Thursday, May 27, 2010


We walked to school for the last time on Tuesday. I didn't realize until probably Friday that this day was coming. Intellectually, I guess, I knew it - but I didn't KNOW it until I was doing it.

We had homemade cookies in hand, hydrangeas picked in the morning from our enthusiastic bushes. We played as we walked to school. There are always imaginings. He has been a super-hero, a friendly bear hunter. He has been looking for his dragon, or trying to outsmart a tiger (our brown striped companion, Chessie, who follows us for most of our walk.)

That morning he said, clutching the flowers, "today we are climbing Snow Mountain to go visit the Queens, with gifts." Queen Jones and Queen Woodard, teachers of pre-K. I told him, yes, gifts: flowers for Beauty and cookies for Sustenance. He repeated this to the teachers when we arrived. I couldn't have been prouder.

What I will miss, I realize now, even more than the walks, is the time that is Ours. The spaces that fill with not-so-much. When we do things - just him and me - or we don't. He helps with laundry, he pushes the vacuum... or he plays alone, talking to his toys: Playmobil pirates, Legos, odds and ends collected from siblings or McDonald's.

Today is Our last day. We'll finish Monsters - vs - Aliens and go for a walk. We'll head to the neighboring neighborhood, where they have the pond he liked to visit when he was two. We'll have a picnic. We'll talk about stuff.

He is five. He is gentle and rambunctious, busy and thoughtful. When he colors, he uses every color on every page. Puppies have purple ears and green noses and yellow tongues. Transforming robots are stripped of their menace in his hands: orange chestplates, giant pink feet.

I'll miss his conversations with Baby Patrick (they are waning, though he still holds a special place.) Eventually, he won't ask me to sing to him at night: made-up words to Brahm's Lullaby, "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover" and all three verses of Rainbow Connection. He'll stop accessorizing, putting on a cape in the middle of the day for no reason. Or sunglasses, a cowboy hat, beads strung sideways across his chest.

Since infancy, he has made people laugh. They say, "I would love to be inside HIS head!"

And I have had the pleasure now, for five years, of being granted more time with him - alone - than either of the other two. I was more distracted, often working, this time. But he's been right there, happy to self-entertain and pleased to bring me in when I was available.

Through it, I have had many opportunities to glimpse inside that head. And it's nice in there. It's bright, it's colorful, and most definitely - good things are coming.

Tomorrow the other two are home, as well. We will all tumble into summer and in August, all three will head off to the same school. It will be easier having them all in one place, and it will be inspiring to watch how much he grows.

But I will miss the place where flowers and cookies seemed like all we needed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Before we moved from Florida, we got so caught up in the leaving that I have no impression at all of our last trip to the beach. We didn't take pictures, we didn't commemorate it in any way. And yet it was the Most Sacred Thing for me. The reason, above all other reasons, for being there at all.

Things end while we are doing other things.

I certainly don't recall the last time I used a diaper on any child in my house. The last time I guided a tooth brush over tiny teeth, the last time my oldest sat on my lap during church (He is ten. 5'2" and 95 pounds. It was not recently.) You don't know the last time you breast feed a child. You don't recognize the last time you speak to someone in person, or on the phone.

Every ending is, by definition and experience, another beginning. This thing stops, that one takes its place.

Or at least, we are trained to believe this. Lyrics and hindsight seem to confirm it.

I was struck, this morning, by an artist's rendering of the Alaotra grebe, a bird, once in Madagascar. This bird was last seen in 1985.

I wondered if in his birdy thoughts, in his small bird-brain, he looked around and felt lonely. I feel certain, as he was dying, he had no idea just how alone he was. To be the very last of his species. Or maybe he died with his mate, on their small pond, their weak wings never taking them to other ponds.

Looking at the images of oil gushing into the gulf, I cannot help but wonder who else's end is now proscribed. What is going that will not be replaced? Who's lives - human and creature - are irrevocably changed, or destroyed altogether? What chain of events have been put into motion that cannot be reversed?

I cannot fathom the greed, the speciesist (like 'racist,' for species. Is there a word?) thought that says - de facto, we are better. Might = right. Oil will gush until we figure out a way to save - not the creatures, the habitats, the whole life cycles - but the oil. It is, in a word I rarely use, sinful. It defines, for me, sin.

We raise our children clumsily. Small lessons go missed, homework goes undone, days that should have order often disintegrate into chaos or murmers of mindless television. My only wish in that regard is that the things I say - my rants, my lectures, my late-night talks, stick in their back brains and form them in ways my clumsy day-to-day efforts sometimes don't.

