Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Little Reflections of Parenting

Periodically, a mother's words can come back in the funniest ways. One evening over dinner, my son piped up with a complaint about how I had used one of his paper airplanes to write a note. In desperation that morning, I had unfolded his hand-crafted jet, smoothed out the creases, and wrote a note of permission for my daughter to give her teacher. He had objected to my doing this at the time, and hours later, still was a little peeved.

"I'm sorry," I said. "Next time, I will go into my office for paper and use that instead."
"It's okay, Mommy. I still love you," he answered.

I'm glad he does. I am also glad that of all the things I tell my children, this was the one thing I clearly heard reflected before my children left for holidays with their father. And they will come back saying or doing all manner of things they have learned from time with their other family. Of course not everything they learn is so charming.

A few weeks ago, my son came home with a note from school. "Had a good morning," it began, "but kicked, hit, punched, and gave Ryan a wedgie at snack time." My ex-husband was appalled and sent a text asking me who Tiny had learned the wedgie from. I texted back an answer, "You."


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Recent Publication in Parachutist

I always swore I would be the mother who could work, create, raise kids, and keep a clean house. How humbling to learn that is an impossible dream. Something has had to give... largely, this blog... and the yardwork... and the laundry... and.... And I miss writing for pleasure. These days, I spend several hours a day combing other people's copy for a myriad of errors, and at the end of the day, I simply cannot look at another computer screen, even for creative purposes. I can boast however, a recent publication for Parachutist, a nationally distributed magazine that my son likes to steal from my skydiving husband. You can visit my article by clicking HERE. The print version that fell through the mail slot this weekend has the full spread of family pictures, which aren't visible online.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Behold, the Minivan

For those of you that still follow this blog, my great silence has been due to my official hiring by the firm where I have been temping since July. Working hard and away from home, I have little time to write, but at least I am now the happy copyeditor for a wonderful company whose consistent paychecks have allowed me to replace my ancient SUV.

I had hoped the SUV would last till next summer. My mechanic shook his head and said that only another $1000 would guarantee an attempt at that.  "Well," I asked hopefully, "maybe another thousand miles without those repairs?" He grimaced. That week was the last time I drove it to work, the shaking and rattling and whining so severe I thought it would break down on the highway. By the weekend, I had succumbed to the need to finally replace the automobile that I had acquired a few months after my daughter's birth, and that had carried home my newborn son from the hospital. We have been everywhere and everything, that SUV and me: married, single, married again, residents in three states, and journeys across half the country. There were 164,000 hard-earned miles and eleven years in that vehicle, which had been a symbol of consistency, sameness despite change, a familiar comfort in new places.

It had also grown to be awfully inconvenient, however. At a car dealership that weekend, I reluctantly explored what I knew would be the best for a family that travels, a family with a large dog, a family with guests, a family of growing young people. I slinked past a row of shiny BMWs, Saabs, and Lexuses-- pretty little sedans glistening like slices of meringued pie in the cool afternoon. But those things aren't practical, and I came home with the whole wheat loaf of vehicles instead.

Behold, the minivan.

Actually, the minivan has been very nice. It has been like driving my living room, and the best part of the whole thing is that my kids cannot touch each other in the back seat. The mid row is two captain's chairs, where Tiny takes up his seat, and the third row is a bench that my daughter hogs. No one fights anymore about who poked whom. I even had a DVD player installed for those road trips we take. This past weekend on our holiday roadtrip, I smiled as my husband dropped the thermostat on his side of the car to the upper 60s while I kept my side of the car on "toast." As far as minivans go, it isn't as granny panty as I thought it would be. The front end of my mini is rather chic-ly designed, and the remote operated easy-access sliding doors are about as mechanically sexy as a mommy-mobile could be.

Truthfully, I panicked when I sold my old SUV to the dealership that weekend. My daughter stood beside me and told me not to cry about it. I didn't know what was worse--saying good-bye to my old tried-and-true or having to embrace the unglamorous genre of family vehicles. But we're doing ok here, the Catichemobile and me. Practicality won out, and for that my entire family is thankful. Even the dog... and me.

Friday, November 4, 2011


My daughter is a minority at her school, which is about two-thirds African American. I think this is a good experience for her, as she learns to get along with kids whose backgrounds differ a little from hers. Occasionally, she will come home using an expression that is specific to that culture. Last night, for example, she asked if I could buy her some lotion. "My skin is so ashy," she said. As she adopts vocabulary and tries on expressions, she will sometimes come home with something I wasn't quite ready to hear:

"Mom, Coach told us not to be those girls that have four or five different baby-daddies. What's a baby-daddy?"

We had been walking out of my son's school, another mother some steps ahead of us. I was stunned into silence, but when the mom turned to say, "Good luck with that. We just had that conversation last week," I burst into laughter. Yes, I explained it. I explained the coach's trying to set a standard for the girls. "There are young ladies at your school who fall into this category," I said, "because their moms had one relationship, had a baby out of it, moved onto the next boyfriend, and did it again. Sometimes, you'll see entire families where there is no committed relationship and a string of children from different men. It makes for great instability and uncertainty in a family. It's not good for society. She was just trying to tell you all to make good choices."

I thought I had done very well here until my daughter asked if her step-mother could claim such a label. After clarifying the difference in the relationship and reminding my daughter that her step-mom cares greatly for her, I searched for the right words to stop my daughter from repeating "baby-daddy" and getting herself (or me) into a pickle. My little boy had the right idea. "It's not nice!" he stated emphatically. No, it's not nice at all, but it sure was worth a good chuckle.

Friday, October 28, 2011

For Those Who Grieve

Last night, a friend of the family died after a battle with cancer. The gentleman left behind a wife and children, and many friends. To those grieving, I send my best wishes.

I was climbing into bed at the end of the day when I learned the news with a mixture of sadness and relief. And as I slipped into the temporary slumber of the living, I mused about the strange sort of miracle, an odd word to use, about the moment life ends and death begins. What an amazing thing that can happen that forces to cease the light and energy that keeps us engaged on this plane. While science can pinpoint a last heartbeat, a last brainwave in the dying, no one can tell exactly the millisecond when one's soul drifts from his body, never to return to it.

Recently, I read a beautiful article about a woman with mental retardation--she lived in a state of innocence, a curious blessing that resulted from her condition. As she lay dying, her father's life having ended before her own would, she opened her eyes in her last moments and asked her mother if she could go now because Daddy was coming to get her. There is sweetness in that, a message of relief to the living-- that souls venture forth even before the last breath, that there is hope and promise.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mouse Patrol

We still haven't caught the mouse at work. The head of maintenance came to see if he could help. I showed him the empty trap and stated my surprise that the mouse hadn't been lured by the peanut butter cracker I had put inside.

"You need to get him with a picture of a girl mouse," he said. "You know, one like this." He struck a pose and then continued, "All flirty and pink with a skirt and bow." I had a vision of my team getting down on hands and knees to tape cheesecake-style mouse pictures on baseboards with arrows pointing to the mousetrap. Laughingly, I ran his idea by my co-workers and then gave him feedback later.

We couldn't undertake his plan--it was making a lot of suppositions, I explained. "First you are assuming that the mouse is an active heterosexual male. Or you would have to suppose the mouse is a homosexual female. But the mouse could be a juvenile, and not into finding a mate yet, or he could be a senior, and just not give a hoot."

"You're right. You're right," he said. "It would be a total HR violation."

Who knew trapping mice at the office could be so complicated?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Heart of the Team

My Chicken Little is having a hard time of late. In addition to temporary hearing loss, which has made aspects of home and school challenging, she is not enjoying her place on the school basketball team. Monday morning, I took her to work with me for a couple of hours before her doctor appointment for ear issues. Exhausted from days upon days of straining to hear, of not feeling well, and a little school stress, she broke into tears on my office floor. What she said wasn't anything uncommon to the woes and worries of a middle schooler in many places, but my heart broke for her.

"The kids yell at me on the court. And I can tell they talk about me behind my back because I am not like them. And it is hard to be the only White kid on the team. I am just not as good as them at basketball. It isn't my route."

"Baby girl," I said gently. I told her how she has twice the courage of the other kids to get out on the court knowing athletic talent is not her gift, knowing she is different. The fact that she tries is what counts here. "You are the heart of the team," I said, "even though it is hard for other kids to understand." I tapped my chest and continued, "You have it all in here."

Last night, my husband and I lounged over coffee and dessert, and discussed the situation. What kind of decision should a parent make here? Earlier that day, I had called Chicken Little's dad, who discussed the value of learning how to live as the minority in a situation (which, really, is one reason I choose to keep my kids in city schools) and how we tend to learn when put in places of discomfort, which for this little doll of a child, would be a sports setting anywhere. My husband wondered if we were setting our girl up to fail--putting her in a situation where she is this little awkward child among gangly, strong ballplayers. I see each man's point of view. The person I really want to hear from now is my daughter's coach.

This morning, I wrote a note to the coach and reminded my daughter that until she takes her feelings to the coach, we cannot help her. This may be a situation where my daughter works her way off the team on her own accord or it may be a situation where the coach has the magic words to provide reassurance, comfort, and motivation to stay.

This isn't a life or death decision, but it is one that counts down the line as it bonds with critical memories of struggle in middle school. Whatever happens, I am sure our little girl will be fine, but I hope that the present time isn't extraordinarily painful for her.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Parenting Two-Step: Work and Children

Tomorrow, my son will go to the office with me. I hope the good Lord smiles upon us as I bring Tiny into the building and try to pass him off as my newly hired assistant. As a working mom, I do the best I can.

