Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

At Barnes and Noble last week, a kind clerk asked me if I had a Nook yet. Like the Kindle, Nook is B&N’s answer to the e-book. We talked about the fact that we each had not purchased one, but were beginning to lean toward the idea, particularly because we like to travel with two or three books, or need our reference books on hand at any given moment.

“I have been resisting,” I said. And I thought a minute. “You know what I really need right now, though? A sewing machine.” I don’t know what inspired me to say it to this woman, but beside me were both little children. Their little round mouths have been chattering non-stop about Halloween costumes we must make, creative projects we need a sewing machine to complete, and clothes that need altering. I had even noted on a sheet of paper at home that I would like a sewing machine for Christmas.

“I have one!” announced the clerk, and then after telling me she had taken it out of the box a few years ago, only to never use it, she offered to sell it to me for a good price. We exchanged emails, I thanked her, collected my purchase and my children, and turned to leave.

“Wait,” she said suddenly, “I’ll just give it to you. You can have it.” I was astonished.

So, yesterday, I brought my new sewing machine home. My son was so excited when I lifted the cover to show him the mechanics of needle, thread, and motor. He wants to be a gladiator for Halloween, and knows there are no gladiator costumes on the shelves at Target, but this machine makes his idea possible. In fact, this machine makes a lot of things possible. Years ago, my sister and I planned to buy one together to push the dyed silk I used to make to the next level of creative glory. The tiny one-stitch portable machines I have purchased really don’t work so well, and I want to teach my daughter to sew. I tell her stories about my mother making my clothes, making Christmas ornaments, and altering our outfit’s hems and waists. (My mother is, of course, the best mom in the world, and I want to be just like her, but I do not sew nearly as well.)

I am stunned that a stranger could be so generous. She asked for nothing in return. This little thing I held in my heart was not just for the convenience of professional stitching, but for the ability to produce memories and to teach my daughter something that she can build upon. She wants to design clothes when she grows up.

So, thank you, generous clerk. Thank you! And you’ll be the first to see Tiny Man in his gladiator outfit. Now, if I can just draw up a suitable pattern…

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hazards at the DZ

On occasional Saturdays, I round up the children and head to the drop zone to watch my husband and his cohorts skydive. We spend most of our time outside under a canopy of sky, but when the summer heat is strong enough, the children and I seek the air conditioned comfort of the club at the hanger. The club is a cinderblock shack slapped on the back of a quonset hut that shelters the skydivers who are training or packing their rigs. The club is horribly unsanitary and smells like dirty feet, but skydivers seem content to wait their turns out draped across the tattered, dingy couches, and even sleep on the floor. It reminds me of a frat house.

I complained about the state of the lounge and bathroom to my husband, who explained nicely who looks after the place, that this situation was not likely to improve due to the drop-in-drop-out nature of members, and that there was no fund designated for the prevention of staph infections or any other germ that hints of death, decomposition, or general disease. He recommended the building next door-- a small and apparently sanitary management facility for a few small aircraft and a medvac unit. I will start making sure the little ones and I use that restroom instead of the one at the DZ.

This summer, I camped a night at the DZ with my younger step-daughter (she had jumped that day). We carefully brushed our teeth over the sink in the club bathroom, and I told her that peeing in the woods was a more sanitary option than using that icky toilet. I walked around with her the way I do my little ones, saying, “Dude. Gross. Don’t touch that. No, ew. Don’t touch that either.” I walked over bodies crashed out across the worn, scummy carpet, and guided us back out the hanger, across a field, and into our tent—our lovely, clean tent, despite the balmy humidity, the bugs, and the hole I burnt into the bottom of it (don’t ask).

I don’t care how much of a hot adrenaline jock magnet a drop zone is. There is nothing sexy or healthy about mineral and dirt build-up inside a shower, sink, and toilet, and sludge on the floor. Certain mysterious hairs left behind? Don’t even make me go there. Maybe it’s a mom thing. Maybe not. But don’t even get me started on the kitchen. Note to self: bring hand sanitizer, Lysol, and a hazmat suit.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dining Out sans Enfants

This weekend, friends asked me for a restaurant recommendation. They had delivered their daughter to me so they could have an evening out as a twosome. As their girl clattered out of the car already in full chat mode with my daughter, I tossed out suggestions for great local dining. Finally, before they pulled away I said, “Have a good time. You won’t have to cut anyone else’s food.” Or, I was thinking as I listened to the girls, try to talk over children’s noise.

