grandfather was my knight.  There to prove to me that men were not, inherently, bad.  That hard work and loyalty should always prevail. That I was wonderful just being.

It was folly to think he could do all that.  On his own.  In just eight weeks a summer.

But he did.  

And I would have had no reason to think of him last week.  No reason to talk about him to my kids, no reason to remember what it was like to have a champion, to be spoiled in grand and real ways.  What it was like to be beautiful and Right and smart.  To be listened to, by an adult, as a child. To feel hot dirt between your toes, and to eat hot tomatoes out of a field.  To pull a salt shaker out of your pocket.  

Had it not been for an ill-timed trip to the dentist?  I might not have had any reason at all to think of Grampa.  

And that's a pretty good job for a dentist.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


My daughter's soccer game had just ended and she was hanging upside-down on some playground equipment when I checked my phone for email messages.  

When it buzzed that new messages were loaded, I looked, and laughed out loud at a message my friend had posted in reply to my Facebook status "off to the public school pre-k lottery, wish me luck."  The friend had replied "they're lotterying off pre-schoolers?  I'll take two!"  

The message was from Andy, one of my oldest friends, and someone I would have always said would be a natural dad.  Among many other things, Andy is gay.  He and his partner seriously consider adoption, but live in Florida - which presents new levels of stickiness to what is already not a simple proposition.

My daughter heard me laugh, stopped what she was doing, and came over.  She asked why I laughed.  

So I told her.  

Soon talking myself into something of a hole, I ended up explaining all of it - the comment, what it meant, why he would say it, who his partner is, what gay is. All of it. In about 6 minutes, to a six-year-old, while we walked.

I explained that 'gay' ("You may have heard of it, in regards to gay marriage?") is in your wiring - that it's part of who you eventually are, as a grown up - and not anything you control on your own.

While I endeavored to explain gay marriage and adoption, she was baffled at why any of this would be controversial. (Since I addressed that a little, too, in the six minutes, and since we have adopted children in our family.) I was impressed that she was nonplussed, and compassionate in her response over all.

But then she said, "My friend has a friend who is gay. She said her cousin calls him that because he likes girl things."

Wait. No. That isn't what I meant.

I launched a more complicated explanation about how it isn't your job to declare someone else anything, and that while it is a fine thing to be - or rather, to figure out you are - it is bad  to use In That Way, that while someone calling you, Annabeth, a "girl" would be  silly and obvious and not an insult, "gay" isn't like that, and it isn't ours to claim since we don't live in it. That sometimes, it is used meanly to say that a boy isn't being 'boy' enough, and that ultimately that's just an insult to girls - because - so what? Why would being like a girl ever be bad?

Which is a long-winded way to say that, after a number of twists and turns as we walked around a soccer field, I gave Annabeth the short, scaled down version of a
Judith Warner essay I learned ran last week.

It has always been bizarre to me that the worst thing you can accuse a boy of being is anything feminine.  It is a completely fabricated cultural construct that, as Judith says much more eloquently in her essay, a boy existing anywhere outside the narrowly defined fraternity boy patriarchy myth is made somehow "less."  

There are still so many scary double-standards in how we view gender, and what our kids face on the playground away from their presumably more enlightened parents.

I want the world to be safe for my kids to be whoever they are.  It's that simple.  For sexual orientation to be an after-thought, and a pre-adolescent non-issue for all children (given the hyper-sexualization of girls, and the gender fault lines evident in a walk through Toys R Us, this is difficult in the best of circumstances.)  They should have the freedom to play, to develop skills in line with interests.  To have quiet crushes without pressure to "go with" someone as early as fourth grade.

Of course I like living in a world where my daughter's soccer game has all the merit of her brothers' lacrosse game, where she can imagine she can be anything at all she wants to be... and I cringe at the idea that my sons might be judged harshly any time one steps outside of a very specifically defined box.  

As Bethy said, "They're just being them - and if you're being you, why would you care?"

Another article on the related topic; homophobia and bullying and tragically, another death.  Tolerance is an urgent message for our children.  This matters.  

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Earlier today, and repeatedly, I had ideas for things to write -  I felt witty and pithy (sing it with me "and gaaaaay! And I pity, any girl who isn't me today..."), but I didn't feel I had a spare few minutes to get those notionally clearer-than-usual thoughts onto paper. So...