Trying to keep the flow of family while working has been a challenge despite the pleasant benefits of being fully employed. Kids get sick, they have ballgames, they have projects, their schools have meetings, schools close for professional development days. Working those needs around the full-time schedule has been a dance of meeting kids' needs and losing pay for doing so, and making up that lost income with a second job that I can squeeze in during slow shifts at work, before weekday dinners, and on the weekends.

While my initial pattern was to come home after work and walk the dog, chase the kids around the block when they ride their bikes, or throw the ball outside, I haven't quite been able to work that back into the schedule. Instead, that time has become filled with other needs: stops to refuel the tank of my car, errands at FedEx Kinko's, emergency trips to the urgent care clinic, tweaking edits on a paper, meetings with a realtor over the fate of this house we rent, and last minute school supply shopping. It's a little crazy.

This week, when my children's step-mother politely complained about what she perceived as my inadequate packing for recent visitation, I reflected on why the packing had been so haphazardly done. I had worked all day each day and had plans every evening that week. The last evening before we left town, my son had fallen asleep in my lap at a school rezoning meeting (exhausted from his earlier soccer game) and was put to bed early, therefore making it impossible to check the length of the pants I had packed for him (oops--I sent high-waters for him to wear). I was up until midnight cleaning, readying the house for a house sitter, readying the house sitter for the dog. I had sworn off working through that weekend when I got a last minute assignment from my second job, which meant additional preparations to pack my work. My husband, who had been travelling out of state for the second time this month, arrived home shortly after midnight with only a few hours of sleep to grab before he got up to work. I put the bags in the car before I went to sleep that night. After work, I picked up kids, waited briefly for my husband to finish his packing, and hit the road exhausted. Sometimes, we just do the best we can, and this was one of those times. At least, when the kids arrived at their final destination, they were clean (the packed clothes were clean, even if a shirt had stains), fed, entertained with activity bags and movies for the drive, hugged, kissed, and sent off knowing that they were cared for. I could have spent extra time digging for perfect outfits and multiple pairs of coordinating shoes, but instead, I rocked my son in my lap the night before and managed a cup of tea with my daughter before bed.

Those moments are the ones that matter, and make me so eager to come home each day despite the frantic pace we run from dawn till dusk and all over again each night. I think the "best I can" is working for my little family and I, and lucky for me, I work for a company that, so far, has been awfully supportive of this. It's all hard though, and by Friday, we are all exhausted, which makes weekends with the kids even sweeter than ever.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Lot of Poo

Last week, my eleven-year-old left me a present-- an unflushed toilet bearing what could have been confused for horse hockey. After a reminder to come take care of the matter, I assumed that this slip in judgment was resolved. The next day, however, I came home to a clot of poo on the toilet seat. As you can see, there is a lot of poo in child rearing, both actual and metaphorical. It can wear a good woman out.

Most Saturdays, my daughter has a riding lesson, and then we treat ourselves to lunch out after. This past Saturday we were trying to squeeze in a haircut, but my son pooped in his pants. I had to drive home, clean him up, change his clothes, run the wash, return to the hairdresser's, and forego lunch until after. About that time, we discovered the cause for his accident: a virus. We ordered lunch to go after his fifteen-minute diarrhea session at the restaurant, came home to care for a sick child, and then cancelled afternoon plans. So much for going to Car Pool to clean the horse manure off the car mats from the morning at the barn.

That afternoon, as I sat near my son while he pottied, he uttered these wise words: "Mom, I hate diarrhea. It's hard, it's complicated, it's frustrating... it's diarrhea." I think even he can draw the parallels between actual poop and that which is symbolic of poop.

Friday, September 23, 2011


This year I was told by a friend that I had previously considered family that I needed to know the difference between friends and family. He was not family, he said, and therefore not bound to certain obligations to help. In part, he was right. In another part, I decided that, the line having been drawn so plainly, I would just honor his request by pointing my life in a different direction.

These days, I am in an odd place, and I am not sure what to make of it. I had prayed this year that I be transformed inside and out--caterpillar, cocoon, metamorphosis, butterfly. Other friends, my mother included in that, asked me not to change at all. But something most definitely is, and aspects of that are out of my hands.

Perhaps this is another blog I should save for the book I want to write call the Unpublishable Pages, all the things I wanted to say that I shouldn't say. In my limited experience, I have learned that I hurt with words more than I thought possible. And, despite contentment with many issues, I carry a sort of deep-seated frustration, a kind of anger that seeps out of me. My struggle is to know about it this: Is it normal? And why is it so shocking to others when I become the angry one?

I used to be depressed, and looking back, I see that it was there on and off for a long time. Depression is a hidden thing, swept under the rug, leaving a crust that really doesn't completely evaporate. It's a cancer. You remember you had it, it was there, it made you crazy. It can return and make you crazy again. But a therapist once told me the most insightful thing about it: Depression is repressed anger. When I heard that, a haze lifted and I knew she was right.

These days, I allow myself to be angry. The frightening thing for others is that while I can accidentally wound in casual conversation, the true and confrontational conversations are where I mean exactly what I say, and what I say is often awful.

In a falling out with family and friends this year, something that happened this summer, I was accused of being selfish and essentially responsible for the unhappiness of others. I spoke plainly in response to that. Things didn't go well at all. Or did they go as they were meant?

And so I regroup. I have even been reconsidering writing so publicly at all, the effort to do so considerable with the new job and new schedule. Something is definitely happening to me. And I feel it when I am alone in my office at work, and when I am home engaged in good conversation with my first born--I am changing seasons.

With that said, today is the first day of fall. A season of death, really, but yet it is shrouded in brilliant hues and changing light. A fellow blogger once mentioned to me that with every rebirth comes death first. And so this fall, as I curl in my cocoon and attempt to emerge from the chrysalis, I wonder if I will leave the anger behind, and unfurl wings as light as breath in the new dawn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Note of Condolences to a Neighborhood

Recently, I received tragic news that a woman in my former neighborhood ended her life. She was 40 and expecting her first child, the delivery soon approaching. While I did not know her personally, we had in common a number of friends and acquaintances. I am struck by the shared grief of this community, that kind of loss being one that reaches profoundly into the dark and silent corners of hearts, rousing feelings we prefer to forget. Tearfully this week, I reminded my children the importance of choosing life, of loving, and of remembering in times of hardship that things get better. We have each other to live for.

I am desperately sad for the woman's husband, her other family members, for the life of the child she took with her. I have not been able to look at my children without thinking how grateful I am to still be here raising them; to have them alive, healthy, thriving really; to be well, mentally and physically; and to remember that once I had carried secretly the hollowness that makes one think life is not worth living. This woman's death is haunting. And I ache for her.

To my former community, my sincerest, most heartfelt condolences for losing one of your own. I hope this most unnecessary and tragic loss sows seeds of compassion and wisdom among you. My best wishes for growth and recovery, for the return of light and love, and that darkness ebbs away from your troubled souls in this difficult time.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Semicolon Abuse

Working two different writing jobs, I see different levels of errors. Both jobs, however, share a most frustrating  misuse of the semicolon. According to Eats, Shoots & Leaves author Lynne Truss, the semicolon was invented in the 14th Century; it has been abused ever since.

How's that for use of a semicolon? Semis help clarify or link. Semis conduct a delicate dance between defining separate ideas and connecting shared ones. This week, having spent hours on yet another paper that was heavily dotted with semis to the near point of obscuring text, I have decided to list the major rules here.

  • When writing sentences that list concepts described with multiple words, and those concepts have interior punctuation within each phrasing, please use a semi. 

For example: Edward the Mouse went shopping for all of his favorite cheeses such as Swiss, which he loved for all of its holes; cheddar, whose sharp taste and orange color thrilled him; and goat, which was considered taboo among the mouse community.

  • When writing sentences that list concepts described without interior punctuation (simple lists), commas are appropriate. (The writer of a certain manuscript that I edited this week wanted semis in this context. I objected strongly and confiscated all errant semis and firmly planted commas instead.)

For example: Edward the Mouse when shopping for tasty cheddar cheese, zesty Swiss cheese, and mellow goat cheese.

  • When writing sentences with two independent clauses, and that second clause clarifies or extends the meaning of the first one, please use a semi (or just make two separate sentences and call it a day).

For example: Edward the Mouse had extremely high cholesterol; he ate too much butter with his cheese.

At my full-time job, we use semi-colons in bulleted lists where all components are essential criteria to qualify for something. I am not crazy about this use of semi-colons, but nevertheless, we do it. I'd rather rewrite the leading sentence before the list, but I digress.

For example: In order for Edward the Mouse to qualify for health insurance to treat his high cholesterol problem, he would have to complete the following:
1) reduce his intake of cheese;
2) spend at least 30 minutes a day on the wheel in his cage;
3) drink a small glass of red wine each night; and
4) register and attend classes in a Cheese-Eaters Anonymous group.

Note that we end the last bullet with a period, treating the entire thing as a broken-up sentence. Perhaps corporate writing can be a topic for another day, but let's just say that on the lists required for my second job, I never use semis.

One of the most fun websites to explain semicolon usage is here, which describes semis as the most feared punctuation on earth. I can understand this, having once posted on Facebook this: Don't make me beat you with my semicolon! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mouse in the House... Ummm, I mean in the office...