I love eating out… without my children. Don’t think I do not adore my children or enjoy meals with them, but frankly, whenever my children are with me, I consider myself on duty. There are constant reminders, prompts, rules, and, as a girlfriend of mine calls it, directing traffic. Mealtime is another training opportunity, and I simply cannot relax during those times.

Several years ago, still fairly newly located in a far away state, I needed a sitter. I had not been able to find one for months and I was getting desperate. I emailed my group of young mothers and friends that shared playdates with my first child and me. The letter read something like this:

Dear Ladies,

Please let me know if you have any recommendations for a good sitter for small children. I am looking for a responsible young woman over the age of sixteen who has a driver’s license and lives reasonably close. Not to offend anyone, but I absolutely will not hire an eighth grader to do the job that I am still learning how to do in my late twenties.

I would like to have an evening out with my husband in which I do not have to cut a child’s food, change explosive diapers mid-meal, or try to stop said child from crying. I would like to not have to tell this child to chew her food, keep her mouth closed while she chews, or withhold her beverage until she has finished eating. I would like to not have to tell anyone to keep elbows off the table, face straight forward, to quit playing, or better yet, to quit interrupting. I would like to not have to remind a child that she must take at least two bites of all things offered on the plate, that food must stay on the plate, and not be thrown. In fact, food must be consumed by her and not slipped quietly to the dog. I would like to sit leisurely at the table in relaxed grown up conversation without having to feed, burp, coddle, pat, juggle, or entertain a tiny, demanding person.

I would like to have a sitter come to my house and make this all possible, and in addition to the above, bathe my child, put her to bed, and tidy the house after herself so that there are no cracker crumbs on the couch or underfoot.

If this is possible, please let me know.

The response I got was one of two: complete sympathy or absolute hysterical laughter. I did find a sitter, but it took going through someone who knew someone else who knew a lifeguard. Many phone calls later, we found her, and things went well until I had to move again.

Oh, to date your spouse. Such a lovely thing. To be reminded of who we were before that incredible persona-altering force of childrearing came into play. I recently went to dinner with my husband, sans enfants of course, and was delighted to enjoy al fresco dining over a fried oyster po-boy customized to our request. We did not have to mind anyone else’s manners but our own, we were not interrupted, and no one had to be sent to time-out. It was lovely. Of course, when I got home, the first thing I did was ask the sitter why my daughter texted me twice to complain about her brother. Then I scurried up the stairs, kissed gentle little sleeping heads, nuzzled those warm bodies, and smiled over the perfectness of my son and daughter.

Peaceful eating, everyone.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mommyhood and Madness

Today, I overslept by ten minutes. I had hit snooze on the Blackberry—or so I thought. Turns out I dismissed the alarm entirely. Stumbling down the stairs to check on children was my first obstacle of the day. My husband had already risen before them and was supervising their morning routine. I should have stayed upstairs with my coffee and readied myself first.

“Little people!” I called. “Breakfast!”

“I don’t want breakfast. I want to eat breakfast at school,” said the oldest.

“Cereal!” shouted the little guy.

“Mommy, can I have almond milk?” asked the oldest.

“Mommy, I want cereal. This kind!” stated the little one again, waving an empty box at me.

“Mommy, can I have medicine for my throat?”

“Mommy, there is no peanut butter.”

“Mommy, did you pack my lunch?”

“Mommy, can I have almond milk now?”

“Mommy, I don’t want the vitamin with the hippo on it.”


“That’s it!” I cried out, overwhelmed by the barrage of mommy demands, “I am changing my name! What should I change it to?”

“Avatar!” answered my boy.

After sorting through what was available for breakfast (we have cruised through groceries this week), and with my husband snickering at me in the kitchen, we somehow managed to pull it together, and get to the bus stop on time. But at the bus stop, I noticed my daughter was wearing crotch-length shorts. No, I was not the one that bought these for her.

“Baby girl! Those shorts are against dress code!”

“They won’t care!” she said in reference to the school faculty.

“Really? Well, when I have to interrupt my work to get you from school and bring you home to change, I will care very much, and be extremely unhappy about whatever citation you get for breaking rules.”