I did not write.  
I did not clean my house, or even put away the clean dishes or make the beds.  
I did not put away the ironing board or go pay for my expiring car tags.  
I did not write thank you notes to people near and far who did wonderful things for me for my birthday.  
I did not go to the post office and mail packages I have around the house, or return overdue library books tucked in most corners, or overdue DVDs Blockbuster has called about.  

I did not have lunch with a friend or take a walk on the nicest day in months with my kids.

I did take my in laws to the airport at orange o'clock, and got back in time to work 6:15.  

Then, I "worked." 

I shuffled things and parsed things and "uploaded" and edited and stared confusedly at a version of a Gantt chart.  I trained someone on some software, and I listened for an hour to someone else sell me something - even though I was halfway dozy and will not, ultimately, be the buyer. 

I took my husband to the car rental place and grumbled as he climbed into someone else's SUV (without expired tags) alongside colleagues, with whom he shares a real, honest-to-god credentialled-and-respected career...and drove away for the five days ahead of him. 

At the kitchen table, I acted as a helpdesk and I formatted a bunch of communications to send off in mass corporate emails in the morning. Then, I collected my kids from schools, where they had lingered until nearly six PM.  

We then dropped in on a treasured friend, bearing a very tiny Easter basket and three kids.  She gave me wine and all of us Chinese food.   

Things were looking up.

After two hours, we returned home... oops... late.  

Where there were books to be read aloud and homework to be finished and loud cavorting to commence...and be interrupted by... shouting.

(We are, regrettably and embarrassingly, a shouting family.  You might as well know that about us.)

I shouted at my children because pajamas weren't getting on and faces weren't being washed...  
...because they weren't brushing teeth quickly enough.  
... because I had to finish my "work."  
...because the Thursday night TV line up was about to come on and I wanted to settle into my spot on the couch with my open computer and my to-do list.  

I shouted at them because the house is a disaster and I will need all three hours in the morning to clean it before the house cleaner comes at noon, and I have to work during that time.  
... because when she gets here to clean, I will have to tell her that I need to cut her to once a month.
..because when I pay her tomorrow, the check might...just... bounce.
... because of those damn car tags.  

I shouted because the Big One did not tell me he was going on this trip until the last minute and there are five non-negotiable sporting events and a public school pre-K registration to deal with this weekend - sans him.

And when the shouting stopped?  And they were mostly nestled all snug in their beds?

The littlest Who in my Whoville... sweet, vexing, mouthy, unstoppable, unflappable, often-jolly, wildboy pPod said from his cloud of messy, rumpled, pulled-out-at-the-bottom-of-the-mattress bedlinens... in his best littlest-Who voice:


...Why did you have to get mean?"

And, Grinch that I am,  I had no good answer for him.  

Because it was all those reasons in that paragraph up there. Which is a list.  But not an answer that makes an ounce of sense to a four-year-old.

Or to any of us, really.  

Instead of an answer, I gave him a kiss.  And an apology.

And so now, in the darkest hours (that's a reference to the actual time, not a mental state), I am so pleased to be at peace, with work done, with all their faces relaxed in gentle sleep.  And I like them this way - giving me the quiet space to feel truly guilty.

I peeked in on them.  And I felt my two-sizes-too-small heart grow.  And was certain then that anything else I ever need to say... to any of them...could be said in a whisper.

We'll see about that.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I commented today, on another blog,  about kids and sports and the craziness it inspires .  (We are immune because we take a measured approach.)  And I commented yesterday, on a different blog, about the 'pre-tween beauty crisis' (We are immune because my daughter is impervious to sassy things).  And today - because parenting out loud (and not just on screen) is like that, I directly contradicted both - revealing myself to be the fraud that I am.

We live in a city with lots of options for the myriad things in which your kids can involve themselves (and you).  And partly because we are lazy, and partly because we are often broke, and partly because we really don't believe in over-scheduling our kids, each of our kids only does one activity at a time - and nothing formalized until 5.  

We largely stick to B-list stuff - that is, not being part of the Right league, the Traveling league, but rather the church leagues, the cobbled-together teams at the Y.  (This is, well, partly because we are lazy, partly because we are often broke, and partly because we don't believe in over-scheduling our kids...)

My husband is gigantic, and people assume he was once a pro-football player.  He was not, but he was a college athlete, and briefly a professional rugby player. He is a graceful, natural athlete. And coach.  

I am also very tall.   People assume I was once an athlete.  While I would never directly mislead, I do not disavow people of this notion - and so far no one has challenged me.