It seems my office has a mouse. Everyday, there are new reports that he has ransacked someone's snack drawer. Today, I put up a poster about it: Wanted Dead or Alive it reads. The reward I offered was a mini-bag of Cheez-Its, something any mouse would appreciate, much less his human counterparts at work.

This past weekend, friends shared a picnic table with us and told story after story about mice and other small critters. The best one had to be from a woman who said that one day a chipmunk scampered across her kitchen floor... being pursued by the family cat... who was pursued by a dog... and yet followed by another dog. She said she had jumped upon the counter and found herself standing in the trash can as the animals ran frantically 'round and 'round.

Mice are really cute until they are running free in your home or office. A co-worker suggested we lay a trap for ours. "Let's get a shoe box and prop it up with a stick," she suggested. "I think I'll ask maintenance to set a squirrel cage-style trap," I countered. I have this picture in my head of her lying on the floor all night, holding a string attached to that stick and shoe-box rig, calling, "Here, mousie, mousie." Somehow, I think this critter will be with us a while.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Adieu, Facebook

My decision to deactivate my Facebook account was multifaceted, something I had been deliberating doing for some time.

But the biggest part of it was this: I am not biologically designed to have 300 best friends. It was fun to promote my art and blog via Facebook, it was fun to see my friends’ children in online albums, and it was fun to exchange witticisms with long-time friends; however, I began to wonder if all this living online takes away from the living I should actually be doing in regard to people I love the most. Maybe we are designed to let go and not constantly reconnect. I don't know.

Facebook has had surprising benefits—the best of which was reconnections of lost friendships that formed foundations of new support in difficult times.  But I did learn that I would bump into an old acquaintance, excitedly catch up, exhaust all enthusiasm, and, for the most part, lose touch again. The option of reaching out, though, was always a key stroke away. Convenient. I think I what I learned was I don’t like severed connections, but I simply can’t realistically maintain that much correspondence with that many people.

I am sure I will reactivate my account again. I use FB as a messaging service for people whose phone numbers I don’t have—more than one lunch has been scheduled that way. When I took my children to see their paternal great-grandmother, I was able to send a rare and precious photo of her to several former in-laws. It was a tender gesture that FB unwittingly hosted—something that wouldn’t have been so possible at one time. I also enjoy seeing what's happening in my step-daughters' lives. But for now, I decided just to pull out.

The timing of my closing my FB account came when I needed to reflect a bit on priorities. The last few days have been nice—no chime summoning me on my Blackberry, no faux-urgency to check the latest newsfeed. I thought I would miss it. I know my kids don't miss my being distracted by it. So far, so good.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

First Day of School

I just posted a note of encouragement to a friend sending her son to a formal school as opposed to the more flexible home school environment she had lovingly provided for the last few years. Let me tell you about our start in new environments here.

At my son's school, a Boo Hoo Breakfast is hosted for parents of new kindergartners on the first day. While parents are thrilled children are growing and progressing, it is hard to leave children, children who were once babes who could curl up on your chest as vulnerable newborns, in what might become a Lord of the Flies scenario. Of course, wisdom prevails and we push ourselves out the door. The wee folk become engaged in happy activity led by a loving and firm instructor, and school becomes routine. Things are ok. The first day though, particularly for mothers, is hard.

My son is little. When he holds my hand to walk along side me, his hand is up to reach mine. He is pint-sized, snack-sized. His backpack is almost as big as he is. We walked to school from where I had parked, his hand in mine, my free hand sheltering us with an umbrella. His yellow rainboots flashed in the puddles. His excitement about school wore off by the time we entered the packed building, other parents also escorting new folk to new classrooms. Tiny hung his backpack and jacket on the notch near his name. He looked absolutely uncertain. I hugged him, kissed him once, took in his sweet young child smell, and turned. I didn't attend the parent breakfast because I was already late for work. My impulse had been, though, to clutch him to my chest and run hundreds of kisses up his neck, to take him to work with me so he could sit in my lap. But I didn't. I did the right thing. And he was fine.

Earlier that morning, I drove our daughter to school for her start in sixth grade. I pulled up to the corner and suddenly she froze. "Come with me," she said, "The seventh graders are so big." We parked and I walked with her until she stopped at the steps before the building. She hesitated, tried to speak, and faltered. She had realized no moms were entering the building. Finally she decided she could walk in on her own. I hugged her with as little fuss as possible and watched her, the backpack bouncing with her steps. Her newness would include a nearly entirely new student body of older kids (but some were friends from her old school last year), changing classes, learning how to open a locker with a combination, increasing hormones, crushes on boys, and greater exposure to pop culture. Our relationship over the last week has evolved simply from the fact that she is now allowed greater independence. I am trying to let go of certain things and trust her with  more responsibility. I sit at work and fret that she, who lives on her own planet, will be distracted and get hit by a car crossing the street on the way to her after-care program. Surprisingly though, this week her own growing awareness warned me of safety.

"Step aside, Mom," she said as we walked on the sidewalk to school mid-week. The streets here have been heavy with accumulated rainfall. I looked at her to see why she would ask that and was simultaneously drenched by a car that, at full speed, hit a puddle near the curb. The rolls had been reversed. My daughter had anticipated an event and prepared for it; she was dry.

For those of us that have shuttled our young ones off to school this month, we celebrate and mourn simultaneously. I can enjoy the knowledge that my son thinks his school is so big because he is so small and his feet make at least two steps to my one. I get to share the thrill of my daughter's meeting new friends, accomplishing good work. She is going to school with all kinds of kids in the artsy environment of this historic town, a good lesson for her.

We're doing ok.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


My husband recently told me not to write anything when upset. While no one will believe that my last blog I posted was something I had played around with writing during the summer, I did write in haste the other night and managed in the process to offend the people I love most. For this I am awfully sorry. I retracted it from here and from Facebook, which I went ahead and deactivated.

Moments like this, I wish I could just disappear. So for a little while, I have. Again, my apologies.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Irene's Aftermath

Right now, you can't take a walk more than half a block without running into the debris from fallen trees. While the damage here isn't as bad as it could have been, there is enough to provide stressful conditions for many residents. Entire oak trees--including their lengthy root systems--were torn out of the ground and took with them sidewalks, driveways, porches, roofs, corners of houses, fences, et cetera. Down the street we have cars whose tops have been crushed into the passenger space. Houses are missing chimneys and gutters. Power is just now being restored to homes here. Roads in many places are still cordoned off from entry due to rubble.

We were lucky. While gas stations and stores have been operating on limited hours if at all in many locations, not far from the house commercial business remained unaffected and likely thrived from customers seeking not just a place to eat while the home kitchen was powerless, but an air-conditioned environment. My kids watch the tree surgeons hoist and dangle themselves from trees and cranes from a safe distance. The smell and dust of cut wood has been heavy in the air here, to the point where I have had to clean the furniture and floors multiple times this week to keep the outdoors out. But we have been comfortable, exceedingly so, in a house that somehow remained unaffected by 95 mph winds.

When my daughter was little, she rode with me through the debris of Hurricane Katrina. She recalls being scared by the houses on the Gulf Coast looking like sagging spiders for the first floors that washed away leaving  the supports of a broken second story. I remember, and just saw again, the empty acres that once held neighborhoods. In New Orleans, my daughter covered her eyes from the black, empty windows and doorways of homes that had sat in a rancid stew of flood water for three weeks, the yards littered with smashed shutters and glass, upturned cars, boats in odd angles on city streets. I had determined then that I wouldn't again, if luxury allowed, expose her to such a horror.

My husband has been troubled by news about towns in the Northeast, particularly one in Vermont, a washed-away mountain-side community--homes, roads, playgrounds, stores crushed and gone. Locals fretted that there were community members trapped in their homes (or what might be left of them) from a swelling river in places where roads had eroded with the force of Irene. I write this as a chainsaw buzzes in the background, as a helicopter putters overhead, as my children play in a cooled and cleaned home. I am thankful for a civilization that was only damaged, not eradicated. And as a new storm named Katia begins to boil in the Atlantic, her path yet to be determined, I hold my breath.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Words from the Little People

Where we live, school begins the day after Labor Day. With the children only recently returned from summer with their dad and my being unable to find consistent childcare for the week, I chose to stay home with them, a decision that turned out to be the best one. We have spent the last couple of days talking as we cleaned up hurricane debris outside, knocked the house back into order inside, organized school supplies, and played in the yard. The conversation has been priceless.

"This is uncomfortable," my son said about something that was agitating him. "It's like having a wedgie."

And later from my daughter: "You know, I feel sorry for homeless people because the only friends they have are imaginary ones."

And last night, the sitter documented this particular conversation between my kids:
"Tiny, talk to Daddy."
"No, I no want to talk to Daddy. He's always angry with me. He spanks me."
"That's because you do stupid things and he gets mad at you," replied my daughter.
"I knoooowww," sobbed Tiny, "and I do them anyways!"

The youngest still fits neatly on my lap and I can, for a little while longer, carry him a good ways. Being five, his baby-ness is fading fast. His sister, who starts middle school as a sixth grader next week, has long left those tender days behind. They still both, though, say the sweet things that remind me they will always be their mother's babies, such as these words from Tiny.

"Mom? Mom. Mommy. I wuv 'ou. I weally, weally wuv you."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Retina Rectal Syndrome

Some years ago after an afternoon with a difficult client, a co-worker stopped me and explained that the woman had been so unreasonable due to an apparent case of Retina Rectal Syndrome. The co-worker, a grandfatherly type named Bob, explained in his gentle voice that his wife, a hospital nurse, had described this sort of thing often. I was 25, still naive and bought it--hook, line, and sinker.