I wish, I hope, I pray at night, that when my own Littles are big and in charge, when they are running things or working for things or doing whatever it is they choose to do to Contribute, that they know Beauty. They promote it. They know Others. They see them, and they care for them. They know Work. They seek it. They see what they have, and they are Grateful. And they recognize Wrong, and work toward Right.

Compassionate, passionate contributors. This - what is going on in the Gulf - what is happening to our beaches, marshes, lives - plant and animal and liquid - is Wrong.

I often forget to pray. I forget prayer at all. But I never forget to appreciate, and am humbled by the imbalances I see in all things. It's not quite religion, but it is a tugging sense of duty and awareness - and I go to church on Sunday in the hopes that in the hour of silence that sense will come to the fore.

Primum non nocere - The basis of the hippocratic oath. An oath, it appears, should ethically have been extended to far more than doctors. To bankers, businessmen, global energy companies.

First, do no harm.

I am praying now for this to resolve. For life to go on, for the ocean to self-correct. I am praying for the impossible. I am praying that this will not mean the End of things we cannot begin to foresee or quantify.

And I am praying for my children to pay attention, to think and see and absorb and carry forward to the next generation a sense of duty, compassion, passion, and heart-moving, soul-motivating, action-inspiring gratitude.

RIP Alaotra grebe.

Blog posts about the Gulf and this tragedy are gathered here. Stop by. Stay a while.:

Friday, May 21, 2010


After that last post... I got many calls and comments - Facebook messages - reminding me not to be hard on myself. To cut a break. And I do. I really do. I have a fiery temper, and I am not exempt from its wrath. It is quick, though. And after the explosion, I forgive. I soothe, when necessary (and it is! When you breathe fire, there is always a lot of cleaning up after yourself later.)

I AM good at some things, and was reminded of them that same night. Late. Through the quiet. By my husband. Who I love and lean on 14 years after picking.

And the next day, yesterday, worked. Annabeth and I made cookies for her class, put an initial for each child on the front in proper preppy sorority girl lower case. There were polka dots and little cellophane bags. She wrote beautiful thank you notes for last week's birthday. On her own. Taking careful time to say the right things to convey specific gratitude. She practiced her spelling words without a complaint, taught her little brother to spell "people."

They are mostly a humble bunch, a generous bunch. They are loving, warm, affectionate. They are considerate and compassionate. They are boisterous and loud. And they are, mostly, contributors.

Patrick has forgiven me completely. I forgot the right kid that time - either of the other two might have seemed more wounded. They would have put a lot of effort into making me feel OK about it, but they would be a little sad. pPod just seemed glad to see me. He really liked his balloon, and later showed me how the big bad wolf roars.

Hours after dinner last night, Patrick threw up all in his bed. It was close to midnight, and we got him up, washed the sheets, got him in the shower and tucked him in between us. Gavin and I fell asleep to him chattering away.

This morning he had a fever, so he stayed home. Three days left of school, and he is missing one of them. He was warm and extra affectionate, laying half on me in front of morning TV. We watched Little Bill and I felt all nostalgic. I didn't realize how much I missed Lil Bill, Bobby, Alice the Great. The sweet morals slowly played out.

In my real world, where things aren't resolved in twenty minutes, there are still far more gentle spots and joyful spots and segments of lessons learned, as well as subtler daily bits that remind us what good kids we have than there is chaos, and the regrettable (though maybe not infrequent) shouting.

My thinker, Sebastian, needs someone to indulge him when it's close to midnight and he appears with some Big Question. (Why is there suffering? How do I know the world won't be destroyed while I am alive? Why doesn't God answer my prayers to have Bonus (the long-dead cat) visit me as an angel in my dreams? Will we ever move again?) He needs us to occasionally ignore the book light shining on in those same hours close to midnight. He needs to be reminded of other's expectations, and to be appropriately lauded when he shines.

My artist, Annabeth, re-imagines every piece of junk as a future craft - "don't throw that away! I can use it!" She executes craft projects with me and is still thrilled to have me at her side, doing my thing. It hurts me when she is hyper-critical of her own efforts, especially doing this thing she does best of all. (yes! Tarra, Heidi, Kymmie, Agatha, Becca, David... you are right - I think she gets it from me. And I should be gentler on my own Me.)