I do not do the things that require skill or coordination, or moving my body in any sweeping and organized movements with some others approximating the same - and, heaven forfend, still more who sit on sidelines and in metal seats and watch.  *shudder*

My daughter's main 'thing' is gymnastics.  She has, I fear, more of my coordination than the Big One's.   With gymnastics, I reason, she can build a solid base of physical confidence while also developing strength and flexibility.  It is working - that is, she is very strong and very flexible and she perseveres and is getting pretty darn good. (I predict, however, she will be 6'2" - at least - and not a contender to steal the thunder from the likes of Mary Lou and Nadia.)

My daughter engages in her gymnastics at the 'right' gym.  (Remember, I notionally, proudly, even avoid the 'right' sports leagues.)  This gym serves tony clientele - that we live just beyond, on the metaphorical wrong side of the tracks - about half a mile from Their gym.  That we use.

For the second year, we go to every class and re-register each term.  It costs, of course, hundreds of dollars.  For the last term - it costs $85 more.  For the leotard.  For the "show." 

Really?  For my never-gonna-be-an-olympian gymnast?  $85? 

I decided that this year, we would just not do the show.  

This was not to make a point, and it occurred pretty organically.  I stood there, at the place, with the spring registration in hand. Unprepared. I had just deposited a check for some freelance work for $300 and had my oil changed.  I had not counted on the leotard fee.  It was January.  There was shiny new Christmas debt, and It didn't feel like spring.

I explained to my daughter (loosely - mostly just, "we won't be doing that this year, but you still get gymnastics every week") and she took it mostly OK.  For weeks, she didn't seem to even think about it.

When classes evolved, later in the season, to the point where they were 'rehearsing,' the Big One and I were out of the country.  AB, my daughter, told me that she had been asked to sit out the rehearsal part of class because she wouldn't be in the show.  She cried.

I freaked out.   I did not want a decision, based largely on my ability to pay at that moment, to stick as some Important Thing in her memory.  I did not want her sitting out of 3 minutes of public floor time show to trump two years of gymnastics.  It would become, inadvertently, a defining moment of her childhood. 

Geez.  Really?  How did I not realize that??

I then wrote a very measured letter to the place explaining that I thought the recital was optional, that if they were going to punish my daughter for her non-involvement, and for my financial shortfall, then I would find the money.

They assured me, via voicemail message, that this was NOT the case.  No one HAS to do the recital, lots of people miss it, she was free to practice during the rehearsals...they would make her comfortable... I called back and said 'thanks.'

I went in early this week to pay for fall registration.  The owner was there.  She was outrageously gracious.  We talked about AB, and the new season.  The show came up.  She offered, should I want it, a generous discount on the leotard.

While my back brain was saying "THIS is not about THAT" and "," I took it.  I wrote the reduced check.  I did.  I told myself that maybe they were trying to keep a client. Maybe?  It wasn't about charity, but about making right on the substitute instructor's poorly communicated message that AB would be on the sidelines.  

I felt sheepish.  I felt... less.  Less than all the right gymnastics moms in front of whom I try real hard to be invisible.  The mommies who do not work at jobs, who have nannies and nice cars and perfect shiny designer flats I covet and swingy spring coats and who are never late and always have tasty snacks.  And drinks.  

Then, today, I drove the carpool. Which meant I was there early.   

At the start of class, they passed out the leotards. And I watched.

Shiny.  Orange and gold and black and silver and cheetah print and asymmetrical and... well... sassy.  Super sassy. Sassy like I would never buy for my daughter.  Like I would never encourage.  Along with every other girl, AB was given hers to try on.

And here's the thing:  she loved it.  

She lit up.  She couldn't believe it.

And later she was sheepish about it, because she knows how I sneer at sassy.  

But I saw it:  she really, really, super, $85-dollars-worth LOVED it.  

I chatted with Mom A and Mom B and all the other scary moms whose names I forget weekly. And I was one of them, sortof.  For a minute. Another mom of a girl with a shiny leotard and a show coming up.  

And I tried to imagine dying the little death I would have died if I watched, instead, her standing with tears in her eyes being strong while everyone else got their sassy sasswear.  

And I was more ashamed of myself than I was for taking a wee bit of charity.  If that's even what it was.  

I will drink in her sparkly goodness in that jam-packed gym on a Saturday in May and I will be SO relieved to have narrowly missed defining a piece of my daughter's childhood with exactly the wrong sliver of missing $85 trivia.