"Apparently, there is a nerve that runs from the corner of your eye all the way to your anus. It can cause all kinds of problems in people, can get inflamed, et cetera," explained Bob to me that day. "Sometimes surgeons have to sever that nerve and it can take a long time. It removes your crappy outlook out of life." He stopped and smiled, then added sweetly, "In some people, both eyes need to be done."

I have held this story close to my heart for years. Having been faced with a jerk more than once, remembering the story while someone spews hate has been a life saver. In fact, recently I sat with my husband at a dinner with an out of town guest. The gentleman there was discussing a notoriously difficult (to say it tactfully) supervisor.

"You know," said the colleague to us that night about his boss, "he's had a hard year. And he even just had some sort of surgery for a nerve problem or something." I had to clap my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud.

Retina Rectal lives.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Preparedness

Living in an area threatened by Hurricane Irene's wet backlash, I have been growing increasingly antsy. Since my parents' loss of their home to Katrina, I have a little PTSD when storms like this occur. Add to this Tuesday's little earthquake that rocked the floors and walls of my office, and you can see how I might be wringing my hands over whether or not we are prepared for an emergency.

Cruising a list of things you need to prepare for a bad storm or other event, I found something that listed items like this:

Extra water (1 gallon per person per day)
Grocery items for 3-7 days
AM/FM battery operated radio
Blanket and pillows

Seriously? Is that it? Here is my personal list for being ready for a storm:

Masking tape--tape your windows in a big X to catch breaking glass in the event that occurs. Good for those of us who don't have plywood or shutters.
Store all outside furniture and potted plants. They become wind-ammo in hurricanes.
Clean your bathtubs and fill with water. We used to fill every available pitcher in the house and had been known to bathe in a bowl when necessary. The bathtub water is for consumption in an emergency. You can also dip a bucket in there to fill and use as a way to flush your toilets if the water main breaks.
Candles with lighter or matches
Gas in the propane tank of your BBQ pit (When there is no power after the storm, you can still cook what's in your fridge before it goes bad.)
Ice in your ice chest (You can also fill the washer with ice as a back up. The water drains there and the washer is a great insulator.)
Do your laundry now.
Gas up your cars.
How's your pet food supply?
Some extra cash is handy. Don't blow it in candle-lit poker games waiting for the power to come back on.
Honestly, those little camp-style portable burners for cooking are wonderful, but we never had them.

I should have added margarita mix to the above list... and a battery-powered blender.

Be safe. Plan well. Best of luck to those of you who are affected by Irene and her angry path.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Office Humor

Occasionally, there is downtime in the office, and employees will create amusing distractions. In one office where I worked, we used to hide the air fresheners my boss was so obsessed with, or invite him to talk about his distaste for Christmas trees (a blog for later--but just know that watching him lecture about tree-killing removed at least 15 minutes of work-time from my day). To pass the time in my current office, I routinely sabotage a poster of Donald Trump that someone hung in the copy room. I make him a costume out of paper and give him a new alter ego. This week, he is a pirate complete with tri-fold hat, earring, eye-patch, and parrot on his shoulder. Last week, he was a beauty queen. Apparently, I am not the only person in the office that likes to kid around, but I do know what is and isn't appropriate.

One of the managers brought her eleven-year-old daughter to work last week. Before heading to a meeting, she gave the child an iPad and instructions to keep quiet. The daughter, however, had other ideas, and found on the iPad an application that produces snippets of pre-recorded speech. Apparently, she located the perfect one, pressed play, and slid the iPad under the door where her mother was giving the meeting. All of a sudden, the following resounded through the office:

"Will someone open a window? I'm trying to give a meeting and it smells like farts in here."

You can imagine the talking-to that child must have received later, but the prank itself will forever live as one of my personal favorites. I still can't think about it without laughing.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Help: The Past and Not So Past

The Help, the newest Hollywood release based on Kathryn Stockett's civil rights era novel, has struck a particularly sensitive note with me due to my own experiences as a child of the South--the divided South and not-so divided South, the South that so many of us hope has evolved.  Central to The Help's plot is a young socialite's motion to enforce that White households install a separate bathroom for Black help. It would be so easy for me to toss the idea aside as ridiculous, to claim no one would ever have thought such a thing. But I know better--there are enough reminders that we still struggle where race is involved.

I live in a house that I rent from homeowners who so judiciously refer to one of our bathrooms as the gardener's toilet. At first, I was struck with a little confusion as to why this home--one that has two baths up and one more down, would need yet a fourth toilet, especially considering the modestness of this little 1960s faux-colonial that was built among homes a bit more gracious in style. Foolishly, I had once asked my husband why any toilet would have been built in a laundry room--mud room, really--with a make-shift beadboard wall thrown around it (we ended up removing the wall so that we could do our laundry, long story short). This toilet, this porcelain bowl that sits so close to the washer that one would have to spread your knees in order to sit or stand to use it, was for the help.... the help that was not allowed to use the more private toilet in the rear hallway of the home, a bathroom only steps from this one.

My own childhood household, when my mother's back started to trouble her, had the help of Ella Mae, who came at first to clean, but later was kept just for ironing what my grandmother had called "all those big damn shirts". Ella Mae was a luxury for us, but somehow my parents afforded her. She lived in Fauborg Marigny, a New Orleans neighborhood that had been a mix of comfortable middle class and low class in the 19th century. By the 20th, it was far from an okay place to raise children and was riddled with poverty. Not far from her lived Albatine, who helped my great aunt in her home nearby--that formerly gracious Italianate home was sinking into decrepitude and decay by the time I was born, an old way of life sinking into oblivion by the time I reached school age. That home, by the way, had a separate bathroom for the help.

There are many stories to be told here. I certainly don't recall my parents ever teaching me to be anything but kind and fair to the help in our household, and I was well aware that those ladies led a harder, less educated, and more limited existence than my own. There were, despite all the tenderness we exhibited with Ella Mae and Albatine, invisible boundaries. Perhaps, their families noted those boundaries with more clarity than we did. I certainly recall the absolute despair in my father's voice when he had learned that Ella Mae, who had long grown elderly, had passed and had her life celebrated in a funeral; we had not been invited, much less told. Perhaps, it did not dawn on Ella Mae's family that we would want to be there.

At one point in my youth, it dawned on me that I should ask Ella Mae about who she really was, and she took the time to tell me about riding the mule home across the fields on her father's farm when she was a child in rural Mississippi. True to her African roots and generations of repeated dialect, she had a tendency to shove Ns in unlikely places, such as when she said Nyew Nyork. She described having lived on a street that she shared with a host of family as neighbors. She would continue to iron for us, clean for others. I would grow up and go away to school. When I returned, Ella Mae would have long passed.

My father and I recently discussed Ella Mae. He remembered his mother teaching him to be gentle with those that  helped keep our homes, mind the children. He remembers giving Ella Mae rides home when possible, paying for her bus fare, and providing her lunch. Ella Mae told us stories about crazy people she worked for--such as the reptile lady, if you can imagine that story--but she never did discuss the nature of her work where her dark skin and class differences were concerned. Apparently, my grandmother treated her as a confidante, sharing family issues and discussions of holiday plans. My grandmother isn't here to divulge the details of their friendship; something else that I consider sad.

Times have changed since the era documented in The Help when the lower class minorities feared for their jobs and lives if they were perceived as anything other than gladly subservient. I see that my neighbor's help across the street is a crew of Latin American ladies whose kids probably attend school with mine. My "gardener's toilet" goes unused for anything other than to hold the super-sized box of laundry detergent my husband buys. In fact, we wedge a garbage can in front of it. The Black yardman we hire on occasion drives a very nice truck and wields a Blackberry to organize his client list. He isn't afraid to price-gouge me (as he has in the past). And my son was the minority race in his classroom last year, the mothers of his African American peers holding jobs ranging from low-paying customer service fields to more-than-comfy-lifestyle-supporting careers as lawyers.

We still have a ways to go, as I have been reminded--I have known Black mothers that still teach their teenage sons to be very careful when they drive as they are easy targets for being pulled over. I see a minority still struggling in schools across the city in the tougher neighborhoods. I listen to the stories that my husband tells after his encounters at his university with young Black women trying to fight their way up and out to a better life. It's one step at a time, steadily forward I hope, and further away from "gardener's toilets", signs marked "colored only", and other reminders of a difficult and ugly past.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Maps Needed of a Different Sort

I work for a corporation that allows for a little play. One of the things we have here at the office is a fun way of naming our conference rooms, something that I wish could be more practical.
A couple of weeks ago, I was told we were having ice cream in Wisconsin. Yes, this firm has offices all over the U.S., but we are not at all close enough to Wisconsin to cross the border for an afternoon going-away party. Wisconsin, as it turns out, is the name of a meeting room. Once I was told which floor and color to find (as we are a color-coded building), I found Wisconsin with little trouble and for considerably less cost than an airline ticket there.
Not only the new employees like me wrestle with the state-named meeting rooms, so maps are available throughout the building. But last week, I completely stumped a co-worker by asking about a meeting in Baltimore.