My actor-future-fiction-writer- man-of-action, Patrick wants attention - someone to make laugh and help him weave his elaborate stories, to encourage him to accessorize, to roar, to give tiger hugs and after baths, to let him ball up under a towel in the middle of the room and "crack out" of his dinosaur egg - to welcome that dinosaur enthusiastically, but with a little fear.

And I do all that. With a willing, engaged Big One. And we do it well.

And sometimes, I even bake cookies.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I dressed Patrick yesterday morning in his red rugby-striped shirt.

Generally, he adheres to his public-school open-to-interpretation uniform that it is only loosely followed by the pre-K set. Probably a dozen times, I have let him wear something other than the white (now white-ish) polo topper that fits requirements. On those occasions, he always picks the red-and-white. His favorite.

I dropped him and went on to other things - a breakfast meeting, then proctoring an AP test at the other school. I marveled at the relative calm of the adolescents taking that test. It was the final move of their high school careers - once that last bubble was filled in, stray marks erased, cell phone collected from me - they were gone. Off to the Rest of their Lives. And yet none seemed panicked, or even particularly plussed.

Post-testing, I collected my daughter so we could go run a quick fun errand. We lollygagged, loading our cart with sugar cookie supplies. Then we left to retrieve Patrick, who I felt had lingered too long at after-care.

We got to his school and Annabeth asked if she could go in barefoot. She had stripped off her confining running shoes. I said, well sure. Just into the cafeteria. Just picking up a brother.

I walked in a few beats behind her.

Swarms of adults. A buffet. Little boys in top hats, pastel shirts, black pants, sparkling blue bow ties. Little girls in perfect spring church dresses, floral prints.

I was confused for a flash of a second, two, three. Annabeth, beside me in her bare feet, said, "wow. What's this?"

It had been the show. The Show. The end-of-the year celebration to move them all to kindergarten. Proceeding arm-in-arm. Singing, dancing, acting. Patrick had been, apparently, the Big Bad Wolf.

And I. Had Not. Been. There. Girls in dresses. Boys in ties. Gussied parents taking pictures. Siblings in finery eating from the parent-provided potluck buffet. Patrick in his day-stained red and white rugby, dirty shorts. Running shoes. Annabeth in bare feet. Bare. Feet.

I had received notice of this event. An email. Another. Maybe even another. Each time they would come over my phone I would glance at them, intending to parse later. I thought - since one called it a graduation celebration - it was on the last day of school. Next week. I never slowed down, read. Planned. Scheduled.

Recognizing what had happened, I wandered the small crowd wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Stunned. I snapped at someone, a friend. I blathered, in shock. People intercepted and said things like "he was wonderful!" and "I think I got a picture of him" and "It's OK, someone videoed it."

I left briefly, to cry in my car. I sobbed. Pulled myself together. Returned.

To be absolutely fair to myself, Patrick didn't show any concern. Genuinely. He was bopping around with a blue balloon. He said, "It's OK, mama!" Though he expressed disappointment that he didn't get to wear the sparkly tie.

We numbly ate chicken fingers. People said "let it go." And I felt so --- inadequate.

Things have been lost lately - falling off my radar, or under it. I have been going through the motions, sometimes frantic, always preoccupied. School is out soon - and the month has been a mess of pieces and parts.

I don't do this well. I have committed to things next year - big things. I will learn again, this summer, how to use a calendar (I can't figure out when I stopped, or why the very idea of a calendar intimidates me now.)

I blew up later, at night. For imagined infractions of everyone else. But, of course, it was all about that Show. My error. My disconnect. My absent calendar. My crushing love for my youngest. Missing his last baby moment.

We are right here. At the end of the school year - a year rife with last-minute saves: permission slips, lacrosse games, trumpets, leotards. Dirvishes that whirled. Mornings that were late - and often a surprise (as in, SURPRISE! It's morning!) Right here, I am feeling ill-suited for all of it. Overwhelmed, with holes in my thoughts and holes in my day that allow for neither accomplishing nor resolving.

And before venturing to do this again, I would like, just-for-me, a test. An end of the year AP- equivalent that lets me know that I am suited well enough. That I am as good as the next guy and getting better. I would like to darken my bubbles, erase my stray marks, blow off the dust of the mistakes removed, turn in the test and move on. Matriculate. And find out mid-July if, in fact, I have received the desired four and will, after all of it, get credit for this cobbbled-together year.

And if not, I would like to take the year off. Re-group. Maybe study abroad. Come back when I am feeling more mature, and Ready.