“Mo-om!” she sighed.

“Let’s go,” I said. Marching us home, we missed the bus, but the point was made clear long before she is old enough to try to sneak out of the house in a belly-bearing shirt. Minutes later, shorts changed for a longer version, we drove to school, negotiated the uncertainty of the drop-off car lane, and then I headed to my son’s preschool. I had been smug oh-too-soon about making the two schools on time despite the set-back of a wardrobe change and the morning mommy dance in the kitchen. As soon as I pulled up, my little son made the announcement I fear the most:

“Mommy, I’m hungry.” (I thought my name was Avatar now.)

“What!? What happened to your breakfast?”

“I did not like the toast. I fed it to the dog. I’m hungry.”

This is not a child that can forego a meal. When hungry, he becomes hyperactive and disruptive. I walked him into his school cafeteria for the public school breakfast, provided instructions to both child and cafeteria worker to skip milk today (it does not help him absorb iron), and hugged and kissed my tiny man.

“I’m tired,” he said. Oh, no. This is a danger sign. This means a virus is heading our way. So as I sit here, supposedly editing 34,000 words for a client many states away, I keep wondering when the phone will ring with the fact that Tiny Man barfed or developed fever. I planned a day stacked with work and have an overwhelming feeling that the list will remain uncrossed today.

So, in the meantime, I’ll plug away. In only a few hours, the non-stop call of “Mommy” will rise again. Oh, wait, just call me Avatar.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Samaritans, Circumstance, and Conscience

This week, I went to a class at church where the topic of personal safety and charity arose. It led to an interesting discussion about the good Samaritan. We asked ourselves, what do we do when approached by the local vagrants?

“Well, I fed someone this week,” I said, “Actually, it was two people.” The room became quiet, so I told the story:

The woman, a grandmother, had a child with her. I pulled up to the bank to run an errand, and hoped she would disappear as she watched me park, but she waited, and stood by the car door. The boy looked hopeful, but his companion had empty eyes. When I exited the car, she asked for a meal, not money. I looked at her, looked at the boy who was the same age as my son, and did not hesitate further. I promised to feed her, but that she would have to meet me at the restaurant on the other corner. We exchanged first names as a kind of seal on the promise. After my brief errand, we ordered food, had a polite chat about raising children, and I made sure she was seated in a comfortable place. She wanted me to stay with her, but I was afraid to do so, and did not order a meal for myself. Instead, I asked the restaurant manager to look after the two and to pack an extra meal on the house and send it with her. We made sure that woman and child ate well. When the boy was not looking, I slipped the grandmother money in addition to the paid meal. I left the restaurant only to return with a toy which the child accepted enthusiastically. I was kind, but careful. I wondered if the woman had just worn out what pride she had left in order to ask for help. I wondered about the boy’s future and where he would sleep that night. Driving away, I fought back tears of guilt because I had earlier been grousing about how much I wanted to buy a home instead of rent the one we had.

I told my husband the story that night and said I was well aware of the falsehoods or misrepresentations presented by beggars here or anywhere, but that my conscience could not have rested had I denied these two people a basic need: a meal. Looking at the child, a well-mannered boy in tattered and dingy clothes, what lesson would I have taught him by turning away? Growing up, I learned that God is embodied in each one of us. I had thought of how my own family has cared for me in moments of extreme duress. I believe we are all one step away from being as desperate as the woman and child on the street. I hope that my efforts to help are somehow mirrored by her or others for greater good. All these things ran through me in that moment two hungry people asked to be fed.

Later that day, my daughter and I spoke of this, and she sweetly asked if we could find them again so she could donate all her change—we keep a large jar in the house. She said she was so sorry to know of a child who needed so desperately. I told her that we would keep our eyes open, as many homeless have an area they frequent, but that I was troubled because, fear for our safety aside, I could only provide temporary relief for them. Tomorrow, grandmother and child will likely be hungry again. While I have much to come home to, much to give, I am unable to provide better circumstances for their rising above poverty.

Monday, September 13, 2010

He Ain't Heavy...

At the checkout counter, a sticker read “For your convenience, leave heavy goods in cart.” I stood with 34 pounds of dead-weight child asleep across my chest and shoulder, and groped with one free hand for the contents of my cart. A man in front of me just stared, but did not offer any relief from either task at hand.