“Where is Baltimore?” I asked.
She began to describe the drive to Baltimore, Maryland, in terms of hours.
“No, no. Baltimore, the room.”
“Ohhhhhhhh. Check the map.”
The map listed rooms by state only. Baltimore, being a city, was no where close to being listed, but with a little computer research on our company intranet, we found it—the right floor, the right color section.
I have a dilemma this week though. I have to find Tucson. I have learned that Tucson is somewhere in the basement. Who knew? Fortunately, it will be another short trip. I wish like Wisconsin, there was ice cream in it though.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Memorable Moments in Virginia Horse Journal

Every so often, I accomplish something. This month, Virginia Horse Journal graciously agreed to publish a little piece for its Memorable Moments section. I am here on page six. You'll have to wait for the PDF to load and then magnify it to read, but really, truly, there I am in my preferred universe--the one of hard copy.

When my riding instructor contacted me excitedly to say she had read my work, I asked her to read it to the horse who inspired it. Wonder if he gives out hoofprints as an autograph?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Good-Bye, Buster.

My children's father and I had two dogs together, both of whom I had to reluctantly leave behind when the marriage ended; the dogs, of the "his and her" variety, could not be separated. His old girl had to be put to sleep last year, and this weekend, my dog crossed the rainbow bridge to be with her. The sweetest and saddest moment was my ex's description of how Buster was found--with the family's two-year-old Malamute curled up around him. The two buddies had chosen the shade of a tree we had long ago planted as the place of final rest. As my ex and his family were out of town, the dog sitter lovingly buried my pup where he was found. My ex's words were that the hardship of the dog's passing was its representation of the past--the shared past. I find this kind and sweet, but I buried that notion with the first dog. With this one, I was simply sad that I hadn't been there, that during a recent visit to my former home, I hadn't walked the extra twenty feet to call my old dog one last time.

To Buster, the best "bad dog" there ever was, know that I loved you. I loved you for the way you balanced on the pitch of the dog house roof and slept up there like Snoopy. I loved you for the way you peed on only my ex-husband's things (his car tires, his golf bag, his shirts). I loved you for how you sniffed and snarfed and comically blinked at me, all while wagging your tail and challenging me to a game of chase. You let me play with the wrinkles on your Sharpei face and toy with the slight curl in your tail. I will never forget how when you were a puppy, you would clamp your teeth around Dakota's fluffy tail and drag her backwards around the yard. In my head, I still hold a picture of you gleefully relishing my daughter's old doll, the expression of "what's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine" in your precious button eyes. Leaving you once was hard enough, but deep in my heart, I know you'll never be gone forever.

Friday, August 5, 2011

In Response to "Impact" and Other New Verbs

You'll have to pardon me for not posting regularly this past week. I have been swamped with jobs, travel, kids, and some rather time-consuming issues regarding the house we live in. I haven't forgotten to write--I simply haven't had the time to rework and then edit what I've got. So in light of some constraints on time, I'll borrow from my friend David who wrote a beautiful comment after my discussion of the word impact last week. With his permission, his words are reprinted here, where I thought they fit better than in a little comment box. Another reader also posted beautifully, but her comments are already published, her quoted reference to "dumb shadows" still haunting me in the way that poetic language does. Thank you, Elizabeth, for your beautiful honesty of describing when she learned the true meaning of dumb.

In response to the discussion about the changing use of words, David wrote:

This is why I envy my sister, as she has a full copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. The nature of all language is that it evolves along with the society it is embedded in. As I frequently have to explain to my eldest son, who has a great dislike of words such as "knife", because, according to him, they have extra letters, our language did not emerge from the hills of England, fully formed like Boticelli's Venus, but (has) evolved of centuries of trial and error. Someone once said that English evolved because Norman Frenchmen were trying to pick up Anglo Saxon barmaids. To some extent this is true, and just like the results of such trysts, our language has many bastardized kludges that suggest that it wasn't easy. 

American English is also evolving away from the more formal queen's diction, given not only the influences from our own version of linguistic "genetic drift", but the inclusion of more Romance derived languages such as Spanish, and to a lesser extent Portuguese . We may even find the infiltration of Chinese and Hindi as power and population trends change. Technology is also a big influence as well. "Jawbone", "Bluetooth", "Phone", "Tablet", and "Pad" are all changing their meaning. Also we "email", or "ping". We can "text" or "chat". 

Max and I were discussing this morning about pay phones, phone booths, and their disappearance. He couldn't understand that once upon a time, phones were big bulky affairs that required a land connection. In another generation, I would be willing to bet that phone booth disappears from everyday English. As man continues to evolve, so will his languages. Once upon a time, the lingua franca of business was Latin, then French. At the time of the Revolution, most of the founding fathers were fluent in not only English, but Latin, Greek, and to some extent French. Jefferson had also mastered Hebrew as well. It was only with the rise of the British Empire and the eventual ascendance of the American Republic, that English has usurped French as the language of commerce, though in this hemisphere it may soon take a back seat to Spanish. But let's face it in those parts around the fondly remembered woody groves of Oxford (Mississippi), you are more likely to hear a conversation like this: "Hey y'all, youwanna commonback to the house overtheyar?" "Naw, Igottaget, momanem need me."

By David on The Neo-Verb or Noun Redux on 7/29/11

How lovely that David and his son discuss language. I certainly hope his boy inherits David's skill with words and aptitude for drawing parallels of things with time, space, history, and relationships. I think it's wonderful that anyone would want to meet the subject of changing vocabulary head-on, particularly when spicier pop-culture topics lead the headlines (Kardashian's? Excuse me?). But I digress and must return where I belong--a spacious desk in an office filled with the light that bounces off the wooded lot outside. An afternoon of "post-it-noting" and such awaits. ;)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sonnet 73 for Proofreaders

If Shakespeare had been a proofreader for a Fortune 500 company, he might have reworked his Sonnet 73 into something a bit like the one I played with below. Having just finished a big project and had some time to think about my relationship with my copywriting team, I particularly enjoyed crafting this parody.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
when copydecks, or few, or many, do pile
upon my desk which drowns in work of old
and books of syntax, grammar, and style.

In me thou fears red-penned corrections:
"Please rewrite this!", "insert", "stet", and "delete",
"transpose", "spell out", and other suggestions,
which trusty copywriters must complete.

In me thou seest the yearning and desire
for king's English mellifluous and right.
Of perfect punctuation, I'll not tire.
For flawless composition, I do fight.

This thou tolerates, which makes my heart grow warm
For thee, writers, and work that thou perform.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Neo-Verb or Noun Redux

According to the 2005 Miriam Webster Dictionary and a few other sources, the word impact has now graduated from noun to verb, and it is accepted both in formal and informal speech. Old school academics poo-poo this notion, and even I, this very week at work, deleted impact from four instances of usage as a verb, and then recommended appropriate substitutions. I think, however, that I should be more understanding of the trend. After all, aren't writers supposed to embrace with creative spirit the ever-adaptability of words, much less the very enthusiasm of using impact to describe with passion the action of hitting something forcefully?

Considering this development, I began to ponder other nouns that could benefit from growth--from the name of an object to the suggestion of movement. Walking about the office this afternoon, I could only find nouns that had already become action verbs: squirrel, suit, tile, pen, tag. (And if you are wondering, yes, I can see squirrels from my office window. No, they don't wear suits.)

But then, on my desk, I found it--a noun just clamoring to become a verb for the very first time. Words, I explained to the department administrative assistant (Weren't these ladies once called secretaries? See the change?) develop and alter in meaning with every advancement in technology and business. And here was the perfect example: my Jawbone (or for those of you that have one of its kin, a Bluetooth.) Note the use of it as a new verb in the sentence below:

Jane couldn't respond to the begging vagrant because she was deeply jawboned in conversation with her mother.

Do you see what this implies here? What the wireless earpiece has done to our culture? Suggestions to contribute to this post are not just welcomed, but requested. And to my wonderful friend David at 80 West: This means you in particular!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Boys, Snot Rockets, and Date-Making at the DZ

Jujubee and I sat at the drop zone for a large sweltering chunk of Saturday afternoon. We watched planes load, take off, and land between shifts of skydivers swooping to earth only yards from our shelter. In the intolerable heat, 100 degrees plus a heat index that increased the aura of that sun-bake to a bloody 120, we parked ourselves fairly comfortably: under a tent, in deck chairs, with our feet plunged in a baby pool that we had filled with ice and water. Of all that amused us and inspired our conversation that day were men, certain ones at the DZ in particular. Let me elaborate:

At one point, one of the packers came over to ask my step-daughter on a date, except his manner of delivery was all convoluted. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. His statement to her was that the last time he had made plans, she had "flaked out on him" and he wanted to make sure that this time he wasn't wasting his money buying her a ticket to a concert that she might not attend. "Good Lord!" I announced. "That is not how you ask a girl out!" And then after he left our tent:

"Good Lord! Did you lead him to think you were going on a date?" But before I could chastise her, she explained their conversation from the previous week, I understood, and then set back and announced how glad I was not to be young and dating. It's all too hard to manage. Expectations, hearts broken, wishes led astray. Marriage, for all its problems, is so much better than dating. Watching young folk do the delicate dance is exhausting.

To Jujubee's credit, I see her point about young men. This same packer came over later and borrowed our pool to help recover from heat exhaustion. He plummeted his face into the ice water and we leaned forward to drizzle his arms and the back of his neck with cool relief. When he leaned up, he shook his head like a dog spraying us with the cold, blew his nose into his fingers, threw the snot-wad onto the ground, dipped a bottle into our baby pool, and washed his hands with water from the bottle. I was so shocked, I couldn't speak. My girl, though, didn't miss a beat.

"Dude," she cracked, "did you just blow a snot rocket?"
"Yeah," he answered.
"Tsk. I am so disappointed."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Taboo Tattoo

The other day, Jujubee and her cousin were headed out for an evening of fun, but before she left, she paused to tremble and fidget a bit in the hallway.

"I am going to throw up!" She cried urgently. "I cannot hold a secret!" And at that she turned to show me what I so hoped was someone's beautiful Sharpie art on the back side of her shoulder. Juju had come home with her fourth tattoo. She is nineteen. I called out her full name, the standard cry of disapproving parents, and then after telling her she was going to turn into the tattoo lady at the circus, stated that at least she didn't violate the big three.

We sat around for a few moments discussing the big three: pregnancy, drugs, and jail. Every parent reading this column completely understands this (some more than others). Of course, there is nothing worse than violating all three at the same time (many times, I have known a person to hit two out of three simultaneously, but never the full trifecta).

My husband and I mused about this later. Wisely, he had decided to refrain from saying anything that might cause her to feel angst or resentment, but worried that she might end up like the artfully and heavily etched  Queequeg from Moby Dick, that professional opportunity might be hindered if her artwork were too visible, that she might later come to regret her choice, et cetera--all the normal concerns a parent has. His daughter is well aware of his feelings, as discussions have taken place about this in the past.

"You know," I said, "this doesn't change how much we love her." Frankly even if she had violated the big three, we would still feel the same. We love her, all of her joyfully good qualities outweighing the fact that she just went and inked herself again.

Her tattoo has a story, and she described to us the reasons for the three birds in flight on her shoulder. Significant relationships seem to happen in threes, she said. And she named some of them: her, her sister, and her mother; her father, me, and her; and others. Seems sweet to me, that among her threes, all of which are about love, I have a place among them, represented in permanence on one of the most beautiful bare shoulders in the world.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"No Poo in the Office!" and Other Rules

Starting a new job has reminded me of all the critical lessons I have learned in former offices. For the sake of conserving time (working longer hours for someone else has cut into my creative time at home), let's just review the big three:

1. No poo in the office.
I never knew this was such a transgression, but apparently, in small offices where the restroom is located off the lobby, easing your bowels there may more noticeably perfume public areas. The first and only time I heard this rule was from one of my favorite managers so far, Ahmad, who in his slight Persian accent, would sing out, "No poo! There is no poo in the office!" One co-worker was so self-conscious about this that she would break into one of those deathly anus-clenching sweats trying to contain the urge as she ran out of the office to a gas station down the street. I grew so tired of watching what would one day be a catastrophic episode that I bought us each a bottle of some poo-be-gone product. You pump a few drops into the bowl before you go-- et voila! No trace of poo-scent. I still hear Ahmad in my head sometimes. He had other rules, such as no food at our desks, which I can understand, and no cold food at catered events, which I couldn't understand, but "No poo!" was my all-time favorite just because I loved hearing him say it.

2. Give the boss his space.
I worked for a man who was so tired of being bothered by staff during his lunch hour, that he would sit in the teacher lounge for his lunch and lock the teachers out--nevermind that the only grown-up potties were located in the teacher lounge and many of us were realllly reluctant to use the ones the middle schoolers were using. This guy did things like this to drive the point home, denying us privileges (or rights) when he felt we had overstepped various boundaries. His locking the lounge was done in conjunction with a lecture that he never bothered us on our lunch hour. I remember thinking about that during our first week of lock-down when he would locate me for work reasons during MY lunch time, but I was good and kept quiet about it. Needless to say, teachers quickly learned to give him private time at lunch, and ultimately we were allowed back into the breakroom.

3. Be punctual--but be reasonable about it.
A good friend of mine would get busted for this at a nanny job in the same way I once did years ago: Due to be back from lunch at 12:30 one day, I was yelled at for returning to my desk at... 12:32. No kidding. This man was such a control-freak that when he banned us from working over-time, I began to check into work fifteen minutes early and leave fifteen after the hour at the end of the day to accrue overtime discreetly. Very passive aggressive--but two and a half hours of overtime made a big difference in my little paycheck. He was a loathsome character who ran us into the ground. In the end, I got my revenge. I quit, turned him into his supervisor for his crazy behavior, and he was fired shortly thereafter. Years have passed, but I am still conscious to the minute about time at the office. Most of all though, I am conscious of crazy bosses.

Having a desk in an office building has reminded me of all the joys and pitfalls of working with others, but so far, my new office is a pleasant environment where I am, shockingly enough, valued. Adjusting to the fact that the rules aren't hard and fast in this new office is a bit of a shock, but I am acclimating. And as I gain more confidence in the new environment, and crawl out of my cubicle more, there will be stories to tell here. So far, what I do have to say about it is all good.

And we can poo. We can poo in the office.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In the Order of Importance

 Last night, my four-year-old son called from his vacation with step-family in Puerto Rico and asked immediately to speak to the dog. When he learned that she was unavailable (outside taking care of important dog business), he then asked for his step-father.

"Did you hear that?" I asked Jujubee. "Where am I on that list?"
"Well," she said, "notice he didn't ask for Chester."

Nice to know I share the bottom rung with the family rabbit.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rabbit Rebukes

"When you're happy, I'm happy!" said my husband this week.
"Well, when you're happy, I'm happy, too!" I responded, and then I added, "But when Chester is happy, ain't nobody happy."
"Do you think he's that much of a curmudgeon?" asked my husband.
"Yes," I said, "Absolutely."

How the family rabbit came to bear such irascibility, I don't know. He has preferences about everything, and should I not know them innately, he shuns my presence by pointing his furry rear end my way and harrumphing or other such behavior. For example, later this week my husband was slicing and bagging fresh okra for the freezer. In the process, he came across a particularly hard pod. Knowing that my rabbit enjoys fresh veggies and that the tougher varieties are good for keeping his teeth in good health, I brought the okra to him. He did not like it. He even tried to hide it, and ultimately, as I retrieved it and threw it away, he gave me the silent treatment.

A day or two passed and then Chester lightened up... a little. I mused about this with my husband.
"He's speaking to me again!" I said eagerly.
"F you doesn't count," my husband replied. Point made.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My Condolences: Burying a Horse

My husband's supervisor, an exceptionally sweet man, recently had to euthanize and then bury one of his horses. She was a 1200 pound cross-breed of clydesdale, thoroughbred, and quarter horse that he had acquired more as an accidental favor to someone. "She was really cute," he said wistfully, the silence and uneasy shifting in his chair following that statement indicating his sorrow, discomfort, and the momentary need to regroup. "What was so terrible was the ordeal of it all--burying her."

While I don't own a horse and never have, I have certainly been around the barn for enough traumatizing stories. A good friend of mine once had about 13 acres in central Mississippi. She said that they would leave the body out at the end of her land in the woods and let nature take over the work of disposing remains. My husband's boss said he learned next time to walk the animal to the edge of a five foot deep hole where it would be buried, as maneuvering 1200 pounds of lifeless flesh into the truck bed or cradle of a backhoe claw (or whatever had been used) was just enormous quantities of heartbreaking work. Of course, however, there are many times when there is no way to physically prepare ahead of time for the loss.

I cannot imagine having to say goodbye to such an outstanding creature much less having to walk the animal to her final destination, both of us knowing what was to come (and yes, they always know). Being there for the moment when life flickered out of those soulful equine eyes is sorrowful enough. My sincerest condolences to this gentle, gentle man that parted with his lovely creature last week.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Price Above Rubies

My daughter said to me recently that her father had a nice, pretty, new (new to him) BMW and she wanted to know why I couldn't buy one. "We live differently," I said. Well, she added with a bit of resentment, it seemed that her dad and step-mom had everything they wanted.

"Why, no! No, they don't!" I told her.
"What do you mean?"
"They don't have you and your brother. You two live with me. Daddy gets to see you for visits, but you live here. I really have everything I really need, and you and your brother are my riches."

This is not the first time that I have had this conversation with her. She is young, and therefore unwisely measures wealth in tangible items such as fancy gadgets and luxury automobiles. We live far more simply than her father--this house has one television set. No one here owns an iPad. Our cars are each as old as our youngest children (about 5 and 11). I complain that I would like a new truck with one of those fancy DVD players that come mounted to the ceiling, but really, the truck runs well, so why not keep it going. While this isn't to say that I wouldn't mind a giftcard to a clothes store or bookstore or greater financial freedom, I am pretty happy knowing that we live within our means. Our long term goal, which can only be attained by continual financial caution, is homeownership. But aggravations of renting aside, this home or any home is only that because of one thing: the family that lives in it.

One day, my daughter will come to understand that, like the wonderful proverb from the Bible states about a good wife, she and her brother have a price above rubies. They are my greatest wealth, everything I have has been vested in them. I feel that reward every time my son bounds down the front sidewalk and leaps into my arms singing my name. And I feel it again when I bend over the sleeping form of my pre-teen daughter and remember how she has changed since her precious, pudgy infancy. I know it for sure when I see my step-children embrace my birth-children.

Richness, yes. For all the needs and wants in the world, these days, I am a wealthy woman.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

No Pantyhose Required

This past Friday, I started a new job (and my old one will now be sandwiched into the night shift at home). I am a proofreader working as a temp employee for a large firm. I have never worked for a corporation this large, and had always assumed such positions in well-established and grand firms came with a strict dress code. "If it's anything like Capital One," said my husband who had visited that office for a project recently, "there won't be a tie in sight."