“Huh!” I said pointing, “Leave heavy goods in cart.” I had wondered if I could lay my son down on the wire gridded floor of the grocery cart to make this shopping errand easier, but that just seemed cruel, so I let my back strain beneath the pressure of his sleeping body. He is four. Days like this won’t last that much longer. The clerk was patient as I rifled one-handed through my purse for the requisite grocery savings card and debit card, and then sent a helper to load my trunk in the parking lot.

We had places to be, things to do, obligations to meet. But the sweetest part of my day was taking just a second to breathe the breath of my son as his little face nestled into my neck, and feel all the trust and security that he had in my touch and ability to carry him. Today was his first day of preschool. Next year, he will be in kindergarten, and far too tall for me to easily carry or cradle anymore. This evening and early this morning, he bundled himself between my knees and tucked his head under my chin, and then he giggled. This is my last child, my last baby, and the last link I have to young motherhood. I think I can bear his burden.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cleanliness is Next to Perfection

Seeking some relief from an extraordinary schedule that includes monthly travel, weekly children’s activities, daily chores, and work from home, I hired a maid. She starts in two weeks. I met this woman by chance as she unloaded her vacuum from the trunk of her car. She was chatting with my little son in front of a neighbor’s home. A few hours later, she stopped by to give me an estimate. Apparently, there is a difference between clean and tidy. I thought my house was clean, as I had prepared for company that was still here. Everything was in its place. The dog hair had been vacuumed from the rugs. The coffee table glistened. Wilma, in her heavily accented English, announced that I definitely needed help. She pointed to the grout in the kitchen tiles, the bathroom tiles, and said, “Is ‘sposed to be white.” Yes, Wilma, but that some of that tile was laid nearly fifty years ago and I am just thankful the grout still holds. I was insulted. She ran her fingers on top of painting frames, window sills and sashes, baseboards.

“Dirty. Dusty. You need help. I see this,” she continued. She looked at the tracks for my shower doors, the brown between tiles near the shower, and fussed again. Appalled at my apparent ineptness to see dirt, I hired her on the spot. If she does not appreciate my mold, then she can be paid damn well to remove it. At least, when she lifted the toilet seat, I was not betrayed by a scandalous pink ring; I had swished the toilets two days prior.

Fridays and Saturdays are housecleaning days here. I do downstairs one day and upstairs the next. I grab some help whenever it is available, but apparently the short people in the house (Tiny and Chicken Little) don’t see dirt well, either. Today, after swearing that I would not clean one iota till Wilma crossed the threshold again, I found myself challenging the tiled kitchen counter with Comet and a toothbrush. Apparently, Wilma is right. The grout is indeed supposed to be white. Who knew? I tackled the sofa cushions with a vacuum and removed spider webs from two heavily used rooms in the house.

I won’t kill myself over next week’s cleaning routine. I’ll do the essentials and save the backbreaking labor for Wilma. But at least now I can sleep better knowing everything is under control. Bleach is a beautiful thing, as are dusters, scrubbers, and perfect Brazilian housekeepers.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Emily Dickenson wrote a poem called Hope that I thought about tonight after three conversations with friends-- all at the same time on Facebook-- three people I needed to reconnect with for different reasons and the same reason. I needed a glimmer of hope. The poem is below:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Gas is a Blast

We have an old, flatulent dog. She glories in the slip of deadly methane from her bum. Considering her special diet, extremely limited treats, and hardly any table food, I don’t know how the horrid fumes originate. Yesterday, I was sitting on the floor reading with my little son when the dog walked by. I looked up in sudden shock and horror. This was not your usual gas blast.

“Son! Did you toot?”


I did not believe him. I checked his pants to make sure he had not dropped a load of goods in there. Once he was deemed free and clear, I went to examine the dog. Had she rolled in a dead critter in the backyard? No, but trailing her lightly now was a sample of something the Nazis once would have bottled and used at war. I hoped this was a one time deal, but minutes later, my step-daughter cried out the dog’s name from the other room.

Oh, yes. Gas is a blast-- especially when the one to blame actually is the dog. She is asleep near my feet as I write, but every so often, a fetid breeze washes my way. I think my tear ducts are actually disintegrating.