For a liberal person, I find straying from conservative office-dress code to be a bit of a shock. After all, I grew up with stories of ladies wearing white gloves to go shopping on Canal Street and lived in the no-show era. The no-show era, as I term it, describes a time when it was considered in poor taste to have visible slips or bra straps, visible bobby pins, and visible toes--we weren't allowed to wear flip-flop style sandals anywhere except the beach. My mother always insisted on pantyhose, telling us that women who wore high heels without them were White trash (Yes, Mom, you did say that--don't make me call my sister to back me up!). In those days, even open-toe shoes required pantyhose, with the distasteful seam tucked uncomfortably under your toes. Simply stated, we were raised to dress. If Sundays required ironed skirts, camis and slips, stockings or hose, and styled hair, work was the weekday extension of churchy dress code. I even remember my mother objecting when we wanted to wear jeans to church; she herself was allowed to wear pants to work only on Mondays (which, in the museum world where she still works, is a house-cleaning and organization day).

Times have certainly changed. With advances in technology, all things to make our life more convenient and comfortable, so have we adapted the more convenient and comfortable method of dressing for work. Of course, I despise pantyhose, knowing that it was conceived by some man to torture American women. And I don't for one second miss the feeling of my toes curling against the pull of exceptionally rigorous and gut-squeezing nylon action. I don't miss the red line across my stomach where the hose attempted to cut me in half after lunch. And in particular, I do not at all miss how easily those things ran and were ruined. The expense of keeping my legs glazed with form-fitting plastic-based threads was ridiculous.

I can gladly say goodbye to the hose, but I still find casual Friday in an already business casual office to be a bit of surprise. This past Friday, a woman sailed past me on the stairs in her Bermuda shorts and flip flops. I just cannot go there, even in a former office where jeans were the norm, I still made sure that on a jeans day, the rest of me looked mighty polished. Maybe those norms die hard.

So this morning at the office, I checked my reflection. My make-up was understated and my jewelry complimented my sleeveless dress, which once-upon-a-time was a no-no as well. Feeling pretty and put-together, In my high-heeled open-toe sandals (no hose, thank you), I swished down the hall where I spotted a man with wildly waving hair splayed Einstein-like from his forehead and face, the hair in a thin halo down across his shoulders and back. Maybe he has a rock band on the weekends. Maybe he is the new model for anti-corporate-conformity in a corporate-comfort setting.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

By the time many of you read this, my children will be either en route to see their father or there already. At the end of weekend, I will return to a sorrowfully quiet house. I have spent the last two weeks taking advantage of a very slow work schedule in order to indulge my children with the classic pastimes of summer--sleeping late, playing outside under the shade, visiting the ice cream shop, swimming, running through the sprinkler, enjoying friends, and touring both my original hometown and the children's current one. So far, despite fatigue, a little  irritation from noisy play, and a little chaos, the summer has been a wondrous one.

This week, we read a favorite tale, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. You know this one--the story of the bull in Spain who does not want to fight, but instead, is content to sit under a cork tree and smell the flowers. We laughed over my trying to pronounce the word banderilleros and cozied tightly together on the couch, for once no child fighting or complaining. And then last night, we enjoyed the movies. My kids watched Cars on the big screen as they ate popcorn and wiggled in their seats. I tuned out the plot line completely and instead listened to the kids' giggling. We walked the neighborhood with our big fluffy husky and played with our rabbit. In the afternoons, my daughter, no kidding, would heat up a cup of coffee for me as I painted the kids' toes (Tiny likes his clear and sparkly) or ironed clothes. In a big step toward teaching responsibility and independence, I allowed my daughter greater freedom to visit her favorite sections of the stores where we shop, my presence no longer right around the corner or aisle, but further away. I taught her how to scramble an egg this week. And my son, between the careful guidance of his sister and I, learned how to swim underwater at a big pool on the local army base. Yes, this week wasn't just wondrous. It was, as Jujubee once said, an epic summer.

And all good things must come... to change. I started working in a large corporate office this week as a temp proofreader. While I hope this becomes a regular full-time assignment, I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn and work with a new team in a new environment (and get paid in a timely manner, thank you). So, perhaps I will dwell less on the absence of my children and allow myself to sink into the world of work with less distraction. Jujubee comes home soon, and she will pepper our evenings with art projects and experimental vegan cooking. I foresee some trips to the beach and to see her sister. Last year, the big girls were my saving grace--I would have gone crazy without them because I had never experienced my own children being far from home that long. This summer, I am a bit more prepared, but still apprehensive. At least this time, when I get those last hugs and kisses, when the warmth of little bodies leaves my skin in that one awful moment, I will be able to be so thankful for the memory-eternal sweetness of these last few weeks.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Tale of Two Poops

Several years ago, I was a teacher's aide in a Montessori classroom. Children cleaned up their messes by themselves regardless of the kind of disasters they might have made. There were occasions that I did not appreciate this. Apparently, however, those lessons--the lesson of cleaning up after yourself literally and metaphorically--were critical.

One afternoon, Daniel, a language-delayed three-year-old, was being particularly difficult. I cannot remember what he did specifically, but before I could really discipline him, he began to run away from me in the play yard. I have a rule. I don't chase children. I catch those buggers the next time they come around, which they always do. The boy was furious with me for not chasing him, and, due to his slow use of speech, resorted to a non-verbal method of showing his rage. He stood in front of me when I caught him after that first bratty pass, pulled the crotch of his shorts to the side, and took a dump right there on the play ground. I was about twenty-four years old, fairly new to this concept of belligerent shitting, and came unglued. I called my supervisor to come over and collect the kid. She announced that Daniel would have to clean up his mess and that my job was to guard the pile so that no other kid would come mess with it. I was outside guarding the poo when I noticed the boy had made two sizable dollops--not just the one exclusively for me, but a random dump on the way into the building. I straddled myself between the two piles, my arms stretched out to close the distance, while small children whirled around me.

"Stay away from that!" I would say repeatedly. A cluster of teachers on the playground thought this was uproarious, but I was less than impressed. And I couldn't figure out how a small child would neatly clean up his own feces--especially due to the rather loose hershey-kiss shaped bombs left behind. Precious time was being lost and my job protecting the poo was getting harder and harder.

"What is that?" asked Emmanuel, the sweetest boy in my class.
"Don't touch it!" I ordered. "This is very dirty dirt." Emmanuel squatted down before I could intervene further and took up a handful of poo. At this point, I think I began shrieking. Another teacher took over poo-patrol while I marched Emmanuel into the building and supervised his handwashing. Complete hysteria overswept the teachers on the playground. I still was not laughing.

Finally, little Daniel came outside with plastic bags over his hands and cleaned up as much poop as he could. Later, my supervisor told me that this had been nothing. Once, she said, she had a student take a dump by the front door of the school. She said the pile was so large she had thought a horse had done it. She had asked the child why. The answer: I had to go.

I still remember the first and last name of this kid that pooped on my watch those years ago. So today, I decided to conduct a Google search for him. He popped right up on a Myspace page--about 18 years old now and still living in that same town. He is now a skateboarding self-professed Christian rocker. Even at his stunning height of 6'1", he still looks much like the little kid I remember. No, I did not message the boy, some things left better decomposing in the dirt so to speak. He is a child I am thankful for having taught because I can always say about my son that at least Tiny has never done "that". Frankly, having had the trouble we did with Daniel when he was a challenging squirt in the classroom, I found his Myspace page reassuring: not only did he survive childhood, but he had friends, interests, and what appeared to be a pleasant life. More hope for the future, no matter what poop my kids throw at me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Farewell for the Wee Folk

I can't write much lately because my children have been home from school, but in a few days, they will be gone for the summer. I am quite sad about this today, because while their distracting noise makes task completion of any sort difficult around here, once they are gone, so will be the giggles, the cuddles, the story-telling, the comfort of their presence, and the simple silliness that is a part of childrearing.

This past week, I nursed my son's feet to health after they had been sliced up on rocks at the beach. Three times a day, I checked for infection in the cuts between his tiny toes, cleaned them, medicated them, and applied fresh bandages. His toes are one of my favorite things about him because of they are bumply. On both feet, the second toe's joint to the foot sits higher than it should, making the foot from the bottom sometimes appear as though he has four little toes, not five. My doctor called it a birth defect; I think it's the cutest birth defect I have ever seen. With my son sitting in front of me this week, his legs straight between us as I doctored his feet, I would playfully poke his wayward second toe back into line. Tiny would laugh as he wiggled his toes so that the second one would pop back up into its original place. And then we would do it again. I love how things with children can be so sweet.

And so this summer, even though I need the break and plan to work on various projects, I will miss Tiny and his toes, his sister and her stories about the pictures she draws, and their hugs and kisses. Twice this summer, I will travel down to their father's to visit with them. They will return as a kindergartener and a middle schooler, with Tiny's toes being less tiny by then.

Wish them a safe summer and a safe return. Wish me peace of mind in the meantime.

Friday, July 1, 2011

New Orleans, This June 2011

From the moment of our arrival last week, we absorbed ourselves in the multi-sensory experience that is life in New Orleans: the perfume of river rich soil, dampness, life teeming among the constantly brewing and spreading green growth of tree, vine, and flower; the humidity that mists our hair and graces our skin; the color that thrives everywhere--the blossoms of crepe myrtles reflected in the aftermath of an afternoon rainstorm, ripple-less puddles holding still and perfect to mirror pink petals and twisting, cream-colored trunks. On the levee, we listened to the engines of tugboats groan and roar against the strain of moving barges upriver. Herons, cranes, and pelicans called to one another as they broke into the open sky from the sanctuary near the river edge. Here beyond levee and river bank, ancient cottages with delicately carved scrollwork and filigree lean into one another under the weight of Louisiana sun, paint colors burning against pale blue sky, and yards flanked with emerald palmetto, frond, and fern with bursting purple, pink, blue, and white blooms in shapes of every kind tucked between. Sidewalk heaves away from the wandering roots of oak and magnolia. Cemetery walls cradle fern in  the cracks of white-washed stucco and brick. Shade and mottled light lessens the burden of afternoon sun. Clean-lined and playfully modern architecture sparkles like diamonds where old cottages gave way to the fatal surge of water six years ago.

This is the city I remember, the one that saturates the senses. New Orleans with her full skirts, heavily hued, breathing against the sultry wet air that river, lake, and gulf sweep her with. Tendrils of vine curl about her waist and flowers twist throughout her hair. Faulkner once described her as aging gracefully in the dark, but I see her as rebuilding her prime years once again, fostering newness with the break of spring into summer.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sigh. Boys Can Be So Dumb...

How is it that young men can be so clueless? Earlier this year at a shop, the manager and I began to talk about girls and boys and the pains they undergo in their early dating relationships. The woman was just flustered. Her granddaughter is a particularly beautiful young girl--stunningly so. The girl had been hoping that the boy she carpooled with would ask her to the school dance. Long story short, he did call her--to get her advice on how he should ask out another girl. The grandmother, in her infinite wisdom, counseled the girl that these things happened when she herself was a girl, too. Boys can be a little short-sighted, she said. But the woman and I just shrugged. I'll never understand it myself. Boys can do many strange things.

This past year, one of my step-daughters was invited on a date by a man in his mid-twenties--old enough to be more mature, right? When she arrived at the theater to meet him, he told her to wait and that he was getting them free tickets from his pal in the projection booth. The whole thing felt very juvenile as he scampered off. Mae told me that even if he was so cash strapped he couldn't afford tickets, he could have at least procured them discreetly before her arrival without looking like a kid about to rip off a candy store. Mae gave him a chance at a second date and then ended things. The ticket incident had only been a red flag about his lack of maturity with other choices.

Mae's sister Juju was flustered over bizarre behavior herself at least a few times this year. "If everything is going well and we are having fun together, why does the guy suddenly drop off the planet?" She has asked this question more than once. I told her that often, the guys act according to what they think their friends will approve. And it's disgusting, really, as I see the sweetest (and prettiest) of young ladies get their hearts broken. I told her that sometimes the guys come to their senses, but more importantly we need to just move along and forget about them.

Easier said than done. In high school, before my date and I were old enough to drive to a dance, my date told me he wanted to rent a limo to take me to the prom. This was a new concept in my parents' world and they said no. My dad offered to drive us. The boy was too cool for this, so he dumped me instead. I'll never forget that feeling, and my parents, of course, were wise enough to tell me the boy was not worth my time if he were to treat me that way, but I didn't believe it. I had to learn it over and over. Apparently, I was 35 before I really learned it.

Over the years, I was dumped for not being a heavy drinker (at least twice). I was ignored because I wasn't in a sorority (countless young men in college years). I was treated badly for wanting to talk about the last book I read (Harry the Jock). I was cast aside or treated shabbily for many unknown reasons. I remember why I initiated my break ups as well: one young man had a terrible case of pathological lying, another was consistently 45 minutes late for each date and entirely rude about it each time (oh, that would also be Harry), and other dates just never "gelled" comfortably. I do remember one very nice boy that I said I couldn't see again because he stared at me the entire time and it was so off-putting--while he was driving, while I was watching a movie, while I was eating. I have never quite had anyone do that so blatantly. It's like he couldn't believe he was actually with a live, two-legged, teenaged female. There are the break ups for reasons you know, but the worst ones, like Juju says, are the ones that leave great questions.

Once, I was hopelessly in love with a potter that kinda-sorta wanted to be with me--but I wasn't allowed to receive any affection in public or meet his friends. I was lovesick, clingy, and even more hopeless and pathetic when he suddenly fell off the planet. I actually looked him up on Facebook one day to tell him, because I believe I had been a bit of a stalker, that I was sorry for not having just broken things off cleanly. The response was surprising. "I'm the one that should apologize," he wrote, "for having been less than mature." He said kind things, remembered me far more kindly than I thought possible, and wished me well. He and his wife have just had their second little boy this year.

Maybe, there is hope for some young men after all.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Simple Procedures? Not with Children!

When rearing children, everything is a project. I'll never know why, but following simple procedures is beyond the still-developing minds of the very young. Take, for example, trying to leave the house with children.

The other day, I told my eleven year old what time it was, what she needed to do to be ready for riding lessons, and what time we were leaving. (Sounds organized--doesn't it?) My son should have been less complicated; all he needed was his shoes. Instead, this is what happened:

"Tiny? Tiny. What are you doing? Put that down. Clean that up. Where are your shoes? Are those your shoes? Behind you, where you have been playing. Those? All mixed up with your toys? Put your shoes on. No, put that down. Get your shoes. No, son, other foot. No, that shoe. Okay, finish putting on your shoes. Come downstairs when you have cleaned up your mess."

Meanwhile, his sister walked the house in riding breeches and stockinged feet, saying, "I can't find my helmet. It's not in the silver tub."
"I know it's not in the silver tub, sweetheart. It doesn't belong there. Go check your room."
"But it was in the silver tub!"
"It was not in the silver tub and doesn't belong there. Go check your room."
"I checked my room. It's not there!"
"So go check the car, then." Chicken Little headed to the SUV and explored the trunk and recesses under the back seat bench. Meanwhile, this was now taking place:

"Tiny, choose one toy to take with you. No. One. One toy. I see you have two. Fork over the one in your shirt. Hand it to Mommy." Tiny held his ground, one Transformer toy clutched in his hand and the other clumsily concealed in his shirt. (Mind you sometimes he shoves things in his pants and I have to frisk him before we leave a store.) With no cooperative movement from my son, I began the count. "One." Still he stood feet planted and fingers clenched about the two toys. "Two." He stared back unblinking.
"Three. Time out. Go to your room." Crying, tears, and the usual, "Whhhhhyyyyyyyy?" As he headed upstairs, my daughter came back into the house and said she couldn't find her helmet.

"Oh, dude. You lost your helmet. Geez. Ok, maybe it's at the ranch." The price of a new helmet ran through my head briefly. "Just go check your room one more time. That is where your helmet belongs."
"Just do it. Go on. Check again to be sure."

Eventually, my daughter came downstairs with her helmet that had been hanging on her bedroom wall the entire time. She showed it to me sheepishly. You can't miss the helmet; it sports a lime-green and polka-dotted cover. So, helmet in hand, daughter's boots pulled on, we called down the little guy, and he showed me he was ready with his one toy (and nothing shoved up his shirt or down his pants). As the kids headed to the car to climb in, I turned to Juju who had been calmly observing the circus from her safe position on the couch and I said, "Do you see why I am exhausted before I even get out the door? Why does everything have to be a project?"

My days of simple exits and entrances are over for still another few years. There's fooling with the booster seats and the untwisting seat belts; reminders of retrieving book bags, lunch boxes, permission slips, and sports equipment; making sure the little guy doesn't get his fingers or toes slammed in the car door by his sister; making sure neither vacuous child gets hit by a car while entering or exiting my vehicle; stopping the arguing over who touched whose toy in the back seat. What kills me is when I am told I will miss these days. I was told that when my kids were babies, too. No, with those days done, I do not miss them. And as much as I adore my children, I won't miss trying to get them out of the house on time either.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ponies in the Ring

Last week during my riding lesson, I paused to watch a young rider attempt to wrangle her pony into a more cooperative state. It seems that Blue didn't want to jump. His rider managed to stay mounted despite his last-minute balks and halts before the stacked and layered obstacles, but she still needed assistance. So in an attempt to reassure the pony, I was asked to sit with my horse in the middle of the ring, where Blue knew we would be watching. Moral support, from pony to pony so to speak. In the world of horses, social relationships are often as complex as our own, and I can truly say from experience that regardless of species, similar souls comfort one another in difficult situations.

This past weekend, my ex-husband and his wife came to our town for the first time. With my daughter finishing fifth grade and beginning middle school in the fall, celebration among family was essential. While I was thrilled that the father of my children would finally come see where and how his children live, I was stressed that he and his wife would find fault with things when they got here. I worked to make sure that they would be comfortable and attended details such as tourism guides, restaurant and hotel recommendations, and arrangements for a family lunch.  These are people with whom I share difficult history, but I am tied to them, and if they came and had a wonderful time, they would continue to return and share in the life that my children have here. This is what I want for my children, a growing relationship with their dad, a secure place in the heart of their step-mother, a comfort zone of approachability for times when discussion, advice, or negotiation of some sort is necessary.

Having the company of my family helped me feel better--cognizant, calm, graceful. Their steady presence helped make this visit with my children's dad and step-mother a successful one. Having cleared this hurdle gracefully and landed safely on the other side, I can approach the next visit with more confidence. To my husband and Juju, thank you. Thank you for being my ponies in the ring.